Bicycle Touring Wisconsin West to East in 8 Days: A Recap

After Dustin and I left Don Olson’s Adventure Cycling Bunkhouse, we headed east toward Wisconsin. On our way toward the state line we hit a landmark incident — Dustin rode completely through his back tire and we needed to buy a new one!

wpid-Photo-20140814152658.jpg The folks at Outdoor Edge in Cambridge, MN, were excellent. Really nice people. Ok, ok, enough about MN in a WI post… Heads up, this post is super long because — as you’ve noticed — I haven’t updated this blog in weeks. Apologies! And, you’re welcome if you’re looking for a one-stop “all about Wisconsin touring” post. 🙂

Wisconsn Day One: The Lindstrom to Osceola Cluster$@&#

From Dalbo, we got Dustin a new tire in Cambridge, MN, then we were off to spend what we thought would be one more night in MN in the city of Lindstrom (population 4,442). After all the luxury at the Adventure Cyclist Bunkhouse we were feeling pretty lazy so we planned to make it a short day — 50 miles from Dalbo to Lindstrom plus a couple for the tire detour. Piece of cake. So we’re trekking, and finallly we pull up to the Hillcrest RV Park at the intersection of CR9 and CR20 right outside Lindstrom, MN. We’re thinking we’re in the middle of nowhere and we won’t have any problems finding a plot to pitch our baby tent in. Boy were we wrong. Turns out Lindstrom is having their “town parade” today and everyone from all the surrounding middle of nowhere places have come in to participate in the parade and hang out in Lindstrom — so there’s no camping. The woman at the campground directs us 10 miles SW to Chisago City where we can find a big hotel and a little hotel. When we arrive in Chisago City we find both the little AND the big hotel full! Turns out there’s a wedding in town and the wedding party has everything occupied. After helping us call several local hotels/motels — and getting rejected by several local hotels/motels — the woman behind the big hotel reception desk offers to let us stay at her house. She says she and her husband have backpacked out of the country before and she understands what it’s like to be tired and S.O.L. The catch: her house is eight miles in the wrong direction. Hrm. So I go outside to consult with Dustin who, since having to trek 10 miles out of the way to Chisago City, is turning into quite the bear. (The man hates backtracking; who can blame him?) Being a man who hates backtracking, we decide that if we have to ride another eight miles it should be in the right direction, so we thank the lady for her Don Olson-esque kindness and push onward toward Osceola, Wisconsin. (A new state!) wpid-Photo-20140814152659.jpg 16 miles later we arrive in Osceola, are greeted by a Dairy Queen (a luxury that’s become quite a theme for us on this tour) and the River Valley Inn & Suites. With hour short 50-mile day rolling over into a 77-mile day, it would be accurate to say that we have never been so happy to see an overpriced hotel in all our days.

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The shower is warm, the bed is King-size, and the Continental breakfast includes cereal with milk, so I am happy.

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Wisconsin Day Two: Interstate State Park + St. Croix Falls

The next morning we wake up for the first time in Wisconsin and push off toward Interstate State Park where I am told they have many camping spots (yay!) We plan to canoe in the state park but are foiled by rain. Despite the rain, the park is beautiful and we stay for two nights. The park is better described with pictures:

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I would definitely return to Interstate State Park again!

Wisconsin Day 3: Cumberland, WI

From Interstate SP we entered what I call the land of CR-random letter. From CR G to CR DD, all the random letters were represented in roads we traversed. Silos were abound (Wisconsin apparently makes lots off cheese did you know that? ;)) Our third night we spend in Cumberland, WI, at “Country Quiet” RV Park. We slept right on the lake and witness an amazing sunset. Dustin said the water in the lake was really warm and we considered staying to take a lake day but then decided to press onward hoping our next stop, Edgewater on Lake Chetac, would yield a beautiful place to swim the day away.

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Wisconsin Day 4: Edgewater + Lake Chetac

