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Dances With Cows: The Roadside America Edition

Joe Frickin' Friday

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Joe Frickin' Friday




OK, you've seen Dances with Cows and Dances With Cows, Too. Here's the latest and greatest, with a twist: I made it a point to visit every Roadside America attraction I could find along my route. I'm pretty sure my writing has gone downhill, but you should at least enjoy a few entertaining photos. In keeping with the rule proposed by Ron in his Muffler Men photo thread, I did my damndest to get my bike in every shot. :grin:


Thanks for sticking around; here's Day 1.



Day 1: Wednesday, September 25

Route: Ann Arbor, MI to Manitowoc, WI

Distance: 232 miles in the saddle plus 60 miles by ferry




This is my third ‘Dances With Cows' adventure. And just like the first one in 2010, I find myself leaving from work after lunch, with my departure timed to catch the Lake Express ferry in Muskegon. Trekking down to the Carolinas for one of the spring/fall moto events is somewhat of an endurance test, but these commutes to Wisconsin are always pure luxury: 180 miles to Muskegon, a 2.5-hour ride across Lake Michigan on the back of an earth-hugging rocketship, and then a final 90-mile cruise to Madison, one of my favorite cities. And this day starts off true to form, with warm, sunny weather for the run to Muskegon. But something is odd when I get there. As I arrive at the Lake Express terminal, a guy on a Harley is on his way out.


The ferry hasn't arrived yet. So why is he leaving????


As I come around the last bend to the waiting area, I find out why. There are cones across the entrance, and a small sign:






I putter off to the parking area and head inside, where I'm told that the ferry is stuck in Milwaukee with engine trouble. Funny, I always call before heading to the airport for a flight, but in my 10 years of using the Lake Express, it never occurred to me to question the mechanical reliability of a sailing vessel. I didn't even have to call: if I hadn't turned my cell phone off last night, I would have noticed the voicemail they had sent me this morning informing me of the cancellation.




OK, so I'm not taking the Lake Express today. I briefly mull over my options:


  • scuttle the whole trip, turn around and go home 2013-09-dances-with-cows-ra-edition-004.gif
  • saddle up for a 340-mile ride to Madison, hitting Chicago right at rush hour 2013-09-dances-with-cows-ra-edition-003.gif
  • head 60 miles north to Ludington to catch the 8:30 departure of the Badger Ferry

Compared to the Lake Express, the Badger Ferry leaves late, moves slow, and it's in the wrong spot: it'll put me in Manitowoc (80 miles north of Milwaukee) at 11:30 PM.


A frenzy of phone calls ensues and confirms a few important facts:


  • I have a spot reserved for the Badger Ferry's 8:30 departure.
  • I have a hotel room reserved in Manitowoc.
  • I'm too late to cancel my hotel reservation in Madison: Best Western will be keeping my $90, thank you very much. :mad: :mad: :mad:

After arranging for a refund of the first half of my round-trip on the Lake Express, I gear up and head north to Ludington.


Upon arrival at Ludington, my first stop is a Wal-Mart; unlike the Lake Express, the Badger Ferry asks riders to provide their own tie-down straps, and when I made my reservation the operator helpfully suggested that Wal-Mart would be cheaper than buying tie downs at the port. After picking up a pair of reasonably priced tie-downs, I head into the heart of Ludington to find some dinner.


The last time I rode the Badger Ferry was in 2003, at which point I was still in the habit of seeking out major chain restaurants for my meals, regardless of how much time I had. It's funny how my riding behaviors and habits have changed since I started riding 14+ years ago. I'm pretty sure I ate at Subway back then, but now that I have a couple of hours to kill before departure, I make it a point to look for a local restaurant. Ah, found one: The Old Hamlin. Not only is it local, but it's got some history: the menu cover features portraits of all of the owners dating back to the 1940s, and the walls of the dining room are covered with photos of the shipping and logging industries that put this town on the map back in the 1800s. In addition to the historic atmosphere, it's nice to have hot food served on a plate instead of pulling a cold sub out of a plastic bag. :)


With dinner taken care of, I still have some time to kill before boarding the boat. I saddle up and head north along the lakeshore, eventually arriving at Ludington State Park. The road has maybe a dozen small parking areas before I arrive at the park's tollgate and turn around. I stop at one of them, and wander out to the beach. The water extends to the horizon; I might as well be standing on the edge of the ocean. Behind me, my RT waits in the space between two grassy dunes:





Finally, it's time to get to the ship. It's already in port, and before I even get into town, I can see the smoke plume rising from its stack. The S.S. Badger (I later learn that “S.S.” stands for “Steam Ship”) is a historic relic, a coal-burning, steam-driven dinosaur that first set sail back in 1952. It started out ferrying railroad cars between Ludington and Manitowoc, but in 1992 it began a new life shuttling cars, motorcycles, and pedestrians across the lake.


Railroad cars? Yeah, it's that big:



As it turns out, I'm lucky this 8:30PM crossing is happening at all, as they don't usually do so this late in the season. As I look around, there are only four of us on bikes, plus maybe another half-dozen cars, waiting to board a ferry that can handle 180 vehicles and 600+ passengers. So why are they running????


The ferry soon disgorges its real economic justification:






These are wind-turbine parts for an installation near Saginaw, and the ferry crossing cuts 300 miles of driving off of their trip. You'd be hard-pressed to find a more “OVERSIZED LOAD” than these turbine post segments. Each one is 82 feet long, not including the tractor and the front and rear carriage units, which look like they double the length of the whole contraption. As they creep out of the ferry's vehicle hold, the operators activate hydraulic lifts in the carriage units to raise the post segment so it will clear the hump on the exit ramp. One of the operators walking behind the rig fiddles with a handheld remote control: he's actually steering the rear undercarriage so they can wiggle their way out of the terminal without hitting anything. It's all pretty smooth and fast; they've been doing this all summer, and they're pretty good at it. In fairly short order all four post segments are out of the ferry, and we roll aboard.


While tying our bikes down, two of the other riders are chatting about the wind turbines. One of them likes the ‘green' energy they provide, while the other decries them as subsidized nonsense. The funny thing is that the guy who likes the wind turbines also much prefers the Badger ferry over its modern, high-tech competitor (the Lake Express). I want to tell him what I found out later:


The Badger Ferry dumps four tons of toxic coal ash into Lake Michigan every day.






