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Great Lakes cyclists are more than halfway home

Duluthians Kris McNeal and Zach Chase have put Canada behind them and have made the turn for home on their 5,300-mile, three-month bike trek The two cyclists reached Buffalo, N.Y., on Tuesday, passing the 3,000-mile mark on their Big Water Bike e...

Kris McNeal and Zach Chase
Kris McNeal (left) and Zach Chase of Duluth celebrate their return to the United States after crossing into New York on Day 45 of their three-month bicycle trip around all five Great Lakes. The Duluth cyclists left Duluth on May 1 and plan to return Aug. 5. Zach Chase-Kris McNeal photo

Duluthians Kris McNeal and Zach Chase have put Canada behind them and have made the turn for home on their 5,300-mile, three-month bike trek

The two cyclists reached Buffalo, N.Y., on Tuesday, passing the 3,000-mile mark on their Big Water Bike encircling all five of the Great Lakes. They were 50 days into their trip, with an estimated 47 to go. They started their trek on May 1 in Duluth and plan to finish in Duluth on Aug. 5.

"We're finally getting in the groove, chugging along. It's becoming more of a routine," said McNeal, 26.

The two men, both University of Minnesota Duluth graduates, are making the journey as a personal adventure and as a way to promote travel by bicycle. They're also shooting a documentary along the way. They had made a 1,700-mile bicycle trek along the West Coast in 2008.

Early on, the going was tough, they said. Traveling up the North Shore in Minnesota and around the top of Lake Superior, they weathered nine straight days of rain. Cold rain.

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"I got frostbite the fifth or sixth day, on my toes," McNeal said. "It was so miserable."

The Ontario hills seemed like mountains, he said, and sometimes it would take the riders 30 minutes to climb one.

"There were tons of trucks flying by and a really tiny shoulder," McNeal said. "It was pretty scary."

The terrain leveled out after they reached Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, and now they're traveling in farm country.

Chase and McNeal are averaging about 70 miles per day on their bikes, including mileage to and from campgrounds. They made 104 miles on their longest day. On their toughest day, on Lake Ontario, they made 75 miles despite an all-day rain and 30-mph headwinds.

"But we had a friendly place to stay that night, at a bike shop," McNeal said.

People along the way have been welcoming and generous, the riders said.

"One family read about our trip," Chase said. "They live between Lake Huron and Erie. ... It was amazing. They made us dinner. They made us breakfast and packed a lunch for us. They called ahead, and we stayed with their cousin in Hamilton (Ontario)."

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The cyclists' gear is holding up well. Each rider went nearly 3,000 miles before having his first flat tire.

McNeal and Chase were surprised at how high the prices were in Canada, they said. They paid more than they had expected for food and campsites. They found Niagara Falls spectacular. They found Quebec to be bike-friendly, with paved bike paths and wide road shoulders. But communicating in the French-speaking province was difficult, Chase said.

The daily grind has toughened the pair, but it also has taken a toll physically, Chase said.

"Our bodies have gotten used to what we're putting them through," he said. "I can definitely feel my legs have gotten a lot stronger. I've lost a bit of weight. So has Kris. I feel like I could sleep for a week."

Now, it has become more of a mental challenge to get on the bikes every morning.

"Just knowing I have to get up and bike another 60 miles day after day kind of wears on me," Chase said.

The riders took a rest day on Wednesday, then got back on the trail, working their way west, back in the U.S. The terrain is forgiving, nothing like those early days on Lake Superior.

"We're biking through a lot of farm fields," Chase said. "As necessary as they are, I'm still drawn to the terrain that Lake Superior has. It is the greatest lake, in my opinion, so far."

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To follow the daily progress of Chase and McNeal, go to www.bigwaterbike.com .

Related Topics: ENVIRONMENT
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