Friday, July 6, 2007

Drums Along the.....Wisconsin!

Tent City! Home, sweet Home. Doesn't it look like a little village somewhere nice? It IS. These are the digs provided for some of the cyclists on the "GRABAAWR" - "Great Annual Bicycle Adventure Along the Wisconsin River". Ours is the third-from-the-left...maybe. Or sixth. You get the picture.

I bought a nice little notebook before going - one of those Moleskin ones from Barnes & Noble; I got the small model with graph paper in. And I wrote something like "For the Blogosphere" on the first page. I determined to keep notes each day so that I could remember the details to write about. I did take my laptop along (Daisy, remember?) in case the schools we were camping at each night might have wireless access, and I could write on the road.

All of that notwithstanding - I realize that a play-by-play isn't what's called for, from either of our viewpoints. Therefore: permit me to synopsize.

Saturday morning, June 23, I had the car packed with what I hoped was everything I'd want. I had our small tent, my sleeping bag and pad and a small suitcase. I also had my large knitting basket with yarns, needles and a couple of projects; I had my laptop-case-on-wheels (the advantage of that thing is, where the businessmen put their shirts and ties and speedos I can put extra yarn, books, headlamps; where the businessmen put their charts and graphs I can put get the picture). I had my bookbag and I had my small knitting basket with the current project, my toolbox (knitting tools, you know -tape measure, scissors, bone thread winder, one lace bobbin...the necessities) AND my directions, map, camera, the new cell phone (!) and my tin of those sour Life-Savers to which I am totally addicted and partly because they come in the cleverest little snap-top tin which has to be useful for myriads of other stuff. (I hope they are, I'm developing quite a collection.)
And so I departed, with loving smooches, from Home and Hearth.

First stop: Target. I had to get my prescriptions. And you know, while I was there I wandered through the Dollar Bin area. Quick-like. I found a little bottle hand sanitizer (it was on the cyclists' list of Good Stuff to Have); a packet of citronella bracelets; (you never know); a little rubber bleating sheep (clearly a must-have for any knitter, even if it does sound more like it's eaten too many potato chips) Dave Barry says, "I am NOT making this up" -- BOSCO! Yes, in the Dollar Bins!! For those of you sadly too young to remember, "I love Bosco, it's the drink for meeeeee...." You add it to milk. It used to be divine. (I don't know if it's changed or just I have a more discerning palate {or less discerning} but it's not precisely the way I remember it.) STILL, Bosco! So I got four bottles. It's not routinely available out this way.

NOTE: have you noticed a marked tendency for digression? Nevermind.

Mind you, I was only going to Donna's at this point, in her town about 40 minutes from home. Between my getting to her house I witnessed an Incident which delayed me considerably (it involved someone else and a deer, don't ask). But I finally did get to her house. When I did, I realized that the peculiar beeping I'd been hearing was my cell phone, which had messages on it from Donna, from Mr. I learned how you get to listen to voice mail. And delete it.

FINALLY! Our gas tanks were full, and we were off for Eagle River, Donna leading as she drives up to the Upper Peninsula (of Michigan) fairly often to visit family and so knew the way. NOTE: up to this trip I was notorious for my complete ignorance of maps and directions. "Up to this trip." I'm better now.

