Sunday, June 10, 2018

The Touring Series: Foreigners In Another Nation

A Guitar Ted Productions series
Welcome to "The Touring Series". This series is a re-posting of a story I told here on this blog in 2008. The story is about what I named the "Beg, Borrow, and Bastard Tour". This was a fully loaded, self-supported bicycle tour from just Northeast of Waterloo, Iowa starting in a little village named Dewar and the goal was to get to Sault Ste. Marie, Canada in one week's time. The plan called for us to be picked up there and taken home by car.

  As mentioned, cameras, smart phones, and the like did not exist for us in 1994, so images will be few. There are some though, and I will sprinkle those in when they are relevant. I will also sprinkle in any modern images of places we visited when applicable and when I can find images that convey the same look as 1995. 

Troy and GT,  members of the "Beg, Borrow, and Bastard Tour", failed to break Steve after the debacle in Steven's Point. Now we join the trio as they stop in for a late lunch in the small Wisconsin town of Gresham......
Now Steve finally ate something and looked to be coming around to his old self again. As we munched our food under the shade of some nice hardwood trees in front of the grocery store, a kid was seen circling us on his 20 incher. Pretty soon, the expected visit came, and the regular questions were asked. Once again, kids saw in us an adventure that was exciting, adults saw us as vagrants that were scary. Oh well!

After a nice, leisurely stop, we felt the urgency to move. We mounted up, heading north through the town on the blacktop road. There was a wee bit of confusion as to where we were going, but once we got a bead on the next turn eastwards, we were good to go. The road was the typical weathered blacktop, not bad, but not really smooth. The weather had turned fine and hot by now. We were all down to our shorts and t-shirts by this point. (Cycling jerseys on tour were considered "too serious" before we left.)

Suddenly we became aware that our eastward road had turned incredibly smooth and was lined on either side by towering white pines. The cool shade was refreshing. In fact, we decided to stop for a moment to enjoy the area. Troy was in an especially playful mood here, which was unusual for him. However; after a bit we all knew it was time to motor on down this arrow straight, flat, and brand new stretch of black top.

The conversation turned to the road, as a matter of fact. Why would there be such a fine blacktop in a seemingly out of the way place? This road didn't look to be going anywhere too important, at least by the look of the maps we had. Well, after several miles, we soon found out why it was so. The intersection we were dumped out on was directing us onto a road vastly different than the one we had been on. Busy with traffic, and every tenth car or so seemed to be a law enforcement vehicle. Strange. Where were all these folks going and coming from? It was as busy as any city of larger size we had been through, maybe even more so.

Example of a Menominee Nation license plate
I noticed a license plate: "Menominee Nation" was emblazoned across the bottom portion of it. In fact, every license plate I saw had that on it. Suddenly we were aware that we were in a Native American reservation. They run their territories as independent nations, (to a degree) and so the weirdness was accounted for, at least for the time being. We didn't have much time for discussion as we were busy keeping pace and watching out for ourselves on this stressful stretch of road. We went from totally peaceful relaxed riding to this frying pan in less than a block. It wasn't much fun, and we had several miles of it to endure.

Once we crossed the boundary of the Menominee Nation, we were back to a quieter, more peaceful rural Wisconsin experience. It was shocking, and almost as if we had just been in some weird time warp. However it was, it was getting late in the afternoon now, and we were putting our heads down, trying to gain as many miles as we could before packing it in for the afternoon. The next town up the road was Underhill, and I was hopeful it would be our stopping point for the day.

Well, Troy would have none of this stopping, not just yet. He had a mind to make it to the next city beyond Underhill, much to my disappointment. That city was called Gillett, and it might as well have been a hundred miles away, as far as I was concerned at the time. Those final miles into Gillett seemed like an eternity, and with Troy setting a furious pace, I was getting toasted. I don't know if Steve was going to pop or not, but I sure was about to!

Finally, we rolled off a hill in the late afternoon into Gillett and up to the nearest convenience store we could find. I was relieved and we all were pretty exhausted, by the looks of it. Right now though, all we could think about was getting some refreshments and sitting down to rest.

This was another long, long day in the saddle. Things were tense to start out with until we got to Gresham where Troy was satisfied that Steve had suffered enough. The stop was very relaxed and we were all on good terms again for a while after this. The Menominee Nation was stressful territory. I was glad to get out of there, but that road leading into the busy part was once again one of the highlights of the tour. Like the earlier moment on the La Crosse River Trail where we laughed freely, this was one of those devil may care moments in life that I will cherish forever. Three wanderers amongst the tall pines without a care in the world.

Next week: Strangers in the night!

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