Riding, solo, SF -> Fairfax -> Point Reyes -> Tomales Bay -> Sebastapol -> Santa Rosa.
Tomales Bay Oyster Farm:
Hwy 1 North:
Wild Flour Bakery
Kicking back on a friend’s tiki-torch-surrounded hammock outside Sebastapol
The next morning, riding to Santa Rosa
I’d forgotten my lock, but a trustworthy stranger watched my bike while I popped in for a beer:
And, rather than riding another 80 miles back, slipping my bike into the carefully-engineered compartment under a Golden Gate Transit bus…
I’m back from a euphoria-inducing 8-day, 600-mile bike camping tour across Iowa and Wisconsin.
The ride combined RAGBRAI (a 15,000-person group ride across Iowa with pork chops, pie, live music, and beer in tiny towns along the way) and a solo ride across beautiful, rural Southwest Wisconsin.
The mix of mostly good weather, wildlife (fireflies, startled rabbits, and red-winged blackbirds), friendly strangers, no email, the ability to improvise and change plans on the spot (the flexibility of carrying a tent…), and plenty of time to ride alone and drift between states of present observation and introspection are why I always come back to bike touring…
So while it can’t really convey the feeling, here’s a story-in-photos of the final two days (220 hilly miles, riding from sunrise to sunset):
The last day of RAGBRAI was more scenic than usual, with fast twisty downhills and a few uphill slogs (anyone who says Iowa is flat was in for a bit of a shock), and after ceremonially dipping our tires in the Mississippi and stopping for a celebratory ice cream (which would turn out to be important later), I bid my friends farewell as they headed to the airport.
And then there I was, bags strapped to my bike and riding out of Gutenberg, a long uphill slog on a gravel shoulder as team RVs and trucks whizzed by (though one bystander did suddenly rush me… and give me a five-step running push uphill).
Instead of continuing to Dubuque and a bridge, I cut down a dirt road to the Cassville ferry… and ran into two friendly women stopped in their car as a freight train went by. They offered me a beer and we chatted for a while about how RAGBRAI used to be more rowdy (more nakedness and night riding back in the 90s when they last rode it). I’ve found everyone in Iowa has some story from its past…
We’d all just missed the ferry but sat back to wait for the next one, and everyone was excited I’d come so far to ride across their state.
Among the people I met and briefly chatted with was Pete, who bike or motorcycle tours 70+ days a year and has a blog.
I’d vaguely planned to cut this day off at 80 miles and get a motel in Cassville, but the two places in town were sold out. I looked up an RV campground that was just a few miles down the road and had exactly one spot left (and what sounded like a wild, raucous party going on in the background when I called them), but as I was leaving town I ran in to Pete again. He mentioned his map showed an Army Corps of Engineers camp site on a rural side road another 20 miles down the river, and I still had some energy in my legs, so why not?
After two hours of spectacular (if hilly) riding on Country Road O and Rt 133 we passed through Potosi (population 800), which didn’t have a motel or even a general store yet boasted an impressive brewpub and museum. We took a break there for dinner, and the teenage hostess (in braces, friendly and bored by how little there was to do in her town) got excited when she heard we were camping and gave us detailed directions to the campground.
The one photo of my bike from the trip (the trusty Long Haul Trucker, with medium-wide 26x1.5” tires that can roll over gravel or dirt and run at 75psi for comfort, a springy leather saddle, and extra-large custom waterproof panniers, which continued to travel well).
Old beer tankards in the museum case:
Dinner took a while (and then as we left we met the husband of someone in the founding family and got to hear more history), so it was pitch black by the time we got back on the road. Without street lights or a moon the 3 miles to the Grant River campground were a little hairy— good thing I had a light.
After setting up camp I curled up in my tent with a thrilling read— the Bike Fed Wisconsin Bike Maps (which color-code roads by traffic, shoulder, and paving) to look at the next day…
In a way, route planning’s easier in more rugged terrain where there may only be one feasible road and Google just points you along it, but Wisconsin provided many more options. Fortunately, a month ago, on a long shot, I’d written to the contact address on various web sites connected to Wisconsin cycling clubs or businesses to ask about certain roads I was looking at. And in a remarkable display of generosity, Pat, the owner of Around Wisconsin Bike Tours, not only gave me general tips but sent me a full turn-by-turn route from the river to Madison based on his touring experience, which I adopted for much of the next day’s ride.
I drifted to sleep satisfied with the day… and just to think— if I hadn’t stopped for ice cream earlier in the day and thus just missed the previous Cassville ferry, I probably would have never seen the Potosi brewery or camped here.
Up again at 5:30, a misty, chirping-bird-filled dawn on the bank of the Mississippi:
Pete and I were both eventually headed to Madison, so we rode together on and off for much of the day. Stopping for coffee at a log-cabin-themed local gas station that the hostess last night said she likes to support— the end of RAGBRAI was front page news:
From here on the riding was gorgeous. Sun, a light breeze, fast-moving clouds in different shades of blue and gray looking like paper cutouts (and only a few of them forming ominous, circular black patterns)… and just enough hills and turns to keep it engaging physically without ever being painful.
