personal blog of Jonathan Fretheim

I had a real nice visit with some old friends (Dan, Amy, and little
Elise) who I've known from both Austin and Silicon Valley. Athens (in
southeast Ohio, at the edge of Appalachia) is a university town with
more granola eating citizenry than gun-toting folks, a big contrast
compared to the rest of the Ohio I pedaled through.

Ohio, though its roads were infinitely better than those of
neighboring Michigan, was hard on me. Nowhere in the United States
have I been honked at and cursed out as much as in Ohio.

This newspaper is from a few days ago, picked up in Dodgeville,
Wisconsin, but the headline is one worth remembering. I've seen great
signs of things to come for cylists who use their bikes for
transportation. The separate infrastructure in Madison made a strong
impression on me. The Southwest Commuter Path in that city rides like
a legit bicycle freeway, with onramps and exists, a stripe down the
middle to keep traffic organized, and hundreds of cyclists enjoying
their ride to and from work, school, errands, etc. I was told it even
gets plow service in the winter–amazing. The exit ramps have real
street signs making it easy to navigate. Planners: if cycling
infrastructure is built to help people do things they already need to
do, it will be used.

Strip malls under grey skies on Tuesday morning headed out of East
Lansing toward Ann Arbor. As you can see, the camera wouldn't even
work right, which was an apt fit for my low spirits. Michigan has not
been easy.

This morning in Ann Arbor, though, things look decidedly rosier.
Special thanks to Lynn and family for a comfortable night in the
executive suite guestroom of their home; and to Kayo for riding with
me into town from Dexter on what has definitely been the prettiest
part of my Michigan transversal.

On that note, I can't forget to thank Dee in Cobb, WI, Rachael in
Madison, and Leigh & Kris in Grand Rapids, MI. Since entering these
populated areas of the eastern Midwest, I've stayed with some families
from warmshowers.org, a website with the specific purpose of arranging
hosts for cyclists on long journeys.

Wisconsin was a blur, and Michigan's turning out to be the same
(though trickier to navigate). Robin met me in Milwaukee for a couple
of days off in that surprisingly beautiful city. There's plenty to
say, but I'll spend the time saying it at a later date. The photo here
is from the ferry across Lake Michigan from Milwaukee, WI to Muskegon,
MI.

Ah, the roadside payphone. A lot of towns in the west no longer even
have one; or they do and there's no longer service to it. Tonight's
payphone in Cobb, WI worked like a charm with my calling card so I
could check in with my sweetie from afar as cell service is very
spotty here.

My ride today was gorgeous, 63 miles on an alphabet of smooth, hilly,
trafficless county roads: C, S, M, G, and Q. The Wisconsin naming
convention is nice–rather than "X16" or "A52" like Iowa county roads,
the simple letters in Wisconsin are actually used by the locals when
giving directions. In other states, paved county roads often have two
names, like "Middle Calmar Road" (which locals recognize) and
"W38" (which is printed on maps and no one has ever heard of). You can
probably see how the Wisconsin version makes understanding where you
are a lot easier for a traveling cyclist.

Yesterday was my first day back on the bike after two weeks split
between Decorah, IA, Champaign, IL, and Chicago spending good time
with family and helping Robin get settled into her new library science
grad school home. I rode yesterday 56 miles to Prairie du Chien, WI,
crossing the Mississippi for the last time on my great zig-zagging arc
across America.

My folks came to meet me for breakfast here in Prairie, and that was a
nice final send-off. It'll take me a few days to really get back up to
speed again, but I think I'll be flying fast once I step off the ferry
on the other side of Lake Michigan.

The ride yesterday was beautiful, passing through Luana, Monona, and
Marquette among other places (a veritable afternoon mail route, which
you'll understand if you're family to me or close enough) before
crossing the great river. I even saw a yellow cropdusting airplane on
the old Forest Mills road, which was a first for me.

One week off in Decorah, Iowa – completed.
One week off in Champaign, Illinois – in progress.

This weekend I’ll make my way back to Decorah mostly by train to begin the eastward cycling trip again where I left off 12 days ago. This map explains the gist of what is to come.



View Larger Map


First, I’ll ride through the great state of Wisconsin and take a ferry across Lake Michigan; then, I head south and east one way or another toward Athens, in southern Ohio; on from there to the DC area; up through Philadelphia and then to New York. The route on this map is just a general idea. Very few of the actual details (as usual) have been worked out.

I’ve decided on New York as my “at least that far” destination.

I rode 125 miles through very hilly terrain to arrive in my hometown of Decorah, Iowa Friday evening and the last two days have been the busiest I’ve seen all summer. I have a lot of family to catch up with, plus Nordic Fest was in full swing upon my arrival. Attached here is a photo from the Winnesheik County Democrats parade float that I thought was awfully clever.

After the lefse, varme pølse, krumkakke, and søt suppe; the waltzes, polkas, two-steps, and schottisches; the parade, performances, and fireworks, the town of Decorah began to quiet down again. Yesterday in neighboring Postville, though, a crowd of at least 1000 gathered for a prayer service, march, and rally for immigration policy reform. I attended to show my support for the families that have been torn apart by what was the largest immigration raid in the history of our country two months ago. The New York Times has covered the demonstration.

The trip south from Duluth started with 63 miles of beautiful paved
bike path, the Willard Munger Trail. After lingering over a big meal
at The Buffalo House (a dozen miles into the trail) I made it to
Finlayson, riding in the dark until 11 PM. I generally don't ride
after dark, but thought I'd give it a try since I was on separate
cycling infrastructure with smooth asphalt. Those 2 hours in the dark
were exhillerating but quite spooky. In the deepest wooded stretches,
I half-thought a troll would snag my leg while a crossed over one of
the many old bridges. The fireflies and quiet were worth the effort.

The next day, I began cutting my way over to the St. Croix River,
which is the state line between Minnesota and Wisconsin north of its
confluence with the Mississippi. I ended up in Taylors Falls, MN and
ate what was arguably the fanciest meal of the whole summer. Four chef-
selected courses, each paired with its own wine. I won't go into all
the details, but the desert was a peach blueberry cobbler with a scoop
of homemade seasalt vanilla ice cream, which was amazing.

Today was a fun ride. I'm thinking of starting a petition to rename
these river bluffs the Saint Croix Mountains. I had a nice lunch in
Stillwater, MN with Dave, an interesting man who is involved with some
really unique cycling events in this area which I'll describe more in
a post next week. Art in the bike shop across the river in Hudson, WI
set me up with a beautiful set of maps for the next leg of my trip.

For tonight, I'm tenting near the north edge of Lake Pepin. I can hear
raindrops tapping my walls which should cool down this warm and sticky
night. Tomorrow, I hope to have a huge day and make it all the way to
Decorah, IA where my whole family is waiting. This may take two days,
though, as biking a century-plus on the humid roller-coaster roads
here seems like it should be hard. Something I've learned on this
trip, though, is that the hard parts are hard, and that's just fine.