20 July 2005

Tour de Great Lakes - July 13-23

Tour de Great Lakes Trip Report
From July 13 to 23rd I rode from New York City to Milwaukee, Wisconsin via a route that went initially straight northward into Ontario, Canada and then westward over the top of Lake Huron before re-entering the US at Sault Ste. Marie to proceed west through the upper peninsula of Michigan and finishing by proceeding south along the western shores of Lake Michigan to end in Milwaukee. The total distance was 1,255 miles which I rode over an 11 day period.


Why this ride?
I wanted to see if I could do a longer solo trip. Also I liked the idea of demonstrating to myself that the bike was a viable form of transportation for long distance travel, the Queen Mary of land travel, both more costly and slower but still offering an intrinsically rewarding and different experience. Also I liked the unstructured nature of the ride and going very light with minimal gear. My bike was hardly slowed down versus doing say a club ride. Also I like the idea of just riding away from NYC without knowing exactly where I would be going or staying overnight. I felt a need to confront directly and in a small way the fear of the unknown. Additionally I wanted to prove the possibility of riding and doing overnight loops. If overnight rides become candidates, NYCC club rides could cover much greater territory. So, for example, one could take the train to Poughkeepsie, ride 100 miles, say into the Adirondacks, or 1/3 of the way into Vermont, and then return by a different route back to the end of the Harlem line. That's alot of range and you would not need a sag car. A car would add an extra measure of insurance against breakdown of course.

Conditions
The first 4 days were been really hot, the next 2 quite rainy, followed by 2 cooler but windy days and finally the last 3 were warm with variable wind. I just barely missed getting caught by a severe thunderstorm on the last day by about 15 minutes. It was a severe enough storm that the tornado sirens were turned on!

My Feeling
I generally felt strong but was worried about my knees holding up on day 3 and 4. They had become a little tender by the end of each of those days. I decided to take more breaks to give them a rest which seemed to solve the problem. After the half way point, I felt like I was getting into a groove as it became easier to put the mileage in. Thus on the second to last day with the help of a mild tailwind I packed on the mileage and did 151. Also that helped to space things out so that the very last day was not so long. On a long tour, after 5 days of breakin, I think I could have averaged a bit more, maybe around 125 or 130. If there had been more tailwinds instead of headwinds that would add another 10 to 20 on what could be done. I focused on different parts of riding. Often I thought about keeping my shoulders down (I have this bad habit of scrunching them up) and keeping my elbows in. Also I tried to focus on not pushing the pedals, spinning them instead but not in too low a gear. I basically tried to time trial all the time, although at a lower energy level, one maintainable all day long. In still air, I tended to be in either a 39x15 or a 53x21 one up or down. I averaged about 18 to 19 in still air but I would estimate that I was riding into the wind about 60% of the time, during which my speed and gearing would both be lower. I also tried to pedal in circles by pulling up and back as well as pushing down. During the first week, by the end of a day, my feet really began to hurt alot. All said, my feet getting sore was the biggest limitation on my riding speed. The heat aggravated that I am sure.

Geography
The riding was often quite remote with the towns few and far betweeen and very small. I was concerned about the possibility of bike breakdown as I had a stretch at one point of perhaps 300 miles, I estimate, between towns having bike shops.

People
I went into many taverns for food as I found them to be better and more interesting stops than the countless convenience stores. Invariably I would get asked either where I was going or where I had come from. People were very surprised when I said New York City.

Bike
I went as light as possible and wanted to avoid panniers. So all I used were a handlebar bag and a mid-size seat bag. One pair of bike shorts meant I washed them every night. I'd recommend two jerseys since keeping these fresh smelling is pretty important for obvious reasons. For 'normal' clothing I had shorts and a tee shirt, that was all. I also carried bike tights and a yellow rain jacket. Next time around, for a summer time ride, I would skip the bike tights. I never used them. Most evenings I hand washed the riding clothes. Twice I managed to machine wash them which did a much better job. Amazingly, I had no flats at all. I did start the ride with brand new tires which I am sure helped. Generally the rural roads are much cleaner than those of the city. I did break a rear spoke on day two which fortunately I had brought extras and so I replaced it immediately.

Riding Tips
I started to carry in a jersey pocket an extra small water bottle that fits under the bathroom sink faucet so I might use it to fill up my larger bottles when they would not fit. I made sure the smaller one had a top which was easy to drink from so that I effectively had 2 1/3 big bottles of carrying capacity. The weather was so hot I got tired of buying water all the time at $2 or sometimes $3. A few times I did run out forcing me to ride dehydrated until the next source.

Motels
I watched Lance and the Tour in many of the motel rooms as about half of them have OLN. Prices varied but were particularly inexpensive in rural Ontario and the upper peninsula of Michigan. I had one place right on Lake Michigan, Garden Corners, which cost only $35 a night. The problem of making reservations is a bit of a challenge when biking because you really don't want to commit to a certain location much in advance. What I found to work best is at about 3:00 to 4:30 or so stopping in a town and then calling ahead for a reservation so you have confidence before taking the next step that there is a motel with a vacancy. The second night, Watertown, I made the mistake of arriving at the location at 6:30 only to find there was no place to stay. To be in a position of having to ride looking for a vacancy is not good especially after 100 miles and with dusk approaching. The tourist information booths, usually located when you enter a state or province, were very helpful at providing information on small motels by town.

Border Crossings
As they are wont to do, the crossing guards try to ask questions which will reveal some inconsistency in your story or if you really have the knowledge that would come with doing a bike trip. Upon re-entry into the US, he asked me my average speed, how many days I had been in Canada, and what my average mileage per day was. I did bring a passport which may now be required although I am not sure of that.

Itinerary
Day Mileage Overnight Location
1 ... 80 ... Cooperstown, NY
2 ... 131 ... Watertown, NY
3 ... 102 ... Westport, Ont
4 ... 130 ... Whitney, Ont
5 ... 101 ... Parry Sound, Ont
6 ... 115 ... Sudbury, Ont
7 ... 110 ... Blind River, Ont
8 ... 120 ... Kinross, MI
9 ... 110 ... Garden Corners, MI
10... 151 ... Green Bay, WI
11... 105 ... Waukesha, WI
Total 1,255

Accompanying Riders
John Zenkus was kind enough to ride with me the first day from Phoenicia, NY to Cooperstown. Chris Teager drove a sag car and at the end of the day transported John back to NYC. On the very last day, my friend Keith Lauritsen, who lives in Green Bay, gave me shelter and then rode with me (and 2 other friends as well) from Neenah, WI down the west side of Lake Winnebago to Fond du Lac, a distance of about 35 miles. That was much appreciated also.

I saw only 5 other bike tourers, far fewer than I expected. Some of the motels were quite used to seeing bikers, but others were not. It seems the route around Lake Michigan gets a fair amount of traffic. The motel operators of the first three nights were not so familiar with bikers.

Highlights just in a list
Thousand Island Border Crosssing - very picturesque islands many with cabins
Algonquin Park - I'd go back there canoing some day
Huntsville, Ont - nice surprisingly touristy town.
Rosseau, Ont - also a little gem surrounded by lakes
Blind River, Ont - scenic and directly on Huron's Georgia Bay
Sault Ste. Marie - a nice touristy place as well
Upper Peninsula, MI - quite desolate so the cycling was almost traffic-free. Lots of forests.

Biggest disappointment - Sudbury, Ont. - a heavy industrial lead smelter town.
I actually did not see that much of Lake Huron.

All of these places must be so cold in winter!

All in all a great trip with special emphasis on the conditioning aspects of it.

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