The ride to Lake Chetac was beautiful. Lake Chetac itself, on the other hand……… was less beautiful. We refer to this as the “Ectoplasm green boat scum lake” in our discussion of Edgewater. Pros of Edgewater: – They had a convenience store where we could buy french onion dip and chips (a craving Dustin and I both had been carrying about for a while). – They had a bar where we ate some deep-fried cheese. (As you can tell, Dustin and I are both on a very low-calorie touring diet…) Wisconsin Day 5: A Hayward Detour for River Tubing After our Interstate State Park canoe day being foiled by rain, and then our Edgewater lake day being foiled by green boat scum, we had reached our limit and we needed a lake day with some GD tubing/kayaking/canoeing/family-freakin-fun. So we took the long way east to swoop through the Hayward KOA where they have both tubing and kayaking built into the ridiculous camping price. At this point there was no price that could be put on the value of some good ol’ river tubing, for real. So, we trekked into Hayward where we were met by a crapton of people. Apparently Hayward has become quite a tourist destination (??). I did not see this coming. Walking our bikes past the Jersey Shore-style t-shirt shops and candy slangers we made our way to the post office so that I could take care of about 6 weeks worth of backed up mailing I had to do (hobo bag bike was getting out of control). This is important to the story because it was outside the post office (and after, literally, I was in there for an hour) that I met Kris Mayberry — the Mother Theresa of Wisconsin. I wrote a whole post inspired by Kris Mayberry earlier in the blog (the Let Go and Let God post). Please take the time to read that post if you’re interested in hearing a story about a stranger inviting a couple of other total strangers back to his house and being totally awesome. Or, here’s the Cliffs Notes recap: Kris Mayberry lives in Hayward on the river right behind the KOA; he offered to let us stay for free; fed us a lot of really amazing food including fresh from Georgia peaches; he lent us tubes and we river rafted for free on his property. He is awesome; Life was good. Commence river rafting photos:

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Wisconsin Day 6: Glidden City Park with Stef and Brendan

After Hayward the plan was to ride to Clam Lake. Instead, we ran into Stef and Brendan — two newly weds cycle touring the Northern Tier as their honeymoon trip (our kind of people!) — and rode past Clam Lake to a free city park in Gliddon. The ride between Hayward and Gliddon was pretty alright. The elevation wasn’t crazy yet and we spent most of our riding hours on county roads named after letters (CR AA; CR G; etc.) Camping in the city park with Stef and Brendan was super fun! Up until this point we hadn’t really camped with any other cyclists; we see them aall the time on the side of the road and stop and chat for a few minutes, or we camp near them and they do thheir business and we do ours, but this time our forces combined and we actually camped together and spet the evening sharing and comparing road stories. As mentioned… it was really fun. Turns out Stef and Brendan are a lot like us and they’ve been tackling a lot of the same challenges that we have — which is always nice to hear; I always find it reassuring to know my issues are common ones that can be solved. I don’t know why we didn’t take any pictures with Stef and Brenden (that was dumb), but you can read all about their journey on their blog: PedalingBS.com.

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Wisconsin Day 7: Big Lake State Park with Dinosaur Kid

After parting ways with Stef and Brenden in Gliddon (they were headed toward the Manitowic alternate, and we were headed toward the U.P. of Michigan. Plus… they ride way more miles than we do every day; like 100+ miles. They are human machines), we headed onward to Big Lake State Park outside of Boulder Junction, WI.   The “Big Lake” was pleasant — not filled with green boar grime — but, it’s funny, the most memorable part of this day way the camp host’s red-haired grandson. He was about 8 and awesome. The kid just wanted to talk. He told me he was going to be a police man, then he told me, alternately, his plan was to open a fish museum. He also told me that dinosaurs still existed very deep under the ocean. All of this he told me breathing very little while his grandfather tried desperately to talk over him (to Dustin) about our trip and our camp registration. It was really funny. I liked that ki

Wisconsin Day 8: Star Lake Lake Day!!

Our last and final day in Wisconsin was supposed to be our first day in Michigan, but we got distracted by the Wisconsin Northwoods, the elevation of the state’s backroads, Star Lake and the promise of our infamous lake day (!) Stef and Brended had mentioned they might stop at Star Lake to have a lake day because they heard the lake was beautiful. We didn’t see them at the lake but I hope they did stop because the lake WAS beautiful!! It was warm and pleasant and everything we’d hoped for in a lake day. We took lake baths with the Bronners and we did cannonballs and backflips and we tested the waterproof claim of my Lifeproof iPhone case (which, by the way, was totally waterproof and allowed us to takee UNDERWATER pictures!! Awesome.) We hung out in the sun and we went to a FISH FRY at a bar. (Which, by the way, sucked. Ok, it was alright. But not what I had built it up in my mind to be.) I took some great nature photos and our lake day ended up being the perfect ending to our tour through Wisconsin. If you don’t believe me, check out these best-day-ever photos:

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Some Other Pictures of Wisconsin…

Here are some other pictures from our trek across Wisconsin that didn’t quite fit into the narrative above, but I find worth sharing. You can also find more pictures of our entire journey on our Flickr account. Enjoy! image   image

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How Don Olson’s Adventure Cycling Bunkhouse Restored My Faith in Humanity

Do you know where Dalbo, MN is? I assume not since people within a 20-mile radius of Dalbo don't even know where it is.

