Day 49: The day of the eagle

Day 49, 8/1, Traverse City, MI to Sunrise Lake State Forest Campground, LeRoy, MI: 90.8 miles, 3,376 ft elevation gain, 12.6 mph average speed.
Trip totals: 3,022.9 miles (72 mile daily average), 125,686 ft elevation gain, 12.5 mph overall average speed.

One day behind schedule.

It’s August! Only two weeks before the tour ends! I can’t believe we’re this close to being done, but every time I think about being almost done, I remember that we still have close to (or just over) 1,000 miles left to ride. But just for fun, here are a few facts about July: We rode on 25 out of 31 days in July, including 25 out of the last 26. We climbed 67,310 ft (according to Ride with GPS, so less than that in real life), and rode 2,041 miles for an average of 81.6 miles per day. Our longest day was 129.2 miles, and our shortest day was 46.6 miles.

Back to today. So, a beer here or there to relax after a long day of riding is well and good, but from here on out, I think we’ll keep it to one. I can’t drink like I have nothing going on the next day and then get up and ride 100 miles. I groggily slapped at my phone when the alarm went off at 7:30, and sleepily started putting all of our stuff together. Pauly made us promise to wake him up before we left so we could all go to breakfast together, so we did. But when we went outside to put our bags back on our bikes I realized that a) I didn’t know where my wallet was and b) I had yet another flat rear tire. Dani quickly found my wallet for me, but I still had to change the tire.

I took the tire off the rim to try to figure out why my tire is going flat every couple of days. I noticed that one of the tire boots I used to cover the gash that I picked up on I-94 way back in North Dakota was chewed through.  It seems like the pressure of riding somehow causes the gash to expand and contract, chewing through whatever is in it’s way, be it tire boot or inner tube. I think that it might be time for me to get a new rear tire, but we’re so close to home. I decided to try a trick that I learned yesterday from the guys at the bike shop. They told me that if you folded a dollar bill over twice, you could put it in your tire and it would be as strong or stronger than a tire boot. Apparently Uncle Sam makes his money to last. I’m trying it out, and we’ll see how long it lasts!

After I got the tire inflated again, we headed out to breakfast. Pauly took us to an amazing little cafe called The Blue Heron. Oh my.  This was probably the best restaurant breakfast we’ve had this trip. We both got chorizo bowls, which came with homemade chorizo, black beans, peppers, sharp white cheddar, two eggs, and amazing homemade bread. Holy freaking moly. What a meal!

   
    By the time we were finishing up breakfast, bike shops were starting to open around town, and I stepped outside to try to find a replacement tire. It turns out that not all bike shops are as well stocked as Dakota Cyclery in Medora. No one had the tires I need. I guess I’m going to be relying on the power of the dollar for the last two weeks of the trip.

We got on the road a little after 9:30, which is the latest we’ve started in a while. We still hoped to pull a 115-mile day, but that was only going to be possible with a little luck and a lot of determination. We started the morning riding through Interlochen (our planned destination yesterday), and it was beautiful.  There were giant trees lining the road, lending a sort of enchanted storybook forest feel to the ride.There’s a renowned arts academy there, and everything was pristinely maintained. It was a wonderfully pleasant way to start the day. The riding was easy, the roads were smooth and had wide shoulders, and the shade from those giant fairyland trees kept us cool and happy.

Around 30 miles into the day, we had ridden away from those wonderful shady trees and into corn fields. We pulled into a BP station in Mesick, MI, and were excited to see another touring cyclist at the gas station getting ready to pull out. His name was Richard, and he was touring alone on a road bike with a stuff sack on a low-capacity rear rack and a rucksack, as he called it, on his back. We heard a lot about Richard from Steph and Tom, and he’s quite the interesting guy. We ran into him again, but he left pretty soon after we showed up in Mesick.

   

      

The other event of note from this break was my invention of one of the most delicious snacks I’ve ever had. A piece of fudge (I think peanut butter is ideal, but all flavors work) sandwiched between a couple of salt and vinegar potato chips. You should double up on the potato chips to get the right ratio of salty to sweet. TOBIFAS for short, Ted Olds’ Brilliant Idea for a Snack is the perfect midday energy boost on a tour. Interested sponsors should email me. Ha!

As we were pulling out, we noticed this homemade dog carrier with five hunting dogs’ heads comically hanging out of the windows on all sides of the contraption. 

 After our break, we turned south onto State Route 37. It sucked. Lots of traffic, a small shoulder, and that persistent southwestern wind. Grumble grumble. The lone bright spot of this stretch was seeing an eagle soaring over the roadway. It swooped down in a half-dive right over our heads before pulling up and flying back into the trees.

Sixty miles into the day, the heavens opened, the sun shone down, angels sang, and we turned east. The first three of those events may have been entirely in my head, but boy was I excited. From here until Canada, we’ll be following US Bike Route 20, and we’ll be going east. As we rode down the semi-decent road, I savoured the lack of wind in my face and the ease with which I spun my pedals in the top half of my gearing.

  

Shortly after we turned east, we were passed (politely) by an older pickup truck. We rode on for a minute or two and then noticed that the truck had stopped in the middle of the road a few hundred yards ahead of us. We exchanged looks and slowly continued forward, wondering what was happening. As we got close, the occupants started gesturing vigorously toward a tree on the side of the road. It was another eagle! This one was perched majestically near the top of a pine tree, staring down at us without a concern in the world. We stayed and watched him until he flew away.

   
 A few easy miles (I love it when I can use that adjective) later we rolled into Luther, where we stopped at a park near the beginning of town and ate tuna, cheese, and triscuits; fruit; and oreos for lunch. Then we continued on to LeRoy, and except for a brief stint heading south again, the miles just fell away.

After a cold drink pit stop (incidentally, Arctic  Cherry Gatorade is not very good), we headed out of town, the wrong way, which we discovered after we climbed a hill. We turned around and headed back to the route, and we heard a shout as we were passing the town restaurant. It was Richard! We swung in to say hi, and he told us that he was staying at the state forest campground a few miles down the road. We were planning on trying to go about twenty miles further, but then we discovered that those campsites were charging upwards of $30, so we decided to stay at the $13 dollar state forest campground as well.

We made it to the campground and set up camp, then Richard arrived about 10 minutes later and accepted our offer to share our site with us. Sunrise Lake State Forest has a truly primitive campground. The only amenities are pit toilets and a water pump. But who needs a shower with a lovely lake across the road? We walked down to the lake, sat down in the shallows, and washed up the best we could. I might have been on the receiving end of a few looks as I was scrubbing underneath my shorts, with soap suds coming through the fabric, but the end justified the means.

