Any Road Tour: Day 25 – Wobegon in Sauk Centre

I pretty much go to bed and wake up with the sun. Here is the sky last night just before sunset. Imagine cool breezes and you get the full effect. If you are standing by sideways that is.

After eating first breakfast of PB&J on tortillas, I left Alice’s Attic at 7 am, well before my host was up and about. It was great arrangement and Alice made me feel quite at home.

As I rode away I spotted some of her cattle lying in a field. When I mooed they all stood up and gave me the hairy eyeball as if to say “Can’t you see we’re sleeping?” Here they are last night checking me out.

The next 19 miles were a straight line through farms and fields to Bowlus. On the way I crossed the Mississippi for the last time. It’s a much prettier river up here.

In Bowlus I stopped for second breakfast at

Jordie’s Cafe. One of the cafe’s workers saw me pull up and said “Hi John.” I asked her how she knew who I was and she said she saw my picture on Alice’s webpage. (This was good to know since I don’t need any more worries about my fusiform gyrus.)

Oatmeal, hash browns, an English muffin, coffee, and OJ filled my tank and put a smile on my face.

In the park across the street I called Mrs. Rootchopper to check in on the home front. She’s consulting contractors to redo my man cave while I’m on the road.

The park was adjacent to the Lake Wobegone Trail which I promptly took toward Sauk (pronounced sock) Centre (spelled the British way).

I had a tailwind I stopped for a moment to spray bug repellent on my shirt. It seems the few black flies that are still around love the spot in my back between my shoulder blades. After that I flew down the recently repaved trail. It was about as nice a trail as you could want. It even featured Minnesota’s longest covered bridge.

Within a few miles the skies opened up and big cold rain drops started pelting me. I put up with it for a while then pulled over to put on my rain jacket. Three minutes later the rain stopped.

I stopped to take a picture of a water tower for some reason.

My next stop was Charlie’s Cafe in Freeport for lunch. Lunch was tasty so I had desert. It was awesome.

When I came out of the restaurant the sky had cleared. The sun was very strong and the humidity was through the roof.

I rode about ten more miles to Sauk Centre. It was only 2:30 but I decided to respect the heat and humidity as well as the forecast of overnight thunderstorms and grab a hotel room. This made it my shortest mileage day so far.

Today’s miles: 56

Tour miles to date: 1,798

A medical note or two:

For the last two weeks my right index finger has gone numb. I swear it’s not from chastising drivers.

Of greater concern is my left calf. It’s a little sore and swollen. This is where my deep vein thrombosis or DVT formed. (The DVT was the source of the blood clots that lodged in my lungs over the winter.) I need to elevate it overnight. If I need to I can always go to an ER and get an ultrasound.

On a cheerier note: I passed 5,000 miles for the year yesterday.


Any Road Tour: Day 24 –

Somehow I actually slept a few.jours in my tent last night. I was stirred from my slumbers by some of the chattiest wildlife on earth. And by a passing light rain shower that sprinkled my uncovered tent.

Up before dawn I packed my things and rolled out for what was supposed to be 73 mile day. I had a strong tailwind so I expected it to be an easy day.

Breakfast in the town of Sunrise didn’t pan out. I took a pass at viewing Richard Widmark’s birthplace because I can’t think of a single movie he was in even though I must have seen dozens of them.

I finally sat down to a fine country breakfast in Harris, 18 miles into my day. I get about six miles to the tortilla.

I left the restaurant and immediately made a wrong turn. I was distracted by the fact that the restaurant had apple fritter French toast on the menu, Tragically they were out of them. 😱

I clued in after four miles. Good thing I had a tailwind. Um, wait…

Four miles of headwinds later I was back on course in Stark. The roads, scenery, and towns reminded me of the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains.

Tailwinds pushed me through one rural metropolis after another. Granny. Springvale. Then Dalbo. Here I could stay at a free bunkhouse on a farm. I went into a bar for food and contemplation. The bar food was delicious and totally hit the spot.

It was only 40 miles to another farm roadhouse open to cross country bike tourists. So I headed for Alice’s Attic.

Along the way I passed an organic rock farm. Or maybe not.

I made a pit stop in Milaca for packable groceries and cash.

