Day 58: The day we slept in a haunted mansion

Day 58, 8/10, Holley, NY to Clyde, NY: 73.1 miles, 1,776 ft elevation gain, 12.1 mph average speed.


Trip totals: 3,670.5 miles (74.9 mile daily average), 135,579 ft elevation gain, 12.5 mph overall average speed.

Ted woke up and looked at the weather first thing, saw a huge storm on the radar, and developed a storm avoidance plan for the day. We would ride to Rochester to eat breakfast, then ride until the first bit of storm caught us, seek shelter, then race to our final destination before the giant storm caught us.

   
    The morning ride was beautiful, but a little monotonous. Canal on the right, trees on the left, dirt trail ahead. I know I sound like a spoiled brat complaining about this beautiful dedicated bike path, but the problem with monotony is that the miles tick by slowly, which is a problem when you don’t plan to eat breakfast until you’re 25 miles into the day. As we approached Rochester, the trail got nicer and nicer until it became paved about seven miles before we hit Rochester. We immediately picked up speed on the pavement, and the scenery diversified a bit, too, with some densely forested sections, A few large parks with tall trees, and some rusty vestiges of an industrial boom. It was lovely riding. 

   
         The good restaurants in Rochester all seemed to be 4 miles away from the trail and since we were racing a storm, we didn’t want to add 8 miles to our day. We found a popular cafe on Yelp in a town 7 miles down the road, so we decided to deal with the stomach pangs a little longer. 

The trail continued to be paved and beautiful all the way to Pittsford, where we left the trail for breakfast. We ate at the Village Bakery and Cafe, a modern artisanal establishment at which we spent far too much money. Everything was delicious, though, so we have no regrets. 

   
    While we sat at the cafe, we looked into motels for the night, mainly because there was a flood warning in the forecast, but also because there were no campgrounds the right distance away. We called two places, one with a number that was out of service and another that didn’t answer the phone. So we figured we’d just ride to the first town with a motel and see what happened. 

We continued on the Erie Canal trail and arrived in Fairport after about seven miles. We noticed that we were passing towns every seven miles on the dot and we were told that there’s a town every seven miles on the Erie Canal because mules used to tow barges down the canal, using the same path that we’re riding on now, and a mule can tow a barge seven miles in a day. That being said, the Erie Canal Song talks about going “15 miles on the Erie Canal,” so there is a bit of a discrepancy. 

   
    
  
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  Fairport was very cute, but we didn’t stop because we had just finished a long break. There’s no way to know if a town is going to be a town with a gun and pawn shop / grocery / gas station / diner or if it’s a cute town with fancy coffee shops and such. So every once and a while we make a mistake, but it’s more fun to be surprised by a nice town than to dread a less nice town. 

At Palmyra, about 58 miles in, we got a call from one of our lodging options, the Erie Mansion B&B. They had plenty of space for the night!

   
   We continued on and that first bit of rain Ted detected on the radar had caught us in Newark. We knew it was coming, though, and were already on our way to shelter at Wegman’s, a grocery store with a cult-like following among people who’ve lived in upstate NY. As a lover of grocery stores, I was excited to see what all the fuss was about. I understand the obsession now; Wegman’s is wonderful. We both got hot deli sandwiches, cut pineapple, and a cookie, and ate in their nice cafe with free wifi. Everything was great, but the cookies were the star of the show. They were the perfect chocolate chip cookie, so we bought a pack of six for the road. 

As we sat at the cafe, both of our phones started buzzing and some alarms started going off in the store simultaneously – there was a flash flood warning until six. The big storm was catching up to us! We had 14 miles left to the mansion (two towns away!), so we scrambled to buy some groceries, ran outside, and started pedaling. We opted to stay on the road because the dirt trail makes for poor riding in a storm. We rode quickly through a gentle sprinkle to Clyde, home of the Erie Mansion. 

