•Start at the Beginning•
"Boulder to Minneapolis to Chicago"

- IV -


I left Northfield at 10:30 in the morning. I asked the motel manager about breakfast spots, grocery stores, or convenience shops on this, the north, side of town. "There's nothing," he said. "If you're heading north, there's nothing for over 20 miles." Across the street was a Dairy Queen. That was it. I had a 50 cent hot dog and a chocolate shake. What a breakfast.

A few miles out of Northfield I turned onto county highway 47, which cuts a straight, 25 mile diagonal, northeast, to Hastings. Once again, the wind was out of the north, not quite as blustery as the day before, but it was trying. Highway 47 rolled up and down, there was little to no shoulder, and it carried truck traffic from Northfield to Hastings. There was a small plaque at the Northfield end describing how county highway 47 has been an historic route for hauling wheat. Most of the traffic was six-wheel dump trucks. When they came from the opposite direction the headwind increased two-fold. I was having one of my worst days. I could barely go 10 miles per hour. The hills had no downside, because of the headwind, and all of the trucks seemed to be coming at me. I started counting them to verify this. It was true.

It was a tedious struggle getting to the small town of Hampton, a little over half way. Hampton is a beautiful little town with no shops, just homes, a church, and a school house. I took a rest stop out of the wind and tried to regather my strength. I struggled on towards Hastings. Thankfully I didn't have too far to go.

Between Hampton and Hastings I noticed airliners flying overhead on their final approach to the Twin Cities airport. This was encouraging, as it was evidence that I was getting close. Besides, I like watching airplanes. They looked beautiful floating above in the clear blue sky.

County 47 goes northeast and the wind was blowing out of the north-northwest. A mile or two before the turnoff, east, to Hastings the road turns due north. I'd been anticipating it all morning. Dreading it really, as the wind would be coming straight into my face. Luckily the wind wasn't all that bad and before long I was heading east, with a slight tailwind, into Hastings.

I rode through Hastings. Just before the Mississippi bridge I stopped at a deli and bakery shop for lunch. It wasn't called "Grandma's," but there was a picture of one on the bag they put my extra cookies into. I had a balanced lunch; soup and sandwich, fruit juice, and milk. The cookies were fuel for the ride from here to Stillwater.

I crossed the mighty Mississippi. It was obvious, even this far north, that the river had been much higher earlier in the year. You could see a dull, grayish brown coating on the shore and tree trunks, and piles of flotsam that the water had left behind.

I coasted down into the river valley and, on the other side of the bridge, climbed a steep hill back out. I went a mile or so north on highway 95, turned right and backtracked on U.S. highway 10 to get to county highway 21, which my brother had suggested the night before. The scene from highway 10 was fantastic, looking at bluffs that stand guard, high over the Mississippi river.

The were also some serious climbs. When I got on highway 21, the scenic St.Croix Trail, I began to ride up and down on short, steep rollers. The wind had abated some, but these hills were steep. About half way to Afton, before I hit the steepest of the hills, I noticed a shirt lying in the shoulder of the road. I stopped and examined it. It was cotton flannel. I like cotton flannel. It had a plaid pattern based on blue and black -- my colors. I picked it up. It was a large, my size, and it was clean. It was mine. I considered this road-kill shirt to be compensation for the money I'd lost the day before. I still wear it regularly.

The rollers on 21 kept intensifying. I was getting angry and thinking about what I would say to my brother when I saw him. Not hilly?! These were the steepest consecutive hills I'd been on since I left home. I climbed over 1500 feet going up and down over the ten miles that led me into Afton. Most of that was in the last five miles. The last hill was the biggest, and I came screaming down into Afton at almost 40 miles an hour.

In Afton there was a quaint, old ice cream shop that, unfortunately, was closed for another hour. Outside there was a bench. I grabbed my water bottle and cookies, and laid down to rest with my bandanna over my eyes. The ride from Hastings to Afton had drained me. I'd lost a lot of fluid, so I drank lots of water and began to recover. The hills didn't seem so bad anymore. In fact, I imagined that if I lived in the area I would ride that route regularly. It was very scenic and provided a great workout.

While I was lying there, a group of middle aged couples walked up to the ice cream shop. They, too, were disappointed that it was closed. "You sure look comfortable there. Where are you riding from?" I told them all about my trip. A couple of the guys were into it and said that, if they ever get the time, they'd like to try an extended bicycle tour. They were attending their 32nd high school anniversary. This was the year that they all turned 50. They gave me their cameras and I took a group picture of them with each one. I had fun with it and kept them smiling. After I was done they all walked away. I realized, too late, that they could have taken a picture of me. The only pictures I had of me were taken with the self-timer. And some of those were real doozies, mostly out of focus.

When I left Afton, I decided to take the main highway, 95. This worked out well as there was a paved, off-road bicycle path that ran for several miles, from Afton to Bayport, before dumping me out on the shoulder of the four lane, divided highway. It didn't bother me to be on the highway. The shoulder was wide and it was the most direct route to Stillwater.

When I saw the Stillwater city limit sign, I stopped to take a picture. As I was doing so a four wheel drive vehicle passed me, honked, and arms flew out the window waving. At first I was puzzled. Who knows me here? Was my brother in that car? Oh . . . I get it. That was the 50 year old high school reunion bunch on their way into Stillwater. I waved back, but they were far enough ahead that they probably didn't notice.

I stopped at the first building on the south end of town -- Brick Alley. It wasn't the kind of mall I had expected to see. It's an old, restored brick building with split-levels and specialty shops. I was expecting an ugly strip mall. I stopped outside and looked at the signs that served as a directory of shops. There was no Ultramarine Art Supplies sign. I looked around inside. I didn't see my brother's shop. I did see a bar. I thought long and hard, for about two seconds, before I told myself -- "I've made it, I'm here an hour early. Relax and start having fun before looking around Stillwater." When I told the bartender I was looking for my brother's art supply shop, she said, "are you looking for Jim Anderson?"

"Yes. That's my brother." She pointed behind me and sure enough, a half level below the bar and across the stairway was the Ultramrine Art Supply store. They'd just moved in that week and didn't have a sign out front.

I walked over, beer in hand, and saw my sister-in-law in the shop, brewski in her hand (they were still moving). She saw me and came out smiling. I leaned my bike up against the outside of their shop and began re-entering the world of stationary people. I'd done it. I made it from Boulder to my brother's, 946 miles. My trek was done. I was ready to tie one on. We walked to a nearby bar, overlooking the scenic St. Croix River, and had more bevies.

When my brother returned I took my packs and front wheel off and put "old faithful" into the back of their car. We hurried across the bridge to Wisconsin, before the hourly raising of the bridge, to pick up Avery, their two year old daughter. Then we drove back to their home in Stillwater. I need pedal no more. Not until I was ready for the next leg of my journey to the Chicago suburbs. I commenced doing nothing.

I rode 946 miles in 13 days. I'd averaged 73 miles a day. That's not bad for me. And it was really pretty easy. Or so it seems, now.


Stillwater to Red Wing, Minnesota

I rode 950 miles in thirteen days to get to my brother's house in Stillwater Minnesota. I spent five days there. Stillwater is a beautiful old town on the St. Croix River. It's the birthplace of Minnesota. In the mid 1800's there was a convention there and the members decided to form the state of Minnesota. The downtown is nearly all old brick and stone buildings.

Five days is too long of a break. By the end of those five days I had almost been talked into staying longer and then taking the train to Chicago. I'd even save money that way. I had to rely on sheer determination, the determination to finish what I'd started. I had to continue riding. I thought about shipping my camping gear to Chicago to save weight, but intuition, and the faith in my original plan, kept me from doing that.

I hadn't done any riding during my break until the last day. I went on a ride with my sister-in-law, Betsy, and my two year old niece, Avery. My brother and his wife have old Schwinn mountain bikes with tall, stiff frames and old standard bars. They're heavy and inefficient bikes.

After riding for about three miles, I let Betsy ride my bike and I rode hers with my niece in the rear child seat. We rode to her friend's house on an organic farm to get some herbs and to visit. We also asked for directions to the Hofbrau Haus, an authentic Bavarian style restaurant in the woods outside of town. We didn't write down the directions, and I didn't concentrate on them since I assumed Betsy knew what her friend was saying. Betsy is direction impaired. So am I when I'm in a strange place. We started riding, first on a limestone trail, and then on quiet, paved roads through a mixture of farm and developed woodlands. We got lost. We weren't even sure of that until we rode by her friend's house again after riding in a five mile circle.

When we finally found the Hofbrau, Betsy's friend, and another, were pulling into the driveway in their cars. They both had small children. I became privy to a ladies' afternoon "tea" at the Hofbrau. We had a fine time talking on the large empty deck drinking hefe-weizen and eating hot goulash. It was chilly and the hot goulash warmed my innards in a most delicious way. Betsy's friends in another. They tried to convince me to stay through the weekend so we could party together. It was tempting.

By the time we returned home, we had ridden 16 miles. Betsy was pumped up while we were riding, passing me, and climbing hills aggressively. She appreciated the difference riding a good bike made. I wish we lived in the same area. She'd make a great riding partner. She rides like I do, with the same confidence that I had as a young boy. She had no fear of standing up to sprint. And within minutes of riding my bike she was leaning back and riding no-handed. I told her she was a natural. Having done 16 miles so easily she could handle 30 mile workouts with no problem.

This Christmas she told me that she's getting a new bike when they go on sale in January or February. She's also going to participate in the Ride Across Minnesota this summer. She made me feel proud. Proud to have shown her how much fun it is and proud of her ambition.

So, with only 16 miles ridden in five days, I forced myself to leave on the sixth day. No parties and no trains. Once again, as I had done when I started this trip, I got a very late start. It was nearly 2:30 P.M. when I said goodbye to my brother at his shop. Since I needed to ride fifty miles that day, I had Betsy drive me ten extra miles, to Hudson, Wisconsin, to give me a head start. I wanted to stop at the bike shop in Hudson, too. I asked the owner for route information and he gave me some very good directions to some little used county roads.

