Day 43: The day of surprise bike trails

Day 43, 7/26, Manitowish Waters, WI to five miles east of Gaastra, MI: 83.5 miles, 3,879 ft elevation gain, 13.2 mph average speed.
Trip totals: 2,532.1 miles (70.3 mile daily average), 110,212 ft elevation gain, 12.4 overall average speed.


Two days behind schedule.

Ted woke up before me, yet again, and readied our things while I slept. What a guy.

I wanted to explore the Discovery Center’s interpretive nature trail and bog Boardwalk, so we took a quick jaunt down the path while eating s’mores poptarts for breakfast. We learned about lichen, bog temperatures, and other such things, then got nervous about getting such a late start and rushed back.


    We headed out around 8:30a (so late!) and were surprised to discover a beautiful bike path right next to the road on which we were meant to ride. We figured it was just a local bike path connecting the various resorts to town (Manitowish Waters is the schmanciest resort town we’ve encountered), so we tried not to get our hopes up that it would last. The path went through a few different ecosystems, from old-growth forest to bog to grassland, and it seemed like its designers made it curvier and hillier than necessary to make it more interesting. The hills were fun, though. They were short enough that the momentum gained from going downhill carried us uphill with very little effort. It almost felt like a roller coaster.


    We started to see a few more serious looking cyclists on the trail, so we got a little more optimistic about the length of the path. Then we saw a map and noticed that the trail went all the way to two miles outside of the next town, which meant we’d have 13 miles of unexpected car-free riding this morning!

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We enjoyed this nice surprise for the remaining miles, then when we reached the end, we found that the path actually did continue into the next town. We also did a little research last night and found a fancy coffee shop (Northern Lattes – haha) in the next town, so we were excited for our mid-morning break, too. We got off to a good start today!


I got a dirty chai, Teddy got a large coffee, and we both got fancy pastries, then we relaxed in perfect weather on the porch. With the high-mileage days we’ve been pulling, it’s nice to slow down and do normal human things every once in a while.

Turns out we weren’t the only ones out for a Sunday bike ride; the shop’s bike rack quickly filled up with bikes. Pretty much everyone who rode up on a bike gave our bikes a funny look, and a few groups asked us if we were on an overnight camping trip. That’s an understatement, but basically correct. Everyone was shocked when we told them we were going across the country and had a million questions about what we were carrying and how we were surviving with so few things. Because we’re now off the main cross-country route, there are many fewer bike tourists and I guess a lot of people don’t understand that riding a bike across the country is a) possible, and b) something anyone would choose to do.  We have had to do a lot more explaining during the last few days.


We sat on the porch for two full hours before motivating ourselves to leave, and by the time we left, it was pretty hot. Luckily, we had miles of tree-lined country roads ahead of us. The roads were gorgeous and not very busy, and the hills were small enough for the first 20 miles or so that we could use momentum to help us get uphill.


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     We got to Phelps in time for lunch and found an ice cream / candy shop right at the beginning of town. We planned to eat PB&J on crackers for lunch and hoped that if we bought a couple drinks and promised to buy ice cream after lunch, they’d let us sit in their air conditioned seating area to eat lunch because it was unpleasantly hot out. They did! I got fresh-squeezed lemonade and Ted got nostalgic soda (cherry cola), and we talked to some folks about our bike tour. These folks’ family has lived in Phelps for decades and they shared a little Phelps history. Apparently Al Capone and John Dillinger used to hide out in Phelps, among other places in this region. Then we both got ice cream. They had my favorite flavor (chocolate peanut butter swirl) and Ted’s favorite way to eat ice cream (sandwiched between two chocolate chip cookies) so we were both pretty pleased.


We headed out into the heat for the final 48.5 miles of the day at 3p. In other words, if we didn’t take breaks and the hills weren’t too bad, we would get to camp at 7p. Not great.

We rode for a bit and found that there were tons of hills and it was still hot, so we took many breaks. We considered stopping 32.5 miles short of our goal at Santa’s Backwoods Motel in Nelma because we were so hot and tired (and because the name is hilarious and I was curious about the decore in the rooms), but the town was a creepy ghost town and we would be setting ourselves up for a few miserably long days if we stopped, so we pushed on.


After crossing the Michigan border, the roads got really bad. They had recently oiled and repainted lines on the road from the state line to about 10 miles into the state, which, from my perspective, serves only to make the roads look nice and mask their poor condition. The road was still crumbling despite the shiny surface.

 Riding on crumbling roads is frustrating mainly because of the stress it puts on your hands and butt. The bumps are so painful, especially toward the end of the day. To make matters worse, the grades of the hills steepened. It was also still humid and hot. After riding in these conditions for about 14 miles, we got cold drinks from a convenience store and Ted called a motel down the road and negotiated a reasonable rate because the next campground was another 20 miles away and I was very done for the day. By the way, don’t be fooled by the smoothness of the road pictured below. They had repaved exactly one of the twenty miles we rode in Michigan today, just so things looked nice at the beginning of the small town we were approaching.


We rode the final 6 miles to the motel and immediately changed into swimsuits and rode our bikes down to a beach the hotel manager recommended, about a half mile down the road. Turns out the beach was also a campground that was hidden in the corner of our next map section! Somehow we missed it and ended up spending three times as much for a hotel room than we would have spent to camp on a beach. We felt pretty dumb at this point. We hate making mistakes, especially when they cost money.

We didn’t let it ruin our time, though. We always wish for a lake at the end of a hot day and we finally got our wish! We swam out to a floating platform with a diving board and dove in a couple times, then swam to some smooth, anchored logs to sit for a while. I learned that swimming is hard after riding a bike all day. Go figure.


We headed back to our motel where we browsed the motel’s extensive VHS collection, settling on My Cousin Vinny and Notting Hill. We ordered a meal that consisted of a 1.5-pound burger sandwiched between two grilled cheese sandwiches, with cheese, bacon, and salami as toppings, and a pound of fries. The meal was meant for one person, but it was filling enough, even for two hungry cyclists, to share.

We enjoyed watching movies (though Notting Hill was disappointing; I should never trust my taste in movies as a 14-year-old) and sleeping in another comfy bed, but are excited to camp again. We’re getting soft!

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2 thoughts on “Day 43: The day of surprise bike trails

  1. Ha! I love Michigan and there are tons of cool things to do and see. I’d say it’s arguably the best state in the lower 48 for a combination of doing things outdoors and enjoying city life. But the roads are, undeniably, the worst in America. A combination of tons of freeze/thaw cycles and an idiotic state government that has no sense of shame in screwing over most Michiganders (and their cars). Regardless, I hope you two are having fun!

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    • I have to think it’s more of the latter than the former. We didn’t run into roads like this in Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, or Wisconsin. But Michigan is lovely. We’re watching the sunset over the lake at this very moment.

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