Empty Nest Adventures – Part One

In August, our youngest child Jimmy left for UW-Madison.  After a quarter of a century of being full time parents with kids at home, my wife Sarah and I are now empty nesters.  We have no fall sporting events to attend.  The house is eerily quiet, the dishwasher takes three days for us to fill up, and Sarah wants to eat chips and salsa for dinner.  There are endings everywhere we look. 

But this is also a time of beginnings.  The next chapter of life.  We are blessed to have our health, to enjoy each other’s company, and to have the freedom to take some time off from working.  And to help us focus on beginnings rather than endings, we decided to plan some “empty nest” adventures. 

First up – A Labor Day week, self-contained bike trip across the U.P. of Michigan and Northern Wisconsin, a.k.a. the . . .

Port Wing to Little Duck Shuffle*

Sarah and I are plotting a much longer bike trip (more on that at the end of this post), and this week long trip would serve as a sort of shake down to test our gear, test our mettle, and see if we like traveling together on bicycles.  The trip had a few rocky (make that gravel and diesel) moments, but overall it was fantastic and left both of us excited to do more trips together on two wheels. 

The Route

Monday – “What’s that Called?  A Coal Roll?” 

After celebrating Labor Day weekend with our family at Sarah’s Mom’s place in Port Wing, WI, (“the Farm”) we said goodbye to our kids who were driving back to Minneapolis and then scrambled to pack up our gear and load our bikes.  The plan was to spend the week biking from the Farm in Port Wing to our cabin in the U.P. of Michigan, and then loop back through Northern Wisconsin, returning to Port Wing, and our parked car, by weeks’ end.

Heading out

We didn’t roll out of the Farm driveway until well after 2pm—two hours late—but we were both excited to enter the unknown.  Sarah is a very strong biker, but this was her first self-contained trip traveling on a bike weighed down with gear.  It made me nervous, and to make my nerves worse, the first five miles of the trip were on a sketchy gravel road that made biking a challenge.  Sarah was slow and steady on that first gravel stretch, and we made it out to the Highway 13 pavement without incident.  “I really hate gravel,” was all she said as we hit the smooth road.  Noted.    

We planned to camp our first night on Madeline Island, and happily settled into a nice rhythm heading east on Highway 13.  It’s a beautiful road that tracks the “South Shore” along Lake Superior and the rolling hills of the Bayfield Peninsula.  As a bonus, most of the Labor Day traffic was heading the opposite direction, the notable exception being one pickup truck with huge tires, which was headed our direction.  He slowly snuck up behind us as we were huffing up one of the many steep hills on Highway 13 and then floored his big diesel engine, bathing us in a black cloud of smoke.  “You @$#@% #$%#$!” I yelled.  Sarah didn’t realize what was going on.  “We just got coal rolled by that a-hole,” I said. 

If you’re confused, just Google “rolling coal” or “coal rolled.”  It’s hard for me to imagine the type of person who thinks this is a fun activity.  I got a clear look at the truck, but unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to ask the driver for his thoughts, as he sped away like a coward.  He did give me enough adrenaline to easily reach the summit of that hill, so maybe I should thank him.  But mostly I just want to pee in his gas tank. 

Snackin’ in Cornucopia

A dozen miles later, we left Highway 13 in the little lakeside village of Cornucopia, Wisconsin.  After a snack, we headed inland to take a more direct route to the town of Bayfield, where we planned to catch the ferry to Madeline Island.  Although this turn significantly reduced our chances of getting coal rolled again, it delivered us back onto a long stretch of gravel road.  It was at this point that I learned something very important – my wife hates gravel roads.  And hate is not too strong of a word.  I have known Sarah for over 30 years, and I have never seen her usual warm, sunny disposition turn south faster than it does when I make the mistake of leading her, and her fully loaded bike, onto a bumpy gravel road.

Do you want to turn around and head back to highway 13,” I say.  “How long does the gravel last?” Sarah responds.  “I’m not sure, I don’t think it is too far.”  Sarah thinks for a second, then says, “let’s just get through it.”  Like a trooper, she put her head down and pedaled on, but I could tell that I was on thin ice and that my role as navigator on this trip was already in jeopardy. 