Betsy drove me to the interchange with interstate highway 94. And at 3:00, I re-attached the front wheel, loaded up the bike, and waved goodbye. I began riding south on county road F -- into the wind. It felt strange to be back on the road. I didn't feel as confident as I had six days ago. I was glad to have only thirty-five miles between me and my destination.

The headwind didn't feel too bad. It was easy to get psyched up for short distances and ride hard into it. It was like starting over. I didn't have my road face, good for covering a whole day's distance, but I had extra energy from the nervous excitement of getting back to the unknown.

My knee pain had completely disappeared. The five day lay over had allowed them to heal and now the muscles were strong enough that the joints worked properly. I had no knee pain for the rest of the ride.

I rode over big rollers, heading south towards the Kinnickinnic river. Once there, I rode down a steep hill, into the river valley, and back up the other side where I met county road FF. There was a sign saying that county FF was closed, but I turned east and rode on anyway. This took me out of the direct headwind for a short while. Less than a mile later I turned south on county double-O. I was using my Wisconsin Bicycling maps now and the level of detail was very helpful, at times too busy, but still helpful. The county roads were not color coded for suitability. They were just thin black lines -- the best routes, from what I gathered.

I was in the midst of Wisconsin farmland. Rolling hills covered with golden wheat and green corn spread out in the distance. There were farm houses separated by acres, and, on this day, a glorious, clear blue sky. There was little to no traffic on the county roads, but there were plenty of hills. In fact, by the end of the day, my altimeter measured a total day's climb of nearly 1500 feet.

I followed OO to highway 10 and took that east for a couple of miles to county road E where I turned south back into the wind. County E ran straight into highway 35 and before long I was careening down into the great Mississippi river valley. Highway 35, the Great River Road, is marked as unsuitable on this section of the Wisconsin map, but I had no difficulty riding on it. This late in the day the traffic was light and I was pleased to be down in the scenic valley, out of the wind.

Less than ten miles later I turned off towards Hager City, Wisconsin, and the bridge crossing the Mississippi into Red Wing, Minnesota. The town of Red Wing was the only one around that had motels. Before crossing the river into Minnesota, I stopped to get a six pack of beer at a small diner on the Wisconsin branch of the Mississippi. The woman behind the counter called me "honey" and was very helpful. She said she'd get me anything I needed while I was there.

When I mentioned that I was going to get a room in Red Wing, she and another woman, about 50 years old, sitting at the counter, told me there were no rooms in Red Wing because of a fishing tournament that week end.

"Fishing tournament? What in the hell is that? It's only Thursday." Not wanting to insult anyone or myself with my naive arrogance, I kept that thought to myself. The older woman told me there was one more bar between here and the river and that they had a couple of rooms upstairs. Rooms that people usually rent for an hour or two -- wink, wink, nudge, nudge, say no more. There were fights there regularly, too.

I rode on into Red Wing convinced that I would be able to find a room. There's always something. There was -- one room left. The problem was that it was that it was an $80 room at the Best Western. A sign said they had a much cheaper corporate rate. I boldly asked for that rate. After all I'm self employed (actually, self-unemployed), a corporation unto myself, right? Wrong!

So, back across the river, and the border, to the flop house. They had a room for $40, but after seeing it (no phone, no TV) I decided I'd save my money and go back to the campground I'd passed right before the bridge into Minnesota.

I was having a hard time reading the "road" signs.

I rolled into the Island Park Campground, at about twilight, and, seeing no one in the office, I selected a free site away from the RV's and set up my tent. I was in a flat clearing next to some woods, level with the river that was no more than a hundred feet away. There were mosquitoes, but long sleeves and some repellent kept them at bay.

I was having my second beer, and setting up my tent, when a tug pushing some barges came by. It was impressive. There were four barges, lashed together, filled to the brim, riding low and quietly through the water. They were being pushed by a big tug that was lit warmly, like a small home. The clear, glass-like bow wave shone with the deep blue of the twilight sky and the twinkling reflection of lights from the grain mills across the street. I thanked God for directing me to this spot. The road was sneaking back up on me. I was regaining my ability to "read the signs."

After readying my campsite and showering, I decided to ride back to the diner where I'd been treated so sweetly. I attached my headlight, flicked on my strobing taillight and road two miles back into the Wisconsin side. I was treated like family there and had a great big cheeseburger along with several beers.

After a fine evening, talking with the women I'd met there earlier in the evening, I returned to my tent for a restful night of sleep, glad that I was saving so much money, and feeling so self-sufficient. Thank goodness I hadn't mailed my camping gear home.

It was a short day's ride -- 35 miles in about three hours, averaging 11.5 miles per hour. I'd hit a peak of 38 miles per hour entering the Mississippi River valley and climbed 1480 feet over the rolling hills. My odometer read one thousand and one miles.

The Great River Road

I awoke in my tent at 7:30 in the morning, well rested and ready to cycle. No one came by my campsite and I didn't see the owners, so after freshening up I packed and left. The price was right.

I rode back to highway 35 and continued east-southeast along the banks of the Mississippi River. I hadn't eaten anything and I was hoping that something would show up quickly. I also noticed that my left heel was hitting the front of my rear pannier. When I pushed the pannier back on the rack, the rear pocket was nearly in the spokes. Something didn't look right.

In Bay city, three or four miles down the road, I saw a tiny little cafe called "Grandma's." When I entered there was one other patron, a few wooden tables and booths and a counter with six red, padded stools. I sat at the counter. A friendly, old woman with a squished up face was working behind the counter, cooking and serving. She had a collection of locally made knick-knacks for sale, including ear rings, and key chains. I had a grand breakfast of two eggs, two huge pancakes, juice, and milk. After eating, I had a talk with her husband about the weather. The sky was looking unsettled. It wasn't obvious whether it would clear up or rain. Still, I rode out of Bay City, fat and happy.

Just past Bay City was one of the only large hills I encountered. It rose 500 feet, with only a couple of turns, over a high wooded bluff, away from the river. There were slogans painted on the roadway filled with sarcasm and encouragement:

"Half way."
"Are we having fun yet?"
"How come the trees aren't moving?"
"Almost there!"

About half way up the Bay City hill I noticed a repetitive noise coming from my rear wheel. I strained to listen, but couldn't figure out what it was. When I stopped and examined the rear hub I found that the allen head screw holding one side of my back rack to the end of the stays was gone. I can't figure out if it sheared off or screwed itself out. The screw was just gone. The noise was the left pannier occasionally, ever so lightly, rubbing against a spoke. I borrowed a screw from one of my two water bottle racks to fix it.

After climbing the hill past Bay City, I descended rapidly towards the river and the shores of Lake Pepin. At the historical-point of interest marker at the north end of Lake Pepin I met a couple that were on a motoring vacation. As I rode up they were steadying their camera on the roof of their car. I parked my bike and offered photographic assistance.

I read a placard describing the origins of Lake Pepin and a quotation from some old president stating that this was one of the most scenic highways in the United States. I don't remember who the president was, but I do remember reading that Lake Pepin was formed by the partial damming of the Mississippi river by the Chippewa river at the south end. The Chippewa runs very rapidly into the Mississippi and leaves a large amount of silt, damming up the Mississippi and creating this 22 mile long lake.

The ex-president was correct, too. Highway 35, the Great River Road, is most scenic along this stretch. The road itself is over fifty feet above the lake with railroad tracks that run between the road and water, down along the shore. The shores of Lake Pepin are surrounded by lush forest with dense undergrowth and large white, tree crowned bluffs reaching hundreds of feet into the air. Some of the smaller trees (sumac?) were beginning to turn purple. The fall colors were tantalizingly close, but not yet bursting forth. This area must look spectacular in October and November. I stopped a lot more than usual at waysides and points of interest to take pictures and relax. All in all, it was a fine day.

I couldn't help thinking; what a great commercial pathway. There are, or have been, enough goods needing transport to support a railroad and a major highway (route 61, on the Minnesota side) along with the river barge traffic. In the 1930's, the Army Corps of Engineers put in many locks and dams to create a consistent, deep river channel to facilitate the barge traffic. All three means of transport follow the same route from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico.

I had a tailwind, so I was making good time. There are a lot of hills along Lake Pepin, some of them quite steep, like the roller coaster ride through the town of Maiden Rock. But there were as many descents as ascents and the tailwind helped push me up the inclines.

I stopped at Maiden Rock and read the marker describing how, around 1700, an Indian Maiden hand flung herself from a steep bluff after she was forced to marry someone other than the man that she loved. The marker quoted an early 19th century explorer's description of a story he'd been told: "[her relatives couldn't find her] . . . until morning when they discovered her at the foot of this precipice down which she probably precipitated herself."

Other markers pointed out details of the French settlements in this area. The French had built a fort, a very small fort, as a symbol that they lay claim to everything west of the Mississippi. Having just crossed the plains on a bicycle, I realized how ludicrous that claim was.

I rode through the town of Pepin, birthplace of Laura Ingalls. I couldn't help but picture the Pippy Longstocking character on TV. Laura Ingalls grew up here and, later in life, moved west into the prairie.

From Pepin to Nelson, I rode eastward over the Chippewa delta and marshlands on a paved and shoulderless road with a long, narrow bridge crossing the Chippewa river. According to the Wisconsin Bicycle Map it was seven miles of "unsuitable" road. I had to agree. I was never endangered, but I tried to cover the distance on this narrow road as quickly as I could.

Just before the town of Nelson, at the junction with highway 25, I turned south again, still on highway 35. In the little town of Nelson, I stopped for some road fuel -- bananas. Even in this town it was easy to see that taverns are a mainstay of Wisconsin rural life. There were three taverns, a post office, and a general store amongst the few other buildings in downtown Nelson.

