A 3300km cycle from Amicalola Falls State Park to the source of the Mississippi)
Amicalola Falls State Park (the end of the Appalachian Trail)
I walked out of the forest at the impressive Amicalola Falls overlook. Tourists gazed at the water cascading down the long falls, which was bordered by lush trees. It was truly spectacular. Some asked me where I was going but it was hard to explain in one sentence. For them walking a few hundred metres to the falls was a huge effort.
As I walked the rocky trail down to the base of the falls I paused for a while having thoughts of the last few weeks. Back on track I talked to four children, their mum and their grandmother and I told them stories about my trips. Sometime later at the information centre, mum came up to me and told me I had inspired the kids so much they were planning their own adventures.
My journey south had taken me over many mountains. The weather had been mixed with more days of rain in the first three weeks, but at least it tested my gear but now it was all over and I start a new adventure but this time by cycle.
At the end of the Appalachian Trail on Mt Springer. I walked 805kms of it taking 36 days with 3 days off.
Only 13kms to go to the end of a feeder trail at the Amicalola Falls State Park.
I retrieved my bike from Jenny, the ranger at the information centre. I laid all my gear out under a nearby tree and started sorting. My walking gear was no longer needed for several months, so I gathered it together, ready to be sent back to Elaine in New Jersey. The major problem was that there was no post office for nearly 100kms so I had to cycle to it with all my walking and cycling gear. The tourists were intrigued with my mess. Some were brave enough to ask me questions about what I was doing. One guy had read my entry on Springer Mountain and was so impressed with what I was doing, he just had to find me and congratulate me.
Packing away my walking gear which will go in my pack and loading my bike panniers with all my cycling gear.
The pack will be sent away at a post office 100kms away.
Then Norman arrived. I had met him camped near ‘The Pond’ 8km from Hot Springs. Now he had come to do some walking around this area. He couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw me. Norman let me leave my gear that I was sending back to Elaine in his car overnight. I then made my way to a shelter for hikers not too far from the centre which had a wire cage around it to keep the bears out. It was the first cage I had seen since leaving the Smoky Mountains. Two rough, suspicious-looking characters were using the shelter. I didn’t want to leave my valuables in the shelter so I took them with me and walked further along the track to the shower block. I hadn’t showered for 10 days so the beautiful, hot water was more than welcome.
Squirrels scooted around the park and forest and as it became dark the fireflies lit up the night. By the time I was back Norman had cooked up a huge steak, potatoes and pumpkin and he gave me a plate. What a luxury! He had also built a fire but it was just too warm to sit around it. Norman was keen to keep the fire going as we were told a bear had come to the shelter the previous night.
I rang Jenny and Elaine to tell them that I had finished my walk. My hike had finished, I had walked 804.5kms taking 36 days with 3 days off and now it was time to cycle over 3300 kms to the top of the Mississippi River.
Tuesday 26th May
Just after 8.00am I collected my gear from Norman’s car and placed it on a picnic table. I had breakfast watching a stray dog which had taken a shine to Norman and kept following him around before sniffing around me. Norman had given it a bit of steak and it seemed it wanted more. In between watching or keeping the dog at bay I started packing my walking and cycling gear into separate piles. The gear I didn’t need went into my pack and the gear I did need would get packed into my bike panniers. My pack with all the non-wanted items turned out to be a heavy burden.
At 11.45am I finally said goodbye to Norman, hauled the heavy 20kg pack onto my back, straddled my bike with full panniers and feeling very top heavy cycled away. The weight in the backpack not only compressed my backside and making it sore, but I was continually concerned about overbalancing and falling off. It was hard enough to keep balanced when looking straight ahead, but if I took my eyes off the road it was much worse. I soon found out that carrying so much gear on my back wasn’t the safest thing to do, but I had to get it to a post office somehow.
Many passing cars got close, too close and if they had been a fraction closer they would have shaved my legs. I tried not to wobble but it was hard not to and when some motorists blew their horn, on this narrow road, I tried desperately to keep a straight path. It was worse as I struggled up the steep hills, where my speed was much slower and my balance was even more affected. I just hoped that I wouldn’t lose control.
The countryside was dotted with orchards and as I passed one of many fruit stores selling their produce, I stopped. I didn’t need any more weight in my pack, just a rest.
Smaller hills gave me a little reprieve but my bum was really hurting when I reached the Ellijay town centre. My first priority was to find a laundry, which I did and I washed nearly everything that was in my bags. I used one machine for my clothes and another for my Gore-Tex pants, socks and dirtier stuff. When everything was washed and dry I cycled to the post office which looked very new. To my surprise it had a drive through post box so there was no need for people to get out of their cars to post their letters. They just opened their car window and slid it into the post box. How lazy is that?
Inside the post office a lady gave me a box, which another customer had finished with, so I didn’t have to pay for one. Here I sent all my backpacking gear back to Elaine in New Jersey. As I left the ladies wished me luck and told me to watch out for all the steep mountains.
I cycled to the supermarket without my pack, and what an amazing feeling that was. It was like cycling on air. Just before leaving Ellijay at 5.00pm I sat outside of the supermarket eating sandwiches and ice cream in the hot, humid sun. Re-mounting the bike, I moved off across a mountain range with more cars blowing their horns at me. The road verges were full of rubbish but at least the trees were full of birds.
At the end of day I reached the town of Dalton, which looked a bit rough. I was eager to keep going but as it was getting dark I needed to find somewhere to camp. I spotted a showground, so I turned off the highway onto a side road where a huge tent was erected. It was full of gathering Christians and gospel singers who were singing loudly and really letting their hair down.
I stopped to turn my bike lights on and asked a passer-by if he knew a place where I could camp. He suggested a soccer field which was just being built down the road. It was perfect, there were some woods surrounding most of it, so I was able to hide from people and from the passing traffic. The evening was hot and the dark night was full of fireflies which entertained me as I ate only fruit for dinner. Throughout the night trains in the distance were blowing their horns (America is renowned for the overuse of train horns) and trucks were arriving in the nearby car park.
Wed 27th May 98
I was up at 7.00am, whipped down my tent and started eating breakfast when some workmen arrived at the nearby new building. I slowly packed and left the workmen to their job and started my journey down a busy highway. A women motorist sat behind me for several minutes continually blowing her horn. It was becoming obvious that people around here didn’t like cyclists.
I followed route 41 heading towards the large city of Chattanooga, passing through the historic village of Ringgold. Arriving in Chattanooga, houses lined the cliff tops affording splendid views of the city and river below. As I cycled through the old part of the city it looked seedy and unsafe but the closer I got to the city centre, the nicer it became. Many buildings in the old part were being torn down and replaced with new ones. I must admit it did look better. The city was once a big industrial and manufacturing centre and at one time was regarded as having the dirtiest air quality in the nation, but with the loss of big industry and the revitalising of the city, that had now changed.
The first inhabitants of the Chattanooga area were American Indians. In 1838 the US government forced the Cherokees in the area, along with other American Indians from south-eastern U.S. states, to relocate in what is presently the state of Oklahoma. Their journey west became known as the ‘Trail of Tears’ for their exile and the fatalities that occurred along the way.
I soon crossed a bridge over the wide Tennessee River and moved east passing cycle shops and reaching the Rock and Creek Outdoor Store. It was a great little store, tidy and with friendly staff, two of whom had done studies in Australia and were longing to go back. I left the store with a Thermarest chair kit. I then cycled a little further to their kayak store close to the river. It was huge inside, stocked mainly with play-boats and it also had a swimming pool which allowed people to try their boats without going on the river nearby.
I was interested in visiting the Dagger kayak manufacturing plant, which was situated along my route north, not only because I sold Dagger kayaks in Australia but because I was interested in seeing a kayak manufacturing plant in production. The manager of the kayak shop kindly rang the Dagger factory to ask them if I could visit and they agreed. At 3.00pm I cycled out of town, stopping for lunch in a park on the outskirts near a school. A 15 mph sign was flashing and cars were actually taking notice of it and going slow. After pigging out at lunch time, I pushed on to the town of Soddy Daisy where a big roadside sign said, ‘Daisy Church of Christ,’ with a large picture of Jesus dancing. I was quite amused with the huge sign, and it was another indication that I was passing through a Christian belt.
Further along at Dayton I called in at McDonalds for two 29¢ hamburgers. Although they were small they were still well worth the 29¢. On my way through the town I checked out a park next to the river to camp but there were too many fisherman and lots of water fowl, ducks and geese. With no luck in camping there I continued to Spring City which was so small it was easy to miss. I asked about campsites but there were none for miles. I topped up with water and cycled down to another lake area and park, again with too many people, so I followed a back road that led me to a narrow grassy track cutting through a marsh area. I camped on a junction of a three way walk track, as it was the only part that wasn’t swampy and was level enough to camp on. The birdlife was plentiful in the marsh, and when it was dark the fireflies took up most of the sky. A sliver of moon shone, but I left it to eat my sandwiches in the comfort of the tent and keep away from the mosquitoes. I wrote by candlelight until 11.10pm.
Thursday 28th May
It had been a warm night and I could hear the sound of a train’s horn throughout it. Heavy dew had soaked the tent and it was impossible to dry it before I packed it away. I had cereal, but no hot drink and I was off by 8.05am. I cycled back to the town park where I saw several elderly people walking around the park and exercising. I moved on and turned right after the town of Rockwell to where the Dagger Kayak Factory was situated. When I arrived I waited 10 minutes and a young production manager named John started showing me around. He showed me two of their rota-moulds, a large one for the big boats and a smaller one for the play boats. Unlike making fibreglass kayaks, rota-moulding is so much quicker and less expensive to produce, once the moulds have been paid for that is.
