June 24: Journey's End

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on June 24, 2005]
I made it! I'm writing from St. Paul, the end of my wheeled migration. Here's what happened in the final week...

I had a short day last Saturday, getting myself in position to go to church the next morning in Woodruff, Wisconsin. Father's Day weekend is a popular time to go camping, but I was able to get a sweet beachside spot at a private campground on Big St. Germain Lake. I had my tent up by 2:00 and rented a transparent-bottomed kayak, which would have been a lot more interesting had there been more to see under the water, but I had fun anyway!

Forests gave way to tree farms as I rode into Woodruff Sunday morning. Northwoods Unitarian Universalist Fellowship has its own building -- which they paid off after 7 years and are planning to double in size -- and a congregation of about 60, but they only have services alternate weeks. This being an off week, we watched a video and discussed it.

I planned to follow the Bearskin-Hiawatha State Trail south for the rest of the day. Just as I reached the trailhead, I turned a sharp corner and must have hit a bump or something, because the trailer tipped over and skidded 180 degrees. The hitch twisted its hose clamps around, and the tongue of the trailer went right through the spokes of my rear wheel! It took 15 minutes and three people to get it extricated.

Fortunately there was a bike shop nearby, and the spokes were straightened out in short order. (The mechanic was so grossed out by how dirty my bike was that he wore gloves to work on it! The name of the shop was "Clean Machine.") I put the hitch back on with new hose clamps, and away I went. The trail was surprisingly quiet on this beautiful Father's Day... I guess there weren't many fathers who wanted to bike or walk on their day.

The first campground I tried in Haefford Junction had recently reverted to a soybean field, but less than a mile away I found another that wasn't on my map. It's a run-down place, but it met my needs. My neighbor was a truck driver spending the weekend with his two sons, having divorced their mother. He says his daily life is a lot like mine, since he cooks meals in his truck cab and often turns off of the highway to sightsee!

Monday was not nearly as much fun as recent days had been. It was hot and humid, and there was no shade to be had on the road I was riding. Before that started, though, I stopped for groceries in Tomahawk and met a man in a wheelchair who's done some touring both in a racing chair and a hand-cranked trike. You just don't know how many people have toured until you start talking with them!

So... after hours of grinding away in the heat, I straggled into the little town of Ogema looking for food, and all that was open was a bar that only served frozen pizza, so I choked that down. A cold front blew in soon after, bringing cooler temps and some rain as I rode into another part of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.

I had trouble finding my campground and was frustrated as well as exhausted when I made camp and collapsed. The thought occurred to me that, alone in the forest with zero cell phone reception, if I were mauled by a bear, I wouldn't be found until the weekend campers arrived to claim their reservation... but I was so tired I couldn't really care! The campground was eerily silent all night -- no crickets or frogs singing; not a single sound except for the occasional rustle of some animal going about its business.

Tuesday was a much better traveling day, and I made great time. The town of Cornell was founded by the same man who founded Cornell University but had its boom as a transfer point for pulp wood; their major landmark is an antique "wood stacker" -- like a grain elevator for logs. Now the railroad line has been turned into a bike trail.

I camped near the trailhead in Brunet Island State Park. There was a lot of rustling in the leaves during the night, most of it raccoons. I had brought my food into my tent because the park didn't seem like a place where the raccoons would be tame, and they weren't, but then I heard what sounded like the roar of a bear not far away! It seemed to be angry at the raccoons, if I may make such a judgment from the swatting and chattering that followed. I made loud noises while I put fresh batteries in my flashlight, and by the time I stepped outside with the light, the only eyes that shone back at me were those of a raccoon quite far away. I was glad that my sleeping bag, which hasn't been washed in months, leaves no doubt as to what sort of animal I am. All the same, I didn't sleep well the rest of the night!

