Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Heartland

First of all, let me apologize for our laziness in keeping up with the blog for the past few weeks, it's been non-stop for a while and we've only now in Minneapolis found the time to sit down and do our best to describe our adventure...

We had a great time in Chicago despite the fact that it rained nearly every day, and then on the day we left it was sweltering hot.  We definitely enjoyed exploring Chicago by bike because of how wide the streets are, and how flat the city is -it's also great to be able to explore cities we visit by bike instead of renting a bike or driving everywhere.

Instead of biking the 95+ miles to  Milwaukee we took a train to Kenosha and shaved off about 40 miles.  We soaked in a beautiful sunset over Lake Michigan as we rolled into Milwaukee and spent the night with a good friend on the east side.  The next day we headed to Wauwatosa to stay with my brother, and visit another good friend who works at Cafe Hollander -a bicycle themed Belgian Gastro-pub off of the Oak-Leaf Trail that runs through Milwaukee.  It was only a 6 mile ride, but the front of a major storm system was just about to hit so we were biking into 40mph gusts of wind...what fun.  Anyway, after a nice grill/hang-out, and a good sleep in an actual bed we headed out to Madison -my hometown.

The Glacial Drumlin State Trail starts in Waukesha, WI (outside of Milwaukee) and ends in Cottage Grove, WI (outside of Madison).  The trail was beautiful and took us through forests, prairie, and marshland -showcasing some of the distinct ecosystems of Southern Wisconsin.  

We finally arrived in Madison and stayed with my dad in the near east side neighborhood -truly a unique community.  As we biked along the Capital City trail we were taken aback at the community garden that was thriving on multiple raised beds in the boulevard dividing the trail from the road.  After the ~80 mile ride from Milwaukee, we feasted on some of my dad's famous homemade chicken enchiladas -there was nothing that could have satisfied us more.  

Kevin with his dad
The next morning we treated ourselves to a delicious meal at Monty's Blue Plate Diner just down the street and when we came out of the restaurant we were treated to an iconic Madison site -Oscar Meyer's Weinermobile.

After a quick stop at Williamson Cycle and Fitness for a few things we were treated to a delicious Wisconsin meal at Quivey's Grove by my mom who lives on the West side of Madison.  We packed up for our journey northward and westward to Minneapolis and did some catching up with the mom who is retiring from teaching after 30+ years in the Verona Area School District -CONGRATS MOM!

Kevin with his mom
The next day we started the bike ride to Minneapolis in Reedsburg, WI at the beginning of The '400' State Trail which is a rail-trail that connects a series of rail trails running north of LaCrosse, WI. 

The Elroy-Sparta State Trail was actually the first rail-trail in the country, established in 1965 when the idea of using abandoned railroad lines as recreational trails was novel.  The trails were crushed limestone and offered beautiful vistas of the rolling hills and pristine lakes of Wisconsin. 

Luckily they were also highly vegetated as the temperatures soared into the 90's.  The Elroy-Sparta State Trail also has three tunnels, one of which is 3/4 of a mile long!  The longest tunnel was terrifying; upon entering, you could not see the other end, the temperature was about 45 degrees, and during construction in 1873, the miners struck a spring and water was falling along the walls and dripping from the ceiling of the tunnel.  We emerged at the opposite end of the tunnel after carefully walking our bikes through the tunnel for what seemed like half an hour.  Fog poured out of the tunnel due to the drastic temperature change and made the experience even more amazing.

After the series of trails ended we biked on Hwy 35 which runs along the Wisconsin side of the Mississippi River to Merrick State Park where we learned that it is Wisconsin State Law that if a park does not have any campsites available, they still must make accommodations for bikers (why can't every state be as cool as Wisconsin?).  After a delicious meal of homemade tomato sauce and spaghetti, we relaxed with our camping neighbors and prepared for the next day's journey to a farm that we will truly never forget.

home made pasta sauce

Harvest Haven farm is located in the Red Wing (MN) area, but is across the river in Wisconsin.  Here we met Jonathon and Sherry Johnson who graciously provided us with a place to camp, food to eat, interesting people to talk to, and a beautiful farm to learn about.  That night we socialized with Jon and Sherry's family and friends who were celebrating their daughter's high school graduation and camped out in a beautiful glen, underneath a wooden and vine chapel built for another one of their daughters' wedding.

sunset over Harvest Haven Farm

The next day we were given a tour of the farm by Sherry, Jon's wife, who was also kind enough to feed us fresh eggs and toast for breakfast!  Harvest Haven Farm was our first farm to visit that had been participating in a CSA program for a few years (four to be exact).  Sherry uses raised garden beds for her CSA garden to farm a small amount of land using a square-foot method of planting as opposed to a row method.  She strongly prefers this method because it maximizes production with minimal land use.  For example, 8 boxes of 4x4 garden beds, when properly farmed, will produce enough food for a family of four to eat throughout the growing season, and enough to freeze for the off-season.  Sherry participates in a CSA not only to provide fresh vegetables to families, but also so that families can understand that farming is not exclusive to rural living.

broccoli in bloom

Sherry Johnson tending to her garden

"You don't need to be in the country to garden, and that's what I wanted to tell people."- Sherry Johnson

the rooster

Llamas act as 'guard dogs' for the sheep
Haven Hill Farm was also home to about 30 laying hens, 1 rooster, 2 llamas, and a few sheep.The hens and rooster are normally kept in a chicken coop where the Johnson family uses an ingenious method for retrieving fresh eggs: 

They were also hand raising a few dozen chickens to be eaten once they reach 8-10 weeks. The chickens are "free-range" through the use of an interesting contraption called a chicken tractor.  A chicken tractor is basically a mobile cage that allows chickens to graze on small bugs, dandelions, and other things.  

Harvest Haven Farm has been in the Johnson family for over a decade but the property has been farmed for over a century.  Some of the original barn structures still exist but are in need of repair.  There are numerous organizations dedicated to this mission, and we think that it is important to preserve the still functioning structures that were built with such high quality to survive the ages.

After our tour of the farm we were back on the road with only 60 miles to Minneapolis.  Unfortunately the heat index that day was in the triple digits and we suffered three flat tires along the way.  Needless to say, we could not have been more happy to arrive in Minneapolis and have been hanging out with some amazing friends ever since.  Tomorrow we depart a place that I called home for nearly 5 years, and one of the last significant urban landscapes until Portland.  It's hard to believe that the trip is not even half over yet, and I feel like the the most breathtaking sights are yet to be seen.  Hopefully we'll be able to update the blog, but things start to get pretty scarce out west (including cell phone and internet service).  That's all I got.


  1. Thank you for the update and I can't wait for the next one. I hope you have many more great experiences before you reach the west coast. I give you so much credit for taking this amazing journey. I could not do it but I feel the experience through your wonderful updates. Take care and stay safe.

  2. What an awesome adventure! I hope you continue to have positive experiences along your journey towards Portland. I miss you both, safe travels.
    All my love,