Tuesday, April 17, 2007

A brief visit to Milwaukee

My kind of place! The "Alterra Coffee Roasters" in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. This great coffee house is located inside an old stone pumping station on the Lake Michigan shoreline.

Opened my eyes at 6:45 a.m. and noticed there was no sunlight shining on the tent. I was concerned. "Is it overcast?" There was a light breeze and only a few birds singing. Emerging, I saw the sun was still behind some hills. I wanted to pack up and exit the woods without detection. I’d prefer to avoid the unwelcome attention of park rangers and others. Last night, I had charged into the woods, “enjoying” a bouncing, out-of-control ride. Now, I was a bit apprehensive about extracting myself and the motorcycle. I walked various possible routes and noted the path with the fewest obstacles.

Ready, to move out, I listened carefully to be sure no vehicles were approaching on the forest road. Rolled out of the woods without incident and resumed my journey. Many white tailed deer along the road this morning. Emerging from the hills, I faced a COLD northeast wind (a shift in direction.) The forests I passed through are soggy, even flooded in places. Water everywhere! The landscape seems barely above sea level.

Passed some large cranberry farms (Cranmoor brand.) Nekoosa is dominated by the huge paper mill, right in the middle of town. Curious about what it might be like to live with this “presence”, I wandered neighborhoods around the mill. Within a short time, I felt the effect of sulfur dioxide on my lungs and nasal passages. At this "dosage" it resembles a very mild asthma attack. Downstream from the mill, I stopped to watch fisherman along the Nekoosa River, hearty souls braving the harsh elements (though I’m sure they consider today’s weather “summer-like”.)

Fishing for walleye (I think) on the Wisconsin River at Nekoosa, Wisconsin. The Domtar Kekoosa Paper Mill is putting out some nasty chemicals, reminiscent of my visit to La Oroya, Peru. Probably not lead, but the sulfur dioxide (or other sulfur compound) caused lung irritation just in driving around the mill a few times.

By the way, there are some serious fishermen here! It was about 40 degrees with a brisk wind out of the northeast. The picture doesn't capture it, but there were about twenty fishermen out on this stretch of the river.

Filled up at the BP Amoco station downtown, noting an internal resentment at being forced to hear recorded advertising emanating from a speaker on the pump. “And we pay extra for this?” (BP are usually among the higher-priced stations.)

With a trace of alarm, I noted clouds on the northern horizon. They were not advancing rapidly, but it was definitely a cold front and I had no interest in being overtaken by rain or snow.

As a number of people have mentioned, burning corn in our cars is bound to drive food costs higher. Maybe they'll even figure out how to run them on beef? (Who says machines won't ultimately replace humans?)

On to Fond du Lac, and an old mission. It was in 8th grade, as I recall, that my best friend at the time, Monty Meigs, and I came up with a plan to buy Yamaha 250 “Catalina” motorcycles and ride across the United States, at least as far as Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin, from where Monty’s family hailed. (I can’t recall the timeline of this project, since we were still a couple years from qualifying for a driver’s license.) But we had fun charting the proposed path on a large U.S. map spread on the floor.

It took over 40 years, but I finally made it to Fond du Lac.

I just needed a way to prove I was in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. There's a story here, but not the one you think. When I was 13 or so, and living in California's San Fernando Valley, my best friend "Monty" and I decided we were going to buy motorcycles and drive across the U.S. Or, at least as far as Fond du Lac, from where Monty's family had moved to Los Angeles.

In Fond du Lac, I found the Bagelmeister restaurant on South Main Street downtown and enjoyed a good cappuccino and “everything bagel”. Wandered around the business district, looking for an angle for my “official Fond Du Lac” photo, but nothing really captured my interest. Then I thought “how about the city hall?” But that building appeared too busy and actively defended against “terrorist activities”, so I didn’t want to create a scene parking my bike illegally in the shadow of that great institution. Just around the corner, however, I found the rather modest-looking, but clearly-marked Fond Du Lac police station, and (shockingly in this “post 9-11 era”) curbside parking just feet from the front door. “This will have to do.”

An eye on the sky, I continued my track southeastward. With the break in Fond du Lac, the cloud cover had gained on me, and the edge of the front was now a bit south of my position.

Since I had never been there, I wanted to have a look at Milwaukee. I've heard it’s a beautiful city. So, I turned east on Interstate 94 and followed it down to the waterfront, passing the prominent Miller High Life baseball stadium along the way. Turned north on Lincoln Memorial Drive, up the scenic Lake Michigan shoreline. Looked for somewhere to take a little break from the ride. Housed in an old stone building below the bluffs, in a rather affluent district, I found Alterra Coffee Roasters. Their parking lot was full. A good sign.

Inside, I learned that this structure was formerly a flushing pump plant. It served to pump lake water up and over the bluffs to the somewhat beleaguered Milwaukee River and help flush the sewage that accumulated in its waters. (I assume it was then flushed into the lake.)

This coffee shop is “my kind of place." Patrons scattered at tables across three or four different levels, plenty of fresh baked goods, soups and sandwiches, many people taking advantage of the wi-fi connections (and plenty of outlets provided!) The music of My Morning Jacket, The Band and George Harrison playing during my visit. Ordered a bowl of their great turkey sausage gumbo, accompanied by a bagel with garlic chive cream cheese. The only sour note, their internet service was poor and because the equipment is provided by an outside supplier, the staff was powerless to help.

Mansions in Milwaukee

I had no desire to jump into Chicago, especially at this time of day (approaching afternoon “rush hour”.) Instead I opted for the Interstate 294 Bypass around the city. I discovered that this route is, as some might say, “fucking hell” (though I would never use such foul language.) A total construction zone. Two lanes clogged by trucks, plus one solid with cars. And for the honor of enduring this apocalyptic nightmare, you get to pay about $8 in tolls! Motorcycles are charged the same toll as cars and SUVs (and trucks?) A rest stop in this urban gridlock is termed an “oasis”!

A cold wind out of the north all day long, temperature in the 40s. Fed up with the Interstate and toll roads, I stumbled via surface streets into Merrillville, Indiana, where U.S. Highway 30 features perhaps the highest concentration of chain stores and restaurants I’ve ever seen. Hell on Earth. A soul-less place. Virtually any chain store I could think of was represented in this stretch of suburban blight.

My target for a campsite tonight was Potato Creek State Park, near South Bend Indiana. After nearly a full day running south, I caught a taste of a warm front, now colliding with the cold air from the north. For a brief time, I relished the markedly warmer air, but it was soon overpowered by the north wind. But since my destination was Buffalo, I couldn't keep moving south!

Entered the state park at twilight without registering and paying and drove out to a remote part of the campground – a group area. There I found a position on the edge of a broad lawn, that would be inconspicuous. There was some activity in the park, but it was pretty empty.

Apparently this park is situated near an executive or secondary airport. Small jets frequented the night sky (reminiscent of last night.) Otherwise the night sounds were dominated by crickets, birds and frogs.

Reflected upon how cities with their overcrowding make people behave in crazy ways. The unbearable tension attacks the animal brain within. Consequently, insanity must increase. (Well, that's my analysis.)

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