The Dagger Canoe Company was formed in 1988 by a group of four whitewater paddlers led by Joe Pulliam. By the mid-1990s, the fast-growing enterprise had about 60 employees and was expanding its Midtown facilities for a second time, to more than 50,000 square feet. Dagger had over twenty different plastic watercraft and they were distributed as far as Europe, Australia, and Japan.
Dagger was acquired by Watermark in 1998. Its founder, Joe Pulliam, remained president. Watermark had also acquired Perception, Inc., one of Dagger’s main rivals. Perception, based in Easley, South Carolina, had been formed in the early 1970s by Bill Masters, who had worked in the summers as a river guide while studying at nearby Clemson University. He began making his own kayaks while still a student, beginning with a $50 investment in supplies.
I thanked John for allowing me to look around the factory and made my way to the town of Harriman and found a supermarket. After shopping I stretched my tent out to dry and sat and ate lunch outside. A woman sitting in a car called me over and wanted to know if I would like to go camping with her and her boyfriend. She was a little drunk and although it was a generous offer, I declined!
I finally got going again and cycled to Wartburg where I stopped for a coffee and ice cream and found a 25¢ choc bar that went very well with my coffee. There were several junk yards, flea markets and businesses that had awful premises.
The road north wasn’t too bad as it had a good shoulder most of the way, but narrowed through the mountains. It was hot work and before New River the countryside opened up and the 915m hills started to spread. At New River I stopped at a service station for water and an ice cream and the woman attendant was very friendly. It was getting late and the road was busy so I looked for a good camp site and found one just before Oneida under some trees and not far from a house where the occupant was mowing his large lawn on a sit-on lawn mower. I wrote in my diary until dark, sitting quite comfortable in my new Thermarest chair that I bought in Chattanooga, until the mosquitoes started to carry me away. To ensure that no-one from the busy highway saw me camped I erected my tent in the dark.
Unfortunately there was loud traffic and train noise throughout the night.
Friday 29th May 98
I was packed and ready to cycle into Oneida at 8.45am. I stopped at a shop to buy mosquito repellent, bananas and apples. I also tried to buy some socks but I had no luck. Outside the shop a guy came over and asked if I wanted anything. We had a general chit chat and when I told him about the annoying motorists shouting and blowing their horn, he apologised for them. I rang Jenny, who said she was feeling down the previous day, but was more cheerful today.
I eventually got underway and I was soon crossing into Kentucky, which was known as the Bluegrass State. Its capital is Frankfort, but the largest city is Louisville. The road deteriorated and audible road edges lined the side of the road. These were corrugated raised strips that set up a rumbling vibration through the cars’ tyres alerting drivers to the fact that they were veering from the road. However, the placement of these strips forced me to cycle on the road rather than the shoulder, so I was cycling much closer to the cars. I felt particularly vulnerable.
At Pine Knot I stopped for a coffee and chocolate. A woman inside the service station was smoking, in fact everyone that came into the service station smoked and the people weren’t very friendly. Further along just before Whitley City I noticed a cyclist on the other side of the road, panniers and all. I waved and stopped, so he stopped and then came across to me. The young guy was on his way to Blackmountain, near Ashville to work in a children’s camp. He had only been on the road for a couple of days and on his first night out he asked the police where he could camp and they put him up in a motel. The previous night he asked a restaurant owner where he could camp and he gave him a free hot meal and allowed him to camp behind his house. He had just stopped at a roadhouse for a shave and they gave him a free coffee. I just wondered what he had that I didn’t have!!
We parted company and I pedalled quickly towards Burnside where I ate lunch under a tree next to a tent that was used as a church. Soon after I stopped at a service station and had coffee and chocolate and a woman assistant treated me. I bought an ice lolly and she wanted to treat me again but I insisted that I paid the second time. Maybe some of the young guy’s luck was coming my way.
I soon crossed the wide Cumberland River as a train was crossing the railway bridge. Cliffs on the north side looked spectacular. Although the Cumberland River starts as a wild river and Cumberland Falls at 21 metres high, is one of the largest waterfalls in the eastern United States, the river at this point is held back by a dam and creates a lake. It is very popular with recreational users and is a very important tourist attraction for the area.
Crossing the Cumberland River.
As I got closer to Somerset I skirted the town centre on a concrete road that had joins that rattled my bike. It was a bustling town with busy shops and eating places. The nearby Lake Cumberland attracts thousands of visitors to Somerset each year and helps its economy.
My neck was getting stiff after hours of cycling so I stopped at a chemist to get something to relax it. I really needed someone to massage it, as it was hard to do it myself, but a tube of liniment at $10.50 had to do the job instead.
I moved away from Somerset and quite speedily towards Stanford as the hills were now getting easier to climb. The area soon opened up to farming and near Danville I turned off the main highway and found a camp-ground at Pioneer Park, a historic village full of old buildings. I talked to the owner’s daughter who was in charge and was painting one of the buildings. She only charged me $3.00 to camp, which was my lowest price yet. I couldn’t believe it. Just having a cheaper campsite was reason to be happy.
Danville Pioneer Park and camp ground.
I erected my tent and then had a thoroughly enjoyable shower. It was just like heaven. I trimmed my beard, which was really needed and then washed my clothes. I had cycled just over 154kms for the day and it was great to be in a campsite that had the facilities to allow me to have a good clean up. I cooked rice, pasta with cheese and soup, but sometime later my stomach started to churn.
Saturday 30th May
There was disco music playing in the distance when I went to bed, nevertheless I slept well. There was heavy dew in the night so my washing was still wet in the morning, which was a real pain.
After taking a few photos around Pioneer Park it was gone 10.00am by the time I left and I knew it was going to be difficult to reach the Ohio River by nightfall, 177kms away. When I passed through Danville there was a religious gathering in the historic town square, singing, dancing and a large number of floating balloons that went skyward. Apparently Danville was home to over 120 historical houses. I asked a couple who were walking down the road the easiest way out of town as the police had blocked the main route. They told me the way, and then said I had to stop at the Shaker Village which was about 21kms out of town to see how the Shakers live. They were a very nice couple and they apologised for the people who hadn’t been friendly to me.
To my dismay the road north was hilly. The countryside was very pretty, which I liked, but I had cycled up so many hills over the previous weeks I just wanted some flat ground. Rock walls that you would usually see in the English countryside were lining the fields. Many were in poor condition and at one wall a man was repairing it and placing new rocks and making it look special again. Building rock walls is an art, and a very old one at that.
I arrived at the Shaker village at 11.20am, but with the cost and my limited time I didn’t go in, instead I visited the craft shop and got a little bit of history and a feel for the village before getting underway.
The Shakers played an important role in American religious history, developing the longest lasting communal society. The Shaker Village is America’s largest restored Shaker community, with 34 carefully restored buildings and 3,000 acres (1,214 hectares) of preserved farmland. The village is also home to more than 40kms of striking rock fences, the most extensive collection remaining in Kentucky today.
I left the village and soon crossed the brown Kentucky River and by now my belly was feeling more upset than earlier and I assumed it was due to some water I had drunk earlier. It was a hot day and with a big hill to climb, after crossing the river, it was hard not to drink from my water bottle that I suspected had tainted water. As I climbed more hills and started passing several horse studs my body was drained and exhausted as I wasn’t drinking any of the water I had collected at the camp ground. I was dying for a coke machine to appear over the hill, but all I got were more hills and more horse studs. Eventually I reached the outskirts of Versailles where there were some huge houses being built, but I still couldn’t find a supermarket or a fuel station.
My saviour ended up being a Dollar Store. As I lined up at the counter my shoulder was aching and I felt buggered and to make it worse I had to wait for a women who returned 2 fans and another women who brought back a telephone to exchange. With so much being returned it wasn’t the shop keeper’s day, but I suppose, what can you expect from a dollar store. I walked out with 2 x 2 litre bottles of drink for a dollar each, which was pretty cheap. Although the warm water tasted terrible and didn’t satisfy my thirst, drinking a bottle of warm cool drink was like heaven and tasted much better, but the more I drank the more I wanted to drink and eventually it too didn’t quench my thirst.
I sat outside on the concrete and ate three chocolate bars and drank the warm drink, which they sold cheaply straight off the shelf instead of out of a fridge. I just didn’t move for a while but after my energy started to return I eventually mustered enough enthusiasm to move on towards Frankfort, the capital of Kentucky. At least I was cycling on a much flatter road, even if it was in the scorching heat. There were a large number of horse studs with fancy stables along the way. This area around Lexington was famous for horse studs.
Lexington was the ‘Horse Capital of the World’ and it has the Kentucky Horse Park which is a working horse farm and an educational theme park which opened in 1978. The equestrian facility is a 1,224-acre (4.95 km2) park dedicated to “man’s relationship with the horse.” Open to the public, the Park has a twice daily Parade of Breeds, showcasing both common and rare horses from across the globe. The riders of the horses are ridden in authentic costume. Each year the park is host to a number of special events and horse shows.
I stopped at a fruit and vegetable shop and although the produce wasn’t the best I still bought bananas, grapes, cucumber and tomatoes. The good thing about being on a bike is that I could stop and shop often. Outside the shop a women started chatting to me and was very interested in what I was doing. She said, I could stay at her place that night, but it was only 2.00pm and it was further south, so I declined her generous offer.
I ate a few grapes and moved on trying to find the Frankfort Capitol building. I cycled to the wrong place, as I didn’t have a proper map and I was following my nose. I was a little annoyed with myself as I had cycled a few kilometres up some unwanted hills. When I eventually found the Capitol building it was very impressive and worth the hard work getting there. Frankfort was only a small city compared with Lexington and Louisville, so it was a mystery to why it became the capital. But saying that, many capitals of the world, including Canberra are smaller than other cities in their country, so maybe it’s not that strange after all.
