To anyone reading my blog and who knows the geography of America better than I do you will have realised that there are gaps – big gaps – missing States in fact – as I’ve said before I’ve not always had internet or time – or sometimes I’d rather chat to the people I’ve met – or I’m just tired and can’t be bothered – but in view of my own rubbish memory I want to try and not miss too much out.
You may remember that I was treated to breakfast by John and Irma (coincidentally the name of one of the recent hurricanes) when I was in Wymoming – now they have been following me ever since (Hello John and Irma) and put me in touch with Kim and Jim, in La Crescent, Wisconsin – La Crescent is on one side of the Mississippi and La Crosse is on the other – now this was about the time my camera packed in – Kim and Jim put me up for the night and looked after me – when I arrived in La Crescent it was “Labour Day” weekend and it is tradition in this town to have garage / rummage sales – Kim was using hers to raise money money for the local historic society – the historic society were a friendly bunch and some of them had tips on the trails to pick up after I cross the Mississippi – once the sale packed up Kim took me into town so I could replace the faulty memory card on my camera (glad it was just the memory card that was faulty and not the camera} and then on to buy long leggings as my knees were getting chilly in the early mornings – not sure why I have left home with no long leggings?? While I was there Jim had been smoking venison jerky in the garden – the first time I had tried jerky it had come free in a goody bag after a marathon and it had tasted revolting and was like chewing on very old leather – I swore I would never eat jerky again – but in Montana I had tried some and this tasted much nicer and had a much much better texture – now Jim’s jerky was beautiful – tasty and tender – and just goes to show like most things there are good and bad and Jim’s jerky was very very good.
Quite a few weeks ago Nige messaged to say I should avoid going through Chicago and Detroit and that I should take one of the ferries across Lake Michigan instead – “Shite holes with massive gangland issues and many no-go zones” he says – my automatic reaction: there is good and bad everywhere but mostly good but I decided not to reply – Detroit wasn’t on the agenda anyway but Chicago was – now I know there are some areas I definitely want to avoid but reckoned I’d be fine if I was careful with my route – there was a another reason for taking the ferry though – “time!” – something that I was running out of – however I was still keen to cycle south along the coast of Lake Michigan, a lot of which is meant to be beautiful.
In Wisconsin on one of the cycle trails (big thumbs up to the Wisconsin for their trails) I met Al and Kathy who were going the opposite way and they stopped to chat – Al does a lot of cycling and has done some big tours in the past – we say our goodbyes but a wee while later on Al catches me up on the trail – he’s raced back up the track to offer me a bed to stay if need one when I get to Milwaukee (Wisconsin) and a couple of days later I take him up on his super offer – have a lovely meal that Kathy has made and discuss the pros and cons of taking the ferry or cycling down the West side of the lake – it is doable to stick to my route and cycle to the southern end of Lake Michigan but it is very industrialised in one area (Gary) and not very pleasant cycling – if I had more time and was with other cyclists I would have stuck to the original route but have opted for the ferry but even on the way to the ferry I still wondered about carrying on down the coast – it was chilly but beautiful morning and perfect for cycling and I’ve got a good few hours to kill before the ferry sets off but opt for the ferry and I know I made the right decision, especially when the heavens opened and it poured with rain as I crossed Lake Michigan .
Having landed in Muskegon, Michigan I pick up the trail that takes me to Grand Rapids – another thumbs up for the trails – I cycle fast as I know it will be getting dark when I arrive and head for the hostel that I found online (as there were no campsites in the right area). It’s dark by the time I get to where I think the hostel should be – I try the website and the phone number and they no longer exist – transpires that the hostel has been closed for a number of years – bugger – if I was on the edge of town I would have found somewhere to put my tent up but it’s pretty busy and I’m not at all familiar with the area – I’m now googling to see if there is a motel or hotel nearby as I haven’t seen one. But luck is on my side again – I stop Cat and Pippa, who are on a night out, to ask if they know of a hotel nearby – they point me in the direction of downtown and I am about to head off when Cat suggest that I camp in her garden if I am ok with that – I’m definitely ok with that – addresses are exchanged and these fantastic ladies are going to meet me there with beer and sandwiches – great night, music and chat with Cat, Pippa and Cat’s lovely Mum, Jan. Nige be warned I’m going to open up our house to stray cyclists (and walkers and sailors and kayakers (Cat) and artists (Pippa) and anyone else) when I get back!!
From Michigan I go through Ohio and then onto Pennsylvania – Pennsylvania is hard work – no big hills but lots of them and them seem harder than they should be – in Pittsburgh I pick up the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) – it runs from to Cumberland, Maryland and is nice easy cycling as it follows the old railway line. I start on the trail early evening and I’m glad to meet another cyclist who has just completed the route – he tells me there is a hostel in the next town of McKeesport but doesn’t know anymore than this. Luckily I check the website – it’s just a little hostel (sleeps 4), not manned and you need to phone ahead to book a bed space, which I did. The hostel is right on the trail but not obvious unless your looking for it.
I was met by Linda and Joyce and the hostel is their baby – the hostel used to be a riverside snack kiosk and still has the metal shutters – it’s small, clean and cosy inside, has a shower room and an area for eating with a fridge and microwave. Linda is excited that I’m her first foreign visitor – Joyce is excited that I’m Scottish and hopes that her husband, Bob MacGregor can meet me. However the hot water has stopped working and I really need a shower – Kenny (Linda’s son-in-law who is in charge of maintenance for the local housing scheme) is called and diagnosed a faulty element but can’t fix it until tomorrow – I’m now been given a guided tour of Mckeesport, on the way to the community centre so I can have a shower – while I’m getting scrubbed up these too nice ladies have decided to take me out to dinner – now during dinner it transpires that Linda’s husband is the local Senator and that someone of importance is going to be cycling the same trail as me the next day – Linda asks if I would stay on the following morning for a “photo shoot” to help promote her wee hostel – I would end up leaving 2 hours later than planned and a photo shoot wasn’t on my tick list but how could I refuse – as it happened it turned out to be good fun and met lots of lovely people.
So I had took the train the last 30 miles to New York City – if I hadn’t stopped for the photo shoot would I have needed to take the train – maybe yes / maybe no – but if I hadn’t waited for the photos I wouldn’t have camped where I did the following night (good campsite but with a nightmare of a trail to push the bike up to get there) and wouldn’t have met Janet, Kevin and Jim – fellow cyclists who were going the opposite way – they were good fun and I had a nice evening with them and relaxed breakfast the following morning with them – and if I hadn’t had a long breakfast I probably wouldn’t have met Jerry at lunchtime who cycled with for part of the afternoon – so things happen because they happen and this is my bike ride and there are no rules to it.
So I went from Wisconsin, across the lake to Michigan, south west to Ohio and across to Pennsylvania, briefly into Maryland and back into Pennsylvania – onto New York and then north through Connecticut, Rhodes Island, Massachussetts, New Hampshire and finally Maine.