Back at camp we started to get to know Richard, who was in some ways the third and most memorable eagle of the day. I’ve been avoiding describing him up until now because I don’t really know how. He is one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met. He is an older gentleman in his late-60s and decided to do this tour “on a whim.” He is earnest and friendly, a man you immediately trust. He is retired military, and although we never learned exactly what he did, some things he said (like “I just did what my elected officials told me to do”) make us think he held a pretty high rank. When we asked him about the places he toured in the military, he listed a half dozen countries in Africa, several more in Asia, pretty much all the European countries, and “you name it, I’ve been there” in South and Central America. So pretty much the entire world. It was the closest Dani has ever come to wanting to join the military. 

His rules of retirement are that he refuses to wear a watch, answer a phone, or work on a computer. He relishes physical challenges. In addition to riding across the country on a whim, he has hiked the entirety of the Appalachian Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and a handful of other national scenic trails.

And he does it all without any sort of electronics, other than a device called a Spot that he uses to send a nightly GPS signal to his wife so she knows where he is, a device that arrived under the Christmas tree one year, much to his chagrin, and that he described as a compromise with his wife.

And he is kind and earnest. I know I already used that word, but I think it’s rare to meet someone for whom it is appropriate. He carries no hint of agenda or dissembling. He believes in the decency of people, and after traveling the world decided to live in South Dakota because he thinks that people treat each other right there.

He is also taking an orderly and disciplined approach to this bike tour that seems, at once, strict and relaxed. Richard wakes up naturally when the birds start chirping every day (no electronics means no alarm clock, but he doesn’t need one), packs up, eats a granola bar, and rides to the closest town down the road for “morning chow.” He takes a good break, 30-40 minutes, every 15-20 miles. He memorizes the next section of the map during each break (this man has an incredible memory), sticks the map in his pocket, and just rides. Richard is relying on restaurants for every meal because he did not bring a stove, so he looks for a restaurant before getting to camp for supper. He gets to camp, washes up in whatever source of water is available, does some bike maintenance, and goes to sleep early. He takes a “zero day” every 500 miles or so to keep himself fresh. Richard does absolutely nothing on zero days–all he will allow himself to do is read a book to allow for total physical and mental rest–so he makes the day before a zero day a short day to allow time to run errands. Systematic, yet he seems much less high-strung than we often do. We have so much to learn from this guy. 

He is a complex and fascinating dude. I wish I had the opportunity to get to know him better.

But it was time to go to sleep, and so we did.

Day 48: The day of much work and much reward

Day 48, 7/31, Petoskey State Park, MI to Traverse City, MI: 93.2 miles, 4,379 ft elevation gain, 11.1mph average speed.
Trip totals: 2,932.2 miles (71.5 mile daily average), 122,310 ft elevation gain, 12.5 mph overall average speed.


One day behind schedule.

These two pictures sum up much of the biking part of the day:


   

Except change Breezeway to Wind Tunnel and Steep Hill to Series of Steep Rolling Hills Lasting for 40 Miles. 

The day started out nicely with a dedicated bike path taking us five miles into the town of Petoskey. Petoskey is another touristy town with cute shops, cafes, etc. There was a coffee shop that looked like it came straight out of Brooklyn (Dripworks) that we would have stopped at, except we were hoping to make it to Interlochen, 100 miles away, and wanted to leave enough time to explore Traverse City. I’d like to come back to the northeastern coast of Lake Michigan eventually, though, without such a strict schedule. Had we not used up all of those rest days in Glacier, I would have liked to spend a few days exploring this area because it’s absolutely gorgeous and the water is the perfect temperature for swimming. Why have I never heard about this area before? I think the people who regularly vacation here want to keep it a secret. It’s just perfect here. 

   
 We climbed a large hill out of Petoskey onto a gravelly paved road leading to Wallon Lake, another tourist town on a turquoise lake. We were setting a slow pace this morning. It was hilly and the hills were quite steep, but I think we also saw how nice it could be to ride bikes slowly when we visited Mackinac Island and sort of subconsciously adopted that slow pace. We decided that we’d probably only make it to Traverse City tonight, 20 miles short of our goal, but the annual film festival was happening this weekend, so campsites and hotels were pretty well booked. We contacted three warm showers hosts in hopes that one of them would accept a last-minute request. 

We carried on to Boyne City, guided by some handy arrows for a local biking event that perfectly matched the circuitous ACA route, to eat breakfast. As an aside, ACA’s route through this region is wacky and it seems inefficient. The maps say this is because they’re trying to keep us on paved roads, but I have to believe there’s a better way. It seems like they’re aiming for the hilliest bits of the state, too!

   
      We got some local chocolate milk and snacks at the food coop in Boyne City, then sat in a lovely park by the water to eat. This chocolate milk was not quite as good as Crystal Farms or Dairigold, but better than any others we’ve tried. 

   
    We pushed on, slowly, toward Torch Lake. The hills got worse and so did the headwind. This was some of the tougher riding we’ve done recently and I was more tempted than ever to hitchhike. Enough complaining, though. It was hard work, but we made it through. 

Between each of these tourist towns are a bunch of farms and economically depressed farm towns, much like what we saw further west. It’s strange to see such different lifestyles in such close proximity. From multimillion dollar second homes with multimillion dollar yachts docked out front in Harbor Springs to corn fields and abandoned, crumbling buildings in East Jordan. I suppose this isn’t an uncommon phenomenon,  but it’s interesting to experience it on a bike. 

   
    Torch Lake is a long, narrow, turquoise lake, and it was spectacular. We got some nice views for the first half mile that we traced the lake, then we stopped at a little baked goods stand called Sami’s Sweets in front of a beautiful lakefront home being run by a pre-teen girl named Sami. Sami is quite the entrepreneur: she had rocky road cookies, chocolate chip cookies, and cupcakes for sale and was even selling a small cookbook that she had professionally printed and bound. All of her goods had stickers with a custom, professionally printed logo, and she had an army of younger kids helping her work the stand (who were quick to tell me that they were not being paid for their labor).  I wish I had that initiative at her age! And the business sense to not pay her employees – genius! We bought one of each thing and the kids’ moms offered to refill out water bottles, a service we are always grateful to receive. 

Another man stopped to buy a cupcake and asked us why we chose the route we chose instead of the more direct route to Traverse City on the other side of the lake. We told him we were following the ACA maps and that we expected this side to be more scenic. He shrugged and said, “yeah, well, you’ve got Alden coming up and that’s one of the more picturesque places you’ll see.” We assumed he was just inured to the beauty and that the rest of the road would still be pretty nice, so we decided not to backtrack toward the shortcut. 