Eagle River is a small northern-Wisconsin town, one I like a lot. We've been through on OUR way to the UP and at other times. We found the high school and Donna located her ham boss. The school is STUNNING! For a small midwestern town, -- in fact, for a large town, anywhere, this is one beautiful school. The commons area is large, high-ceilinged and open with chairs and tables - and wireless accessibility! That night I put up my little tent but the evenings afterward we were given one of the tour tents (see above) which were put up for us before we got to our night stop and taken down the next morning. They were also nice large tents. We brought our laptops in and spent a happy couple of hours on line before packing up and packing in. We established a routine: I'd lay out my pad and throw out my sleeping bag on the right; Donna threw out her pad and bag on the left; we hung my little battery-lantern from the convenient hook, crawled in - and I was GONE. I do a few things well, a couple of things very well - and I sleep like a champ. I'm an Olympic-level sleeper. I was worried about waking up in time, but I can tell you - the sound of 30 or 40 zippers at 5:00 a.m. does the trick.
This was pretty much our routine: we got up early, folded up our bedding and put it in our cars. Then Donna ran in to have breakfast so she could get to her Ham Operators' meeting and get our daily assignment. When I had my stuff put away I grabbed my little basket containing knitting, cell phone and blogging notebook and had my breakfast. NOTE: in case I hadn't mentioned it before, we were given our breakfasts and suppers and the use of the tent (and reimbursement for our gas, which reminds me, I'd best send that in!).
After breakfast Donna and the hams would emerge and we'd head out for our daily locations. Mind you, some of the cyclists left before 5:00 a.m. and the rest left throughout the morning until 9:00, but I think the whole 600+ were out of there by 7:30 every day.
Once Donna and I got to our location (after the first day we were led out to our site - Donna's not better at maps than I am, I was glad we had guides). We set up our big orange barrels of water, arranged our box of gloves, our bottles of sanitizer and arranged the cars. Donna's had to be right there, with the door open so she could hear her radio which ran on auxiliary batteries. Then we set up our chairs (those neat ones that come in a tube - mine has a cupholder on each arm) and got out our knitting/crocheting. Our duty was to wait for the cyclists and if they wanted it, put on a glove, have them hold their bottle under the spigot, and pour the water for them. (There was apparently an outbreak of a virus at a bike tour last year; these little precautions were sufficient and very worthwhile.)
At the end of the day we waited until the Net Control guys radioed that we could go on to the school for the night. The radio connection permitted us all to keep a good idea of how many bikes were still out there so that there was water support for everyone as long as they were out. We would then pack up our things, wait for one of the ham radio trucks to collect our big barrels (neither of us had enough room in our cars for them) and then we'd go on to the school in the next town.
So went each day. Up about 5, packing up, out to our site, sitting for the day and then going on to the school. But you know what they say about "routine" - there is no such thing! Each day was unique. The first day I wandered out to look at some wonderful straw flowers and try calling home with my amazing new cell phone. The flowers were stunning and I thought about collecting a bunch. Also, I called Mr. Dearling and there he was, as though I were home and he was at the Museum! In fact I was way the heck out in the middle of somewhere in the woods of northern Wisconsin! What a great century! Uhm....but then I happened to lift up my hems to see if I got any stickers on my petticoat and found
TICKS! Wood ticks. LOTS of them. Gerzillions. Millions. Thousands. Hundreds. I grabbed my Ever-Present roll of masking tape and began collecting them, Donna agreed that there were at least 50-60 of them, for real. They stuck to the tape, I folded them up and that was that. (Needless to say, that night we showered and I had Donna help me check to be sure I didn't have any more...and she did find a bunch and pick them off.) There were some at the base of my hairline, one or two on my leg - and it's very icky when they've begun attaching. You can still pull them off, but the ratio of YUCCKH and BLEECCHCK factor shoots up exponentially with each one. "Horrendous" doesn't approach it. I've just looked through my treasured Roget's Thesaurus and I'm sorry, ladies and gennulmen, there isn't an adequate word. (See previous post if you have a strong stomach.) I can still see, my legs haven't fallen off or frozen up, so I may have managed to avoid disease.
As a rule we spent 6-7 hours at our water stop. The weather was beautiful - the first two days were fiercely hot (I spent a bit of time sitting in the running car in the A/C now and then) but the rest of the time it was really nice. There was often a breeze which we appreciated and the cyclists did NOT, particularly as a head wind.
