Cycling through the Midwest

Our cycling days through the Midwest have been a blur. And a lot of corn. With the exception of South Dakota, where we spent extra time visiting national parks and monuments, we’ve been speeding through the states.

Our ability to eat up miles suddenly increased by 15 miles/day. Now that we’re no longer battling mountains and heat, we’ve suddenly started routinely cycling 65+ mile days. And because the cycling is so much easier, we feel considerably less tired at the end of each day. Rather than resting every 4th day or so, we reeled off 11 straight days of cycling.

South Dakota

We spent a lot of time in South Dakota and it was worth it. We went out of our way to ride the George S Mickelson Trail, a “rail to trail” route running South-North in the Black Hills section of South Dakota. This 109 mile-long route was a lovely trail that took us along an old rail line through beautiful valleys, spruce and ponderosa pine-forested hillsides, and along lovely beaver-damed streams. Along the way we stopped to visit the Crazy Horse Memorial. Although we were somewhat skeptical and expected it to be on the cheesy side, we were very impressed by the in-progress monument and by the quality of the museum there. If you’re ever in this area of South Dakota, don’t bypass this site. It’s definitely worth the visit. As we neared the end of the Mickelson Trail we ran into Roy Stanford, who went out of his way to ensure we toured Mount Rushmore (we chronicled his generosity in the Kindness of Strangers post).

Joy’s birthday was in early August so we decided to take a mini break in Rapid City. We rented a car and spent a few days visiting sites that were too far off our cycle route. This included visiting Badlands National Park, Custer State Park, and Wind Cave National Park.

Unexpected South Dakota fun including visiting Wall Drug, where I bought a South Dakota baseball cap. Our route took us within 50 miles of Sturgis the week before hundreds of thousands of bikers were expected to show up for the annual motorcycle event.  Hundreds of them waved at us as they passed by us on their way there.

It was a major psychological milestone to cross the Missouri and enter the Central Time zone. After spending so long in western states visiting parks, it was time to head east in earnest.

Minnesota

IMG_4563It was exciting to enter Minnesota and we were happy to be in a new state. The mosquitos were also happy we’d arrived and eager to welcome us. Joy and I each got bitten while taking our state-line photo. It was amazing how crossing into Minnesota was almost like changing TV channels. After the endless prairie fields of Wyoming and South Dakota, it was wonderful to see trees and streams and lakes. The landscape was interesting, even if we continued to see hundreds of acres of corn. Man, the US grows a lot of corn!

We enjoyed a brief visit just east of Minneapolis with Margy (Joy’s business partner from Kimball Group days) and her husband, Scott. They hosted us in their lovely house and we were so appreciative of home-cooked meals with fresh fruits and vegetables. Scott and Margie took us on a tour of Minneapolis and Scott introduced us to his favorite bike shop (I got a desperately need new tire).  On our way out of Minnesota Joy and I stopped by the acme of consumerism: Mall of America.

Wisconsin

IMG_4698Wisconsin was brief but memorable. We rode south along the Mississippi, including long stretches along the “Great River State Trail”. This part of the river is very beautiful, with lots of wildlife to see, and lots of river traffic to keep us entertained. We spent a long time in Alma, Wisconsin, watching boats and cargo go through the locks. We had our first break in a long time and just hung out and enjoyed being in a small town on the river.
As we moved eastward we began taking advantage of dedicated bike trails (particularly, the Sparta-Elroy trail) that meander through beautiful scenery and give us days of car-free riding. The Sparta-Elroy trail highlights were three century-old rock tunnels hand-dug for the train. Two of the tunnels are 1/4 mile long and the Norwalk tunnel is just over 3/4 mile long. The tunnels are dark and cool with spring water trickling and sometimes gushing onto the trail. Cyclists are required to walk the tunnels and while we were initially disappointed, you’d be crazy to do otherwise.

We still saw a lot of corn. Before we knew it we had crossed the width of Wisconsin and arrived at Manitowoc, Wisconsin, where we took the ferry ride across Lake Michigan. After the four hours ferry ride we were suddenly in Michigan and on East Coast Time.

Michigan and Beyond

IMG_4742After two days of cycling we are half way across Michigan. We still see corn, but not as much.

Our next target is Ontario, Canada where we’ll be visiting friends in Hamilton for a few days. Then we’ll head to Niagara Falls and the last leg of our journey across the US. Our target is lower Maine and we are planning to officially end our ride on October 1.


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