That man was right. Nineteen miles of trees and people’s driveways to their lakefront homes. No water views. Alden was beautiful, though, and we ate at a restaurant called Mama’s Country Kitchen because they were having a Friday fish fry! We’ve heard about Friday fish fries since Fargo, but have never been in the right place at the right time to experience one. We each ate seven large pieces of cod, fries, and Ted ate coleslaw. We were stuffed and reluctant to start the second half of our day. After leaving, we stopped to take one last sit by Torch Lake before pushing on. 

   
 We made our way to state route 72, which was a pretty busy road. Michigan’s larger state routes are actually pretty nice and have nice shoulders for the most part. But Michigan does this annoying thing with the shoulders on its large state routes, at least the ones we’ve ridden: they create passing lanes by sacrificing the shoulder. And cars don’t react by getting into the left lane to pass with care, even when there’s plenty of room to do so. Of course the first time everyone is obedient to the “keep right except to pass” sign is when I’m riding a bike on a two-foot shoulder. 

Our time on 72 was short, though, and we were rewarded with a dedicated bike path that, aside from a short detour, led us all the way into Traverse City, but first to a Culver’s where we loaded up on Concretes, mine much larger than Ted’s. 

   

   We stopped at a bike shop to pick up a spare tube because Ted’s back tire has been getting a little splashy after a few days, which he thinks might be the result of a poor patch job. The shop had closed over an hour before, but they accidentally left their “Open” sign on and left the door unlocked. We surprised the guys working there when we walked in, but they still rung us up (they had also forgotten to close out the register – these things happen when you start drinking immediately after closing up the shop) and gave us a handy tip about using a dollar bill as a tire boot. 

Then we headed to a wonderful food coop called Oryana that puts the Park Slope food coop to shame. This place was huge and beautiful, and they had an incredible selection of bulk goods and produce, etc. from local farms. We picked up a few things, got a discount for riding our bikes there, and talked to some friendly folks outside. We mainly talked to Marlene and Isaiah Smith, a couple that recently moved from DC to Traverse City after retiring. They were lovely people and they made us want to move to Traverse City!

  
We then headed to a bar called The Little Fleet, which is a bar with garage doors that open up into an outdoor eating area and a parking lot with a fleet of food trucks. So cool! Our warm showers host for the night works there, so we went to say hi and grab a beer and maybe something to eat before heading to his house to sleep because we were both exhausted. We both got a beer and tacos (blackened whitefish for me, Korean beef for Ted) and hung out on the patio listening to live music. Ted ran into another bike tourist while getting another round of drinks so we chatted with him for a while. Maarten is from Belgium (Hoegaarden, in fact!) and is traveling from Vancouver to Montreal by way of…the Grand Canyon. This wasn’t his original plan, but he and his traveling partner decided to take a 2,000 mile detour to visit the Grand Canyon and the American Rockies. He’s meeting his Dad in Montreal, and they’re going to explore Quebec together. 

   
       While we were chatting, Pauly, our host, came over to tell us that his friend offered to finish his shift, so he was free to show us around town. He brought us another round of beers, a mix of Bell’s Two-hearted IPA and a Grapefruit IPA. It’s a Little Fleet special, called the “Jason Allen,” named after the bartender who invented it. 

We ended up sitting and chatting with him for a while. He is an instructor pilot when he isn’t bartending, and he’s getting ready for a bicycle trip from Vancouver to Tijuana in the fall. After a while, we headed to another bar with an extensive taplist, where we had our first sour beers of the trip (aside from those New Glarus bombers, one of which Ted is still carrying).

Pauly kept introducing us to friends of his, and next thing we knew the lights were coming on and the bar was closing. This was not the plan, but it was fun. We made it back to Pauly’s apartment, jumped through the shower, and crashed on his futon around 1:30a. 

I don’t think we’re starting at 6:00a tomorrow. 

Day 47: The day of the cyclists’ Disneyland

Day 47, 7/30, St. Ignace, MI to Mackinac Island, MI to Petoskey State Park, MI: 63.3 miles, 2,000 ft elevation gain, 12.4 mph average speed.
Trip totals: 2,838.9 miles (71 mile daily average), 117,931 ft elevation gain, 12.5 mph overall average speed.

Two days behind schedule.

Fair warning: there are a lot of pictures in this post. We thought about trying to cull some out, but we decided a day like this deserves a lot of pictures. So, they’re there. Anyway….

The second best part of waking up this morning was that there were surprisingly few mosquitos around to bother us. The third best part was that we were only going a mile to get on a ferry, not trying to make it 30 miles before breakfast.

The best part? Well for me, the best part was packing up camp and hearing Dani singing a song and making sound effects in the tent as she was packing her sleeping pad. Turns out her dream last night involved an incredibly detailed, original Caribbean-style song, and it was stuck in her head. Things like this are my favorite part of marriage. We sang her song all morning.

We left camp and rode for 10 minutes to the ferry dock. After a quick snack of PB&Banana we boarded the ferry and enjoyed the sunny, half-hour ride to Disneyland Mackinac Island.

  

The old-school bike tourist we meet last night described the island as a “bike Disneyland,” and we can’t think of a more apt description. We got off the boat and the main little town area was just full of bikes passing both directions, some people sightseeing, some people towing boxes of supplies to local businesses. It was a glimpse into how much fun the world could be if everyone only rode bikes (and everything was really clean), and it just kept getting better.

  

  

Our first stop on the island was JL Beanery, a cute little coffee shop we found on Yelp that’s right on the harbor. We sat in wicker rocking chairs and drank coffee, ate stellar breakfast sandwiches, and looked out at the gorgeous view. We could also hear the water splashing up against the dock as we sat. So peaceful! It was an amazing place to spend an hour or so.

 

We did have to deal with a lady who got all huffy when Dani decided to sit down in a wicker chair that happened to be next to her. Apparently some people around here struggle with how a cutesy coffee shop doesn’t allow for the massive amount of personal space they expect in their lives. Or maybe she just doesn’t like other people. Who knows? In any case, she left and we stayed, so it worked out for us!

It was so cozy that we left with somewhat heavy hearts, even though we knew that the rest of the island was going to be amazing as well. And boy oh boy…

Cycling paradise! Especially early in the morning when there weren’t as many other people on the road. It was still great when it got more crowded, but not everyone that was riding was, well, absolutely competent on a bike. Lots of unexpected swerving and stopping.

Anyway, the ride was spectacular. The island sits right between Lakes Michigan and Huron, and the road hugs the coast for the eight-mile circumference. Gorgeous water, gorgeous views, gorgeous lack of cars. The first stop on our ride was a 207-stair climb to Arch Rock, an arch created when wave action and high lake levels disintegrated soft rock in the center of some harder rock. Then we pedaled around to the north side of the island, enjoying the views of Lake Huron. The water was unbelievably blue. It was hard to believe we were on a lake and not in the Bahamas.

image

A little over halfway around, we turned and rode up into the interior of the island. There were a couple of battles fought here during the War of 1812, and there is significant Native American history here as well. And there’s also a golf course, because what’s an amazing natural and historical gem without one of those.

