Thursday, October 31, 2013

Day 7: Collinwood to Hohenwald



We’d been hearing for almost a week about a big storm coming Thursday. Normally, weather forecasts are wrong, but this one was right. We woke up to light rain, which was predicted to intensify during the day. First, we biked over to Dragonfly, this cute little coffee and gift shop. It was Halloween, so I had a pumpkin pie latte. Remember -- this is a town of about 1,000. Amazing to have such a great coffee and gift shop. We picked up some small gifts for our family and sack lunches from Miss Hazelbea’s (reputed to be an awesome cook/baker), and took off in the rain.

No, it wasn’t fun biking in the rain. It was cold and we were quickly soaked. But I was so thankful this wasn’t our 90-mile day. All we had to do was bike 36 miles. We put our heads down and pounded out the miles. The first time I spied a bathroom, we pulled over. I went inside and – oh, heaven! – it was heated. Ed joined me in the women’s bathroom, and we stood there eating our snack.
We didn’t stop at most sites, needless to say. But we made sure to stop at the gravesite of Meriwether Lewis, who died on the Trace “under mysterious circumstances” when he was just 35. What those mysterious circumstances were, the signage didn’t say. Hmmm … 

It’s too bad it was raining so much. Even in the rain and gloom, we could tell the colors here were spectacular. The most spectacular of our entire ride, in fact. The last few miles before Hohenwald, we had some screaming downhills. Unfortunately, that caused cold winds to blow over me. By the time we walked into our lodging, Fall Hollow, I had a touch of hypothermia. I was shaking so hard I couldn’t talk or even think when Kathy, one of the owners, asked if I wanted coffee or to go to my room or hot food. She hurried into our room and cranked up the heat, then gave me coffee. I felt better shortly, and then really good once I took a hot shower and put on warm clothes.

We’d arrived around 1 p.m., and spent a lazy afternoon hanging out in the room. And eating Miss Hazelbea's food, which was every bit as good as we'd been told. That night we had some of Bill’s famous fried catfish with hush puppies. Delicious! Really loving our adventure.

Day 6: Tupelo to Collinwood



Today Ed and I set another record: we biked 90 miles, farther than either of us has ever biked before. It wasn’t as difficult as we’d thought. Maybe we’re becoming conditioned. But back to the start.
We had taxis pick up the two of us and our bikes and drive us to the Trace, since the only routes there were all along really busy roads. It was a wise idea. No stress, safe, saved a few miles’ biking.

The day began a bit cloudy, but the sun came out and the temp soared to the low 80s. As we’d been warned, the “real” hills began north of Tupelo. It seemed like we biked uphill about 90% of the time, although we once enjoyed a two-mile downhill. As we’d also been told, the colors were great. More than great. It was just a joy to bike through gorgeous foliage all day.

As far as historic sites, there was an interesting section of the Old Trace where there were grave stones for Confederate soldiers. I don't have the info at my fingertips, but the soldiers had either died on/near the Trace, or asked to be buried there or something like that. This isn't historic, but I also really enjoyed a hike at Rock Spring, a pretty trail that included a walk across a creek via stepping stones, a beaver dam and a pond.

Meant to say yesterday that there were 3-4 dead possums in the road. Today we saw a dead skunk, coyote (we think) and a few armadillos. We also saw a dog at one stop (from a little distance) that we thought was dead. But after we stood there a few minutes, he opened his eyes and raised his head. But he didn’t move any other body part. He didn’t bark or whine. He wasn’t bloodied, but appeared sick or injured. I texted a Trace contact, and she was going to alert the proper person to check on the dog. I hope he was O.K.

Tonight’s stop is Collinwood, a cute small town with a great, newer welcome center. There are lots of signs in the small downtown welcoming cyclists, which was so nice to see. We’re staying at the beautiful Miss Monetta’s Cottage, where we have access to a washer and dryer, among many other amenities, and the kind care of owners Dianne and Larry Butler. I highly recommend this place. Can’t forget to note that the restaurant across from the old depot/library makes phenomenal homemade onion rings.


