Saturday 31 July 2010

Couldn’t hold our Liquor

We had to have another rest day today. Following last nights partying with Heather and Mat we felt as rough as Badger’s arses. (Anthony was slightly worse for wear than Kat)

Us x

Friday 30 July 2010

Who Ate all the Pasties?

A good rest day. And an even better evening, if we didn’t have to get up tomorrow. It’s now 3am, and we’re drunk, and we have to get up tomorrow and cycle…hmm.

Chores done, we ate a pasty at the local pasty shop (yum) and cycled down to the shore of Lake Michigan (stunning). A quick stop at the local bike shop and some sage route advice later from Dusty, and we were one our way back. At dinner, we met a great family originally from Coventry, UK, but now from here. Mat and Heather were such fabulous company, they kept us up until now…oops.

Us x

Thursday 29 July 2010

The Great Lakes

The American Heartlands are spectacular in how they defy all one’s preconceived ideas about how Americans live their lives. We’ve written before about how amazing it is for us to witness people confidently leaving their trucks unlocked, keys in the ignition, engines running and with 1000’s of dollars worth of equipment piled high in the back for all to see, without a single worry or concern of theft. So imagine our surprise when we woke this morning to find Bob and Kris left for work with their hotel open for “self-service”. No joke! They’re so trusting of their guests, they leave the place unlocked for clients to arrive, walk in, sleep, wake up the next morning and place a payment (in a secret location) before leaving …no wonder Bob and Kris are so gracious and happy, they’re full of positive karma!

We left at 11:00am this morning, and made our way east on Highway 69 toward Escanaba. For the first time on this trip, it was rolling downhill all the way, with a nearly perfect tailwind and a silky smooth road surface with wide shoulders. We only stopped once on the ride for a quick break, to eat a packet of crisps and down some Powerade, subsequently completing our 61-mile trip in less than 4 hours of cycling.

So we’re back on Eastern Time …crazy but true. Escanaba is slap-bang on the western shore of Lake Michigan, just 150 miles away from where the ‘Great Three’ (Superior, Michigan, Huron) meet. We hope to take a short visit down to the lake tomorrow (it’s a rest day) and take some photos.

We can’t believe we’re only 1,300 miles from NYC, but still have over 3,000 miles to go.

Us x

Wednesday 28 July 2010

We Like Trucking and We Like to Truck

One of the greatest things about this trip is how a day can end in a totally different way to how it began; and a morning can be poles apart from the night before.

As we climbed into our bed last night, we could still see lightning flashing through the curtains of our hotel room, thunder was growling and then cracking in the distance, and we could hear the rain drumming down on the tarmac outside. When we woke this morning, the sun was pouring through the crack in the curtains and it was beautiful blue sky outside. Even better, the storm had freshened the atmosphere and it was a perfect cycling day, with a tail wind to boot!

It was a short 35-mile hop from Iron River, MI to the small township of Sagola, MI. We got up late, had a hearty breakfast, and then rolled out of Iron River shortly before noon. It was a relaxed ride mainly on rolling county roads next to woods and wildflowers that reminded us of our childhood. Nothing spectacular to make us stop and pull out the camera, but green and pleasant, and a joy to ride through.

Pulling up to our motel, Anthony’s head was turned by the large truck parked outside. And when we say large, we mean LARGE. Regular followers of this blog will know that the trucks, tractors, cotton-pickers and other industrial-style “vehikkles” of the US are somewhat of a fascination for Anthony. Well, he is a boy after all. Kat feels the same way about shoes. So, imagine his joy when we met Kris and Bob, the owners of the motel, and found that the truck belongs to Bob. And even better, after dinner at the local bar (Thanks to Dan and Marilyn, and Hi to Joe and Jeff), Bob took us for a ride down the road in the truck (!) and to one of the logging plant where he delivers. Now for the “science bit”…

This baby is a 42-wheeler (yes, really… 42 wheels). When fully loaded, it weighs 160,000 lbs (that’s double the weight of the next largest trucks). It has almost 600hp, 6 cylinders and a crane arm big enough to lift up a house …talk about optional extras… leather seats, a/c, 26inch wheels and a massive crane! Anyway, riding high in the cabin of this herculean workhorse with Kat beaming like an excited schoolgirl, we finally got a true perspective of how tiny we must look when cycling on the seemingly ‘very small’ hard shoulder at the edge of the road. We have a new-found respect for the professionalism of Truck drivers…thanks Bob. It was a truly amazing experience and one we couldn’t even have dreamed of as we set off this morning. It’s strange the things that make us tick but it was so much fun! And we won’t even get started on all the logging equipment that Bob showed us… but we do wonder whether you can get them in “Tonka” size?

We spent the rest of the evening eating Kris’s delicious Raspberry Shortcake & Cream and chatting away with Bob and Kris, putting the world to rights. They’ve also given us some great ideas about our route over the next few days. Escanaba, MI tomorrow, and after that, watch this space…

And finally… Happy Birthday to Susie (SB), Kat’s sister.

Us x

P.S. We’ll be back onto Eastern time tomorrow, 5 hours behind the UK.

Tuesday 27 July 2010

Pure Michigan

We seem to be stuck in the middle of another very severe weather system. Staying dry or getting very wet is decided with the flip of a coin; we just don’t know which way mother nature is going to go anymore. Setting off this morning was again very hot and humid. The sky was beset with menacing thunderclouds that at any moment could turn a dry road into a flooded fast flowing river in seconds. Fortunately for us, the 62-mile ride into Iron River, Michigan remained, for the most part, dry. Only a few light sprinkles of refreshing rain moistened us just enough to keep our bodies cool…very nice!

