Yellowhead Cycling Tour Planning

Yellowhead Logo w nameThis trip has been planned for months.  But only in our heads.  Suddenly, with just over a month to go, the need to make firm reservations reached a critical level of urgency.  In a frenzy of keystrokes, battling it out on two computers and independent cell phones, we chipped away at the myriad transportation pieces required to make this journey possible.  Stymied time and again over clashing train and ferry schedules, long stretches of road with no services and sold-out lodgings, our itinerary morphed continuously.  Punctuated by wails of despair, sighs of relief and begrudging compromises we persisted.  Three ferry rides, one train trip and essential lodging bookings later, we had it.  The Yellowhead Tour is now viable and official.

The location is British Columbia, chosen to piggyback on a July family vacation on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state.  The general plan: cycle the Yellowhead Highway from Prince George to Prince Rupert, then ferry over to Haida Gwaii to ride the highway to its terminus on the northern tip of Graham Island.  A total of 620 miles on the bikes over 17 days.

But it’s a lot more complicated than that.  We start at the tip of Vancouver Island, with an 18 hour ferry ride through the inland passage on the coast of British Columbia.  That takes us within 15 miles of Alaska.  It’s a highly scenic route through the calm waters of the coastal islands on a ferry that approaches the comfort of a modest cruise ship.  A quick overnight in Prince Rupert, then we board Canada’s Via Rail for a full day’s journey to Prince George.  It promises an eyeful of wilderness viewing.  That rail segment is equipped with box car racks for our bicycles with roll-on, roll-off convenience – a cyclist’s delight.  The next morning, we will turn around and repeat that same route via bicycle on the Yellowhead Highway.  This time it will take us 12 days.

Our trip originally ended there.  But while scanning Google Maps, I happened to notice that oddly enough, the Yellowhead Highway continued west into the water.  Huh?  The dotted line took me to Haida Gwaii, a group of islands well off the coast formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands.  Its current name literally means “island of the people” and it has a vibrant First Nation culture.  It seemed an intriguing addition.  We will cycle the final stretch of the Yellowhead Highway to the northern coast, then return to Prince Rupert once again.

Traveling in peak tourist season is something we normally avoid.  But given this northerly route, it is the only reasonable timeframe.  So rather than winging it from day to day, we are nailing down each and every night’s accommodation.  Having already learned that services can be scarce, we will surrender our flexibility in favor of peace of mind.

This is actually one of our shorter trips in terms of cycling.  But to make it happen, we will cover 575 miles by ferry, 450 miles on the train and 4,200 miles in the car.

It’s a good thing it all worked out.  Our jerseys are already on order.  At least we planned ahead for those.

The Year of my Book

It’s been rumbling around in my head for some time now.  Having progressed from blog to magazine stories, might the next step be to write a book?  There is no denying it is the ultimate writing accomplishment.  And I rarely begin something without going all the way.  This would be the marathon of writing.

Through the course of several memoir writing classes and workshops, I’ve pondered several topics.  It was only last fall that the idea crystallized.  And suddenly it was so obvious.  I would write about our cycling trips.  Between my blog posts, detailed journals, photographs and Rich’s trip reports I have a wealth of material.  My passion for the adventures will fill in the rest.

Feeling a bit timid about the idea, not to mention being a complete novice, I hesitated to mention it to anyone much less start the project.  So I set my sights on a writing retreat.  I would be spending Thanksgiving week with my son Carl and his wife Chelsea in Milwaukee.  With three full days to myself while they were at work, I had the perfect opportunity to dedicate myself to writing.

Sinclair Lewis tableCarl was the one who delivered the ultimate push.  He reminded me that their dining room table, which he inherited from his Grandpa Hoeg, once belonged to Sinclair Lewis.  What better place to begin my writing?  That did it.  I assembled my resources and notes online in preparation for the trip.  In the quiet household, I brewed myself a big mug of hot coffee.  I fired up my laptop and sat down at the famed table.  And began.

Molly and Rich near PerceBy the end of my three days, I had several short chapters written.  I could feel this book.  I knew my intended audience, and what I wanted to give them.  In my collection of stories, I will convey the good, the bad, the ugly and the funny about our version of cycle touring.  It should satisfy the curious.  Inform the wanna-be’s.  And entertain those with a travel bug.  For now it will be known as America at 12 Miles an Hour.

Clearly I have a long way to go.  A lot more writing to do.  A ton of learning, editing and selling. Even just admitting my goals here makes me feel vulnerable.  But if I don’t give it a try, I’ll never know if I can do it.  So far, I’m enjoying the challenge and reliving all the memories from the 10,000 miles Rich and I have toured via bicycle.

If my blog posts are sparse, now you know why.  My writing is focused elsewhere.  No matter what ultimately becomes of it, 2017 is the year of my book.