Frankfort Capitol Building
The grave of the famous Daniel Boone is in Frankfort. He was the first white man to settle in Kentucky; or rather, perhaps, the first who entered Kentucky with a view to a white man’s settlement. Daniel Boone was a frontier man who wasn’t content with settling in one place. As soon as he had left his mark, he carried on further west searching for new territory to open up. The people of Kentucky are proud of Daniel Boone, and so they have buried him in the loveliest spot they could select, immediately over the river.
I cycled back through the deserted city centre and crossed over the Kentucky River again. The river is a tributary of the Ohio River which in turn runs into the Mississippi River. Once over it I faced another huge hill. It was just what I didn’t need. I had lost quite a bit of time with all my stops and the heat was becoming unbearable. There was little traffic on the hill climb, which was a blessing as it was hard enough to climb without all the exhaust fumes from the cars.
My bike chain needed oiling, so I looked along the side of the road for old discarded oil containers, but I only found a continuous line of rubbish, which had been thrown from passing cars. The hills never let up, and whenever I saw a shady tree to stop under, I drank lots of warm fizzy drink.
The terrain started to flatten out near Pleasureville where I was feeling the strain of a hard day and where I had finished all my fizzy drink. My water supply was also dry and as I came up to New Castle three dogs started to chase me down the road but I managed to cycle faster and get away. A little further another three dogs took a fancy to me and by the time I got away I was even thirstier, hot and pretty buggered. When I spotted a couple in a car pull up to their house, I stopped. I asked them for water and they returned with iced water and their son came out with a sandwich and then asked me if I needed anything else. The father was a rep for a chain of hardware stores. We talked about the audible rumble strips on the side of the road which were giving me a hard time, but of course he couldn’t do anything to get rid of them. I thanked them and said goodbye, crossed highway 71 and climbed more hills. Although the scenery is better in the hills I was becoming a little sick of them. I just wanted some flat ground where I could just take it easy.
There was no traffic on my minor road, but I was again chased by two dogs on a downhill run. I was going too fast for them to catch me, but then the road climbed. Luckily they were gone by the time I started my steep slow climb, but another two dogs came running out from another property. What was going on?
I passed some fishing ponds which were overcrowded with fishermen. I made it to Carrollton, a town on the banks of the wide Ohio River, just before dark. It was a small town situated near a state park and camping ground that I was headed for. The temperature was displayed on a large sign on top of a bank. It said, it was 30°c and when I climbed the last hill to the Gen Butler State Resort Park I really did some sweating. The camp ground was crowded, but I wasn’t that bothered as I was too worn out to care and I only wanted a small space to erect my tent. I found a site but I took my time setting up because I was exhausted. After an enjoyable shower I became livelier and back to my normal self.
There was a hive of activity going on all around me. There were kids making the biggest racket, and they still managed to make noise after midnight. I cooked noodles and nibbled on everything edible in my bag and finished off with some chocolate. I sat, wrote in my diary and pondered on the 177 hilly kilometres that I had cycled that day.
Sunday 31st May
I laid there just wishing to spend the next few hours in bed. With all the noise that was going on before retiring, I surprisingly slept like a log. A group of girls who came in late were up early and gone before the ranger could catch them. I had all my bags packed when the ranger came around and he noticed I didn’t have a ticket on my camp spot. I told him that I was too buggered to climb another hill in the dark to get a ticket at the lodge last night, so I was waiting for him to come around to save me a journey. He wasn’t at all pleased and he didn’t want to hear my excuse. He had the charm and the looks of a bulldog, and an ugly one at that! He said he was there to make sure people paid. “Go to the lodge before you leave. You should have done it last night,” he growled.
As soon as I was ready I tried to find the lodge. It just happened to be at the top of one of the steepest hills I had to climb to date. At least it wasn’t too long a hill. The posh lodge next to a golf course had the ranger’s car parked outside. I walked in the lodge dripping with sweat. I said to the lady, who I had to pay that it was one hell of a steep hill to climb. She said “Whoever made you cycle up it?” Minutes later the ranger walked out from the back and I said, “He did.” I filled in the form and I gave her $12.00, which I thought was excessive, but she didn’t bite or give me discount. I walked into the souvenir shop and I heard the lady say to another lady that she love listening to Australian accents. She then said she watched all the Australian programs on the Discovery Channel.
I bought three postcards before freewheeling back down the hill, out of the park and down into town where I stopped at a muffler place and sprayed some WD40 on my chain. I cycled down to the local boat ramp on the Ohio River and talked to a guy who lived in the village of Newcastle which I had cycled through the previous day. He had caught three Bass fish. The Ohio River is 1579kms long and is the largest tributary by volume of the Mississippi River. The Ohio flows through or along the border of six states and its drainage basin encompasses 14 states.
During the 19th century the river was the southern boundary of the Northwest Territory, thus serving as the border between free and slave territory. It is sometimes referred to as the ‘Mason-Dixon line’.
I headed west along a road that followed the river and at a small town called Milton, just before I crossed the Ohio River the emergency services were in the middle of the road collecting donations for kids. Madison, with about 13,000 people was on the other side of the bridge in Indiana, the capital being Indianapolis. It was a big town, but the historic main street was deserted with all the shops closed. As I turned off onto the highway I started pushing uphill again. I soon approached a sign that indicated to me that a Burger King was up ahead, so it spurred me on. After the previous day’s rush to make the Gen Butler State Park I really wanted to have an easier day and just go and eat some junk food as I felt my body was calling out for it. The hill started off fairly level but the further I pedalled the steeper it became and to make matters worse the dual highway was made of concrete with more repair jobs and joins than there were fish in the river. It was a nightmare to cycle on, as with every join in the concrete my panniers jerked and jarred.
I rejoiced as I neared the top of the hill after fighting the headwind and turned off in the direction of the Burger King. As I could see no sign of it I was wondering if I really wanted to cycle out of my way but I persisted and found it nearly 2kms later. The previous day it was 32 Celsius and 90% humidity but today it was chilly as clouds moved in and the wind grew stronger. Apparently storms were headed my way. I didn’t even feel guilty when I left the Burger King having eaten all that fat. Before moving off into the countryside I stopped at a service station for a Gatorade drink and to buy a map. I also called in at a supermarket for bananas, bread, cheese spread, milk and apples. The cashier was very pleasant and friendly and so was the customer behind me. With all my cycle gear on and probably smelling a little unpleasant, you could imagine I wasn’t the best dressed and cleanest person in the supermarket.
I loaded everything in my panniers and took the 421 road heading north. It was the flattest section of road that I had been on for a very long time and I was happy. However, a strong side wind ruined my rejoicing but at least I was moving between 14 to 19kms an hour. I passed an Army Proving Ground, which was on my left side for a long time. I didn’t know what a Proving Ground was but I expect it was an Army Base of some kind. The site reminded me of the X Files, so I was daydreaming a lot about the program along the way. It was once a favourite TV program of mine, when it first started.
At Versailles I stopped for an ice cream and water. A motorist and his wife at the service station wished me luck. At Greensburg 37kms later I stopped again had a coffee and made sandwiches. A man getting fuel came over for a chat and offered me $10.00. I said I would have taken it years ago but I had enough money nowadays. He was impressed with what I was doing at such an older age. And I didn’t think anyone noticed my wrinkles.
It started to rain on and off and became even windier. Then a strong thunderstorm cut across the flat countryside bringing with it heavy rain. Just my luck, I get a flattish road and now I’m hindered by the wind and rain! By the time I reached Rushville, having done 153kms the rain had stopped. I decided to find the police station and ask them where I could stay, and a policeman gave me directions to the showgrounds.
I set up my tent behind the cattle stalls, overlooking a field and a couple of houses. People started to play baseball so I sat there and watched and got my own show. It was a very pleasant night and when the lights came on in the stalls, I sat there to write, which was a real bonus.
Monday 1st June
I had a very good night’s sleep but I awoke wet from sweat. I heard workmen across the road fairly early, but I didn’t venture out until 8.00am. The tent was wet with dew, so I hung it out in the sun, on a fence with my wet clothes.
Some school girls, who walked over to have a quick smoke at the back of the stalls got a surprise when they saw me there. They giggled and then moved around to the next place to hide. It was a perfect morning, cloudless, warm but not too hot.
I left about 9.00am heading through a park and playing fields to the main road where a Burger King was situated. With no toilet at the showgrounds I just needed to go and it was a good excuse to have breakfast there. I had a croissant sandwich with egg and bacon, with hash browns, fries and a cup of coffee, all for $2.09. I could have eaten more, but I didn’t, instead I sat and wrote six postcards to the kids at the Midvale Primary School.
I checked out Wallmart for a pair of socks but they only had them in all white and in 3’s. The dollar store was nearby so I bought 2 tins of fish, 4 choc mousse for a $1.00 each, 3 Snickers bars, small toothpaste and shampoo. I could only buy a large bottle of shampoo, but I refilled my small bottle and discarded the rest. After loading up with all that food, it was 10.50am which was a later start than usual. The traffic wasn’t at all bad and the road was okay until 10kms out of town when it became a dual carriageway and made of concrete slabs. When I reached New Castle 35kms further I spotted a Burger King where I had plans to have a coke only, as the refills were free, but because they had whoppers on special for 99¢ I couldn’t resist having lunch.
I didn’t hang around very long as I had some time to catch up, so I left New Castle on an awful road to Muncie where I detoured in search of a post office which I was unable to find. I found myself cycling through a rundown, poor black African area and I didn’t want to risk lingering there too long. On the way to Hartford City several fields were flooded by the previous day’s big storm. Why they call tiny places like this one a city I don’t know but at least it had a post office to send my post cards. Further north, near the small town of Warren several people were cutting their big lawns on small tractors, some corn had been planted and old wheat stubble was still lying in the fields. A few John Deere tractors with wide dual wheels were on the road and working in the fields. It was refreshing to be out of the mountains for a while and see the open spaces and farm activity.
