We closed out Minnesota with one more Warm Showers host, and what a fantastic way to close out an amazing state. Their close-knit neighborhood rallied to make us feel at home by sharing their grandkids’ toys with us, offered the use of their RV, and a few others stopped by to say hello over a beer. Our hosts fed us well, let us do a full hygiene reset (laundry and all!), shared great conversation over a backyard fire, and even biked our first 10 miles with us to the Wisconsin border the following morning.
Man oh man, did we underestimate Wisconsin in pretty much every way! I guess Wisconsin’s license plate slogan of ‘America’s Dairyland’ and California’s milk advertising campaign marketing its happy cows led me to expect herds of sad cows at every turn. Not the case. In fact, we saw very few cows along our cycling route. What we did see were thick forests and lush vegetation everywhere, bald eagles, geese, wild turkeys, loons, deer, turtles, and a few vultures. We never saw the reintroduced elk, but we heard their nighttime bugling. The best part was the wildflowers that lined all the lightly traveled county roads we biked. Wisconsin is naturally beautiful.
The biting flies were less pleasant, but we discovered that 13 mph is the necessary speed to escape their pursuit. (Curiously, when stopped roadside for our aptly named ‘butt breaks’ the flies largely left us alone—which enabled our further enjoyment of the wildflowers). That was doable until we hit north-eastern Wisconsin and its humbling hills. Holy moly! Old Man and I were a bit puffed up about our current fitness level, but those hills will quickly knock down your ego a few notches. We did not realize how flat the terrain had gotten in eastern North Dakota and Minnesota until suddenly it wasn’t. Thankfully, as the hills intensified, the biting flies proved scarcer, because there was no way we were pedaling 13 mph up them!
Soon after entering Wisconsin we were welcomed into yet another Warm Showers home. We biked in the rain most of the day (one of the first times since entering the rain shadow in Washington) and were a bit soggy upon arrival. Being experienced cyclists, they helped us rehab our bikes from the rain-grime, let us all bathe, fed us well, and offered the kids an abundance of indoor activity options. The following morning, they gave us a tour of their maple sugar house and outlined the process of sap collection to making maple syrup on a large scale. We were fascinated. They did not set out to be a maple syrup farm, but it just kind of worked out that way in light of a passing suggestion about the abundance of maple trees on their land. The wheels are turning (punny!) in our heads about how we can work something similar wherever we land.
We continued on our way, enjoying the amazing flora and fauna along our path when a local cyclist merged onto our road. We had a common destination and there we chatted about our journey and the local area. Then we ate our lunch, I stocked up on some odds and ends and we set out for our campground. The hills began intensifying that day, so we were pretty smoked and very lethargically going about making camp. Just as Old Man was about to set up tents a car pulled up and out came the woman we were chatting with earlier. She told us that she had already driven through the other campground loop looking for us and had she not found us in this loop she would have driven to the next campground. Why would she go to such lengths to track us down, you ask? To offer us the use of her lakeside cabin and she apologized for not thinking to offer it earlier! I could not believe it—what a generous offer, and then to apologize for not offering it sooner??? It was perfect timing and a tremendous gift to us on a physically taxing day. Old Man jokingly asked her how many other families of strangers met roadside has she offered the use of her cabin. The prospect of showers, cooking dinner in a proper kitchen, and doing laundry re-energized us and we happily rode to her cabin. We made a family game night of it (It was Mr. Green in the Hall with the revolver!), all squeaky clean with full tummies, and we went to sleep to the sounds of elk bugling. The following morning, we packed up and took advantage of her lake access via paddle boat and kayaks. She offered us two nights at this peaceful retreat, but regrettably we could not take a rest day. With summer vacations in full swing for everyone, weekend accommodations (camping or hotels) require more advanced planning and reservations with little last-minute wiggle-room, so our schedule was more rigid than we prefer and on we went. Our fleeting time at the tranquil lake cabin was restorative in so many ways!
A few days later we rode a scenic bike trail most of the way to Big Lake State Park.
We did some school work, set up camp, continually chased away the bold ground squirrels who viewed our food trailer as a jackpot, made dinner, and the kids played as city planners laying out towns in the campsite’s dirt. We met the camp host, chatted a bit, and then went to bed. The following morning the camp host came by to ask us for an exchange: a photo of his kayak trailer on Eleanor for the use of his kayaks.
More time on the water? Absolutely! We obviously got the better deal in that bargain, and it serves as further testimony to human kindness.
Today, we crossed into Michigan. We are a day early for our exit from Wisconsin, but since our intended campground was closed we pushed on (hills and all!). We have now crossed the Laurentian Divide, so the rest of our journey to Lake Michigan should trend downhill. I hope so, because morale is much higher when we feel powerful and capable, whether it is true or not.