It's a small town — population 80 — at the intersection of SR47 and SR6 in Eastern Minnesota; the streets are lined with old barns and silos, much like many of the places we've been riding through for the past 10 weeks. There's more or less not a lot going on, so rolling up to Don Olson's Adventure Cyclist bunkhouse in the middle of SR47 to find a 100-year-old barn (completed with silo!) converted into a cyclist's dreamhouse with cots and fresh eggs and a toaster and a shower that Don built himself was like a dream.

You know that scene in Cinderella when she swoops into the castle and spins around and magic is in the air as she finds herself surrounded by so much luxury? That's how I felt entering Don Olson's bunkhouse — like a road cycling Disney princess. There was a refrigerator with cheese in it! Fresh cheese — for free — for me! Just because. (Yes!) There was a toaster so that we could have toasted bread! (Yes!) There were other cyclists!! (Yes!!) Just hanging out looking at maps and drinking coffee — because there was also a coffee maker! (YES!!!) For a cyclist who's been living in a tent the size of a twin-size bed with another adult for 10 weeks, Don Olson's bunkhouse is like Cinderella's magic castle.

If you've never spent 10 weeks living in a tent and off only the things you can carry, you may not be able to relate when I refer to toasted bread, cereal with cold milk and a shower that runs at whatever temperature the sun dictates as “magic.” That's fair. On the other hand, if you have cycle toured The States before and you've never been to Don Olson's bunkhouse, please go. It's free (!) and the experience is priceless.

Why Don Olson Has Restored My Faith in Humanity

So, once the inital Disneyland-esque head rush wore off and I was finished with my actually-quite-warm hose shower and my cereal and my toast and my coffee I found myself sitting in a real piece of apolstered furniture fat, happy and overwhelmed with gratitude for a man who transformed his father's 100-year-old barn into a safehaven for adventureres traversing through the middle of nowhere. Just because.

He told us that he wanted to keep the barn alive and that the best way to keep it standing was to use it, and this — opening it up to shelter strangers — seemed like the best way to use it.

Don hung out with us (while I was there Dustin and I shared the bunkhouse with four other cyclists; Ted and John — a pair riding together who D and I met earlier in our ride when we were sleeping behind a bar in alightning storm (worth mentioning again), Tom — a fellow on a recumbant from MN we'd run into earlier in the trip around the Continental Divide, and John — a teacher from Texas who started riding with Tom around the middle of MN) and he told us stories about the barn, and the military, and past cyclists, and his wife, and his life. He made sure the coffee never ran out and offered to drive us to the store if we needed anything. He gave us real towels (yes!) and eggs and toast, and footed the bill for all of it, asking only that we sign the gustbook before we leave.

I like living in a world where people do nice things for other people just because. Where people trust one another; where no one takes advantage; where the community meets in the middle to share stories in passing. That is the place where I want to live; that's how I want to create my life; those are the people I want to surround myself with.

It's selfless people like Don Olson who pave the path and create footsteps in which to follow.

I loved the toaster and the coffee maker and all the non-Thoreauean creature comforts the Bunkhouse had to offer me, but what I really loved the most about the bunkhouse was the big fat human experience hug I received inside those barn walls. Something that I will keep with me always, and refer back to often, as I return to my normal life and the icy shitstorm that can be shopping at Costco (or other such scenarios that represent civilization is at its worst).

Don Olson reminded me that you choose who want to be, how you want to interact with others, and how you want to embrace your community — and those simply passing through. Don Olson is the Mother Theresa of Minnesota and I will think of him and his bunkhouse often when I am feeling like humanity is spiraling downward, and when I am making my who, how, here and now choices.

 

Thanks, Don!

 

Some Pictures From Don Olson's Adventure Cycling Bunkhouse:

 

 

Michigan Party Details!! 08/09/14

The day has come! For all ya’ll looking for information about my Michigan coming home/half-way party, here are the details:

I rode my bicycle 2,468 miles from Washington state to Michigan… Now it’s time to party Royal Oak BBQ style! My cousin Sara has offered up her backyard for us to BBQ and hug and talk road stories (sneak preview: Dustin had to mace a Rottweiler the other day and we’ve been riding in the rain for six straight days).

