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 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!