30 May – 15 June 2013
Most of this part of the trip across the US I considered a transport stretch to Rocky Mountains because there is fairly little to experience considering the distance – especially the long part across the Great Plains. This leg of the trip ended up being 3½ weeks and around 3,600k (2,250 miles) from Cornwall, Ontario to Cody, Wyoming (bringing the total distance up to 7,700k or 4,800 miles) - however for presentation purposes I have split it into 2 sections: This one “Cornwall to Minnesota” and the next one “South Dakota to Cody”.
The first section was fairly flat and therefore an easy ride had it not been for the strong headwinds while the second was mostly hilly crossing over the Black Hills and Big Horn Mountains. On the first section the nature was fairly similar most of the way – farmland, forests, rivers and creeks – nice without being breathtaking and over time quite monotonous. And even though the second section was more spectacular providing beautiful views from high above people have been the great experience on this leg – amazing and overwhelming friendliness, kindness, generousity and interest.
Trip description (to Minnesota/South Dakota border)
From Cornwall I re-entered the US and rode southwest along St Lawrence River (south of Lake Ontario). It was supposed to be a scenic route and many people had praised and recommended the Thousand Island area but it was a big road mostly through forests and there were few views to the river, so to me it wasn't that spectacular (you could go to some of the islands but only in a vehicle on the interstate highway). For the first time on this trip I found bicycle company; Mario was riding from Cornwall back to Toronto where he lived. He was a dedicated bicyclists so we exchanged many stories the short 35k (20 miles) we rode together. Again I must compliment the New York state roads – 2 metres (6 feet) wide shoulders in equal good quality as the road made it easy to ride and chat at the same time. When I started riding south and later west towards the Erie Canal I was back on the continuous rolling hills – and of course few views which together with the always strong headwind made it a bit demotivating. I rode about 160k (100 miles) on the canal which was nice, flat, away from the traffic, through numerous small villages and with views to surrounding forests and fields. A beautiful ride in itself but unfortunately on a gravel path which made it tough with my big load sinking in – especially when it became muddy after heavy downpour one night. I met Marta on the path and she invited me to stay overnight with her lovely, Dutch family – another wonderful experience and a good source of information about the American society.
As the previous day had been shortened I pushed hard along the canal and a big road towards Niagara Falls where I arrived around 4pm - fortunately it was still good weather. I had done all the “tourist stuff” when I visited in the 1990'ies, so I was content just to admire the falls from the viewing platforms on the Canadian side. Around 6pm I was about to move on to find a forest to pitch my tent when Walter approched me – a dedicted bicyclists who immeditely offered me his motel room as he was leaving town the same evening. But first he took me out for dinner together with his neighbour Mark who's also a committed bicyclist - amazing hospitality, generousity and friendliness. After dark Mark and I bicycled down to see the light show at the falls – not too spectacular and somewhat touristic but it matched the city having been turned into a “mini-vegas” recent years.
From Niagara Falls I headed west through Canada between Lake Huron and Lake Erie on everything from small, paved (:-) bicycle trails to big roads - in general beatiful and very familiar countryside (from Denmark) with forest, rivers, fields, cows and the smell of cow manure. Most of the roads were good quality but several times google tried to send me on bad gravel roads so I spent quite a lot of time finding alternative routes – partly because nobody knew which roads were good and bad and partly because no roads lead straight west; always SW/NE and NW/SE so I had to zig-zag my way through. One time I was many kilometres down a road so I didn't want to return despite the horrible surface – I ended up riding most of the day on bad roads constantly hoping they would improve – eventually they did but not until 80k (50 miles).....