 

A Brush with Civilization

Spending days on end on a bicycle has a way of holding the outside world at bay. For five weeks, on our Liberation Cycling Tour, our possessions consisted of the limited clothing and a couple of electronic devices in our panniers. Food choices were constrained by what was on the menu at local diners. We didn’t ride in a car, watch TV or listen to the radio. We remained blissfully out of range of the antics of the upcoming Presidential election.

Returning home has reopened a wealth of choice. A closet full of clothes present themselves each morning, requiring a decision on what to wear. I can smother my home made toast with natural peanut butter as I savor my favorite morning coffee. My car easily transports an array of fresh fruits and vegetables, and I have all the tools I need for preparing them to my liking. I still don’t watch TV and only dial in to MPR on my car radio.

 

My body is most grateful to rest in the same familiar bed each night. Sleep patterns begin to resettle into normal again. My feet relish the expansiveness of ordinary shoes. I get the haircut I have been craving. The eyebrows I have ignored are waxed into submission once again.

First on my priority list for re-entry is seeing family. Hugging those I love. Then connecting with friends. Coffees, dinners and conversations follow. I re-engage with writing and begin a new story assignment.

Apple orchard

Oh, it does feel good to return to civilization. But it is an ephemeral phase. A tease. A fleeting moment. We are off again.

This time it’s the car we pack. It is stuffed to the gills with camping gear, food and warm clothes. Feeling flush with space, we bring a larger tent, thicker sleep mats and our own pillows. Car camping brings unfettered luxury.

It’s time for our annual 5-day stint as lightkeepers at Crisp Point Lighthouse. For the third year in a row, we are returning to man the visitor center and welcome all who come to see this remote light and walk its pristine beach.

Molly at the top of Crisp Point Lighthouse

Our keeper’s campsite for one comes with no electricity, drinking water, cell service or internet access. If we felt removed from normal life while on our bikes, this is truly off the grid. We are able to enjoy the solar power in the visitor center by day, and the flash of the lighthouse by night. Beyond that, silence reigns. Our only connection with the world beyond our 18 mile rustic dirt road will be the visitors who make their way here.

It was nice while it lasted. That brief brush with civilization was enough of a taste to want more. For now that will have to wait, for a worthy purpose. It will be all the sweeter in a week, when I expect to indulge in a good healthy dose of home life. With all its comforts.

 

Signs of a Successful Tour

I can’t help myself around signs. Invariably I have to stop and take a picture. Reasons vary from humor to documenting locations. But viewed as a collection after the fact, they tell a good tale.

Let’s start with the obvious. As our tour jerseys state, the Liberation Cycling Tour was planned to take in the Northern Great Lakes. The bulk of our miles were spent along the shores of Lake Michigan, Lake Superior and Lake Huron, catching a part of each lake’s Circle Tour. Their shorelines were distinctly different but all shared the same expansive views of endless blue water.

We found a number of good cycling trails along the way. We were grateful for the Interurban trail, for getting us in and out of Milwaukee without dealing with urban traffic and congestion. The Pere Marquette trail kept us off a busy highway while going across the lower peninsula.The Little Traverse Wheelway was a particularly pleasant way to travel along Lake Michigan.  To mention a few.

Some roads were as good as bike trails. And particularly scenic. We didn’t need signs to tell us that.

Signs were often informative.

Or simply told us where we were.

Looking back this way already reminds me of the good times we had.  All the signs point to a very successful cycling tour.

Finishing in Style

Final Totals: 33 days, 1,418 miles

We prefer a circle route. It means constantly covering new ground and seeing new sights. This Liberation Tour followed that principle well, but our final stretch from Door County back to Milwaukee inevitably meant retracing our route. But that's not all bad. It allowed us to linger in places we admired earlier, take in attractions we bypassed and stay over in different towns.

The weather favored us in our final days. The sun returned and temperatures rose into the 60s and we even saw 70. In Kewaunee we got up early to catch the beautiful sunrise behind the lighthouse.

Kewaunee sunrise

We had admired the USS Cobia submarine in the harbor in Luddington several times already. So after bidding farewell to Jim, as he left us to take the Badger back home to Michigan, we went to the Wisconsin Maritime Museum and took a tour of the sub. We were able to walk through it from end to end, taking in the cramped torpedoed room, where men slept sandwiched between the artillery. We saw where they ate and worked, and the engine room. It was all preserved just as it had been outfitted in WWII.

USS Corbia tour

We were especially enamoured with Sheboygan Falls, with its picturesque downtown and multiple parks on the river. It offered few accommodations, we just passed through the first time. But by this stage in our trip, we were willing to spring for something special. So we booked ourselves into the historic Rochester Inn for the final night of our tour. Our lovely two-room suite had its own entrance off the side garden, and was tastefully decorated with lovely furniture and period decor. It was pure luxury compared to tired roadside motels and our tent, so we relished the space and comfort. And it seemed only fitting to snuggle in for a pizza dinner.

Rochester Inn
Dinner in our suite
Leaving the Rochester In

Cedarburg was our other favorite town on that stretch. So with only 15 miles to go, we exercised the art of slowing down and stopped at a local coffee shop for a leisurely afternoon break.