The gravel continued much longer than I expected.  I tried to explain that this was what I refer to as “Type 2” fun – that is, an activity that doesn’t feel fun while you are doing it, but becomes fun and rewarding when you reflect back on the experience later.  “This gravel road will never be considered fun,” Sarah responded.  Fair enough.  I didn’t push the point.           

Mercifully, the gravel finally ended and transitioned into a winding forest road with no traffic.  After a few climbs, we started a long, beautiful descent into Bayfield that included stunning views of Lake Superior on the way down.  The gravel was forgotten, at least for today.      

Reaching Bayfield, we both noticed the cold.  The day started out sunny and around 60 degrees, but was now overcast, windy and maybe 50 degrees.  Lake Superior looked raw.  We donned our masks and ducked into the first restaurant we saw, the Manypenny Bistro.  It was busy and we were happy to get a table, our happiness increasing when the waitress informed us that they were just about to close because they were out of most things on the menu after a very busy holiday weekend.  We were famished, having only had a snack in Corny to sustain us on the ride.  This was the second lesson of the day – don’t ever skip lunch on a long-distance day of riding or you’ll start to suffer.  A good friend of mine told me that you should actually start eating before you start feeling hungry on a long ride—good advice that I often forget. 

Not surprisingly, the meal took a long time and we missed the 6:30pm ferry.  Bike travel, I’m learning, is all about being flexible and open to change.  I really wanted to camp in the amazing state park on the Island, but after a brief discussion, we realized that we would get there after dark, we were already cold, and it was going to be around 32 degrees overnight.  Not a great scenario for our first night.  So instead we biked around town, looking for vacancy signs, and found a room at a quaint motel on the hill outside of town.  Sarah liked it because we could pull our bikes into our room—she is very wary of bike theft, despite my stupid argument that no one would stoop low enough steal a traveling cyclist’s ride.

There is always a sense of relief when you know where you are going to lay your head for the night.  We unpacked and walked back into town for a few take out beers (I love Wisconsin liquor laws) and a sunset that broke out of the clouds.  Day one was in the books.  I’d call it a success.  A little diesel smoke, but no blisters or saddle sores, and I still held my title as navigator.  We were both asleep by 9:30pm.   

Day One – 37.96 Miles

Tuesday – U.S. Highway 2 Death March     

Why do you always do this?” my wife asks me, around 60 miles into a planned 80-mile day.  “Why do you always have to push it and make me feel like I’m on a death march?

She had a point.  I do have a well-deserved reputation for getting my family into Type 2 fun, which sometimes goes too far.  We were somewhere on U.S. Highway 2 outside of Ironwood, Michigan, at that point in the day.  To put it bluntly, U.S. 2 sucks.  It’s crazy busy with logging trucks, RV’s, semi’s, and cars speeding by impatiently at +70mph. 

The day started out great.  We awoke to a hazy sunrise over the big lake and 46 degrees, and rode a tailwind all the way to our first stop Coco’s in Washburn, Sarah’s favorite bakery that has sweet rolls as big as your head.  Outside of Ashland, we topped off our water at my favorite artesian well and got some veggies for our dinner.  We even found a nice back road out of Ashland that allowed us to avoid U.S. 2 all the way to the Bad River Reservation at Odanah, Wisconsin.  I started to feel like we knew what we were doing, which is usually an ominous sign that I’m about to be humbled.   

Just then we met U.S. Highway 2, and it turned out to be the only way we could continue east past Odanah, without returning to Sarah’s nemesis, a.k.a. gravel.  And to Sarah’s point, it was a death march pretty much the whole way to Ironwood, Michigan.  In my defense, I didn’t want to do big miles on a busy highway on our second day either, but we really wanted to make it to our cabin in Watersmeet, Michigan, on this trip, which wasn’t going to happen without some Type 2 fun. 

We did get a gift from the cycling Gods in Ironwood, in the form of the Iron Belle trail.  Sarah is not a path finder, as she would admit, but as we were plugging along U.S. 2 through Ironwood, she lifted her head up long enough to spot what looked like a paved trail running parallel to us.  Score!  It was another hit to my navigating cred.  The Iron Belle was indeed a paved bike trail, and it ran all the way to Wakefield, MI, where we planned to camp that night.  The trail was a huge relief, but we were dragging and decided to stop at a bakery in Bessemer, Michigan for a boost.  The Bread of Life café was warm (the bank across the street was showing 48 degrees on their sign), the woman at the counter was a gem, and they served pizza.  We decided to chow down and save our camp dinner for another night.  Calories are critical to keep those pedals moving. 