Oh, and how can I forget to note that during today's 90-miler, we passed through three states?! How fun is that?





Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Day 5: Eupora to Tupelo

We decided to skip the Hwy. 82 ride this morning, and instead took a lesser-traveled road that required repeating 2.5 miles of the Trace. No big deal, though. The day started out cloudy, but the sun came out around noon and overall it was a very pleasant, warm day.

Shortly after we got on the Trace, we passed through a roughly 8-mile stretch that had been hammered by a tornado in 2011. (The tornado blew through the entire state.) While nature is restoring the area, the havoc the tornado wreaked is still evident (see photos below).

On a happier note, we hit mile 222, the halfway point. Yes!

Slowly, the fall colors are becoming more and more evident. We were told the colors were great north of Tupelo, so we're excited to start seeing that. When we left home, the colors were a week at most from peak color. By the time we return home, we'll have missed peak color, so I hope we can catch some great color down here.

Mile 266 was the Tupelo Visitors' Center, which is the main visitors' center for the Trace. The center has fantastic displays on the Trace, a movie and gifts, plus knowledgeable staff. The only disappointing note for the day was that there was no good way to get to our hotel, La Quinta, about 3-4 miles away. We were faced with busy roads without shoulders. The visitor center staff, park ranger and locals all gave us different advice about the best way to get there. Between walking our bikes, cutting through parking lots and braving four-lane roads without shoulders, we made it! But we booked two taxis for tomorrow morning that can take us and our bikes safely back to the Trace.

Staying tonight at La Quinta, a wonderful place. Right across the street is South, a higher-end restaurant with great food and I think the best wait staff I've encountered in my life. From the server to the bartender to the owner to the maitre d', everyone was beyond attentive. And the food was great!






Monday, October 28, 2013

Day 4: Kosciusko to Eupora

When a woman back in Clinton heard we were doing the Trace south to north, she kept exclaiming, "You're going uphill all the way! You're going uphill all the way!" I didn't think too much about it. None of the materials talk about a huge elevation change. Well, this morning we were eating breakfast with a local woman who said, "Now the hills will be starting! Well, really once you're past Tupelo." Hmm ...

So far the Trace has been hilly all along, but all of the hills have been really long (a half-mile to a mile) with a very gradual incline. It's interesting because you don't really notice the hills visually when you're pedaling up. You just start feeling tired, and like you have dead legs. Then, as you near the top and really have to slow down, you realize, DUH, I just pedaled up a hill. Going downhill, though, it's easy to tell because with gravity you really pick up speed. Today we had more of these same hills, but also a handful that you could visually see, and that were reasonably tough.

Highlights today started with French Camp. That's the name of a city. It got that name because some French guy started an inn, I believe, for people on the Trace years ago. People began calling the area around the inn the French Camp, and the name stuck for the city. Today there's a Christian boarding school in French Camp. They support themselves partly by running a cafe and B&B along the trace. They also have a small museum on the grounds, along with lots of artifacts from the French Camp era. Interesting place.

The next highlight was Jeff Busby, a park that has a trail winding up to Mississippi's second-highest point, where there's a scenic overlook. Ed and I had lunch here, then hiked up the path and enjoyed the view. It was another cloudy day, so we couldn't see all that much. Still, it was pretty.

Next was another short section of the Old Trace. I always love walking on those. Got some good photos, I think. An elderly couple stopped there to read the historical marker, and were so impressed that we were biking the whole Trace. It's funny how many people think this is such an epic project. Yes, 444 miles is a lot to bike, but we're taking 7.5 days to do it. I'm sure "real" cyclists with cleats and good bikes and all that could easily do the Trace in 4-5 days. Oh well, I'll take the compliment! (Although another person lauding our effort added that we weren't "that young.")