The heat and humidity increased as I rode. Clouds were building to the southwest. With four miles to go a small fluffy white dog charged across the highway to do me in. How this dog is still alive after running across this highway is beyond me. The fog was harmless but he was very fast. I took off. The loaded Mule was instantly accelerating through 17 miles per hour. Dang.

I pulled into a farm with an AA sign out front. I had a 50/50 chance of shelter or an alcoholics get together. Luckily this was Alice’s Attic. It’s a farm/antique place run by Alice. I am pretty sure she has a Group W bench somewhere in the barn where I am sleeping tonight. If you want to find a particular item, just go ask Alice. I think she’ll know.

Alice has been welcoming Northern Tier cyclists for 15 years, quite the trail angel.

Rains’ a comin’. Tomorrow might be a short wet one.

Today’s miles: 92.5

Total trip mileage: 1,742.


Any Road Tour: Day 22 – Rest day in the Twin Cities

Showered and laundered the Rootchopper express was ready for socializing. Kathy and her husband Russ took me to dinner at Surly (I am not making this up) brewery in St Paul. We had pizza and beer and it all was so good.

The pizza restaurant was on the second floor. My cranky attitude yesterday and the Hillary step feeling of one flight of stairs convinced me to take today off and recharge my batteries.

Today Kathy made me a breakfast of mass quantities. After hanging out and enjoying her landscaped yard we took off for the Mall of America. What a strange palace to American retail excess.

After lunch at Nordstrom’s overlooking the airport and a gigantic IKEA, we headed to REI. Kathy bought clothes for her impending trip to Scotland and I restrung my tent poles after some instruction from REI staff.

It’s going to be hard to break away from this wonderful hospitality but tourers gotta tour. I am back on the road tomorrow. I have decided to rejoin the Adventure Cycling route. It’s very easy to get to from Kathy’s house. I’m hoping to make North Central Lake tomorrow night.

Big, big thanks to Kathy, Russ, and daughter Krista for much needed rest and friendship. Oh gee, I promise to seek out some cheese curds in the days ahead.

Any Road Tour: Day 17 – Two for one

When I drew up the itinerary for this tour, I planned short mileage days for Iowa. The reason for this was that all my friends who hAve ridden RAGBRAI, the massive cross-Iowa bike ride, have told me that Iowa’s hills are horribly difficult.

It turns out they are probably right if you are trying to ride them with 10,000+ other people. When you are riding alone, they’re not bad at all. The tend to be long, sometimes longer than a mile, but not particularly steep. Compared to what I rode up during the first week of this tour they are easy.

The farms in Iowa follow the contours of the land. Instead of Indiana farm’s straight rows, Iowa farms are all curves and contrasts. For most of the day I admired them. The last 20 miles not so much.

It was supposed to be a 48 mile day of grueling hills but, as I already said, the hills were no big deal. I arrived at my planned destination, a cute town called Oxford Junction, at 12:30. I could camp in the town park for free or continue on to Cascade, 25 miles to the north. I decided to skip the all you can eat offerings at the town restaurant/bar and forge ahead.

In the town of Wyoming I stopped to consider riding beyond Cascade to Dyersville. I decided to delay the decision until I arrived at Cascade.

Off I went down a suspiciously winding highway. My map said this should be a straight road. Hmmm…

I was going the wrong way. Four miles. Uphill. Into a headwind. Doh!

At least the return trip was fun.

I stopped in Wyoming and had some comfort food: a blueberry fritter. Damn did it taste good.

On to Cascade. It was a slog to be sure. I tried to put those extra eight miles out of my mind. Just put my head down and pedaled.

I arrived in Cascade feeling pretty good. I sat on a bench outside a gas station considering my options. Camp for free in the lovely city park in Cascade or ride on 23 miles to Dyersville, my itinerary’s destination for tomorrow. I’d already ridden 81 miles.

A mechanic came out of the garage and started talking with me. He told me the 23-mile route was designed to take me past the Field of Dreams ballpark in a cornfield. I didn’t think much of the movie so when he told me that taking the highway to Dyersville was only 15 miles with only a few hills after about 10 miles.

When you get route advice from a non-cyclist you really should take it with several grains of salt.