  
The Erie Mansion is gorgeous and sticks out in the dying town of Clyde. We waited on the porch for the owner, who arrived in a vintage pickup truck. Our host, Mark, is a fascinating man. He’s been collecting antiques for over 35 years and has enough stuff to at least fully furnish a mansion, as well as 12 cars and several motorcycles, mostly vintage. The mansion is stuffed to the gills with his furniture, and he’s got a valuable armoire sitting in the utilitarian stairwell leading to the side entrance, so the man’s got fine wood furniture coming out of his ears. 

   
    Mark bought this mansion for $75,000. That is not a typo. Mark owner finances real estate and currently has around 80 homes in his portfolio, so he knows a thing or two about buying houses. Apparently people can’t keep up with the maintenance and taxes on a place like this, so folks are selling their mansions for pennies. This mansion was formerly a retirement home and an apartment. The lady who lived here before Mark wrote a bunch of grants and put $750,000 into maintenance and improvements, so it was in pretty good shape when he acquired it. Bring in a crazy amount of antique Baroque and ornately carved East Asian furniture and you’ve got yourself a proper mansion!

   
    We settled into our room, the Eerie Suite (we got a free upgrade because he hadn’t had a chance to clean the cheapest room), which was death themed and easily twice the size of our apartment. There were many taxidermied animals, many skulls, a “coffin table,” and a wall full of alligator skins. The sitting room had a snake skin border. It was intense. 

While we showered, a heavy storm began and the whole town’s basements started flooding, apparently, because we could hear pumps and sirens in all directions. During a break in the storm we headed to the Save-a-Lot to pick up groceries for dinner. We settled on two boxes of cereal because we didn’t feel like cooking. 

In town we saw Prius Repellant, a contraption I had never seen, but Ted had heard of. Apparently, it’s somewhat of a new trend among rednecks. Prius repellant is a $500 modification for rednecks with diesel engines who want to rebel against all of the treehuggers who care about the environment. And Obama. This article tells us they’re also rebelling against Obama. The contraption tricks a diesel engine into releasing more fuel than necessary, creating a black cloud of exhaust. It’s called “rolling coal,” and it’s the new most obnoxious thing I’ve ever seen. I understand that diesel trucks serve an important purpose for a lot of people, but to be proud of the pollution they produce is a whole new level of ignorant.

Image from college humor


We headed back and ate a box of cereal, then went downstairs for a complimentary tour of the mansion. The mansion was built by a doctor, then renovated by his daughter, the wife of the deceased Charles Ely, the owner of one of the world’s largest glass companies during the Erie Canal era, Clyde Glass Works. Fun fact: Clyde Glass Works was approached by some investors who wanted to purchase the company, but Charles declined. The investors ended up purchasing Corning Glass, which remains one of the world’s largest glass companies. In fact, they produce the Gorilla Glass that I’m typing on right now! Sadly, Clyde Glass Works collapsed, as did the town around it. 

The mansion was incredible. So huge. So ornately decorated. There is one bedroom that holds $65,000 worth of furniture. 

   
 Mark knows a bunch of parlor tricks and decided to crack a massive whip (so loud!) and blow fire for us. He also has a handlebar mustache, a penny-farthing that he rides around town, and a hat for every occasion. We got to see his day hat, his tour hat, his penny farthing hat, and his rain hat today. He is like a 19th century cartoon character. 

   
 Mark invited us to town to drink a beer with him. By “a beer,” he meant three beers poured into one giant yard-long glass called a Yard. We grabbed umbrellas and braved the flooded streets to drink a yard with Mark at The Little Barrel, one of Clyde’s two bars, at which we were the only three patrons. Drinking a Yard is tricky and requires a lot of patience, especially toward the end when a giant bubble forms in the bottom and if you tip it too quickly, the beer will end up on your face. As novices, we drank with two hands, but Mark is a pro and drank with one. We avoided spills and avoided dropping the expensive glass.

   
    Mark invited us to the town’s second bar, which was a little skeezier and had two other patrons who seemed like the archetypal town drunks. Mark bought the whole bar a drink (something he’s always wanted to do and with five patrons, it seemed like an affordable time to do it) and we all watched WWF or WWE or whatever it’s called. It was disgusting and I was immediately ready to leave. We drank quickly and headed back to the mansion, past more emergency flood services pumping people’s basements. 

