45 Miles on Coffee, Catfish Tacos & Spotted Cow
This was an eagerly anticipated trip, long planned, and executed on the spur of the moment, with untested but vital components of my minimalist set-up arriving the day before my planned departure. But I needed to go! Ever since we visited the lovely town of Port Washington a couple of years ago, and cruised on the Ozaukee Interurban Trail, I thought it would be a great idea to extend the ride by starting from Milwaukee, hitting some picturesque Wisconsin towns along the way, and setting up camp on the cooling shores of Lake Michigan at Harrington Beach SP, before heading back the next day.
We rode this trail previously in shorter sections and on large-wheeled bikes. However, for my full-length ride, I decided to go minimal: a Brompton with its 16” wheels, compactly packed with overnight camping gear stuffed into a front-mounted rolltop bag, a seat pack and small fanny pack for essentials.
I set of from the Glenview station on an Amtrak train departing shortly before 9am for an hour-long ride to Milwaukee. Boarding with the folding bike was hassle-free, and I even got a hand up the steps from the conductor.
Disembarking at the Intermodal Station in Milwaukee was a bit disorienting, and I was lucky to hook up with a group of teens cruising with some guides along the bike lane just in front of the building. They invited me to follow them to the lakefront trail, and I was grateful for the guidance. At the Milwaukee Art Museum I headed north on the Oak Leaf Trail, which follows the lakefront before veering west to join the scenic and largely shady corridor along the Milwaukee River.
I’d left home without breakfast and with only a modest bottle of water strapped to the bike, thinking that I would stop for fuel and drinks at an early stage of the ride. Unfortunately, I did not find any enticing eating establishments alongside the trail for quite a while. After more than an hour of riding, I came upon a shaded rest stop, where I chugged all of my water, and let sweat drip from my face for about 15 minutes before I felt ready to face the trail again.
The Brompton, by the way, performed admirably despite a minor glitch in the shifting system, which made it tricky to drop from gear 3 to 2, and initially forced me to have to dismount and manually pull the gear indicator chain. But once I mastered the trick to shift the gears while riding, I was golden. I was happy to have the use of 6 gears, and definitely encountered climbs that required the use of the granny gear. I did not push myself to go faster than was comfortable, but I moved at reasonable speed, passing some riders, and being passed by others. All in all, the trail was not heavily traveled on a weekday.
I finally stopped for lunch at the Stilt House in the town of Cedarburg (which deserves it’s own day trip, and I regret not being able to spend more time there on this particular outing), downed two glasses of ice tea, delicious fish tacos, and a glass of New Glarus Spotted Cow. This gave me the fuel to head back out into the sun and continue my journey on the Ozaukee Interurban Trail. Though the sections of the trail that connect Cedarburg and Grafton pass through wooded areas and are somewhat shaded, and the towns are scenic and pleasant, much of the trail was exposed and sun-baked. A notable exception is the long descent into Port Washington, as Lake Michigan horizon comes into view, and its cooling breezes feel better than anything on a hot summer day.
With less than 10 miles to go, I could afford to spend a little time getting my body temperature back to normal at the lakefront park in Port Washington, poking into a shop or two, and getting some last-minute supplies at the local Piggly Wiggly. The folded Brompton, even with my luggage attached, was easily carried into these establishments.
The final leg of my journey carried me over some barely-traveled farm roads to Sauk Trail, a gravel road leading into Harrington Beach SP. I was not in love with riding the Brompton on gravel, especially since at one point a Fedex truck passed me at high speed, but it was definitely doable. I headed straight for the lakefront welcome center at the park, not remembering that the camping office was unfortunately a couple miles inland and straight up a hill. At that point, I was definitely feeling the fatigue of the miles, the heat, and even my Brooks saddle felt a lot less comfortable than when I started out. But I pedaled up gamely in the lowest gear, and got to the park office just as the nice lady there was putting the key in the lock. She took pity on me and agreed to unlock the shed and sell me a bag of ice, and directed me to a bike-in campsite (mercifully situated downhill from the office). I thanked her profusely, paid for the ice and my campsite, and slowly rolled downhill, and into my nice, green secluded little home for the night.