When I set out from Philadelphia, I was concerned about making haste for Chicago to catch a flight, but also wanted to take a lengthy route around Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. I wasn’t at all sure that nearly a month would be enough time to make it. Now I’ve realized I can afford to take my time a bit – I’m not far from the UP now, and still have almost two weeks to go.
So I’m beginning to ponder plans for what to see up there. I finally found a road map of it; surprisingly difficult, as it turns out gas stations don’t all have maps on sale in the age of smartphones. But I may need to conserve my phone’s battery life like water in the desert.
The obvious cyclists’ route, and the one mapped out by the Adventure Cycling Association, follows US-2 across the southern part of the peninsula, nearer Lake Michigan. But I want to see a number of things to the north, on Lake Superior – including Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and, as a stretch goal if I can manage to ride the distance in time, the Porcupine Mountains far to the west. If I have extra time, another option might be to take the ferry up to Isle Royale National Park, close to Canada. I’d have to explore the logistics of taking a bike there, though.
Tonight I’m taking a rest day in Alpena, MI after a short ride from my campsite on Lake Huron. I just saw a museum about the “Century of Shipwrecks” from when boat transport was much more prominent (and apparently much more risky) around the Great Lakes, and learned that the lake here near Thunder Bay is especially crowded with wrecks. If I had a bit more time, I could take a glass-bottomed boat tour or snorkel among some wrecks.
Another host from Warmshowers.com has kindly taken me in for the night; I’m downtown in a coffee shop to write this post and then loaf in a hammock for the afternoon while his kids are visiting. I really savor the loafing on this trip. It’s impossible to get enough.
I’ve spent the last four nights finally getting some camping in, as hoped. Michigan has a handy website showing the locations of all state parks and state forest campgrounds, which I’ve used to plan a somewhat winding route until now and which will continue to be handy in the UP. Backcountry camping is all well and good when you’re backpacking or on a mountain bike, but I have no desire to stealth camp on this trip. Hauling a road bike into the woods is a pain, and having the conveniences of a “rustic” campground (outhouses, picnic tables, and pumps that – when they work – bring up potable, if weird tasting water) is quite appealing.
Of course, there can be drawbacks. I’ve had two groups park themselves right beside me (out of dozens of empty campsites) for parties, one of which involved riding quad bikes around at the crack of dawn after screaming all night. I pondered what Walter White might have done – surely there was some way to cause their cars to explode in balls of fire when they weren’t looking. But I didn’t know what it was, and even failed to call in the forest rangers on them due to forgetting to save the phone number for when I got back to cell signal.
Hordes of ravenous mosquitoes drove me early from another campsite. I hope I manage to escape the worst of the hatching season and get to more arid country soon. Otherwise, though, sleeping in the woods is great. I believe an especially noisy cicada cohort is coming out of the ground this year, and there is a distinctive melody, or something like one, that I keep hearing variants of as I travel through the region. The frogs are in full force as well, so it’s quite the aural landscape. Around half the trees are leafing out; the maples and aspens are green, while the oaks lag behind. As I head north, the days get longer even faster than they would in one place, and as I go west to the edge of Eastern Standard Time, sunset gets later and later. By about 9:45 it gets too dark to read by natural light. I’m generally in the hammock well before that, so I haven’t used my headlamp very much at all. A nice break from Middle Eastern hiking, which must be done mainly in seasons with shorter days.
Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources website boasts that all of its forest campsites are beside a creek or lake. They’ve all been pretty scenic (see below). This means camp is generally the highlight of the day’s ride; the scenery in general continues to change at an extremely gradual rate. At least the riding conditions are favorable – the hills are almost all gradual and non-painful to ride up, and there have been few opposing winds.
I’m heading northwest tomorrow, either up a rail-trail (whose surface conditions are the subject of dubious remarks by locals) or on the apparently quiet, wide-shouldered US 23. One more Warmshowers host before I go into a run of camping again, hopefully this one through more scenic riding country. Hopefully I’ll also be able to stash the bike for a bit of hiking in state parks and other natural attractions, too!
I never bring up what I’m doing to people unless they ask. Mainly because unless they’re also a bike tourist (rare), the ensuing conversation is almost identical in every case, and I get plenty of it as it is. Today at breakfast, though, I rolled into the town’s one cafe to find a number of unloaded designer touring bikes outside. There was some sort of cycling club occupying about half the place that morning, and they put me at a table with empty spots and took turns inquiring about my trip, telling me about their past tours, and describing how devoid the Upper Peninsula is of supermarkets or food stops (actually, it doesn’t seem that bad – compared to wilderness backpacking, having the option to buy food once every 1.5-2 days is luxury).
One other biker I met on the trail told me that among the goals I should set for myself this trip is to have a cowboy buy me a beer. I imagine this will become pretty doable around Wyoming, where presumably cowboys populate every roadside saloon. I have gotten a few freebies out of the trip so far already, Warmshowers hosts aside, including the haircut that the barber refused to take my money for. Apparently I was the most interesting thing to happen all week.
Photo selections follow. I’ve just been offered a computer on which to type the rest of this post so the commentary will perhaps be more wordy than usual.
Above: Barns of Ohio and Michigan. Because often, there’s just not anything else to take a picture of.
Above is a guy I ran into in…some town, Ohio. I’ve got a lot more of these details in my daily handwritten notes and recorded in my GPS tracks. He was heading east, having started in Portland, OR in the beginning of April. Conventional bike touring wisdom says this is far too early, not only because you’re likely to have plenty of bad weather throughout the country (he did) but because passes in the Cascades and Rockies are likely still closed by snow (he had to reroute away from Yellowstone, which was closed).
That didn’t slow him down, though. Dude was hardcore. Note the lack of water bottle cages (he remarked “wow, so you don’t have to stop riding to drink water”), thin and tattered cloth that is all the padding he has on the handlebars, and the 1×6 drivetrain. I’ve struggled up some of the steeper hills with my relatively friendly 34-36 low gear. His lowest gear is one of the higher ones on my bike. And he’s carrying a much more cumbersome load. A good reminder: No matter how tough you might think you are, you’re not really.