  
Mark asked if we wanted to watch him pour himself a drink because “it’s kind of fun to watch,” so we did (he doesn’t have a liquor license so he couldn’t offer us a drink). Pouring himself a drink involved two gravy boats, a snifter, a lighter, and a bottle of bourbon, and it looked like this:  

 We headed to bed a bit later than we wanted, but it was worth it to hang out with such an interesting guy. 
 

Day 54: The perfect day

Day 54, 8/6, Peacock Point, ON, CA to Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON, CA: 81.8 miles, 625 ft elevation gain, 12.2 mph average speed.
Trip Totals: 3,517.7 miles (74.8 mile daily average), 132,245 ft elevation gain, 12.5 mph overall average speed.

Lost one rest day, 0 days behind schedule. 

Warning: I’m going to do a fair amount of gushing over how wonderful Canada is (with America being the implied point of contrast), so I’m sorry if that offends anyone.

Today was perfect. The perfect day of riding. The perfect bike tour day. We didn’t pass anything spectacular today; it was just exceedingly pleasant for 100 percent of the day.

We woke up pretty early today–even I woke up early!–because we knew we were riding our bikes to two rest days in a cute tourist town. We rode hard over the last week in order to make today a bit shorter. Still 80 miles, but 20 miles makes a big difference at the end of the day.

We rode away from the coast of Lake Erie for a few miles, then came to Lakeshore Road, which traced the shore for about half of the day. The Canadian side of Lake Erie is beautiful turquoise, albeit not as dramatically turquoise as Lakes Michigan or Huron, and Lakeshore Road delivered gorgeous views of the lake all morning.


            

We’ve ridden past a lot of different types of lakefront properties, but the ones we saw today were by far my favorite. For the most part, the homes we passed today were smaller and a little more worn than others we’ve seen, but most had the mixture of character and practicality that I appreciate in a home (aka, no McMansions). The green house with the red door below is my favorite house of the trip. The lots were smaller and the beaches weren’t as nice, but the clusters of houses had more of a community feel than the larger homes on multiple acre lots we’ve seen. The prices were good, too! We saw lakefront homes for as little as 230,000 CAD, which wouldn’t even get you a studio apartment–or a parking space, for that matter–in our neighborhood in Brooklyn. It’s too bad Ted’s going to an American law school because I would have us moving to Canada tomorrow. If anyone’s got 430,000 CAD (so only 340,000 USD!) lying around and feels like buying us a house, I’ve decided that I’d like this converted church, please.


    In the middle of this lovely morning, we passed a strange cluster of objects in the middle of a field – a telephone booth, a wooden beam with two TV tubes attached to the posts, and a large wooden chest. I slowed down to read the sign – it was a tiny museum! We stopped to explore, of course, and learned that the FOOTSOLE Museum is a collection of Found Objects On The Shores Of Lake Erie, created this summer by Ellen Irving, a woman who lives across the street from the museum. Irving set out to open South Cayuga’s smallest museum, and it surely must be a contender for the world’s smallest museum. The phone booth is the main attraction, displaying on its walls beach glass (including rare colors and information about the different types), lucky stones, a petrified frog, some turn-of-the-century dentures, and a film canister with a message that floated down from Waterloo, Ontario over the course of 18 years! There are many other treasures inside, most with a hand-written description of the item, and visitors are encouraged to contribute to the collection. I feel like the word “whimsical” was created to describe this project.  

            We kept riding along and turned away from the lake for a bit to get to Dunnville, where we continued our tradition of morning coffee and breakfast. We spotted The Minga, a cafe that was created to build community in Dunnville and provide meeting space for any and everyone. It was beautiful inside and we got coffee, dirty chai, hummus, and freshly baked muffins. We sat on their wifi for a long while (because even Verizon doesn’t work in Canada) before Ted dragged me away.


