After much anticipation, our LAST Hall of Fame bike trip has finally arrived! Notice that I did not say “our last bike trip” as I hope to continue biking other trails across the country and possibly in Europe.
The most difficult part of preparing for this trip was deciding which items to pack. Because we will be carrying everything on our backs and on our bikes, we have to consider the weight and importance of each item. I started making a list a couple of weeks ago and quickly realized that I had more things on my list than space in my panniers 🙂 .
Our day started early as Ed and I picked up Joyce at 7:15 AM on our way to the airport. Since we chose to fly on Southwest, we had the luxury of checking two free bags. We opted to check our panniers because we weren’t positive they would fit in the overhead compartment, and we both knew that there would be several days ahead of us when we would have to carry them with us. On this trip, we are not planning to rent a car until the last day so we will have to carry everything with us everywhere we go!
I’m relieved that we arrived at the airport almost two hours before our flight. Although we dropped our bags at the curbside check-in, the security line was longer than I’ve ever seen it. We reached our gate with only 15 minutes to spare before boarding the plane.
The flight to Milwaukee passed by quickly as Joyce and I took the opportunity to get caught up on the events in our lives. One of the stewardesses was quite entertaining, interjecting humor and singing recognizable tunes with important travel lyrics. One of the quotes that she shared as we landed in Milwaukee was “Wherever you go, there you are.” These words from Confucius really spoke to me because lately I find myself being in one place physically but in a completely different place mentally and emotionally. Fortunately, on our bikes trips, I can truthfully say that I am able to “be in the moment,” an experience that rejuvenates me and allows me to regain balance in my life.
After deboarding the plane, we picked up our panniers at baggage claim and rode the free shuttle bus to the Amtrak airport station (MKA). Anticipating that we had a two hour wait before the Hiawatha service train to downtown Milwaukee arrived, we unpacked our lunches and began eating. As a northbound train approached, we realized that it was the 11:34 AM train running 20 minutes behind schedule. Although we could have probably taken that train, we could not pack up everything quickly enough to catch it. We continued eating our sack lunches and admired the beautiful wetlands and wild flowers surrounding the station. The temperature was in the upper 60s with a slight breeze, and it felt refreshing compared to the upper 90s in Atlanta.
After a short 20 minute train ride through the suburbs, we approached downtown Milwaukee and caught a glimpse of the Capitol. We detrained (the conductor used this term … I always thought it was “deboarded”) at the MKE station where we claimed our bikes that we shipped from Atlanta last week. The station agent informed us that our next train had experienced engine trouble and was running 30-45 minutes behind schedule. With a sigh of relief, we were thankful to have extra time to unpack our bikes. The miniature box cutter that I purchased on Amazon came in handy for opening the bike boxes. On previous trips, it has always been an ordeal to cut through the tape with fingernail clippers or borrowed scissors 🙂 .
While waiting for our delayed train, we chatted with a couple on their way to Glacier National Park – my idea of Heaven on Earth. We exchanged hiking and biking stories for several minutes, and I realized how thankful I am to have good health and sufficient funds to travel.
As the train approached the station, we rolled our bikes out to the loading platform through a narrow construction corridor and waited for the conductor to scan our tickets and give us instructions for stowing our folding bikes. He greeted us by saying, “I don’t know where we’re going to put your bikes because we’re full!” After discussing the limited options with us, he finally recommended that we put them behind the last row of seats in the lower coach car. Fortunately, the train doors were wider than usual, and we were able to step straight into the car without climbing stairsJ However, as expected, the baggage area was completely full and spilling out into the walkway. We had to move luggage out of our way while squeezing and stumbling through the doorway leading to the last car. Normally, we place our bikes in the handicap area, but it was piled waist-high with hiking backpacks. Another conductor caught up to us and scrambled to figure out what to do. Joyce told him that the other conductor recommended that we could put the bikes behind the back seats so he directed us to the back of the car, and a strong young man helped us lift the bikes into the narrow space. The conductor informed us that there were no coach seats left on the train and asked if we were willing to sit in the lounge car. He helped us find two seats facing a floor to ceiling glass window with a Birdseye view of the scenery below. Truthfully, we preferred these seats to our reserved coach seats 🙂 .
During our 2 ½ hour train ride, we passed through lush green farmland, but we did not spot a single dairy farm. If Wisconsin is known for cheese, where were they hiding all the cows? Snacking on our leftovers from lunch, we worked on our blog and enjoyed the countryside. The lounge car was louder than usual because a troop of boy scouts were onboard traveling to Glacier NP. Many families were also laughing and playing cards; I regretted not taking our daughters on a train trip when they were younger. Perhaps we can take our grandchildren someday!
The train approached Tomah, our destination for the night, at 7:15 PM (almost an hour behind schedule). The rain showers had stopped so we decided to pedal our bikes the short 2.4 miles to the Cranberry Country Lodge. Fortunately, there was either a sidewalk or a wide berm along the highway leading to our hotel. We checked in, and one of the desk clerks helped us carry our bikes up to the 2nd floor. Our room was decorated with log furniture and was much larger than most hotel rooms. It had a small living area with a sofa, TV, and refrigerator plus two queen beds, a bathroom, and another large TV.
Since it was almost 9:00 PM Atlanta time, we put our suitcases in the room and walked over to Culver’s, a Midwestern fast food chain known for its hamburgers and custard ice cream; we decided to indulge in both. We were impressed by the friendly cashiers who were extremely patient while we drilled them with questions about their menu, local directions, and the annual tractor pull event which had made it difficult to get a hotel.
After consuming most of my cherry, peanut butter sundae, we walked back to our hotel where we reorganized our gear in preparation for tomorrow’s ride. The hotel had a fabulous indoor water park & pool, but we decided to call it a night. Although this travel day was long and required numerous connections, it went smoothly and we are anxious to get on the Elroy-Sparta Trail in the morning!