We also got to see some of the houses inhabited by the handful of lucky folks who get to live in this magical place.

When we finished the loop, we went back to JL Beanery for smoothies and cookies, and then headed into town to walk along the main street. Each and every building was stately and beautiful, but this place sure gets crowded. I’m happy we caught the first ferry over so we could see things when it was a little more quiet.

We’ve been seeing signs for Mackinac Island fudge for the past few days, so we wanted to make sure we tried some. A pound and a half seemed like a good amount: rocky road, peanut butter and chocolate almond. Then it was 1:00p, and it was time for us to get back on the ferry and ride over to Mackinaw City. Goodbye Disneyland.

We disembarked on the mitt of Michigan. Mackinac Island was amazing, but I have to say that on the whole, we were a little disappointed by the UP. I’ve heard so much about it that it had taken on almost mythic properties in my mind, so I guess it was inevitable that I was let down. Also, we didn’t really have the time to really explore anything off route, and I don’t think anyone would recommend driving down Rt. 2 as the best way to see the UP. I think if we had time to explore up around Lake Superior, we would have enjoyed the experience much more.

Anyway, we got on our bikes in lower Michigan and started to ride. But I want to explain something before I go further. A few weeks ago when I was talking to my parents, my dad said something to the effect of, “you guys sound like you’re having a lot of fun, at least when you’re not on your bikes.”

That’s really not the impression that I want to give. We really are enjoying most of this tour, on the bikes and off. That being said, I still want to complain a bit. Yesterday, today, and tomorrow we have ridden/will ride with some of the strongest, most consistent west southwest winds of the trip. The only problem with that is that these are the three days we’re riding south and southwest. It’s driving me bonkers. We’re trying to pull big mileage days to make up time, and we’re fighting the winds that we would hope and wish and pray for on 47 of the 55 riding days on our trip. Just not these three days. If the wind changes when we turn east on Saturday, I might sabotage my bike in some dramatic way so we have to rent a car. I’m kidding, or at least mostly kidding.

Oh shoot. I’m not done complaining yet. I know Dani mentioned that the roads were bad here, but they are really really bad. Today we were often forced to ride along the center line of county roads because that was the only part of the road that wasn’t reminiscent of the surface of the moon. And we were often on roads that were obviously half, or a third, repaired. I guess part of the road got so bad that Michigan was forced to do something, so they put a few miles of new pavement down, but just on a narrow strip of the road. The rest of the road was still a disaster.

So 48 miles with a 15-18 mph head or crosswind on terrible roads (to be fair, there was an 11-mile stretch on a good road with a reasonable shoulder) doesn’t sound like a lot of fun, and it wasn’t. But we still managed to enjoy the scenery. There were fields upon fields of little pink wildflowers interspersed with blades of grain, and times when we road through beautiful old forests.

  

After about four and a half hours, we made it to Harbor Springs, MI, where we bought groceries for dinner and then road through town and alongside the marina. This was one of most universally pretentious and pompous places we’ve ever seen. Big mansions on the water. Yachts upon yachts. People looking at us with surprise, disgust, fear, or some combination of the three.

It did have a nice road though. That strip down the marina was probably the smoothest road we’ve ridden on in the state.

A few miles past the marina is the Petoskey State Park. We pulled in, signed up for a campsite (a very expensive campsite; maybe the same people who decide how to fund infrastructure also decide how much to subsidize state parks), and rushed to the beach to dive into Lake Michigan and watch the sunset.

After the sunset we headed back up to the campsite and ate dinner. Dani has been very complimentary of me in her recent blog posts, talking about how I get up and get things packed while she sleeps. She makes me sound so good, and I hate to contradict someone who is complimenting me, but she isn’t telling the whole story.

I like camping. I really enjoy cooking. I also don’t mind cleaning up after dinner. But I detest cooking and cleaning while camping. I just can’t stand it. So we have a system. Dani is in charge of the evening, doing the lion’s share of setting up camp and cooking and cleaning, and I am in charge of the morning, when she wants to sleep a little more than me. Everybody wins. Yay teamwork!

Anyway, tonight she made shells and cheese with green beans, tuna, cream of mushroom soup, and salsa. It was divine. While she cooked, I cleaned the bikes and built a small fire. It was nice to eat fireside. It was the first fire we’ve built on this trip.

After dinner we waited in line to shower, and then headed back to the tent and went to bed!

Tomorrow we have a long day planned, probably fighting winds that I want for every single day AFTER tomorrow. We’ll see how that works!

Day 46: The day of spontaneous decisions

Day 46, 7/29, Indian Lake, MI to St. Ignace, MI: 96.8 miles, 1,852 ft elevation gain, 13.6 mph average speed.
Trip totals: 2,775.6 miles (71.2 daily average), 115,931 ft elevation gain, 12.5 mph overall average speed.

One day behind schedule.

There is an epidemic here in Michigan. We’re in the land of the inappropriate quotation mark. For example: 

Please close the toilet seat lid. “Thank you!”

We hope you have a “wonderful” day!

“Free” WiFi. 

All real signs we’ve seen in the U.P. But Big Boy Restaurant, a restaurant chain with multiple signs throughout the U.P., crosses the line from just being grammatically incorrect to changing the meaning of a statement in an unambiguously bad way:

Big Boy Restaurant. The “fresh” choice. 

Can someone tell me why this is so common up here? Is it an alternative to using bold or italics for emphasis? It’s driving me “crazy!”

  
On to more interesting and important things, like the sunrise Michigan gifted us this morning. 

   
    Probably the best sunrise I’ve seen in my life, but definitely the best of the trip. Did I mention that this was the view from our tent? Needless to say, we woke up feeling very lucky today. Especially because we got a sunset from our campsite last night; how often do you get a sunrise and a sunset from the same campsite? Or either from any campsite?

As usual, Ted had to wake me up to watch the sunrise in the midst of doing all of the packing work. He even removed the rainfly for me so I could watch the sunrise while I packed up my sleeping pad in the tent! I don’t know how he puts up with how slow and grumpy I am in the morning, but he does it every day with a smile on his face. 

We started off around 6:30a (not bad, not great) and it was the perfect temperature for riding. After about 6 miles on quiet state roads, we entered Manistique, a tourist town that seemingly required all of the businesses to have 50s-era signs. Then we got on US 2, where we would spend the rest of the day. 

US 2 follows the northern coast of Lake Michigan and we were promised miles upon miles of lake views. We technically had miles of lake views, less than 10 miles, but the other 80+ miles were boring, high-traffic highway riding. The good thing about boring riding, though, is that it usually equals flat riding, and today was no exception. Just a couple small hills the whole day, mostly toward the end. And the good thing about highway riding is that there’s often a giant shoulder, so it’s fairly low-stress despite the traffic. 

