Last week, my husband and I did our first fully self-supported bicycle ride. Our plan was to ride from Whitewater Wisconsin to Stevens Point (150 miles) over a three day period. We were going to Stevens Point because they have a bike shop there that specializes in recumbents. We had prearranged for them to work on our bike. After spending a day in Stevens Point while the bike was getting buffed and fluffed, we planned to ride back.
What we didn't plan on was a major heat wave!
We started last Sunday. Here's our bike fully loaded and ready to roll.
We carried our tent, sleeping bags, sleeping pads and bike repair things in the trailer. We each had one black pannier on the back wheel for our clothes. The square blue cooler on top of the back wheel was our "kitchen". It had our food, stove, cooking kit, etc. We also carried the red backpack strapped onto the back of my seat in the front. It had a two liter water pouch, some first aid things, and emergency food/electrolites.
We had to put together the bike and get it all packed Sunday morning. It was about 8:30 am before we were ready to leave which is a very late start in the biking world when it is hot. We were staying at a friend of my husband's who doesn't eat breakfast so we left on a relatively empty stomach. We each ate a power bar before biking. My husband took his medications too.
That turned out to be not a good thing to do. With the heat and taking the medications on a relatively empty stomach, my husband was feeling quite ill when we stopped at the first town we came to 15 miles later. We had done a lot of climbing over the first 15 miles.
We pulled into an Arby's and my husband felt so bad he couldn't eat. He put his head down on the table and he just rested for about 30 minutes. Looking back, I think he had the beginnings of heat exhaustion. At the time, I was wondering if I was going to need to call 911 or call his friend to come pick us up. Slowly, my husband came back to life and nibbled on a little food. Nothing at Arby's appealed to him and we left. Fortunately, right around the corner was a Culver's which he loves. We pulled in there and he had some chili and frozen yogurt. By then, we had spent over an hour in air conditioning and he felt much better.
We rode on. We used Google bicycle mapping to pick the route and had marked it on a very detailed set of maps we had ordered. The Google maping and the National Geographic maps served us very well. There were times that my smart phone was having problems with connectivity, so I was really glad we had a paper back up. We never got lost. (Well, at least not until the last day, but more about that later.) Google was great about keeping us off major roads (for the most part) too.
We mostly road on rural roads by farms and farm houses.
It was almost never flat, but it was rare to be on a really steep hill either. Mostly, the terrian was long rolling hills. Occassionally, we would walk up the hills. That happened when the hills were steeper. As usual, it is hard to show how steep hills actually are, but here is a picture I took of my husband as he walked our bike up one of the hills.
Since it was so hot (the heat index we discovered later was in the 100's every day...on the last day it was 112), we took frequent breaks in when we found shade. My husband was really feeling the heat so he would often lie down in the grass. Every day, we had several "trail angels" come out and ask us if we needed water or anything else as we rested. We always gratefully accepted cool water and often ended up having wonderful conversations with our trail angels. Our favorite angel was Kathy Owens. She surprised us by bringing out ice cream bars! She had a great sense of humor that was evident in her whimsical garden.
(I took a picture of Kathy with the ice cream and some pictures of her beautiful gardens, but I can't find my camera right now. If I find it, I'll add those pictures. The rest of the pictures here are from my phone.)
Wisconsin has a lot of bike trails. Very rarely, we rode on a paved trail. Most of their trails are packed gravel.
Much of the time, when we were on a trail. It looked more like this....
But sometimes, the trails looked like this! Fortunately, that didn't happen very often.
We planned to bike 50 miles each day and that is pretty much exactly what we did. The first day took the longest to do 50 miles, mostly because we had such a late start and we took such a long break at 15 miles. We rolled into a small town around 5 pm and found a Dollar General store open on Sunday. The air conditioning in there felt heavenly after a day of biking and we greedily bought such treasures as cold orange juice and chocolate milk. We bought a gallon of water for $1 and a can of Dinty Moore beef stew among other things. A lady in the store told us there was a campground up the road about a half mile...."you can't miss it". Well, either it was more than a half mile or we missed it.