   We met back up with Lakeshore Road for more lovely riding before we reached Port Colbourne, where a couple miles of city driving brought us to the Welland Canal Trail, a trail that runs all the way from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario, and that would bring us to Ted’s parents’ vacation rental in Niagara-on-the-Lake (NOTL). The Welland canal was beautiful, as was the trail. As I warned, everything was lovely, beautiful, perfect, etc. all day long.  

  In Welland, we saw a sign for free air and Ted used the industrial air pump to pump up his tire. The dollar bill tire boot had reached the end of its useful life, and he just wanted to make it to NOTL before he had to change the tire. The pump was next to a community center that had a bathroom and shaded picnic tables, so it seemed like a good spot for lunch. After eating tuna, we started off again and spotted this enormous grandstand on the canal. I’ve never seen such infrastructure to watch a regatta!


We met a retired man on a road bike who was very curious about bike touring. He attributes the disappearance of his back problems to bike riding and wants to try out touring. He was a really nice guy and he told us not to pass up the fruit stands we’d see as we approached NOTL.

We passed the town of Thorbold, which had a tremendous mural project on the buildings next to the canal (sorry, I wasn’t quick enough with my camera, but here are some pictures), then left the trail shortly thereafter to ride toward Ted’s family’s house. We rode through acres upon acres of vineyards and stone fruit orchards, which is a welcome agricultural change from corn, soybeans, and wheat. We picked up a load of peaches for just $2 and while some weren’t quite ripe yet, the ones that were lived up to the hype!


   After a few miles of town riding, we reached The Cabernet House, our home for the next three nights! Ted’s sisters were outside watching for our arrival, which was a super fun way to end the day. We sat on the porch for a while, then showered and ate Ted’s dad’s famous spaghetti. Ted requests his dad’s spaghetti every time we visit his parents in Pittsburgh, and it never disappoints! I think Ted ate a full pound of spaghetti by himself. Maybe more.

We then all headed down to Main Street to get ice cream, then headed to take our first look at Lake Ontario. We could see Toronto in the distance, which was pretty cool. After this trip, I’ve got my eye on Toronto as a potential home after we get priced out of NYC (though, Toronto isn’t a whole lot cheaper).

We were pooped so we went to bed pretty soon after we returned home.

We’re getting pretty close to the end of our trip and are getting reflective already. We rode our first century last fall–the New York City Century, which is flat and well-supported–and if you told me after that ride that I’d ride 100 miles with 50 pounds of gear on my bike, I would have laughed at you. If you told me I’d do that for six consecutive days, I would have had a panic attack. It’s amazing what your body is capable of if you manage to persuade yourself that something is possible (or, more accurately, that it’s necessary). I can’t believe we’ve come so far and I’m equally surprised that we’ve had fun doing it. I hope we make it home safe!

Day 53: The day of a most enjoyable century ride

Day 53, 8/5, New Glasgow, ON, CA to Peacock Point, ON, CA: 112 miles, 1,743 ft elevation gain, 13 mph average speed.
Trip totals: 3,517.7 miles (74.7 mile daily average), 131,620 ft elevation gain, 12.5 mph overall average speed.

One day behind schedule.

Today was another big mileage day. We’re hurrying to meet my family in Niagara-on-the-lake, and we’ve been piling up the miles to get there on time. Including today, we’ve ridden 597 miles in the last six days, an average of 99.5 miles per day. Our bodies are holding together remarkably well, but we’re definitely looking forward to having a couple days off!

We woke up this morning feeling a little sticky. We’ve been fortunate on this bike tour to almost always have an option of a shower, a sink, a lake, or something to wash off the grime of the day’s ride. Mornings like this make us grateful for that. The feeling of pulling on clean bike shorts over a dirty body, while it isn’t terrible in the grand scheme of things, isn’t particularly fun. But being a bit sticky was a price we were willing to pay for getting to camp for free and right next to the route.