Most of today’s ride was along a deserted road through the Northern Highland State Forest. Travelling East through the dense wood kept us sheltered from the very strong winds coming out from the South. It also kept us guessing about what could be hiding in the dark cover of trees. We are in Bear country after all! ...Then, just when we thought it was safe to go back into the woods for a comfort break, a solitary figure strolled powerfully across the road less than 100 meters ahead of us. “BEAR!” shouted Kat, “Holy Shit”, replied Anthony as he upped his pace with a burst of speed that would have put Mark Cavendish to shame, trying to catch the 400lbs-killing machine before it disappeared back under the cover of trees. Fortunately, as Anthony closed in on the target, whilst simultaneously trying to pry the camera out of his handle bar bag, Mr Black Bear casually took two strides off the road and into the wood, and was gone. Kat caught up and could hear a melancholy Anthony mutter, “How do they do that?” “Never mind, at least you still have your arms and legs attached to your body”, Kat said in sarcastic retort.

Like we said, the road was deserted, which meant we had to cycle for over 50 miles before having a rest stop. So when we did eventually find a place to stop, pee, eat and drink, we decided to go the whole hog and order big style. A griddled chicken sandwich & chips with 2 pints of beer for Ant and a Ham ‘n’ Cheese melt on Rye & chips with 2 pints of shandy for Kat, all inhaled in 5 minutes flat. With a very nice but undigested lump of too many chips in our bellies, we covered the last 11 miles at a slow and cautious pace. And as luck would have it, we arrived at our hotel with 33 minutes to spare before the mother of all storms hit the region. Straight up guys, this dangerous storm entertained us with massive lightning bolts lasting 2 seconds, which on occasion would wipe out all electrical equipment in a 1-mile radius. And the rain was straight out of a disaster movie, flooding the car park at the front of the hotel in less than 10 seconds. Not forgetting the thunder ...very loud and scary. We didn’t have dinner tonight, as we’re still stuffed from too many chips…and it’s too scary to go outside.

We may not have internet access tomorrow …so no need to worry, unless Anthony decides to chase Bears whilst wearing a metal spike on the top of his helmet in the middle of a thunderstorm.

Us x

Monday 26 July 2010

The Best Blog in the World

We’ve noticed something about this area of Wisconsin. Everything has a claim to fame… apparently. We departed this morning from the Black Bear Capital of the World (Glidden), cycled through the Loon Capital (Mercer) and arrived 65 miles later in the Marly Capital of the World (Boulder Junction). What on earth next?

When Anthony started to limber up with some neck exercises about 20 miles into the ride, head to the left, head to the right…up, down, back, front, Kat wondered what he was up to. Then, as his line of vision switched from the left, to the right, to the left, to the right, rather like watching a game of tennis at Wimbledon, Kat realised he was scouting around for the black bears. We didn’t see any. Although, as Kat watched Anthony in his “Wesside” bandana, with matching vest top and super-stylish shades, and not an anorak or open-toe sandal in sight, she decided to declare Anthony “The Coolest Spotter in the World”. When in Rome ‘n all that.

So, tonight is our last night in Wisconsin, and we can’t quite believe it. We certainly haven’t eaten enough cheese. Michigan tomorrow.

Us x

Sunday 25 July 2010

Stage 181 – A sprinters stage

Waking up this morning after another great nights sleep at Matt & Holly’s, we were presented with a fabulous caramelised! breakfast and ‘The best gift ever’. Holly agreed to let us check out later than usual so that Anthony could watch the German Grand Prix on TV. So in between packing our panniers, stretching muscles, brushing our teeth and applying sun cream, we watched the Ferrari’s sprint away from the field and Lewis Hamilton put in a respectable 4thplace …thanks Holly, you made Anthony’s day.

Much like the F1 Ferraris in Hockenhiem, we had to execute a well-planned strategy in order to reach our finish line before the fuel ran out. It was 1:15pm when the red lights went out and we span our wheels away from Holly Berry, waving farewell in our rear view mirrors. It was scorching hot this afternoon and we had to cover the 52 miles to Glidden, WI before the only restaurant in the village closed its doors to service at 7pm. This meant today’s strategy was to cycle as fast as we could without overheating. Fortunately for us, the track surface was perfect, we had minimal traffic to negotiate and a very mild tailwind to push us along those long 10-mile straights. Up against the clock all day and thinking about the prospect of dealing with an ‘Angry Kat’ if we missed the final sitting in the restaurant, we set a hurried pace all the way into Glidden, stopping only twice for a 10 minute piss-stop. Miraculously, we made it to our hotel in under 4 hours of cycling/racing and had a great healthy dinner …just avoided a major katastrophe!

Missing yooooo all (said in an Upper Peninsular (“UP”) accent).

Us x

Saturday 24 July 2010

Relaxing with Holly & Matt

We had a great non-cycling day today here in Hayward, WI. After a long and entertaining chat over a yummy breakfast with Holly and Matt, and the other guests at Holly Berry Inn, we turned over the day to the usual activities… route planning, accommodation booking, laundry (thanks Holly) and a trip to Walgreens. As we were about to leave Walgreens, having spent a “Hi-Score” number of dollars on…well, we’re not quite sure what on, but we definitely needed each and every thing… we suddenly noticed that it was seriously tipping it down outside.

These Walgreens folk are clever. They put the umbrellas etc in the lobby where you are waiting by the door for the rain to stop. We did sit it out for a while but eventually we relented. Not wanting to splurge on an umbrella, we bought a $1 rain cover each. Similar to a bin bag but with elasticated arms and ties for the hood… in blue for Anthony, yellow for Kat. Very stylish. Well, at least we gave everyone in the coffee shop a laugh as we stopped in on the way past to grab a well-needed latte.

We have to admit that we gave the main event in town a miss: the Hayward World Lumberjack Championships. Although we will no doubt be glued to ESPN when they screen them on TV. There’s something quite entertaining about a bunch of guys shinning their way up a tree trunk and chopping bits out with an axe… oh, and then chopping off the top of the tree, while hanging off it and balancing themselves on a wedge that they stuck in the tree. You really have to see it to believe it.

Holly and Matt invited us to dinner in a nearby brew-pub, the Angry Minnow, and we had a wonderful evening – thanks guys, we loved it!!

Us x

Friday 23 July 2010

Another great day in the office!