It's amazing that they get away with this, considering that Lake Michigan provides the drinking water for countless communities along its shore. And let's not even talk about what they're pumping into the air. Suffice it to say the EPA is not real happy with the S.S. Badger.


After tying my bike down, I head up to the passenger area and make my way to the forward sun deck – and that's where I am at 8:30 when the Badger

announcing its departure. The sun set nearly an hour ago, and twilight is almost over when the steam engines finally rumble to life and propel the S.S. Weasel Badger across the harbor and out into open water. We're on our way.


If you can look past its dirty nature, a cruise on the Badger does have its historic appeal. I expect it's a bit like travelling on a B-29: the trip is gonna take a while, but there's a lot of interesting things to check out while you're aboard. There are informative exhibits like this one at various places around the ship, and in fact one room houses an entire museum full of artifacts and info dedicated to the history of shipping on the great lakes, with (of course) a heavy emphasis on the Badger. We've got four hours before we reach Manitowoc, so I take my time, reading everything.


OK, that took an hour. Now what? :lurk:


I pull out the latest issue of Wired magazine and sit down in the cafeteria to read it.


OK, there goes another hour. Two more hours to go.


I head up to the foredeck and lay down on one of the sun chairs. It's a fine spot for a nap, with only a bit of dim light coming from the wheelhouse and from the walkways on either side of it. The ‘railing' at the edge of the deck is a solid sheet of steel about chest-high, and it subdues the 16-knot breeze rather nicely. Still, without the sun I'm barely warm enough to fall asleep, in spite of all the gear I'm wearing.


Half an hour later I wake up and find that my night vision is in full effect. The moon has not yet risen, we're still a good 25 miles from the light pollution of Manitowoc – and the night sky is stunning. Living on a well-lit street in the suburbs, I don't see this sort of thing very often. I have an unobstructed view in nearly every direction with stars too numerous to count, and the Milky Way galaxy is brightly apparent. I even manage to spot a few shooting stars. It's amazing, and funny to think I would have missed this experience if the Lake Express had been running as scheduled.


I pass the final hour of the trip in a cycle of cat naps, star gazing, and checking my GPS receiver to see how far we have left to go. Finally the Manitowoc harbor looms large; the rumble of the steam engines soon fades to nothing, and we're coasting silently toward the shore. The ship veers to starboard as it slows, and suddenly there's a loud buzzer, followed by the anchor being dropped into the water; the entire ship resonates as huge links of chain rattle through the windlass and out the hawse pipe. The anchor digs into the bottom of the harbor and holds the bow fast while the stern slings around, bringing the entire boat into line with the seawall; the captain has judged his momentum perfectly, and now he backs the vessel the remaining hundred yards or so to the landing.


After coming ashore, it's just a few blocks' ride to my hotel. It's late and I have a long ride to catch up to my originally planned route tomorrow, so I waste no time before getting to bed.


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GREAT!!! I always enjoy reading 'Dances.. ' and looking forward to this one.


Your loss in having to take the detour via Badger is our gain or at least mine as I've always had a fascination with the marine side of things. The dumping of coal ash was an interesting detail as I had no idea that one cruise could produce so much. It makes me wonder how much ash has/is generated in the coal furnaces of electric power plants. I believe in modern coal fired furnaces the coal is fed in a pulverized state rather than in chunk state and that is more efficient and I've assumed minimizes ash. I know that the fly ash is captured in pre-chimney scrubbers and used by the gypsum board industry but no idea about the actual coal ash. But I digress.


A coal fired steam engine - that's got to be so rare and it's ironic that it is transporting the latest in high tech equipment. I thought coal fired boilers had all been converted to oil and had no idea the coal relics were still around. I grew up in a town that had a canal right through it and when the coal fired ships passed through they were under strict orders to minimize their plume of black stack smoke because it drifted through the town covering laundry on outside clothes lines. Of course that was back in the day when electric/gas domestic dryers were just becoming popular and pretty well every yard had clothes lines.


I can't help but think if an engineer ;) had made himself known to the ship's engineer that he might have been given a peek at the engine.


I'm hooked, let the 'Cows' continue :lurk::lurk:



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Joe Frickin' Friday
Got question marks for all the photos, Mitch.




Sorry, I had a password set for the SmugMug gallery. It's turned off now, so pics should show up. If you've already viewed the thread and seen question marks, you may have to refresh your page and/or clear your browser cache to get them to show up properly.

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Joe Frickin' Friday

Day 2: Thursday, September 26

Route: Manitowoc, WI to Winona, MN

Distance: 410 miles




Last night on the ferry one of the other bikers had recommended a particularly tasty local breakfast spot. Unfortunately my modified schedule for today means that my hotel's hot breakfast is the “best” option. “Best” is in quotes because the sausage, potatoes and scrambled eggs are free, hot, ready, and on-site – but it's all sort of flavorless, and there's no ketchup in sight.


Does any hotel offer a hot breakfast that people actually want and truly enjoy? 2013-09-dances-with-cows-ra-edition-004.gif


My meal's most redeeming feature is its brevity. Within ten minutes I've finished and headed back up to the room to collect the last of my gear. Another ten minutes, and I'm on the road, hustling southward on I-43. The highway never strays more than a couple of miles from the lakeshore, so it drones along in straight segments at a constant elevation. Just like breakfast, it's a necessary evil because it gets me where I want to go as quickly as possible. As such, it stands in complete contrast to the riding that I know will fill my afternoon (and indeed the rest of the week). After a short jog west to Fond du Lac and then southwest to Sun Prairie, I graze the northern edge of Madison on WI19 before merging onto US 12. I've mentioned US12 before: back in the 1990's it was a nice two-lane country road, but heavy traffic compelled Wisconsin's DOT to turn it into a four-lane divided highway, shaving off hilltops and putting in long, smooth curves to provide motorists with unobstructed sightlines. In planning my “fun' routes for this trip, this is the kind of road I had taken pains to avoid. I was here only out of necessity; in fact, the entire 170 miles so far this morning was nothing but a preamble to the riding I really wanted to do – which starts on the west side of Sauk Prairie as I leave US12. I am finally onto my original planned route, albeit 70 miles from where I had wanted to start in Madison. C'est la vie. With perfect sunny warm weather to see me through the rest of the day, The Good Roads are finally here.