By Monday a number of the riders were recognizing me by my apparel. (Long cotton dresses.) And I was beginning to recognize some of them. As a rule all you see is a blur of spokes and a set of biking clothes topped by a helmet. There were the peculiar bikes (tandems, recumbents) but unless the same folks stopped for water each day out our specific water stop we didn't have a lot of interaction. In the evenings everyone ate in the school cafeterias, but seemed to either hang with their group or eat alone. Mind you, the average distance these folks were pedalling each day was something between 50-70 miles. Daily. How they managed to drag themselves into the school was a wonder to me.
One of our stops was on the road near a farmhouse with a tiny shop attached: "Grandma's Cookies." "Grandma's" daughter and granddaughter set up a little lemonade stand there too, and a number of cyclists did buy a glass. We took turns going into the shop and had a very nice chat with Grandma (not to mention enjoying some capital chocolate chip cookies and carrot muffins with sour cream frosting). Grandma enjoys a brisk local business and we were not surprised to hear that. A number of cyclists took advantage of her wares also (no worries, they burned off the calories before getting to the top of next hill).
We were also armed with some first aid supplies (only got them out once, for a mild case of road rash) and a good pump, which we used a few times for folks replacing flats.
Tuesday afternoon, when we closed up shop, I actually headed back to Madison, and slept in my own bed Tuesday night. (I didn't have any ruby slippers, but it's true: There's NO place like Home!) Wednesday we had a Museum program and, as we weren't far at that point on the tour, it was convenient for me to go home. We were to tell Fishing Stories and help with a craft project consisting of the tykes painting on canvas totes with fabric crayons. What do *I* know from fishing?? I made up a story about an Indian girl who marries "the best fisherman" - in spite of the fact that he's a bear. I have a passion for Indians and an equal or greater passion for bears. Mr. Dearling looks like a bear. Doesn't go fishing, though.
When we were done at the Museum I headed back to the Wednesday night site, found Donna and settled back in. There was an added advantage to my coming home for the night - a former colleague of mine was on the ride, and her husband had been unable to go along for the start. So he came back with me to join her on the tour. Nice company in the car, and I was happy that he was able to have a chance to participate with his wife.
That was another nice school, and we'd realized that some of these nicer, larger schools were wired for Internet. No surprise, I guess - it IS the 21st century. (I must remind myself of that...often.) Well, that night we took our laptops in and Donna prepared to plug hers in while I visited the 'loo. When I came back, I discovered that: when she plugged in her computer, (the cord was already in the back of the laptop), sparks flew!! Worse than that, when she quickly pulled the plug back out -- her laptop went black. Totally. Nothing. I was HORRIFIED!
NOTE: Someone suggested that, when she get home, she take out the battery, hold the "on" button down for ten seconds, and replace the battery. I report here, with weeping relief, IT WORKED! {major WHEW}
However, I tried to log on (need I say "without plugging in"?) and we found that there were a lot of filters in place. No surprise. But we could get to Yahoo so she was able to retrieve her e-mail anyway. We didn't even take the laptops in after that, being shy of plugging in.
And so the tour moved apace. The last day (Saturday) we wound up arriving at the end zone fairly late, having stopped to pick up directional arrows on the way; there were no cycles behind us. Most of the riders had already left, but we wound up being taken to dinner (at a real eatery) by the hosts of the tour -- Donna and I, the two hosts, and three or four other hams. It was a sort of unwinding-and-thank-you dinner and was a very nice time. Having survived, I'll put together my final thoughts tomorrow. I learned a LOT from this experience (not the least of which is, the blogging thing isn't so easy at it looks!) From now on, back to my cats, my sticks and my books. But I really DID knit at our water stops. I finished four cotton dishcloths and made some progress on my Lion's Homespun "Granny's Favorite Shawl." I'm pooped, see you tomorrow!


Elizabeth said...

Great account of your journey.

If you edit the date, it will move up in the placement of posts!

Kevin said...

Sounds like you had a splendid time in the Northwoods, despite the ishy ticks. You probably know I am particularly fond of the Wisconsin North. Have the Summer Stories been going well? I remember the themes being announced and wondering what fish stories to tell or how drawing on bags fits that theme... but kids love anything creative! Hope you're not melting in the heat. We actually had sun (!) here yesterday.