We covered 60 miles today, cycling from Cumberland into Hayward, and it was great. The deserted county highways that cut a path through the greenest of woods and around many deep blue lakes were great. We met a couple of fellow Tourers, Joe & Delores who were part of a bigger group cycling the ACA Northern Tier; and were great. The weather was great, the roads were great, the winds were great (excuse me) and when we arrived at our B&B (The Holly Berry) both Matt and Holly (the owners) and all the guests were great.

Us x

Thursday 22 July 2010

Cheese, Gromit?

After a very comfortable stay at the Ann Bean Mansion in Stillwater, MN, we found it difficult to get up and moving this morning. To add to our lethargic mood, it was raining quite hard when we finished breakfast, giving us an excuse to stay a little longer and “sit it out”, so it was after 11am by the time we had wheels rolling today.

It was overcast and windy pretty much all day for our 66-mile ride into Cumberland, WI. Although the forecast had said that the wind would be behind us, of course, it was actually a headwind/sidewind. Add to that the rolling terrain, and it shaped up to be quite a tough cycling day. But most of all, it was our mental attitude that tired us out today. Although it’s happened to us only very rarely on this trip, there are some days when you really just can’t be bothered to ride, and all you want to do is get to the next destination and hope that you feel better tomorrow. Today was a bit like that.

We did, however, cross into a new state… Wisconsin. Neither of us know much about this place other than that they make a lot of cheese and have a pretty decent NFL team in Green Bay, so it’ll be good to learn more about it as we pedal through its roads and byways. Oh, and we might try a bit of cheese from time to time as well. It’d be rude not to.

Us x

Wednesday 21 July 2010

Minnesota Nice

Intense humidity was on the menu for today. After idling through a very hearty breakfast this morning, we didn’t get our wheels rolling until 12:00pm! Which wasn’t anything to panic about, as we only had to negotiate a 30-mile ride into Stillwater, MN. The planned route was 95% dedicated cycle path: ‘University of Minnesota Bicycle Transit Trail’ followed by the ‘Gateway Trail’. And these weren’t your average bike paths …oh no! These trails were the size of your standard County Highway. It took a while to getting used to cycling in the middle of what felt like a major road without fear of being mown down by fast approaching traffic, but we soon became accustomed to it...

2 miles in and everything was looking and feeling nice, apart from the humidity, which was causing Anthony to sweat from his eyeballs. Fortunately, we found FREEWHEEL BIKE, a bike shop that had all the items in stock for which we had been searching for the past 3 months. Anthony finally got a new rain stopper jacket to replace his old one that was as watertight as a colander and a new cycling vest to cope better with this crazy hot weather. Kat got her wheels, brakes, rims and gears serviced by Graham aka ‘Cracker’ and, with help from Jason, managed to buy some new shoes. She was a little disappointed that the designer was Sidi and not Ferragamo, but she’s pleased to finally say goodbye to Foxy Feet. We must have spent close to 2 hours in the shop having a great time chatting with Jason, Graham and the rest of the staff; and customers, Dr Reza and Tonya (see photos) who were all just great ‘nice’ people, who made us feel very special …Thanks guys.

Saying farewell to everyone and with Kat sporting her new fancy shoes, we had a very nice cycle all the way into Stillwater. Following a quick diversion into St Paul to take photos of the Cathedral and the Capitol Building, we arrived at Ann Bean Mansion and were greeted by the exceptionally nice owner Jeremy (and two glasses of Pinot Grigio) who showed us to our unbelievably nice room.

We bet you’re now thinking, “things cannot possibly get any nicer”. Well you’d be wrong. Because as we walked down the very steep steps hewn into the side of the very steep bluff that overlooked St Croix National Scenic River and ended up at the bottom on the main street of the very chic downtown Stillwater, lined with great bars, restaurants, architectural shops and lots of pretty things. We chose to eat in Marx, a fantastically nice restaurant. Amy our waitress was gorgeously nice and looked after us all night. It was Amy who coined the phrase ‘Minnesota Nice’ and how very right she is. She even sent us off with a complimentary slice of Banana & Blueberry cheesecake …thanks Amy.

We’ve experienced nothing but niceness whilst we’ve been in the state of Minnesota and we’re sad to be leaving it tomorrow.

Wisconsin here we come!

Us x

Tuesday 20 July 2010

Girls & Boys

Today was an “active” day of “rest”. Girl things: Kat spent the morning getting a haircut and various eyebrow and eyelash things done (thanks Dominique and Lisa), browsing around Nieman Marcus and getting herself a Caribou Coffee on her way back to the hotel. Boy things: Anthony did the laundry, went to the post office, and sat glued to the Speed channel (always available when the F1 is not on, but never, never available when it is). We then had a productive time dealing with various admin things on the computer and catching up with a few folks.

This evening, we couldn’t help ourselves. We had to go back to Grand Café where we ate on Sunday night. If it’s possible, the food tonight may have been even better then Sunday, but its close call. Our server tonight, Krista, was such a star and made us feel very welcome, pouring us a sneaky extra glass of wine, and sending us off with a couple of Limonatas for our journey back to the hotel.

Back on the road tomorrow, we have planned our route so that we can hopefully see a few of the sights in St Paul on our way through to Stillwater, MN, just yards away from the Wisconsin state line. So close to another State already? We can’t quite believe it either.

Us x

Monday 19 July 2010

Chicken Tikkapolis

We had good intentions today; you know …laundry, taking Trusty & Steed for an overdue MOT, completing paperwork etcetera etcetera! But after sleeping in until 10:30 this morning we felt a little lethargic. Not that we feel guilty you understand. We’re 5/7th of the way through completing a trip that would place us at number three of the all time USA Perimeter Cycling world records, so its fair to say that we deserve every second of doing nothing right now. In two days time we’ll be back on the road again.

Dragging ourselves out of bed and eventually getting to a point where we could operate without yawning, we skipped breakfast, did a little admin and then made our way out to lunch, which was great! The rest of the day was pretty uneventful (apart from having a nice chat with Kat’s parents), but we did manage to go out this evening and visit the local contemporary Indian Restaurant for another lovely dinner, made even better by our kind waiter, Paul. We have another non-cycling day tomorrow, which will be filled with the normal chores.

