Posts made in August, 2014

Back to Manitowoc

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Two years ago, Roger and I wound up at Manitowoc on the western shore of Lake Michigan and took the SS Badger across to the Wolverine State and the Eastern time zone. This time, Rachael and I would reach our northeast terminus here before rolling down the lakeshore back toward Milwaukee. But the ride from Appleton to Manitowoc would be our longest and most “hilly” to date so our late departure out of the Paper Valley on a cool, drizzly afternoon necessitated some focused riding. Happily, with the occasional good wind and some rerouting onto empty roads, we had another splendid day.
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Once past Appleton, one of our first sightings was a cruel architectural abomination that rivaled the anticlerical destruction of the French Revolution:
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Though this picture doesn’t do it justice, for aficionados of Wisconsin supper clubs, here is one of the icons – Van Abel’s of Hollandtown, evidently around since 1848 (in some guise):
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We never found out what this is but it was impressive from a bike perspective:
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While I stopped to take some more farm pictures:
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Rachael crushed the hills (see if you can spot her in the distance):
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Hilltop Road was a fun ride with as much in the way of “rollies” as we would encounter. By late afternoon, we reached downtown Manitowoc and some familiar sights.
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Manitowoc used to be an important port town, and with the onset of WWII, it had a bit of a heyday building submarines and other watercraft for the war. The loss of the Mirro Aluminum Company a decade ago or so (I took a bunch of pictures of the old plant two years ago) knocked the town back a bit but there are some signs of recovery. The old theater has been recently restored:
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and has become a focal point for the town’s cultural life. Local Hmong farmers bring their produce to market a couple of times a week, and the Courthouse Pub remains Manitowoc’s see and be seen watering hole. But it was The Fat Seagull where we ran into “poor mad Tom,” who deserves a post of his own.

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On the Road to Appleton

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The threat of rain is a strong motivator – so much so that Rachael agreed to setting an alarm for 6:15 so we could get from Ripon to Appleton before the forecasted storm. Braving once again the smothered comfort smell of the motel waffler, we broke our fast in silence on the biker’s delight – toasted English muffin with peanut butter and a cold, dense, boiled egg. And then we were away in the early dawn; ha ha, just kidding we didn’t actually get all organized and leave until about 7:30 but with the rain not projected until 1 pm and about a five-hour ride ahead of us we were in good shape.

Just outside of Ripon, we passed the Wisconsin winery that had been recommended to us by a guy who doesn’t drink, which makes a kind of sense given the likely quality of the stuff.
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Once again out in the countryside, we encountered odd reminders of a less-settled time. Evidently bureaucracies are not the only organizations that outlive their original purpose.
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This sign reminded me of some of the towns Roger and I rode through in Montana:
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Even (or especially) on a cloudy day, the lakes have an appealing calmness:
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The road not taken; bike trails outside urban areas are not suitable for road bikes, to Rachael’s relief!
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And so after another day’s delightful ride alongside corn fields and dairy farms, we came to the outskirts of Appleton where we found out where the milk trucks had been heading.
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At some 72,000 people, Appleton is the biggest city we would travel through (aside from Milwaukee of course). By the time we got there, the promise of rain had receded into the evening so we thought we would have a good bit of time to wander about. The local museum has an exhibit on Harry Houdini, who lived in Appleton for a few years. Sitting astride the Fox River (north of Lake Winnebago), the city’s early development was propelled by the paper-making industry and the use of hydroelectric power. Evidently, there are some impressive mansions and house museums, but owing to bad luck and poor timing, we saw very little of Appleton.

First off, the hotel’s computer system was down and the clerks declined to check us in manually – even though several hours later that is what they were forced to do. So we spent the afternoon in our colorful bike attire, which mightn’t have been so bad if there was somewhere to go – we were in Appleton on a Monday and the museum was closed. To make matters worse, the town’s annual music festival – the Mile of Music with dozens of venues and scores of bands – had just ended and there wasn’t to be much nightlife that evening.
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But one of the mottos of biking is that “you can’t do everything.” We ended up with some good Mexican food, finally got into our room and got cleaned up and ended the evening at a local brew pub where the manager gave us a ride home as the bar closed and the rains finally came. The next day, as it was still rainy and cool, we did manage to get to the museum before we left town around noon. While there is some interesting material on Appleton and the paper-making process, the Houdini exhibit is not worth one’s time unfortunately. Though not exactly airbrushed out of history, a once-prominently displayed bust of a certain infamous Wisconsin senator now resides in the museum basement:
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On to Ripon – Wait, What?

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On Sunday we rode up from Beaver Dam to Ripon, a town Roger and I had stopped in two years ago – though it is better known for its claim to being the birthplace of the Republican Party as well as the site of Ripon College. I remembered it as kind of a charming little town with a clutch of interesting old buildings, but two years ago I did not bother to seek out the famed Little White Schoolhouse, where local notables among the Whig, Democratic and Free Soil parties met to discuss and agree upon forming a new party in response to Senate passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854.
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For a modest $2 fee, Rachael and I toured the tiny schoolhouse and learned of its history from a local docent.
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And so, as we were looking at old photographs of the meeting’s attendees, I came face to face with this (pardon the repetition):
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Brian, the docent, informed us that it was unclear whether the photograph was of Alonzo Loper or his father, Amos, but I quite think good Brian was missing the freaking point – was a Loper involved in founding the Republican Party? Could I be related to him?!? Is this why my parents “know” so little of our family history?