When I entered southeast Michigan in Marine City immigration showed concern if I could make to California before my visa expired – it's difficult for people to understand that I bicycle 100 miles a day and getting there would only take about a month if I didn't do detours. My initial plan had been to go south of Lake Michigan to Chicago – however, my friend wouldn't be in town when I passed by so instead I headed north along the western shore of Lake Huron (in Michigan known as the thumb). My intention was to ride all the way north along the shore to Makinaw but bad weather and especially bad forecast, stong headwind little to see (the shore is either built up or dense forest) made me change my mind after only 100k (65 miles). After a wonderful stay with Fred and Ellen in Forestville I rode west across Michigan first through open farmland to Bay City and then a bit northwest to Ludington – the first part on the big highway 20 taking me through mostly deceloped areas, but fortunately Al that I stayed with knew a railtrail a bit further north that took me through the countryside along highway 10 – a good opportunity to meet fellow bikers and get a lot of information. From Ludington I took the ferry to Manitowoc in Wisconsin – a boring and expesive ferry ride but it saved me an 800k (500 miles) detour and around 5-6 days. Michigan was one of the least interesting states to visit so far – farmland, forests and lakes could have been a beatiful experience but the weather prevented it.
Arriving in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, I went straight to the library and got new google directions that led me southwest past Fond du Lac and then west towards La Crosse on the border to Minnesota ….but far from straight as google has a preference for railtrails even though it means fairly long detours getting from one to the other. Passing through the countryside about half was on (well paved) county roads past countless small villages and diary farms and to my great surprise over continuous rolling hills (I thought the midwest was flat). The other half was on different, long railtrails - the scenery was pretty much the same except they also took me through numerous forests and marshland. It was nice being away from the traffic and the trails were fairly flat and often provided pretection from the wind - occationally I also got some interesting experiences e.g. while going through the hills in the old train tunnels often more than 1 kilometer long – cold, wet and pitchdark requiring lots of concentration but good fun.... The trails were nice but I kept getting bugs in my face and eyes, they were all gravel and tough to ride especially after rain and over time (hundreds of miles) they too became monotonous – consequently I went on parallel roads the few times it was possible. I also had to get off the trails when finding places to sleep as they didn't provide camping opportunities being overgrown and swampy..... One night I stayed with Ted and his wife - very pleasant and informative and for the road I got cheese and a delicious big deer sausage....
When I got to La Crosse google sent me 50k (32 miles) northwest along the Mississippi River on yet another trail and from there I was supposed to go 110k (70 miles) on a big highway further up along the river to catch another trail... Not appreciating this big detour for what I expected to be another gravel railtrail and needing some change I decided to cross the Mississippi River into Minnesota at Winona. After camping in the backyard of Stewart's and family (that I met asking for directions at a gas station) I headed west on highway 14 - the first 80k (50 miles) across big hills I haven't seen since the Adirondacks and then down to highway 30 taking me 450k (280 miles) west all the way to South Dakota. Part of the road was okay but most of it must compete for worst highway in the US (even people driving vehicles complained) with lots of potholes and cracks every few metres.... not since Ukraine have I have driven on a similar “washboard” and that was countryside roads not a state highway – embarrasing.... (if I lived here I would be selling suspensions).... All the way riding through the open countryside with rolling hills and headwind; though better weather than in Wisconsin.... All the way limited traffic (only local I guess) as the majority of people go on the interstate running parallel most of the way - those I did meet were friendly, greeting me and making encouraging gestures....
The weather has changed a lot and quickly on this part of the trip – very much like in Denmark. The first 4 days in the US it was 30C (88F) and despite the permanent headwind of 15-40 k/h (10-25 mph) - and occationally much stronger gusts – it still felt warm because of the high humidity. The headwind is of course tough and tirering but it's also demotivating as it “costs” 5-8 k/h (3-5 mph) corresponding up to 40-50k (25-30 miles) per day compared to no wind. It's a bit crazy when it's worst – birds get tossed around; pesticide spray is everywhere and dust, dirt, bugs, etc. fly into my face... Through Canada the temperature dropped to 25C (78F) but it was still warm because the headwind diminished a bit. When I crossed into Michigan and went north it was no surprise that the wind changed from west to northeast – however besides the headwind it meant an end to the good weather; 13C (55F), overcast and constant showers – not much fun bicycling. Heading west across Michigan it was less overcast and temperatures increased but still constant showers despite forecast predicting no rain..... the good thing about Michigan weather was the wind coming from all directions and therefore equally much tail as headwind.