Here’s the details:

Address: [Since removed]

Time: 3pm-8pm

We’ll have food and beverages, but please BYOB if you want to booze it up and if you bring something to share (food wise) that would be swell (but it’s not required)

Text me with questions or leave a comment here! I will answer when I have phone service and when it’s not pouring rain.

Shoe of the day #6

ROAD MOCCASIN

This extremely blown-out moccasin/slipper was spotted outside Petoskey, MI. I estimate that it was this well worn down long before it was lost on the road and run over by all manor of vehicles. Because of this, we can only assume that it will be truly missed by its owner.

On a lighter note; the moccasin was spotted right next to this beautiful quarry pond. The torquois water was extremely inviting, like a tropical lagoon, but we had to resist as this water is almost certainly filled with bacteria and/or all manner of industrial pollutants.

 

 

 

ENO Twilights LED Camp Lights

ENO Twilights LED Camp Lights

 

These are awesome! We’ve talked about these lights before in a previous post about bicycle touring luxury items, but i no longer consider these a “luxury” item; they are now considered as one of our daily usage and necessity items. We’ve used these lights daily as the primary source of light in our tent.

They’re bright enough for reading with. We use them in place of a lantern most nights. However, they’re not too bright, like a lantern would be; instead, they provide a nice warm, ambient glow in the tent, much like that of a favorite coffee house reading nook.

They’re LED, so they don’t require much energy usage. Three AA batteries gives you over 300 hours of continuous burn time. In fact, we use these nightly (when camping) and only needed to replace the batteries last week; that’s approximately 2 months of usage for 30 mins or longer per night. When the batteries do start to die, they go into a dim function and change colors less often, but can still be used for quite a while before they completely die.

They are pretty durable. We keep them wrapped around the top, inside pocket of our tent and roll them up with the tent everyday. I don’t take any special care or precautions when rolling them up in the tent; I just roll the tent up just like i would if they were’nt in there. I’ve done this every day since the beginning of our tour and we haven’t had any issues…the lights are as good as new.

They’re super light weight; only 4.5 oz without the batteries. They basically weigh only slightly more than the weight of the batteries needed to operate them.

They’re fun! Besides providing good reading light. They also change colors, making our tent kinda disco’y (yes, thats a word i just created), but not too annoying like sleeping next a window that faces the Vegas strip.

 

Shoe of the day #5

It’s been a while since we served up some shoe of the day to you. We haven’t had as much luck spotting shoes on the country back roads we’ve been taking lately. It seems that shoes are mostly lost on interstates and busier highways. I’ll also admit that I’ve passed up a lot of shoes because I’ve been cycling at a great pace and didn’t want to stop to get a picture…sorry!

Today the universe provided us with a bountiful gift to make up for our laziness and to reward your patience with us. I give to you the extremely rare, roadside shoe tree.

 

 

 

Riding Bikes in Minnesota is Great! A Six Day MN Recap

After our fast-track tour through North Dakota Dustin and I got back in the saddle in Fargo and headed toward Moorhead to start exploring the land of 10,000 lakes.

…And, in the six days it took to ride across Minnesota, I think we truly saw at least 6,421 lakes, indeed. And only about 100 mosquitoes! Minnesota is amazing!

While traveling across Minnesota we stayed in Pelican Rapids; Dalton; Sauk Centre; Ramey and Dalbo.

Since we we are using the North Lakes maps to enter the U.P of Michigan, we took the Trails Alternate in Northern Tier map number 5 (a detail that will only matter to other cyclists traveling the Northern Tier).

While we were (and are still currently) bummed about missing Bemidji and nothern Minnesota (we’ve made plans the visit northern Wisconsin for a future holiday), the Trails Alternate was great; lots of bike paths (!) and no lack of scenery. Here’s a MN day by day break down.

Pelican Rapids, MN

From Fargo, ND we headed south then east through Downer, MN (yes, a real place) and Cormorant before finally landing in Pelican Rapids to camp in a downtown city park.

Pros of Pelican Rapics and the city park camping experience:

  • The camp site — despite being, literally, a city park in the middle of the “city” — was actually really pretty and right on the Pelican River (I thought at the time this was a lake, but looking at the map now, it’s clear it’s a river). The grass was green, there were park benches, and generally we felt safe.
  • The camp site was right next to Pelican Rapid’s river suspension bridge; a bridge they are very proud of for right reason (it’s pretty cool).
  • The camp site was right next to a city pool that was really warm, not full of poo, and cheap (only $2 to swim) so we got to take a dip with some city kids, and that was fun.
  • We camped right by the Pelican Rapids giant pelican!
  • There were flush toilets and showers (ok, a single shower) in the camp group. No quarters required.
  • On the way into Pelican Rapids, Dustin saved this turtle from near road-side death:

If you’re reading, the turtle heroism was for you, Virginia Nussey!