Reeling from this revelation, there was only one thing to do. After having a beer at a local tavern with a delightful, friendly couple, Tom and Kim, we sought out the Long House.
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Before there was Ripon, the Little White Schoolhouse and the Republican Party, there was Ceresco, a phalanstery modeled upon the teachings of Utopian Socialist Charles Fourier. Named in honor of Ceres, the agricultural commune held property in common and shared the fruits of their labor. I did not ask Brian whether Ceresco’s members also practiced the free love sharing of bodies as recommended by the good Frenchman.
So Ripon had a fascinating early history (for the record, the residents of Ceresco voluntarily disbanded in part because one of its leading members became so involved in establishing the Republican Party), which is a good reminder of the political ferment this part of the country has long been known for.
My political equilibrium reestablished, we set off back to the motel, which was once again off in the outskirts of the old downtown, which would have been a much nicer place to stay as it looks like this:
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Since it was on the way back to the motel and the supper club we were going to go to, we finally took Lisa’s advice and stopped in at Culvers for some frozen custard (flavor of the day – chocolate Heath chunk [or something like that]). Naturally we went through the drive thru:
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While the custard was quite tasty, the cardiology office next door was a none-too-subliminal heartful caution:
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Later that evening, we went to a Wisconsin supper club, thereby completing our fish fry-brat-frozen custard-supper club gastro tour of Wisconsin.
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And with several failed attempts to get a decent shot of Sunday’s Super Moon, the third day of our ride came to an end.
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In Praise of County Roads

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Strictly considered from a road surface-shoulder quality-traffic density perspective, Wisconsin’s county road system (bewildering as its orthographic labeling is) nicely complements the state’s bike trails and makes for a peerless overall network. Throw in the general flatness and gentle hills amid dairy farms and corn fields and you have a Rockwellian vision of what an urban person thinks the countryside looks like.

We started our day by feasting on the “Fat Boy” (TM?) Michigan blueberries we got at Brennan’s.

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Though at one point we were swarmed by an angry buzz of climate-changing cyclists, for the most part the roads looked like this:
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At our first stop of the day, we met Raleigh:
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whose owner, Dan, somewhat ruefully admitted that his wife had named their dog after the North Carolina city rather than his preference, the pitcher Rollie Fingers.
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Dan also told us that the cream-colored brick in abundance around us is locally known as Watertown brick (after the nearby town). Evidently the high lime and sulfur content of the clay partially accounts for its color.
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After more roads like this:
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with the occasional milk truck for company:
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we got into Juneau, a short nine miles from our day’s destination. Much of the town was engaged in a vast recycling project called a rummage sale. I’m not sure how the town divided up the roles but seemingly half the populace had gently used items on display for the other half (as well as day trippers from around the area). But being on bikes, this was the sign that caught our attention:
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Clearly, there was only one thing to do:
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We ended up spending a delightful half hour or so chatting with some very friendly and welcoming locals. It’s a big part of what I like about the whole self-supported multi-day bike ride thing. As fractious as our country is, which I don’t necessarily think is a bad thing – people strongly disagree about things that are important to them – though clearly we’re heading for an historical shakeout/realignment, it’s still a good thing to be able to drop in on strangers and share a meal and some conversation. So thanks Lisa – we enjoyed talking with you and though we did not end up going to Culvers in Beaver Dam (see below), we did have some wonderful frozen custard in Ripon the next day.

The odds are good that I will do an insightful post/crazy rant about the economic logistics of credit card touring through small towns but for now these contrasting photos will have to do. We rolled up into Beaver Dam on the west side, where we saw this:
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But that is not the part of town where we stayed; instead we were at the ass end of Beaver Dam, which looks like this:
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and the local store sells this:
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My country tis of thee.

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A Day Out on the Bike Trails


 

 

imageWhen you think of Wisconsin, your next thought after cheese and beer should be bike trails because they are everywhere. Yesterday we left Milwaukee on the Hank Aaron trail, hooked up with the Glacial Drumlin trail via the New Berlin and Fox River trails and got into Oconomowoc on the Lake Country trail.

Attentive readers will recall mention of the state fair in the previous post. For whatever reason, the fair is on grounds outside Milwaukee rather than in Madison. It turns out you can get to the fair by bike trail as we discovered early in our ride. We were tempted by the prospect of a serendipitous delay but I would have had to navigate my laden bike through the crowds so we settled for a few photos instead. A missed opportunity nevertheless.

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imageWe planned a short ride for our first day, and we were done by mid-afternoon. Our motel was in a sterile uncompleted would-be upscale development north of the freeway. Not very promising but curious in its as-yet-unrealized aspirations. While in search of a grocery store for the next day’s provisions, we saw in the distance the answer to all our needs:

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That right there is truth in advertising; if you travel through Wisconsin in the summertime, you can put together a pretty fine picnic with the fruit, wine and cheese at Brennan’s.

While we did provision ourselves for the next day, we already had plans for dinner because we were in Wisconsin on a Friday night, which meant fish fry! We biked over to Silver Lake (wise decision to put double-sided pedals on our bikes) and settled in for an early dinner on the patio at Burke’s Lakeside. I don’t know anything about the tradition of Friday fish fry in Wisconsin other than it’s what’s done, but it’s easy enough to surmise that its origins must be with fresh-caught fish from local lakes. So I asked our amiable server what the fish was, and upon learning that it was cod, had the sad realization that once again our national proclivity for having too much of a good thing had done in a once-proud regional tradition.

Perhaps the Friday
fish fry lives on in distinction at other locales, but I can only mildly endorse the version at Burke’s. Rachael started gamely:

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But even with the help of a half-dozen lemon slices, she could only get so far:

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So we said farewell to the lake

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and biked back in time to watch the day come to an end.

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About Me

Born in Baltimore and raised in Cincinnati, I have lived on both coasts and driven back and forth across the country a number of times. I now have the "midlife opportunity" to do so on two wheels.