The campground on Sunday lake in Wakefield was chock full of huge RV’s and trailers when we arrived, but the whole hillside was available for tent camping, and we were the only tent. 

We succeeded in setting up away from the hum of RV generators and had a nice discussion with the campground host, Jim, and his daughter who rolled up in their golf cart to collect our camping fee ($7).  Most of the RV’s set up in May and leave in October, Jim told us, which helped explain some of the elaborate set ups that included pet fences, flashing outdoor lights, and trailered cars.  After a stroll around the park and a nice, hot fire, Sarah informed me she was going to bed.  It was 8:15pm. 

Day Two – 80.8 Miles

Wednesday – Cold Rain and Hot Soup        

I woke up early and reluctantly stuck my arms out of my warm sleeping bag to check the weather on my phone.  36 degrees and rain forecast for later that morning.  We were less than 50 miles from our cabin, but there was no way we’d make it in the cold rain without our good rain gear.  “Do you want to just stay here today and wait it out?” I ask Sarah, but we decide to go for it, the pull of staying in our own place proving too great.  “If the rain hits and we have more than 15 miles to go,” I say with false confidence, “we’ll just pull off and pitch our tent in the forest and wait it out.” 

Despite our best efforts and a limited breakfast, we don’t roll away from Sunday lake until after 9AM.  Jim highly recommended a stop at Randall’s bakery in Wakefield, but instead we hop back on U.S. 2—the most direct route—and hammer away, happy to find a very wide shoulder on this stretch of the road. 

Day Old Biscotti – Not a Good Choice for Breakfast

I need a snack,” Sarah yells up to me over the noise of a passing car a few miles out of town.  This is not a good sign, as Sarah eats mostly for utility rather than pleasure and up to this point in the trip I’ve had to remind her we need to stop occasionally to eat.  We pull off for an apple and a bar, but we should have eaten more for b-fest after yesterday’s big miles.  It’s hard to make up a major deficit while you are on the bike, a lesson I continue to forget.  A few miles after our stop, my fears are confirmed – Sarah is officially tired.  I can tell because she starts to save energy by drafting right behind me, a practice she normally avoids because she worries about hazards on the road that I might block from her view.  We slow our pace, despite the feeling we are on borrowed time. 

Just then my phone, which sits in a stand on my handlebars, lights up.  It’s my Dad.  “Looks like you are getting rain.  How bad is it?”  My Dad is fantastic when we are on adventures like this—he often tracks our progress and sends me logistics and other info along the way.  We call him “T’s Travel Service.”  Today T’s Travels is providing us up to date weather info.  “Not yet,” I type back cryptically, but the sky does not look good.  We still have around 30 miles to go.  It’s 42 degrees out.

Just after the town of Marenesco, it starts to mist.  But then we get a gift.  Old U.S. Highway 2 emerges from the forest and starts to run parallel to us.  And it’s so close that we confirm that it’s paved.  Sweet!  We jump off the main highway at our first opportunity. 

Old U.S. Highway 2

The old road makes us feel like we are biking into the exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear plant.  Or maybe we are the only humans left on earth.  The road hasn’t been maintained in many, many years.  It’s partly covered by creeping vegetation, it’s weather beaten and faded—the yellow double lines are barely visible—but it remains remarkably smooth.  What a huge lift for both of us.  And even better, the forest canopy overhead provides a temporary shield from the mist that is gathering strength.  Moments like these are one reason I love bike travel: It opens you up to receive little gifts of serendipity.  The rain holding off, an old paved highway.  These are simple things, but they brought tired smiles to our faces that day. 

Ten miles out, we started talking about food.  After some back and forth it was settled.  It was the perfect day for grilled cheese and tomato soap.  Nothing had ever sounded so tasty.  Four miles out, we stopped in the town of Watersmeet for the supplies.  It felt good to be back in familiar territory. 

A mile or so before we reach our place, the mist turns to steady rain.  “I can’t believe how lucky we got!” I say, but Sarah is too focused on getting off her bike to respond.        

