Good Samaritans do it for free

John Oncken
The writer when younger and stronger and cycling 2000 miles a year.

Thirty two years ago, in 1989, I first rode a bicycle on a fairly long trip - 572 miles from Alton, Ill., to Madison. Since that summer of 1989, my annual vacations for some 20 years was spent on a bicycle traveling 400-500 miles somewhere in the Midwest. 

We biked from Ludington, Michigan north and south several times; Minnesota twice, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin including a trip from Madison to Door County.  

In the mid 90‘s I began writing about the trips in this column. The result was lots of phone calls, e-mails, letters and one on one questions. I suspect it was partially curiosity and the fact that readers knew I was not a youngster nor big time athlete. I was just a getting older, former farm boy.

A great trip to Chicago in 2005 during the “cow parade."

That time of year

Although these organized trips ended some 10 years ago and I quit serious bicycle riding some 6-8 years ago. I think a lot about those many miles pedaling the Midwest especially in May when I always began putting miles on my bike and legs for the summer tour ahead and “just for fun.” 

Of course, most of our travels were in farm country and on rural roads and my columns relating to the week-long tours seemed to draw the most response from readers. Lots of interesting things happened during our two-wheel travels but one was truly unforgettable.  

A most interesting ride

Year 2000 was the year. Our route started and ended at Cameron (in heavy agricultural Barron County) with overnights (in motels) at Cable, Hurley, Bayfield, Superior and Danbury. It took us through the quiet Chequamegon National Forest, along historic Lake Superior and next to quiet streams, long-vacated farmsteads and by villages that were little more than a sign and historical marker.   

Good Samaritans from left Steve and Donna Sorensen, Rich Zaborski, and Reed Cain.

A wrong turn

Our longest day was about 82 miles, our shortest was in the mid-60’s and the average was 72 miles a day.  We had a mapped route and detailed cue sheets, thousands and thousands of miles of road riding experience and decades of finding our way in unfamiliar territory.

And – would you believe – we got lost. It’s embarrassing to admit that a group of ten experienced cyclists, with probably a dozen or more college degrees between us, a couple of compasses and all the confidence in the world took a wrong turn and went 25 miles in the wrong direction.

Loading the bikes onto the back of  pickups and ready to get back on the route back on a trip back in 2000.

Instead of taking Highway GG north from Clam Lake to Mellen on our way to Hurley, we went south and ended up at the junction of GG and U.S. Highway 70 still thinking we were on track. We asked directions from a semi driver how to get to Mellen and he must have considered us totally nuts after informing us that Mellon was 40 miles away.

Now what?

Being really hungry and more than a little depressed by our real dumb mistake, we pedaled a half mile down the road to the North Country Inn (just north of Loretta), owned by Reed and Suzie Cain. We were in need of food and had to figure out how to get to our Hurley destination, now still over 50 miles away. Our goof-up would make for a near 115 mile day – a “far piece” in all our minds.

While Suzie was making lunch for us ten hungry souls, husband Reed came up with a solution. ”We’ll give you a ride in our pickups back to Clam Lake and get you back on your route,” Cain suggested on behalf of himself and friends Rich Zaborski and Steve Sorensen, who were all having a bit of lunch at the end of the bar.

A great offer

Without a second thought we took Reed up on his offer. Thus, we ate Suzie's great food with delight and renewed hope that we would indeed not need to put in a 115 mile day.

It turns out that Reed and Suzie Cain had bought the North Country Inn after moving from the Delavan area in southern Wisconsin  ”We had to get away from the crowded southern Wisconsin,” Reed explained. 

After Steve Sorensen unloaded the concrete blocks from his pickup and Reed took out the pile of lumber in his, we loaded the bicycles and people and backtracked to not only Clam Lake, but 10 miles further (the road was being oiled - not good for bike riding)  thus putting us back on schedule.

Reed and Suzanne Cain , two of the “good Samaritans."

No payment

Of course, we offered Cain and his fellow helpers money for their efforts--the time and 180 miles of travel in three pickups but as hard as we persisted, they adamantly refused to accept it. 

“You can’t be a good Samaritan and accept money”, Cain quietly explained, “We’ll get repaid in other ways.” I’ve never forgotten the hospitality of Reed and Suzie Cain and their friends who came to the aid of ten bicyclists who should have never made the wrong turn in the first place.

Still there

While writing this column on Monday, I wondered: Were Reed and Suzie Cain still operating their bar/grill at Loretta? So I called him. “Yes we certainly remember that day 21 years ago and we are still here in the same place ,” Reed replied, “but we have a sort of different name – it’s now called ‘The North Country’s Hardwood Cafe.”

And if you might be traveling “up North” on Highway 70 in Sawyer county stop for lunch at the cafe and talk with the “good Samaritans”, you’ll enjoy your visit, just as we the “lost bicyclists” did so long ago. An experience I’ve never forgotten. 

John Oncken can be reached at 608-837-7406, or email him at