As I entered the city of Alma, the roadway returned to the banks of the Mississippi. After last night's experience in Red Wing, I decided to stop and call ahead to Winona in search of a room. For all I knew there could be another fishing tournament. After describing the type of room I was looking for (cheap, but sufficient), the woman at the chamber of commerce suggested I call the El Rancho Motel. The motel manager assured me that I wouldn't need a reservation and I told them to expect me at about 6:00 P.M. Everything was set. I stopped at the south end of Alma in a park by some tennis courts and ate a peanut butter and banana sandwich. I used my new, very sharp, stainless steel paring knife that my sister-in-law had given me for my travels. I almost cut myself.

It was about three in the afternoon and I had twenty-some miles to go. The river turned away from the highway from here to Winona. I passed a sign marking the beginning of a series of measured mileage signs -- an odometer check. I missed mile one, but my cycle computer agreed with the sign at two miles, exactly. I missed the rest of them. I was pedaling away with an idle and rested mind, daydreaming.

Sooner than I expected, I encountered the junction with highway 54 and again turned west to cross the Mississippi, to spend the night in Winona, Minnesota. The bridge itself, like most I saw, had restricted traffic due to construction. They were painting this bridge and I held my breath as I rode past the masked worker who was spraying the steel girders.

Winona is a beautiful college town with a population of 26,000. From the crest of the bridge I could see that the river is very scenic here with many islands and narrow waterways between them. I stopped at the Chamber of Commerce and met the woman I'd talked to over the phone. She was most helpful and, even though this was Minnesota, she was able to give me a copy of the Wisconsin State highway map.

She told me about the town's attractions, including a three hour riverboat ride, complete with a prime rib dinner. It seemed a bit pricy for me. With a date, it would surely be worth it, but, being alone, I opted for a cheaper evening.

She also directed me to the "Adventure Cycle and Ski" shop. The people there were very friendly. I bought some replacement screws for the braze-on's on my bicycle frame and used the floor pump to top off my tires. My gloves were beginning to come apart at the seams, so I looked at some. The clerk offered them to me at sale price, so I bought them. They're cool -- blue -- I like them. I also bought a t-shirt -- cool -- black -- "Earthmonster" -- I like it, too.

After leaving the shop I rode a mile or so to the north end of town and the cracker box El Rancho Motel. The accommodations were satisfactory and the price was under $25. The room smelled musty and I imagined that the catastrophic flooding of that summer had soaked the floors of the El Rancho. I was wrong. The clerk told me later that they'd had a problem with a leaky roof.

I went to a Country Kitchen, or some such other chain restaurant, and had a delicious fried chicken dinner with mashed potatoes, gravy and green beans. I went back to my room with some Bud's, showered, called a couple of friends -- one in Chicago, the other in Boulder -- and watched my good old buddy (Your T.V. Pal), David Letterman, before falling asleep.

It was Friday, September 17th. I'd cycled 67 miles to Winona (71 to the motel) from 9:00 to 4:00. I averaged 14 miles per hour and climbed a total of 1350 feet (500 of that with a full load of pancakes outside of Bay City, which also let me go 40 miles per hour on the way down).

After pouring over maps and brochures, I decided that tomorrow I would pick up the Great River State Trail, seven miles south of Winona. From there I'd be able to link up with other off road trails and stay on them all day.

On the Wisconsin State Trails

I encountered off-road, multi-use paths in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois. The trails in Wisconsin were the best and by far, the most interesting. All were part of the "Rails to Trails" program. Abandoned railroad beds being reclaimed as bicycling, skiing, hiking, and snowmobiling trails. The surface is fine, crushed limestone that is compacted through usage. On some sections of the trails in Wisconsin the surface was as hard and smooth as pavement.

It was Saturday morning in Winona, Minnesota. I flipped on the TV as I was preparing to leave the El Rancho Motel. I haven't watched TV on a saturday morning since my kids were . . . well, . . . kids. After having my usual in-room breakfast of juice, fruit, and milk, I was on my way. Riding down the side streets of Winona, I saw kids playing in their front yards and noticed a father and daughter on their way to run errands on a crisp, clear saturday morning. It reminded me of my family days, raising my kids, living back in Illinois. My life has certainly changed. The nostalgia was heart warming, and a tear of sadness and joy came to my eye. I rode through town, over the Mississippi, and back on to the highway.

On this day I planned to ride all the way to Elroy, covering over 80 miles on trails. I'd read a brochure the night before that said I needed to ride seven miles from Winona to Prairie Road to get to the Great River State Trail.

Seven miles passed, and not seeing the trailhead, I wondered if I was lost. The gunshots I heard coming from the fields of tall, dead corn, all around me was unnerving, too. I could hear gunfire coming from every farm I passed. I couldn't figure out why there was so much of it and never once did I see the person firing. I thought it might be "kill varmints day" and imagined farmers out shooting raccoons and other pesky creatures.

Seeing two huge rubber bands in the shoulder of the road, I stopped, turned around, and put them on the left end of my handlebar. When wrapped around the bar and brake lever they keep the front wheel from rolling when stopped. With the added weight on the bike this is very handy for keeping the bike from spilling over when leaned against a tree.

I finally saw Prairie Rd., but there was no trailhead. I turned onto Prairie Rd. I heard gunshots coming from the cornfields to my right. I kept riding, wondering if I should bend over to keep a low profile. After a mile or so and a couple of curves in the road, I came upon the trailhead. There were a few cars there and some cyclists preparing for a recreational ride.

I started riding down the narrow, limestone trail with woodland and wet marshland on both sides. There were railroad tracks on the river side and some farms on the other. In some places the trees arched over the trail. There were swarms of gnats, too. So many at times that I had to put my bandanna over my mouth and nose, cowboy style, so that I could keep breathing as I rode through the bigger swarms. I had to, periodically, brush them off of my arms, legs, and clothes. It was an early fall day. The air was clear and the temperature was around 65 degrees. The gnats disappeared after Trempealeau.

Eight miles down the trail I crossed a main road. As I stopped to look at my inadequate map a couple came riding by wearing gore-tex cycling jackets and pants, jerseys, gloves and helmets -- the whole get-up. I was wearing shorts, a t-shirt, a cotton sport shirt, and my bandanna. I asked for directions and they stopped and showed me their map. They had a good trail map that I hadn't seen before. They're supposed to be at the trailheads. I asked if the road we'd just crossed led into Trempealeau and if there was anywhere to eat there. They said yes.

They were camping a few miles back at the Perot State Park Campground and taking day trips on the trails. They described how the gnats had been thick enough the night before to drive them into their tent early.

I had noticed signs along the way saying that a permit was required to ride on the trails, so I asked about them. They showed me theirs, wrapped around their handlebars, and said to wait for a ranger to spot me before buying one. They'd ridden the trails all day a couple of days ago and not seen a one. If you do see a ranger, or rather a ranger sees you, they'll merely request that you buy a daily permit for $2. I thanked them for stopping and turned onto the road into Trempealeau.

I happened upon the most wonderful place, the Trempealeau Hotel, the only building from the 1800's still standing in Trempealeau. The Hotel is an old wood building on the river. There are great views across the lawn to the river bank from a patio, sunroom, and dining room in the back. The front room has a huge old wooden bar and the restaurant serves a very healthy selection of food. The staff, including the hostess, were friendly and laid back. It reminded me of a mountain lodge in Colorado. Very homey.

I had some huge, whole grain pancakes that were recommended to me by the hostess. She was truly interested in hearing about my trek and talked with me for a while about it. I asked her about the hotel. She said there were eight rooms. I was surprised to hear that the hotel closes in October. It seemed like a great place to stay while cross country skiing on the trails.

She told me to grab a pear off the tree in back. They were hard as a rock, but I took one with me and ate it a week later. I also snagged jelly packs from the saucer on my table.

After leaving the hotel, knowing that this was already one of my best days, I rode back to the trail and started riding towards LaCrosse. There were more people on the trail now. As I was riding along I noticed two middle age men riding with a few kids. One of the men was holding a rope attached to his young daughter's bike and, on this stretch, he was assisting her forward progress. As I passed I exclaimed that I wished someone would do the same for me. The other man in the group sped up and rode beside me.

We cruised ahead together, side by side, on the limestone, over the wooden plank bridges, at over 15 miles per hour for about 20 minutes. He asked about my trip and told me how he and his friend had once toured across Wisconsin on trails. Today they were out with the kids. Their wives were going to pick them up in the car a few miles down the trail. The other fellow had brought the rope because he wasn't sure his daughter could pedal that far. From what I saw, she was taking unfair advantage of him.

When we got to Lytles Landing, at the edge of a wetland wildlife refuge, he stopped to wait for his friend because they were planning to picnic there. The other man's two sons had gone ahead of us, but I could see them and offered to catch up with them and turn them back while he waited for his friend to catch up. I caught up with the boys, delivered the message, and kept on.

Looking ahead, I saw a small green pickup truck driving slowly towards me on the trail. As we passed, I rode slowly. I was pretty sure who it was.

"Do you have a pass?" the ranger asked. I said "no," and he, very courteously, sold me one for $2. I guess it's worth it. I didn't like the idea of paying to ride my bicycle somewhere, but the price was cheap and it was for a good cause -- trail maintenance, and paying a ranger to collect the fee. I wrapped the blue strip of paper around my handlebar bag and stuck the glued ends together. I was official now.

When I got to the town of Midway there was a boy scout troop starting their ride. Standing by the trail markers were the couple I'd seen earlier in the morning. They pointed to a small general store in town and said, disappointedly, that that was all there was for lunch. I told them that a small general store was sometimes a dream come true, more than enough for a good lunch.

I cycled through Onalaska. At the northern tip of North LaCrosse there was a small information center (closed on Saturday?) and a parking lot. There was a sign listing the local vendors that sold permits, and a pile of maps, like the one the first couple I'd met had. I took one for posterity's sake (and to aid in writing this journal).

To get from the Great River Trail to the LaCrosse River Trail you have to ride a short marked section on two roads busy with gravel truck traffic, up a steep curve, and across a major, controlled intersection. After crossing the intersection, and a short ride along the road, the LaCrosse River Trail parking lot is on the left. I stopped to look at the map and information sign before riding on. I said hello to a solo woman rider as she took off ahead of me. She seemed timid.

