Chippewa Herald * July 5, 2007   Visitor
  Counter by Digits

Biking to Duluth goes well after slow start

by Tom Arneberg, Community Columnist

"Let's see...12 styrofoam bowls are only 2 ounces. Bagels are 3 ounces each, so let's only take three to start with."

That was the scenario in our kitchen a couple Tuesdays ago. We were using our food scale to carefully weigh everything before deciding whether to take it on our first self-contained family bike trip. You have to pack light when bicycle camping, since your spokes can only support so much weight.

I left work early on Wednesday so we could hit the road by 3:30. After posing for a photo in the driveway, we turned our heavy-laden beasts of burden to the north and started pedaling.

Our destination was Duluth. That's about 150 miles by car, but we'd be weaving back and forth across Highway 53 on roads less traveled, so we estimated 170 miles.

That's not a bad trip if you've done a lot of bicycle touring. What made this trip interesting, though, is that I was bringing two of my sons along: 13-year-old Jasper and 11-year-old David.

Neither of them had ever bicycled more than 30 miles in a day before, but I knew from their adventurous spirits that we could make it all the way to Duluth, given enough time.

I predicted that we could ride 40-50 miles per day, so figured we could make it in four days, Thursday through Sunday. We decided to hedge our bets by leaving Wednesday afternoon. The campground near Chetek was only 34 miles away, so that would make a nice target for the first night.

As we began, David was a little lethargic. I told him not to worry about how fast he was going; it's more important that we just get there eventually.

About a half hour later, I was regretting that advice. I finally summoned up the courage to ask him: "David, could you pedal a LITTLE faster?" It was torture going so slowly.

After fighting merciless headwinds for ten miles, David was in tears, saying he couldn't do it. Jasper and I pleaded with him to keep going until at least Bloomer. There we employed our secret weapon: Dairy Queen Blizzards, to go with our peanut butter and jelly bagels.

The sugar hit seemed to help some, but it was still rather slow going as we continued pedaling north.

That's when my cell phone rang.

I had never done a bike tour with a cell phone. My wife is the only person who knows my cell number, and she hardly ever calls me unless it's important. So I pulled over to answer.

"There are severe thunderstorms and you're riding right into them."

We WERE getting a little wet, but weren't too worried about it, as we are in the habit of wrapping our sleeping bags in trash bags inside their stuff sacks, and putting everything else in ziploc bags inside our panniers. ("Panniers" are like saddlebags that are slung over the rear rack of a bicycle.)

But we took her advice and started looking for temporary shelter as we turned off County Q into New Auburn. Suddenly it started raining harder, and we made a bee-line for a building with an overhang that would protect our bikes.

It turned out to be the post office, and it was unlocked! We had the distinct pleasure of watching the lightning and hail through the windows, as we sat on the cool floor playing cards.

The skies finally cleared up around 8:00 p.m., featuring a glorious double-rainbow. Rather than going with our backup plan of setting up our tent in a vacant field, we decided to strike out again and try to make it to Chetek before dark.

David forgot about being tired as we raced darkness. The rain had long gone, but the roads still held a lot of water, which was flung up by our tires, soaking us after all.

We did make the campground, just at dusk, only to discover a broken spoke in my rear wheel. I panicked, then found extra spokes left over in my panniers from my 1982 cross-country trip. (It pays not to clean too thoroughly.) I also found a long-forgotten spoke wrench in my tool bag, and surprised myself by remembering how to install and tune up the replacement spoke, by headlamp.

Thursday morning offered a fresh start. David tapped me on the head at 5:15 a.m.: "Dad, it's light out." That was music to my ears, as I was under strict orders not to wake him up too early.

We took down the tents, packed the bikes, and were rolling before 6:00 a.m. David did a great job the rest of the trip; in fact, HE pushed US a few times!

We were surprised to make it 65 miles to a campground near Trego on Thursday. That's TWICE as far as these boys had ever biked in one day before, and this was loaded with gear!

Friday was even better -- we blasted past our "short" goal of Solon Springs, and even reached our "long" goal of Amnicon Falls by 2:00 p.m. Goal-oriented Jasper insisted that we push all the way to Duluth.

I still can't believe we did it! We bicycled 172 miles in just over 48 hours, and had a wonderful time.

This is definitely the start of a new tradition for our family. Next trip: Lake Michigan!

(You can see the top 352 photos of our bike trip at

You can reach Tom at

Links: [Tom's column archives] | [] | [] |

This page is maintained by Tom Arneberg (
(Last modified: $Date: 2007/07/03 17:12:27 $)