There are days when we feel that all we do is pedal our bikes. Do that for long enough and you will get to a point where you can not remember a time when you did not do that. Soon enough you will have ridden 7,ooo miles and have climbed 183,000 ft just here in the USA, which is what we have done. Before you allow yourself to feel even the slightest bit smug there is a conversation with a film maker back in Edinburgh that I remember. “Why don’t you make a film about the world record holder for distance pedaled in a year on a bike”. I had looked it up and was amazed, 75,065 miles by Tommy Godwin of England, back in 1939 ( that works out at 200 miles a day average!). “I don’t think that would appeal to many people Warren”. He must have been the hardest man to have ever drawn breath.
We are now cycling on the Great Lakes route from the Adventure Cycling Association having turned North from the Northern Tier cross country route. This is a top tip as it keeps us away from yet more flat farmland and into cooler and more ‘interesting’ countryside. We passed from Minnesota and into Wisconsin as we rode over Saint Croix River, on HWY 95 into Osceola.
For a couple of days now the landscape had become more like home. There were more small roads to take and more variety to the landscape. Small, well run little farms with beautiful barns dotted the valleys. Woodland and lakes were also here in just the right proportions to offer variety. This is perfect.
As we approached Amery I shouted back to Esther “Dog up ahead!”. It was big and black and far off and in no great hurry to go anywhere. “Warren, that is not a dog”. Esther was right, and we had found out first hand that Wisconsin is the Black Bear Capital of the USA, which I did not expect at all.
We passed through Cumberland, grateful that we were not passing through wearing Lycra back in its heydays of the late 1870’s to the early 1900’s. Back then it was one of the toughest lumber camps in Wisconsin. In 1884 the little town boasted 24 saloons. They tried to give it all a bit of order by allowing the bars on one side of Main Street only. Genteel folk could walk on the other side and quite quickly, avoiding eye contact I would imagine.
We approached the little town of Haugen the next morning with little in the legs and zero enthusiasm to rush through. We went into the Haugen Inn and were soon talking with Elaine.”I have run a bar here for thirty years now, first over the street and now here”. Within minutes we were staying at her place that night.
We wandered down to the cafe for second breakfast. It was early afternoon by now, but the breakfast menu always looks the best value per calorie and in a strange way, the most fun. Locals entertained us, and we were as ever, the center of attention, sitting there in brightly coloured lycra and sportswool. “You two will have to come out on the boat, we will pick you up in an hour”. So we were the guests of Dot and family for an afternoon of fun afloat on Lake Long.
We wandered back along Main Street and went into the grocery store to sign the “travelers book” for Jim the owner. “My middle daughter rides for Trek as a professional. She’s 17th in the world”. Now that is something that we did not expect.
Bald Eagles and the wonderful Loons were the boating highlight and if truth be told a number of rather excellent local beers. We got back to the Haugen Inn and our host Elaine just in time for another beer. “Do you know, I think we may like Wisconsin more than the other States”. It was time for bed. In this little town we feel terrible if anyone sees us locking our bikes.
The next day was, as ever, cycling nirvana. If you wanted to do a first trip by bike in the USA, you could do far worse than ride The Great Lake route. We ended the day at the KoA Kampground (sic) and almost burst into tears when we were asked to pay $50 for a pitch in a sand pit surrounded by screaming children. Five minutes later and “Would you like 15% off”. “I would not take it for 90% off, we need our sleep”. The nice lady was trying to help and could see that we had ridden a long way that day. She stepped outside for a minute and then was back. “I’ve had a word with the owner and we have a quiet corner for nothing”. Wisconsin we love you.
The number of trees had started to increase and now we were riding through dense forest as we rode along Moose Lake Road. Up ahead a dark shape was coming towards us and I reached for the whistle in my back pocket. It was coming along the road on our side and straight towards us. “Bear Esther!”. “Warren, that is a jogger”. It did look every bit like a bear, but as we drew closer it was quite clearly a rather large woman out jogging, dressed from head to sneaker in black. I was just about to say “Hi, hows it going, do you know you look like a bear?”, when I thought better of it.
Chequamegon National Forest and we have another natural history fact to come to terms with as we sit in a bar at Clam Lake. “This is the heart of Wolf country you know”. “Lost my little dog to a wolf last year right here in the yard”. Wisconsin is just full of surprises for us.
We rode through Glidden the next morning. ‘Black Bear Capital’ it proudly boasted and not a single can of bear spray being sold anywhere. The trees were getting more dense and soon we are ridding through forests with occasional views of beautiful lakes. Birch and Maple are much more numerous. We spend the night camped on the back yard of a Harley biker in Mercer (Loon Capital of the World).
The next day is, once again, cycling nirvana. We pass through Boulder Junction (Muskey Capital of the World) and on to West Star Lake Campground. We claim a pitch overlooking the lake and make food. This is perfection and easily enters our top five campground list. We make tea after tea, boiling water with our mKettel system. It sends Birch resin fragrensed smoke up into the still evening air which is a delight.
Wisconsin is the perfect place to cycle. If you want to tour for the first time in the USA it would be a great choice that is certain. The call of the loons from the lake in front of our tent was magical. How something so similar to a duck makes that noise we have no idea, but it is great that it does. The nights are getting much cooler now and as we rode to Crandon the next day we started to see our first Sugar Maples with the odd leaf turned a golden orange or red.