Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Day 28 - July 31 - To the flatlands of the Land of Lincoln

Day 28 - July 31 -   Platteville, WI to Rockford, Il - 110.7 miles (178.2kms); total so far -  2301.2 miles  (3703.5 kms)

Distance: 110.7 miles (178.2  kms)
Total time:10hrs 45 mins (including lunch,and  a couple of lengthy sightseeing detours in Freeport and Rockford) 
Average Moving Speed: 13.7mph (22.0 kph)
Maximum Speed: 35.3mph (56.8kph) 
Calories burned: 5423
Elevation gained: 4180 ft (1274 meters)

Weather:  Cloudy and  quite muggy in  Platteville at 9am in the morning with temperatures about 70degF (20C) with northwest winds at 5-10 mph (10-16kph). The sun came out about noon and the temperature reached 80F (27C) later in the day.  Though the temperature was relatively cool for Illinois in late July, the day felt quite humid, perhaps because I've forgotten what a Midwest summer is like. The wind helped me late in the day on the long run to and through Rockford.

Powered by:  Breakfast - 1 bowl of Raisin Bran, banana, bagel, small muffin, lots of orange juice; Lunch of a subway veggie sandwich, 2 Cokea,  2 liter of water, 2 GU gels and a McFlurry

I expected a long day and so, it turned out.  It was also hillier than I expected with the cumulative total climbs over 4000 feet (1300 meters) from lots of little climbs.  It flattened a bit as I got closer to Rockford and from here to Pennsylvania should be quite flat.  I decided to explore both Freeport and Rockford and these detours added a lot of time to the long mileage day.

A nice pastoral scene in Southern Wisconsin

Another dairy farm and a very green field of something 

Though the climbs were not as steep as yesterday, they added up

My 10th welcome, this time to my former state of residence - suitably framed by a soybean field

A row of properties from the 1880s in Warren, Il
When I crossed into Illinois, it all looked very familiar - not only the forests of corn on both sides of the road but the many small towns through which I passed.  When I was at the University of Illinois, I ran many 10km road races in the 1980s in these small towns - or actually, near these small towns. Start off on a muggy Saturday morning at 8am, run 9 kms on the roads through the cornfields and end back in the center. Nothing much has changed in the past 30 years as far as I can see in these small centers, except that the new churches built on the edges are quite large and have huge lawns.  My planned route to Freeport along route 20 was aborted when it turned out that the road had no shoulder and the traffic was intense.  I took a detour along some less traveled roads through more small towns.  On one road in particular, I passed a few pig farms with their intense urea smell. I don't know how the residents can ignore the smell - or how the pigs can either.  The pig farms with lots of porkers on small lots really raise the issue of animal cruelty.

The other sensory novelty of the day was the noise of the cicadas which I heard in the trees in the towns through which I passed. I had heard cicadas in a clump of trees in central Montana but they must have been lost since I had not come across any since then.  It's again very reminiscent of the years in central Illinois and visits to the Chicago suburbs.  

Memorializing a former  resident of Northwest Illinois

The Rawleigh derelict factory in Freeport, Il - probably the first of many such abandoned industrial properties I'll see from here to the east coast

Freeport was depressing as it has many of the symptoms of a former small industrial town in decline.  The center is filled with abandoned buildings and weed-filled sidewalks (footpaths) and the streets are in rough shape.  The Rawleigh glass bottle factory is now abandoned but there is a plan (hopefully not pie in the sky) to renew it as part of a development project that will use the  adjacent rail line for a new Amtrak route from Chicago to Dubuque.  Apparently, glass was manufactured there for about 100 years.

A planned trip along a bike path to Rockford never materialized as I never found it so it was back to route 20, which now was a 4-lane separated highway with a big smooth shoulder. I made good time with a nice tailwind and embarked on a transect of Rockford from the far west side to the far east side along the main thoroughfare, State Street.  Rockford, a city of about 150,000, still represents many of the classic urban social geographic patterns written up by generations of urban geographers.  Its West side is devoid of commercial development now - one gas (petrol) station was redeveloped as a small Baptist church.  A large section of State street is removed in a big construction project so I had to made some detours into the surrounding streets.  Closer to the center, I squeezed my way back onto State street and was soon in the empty downtown - with a huge police complex.  Only a few patrons were sitting at the sidewalk cafes on a warm summer's evening.  Like many downtowns, it had cleared out at 5pm but I'm not sure how busy it was during the day.  I could easily zig and zag across streets to scope out sights and I saw a drug deal happening. I think that they were looking out for cars so a stealth bicycle was a surprise for them.

