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A Dogged Ride to Fort Pillow

Today I saw fields of cotton ready for harvest for the first time in my life. What a sight! Acres of white “flowers” against a backdrop of green.

After breaking camp at lake Reel Foot and riding for a while with Jane I got on my bike for the last 52 miles into our destination of Fort Pillow. Less than 100 yards from starting my ride I was chased by two dogs. Of course this was going to happen as I had just commented to Jane that of all the things so far the last couple of weeks I was glad that I hadn’t had to cope with dogs! These two were just a dramatic foreshadowing of my day to come. Following the MRT took me through lots of pockets of rural houses on very lightly traveled roads. But every house had at least one dog and all of them wanted to greet me in some way. None of them attacked, but when you are on a bike it is never fun to have dogs running beside you or in front of you, you just don’t know what they will do.

In addition to the cotton fields I also saw a lot of Kudzu forests. Kudzu is an invasive plant species introduced from Japan. It can grow a foot a day and loves to cover the native trees giving the forests that have been taken over by the Kudzu quite an interesting look!

Kudzu forestMore Kudzu!

Today’s ride was also super hilly! The final few miles up to the campground at Fort Pillow almost did me in! I’m very happy that this should be one of the last hilly rides, the rest of the way to Louisiana should be pretty flat.

I’ve read quite a bit about the civil war but had never heard of a general Pillow. Turns out he didn’t last long and neither did the fort. Less than a year from completion the fort was abandoned by the confederacy. It was a very nice campground, and it was a beautiful Fall night. A good chance to have a campfire and enjoy some well earned steaks after a hard ride!

Tomorrow Jane and I plan to do an easy ride on a bike path on the way to Memphis, then I’m planning to take a couple days off as we rest up and take in a few of the sites in Memphis. Hopefully some BBQ on Beale street is in my future.

Pike’s Peak to Dubuque

After a wonderful weekend in Decorah for our 35 year class reunion, we arrived at Pike’s Peak state park just after dark. This was to be our first time of setting up cam in the dark, but we were not too worried, until we saw a pickup in our spot. Nobody was around and it was just sitting there taking up space. I hopped out of the truck and knocked on the door of the fifth-wheel next door. No answer. Same with the popup on the other side. Grrrr! Suddenly a nice man came quickly down the road. “Sorry, Sorry, I thought this was vacant for tonight and I wanted to recharge a few things. Our spot is not electric!” OK, no problem he moved his truck and we were all good. Time to get a good nights sleep to prepare for the ride.

Ready to Ride

Yesterday was the start of the final push of this journey. Iowa to the Gulf of Mexico! And what a ride it was, 58 miles with lots and lots of climbing. At times I was cruising along high above the river with great views and other times it was just me and my friends.

Ummmm.... Cows

Mostly the roads were good and the motorists were all very courteous. I had a good shoulder to ride on most of the time. I could definitely tell that I had not been doing enough climbing as my back was a little sore and my neck muscles were too by the time I finished the ride for the day.

After arriving at the campground in Dubuque Jane was just setting up camp, so I helped finish that task and then did some stretching. We had plans to have dinner with Rachel’s parents (Greg and Peggy Miller) and it turned out to be a wonderful evening. I had some great pasta (Carbs!!) at L May in downtown Dubuque.

This is going to be a great trip. We will see if we settle into a rhythm, but its kind of nice to wake up, have a few hours to work, answer emails, etc. before jumping on the bike again.

02 Bemidji to Brainerd — My First Century

02 Bemidji to Brainerd - My First Century

Yesterday the ride from Itasca to Bemidji turned out to be shorter than expected by 10 miles. Today’s ride turned out to be longer than expected by a good 10 miles. Yesterday started out with a flat tire after only 10 miles. But after the flat the ride was easy and interesting. I crossed the Mississippi “river” several times.

The Mississippi in its not so mighty phase

Today began bright and early with a 6:40AM departure from our campsite at Lake Bemidji State Park. The temps were cool, and a stiff breeze out of the south kept me feeling good. Later I would come to appreciate that breeze less and less and the temperatures rose and my legs got more tired. Early in the ride you cross the Mississippi as it exits from Lake Bemidji.

