Don's Bike Across America
Astoria, Oregon to Portsmouth, New Hampshire
June 19 to August 7, 2006
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Don's Blog: July 27: Eleven Days in the Midwest

 
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Catching up on the past few days:

Wednesday

After Tuesday’s 115 miles, when many cyclists received the route sheet for Wednesday’s ride, they saw a flat 75-mile route and said “piece of cake.” I thought, “Uh-oh.” Just when you think a day is going to be “easy,” it turns out to be anything but. That was true of Wednesday’s ride, as we faced a stiff headwind for much of the first 25 miles, making it a struggle, especially combined with short recovery from yesterday’s 115 miles. I had a very difficult time getting into it mentally. I just did not want to be out there; the miles passed very slowly.

In addition, there was only one sag stop, at mile 40. I had eaten a fairly light breakfast, so I needed to refuel at the sag, but found the choices wanting. I made the best of it, but it did not make for a pleasant final 35 miles. To top off the misery index, the last 20 or so miles were on rough “chip and seal” roads, with potholes and cracks all over the place. My bike and body took some serious punishment. We got into the town of Birch Run just in time to beat an afternoon thunderstorm, so that was good news at least.

Birch Run is nothing more than glorified highway truck stop, so there was not very much to see. There was some excitement after dinner, as Steven was interviewed by a local television station, and appeared on the news that night and again the morning. By all accounts he acquitted himself nicely on camera.

Thursday

Today’s route covered 88 miles from Birch Run to Port Huron, on the Canadian border. It is also close by Lake Huron. The conditions were much better today than yesterday. I felt better and rode much better as a result. The humidity has steadily increased as we have traveled east and it was way up there today, at more than 90 percent for most of the ride. This is in stark contrast to the dry, searing heart we experienced in the West. The skies were overcast for much of the ride, making the humidity more tolerable.

After the second sag stop I really cranked up the pace, as I fell in with two other riders. We were flying along at close to 20 miles per hour for close to an hour, before letting up a little just before we got into town. I ended up completing the 88 miles in just over five and half hours, including the stops. That is as fast as I have gone since we were back in Wyoming, I think. We have reached the Canadian border and will cross into Ontario tomorrow morning as a group. That should be interesting. I hope the process moves fairly quickly.

11 Days in the Midwest

This trek can be divided into three sections: the West, the Midwest, and the East. The past 11 days in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan have comprised the Midwestern portion of the ride. Now we head east for the final 11 days.

We missed most of the big cities in the three states we covered in the Midwest, (Minneapolis, Madison, Milwaukee, and Detroit, due to geogrpahy or on purpose) so it is difficult to draw a meaningful conclusion on which was the “best” of the three states, but from what I saw, Wisconsin has it hands down over Minnesota and Michigan. It was clean and scenic, as well as more varied and interesting than the other two states. Lacrosse was a nice town, as was Fond du lac. The Wisconsin Dells and its amusement area provided a nice change of pace. If I were to come back to visit, Wisconsin would be an area I would be inclined to return to. What I will remember from most about Minnesota is the endless corn and soy bean farms, as well as the manure. Michigan was flat, but with little in the way of scenery.

Some facts about the areas of the Midwest we visited (with some information from Wikipedia)

Minnesota

Minnesota is the northernmost state in the country, aside from Alaska. A large portion of the five million residents live in the Twin Cities metropolitan area, the center of transportion, business and industry, and home to an internationally-known arts community. The remainder of the state, often referred to as Greater Minnesota, consists of western prairies now given over to intensive agriculture, eastern deciduous forests also heavily farmed and settled, and the less-populated northern boreal forest. The state is known as the "Land of 10,000 Lakes”, and those lakes and the other waters for which the state is named together with state and national forests and parks offer residents and tourists a vigorous outdoor lifestyle.

Minnesota has temperature extremes characteristic of its continental climate, with cold winters and warm summers. The state's climate is profoundly affected by the jet stream, which can give the state winter temperatures lower than some parts of Alaska. As Minnesota is located far inland, its climate is unmoderated by large bodies of water except for highly localized effects near Lake Superior. Minnesota is exposed to blizzards during its long winter, and thunderstorms the rest of the year. The state is located on the north edge of Tornado Alley.

Wisconsin

Wisconsin is nicknamed the badger state. Its self-promotion as "America's Dairy land" sometimes leads to a mistaken impression that it is an exclusively rural state. In fact, however, Wisconsin contains cities and towns of all sizes, and has a population of 5.5 million. Milwaukee is slightly larger than Boston and part of a largely developed string of cities that stretches down the western edge of Lake Michigan into greater Chicago and also into northwestern Indiana. Milwaukee is also the 22nd-largest city in the country, with around 596,000 inhabitants. Madison's triple identity as state capital, university town and working city gives it a cultural richness unusual in a city its size. Madison is also a very fast-growing city, which has around 260,000 people. Medium-size cities dot the state and anchor a network of working farms surrounding them. The state is home to the Green Bay Packers, the most successful small-market professional sports franchise in the world. With 12 National Football League titles, Green Bay is known as "Titletown".

Lake Michigan

Lake Michigan is one of the five Great Lakes of North America, and the only one in the group located entirely within the United States. It is bounded, in a clockwise direction from the south, by Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan. The word "Michigan" was originally used to refer to the lake itself, and is believed to come from the Ojibwa Indian word mishigami, meaning "great water." It is the largest fresh water lake in the U.S. and fifth largest in the world, at 307 miles long and 118 miles wide.

Michigan

Michigan, with more than 10 million residents, is the only bi-peninsular state. The Lower Peninsula of Michigan, to which the name Michigan was originally applied, is sometimes dubbed "the Mitten," owing to its shape. The Upper Peninsula (U.P.) is separated from the Lower Peninsula by the Straits of Mackinac, a five-mile channel that joins Lake Huron to Lake Michigan. The Upper Peninsula (whose residents are often called "Yoopers") is economically important for tourism and its natural resources. The Upper and Lower Peninsulas are connected by the five-mile-long Mackinac Bridge, which is the third longest suspension bridge in the world.

Detroit is the biggest city, with just less than million residents. Grand Rapids, Lansing, Saginaw, Flint, and Ann Arbor are other big cities. The auto industry has long been Michigan’s hallmark, but has struggled some in recent years, so the state has branched out into other areas of economic development.