I couldn't find lodging right on the Trace, so we'd secured a cottage B&B in Eupora, a town 7 miles away. Ed was getting a bit saddle sore, and nervous about tomorrow's 67-mile day. So instead of taking the longer, but safer, route, he said we should bike on Hwy. 82, the direct route. Well, that turned out to be a 4-lane highway with a gravel shoulder that was too bumpy to bike on. Luckily it didn't have a ton of traffic, so we biked in the right-hand lane as far over as we could, and all of the motorists who passed simply drove in the left-hand lane. Still, it was unnerving to be biking on a highway, so we pedaled as quickly as we could. I think we were averaging something like 18 mph, just trying to get off of it as quickly as possible. Ed says we should take the longer, safer route back tomorrow, even though it will mean re-biking 2.5 miles of the Trace.

Dogwood Cottage, where we're staying, is a beautifully decorated inn. The friendly owner, Carol, even offered us the use of her washing machine, which was much appreciated, as our cycling duds are in need of a good washing. But Eupora is in a dry county, so no celebratory beer or glass of wine tonight. For us Wisconsinites, a dry county is hard to imagine! ;)





Day 3: Clinton to Kosciusko

We'd heard from other cyclists that biking around Jackson on the Trace was "white-knuckle biking" because so many locals use the Trace to get to and from work quickly. There's one section where a recreational path roughly parallels the Trace, and materials tell you to use that when the traffic is bad. Luckily we were heading out of town at 7:30 on a Sunday morning, so the traffic wasn't that bad. We could have used the recreational trail, but stayed on the Trace for authenticity's sake.

I'd planned a day of about 75 miles of biking, which would be the farthest Ed or I had ever biked in one day. (Just the way the available lodging options fell.) Fortunately, there weren't as many stops along the way as there could have been. The first highlight of the day was hitting mile marker 100 (triple digits!) and then 111 (one-quarter of the way completed!).

Actually, in between those two was the beautiful Ross R. Barnett Reservoir, which is 50 square miles, I believe. There was a pretty overlook, although it was cloudy at this point in the day so the view wasn't as beautiful as I'm sure it could have been.

Next we came upon one of my favorite stops to date, Cypress Swamp. As its name implies, it's a cypress swamp. It was just gorgeous (see photo below). A little trail wound around a small portion of the swamp, so we had fun exploring that.

We started getting sprinkles on and off. The road was pretty flat after the reservoir, and we didn't have many stops, so we figured we should try and knock off the miles in case the rain was going to increase. I think I actually figured out how to draft off another cyclist. I tucked behind Ed, and we just got into this groove and really pounded out the miles.

At one wayside, a mini bus pulled up and it was some folks from SATW, who had come from the travel writers' conference like we had. They were on a post-conference tour called "Cities Along the Trace," and they were exploring a handful of cities from Natchez to Tupelo. Fun!

Ed and I reached Kosciusko, our destination, relatively early (3:30). Kosciusko has a great Visitor Center right off the Trace, and we learned all about the great Polish General Tadeuz Kosciuszko (the city modified the spelling) after which the city is named. Kosciuszko was a military genius who helped the colonists beat the British in the Revolutionary War. He also founded West Point or something like that.

That night we stayed at the Maple Terrace Inn, a nice B&B in the heart of downtown, and celebrated our mileage.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Day 2: Port Gibson to Clinton

Another sunny, beautiful day. The first few hours were pretty cold; when we first started, it was 40. The Trace was also very shady, which didn't help. But we warmed up quickly.

Almost immediately, we came upon a famous part of the route: the Sunken Trace. While much of the old Natchez Trace trail has disappeared due to time and development, a few parts remain which you can walk along for a short bit. The Sunken Trace is famed because it's 30 feet deep, the old "highway" worn down by so much traffic and I suppose erosion and other natural factors. It was impressive to see.

Later we came upon Rocky Arbor. This is the site of a former thriving town that dwindled to nothing due to a number of reasons. There was a 1-mile section of the Trace you could walk here (we did), plus some city ruins to see.

We met and saw a number of interesting people today. At the Sunken Trace, we came across a group of about 5 septuagenarian couples, all driving Corvettes. They were friends, and one wanted to drive along the Trace. We were leaving when they were arriving, but they quickly zipped past us. With their gray hair and tiny cars, it reminded me of the Zor Shriners in a parade.