Just before Huntington I turned off to find a campsite and instead of me having to find a ranger, it had an honour system. It was a primitive camp which meant there was only a long drop toilet, a water tap and a picnic table at a cost of $5.00 which was much better than $12.00. I settled for a strip wash and ate a sandwich for dinner and wrote in my diary.
Tuesday 2nd June
Huntington claimed to be the home of Dan Quayle. In fact he was born in Indianapolis, but because he graduated from the Huntington High School, Huntington was proud to claim him as their own. Dan Quayle became a Senator and contested the 1988 and 1992 Presidential election campaigns with George W Bush.
The wind was howling, so cycling was hard work. In fact, the wind was pushing me off the road, and when trucks came by, the air they disturbed drew me in, only to have the wind push me out again when they had passed. I wasn’t cycling much more than 13kms an hour and at times even less. The wind worsened as I moved further north. Here I started seeing horse dung on the road and then I saw three horses pulling some old-fashioned farming implements in a field. I stopped and took some photos. The men in the field were Amish. When they came near the fence I started talking to the eldest lad, he said he worked in a factory and farmed in his spare time to feed their horses. Neighbours were helping out with the harvest. He said one of the men had eight children and another man had six children. The other workers walked over to me and started talking. They said they hadn’t ploughed in the last year’s corn, but instead they had just planted over top of it, a practise I thought quite strange.
They wished me well on my trip and as I moved on a horse and buggy passed me. Talking to the men lifted my spirits and made me feel so happy and it was good to see more farms run by the Amish along the way. Four more horses were pulling a hay baler which had a motor on it. The horse was pulling the baler and the baler was attached to a trailer which had a man on top stacking the hay bales. When the horses turned a corner the man’s hat flew off in the wind. He quickly jumped down off the trailer to retrieve his hat and then jumped back on board just in time to grab the next hay bale coming out of the chute.
Some of the houses along the way had Fresh Baked Bread signs on them with loaves of bread left out on stalls next to an honesty box. At other houses there were the Fresh Popcorn signs, which seemed a bit odd at that time. Seeing roadside popcorn was certainly different. My journey became more interesting as a number of horses and buggies sped by and even more Amish houses appeared. I was feeling pretty happy despite the strong headwind. The horse and buggies were extremely fast and they had no problem in passing me. Others darted across the main highway from one side road to another. As well as using horses for transport some Amish people were on bikes. It was really refreshing to see the Amish live with so few modern comforts and yet still enjoy life.
Eventually I reached Shipshewana, a small town surrounded by Mennonite and Amish communities which attracts thousands of visitors from all around the country. The community was well-kept; with street trees and flowers being part of the attractive appearance. Outside the shops were horse tie up rails which had enough room for three or more horses. The horses were tied up whilst the owners went shopping. I went into the hardware store and the shelves were stocked choc-a-block with everything imaginable. It was quite amazing and they couldn’t fit any more into the shop. I had seen something similar in other parts of the world, but this was unique because it was full of all things used by the Amish.
I rode across the road to the ice cream shop and bought a butter pecan flavoured ice cream. It had become my favourite and I even learnt to say ‘pecan’ in the American way. I talked to an overweight tourist and briefly to an Amish local who told me that the Amish try to keep out of town on a Tuesday and Wednesday because of all the tourists. I would have thought the weekend would have been worse for tourists but apparently most businesses are closed in the evenings and on Sundays, reflecting the Mennonite-Amish traditions of strong family values, close ties within the community and observing the rules of their religion.
Agriculture is the primary industry, followed by retail and a light industry of manufactured homes and recreational vehicles. The town was less than 1 square mile in size with a population of approximately 536. Though small, Shipshewana hosts one of the nation’s largest flea markets and retail shops, attracting over half a million visitors each year. Being in the heart of draft horse country, it was the perfect place to have a Harness shop which kept the tradition of fine harness-making and the manufacture of horse gear alive. With its rolling hills, huge farms and friendly Amish residents Shipshewana has become a great tourist destination.
I moved across to another shopping centre where six overweight women tourists were trying out rocking chairs. I ate jam sandwiches on the grass outside the shopping centre watching the tourists eat their super huge ice creams.
It suddenly turned chilly, so I put on my jacket and started to ride out of town, stopping at a service station for water before leaving the tourists to it. I cycled a few kilometres before turning left at a T junction where there was a beautiful looking farm over to my right. I cycled west against the wind on a road with no shoulder. I arrived at the junction of highway 13 where I had to turn north to head towards Michigan. There was an ice cream shop just before the junction where I needed to turn and a camp ground a little further. I stopped at the ice cream shop and asked the girls behind the counter if they knew of any camp grounds, after the camp ground on the corner nearby. Once I opened my mouth everyone starting talking, including the customers. They didn’t know of another camp ground, but they said they wanted me to keep talking as they loved my accent.
I ordered a 45¢ ice cream and told them what I was doing. Two people from the state of Georgia behind me were listening. “Give him the biggest ice cream cone you have, I’ll pay,” the man said. One of the girls started building this huge ice cream cone and by the time she had finished it was the biggest ice cream cone that I had ever seen. I’m a fast eater but it still took me ten minutes to eat it. I love ice cream and it was awesome.
I decided to go and camp in the camp ground nearby as it was getting too late to go on and the owner of the ice cream shop told me to come back after I booked into the camp for a chilli hot dog. I cycled over to the camp and signed in and when he said it was going to cost me $17.33, I said “I’m sorry, I just think that is too expensive,” and left. I returned to the ice cream store and told the girls I was going to move on. They insisted that I had a chilli hot dog and a drink before I left. It was tasty and real hot, and after thanking them I moved off with fire in my mouth, but with a chilly body due to the night getting cold. As I left, the girls said, “Please come back tomorrow.”
I headed along the highway into Michigan looking for a camp spot. It wasn’t looking good but then I saw an electric substation with a grassed area around its boundary fence. I stopped. There was a house nearby and a highway 150 metres away, so I tried to camp out of sight of the house and passing cars.
Wednesday 3rd June
It was my birthday but I had no plans to celebrate it. An electric pole nearby was making a crackling noise throughout the night and the train and traffic noise started well before daylight. I soon reached ‘Three Rivers’ where I called in at Burger King and had a $2.00 breakfast and wrote postcards to my sister Janet and my mum. I cycled around town and then back to the highway. As I got close to Kalamazoo the highway suddenly became a freeway and I wasn’t allowed to ride on it, so I had to take a minor road to Portage. I then followed the business route 131 but it suddenly came to a dead end, which gave me no choice but to cycle on the freeway for a short time.
I had cycled 80kms before lunch. I cut across country to Holland pushing into a headwind. I crossed the Kalamazoo River three times and soon after a semitrailer with a wide load honked its horn. Luckily I decided to get off the road and onto the gravel verge as it only missed me by inches. It was close, too close. I could have been dead if I hadn’t got out of its way. I found a bike shop in town and bought a bike mirror for $15.00 so I could see cars coming from behind and hopefully save my life.
I made my way west towards the huge Lake Michigan. When I reached it and walked onto the sandy beach it was calm and looking beautiful. I met a young family and once more, my accent was a hit with the girls. The family shared some biscuits with me. The sun was going down so I had to move on and I arrived at Grand Heaven camp grounds at dark after cycling 177kms. The two girls on the pay station charged me $6.00, which I think was half price; someone was looking after me after all. I attempted to write in my diary but I was just too tired. It got cool and the moon and stars were shining brightly at midnight.
Lake Michigan is the only lake of the Great Lakes wholly within the borders of the United States; the other lakes joining are shared with Canada. It has a surface area of 22,400 square miles (58,016 km² ) making it the largest lake entirely within one country by surface area (just as a point of interest, Lake Baikal in Russia is larger by water volume).
Twelve million people live along Lake Michigan’s shores, which is half of the population of Australia. Many small cities and towns take advantage of the beauty and recreational opportunities and tourism that Lake Michigan has to offer. The southern tip of the lake though, is heavily industrialised.
Thursday 4th June
I slept well on the sand. I didn’t even hear the two hoot sounds from the nearby wharf that sounded every few minutes. There were also several lads going to and fro across the beach from a campfire party, but once I got to sleep I didn’t hear the party that apparently went on throughout the night.
As I pushed my bike over to the toilet, the ranger came and told me, in a sort of nice way, that he didn’t have a record of my payment. I fished out my receipt and handed it to him. The girls had only charged me $6.00 instead of $15.00. He wasn’t at all happy, he even fetched me a fee structure and showed me the real cost of the sites. I eased his concern by handing him $9.00 to make up the difference.
I cycled through the town seeing workmen cleaning up several trees that had come down in a recent hurricane. There was also a tree lying across a car, and the car was so badly damaged that it was a write-off. The inlet of the Grand River looked very pretty, but it was a pity about the factory in the background that took away the beauty. I ventured onto the highway where there was car chaos and queues going over the bridge. When I reached the bridge bicycles were banned on it, so I had to turn and find another route around it. The roads were rough, but I eventually found my way to Muskegon where a man in a car waiting at a stop sign asked me if I had a minute to talk. He was a policeman with only eighteen months to go before his retirement and he and his wife were going to cycle around the US. He wanted to know how I was going and what advice I could give them. I gave him a brief rundown about cycle touring before heading off and finding a Burger King to have breakfast.
When I left town the route that I was on suddenly turned into a freeway, so I had to find yet another alternative route, which was pretty hard when you don’t know the area and don’t have the local maps. Eventually I found my way to Whitehall/Montague and sat next to a shop wall and had lunch and an ice cream. The ice cream shop owner told me the way north to Stony Lake, which included a short steep hill climb. I was soon out into the country surrounded by farms and corn fields, with little traffic on the road. Stony Lake was small, but picturesque. There were school students swimming and canoeing at one end of the lake and fishermen at the other. I passed them by and kept heading north to Silver Dunes Lake which was very touristy, although saying that, there weren’t that many tourists there. It must have been a quiet day. The lake and the white sand dunes in the background really reminded me of Australia.