And even though we were sticky, today might have been my favorite day of riding of the entire trip. The day started with eleven miles on Ontario Rt 3 before we turned off the main road and headed down toward the coast. We rode for the rest of the day on generally smooth, sparsely trafficked roads.

      We covered the 30 miles to Port Stanley by about 9:45a, where we continued our recent tradition of stopping for coffee and second breakfast at a cute coffee shop/cafe. With one or two exceptions in touristy towns, we didn’t see any sort of cute coffee shops between Central Washington and Fargo, ND. And only recently have they become frequent enough for us to count on seeing them in most decent sized towns. It’s probably good for our budget that this wasn’t always an option, but we’re loving it now that it is.

Anyway, the coffee shop of choice this morning was the Village Square Coffee House. We split a french press of coffee and ordered two breakfast sandwiches and two pecan caramel rolls. Then we sat outside, next to Port Stanley’s coffee shop breakfast club. They seemed to know every single person who walked, drove, or rode past their corner table. Our favorite conversation we overheard was when they greeted someone who had just returned from Portugal by saying, “Oh! So you came back?” and the lady responded, “Well how couldn’t I since we live in paradise?” It speaks highly of a place like Port Stanley that the people who live here feel that way, and that conversation might have been the spark of Dani thinking that the Canadian shore of Lake Erie would be the perfect place for us to retire. Or just live.

We finished our pastries and sandwiches and decided that we were still hungry, so I headed back inside to order two more breakfast sandwiches. The girl behind the counter laughed at me when I ordered; I guess our bike tour diet is a little surprising to some people.

After breakfast we climbed a shockingly steep, but mercifully short hill out of the Port Stanley’s river valley. This was a harbinger of the terrain for the day. We had long stretches of almost perfectly flat riding, punctuated by short steep descents into towns and short steep ascents back out. It was perfect. The hills were far enough apart and just steep enough to make us grateful for how pleasant it was to ride over the long stretches of flat terrain between the towns. 

  
Fifty-five miles into the day we rolled into Port Burwell, where we got our first real broad view of Lake Erie. I visited Erie, PA once when I was little, and I have a foggy memory of the lake being dull and gray. Or maybe it was just a dull and gray day. In any case, the lake we saw on our ride today was nothing like the lake of my memory. Sparkling turquoise blue water. Beautiful.

After taking in the view we headed back to the ice cream shop we passed entering town. Dani got some ice cream, I got a root beer, and we split the raspberries that we bought from a farm stand earlier on. That’s another thing that we’re really enjoying about Canada. There are farm stands everywhere. We’ve seen more farm stands in two days in Canada than we saw everywhere else. It’s great to be able to get some fresh fruit as we ride. And so tasty!

   
    After raspberries and ice cream we got back on the road. The twenty miles between Port Burwell and Port Rowan might be my favorite stretch of the trip thus far. It was mostly flat, the roads were in great condition, we had mostly favorable winds, there was almost no car traffic, and we were treated to gorgeous views of Lake Erie. I feel like I need to include a more detailed description about something that I’m claiming was my favorite riding of the trip, but it wasn’t really spectacular or extraordinary in any particular way. It was just a lovely lovely stretch of road for cycling.

   
    

  

We stopped about halfway between the two ports to read a series of informative signs about the wind turbines we’ve been riding past (and using as an indication of wind direction and speed) for the last day and a half. Ontario has recently invested upwards of $150 million into wind turbines near the Lake Erie coast, and we learned a lot about wind energy. We also learned (from other placards and signs along the road) that there is a group of people who are really unhappy about the turbines being near their homes. I personally have trouble understanding exactly why wind turbines make people so upset, but apparently a lot of people are quite unhappy.

We cruised into Port Rowan (77 miles into the day) and stopped at the grocery store to pick up some cold drinks, fresh pineapple, and cinnamon rolls. Then we walked across the street to the library so we could use their WiFi to plan the rest of our day. We sat on a bench near the library for a half hour or 45 minutes before we headed back onto the road.