And soon enough, so is the first of my Roadside America stops:





This is a mouse (duh…), displaying the fine comestibles offered by The Cheese Maker in the village of Plain. If I had more time to kill I might opt to go inside – but I've got a long way to go and a lot to see today, and I'm already behind schedule, so I opt for a quick granola bar from my sidecase before charging west out of town.


70 miles later – after a particularly squiggly stretch of road through Wildcat Mountain State Park – I arrive in the tiny burg of Ontario. I had originally planned on eating lunch somewhere up the road in Sparta, but the morning's highway cruise ate up a lot of time. I've still got 240 miles to go before my day ends, and my stomach is clamoring for food, so halfway through town I flip a U-turn and head back to a sign I had just noticed. Only 500 people live here, but they've got their own restaurant, and it's about as local as it gets. Several farmers in the dining room briefly turn and stare as I walk in wearing my bright yellow Olympia jacket, leaving me feeling just a little out of place. I remind myself that they're not hostile, just curious – and no matter what, I'm hungry.


Whereas the Old Hamlin in Ludington was festooned with pictures of shipping and lumber processing, the Milk Jug Café‘s dining room displays an array of farm life imagery. Cows, barns, pastures, farmers doing…farmer-things…and so on. It all makes sense, I suppose, since the proprietor grew up (and still lives) on a farm. It's a nice environment, preferable to the plastic cookie-cutter atmosphere of a McDonald's or Burger King (as if either one would deign to open a restaurant in such a small marketplace :grin:).


Before long I'm back on the road, with a brief stop just 12 miles later in Norwalk. I came here looking for a big sign that said ”BLACK SQUIRREL CAPITAL”, but after a brief search, I can't seem to locate it. Instead, I find this:





The narrow stretch of brown gravel on the far side of the parking lot is the Elroy-Sparta State Trail, a 32-mile path for use by bicycles, hikers, and (in the winter) snowmobiles. If you don't like bicycling up hills, then this trail is for you: It started life as a railroad track before it was converted for public use in the 1960's, so the slope rarely exceeds a percent or two. But you'll want a headlight: there are three tunnels on the route. The longest is 3/4-mile, and if it's even slightly foggy inside (as it often is), you'll be in complete darkness for most of it. I rode this trail out-and-back a couple of times in high school; quite an interesting experience.


20 miles down the road I'm in Sparta, at the trailhead, eyeballing this beauty:





With the shallow grades and gentle curves of the trail, a penny-farthing velocipede would be a fine choice indeed. :grin:


On the opposite corner, there's a bear on roller skates. No, really:





And across town, Sparta High School features – what else??? – a Spartan mascot:





At the north end of town, I hit the mother lode, the wellspring, the source, the factory where all these crazy statues come from:









In the background of that last shot, you can see another penny-farthing rider (blue top, white pants) who appears to have crashed out of the race.


Whereas most of these statues exist for the sake of commerce, a dozen miles down the road – just south of Cataract – I come across an exhibit that can only be described as genuine folk art:





The Wegner Grotto is a sculpture garden built entirely by German immigrants Paul and Matilda Wegner in the early 1900s. Their chosen medium was concrete encrusted with shards of broken glass, and there are several signs warning visitors not to touch anything for your own safety. Over the space of about a decade the Wegners were very, very busy:



About the S.S. Bremen sculpture



An anniversary cake:




The Wegners were devout Christians, and so many of their works feature religious themes, such as this “Crown of Righteousness:”







In Black River Falls, I encounter more commercial art:





Just how many cheese-mice are there in Wisconsin???


Black River Falls also has a deer jumping over a log:





And a gigantic orange moose:





The moose and deer are right next to I-94. When I was in grad school in Madison in the 1990s, every time I went to see my parents in Minneapolis for the weekend I drove by these and knew I was about halfway home. This is the first time I've ever stopped to check them out from close range.


My planned route from Black River Falls to Winona (Minnesota) is 192 miles, but I'm not going to be able to cover all of this before sunset, and I don't want to be out after dark; this is deer country afterall, and the last thing I need is a side of venison wrapped around my headlight. I go for a compromise, following my original squiggly route until the GPS predicts that a direct shot will get me to Winona at sunset. It works perfectly, and I roll across the Main Channel Bridge into Winona just as the sun disappears behind the bluffs.


My hotel is in the shadow of the bridge:





It's a fine example of the cantilevered truss design (see how the tallest sections are directly above the supports?), a combination that isn't done much anymore; like most of the surviving examples of this type, Winona's Main channel bridge is many decades old. The town recognizes the historic appeal of the bridge, and although they are planning a new one, they will be keeping this one around for a while too.


Dinner comes from a recommendation by the hotel clerk: the Jefferson pub, built in an old railroad freight building. Neat place.


My day ends with an episode from Ken Burns' documentary series about America's national park system. It's fascinating – touring the national parks was a huge part of my childhood – and I make a mental note to myself to look up the rest of the series after I return home.


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Day 2: Thursday, September 26

Route: Manitowoc, WI to Winona, MN

Distance: 410 miles




This is great, Mitch! Your Ride Tales are always great. I've long contended that the riding in Wisconsin, particularly the southwest part of the state, is among the best anywhere. There are tons of scenic twisty roads without a lot of traffic, lots of good food, and inexpensive accommodations. Well worth a visit (plus, more cheese-mice than you'll find anywhere).

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Definately a great place to ride...motorcycles and bicycles. I spent many years in that area and return on a regular basis. The bike trails in the area are first rate. Since they connect with each other it is easy to do a century ride, all on beautiful and peaceful bike trails.


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Joe Frickin' Friday

Day 3: Friday, September 27

Route: Winona, MN to La Crosse, WI

Distance: 335 miles





Whereas the Best Western in Manitowoc had built up my hopes with the offer of a “FREE HOT BREAKFAST,” the AmericInn here in Winona makes no such pretense. It's a continental breakfast, with the usual fare: cereal, yogurt, coffee, toast. ‘S alright.