According to the map, Sparta was 21.5 miles ahead. I'd already ridden 24 miles on the Great River State Trail. I headed east, into the state of Wisconsin, on the LaCrosse River Trail, bound for the town of Sparta and the start of the Sparta-Elroy trail. So much for my notion of visiting the Old Style brewery in LaCrosse.

I found it easy, on this railroad grade, which never exceeds 3%, to keep my speed over 15 miles per hour. I noticed that I was catching up to the solo woman rider and, not wanting to add paranoia into her day, I put some extra oomph into my riding and after passing, left her well behind me. I sensed that she was wary of me in the middle of this open country. This section of trail was not as well used.

There are several towns between LaCrosse and Elroy that make good benchmarks for breaking up the ride. Most of the scenery here is prairie and farmland mixed with some woods. Off in the distance you can see interstate 90 and the big trucks rolling along it.

In one of these little towns, I pulled off the trail and onto the main street, looking for some groceries. I couldn't see a food store. There were several taverns, but no food store, so I rode back out onto the trail. When I came upon a bench, one of several I'd seen along the trails, I sat down to make some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with half a baguette, my trusty jar of peanut butter, and the jelly I'd picked up in Trempealeau. I used the sharp paring knife my sister-in-law had given me. This time I cut myself. I ate my sandwiches, washed them down with water, and rode on, listening to the crunch of my wheel on the flakes of compacted limestone.

When I got to Sparta, I was directed onto the road by signs that pointed to the trailhead of the Sparta-Elroy trail. I wanted to get some groceries -- fruit, mostly -- but the only grocery store was over a mile out of the way. I opted, instead, for a cheeseburger and chocolate shake from the A&W. I took them to go and rode across the edge of town and over the interstate to the trailhead. There were a lot of people in this parking lot -- some preparing to ride and some preparing to camp in the sites next to the trailhead. I ate my burger and went to refill my water bottles at the old pump by one of the campsites. The water came out rust colored. But needing it, I took it.

I studied the map, noting the approximate, and relative location of the three tunnels along the way. It was 32 miles to Elroy, my planned destination. The ride was broken up into four sections by the tunnels.

The first tunnel, coming from the north, is tunnel #3. It's eight miles from the parking lot and uphill. The grade is only 3%, so I still maintained a fair amount of speed. The trail is situated on a rise, above the surrounding woodland. You can see cultivated land and an occasional glimpse of highway 71 through the trees. As it was getting late in the day, I pushed myself while climbing towards tunnel #3. This was the most heavily used trail I encountered in Wisconsin. I also saw another, fully-loaded pair of cyclists. We flashed by each other with a nod.

Finally, after a long, slow climb, there it was -- the first tunnel. I was disappointed to see a sign that made walking mandatory. I wanted to make good time here. I discovered, rather quickly, though, that walking is mandated by not just the sign, but by darkness and it's companion -- disorientation.

thumbnail Before entering, I took a couple of pictures of this great tunnel. It was much more than what I'd expected. Nestled in the thick woods against a solid stone cliff is a great stone brick facade about twenty five feet high with two high wooden doors, opened to the dark mouth of the tunnel. The doors were necessary in the railroad days to keep the inside of the tunnel from freezing in the winter. Workers were kept at each end of the tunnel and would open the doors when a train needed to pass.

Far away, at the other end of the tunnel, was a small circle of light, the size of a dime. I got my bike light out and began walking through the tunnel. It's three fourths of a mile long and you can hear every sound, including the whispers of other people, throughout the tunnel. Pointing my light up and looking around I could see the rock ceiling. The whole effect was very eerie. I could see the small pale lights of flashlights as people were walking towards me. It was very hard to judge distance.

I saw the light at the end of the tunnel when I entered. After walking, for what seemed a long time, I noticed that the light at the end was getting bigger. It looked about the size of a silver dollar held at arm's length. I thought I was getting close. To my surprise, when I looked back, the opening I'd entered through still loomed large, the size of a football.

Since no one else was near, I mounted my bike and began riding very slowly. There is a lot of water inside the tunnel, constantly dropping to the floor and echoing in an aquatic symphony of drops and plops. The whole time you can hear the murmur of adults and children, off in the dark, talking so as not to be heard.

Eventually, the light at the end of the tunnel became larger than the opening I had entered and, once again walking, I emerged from the darkness. Hey! This is fun.

There was a small shack near the south end of tunnel #3 that was used by the doormen. Next to it was a pump and, after throwing the handle up and down a few times, what exuded from it was the clearest water you could hope for. I quickly emptied the iron rich water from my bottles, rinsed them thoroughly, and filled up. This water was very refreshing. There were some placards in the building to read, but as sunset was approaching, I remounted my trusty steed and pushed on.

The trail sped downhill through the town of Norwalk, and then back uphill towards tunnel #2 -- six miles from tunnel #3. There were fewer people on the trail, but I still shared tunnel #2 with several other parties. Some younger folks started whistling and humming loud drone notes. The effect would be beautiful if done right. I droned along, in harmony, and occasionally whistled quietly. No one could ever tell who was making these ghost-like sounds. They probably frighten small children, of which there were a few, so I kept it to a minimum.

Tunnel #2, and tunnel #1, are a quarter of a mile long. Much shorter than tunnel #3, but still long enough to be eerie. I emerged from tunnel #2 and rode through the town of Wilton. Along the trail there was a map describing the rest of the route and the elevation gains. There was one more climb, five miles up to tunnel #1, and then a nine mile descent to the town of Kendall followed by a flat six mile ride to Elroy.

thumbnail Along the route from Wilton to tunnel #1 the trail passed over highway 71 on a narrow bridge. Just as I was crossing, the setting sun illuminated a field of wheat so that it shined golden. A stark, white farmhouse and attendant silos stood at the far end with a dark forested hill behind them. As I sat and drank from my clear, sunlit water bottle, an Amish farmer on his horse drawn cart trotted by (clip-clop, clip-clop, clip-clop).

Just past Wilton, I came across a private campground adjacent to the trail. There were plenty of people there, and the campfire smoke hung thick in the air. I was tempted to stay as it looked like a fine place, with a small general store and showers, but I was expecting to find a campground in Elroy and I wanted to cover another fifteen or more miles that day. I would highly recommend that anyone else riding this trail make plans to stay at this campground -- The Tunnel Trail Campground in Wilton, Wisconsin. Their ad says "naturally mosquito free."

After a five mile climb, I approached the entrance to tunnel #1. The sun had set and the air was chilled in the twilight. There were no other people on the trail. I had it to myself. Knowing that the rest of the ride was essentially downhill for the next fifteen miles, I decided to kick back -- Miller time. I'd been carrying a couple of beers with me all day. Having been nestled deep inside my packs, on a mild day, they were still fairly cool. I stood at the entrance to tunnel #1 and drank a beer. Just before I finished, a lone biker passed me and entered the tunnel.

thumbnail I finished my beer and the noise of the can reverberated as I tossed it into the tunnel -- just kidding. I opened my other beer and began walking. I was almost alone. I turned my light off. Dark. I turned it back on. I took pictures with the flash of my auto-everything camera. I even rode a bit. When I was about halfway into the tunnel, the other biker was just reaching the far end. The carbonation from the beer and a half I'd drunk erupted spontaneously from my diaphragm -- a real deep barreled, long belch. It caught me off guard and I laughed out loud. Biker Number One scooted out of the far end of the tunnel and I never saw him again.

When I emerged from the tunnel the air was much cooler and the colors were beginning to fade into the twilight. I put on a sweatshirt and gloves to ward off the chilly evening air. I pedaled over twenty miles an hour, descending from tunnel #1, at 1200 feet elevation, and through the town of Kendall. Elroy is at 800 feet. It was getting dark and the only campground I saw was primitive (no amenities) and empty. I pedaled into the town of Elroy just as it became dark enough to require a light.

Not knowing what to do, I stopped at one of the taverns in this little town. The first thing I did was sit at the bar and enjoy a 35 cent beer. I hadn't seen this kind of bar in many a year. The glasses are small, but for pocket change you can have a couple of beers. I asked about campgrounds, lodging, and food. The locals told me that it was okay to camp in the city park and that there were showers available at the civic recreation center, but it was surely much too cold. There was also a motel about a mile or two south of town. A woman at the bar jumped up, went to the phone, and reserved a room for me. I liked the idea, too. It was getting pretty cold and there would be no company in the park in Elroy.

Food seemed like a problem. There was none being served here and they didn't think anyone else would be serving tonight. They told me to check the other taverns down the street. Heading south towards the motel, I stopped at the Sunshine Bar looking for food. There was an old cowboy, dressed in black playing some slick guitar licks through his small amp, wearing a radio controlled microphone on his head, like Madonna, with no guitar cord either. He was walking around the back of the bar playing some fine versions of Hank Williams and Johnny Cash songs, just to name a few. I sat at the bar and had a beer. I asked the bartender, a handsome, country woman, about 30, if I could still get something to eat. She said, "Anytime hon. You want to go get your motel room and come back? I'll fix something then. Don't worry hon."

I finished my beer and rode, in the dark, to the outskirts of town and the Valley Inn motor hotel. A nice elderly couple were watching TV and the wife came over to the desk. I requested a room around back, as I'd seen some folks gathered around a fire in a barbecue grill with bicycles and a couple of RV's parked nearby. I got a fine, clean, big room around the back and I unloaded.

I walked out to the folks at the firepit and found a bunch of older people sitting around with beers, chatting, and having a fine time. I brought my own beer and asked for a seat. When they heard about my bike trip they kept me busy answering questions for nearly half an hour. They'd ridden the Sparta-Elroy Trail that day and were going to drive home the next day -- Sunday.

