It’s a cold (-8) and snowy January day here in Wisconsin, with 1-3 inches forecast this morning. But thanks to the fine bicycle touring maps produced by the Adventure Cycling Association, I’m sitting at my work table and dreaming of a series of book tours by bike.
The plan, at the moment, is to arrange a series of talks and events throughout 2015 — a usual and expected part of publishing a new book. But the wrinkle is to try to arrange at least some of these such that I can ride my bike between events, on a multi-day or week long bike tour. The shake-down cruise will be here in the Midwest, between Minneapolis and Chicago, possibly broken into separate legs with a break here at home in La Crosse. The more adventurous tour will be in the Pacific Northwest, starting with me flying my bike into Seattle, then riding to Bainbridge island and south to Portland, and flying out of PDX.
I’m planning this out with the help of the press marketing staff, various bike touring books, and detailed maps from Adventure Cycling Association. That non-profit organization, by the way, is the product of interesting cycling history in the United States, tied up in the resurgence of the bicycle in the 1970s; I have a blog post in preparation about that, sharing some of the photos I found in the National Archives of the 1976 Bikecentennial event.
Until then, I have to figure out some rough itineraries for these tours, and even based on my (fairly limited) bike touring experience, I know that I’m doing it wrong. I’m more of a century rider and day-trip cyclist, but even I know that the best touring itinerary is the one that has no hard deadlines. Instead, it’s best to let the road, health, weather, and circumstances dictate your daily mileage and overall progress. And here I am trying to make arrangements for public events and tour stops along the way, requiring me to keep to a strict schedule; completely against the ethos of the open road.
I have only a few ways to cope with this conflict — first, to build in extra travel days, and second, to break the Midwestern tour into smaller pieces, with stopovers in my home base of La Crosse. So I think that the first leg of this will have motor-assisted drop-off in Stillwater to make certain that I can make appearances in St. Paul and Minneapolis. Then I’ll spend two days in the Twin Cities, followed by a two-day ride from Stillwater to La Crosse, either following the Northern Tier route through Red Wing and Kellogg, or detouring to Rochester and then hooking up with the Root River Trail system, which I’ve ridden before, in Fountain. It depends if we can set up some book tour events in Rochester and Lanesboro; the Northern Tier route has much less climbing, as it follows the Mississippi south; the route to Rochester crosses over the Mississippi, climbing the bluffs on the southern side. If you haven’t seen the Mississippi river bluffs here in the Driftless region, they are a sight to behold — certainly a part of every road ride in the region, but not to be taken lightly while riding a steel-frame tourer with loaded panniers.
Once back to La Crosse, I’ll take a few days, then set out again towards the east — towards Madison, then south to Milwaukee and Chicago, taking advantage of as many rail-trail conversions as possible.
The details of the tour take my attention, but I don’t want to call what I’m doing “worrying”. It’s more like dreaming; looking at the elevation graphs and imagining the heat of the summer and the adventures of the road. As I trace out a possible route, I think of all the newspaper stories and rider’s guides I’ve read in researching bicycle history; a century or more of midwestern cyclists imagining bike routes linking Minneapolis to Chicago, and further east. Their most ardent dreams of bicycle-specific networks didn’t come to pass, but on the other hand, I can still ride from city to city; that freedom is still ours.