Two couples rode by on enormous, tall bikes. The woman had a huge American flag flying behind hers, and she called out, "Friends! Hello! Hello!" A few hours later, we ran into a 71-year-old man who said the couple had helped him with his bike chain the previous day. This man was just one more day away from a thru-bike of the Trace. He'd only started biking three months ago and decided to thru-bike this route. He said the first day he rode 82 miles, and the next day 72. Ed and I have been a bit nervous about one upcoming 95-mile day, but if a 71-year-old (who was not in shape) can pop off 82 and then 72 miles, we can muddle through 95.

Tonight we're staying in Clinton, a charming city on the edge of the capital city of Jackson.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Day 1: Natchez to Port Gibson

Ed and I drove from my conference in Biloxi to Natchez this morning. The trip took about 3.5 hours. We stopped at the Natchez Visitors' Center. Natchez, by the way, is known for its wealth of antebellum homes turned into B&Bs. Kinda wished we'd stayed the night here so I could try one! The Visitors' Center had a mural proclaiming this the Southern Terminus for the Natchez Trace. But interestingly, you access the start via a highway ramp, and then there's just a sign proclaiming this is the Natchez Trace. No special sign or rock or anything saying it's the Southern Terminus.

We unloaded our bikes and were getting ready to start when we saw a couple biking towards us. They were from northern Alabama and had been section-biking the Trace for several years. Because there are no shuttle services on the Trace for bags, they'd drive about 20 miles down the Trace, then bike back about 20 miles, then back to their car again. The next time they came, they'd pick up where they left off. Today, they were finishing the Trace. Because of their system, their finish actually  meant they'd biked 888 miles and simultaneously completed a southern- and northern-bound bike. WOW.

The man was so excited to see us, because we could take their photo. They'd been trying to figure out how to prop up their camera and use the timer to take their own photo. They said the picture we took was so important to them, and would be framed, because this was such a long, Bucket Trip item for them. This encounter made our start all the more special.

Today was a beautiful, sunny day in the low 70s. Ed and I biked from about 1-6 p.m., stopping at the historical markers and seeing some cool stuff. Like Emerald Mound, one of the largest Native American mounds. And Mount Locust, a historic plantation. Traffic on the Trace is limited to 50 mph, and while there was a reasonably steam stream of cars, it was great biking. I saw more cyclists and motorists stopping to read all of the plaque than I would have expected.

Tonight we're staying at an awesome B&B in Port Gibson: Isabella B&B. The rooms are spacious and shabby-chic, and they have a restaurant, so we had a fantastic dinner. Several other couples were here tonight, including one from England and another that had been deer hunting today.




Thursday, October 17, 2013

Countdown to the Natchez Trace!



Trails sure do get in your blood. I finished the 1,000-kilometer Vía de la Plata Camino a few years ago — it's an ancient pilgrimage trail in Spain — and am halfway through running/hiking it a second time (I hope to do the second half in spring 2014). And of course I just did our spectacular Ice Age National Scenic Trail. So now that I'm heading to a travel writers' conference in Biloxi on Sunday, I figured I had to stay an extra week to bike the famous Natchez Trace.

I'd rather hike a trail than bike one, but the Trace is different from the other 10 National Scenic Trails in that it's a parkway that roughly follows the route of the original Natchez Trace. So you can either drive the route or bike it, but there's no hiking. Well, there are some spots along the way where you can get out of your car or off of your bike and hike a mile or so on the original Trace, but there's no continuous, off-road route. Still, it looks beautiful, and it's historic, and I'll be right there, so of course I have to do it.

For those of you who have never heard of the Trace, or have heard of it but don't know what it is, it's a path that was first carved into the earth hundreds of years ago by Native Americans and buffalo traveling between what is now Natchez, Mississippi and Nashville, Tennessee. These primitive trails were enlarged a bit to form the southwest's first national "highway" after the U.S. government negotiated treaties with the local Chickasaw and Choctaw Indians in 1801.