Before we say goodnight, we’d like to say thanks to Sue Page for her generous donation to MS.

Us x

Sunday 18 July 2010

A City fit for (a) Prince

As well as being the home town of the greatest musician in the world, Prince, we can see why Minneapolis was apparently rated by one of the bike magazines as the most bike-friendly city in the USA. We’re not sure whether it really does rate higher than Portland, but we can say for sure that our 69-mile ride from Milaca into downtown Minneapolis was one of the best rides that we have experienced, especially going into a major city.

After a few unavoidable miles at the start of the day on a federal highway, we were soon onto the county roads, which were perfectly smooth (Grand Cru Classe road surface), with very little traffic. And from the moment that we turned off the highway, and for the whole of the rest of the day, the ride had a really lovely feel to it. It’s difficult to describe because the scenery was not really spectacular, but it was all very green, pleasant and relaxing, and we had fun ogling at some of the large, stylish and expensive-looking properties that we pedalled past along the edge of the lakes, and the Mississippi River. And when it comes to the river, we were in for a real treat. We had many miles of unadulterated bike path along the edges of the Mississippi coming into the Twin Cities, even spotting a heron’s nest as we cycled along (see photos).

It was cycling along the riverside path that we also really noticed how much of an impact yesterday’s tornado had taken. We had been dealing with twigs and other tree debris along the roads and paths throughout the day (not that it really hampered us unduly), and we had spotted several casualties among the arboreal world. But as we were making our way along the river bank, we suddenly came across a huge tree had been ripped down, falling right across one of the bike paths… luckily there was a parallel path just a few feet away, but it was a salutary warning as to the power of these storms.

Perhaps it is coping with the cold winters, the summer twisters and of course the millions of mosquitoes (!) that makes the people around here so down to earth. We can see why the Minnesotans are rumoured to be among the nicest people in the whole of the USA. Having made good progress on the ride this morning, we decided that we had time to stop for a quick lunch. After quizzing a friendly guy in a small town called Elk River, we ended up at Rockwoods in Otsego. In dire need of some fresh food after our “death by nasty pizza” experience last night, we ordered fresh fruit kabobs and salads. On hearing about our story, and particularly our joy at having passed the 10,000-mile mark, the lovely ladies at Rockwoods decided that lunch was on them, and they wouldn’t accept a cent from us. We were really quite choked by their kindness. A huge thanks to Mallory (Mrs Carey – yes, she’s married to a “Carey”…spooky), Beth, Ashley and Katie. Hello also to Travis and Hillary, with whom we had a great chat as we got ready to depart from our comfortable table at Rockwoods.

And then this evening, we went out for a bit of a celebration meal to mark the big “10-K”. We found a fantastic little restaurant, Grand Café, in a neighbourhood called King Field. It has a laid-back, local restaurant feel to it and serves fresh, honest and flavourful French-style food and wine. We loved it. And our server, Laura, was such a sweetie that she took care of our glasses of bubbly for us, which was a real treat. Thanks Laura, and Michelle who also looked after us very well.

We’re now very sleepy, ready for bed and looking forward to a couple of non-cycling days here.

Us x

Saturday 17 July 2010

10,000 miles in 176 days

It’s day 266 and we’ve cycled for 176 days. Finally today, in Milaca Minnesota we have passed the 10,000-mile mark. Gaining entrance into this exclusive 10,000-mile club was no mean feat today. Another 70 miles against gusting headwinds, soaking snowy hailstorms, high humidity and a scorching hot sun, we arrived at our hotel battered and exhausted.

Foolishly, we thought we’d experienced every type of weather system in one day and things couldn’t get anymore interesting. Just then, the town sirens sounded, warning everyone within a 10-mile radius to get inside and batten down the hatches. We were confined to our room as the biblical tornado passed through main street …gotta say it was pretty scary. Seeing trees bend over double and rain pummel everything in sight as if it came from a giant fireman’s hose (no pun intended) was evidence that we were in the thick of a large tornado.

To make matters worse, after not eating for over an hour, our only choice for dinner tonight was Pizza ‘crappy processed food that has no nutritional value, but just sits undigested in your stomach in a sickening lump that will just make you fat‘ Hut

… so tired, more tomorrow in Minneapolis.

Us x

Friday 16 July 2010

This morning was great, today was tough!

Sitting around the breakfast table this morning with the owners and our fellow guests was great (see photo). When breakfast was over, we packed the bikes, got ready and set off in one direction whilst Jane, Lynn, Phyllis and Lowell set off on their bikes in the other.

It was 11:15am by the time we left and despite having close to 80 miles to cover before arriving in Aitkin, we felt relaxed as The Weather Channel predicted tailwinds all day …Al, Jim, Stephanie – you’re fired! All day the winds oscillated between the South and West in perfect synchronous with our chosen direction, meaning that for 70% of the time we experienced strong head winds and crippling side winds.

We pushed really hard today and made it to our motel with plenty of time to visit the local bar and inhale 4 pieces of Broiled Chicken, Fries and Coleslaw.

We’re sooo tired it’s time for bed… goodnight, still lovin’ ya!

Ooo! One more thing… we were blessed with an encounter with a Bald Eagle flying just 15ft above our heads today …gotta say, it was the most amazing, magnificent, humbling, impressive, awe inspiring thing we have experienced on the trip so far.

Us x

Thursday 15 July 2010

A Grand Day

Some days are just a dream. Today’s rest day was one of them. We got up in the nick of time for a yummy breakfast at our super-comfortable B&B, the Morning Glory (ahem!) in Grand Rapids, and had a lovely chat as we ate with one of the owners, Karen, and two of the other guests, Julie and Dan.

Splitting tasks and resources, Kat then went to the post office to mail some more excess baggage back to the UK while Anthony went to the Laundromat to start the laundry. Kat picked up some lattes from the coffee shop, and we chilled out reading magazines while the cycling gear spun around in the machines, and a naughty Black Labrador called Ally ran in and out of the door, being chastised by her owner every couple of minutes, and making us smile.

