Pictured Rocks, Wisconsin and Chicago


The road goes on, across the biting-bug-filled Upper Peninsula. Having skipped Tahquamenon Falls, my next destination is Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.


I stop in Grand Marais, right outside the park, to search for camp soap and bug repellent. I find only the latter. I am sold a potion that the locals allege will keep the mosquitos and blackflies off me, and without resorting to DEET. I shell out the $10 for a tiny bottle of it. A giant Samoyed, resembling a legged cloud, entertains me in the store.


In the park, I soon have the option to do some short hikes. These are the Grand Sable dunes. Michigan has been quite a sandy state so far, much to my dismay when I’ve tried to race mosquitoes down sandy dirt roads toward campsites. These dunes and the sandstone cliffs of Pictured Rocks are in keeping with that.

The views in the park are not too different than outside, as the road that runs through it does not go along the shore of Lake Superior. That area is protected and accessible only by hiking trails – or, from below, by boat or kayak.

I find the first campsite, at the mouth of the Hurricane River, has a number of empty spots. Somewhat surprising, given I haven’t yet realized it’s Memorial Day weekend. I walk down to where the river flows into the lake. Its tea-colored waters (steeped in tannic acid from the conifer trees) dissipate into the very clear waters of Superior. A seagull is tearing chunks of meat from a fish on a sandbar; the fish occasional thrashes. The seagull seems to resent my getting close enough to take photos.


I was told soon after arriving in the park that I could camp at the Chapel-Mosquito Area trailhead. This turned out to be true, and in fact there were no viable/legal camping options in the whole western half of the park. So having arrived at that trailhead, after five miles down a dirt road, I still had another 20 miles to go to the next town, Munising. There, I could hopefully find some kind of accommodation.

While at the trailhead, I decided to do a loop hike that would take me down Chapel Creek, along the tops of the 200-foot cliffs above the lake, and back up via the Mosquito River.

The first attraction after the hike through the woods is Chapel Rock. The pine tree surviving on top of it looks like something from an alien planet. Somehow, a root stretches across a gulf (presumably once solid ground, eroded away) to the mainland. It has been there, looking like this, since the late 1800s at least.


Little secluded beaches would make for great backpacker camping, if that were legal. They also look like the makings of a great pirate hideout.


Sea kayakers can get very close and personal with the cliffs and the caves, arches, and colored formations in them.

The hike is about 10 miles all in all – quite a lengthy one considering the number of miles I also have to bike that day. The trail frequently comes to clearings in the trees, where you can stand on top of vertiginous 200-foot sheer cliffs and admire the views…or shrink back in terror at the sight of the drop. I did a little of both.

After completing the hike, I did a long, high-speed push on into Munising, where I discovered the only accommodation not yet booked was a $90 hotel room. So it goes. They didn’t even have the little soap bars in the shower. What is this world coming to?

Luckily, they did let me store the bike on Sunday while I went on a boat tour, to see the Pictured Rocks from another angle, and take in the entirety of the cliffs – I’d seen just a small section on the hike.


Miners Castle, the first prominent formation.

Colorful cliffs and arches. Rocks falling off periodically. If you were lucky enough to be there at the right time, and at an appropriately safe distance, it would be quite a sight to see one fall.


Indian Head Point. The Indians apparently called it Gitchi Manitou, the Great Spirit. A little more evocative.

The cliffs are full of arches, caves, and coves, one of which we were able to sail into.

Back at Chapel Rock, by the mouth of Chapel Creek. I’d hiked past it yesterday. The views of Chapel Rock, among other things, were actually better from the (free) hiking trail than from the ($38) boat! Take note…

A further selection of arches and notches.

We are told that these waterfalls flow only after rain, or during the spring snow melt. There has been plenty of rain, and I am glad to get a little benefit from it in the form of these views.

Grand Island, near Munising, is almost entirely uninhabited, but for a few summer houses and a century-and-a-half-old lighthouse. The rest is wilderness – protected as a National Recreation Area. Probably beautiful in October. Probably teeming with blackflies and mosquitoes in summer.

Over to one more campground on Sunday night, next to a reservoir. My neighbors invited me over and fed me yet more steak. The light got perfect a little later in the evening, as people went out to fish for dinner.


And it’s onward south to Lake Michigan! I had planned to camp, but, as mentioned in my previous post, took a motel when the opportunity arose, in the interest of receiving no further bug bites.