I went for it. The first 10 miles were scenic and level. Just what I needed. The rest of the shortcut matched the mechanics description to a t.

Which is not to say I was enjoying the last few hills or the relentless expansion joints in the pavement that were beating my body up. When I saw the Dyersville water tower I knew I was home free.

Down a long hill into town. Rather than camp in the park I grabbed a motel room, after making sure it’s TV system carried tonight’s Stanley Cup game. Go Caps!!

Today’s mileage: 96 (thanks to those 8 bonus miles)

Trip miles: 1,267.

Tomorrow I’ll take it a bit easier.

Any Road Tour: Day 11 – Cruising the Cardinal Greenway

Last night’s repast was McDonalds and a raid in the gas station convenience store. I disgust myself.

I did get done laundry done at the Econolodge. Once again the breakfast bar featured stale Cheerios. I was not amused.

I waited until almost 8 o’clock because it was raining. Thus I lost an hour of riding in comfortable weather.

It turns out I stopped about 4 miles east of Richmond Indiana. As I rode into town I realized that being in town was nothing to get excited about. Richmond looks pretty worn out.

In town I picked up the Cardinal Greenway rail trail. It was s smooth ride but for the tree debris from a storm that passed through last night while I was unconscious.

I passed numerous small trees that had been toppled. Fortunately they didn’t block the entire width of the trail. Then my luck ran out.

I had to take all the stuff off my bag and portage over the tree. It only took a few minutes but I was sorry I didn’t pack my chain saw.

A few miles later I came to another tree across the trail. A cyclist coming from the other direction and I pulled the tree off the trail. Hulk smash.

At a crossroads I heard the clippety clop of horses hoofs. A black Amish buggy made a right turn in front of me. As it passed I could see a little boy in the back.

On I rolled only to encounter a DC bound bike tourist on s Rans Nimbus recumbent. We chatted for ten or fifteen minutes. He said he was going to send his camping gear home, because it was slowing him on the hills and he wasn’t using it.

He said I would get plenty of use out of my camping gear once I turned onto the Northern Tier route that goes all the way to Seattle. I warned him about the hills he’d be facing in eastern Ohio and recommended deviating from the route I took. He warned me of a trail closure in Muncie Indiana about 20 miles away.

He doesn’t have a cell phone with him. It took him a half hour to figure out a way around the closure. (I just walked my bike through the closure which was about 100 yards of trail construction.) I use my cellphone constantly on my tours. It saves me all kinds of time, but it also means I don’t interact with local people that much.

The trail took me straight into Muncie there I stopped to eat lunch at a Mexican place. It was next store to a bike store where I stopped to pump up my tires and buy more chamois cream.

My only physical complaint for the last several days has been chafing and nerve pain down there. I am using lots of chamois cream for the former but the latter seems only to respond to getting off the saddle now and then.

The riding had been very easy. The only difficulty being the seemingly constant headwinds, hit muggy afternoons, and thunderstorms.

The trail continued north from Muncie without obstructions. In Gaston I shifted to country roads for 16 miles. It was a nice change of pace but the road surface was bumpy and, without protection from trailside trees, windier.

And there were farms. Beaucoup acreage planted with corn and soybeans.

I had been toying with the idea of riding another 30 miles to camp near Peru (pronounced pay roo) but my sensitive butt and dark storm clouds did not concur. As it was I got caught in the rain. Luckily the tree canopy over the trail was so dense that I barely got wet. Thunder and the report of a lightning strike nearby sent me looking for shelter. Three miles later I tied up The Mule at a Red Roof Inn. It looked drab on the outside but the room is quite nice. The Asian family that runs the place are very personable. They even offered to help carry The Mule up to my second-floor room. (I took care of it myself.)

So with tummy full of pizza I end my 11th day of pedaling west. Although it sounds like a lot, today’s 81.5 miles was not all that hard.

Tour total: 777.5

Any Road Tour: Day 8 – Hello Columbus, you sure are hot

After a sumptuous dinner at the Steak and Shake next door to the hotel, I turned on the hockey game. I made it through two periods. When I awoke the TV was on and the hockey game was long over. I guess I was a little tired.

