Friday, August 17, 2012

West Coast Adventure - Day 3

The last 120 miles of my ride today were very difficult, what with the smell of pork overwhelming me the entire way…more on that later.

Traveling the length of the country on a single highway can start to add some perspective to the economic situations in the different states. Michigan appears to be dying…and it's sad. As happy as I was to see several of the hotels that were closed the last time I rode up here now open…there were more that were closed…and gas stations…and empty houses. It just doesn't look like there's any kind of recovery coming to the U.P. at a sustainable rate. Things don't seem to be going down hill as fast as they have in recent years…but it doesn't really look like they're getting better either. Crossing the border into Wisconsin provides an almost noticeable and immediate change…fewer closed businesses and fewer empty houses. By the time you get into Minnesota, you wouldn't be able to tell that things are so bad just a few hundred miles to the east. By no means am I saying things in Wisconsin and Minnesota are so great that we should begin a mass migration to the west, it's just easy to think that things outside of Michigan may be getting better faster than they are in my home state. Maybe I'm wrong…I hope I am.

The pork…I wasn't really smelling pork…it was pork barrel spending. US-2 turns into a 4 lane highway east of Bemidji, Minnesota, and remains that way for over 100 miles. Maybe someone from the area can tell me why this was necessary. I was riding this route from 4:00PM to 6:00PM, rush hour, and, with only a few exceptions, I can't tell why the money was spent expanding the highway out to 4 lanes…based on the traffic I saw, it seems like a waste. There were multiple times when I could see at least a mile down the road and couldn't count more than 8 to 10 cars traveling in either direction. How much does it cost to maintain a 4 lane highway instead of a 2 lane highway? How much did it cost to put it in in the first place? This didn't happen recently, it looks like it's been this way for quite a while. Someone slipped it in to some piece of legislation and we all just let it happen. It kind of makes me sick to my stomach…Maybe I'm wrong…I hope I am.

I woke up in Hurley, Wisconsin, this morning to crisp and cool conditions. The sun was shining, the breeze was blowing, and by the time I left at 8:15AM it was only 55 degrees. A perfect day for wearing a sweatshirt under the leather. Given my druthers, every riding day would be like this. :)

I got my first glimpses of Lake Superior about 30 minutes into the ride as I arrived at Chequamegon Bay. There's a nice little roadside park as you head into Ashland, so I pulled over to grab a couple quick pictures.

Traffic between Ashland and Superior was pretty steady, but it never got busy, which means I was able to move along at a very comfortable pace, even with the stiff breeze blowing out of the northwest. I made it to Floodwood, Minnesota, in time to meet WiseguyDave for a great burger at Bridgeman's. Floodwood is one of the many small bergs along US-2 with fewer than 1,000 residents. Resilient little towns that hang on and survive regardless of the situation.

I tried to take a picture of the welcome to Minnesota sign on the Ira Richard Bong bridge between Superior, Wisconsin, and Duluth, Minnesota....i didn't quite get it.

On my way out of town, I got a nice surprise…the Mississippi River. I was pretty sure I wouldn't be seeing it on this leg of my journey, as I knew its headwaters were south of US-2, but I didn't count on the fact that the river flows north and east before turning and heading south.

Here's a panorama of the river:

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Chad Cole