Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Chapter 1: Bike Tour, Take 1

We set out from San Francisco by train, leaving a mess behind us as we scrambled to pack everything up at the very last second. Our roommate, Hannah, woke up at dawn to drop us off at the train station. We said our goodbyes and chugged across 2/3rds of the country to Chicago.

When we got arrived, after 2 days of travel, Amtrak had lost our bikes and a box of luggage. We spent a day without a care in the world - except perhaps that we wouldn't see our bikes again and maybe the whole trip would be canceled. BUT! then the bikes and the luggage showed up only 25 hours later and we were back on track... well, a day late.

We spent the next few days putting our bikes back together, mounting our racks, (which, contrary to every other rack ever, are very complicated and call for tools such as a hack saw...) and finishing our panniers - we were attempting to sew them ourselves on home sewing machines. We were offered a few different sewing machines in Chicago, but after exhausting all our options and with our bags only 80% completed, we finally met a woman who helped us to finish the job. Exchanging money for services. Imagine. Ben (Chris's brother) and Liz and their housemates were kind enough let us take over their house for a few days, trying to get organized.

While we were in Chicago we saw our friends from our respective past lives, Muriel from high school in Seattle, Dana from college in New York, Christina from the bike world of San Francisco, Becky, Mike, Sarah, Vinh, Jeff and Ben from university in Michigan. A whole country of people packed into the city. We had a music jam in the practice space, attended an outdoor concert, enjoyed many meals with Ben and Liz, went out dancing, and overall had a great time.

Once we had achieved some kind of cohesion with our things we set off. We had only stopped working a week before leaving San Francisco and this experience taught us that more time is necessary to prepare for such a long trip. On our first day riding we made it 40 miles outside of Chicago, to a town called Lake Bluff. To get there we rode along the coast of Lake Michigan through the hours and hours of suburbs. It was actually quite beautiful, though slow with much competition of traffic. Next we biked straight west to Rock Cut State Park, just outside of Rockford, IL. We stayed in the park an extra day then headed north to Madison. Chris started noticing that his ankle hurt about 20 miles outside of town and by 10 miles out we had to stop and wrap it. But we reached the city and rushed to the Willy st co-op where Courtney had remembered she could get some Kombucha from the last time she was there. We bought some produce and asked if there was some place we could camp around town. A nice girl named Addie, said that we could sleep on her couch. She walked us to her place and set us up and then went back to work. We showered and went to bed (we get up at around 5:30 with the sun, so we're passed out by 9:30).

We planned to be back on the road and heading toward Minneapolis and the 2009 Bike!Bike! At the rate we were going, we would be 2.5 days late (for a 4 day conference) and Chris could barely walk the next day due to his ankle. So we ended up staying three nights in Madison instead of one. Realizing that we were rushed to make it to Minneapolis, we recalled one of the reasons we had chosen to travel by bike in the first place: It's important to take time and allow for serendipity. We changed directions and planned to ride up and over lake Michigan through northern WI and the Upper Peninsula.

Addie continued to be nice. She, Caleb and April, two of her housemates, had just gotten back from some long tours and were happy to help. So our 3 days there were lovely, hanging out with our magnificent new friends, getting to know the community there and seeing the city. We took bike rides, played bocce ball and made a taco bar. When we finally left, however, we were only 20 miles outside of town when Chris was pretty sure we wouldn't make it to our destination for the day: Beaver Damn; much less up and around Lake Michigan. We stayed in the yard of some nice Wisconsinites who we encountered sitting in their garage watching the storm come in. They chatted with us for a few hours and seemed to make a celebration of our presence. They showed us their can crusher wall attachment (insert can, pull lever, flattened can falls out bottom into properly placed waste bin. VOILA!). And fed us cheese and crackers like proper Midwestern hosts would.

In the morning we proceeded to bike - very very slowly - toward Milwaukee so we could take a ferry across to Muskegon, MI. Chris is a total trouper, although he probably should have said, "I'm not biking another stroke!" and we should have probably hitchhiked the rest of the way, but we made it to a bar in North Lake, WI, a super suburb of Milwaukee. Tim, a patron, let us camp in his back yard. Another man named Chris actually bought the whole bar a round - an act we've never actually encountered before - trying to impress the barista. "Do you want another beer or a shot!?!" the barista demanded, as she pulled out two shot-glasses. "we have a choice?" said Courtney. As it turns out, everyone got the shot. "A smoothie" otherwise known as Jack Daniels.

Tim woke up surprisingly early and convinced us to let him drive us into Sussex. In light of Chris's injury, we had decided to take a nice city bus with front racks for our bikes. The only morning bus left at 7 am and by 8 we were dropped in Milwaukee, a mile away from the ferry. At 12:30 we boarded and were warned of 5 to 7 foot waves and possible sea sickness. "eh, we'll be FINE" we thought. But no, not really. We both got sick and lost most of our breakfast. Tish, Chris's Dad's friend who lives in Grand Rapids, MI, was so nice and picked us up from the ferry with her sedan and her bike rack and drove us to her house. This is a 40 mile ride, so the advantage was wonderful. Geno (Chris's dad) had just left for California to hang out with Chris's sister and her lovely children, and had left his car with Tish. So we drove Geno's Car back to Kalamazoo, but not before making good conversation and being fed a wonderful vegetable bake and some fresh picked blueberries.

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