A few grilled cheese sandwiches and two hot showers later, we plop down in front of a warm fire.  “You’ve officially killed me,” Sarah informs me.  It is the first complaint about being tired she has uttered all day.  It is so impressive that she made the miles today with little food and not much bike training before the trip.  I know she will feel refreshed tomorrow.  And we are both going to start eating before we get hungry. 

It is still raining when we go to bed that evening at 9:30pm.  A solid, steady, 7 hours of rain already in the books.  It sounds amazing on our roof, a warm fire still crackling in front of us.  It would have been a much different experience if we were still hunkered down in our tent somewhere off Old U.S. 2 waiting for it to stop.  The timing of a rain storm has never been so important, I think, as I drift off to sleep. 

Day Three – 47 Miles

Thursday – “No!  I’m not waking him up!”

Sarah nudges me awake and I grab my phone to see the time.  It’s 8:49AM, which is the latest I have slept in since . . .  I can’t remember.  I guess Sarah wasn’t the only one who needed rest.  We are fogged in and can barely see the lake, but the sun is starting burn its way through.  A sunny day sounds good. 

We eat a huge breakfast and seem to enter a time warp, unable to pull away until almost noon.  But the delay means we are both refreshed and feeling good.  It is weirdly satisfying to pull out of the driveway on two wheels, looking forward to continuing our adventure rather than facing a boring five-hour drive home. 

And it was very satisfying, until we met up with “Rummels Road,” a road which shall now live, in infamy.  Ok that’s a little overblown, but despite my best efforts, I do it again.  The “it” being leading my beautiful, happy, refreshed wife onto another gravel road.  I didn’t do it on purpose.  I just got cocky.  Our route on Thursday had us retracing many of the same roads that I used to bike home to Minneapolis earlier in the year.  It felt familiar, and I put my map away, as my sense of direction rarely fails me.  Rarely, but not always.  Map away, I take a wrong turn and we end up on Rummels Road, and it’s fresh, nasty gravel.  You know where this is going, right?   

Do you want to turn around?” I say?  “Seriously Mark, seriously?”  “I’m so sorry,” I say, “it is only a few miles and it looks on Google maps like it turns back to pavement.”  We push on.  And I’m so nervous that I do something even dumber.  I stop paying attention to Google maps, and instead focus on picking the best line on the road for Sarah to follow me, and I take another wrong turn.  I don’t realize it for a few miles.  Ugh.  We have to turn around and back track on the gravel stretch we just endured to get back to another gravel road that will finally lead us back to pavement.  I inform Sarah.  The news is not received well.  I will leave it at that. 

When I finally reach the end of the gravel on Rummels where it intersects with County Road S and pavement, Sarah is still a half mile or so back.  As she pulls up, I notice that she has turned on her phone and put it in her handlebar holder.  Google maps is visible on her screen.  She does not mention why, but it is clear that I’ve officially been demoted.  I can’t say it wasn’t warranted.

The rest of the day goes much better. 

Highway K Outside Star Lake – The Best Biking in the State?

We eat lunch in the warm sunshine on a bench overlooking Star Lake, and then make our way towards Boulder Junction on County Road K, which might be the best bicycle road in Wisconsin.  It is spectacular – light car traffic, rolling hills, deep forest on either side of us and lots of lakes sparkling through the trees.  After Boulder Junction, we ride the paved bike trail that runs all the way to Mercer, Wisconsin, our destination for the evening.  The miles fly by, the sun drops, the air cools to a crisp 45 degrees and we start to notice how warm it feels when we occasionally emerge from the woods and into the setting sun. 