Still following the back roads I arrived in Pentwater where I diverted around a lake and passed fishermen fishing on the causeway. The town was touristy, but very pleasant. I checked out the state park and talked to a group of campers. It was too early to stop so I moved on to Ludington 23kms away, following a very bumpy cracked road that shook my bike.
When I arrived in Ludington, the first thing I saw was a factory with a very smoky chimney. I checked out a van park but it looked too expensive so I moved on to another about 2.5kms away. I made myself at home under a light and had a cold shower as there was no hot water.
Friday 5th June
It dropped down to a very chilly 1°C (34°F) during the night. I left the camp at 8.50am and called in to see the town beach. Although the sandy beach was stunning it was deserted, though admittedly it was pretty early in the morning. I rode around the marina and visited the post office before going to the supermarket where bananas were just 29¢ a pound. I thought that was cheap, so I bought seven which would last me for two days.
For once the wind wasn’t against me when I rode to Manistee where I called in at the tourist office and they gave me several state maps. The women were very helpful and they rang the local paper to see if they would like to do a story about my trip, but unfortunately the office was closed. I rode through the town, across the bridge and to the new marina, which looked smart. It had new buildings being built from chipboard, an unusual material to build homes with, I thought.
I asked a guy in a garage if I could swap a chocolate bar for a spray of WD 40 to lubricate my bike chain. He agreed and he looked surprised when I handed him the chocolate bar. A few minutes later I found a Burger King that had a meal deal of 99¢ for a whopper. The girl, Jennifer who was very pleasant asked me if I was 50. “Why do you want to know that?” I asked. She responded by saying “If you are, we give old people a coffee for 20 cents.” Cheeky devil, I was only 47! I had appreciated her friendly service so I told the manager that she was the friendliest and most helpful Burger King assistant that I had come across. I had noticed that all the assistants in the store were young. Some of the stores I had been in had awful service, many had older people working in them, and it was quite usual to hear them argue.
At Bear Lake I stopped for an ice cream. The weather was cold but I just fancied my favourite butter pecan flavour. Another young girl served me and she told me the school term had finished so there were a lot of young people looking for jobs. There were several forestry campsites on the way to Traverse City but I passed them by. When I joined highway 37 the traffic became much busier and one motorist honked his horn, shouted and pointed to a cycleway on the other side of the road. I decided to give the cycleway a try but it went up and over several square-ended kerbs and across several minor roads, so unless I wanted to buckle my wheel I had no choice but to get off it.
Once in the city, it was about 5kms along the lakeside to the campground. It wasn’t cheap so I gave the female assistant at the campground my usual lecture, explaining to her that a cyclist shouldn’t have to pay the same fee as a big recreational vehicle, which uses power and dumps all its waste in the campground. Another girl, who was a police ranger, must have felt sorry for me and gave me her favourite campsite, but she told me to watch out for poison ivy in the undergrowth. The trouble was I didn’t really know what poison ivy looked like, only that it had three almond shaped leaves! Apparently around 15% to 30% of people are not allergic to poison ivy but to those that are, it can cause severe blistering and even an anaphylactic reaction. For many it can be very serious, and I didn’t know if I would be one of those to be affected.
I nibbled on some food as I erected the tent, I then had a shower and wrote a little before retiring.
Saturday 6th June
At 9.00am, as the squirrels were fossicking around, I left the park and fought against headwinds to Elk Rapids. Here I looked around the harbour and had a cake and a couple of biscuits from a bakery. I sat and watched a kid’s fishing contest for a while but there didn’t seem to be too much excitement happening, so I moved on, catching up with three elderly ladies. During our brief chat I found out that they were cycling around the top half of Michigan, starting from Ludington and keeping as close to the lake as possible.
I arrived at a place with a small harbour and lake. It was a pretty place called Charlesvoix, where to my delight I found a Burger King with a 99¢ Whopper meal deal. I wondered if I was becoming addicted to Burger King, but I didn’t think so, I just loved taking a break and with all the cycling I was doing I didn’t think a little fast food would hurt. It actually turned out cheaper than preparing my own food and I knew I wouldn’t be having fast food forever.
The Lake Michigan shores were now visible at several places along my route which was a real treat. The three ladies suggested that I should continue to follow the coast around to Mackinaw City after I left Petoskey to see some of the most beautiful lake scenery, but I decided to take the direct route so I could get there quicker. I kept going, being spurred on by the good speed I was making and when I realised I should be able to get across the Mackinaw Bridge before nightfall, I only stopped briefly for a banana and a choc bar until I reached it. Once again the freeway blocked my way so I had to take an alternative route to town where I noticed there was a motel for $21.00 and a camp ground for $14.00. The motel was cheap but I resisted the temptation to enjoy the night in the comfort of a real bed and instead, I continued on.
The long Mackinaw Bridge, which I had to cross to get to St. Ignace was now before me. This wasn’t your ordinary bridge. This one spanned about 8kms across the narrowest piece of water between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. I called in at a service station and fortunately for me, it was at the same time as a policeman walked in, so I asked him about the bridge and what I had to do to cross it. The policeman advised me that it wasn’t possible to cross it by cycle, apart from once a year when it was closed to traffic to allow cyclists to have a unique experience. The policeman went on to say that there was a telephone two blocks away, where I could call the bridge administration and they would send a truck to pick me up. I didn’t really want to get a lift. It would be more exciting cycling across at sunset. As it was, the sky was cloudy so I couldn’t see the sun, but I’d still liked to have pedalled across.
The policeman also mentioned that there were two Australians working on the bridge pylons, though he didn’t know where they were from in Australia. I thanked him for his time and left to search for the phone to call the bridge administration. Within ten minutes a pickup truck turned up and shortly after that, I had my bike in the back of the truck and we were motoring towards the bridge. It was certainly warmer being in the truck but it wasn’t the same as cycling across the bridge. Because I couldn’t cycle, it left me feeling a little down.
The bridge project officially began on May 7th, 1954, at St. Ignace and Mackinaw City. The project employed as many as 3500 men at the bridge site. The massive 8kms long bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world when completed, but it has now dropped to the third longest suspension bridge in the world. The main span length was 1158 metres and had towers that rose 168 metres into the air. The bridge was opened to traffic on November 1, 1957.
All suspension bridges are designed to move to accommodate wind, change in temperature, and weight. So it was possible that the deck at the centre span could move as much as 35 feet, east or west, due to high winds. This would only happen under severe wind conditions. The deck would not swing or “sway” but rather move slowly in one direction based on the force and direction of the wind. After the wind subsided, the weight of the vehicles crossing would slowly move it back into the centre position.
When we reached the other side my lift dropped me off near the toll gate. I had to pay $2.00 before I could continue to the state park to camp which was only a few minutes away. I camped next to three guys, set up my tent and showered. Whilst I was cooking dinner, the guys called me over and we talked. After midnight, when I returned to camp, I found that raccoons had been into my food, and it was spread all over the ground.
Sunday 7th June.
At 7.15am I left my tent up and cycled down to the pier and caught the catamaran to Mackinac Island. Mackinac Island is a tourist island 12kms into Lake Huron. The fare was $18.00 including my bike and took about 15 minutes to get there. When I arrived at the island I parked my bike and walked along the main shopping street. Apart from government vehicles, vehicles were not allowed on Mackinac Island, only horses and bicycles were used for transport. It was unique. I hadn’t had breakfast so I couldn’t help having the island’s famous pancakes, $5.20 for three. I just fancied them.
Mackinac Island (no vehicles only bikes and horses).
With breakfast over I jumped on my bicycle and started my tour around the island. It was just amazing and fascinating to see that all the bags from the hotels and all the food and other essentials were being carried to and from the wharf by horse and trailer, or horse and carriage. There were even workers walking the streets picking up all the horse manure. What a job description to have on your passport! It was truly an interesting island and I was only just beginning my tour.
There were several other cyclists, mainly couples, following the cycle-ways and roads around the island. I felt like ringing Jenny as I was missing her. She should be here to share this unique island experience with me. I started to reminisce about the good times we had had, like our last holiday in Victoria.
Lake Huron and the shores of Mackinaw Island.
The road was relatively flat, the water was calm and at the British Beach landing I took the British Road up the hill to an old battle site. Further on, I met up with several solo horse carriages, twin horse carriages, and nearer the fort large passenger carriages that were being pulled by three horses. I was truly enjoying my surrounds and loving my ride as I detoured to the impressive Arch Rock which stood 45 metres above the eastern shore.
As I moved back to the fort the road was spread with horse dung and lined with horse stables which were quite huge. Back near the town centre I stopped near the Grand Hotel. It was a beautiful building, but I got told off by a lady, who told me that there were no bikes allowed in the area. The Grand Hotel was built of Michigan white pine in 1887, and is one of the world’s great resort hotels. The 201 metres wide hotel has 385 guest rooms with no two rooms decorated the same.
The Grand Hotel on Mackinaw Island.
Back in town I walked the tourist shops and checked out the cost of fudge, which the island has been famous for since 1880. It was $11.00 a pound making a slice about $5.00. I felt it a little too expensive for me to splurge out, so I didn’t bother.
My short trip to the island was very enjoyable and it was exciting to see an island without cars, a bit like Rottnest Island which is near my home city. Rottnest Island is 20kms off the coast from my home city of Perth. The only vehicles allowed there are those used by officials such as police, rangers and employees of the Rottnest Island Authority. A bus service takes sightseers around the island, or visitors can explore the island on foot or by bicycle.