The mississippi coming out of Lake Bemidji

After that, the Paul Bunyan trail does not cross the mississippi like the Mississippi River Trail, but is an official alternate for the MRT, almost all of is on abandoned rail beds and is pretty flat. Everything was very pretty with the morning light.

Little Valley

except for one section around Walker (about 50 miles in) that was not very flat, and came at exactly the wrong time in my ride.

At the 79 mile mark Jane was waiting for me with Lunch! It was about 20 miles further than I was ready for it, but that is part of what this first leg of the journey is about. Figuring things out, learning what gear we need and what my limits are.

After lunch my legs were still feeling tired, and the wind kept getting stronger and stronger out of the south. Also less of the trail was tree lined so that made the breeze and the sun both stronger.

I made it to the 100 mile mark!

100 Miles! My first Century!  Still 20 miles to go.

Unfortunately after making 100 it was clear that I still had at least 20 miles left to go. At that point I knew I could make it to Brainerd, but I was probably not going to make it to our campsite south of Brainerd for the night. That is why we have the truck!

Now I’m sitting in the camper writing this post and encouraging my legs to recover their strength for tomorrow. Tomorrow and Thursday are much shorter 68 miles tomorrow and 58 miles on Thursday. Should be a piece of cake!

Prelude (Day 0) Mississippi Headwaters

Standing at the headwaters.  I remember wading here when I was much younger.

We had a lovely 20 mile ride around Lake Itasca planned for today with a stop at the headwaters of the Mississippi. As the sign says, 2552 miles! That is roughly the length of our journey, in three parts — Its a long way, but at least it is downhill! For those who don’t know what I’m going on about, here is the story.

Sometime earlier this year I said it would be fun to ride the Mississippi from start to finish. It turns out there is a popular route known as the Mississippi River Trail. Its not a bike path but an established route of trails and roads leading from Itasca State Park in Minnesota all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. I’ll be riding my bike and Jane will be riding a bit, pulling the camper, hiking and providing support.

Part I is the ride from Itasca to Minneapolis. This will take place Monday through Thursday this week. It features my first 100+ mile day from Bemidji to Brainerd on the Paul Bunyan trail.

Part II is the ride from Minneapolis to Lansing Iowa. This will be three days starting Labor Day. We’ll end up camping in Decorah prior to Josh and Rachel’s much delayed wedding celebration with friends and family. All fully vaccinated, we hope.

Part III will be from Lansing to the Gulf starting October 4th. We will be back at Luther for our 35 year class Reunion and when that is over we will take off down the river. Most days will be 60 - 70 miles but as we get further south and the route gets flatter I’ll have a few 100+ days.

Trying to catch up to Jane — riding her new eBike!Our campsite, right on the bike trail.

Our ride today was not what we expected since the wilderness road was closed due to downed trees and a high fire forrest fire risk 🌲 🔥. So we ended up doing more of the ride on the wonderful state park trails.

Tomorrow I’ll rest my legs for a day and then Monday I will take off for Bemidji.

Biking with Blaise

Blaise Schaeffer, my former student for all of 3 weeks, is on a cross country bike journey. He was riding right past my lake house on Bone Lake, and so I got to participate in his adventure for 40 miles! It was awesome.

Blaise started the day in North Branch Minnesota, and texted me when he got to Balsam Lake WI, I texted him back that I would meet him at Jonzy’s Market and we would go from there. The plan was to ride to Cumberland where we would be picked up by his mom Deb. But she was running a bit behind schedule so rather than hang around the Cumberland quick trip for an hour we extended our ride to Haugen Wisconsin. You’ll probably have to look that one up on a map. That made it a 41 mile ride for me and about 80 for Blaise.

It was a great chance to ride and talk to Blaise about everything he’s seen and done on this trip. You should check out his blog to get an idea: blaise2s.com. He told me about many of the amazing hosts he has had along the way due to the Warm Showers network. Warm Showers is an online community of cyclists and hosts who are willing to have people like Blaise stay in their home overnight while they are on a long distance cycle adventure. Great idea!

biking in london

Think you have done it all in London? The museums, the London Eye, the changing of the guard, the Thames, the list goes on. Here is a great way to spend a day, for almost no money. Rent a Barclay’s bike and head for the Regents Canal. This is exactly what we did and it was a fantastic way to enjoy London away from the traffic and the museums.