Arriving in Mercer, I ring the doorbell at the “Loon Landing” campground office building.  It is 6:50PM and we are hungry and a little slap happy with fatigue.  Sarah is off scouting a good place for our tent.  After a wait, a short, disheveled woman opens the door half way and glares at me.  “It’s late and I have to work in the morning!” she snaps.  I try to win her over with kindness.  “I’m so sorry, we are on bikes and I didn’t expect to make it this far today or I would have called ahead and reserved a spot.”  It works.  She softens, even going so far as to tell me that we can sleep in the “Recreation Center” since there is a frost warning.  As I’m considering this, I ask her if we can purchase wood for a fire.  “NO!” she yells more loudly than she intended.  She ducks her head, turns and looks behind her, and then adds, more quietly, “I’m not waking him up.”  I have so many questions.  Who is she talking about?  Why does he need to be involved in the wood?  Why is he sleeping at 6:50PM? And, if you are both sleeping at 6:50PM why didn’t you put a sign on the door to warn people not to ring the bell?  Instead, I smile, say thanks, and slowly retreat down the stairs.  “And remember, if I were you,” she tells me as a final peace offering, “I’d just sleep in the Recreation Center.”  This last part she says in a loud whisper, like this is a pretty amazing offer and she doesn’t want anyone else in the campground to know of her sudden benevolence. 

After a brief inspection of the Rec Center, we set up the tent.  Don’t get me wrong, the Rec Center is amazing, but it’s not a place to lay your head for the evening.  It’s located in an old converted trailer and contains a few ancient sofas and recliners, a pool table with no balls, outdoor carpeting indoors, and lots of velvet paintings and old magazines.  Other than a few fresh signs with various instructions (“Turn off the lights!) the contents of the room and the associated musty smell told us that nothing had been changed in this room for at least 25 years.  “I would have to be really, really cold, to sleep on that,” Sarah said as she points at the oldest of the sofas.  And yet again, I couldn’t disagree. 

We did end up heading back to the Rec Center and playing cards later that evening after enjoying a huge pizza and a couple of beers at a tavern in downtown Mercer that had no working television because the owner hadn’t paid the bill.  We learned this fact from the very disgruntled bartender/waitress, who was not happy to be working a nearly empty bar on the opening night of the NFL.  We didn’t tell her that we were happy to have an empty place to eat that didn’t raise our COVID warning meter too high – a rarity in rural Wisconsin.  But we did try to improve her bad night with smiles and a good tip.

There was frost crunching on the lawn as we left the warm, armpit like confines of the Rec Center that night and headed to our tent after Sarah beat me in several card games.  The sky was clear and the stars were brilliant.  So brilliant that I stayed outside for a few extra minutes just to take it all in, my breath showing as I looked upward at the sky and exhaled, before diving into my sleeping bag.   

In the middle of the night, our short stay in Mercer got even stranger.  I woke up to a beaver slapping its tail repeatedly along the shoreline, probably 25 feet from our tent.  This did not concern me, as beavers are harmless unless you are a tree.  But then I heard voices talking quietly back and forth very close to our tent.  I couldn’t make out what they were saying but they sounded like two men.  My mind tried to retrieve a mental image of where we were – we had seen no one on the huge lawn by the lake where we set up, although there were two old tents set up 100 feet or so away from us.  I assumed they were abandoned, both because we didn’t see anyone go in or out of them and because there was nothing anywhere close to them, like a chair or a parked car, that would suggest the tents were being used.  In fact, come to think of it, we hadn’t seen a single person in the campground except my new best friend the camp host.  I started to think this would be a good Steven King plot.  Then I heard one of the voices yell loudly, “go away!”  Man, those dudes are actually afraid of beavers, I thought.  An unlikely profile for serial killers.  Maybe they had to work in the morning too.  Or maybe one of them was the guy that was supposed to get my wood.  I drifted back to sleep.

Day Four – 72.13 Miles

Friday – Dinty Moore’s Paper Towels

32 Degrees and bright blue skies greet us the next morning.  The tent is soaked, as the frost is melting away.  It’s sunny.  It’s going to be a great riding day.  As soon as I step out of the tent, I glance over at the two neighboring tents to see if I can identify some evidence of life.  There is none – just the old tents with tarps over them, exactly as the night before.  Were the beaver lovers still inside?  I didn’t go over and knock, and we didn’t see or hear anyone while we ate breakfast and packed up, so the mystery will remain.  Mercer. 

Our goal for the day was Washburn, Wisconsin, and a beautiful campground that overlooks Lake Superior.  The most direct route would involve two busy highways: U.S. 51 and our old friend, U.S. 2.  Despite our best efforts, we couldn’t find a gravel-free way to avoid either of them.  We tried a few side roads, but alas, they degenerated to gravel pretty quickly and we retreated to the highway.  It sure would be nice if Google Maps had a way to identify pavement (if anyone knows a good hack for this, please let me know). 

