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


Door County in a Nutshell

The essence of Door County. Can it be done in a day? On a bike, no less? We're trying.

Cycling up to Egg Harbor was quiet and tranquil. The coastal road wound through woods that hosted lakeshore homes, occasionally giving us a peak at the water. Such would be the case all over the peninsula. A sign warning of road construction hinted at trouble but instead delivered 6 miles of fresh smooth pavement. It felt like a personal bike path.

Rich cycling Door County

Luck followed us to our motel, triggering a rainfall after our arrival and producing a full rainbow at its completion. A colorful sunset over the harbor followed. It was a nice welcome to Door County.

Rainbow in Egg Harbor
Egg Harbor Sunset

We are here for two nights, allowing a full day of cycling without gear. Well positioned to explore the upper ranges of Door County. We can each do as we please, and so we divide and conquer.

Rich chooses an early morning foray into Peninsula State Park for birding. He leaves at sunrise and cycles the full circuit of Shore Road. The park is deserted at that early hour, and he finds success at locating birds.

Peninsula State Park by Rich Hoeg
Common Mergansers by Rich Hoeg

Jim and I join forces for the day. We are eager to explore the northern end of Door County. Jim is scoping things out for a potential future trip for Bike Tour Vacations. I just want to see it all. We set off shortly after Rich.

Our plan calls for covering a lot of miles – 56 in total – which translates to sightseeing while on the move. What we sacrifice by not stopping to linger anywhere for long, we gain in distance. We leave plenty for future exploration, and come away with visual memories of sights along our route.

The western coast is punctuated with picturesque towns. Every five miles or so we can gaze at the harbors, admire the personality of the town, take in the plethora of shops and restaurants. Opportunities abound for outdoor activities both on and off the water, for those with the time to spare. There are plenty of visitors, but not enough to interfere with our cycling. In between we travel quiet lanes near the water. I decide that my favorite spot is Fish Creek, for its small town feel and pretty harbor views.

Fish Creek
Harbor signatures

Crossing over to the opposite coast, the population suddenly drops. We are now in the countryside. Farmland is common, and we feel as though we are out where the real residents live. The towns are quieter and more humble. But no less appealing.

Door County farm
Farm building
Mural in Baileys Harbor

The day is cloudy but warm, amazing to be able to cycle in shorts and jersey in October. It is great to be on a bicycle. The perfect day to visit an orchard. My crisp, fresh apple tastes like fall.
Krowas orchard

The biggest success of the day is the carefree cycling. We have a bicycle map that shows the best roads to use, but honestly, all the secondary roads have low traffic and mostly good pavement. Distances are not great, making sights and towns easily accessible when pedaling. And there is so much to see and do along the way.

Door County in a nutshell. We definitely captured the essence of the peninsula. Now I'm ready to return to savor the full flavor some day.



A Writer’s Invitation

This is not where I expected to spend the afternoon. Sitting at a rough old wooden desk, I look out the window on on a field of grasses and wildflowers, all competing for space. In a clearing is a fire ring, with tree stumps for seats. Old metal porcelain coffee pots and ceramic mugs hang on nails from a post. A garden of rusted worn-out typewriters adorns the edge of the clearing. Inside, the sun streams in across the floor, and I hear little critters somewhere within the walls. Apart from that, silence. I am in author Norbert Blei's chicken coop.

Old typewriters
The Coop

A few hours ago I'd never heard of Norbert Blei. Randomly scanning the tourist booklet in our motel room in Door County, a photo of this iconic shed caught my eye and I read its story on the adjoining page. Considered to be Door County's best known writer, Blei spent over 40 years writing in this converted chicken coop. Following his death a few years ago, his family donated the Coop to the Write On, Door County center for writers.

I believe things happen for a reason. The Coop is available for anyone to use, as long as it does not conflict with other needs. A quick phone call informs me that the current writer in residence is away for the afternoon. We just happen to be staying in Egg Harbor, only 4 miles away by bicycle. And I have no other plans. I was meant to spend some time here.

My visit is nearly derailed when I step out the door into the pouring rain. The promised afternoon storm had materialized as I was preparing to go. Unwilling to give up, I pedal through the last remnants of a shower which turns to sunshine as I cruise the tree-lined shores of the peninsula.

The Coop is bigger than I expected. Despite its worn wood floors and some wet stains on the walls, it has a modern feel with its slanted ceiling. Spartan in its furnishings, with what I assume are a sampling of Blei's knickknacks and bits of art tacked to the door and windows, it bears little resemblance to the picture of this space in his day. Surfaces piled high with books and magazines, walls cluttered with pictures, and one of the beaten up typewriters on a desk, only a small amount of space remains for Blei himself. It is clear evidence of his journalism background, in addition to being a former teacher.

Inside Coop
Coop knickknacks
Coop window
Coop door

I myself prefer the modern version of this space. I find it tranquil, and it's emptiness allows my ideas to expand. I am a novice writer, in the presence of a seasoned and prolific author. It gives me time to think about my writing. It validates my interest in writing. My need to write.

I love the idea that this is here for anyone. No credentials are needed. I didn't even have to plan my visit in advance. All I had to do was ask and come.

I must learn more about this Norbert Blei. More than the quick web search and scan of his obituary I did before coming. And I find Write On, Door County very appealing. Their support for writers of all levels is welcoming and encouraging.

Sitting in a writer's retreat is the last thing I expected to do on this bike trip. But that's the beauty of cycling. Plans are fluid and I am more open to spontaneous opportunities. Like this one. After 27 days and 1,100 miles, why not? Thank you, Mr. Blei and Write On, Door County for the invitation.

Sign on Coop


Back for an Encore

Some things bear repeating. Having completed our circuit around Michigan, we are back in Ludington. 25 days and 1,000 miles later. It's cooler, less windy and much cloudier than the last time we were here. But not much else has changed. We stay in the same motel, and Rich requests going back to Luciano's Ristoranti for the white pizza he so enjoyed before. He's been looking forward to that for miles. (Probably about 1,000 miles…)

We have also become a trio once again. Our friend Jim has rejoined us for our final week of cycling.

Jim rejoins the tour!

Evening brings another nice sunset, and a walk out the pier to the lighthouse.

Sunset in Ludington

Once again we take the Badger across Lake Michigan. This time our crossing is cloudy and chilly, so the deck chairs hold little appeal. Instead, we join in for numerous games of Badger Bingo. Jim and I each manage to win a game and bring home fabulous prizes.

Rich just off the ferry

Now back in Wisconsin, it is time for our encore. Door County here we come!