The afternoon was spent on the computer plotting our routes and catching up with news from home (click this link to see our favourite story involving a dead badger, some white lines, and the craziness of working for public bodies in the UK).

This evening, Karen and Ron were so sweet and invited us to join them for dinner at a local restaurant next to a nearby lake. But we had already decided that we would return to Rivers Italian, where we had a fabulous meal last night. Arriving at Rivers, we bumped into Jane, Lynn, Phyllis and Lowell, four other guests from the B&B who are here on a cycling tour. They have been getting together every summer for the last 26 years to cycle all over Europe and America, and their home state of Minnesota is this year’s choice. We joined them for dinner and all got on famously as we piled in the pasta, and quaffed the very drinkable wine.

We’re now relaxing in our room, watching a bit of TV and contemplating being back on the road again tomorrow. What more could we ask for?

Us x

Wednesday 14 July 2010

We’re Weathering the Storms

We’re currently in the middle of several severe weather systems targeting the upper Midwest. Falling Trees, Flash Floods, Lightning Strikes, 100°C Temperatures, Tornado High Alerts and Land slides …and that’s all before 12pm. So waking up nice and early this morning and drawing back the curtains to review what we’d be facing this morning during our 68-mile cycle into Grand Rapids, we weren’t too pleased to be greeted with the image of black thunder clouds and torrential rain outside of our window. After much deliberation (approx 3 minutes) we decided to go back to bed and wait out the storm …a good strategy, because 90 minutes later the storm had passed, blue skies were on the menu and we felt a lot better.

Our only challenge for the day was the 18mph headwind, which actually did us a favour. Today’s humidity was so high it was nice to have a gale force wind in ya face to cool down. We didn’t meet many people today, but during our first comfort break in Cass Lake we spent some time chatting to a really cool family outside of a Supermarket, whose daughter had just returned from an educational trip to London and Europe!!!

We arrived at our B&B this afternoon ahead of schedule, which was odd because we honestly thought that with the strong head wind we wouldn’t be arriving until after 7pm …we must be getting fitter as we still managed a 14+mph average speed. After meeting the owners, we cleaned up and headed out to a great Italian restaurant that served authentically French cuisine …we’ll be back there tomorrow.

Us x

Tuesday 13 July 2010

A pack of Kellogg’s with a Thunderbirds Chaser

When we entered Minnesota on Sunday, we were very upset to find that there was no “Welcome to Minnesota” sign so that we could take our usual “another state line” photo. It’s happened to us before (Louisiana, Wyoming to name but a couple of States), but it’s always a bit of a downer. Well, today we definitely received our WELCOME TO MINNESOTA loud and clear from the lovely people that we met.

But first we should say that the riding today was out of this world. When it comes to cycling, Minnesota has got its sh*t sorted. Today, we rode out of our hotel in Park Rapids on a dedicated cycle lane for about half a mile, and then onto a 12 foot wide, paved bike path for 60 miles that dropped us, you guessed it, about half a mile from our hotel in Bemidji. They only completed part of the bike path a couple of months ago, and had resurfaced some of the existing parts, so it was a pretty smooth ride, with beautiful flora on each side (and the occasional bit of fauna…birds, deer etc). It was like our own personal conveyor belt from hotel to hotel. We did take a quick break half way in a chi-chi little town called Walker, where Kat was pleased to get her latte fix (which has been missing for a while), but even then there was a “spur” to take us into downtown Walker so we didn’t have to rough it with the traffic. What more could one ask for?

So, perfect cycling, but even better than that, some truly lovely people along the way. Just North of Walker, we met the Kellogg family who had jumped on their bikes to cycle up to the lot they had bought on the side of Lake Leech in Walker Bay. Looking like the healthiest family in the world (see photo), they tried to persuade us to have a swim in the lake with them and we were sorely tempted, but thought that we had better press on to our destination. Great to meet you guys!

Then, when we arrived at our hotel, which is on the side of Lake Bemidji, we though it would be churlish not to go for a swim in the lake. Soon after diving in, a boat approached and the guys on board started to shout hello and offer us a beer! As they threw a couple into the water, and Anthony performed his search and rescue exercise perfectly in order to pluck them from the bottom of the lake, we swam over to join them for a while on the boat. Turns out that they are a bunch of guys and girls from the nearby Thunderbird camp, who were kicking back on their day off. They included boys and gals from several countries, including the UK, Australia and Israel as well as the US, and we spent a pleasant 30 mins or so chatting and drinking beer before they kindly dropped us off at the jetty of our hotel, so we didn’t have to swim back. A special thanks to “Zeke” (we’re not sure about the spelling) who kicked it all off by throwing us the beers and inviting us on board! Thunderbirds are GO…..

A perfect day!

Us x

Monday 12 July 2010

Rolling Hills & Languid Lakes

The Lake District National Park is a mountainous region in Cumbria, England made famous for its association with the early 19th century poetry and writings of Williams Wordsworth. With its geographical features formed as a result of periods of glaciation, ‘Scafell Pike’ is its highest point at 3,209ft and it has approximately 90 lakes covering an area of 900 square miles (however in typically English correctness, only one body of water ‘Bassenthwate Lake’ is officially named a lake. The name mere or water is usually given to a larger body of water, while tarn normally refers to a smaller one) …we all know how beautiful the Lake District is!

So you can image how tough it is for us to cycle through this 87,000 square mile region of lakes (many of which are more than 10 acres in size) and take photos to reflect the enormity of what we see. The best we could manage today was to take a picture of the lake seen from our hotel this morning and Silverton Lake, which we passed about halfway into our journey toward our destination in Park Rapids.

The trip to Park Rapids was only 41 miles, but the head wind and rolling hills made the ride a little more difficult than expected. We met so many lovely people on the trip, especially Krista who we met at a grocery store just 11 miles outside of Park Rapids. And would you believe that she attended college in Alnwick, Northumberland, England, which you’d be interested to learn has an historic medieval Castle featured as Hogworts in the Harry Potter films.

We quickly completed the remaining 11 miles and made it to C’Mon Inn before 5pm. After a quick search on the internet we located a fantastic place to eat, a mile’s walk away from the hotel. The Good Life Café was just what we needed, Stella on draught, breaded haddock, chips, malt vinegar, tartar sauce …just like the Lake District.