The road was lined with motels and resorts for much of the day, many of which were closed or for sale, few of which had many cars parked in their lots. It seems tourism in the UP is past its heyday. 

Every once in a while we could see turquoise water peeking out between pine trees in less-dense portions of the forest that separated us from the lake, so we were excited for those miles upon miles of lakeshore riding everyone told us about. 

We hit a grocery store about 20 miles in and decided it was time for breakfast. The store had a pretty limited selection, so we decided to feed an ongoing craving we’ve both been battling: Cocoa Pebbles. 

Have you ever seen two people devour a box of cereal and nearly a half gallon of whole milk in under 5 minutes? It’s probably not a pretty sight, but we both enjoyed every pebble. 

  
We rode for 30 more unremarkable miles before stopping for smoothies and free WiFi. The shop also sold pasties, the UP’s version of a meat pie, so we got one of those because everyone we met told us we had to try one. We also got a cinnamon roll, for good measure. The pasty tasted like a samosa that was missing all of the spices that make samosas taste good. It came with a side of ketchup that was, I’m not kidding, a quarter of a cup large. I guess that’s the alternative to spicing the filling? Everything else was good, and we sat for a little too long, as we do, fighting with the slow WiFi. 

We rode for many more boring miles punctuated by small tourist towns until we finally encountered those views! Lake Michigan is gorgeous–the first non-brown water we’ve seen since Glacier–and the crosswind we had all day created waves that made the lake look like an ocean. The first pictures below are from the gloomy (read: pleasantly cool) morning, and the last pictures are from the sunny afternoon. 

   
         We noticed that lots of people parked their cars on the shoulder (annoying, because it’s our lane) to swim in the lake, so we made our first spontaneous decision: lake swimming! We swam for a bit, and Ted bodysurfed with surprising success (his first ever successful body surfing in a lake), before eating some cheese curds and beef sticks on triscuits by the lake. It was a lovely way to spend an hour.

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We headed down the road for the final 15 miles before we hit St. Ignace, the last town in the UP. The options for getting to the mitt of Michigan include taking transport over a massive bridge on which bikes are prohibited or taking a ferry to Mackinac Island, a tourist island that is 80% state park and only allows bike and horse traffic, then taking another ferry to the mitt. The plan was to take the bridge transport because even though the island is supposed to be incredible, we’re running short on time and have an aggressive schedule for the next week to get to Niagara-on-the-Lake to visit Ted’s family. As soon as we got to St. Ignace, though, we decided that since we will probably never visit this corner of the world again, we should go to the island. Spontaneous decision number 2. 

  
This was great news to me because it cut 11 miles off of an already long day, and those miles would have been directly into a headwind. 

We found a state campground in town and settled in for the night. We then took a quick ride to the beach for a failed attempt at watching another sunset (blocked by a hill), then, spontaneous decision number 3, we rode our bikes to the grocery store to buy peanut butter Oreos and a small bottle of milk for dessert. 

  
A man who bike toured extensively in the 70s came to our campsite to chat for a bit. He made me very grateful for all of the progress bikes and camping gear have made in the past 40 years. 

We will wake up early to take the earliest ferry to Makinac Island tomorrow!

Day 45: The day of camping on the beach

Day 45, 7/28, Escanaba, MI to Indian Lake, MI: 53 miles, 1,064 ft elevation gain, 13.1 mph average speed.
Trip totals: 2,678.8 miles (70.5 mile daily average), 114,079 ft elevation gain, 12.5 mph overall average speed.

Two days behind schedule.

We woke from a deep deep sleep this morning at 6:00. We slept well, but just not long enough. After packing up our stuff and saying goodbye to Al, we started our ride at 6:55a–earlier than we’ve been managing lately but still nowhere close to that stretch of days when we were riding by 5:30. 

We decided to make today a short day. The plan was to ride 50 miles, get to a campground early, and get lots and lots of sleep tonight. We are very sleep deprived right now and it’s making us grumpy. 

  
The ride started out with less than two miles on town roads before we got on US 2, our old friend, as busy as ever. Outside Escanaba, US 2 is a separated, four-lane highway, reminiscent of I-94.  At least there was a wide, smooth shoulder. Well, except for one terrifying moment where it disappeared completely as US 2 passed underneath a bridge.

Our first stint on US 2 was only four or five miles long, and then we exited to follow the lakeshore through Gladstone. Shortly after leaving the highway, our plans for efficiency were thwarted by McDonald’s, which continually has enough gal to build restaurants exactly where we are at breakfast time.

A couple sausage, egg, and cheese McGriddles, a few conversations about our tour with disbelieving elderly gentlemen during their weekly breakfast club, and an hour later, and we were back on the road… for a mile. Then we stopped again at a grocery store. This was a good stop though. In part because it hasn’t been as available, we’ve gotten away from snacking on fruit and moved toward peanut butter oreos. And we’ve started to get sick of junk food, so we wanted to stock up on some good stuff. And Gushers. Good stuff and Gushers.

After a few more miles, we were back on US 2, this time for 27 miles. It was a put-your-head-down-and-pedal sort of ride. The traffic was a little lighter this time around, but still worse than anything we’ve seen since we were on I-94.

We stopped to buy cold drinks after 23 miles on US 2, and then rode another mile to eat lunch at a rest stop off the highway. We reminisced about the days we would ride 50 miles before 9:30a, and there we were with 37 miles at 11:30a.

This break lasted a little long, as is the trend. Dani tried to take a nap on the bench after eating, but when I let her know we were only 15 miles from our campground, she popped right up and got ready to go. Apparently she thought we were still 25 miles away, which seemed long enough in her mind to justify a nap. As I said, we’re sleep deprived. 

  
We rode on country roads for the rest of the day, which was a refreshing, if slightly hillier, change of pace. We stopped at a grocery store to pick up a few more things for dinner, then continued to the campground. About a mile before we reached our campground, we came across a private campground that was cheaper than the state park at which we planned to camp, so we stayed there. Plus, this place is not so popular because of its primitive facilities, so we were able to snag a beachfront spot!

   
     

 

We quickly set up camp, then went swimming, washing our selves and clothes (with biodegradable soap, of course) in the lake. The lake is very shallow, so we didn’t swim so much as sit. It was refreshing, though; the perfect end to a day of riding. We also got to see many different types of sky during the seven hours of daylight we had there, hence the multiple pictures of the same view above and below. We sat next to the lake and caught up on blog posts, made dinner around 5:30p, watched the sun set, and were in the tent by 9p. 

   
   Here’s to a restful night in preparation for a long day tomorrow!