I showered and rode back to the Sunshine Bar where Laura, the lovable bartender, cooked up a fine steak sandwich with fries. The beers were making me feel right comfortable, and the Johnny Cash fella was still twanging out tasty licks on his electric guitar, so I planted myself on a bar stool and stayed for the duration. I got to meet and talk to a number of the locals. The biggest joke amongst them is accusing each other of being inbred Amish. Laura was the brunt of most of these jovial insults.

I met some gals that had driven miles to get there that night. They worked in a dime store together and were in Elroy looking for a good time. I could have been part of it, but they left for another bar and I stayed planted on my stool.

Some local youngsters, probably under age, came in and started giving Laura a hard time. She didn't need any help holding up her own. When it was late, near closing, Laura came over and whispered to me -- "would I like to smoke a thin one with her after she closed?" I couldn't refuse. She was going to take a while closing the bar, so I told her to meet me at my motel room. I rode back to my room and waited.

She got there quickly, spun one, and we smoked. She told me about her two kids and the farm she and her husband own. She runs the farm, takes care of the kids, and works at the bar. She thought me quite the vagabond and enjoyed my company in the motel room. She braided my hair. She said I'd see her silos reaching into the air when I left town. I'd been alone on the road a long time. I wanted to be with her, but it wasn't right. I wasn't sure of her intentions and I didn't want to insult either of us so, I hugged her before she left. She had to get up in the morning to get the kids off to school.

"I sat on the rug, biding my time, smoking her kind. We talked until three and then she left. It's time for bed."

Elroy to Madison - Oil, Water, and Grit

Even after the night before -- the beer, the smoke and late night company, I got up at 10:00, and was on the road by 11:00. No breakfast, no shower.

The day before I'd traveled nearly 90 miles averaging 12.8 miles per hour. I'd climbed a total of 1370 feet, although it hadn't seemed like much since it was all at a 3% grade. I was still covering about 10 miles an hour over the course of a day. In 16 days, I'd ridden 1168 miles.

I wasn't sure of my exact route for this day. I knew that I'd start by taking The "400" Trail, which runs south from Elroy to Reedsburg. The "400" Trail covers another 22 miles, so over the course of these two days I spent 100 miles on trail. From Reedsburg on, I was undecided. I figured that I could make Madison, but I wasn't sure of my route or if I could ride that far. Madison was 80 miles away and I'd be arriving a little late. I noticed there was a ferry crossing south of Baraboo and I made that one of my main objectives. Crossing a lake on a boat sounded like an adventure.

Conveniently, the "400" Trail passed directly across the street from the Valley Inn motor hotel. I packed up and crossed over the road and grass to intersect the "400" trail. The night before, Laura had mentioned a popular breakfast spot in Union Center that would be crowded on a Sunday morning because the food was so good. I put my head down in preparation for grunting out the few miles to Union Center and breakfast.

Once again, I didn't have the detailed map available from the trailhead, so I didn't know that Union Center was exactly four miles south of Elroy. My other maps were not that specific. I saw a sign at a road crossing for a restaurant at a country club, but decided against that choice. I lifted my water bottle and swung my head back, taking great swigs of water to ward off the hunger pangs and cotton mouth. When I looked back down onto the trail I saw a little green pickup coming my way. Oh shit! Not on Sunday, too.

This ranger was as courteous as the one I'd met the day before. I bought a $2, daily permit and, standing on the trail in the middle of a large marsh, we talked about the cool, humid, unsettled weather. The cloudy sky was wavering between clearing and darkening. The ranger predicted rain for me. Especially as I headed south. I asked about the breakfast spot in Union Center and he said that I'd already passed Union Center. (I was grunting along, starved, and in an early morning "fog" that I'd made for myself.)

"Didn't you see the sign for the Country Club Inn? That was Union Center. Wonewoc is just another couple of miles down the trail, though, and if you go one block off the trail you'll find a fine cafe. I eat there often."

Maybe the two bucks are worth it for the information, and advice. The main street of Wonewoc runs parallel to the trail, one block east. I turned off the trail and into town. I stopped at the first cafe that was open. It was in a long room with a counter running the length of one side with a few tables across the floor, on the other side. The picture window size opening to the kitchen was at the back of the room. An older woman with black hair and a little waitress cap came behind the counter and took my order. Orange juice, two pancakes, one egg, over easy, coffee and a glass of milk. The egg was for long term energy and the coffee, unusual for me, was to burn off the fog.

While I was eating, the cook told Norma, her mother, the waitress, that she should knock off and go to church. After what was no little amount of coaxing, Norma decided it was okay and took off her waitress cap, put on a wool overcoat and joined some friends that had stopped by to ask her to church. Norma's daughter could handle the place on a Sunday morning. I was the only customer. After paying my tab and leaving a tip for Norma, I asked her daughter to fill my liter and a half water bottle in the kitchen.

As I studied my map, I began picking a route east from Reedsburg, then south through Baraboo to the town of Merrimac where I could take the ferry across Lake Wisconsin. I was warming up, so I removed my sweatshirt. Before leaving town, I stopped and bought a couple of bananas at a small grocery store.

Between Wonewoc and LaValle, 7.5 miles, horses are allowed on the trail. I decided to try riding on the highway that parallels the trail, for this and other reasons. I wanted to make good time so that I would arrive in Madison before dark. There is just enough extra friction on the limestone trails that the highway has a faster surface. There didn't seem to be much wind, so, just south of Wonewoc, I left the shelter of the trail and began riding on the smooth pavement of highway 33.

I was wrong on two counts: the wind, and the hills. There was a fairly good headwind coming out of the south and the road climbed steeply over hills. The trail, on the other hand, which I could see angling away from me, into the distance, followed the Baraboo river, so it covered flatter terrain and, being railroad grade, never climbed at a rate greater than 3%. I grunted out seven more miles, over steep hills, sharing the road with fast moving cars and trucks, my trail permit flapping in the strong headwind. Nice try, Chucko.

thumbnail I finally made it to the town of LaValle, and after stopping to ask, found the rest of the "400" trail. The trail is beautiful here. It parallels the narrow Baraboo river, which it crosses many times, through wet woodlands full of flora and fauna. The bridges are made of old, rusted, steel girders with wooden plank bridges inserted for trail users. The trees along either side of the trail break up the wind, which was hardly noticeable now. Ok, maybe the $2 was well spent. With only eight more miles of trail left, I stopped on the bridges and in clearings to take pictures and soak up the day.

About half way between LaValle and Reedsburg, placed in the middle of a small clearing along the trail, was a large rock with a plaque on it. I stopped, read the plaque, and took a picture of it for later reference. The picture is somewhat out of focus, but I can still decipher all but Mike's last name.

Mike's Place

This land between the Old 400 Trail and the Baraboo River is dedicated to Mike Beuthling[?]. He eagerly biked the trails and canoed the streams through the woodlands he loved. Rest a moment, regain your strength, and refresh your spirit before continuing your journey.

                                             Mike's Family and Friends
                                             June 9th, 1992[?]

. . . Amen . . . . . I took some slow, deep breaths and relaxed a while.

I passed some older folks riding towards me from Reedsburg and before long I was at the end of the trail. There was a sign describing the detour around Reedsburg's torn up main street. There was also a mailbox full of brochures describing the amenities available in Reedsburg and maps of the Old 400 Trail. I took a map to reference while writing this article and noted that Union Center is exactly four miles south of Elroy. I drew a facsimile of the detour route onto my map. Reedsburg is a relatively big town with a population of 5,000. The other towns I'd passed today had well under 1,000 people.

As I entered downtown Reedsburg I was struck by a few rain drops. I stopped at a super market to make ready for the rain with covers for my panniers and garbage bags for my tent and sleeping bag. While I was doing that I noticed that my chain was gritty with limestone dust. I'd heard a little squeaking as I rode into Reedsburg, too. I took out a small bottle of Pace Line oil and emptied it on my chain. The raindrops subsided as I rode out of Reedsburg.

On this day and the next I relied heavily on the Wisconsin State Bicycling maps to find my route. I kept the appropriate map folded up in the transparent top of my handlebar bag at all times, nearly destroying one of them in the rain. I tried following the suggested, green route, out of Reedsburg, but became impatient with it and turned back out to highway 33, which was marked red, unsuitable. The highway was fine with me.

The wind was more from the east now and I was riding right into it. A mile or two outside of Reedsburg the rain gods regaled and it began to pour. I pulled over near a dairy farm to put on my nylon rain jacket, and to put large, heavy-duty, zip-loc bags over my shoes. It was slow going, into the wind, but it was a beautiful, green day, with a low ceiling of clouds tinted steel-blue, and I was staying warm as I pedaled through the rain.

I patiently made my way east to highway 12, one of Wisconsin's main arteries. The topographic shading and curvature of the roads on the Wisconsin Bicycling map made it seem as though most of the big hills were west of here, so I was carefully picking a route that stayed to the east. The rain fell harder, so I slid the hood of my jacket over my head. Water was running down my face and off my bare legs. The tires hissed as they sliced through the thin, transparent layer of water on the dark pavement.

When I turned south towards Baraboo, the rain slowed to a light drizzle and the wind, merely a breeze, was no longer in my face. I entered West Baraboo along a commercial strip of fast food restaurants, strip malls, gas stations, and large auto dealerships. When I entered downtown Baraboo I followed signs to highway 113, the most direct route, although marked red, to Merrimac and the ferry across Lake Wisconsin.

Near the south end of town, I stopped at a convenience store/gas mart for a break. I had a fifty cent hot dog and a carton of milk. While standing under the dripping eave, a man about my age, with a British accent, asked about my trip. When I told him I'd cycled from Boulder he said he was with a friend that had driven from there just the day before. His friend, an oriental looking woman, walked out of the convenience store and he told her where I'd come from. I wasn't standing by my bicycle, so she, like many other people I'd met, assumed that I'd ridden a motorcycle from Boulder. When her friend made it clear what I'd done, she was shocked. She'd driven straight through the day before and couldn't imagine cycling that distance.