Native Americans have visited Mackinac Island for over 11,000 years. The first Europeans visited the island in the 1630s. During the American Revolution, the British closed Fort Michilimackinac in present day Mackinaw City and moved the Fort, now called Fort Mackinac, to the Island. Following the Revolution, control of the Straits of Mackinac was turned over to the Americans. The British retook Fort Mackinac for a brief period during the War of 1812.
In 1875, Mackinac (pronounced Mackinaw) became the nation’s 2nd National Park. Twenty years later the park was turned over to the State of Michigan and 85% of the Island is administered by the Mackinac Island State Park Commission.
I boarded the ferry about noon to return to the mainland to carry on with my journey. Back in St Ignace I cycled directly to the supermarket as I needed to top up my food rations. I also had to buy soap, but they only came in threes, so I gave two back rather than waste them by throwing them in the bin. The assistants didn’t quite know what to do with them. It’s getting harder to buy some things in a single portion. Just try buying a single toilet roll, it’s near impossible! Back at the camp I sat down and had a feast of cold tinned potatoes, sandwiches, cheese, and Pop Tarts. By 3.15pm I had packed up and I was soon cycling out of town following the lakeside on highway 2. It was windy but not extremely so.
After 56kms I came across a beautiful lakeside campsite. For $6.00 it provided a water pump, a long drop toilet and a stunning view of the lake. I cooked my meal and talked to two 16 year olds, who told me they could drive a car at 16 in the US. They were drinking and later created a bit of noise. I listened on as I wrote my diary and watched the sun set over the lake and the moon rise and shine across the water. It was a chilly but perfect night, and I wrote until 11.30pm.
Camped along side Lake Michigan.
A full moon on Lake Michigan.
Monday 8th June
I only had my thin summer sleeping bag with me so the chillier nights were stretching my sleeping bag limit. If it got any colder I would need a warmer bag. The morning was glorious with a cloudless sky. There were intermittent views to the lake along my route. There was little wind and so it was a great day for cycling.
A long line of Harley Davidson bikes started to roar by. I could hear the sound of their engines for kilometres, followed by the rumble of the bikes vibrating through the road’s surface. The sound of a dozen engines heading towards me was just great, and it was an uplifting sound. It was a similar sound to a fleet of helicopters. The bikes usually passed in packs of ten or so and just when I thought they had all gone, another pack would speed by.
I reached a car that was parked on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere and when I talked to the driver he said he had hit a deer, which smashed in the car radiator. He was lucky in that it was a company car, but it couldn’t be driven again until it was towed away and repaired. Deer posed a big problem for motorists in many US states, especially when they were plentiful in some built-up areas near towns. I suppose it was a similar problem to what we have in Australia with kangaroos and cattle. I moved on, happy with the quick pace I was travelling at, but the weather began to change as the clouds moved in and the temperature dropped.
At Manistique there were groups of people tending plants and beautifying the town and I took the opportunity to post postcards to the staff at Snowgum where I worked back in Perth. Here I came across a couple on a motorbike that had broken down, but luckily for them the bike club had their own mechanics and breakdown retrieval service. Hours after seeing my first pack of Harley Davidson motorbikes, they were still passing me. I found out later that it was some sort of Harley Davidson anniversary celebration.
In Escanaba I noticed a Burger King with that same great meal offer of 99¢ but with great willpower I didn’t stop, I just collected water at a service station and continued on. If I had continued to follow the lake south I would have reached Chicago but I turned and headed west towards Minneapolis and the Mississippi River. As I moved on towards Powers I crossed from the Eastern Time Zone to the Central Time Zone, so I had to change my watch back an hour.
Geese flew overhead in two long lines in a V shape. I arrived at the Powers camp ground at 9.20pm and erected my tent under a full moon and a cloudless sky. I was in bed at 12.40am.
Tuesday 9th June
I felt as if I needed more sleep when I awoke but there was no rest for the wicked. Clouds were moving in but the sun still managed to peep through at times. At Norway I stopped and rang Jenny. The roof was still leaking at home and she had bought a new heater.
As I turned south and crossed the Menominee River I entered the state of Wisconsin, the capital being Madison in the central south but Milwaukee was the largest city. After 116kms and reaching Pembine I started heading west again on an awful road full of cracks and bumps. At Dunbar, another 17 kilometres further the road had been upgraded and it felt virtually like a new road. I was much happier.
Stopping in Laona I bought an ice cream. I know I seem to always be having ice cream whenever I stop, but I saw it as a reward for the hard physical work that I was doing, plus I love ice cream. I then visited the forestry service to find out if there were any camping spots coming up. Apparently all the rustic camp sites were now $10.00, when last year they were free. I should have been here last year!
It started to rain hard as I headed towards Rhinelander and it increased as night closed in. Heading into town the traffic soon increased on highway 8 and the ride became bumpy again because of the cracks in the road. The severe cold and winter frosts must give the roads a real hammering, so it’s no wonder some of them were rough. I was wet and cold and though I could have detoured to several campgrounds along the way I preferred not to detour, and instead continued on. I passed a Burger King with the lure of that special meal deal of 99¢ and though I was very much tempted, I resisted once again. Besides, it was getting dark and I still needed to find my camping spot for the night. I stopped at a service station instead to get water. I walked in leaving a trail of water on the floor as my sandshoes were squelching with water. A women motorist asked me a few questions, but unfortunately she didn’t offer to give me shelter for the night. I was a bit puzzled. Surely there was something appealing about my wet looks!!
I got back on my bike and carried on for about 4kms before I saw a cleared area. It looked as if it was part of a new road but it was covered with straw and quite wet. It was still raining but I decided to stay, there seemed little chance of finding something better. The inside of the tent was soon wet, not only from my gear but I think the floor was also leaking. I laid garbage bags inside on the floor and placed my muddy, wet panniers on it. When everything was inside I too got undercover. My clothes were drenched and I was cold. My feet were freezing so I put my sleeping bag over me and started eating everything in my bag that didn’t need cooking. When I had finished eating, I packed everything away and began my evening ritual of writing my diary. I kept nodding off, so I put my pen and diary down and allowed myself to drift off to sleep listening to the rain.
Wednesday 10th June
The sound of the traffic woke me, but I fell back to sleep and woke again at 7.30am. The rain had stopped but everything was damp. I didn’t bother making coffee I just ate cereal and tried to get moving as soon as possible. I hit the road with a soggy backside, the traffic was pretty heavy, but there was a one metre shoulder to keep me safe.
I crossed over the upper reaches of the Wisconsin River which travels south through the centre of the state and joins the Mississippi River near Prairie du Chien. I passed through several small towns averaging just over 19kms an hour. I was pleased to see the town of Prentice as I was a little exhausted and I needed food, so I found a supermarket. The weather was cold but at least it wasn’t raining, so I stretched my tent outside the supermarket to dry and boiled water for soup and had a big lunch. Lots of people, mostly women visited the supermarket, but they seemed to stare through me as if I wasn’t there. But before I left one woman nodded and another said hello. Ah good, I wasn’t invisible after all!
Whilst waiting for the tent to dry I had eaten soup, baked bean sandwiches, a tomato, a banana, an apple, a muesli bar and a Pop Tart. I have to say, the cycling certainly gave me an appetite!! I stopped at a service station for water and yes, an ice cream that cost me a whole 41¢. The coffee was free on Wednesdays so I treated myself to one. I moved down the road and noticed a shop sign reading “Clothes.” I stopped and bought a pair of socks as the pair that I was wearing was wet and my feet had been freezing all morning. The lady was friendly and asked me about my trip and then gave me an orange juice. I left with warmer feet and a smile.
Four deer crossed my path on the way to Ladysmith. I stopped at the service station and filled my water bottles and bought another ice cream. This one cost me 45¢ and I then moved on towards Cameron. After completing 185kms for the day I was keeping a close lookout for a camping spot. I found a forest with a shelter, two seats, a water pump and a toilet. What a bonus, I thought, only to discover that the water pump didn’t work and the toilets weren’t fit to use, but nevertheless, it was a nice grassed area, so I was a more than happy. I soon got the kettle on the boil for a coffee and erected my tent.
After my meal two men drove up. I got talking to them and they mentioned that the Apostle Islands, about 195kms north of me, on Lake Superior were worth a look. Maybe so, but it was a little too far out of my way to cycle on this trip. As I wrote in my diary three other cars drove into my camp spot stayed a short time and then left.
Thursday 11th June
The rain was falling when I woke up. I felt tired as I had woken a couple of times in the night because of the cars. Luckily each time I would drift back to sleep. I had about 13kms to get to town where I filled my water bottle at a service station and then sped along towards Barron. When I arrived I noticed a bleb in my tyre. I also noticed that Hardies had burgers for 99¢ so unable to resist, I stopped and bought a burger. They tasted much like the Burger King burgers.
I left town speeding along and as I got closer to St Croix Falls the traffic became thick. The bleb in the tyre got worse and on the downhill section towards the river I took it a little easier as I thought the tyre might blow. If it did, it could cause a lot of damage to me and my bike.
I needed to source a car rental company because when I get to Minneapolis I had to hire a car so I could fetch my kayak from New Jersey and take it to the start of the Mississippi River. Passing a forestry park headquarters I called in and the lady at the desk was very helpful and allowed me to look up the car rental places in the yellow pages. I moved south and stopped at another state park, Marine on St Croix, and rang a car rental firm from there and booked a car for $210.00 a week, plus insurance which didn’t seem too bad.