The effects of the Lake Express engine failure are still rippling forward through time. Having cut yesterday's route short, I now add a detour to today's route by heading up WI35 – part of The Great River Road – to catch some roadside attractions I had missed. The road provides a nice relaxing cruise with wide shoulder margins, gentle sweepers, and beautiful view of the bluffs to the east and the river to the west. After fifteen minutes I squiggle through the neighborhoods of Buffalo City to find this:





Although the area appears to be a residential neighborhood, this immense Norseman is in fact standing in the yard of the aptly named Viking Hotel. The hotel owners also had a carpet business (called “Viking Carpets”), and when that closed, they figured the statue would be a fine addition for their riverfront hotel. Note that his feet are encased in a block of concrete, a measure intended to prevent theft. I had no idea statue-napping was such a rampant problem. :grin:


Backtracking just a few miles puts me at the Prairie Moon Folk Art site:





Like the Wegner Grotto, it's a fine example of ”dementia concretia.” :grin: In this case, the industrious creator was a farmer named Herman Rusch, whose epic artistic productivity began when he retired in 1952 and ended with his death in 1985 at the ripe old age of 100. In the midst of his labors, he had the foresight to create a self-portrait so we wouldn't forget what he looks like:





For the record, Mr. Rusch did not have two heads; I will leave it as an exercise for you to figure out which is his and which is mine.


A few more samples of Mr. Rusch's oeuvre:





The bear's “fur” is composed of dark pumice stones.


A dinosaur, a motorcyclist, and a polar bear, the latter about to partake of a seal:





A snake, a crown-thingie, and a couple more dinosaurs (man, this guy really liked dinosaurs):





Moving on from Prairie moon, Fountain City is just a few miles south. There's not much here. There can't be, as it's wedged tightly between the bluffs and the river. The bluffs, while very scenic, aren't always very accommodating. Back in 1995 a large and particularly disgruntled chunk of bluff decided to pay an unannounced visit to one of the town's residents. You may have heard of The House On The Rock, but I'll bet you haven't heard of The Rock In The House:





It's things like this that remind me to appreciate the fact that I live on high ground. :grin:


Finally back near Winona, my day's original route begins as I turn away from the river and squiggle up onto the top of the bluffs. It's a blur of ups and downs and lefts and rights after that; I doubt I could follow it without the nice British lady in my GPS receiver barking directions into my ear every few seconds. She doesn't say anything about the cows though, so I have to make my own decisions about when to stop for a closer look. Soon enough I whiz past some fine candidates, prompting me to turn around and make a slow approach with the engine off, lest I startle them. Cows spook easily, but they're intensely curious, so even if

Nonetheless, I do my best to be quiet and slow as I dismount and snap a group photo:




I'm not sure if they're posing for me or just ogling the bike. Maybe they're used to Harleys roaring by, and they like what they see here… :grin:


Eh, in yer face, Bossie:





OK, enough with the cows…


Moving on, just south of Disco (yes, there's really a town called Disco) the GPS directs me to make a right turn, but a real-world road sign warns “DEAD END.” This is weird: my GPS clearly shows the road continuing on, so…? :confused: A quarter-mile later, the pavement does indeed come to an end, and I'm faced with the choice of turning back or continuing on down the snowmobile trail that my GPS thinks is a road.


What's that expression? “It's better to regret something you did than something you didn't do.” Onward. 2013-09-dances-with-cows-ra-edition-001.gif


I mean what the heck, right? It's an official state-maintained/marked snowmobile trail, so even though it's dirt, it must be relatively smooth and free of logs and stuff. Turns out it's not even a gravel road, it's soft, sandy dirt, a real handful on the RT:





I'm rolling along at all of five miles per hour, and I can feel the soil constantly shifting under the front wheel. After half a mile, the dirt is replaced with low ground cover:





Believe it or not, this is an improvement. The vegetation helps hold the soil together, making it less squirmy and allowing me to increase my speed up to a whopping ten miles per hour. Whoooo, we're cookin' now! After about a mile the GPS shows the next intersection approaching; this has been an interesting sideshow, but I'm ready for pavement again. And then…disaster:








The state of Wisconsin, in its infinite wisdom, made sure to gate one end of the trail, but not the other. If last week's coin toss had gone the other way, I would have encountered the gate BEFORE riding the entire length of the trail.




A quick inspection confirms there really is no way I'm getting through. The gate is well-built, securely chained and padlocked, with braces extending far to either side, and not so much as a footpath going around the edge. Ten very slow and tense minutes pass by before I'm finished backtracking to the pavement where all this silliness started, and then I detour a few miles out of my way to reach my route on the other side of that damnable gate.


Upon reaching Melrose, I stop for gas, and then eyeball the next portion of my route on the GPS. Galesville is 25 miles away, and I have no idea what they have for restaurants, so I stick with the town diner here in Melrose, the L&M Chuckwagon Cafe:





Good food, from a restaurant that's been around longer than just about anything near my home. My waitress tells me that it started out as a movie theatre in 1948 (apparently farmers like to hit the cinema once in a while) before being converted to a restaurant in 1960. Cool.


My post-lunch riding takes me through Trempealeau, where I receive an inspirational message from Mrs. Sippy:





Thanks Mrs. Sippy, but I already knew that. 2013-09-dances-with-cows-ra-edition-001.gif


At the edge of town I bag my next Roadside-America waypoint, the Trempealeau Catfish:





Catfish are plentiful in the Mississippi; the town has an annual three-day festival dedicated to them with all manner of fun events, including the selection of a “Catfish Queen.” I wonder, does she have to have whiskers? :grin:


An hour later I stop for a break in the countryside. Cities and towns are fine – they've got gas stations and parks with public restrooms – but shutting down for a few minutes to enjoy the silence and solitude you can only get in the middle of nowhere is priceless:





It occurs to me to catch a short video clip while I'm here. It's a perfect spot, up high on the capstone (as opposed to the valley), with a nice gentle breeze and chirping insects.

but still ends up somewhat comical because it's all upstaged by a big fat Beemer right in the middle of it. :grin:


This road is exactly 3.14159 miles long:





Alternative joke: Just what flavor is the county pie? 2013-09-dances-with-cows-ra-edition-002.gif


My last stop before arriving in La Crosse is at a farm where the owner has given his cow barn a special title:





Finally, I pull into La Crosse, but I'm on the south side, and my motel is on the north side – and it's rush hour, on a Friday. Not only that, but this is the second day of the local Oktoberfest, which explains why I had such a hard time getting a hotel reservation, and why I'm now having a miserable slog through town. :( After a good twenty-minute grind, I check in at my hotel and head out to see a few sights.