Missin’ y’all

Us x

Sunday 11 July 2010

10,000 Lakes, 10 Gazillion Mosquitoes

You got it! We’re in sunny Minnesota, the land of the lakes. Unfortunately, there was no “Welcome to Minnesota” sign on our 60-mile ride from Fargo, ND to Detroit Lakes, MN today, but we did meet a very friendly cyclist called Paul shortly after we crossed the border, who cycled with us for a while, and certainly made us feel very welcome!

It was a little cooler today than it has been of late, for which we were very grateful. Still, to make up for that, the cycling gods decreed that the road surface would be bumpy, and we would have a 10-20 mph cross wind for most of the trip. They also gave Anthony a flat tyre just as we stopped for a break in Cormorant around 45 miles into the trip. But you can’t have it all. We enjoyed the scenery, and the peace and quiet of being away from the interstate, so we can’t complain.

Detroit Lakes is also a happening little place. It seems to us a bit like the Hamptons of Minneapolis, where people have weekend and vacation homes, and a lot of water skiing, eating, drinking and general lounging around takes place. We met a couple of great people tonight: thanks to Nick, the night manager at our hotel, for driving us to a nearby restaurant that we wanted to try; and Rachel, our receptionist, for organising that. We walked the mile back to the hotel, trying to avoiding the 10 gazillion flying neighbours along the way (since no-one really knows how many of these pesky creatures exist, we feel it appropriate to use the Bush technical term).

Thanks also to Len, who we met while doing our laundry this evening, who furnished us with a pamphlet of Minnesota bike trails, which we will find very useful over the next few days.

Us x

Saturday 10 July 2010

Last night in North Dakota!

It was hot today. Apart from Anthony spending a couple hours rotating the tyres on Trusty & Steed and giving them a general service, we stayed in our room for the most part. We’re staying in the very popular Radisson Hotel in the centre of Fargo. So popular in fact, 3 separate weddings are taking place here as we speak. Fortunately, the drunk ‘Always the bridesmaid and never the bride’ crowd seem to be a lot less boisterous than the drunk ‘Frat Boy’ crowd we met with in Portland, so we’re not expecting too many problems tonight!

We’re chillin’ out tonight watching the Miss Hooters International Pageant on TV after having dinner at the same restaurant we ate at last night. Thanks again to the staff for being so welcoming and a special thanks to Jessica for the advice on avoiding mosquito bites, and the “special potion”, which we will try out.

Us x

Friday 9 July 2010

Looking Pretty Chipper

It started as an unremarkable day. We had a 60-mile ride from Valley City into Fargo, and we knew that there were no frontage or suitable parallel roads, which meant another day on T’interstate. Still, knowing that this was the “short-cut” we had chosen across North Dakota, and that we were staying at a nice hotel at the end of the day, with a few decent restaurant prospects, we were suitably sanguine about the ride.

And so we motored along and covered 40 miles before stopping for a short break. It was just like another day in the office. It wasn’t until around 50 miles in that a few unusual things started to happen. We had exited the interstate and were trying to pick our way through West Fargo and into downtown, while avoiding playing chicken on the busy 6-line highway that went directly into town (since it had no shoulder and was packed with Friday rush-hour traffic). Every so often, as if by magic, a cycling path would appear, unannounced. Then, as suddenly as it had started, it disappeared again in a cloud of smoke, and a prominent “End of Cycle Path” sign (they were good at telling us it had ended as we perched on a piece of sidewalk in the middle of a busy junction, but not so good at suggesting what we should do next). Anyway, we decided to make a detour through a residential area, which required a short ride between a gap in a fence and across some pretty uneven ground…hey, this is supposed to be adventure cycling, you know. Just as Kat went over a particularly large bump in the ground, she suddenly felt something major happen at the back of the bike. Oops… the whole of her pannier rack had come apart and her Pan-As were dragging along the ground, hanging helplessly…

On closer inspection by Anthony, it all became clear. A couple of key ring-shaped components had come loose and fallen off, allowing the rack to deconstruct. After a bit of rummaging around in the brush, Anthony managed to find Kat’s ring-pieces, and emerged triumphantly holding both of them in the air. A bit of ad hoc repair work outside a bemused man’s trailer, where his small dog barked at us incessantly, and we were back on the road! Thank god it didn’t happen as we were whizzing down a hill somewhere.

As we neared downtown, things became a little easier, and we cruised the last couple of miles without too much difficulty. As we rolled into the hotel, a car pulled up behind us. A distinguished looking gentleman emerged with an entourage, introduced himself as “Kent” and told us that a member of his “staff” had seen us cycling not only twice today, but also earlier in the week just outside Bismarck, and asked about our journey. If we were not sure before that this person was “someone”, we were certain of it when he told us that he had flown in from Valley City, while we had cycled the same journey!

It turns out that we had been introduced to the senior senator for North Dakota, Kent Conrad. Fancy that. Obviously, we Googled him as soon as we got into our hotel room, and found that he is a Democrat (yay), although he’s not been on board with all of the things Obama is trying to do. We’re not sure about all of his views, but we can say that he seemed like a very down to earth and friendly man.

After a quick shower, we were out to a nearby restaurant, the HoDo at the Hotel Donaldson just round the corner. We were thrilled to find a rooftop bar, where we sipped a cocktail in the sunshine, and then a cool and airy restaurant inside for dinner. The restaurant had positive reviews, so we were hoping for something good, but nothing could have prepared us for the quality of tonight’s meal. The highlight was a horseradish mashed potato which tasted like heaven on earth, but really we could wax lyrical about the whole shebang. We were lucky enough to meet the talented chef behind all of this: Timothy Fischer, an American originally from St Paul, MN, but who has worked in restaurants all over the world. No exaggeration, this was the best meal we have had on the whole trip… in Fargo, ND. Who’d have thought it!

A rest day tomorrow, giving Kat the opportunity to continue coming up with quotes from Marge, the policewoman from the movie Fargo, and one of her favourite characters ever… poor Anthony!