Coincidentally, they were driving to Madison later in the day, so I asked about my route along 113 and to the ferry boat (Sidhartha was surely going to be there). The man agreed that my choice was the most direct and said that it was not heavily traveled, either. I said farewell and asked them to give me a honk and a wave if they saw me later in the day. I didn't see them again.

Leaving town, I dove rapidly into the Baraboo River valley and past the Circus Museum, an outdoor amusement park and museum. The other side of the river valley has a steep 500 foot climb that left me steaming, literally. It was the only hard climb I'd encountered other than the one in Bay City a couple of days earlier. I down-shifted and patiently found my way to the top. When I got there the rain started coming down hard again. I descended a steep hill at 35 miles an hour with water spraying in my face and on my cold legs.

As I rode south, the rain subsided. I missed a turnoff that I wanted to take at Palfrey's Glen Road. I didn't see a road sign, but I had noticed a sign advertising a restaurant. That was a green route, but I missed it. I stayed on a red road. While looking for the turnoff I ran into the dead end at highway 78 and rode east into the town of Merrimac, where it had quit raining for the moment.

I turned towards the ferry landing, down a short street full of cars. I passed the cars and stopped at one of the two concession stands by the dock. The ferry was just starting to make the quarter to half a mile journey across the narrow end of Lake Wisconsin. It could hold about a dozen cars, in three rows, and traveled along cables stretched across the lake under the water. While I was waiting for the ferry to make it's round trip I bought a carton of milk and made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. My lunch was ready when the ferry returned. One by one, the three metal ramps were lowered and the cars drove off. As I walked my bike up the ramp and towards the front of the boat the captain nodded. I ate my lunch and took a couple of pictures on this short boat ride.

Once on the other side, the rain began again. I followed highway 113 over large rolling hills, through farmland, and an occasional town -- Okee, Lodi, and Dane. It rained on and off until it quit for good near Dane. As I was shifting up and down, riding over the long, sometimes steep rollers, my chain started slipping in the upper gears. It was making a gnashing sound, too. The combination of rain and oil had washed the limestone grit into the pins and rollers of the chain. Then the rain washed off any remaining oil and left it dry. I made several adjustments to my derailleur as I rode along. I have thumb shifters with an adjustment nut on the shifter, itself. I tried turning it a quarter of a turn at a time to take the slack out of the cable. After a few turns, other gears would start to slip. I cranked it back and forth several times until I found the happy little "g" spot where all of my "g"ears worked without slipping. All this adjusting made the time pass quickly.

At Dane, about 15 miles north of Madison, the road took several 90 degree turns, first east, then south, then east, then south, and so on. This broke the rest of the ride to Madison up into short, one to three mile sections. When I turned east the first time, into Dane, a horrendous headwind blasted me, nearly bringing me to a standstill. Luckily, the wind dissipated after I turned south and then east again. The hills became shallower, too.

I entered Madison through Waunakee on Woodland Drive through a new subdivision with large wooded lots and estate size homes. I felt fabulous. The rain had stopped and the setting sun was visible through clouds on the horizon. The wind was gone, my gears were working, and I was nearly in Madison. Then I took a turn, west on county M, around Lake Mendota towards Middleton. I keep a compass in the transparent top of my handlebar bag, and it's occasions like this where it proves worthwhile. After noticing that I'd been traveling west for over two miles (I should have been going east and south), I turned around.

By the time I entered north Madison it was getting dark and I was on a major, four lane street. Since my tail light cannot be seen when my sleeping gear is in garbage bags, I did some riding on the sidewalk. I ended up on the east side of Madison, in the dark, looking for motels. Guess where I stopped to ask for help? A liquor store was all that was open in the strip mall where I stopped. The owner and his wife were very kind and helpful. They told me to ride north for a couple of miles (on Washington, I believe?) until I saw the cheaper motels.

I was looking for the right combination; convenient liquor store, grocery store, and restaurant. I rode a while, in the dark, without seeing the right combination. When I saw the Spence Motel, with a sign advertising rooms for $24.95, I stopped looking. I was wet and weary and my chain was crying out with a grinding noise from all the dry grit. I pulled up past an idling semi-trailer, it's diesel engine clattering away, and got a room. I showered, got a six pack, a burrito to go at Pedro's Mexican restaurant behind the motel, and went back to my room. Since there was a laundromat nearby, I used a drier to dry the clothes that I'd washed in the shower.

When I looked over my maps to plan the next day's route, I saw that I had serendipitously ended up right where I needed to be; at the entrance to highway 51. Following that south for a couple of miles would take me to county road BB, Cottage Grove Rd. Once in Cottage Grove I could pick up another bike trail that would lead me to the best green route, south towards Janesville. All I needed to do the next morning, before leaving, was find a bike shop. I was out of oil and my chain sounded like it was about to self destruct. Looking in the phone book I saw that there was a Schwinn shop just a couple of blocks north of the motel. They opened at 10. An excuse to sleep a little late. (Like I needed one. It was an excuse, nonetheless).

I was ready to completely relax, turn off my mind and float downstream. When I flipped on the TV, much to my surprise and enjoyment, the season premier of Star Trek: TNG came on. It was the follow up to a cliff hanger at last season's end. What a fine gift at the end of a fine Sunday.

I'd ridden 80 miles to get to Madison, 84 to my motel. It had been a full day. Trails, rain, the ferry crossing, wind, hills, disorientation, the big city of Madison, and now, as the day ended, a new episode of Star Trek. I'd averaged 12.7 miles an hour from 11:00 until about 8:00, and, to my surprise, climbed 2240 feet. That was the most I'd done in one day since leaving home. I was 1252 miles from home.

"It looks like you're gonna have to see me again, --- Illinois,"  D. Fogelberg

By the time I awoke and opened my door, it had already rained once. The pavement was damp and the sky was dark with low, heavy clouds. Serene, in the cool, unsettled morning, I packed my gear into rain covers and garbage bags. I rode to the bike shop, rolled my bike in the door, and removed all my gear. I wanted to buy a replacement bottle of Pace Line oil and use it, but they were all out.

Instead, the owner took my bike back into the shop, and while rapidly spinning the freewheel, sprayed it for several seconds with Schwinn heavy duty lube. Black muck dripped off onto the floor. He then took a lighter weight oil and applied it to the chain. I thanked him heartily, as the gnashing chain noise the night before had been destructive. Everything sounded fine now. I repacked my gear and rolled out the door.

I headed south on highway 51, a busy four lane thoroughfare, towards Cottage Grove Road, or county BB, as it is also called. I was only five minutes out when the rain came down in a cascade. I stood on the shoulder, traffic spraying me with wet grime, and put on my rain jacket, hood, and zip-loc boots. I looped up and around a cloverleaf and began riding east on Cottage Grove Rd.

I was nearly out of money, so seeing a bank, and not knowing what lay ahead, I stopped to get a cash advance from my good friend, Mr. Visa. No one in the bank could make sense of what I was doing, standing there, dripping, and talking about my intention to ride all day into Illinois. My presence that morning broke up an otherwise normal day and, at least, provided a distraction. I noticed that a young mother, babe in arms and child in hand, had dropped her wallet by the lobby desk. I picked it up for her.

I returned to the rain hungry, as I'd not had any breakfast. I was determined to make it to Cottage Grove before stopping. I crossed over interstate 90 and rode through an urban setting until I reached the more rural Cottage Grove. I turned off towards town to look for a diner, but not seeing one, returned to the county road and the gas station and general store on the corner. I found a veritable feast inside. There were, fresh home made rolls and sandwiches. I bought some juice, an apple, a banana, a huge banana nut muffin, an egg, cheese, and sausage sandwich on an english muffin (microwaved to a warm glow), and a carton of milk. After asking about the location of the bike trail, I sat outside and consumed this feast. I saved the apple.

I rode back towards town. Just past a deceptively silent, but full, school house, was the trail head for the Glacial Drumlin Trail. This is another flat, limestone trail that runs straight through farm, wood, and marshlands. It is 47 miles long and ends just west of Milwaukee. The rain was steady, sometimes subsiding to no more than a misty drizzle. Feeling a chill, I put sandwich size zip-loc bags over my hands to keep them dry and out of the wind.

I only needed to ride six miles on the trail, to county road W, which took me south towards interstate 94. There were puddles along the way, but the only real obstacle was frogs, little brown, wart covered frogs. I had to keep my eyes focused on the trail to avoid hitting them.

While I was on this section of trail I passed a fellow jogging with a big golden dog, Niki. I had no trouble passing them, but about a quarter of a mile down the trail, looking to the side, I saw something out of the corner of my eye. Niki was keeping pace with me. I stopped and ordered him to return to his master, who was also calling him. When I saw that he was definitely on his way back I waved to let the jogger know that there were no problems. He didn't wave back. I turned my attention and bicycle back to the trail and rode on. My hands had warmed up, so I put the baggies back in my jacket pocket.

I left the trail and headed south on the smooth, paved, county road W. I climbed several hills, passed old farms, lush green woods, and a couple of small housing developments. The scenery was soft, wet greenery. At one point, the rain came down so hard that I sought refuge under a giant old oak tree in a farmer's driveway.

Up and down, over the short steep hills, I rode. I went under the interstate and, relying heavily on the Wisconsin State Bicycling map, began following the green route that parallels interstate 94. One of my handlebar grips had been loosened by the rain and was twisting freely on the bar like a motorcycle accelerator. This did nothing to improve my speed, though.

I passed a golf course while trying to decide where the next turn off was. There are several small jogs in this route. When I stopped to read my map, another deluge began. I took cover in an old farm shed that was used to store private golf carts. I stood inside eating my apple, watching the rain, glad for the shelter. When I was ready to leave, the rain had slowed again.

At Albion there was a big truck stop at the interstate exit. I stopped there, removed my "foot bags," and, looking like a drowned rat, went inside for a break. I used the facilities, bought a candy bar and verified my route along Old Goede Rd., which paralleled the interstate. I could see the interstate traffic and, when I was close enough, hear the spray that was trailing each vehicle along the road.