The cold, leftover pizza from last night tasted great when we stopped for lunch in Ironwood.  I was dubious, after seeing it strapped to the front rack of my bike all morning in the sun, but we woofed it down with a few ice-cold Coca-Cola’s.  Everything tastes good on a bike trip. 

Neither of us has ever been impressed with Ironwood, but we’ve always seen it through a car window, racing along the main drag outside of town.  On our bikes that day, we discovered the old Ironwood downtown, complete with a renovated train depot and a beautiful public square.  A lot of these old cities have a core that was built before the rise of the automobile, and they usually contain sidewalks, old brick buildings lining the streets, public squares, small parks, and the conspicuous absence of massive parking lots and speeding cars.  Lots of the commerce has been hollowed out by Walmart, Home Depot and Dollar General, but they are still beautiful and great to explore on two feet without fear of being driven over.  We saw a few other people eating lunch and enjoying the sunshine.  My impression of Ironwood improved dramatically.    

Making Friends in Ironwood

The contrast between the old Ironwood downtown core and the outer ring of development – a place of fast food restaurants, gas stations and strip malls where you NEVER need to leave your car to take more than a few steps – was stark.  We lost the Iron Belle bike trail, then we lost the sidewalk, then we were back on U.S. 2 heading west.  We both turned on our blinking tail lights and hoped for the best.  25 miles or so later, we finally left U.S. 2 for good in Odanah.  The sense of relief was palpable.  We stopped at the Bad River Pow Wow ground on the outskirts of town, plopped down at a picnic table, and resolved to never bike that section of road again.    

Pit Stop – Take that Highway 2!

Shortly after we sat down, a pick-up truck pulled up and a slim guy with a long black pony tail walked over, “I have to lock up the bathrooms, but I can wait if you need to use them,” he said.  His kindness was perfect timing.  It was clear he was in no hurry, and we chatted with him for at least 30 minutes.  He was born and raised at Bad River and his father was the long time Tribal Chair.  His name was Dave, but everyone called him Dinty or Dinty Moore, like the stew.  We could call him that too, if we liked.  It was pretty impossible not to like Dinty.  As we parted ways, he asked us to wait for a second and he ran into the bathroom and emerged with an industrial roll of paper towels, which he handed to me as a gift, a ceremonial twinkle in his eye.  It weighed at least 5 pounds.  I thanked him and put it in the pack on my back, unsure why I was happy about this new item in our possession.  But I was.  Thanks Dinty. 

In Ashland, we engaged the services of T’s Travels for an up to date weather forecast and a recommendation for dinner.  As usual, my Dad did not disappoint: it was going to rain most of the evening and overnight, and Sparky’s served up a great Friday night fish fry with solid Yelp rankings.  We pushed on for Washburn. 

I really wanted to camp at Thompson’s West End Park in Washburn, but it was cold (40?) when we arrived in town and you could feel rain was imminent.  Once again, we opted for Plan B: The North Coast Inn and Chalets, and a roof over our heads.  Plans are written in pencil when you are on bikes, and that’s part of the fun if you embrace it.

Don’t let the fancy name fool you.  The North Coast Inn was a little motel that functioned as a time capsule for the year 1979.  Both of us had flashbacks to the Rec Center, but setting up and breaking down camp in the cold rain was an even less appealing option.  We had a bed, a hot shower, and there were awesome instructional signs placed at various places in the room that we could tell the friendly Italian owner had written in his version of English.  The signs were fun for us to say out loud in an Italian accent: “The Sink Dose Not Have Garbage Disposal.” 

Bikes Secured in our “Chalet”

After dinner, we poked our head into a bar called the Fire House.  The few patrons were all on the far side of the long empty bar, and we felt COVID safe enough to sit down for a drink.  This was a mistake.  We immediately felt the uneasy undercurrent between some local residents and hipster out of towners.  Thank goodness neither of us were sporting bike gear.  I searched their faces for a match to the dude who Coal Rolled us at the start of the trip.  He would like this bar.  When the bartender grabbed a Trump 2020 flag behind the bar and started running with it back and forth along the bar shouting obscenities that somehow seemed to be directed at wimpy bicycle riders, we decided to exit stage left.  I’m amazed at how Trump, an elite, New York City real estate developer born into a trust fund, has engaged folks like that bartender to such a degree that he bought a political flag and a hat with politician’s name on it.  He is a brilliant marketer.  Of himself.         