First stop, the City Brewing Company. This is a sizable beer-brewing operation on the south end of downtown, and their roots are proudly displayed for all to see:





This is King Gambrinus, the unofficial patron saint of beer and brewing. The plaque on his pedestal reads: “Gambrinus, whose real name was Jan Primus, was a valiant soldier of the 13th century. This knightly duke was an honorary member of the Brussels Brewers Guild and is generally referred to as the inventor and king of beer.”


Directly across the street is the world's largest six-pack:





When I was a kid, the brewery was owned by G. Heileman, and these tanks were painted up as a six-pack of Old-Style:





Purists will decry the fact that the La Crosse Lager six pack is nothing more than printed banners draped over the sides of the tanks, whereas the Old-Style six pack was honest-to-God paint. The times, they are a-changin', and Roadside America has a worthy rant about ephemeral attractions of this sort.


Like so many other cities up and down the Mississippi, the east side of La Crosse butts up against dolomite bluffs. One of the most prominent is named Granddad Bluff:





Yes, it's my next stop. :Cool:


Granddad Bluff has been a city park for over 100 years now, having been saved from the ravages of large-scale quarrying by a wealthy but civic-minded family who bought the land and donated it to the city in 1912. The history of the park and the quarrying business that preceded it is presented on a couple of plaques (here and here) accessible by visitors walking out to the overlook, and it reminds me of the Ken Burns documentary from last night about the national park system; I'm glad so many people had the foresight to preserve some special patches of land that otherwise would certainly have been torn asunder by business interests or covered with housing developments.


Speaking of the overlook, it's a good 600 feet above the alluvial plain where La Crosse sits, and it provides beautiful views of the city, the river, and a good chunk of Minnesota on the far side. The late-afternoon sun and the lush greenery below make for a difficult contrast range, and combined with the 180-degree view to the north and south, it's impossible to capture a photo that renders the scene with any degree of fidelity:





See? I told you. :grin: Still, I want to see the sunset from up here. Just like yesterday, I turn to the GPS for advice. It seems sunset is over an hour away, leaving me plenty of time to visit a couple of other attractions before returning here.


First stop, Riverside Park, for a snapshot of Hiawatha. He was a Native American leader of some achievement several centuries ago, but although his name is prominent throughout the region, his statue here in La Crosse falls isn't exactly the dignified affair one might have expected based on his history:





My other stop before returning to Granddad Bluff? Onalaska, the self-proclaimed sunfish capital of the world:





My guess is Trempealeau claimed the catfish first, and Onalaska got what was left. :grin:


Finally it's almost time for the sunset, so I make my way back up to the top of the bluff.


“…At the twilight's last gleaming:”





Hard to tell, but that flagpole is 75 feet high. Pretty grand, Dad. It's the fourth flagpole here since 1941, with lightning and winds wrecking a couple of its predecessors; evidently Mother Nature doesn't care for these sorts of things.


With the sun on its way down, the contrast is a little less extreme:


(click on image to open a full-size panoramic view in another browser window)




The bluffs in the distance are in on the far side of the Big Muddy, in Minnesota; they're a good six miles away.


So long, Sól:




My day ends with dinner at the historic Piggy Restaurant; excellent fare, if you're ever in the area.


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Joe Frickin' Friday
Nice trip. Where did you get the high vis stickers for your saddle bags? They look great.




Thanks! They're custom. I created outlines in a CAD drawing, taped them to a sheet of hi-viz reflective tape, and then cut out the shapes.


I can't find the CAD drawings; I must have deleted them, which is mighty odd for me. The process goes like this:


-take a photo of the back end of your sidecase, with a tape measure or ruler next to it. For best results, stand far away and use maximum zoom on the camera; this minimizes perspective errors.


-put the photo in a new CAD drawing, and adjust its size so that when you draw a line on top of the ruler in the photo, its length matches the length indicated by the ruler.


-use the CAD tools to draw an outline of the area where you want the sticker to go. I look for the edge of the sidecase in the photo and set the sticker edge to be maybe a 1/4" away from it.


-delete the photo, and print a paper copy of the outline. If you adjusted the size of photo properly, it should print at the right size.


-Cut the shape out, hold it up to your sidecase for a test fit. Any problem areas? Mark them on the cutout, make adjustments in your CAD drawing, and print again.


-when you're satisfied with the shape, print it, tape it to a sheet of reflective tape, and cut out the sticker. Stick it on your bike. Done.


The widest hi-viz reflective tape I could find was 4 inches, so I had to use two strips side-by-side for each sticker; you can see the seam in the one the left.

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The widest hi-viz reflective tape I could find was 4 inches, so I had to use two strips side-by-side for each sticker; you can see the seam in the one the left.


That's the real secret. I have been searching for wide patches. Sometimes the painfully obvious has to smack you in the face.



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You are bringing back many happy memories of Wisconsin for me Mitch. Thank you, as always, for the links to so many interesting side lights of your travel. You really bring the trip alive for the viewer. I now know I really want to get back there someday to visit old haunts. I used to regularly weekend just north of Prairie du Sac in the late 80's and early 90's. Many good times were had, especially one great day riding the Elroy Sparta trail, and a couple of memorable fishing trips in northern Wisconsin. And then there are the trips to and from TRoes and then that outstanding Tech Daze in Winonoa, MN. Good times indeed.


and that link to the guys playing sax and drum in the cow pasture........I cannot get that out of my head :)

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Thanks Mitch. I recently rode a lot of that area when on the way to and from the Wisconsin Dells Rally.


Nice trip report and the photos were outstanding. :thumb


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then that outstanding Tech Daze in Winonoa, MN. Good times indeed.

Well thank you, Kathy! That was fun. Mitch, you may recall our little brush with the law in Torrey during Gleno's memorial ride. We may have been slightly over the speed limit. :grin: Next year, should you return to God's country as in years past, let me know. You'll have a place to stay and someone to show you a few more squiggly roads in SE Minnesota / SW Wisconsin.



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I surprised you missed this attraction just outside of Black River Falls.




The picture is old but it is still in operation and is for sale if you have a little extra cash.

