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!

image

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.


image

     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.

image

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.