I moved on again in light rain heading towards Stillwater, a nice town next to the river. It had a good feel about it and reminded me of the outskirts of Sydney. I called in to an outfitter’s store to ask for directions, and then took the road to Bay Point. I didn’t know if I was going in the right direction, but I came across a bike shop, for which I was thankful, but it was closed. A guy crossing the road noticed me and it turned out he was the owner, so he very kindly came back and opened up. He fitted a new tyre for $30.00, a little expensive I thought, but he had opened up his shop and as I waited he gave me a Guinness beer, so maybe $30.00 wasn’t so expensive after all! In only a few minutes I was away heading towards the Lake Elmo State Park. Here I booked a primitive campsite for $7.00. It rained, so I had a basic meal inside the tent to escape the rain and the hordes of mosquitoes.
Friday 12th June
It was a very damp morning and the mosquitoes were still pretty bad. I ate tasteless shredded wheat for breakfast. I rang Jenny from the public phone at the ranger station and then got on my way. I wasn’t far from the rental car in Minneapolis so I was getting excited. Pretty soon I would be driving for a week and having a bit of a rest, but still seeing plenty of the US countryside.
The route I took through St Paul and Minneapolis wasn’t that busy because I took the lesser roads. I found Budget Car Rentals in the light industrial area. I didn’t want to arrive on my bike or they would know that I was going to put it in the back of the car. I didn’t know their policy on these types of things, so I tried to find somewhere to leave it until the car was sorted. I asked at a childcare centre but they said they were a private organisation and wouldn’t allow me to leave it there. I then cycled across the street to a private company and thankfully the receptionist said I was very welcome to leave it there.
I slipped into my long pants and walked to the Budget which was just over 1km away. After I had done all the paperwork and drove out of their yard I returned for my bike, folded down the back seats and slipped it into the back of the car. Within minutes I was driving out of town and heading south to Hastings and following the Mississippi River. As we drive on the left in Australia I had to keep my wits about me as I was now driving on the right. Hastings looked a very nice old place. I drove to the local lock and watched a barge going through it. It was interesting to view a lock and see what the river was like. In the lock washroom I washed my hair and upper body. I hadn’t showered for a few days as all the primitive camp sites that I had camped in didn’t have a shower.
I continued to follow the river on the eastern side where there were some lovely beaches and limestone cliffs. Eventually, after about 480kms, I left the river at Dubuque and headed east towards Chicago. I enjoyed the drive along the river so much, that I was getting quite excited about my paddle on the Mississippi.
To be driving and not exercising seemed such a pleasure and after enduring so much physical activity I was actually having a rest. Once on the freeways the kilometres flew by. It didn’t take long before I was driving through Chicago. Although I was on one of America’s busiest freeways the journey through and around Chicago city was quite an experience. I was driving at a high speed to keep up with the traffic, so I had to be alert to which lane to be in or I may be forced to take the wrong road out of town. Huge skyscrapers blocked out the eastern skyline for several minutes. I felt a little tense with all the traffic crowding me, but thrilled with the breathtaking views of the city along the way.
Instead of going directly back to New Jersey, I had decided to divert to Niagara Falls, near Buffalo. It was several hundred miles out of my way but it was one of those once in a lifetime opportunities, a special place not to be missed. I had the opportunity so I decided to take it.
The Niagara Falls are waterfalls on the Niagara River, straddling the international border between the Canadian province of Ontario and the US state of New York. The falls are 27kms north-north-west of Buffalo, New York and 120kms south-southeast of Toronto, Ontario.
Niagara Falls is composed of two major sections separated by Goat Island: Horseshoe Falls, the majority of which lies on the Canadian side of the border, and American Falls on the American side. The smaller Bridal Veil Falls are also located on the American side, separated from the main falls by Luna Island.
The Horseshoe Falls drop is 53 metres, but the height of the American Falls varies between 21–30 metres because of the presence of giant boulders at its base. I found the Horseshoe Falls to be the more spectacular.
Niagara Falls is renowned both for its beauty and as a valuable source of hydroelectric power. Some of the water is diverted to hydroelectric facilities. This is accomplished by employing a weir with movable gates upstream from the Horseshoe Falls.
I reached the falls, booked into a motel and went sightseeing. It was just amazing. I walked along the Niagara River looking at the swift flow and the rapids upstream of the falls. There were some good rapids but I couldn’t imagine paddling them with the falls just downstream. A capsize would most likely secure you a trip over the American Falls and that wouldn’t be fun?
I left the falls in the late afternoon and returned to the motel. Later that evening I went back to view the falls in the dark. It was just as impressive, if not more impressive than in the daylight, as an array of different coloured lights shone on its falling water like a huge rainbow. It was just spectacular. I rang Jenny from a phone overlooking the falls, giving her a description of the sensational scene in front of me. She was suitably impressed with the description and she wished she was there with me.
The next morning I took a ride on the tourist boat. Yes, I actually spent some money, but it was one sight I couldn’t miss! We were all given a blue plastic poncho to wear. Just as well as the spray from the huge Horseshoe Falls drenched us as the boat motored to the bottom of the cascading water.
With another once in a lifetime experience completed it became time to head south to continue my journey and pick up my kayak from Elaine’s, in New Jersey. I still had a long way to go but it was an interesting drive. I love to explore new countryside and it was a lot easier doing it by car than paddling, cycling or walking, but it flashed by. I eventually got back to Elaine’s and it was good to catch up with her again, even if it was only for a very short time.
The rental car didn’t have roof racks, so I had to purchase soft racks to carry the kayak back to the Mississippi. I didn’t think they were going to be the best for transporting a kayak thousands of miles, but I had no choice and much to my surprise and delight, they worked pretty well. Before heading back to the Mississippi I drove out to the east coast and called in at a Canoe Shop called, ‘The Jersey Paddler’ to check out their gear. They had a huge selection. I then continued to the coast to see what the ocean was like at that point and to get a feel of the eastern seaboard. I love to check out different areas so if I ever decide to do a kayak trip, I had a little idea of what it is going to be like. It was a short visit but it gave me a better picture of the eastern side of the US coast.
I said my final goodbyes to Elaine. I wouldn’t see her again before leaving the country, which was sad. I was soon on the freeway heading south but I missed a turn-off to head west and ended up getting off the freeway and landing myself in a very depressed black area of Philadelphia. The houses were run down and several cars that stood on the road side were stripped and just left there. Service stations had metal mesh around the cashier and customers couldn’t get fuel until they had paid for it. It was not a good place to break down. With no good map of the area I had to follow my nose to get back out into the country. I was somewhat tense whilst in the neighbourhood and I was more than happy when I finally got clear of the area.
I drove through the Lancaster area to see more of the Amish country as I enjoyed looking at their farms on my previous cycle. Once through Lancaster I took freeways directly back towards Chicago and then major and minor roads through Wisconsin, Minnesota and to Lake Itasca, the headwaters of the Mississippi River. At the lake I was allowed to leave my kayak in a shed used by the rangers. I then had to return the car to Minneapolis and start my cycle back to the lake.
Friday, 19th June 98
As the morning light dawned I woke up feeling the cold. I only had a T-shirt on and my wind-block jacket. Though I had slept through the night I was still tired from the lack of sleep the night before. Once awake, I soon drove out of the forest heading towards Minneapolis. I stopped for fuel, a doughnut and a coffee.
I arrived back in Minneapolis without hassle, returned the car and within the hour I was back on my bike and on my way into town and through the university grounds, where I saw very few cars but lots of bikes. I cycled on exploring and found myself crossing a bridge that connected the two university campuses. The place was teeming with students but I suppose that wasn’t so strange, it was a university. I came to a lock and horseshoe bridge which was only used by walkers and cycles and I watched a boat going through the lock. The lock was very high and it was several metres from the top of the lock to the bottom. It was the highest lock on my route. A ‘V’ weir was positioned just before the lock and the water was overflowing the gates.
I moved on and made my way out of the city. The road that I took got sandwiched between freeways so I had difficulty in finding my way. I reached a shopping centre and bought a film. I hadn’t locked my bike so I became worried it might be gone when I returned so I hurried but I didn’t need to as it was still there. I tried making my way into the countryside trying to find a road that didn’t lead to a freeway.
It was certainly difficult to find a way out of town without using the freeways. I started making progress but then I came to a highway that was full of buses that were using the shoulder of the road, where I was cycling. It made it very dangerous for me so I left that road as soon as I could and followed a meandering minor road that at times followed the river to the town of Monticello. This is where I found the town park and a canoeist’s campsite at the end of a gravel road.
The campsite, hidden by trees, was a flat grassy area situated near the river’s edge. It came complete with a table. The river was running quite fast and it was just what I wanted for my return journey by kayak. I wrote six postcards to the school children and by 12.40am I was snuggled up in my sleeping bag. I heard people shouting and whistling in the night but fortunately they kept away.
Saturday, 20th June
It rained in the night and I slept in until 8.00am. I would have loved to have slept in longer but I knew I would never complete a 100 mile (161km) day if I did. I had a jam and cheese sandwich for breakfast in the perfect sunshine and the warmth of the sun soon dried my tent.
Once I got moving I was quickly out into the country getting glimpses of the river. For the second time in two days a car driver stopped me and asked me for directions. I arrived in Clearwater which had a water tank that looked like a huge golf ball. I did my grocery shopping and then had a haircut for $10.50. The hairdresser said her daughter, who was 15 years old had been to a Sydney school and got an award for her excellent work. Her son was in the Navy, which she seemed very proud of. She was very chatty and chirpy. I left her and shopped and bought three 20¢ cans of drink and a pound of bananas for 29¢. I ate cereal outside the shops with real cow’s milk, which tasted so good after using milk powder for so long. I made my way to St Cloud and when I stopped to check my map, a woman cyclist and her small daughter stopped to see if they could help me. We talked and the 10 year old girl said, “It takes courage to do what you are doing.” I felt a lump come to my throat.