Day 44: The day of boring riding

Day 44, 7/27, east of Gaastra, MI to Escanaba, MI: 89.1 miles+4.6 (recorded) miles around town, 2,803 ft elevation gain, 12.8 mph average speed.
Trip totals: 2,625.8 miles (71 mile daily average), 113,015 ft elevation gain, 12.5 mph overall average speed.


Two days behind schedule.

The riding today just wasn’t fun. When you’re riding across the country, there’s bound to be a few stretches that are just unenjoyable for one reason or another, but this one was unenjoyable for several reasons.

The roads were generally poorly maintained, busy, lacking a shoulder, or some combination of the three. The towns we passed were more run down than cute, the terrain was not particularly attractive, and the convenience stores had dismal selections of cold drinks. The weather was hot and headwind-y and hot. Everyone we passed told us it was too hot of a day for a “pedal bike ride,” as if we woke up and decided to ride bikes with luggage on them for fun today. Yeah, we know it’s too hot to be doing what we’re doing, and you pointing it out doesn’t make it any easier.


  We stopped about 15 miles from our final destination and took shelter in a cool, dark bar with one patron. The patron wanted to talk to us nonstop about our trip, and I’m afraid we weren’t the best bike touring ambassadors at the time. We very unconvincingly said that bike touring was the best way to travel, that we usually had fun, blah blah. But all either of us wanted to do was sit in silence drinking Gatorade poured over ice because regular refrigerated Gatorade wasn’t cold enough for us (we are such wimps these days). And this guy was a talker.

They also reminded us that we would enter eastern time in a few miles, which meant we would arrive to Escanaba an hour later than we expected. Which meant tonight would be another night without enough sleep.


   We pushed through 89 miles of this hot monotony, determined, but perhaps not without complaint. Luckily, no one could hear us complain. We couldn’t even hear each other. We mostly just heard the wind.


 Anyways, after (finally) making it into Escanaba, we stopped at Culver’s to reward ourselves with ice cream treats. Dani had a chocolate concrete, which she said was heads and tails better than the DQ Blizzard she had a few days ago, and I had a mango smoothie. We’ll have to keep our eyes open for Culver’s; any store that sells ice cream and butters both sides of their hamburger buns is OK with me.

Once our core temperature cooled down a bit, we headed over to meet our warm showers host for the evening. Al was the bright spot on this otherwise dreary day. He grew up near Escanaba and then spent 20 years in the military before coming back. He is a chef, bike commutes year round (winter in the UP!!?!), and was instrumental in getting a lakeside disc golf course constructed in Escanaba.

As we were visiting with him, his daughter and her boyfriend came by to say hi. Just lovely people all around.

Al took us on a six or so mile tour around town. He was an excellent guide, pointing out historic buildings and telling us their stories. We saw Al Capone’s old house (pictured below), the beautiful park on Lake Michigan, and several stately old buildings. We also learned that there was a tunnel leading from the House of Ludington to Al Capone’s hideout, so he could go to his favorite place to hang out without being seen. The buildings were probably a half mile away from one another. After the tour, we visited Al’s (Al, our host, not Al Capone) restaurant, which also happen to be the first brew pub on the UP, and had a round of great beer. Then we headed back to his house, grabbing a barbecue chicken pizza and some breadsticks on the way.


            We were both exhausted after our draining ride, so we headed to bed almost immediately after we finished eating. I think we’re going to make tomorrow a short day.

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!

Day 42: The day of New Glarus

Day 42, 7/25, East of Hayward, WI to Manitowish Waters, WI: 87.7 miles, 3,952 ft elevation gain, 13.4 mph average speed.
Trip totals: 2,448.6 miles (70 mile daily average), 106,333 ft elevation gain, 12.41 overall average speed.

Two days behind schedule.

***a note on stats: It has come to our attention that the elevation numbers from the Ride with GPS app can be wildly inaccurate. When I upload the rides to Strava (a different ride-tracking app), I often get much lower numbers. I’ll keep including them for the sake of comparison, but take them with several grains of salt.***

I woke up at 5:45a to start getting our stuff together. I headed downstairs to start loading up the bikes around 6:00a and there was Gerry, already up and making breakfast for all of us. A hearty breakfast of eggs, sausage, today, and orange juice was ready fifteen minutes later, and we eagerly chowed down.

Gerry and Mary decided to ride with us for the first 11 miles of our day, and after breakfast we all busied ourselves getting ready to go. After a few false starts, the five of us caravanned off. This was the biggest group we’ve ridden in since Logan Pass, and I really enjoy riding as part of a pack. I marvel at the people who are doing this trip alone. I think I would break down doing all of this riding without company.

  
The 11 miles we rode with Gerry and Mary brought us to state route 77, which as a two-lane, low-traffic highway was much busier than the quiet county roads we’ve ridden on the last few days. However, it was newly resurfaced, which made riding on it feel like riding on air compared to some of those same county roads.

We said goodbye to Gerry and Mary, and Dani, Meng, and I jumped on 77 and headed east. We stopped at a gas station in Clam Lake to stretch, snack, and try to diagnose a creaking noise that Dani’s bike started making with every other pedal stroke when she hit a big pothole earlier on. We adjusted the rear hub cones and repositioned the fender and the noise went away.

  
   

  

We continued on the beautifully smooth 77 for another 17 miles to Glidden, which was Meng’s final destination for the day. After saying goodbye, we carried on for nine more miles (on a good, but less smooth road) to Butternut. We were excited to get to Butternut a) because it’s a fun name for a town and b) because the couple we meet yesterday in Edgewater recommended Jumbo’s Diner in Butternut to us, using words no bike tourist can resist, “They serve huge portions of good food for really cheap prices.”

They were right. Jumbo’s is a great little diner set back from the road a little bit. The locals eating there didn’t seem to know what to make of us, and so they all just stared at us for 10 or so minutes after we sat down. We unknowingly made it in just a half hour before they closed, thank goodness. I had a chicken quesadilla and Dani had a chili cheese omelet. I also grabbed a big $0.60 cookie for later.

  

After Jumbo’s, we were back on county roads for the next 30 miles. Our route took us through some gorgeous lake country and past the Turtle Flambeau Flowage. 

It was beautiful, but hot, and we were excited to make it into Mercer to grab a cold drink and buy some groceries for dinner before the final push into Manitowish Waters. As we were standing around the gas station drinking Gatorade, Carol from Connecticut rolled up. She is on a tour from Vancouver back to her home, by way of Jasper and Banff national parks. She stayed at the same place as us, and is a remarkable woman. She is survived a multiple-year battle with cancer, and promised herself that if she made it through she was going to really live. Her enthusiasm and optimism was infectious, and she was a delight to be around.