I hoovered the hotel breakfast bar then hit the road. The first six miles had a few hills but nothing like the last few days. I also had a light tailwind and for a few hours tolerable heat and humidity.

What was especially nice was to crank it up to 15 miles per hour for a few stretches.

Fourteen somewhat rural miles later I turned in the Panhandle Trail. It was my second Panhandle Trail if the trip. Is this s Midwest thing?

I stopped to chat with two day riders, retirees out for their morning constitutional. Then I ride down the shady trail trying not to hit every tree root bump.

A few miles later I came upon the world’s largest (and maybe only) basket building.

Proof of aliens among us. (It was the headquarters of the Longenburger Basket Company before they bit the financial dust.

The trail took me to Newark, a county seat with one of Ohio’s impressive county courthouses.

I stopped for mocha java and a sandwich just like the randos!

Right after Newark I picked up the TJ Evans Trail. This trail had quite a few locals on it. It was shaded but I could tell it was heating up because the Holstein cows were clustering in the shade.

They reminded me of WABA’s Laura Miller.

Because she has a cycling jersey with this pattern in it.

Much of my day was spent on U.S. Bicycle Route 50. This is a signed route just like U.S. 50 but only greener.

As a native Albanian I had low expectations for the town of New Albany. Dang if it wasn’t nice. Tastefully posh with lush lawns and not-gigantic houses.

The route took me in a round about way to Hoover Dam. It was okay as dams go but rather smaller than its big sibling out west.

Westerville was comfortably upscale and Worthington less so.

I was starving so I stopped at a Dairy Queen conveniently located on my route. There I made a reservation for a hostel in Columbus, about 8 miles away.

To get there I rode the Olentangy Trail, quite a nice bit of urban infrastructure, except for the noisy highway next to it.

Back on city streets I closed in on the hostel but was sucked in by the air conditioning powered tractor beam of a McDonalds. All you can drink for $1 totally works for me. (Yeah, I had a burger with fries too.)

As I dismounted The Mule at the hostel it felt like the ground was swaying. The heat and humidity had really cooked my brain. Good thing I quit when I did.

I had to disassemble TheMule’s load to get into the hostel. I am awaiting the arrival of the owner. I can’t wait to get cleaned up so I can pass out from exhaustion.

Today’s miles: 76.5

Total tour miles: 570.5

Any Road Tour: Day 7 – I bought my bike anchor at REI

After pigging our at the hotel’s breakfast, I hit the road late, around 8:15. I still had a bit more of a hill to climb. This was good because it warmed me up for the 4,000 hills to come. Eastern Ohio is a topographical roller coaster. The hills are shorter than yesterday which allows for a bit of hill hopping, riding hell for leather down one hill to zoom up the next one. This works a whole lot better when your bike isn’t a tank though.

My bike is a tank naked but add four panniers and camping gear and you’ve got one weighty beast. This being day 7 you might be wondering why is he carrying the tent, a heavy 2-person tent I might add, and all that camping stuff.

Because I’m an idiot, that’s why.

The truth is I want the option of camping when indoor accommodations are not easy to come by. I think the tent will become more useful in the weeks ahead. When the terrain is level. Life’s not fair then you die.

I was thinking a lot about death today as the temperature rose into the low 90s (Celsius). There were so many hills that I had to find a way to keep from completely blowing up on them. I started to pre-breath like a free diver to get as much oxygen into my system and to expand my lungs. Also, once I dropped into my granny gear, I’d just put my head down and focus on the road just s few feet beyond my front wheel. This kept me from being mentally defeated by seeing the top of the climb way…up…there.

So I didn’t take too many pictures.

There were many descents at over 30 miles per hour. The Mule can rumble!

After Barnesville I missed a turn and had a nice hilly, mile-long tour of the countryside.

This made me paranoid about missing more turns so I stopped often to get my bearings. And ice cream. And water. My hematologist warmed me not to get dehydrated. So I made sure to carry extra water. At a gas station I had lunch: PB&J, chips, a big cookie, and a Diet Pepsi that was so big I had difficulty holding the cup. I am not making this up. Ohioans must have amazing bladders.

The Mule had so much water I thought of renaming him The Camel, The Mule was not amused.

At 1 or 1:30 I came to my planned stopping point at a campground near Senecaville.