I followed the road through the town and for the next 42kms there were only tiny communities without shops. In the country I started seeing much more of the river and many farms, most with irrigation pipes which were watering the corn in their fields. The corn was about 45cms high and looking green and healthy. There was a sweet smell of cattle manure lingering in the air and it reminded me of my early days when I lived on a farm in England. I loved it then because I got to drive tractors, had my own horse, worked in the fields and earned money. I was free to do many things around the farm that other kids could only dream of doing. I was cycling down a very tranquil, quiet road but when I got glimpses of highway 10 on the other side of the river, it was teeming with traffic and noise.
It was a delightful cycle and I was checking out all the statues and garden gnomes in people’s gardens. I hate garden gnomes. That’s a bit strong, but it was interesting seeing all the different ones and the garden styles that the owners had developed. Passing one farm a bored dog suddenly slipped through a fence and started chasing me down the road. I could hear the dog’s owner shouting for it to come back. Luckily it didn’t catch me.
I soon passed a dam in the river which held the water back and created a lake. A little further at Little Falls, right in the centre of town there was another dam. One of the flood gates was open and the water was falling heavily into the river below. The turbulence and huge stopper at the bottom looked very scary. I looked on in awe and took photos as two women walking by asked me what I was doing. I told them and they were interested in doing something similar but their husbands were not the camping type. We talked for a while and they offered to let me stay at their place for the night but unfortunately it was too early in the day to stop, so they gave me directions and I headed out of town.
Dams along the Mississippi River.
I was soon back in the countryside passing several farms which all had tall silos. I just loved the countryside. The smells and sense of space made me realise that I actually missed the country life. By the end of the day I was tiring, but I had done exactly 100 miles (161kms) by the time I arrived at Brainerd. I got water from a service station, rang Elaine and then rang my friends Lawrence and Anita in Perth, but they were not in. I cycled out of town stopping for a Hardies 99¢ burger and coffee on the way, crossed the Mississippi River and saw queues of people at the Dairy Queen, another fast food outlet. I then cycled north on the highway 371 and after 5-6kms I came across a church meeting-place with a huge grassed area / camp behind it, so I stopped for a night.
The waterfowl nearby were making some weird noises and the mosquitoes were on the rampage, so I decided to retreat to my tent to write. It was the longest day of the year, the day with the most daylight hours, so from now on, the nights would draw in. Winter was on its way. I crept into bed at 11.50pm.
Sunday 21st June
I was on the road by 8.15am and after about 5kms I stopped at a service station, ate cereal for breakfast and rang Lawrence and Anita to see how their baby Christopher was getting on. I then stopped at a fishing shop. The owner said he would love to do what I was doing, but he was tied down with his shop and his family. When I took off I noticed that there was a good cycleway over to the left of the road, so I cycled across and used it. It was once an old railway track which was as wide as a car lane. I stopped to ask some lady cyclists how far it went but they didn’t quite know. I moved on and had lunch, the ladies passed and stopped at a table and chairs 300 metres away. Nearby there was a big sign with a spanner painted on it and an arrow pointing to the right, which meant a cycle repair shop was in that direction. I had never seen that sort of sign before, so it was a novelty. I suppose it was there because of the cycleway and cycling must be very popular around here. I caught up with ladies, Marilyn Michaels (younger one) Jean Marble (retired) and the third one, whose name I forgot. Within minutes of meeting them I felt as if I had known them for ages. I was in no hurry so I cycled with them and after the cycleway moved away from the road, there was no noise of the traffic at all. We paused where another couple on bikes were admiring a bunch of flowers. They said that particular flower was their state emblem.
Cycleway and bike repairer sign.
I was getting to know the ladies very well by the time they stopped cycling for the day in a small town which had a canoe race just finishing. There was a carnival atmosphere with several stalls selling local arts and crafts. It was here we said our goodbyes. Marilyn, who had a tick on her when we stopped, warned me to be careful as the ticks can make you very sick. She was hoping that she wouldn’t be affected. Before we parted company Jean offered to hold onto a food parcel for me at her home in Minneapolis, and bring it to me when I arrived there. We had talked about it earlier. Doing so would save me from having to leave my kayak on the bank in Minneapolis and go hunting for a shop. She said there wasn’t a shop near the river, so I would have had to walk a long way to find one. I thanked her for her offer and assured her I would be taking her up on it.
The cycleway soon turned into dirt so I went back on the road which had a 2 metre shoulder. There were lakes as I approached the town of Walker, where there was a Festival band playing near the casino. There were no meal deals at Hardies so I stopped at the ice cream shop instead. There was a sign in the window that said, “Don’t touch.” I joked with the guy behind the counter and got talking to some other customers. I had a good laugh and a joke with them and they gave me their phone number and told me they lived upstream from Brainerd, a town that I was paddling through. “Call in to see us,” they said.
It had been a good, very social day, but my enjoyment faded as I moved in a north-westerly direction against a strong wind. As the country opened up and the closer I cycled to Lake Itasca, the wind howled stronger. It wasn’t fun anymore, but it was my last day of cycling. I stopped at a service station near Lake George to use their toilet and as I left the sky was gloomy and rain threatened.
My legs had walked and cycled several thousand kilometres and after weeks on the road I neared the Mississippi River. As I pushed into a strong westerly wind I finally turned my last corner and arrived at the Lake Itasca Park. The skies were still dark and rain still threatened. From behind the window at the office, I was helped by a good looking young woman, so it wasn’t so bad handing over a $12.00 park fee to her! It was 7.00pm as I turned off onto a cycle track and accelerated rapidly between large trees which shielded my passage towards the lake’s campsite. I continued my ride along the cycleway that went up and down, longing to see the Mississippi headwaters. It was here that another part of my journey of a lifetime was going to begin. I was going to be one of the very few people who have kayaked the full length of the Mississippi River.
Lake Itasca Youth Hostel.
I checked the campground and then the Youth Hostel. The YHA was very clean and it had furniture that was much better than what I had at home and with it costing $15.00, only $3.00 more expensive than the campground, I just had to stay there.
I had left some food and my kayak at the park previously, so a ranger met me at the shed where it was stored, so I could collect it. Ravaged by mosquitoes I carried my food, kayak and gear to the hostel which was only 60 odd metres away.
Getting my food ready.
In the hostel I got chatting to a couple named Brian and Hollie who were from Minneapolis and who were also staying at the hostel. During the course of conversation I mentioned how I had met a lady called Jean who had offered to help me with a food parcel. I asked them if they wouldn’t mind dropping my food parcel to Jean on their return home and they very kindly agreed.
Packing my food was such a tedious job and by the time I finished and wrote on a few postcards to the school kids back in Perth it was gone 2.00am. It was so good to have lights to see with and not be harassed by mosquitoes. It was really hard trying to write my diary half lying down in my tent, half asleep, so having a table to lean on that night was great.
Monday 22nd June
I felt a little tired when I got up at 8.15am, and perhaps not surprisingly, there was no one around. I had breakfast and then started fibreglassing a cardboard tube which I was putting my maps in for better storage. By the time I’d finished messing around it was nearly 1.00pm.
I bought two colourful T-shirts and took a photo or two next to the YHA sign. My next plan was to cycle to Bemidji to drop off my bike and send it to New Orleans, but before doing that I made my way by cycle to the Mississippi Headwaters and the Information office, which was close by. Here several adults and children were walking over the rocks and straddling a narrow section of the mighty Mississippi River which was running very slowly out of Lake Itasca. This was the headwaters and where the river started. I bought more postcards from the gift shop and rang Jean about my food parcel, but I only got her answer phone.
I left the park and headed towards Bemidji, 50kms away, crossing the Mississippi River twice which looked okay and pretty wide at Bemidji. I arrived in Bemidji at 3.30pm and went straight to the bike shop. I left my panniers there, rode to the post office to send a parcel full of gear that I didn’t need to Elaine. I then made my way over to the police station as I was told by the guys in the bike shop, the police had a box that they didn’t want and it was big enough to pack my bike in. The box turned out to be massive, just getting it back to the bike shop, riding my bike was a task in itself!!
Before taking my bike apart I took a food parcel to the local motel near the lake and asked the manager if I could leave it there and collect it when I paddled back through Bemidji in 2 day’s time. He very kindly agreed. Back at the bike shop I took the wheels off the bike and packed it in the box. John, who worked at the bike shop generously drove me to UPS Freight Company a little later. Luckily we arrived there before 6.00pm which was just before they closed.
The box and bike weighed 29.55kgs and it cost me $29.00 to send it to New Orleans, which I thought was pretty good value as New Orleans was 4000kms away. I sent the bike to a guy called Joey, who worked at a bicycle shop in New Orleans. I had telephoned the shop some weeks beforehand and Joey didn’t have any hesitation in holding it for me, which was pretty good as he didn’t know me from Adam. With the bike out of the way John dropped me off on the road on the outskirts of town so I could hitchhike back to the YHA. I didn’t have any food so I bought a drink, some nuts and a granola bar at a service station and then started walking towards Lake Itasca. Having no support crew to drive me around it did make my journey that much more difficult, although to be honest, I was enjoying doing the whole trip alone.
I had walked for about 40 minutes and for a moment I thought I would have to walk all the way back to the lake, but thankfully a four wheel drive vehicle stopped. Michael, who picked me up, lived in Texas all winter but lived near the lake in the summer school holidays. I couldn’t have asked for a better lift as Michael took me back to his home which was only 8kms from Lake Itasca. He, his wife and their two year old son Nathan lived on a 50 acre property right next to a lake. Soon after we arrived, his wife had a pasta meal on the table and iced tea to drink. Michael was a builder and a school teacher. At 8.45pm, after a good meal and some interesting conversation Michael drove me back to the Lake Itasca YHA. It was great to be dropped off right at the door. My day could not have gone any better.
Two guys had booked in to the Youth Hostel whilst I was away and were sharing my room. We had a chat then I did a few chores, did my washing and wrote until midnight. Tomorrow was the big day – to take on the Mississippi River.
The start of the Mississippi River.