Cons of Pelican Rapids:

  • Apparently the men’s bathroom was much funkier than the women’s and Dustin dropped his pants in some water….. that turned out to be poop based on the way it was drying. So, we spent a while at the Pelican Rapids laundry mat (which, by the way, if you’re cycling through, I don’t recommend. The laundry mat was overpriced and I saw a man washing some large canvas thing that potently smelled like gasline even after he was done washing it. Yikes. There are no pictures of this laundry mat because it was forgettable.)

Dalton, MN

From Pelican Rapids, we took CR3 and the Otter Trail Scenic Byway southward through Edwards and Fergus Falls, then hopped onto the Central Lakes State Trail — the first of many bike trails we would take through Minnesota. We planned to ride all the way to Alexandria on MN day two, but instead ended up sleeping in a city park off the bike trail in Dalton because of some super heavy suprise rain fall.

Dalton — the city, the people who live there, and the park — were all great. There is actually a giant sign ini the park that says “no overnight camping,” despite the ACA map saying that camping is available. So, we called the city clerk, and, after offering to let us sleep in her front yard (amazing), she said that even though they recently discontinued camping in the park it was fine for us to sleep there. And if anyone said anything to us about it, to tell them that Sandra [names changed to protect the innocent] at City Hall said it was ok.

One highlight of the Dalton city park was definitly the bored teenager grafiti scrawled in the covered picinic area including, a personal favorite: “Cheyanne and her new boyfriend are gay.” Hilarious.

A Sidebar about Minnesota’s Amazing Bike Trails

Apparently, Minnesota is amazing. I mean, if being bike friendly is a criteria you use for judging amazingness (as it should be). Using the Central Lakes Trail, the Lake Wobegon Trail and the Soo Line, you can ride Rails to Trails bike paths all the way across Minnesota — and then in the winter, you can ride snowmobiles on the bike paths (if you’re into that).

I love the Rails to Trails program, and I loved the number of people I saw cycling all over the state because of the convenience the paths provide. From moms with kids and grocery bags, to walkers, you could tell the bike trails were really inspiring people to get out and get active. I love it.

Some bike path pictures that prove Minnesota is the shit for bike riding:

(In my personal and humble opinion that is.)

Sauk Centre, MN

From Dalton we were back on the bike trail headed toward the Wobegon bike trail and Sauk Centre. Along the way we stopped at the Kensington Runestone Museum in Alexandria and stood witness to (supposed) evidence that the vikings were in the United States long before mister Columbus landed here. This museum was also a Native American + natural history museum, so we saw many interesting non-viking artifacts as well — oh, and a gigantic 40 year old statue of a viking named “Big Ol” (the museum had kind of a lot going on).

After the viking/Native American museum, we ended up camping at the Sinclair Lewis Campground, which was pleasant. Actually, it was very pleasant and I would highly recommend it if you’re trekking the Northern Tier. The shower was really clean and hot; we were right next to a beautiful lake; the grass in the tent camping area was green; mosquitoes weren’t bad; and we were about a five-minute walk from the “downtown” area where you can find a coffee shop, a grocery store, a movie theatre and some other schtuff.

One of my favorite parts of our stay in Sauk Centre was meeting Dick and Joyce Stock, a couple of lovely snow birds who rode bikes “before it was cool.” They invited us down to their campsite to share a campfire and a sunset by the lake and we had a great time. Dustin and I shared stories about our trip, and they told us about ther travels, and we all watched the lake as ducks and white pelicans swam around in the mirror-calm water and the sunset changed colors in the distance. In the morning they invited us over for toast and coffee (two of my favorite things!) but we had to politely decline since we had a long day of riding ahead of us.

Although I dropped the ball again and didn’t get a picture with Dick and Joyce, we will definitly keep in touch with them via snail mail.

After realizing that Minnesota was much shorter length-wise then Montana, and that, accordingly, we were almost done with the lake of 10,000 lakes and we hadn’t yet taken any time to hang out on the lake (!), Dustin and I decided to take a day off in the Centre of the Sauk. During this time, worth mentioning, I was able to cook up my day-by-day tour plan to get Dust and I to KT and Justin’s White Lake, MI wedding on time. Can’t believe it’s almost wedding + Michigan + KT time!!