Anyways, from the gas station we swung by the grocery store to shop for dinner and New Glarus beer. Beer from the New Glarus Brewery is as famous as it is rare (for those of us that don’t live in Wisconsin, at least). They only distribute here and I was determined to try some before we head into Michigan tomorrow. First I had to decide between mixing a six pack of their standard beers or going for a bomber of their specialty stuff. After a while, I decided to go the specialty route, but then I had to pick from the three that were available.

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Oops. Oh well, good beer is worth carrying.

After the grocery store, it was a fast 10 miles to the North Lakeland Discovery Center, a lakeside lodge and education center on an undeveloped lake that allows touring cyclists to stay for free when rooms are available. It’s a fantastic place. We had our own room, and access to free showers, laundry, and use of their kitchen. We showered and called our parents before heading to the kitchen to make a stew-y sort of meal with rice, beans, potato, zucchini, green pepper, and tomato. And lots of spice (because Dani cooked and that’s just what happens).

  
  

After dinner we drank a New Glarus beer while watching the sun set over the lake.    

The mosquitoes came out in full force after the sunset, so we headed back to our room where we tried to catch up on the blog, but quickly succumbed to exhaustion. One day we’ll catch up.

Day 40: The day we almost decided to move to Minneapolis

Day 40, 7/23, Minnetonka, MN to Cumberland, WI: 112.3 miles, 4,441 ft elevation gain, 13.2 mph average speed.
Trip Totals: 2,228.1 miles (69.3 mile daily average), 98,927 ft elevation gain, 12.3 mph overall average speed.

Two days behind schedule.

I should have known better. We spent the better part of a week in Glacier National Park, after all. I wondered at those majestic mountains and read all those signs explaining how glacial movements shape the land. They leave hills. Lots of hills.

Anyways, I’m jumping ahead of myself. The day started when we reluctantly pulled ourselves out of the ridiculously comfortable bed we’ve slept in the past two nights and stumbled out into the main room to find Pat cooking us yet another meal. Yep. Still spoiled.

We got all packed up and left the warm hospitality of the Cummings clan around 7:15a. On the way out of their neighborhood, we stopped to chat with a group of ladies out for their morning walk. They had a few disbelieving questions about our trip, and we talked for around five minutes. They turned out to be perhaps the most fortunate minutes of our trip though, because we were making the turn out of the neighborhood a few minutes later when we heard a car honking behind us. We looked back, and there was Pat rolling up behind us to give Dani her cell phone which somehow didn’t make it into her bag. Phew. Disastor averted.


    


Minnetonka is a southwest suburb of the Twin Cities, and our route picked back up on the northeast side of St. Paul, about 22 miles away. Of those 22 miles, I think maybe four were spent on a road that we shared with cars. Everything else was dedicated bike routes. We’ve heard lots about the great bike infrastructure of the Twin Cities and of Minnesota in general, but we weren’t prepared for this awesomeness. I think those 22 miles were the most pleasant urban riding I’ve ever done. It almost makes me want to move to Minnesota just for the pleasant bike commute.

And to top it off, we met up with the official ACA North Lakes Route at the Gateway State Trail: 17 more miles of traffic-free trail riding.



We savored our time away from car traffic a little too much, and we missed our turn off the trail. Oops. Instead of backtracking a couple of miles, which is something we’d almost never do (probably to get a forgotten phone, but not much else), we googled a new route to the St. Croix River crossing that would take us into Wisconsin. Our new route took us up the west side of the river on state route 95 for about 14 miles. It was OK, but it wasn’t the best road we’ve ridden on.

While we were chugging along up a hill, a guy in a SUV slowed down next to us and asked us about our trip, etc. About five miles later, we were cruising down a different hill toward a small town, trying to decide if it was too early for a cold drink stop As we approached the turnoff, we saw the same guy, sandwich in hand, flagging us down to tell us that the general store in town was a great place to get lunch. We couldn’t argue with a guy who made such an effort to recommend the place to us, so we stopped.

According to our new friend, Marine on St. Croix, MN is one of the oldest logging towns along the St. Croix, and the general store has been in the same place in the same building for over 100 years. It was an adorable old store, with a wide selection of groceries and a little deli in the back. I had a roast beef sandwich, and Dani had gumbo, an apple, and a cream filled donut. But the highlight of the meal was the chocolate milk. Fresh from a local farm, non-homogenized whole chocolate milk. Best of the trip, by far. I enjoyed it so much that I drank way more than my fair share, which only became a problem when I went to buy another bottle and they were out. Dani was fairly sad, but I promised that we would find more at a grocery store in Osceola, 12 miles away.

We began passing several historic buildings that were beautifully maintained. This area seems to take more pride in its architectural history than most of the places we’ve gone through, which is probably just a prohibitively expensive undertaking for most small towns.

  
Route 95 was a bit sketchy for a couple of miles before the turn toward Osceola, which is probably why ACA tried to take us off the trail early, but we made it through and shot down to the bottom of the river valley, across the spectacular river, and into Wisconsin, where we promptly had to climb back out of said river valley.


Osceola is at the top of the (first) hill, and it was a cute little town that I wish we could have explored more thorougly. We were making slow progress, so we didn’t have time to explore, but I had a promise to keep, so visited the grocery store in search of chocolate milk.

Then came the decision. We (unevenly) split a quart with lunch, so we considered getting another quart and giving most of it to Dani, but that didn’t sound like fun to me. But the only other option was to get a half gallon, and we didn’t really have time to relax as we drank the whole thing.


I guess this was the obvious answer. It was produced right there in Osceola, and we figured the distribution was extremely limited, so we wanted all we could handle. A half gallon was, incidentally, ALL we could handle. There were two inches of cream on top, after all. We left Osceola with full, sloshy tummies, and started one of the more grueling afternoons of the trip.

We had ridden almost 60 miles at that point, but it was another 56 to Cumberland, where Michele’s family was waiting for us. The day was hot, the road was hilly, and the wind was strong across. We left Osceola around 12:30p, arrived at our destination at 7:05p, and I don’t care to dwell to much on the time in between. I will say that if you are reading this because you’re planning on biking the North Lakes Route, you can cut off six or so completely extraneous miles by skipping Amery.


      Anyway, what we found waiting for us more than made up for those six and a half hours. We were welcomed with (literal) open arms by Bob, Jeannie, Heather, Bill, and Matthew, Michele’s parents, sister, sister’s partner, and sister’s partner’s brother. We quickly showered, and then joined back up with our hosts. Bob and Jeannie have created an absolute wonder of a home right on idyllic Beaver Dam Lake. We sat by the lake and snacked on a cheese and meat plate before being called up to one of my favorite meals of the trip. Chicken parmesan with homemade marinara, paired with beets and green beans right out of Bob’s garden and a fresh fruit salad. Finally, we found a little extra room for vanilla ice cream topped with Jeannie’s oh-my-goodness-this-is-so-delicious homemade chocolate sauce.