It was too early to quit and I’d only ridden 50 miles so I decided to continue on for another 30 miles to Zanesville.

Did I mention it was hilly? Did I mention it was hot? Did I forget to mention that there was absolutely no shade on the god damned road?

Fug me.

The elevation profile on my maps seemed inaccurate. I should have notice that the scale had been compressed from yesterday. I stared at the elevation profile. Just 5 more hills to go!

I was on a road that had tar on the surface. The tar was liquefying in the heat. Every so often my back wheel would slide in the stuff. And the road also featured curious patches of gravel. Gravel on a descent can ruin your whole day.

Then the terrain stopped matching the profile. I came to a highway. Oops. I had missed another turn someplace.

Fortunately the highway was US 40, the National Toad that goes right through Zanesville. Highway 40 had very little traffic, a wide shoulder, and smooth pavement. There were hills but they were gradual.

After seeing a recently painted Mail Pouch tobacco sign, I rode down the hill into downtown Zanesville. Let’s just say Petula Clark would never sing about this downtown.

I searched the local hotels until I found a decent one near food, a burger and milk shake establishment.

Heaven. I’m in heaven.,.

The detours pushed my mileage to 84 for the day, easing the tour total to 494. Not bad for a week’s work.

Any Road Tour: Day 5 – GAP-ing to the Burg

I slept poorly in the Adirondack shelter in Connelsville. (Still haven’t used my tent!) I neglected to fully inflate my sleeping pad, a mistake I won’t repeat. I awoke with the sun and resisted the urge to start riding. I lingered over a fine breakfast of two slices of left over pizza then I hit the trail.

The trail is still pretty dreamy north of Connelsville. I set a goal for the town of West Newton for proper second breakfast. I was running on fumes when I began a search for food. I found an eatery, the only one open for breakfast, across the river in town. I ate an appalling amount of food and drank at least six cups of coffee.

Stuffed and buzzed is how you do a bike tour, my friends.

Pedal, pedal.

There have been purple wildflowers along the trail. Anyone know what they are?

The trail passes through several small towns like this.

One of them had an ice cream place. Two scoops please!

Pedal, pedal.

I stopped to address a comfort issue with some chamois cream. It helped. It also afforded me the opportunity to take a picture of one of the scores of little waterfalls along the trail.

About 20 miles from Pittsburgh the trail loses its rural vibe altogether and acquires pavement. My speed increased noticeably. In McKeesport I missed a turn but a dead end at a bus depot set me right.

There are actual hills in this section of the trail. How dare they?

And there are bridges over the river and train tracks.

The trail was busy with weekenders some of whom failed to appreciate the fact that a loaded touring bike doesn’t maneuver or stop particularly well. Despite being pretty tired, I made it to the hostel without uttering a single f bomb.

Today was an easy day of sorts: 60 miles. All told I’ve ridden 332 miles. Tomorrow I plan to ride to beautiful Wheeling West Virginia. Probably in the rain.


Any Road Tour: Day 4 – GAP Bliss

My host at the bunkhouse brought Ugg’s me food from town. Town is up a steep hill so this was very kind.

I left a little after 7, zooming down to the GAP trail for the slog up to the eastern continental divide. The shade of the trees kept me nice and cool as I ground my way up.

Every time I looked up I saw another WOW! This area is just indescribably beautiful.

Also my the ride a herd (?) of white tailed deer crossed in front of me. They just kept jumping out of the trail side bushes.

Later I rolled through a bunch of wild turkeys. They just bobbled about mindlessly. It cracked me up.

The downhill didn’t seem so forgiving on an empty stomach so I stooped for mega lunch in Rockwood.

The gut bomb worked. After a half hour my body woke up and I started enjoying things. The scenery changed every few miles with a river making relaxing music through the trees.

In Ohiopyle State Park the trail becomes so shaded it’s almost dark. A tunnel of green shade, small waterfalls, river sounds, and chipmunks. Ahhh.

In Ohiopyle town I finally acquired the elusive Fiber Fix spoke. And recharged my belly bank with a double dip ice cream cone. This powered me to my destination for the night in Connelsville. I am staying in an Adirondack hut but in a city park. Note to Kevin U. the huts now have anchors for hammocks.