A little farther on, I stopped at a McDonalds and ate some hot french fries. They were delicious. The route was tricky, so I stopped again and asked for directions at a gas station. "We don't give directions to people using wet maps," the manager said jokingly. It was true, my bicycling map was getting soggy sitting in the top of my handlebar bag. It was falling apart.

My original intention was to go south through Janesville and Beloit, then down to Rockford or perhaps Belvidere, Illinois, but it looked like the only route was through downtown Janesville on "unsuitable" roadway. I changed my mind and headed east through the small town of Milton, bypassing Janesville and Beloit. I stopped at a convenience store to ask for help and the store owner made a photocopy of a detailed, county map for me. I selected a road that is not categorized on the Wisconsin bicycling map. It's just a thin black line. For over ten miles I rode on the Milton-Shoppiers road with little to no traffic, short, steep hills, and a blustery sky. The rain was beginning to subside.

I rode south and then east to the quaint, little rural town of Avalon. I met up with Highway 140, which runs straight south to the Illinois border. It's narrow, with a fair amount of traffic, but I managed all right.

By the time I got to Clinton, the last town before the Illinois border, I was hungry, so I stopped at a gas station/mini-mart and had some orange juice and a microwave cheeseburger. An odd combination, I know, but it was the best I could do. It caused me some heartburn problems down the road. While I was there I saw newspaper articles about Herbe Velachez committing suicide over a lost love. I couldn't imagine how anyone could become so lost. If all else fails, pack up some gear and hop on a bicycle. All problems, whether worldly or day to day, come into an easy perspective. Each day unto itself, whatever it may bring.

The shop owner told me that Belvidere was another twenty to twenty-five miles away. I felt at ease. It was about 3:30 and I knew that I could make it to Belvidere in daylight. As I rode out of Clinton, the sun made a brief appearance from behind the dispersing rain clouds. At the Illinois border the hills stopped, the road condition became markedly worse, and a new species of road-kill showed up, smeared across the highway, a grey carcass, long, rat-like tail, and a ghoulish, toothy grin -- possums. I hadn't seen any until the Illinois border and now I was seeing one every few miles. The pavement was so chewed up that it looked like they had been gnawing on it.

I rode south into Belvidere without any more rain. I was definitely in Illinois; flat road in need of repair and corn fields. I stopped at State Street on the west end of town. I tried calling a few motels and decided on the Cambridge Inn. It was a little more expensive than some other motels I'd stayed in, but it was close, they'd answered their phone, and it was my last night on the road, so I saved myself the hassle of looking around and took a room there.

They didn't have a room on the ground floor. I had to carry my gear, and my bicycle, up a flight of stairs. It was also the first motel that wouldn't let me put my bike in the room. I didn't argue. It worked out okay. The room had an outside door and I locked my bike to the railing along the second floor walkway. It was a quiet, businessman's motel, so I had no worries. And the bicycle policy actually made sense. The rooms were like suites, with fine carpeting and a small living room. Very nice and clean.

I went to the lounge for a beer and met a delightful young polish woman with blond hair, a lovely smile, and an accent that eluded me until I asked her where she was from. She had only been in America about a year and was working at this motel, which her relatives own. I had an Italian meal delivered to the bar from another restaurant and sat there watching Monday night football with the few businessmen seated at the bar. Coincidentally, the Denver Broncos were playing. But most of all, I could tell, I was back in my home state, Illinois. The people, places, and things were very familiar. I could feel Illinois.

The game and the company became boring, so I left the lounge after the first quarter. Back in my room, I took my soaked shoes (baggies only work so well) and wet clothes to the drier, showered, and relaxed in my room. I hadn't noticed until now, but after riding in the rain all day, my nipples had become painfully tender and red. I applied some aloe and jojoba lotion that is very good for curing chafing overnight. The lotion caused a stinging pain that was nearly unbearable. After it subsided, I was able to rest and watch my old pal, Dave.

I'd covered 80 miles between 10:30 and 6:30, averaging 13 miles per hour. I'd climbed nearly 1600 feet, the second most since leaving home, and considerably more than any one day in Nebraska. I was 1333 miles from home -- my newer home, that is -- tomorrow would be an old homecoming. The weather forecast called for clear skies and winds out of the northwest -- blue skies and a tailwind. "Illinois, I'm your boy."

Homeward Bound

This was my last day on the road, the day I'd make it to my old hometown. Spirits from the past were waiting for me at every turn, and as I got closer to home, they arose over every hill and along every familiar piece of ground. I hadn't seen some of that ground for almost twenty five years. It was like riding around a corner, through time, and into the past. I was delighted to see things that had not changed. Some old places, however, were unrecognizable.

I started my day in Belvidere a little earlier than usual. The weather channel on the TV confirmed that the winds would be in my favor and that there was only a slight chance of rain. There was morning fog and the sky was overcast, but it looked stable enough. The clouds were a uniform, light grey, and rain did not seem to be in the program. I did not feel threatened.

I looked in the phone book for a bicycle shop where, still being without chain oil, I might find the brand and size bottle that I prefer. Looking for the map I found the ragged edge of a page where someone had ripped it out. This was one of my pet peeves throughout the trip. The fact that people, in their selfish arrogance, will rip out one of the most important pages in a phone book because they haven't the time or patience to memorize directions or write them down. So many pay for the arrogance of so few.

I carried my bicycle and packs down from the second floor, loaded up, and was on my way by nine ay-em. My chain sounded fine, so I didn't bother going to the bike shop. The Schwinn heavy duty lube that I put on the day before had withstood an entire day of heavy rain. I stopped at a downtown diner in Belvidere for breakfast. The pancakes tasted funky. Later that day I felt nauseous.

I left the restaurant and headed south, through town, to highway 20, which runs east and west. I'd picked my route already. Wanting to stay off the heavily traveled routes and also to see some pretty little farm towns, I decided to ride to highway 20 and then take Genoa road south-southeast to the town of Genoa. From there I'd follow highway 23 to Sycamore. I knew there was a bicycle path somewhere near Sycamore that would take me all the way to St. Charles and the Fox River. From there I could pick out the rest of my route.

For the second time on this trip I got confused and took a wrong turn. Within half a mile, though, looking at the compass in my handlebar bag, I realized that I was going west, towards Rockford -- the wrong way. I turned around and at the next intersection went to a gas station to get directions and verify my location.

"I'm looking for the road that goes to Genoa." I said, with emphasis on the first syllable (GEN-oh-wah).

"You mean gen-OH-wah? That turnoff is just visible over there to your left, take the county road." said the red jacketed cashier.

Good old Illinoise. Where the locals are too lazy, or are just not interested enough to pronounce foreign and native American words properly. In fact, they adamantly insist on the wrong pronunciations. Her correction made me smile and her directions got me back on track.

Genoa road crossed over interstate 90, the highway I had been meandering along the day before in Wisconsin. It's called the Northwest Tollway in Illinois. I began pedaling, with the wind, through the flat, familiar, Illinois farm country. The tailwind allowed me to maintain a speed near twenty miles an hour as I rode past white farm homes, red barns, and faded, old, rust-colored, buildings. Harvest season was over and the farms appeared deserted.

I quickly became aware that my nipples were still tender and sore from riding all day yesterday in the rain. They stood up, rock hard, and every time my shirt moved across them, be it from air movement or my body movements, they became even more sore and tender. I knew what the cure was, but I wasn't carrying any petroleum jelly with me. I stopped and wadded up two balls of kleenex tissue that I taped over each nipple with a band-aid. It was just a "band-aid" solution, but it helped some and allowed me to ride without the burning, rubbing pain. More important, it prevented me from causing any more damage. It was a temporary solution, though, and I had to stop from time to time to adjust the bandages. Having band aids strapped over my nipples struck me as silly.

The sky remained overcast, yet with no threat of rain. Occasionally the sun would peek through and I'd swing my sunglasses up over my eyes, only to drop them again when it disappeared. I like seeing my surroundings in their natural colors and so avoid wearing sunglasses unless it is extremely bright or I am traveling fast enough to need them as a wind guard. My handlebar grips, which had loosened in the rain the day before, were drying out and beginning to hold steady.

I made great time, rolling into green, green Genoa, an old brick and stone farm town on the wide open plains west of Chicago. I rode through town, to highway 23, and then headed south for Sycamore. I'd ridden to Sycamore a dozen years ago when a friend (whose home was my destination on this trip) and I rode from St. Charles on a limestone trail. I was hoping to find this trail when I got to Sycamore.

Riding through the tree-lined streets of Sycamore I came upon the police station, so I stopped and asked about the bicycle trail. I believe it's called the Great Western Trail. I was told that I could pick it up on the east side of town along highway 64.

While in Sycamore, I stopped at a grocery store and bought some bananas and a jar of petroleum jelly (something generic - Vaseline was twice the price) . . . Ahhhhhh, greasy comfort on my tender body parts. A dollop of gel on each nipple protected them from any further contact with my clothing. I'm adding it to my permanent packing list.

On the east side of Sycamore, I did, indeed, come across the bicycle path. It was like the others I'd been on in Minnesota and Wisconsin - crushed and compacted limestone, shallow grades, and a translucent archway of trees overhead. I'd been making great time all morning, so I slowed down to soak up what the day had to offer. St.Charles and the Fox River were under 20 miles away so I could easily make it there by 2:00. I pedaled leisurely along the railroad bed past fields of harvested corn and dried earth.

[This is great cycling country. The roads are flat and there are small, paved, county roads with little to no traffic. The sky goes on forever, as do the fields of corn. When I lived in Illinois I rode my first century from Wheaton to DeKalb and back. The route west from St. Charles was all on little used farm roads passing through delightfully quaint farm communities. There's no excuse for you Illionisans living in the Chicago area. You are near some optimum bicycle riding terrain. Whether you use the Great Western Trail or not, the plains west of Chicago provide many routes for long day trips from 50 to 100 miles - all on nearly deserted farm roads.]