Yes, there was a lot of commerce among the pioneers back then. And yes, there were plenty of pioneers in this part of the country. But the Trace was hardly a state-of-the-art road. It was a dirt path where oppressive heat, mosquitoes, swollen rivers and mucky swamps made journeys even harder. It was difficult to find a place to sleep and eat, and if you broke a limb or came down with an infection (of which I know a thing or two), well, you just might die. Still, it was all people had, and they made great use of it. Such great use, that the innumerable footsteps of past pioneers left enormous trenches in the land that time has still not erased. 

So I'm putting the final touches on my itinerary and am seeing what snacks I have left from the IAT that I can throw into my suitcase. (Thank goodness I have a few Seroogy's candy bars left — those are definitely going with me.) Will I be recovered enough to bike 444 miles after just running/hiking 1,100? Well, there's only one way to find out!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Re-entry

So here I am, five days post-trek. What's it been like?

Well, the first afternoon back I had to go grocery shopping, as my husband doesn't eat much more than frozen pizzas or sandwiches when I'm gone. Not to be melodramatic, but it was kind of overwhelming and stressful. First, I spied Christmas decorations everywhere, which made me stress about how I wasn't prepared for the holidays: Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas. There's so much to do for those, especially when you're the wife/mom. Then the wide array of food and other merchandise seemed silly, I guess. Unnecessary. I don't know. I missed the simplicity of the trail, and of my days: wake up, eat, walk/run all day, bathe, eat, sleep.

Sure, maybe there's some pressure when you're trying to cover 'x' number of miles a day. And maybe there's some stress when you're alone on a remote trail, or lost, or worried about running into a bear. But it's nothing -- nothing -- like the pressures of life. Bills to pay, homes to clean, food to cook, work to do, kids to care for. Holidays to plan for! I don't generally feel stressed by my life, but I've noticed that whenever I embark upon a long-distance trek, I feel very carefree. Being immersed in nature all day helps your psyche immensely, too.

And stray comment: Have you heard how they're now saying sitting is the new smoking? Or something like that. In other words, sitting all day is bad for you. Really bad for you. Guess what I do? Sit all day, first at my computer, then at the piano at night. My lower back and piriformis are chronically sore, as are my shoulders and upper back. Guess what body parts never hurt me at all during my five weeks on the Ice Age Trail? Yes, I got lots of blisters and lost some toenails. And, of course, had two infections. Still, I'm sure my body was happier those five weeks than it is now.

I miss the trail.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

My IAT adventure by the numbers

I previously talked about how I wasn't counting anything during my trek -- miles down, miles to go, segments completed, counties passed through, etc. It seemed too overwhelming. Now that I'm finished, it seems fun. So here are some figures to consider:
  • Miles walked/run: Approximately 1,100. (It's hard to be exact, when you consider backtracking, new segments, shortcuts from the suggested connecting routes, etc.)
  • Toenails lost: 3 (almost 4) and counting
  • Pounds lost: 11
  • Pants worn: 0
  • Shoes rotated through: 6-8, plus 1 pair of Keen sandals
  • Bottles of bug spray used: 3
  • Honey Stinger Energy Waffles consumed: About 48
  • Honey Stinger Energy Chews consumed: About 24
  • Energy bars consumed: At least 35
  • Bags of cheese curds consumed: 3 (great trail snack, I've discovered)
  • Seroogy's chocolate bars consumed: 35
  • Days it rained on me: 1
  • Days I was cold: A few hours at the end of 1 day
  • Days I was hot: 36
  • Times I cried (briefly) in frustration because I was lost: 1-2
  • Burrs picked off myself: Hundreds
  • Thru- and section hikers I met: 7
  • Bears I saw: 4 (mother and 3 cubs, seen from our car)
  • Miles Ed and Maura put on our car, crewing me: 2,800
  • Days I wore make-up: 0
  • Days I fixed my hair: 0
  • Days I wore my compression socks: 36
  • Days I loved what I was doing: Every. Single. Day!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Last Day! Forestville, Sturgeon Bay

This was a great last day.