Much of the west side of Rockford is torn up but there is usually a way through if you look carefully

The Rock river in downtown Rockford

Another theater that has seen much better days - east side of Rockford

After passing through a small area of bars on the east side close to downtown, I was on busy State state that got busier the farther I was from the center.  Here I was subjected to the first abuse I've encountered  on the trip and some honking (do they really love Jesus in Rockford?).  The street had 4 lanes and then 6 lanes and there was no place to ride except in the gutter.  (I was thinking of Oscar Wilde's great line at this point - "we're are all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars.") No sidewalks or bike lanes offer an alternative.  As the commercial scene grew more intense and the traffic heavier, I reflected how typical this scene is of American cities and how unusual cities such as Boulder or Portland are in their attempt to offer an alternative to automobiles as a mode of transport.  Even if one wanted to walk, it's next to impossible as the car reigns supreme.  I don't know how this vicious cycle of infrastructure designed only for cars leading with its evident outcome can be broken.  The experience did convince me to avoid cities as much as I can henceforth.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Day 27- July 30 - An Irish (weather) day in Wisconsin

Day 27 - July 30 -   Decorah, IA to Platteville, WI - 92.3 miles (148.5 kms); total so far -  2190.5 miles  (3525.3 kms)

Distance:92.3 miles (  kms)
Total time:9hrs 35 mins (including lunch, a couple of lengthy sightseeing stops and trying to wait out the rain in Lancaster) 
Average Moving Speed: 12.4mph (20.0 kph)
Maximum Speed: 33.9mph (54.6kph) 
Calories burned: 4427
Elevation gained: 3740 ft (1140 meters)

Weather:  Cloudy and threatening to rain in  Decorah at 9am in the morning with temperatures about 60 degF (15C) with south south east winds at 5-10 mph (10-16kph). It stayed that way all during the day. Again mostly a headwind for me, especially as I headed south.  Temperatures never really warmed up and never reached 70F (20C). Rain started about 5pm in Lancaster and lasted till I finished for the day about 6:45pm and the day ended foggy, rainy and cooler. 

Powered by:  Breakfast - 2 bowls of Raisin Bran, banana, bagel, muffin, lots of orange juice; Lunch of a subway veggie sandwich,  1 banana, 1 protein bar,  Coke,  2 liter of water and a McFlurry

The day started off with low clouds that threatened rain and remained that way till about 5pm, when it finally rained.  It was a classic Irish summer's day - temperatures in the 60s (about 17C), an annoying wind from the southeast, fog in the valleys, and high humidity in the 90% range.  The road east of Decorah was bit better than state highway 9 west of the city since it was asphalt and the expansion cracks are not as large.  Still hundreds of jolts does not make for a pleasant ride especially going fast downhill where the threat of painful damage to the sensitive parts of my nether regions suggested that the best course of action was to stand on the pedals and raised off the saddle.  Thankfully when I crossed into Wisconsin, shoulders (margins) magically reappeared on the roads and the expansion cracks disappeared for the most part.  Does Wisconsin not suffer the freeze-thaw action of its neighbor across the river?  Most of the route today was through the "driftless area", a large region that was not glaciated but was surrounded by ice sheets.   This was proven conclusively by Jim Knox, a geographer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, through longtime field research. (He died last year).  Regardless of the research, it's a hilly area and as the elevation profile show, my route today took on the same profile as the teeth of a saw or of a shark.  I climbed many gradients that were 6-7% and while I was thankful it was cool, I was still shedding water like a golden retriever emerging from a pond after fetching a stick.

A foggy morning in Northeast Iowa

In a time of high unemployment, here is a job opportunity. No women need apply, though.

I passed by the national monument of the Effigy Mounds and make a brief trip to some of the mounds close to the visitor's center.  One can hike up to 7 miles on the trails to some of the outlying mounds.  As the sign explained, the presence of the mounds were puzzling to early explorers but later archaeological research has demonstrated their genesis and the traditions of the mound-builder peoples.

Some of the Effigy Mounds

An explanation of the mystery of the mounds

Right on the bank of the Mississippi, riverfront property - a little rehabbing needed.

A nice shoulder too on the bridge

Maybe a little riverboat casino gambling?

My 9th state - and the roads improved measurably when I left Iowa

Despite its attractive name, Prairie du Chien ("Dog Plain"), was a disappointment apart from some well-preserved older homes. It suffers terrible commercial sprawl south of the city and as a tourist destination for the region, especially from the Chicago area, has too many establishment selling all kinds of tsotchkes.  The big hill a few miles from town that made me pay for the nice fast ride down to the Mississippi river.  

Thanks to Pere Marquette - what's the oldest?

One of the many Wisconsin dairy farms

What if you're not a goose?