An unexplained hundreds-of-feet-tall ‘M’ on a hillside:
At one point grass transitioned to amber waves of grain:
Friendly locals invited us in to refill water bottles and then other people from town showed up and we chatted for a while about alternate routes (the road behind the lumber yard was, as they suggested, a pleasant traffic-free shortcut), old motorcycles, and sunflowers:
The zig-zagging route I had written down took almost exclusively lettered country roads— these weren’t graded and looking back at elevation later were about three times more hilly than the main roads, but in a rolling up and down way where you could spin through most downhills into the next uphill.
About 50 miles into the day, we stopped in the Cornish former lead-mining town of Mineral Point:
This was where I’d originally intended to camp this night (if I’d stayed in Cassville overnight), but it was only about 2 so we kept riding— New Glarus would have motels and camp sites.
Car traffic was minimal— a few an hour, with the occasional almost-two-lanes-wide farm vehicle:
After a beautiful, swooping bit of riding along highway 39 East of Mineral Point, I realized I had about 3 hours until sunset and only 40ish miles to Madison. Rather than stop in New Glarus, maybe I could make it to Madison a day earlier than planned… so I said goodbye to Pete and turned my wheels North,
Of course it took this chance to start raining…
And the Badger Trail I’d eventually reach and get to follow 15 miles in to Madison was dirt and mud for much of the length. Well, sometimes the only option is to keep riding… not to say I wasn’t cursing the sloppy, in some cases flooded, and boringly straight and wooded rail conversion trail for much of its length.
Finally, as I was starting to tire and my cell phone was dying, I found myself in Southern Madison right before sunset, and made it to my friends’ house just slightly after dark…
A great end to a great vacation.
Madison was a great city to bike around (at least, in the mild summer weather). I was able to get from somewhere about 10 miles South of the city to my friends’ house across the isthmus (and then later to the airport on my bike) almost exclusively on bike paths (Badger Trail -> SW Commuter Trail -> Capitol City Trail -> Starkweather Creek Path).
And there was good cycling infrastructure (paths, signage, lanes, even bike tools and stands along the trails), a decent city bike rental system, and apparently low bike theft given the number of nice bikes I saw secured with only a thin cable lock around the top tube (one day I even forgot my keys and left my bike unlocked outside all sorts of businesses outside the city… though I don’t recommend that).
Sunday was a good day:
How often do you get to ride all day, along the Bay, and through fragrant fennel fields?
Or bike on smooth, paved, separated paths across two major bridges (the Benicia-Martinez Bridge and the Carquinez Bridge)?
And with a group of game friends who, when your sketched-out route suddenly changes into dirt trails, forgive you (well, eventually)?
And with, after the grueling 15% grade section of McEwen in mid-90s heat, the reward of miles and miles of swooping gradual downhill and roadside blackberries?
Sunday was a good day.
Bike rack outside a chiropractor’s office.
The BikeMike Copenhagen Evening Zen Tour: “One stop only as we let the passing cityscape and natural environment do the talking. Hard to believe it’s a city bike tour. We bike through rural areas without ever leaving the city of Copenhagen. Come and join this wonderful ride through beautiful mood pictures of Copenhagen when she is stressing down from another busy day and try to do the same yourself. The tour experience embraces the philosophy: “When we bike, the city does all the talking, when we stop, we do the talking”. Treat yourself to the luxury of two hours of total calm. You’ll hear more birds singing than cars racing by… Please understand and respect that no talking at all is accepted during the bike tour. Silence is a big part of the experience.”
Two of us met up, Mike introduced himself, then he set off in some direction and I just tried to keep up. No speaking for a few hours, almost no eye contact (occasionally he looked back to make sure I was still there)— just ride and listen and look.
After maybe half an hour in my brain was free-associating from each little thing I focused on, and my perception felt sharpened— I took in moments and scenes in great detail and they stuck with me. We’d ride through the woods surrounded by vocal pre-sunset birds and the white noise of wind ruffling branches… then for 30 seconds ride past a group of raucous youngsters partying along the side of the road or the bellow of a horse in a paddock, which would then quickly fade back away.
Moments I can still visualize in detailed clarity even a few weeks later:
If you’re ever in Copenhagen and are comfortable riding without any control or complaint, I highly recommend it. I’m not going to spoil the route, but here are a handful of blind snapshots I took with a camera in my basket and looked at later.
Another day in Copenhagen, another itch to point the bike in a direction and explore under the wide-open sky. Apparently I lucked out and this was the first sunny week all year.
My phone showed a large green area , labeled “Kalvebod Fælled” criss-crossed with car-free paths (thanks, Google maps bike layer) between the city and the airport. But what is it?