Off-Roadin’ On the Way to The Ramey-Ish Rum Shack

Leaving Sauk Centre, we hopped back on the Woebegon Trail toward the Soo Line. After asking for some bikepath help in Holdingford (heads up, the “Wobegon Spur” isn’t labeled and may or may not be a real thing; we had to take the 3 to get to the Soo Line Trail), we we found the Soo Line, took that to Nature road.

Some keg pigs outside Osakis, MN

Adding to the adventure we found ourselves faced with a road closed ahead detour sign…. which we decided to ignore. Sometimes these detours will take you 25 miles around in circles that work just fine for cars, but add hours of riding to a bike tour. So we decided to chance it and found ourselves faced with a gigantor whole in the ground about 10 miles in. So, naturally…….. we walked aroud the giant hole and the construction through the tall grass on the sides. Ah, the magic of bike touring. On the other side of the giant hole the road was business as usual. (I must say, that tall grass adventure was a real bitch, though. It was like dragging 40 pounds through a thick forest with four-foot pokey grass. Dust and I felt like real off-road bad-asses when we made it out alive on the other side.

After our off-roadin’ adventure, we were about 20 miles from the days final destination: a tiny bar named the Rum Shack at the corner of CR 22 and CR 7 (which is why I call it the “Ramey-ish” Rum Shack; it’s not really in Ramey, it’s more or less in between towns) . This is where we met John and Ted, a couple of touring dudes we would lend up inadvertantly trailing for a few days, and where we experienced our first raging Minnesota lightening storm. Oh — and where I ate half of the world’s largest most delicious pizza ever and the most amazing Billy’Os-esque-salty-free bar popcorn.

The owner of the Rum Shack was ridiculously nice and, aside from allowing us to sleep behind his bar for free, actually invited us to sleep inside his house in the basement if the storm got too bad. A combination of laziness and fear kept us in our tent, but the offer really warmed our hearts (even more than the pizza. And that pizza made us pretty darn warm and happy).

Dalbo, MN

From the Rum Shack we continued on to the most magical place on Earth…. Don Olson’s Adventure Cyclist Bunkhouse. That place was so magical it deserves it’s own post. Here’s a teaser picture to hold you over:

 

 

To be continued….

 

 

Sleeping Pads

I’ll admit, when it comes to sleeping pads i’ve been really picky. Chelsea doesn’t seem to care as much, but for me picking the right sleeping pad is essential. It’s already hard enough sleeping somewhere other than your own soft bed, but sometimes the wrong sleeping pad can be worse than just sleeping directly on the ground. Finding the right sleeping pad for me meant trial and error. I felt a little like goldilocks;this one’s too small, this one’s too high, short, puffy, warm, etc.

 

The first pad i tried was the Big Agnes Q-Core SL Sleeping Pad.

I selected this pad because it had very high ratings/reviews and it’s super ligt weight. It’s a pretty expensive pad, but we used some clever REI discounts and sales and got a great deal on it (Chelsea is an amazing bargain shopper). After a few trial runs on this pad i decided it wasn’t for me. I loved the super light weight feature, but i felt like the pad was too high off the ground and way too narrow. I felt like i was sleeping on a 2 x 4 all night and would roll off the side at any given minute. This made for a very uncomfortable sleep. I think part of the reason it’s so narrow is that the pad is made to fit inside a pocket on the bottom of Big Agnes sleeping bags, in a way that prevents the bag and pad from moving when you turn during your sleep.I actually had a big agnes sleeping bag and used them in conjunction, but i still had that “sleeping on the edge of a cliff” feeling, and would wake up jammed in the crack between the edge of the pad and the sleeping bag…anyone who has slept on a waterbed before knows this feeling. So this pad was out…too narrow for me.

 

The next pad a tried was a heavy, yacht sized REI pad, the REI Camp Bed 3.5 Self-Inflating Sleeping Pad.

This pad was extra wide and truly comfortable. I had found my perfect pad; or so i thought. Turns out the pad is so wide that it doesn’t fit into our tent with Chelsea’s pad, or pretty much any other pad. Our tent is a fairly small backpacking tent, so there’s not a lot of floor space for my deluxe yacht sleeping pad. This REI pad also had an issue of weight and size. I doesn’t roll up very compact and weighs about 5x’s that of the Big Agnes pad. I was willing to carry the size and weight in exchange for the comfort, but the fact that it meant Chelsea would have to sleep outside of the tent was a deal breaker 😉 So for that reason, the REI pad was out.