Five miles later, we found a park. It didn't have any signs either allowing or not allowing camping, so we decided to "stealth camp" there under a shelter. (Pictures to come when I find my camera!) We warmed up our stew, had some peaches and milk and waited for dark to set up our tent. I slept like a baby until around 2 am when nature called. I was in the porta potty when a car pulled into the parking lot and shown it's lights on the tent. It woke my husband up, but he didn't realize I wasn't in the tent with him. After a minute, the car left....whew!!! I crawled back in the tent and we had a quiet night after that.
We woke up Monday morning well rested around 5:30 am and quickly packed up our tent. It was nice and dry since we had slept under a shelter. We talked about our "vistor" from the night before and figured it was probably the local police. They either didn't see us (we had hidden our bike and have a dark tent), or they saw us and didn't care. We cooked oatmeal and added dried fruit. I had coffee (Starbucks instant) and hubby had hot tea. It was all quite tasty. We were happy to have gotten the gallon of water the night before, because there wasn't any running water at the park. That gallon came in handy both for cooking and drinking.
We were on the road by 6:30 feeling quite good about our first 24 hours or so of self-supported touring. The first 10 miles of the ride that morning were on Wisconsin bike trails. Most of it was through the woods with a lot of shade that felt good even that early in the morning. We saw lots and lots of rabbits hopping out of the way as we rode along the trails. Our bike handled the trails beautifully. It has wide, sturdy tires and was very stable. Those trails would have been horrible on a traditional road bike with skinny tires.
After 10 miles, we stopped at the first town and had "second breakfast". Second breakfast is a common occurance among bicycle tourists! We were in a McDonalds and hubby ordered us both Egg White McMuffins and no hash browns. After we ate them and were back on the road, we realized we should have ordered regular McMuffins with hash browns....we were burning up so many calories biking, we could afford the extra fat and carbs. Live and learn. We had plenty of power bars so we made up the difference with them.
Monday was really hot. Bit by bit, the heat was really getting to my husband. We made our 50 miles by about 2:30 pm that day. There were no campgrounds around but we found another park. This on had a pump well with cold water. We took turns pumping cold water and soaking ourselves to cool off. We ate under the shelter there and took a nap waiting for it to cool off.
While hubby was still napping, I went off exporing around the little park. I discovered a sign off in the corner that said "No Overnight Camping". The park wasn't a good place to steath camp because it was close to the road, so we decided to move on. By then, it was about 5 pm. After consulting a map, we decided to bike to a campground 15 miles up the road that was on our path. We figured at our speed, we would get there while it was still daylight around 7 or 7:30 pm.
Did I mention that it was hot? Well, it was still really hot at 5:30. After about 5 miles of biking, I could tell hubby was really struggling. We were out in farm land and it was really peaceful biking along, but I knew it would be really difficult for my husband to do another 10 miles in the heat. All of the sudden, we passed a "fireman training center". It was a fake house that firemen use to practice their skills. We pulled up behind it and Voila! We had our camp for the night. It turned out to be a less than ideal spot. The mosquitos were horrible. I pulled on long pants, long sleeved shirt, socks, my biking gloves and a mosquito head net. Hah! I foiled those pesky mosquitos....but did I mention it was hot???
We were cooking dinner (canned chicken and pasta) when we heard a tractor starting up. The farmer across the street was "farming". Since he would have seen the tent, we couldn't put it up until after he finished. His "farming" (not sure if he was plowing or what) went on...and on....and on... while we roasted in our long clothing hiding from him and the mosquitos. It gave me a great appreciation of how long a farmer's day is. Finally, around 8:45, the tractor stopped. We waited about 10 more minutes for him to go inside and we put up the tent FAST!! We dove inside and stripped down as fast as we could to cool off. That night, I slept with my shorts and a t-shirt on. I never did open up my sleeping bag, it was so hot.
Tuesday morning, we were up at five. We took down the tent in a flash and were out of there! Even at five in the morning, we were sweating like crazy. The humidity was very high. Later that day, we learned that the heat index was 112. I don't know what it was at 5 am, but it was up there already.