The riding got a little harder from there on out. We were heading northeast instead of southeast, and the wind was a little more in our faces. And while the basic idea of the terrain was the same, the towns were much closer together, which meant that the flat stretches were much shorter. And the hills were, if possible, even steeper. Maybe the steepest hills of the trip. But they were still short, and the towns we rode through were adorable little fishing towns with awesome old architecture. We also saw our first full-blown mansion of the trip. Mansions make Dani a little angry. She thinks they are a waste of excellent real estate and perfectly good building materials and that there is no family on the planet that could justify building such a large home. 

   
     

Another 20 miles brought us to Port Dover, where we stopped and ate at a burrito shack on the pier. The burritos were fantastic. We both had piccadillo burritos, which included a mixture of seasoned ground beef, potatoes, carrots, and cilantro along with rice, beans, and cheese. Then we split a giant plate of nachos. Good food makes us so happy.

   
 We sat on the pier for a little while, but it was getting late and we still had 20 miles to get to our campsite. So we saddled up and got on the road. We made it for about a half mile before we were stopped at a draw bridge, where we sat for 10 or so minutes watching a parade of sailboats coming back into the harbor. Then the bridge went down and we continued on our way. Our route turned slightly more eastward, so we weren’t fighting the wind as much as before, but we did have a mile stretch going straight upwind that really took it out of us. The worst part of it though was that we were unexpectedly passed by another cyclist, who heard Dani groaning in exhaustion and me singing a song from Mulan to keep me going. Oops. Perhaps we’ve become too accustomed to no one being around to hear us most of the time.

   
       

In any case, we made it to the Conservtion Area where we were planning on camping, and no one was around. The office had closed a half hour earlier, and there were no instructions for self-registration and no campground map. We wandered around aimlessly for close to 15 minutes before asking a family walking through the park for directions. With their help, we found our way to the primitive campgrounds, all the way at the back of the campground and we set up camp. We couldn’t figure out who, how, or where to pay, so we didn’t. We showered and got in the tent, excited to make it to Niagara-On-The-Lake tomorrow where we’ll meet up with my family!

Day 50: The day we made a wise, if expensive, decision

Day 50, 8/2, Sunrise Lake State Forest Campground, LeRoy, MI to Bay City, MI: 88.9 miles, 1,420 ft elevation gain, 13.3 mph average speed.
Trip totals: 3,111.8 miles (72.4 mile daily average), 127,106 ft elevation gain, 12.5 mph overall average speed.

One day behind schedule.
We woke up a little before Richard and left camp before he was fully packed. The day started out with about 20 miles of rolling hills before we got to an intersection with a cafe called Four Corners or something to that effect. We looked back and Richard had caught up to us. Now, the man is traveling very light and he is on a road bike and he did have a long and successful career in the military, but he’s in his upper 60s! Granted, it takes us some time to warm up in the morning, but this was a little embarrassing. 

   
 We sat down to breakfast with Richard and he regaled us with more stories of the incredible life he’s led, but he speaks without a hint of pretense, a surprising quality for a guy who has accomplished and experienced so much. Richard is an impressive person in a number of ways, but the most impressive thing about him is his humility.

During breakfast we decided to leave the route to save eight miles. The road we chose was busier than ACA’s route, but also flatter, so I think it was a good decision. Nothing remarkable on this section of road. 

We then turned off of the highway and onto the Pere Marquette Rail Trail, a paved bike path that brought us all the way to Midland – 35 miles of car-free riding! The trail was well-maintained and well-used on a Sunday. We met a couple of men who appeared to be in their late 60s, native Michiganders doing a bike tour around Michigan who were very concerned about how their state was treating us. We whined about the poor roads (a complaint about which they agreed), but said that it’s been great otherwise. 

   
     We planned to stop in Midland for lunch, but we came across an ice cream shop before town with a beautiful yard that had outdoor seating that seemed to cater to people riding on the trail. We stopped and decided to eat our typical lunch (Triscuits with tuna and cheddar cheese plus whatever fruits and junk food we had on hand) then get ice cream. After we finished eating, we noticed Richard and Maarten riding together down the trail. Apparently Richard had caught up with Maarten on the trail, so we’re not the only young bucks getting our butts kicked by Richard. They turned back around to say hi, we chatted for a bit, and they left.