The forecast called for rain until about 9 a.m., then sunshine. I wanted to leave at 8 a.m., but it was raining pretty steadily then and I figured it wasn't smart to get soaked right off the bat, so I waited until about 8:45, when the rain had subsided to a light drizzle. Headed out of Algoma and onto the Ahnapee State Trail.

The trail was a rather typical rail-trail: flat, easily runnable and scenic. Once again I was surprised by the number of people fishing. The weather stayed overcast and slightly drizzly for much of the way. Ed arrived when I was about 2/3 of the way along the trail, and joined my parents in supporting me.

I arrived into Sturgeon Bay around noon or so. The sun broke out, and suddenly the weather was gorgeous. The path through town was scenic and well marked. Potawatomie State Park was pretty technical, filled with slick rocks and roots. I was dying to  run the last few miles (I'd been able to run all the way from Algoma), but after tripping and slipping a few times just while walking, I decided to play it safe and walk the rest of the way in.

I hit the Eastern Terminus at 2:06 p.m., and found my two sisters and their families waiting for me as a surprise, along with my parents. Ed had walked me in. What a great ending! We celebrated with lots of photos and champagne, plus a walk up the tower, which provided killer views of the lake. And the Packers won -- what more can you ask for?!

I'll be posting some post-trek thoughts in the next few days, so keep reading. Plus, starting the end of the month, I'll be tackling the Natchez Trace, another one of our nation's 11 National Scenic Trails. The Trace is a trail you either drive or bike, and Ed and I will be biking its entire 444 miles. (That seems so lame after walking/running 1,100 miles.)

Can't forget to mention that I stayed at At the Water's Edge in Algoma last night. It was a comfy spot right on the shores of Lake Michigan, with great food and friendly innkeepers. Keep it in mind if you're on the trail. Tonight Ed and I are at the Inn at Cedar Crossing in Sturgeon Bay. Had a great soak in its whirlpool, into which I dumped eucalyptus-scented epsom salts. Now I'm enjoying some of their tasty, soft chocolate chip cookies -- and the thought that I DID IT!


Saturday, October 5, 2013

Day 35: Point Beach, Mishicot, Tisch Mills, Connecting Route

Into every life, a little rain must fall ...

Last night, we had rain. Today's forecast was for a 50% chance of rain all day. This time I didn't avoid it. I finished the Point Beach section without rain. There were some school kids building shelters in the Rahr School Forest section, which was cute. They posed with Buddy, my SATW teddy bear.

Next was a +5-mile jog to Mishicot. That's when it began to rain. It wasn't too bad, but I did get pretty soaked and had to change my shoes and socks for the second time. It's Homecoming weekend in Mishicot, and lots of homes had been T.P.'d. Not fun to clean up, especially if it rains after your yard is T.P.'d. Unfortunately, we know all about this. Anyway, Mishicot is a cute town. The trail takes you through their park, which features the East Twin River, I believe. Lots of people were fishing around its dam; there's some reason there's good fishing there, but I didn't stop to reach the explanatory sign because of the rain. You also walk through an old covered bridge and past a few other historic sites. The end of the section takes you up and down a small esker, then through a farmer's field.

Ran a few miles over to the Tisch Mills segment, which I initially missed. It's in a weird spot, coming from the west. There's a mowed path on someone's front lawn, which goes up a slope. The trail markers (small) are at the top of the slope, not very visible. The first section was quite pretty, running through a forest and over a small stream. I'd put plastic bags over my shoes in the hopes of keeping them dry and avoiding a third shoe/sock change. At the stream, a sign notes it's safer to wade than try to cross on stones. What about trying to cross on stones with plastic bags on your feet? Summoning up all the core strength I've developed from my stability and core ball classes (thanks John and Denise!), I successfully navigated the creek crossing. O.K., I cannot tell a lie -- I did make one little slip. But my foot didn't get submerged, so it was still successful.

There was a short road walk, then the next segment of Tisch Mills. This is clearly the part the guidebook discusses when it talks about wet, poorly maintained trail. The path runs along the East Twin River, and would be beautiful if it was tamed. Unfortunately, it was fairly overgrown, especially with those prickly weeds you get in your yard. So it was a gross, uncomfortable slog through wet, overgrown vegetation. Even though the trail was relatively short, I once again had to change my shoes and socks afterwards.