 

After a little more searching around for the perfect pad we discovered (remembered) that we actually already own some good sleeping pads and had forgotten that they were packed away in the garage; Therm-a-Rest Trail Scout Sleeping Pad.

These pads seemed perfect, and guess what, my picky self had already gotten the long/wide version, so no sleeping “on the edge” feeling for me. It was decided, these were the sleeping pads we would take on the trip with us…and we did! After a few nights using the pads on our trip we noticed that we were both waking up sweaty in the middle of the night and sticking to our sleeping bag. At first we thought it was just really warm weather, after all we were camping in the Summer season. We also thought this heat could be from our sleeping bag, it’s rated at 30 degrees. However, after laying on just the pads by themselves it was decided that our sleeping pads were holding in way too much heat and this was the cause of our waking up feeling like we slept in a sauna. We stuck it out with these pads for about a month until we came across the next mega-sized sporting goods store in Fargo, ND. at which point we swapped our pads out for a lighter insulation rated Therm-a-rest pad

Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Venture WV sleeping pad.

imageThis is the pad we’re still using at this point in our trip and i’m happy to say that we are sleeping much more comfortably, and don’t wke up sweaty and hot every night. We sent our old pads home, as these are still great pads and will definitely get some use when camping in colder climates/seasons. We’re constantly learning new things on this trip and are so grateful for this opportunity and lessons. For more information about these pads, click the links within the post and go to the “specs” tabs on the REI website. Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more product updates.

 

Let Go and Let God: Some Thoughts With 1,800 Down and 1,800 To Go

Today I took about an hour in the post office. See, I’ve had this growing hobo-santa-esque grocery bag of hobo-esque goods intended for the post office tied precariously to my back rack for about a week now and I’ve tried to go to the post office several times but irregular small town hours and bad planning have had me just missing the office hours for a few weeks now. So, today when I was at the post office…. let’s just say I had a lot to do.

Why does this matter?

Because after I was done taking an absurdly long time in the post office, I came outside to meet Dustin — who had been waiting (baking) patiently in the sun for me outside with the bikes — and we were just about to ride away when a gentleman was walking into the post office just as we were rolling our bikes toward the next 10 miles. He asked where we were going and where we had been and where we were planning too stay tonight. We told him about our there’s and our then’s and our plans for the night: to stay in the Hayward KOA and go tubing/canoeing on the river. Then he told us that we were welcomed to stay at the KOA… or — for free — we could just stay at his house on the river right behind the KOA in one of his four extra rooms.

It was like the sky parted and magic rained down upon us. A bed in a real house? With a warm shower? And tubing on the river? Right down the street? For free?

It was an amazing let go and let God moment for me.

See, the only reason Dustin and I are even in Hayward, WI — a town about 25 miles off the ACA route — is because we tried to go canoeing in Interstate State Park three days ago and got rained out, then we tried to go swimming in a lake in Cumberland, WI and arrived too late in the evening, and then we tried to go swimming at the lake in Edgewater (the next 200ish-person town over) and that lake was so green with ectoplasm-colored……who knows what…. we couldn’t bear to slim ourselves with it, so, having been canoe/lake swimming-foiled THREE TIMES we decided that we needed a lake day and the Hayward KOA was just the answer. So we travelled 25 miles out of our way to stay at the KOA. Which lead us right to Kris and his warm bed, magic filled house behind the KOA.

And now, here I am, sitting in an incredibly beautiful — incredibly inspiring — house. All because we got lake foiled three really frustrating times; and all because I took at least an hour trying to figure out which overpriced USPS bubble mailer to send my Afrian Porcupine quills home in (yes, I have those), and all because Kris — the nicest politican you’ll ever meet — happened to be wandering into the post office at exactly the time that I was happening to almost be rolling away.

It’s just one of those everything fits together just as it should moments. A let go and let God moment, as I’ve taken to calling them.

That bad frustraing stuff? Yeah… it’s frustrating and bad. But if the post office wasn’t closed three times, you wouldn’t ever be at the fourth post office where the magic is going to happen! It’s like a magic eye. You can’t see the big picture when you’re in it; when it’s happening; when you’re at the third post office getting rejected by an awkward 7-1:37pm open hours sign; when you’re too close. It’s when you relax your eyes and stop trying and slowly step back from it all that that big beautiful pirate ship I like to call grateful clarity and perspective really pops out at ya. Or, God’s plan if you prefer to go that route — which, these days, I do. (You can choose what you call the pirate ship; just make sure your eyes are open or you’ll miss it.)