State #4 down! Wisconsin would go by quickly, like Ohio. And like Ohio, it would not yield too many photos.

The scenery, though, does change back quickly to barns. The conifer and northern hardwood forests give way to shorter woods mixed with wetlands.

I get the occasional view of Lake Michigan as I ride south. I’m told by locals and Warmshowers hosts that the wind this time of year usually blows strongly from the south, so I should have headwinds every day. But of the four southward days until Chicago, I have only two days of consistent, strong headwinds. What luck!


Looking for things to photograph along the bike trails I ride. Wisconsin has plenty of them. They make for good, low-stress riding conditions, but the scenery along them tends to be a bit more monotonous, and they all blend together. When I went to write down my daily notes from the days through Wisconsin, having forgotten to keep up with them, I had a hard time remembering much at all that had happened at any given time.


The green tunnel continues. Trees are much appreciated; they block the wind.

A lakefront detour in Racine. Shouldn’t these kids be in school?


And, I took no more photos at all until Chicago! I had pleasant evenings with two more Warmshowers hosts in Sheboygan and Milwaukee, including a bike ride around the downtown of the latter, a microbrewery visit, and Greek food. Then I did my longest day of the trip yet, 95.8 miles, to reach Chicago on Friday night just in time for a friend’s birthday. I didn’t even plan it that way! Then, this morning, I rode across town to some other friends, at whose computer I am currently writing this post, before we head out for some late-night improv comedy. I’m tired but staying awake enough, I think.

I crossed into Illinois on a bike trail, where the state line wasn’t signed. So these photos of downtown Chicago will have to fill in for the usual state-line photo.


This one does a good job too.

As of now, my trip is officially on hiatus! I’ll be resuming riding again on June 14, after a quick trip to Hawaii to be in a wedding, and do other Hawaiian activities. Tomorrow it’ll be another rest day in Chicago, running errands, going shopping, and the likes of that. It sure feels good to have a break from touring. When I start again, I’ll likely be heading into hotter weather, stronger winds, and even more monotonous scenery for quite a few miles.

Some stats:

1973 miles ridden from Atlantic City to Chicago. There were also 13 miles traveled by ferry to cross from lower Michigan to Mackinac Island and then to the Upper Peninsula.

My average mileage daily, excluding very short days which were really meant as rest days, was just short of 65 miles. The shortest was around 33, from Atlantic City to Buttonwood Hill campsite in the Pine Barrens. The longest was yesterday, 95.8 miles, from Milwaukee to Chicago.

Again excluding short days, there were 30 days of full-length riding.

I spent 2 days in New Jersey, 8 in Pennsylvania, 4 in Ohio, around 2 weeks in Michigan, 4 days in Wisconsin, and less than one full day riding through Illinois so far.

I saw 8 or 9 confederate flags in PA, and 2 in Michigan.

I saw remarkably few political signs: four or five Trump ones, including a stall selling “Trump Gear” right by the Ohio border. One Bernie sign. There have been various bumper stickers as well.

I had one flat tire, due not to a puncture (as far as I can tell) but to the tire becoming worn and developing a hole in one of its seams. Then the tire exploded when I tried riding on it again after patching it.

I spent 8 nights in motels or Airbnbs. I camped illegally twice (on PA state game land) and legally a bunch more times (all in Michigan except the one in New Jersey). The remainder of the nights were with Warmshowers hosts, friends, and in one case a trail angel I ran into while riding.

I saw four Great Lakes, all except Ontario.

I haven’t tallied up my expenditures yet, but I am pretty sure my food budget is far greater than it would be in normal life, despite the number of times Warmshowers hosts fed me and send food with me. My accommodation budget is still lower than what I’d normally spend on a month’s rent in Philadelphia, which is what I was aiming for. I hope I’ll get it lower yet on the rest of the trip, where presumably there will be more camping opportunities.

And that’s all I can think of off the top of my head! More posts will follow later this month.



2 thoughts on “Pictured Rocks, Wisconsin and Chicago”

  1. The Picture Rocks National Lakeshore appears to meet expectations. My favorite photo: the front view of the waterfall. Good to see you backed by the Chicago skyline, too.


  2. Ride On Julian! I love this adventure of yours. Looking forward to hearing more once you return from Hawaii. Aunt Anne


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