We chatted for a while after dinner, but we were exhausted, and we soon headed down to bed.

If every tough day ended like this one, I think we’d push ourselves a lot harder.

Days 38 and 39: The days we spent with family

Day 38, 7/21, Dalbo, MN to Minnetonka, MN: 58.5 miles, 2,132 ft elevation gain, 12.8 mph average speed.
Trip Totals: 2,175.8 miles (68 mile daily average), 94,486 ft elevation gain, 12.3 mph overall average speed.

Three days behind schedule.

We woke up this morning to the smell of a big pot of oatmeal, prepared by chef Tom. Tom had dried fruit, nuts, and granola to top the oatmeal and it was delicious. We said goodbye to Steph and Tom (they’re heading south to Madison and skipping the UP, so we won’t see them again on this trip) and left the bicycle bunkhouse around 8:30a.

The first 20 or so miles were fast, relatively flat, and pleasant. We got to St. Francis, a town big enough to have a McDonald’s, and as has become our tradition if we see a McDonald’s before 10:30a, we stopped in to get breakfast sandwiches and orange juice.

The next 38 miles of riding were decidedly unpleasant, mainly because we were approaching the biggest city we’ll see on our trip (excluding NYC, of course) – Minneapolis. Minneapolis has a lot of suburbs that expand out for miles in all directions and the majority of our trek from the northeast suburbs to the southwest suburbs was high-stress. We encountered many four- to six-lane highways with no shoulder and only sidewalks to ride on. We rode on a nice trail for a couple of miles, though, which was a refreshing change of pace.

 Minnesota is the most bike-friendly state we’ve ridden in so far. We learned that there are over 1,500 miles of trails in the state and they’re continuing to build more. However, it’s interesting how a generally bike-friendly culture reacts to people riding bikes in places that are not conducive to or designed for bike riding. Lots of anger directed our way. But there was no way around it unless we rode into the city and back out (like taking the two short sides of a triangle rather than the hypotenuse), so we suffered through.
Our first stop was the REI in Maple Grove. We’ve been pretty excited for this trip to REI because my sleeping pad recently broke in an unfixable way and the lock we bought there is horrible and impractical. We returned these things, then I spent almost 30 minutes trying out different sleeping pads only to give the REI Flash a third try. It packs small and light, it’s comfortable, and all comparable sleeping pads sell for $50 to $100 more, an expense I can’t justify. Here’s hoping it doesn’t break a third time, at least not before the end of our trip!

We were starving so we got some quick chicken sandwiches from Chick-Fil-A, then headed to Minnetonka to visit my family. We were greeted by this beautiful sign at the door, created by my amazing, talented, beautiful, bright cousins, Sydney (9) and Jonah (6).

I’d like to draw your attention to Ted looking panicked after his bike got away from him, while I’m just cruising along (pretty quickly, by the looks of it). Good work, cousins! Sydney did most of the heavy lifting on this sign, but Jonah drew some “screech aliens” and a “snowman arm wrestling a cloud-looking thing,” and he “put the ‘E’ in jail.”

Sydney and Jonah were home, so unfortunately for them, they had to deal with our sweaty, stinky hugs. Soon after we arrived, Sydney and Jonah were off to basketball camp, so we showered and relaxed for a bit before heading out with my uncle Pat to pick them up. We caught the end of Sydney’s practice, so we got to see her dominate the co-ed scrimmage. She made two out of the three or four baskets that were made during the scrimmage and displayed some impressive speed and defensive skills. She stole the ball a couple times, and Coach Jarvis stopped the scrimmage to make one of her steals a learning moment about how to dribble against a good defensive player. So proud!

We headed back to their house, where my uncle Pat and aunt Michele prepared a delicious meal of buffalo blue cheese chicken burgers, salad, and fries that we ate in their beautiful screened-in porch.  They also picked out a couple of bombers of delicious local microbrews. Before we ate, though, Ted and I got our butts kicked in a little 2v2 basketball game against Sydney and Jonah. Jonah makes almost every shot he takes and Sydney, as I explained, is a beast. But still. We probably shouldn’t have struggled to keep up with a six- and a nine-year-old.

At one point during dinner, Jonah pulled Ted away to show him his room and Ted came back looking like this:

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The next day we woke up to an enormous breakfast prepared by Pat, including eggs, hash browns, bacon, sausage, and english muffins with homemade jelly. Pat took the day off, so we headed to the Como Zoo in St. Paul. We checked out some of the animals first, then headed to the attached amusement park.

We rode lots of rides, including a zip-line, a roller coaster, and a pirate ship. It’s been years since I last rode on an amusement park ride and I forgot how well they do at turning your stomach.

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The hit of the day, though, was this water ballon slingshot game in which one person slings a water ballon through the air, aiming at a platform above their competitor to drench them. My cousins, yet again, showed us their superior hand-eye coordination by soaking Ted more than he soaked them.

  

Sydney went to dance practice after we got home while Ted and I hung out with Jonah. Jonah is a focused, talented, and energetic dude. He ran around shooting baskets until he reached 101 (because he wanted to make more than 100 baskets), and he made almost all of the shots he took. Then, because he still wasn’t tired, he rode his bike for over an hour without stopping while talking to me about dogs.

While Jonah dazzled me with his basketball skills, Ted spent a few hours cleaning and adjusting the bikes. My bike hasn’t been shifting properly, and he spent a good amount of time adjusting it and then getting frustrated by its absolute refusal to stay adjusted. He ended up riding it to a bike shop a mile away, where he learned that my rear shifting cable was sticking and needed to be replaced. The bike shop folks were super friendly and excited about our trip, and while they replaced the cable and housing (for free!), they also let Ted test ride a fat bike, which he loved and now wants, even though I keep reminding him that we live in 319 square feet.

When Sydney and Michele got home from dance practice, Sydney showed me her tap routine (which was impressive, of course), while Pat and Michele prepared yet another spectacular meal. We had salad, sweet potato chips, grilled chicken with two different marinades (northwoods and applewood smoked) and Kalbi marinated pork. It was all yummy, but the Kalbi pork in particular was wonderful! We are getting so spoiled! I don’t know what we’re going to do when we have to cook for ourselves in our little camp pot again.

After dinner, Sydney directed a movie starring all of us. Ted played a “creepy janitor” who moonlights (daylights?) as the school librarian and who stole Michele’s hat, only to be caught by Pat, who excelled in the detective role.

After shooting the movie, it was time for us to go to bed. We have to bike again tomorrow, after all. We couldn’t have asked for a better rest day. We enjoyed every moment we spent with the Minnetonka Cummings clan and are sad to have to leave so soon.