Friday, September 29, 2006

Bike Tour: Ludington to Manitowoc to Milwaukee

We had to get up pretty early because we had to board the SS Badger at 8:00 am for a 9:00 am departure. After a nice breakfast at the Four Seasons Lodging and Breakfast we pedaled a short way to the ferry landing. We were greeted by a short inspection by a crusty rent a cop and boarded the rust bucket. Unlike the Lake Express, there wasn't a specific place to secure our bikes. We were directed to wait for Mike who would tell us were to stow our rides. After about five minutes, Mike showed up and told us to park them under some stairs near a bunch of oily ropes and hoses. Nice! I had some bungee cord and was able to secure them to a pipe.
Then we went topside up a metal stairway with a sign warning us about the greasy rail. Nice! Upon arriving in the lounge, I was kind of lamed out (if that is a proper expression). The SS Badger is clearly an old ship. Lots of institutional blue chairs and vinyl. It reminded me of a prison day room. With the delay waiting for Mike, we also missed any chance of getting window seats.

Once we got underway, my opinion of our vessel improved. Since the lake was calm and the ship is pretty big, the ride was smooth and barf free. The cruise director (or substitute cruise director; some fella was apparently filling in for Todd, the regular guy) kicked off on board entertainment with bingo. The prizes were gift shop apparel, tchotchkes and soft drinks. Ralph and I both won a game. I picked an SS Badger T-shirt for Dennis. After a while the gaming shifted to SS Badger trivia; name of the captain, length of the ship, fuel, history, etc. I won a free soft drink. Then the game was name that tune. Dennis took the ship by storm with his vast knowledge of bubble gum pop. More free soft drinks. The four hour trip went by quite quickly and we were nearing the Manitowoc shore. I actually left with a very good impression of our cross lake trip. Plus it is a bit cheaper than the Lake Express. The one downside is loading and unloading takes about twice as long though. Oh well.

We left the ship at 12:07 pm. The weather was cool, cloudy and threatened rain. We were looking forward to strong tail winds after all of the stiff breezes we faced biking north in Michigan. But a nasty surprise was the slight wind from the south. We just couldn't catch a break. Plus we were facing the longest ride so far. We had to go all the way to Glendale, Wisconsin which is over 80 miles.

The crew stopped at a Manitowoc gas station to replenish our supply of junk food and soft drinks. A local guy was shocked when told our destination was Milwaukee. I began to question the wisdom of pushing so far. But we had a schedule to maintain; not much I could do about it now. So we set off south toward Sheboygan on County Road LS.

The ride to Sheboygan was uneventful with the exception of a sign at Point Creek Road saying, "Bridge Out - One Mile." A detour would have added another two or three miles to our ride. So we took a chance and ignored the sign hoping the bridge would be passable to bikers or pedestrians. It turns out they were only doing surface work and we crossed without asking. The rest of the road skirted Lake Michigan and was mostly deserted.

Sheboygan was much like our other urban rides; not too special. I'm sure there are nice places to bike in Sheboygan but they weren't on our route. I was showing off my curb jumping abilities and punctured my tire through the sidewall; my extra thick tube no less. I quickly repaired the flat when Ralph noticed Dennis's rear tire was badly worn. His tire was almost worn down to the inner tube. We kind of freaked since we had no idea where we'd find a replacement. We figured our best bet would be a Walmart since bike stores seem to be so scarce these days. We gingerly pedaled to the closest gas station and asked where we might go. We just happened to be about five or six blocks from Wolf's Cycling and Fitness. Imagine! We kept thinking to ourselves how disastrous it would have been if we'd been out in the country somewhere. I suppose if I got my hands on some duct tape I could have bought a few miles with a patch of some sort. Fortunately there was no need. After buying a new Panaracer Urban tire for $20 we were on the road again logging only 45 minutes total.

Our next destination was Cedar Grove where we would pick up the Ozaukee Interurban Trail. The ride there bordered on miserable. We faced slight headwinds and cold rain along boring country roads. It wasn't raining too hard but just enough to bother me. My feet were getting damp and despite my Goretex jacket, I still felt cold and wet. When I'm in pain or in discomfort, I tend to focus inward. No more joking or socializing. So it was a silent ride for me. But at my most miserable Dennis would chime in, "Hey! What a nice looking barn" or "What beautiful fall colors!" Dennis can really soldier on and maintain a positive attitude even in the cruddiest of conditions.

At around 4:30 pm we came upon a railroad crossing in Cedar Grove which I assumed would be the start of the Ozaukee bike path. But it was a real railroad. I wasn't going to panic but I was a bit concerned. We took another break at a gas station while I tried to figure out where to go next. Ralph's knees were beginning to bother him. After refueling I headed out to reconnoiter our route. I headed to a local library thinking they might be able to help me. The librarian had a vague idea where the trail was but I needed better than that. Then a local mom gave me more detailed directions. The beginning of the trail was just down a major road nearby. After rejoining my buddies, we headed out and picked up the trail soon thereafter.

The Ozaukee Interurban Trail is like an autobahn for bikes. It is another "Rails to Trails" bike path and definitely worth making a special trip to ride it. Ozaukee County obviously spent a lot of time, money, and effort making this bike path. The have a terrific map of the trail including details of the towns it passes through. My camera was malfunctioning so I couldn't take any pictures of the nice farms, streams and bridges we biked by. But just click the above link and you'll get a good idea what its like. The path north of and into Port Washington is especially noteworthy; a verdant and wooded valley path leading to a picturesque downtown.

By now Ralph was slowing and in pain. Every stop and start caused him great discomfort. I guessed he hadn't been downshifting as much as he should have and muscled up too many hills. Dennis and I enjoyed the ride through all the scenic towns but Ralph's agony was gradually growing. The Ozaukee Interurban Trail also passes through Grafton, Cedarburg, Mequon and Thiensville but we really didn't get a chance to enjoy the sites. I could go on and on about this bike path but you just have to see it for yourself. I really wish we had something like it in Chicago.

It was nightfall and at 7:00 pm we stopped in Thiensville to put on our headlamps. Ralph and I donned our JetLites and Dennis wedged a handlebar lamp in the vents of his helmet. We were a halogen and red blinking train headed through the misted darkness.

The trail continues into Milwaukee County for about a half mile to Brown Deer Road. But it is only a crushed limestone path and hardly worth riding on. We navigated the night traffic on Brown Deer Road toward River Road via Range and Dean Roads. We biked past mansions on huge properties. Ralph's progress was slower still. I figured it would take only twenty five minutes to reach our destination but it ended up taking almost an hour. After biking down the Milwaukee River Parkway to Silver Spring Road we finally reached Port Washington Road where our hotel was located. I prepared them both that we weren't staying at La Quinta Inn and Suites but at the La Quinta Inn, three blocks further south.

At 8:26 pm we finally arrived. La Quinta Inn was the priciest of our three hotels but seemed the most modest. Oh well, welcome back to the big city. We cleaned up and ate at a nearby Perkins. Our friend Joe would be driving up from Chicago the next morning to take Ralph and his bike home.

Distance Traveled: 83.3 miles
Distance to date: 820.2 miles
Price of gas: $2.64

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