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Joe Frickin' Friday

Day 4: Saturday, September 28

Route: La Crosse, WI to Prairie du Chien, WI

Distance: 287 miles





I'm up before sunrise, but the sun gets the hole shot, coming up over the horizon shortly before I actually hit the road. I wanted to hit one last Roadside America stop before I leave La Crosse – a giant baseball and bat outside a local ball park – but I'm repeatedly stymied by police roadblocks put in place for the Oktoberfest parade planned for later in the morning. Oh well – an excuse for a future trip, I suppose. :grin:





Once I'm well south of town, my route takes me east on US14, but only for a mile or so before I disappear down county road MM, a little side road that pirouettes up and around the hills onto the top of the capstone. After a succession of turns on the twistiest, most obscure roads I was able to find on the map, I come across a black horse-drawn buggy plodding along on the edge of the road. I scrub off speed and give them a wide berth as I pass by in second gear at light throttle. These are Amish folk; there's a substantial community of them here in Wisconsin. The horse is surely accustomed to traffic whizzing by at close range, but at 7:30 on a Saturday morning with the sun barely up on the horizon, somehow I feel like I'd rather not do that; whoever is in that buggy is out for a nice quiet morning ride in the country, and I don't want to be the one who shatters that for him. Once I'm well past them, I slowly get back to cruising speed before continuing with my riding day. Given the Amish emphasis on plain dress, I wonder what they think of my bright yellow jacket and my bike festooned with garish stickers.


I manage to cover 50 miles of excellent roads before hitting my first patch of gravel for the day. Wisconsin is generally great about paving their roads, but in my zealous efforts to stay as far as possible from main roads, I may have overdone it. Over the course of the morning I encounter several stretches of gravel road, some as long as ten miles. It's tedious, slow riding, and it makes me resolve to buy a gazetteer before my next trip here so I can find out exactly which roads are paved and which ones aren't.


During another brief interval on the Great River Road, I stop for a break at a wayside near Ferryville:


(click on image to open a full-size panoramic view in another browser window)




The river here is over 2 miles wide; it must be absolutely massive by the time it reaches New Orleans. If you think about it, it's a pretty good spot for a set of train tracks: with the lumpy terrain of the Driftless Area, the river bank is pretty much the only path where you're virtually guaranteed to find ground with no wild changes in elevation.


One notable difference between this trip and previous visits to Wisconsin is the timing. This is the first time I've ridden here in late September. Harvest is in full swing, and many fields are shorn bare:


(click on image to open a full-size panoramic view in another browser window)




If I had come here a month earlier – perhaps even just a week earlier – I probably would not have been able to see over the top of the corn in this field.


Down the road in Fennimore, I spot another horse-drawn buggy tied up outside the local hardware store:





The orange “SLOW-MOVING VEHICLE” triangle on the back of that buggy has been a source of serious contention for the Amish over the years. Their religious proscription against bright colors is so strong that some have gone to jail instead of complying with laws that require their use. I've seen that triangle a few times on this trip now, but I suppose the buggy owners aren't thrilled about it.


Further along the main drag I come across my third and final cheese-mouse for the trip, arguably the creepiest of the lot:





This mouse doesn't make me want to stick around and buy cheese, it makes me want to flee the area as fast as possible. eek.gif


Twenty miles to the southeast, Platteville hosts a branch of the University of Wisconsin. Back before World War 2, the students here decided it would be a good idea to build a giant letter on nearby Platte Mound. But what letter? “P” for Platteville? “W” for Wisconsin?


How about the world's largest “M” for mining (the focus of the school)?





There's a well-built set of stairs leading to the top:




I start out taking two at a time, but with all my riding gear and a Camelbak full of water, I'm not very far along before I'm winded and my legs are wobbly. I finish the climb at a more sedate pace, and at the top, I'm treated to a beautiful view of the surrounding countryside.




A couple of miles away near Belmont, there's the “flashing cow” of the Crazy Cow Saloon (you saw her at the beginning of Day 1):





Practicing for Moo-di Gras, no doubt. Sorry honey, I'm fresh outta beads. :grin:


After lunch back in Platteville, the weather starts looking ominous, which is finally consistent with the inclement conditions that weather guessers have been calling for all week. Undaunted (and underdressed), I make my way south for my next roadside stop, an odd collection of metal sculptures in a field near Prairie Corners:





It's a mix of dinosaurs and UFOs, but beyond that, I can't see any coherent theme to it all. Despite my best efforts, I can't seem to dig up any info about it. Don't know who, why, or when – it's just there,, and that's that. :confused:


Just eight miles later, the rain starts. It's light at first, giving me time to take shelter under a gas station canopy before the really heavy stuff arrives. After waiting out the worst of it, I put on my rain gear and bypass the remaining portion of my route in favor of a straight shot to my hotel room at The Captain's Cove just outside of Prairie du Chien. It's a minimalist kind of place: eight rooms in all, and the owner is the one who checks you in. You get a real brass key, not a magnetic card. Oh, you want heat? Stop by the front office and ask him to come down to your room and light the pilot light on your individual gas furnace. Sort of Spartan, but still it's clean and well-kept, and the price is certainly right. Plus, you get to park right outside your room door; you can even nestle up under the eave, a handy feature for bikes when it's raining. :grin:


After warming up and drying out, I head into town for one more waypoint and some dinner.


The waypoint? I was aiming for this sturgeon, but somehow found this muskie instead:





Well shoot. I'm coming back someday for the ball and bat in La Crosse, so you can bet your iron butt I'll be coming back for the sturgeon, too. :grin:


Dinner? I was looking for a great meal to cap off my Saturday, and I had heard good things about Huckelberry's. But when I arrive, it's prime time; the parking lot is absolutely full, and I can see that there's a wait inside. I bet it woulda been tasty, but never mind. :( Instead, I roll down the street to Eddie's Irish Pub for some fish and chips. It's an odd little place: from the outside it looks like a double-wide trailer home, but inside it's very nicely decorated. On the other hand, the food falls a little short of expectations. If I'm coming back for the ball and bat and sturgeon, then dammit, I'm coming back for Huckleberry's, too. cool.gif