Us x

Thursday 8 July 2010

Where are we now?

…well not far to go until we reach Fargo, right on the border of North Dakota and Minnesota. Tomorrow we’ll cycle approximately 60 miles into Fargo and then have a rest day. We will have completed just over 9,500 miles and will hopefully hit the 10,000-mile mark by the time we reach Minneapolis. Reminiscing about our journey so far brings tears of joy and pain to mind. It’s hard for us to believe that we’re actually cycling around the perimeter of the USA, pushing the boundaries of our relationship, physical well-being, mental strength, tireless commitment and of course our ability to eat fried food. But the truth is that for all our efforts we’re rewarded with a new experience every day that ultimately makes us feel happy and fortunate.

Today was another mini adventure! Faced with an option to take the Interstate or a little known County Highway out of Jamestown and into Valley City, we decided to take the CoHwy for some well-needed respite from 80mph 18-wheelers. The CoHwy route was only 40 miles and for the first 30 miles everything was perfect. Even with the gravel road surface and the occasional ‘ROAD CLOSED – NO ACCESS’ signs we joyfully cycled on, ignoring the road closed signs believing that we knew better and roads were not allowed to be closed; because we were ‘Ant & Kat the Intrepid Explorers’. Like we said, for the first 30 miles this level of egotistical belief served us well as we cycled along our private ‘closed’ roads taking a few choice pictures and being free from the annoyance of motorized vehikkle’s.

10 miles left to go before we reached Valley City and we spotted another ‘ROAD CLOSED – NO ACCESS’ sign. Without a care in the world we cruised passed the sign and soon after the road began to steeply descend toward what we could only describe as a mirage-like image. Getting closer to the mirage it soon became clear that this ‘ROAD CLOSED – NO ACCESS’ sign meant business (check out the photo). After a 5-minute discussion to determine if we could manage to ride the road, we concluded that it was time to do a Worzle Gummidge and take off our ‘Care Free’ heads and put on our ‘Sensible’ ones. Taking a slight detour, we were back on the Interstate, but only for 10 miles, arriving less that an hour later at our hotel.

Dinner tonight was great! We managed to have fresh fish and vegetables and had great chat with our waitress, Jane.

Us x

Wednesday 7 July 2010

The Buffalo City

Today was a non-cycling day in Jamestown, ND. It’s known as the Buffalo City because it has the world’s largest buffalo statue and also a National Buffalo Museum, which has some Albino buffalo, among other things. We didn’t visit the museum, spending our time on the usual “rest day” activities. We did eat some buffalo again in our favourite restaurant here: Buffalo City Grille but we’re not sure that really counts!

Another thing we’ve noticed is that the railroad here is extremely busy. Though we’ve been very comfortable in our “Peggy Lee” suite (apparently she’s a resident of Jamestown), we’re right next to the railroad crossing. That’s not a good place to be when the trains go past every hour or so during the night, honking their horns as they approach the crossing. A touch of the My Cousin Vinny (for anyone who’s seen that movie). We’re counting our blessings that we only have a shortish ride tomorrow into Valley City ND.

A quick update on Kat’s recovery. It’s now 2 weeks since her fall, and she’s feeling much better. The shoulder injury is improving all the time and, despite a little stiffness in the shoulder and neck, the pain has pretty much gone. The grazes on her arm and elbow are now completely healed, and even the bruise on her leg has faded, so she’s feeling extremely fortunate. Thanks again for all of your kind messages.

Us x

Tuesday 6 July 2010

Cool Runnings

This morning was a relaxing affair. With only 30½ miles to cycle into Jamestown, ND, where we planned on having a rest day, time was not of the essence. Faced with the twelve eggs we failed to cook with last night’s tomato soup and bacon butty dinner, we leisurely prepared a twelve-egg omelette, whilst watching Stage 3 of the Tour de France in TV. Piling the finished eggtravaganza between 2 burger buns each, we lovingly stuffed ourselves to bursting point, happy in knowledge that this gluttonous intake of carbs and protein would last us until dinner this evening. A few cups of coffee later and after watching Lance Armstrong perform super human feats on the cobbled stones of Belgium, we wheeled our bikes outside to find the sun was out, temperatures were cool and the wind was blowing strongly out of the West.

Today’s ride was perfect, travelling along at an average speed of 15.4mph with the wind on our backs, we effortlessly completed the 30 miles in under 2 hours, arriving at our hotel just before 2pm. Still full of energy we chatted for a long time to the lady at the hotel reception desk, explaining our trip and the joys of cycling. We think she must have been impressed with our story, because as we enter our room we found that we had been upgraded to a larger themed suite decorated in Peggy Lee memorabilia …and just across the hallway is the laundry room!

Anthony had Bison Short Ribs for dinner this evening and is feeling slightly bloated. But wants to inform his mum, who constantly ribs him about his weight, he has lost 16lbs so far.

Us x

Monday 5 July 2010

Every Day is a Long Straight Road

We’re feeling a little homesick at the moment. We’re not quite sure why. Perhaps it’s the 4th July holiday weekend with US families coming together to celebrate with firework displays and the like; or maybe the fact that the landscape has now turned pretty flat and is looking a lot like England (!); or it could be that we’re getting a bit fed up of the current choice of food, and we’re longing to be in our lovely kitchen in The Crouch, cooking up a storm while sipping a chilled glass of white wine. Ahhhhh. Still, since we were treated to a stove and kitchenette at our resting place tonight, we celebrated with Campbell’s tomato soup, and bacon sandwiches spread with Colman’s English mustard (we found a little pot of it at a shop in Yellowstone, where we also bought a small jar of Marmite). Bliss.

It was a fairly straightforward ride today: 75 miles from Bismarck, ND to Medina, ND. Having spent the last 250 miles on the Interstate, we decided to depart from it today and took advantage of a parallel road for the first 40 miles or so of the ride, which was a welcome break. We were also thrilled to have a well-deserved tailwind the whole way, which meant that we arrived feeling fresher than we might otherwise have expected, with plenty of time for a wash and brush up before tuning in to the Tour de France.