Riding west through southern Wisconsin and Minnesota I battled the wind most days – tough physically but also mentally pedalling hard just to go as little as 10k/h (6 mph) – on the rolling hills I sometimes rode as fast uphill as downhill because I was protected from the headwind riding uphill but not downhill. Crossing Wisconsin the weather was generally warm but often overcast – excellent for bicycling but to me less beautiful than in good weather.... In Minnesota the weather improved – up to 30C (88F) and no clouds made it a hot affair; I even started appreciating the headwind cooling me down a bit....
Besides the occational showers during the day, I had rain a couple of nights but until now I have avoided the many forecast thunderstorms.
Wildlife has been fairly abundant but not very diverse – deer, turtles, many different rodents and a few snakes. Also a lot of birds e.g. herons, buzzards, falcons, a few vultures and an eagle. Still much road kill but no vultures – only flies.
I still hang my food in a tree at night to avoid mice and other rodents destroying my tent and bags looking for food. Despite them being fairly rare in the areas I have travelled, I always ask the locals about bears and only a few times it has been necessary to take precaution and hang the food high up.
Sleeping and people
This part of my trip has been absolutely amzing – people have been very curious and interested in my trip approaching me, asking me questions, encouraging me and taking pictures. Also I only had to ask once before people let me stay in their house or camp in their backyard and most of the time I was offered dinner and breakfast as well as snacks for the road. Besides the overwhelming hospitality, kindness and generousity it also offered rare camping opportunities e.g. at St Lawrence River and Lake Huron. I would like to thank everybody I met along the way and particularly those who let me stay overnight – you enriched my trip and my life and I'll never forget you; these experiences alone make this trip worth taking.
After the big tune up in Cornwall my bike has worked impaccably; very reliable despite the sometimes bad roads - a pity it got dirty on the Erie Canal only a few days after the total cleaning. After many bicycle shop inquiries I finally found the right size and quality tire at a fair prize in Rochester NY, so I bought it even though I didn't change it before arriving in Cody, WY two weeks later (see next section). Before the US the old tire also did a trip around Ireland and Great Britain in 2012 so it must have gone around 12,000k (7,500 miles).... a pretty good achievement even though it has mostly been used in the front where the load is smaller....
Otherwise my equipment still works without problems. Only exception has been my Thermarest air mattress that slowly deflates every night (no hole), but fortunately the company has replaced it free of charge. Only downside is that since I don't know where I'll stay long enough to receive it, I has been shipped to California where I arrive in September.....
As mentioned previously I like to travel in a primitive way so no gps, compas, etc. However, after many recommendations I bought a simple Cateye that can tell me the distance I travel. It is particularly useful when I use google directions because they often state “right after 36.1k” without a street name – or there is a street name but no street sign when I pass by. The Cateye is very precise and have made navigation much easier for me. The downside is that it also depicts speed which is demotivating in the headwind (but of course encouraging when I ride fast).
Food and health
The food I prepare for myself is generally unchanged from my previous description “Naples to Baltimore”. However, because I'm invited to stay with people I more often get really good food; and people are very generous offering seconds and thirds..... Also I eat like a pig when couchsurfing or staying with friends which provide a possibility to keep up the weight. To my surprice I was 92 kilos (200 pounds) when I left Cornwall – pretty good as I was about the same weight when I started bicycling in Florida... though most likely more muscles and less fat now.
Still struggling with my left knee some days after a long break and when pushing hard because of the headwind. However, the day it was most swollen in the morning I rode 180k (115 miles) so not to worry – it usually takes 16k (10 miles) to warm it up but after that no problems...
A few ticks but I'm very aware of them and they are easy to remove when it's done immeditely. And then my big toe nail finally fell off – it's been black and numb since I kicked a rock in Saint Martin ½ year ago. Fortunately a new nail has grown halfway out underneath, so soon it should be back to normal. Otherwise no health problems....