From Wikipedia: "[Kalvebod Fælled] consists of reclaimed sea bed, with a number of former islets making up small isolated hills; it was dammed and drained during the 1940s to serve as an artillery training range. […] Most of the area, however, lies as lightly maintained parkland featuring a range of nature types, from young forests to tidal marshes […] After years of preparation the area was finally cleared of unexploded munitions and fully opened to the general public on October 15, 2010."
That was enough for me— after half an hour of city riding, navigating parking lots, and a few paved but heavy foot-traffic smaller parks, the undergrowth and sky opened up in front of me:
Some paths were dirt:
A few impulsive side turns through the woods had me ducking overhanging branches as they whipped by, riding along footpaths or animal trails:
At the border between two sections of the park, a cattle grid and a gate counterweighted with a cinder block. There must be livestock beyond.
A long paved stretch of path curved along the water. The color gradually faded and the wind and light became more harsh and brisk (though still beautiful) as the path gradually curved and exposed more of the ocean:
I rode for a few miles with a fence on the left and the ocean on the right, only seeing a few other cyclists and hearing the cry of birds. Not a good place to have a breakdown.
And then, rounding another bend, the sunlight returned, the fence disappeared, and I cut back through the park., stopping for a picnic break:
And afterwards, back to Copenhagen:
And an obligatory stop at the original Mikkeller Bar:
All of that only 5-10 miles from the city center:
Copenhagen’s close to Sweden, and I couldn’t resist the excuse to head over for an evening (to be honest— partly just to be on my bike in yet another country, though the train across the ocean was also an experience).
It’s a small, casual city, with old and new architecture, a lot of cobbled streets less pleasant to bike on, and a fair number of wandering tourists. Interesting, but not a must-see, and it felt less lively than Copenhagen.
Bar ends seen in a BikeID:
And, seen in the blurry distance from the train crossing the 12-km-long Denmark-Sweden bridge, offshore wind turbines:
You need to buy your bike its own separate (and cheaper) ticket, like a child…
While in Copenhagen, I took a few rides farther afield. Riding about 25 miles North was a great way to spend an afternoon (and about the comfort limit on my creaky rented city cruiser, in jeans), and the Louisiana was one of the best modern art museums I’ve been to.
Denmark’s bike infrastructure extends far beyond the major cities— even through the countryside I was almost exclusively riding on separated bike paths.
Signs every few km pointed you to various bike routes and destinations. This “Bike Route 9” was the one I mostly followed. If I’d gone another 10 miles I would have made it to Helsingor (a.k.a. Hamlet’s castle), but the museum was too interesting to hurry through.
At times, the path ran behind people’s houses, at times along roads, at times through wide-open parks with only the occasional horse or cyclist or wild deer.
For one stretch, I took Bike Rt 152 which seemed slightly more direct and ran along the ocean… but it was also less pleasant, with headwinds and busy traffic on the adjacent road. It’s a sign of how spoiled I was by Denmark’s cycling infrastructure that I expected I could do better than “a dedicated, physically separated, paved path along a road”:
The Lousiana itself was excellent— an interesting set of collections combined with inspiring internal architecture— natural light illuminating much of the work (large windows and a much more open feeling than typical galleries), and a meandering floorplan revealing something new at every turn. A delightful merging of outdoor and indoor spaces.
A fine museum cafe and outdoor seating, with a sculpture garden on a bluff with panoramic views of the ocean:
And as the evening closed in, I hopped on the train back to Copenhagen.
A few photos I snapped while out and about of my favorite bike-friendly infrastructure.
Wide, paved, separated bike paths around the city:
A road that in many cities would be two car lanes plus some street parking. In Denmark, I’d see roads with one-way car traffic, spacious separated two-bike bike traffic, and a pedestrian sidewalk:
Out of this busy 4-lane street, two lanes for cars, two lanes dedicated for bikes (the two right lanes shown here are bikes-only— one for cyclists going straight, and one for cyclists turning left), though this was less common than the separated bike lanes between road and sidewalk:
This is a fairly small group of “cyclists waiting for a light” in a bike box for Copenhagen. At other times there could be 40-50 cyclists waiting for a light.
Bike paths had plenty of signage at turns and intersections, and the river was lined with bike/walking paths (one of the only places in the city that didn’t have separate cyclist and pedestrian paths— but I saw almost no cyclist/pedestrian contention the entire trip):
An example of what I hear is a new piece of infrastructure— a rail for cyclists to rest their right foos on while waiting for longer lights to change, to make it easier to stay on the seat and start up quickly:
You could take bikes on many trains (adorably, you bought the bike its own slightly cheaper train ticket, like a child):
There’s even a little “seat belt” hook every few seats to hold a bike in place:
Two-level retracting bike parking at a train station:
And, enclosed/monitored bike parking at the site of a long-distance train station (not actually Copenhagen— just across the border in Sweden at Malmo):
This is just a small sample of the in-city infrastructure… what a great, low-stress city to get around by bike.