You’ll discover a whole different culture and way of life when you bike along the canal. There are hundreds of narrow small barges that people live on or work the canal on. We saw all walks of life that appeared to be barge owners, from the very wealthy to those who reminded us of the people in Veitnam who lived on their boats with no heat or running water.

The path is fairly narrow, so you have to be alert or you could get wet, which would definitely spoil an otherwise good day. Also you need to remember that pedestrians have the right of way, so just be polite, use your little bell, and don’t go too fast! We didn’t have any trouble, and we enjoyed all of the scenery and the side trips that are available from the canal path.

On day one we started from Angel, and followed the path toward the London Docklands. It was warm and scenic, and gave us a great taste of barge life on the canal. We wandered around the (free) docklands museum, hoping to learn a bit more about the canals, but were disappointed. The docklands museum is actually a very interesting history of London, so that was not disappointing, just that the museum didn’t have anything to say about the canal.

On day two we went the other way, and ended up having lunch in the rather bohemian Camden Market area. We also took a side trip around the zoo and the royal gardens to see some incredible villas that have been built right along the canal.


I love London. It is probably my favorite big city in the world. I think I have visited at least six times. So I have done the museums and most of the good tourist attractions. My top five would be:

  • The Transportation Museum in Covent Garden

  • The science museum in Kensington

  • The Imperial War Museum

  • Our visit to Parliament

  • Westminster Abbey

This was a really great alternative way to spend the better part of two days enjoying London culture from the perspective of a cyclist.

As a bonus part of this post, I do have to admit that I had never done the London Eye until this visit. It was definitely a fun way to get a view of the city. Jane and I both did a little bit of experimenting with time lapse videos on our iPhones. I wish I had brought my tripod so I could have captured the entire circle.


andalusia biking summary

I’m just going to put all of the images into a big slideshow for this post.



  1. Malaga to Antequera: Tonight we stayed at the Convento Magadaleno after a very difficult ride through the Sierra del Torcal. 24 miles in the heat and a lot of climbing. We checked in to the convent, and then used the spa. Dinner was outside in one of the small hill towns close to the convent.

  2. El-Chorro to Ronda Through the Sierra de las Neives. We had seen El-Chorro from the train on the way to Malaga and were excited to bike here. It is beautiful. The afternoon climb was a bit much.

  3. Ronda - out and back to Grazalema – Jane stayed in Ronda to explore while I went out for the day. The ride to Grazalema was great, and the hill town was cool.

  4. Olive trees in Granada: Tonight we moved to the Barcelo La Bobadilla. A wonderful five star hotel, with great restaurants and a good spa.

  5. Lunch in Iznajar: We skipped the crazy hard climb to start out the day, and coasted downhill instead. However since all hill towns are at the top of hills we still had a climb to finish off our riding and get a well deserved lunch in this cool town.

  6. Resting in Malaga

biking in andalusia

After a week in Morocco, Jane and I are now biking in the Andalusia region of Spain. Whereas Morocco was a bit of a mental and cultural challenge the biking is definitely a physical challenge! On day one we covered 24 miles and climbed 4,400 feet. On day two 27 miles and 6,600 feet. That is definitely a PR for me in terms of climbing.

I’m sitting in the hotel room this morning with mixed emotions. Its quite windy and cool outside this morning and I’m thinking of all of the climbing ahead of me, and my legs are a bit on the worn out side. On the other hand, we have seen some great scenery, this is really beautiful country. Jane made her decision yesterday, she is getting a massage, she is going shopping, she is pretty smart.