I rode down the Old Abe State Trail, which unlike most Wisconsin trails is paved, to Chippewa Falls. The trail took me right past the Leinenkugel's brewery, but I skipped the tour. I had lunch and ice cream in town before hitting the hot country roads -- between cornfields now -- to Menomonie.

If you can remember back to August 11, my second night on the road, you may recall that I felt "gypped" to pay $15 for a campsite outside Menomonie. It's a good thing I didn't make it to the campground a mile and a half farther down the road, because it turned out to be $18 plus coin-op showers... I would have thrown a fit. But now I'm used to the variation in prices, and I was happy to make use of the swimming pool.

All night I listened to the howling of the Interstate, wondering how I lived with that banshee in my backyard for four years! It was much more noticeable after two quiet nights in the forest.

I hit the road very early on Thursday, hoping to avoid the heat of the day, which was forecast to be in the mid-90s F. I followed Route 12 west from Menomonie -- a road I had avoided on the way out just because it's a US highway, but now that I read the maps better I knew it would be a quiet ride.

I went through my 2 liters of water by 9:30 and stopped to refill at a bar in the town of Wilson. The folks in the bar -- getting an early start on the day's drinking -- asked about my trip as I stood sweating my shirt through, and before I knew it they had bought me breakfast. It was the best I'd had since leaving Waffle House territory, and it held me until dinner!

My friend Lori from Minneapolis bought a house with her boyfriend south of Roberts, Wisconsin, which is within commuting distance of the Twin Cities provided she leaves really early. I reached her house around 2:00 and was relaxed and composed by the time she got home from work. We had a lot of catching up to do!

This morning I enjoyed the luxury of a hot breakfast followed by the luxury of staying indoors while a thunderstorm passed by.

I had planned to ride northwest and cross into Minnesota at Stillwater and ride into St. Paul on the Gateway State Trail, the same way I left in August. But I missed a turn and was in Hudson, Wisconsin before I knew it... and so it made more sense to just cross the river there. There's a bike lane on the Interstate 94 bridge, and once I found the way onto it, I was pretty much home free... a signed bike route led me practically all the way to the home of my friend Matt, where I'll be staying while I search for an apartment.

Really the only eventful thing that happened on the way in -- I got here at 2 PM -- was that I stopped to refill my water bag at a convenience store's soda fountain and got soda water by mistake... so I was belching all the way into town!

So far I've seen very little that's changed since I left, so it's easy to forget that I went away at all... and then I woke up and it was all a dream! As I write this in an 8th floor dorm room, the sun is setting behind the beautiful Minneapolis skyline and the dense urban forest between the Twin Cities. I know there have been a few big changes in Minneapolis since August, so maybe it'll hit me when I cross the river!

Funniest / worst signs I've seen all year:

  • Our Lady of Suffering Home for Unfortunate Children (Wisconsin)
  • Squat 'n' Chomp (one in Georgia, one in upstate New York, both appeared to be BBQ restaurants)
  • Beige & Beige (gourmet restaurant outside Philadelphia)
  • Life's a Bleach, Then You Dye (somewhere in the South)
  • Watch for Dangerous Wind Currents (highway sign, Austin)
  • Bilbo Road (street sign in one of the Carolinas)
  • Mistakes are the stepping stones to wisdom (on a dentist's sign near Philadelphia)
  • We appreciate / your time-limited / waiting (on a medical clinic. Would "time-limited waiting" be impatience?)
  • Cozy food, warm beer, cold rooms (on a motel restaurant in the UP)
  • Mosquito Trail (street sign, Ontario)
  • Sagola Republic (highway sign for two towns in Wisconsin)
  • ... and one on my latest roll of film you'll have to see to believe...

Well, this is it for the travelogue, but don't unsubscribe yet! I'll write again in a few days when I have my last two rolls of photos ready for you, and after that I anticipate a few more additions to the Web site. Until then...

The road goes ever on and on,
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with weary feet
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.
-- J.R.R. Tolkein

Thanks for reading! --Ben