The point is that I just feel really grateful.

Greateful to be here. Greateful for all the hospitality — for all the humanity — I’ve seen from total strangers on this route.

I met a guy (Donn Olson) in Dalbo, MN who turned his 100-year-old barn (and a wheat silo!) into a bunkhouse for travelling bicyclists. He turned his whole barn (and a wheat silo!) into a bunkhouse! Just so cyclists could have a place to sleep for the night.Don Olson doesn’t cycle; he just really appreciates the adventure and is happy to offer a haven for weary bums in the middle of nowhere. He stocks the bunkhouse with eggs and bread and homemade jam (homemade) and offers it as a free gift. He has a coffee maker and a toaster and he built a shower and an outhouse that he cleans himself, just because he knows you — a total stranger on a bike — need a break.

Moving slowly seeing the country on County roads named only with letters, seeing unjaded animals as interested in us as we are in them, and meeting people like Don Olson, and Kris, and Chuck (a fellow who gave us a bed and a shower in Whitefish, MT), and Scott (an excellent cohert who offered us a futon and a shower in Twisp, WA) — people who have opened their homes to us, cooked us meals, and trusted us alone with their laptops and their irreplaceable relics — it becomes hard not to feel an overwhelming gratitude to a power greater than yourself every day.

My friend Amanda says her parents go for a run every Sunday morning and call it church. She says they take that time to connect with the universe; to be grateful for the day; to coalesce with their higher power as they understand Him. I like that a lot.

That is how I feel on this bike ride.

Every day I try my best to be open; to be connected; to tackle what I face (and who knows what I’ll face) the best I can; and to remember that no matter how bad it is it can’t be worse than the mosquitoes in Eastern Montana, that this too will pass, and that whatever craptastic failblog of a canoe-day disaster is happening, it’s all part God’s big-picture plan.

Some God Pics:

 

 

Cooking with gas: a review of camp stoves we’ve used

 

Earlier in this blog we mentioned our stove, the MSR Dragonfly. This was and still is a great stove. However, we decided to send this stove home and replace it with a new, smaller, and more simpler stove, the MSR Pocket Rocket. This decision was based on a few factors which I’ll expand on in a moment. First let me give you the pros and cons of each of these stoves.

Dragonfly pros:

Uses camp fuel (white gas) which is available anywhere in the U.S.; has a large sturdy base, perfect for large pots/pans and cooking on uneven ground; folds up compact; separate adjustments for fuel and flame make this stove perfect for the campground gourmet (which I am not) to cook full blast torch or slow simmer.

Dragonfly cons:

Separate bulky fuel bottle needed, which adds substantially to overall camp-kitchen weight/size in panniers; white gas spills a lot causing everything in panniers to smell of gas, and even ruined some silicon kitchen utensils; stove needs priming before each use, and is SUPER FINICKY and FRUSTRATING; Sound, this thing sounds like a helicopter taking off, loud is an understatement, not camp friendly for boiling water early in the morning.

 

Pocket Rocket pros:

Uses Isobutane fuel canisters, no priming needed, just turn on and light; compact size, can literally fit in your pants pocket; adjustable flame valve from simmer to full boil.

Pocket Rocket cons:

Uses Isobutane fuel canisters, which I’ve heard can be hard to come by, especially on the Eastern side of the U.S., so far I’ve seen them in every sporting goods store in every state since we left Washington (we’re in Minnesota now); fore mentioned fuel canisters take up room in Panniers; stove is very unstable, even on flat ground, balancing pots/pans while actively cooking is truly an art to master.

 

 

 

Conclusion:

We decided to send our Dragon Fly stove home because of it’s size, sound, and mostly because it always seemed like a hassle to take out, put together, and prime. Some times we avoided making a meal because we were just to tired to go through the production of coking with this stove. Also, there were times when the stove would go out during the priming process and we had to wait 15-20mins for it to cool down enough to prime again and potentially go out again. For that reason alone I was just over using this stove. The Pocket Rocket has been so much easier to use so far, and while it doesn’t have a wind guard (it still performs pretty well in high winds) and is extremely unstable, it’s still far less frustrating and far less hassle then the Dragonfly. Also, I really like the extra space I’ve gained in my pannier with the smaller stove. I still plan to keep my Dragon Fly stove and believe it’s a great stove, it’s just not the best stove for bicycle touring IMO. It’s only been about a week since swapping the stoves out, I’ll update this post after using the Pocket Rocket more and let you know if I still believe that we made the right choice.

 

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