Fast forward to 5:00 I am back from biking, my legs are tired another 24 miles, not so much elevation today, only 3,500 feet. But I don’t mind, my legs are tired. Did I already mention that? Today I rode with Flynn, he is a young Australian, and an avid rock climber as well as cyclist. On our way out to Grazelema for lunch, we stopped at a hiking trail with a nice overlook of an ancient dam. The dam is very interesting as it was built in the early 19th century by workers working round the clock eight hour shifts. However after the dam was finished they discovered that they had used the wrong kind of stone, and it leaked badly. They were never able to repair the dam and make it usable for generating electricity, and so it was abandoned without ever being used.

dam

At lunch we decided that exploring around the dam would be a good diversion. Especially if we could walk out on top of it! So we rode the van back to the hiking area and started our way down. We were rewarded with some pretty spectacular views. As usual, its the unplanned side-trips that turn out to be the most interesting.

To summarize the trip to date, we have had some great food and stayed at some wonderful hotels. Our first night was in an old convent - convento magdalena – in the Andalusian countryside. nestled in between the mountain peaks it was very secluded and a great place to start our rest and relaxation. The picture below shows the clouds spilling over the mountain. They would come across the top and fall down into the valley, then they would rise up again and disappear before our eyes.

clouds

Day 2 brought us to the town of Ronda where we are spending two nights at the hotel Reina Victoria. It is obviously a popular biking stop as groups from Trek and Backroads are also staying here. The hotel has a nice spa, and we have a fabulous view out the window of our room. The view is because we are at the edge of town and right on the edge of a cliff.

Ronda

Ronda is a fascinating little town. A medieval village with Phoenician, Roman, and Arab walls. The whole town is on top of a highly defensible outcropping of rock. You would have to go steeply uphill, or straight up a cliff from almost any direction in order to attack the town. Ronda is divided into the old part which has the traditional “pueblos blancos” and the new part. The two halves are joined by the “new bridge” built in the seventeenth century. It is quite a marvel of engineering for that day!

New Bridge

new commuting strategy

I can see the campus from my house, its about a 20 minute walk, all downhill for the first half of the trek, then slightly uphill the rest of the way to the Olin building.  I’ve always thought that biking to work would be the way to go, but I hate getting home all sweaty and gross.  The problem is the uphill trek.  From the River to My House is about a 300 foot climb over the course of just under a mile, a 6% grade for those who care to know.  But trust me, its steep.  It takes a lot of work to get up to my house, even on my road bike.
But, awhile back I was reading about some of the new electric assist bikes, and I thought hey, I haven’t bought a new bike in a long time.  So, I started doing a bit more research and decided that one of the Trek Ride+ bikes would be great.  I ended up with the Trek FX+.  Sadly, my local bike shop can’t sell the Ride+ bikes, so I had to go to La Crosse to find this one.  The good news is that this is a good time of the year to get a new bike!   30% off was the sale today.
Trek FX+
I took it for a ride around LaCross and up the only little hill I could find,  the Cass Ave Bridge, not much of a hill, but I knew I was on to something when I felt like I was riding on the flats with the wind at my back, when I was actually going up a little hill.  After riding it around downtown a little longer I went back to the shop, smitten.  The only decision was which panniers to get so I can haul groceries and my stuff to school.
Jane hasn’t ridden it yet, but I have the feeling I know what she’ll want for Mothers day.  This would be the perfect option for our cycling marriage.  I could ride my road bike and she could ride the electric assist.  I think I see some longer bike rides together in our future :-)
The other great thing is that no gas is required.  Its all battery operated, and as I coast down the hill the battery is recharged.  I’lll be able to easily cruise my way to school, and then on the way home I can engage the electric drive at the bottom of the hill, and get the assistance I need to climb up to my house.  I won’t arrive home sweaty, and I’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that I got a few extra minutes of exercise, and didn’t use any gas!  The only downside is that I’ll be only inches away from the Whippy Dip as I ride home, but as long as I can get by there I’ll be fine.


biking punta del este

The city of Punta Del Este has about 10,000 regular inhabitants, even though when you look at the picture of it you could easily imagine that it hosts ten times that number.  This is because Punta Del Este is a huge vacation getaway for much of South America.  All of the apartments in the high rise buildings are vacation homes.  Punta Del Este itself is mostly situated on a big peninsula with beaches on both sides.  The beaches on the west side are at the Platta river, the same one that starts in Brazil and flows through the Tigre Eelta north of Buenos Aires.  The beaches on the east are on the Atlantic ocean, and you can see the fresh and salt water mix together off the tip of the peninsula.

