Day 5: Sunday, September 28
Route: Prairie du Chien, WI to Ann Arbor, MI
Distance: 347 miles in the saddle plus 78 miles by ferry
At 6AM, my alarm snaps me out of my slumber. It’s early here – the sun won’t be up for nearly an hour – but my body’s still on Michigan time, so for me it’s not so bad. There’s no free breakfast, continental or otherwise, here at the Captain’s Cove; my day starts with a granola bar from my saddlebag and a cup of weak-ass hotel room coffee, and an expectation of a bigger, better meal somewhere down the road. Outside, there’s patchy fog, and a heavy dew has left the bike soaked.
A solid 45 minutes pass before I finally start the bike and roll out. I honestly can’t remember the last time my riding day started before sunrise. I should do this more often. By chance, my route this morning is perfect
for watching the sun come up: I’m headed east on US18, which trundles along over gently rolling terrain and lets me watch the sun come up very gradually.
“They should have sent a poet…” (click on image to open a full-size panoramic view in another browser window)
It’s impossible for me to convey what amazingly beautiful scenery this is. Sunrise in the mountains isn’t the same: if you’re not on the summit of the highest mountain in the area, you won’t see the sun until it’s high in an already-blue sky. In a flat place like this, sunrise isn’t a singular event, it’s a gradual process. The irritation of riding directly toward the sun after it’s well above the horizon is a small price to pay for this experience; everyone should do this at least once.
“It’s wind turbines all the way down:”
And then there’s this just east of Mount Horeb:
Not sure if he’s part of the service crew or if he’s just figured out a way to make his escape.
My early departure affords me time to do a few things on my way to the ferry terminal in Milwaukee. One of those things is checking out the trolls in Mount Horeb. A local artist has been busy carving
numerous large, wooden trolls and placing them around town.
“Sweet Swill,” with an iron dragon thrown in for good measure, in front of the town’s welcome center:
“The Peddler,” with an enormous rucksack full of junk:
According to the troll locator,
the town is infested, but I only manage to spot these two. However, I do spot a couple of other interesting carvings that aren’t part of the official panoply of trolls. There’s this lanky fellow, with a couple of adoring supporters:
And then there’s “Wavin’ Walton:”
Back into the heart of downtown Mount Horeb, I find the breakfast I’ve been waiting for ever since I woke up:Schubert’s Downtown Diner
has been here since 1911. Inside, town regulars are on a first name basis with the staff. The menu features items like lefse, pasties, and phosphate sodas – not because of some sort of gourmet revival of forgotten ethnic foods, but because that’s what they’ve been serving here for the past 100+ years.
For me? The classic favorite:
It is by far the best breakfast of the entire trip.
After breakfast, I head north out of town for one final stop. Local resident Wally Keller spent years creating a sculpture garden in his yard out of scrap metal. Sadly he died in a horrible lawn-mowing accident in 2009,
but his family has kept the house and maintained the sculpture garden. Here’s one of his bigger sculptures, a Dimetrodon:
A pirate, a turtle, and a couple of other unnamable critters:
You may have noticed the gate in this picture, and the intercom in the previous one. I expect they’ve endured too many disrespectful visitors tromping all over their yard. If you stop by, please stay on the paved driveway and don’t go past the gate.
Out by the road, a tin man waits to receive the mail:
True to form, he’s got an oil can hanging from one hip, and an ax hanging from the other. Well done, Mr. Keller. Thanks for all your hard work; your efforts have made my life more interesting.
100 miles later (with a slow cruise through downtown Madison, just to make sure it’s still there )
, I arrive at Milwaukee and make my way toward the Lake Express ferry terminal in Milwaukee.
Yes, I checked: it’s running today.
I’m a little early, so I visit a nearby sandwich shop
before parking at the terminal: I want something to eat for lunch besides whatever overpriced stuff they offer onboard. With my sandwich detour, I only have a few minutes’ wait before the ferry arrives:
Gliding across the front of the vehicle waiting area, it looms large – but after having seen the Badger a few days ago, it’s actually pretty small by comparison.
After rolling aboard and tying down the bike, I make my way up to the sun deck to wait for departure. Before long I realize I don’t want to be carrying my sandwich around with me for long. Moreover, it’s going to be difficult to eat up here once the boat gets up to speed. So I wolf down my sandwich before we even leave the pier. A bit rushed, but not bad, no regrets.
The boarding process for the Lake Express is pretty fast; within half an hour of arrival, we’re all aboard, and the boat casts off and trundles toward breakwater. A couple of minutes later, my GPS says we’re at Warp Speed, almost 40 MPH. With quartering winds and the slipstream squeezing upward and outward to get around the boat, the actual wind speed over the deck is considerably higher. Most passengers don’t care for the environment up here, so once the wind starts they retreat to the seating area below deck:
It’s sort of like an airport gate waiting area in here. There are no reserved seats (except for a separate “premium fare” room)
, so people tend to spread out; if you don’t get down here fast enough, you’ll have a difficult time finding a seat. Once that happens, you end up having to go outside. If you’re lucky, you can find a seat at the stern, in the lee of the boat, where it’s not very windy at all:
If you’re a crusty old Harley rider, you don’t mind sitting in a forward-facing seat on the sundeck, where there’s a good bit of breeze, like these guys:
If you’re not a crusty old Harley rider and you’re really unlucky, you get what’s left, a spot on the hard metal floor in the lee of the wheelhouse:
On the other hand…if you’re part-dog, you seek out the windiest spot on the boat – the port bow – and you camp out there for pretty much the entire trip, leaning into the wind as necessary:
After maybe ten minutes, the skipper dials back the speed a bit, presumably due to wave height. I’ll tell ya what though, The water still goes by pretty fast at 30 knots.
And the wind is literally deafening; without earplugs, I’d probably have a fair bit of hearing damage by the end of the trip. Oh, and yes, my hat is adjusted pretty tight.
OK, time for a cool science moment:
One of the earliest proofs of a round earth was the fact that when a sailing ship left port, observers on land saw that the boat didn’t just shrink to a vanishingly small dot; instead, it actually appeared to sink below the horizon (because the round earth bulged up between the ship and the port)
, so that the last thing you saw was the top of its mast:
Looking back toward Milwaukee, something similar is happening to the city’s skyline. Just a mile or two from port, I see this:
Much farther out, most of the city has sunk into the lake:
You’d think two and a half hours standing on deck would seem agonizingly slow, but it’s not; the time passes quickly, and soon the shores of Michigan come into view. Despite the wind and cool temperatures, restless passengers sheltering below deck make their way topside to watch the final approach to the breakwater:
Once the ship throttles down to its no-wake speed, even more passengers come up for air, crowding against the bow rail. I’ve had my spot there for most of the voyage, so I yield to newcomers and let them enjoy the view until we finally reach the ferry terminal.
The rest of the trip? Not much to report; it’s your standard 180-mile slab cruise. Anticlimactic, I know – but then, it would be hard to top all of the other stuff that I saw on this trip.
Thanks for reading.