My Mum did not like Norman Hunter, the strong man at the heart of Leeds United’s defence through the 70’s. It was not because of his harsh tackles, more because of his spitting. Had she still been around, she would have screamed out loud at the throat clearing antics of that Wayne Rooney. I mention this for no other reason than I have now spent quite some time watching Baseball in various questionable bars here. It is, as far as I can see, an unfathomable game played by unfit young men who do a great deal of spitting. Mum would have been appalled.
The first day out of Crandon surprised us. A few real hills materialised out of nowhere and forced us to shift down to the granny gear for the first time in a number of weeks. We were heading South away from the Canadian border and twisting left and right through beautiful country roads that often ran along lakes doted with stunning property.
We got onto HWY 52 and our way straightened out and we left the trees behind, replaced by corn fields, bean fields and lots of cows. The thermometer pushed up to the high 80’s and the wind got up and blew straight into our faces. Late summer, and the corn, now as tall as an Elephants eye gives us some shelter. This is going to be tough when the harvest comes.
The landscape is totally agricultural. Immaculate family farms and the occasional silo and later in the day more corporate with industrial numbers of silos. We turned down road S, grateful to be taking a left out of the wind. The little town of Mattoon (Pop 420) came up just in time for a late second breakfast of Blueberry pancakes. A government guy had complained a few years ago about the graffiti on a wall. “Do something about that wall”, so the lady had. “I let people do what they wanted and sign their bit”. Every year or so she organises a touch up. “We have had not a single bit of graffiti since”.
We camped at Vees campground and bar, which is in the middle of nowhere at all. We pitched the tent,pulled together some tasty food and then went to the bar. Happy hour had been running from 3 and now three and a half hours later most of the good natured crowd were reaching something of a mild frenzy.
We were not allowed to buy a single beer. Offers came in from left and right. We had put on 1,500 of climbing for the first time in quite a while and we deserved a treat. “What dark beers have you got?”. I often ask for “One of your darkest beers and one of your second darkest most local beers”. The bar lady went out back and opened a cupboard. This was an unusual request in a Bud Lite stronghold.
We got talking with a couple to our left. “We are native Americans”. I can not remember the name of the tribe but the guy produced something like a credit card. “There you are you see, that makes me the last of the Mohicans”. I tried to remember Daniel Day-Lewis, I wanted to ask him what he thought, but his wife ‘Walking Eagle Burr’ wanted to teach us a little local language. A good night was had by all.
Perfect weather again the next day as we rode to Shawano past stunningly picturesque roadside barns. This is late summer and the birds were coming together to make a nuisance of themselves. Starlings in big flocks were doing their thing and it reminded us of home in the Lothians of Scotland. They should not be here at all and it is an interesting story how they got here. A German guy some while ago decided that the new world should have every bird that is mentioned by Shakespeare, and set about introducing them. He was, as you might expect, very thorough. No matter how obscure the bird reference, he got them in. There are now many millions of Starlings.
We B&B’d for the first time ever on our trip. “I hate cooking, don’t mind cleaning, but I hate cooking!”. So it was just one B and we negotiated a rate. The flat land continued out of Black Creek and now there were even more cows and Soya bean fields. This is the heart of Wisconsin’s cheese country. It is also close to Green Bay, home of the football team ‘The Packers’ ,which has pulled off the amazing trick of being very succesful and locally owned. The people of Wisconsin, refered to as ‘Cheese Heads’, are proud of their team and their cheese and can be seen at the stadium wearing cheese headgear. What else.
Our longest day for a quite a while coincided with us catching the headwinds of hurricane Irene, far away off the East coast, as we raced towards the ferry terminal at Manitowoc. No matter which way we turned, like the eyes in a good painting, the wind followed us. We made it to Manitowoc but with little of our humor left. We had spent the whole 78 mile day riding into a gale, scanning the landscape for signs of shelter or a turn of the road.
Manitowoc is nice, very nice indeed. We had a little time in hand to enjoy it and then pushed down to the terminal. We were cutting across Lake Michigan on S.S. Badger, the last steam powered ship built in the USA. It is worth a visit here just for the nostalgia of it all and a reminder of the smell of the age of steam. Lake Michigan is not the biggest lake of the Great Lakes, but it is huge enough. The four hour straight line trip to the other side gives you a two hour period in the middle when you are steaming out of sight of land.It also goes through a time zone and it is here, surrounded by fresh water as far as the eye can see you can ponder the enormity of it all, and wonder why any one would want to live in Texas.
Hello Michigan. Ludington on the other side was a great place to have a bit of a rest as we are worn out. Sitting in the Redolencia Coffee House ( featured in the New Yorker yesterday) is a very nice place to write the blog. Enjoy, as they say here, quite a lot.