I knocked off about 13 miles of a 19-mile connecting route to end the day, with rain on and off. A few fun/funny things:
  • I saw a sign advertising "Grass Drags." According to the sign, these have something to do with vintage snowmobiles. But what, exactly, is a grass drag?
  • Through the fog, I thought I saw some big animals in the road ahead of me. Then I thought it was an Amish buggy. I finally realized a really old tractor was coming down the road towards me. The funny thing was that the driver was a young, long-haired guy, talking on a cell phone.
  • I saw a couple homes with what appeared to be the French flag colors/striping. This is an area of the state where the French first settled, so I'm assuming it's French pride.
Tonight I'm staying at the Red Forest B&B in Two Rivers. I love this place. I discovered it last year. It's a beautiful arts-and-crafts styled home, and the Rodewalds are wonderful hosts. Kay offered to do my laundry when she heard I had a bag of wet, dirty socks with me, and you can't beat the food here -- not to mention amenities like Beerntsen chocolates in your room. Since the IAT runs through town, it's an uber-convenient place to stay, too.

Two more days!


Day 36: Connecting Route, Kewaunee River, Connecting Route

I'm like a horse smelling the hay in the barn, or whatever that saying is. Today they were predicting a 50% chance of rain all morning, then a 70-80% chance of thunderstorms all afternoon. Not good. I was pretty lucky, though. I started off with a 6-mile connecting route, which fed into the Kewaunee River State Trail (flat, great surface), meaning I was able to run a lot. I reached Kewaunee, about 17 miles away, well before noon. No rain, other than a light mist the first mile. The rail-trail, by the way, was quite scenic, paralleling the Kewaunee River much of the time. Ran into a man with a cute puppy, Porter, on the trail (see photo).

Once in Kewaunee, I eschewed the suggested connecting route in favor of running up Hwy. 42, because it was shorter/faster. I was hoping to do about 12 miles -- up 42, through Algoma, and out to the start of the Ahnapee State Trail. I made it about halfway when the rain began to fall. I jogged another mile or two, then donned my reflective vest, as it was getting quite foggy and there was plenty of traffic along 42. Just as I entered Algoma, it began raining harder. I grabbed my folks' umbrella and walked a mile through town. With about 1.5 miles left to the Ahnapee Trail, it really began to pour and I figured why not stop? I was soaked and getting uncomfortable, and I'd made 28 miles in under 6 hours. So I hopped in my parents' car, and we drove to tonight's lodging, At the Water's Edge in Algoma.

My room is large and lovely, with a patio door opening out onto a spacious deck facing the lake. If I'm lucky and the rain goes away, I should see a killer sunrise tomorrow morning.

Tonight I took my parents out to a place I've been meaning to try: Skaliwag's. Billed as "Food that's Five Star in a Crazy Little Dive Bar," I'm here to report it's exactly that. We started off with fried shrimp with aioli sauce, then I had the New Orleans pasta, with andouille sausage and shrimp -- yum and yum. There was a small, but nice, wine list. The chef, busy as he was, chatted with us several times. And as Algoma is a small town, he knew what I was doing. The place was packed shortly after we arrived at 4:30 -- 4:30!! -- and at one point the chef yelled out to everyone that I'd just walked 1,100 miles, and the place erupted in cheers. It was pretty fun, I have to say.

I can't believe tomorrow is my last day. I can't believe I've been away from home for five weeks (my record was three). I can't believe I've had three skin infections, umpteen blisters and lost three toenails (and counting). I can't believe how strong I felt running today (amazing how great you feel when the bottoms of your feet are healthy -- no cellulitis -- and don't hurt with every step). I can't believe how many awesome people volunteered to help crew me all of this time. And, most of all, I can't believe what a beautiful, interesting, funny, fantastical state we live in.


