Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Bike Tour: Winnetka to Milwaukee to Muskegon

At 9:30 am, Ralph, Dennis and I set out for Milwaukee on the first leg of our journey. We served together as lieutenants in a Marine Infantry Batallion during the first Gulf War. We're now in our early forties and fighting off middle age.

The long range weather forcast is not good. Rain, thunderstorms, and colder weather are predicted. This morning is sunny and mild though.

I'm on my Cannondale T2000, Ralph is riding a Surly road bike borrowed from a member of the Evanston Bike Club (EBC), and Dennis is riding a Trek 1100 borrowed from another EBC member. I was also able to borrow a pannier, trunk bag, and an additonal Phantom JetLite. I've plotted our route on my Garmin GPSMap 60C so I won't have to stop and consult maps along the way.

Ralph insists on a morning cup of joe, so we warm up with a short ride to Starbucks in Glencoe IL. After that we start our ride in earnest on the Green Bay Trail taking us north through Highland Park.

I really like the Green Bay Trail because it is straight and flat. It was converted from the North Shore Electric Railway right of way that provides the route for much of our trip to Milwaukee. Because it is a week day, the Green Bay Trail is relatively empty. We encounter a handful of walkers and only two bicyclists that I can remember. More about the Green Bay Trail. And even more about the Green Bay Trail.

After Highland Park, the trail turns into the Robert McClory Bike Path. We have the path pretty much to ourselves until reaching the state line. But prior to reaching Wisconsin, we take a detour to a Clark Station at 9th and Sheridan in Winthrop Harbor for drinks and snacks. I buy a quart of chocolate milk and nosh on some left over pizza from dinner the night before. More about the McClory Bike Path

Crossing a bridge over Russell Road, we are now in Wisconsin and on the Kenosha County Bike Path, a continuation of the North Shore Electric Railroad right of way. It is much like the McClory Path, straight, flat, and tree lined. The weather continues to be clear and mild. We ride three abreast and talk about the crappy old days in the Marines. But the trail is a joy; cornfields, farms, and wooded areas. It is well maintained too.

At 89th Street in Kenosha, the trail abruptly ends with city streets. We continue north on 30th Avenue, a busy concrete street. For some reason the bumps cause my GPS to conk out. One of the weaknesses of my GPS is that the battery terminals can get loose and a jerk of the unit causes it to turn off. After miles of urban riding, we get back on the trail at 35th Street. The trail isn't initially as pastoral as it use to be but it is good to be back. After a few miles, we're back in the country side.

Eventually the trail crosses into Racine County. We only know this because of the bike trail signage. Otherwise it is a seamless transition. But again the trail gives way to city streets. The upside is a liquor store adjacent to the bike path. Dennis's bike computer puts us at 50 miles. Sick of chocolate milk by now, I purchase a liter bottle of Dr. Pepper for my bottle cage. The three of us started the ride with 70 ounce Camelbaks. Having taken only one sip, I empty it out and stash it in my pannier for the remainder of the tour. We take a meandering route through Racine until we pick up another bike path north of town. It appears to be along another railroad right of way but I'm not sure if it is the same North Shore Electric line.

After a few miles the trail ends at 5 Mile Road and we take Highway 32 north. By now it begins to drizzle. Hwy 32 is a bit hilly and Dennis falls behind. The ride isn't quite as pleasant with all the vehicular traffic speeding by in wet weather. I guess I was hurrying in order to get this part of the trip over as quickly as possible. We suffer on this road until we can turn to the east on Ryan Road in Milwaukee County which quickly takes us north on 5th Avenue, a quiet county road with intermittent views of Lake Michigan.

By now the rain has let up and the ride is again pleasant. The ride north is part of the Oak Leaf Trail, a bike route ringing Milwaukee County. At College Avenue we leave the streets and take a bike path through Warnimont Park in South Milwaukee. It is a nicely paved winding trail through wooded and prairie parkland. The trail gives way to parkways and another off street path along some windy bluffs fronting new lakefront apartments in Cudahy.

The crew is getting tired and we finally reach the ferry landing at 4:00 pm where we will take the Lake Express to Muskegon, Michigan. Our boat doesn't leave until 7:00 pm, so a Lake Express staff member suggests we grab a bite at the nearby Palomino's, 2491 S. Superior Street, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It is a terrific tavern with a big picture window so we can watch over our bikes and a juke box with songs from my college days. Dennis and Ralph gorge themselves on fried foods and dollar Pabst Blue Ribbons.

We trundle back to the ferry terminal at 6:00 pm. We are quickly inspected by security and wait to board inside. By now it is a little chilly and I've put on pants. At about 6:40 pm we ride our bikes aboard and hang them on wall racks on the vehicle deck. We go to the upper passenger deck and take our seats and wait to cast off. Dennis has been wary of the voyage since he is prone to seasickness and the waters look a little choppy. We are quickly underway and once we reach our top speed of about 35 knots, Dennis is no longer his bubbly self (although his stomach probably is). Dennis succumbs to seasickness, fills three barf bags, and finds a corner of the deck to lay down. So much for the dinner at Palomino's. Ralph is feeling a little rough as well and goes outside to gain his equilibrium. I've never suffered from seasickness, so I stay seated and watch over our stuff. Fortunately the voyage only lasts 2 1/2 hours. Once the boat stops, Dennis regains his perk and we all yuk it up.

We land at about 10:15 pm local time. After a short night ride, we arrive at Holiday Inn, Muskegon Harbor. After warm showers and cable TV, we rack out for the night.

Distance Traveled: 78.9 miles
Distance to date: 673.7 miles
Price of gas: $2.75

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