Wednesday, September 7, 2011

End of One Adventure, On to the Next Ones

We started this year's bike trip at the Amtrak station in St. Louis and ended it at the Amtrak station in Milwaukee, a distance of 370 miles according to the timetables. We never got lost but we did wander a bit . . . and our bike computer showed a total of 1947 miles ridden! Straight lines may give you shortest distances but almost never the most interesting routes.

We left Green Bay along the Fox River and the excellent Fox River Trail, which started as a twisty brick path, changed to a smooth paved 8-foot wide bike trail (yes, that what picture # 2 is, as seen from a few inches above the tarmac), then morphed into a typical Wisconsin rail trail with a crushed limestone base and occasional railroad-related businesses still standing alongside the way. By the way, the astute among you might have recalled that we also pictured and praised a Fox River Trail in Illinois, but they're two unconnected rivers and quite separate trails, though equally deserving of praise for their scenery and trail quality.

640 of those 1,947 miles were on bike trails, and over 400 of the trail miles were on limestone surfaces. Because we knew the majority of trail miles would be on limestone, we mounted 26 x 1.5 inch tires, rather than the inch and a quarter tires we normally use. They did give a ride that seemed stabler. The downside is that they are heavier and run at a lower pressure, 80# vs. 100#, so are less efficient. A crushed limestone surface also creates more surface friction, which slows us down 1-2 mph for a given amount of effort compared to a well-paved road or trail. While we still prefer a limestone trail to a busy road, we agreed by trip's end that we much prefer Minnesota to Wisconsin since the former has only paved trails.  Two days after riding the last limestone trail we were still shaking limestone dust off the panniers and our clothing, another reason for our lessened enthusiasm.

While we could have followed the coast of Lake Michigan down to Milwaukee, we decided to stay 30-40 miles inland to see Lake Winnebago and then travel through Glacial Moraine State Park. Winnebago was only mildly interesting -- it's just a fairly big, more-or-less oval body of water from the west side we travelled down, lined by an unbroken string of modest homes.  But our route did take us through Oshkosh.  B'gosh, we were sorry to learn, you can no longer visit the famed maker of children's clothes -- blame it on insurance companies worried about slip-and-fall lawsuits, says one guidebook.

But Oshkosh is also home to the third-biggest UW campus, in this case UW standing for University of Wisconsin, not Washington. And therefore home to Cordelia and Michael, two professors at UW-Oshkosh, and their 2 children, Konrad and Zosia. We met them while waiting for the ferry to Washington Island at the top of the Door Peninsula, and by the time the boat had docked we had an invitation to stay with them. It will remain one of the special memories of this trip.

They have a large older home in a leafy part of town just blocks from Lake Winnebago. A faculty friend agreed to supervise a play date for Konrad and Zosia with his own kids of a similar age so we could start our visit with a gourmet lunch and adult conversation, followed by a six-mile bike tour of Oshkosh's park-filled lakefront. We then swung by to pick up the kids (Michael had pulled them there in a "child chariot" bike trailer, which stayed at the friend's home for our lunch and tour). Back home we chatted away the rest of the day and well into the evening, both couples fascinated with the other's life stories and life styles.

Cordelia's mother is Swiss, courted after the war by her American GI dad, who convinced her to come to our shores. Cordelia grew up speaking Swiss German and English, then later picked up High German and a degree in language acquisition. She now teaches German at the University.

But she also has apparently succeeded in an interesting language experiment at home. While almost 3-y.o. Zosia and almost 5-y.o. Konrad know that mom speaks English (in fact at bedtime she read them a story in English), in all direct conversation with the children she only speaks German, and they in turn only speak German to her. To Jeff's ears, with 3 years of German classes over 40 years ago, they sounded equally fluent in both. In fact when he spoke in German to Konrad about some of his toys, he got back such a torrent of excited kid-talk that he could only catch bits and pieces of references to toy autos and things that were red or small or -- what? He nodded in knowing assent, and Konrad never caught on.

We enjoyed fresh vegetables from Cordelia's garden that Michael cooked up into some delicious pizzas while telling us how he came to America from Poland as a teenager. His dad was active in Solidarity, which after some initial success was suppressed by the government of General Jaruzelski in the early 1980s.  His family was "invited" to leave Poland.  Michael now teaches international political science at UW-Oshkosh, a topic we think about a lot and have studied at the Jackson School of International Studies in our own UW, the University of Washington.

With hugs from the kids and a supply of fresh tomatoes and cucumbers from Cordelia's garden, we left with promises to reunite in Seattle some time when we can stay still long enough for them to catch us at home.

Our last sightseeing was a visit to Glacial Drumlin State Park, which had a great sign explaining many of the landforms continental glaciers have left behind in Wisconsin and other northern states.  We'd love to come back and spend more time exploring, but this time were too focused on getting to Milwaukee to do much more than observe a kame along the way followed by a relaxing picnic lunch at a small kettle pond, Mauthe Lake.

This was our third visit to Milwaukee on bike trips, and the longest at three nights.  Our accumulated desire for ethnic food exploded in a feast of flavors: Thai for the first dinner, upscale American at the Milwaukee Art Museum for lunch, Ethiopian for the second dinner, Vietnamese for the next lunch (that's the one pictured, with a vegetable-filled fried crepe in the foreground that was as messy as it was delicious) and Near Eastern for the third dinner.  Oh, the joy of good food once again!  Vegetables!  Flavor!  Food that's actually healthy!

We had already done the boat tour of the Milwaukee River, pictured in a blog post two years back, so this time turned our attention to the previously overlooked MAM, the Milwaukee Art Museum.  It is in a striking new building on Lake Michigan and had a lot of great art, particularly by German artists and/or about Germany.  We'll share three with you:  Working City, done by Herman Balushek in 1920, which we admired for its dynamism; an 1825 View of Danzig by Michael Carl Gregorovius for its historical view of this charming seaport now known as Gdansk; and Ernst Oehme's Meissen in Winter, painted in 1854, for the way it captures the cold of winter and the contrasting warmth of the room on the left with its Christmas tree showing through the window.

Two other paintings are really worth sharing with you, Jean-Leon Gerome's The Two Majesties and Gustave Caillebotte's Boating on the Yerres.  The first was done in 1883 by a Salon painter, i.e. from the old school that was appalled by the Impressionists, the second actually six years earlier by one of those early Impressionist painters, complete with shimmering water.  Although we are quite fond of the Impressionists, both paintings here are actually quite charming in their separate ways.

Our final day in Milwaukee saw us climbing on the bike one last time for a ride south of downtown on bike paths that at times gave us grand views of Lake Michigan and of the downtown cityscape.  At the end of the ride we pulled into the Amtrak station and boxed up the tandem for the next day's trip to LA and one less thing to worry about before our 11 a.m. departure.

Alas, the red tandem will be somewhat neglected for a while.  We're on our way to Los Angeles for a week's visit with Louise's son Brian, daughter Lisa and families, then a flight to Seattle for half a week's visit with good friends Steve and Janet, a train to Vancouver BC, and on September 17, embarkation on the Diamond Princess for a cruise through the Inland Passage of Alaska and on to Russia, Japan, South Korea and China.  We will be visiting Jeff's son Matt and family in Dalian China, then spending another 6 weeks travelling by train all around that fascinating country.  On November 22 we will be back in the LA area with a 5-week stay in Santa Monica, where our well-rested tandem will hopefully be happy to see us again.

Thanks for following our Midwest Meander, "talk" to you next from the left coast!

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