Our last leg was graced with pure sunshine and warm temperatures. A delightful way to complete a tour. Making our final turn to reach Lakeshore Drive, we could feel the cool breezes coming off Lake Michigan. The end was near. Despite having repeated some miles, we had come full circle. And finished in style.

Liberation Tour complete

 

Winding Down the Tour

Our days on the bikes are numbered. The quantity left qualifies as “few.” It is always a bittersweet stage in our tour.

By this point we have settled into the touring mode, and the daily rhythm of our lives is a well honed routine. No longer do we readily recall the day of the week, much less the date. Current events are fuzzy. Our priorities are how far we will cycle, where will we stay, and what food options we have. Beyond that, we focus on the scenery we pass ever so quietly and slowly. We needn't think beyond the tour.

Rich in Cedarburg

Until now. At some point, the miles between now and the end become finite. The route turns static. And we know how long it will take us to finish. The end is in sight.

My first emotion is always a sense of loss. Soon we will turn in our status as touring cyclists, and resume our normal lives. We will no longer be unique, with an automatic ticket for conversation starters. This year's cycling jersey will be retired from active duty to assume a new identity as a souvenir.

Molly on Lake Michigan beach

Despite wanting the tour to go on indefinitely, a few perks begin to weasel their way into my subconscious. A little math tells me I have enough clean clothes to last the final few days. I need no longer be a slave to the drudgery of washing out my attire in the sink each night. The declining storage on my iPad may not be as traumatic as I thought. I might just squeak by with enough space for the last remaining pictures I take. I can stop being so abstemious with my shampoo and toothpaste. I'm going to have enough.

Clothes drying

There are also things to look forward to. I may finally get a good night's sleep successive nights in a row, once I get back in my own bed. That tingling in my hand and the cramp in my foot are almost certain to go away in short order. Soon I can decide exactly what I want to eat for meals, and make it myself. I can already taste the fresh fruit and hearty whole wheat bread I've been craving. And I can get a haircut, to tame the wild frizz I've been stuffing under my helmet.

Best of all, I get to see the rest of my family again. Keeping in touch through Facebook, texts and email can only go so far. I'm anxious to hear about our kids' new jobs. Find out how Ben likes kindergarten. Give those little ones a squeeze. And just spend time with them all.

I will miss the daily miles on my bike, and the challenge of repeating it day after day. But I can now log time with my running friends. I needn't be uber conscious of the weather. If it's raining when I wake up, I can revise my workout plans. And I can even use the car and stay dry. I have a closet full of clothes to deal with the increasingly cooler temperatures, and don't have to worry about whether they will fit in my panniers.

Molly in the rain

I love meeting new people each day. Trading stories about cycling, adventures and life is inspiration for for our travels and becoming a better person. But I long to reconnect with my friends, who enrich my life and are always there for me.

Winding down is hard to do. But I think I'm going to manage.

 

My Happy Hat

Progress to date: 30 days, 1,258 miles

I don't know what made me say it. It just came out of my mouth. “This is my happy hat.” But it's true. The little black skull cap is the difference between being cold and miserable and feeling comfortable and warm. It's as good as an extra layer of clothes.

It's October, so it's no surprise that the weather has suddenly turned colder. But except for a few chilly days in the UP, we have had extraordinarily warm weather. As we left Egg Harbor it was in the mid 60s, one of our warmest mornings yet. We optimistically set out in light gear.

Rich and Jim about to cycle

But it all nosedived from there. Not only did the temperature drop, but strong winds blew out of the west. We were battered by crosswinds or headwinds throughout the day. Although we had only 33 miles to get to Sturgeon Bay, it felt like twice that.

Despite the weather we still had a scenic ride. The highpoint for me was visiting Cave Point County Park. There the waves crashed against the shore sending impressive sprays up against the rocks. The lake's action had carved caves and canyons in the rock, and we could see water pouring out of them as each wave receded. The entire shoreline had evolved into uniquely shaped rock formations.

Cave Point Park 1
Cave Point Park 2
Rich and Molly Cave Point Park

Rich's favorite was this “purple cow” dinosaur sighting. He quickly made friends with the natives and called for a photo shoot.

Rich and dinosaur
Molly taking picture

As the day wore on, we added layers of clothing and battled on against the wind. We counted down the miles. And cheered when we reached the motel.

Morning brought even colder temperatures. It was 43 degrees when we headed out to a coffee shop. And that interminable wind was still blowing. Sipping hot drinks and hoping it would warm up a bit seemed preferable to an early start. We probably gained a degree or two at most, but still benefitted from the caffeine perk. In the end, we dug deep into our panniers and brought out our full armaments. Tights, wool socks, thermal tops and full gloves. Ready to do battle.

Leaving the hotel
Trio on the road

And yes, my happy hat. Because when I'm warm, I'm happy. And so is everyone else in the group.

My Happy Hat