IMG 2071

We didn’t have anything in particular planed for our day in Punta del Este, so we just took the tender ashore with the idea that we would walk around and check things out.  However when we got off the ship and started our walk through town, there it was, Bike Tours!  One lone woman holding a bike tour sign, of course we had to check it out.  Her name was Alice and she said she could take us on a two hour tour of the city, tell us about the history and highlights of the area, and of course we would do it all on bike.  Yay!  The price was very reasonable too, so here’s my digital shout-out to Bike Tours Uruguay Its a great way to see the town, and Alice even has other longer tours that will take you north into some of the other outlying areas.

After we got our bikes, helmets, and water our first stop was the most famous work of art in Punta del Este.  The “hand in the sand”  This was a sculpture that won a big art contest sponsored by the city back in the mid 1980’s.  It is literally a giant stone hand coming out of the sand on the beach.  Here’s Jane and I in front of the middle finger.

IMG 2063

We continued our tour down the atlantic side enjoying the sites and sounds of the beaches.  The picture at the top is taken looking north back up the beach.  When you get to the point of the peninsula there is an observation deck to go out on, where you can enjoy the view looking back up the river as well as out to sea.  On the atlantic side there is an island where many hundreds of sea lions live, that is another tour for another day…  Some of our dinner table mates took that tour and said it was fun but pretty smelly when you get in amongst all of the sea lions.

When we got to the point our guide pointed out the island, and a small marker right off the point, and then another landmark off the the west.  According to the guide there is a large but rather narrow triangle  described by these three points.

Within this triangle is one of the places on earth that has amazing energy.  Oops, now I’m thinking what kind of strange new age mumbo jumbo guide did we get ourselves mixed up with.  But stay with me for a minute.   This triangle also encompasses the Punta del Este lighthouse, seen below.

IMG 2085

Now, right next to the lighthouse is a little park area with a compass rose made out of stone.  You can see Jane standing on the compass rose facing south.

IMG 2086

Here’s the remarkable thing.  When you stand on the center of the compass rose and begin to speak you experience something really amazing.  Its like your voice echos inside your head in a really strong resonant way.  When our guide told us about this I was extremely skeptical.  I could just hear her telling me,  ”What you couldn’t feel it?  Its so strong I can’t believe you didn’t experience the power….”  But when I stood there and started talking it was amazing.  I’m not sure what causes it, but I did do some googling and apparently there are some strong magnetic forces that converge in the Punta del Este area that have been scientifically investigated.  When I get home I’m going to have to do some more research to see if I can figure out what might cause this internal acoustic effect.  (unless of course Mike has it figured out for me first)  If you have any theories of your own, please leave them in the comments!

We continued to bike around the peninsula, and up the river side.  We stopped at the fish market to see some sea lions, getting a late lunch, and from there we also had a great view of our ship as seen through many of the ships in the marina.

IMG 2100

Sea Lions at the fish market

IMG 2111

For a day where we had absolutely nothing planned this turned out to be a great adventure.  Seeing a city by bike is great, it gives you a good perspective and allows you to see the sites from outside, rather than being stuck inside a car or van.

Today we are at sea the whole day, on our way to Puerto Madryn.  There are lots of activities scheduled, and lots of time for reading and relaxing today.  We are looking forward to a nice quiet day – After we go to our first boot camp workout!  The ship is also hosting a get together for all of the people on the Cruise Critic message boards, so that will also be a chance to meet some people in person that we have only communicated with electronically.  So, goodbye for now, I’ll give you an update in a couple of days when we are through Puerto Madryn.

 

polk county biking

Here’s a quiz for you… What do deer, old cars, a saw mill, and black bears all have in common? These are all things I regularly see on my rides around polk county. The countryside by our cabin is some of the best riding around, every road is paved and very lightly travelled. I can ride around any number of lakes and have all kinds of flexibility to make a route that is anywhere from 12 to 50 miles long. Bone Lake, Half Moon, Pipe, Balsam, Little Blake, Butternut, these are a few of the lakes that I loop in and through on a regular basis.