I was on this road for a while - it follows the Mississippi all the way to Gulf of Mexico

Before the Big Box stores - Bloomington, WI

One of many of these hills that I climbed today

The last 30-40 miles was full of ups-and-downs and passed hundreds of dairy farms with happy looking cows.  I passed an elderly Amish couple in their horse-and-buggy and they reciprocated my cheery wave with modest , maybe reluctant, salutes.  The thought occurred to me that it would be fun to cross the US in an Amish buggy but one would probably need a relay of horses like the Pony Express. As I arrived in Lancaster, 15 miles short of my destination in Platteville, it finally began to rain and I headed for Mickey D's to wait it out.  After 45 minutes, nothing much was happening so I headed out into it.  Somewhat to my surprise, the fenders (mudguards) worked well in keeping off the splashing and the guaranteed waterproof panniers by Ortlieb lived up to their vaunted reputation.    It was a little tricky on the downhills but I was cautious in using the brakes and arrived at the hotel intact.

Tomorrow I head for Rockford Il and the wind promises to change direction to the northwest (favoring me) and it should be a lot less hilly.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Day 26 - July 29 - Best of rides and the worst of rides in one day

Day 26 - July 29 -  Mankato, MN  to Decorah, IA- 91.5 miles (147.3 kms); total so far -  2098.2 miles  (3376.7 kms)

Distance:91.5 miles (147.2  kms)
Total time: 8hrs 34 mins (including lunch, a couple of rest stops and some sightseeing in Austin before I set out) 
Average Moving Speed: 12.8mph (20.6 kph)
Maximum Speed: 25.3mph (40.7 kph) 
Calories burned: 3759
Elevation gained: 1526 ft (465 meters)

Weather:  Cloudy and nice in  Austin at 9am in the morning with temperatures about 50 degF (11C) with mild south south east winds at 5-10 mph (10-16kph). It stayed that way all during the day. It was mostly a headwind for me, especially as I headed south.  Temperatures warmed up quite a bit over the past 4-5 days to 80F(27C) by the time I go to Decorah.

Powered by:  Breakfast - 2 bowls of cornflakes, banana, bagel, muffin, lots of orange juice,; Lunch of bagel chips, a large slice of cheese pizza,  1 banana, 1 protein bar, 1 Clif bar, 1 Coke,  1 liter of water and 2 liters of Gatorade

I decided to ride around the older neighborhoods of Austin before leaving town and saw many palatial homes dating from the early 1900s, including the Hormel mansion.  The weather looked promising for riding though the wind from the south-south-east was not in my favor.    After about 10 miles on a good road, I came across a nice bike trail, the Shooting Star trail, which was going exactly in the direction I was to Le Roy.  It's a smooth asphalt trail, about 10 feet wide and follows the road closely but separated from it by some vegetation.  I only saw about 6-8 other bikers, mostly families with small children. The trail runs through a few towns and a state park, before ending in Le Roy.  It was the first time in a month that I did not have my guard up for oncoming cars, front and back. It was relaxing and fast.

The Hormel home in Austin

A pleasant surprise - I stayed on it for about 20 miles

Bridge on the Shooting Star trail

The bike trail passed through a state park.  

My day took a turn for the worst when I crossed into Iowa.  Not only is the shoulder (margin) unrideable due to the loose gravel there but the main carriageway itself is terrible due to frost heave (freeze-thaw).  Highway 63 was very busy and having been forced onto the gravel by passing oncoming cars passing a line of slower vehicles, I opted to go onto some county roads to get to Cresco where I knew another bike trail started (Thanks, Frank).   While the road surface deteriorated and the margins did not improve, the lack of traffic, the hills and the Amish farms made it an interesting ride for about 15 miles.  Amish farms are easily recognizable since the electricity wires bypass them, horses are evident close to the barns, multiple out-buildings are given over to mixed farming (the smell of dairy cows are evident), flower pots flourish, and long lines of laundry are set out to dry. Water is procured through a wind mill and often, the owners advertise their wood handicrafts for sale.

That's nice but I'd feel a lot more welcome if you put some asphalt on the shoulders, instead of the loose gravel on there now.

Fun times ahead in about 10 days

This was not the only sign of Amish in the area - fresh horse manure in the middle of the road was another clue 

Amish farm

Rolling hills and Amish farms

Good drying today - nice wind and warm sun

Cresco's claim to fame. Is there something in the water?

From Cresco to Decorah is about 20 miles, and for the first half, the Prairie Farmer bike trail provided a nice and welcome alternative to the busy route 9 alongside. Unfortunately, I had to turn east at Ridgeway and back onto route 9. This highway has the biggest expansion cracks I've ever seen and previous feeble attempts to repair them have eroded away.  A jolt every 15 feet or so for 10 miles is unpleasant but the bigger worry was the heavy traffic and the alarming tendency of a few cars to pass 3-4 other cars, thus coming into my lane as if I was invisible.  I had to veer off into the gravel 3 more times and tried to ride on it for a while.  Decorah did not arrive soon enough.