  
We decided to look into the campground in our planned final destination, Frankenmuth, and found out that the campground in question was the Jellystone Park RV Resort, which charged $49 for a tent site, after a cyclist’s discount! I guess they have a pool and a bunch of games or something? I don’t know, but we were not going to find out. Camping in Michigan has been pricey, but $49 is outrageous. We’ve paid less than that for a nice motel!

Commence desperate search for other campgrounds and cheap motels. Turns out Frankenmuth is a tourist town so there were no cheap anythings and the next campground was 15 miles past Framkenmuth, which would have made for a 140-mile day, which we decided was beyond our threshold. 

We debated going to Frankenmuth and chatting with folks at the brewery to see if they’d be willing to let us camp in their yards, but neither of us is very outgoing with strangers and we both really hate asking people for things. So we decided to, yet again, stop short of our goal in Bay City, which was just 20 miles up the road. This is the third day of not meeting our goal, which, besides the fact that it’s not fun to fail to meet goals, means we will not be able to make up that last day we lost in Glacier before meeting Ted’s family in Niagra-on-the-Lake. 

   
 We stopped at Ray’s Bike Shop in Midland to pick up a new tube for Ted’s bike and chain lube. When we walked in, the guy working there was super excited about our tour and said that we could have priority in the shop of we needed work done, that we could fill all of our water bottles with cold spring water, and that they’d love to do whatever they can to help us. The mechanic then gave Ted three nice tubes for free, so we decided that we’d like to support such a wonderful shop by each buying some much needed bike gloves! 

  
Oh my gosh, these bike gloves have made such a difference already. Our old gloves were missing padding at the spots we needed it most, but we were just being cheap and living with it. We became so used to the discomfort that we both went on and on about how angry we were at ourselves for not buying new gloves earlier. I don’t think we realized that it was possible not to have constant pain and numbness in our hands on this trip! So if you plan to do a bike tour, definitely spend a little money on nice bike gloves. 

We rode the final 15 miles to Bay City and bought things for dinner at a giant grocery store. We noticed some ominous looking clouds on our way to the campsite, so Ted checked the weather. Severe storm warning and a 90 percent chance of rain all night. The rain doesn’t bother us, but there were flash flood warnings, lightning warnings, high wind warnings, and hail warnings. After those scary nights in Glasgow and Hazelton, we decided it might be wise to be indoors during such a storm. We called a few hotels and Ted negotiated a sweet deal with Fairfield Inn. 

We bought perishable food for dinner so immediately after checking into the hotel, we headed outside to the picnic table in the parking lot. We definitely got a few “why are these hobos cooking on a camp stove at our nice Fairfield Inn” looks, but we’re getting used to being the dirty, weird people that ruin the aesthetic of nice places.

We nearly beat the storm, but as we were finishing up cooking, a short, but powerful wind storm blew over / away our whole operation. Luckily we were holding onto the pot at the time so our food survived, but everything else went tumbling. Our flimsy plastic pot lid went flying through the air like a frisbee, then rolled all the way across the gigantic hotel parking lot. After retrieving everything, we headed inside to eat, feeling justified about our decision to pay for a hotel.

I have a somewhat embarrassing confession to make: my favorite part about staying in a hotel, on this trip and in real life, is watching HGTV. I know it’s all staged and that each episode of every show follows the same formula, but I enjoy it anyway. We don’t have cable, so hotels are my only opportunity to watch HGTV, therefore I may or may not uncontrollably binge. Not today, though. A big storm means cable doesn’t work, so I was forced to do more productive things like blog and read. 

Unfortunately, despite not having TV to distract us, we still managed to stay up much later than we should and we have a 118-mile day ahead of us tomorrow. I have a feeling coffee will be part of our day tomorrow. 

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 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.

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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!