It’s a short ride tomorrow into Jamestown, ND, where we will have a rest day and hopefully a decent meal in a proper restaurant!

Us x

Sunday 4 July 2010

Bismarck, North Dakota

Sometimes it’s hard to write the blog especially when we’re in a city that doesn’t really have much to talk about, harder still, when we’re sitting here writing the blog whilst watching the Blindside on TV. Anthony hates to admit it, but he’s enjoying the film despite his claims that Sandra is a bollocks actress.

… sorry for the short blog. The Blindside was a good film… and Sandra Bullock was pretty good too.

Us x

Saturday 3 July 2010

Salem's Lot

Completing a ride of 100 miles or more is no mean feat for any cyclist. It’s easy to forget this as we plan our trip and gaily announce that we have to slot in a 100+ ride because of hotel/motel availability. But every time we pop one of these puppies out, we’re tired for a few days afterwards, and remember why it’s a much better idea to keep our rides below 70 miles whenever possible. Today we got away early, and were lucky with the weather for our 104-mile ride from Medora, ND to New Salem, ND, but it still seemed to go on forever! So long, in fact, that we crossed over today from the Mountain Time zone to the Central Time zone, putting us just 6 hours behind the UK.

The day started with our US cell phone getting a little ahead of itself and setting off its alarm at 4.30am instead of 5.30am – it obviously thought it was in New Salem already. It didn’t take us long to realise that it was still dark outside, reset the alarm, roll our eyes and roll over and go back to sleep for an hour. So, we were up bright and early and got away at a decent time. Luckily the temperature was much more reasonable than yesterday’s 90C, and the wind was relatively kind to us with a kind of oblique tailwind… well, we were going East, and the wind was strongly from the NNW. And we mean “strongly” – it was pretty tough at times controlling the bikes with gusts of wind from the side, and we were both much more tired than we expected to be by the end of the day. When we looked at the elevation chart, we could see why. Although we have definitely left the liquorice allsort hills behind, it is still far from flat (check out the Garmin Connect Cycle Log)… over 2,000 ft of climbing today, in North Dakota. Who’d have thought it?

Tonight we’re just chilling out in our motel room, excitedly watching the Tour de France Prologue (Go Lance), and checking the World Cup and Wimbledon results… what a fantastic weekend of sport, and a whole month of the “Tour day Fraants” ahead... yay!! There’s not much to say about New Salem, except that the motel is much better than we expected (there were no reviews on the internet, which is usually not a good sign, but it’s clean and comfortable and just what we need) and it saved us from a 135-mile ride into Bismarck. Oh, and there is a huge statue of a cow on the hill opposite the motel. She’s called “Salem Sal” apparently, and Kat thinks she’s kinda cute. We’ll have to try to remember to take a photo before we head off to Bismarck tomorrow morning.

Us x

Friday 2 July 2010

Cowboy Country

Whoa! that was close, we nearly went to bed before writing the blog. It was so hot today we just stayed in our air-conditioned room keeping cool. We couldn’t even find the energy to go out and play a round of crazy golf. So unfortunately there’s not much to speak about today, apart from we’re well relaxed and ready for ANOTHER 100+ mile ride into New Salem, ND tomorrow.

There was one interesting thing that happened today. Anthony started to shave his head with his cordless hair clippers when the battery unexpectedly ran out. Kat was hysterically laughing, as he sat on the edge of the bed with half a head of hair, waiting for the clippers to recharge.

Ooo …one more thing! We were shocked to hear ourselves having preliminary discussions about our plans for Xmas and the New Year …how time flies!

Us x

Thursday 1 July 2010

The Smoothrider State

It was an exciting day today… another State line crossed. We waved a tearful farewell to beautiful Montana and entered North Dakota, the “Roughrider State” with some mixed feelings. We had been told that we should cycle through here as quickly as possible, as it is flat and windy and there is nothing to see. Well, that’s not what we’ve found so far and, although it’s early days, we’re lovin’ North Dakota already!

We started the day with a hearty “family” breakfast cooked by Evelyn’s fair hand. The “family” part is because we joined the Wilkins family for breakfast, a lively and fun-loving bunch getting together from various parts of Iowa and Montana for the holiday weekend (see photo). It had us in a jovial state of mind and feeling positive for the day ahead. We also had huge smiles on our faces when, about 20 or 30 miles into our ride, the Wilkins drove past in their various cars toot tooting and beep beeping, and taking photos out of the window…we love you guys!! A special thanks to David Moon for your donation.

It was another hot, hot, hot day for our 63-mile jaunt from Glendive, MT to Medora, ND. But we took it easy, keeping hydrated and resisting the temptation to zoom along on the rolling terrain, and coped much better with the heat. Since we are “off-piste” again (i.e. we’re following our own route rather than the ACA cycling maps), we were in two minds as to whether to follow the interstate, or try to parallel on various frontage roads and other highways. Pedalling out of Glendive on the interstate (since this was really the only good option), we were amazed to find that there were hardly any cars on the road, and even fewer trucks. We kept expecting that to change, but it never did. Then we rolled into North Dakota. Well, we found ourselves with a Grand Cru Classe road surface, and a mega-LeBron James shoulder. With such smooth riding, there was no shifting us after that.

So, we cycled the whole way on I-94, taking in the scenery, which is not flat at all, and is really quite like nothing we have seen before. There are grassy plains, as we imagined, but then there are these little perfectly formed hills, just a few hundred meters high, with horizontal stripes of all sorts of colours of rock and soil, rather like huge liquorish allsorts (see photos).

We’re staying tonight in Medora, which bills itself as the #1 Vacation Spot in North Dakota. It’s a cowboy town, which celebrates everything cowboy, having its own musical and “pitchfork fondue” attraction running every night. As is our style, we’re just taking it all in, and chilling out doing our own thing. We have a rest day here tomorrow due to the various scheduling difficulties we alluded to yesterday, but we’re quite happy to hang out. We might even play a bit of “cowboy crazy golf” – it’s right outside our motel room. We’ll keep you posted.

Us x