Thursday, October 3, 2013

Day 34: Connecting Route, Manitowoc, Dunes, Two Rivers, Point Beach

Today they were predicting a 50% chance of rain all day, so I figured I'd get sprinkled on at least half the day. My luck held out. It sprinkled as Mom and Dad drove me to the spot where I'd stopped last night, then stopped completely. I was resuming my trek in the middle of a connecting route, and had stopped last night in front of a farm. The farm had a German Shepherd who came bounding across the road, barking, but we knew he was friendly. The farmer was there in an instant, too. We chatted briefly; he'd noticed us stopping there last night, but of course had no idea what we were doing. There were several cranes in his field, which were quite impressive.

Speaking of cranes, I'm amazed at how they're everywhere in the state, at least at this time of year. I've seen more cranes than just about any other form of wildlife, it seems. They're so prehistoric looking and sounding.

So I'm doing about 13 miles on the roads, when I come upon Mom and Dad in yet another farmer's driveway, waiting to supply me with more water and food. They were chatting up the farming couple, explaining what I was doing. So the couple began cheering me on as I ran by. It was so cute. Then I noticed a herd of elk across the way, so I stopped and jogged back up to them. They said the elk had just been bugling, and the guy ran down the road with me a bit to see if they'd bugle again. They did, and it was such an incredible sound -- rather prehistoric again. Just like, perhaps, the sound a wooly mammoth made during the Ice Age.

When I was ready to continue, I asked the guy if he'd bring my camera, and a piece of trash from an energy waffle I'd eaten, back to my parents. He said sure, so I yelled to the woman that I was making her husband a temporary crew member. She started pumping her arms in the air, saying, "We're a part of this too, now! We're Dave and Margie by the elk!" It was pretty cute.

Manitowoc was an interesting experience. I entered the city with no blazes guiding me. I made my way to Schuette Park, where the trail was supposed to run along the river. I couldn't see any signage or blazes in the park, so I asked one of the city employees who was mowing the area. He said he knew nothing of the IAT or blazes, and that a small path led down to the river, but they didn't do any maintenance down there. I started following the path, but it was so overgrown and tiny that I was walking bent over double. When it took a steep downturn, then downed trees were everywhere, I decided it wasn't wise to follow this path. Trouble was, Manitowoc is cut by the river. So most of the streets don't go through. I probably walked a mile or two extra to get around and back to a spot where I could hook up with the trail. I didn't see one blaze on the official path until I crossed the river and hit Revere Avenue, when suddenly the route was perfectly blazed. Weird.

Although it was cloudy out, it was humid and still warm, so I was sweating up a storm. Luckily the path then ran along the lakeshore, where the temps dropped 10 degrees and I was finally -- finally -- not sweltering.

The Dunes segment was pretty, running through forest and fields, although some spots were overgrown. I saw lots of tiny, white, wooden owls attached to various trees. No idea what they were for until I spoke with the chapter chair tonight who said some tiny owl migrates through the Dunes every spring and fall, and the owls are banded and tracked. This is the season, I guess. Still not exactly sure why they tie wooden owls up there ...

Two Rivers was well blazed, and the segment ended with another lovely stretch along the cool lakeshore. Then it was into Point Beach State Park. I'd discovered this park last year on a story assignment, and loved what I'd seen. Now I got to run on the trails. The first two miles were right on the beach. It was a bit difficult, because the easiest walking was where the sand was packed down, near the water, but that area was slanted. So I had to walk on a slant for two miles. Hiker notes said it's very easy to miss the sign directing you off the beach and back into the woods, so I was staring at the woods for the last mile so I wouldn't miss it. I did see it, but I'm sure I would have missed it if I hadn't been staring to my left for 20 minutes. The trails here were soft sand and dirt, and quite runnable. It was a great way to end the day.

Have to mention more great B&Bs. I've had such wonderful experiences on this trip. Last night was a stay at the Jay Lee Inn in Elkhart Lake, very close to the La Budde segment. Great, comfy digs and one of the friendliest innkeepers you'll find. Tonight is the luxe Westport B&B in Manitowoc. This place has everything from fine, local Beerntsen's chocolates to an enormous whirlpool tub to the softest robes you'll find.

Three more days!