So, the other night I took my camera for a ride and focused more on the picture taking that the riding. Here’s my favorite shot from the night and you can find the rest of them here:IMG_1264.jpg

Incidentally, this picture illustrates where the bear comes in to the picture. This little pond is at the bottom of a little hill and around a nice little corner. One morning a came coasting down the hill and around the corner to see a black bear, he would have been right in the bottom right corner of the picture. I don’t know which of us was more surprised! The bear took off one way and I took off as fast as I could up the hill and past the pond. We’ve never seen each other again.

beautifulsoup, bonktown and growl

Here’s a little script that combines two of my favorite pass times. Python programming and cycling. bonktown.com is a great site that has steep discounts on road cycling gear. They only sell one item at a time and they typically sell that item until it is gone. I’ve gotten some great deals on clothing and other stuff on that site. Bonktown helps you know whats currently for sale in a number of ways, including a nice dashboard widget that pops up a notifier when something new comes on sale. The problem is that over time I’ve started to ignore the growl notifiers for bonktown, because I’m not interested in lots of the stuff they sell.

So, I wrote this python script that allows me to look for the stuff I am interested in buying. It works by having a file of regular expressions that I use to search the item descriptions when something goes on sale at bonktown. If the item matches something I’m looking for then I get a Growl notification. If not then I don’t hear about it.

Here’s the code:


#!/usr/bin/env python2.6

import re
import urllib
from BeautifulSoup import BeautifulSoup
import Growl

name = “MyBonk” # was BonkMe
notifications = [“search_hit”]
notifier = Growl.GrowlNotifier(name,notifications)
notifier.register()

# Read file of search Terms
myTerms = open(“/Users/bmiller/lib/bonk_items.txt”).readlines()


# Get the latest page
bt = urllib.urlopen(”www.bonktown.com”)

doc = BeautifulSoup(bt.read())

itemlist = doc.findAll(id=re.compile(“item_title”))
price = doc.findAll(id=re.compile(“price”))
desc = doc.findAll(id=re.compile(“item_description”))

for term in myTerms:
for i in range(len(itemlist)):
if itemlist[i] and re.search(term[:-1],itemlist[i].contents[0],re.IGNORECASE):
notifier.notify(“search_hit”,
itemlist[i].contents[0],
desc[i].contents[7].contents[0],
sticky=False)



This script makes use of several modules:

  • Growl

  • BeautifulSoup

  • urllib

  • re



I would have liked to use one of the standard library html/xml parsers, but I could not find one that was as convenient or easy to use as BeautifulSoup. If you can tell me how to parse messy html with one of the standard library xml modules please let me know.

a mid-winter cycling treat

Although the weather back home may have been below zero, in Northern california he sun was out and it was 68 degrees. Perfect weather for a bikeride. So after talking to the nice folks at the Palo Alto Bike Shop Wes and I rented a couple of nice demo road bikes from Calmar bikes in Santa Clara. Calmar is right by our hotel and the staff there was super friendly and helpful in getting us set up for a ride. Incidentally Calmar has no relation to Calmar IA. I road a nice Spanish BH RoadROM and Wes road a hot pink Trek Pilot 5.2. Even though the bike was pink we felt pretty good passing all the californians on the way up Old La Honda Road.

Rather than head out from the hotel on the busy city streets I decided to take Novian’s advice and head into the foothills west of Palo Alto. You can see the ride we took on the map below. This is from a cool website called mapmyride.com that I will use in the future for keeping track of my rides.



The ride was just beautiful even though we had to climb 2500 feet to get to the view. On the way up we road through some big redwood trees.

Redwoods on Old La Honda Road


Once you get on Skyline drive you can see the ocean on one side and the Valley on the other. Here’s me, I look more tired in the picture than I actually felt! Really, Honest!

Brad -- Looks tired after the long climb

The rest of the ride is a long coast down Page Mill Road and then some flat riding past the Stanford Dish and the Stanford Golf course. It would have been fun to stop and play 18 holes but I didn’t have my clubs with me.