Back at my hotel room, I change out of my still-damp riding gear and into something that makes me look (and hopefully smell) a little more sociable. As luck would have it, fellow moderator (and Moderate Fellow) Mike Boomgarden is hosting a party in the area this evening, and when he heard of my travel plans, he extended an invitation. After a short ride, I roll up to the top-secret backcountry moderator fortress:







That's what it would have looked like, if I had arrived during the day. Mike posted those pictures last year in this thread, where he has documented the construction process of his stunning cabin in the woods. The reality is that it's dark out, and I can't see much except for the massive party that's in full swing in the barn (in the background in the above photo). It's a helluva party, with dozens of family and friends gathering to celebrate the return of Mike's son Alex from his tour of duty in the Army, as well as Alex's engagement, and a handful of birthdays among the attendees. I finally manage to track down Mike, who gives me a warm welcome:





After taking me on the Grand Tour of the house and sharing the details of its construction, we return to the barn to join the party. There's a grand spread of food on a buffet table, and coolers full of tasty beverages. Speaking of which, if you're in Wisconsin, you ought to be drinking this:





It's loud in the barn: there's a band performing at the far end, “Boys' Night Out,” and people are dancing. I'm not generally a fan of country music, but live performances are something special. Country or not, I enjoy seeing skilled performers making art happen on the spot – and besides, these guys are really good:





Moreover, they're not just playing standard pop-country – they keep reaching back for classics from performers like The Charlie Daniels Band and

. All in all, it's darn good stuff.


People seem to be having a good time on the dance floor, but unfortunately dancing is not in my blood. Not knowing anybody here other than Mike (and a few members of his immediate family to whom I had been introduced just moments ago), I look around for a spot to get comfortable and enjoy the music. Upon finding an unoccupied chair I occupy it, and almost immediately a wonderfully friendly lady next to me starts chatting me up. Before long she introduces herself: she's Doris, Mike's 85-year-old mother-in-law.




We spend the evening talking about travel, family, and all manner of things. Every few minutes our conversation is briefly interrupted by someone walking up to give her a hug or share a few words with her. After each of these interludes she turns to me and says “that was my son,” or “that was my granddaughter,” or even “that was my great-granddaughter.” It seems half the people at this party trace their lineage back to her.


Doris tells me she has had a number of joints replaced. The most recent was a shoulder just four months ago, and she proudly reports that she has already achieved full dexterity. Her secret? Do what the doctors tell you! She's fastidious about following their instructions to the letter, and she's proof that it works, as she still gets up and dances from time to time:





It's only about 9:30 and the party is still in full swing, but I need to get an early start tomorrow. I offer my goodbyes, hop on the bike, and head back to my quiet little motel room.


Doris, if you're reading this, thanks for keeping me company; I enjoyed spending time with you. :wave:


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Two of my favorite things: Spotted Cow, and Mike the Moderator. Seems worth it, however, to give them both up to have had an evening's conversation with Doris. What a doll!

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Joe Frickin' Friday
Well thank you, Kathy! That was fun. Mitch, you may recall our little brush with the law in Torrey during Gleno's memorial ride. We may have been slightly over the speed limit. :grin: Next year, should you return to God's country as in years past, let me know. You'll have a place to stay and someone to show you a few more squiggly roads in SE Minnesota / SW Wisconsin.


Shoot, John, I totally forgot you're in Winona! :dopeslap: I will definitely give you a holler the next time I'm in that area.

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Wow. I was at the same cheese shop in August on the way back from the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and bought a lot of cheese there.




And of course, a tour of New Glarus Brewing is always mandatory when in the area!


Bought a case of Spotted Cow for my son-in-law because we live in IL and can not buy it here.


The GR3 rally is held in Soldiers Grove every year and you were close to there.


So much good riding in SW Wisconsin.


Thanks for the pics of moderate Mike. Good to put a face with a name.


Fantastic ride report. Makes me want to get on the bike and go today.


And this ride report should be a sticky! :thumb

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Hey Mitch. Great write up. Could you possibly post some of the route less the dead ends and gravel for down loading.?? Your pick are keepers for sure. I can see the amount of planning that went into the ride, awsome

Keep it coming.

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Thanks Mitch. Excellent, excellent ride report.


You got me curious about the Roadside America website. Amazing the "oddities" listed there I have sailed by without a second thought. I have to make sure I glance at it before my next trip.


Mike Cassidy

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Joe Frickin' Friday
Hey Mitch. Great write up. Could you possibly post some of the route less the dead ends and gravel for down loading.?? Your pick are keepers for sure. I can see the amount of planning that went into the ride, awsome

Keep it coming.


I'll see about cleaning it up a bit and uploading/posting a link. I tried to mark the gravel stretches on my GPS as I went along, but I didn't really start doing that until the third day. Some of my gravel patches also intersected with gravel side roads and cross roads, so I think there are whole areas with gravel roads where you might be hard pressed to find a paved detour. If you're serious about avoiding gravel, you'll probably want to buy a gazetteer for the state so you can look up candidate roads and verify whether they're paved or not.


Also note that my GPS file does not include every Roadside America attraction in the state - just the ones in southwestern Wisconsin, where my fun riding was. There are tons more elsewhere in the state.

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Joe Frickin' Friday

Day 5: Sunday, September 28

Route: Prairie du Chien, WI to Ann Arbor, MI

Distance: 347 miles in the saddle plus 78 miles by ferry





At 6AM, my alarm snaps me out of my slumber. It's early here – the sun won't be up for nearly an hour – but my body's still on Michigan time, so for me it's not so bad. There's no free breakfast, continental or otherwise, here at the Captain's Cove; my day starts with a granola bar from my saddlebag and a cup of weak-ass hotel room coffee, and an expectation of a bigger, better meal somewhere down the road. Outside, there's patchy fog, and a heavy dew has left the bike soaked.


A solid 45 minutes pass before I finally start the bike and roll out. I honestly can't remember the last time my riding day started before sunrise. I should do this more often. By chance, my route this morning is perfect for watching the sun come up: I'm headed east on US18, which trundles along over gently rolling terrain and lets me watch the sun come up very gradually.


“They should have sent a poet…”




(click on image to open a full-size panoramic view in another browser window)




It's impossible for me to convey what amazingly beautiful scenery this is. Sunrise in the mountains isn't the same: if you're not on the summit of the highest mountain in the area, you won't see the sun until it's high in an already-blue sky. In a flat place like this, sunrise isn't a singular event, it's a gradual process. The irritation of riding directly toward the sun after it's well above the horizon is a small price to pay for this experience; everyone should do this at least once.