We were sort of in a black hole of cell phone reception as we left the fireman's training center and I couldn't get a fix on how far it was to our next turn. It was the only time in our trip that we were anything close to being lost. We missed our turn as we were flying down a hill enjoying the breeze. We got to revisit that hill going back up to get on the right road. What a way to start the day! Anyhoo... after that, we rode about 10 miles to where the campground was that we had been trying to reach the night before. We realized that as bad as the "fireman's training site" had been, we probably would have had a very hard time making it to the campsite. We had breakfast in a small diner there and must have looked very strange to the owners of the diner since we hadn't had a real shower in two days! They were very nice to us anyway and filled our water bottles with ice before we left.
We had left so early in the morning that we had 35 miles under our belt by 9 am. All we had left to get to Stevens Point was 15 miles, but it was on a busy highway without much shoulder and no shade!
I was hot, but I was basically okay. My husband was really starting to sag. We decided to walk the hills to conserve energy and try to not get overheated. We stopped often whenever we could find shade. Since we were on a highway, there were no homes close by where we could ask for help or water. Those last five miles were brutal for my husband.
He was resting in the shade at one point, and I could see a man cutting his grass about 1,000 yards ahead of us but it was up a hill. After some coaxing, I was able to get my husband to go the 1,000 yards to the man's front yard. My husband just collapsed in the grass once he got there. I don't think the man realized how bad off my husband was from the heat and he just kept on cutting his grass. I flagged the man down and asked for water (we were just about out at that point). The man got off his lawn mower and took me over to an outdoor spigot and helped me fill the water bottles with cold water. Then he hopped back on his lawnmower and rode off! The one time we REALLY could have used some help, the person seemed totally oblivious.
I knew at that point, my husband was suffering from heat exhaustion. We only had about two more miles to go. I was torn between calling 911, going back to "Mr. Oblivious", staying in the shade for hours or getting hubby to press on.....we ended up staying in the shade for about another half hour. I kept getting hubby to drink the electrolite mix we had in our emergency bag along with some sport "beans". He finally revived enough to make it the last two miles (with lots of stops). We were never so happy to crest that last hill and see a Best Western!
There was a resturant next door to the hotel so we decided to go there first. The air conditioning and lots of cool lemonade for hubby along with some soup did the trick. It had taken us over four hours to go those last 5 miles, but we did it!
After lunch, we decided to bike to the bike shop and check into a hotel close to the bike shop. Amazingly, we easily biked to the shop nine miles away. What a difference an hour in air conditioning and some good rehydration make! We dropped off our bike and they gave us a ride to a very nice Holiday Inn. We felt like we were in total bliss! Showers at last! Air Conditioning! Real beds with sheets and NO MOSQUITOS!!!!
We washed up, did laundry, and went out to eat. I think we were in bed asleep before the sun went down.
The next morning, we quickly decided that it didn't make sense to try to bike back. The next two days were supposed to be even hotter and it was clear that my husband had been suffering from heat exhaustion. It wasn't worth risking heat stroke. So....we quickly called around, rented a car that would hold our bike and trailer and drove over to the bike shop to pick up our bike.
We love our tandem, but we now realize that there is a big differential between the work for the captain and the stoker on that particular bike. As much as we like the bike, we are thinking of switching to single bikes so I can share more of the workload. I've always been intrigued by the new tadpole trikes (two wheels in front and one in back). Trikes have the advantage of being able to stop on a hill or go up very slowly without having to worry about the bike falling over. The bike shop in Stevens Point has a wide selection of trikes, so we spent the morning there trying them out before we left.
I'm not sure what we will end up doing for our big self-supported ride in the fall. We will most likely not take the tandem and will either do it on trikes or more traditional upright touring bikes. We need to decide rather soon as the summer is rapidly going by.
We learned a lot on our first self-supported tour. In spite of the intense heat, we loved touring. There is no doubt we will be doing more of it. Seeing the countryside at that slow pace, talking to people along the way, experiencing nature, all add up to a wonderful way to see the world.