Cold, Wet and Defiant
Ottawa Lakes, Michigan to Grand Rapids, Ohio: (60kms)
When we left Ottawa Lakes, the morning skies were heavy and grey. It was only a matter of time before we’d get wet, not a great motivator to get out on the road. Getting wet means getting cold, even when you’re cycling. Getting cold, to the point of shivering, means you’re likely to get sick, not good when you’re cycle-touring and losing time.
We had set some kind of time limit to cross over the Rocky Mountains. This would allow us to work out how many kilometres we needed to do each day, and, how often we could have rest days. Our research had told us that we would need to cross Highway 20 through the North Cascades in Washington State by mid to late September. Around this time they close the road due to the first snowfalls. There was no way we wanted to be turned around that far across the Rockies. It would mean major backtracking and loss of time. To avoid this and cross over to Bellingham (our final destination), our calculations told us we needed to cycle at least 55kms a day for 5 days a week. Easy peasy you’d think, but we knew from experience, so many things can work against you. Some days might be hilly, others might be windy. Some days might find us sick or sore. All we knew is that if we kept 55kms as a bare minimum and had as fewer rest days as possible, we would buy ourselves valuable time when crossing The Rockies.
We immediately cycled west out of Ottawa Lakes, skirting around the outer suburbs of Toledo. Out here it was all farmland and laid wide open to the elements. The wind was in our faces until we got far enough west to turn south. We were heading for Grand Rapids, Ohio, confusing as there are no less than 5 Grand Rapids in the US!
Just north of Swanton, Ohio our luck ran out. Down came the rain in earnest. We crossed a road bridge over the Ohio Turnpike only to be turned around. A mile-long freight train was parked over the road and not going anywhere. Annoyed, we turned around and headed west again looking for the next bridge heading over the Turnpike. It didn’t take too long and we were soon crossing over the roaring traffic and down into the sleepy little town of Swanton.
At the first opportunity, we sheltered under someone’s tree in their front yard. Not having fences has its advantages, for us anyway! We straddled our bikes and put up our umbrellas. This worked for a while, but once the tree was soaked, it began dripping heavily all over us, damn! I turned and stared at the house, it’d be nice if someone came running out and invited us to come in out of the rain and dry off, maybe even a hot cup of coffee. Sure enough, almost on cue, a lady ran out to us and told us to come into her garage out of the rain. She had no umbrella and by the time she was in the garage, she was soaked like us. She gave us both a towel to dry off and we waited until the rain eased up. The lady was very interested in our trip, barely being able to comprehend what we were doing, and that we were out riding in the rain. Her husband turned up a bit later and we stood talking in the garage till we judged it time to go. Just another example of the kindness of strangers!
We didn’t get far before the heavens opened up again. By the time we reached the main road heading out of Swanton, it was pouring and our only chance to get out of the rain was a McDonalds – oh well, beggars can’t be choosers! We found a table and ordered some coffee and a burger each. We were dripping all over the floor and the air conditioning was on full blast, I was starting to shiver again.
After about 45mins, the rain stopped and I was keen to get going, just so I could get warm again. We cycled down through some forested areas, the road going directly south. In Neapolis, we stopped at the General Store for a drink and a rest. It was raining lightly again, but not enough to bother us. We were both warmed up again.
Back on the road, we kept heading south until we came to the Maumee River and crossed over into Grand Rapids. They’d obviously had a lot of rain and camping in the State Park didn’t seem like a great idea to either of us. Shazz tried a B&B but they wouldn’t budge on the price. So, she rang the Millhouse B&B in the main street that we’d just passed. They at least gave us a discount, and that was all we needed to confirm.
We had a really nice room and the owners couldn’t do enough to help us. I think they felt a bit sorry for us as we were soaking wet again. We locked the bikes up around the back, had a hot shower and headed down the road to The Wildside Brew Bar, a brewpub we’d seen earlier. Priorities looked after, we found a place which did take-out pizza and headed back to the room. Being a Sunday night, the other guest were crowded around the table in the small kitchen. It wasn’t long before we had them hooked on tales of travel and some of the different and more exotic countries we had visited. They had never met touring cyclists and were intrigued as to why we’d choose to travel this way.
Grand Rapids to Defiance, Ohio: (55kms)
The next morning after sharing breakfast with our new friends, they all came out the front of the B&B to watch us load our bikes and see us go. Bidding us farewell, we headed off down the main street and out past the State Park. It was a good decision to stay in town, the park was inundated with rainwater, it would have been a very soggy night even had we had found some dry ground.
We followed the Maumee River down past the Campbell Soup factory until Napoleon where we stopped for a drink before crossing over to the other side. As we rode into the tiny town of Florida, the rain started again and we took shelter under an awning of a closed shop. After about 15 mins a lady drove up to us and told us there was a campground just up the road, we thanked her, but it wasn’t really far enough for us to stop today. We planned to ride to Defiance to keep our average kilometres up.
Shazz booked us a room at the Super 8 in Defiance as we made our way. The Super 8 is a chain of cheaper hotels that also provide breakfast. They are always found on the outskirts of town and next to the Interstate. Rather than ride through town, we forked off at the golf course on the edge of town and flanked the main area to avoid traffic. That meant only a short ride on the main road leading towards the Interstate. So, once on the main road we got onto the footpath and followed it up and over the freeway bridge and down to our hotel.
The Super 8 was clumped together with a bunch of similar hotels only a short walk from some eateries. We crossed the highway to eat at Jersey’s, a sports bar and grill, but at 5.00pm the place was full and there was a 25min wait! It seems Americans like to eat early! Hating cues, we cut our losses, had a couple of beers and walked over to the supermarket and bought some ready to eat meals. Maybe not as fancy or filling, but we saved ourselves some time and money!