“It's wind turbines all the way down:”





And then there's this just east of Mount Horeb:





Not sure if he's part of the service crew or if he's just figured out a way to make his escape. :grin:


My early departure affords me time to do a few things on my way to the ferry terminal in Milwaukee. One of those things is checking out the trolls in Mount Horeb. A local artist has been busy carving numerous large, wooden trolls and placing them around town.


“Sweet Swill,” with an iron dragon thrown in for good measure, in front of the town's welcome center:





“The Peddler,” with an enormous rucksack full of junk:




According to the troll locator, the town is infested, but I only manage to spot these two. However, I do spot a couple of other interesting carvings that aren't part of the official panoply of trolls. There's this lanky fellow, with a couple of adoring supporters:




And then there's “Wavin' Walton:”





Back into the heart of downtown Mount Horeb, I find the breakfast I've been waiting for ever since I woke up:





Schubert's Downtown Diner has been here since 1911. Inside, town regulars are on a first name basis with the staff. The menu features items like lefse, pasties, and phosphate sodas – not because of some sort of gourmet revival of forgotten ethnic foods, but because that's what they've been serving here for the past 100+ years.


For me? The classic favorite:





It is by far the best breakfast of the entire trip.


After breakfast, I head north out of town for one final stop. Local resident Wally Keller spent years creating a sculpture garden in his yard out of scrap metal. Sadly he died in a horrible lawn-mowing accident in 2009, but his family has kept the house and maintained the sculpture garden. Here's one of his bigger sculptures, a Dimetrodon:





A pirate, a turtle, and a couple of other unnamable critters:




You may have noticed the gate in this picture, and the intercom in the previous one. I expect they've endured too many disrespectful visitors tromping all over their yard. If you stop by, please stay on the paved driveway and don't go past the gate.


Out by the road, a tin man waits to receive the mail:





True to form, he's got an oil can hanging from one hip, and an ax hanging from the other. Well done, Mr. Keller. Thanks for all your hard work; your efforts have made my life more interesting.


100 miles later (with a slow cruise through downtown Madison, just to make sure it's still there :grin:), I arrive at Milwaukee and make my way toward the Lake Express ferry terminal in Milwaukee.


Yes, I checked: it's running today. :dopeslap:


I'm a little early, so I visit a nearby sandwich shop before parking at the terminal: I want something to eat for lunch besides whatever overpriced stuff they offer onboard. With my sandwich detour, I only have a few minutes' wait before the ferry arrives:





Gliding across the front of the vehicle waiting area, it looms large – but after having seen the Badger a few days ago, it's actually pretty small by comparison.


After rolling aboard and tying down the bike, I make my way up to the sun deck to wait for departure. Before long I realize I don't want to be carrying my sandwich around with me for long. Moreover, it's going to be difficult to eat up here once the boat gets up to speed. So I wolf down my sandwich before we even leave the pier. A bit rushed, but not bad, no regrets. :grin:


The boarding process for the Lake Express is pretty fast; within half an hour of arrival, we're all aboard, and the boat casts off and trundles toward breakwater. A couple of minutes later, my GPS says we're at Warp Speed, almost 40 MPH. With quartering winds and the slipstream squeezing upward and outward to get around the boat, the actual wind speed over the deck is considerably higher. Most passengers don't care for the environment up here, so once the wind starts they retreat to the seating area below deck:





It's sort of like an airport gate waiting area in here. There are no reserved seats (except for a separate “premium fare” room), so people tend to spread out; if you don't get down here fast enough, you'll have a difficult time finding a seat. Once that happens, you end up having to go outside. If you're lucky, you can find a seat at the stern, in the lee of the boat, where it's not very windy at all:





If you're a crusty old Harley rider, you don't mind sitting in a forward-facing seat on the sundeck, where there's a good bit of breeze, like these guys:





If you're not a crusty old Harley rider and you're really unlucky, you get what's left, a spot on the hard metal floor in the lee of the wheelhouse:





On the other hand…if you're part-dog, you seek out the windiest spot on the boat – the port bow – and you camp out there for pretty much the entire trip, leaning into the wind as necessary:





After maybe ten minutes, the skipper dials back the speed a bit, presumably due to wave height. I'll tell ya what though,

And the wind is literally deafening; without earplugs, I'd probably have a fair bit of hearing damage by the end of the trip. Oh, and yes, my hat is adjusted pretty tight. :grin:


OK, time for a cool science moment:

One of the earliest proofs of a round earth was the fact that when a sailing ship left port, observers on land saw that the boat didn't just shrink to a vanishingly small dot; instead, it actually appeared to sink below the horizon (because the round earth bulged up between the ship and the port), so that the last thing you saw was the top of its mast:





Looking back toward Milwaukee, something similar is happening to the city's skyline. Just a mile or two from port, I see this:





Much farther out, most of the city has sunk into the lake:





Cool. :Cool:


You'd think two and a half hours standing on deck would seem agonizingly slow, but it's not; the time passes quickly, and soon the shores of Michigan come into view. Despite the wind and cool temperatures, restless passengers sheltering below deck make their way topside to watch the final approach to the breakwater:





Once the ship throttles down to its no-wake speed, even more passengers come up for air, crowding against the bow rail. I've had my spot there for most of the voyage, so I yield to newcomers and let them enjoy the view until we finally reach the ferry terminal.


The rest of the trip? Not much to report; it's your standard 180-mile slab cruise. Anticlimactic, I know – but then, it would be hard to top all of the other stuff that I saw on this trip.


Thanks for reading. :wave:


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A great tale, Mitch! Next time, I'll have less than 150 folks there and we can hopefully spend a little more time one on one.


I hope that more of the folks from BMWST will visit us in the years ahead. The place is looking halfway respectable now.

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Thanks Mitch, I really enjoyed your tale.


+1 great write up :thumbsup: I learned a lot and next time riding through I will stay off the slab and take some time to visit some of those great American sites!

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Nice :thumbsup:


With the exception of the bookend days (first/last), you've proved that the shortest distance between two points...... Is the least interesting :grin:


Say, did Mike take you up in the Gulfstream?

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