A local hotel provides showers for campers for $10. So I rode over to clean up.

And just in case you thought I was kidding about what a nice day for riding this was. Here are a few more pictures.

If you ride a bike and live anywhere near the GAP Trail, ride it. But not in November (Michele!).

Total miles today: 76.5. So far: 282.5.

I am eating pizza and French fries for dinner. Don’t judge.

Any Road Tour: Day 3 – Critters and Mud

After a perfectly inadequate Motel 6 free breakfast (worth every penny) I rolled to a gas station to buy some snacks and backup water for today’s trek. The goal was Hancock to Cumberland, the western end of the C&O Canal.

The first 12 miles were on the Western Maryland Rail Trail. Clipping along at 12 miles per hour in the cool of the Mountain morning. Wheee!

I saw deer and bunnies in abundance. Then I was startled to see a possum run across the trail in front of me. She had a baby possum on her back. Cool!

I came to a construction zone. They are extending the rail trail. I can’t wait to ride it. I cut over yo the towpath. The towpath is bumpy going on a good day but intermittent patches of mud made the next 48 miles really difficult. For the most part the mud was not deep enough to grab my front wheel. I think having loaded front panniers down low helped stabilize the bike.

Deer and bunnies and squirrels and turtles and bull frogs and snakes (including a long light brown one) and exotic sounding invisible creatures made for entertaining companions. I came upon a family of geese with several pre-fledging goslings. One of the adults rushed strait at me with its mouth open, flapping its wings. Okay, okay. Just passing through, dude. Chill already.

I stopped at Fifteen Mike campground and talked to a camper as bugs swarmed around us. He was quite a chatterbox. 70 years old but he looked far fitter than me. He advised me that mud was in my future.

He told me how to find Bill’s Place, a canal landmark that I’ve never seen before. Unfortunately it was closed so I’ll just have to ride back to check it out someday.

I talked with a group of seniors who were being dropped off to ride the canal. 0ne was on an e-bike. I paid it forward by giving them info on the towpath section I had just ridden.

I took a bio break. You can tell you are near DC when you find a book about French history in a porta potty.

As I approached the Paw Paw tunnel the mud became a quagmire. I was lucky that the edge of the towpath was covered in a carpet of leaves, perfect for walking my bike through the muck.

The tunnel has a very rough trail surface. I walked it and was glad I did. It seemed to take hours with my claustrophobia increasing with each step.

I think the prettiest section of the canal is west of the tunnel.

They told me of a cafeteria in a closed school in a place called Oldtown. I stopped there for lunch before slogging on through more and more mud.

Miles and miles of the stuff was wearing my old ass out. Each time I hit a muddy spot I’d tense up and my back would ache as it tried to keep the rubber side down. I considered taking a nearby road just to get out of the stuff. I was stopping every ten minutes to clear mud from under my fenders.

I arrived in Cumberland and a passerby took my picture.

I really should pull my pants up higher for the full geezer in a bike look, don’t you think?

I went into a bike shop to buy a Fiber Fix spoke, a gizmo that will allow me to replace a broke spike without tools. They were out of stock. They advised me not to break a spoke. Yeah well…

I used there hose to spray all the mud off The Mule. Afterward I ran into a couple who were doing a big loop bike tour: Albany to Erie to Cumberland to DC to Albany. John and Sara (I think. My fusiform gurus is on the blink again) and I talked for a good twenty minutes as we snarfed down goodies at a sandwich shop,

They headed off down the canal to find a camping spot. Happy mudding, y’all!

I tried to get a bed or room in a Cumberland hostel. It they were booked. The YMCA in town puts people up for cheap but it was apparently under siege by derelicts. I checked the Ramada but they wanted $110 and that’s not in my budget. So I headed 16 miles up the gravel GAP trail to Frostburg where I got a bed in a bunkhouse.

I’m the only one here so it’s not bad at all. I have a bed, shower, TV, and laundry.

All the muck and the gravelly uphill really wore me out. I was on the trails for 12 hours.

Bottom line: 79 miles (Tour total 206). I’m 16 miles further along than I planned. Tomorrow I ride 5 or so miles to go over the Eastern Continental Divide then downhill for the rest of the day. Zoom!