We could hear the cold rain on the roof as we fell asleep.  And my last conscious thought was how glad I was that the tent was packed away in the corner of the room. 

Day Five – 76.59 Miles

Saturday – Weather Windows and Hills

It’s still raining when we wake up.  “It looks like we may have a break in the rain around 10:30 for a few hours,” I say to Sarah as I get out of bed and try to stretch out my tight Achilles tendons.  There are less than 40 miles between here and our parked car, so this represented a workable weather window.  After discussion, we decide to wait for the break in the rain and bike to Port Wing together, rather than have me ride alone in the rain now to grab the car.

This turns out to be the correct decision.  We enjoy Coco’s takeout pastries and coffee again, get yelled at for not wearing masks as we stand alone outside, and return to watch T.V. in the room.  Like magic, the rain stops around 10:40AM and we say goodbye to our “chalet” and bike into a damp, misty and overcast morning.      

There are a lot of hills in Bayfield county.   And County Road C out of Washburn seemed to have most of the “going up” variety.  We didn’t care.  We were so happy to be able to finish the ride together and rain free.  As we were climbing, and climbing some more, I reminded Sarah that we started at lake level in Washburn and that highway C would eventually take us to Cornucopia on the other side of the Peninsula that was also at lake level.  What goes up—namely us—must come down.  It took a while to start the descent, but those last five miles into Corny were winding, glorious, and almost all downhill.  We tucked low and thoroughly enjoyed the ride.  And the stop in town for fish chowder fortified us for the last 14 miles of hills between Corny and our turn off Highway 13 in Port Wing. 

It rained a lot overnight, and I wasn’t sure how rideable the gravel road from Port Wing to the Farm would be that afternoon.  “If it’s really bad, we can just leave the bikes in town with you and I’ll run back to the farm and get the car,” I volunteered, but I really didn’t want to run five miles on a muddy road in my camp shoes.  Thankfully, running was not required.  As long as we stayed off the edges, the road was firm enough for our bike tires.  Sarah took it on without a word, and we only had to get off and push the bikes on the huge hill about a mile from our destination.  I chuckled as we passed some ATV riders.  We were going the wrong way on a dead-end road and I could see the thought bubbles above their heads as they passed: “I hope you know the road ends over that hill you idiots who exercise for fun.”  We waved and they waved back. 

And then the driveway appeared and the beautiful views of rolling hills beyond the farm field came into full view.  I couldn’t help but smile.  We made it!  I was so proud of Sarah.  She had done very little training ahead of time, had zero experience with a loaded bike, and had to endure my poor route planning that took us too many miles on busy roads, but through all of it, she just kept those pedals cranking happily.  I won the lottery when I met her as a 19-year-old freshman at UW-Madison, a fact that becomes clearer to me each passing year.  In addition to other innumerable qualities, she is likely the only one who would follow me down Rummels Road.  It’s already starting to feel like Type 2 fun.     

We Made It!
Day 6 – 39.34 Miles

What’s Next?

On our drive home, Sarah and I talked about how much we enjoyed the trip and we made plans for that upcoming big bike ride I hinted about earlier.  It’s a fall trip that will take us to a different part of the country, involve multiple states and several weeks of unsupported biking.

More on that in my next entry. Thanks for reading!        

*Thanks to my good friend Michael Salat, who has a gift for naming adventures, including the name of this ride. 

9 thoughts on “Empty Nest Adventures – Part One

  1. Well now I can’t wait for your next adventure!! Mark, you really have a way with words and I can so picture the face Sarah is giving you about the gravel! Do you still have the 5lb paper towel roll that Dinty gave you? Maybe you should create a nook at the house with all your biking adventure “gifts”! 😘

  2. I loved your story Mark. Wish I was young and could do such an adventure. Don’t think I was every capable sitting behind a desk all my life. Waiting for your next trip!! T always come thru too…..

  3. Pingback: We’re Biking the Atlantic Coast | wander and wonder

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