As I neared St. Charles, I wished I had three days to cover the next fifteen miles. There was so much to see. So many places I'd visited throughout my adolescent years. I had friends that lived in St. Charles, and I'd taken many scenic drives past the parks and woods along the Fox River, on highways 31 and 25. There are too many memories to enumerate.

I decided how I wanted to enter my old hometown -- Wheaton. I wanted to come in from the north as this would set me up for a grand tour of familiar and nostalgic places. When I got to St. Charles, I followed the bike route signs and crossed the Fox River. Sixteen years ago I participated in a 26 mile canoe race on the Fox River and had ported the canoe around a dam and over the bridge I was now crossing.

I headed east on highway 64. This was very dangerous and unnerving, as it is a four lane highway -- a major, beat up, old truck route into Chicago, with no shoulder, and heavy traffic.

I passed Fabian Parkway, which would have been the ideal way to head south and then back east on less traveled routes, but I was intent on visiting my old hometown from the north and seeing as much as I could. I followed route 64, or North avenue as it's called, into DuPage County, past Pheasant Run Inn and Country Club and the DuPage County Airport. Just before a scarred and decrepit, old, shoulderless railroad overpass, I spotted what used to be called the Atomic Bar. It used to have a neon sign depicting the nucleus of an atom with its orbiting electrons - a ball with two crossed ellipses. It had a new name now, but it was still the same kind of place. I had been afraid to go there when I lived in the area -- too red neck and scary a place. Today, it didn't bother me at all. I knew that the Prairie Path, another "rails to trails" path, crossed North Avenue somewhere near here, so I stopped to ask if anyone knew where.

I leaned my bike against the wood siding outside and entered the dank little bar. It wasn't quite 3:00, yet the bar was full of blue collar workers that had knocked off for the day. Bleary eyes watched me as I approached the bar. I wasn't ready for a beer quite yet, it was too early in the day, but rather than ask for directions I followed afternoon tavern protocol. I made a flirtatious, sexist comment to the bartender and ordered a beer. And then another. Once I knew I might be accepted into this tight-knit little society, I started asking for directions to the Prairie Path. I had to explain a number of times that I was on a pedal bicycle, and not a motorcycle. When they finally understood they were actually impressed and a young, drywall-hanging, Bears fan took it upon himself to summarize all of the advice coming my way and explain my route -- right down to how I could time my climb over the railroad overpass with the red light outside. Once the light turned red and stopped the traffic, I could make it over the viaduct without being sucked under the wheels of some six-wheel gravel truck -- if I hurried.

I left the old Atomic Bar and, after waiting for the light at the intersection to turn red, sprinted up and over the old overpass. When I got to route 59, I turned south to an old wooded housing development and was able to wind through safer streets towards north Wheaton. The Indian Knolls subdivision is a beautifully wooded development with large old homes on multi-acred lots full of giant deciduous trees -- oaks and elms.

The rest of my ride was a personal journey that I can't describe with a depth and detail consistent with how it felt, but I'll summarize quickly. First, I rode past my old girlfriend's house -- my high school steady. She was perfect figured, blonde haired, fair skinned, and the first love of my life -- the one I can't forget -- the one by which all others, when held up in comparison, come up short. I'd spent a lot of joyous days and nights at her house and learned a lot of things there. I separated after I went to college in 1969 -- to be changed forever -- while she stayed at home to finish high school.

During our last summer together we double-dated a lot with a friend of hers, Sandy, and her boyfriend, Randy. Drive-ins were still popular at the time. Later, in the fall, when I was at school, my girl called me from home to say that Randy had stepped on a landmine in Viet Nam and was gone from us. I flung a shoe that crashed through the window of my college dorm room and clenched my teeth tightly. A clench it took years to lose.

I hadn't seen this neighborhood in twenty five years. In that time it had gone from bare little plots with ranch homes and young saplings tied to stakes (which we had watered with bucketfulls), to a mature, old neighborhood with huge shade trees. Tears of nostalgic joy welled up in my eyes. I left all those silent, life shaping memories to ride on the Prairie Path through north Wheaton.

Again, the memories, too many to fathom individually, flooded in and I became as bleary eyed as the Atomic Bar patrons. The Prairie Path was intact and was protecting some valuable wetland just on the outskirts of town. I was impressed by this conservation effort. At the far end of a marsh, I saw a heron fishing in a pond near some high reeds. Just a couple hundred feet beyond that was a building supply yard and a woman's voice blaring over a loudspeaker, "Ross, please come to the service desk. Ross Sanderson, please come to the service desk." The heron, who'd apparently acclimated to this aural pollution, kept on fishing with its statuesque posture and long beak poised over the shallow pond in perfected patience.

I once had a girl friend, more of an acquaintance really, that lived near the Prairie Path. I was 19 years old and had just bought the acoustic guitar that I still play and cherish to this day. We wrote songs together. One afternoon she had gone hiking and was late returning home, where I was waiting to take her out. Some friends, her sister, and I searched for her, but finally, much later, she returned home on her own. She didn't tell anyone her whole story until we were at the police station and I was asked to leave the room. She had been raped at knife point while hiking along this section of path. That was 1970, and I haven't seen her since that day.

I rode on, into downtown Wheaton, and stopped at the popcorn shop, a three foot wide, thirty foot long hallway of a store that had been there since long before my youth. I'd spent many an afternoon flirting with a high school friend that worked there. The new owner was there and I shared my memories with him as I picked through the penny candy selection along the wall.

After leaving there I stopped at the all night restaurant I'd frequented after graduating from high school, "Round the Clock." I had a grilled cheese sandwich and a glass of milk. "Mr. Stinks," the town looney, of whom many far fetched stories had been told, was sitting on a stool at the counter. As kids we used to mock and taunt this old man. "Mr. Stinks," we'd shout, as he took his daily stroll through town. That had been thirty years ago and he was still here. He'd outlasted us all. This was his town, after all, not ours. He'd won. I wonder if the children still taunt him. He still had the same shy, mole-like appearance, unchanged in thirty years.

I called my friend at Bell Labs in Naperville, where I worked when I was raising my own family and still living in Wheaton. I arranged to meet her at her house in downtown Naperville around 6:00 PM. I left town and rode past my old high school. It was built in the nineteen-twenties, and the football stadium had been named after an old alma mater, Red Grange. The school was now, sadly, a junior high school and the field had even been renamed. Things change.

Riding through the neighborhood of my childhood, where I lived while I still attended junior and senior high school, I saw a white haired old woman in the front yard of an old friend's house -- just kitty corner from my old home.

"Mrs. MacCallum?"

She looked up in surprise to see a bearded, pony-tailed vagabond on his touring bicycle. I explained who I was and she remembered immediately. She asked me to stay and visit with her and Mr. MacCallum. Then she insisted on feeding me. I never eat fresh, sliced tomatoes, but when she brought me a ham sandwich with fresh tomatoes I quietly ate it.

I had missed my friend, Bruce, by minutes. He's a school teacher and family man, and had stopped by his folks house before going home. I'D JUST MISSED HIM! Still, it was an enjoyable, nostalgic visit. I thanked my gracious hosts, leaving them with a couple of wild, road stories and rode on, past the townhome I'd owned just before moving to Boulder. I was surprised by the unbelievable buildup of malls, banks, and office buildings in the farm fields that had been there just ten years ago. The area was unrecognizable, but I navigated down Naperville road, through the Bell Labs parking lot and on to my friend's house in Naperville.

On the way there, a cycling club, out on an afternoon ride, came up from behind so fast and unexpectedly, that they nearly blew me off the road. Someone near the end of the paceline was human enough to apologize for nearly knocking me down as they sailed past. I was a little outraged, but another feeling took precedence. I'd ridden in Bell Labs club rides when I lived here and I thought that this might be the them, so I sprinted, packs and all, and caught up with this neon, lycra, and Oakley cladded, racing pace line. In speech, halted by lack of breath, I asked if they were from Bell Labs. "No," was all that one of them had to say.

I turned away and rode on to my friend's, proud that I had caught up with their fricking pace line on my fully loaded MTB. I know they didn't do anything wrong, and had acted without malice, but it burned me. It was as though they were shunning me. And then I remembered some of the reasons why I wanted to leave Chicago for Colorado.

I had dinner at my friend's house in Naperville where her 20 year old son, taken by my adventurous spirit, gave me a "Rambo-like" survival knife, complete with compass and a fishing hook, line, and waterproof matches in the handle. It's a great gift. My camping buddies are going to be impressed this summer when I show up with the "coo-oolest" knife. After dinner and a short visit, I had to leave as my friend has a jealous beau. Her son drove me to the home of the friend that reintroduced me to cycling almost 13 years ago. The home of the man that has been my best friend for over 25 years. The home of Bartuch.

I'd been in touch with him during the whole trip by phone from motel rooms scattered across the plains. He's still my best cycling buddy, my only cycling buddy, even though we live 1,000 miles apart, and have for twelve years now. Arriving at his house was easy and relaxing. He and his wife made me feel quite at home. We had some beers and talked about bicycle touring. When my friend and I ride together, we're always evenly matched. We inspire each other to ride faster and stronger. If one of us sprints away, the other will catch up and run ahead. Then we'll reunite and ride together at a good clip until one of us takes up the sprint again. I missed my old friend and it was a fitting finale to end this tour in the love and warmth of his and his wife's home.

While I was there we went on some interesting bike rides that I'll describe in my next article -- Waterfall Glen, Argonne Labs, and Channahon to Morris on the old Illinois River Canal trail.

On my "last" day (I still didn't know how I was going to get to Peoria and my ride back to Boulder -- I ended up riding to Peoria) I had ridden 71 miles. I'd averaged 13.8 miles per hour. Since leaving home I'd covered 1405 miles and climbed a total of 17,600 feet. And now, here I was, stuck in Willowbrook, in the middle of the near west Chicago megalopolis. It sure felt different from central Nebraska, or Boulder, for that matter. But it also felt like home.

Fini - Copyright (C) 1993 by C. Anderson - All Rights Reserved

•Framed version from the Beginning•
"Boulder to Minneapolis to Chicago"