Prairie Farmer path was a nice alternative to Iowa route 9 - for a while

One of these large expansion freeze-thaw holes every 15 feet (5 meters) can really be uncomfortable on a bike - on route 9 near Decorah

Lots of celebrations of the Nordic traditions in Decorah 

I have about another 50 miles of Iowa's highways to Prairie du Chien where I'll cross the Mississippi intoWisconsin. I hope that state has better roads for biking; they could hardly be worse than Iowa's.  I spent the Bicentennial celebrations around July 4 in 1976 biking in SW Wisconsin and it was very pleasant. I hope I can duplicate the experience.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Day 25 - July 28 - A quiet Sunday in the cornfields of Southern Minnesota

Day 25 - July 28 - Marshall, MN to Mankato, MN - 83.3 miles ( kms); total so far -  2006.7miles  (2995.4  kms)

Distance: 83.3 miles (134.1  kms)
Total time: 7hrs 20 mins (including lunch and some sightseeing in Austin when arrived) 
Average Moving Speed: 14.2mph (22.9 kph)
Maximum Speed: 31.2mph (50.2 kph) 
Calories burned: 3764
Elevation gained: 1299 ft (396 meters)

Weather:  Cloudy and cool in Marshall at 10am in the morning with temperatures about 50 degF (11C) with mild north winds at 10 mph (16kph). It moderated during the day but remained northerly. It provided a tailwind for me for about half the day's ride.  Temperatures only warmed up to the mid 60sF(17C) after the sun came out about noon.

Powered by:  Breakfast -bowl of Raisin Bran, banana, bagel, boiled egg,; Lunch of bagel chips and peanut butter, 1 banana, 1 Calif bar, 1 Coke, 1 big double chocolate muffin,  1 liter of water and 1 liter of Gatorade

On today's ride, I passed 2000 miles (3200 kms) since I left the Oregon coast just under 4 weeks ago.  It seems as if I'm now about 2/3rd of the way to New Jersey if my calculations are correct, or about 2 weeks and a bit to ride.  It seems both a long time  and a long mileage ago that I started.   Something about 27 hotels and countless peanut butter and banana consumptions have certainly marked the journey.  I don't think that I've lost a lot of weight but I can consume prodigious amounts of food at one sitting, often ordering two entrees for dinner - followed by a large ice cream dessert.  The all-time record was a "concrete mix" at Culver's, an Upper Midwest chain of burgers and ice cream, that tilted the calorie scale at 1311 calories.  It was a giant (tall) mix of ice cream, milk, cream and bits of cookies.   

Today's ride was a quiet one along empty country roads for the most part, after the Sunday morning rush-hour to church had passed.   It was the same unrelentlng alternate of corn (maize) and soy bean fields.  I passed through a series of towns - Mapleton, Richfield, Blooming Prairie - that looked as if they could be the settings for "Lake Woebegone'. (This is from a long-running radio show, Prairie Home Companion, from St.Paul featuring a fictional town, Lake Woebegone, where 'all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average').  Funnily enough, the program was on two Minnesota Public Radio stations that I tuned into during the ride.  I always take a short detour off the by-pass to see the town center and the  state of its retail activity.  Compared to towns further west, those of southern Minnesota are certainly tidier, cleaner, look more prosperous  and have the appealing qualities of small-town life in well-cared-for parks, nice school sports facilities, small children riding bikes and skateboards in the middle of the streets, lots of shady trees, and imposing brick churches erected in the later nineteenth century.  Most of towns date from the 1850s, which is about a half-century earlier than those I saw in the western Dakotas and eastern Montana.

On a Lutheran church in Mapleton - St. John's Church (in German)

Every little town should be the 'capital' of something.  They must be a contender in the north for the statewide title.  At least, they spelled 'capital' correctly.

One of the many tidy farms that I passed with manicured lawns and shade trees.  I don't understand the concept of a lawn on a farm

I reached Austin in plenty of time to explore the small city that Hormel made famous through its ham and pork products, especially Spam.  The family features prominently in their benefactor status for a lot of public infrastructure and medical facilities, and of course, the Spam museum is next to the corporate headquarters.   Entrance is free and maybe I'll visit in the morning for a giggle or two before heading for Iowa, the real pork fulcrum of the United States.

Old theatre in Austin restored inside and out and on the National Register

Not a place I'll be visiting, though it might be ironically funny

Why not? The Hormel family made Austin famous to an extent