UP Bike Tour Day 10: The Doons of Doom

I can’t say I woke up because I never really fell asleep. I am not a happy camper. In my sleep deprived state it took me over an hour to break camp. The road out of the camp ground went straight up so I finally told my ego to shut up and used my granny gear. It turns out that it was good practice for later on.

I started out on flat roads, a surprise because I was near Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore. This area has immense (900+ feet) sand dunes so I was certain I’d be climbing them on my bike.

For the first 20 miles dunes were the least of my worries. A relentless 15 to 20 mile per hour headwind pushed me into a crawl. At mile 10 the shoulder of the road became a ragged mess.

Fueled only by a banana and an apple I made it 23 miles to the cutsie town of Glen Arbor. I stopped at a coffee house for java, a breakfast sandwich, and a cherry turnover. It was probably 2000 calories but my hunger raged on nevertheless. So I stopped at a grocery store and bought a sports drink. This revived me somewhat.

I entered the Sleeping Bear park on a bike path. It was very busy with tourists. When I came to a steep hill, all the tourists riding unloaded bikes were walking. I dropped The Mule into granny gear and rode past them.

To this point, the dunes were simply sandy forested hills, but when the path emerged from the woods, and there were the bare dunes. They are IMMENSE. Kids were coming down a path that was so steep that they would lose control and slide and tumble. A few minutes later the bike path veered away. It was then I realized that the immense dune was only the bottom half of the mass of sand!

In the town of Empire I stopped for lunch. I ate and drank (water and a beer). I left feeling much more energetic. The next ten miles once again reminded me of upstate New York outside of Albany where I grew up.

As I rode past Crystal Lake the winds picked up dramatically. The lake had whitecaps  and breakers on it.

I managed to survive the five-mile beat down and rolled into Frankfort where I made a status check. I was 56 miles into a very challenging ride. The temperature had risen into the high 80s and the humidity was high as well.

I decided to call it a day at the first motel I saw. There was no motel in sight as I rolled past Elberta so I plodded ahead. I wasn’t seeing very much as my head was down to avoid the wind.

I entered the Arcadia Dunes area. Until now, the roads and bike paths had gone around the dunes. In Arcadia the road climbed them. Back into the granny gear, I slogged up one half mile climb. The mile-long descent was breathtaking.

After a mile of flat roads, hill/dune no. 2 arose. I was grinding away when I heard a rumbling sound. A man on a huge mountain bike (a 29er) came screaming down the hill. The thick treads on his tires made the noise.

I finally reached the summit and took a moment to take in the awesome view of Lake Michigan.

Note the bending trees.

The descent into Arcadia was scary but fun. In town I saw only one motel. I spotted two women with bikes eating ice cream at a picnic table near the road.

Holly and Kristen talked my ear off and recommended a place right on the lake about a mile back. I rode there only to see it had no vacancies.

I found a place back in town. It’s a Felkerino kind of place, right out of the 1960s.

So ended a 72-mile day. There’s about 60 left. Holly and Kristen said that there are more dune climbs (albeit shorter ones) at the start of tomorrow’s festivities. Then the route flattens for the final 30-ish miles into Ludington.

UP Bike Tour Day 9: Cherries Galore

My  co-worker Kelly told me that this area of Michigan was where cherries are grown. Are they ever! I rode by orchard after orchard of cherry trees laden with thousands of bright red cherries.

Hops are another popular crop here and I saw many hoppy farms. Not to be outdone by the beer boom, there are over 20 wineries here.

My hotel was overpriced but it was outdated. I went out for a beer and some food last night. The first cafe sat me at a table, gave me a menu, then ignored me for 15 minutes.

I walked out and found a good place a block away. I had whitefish and a beer made in Royal  Oak MI. Both hit the spot.  I barely made it back to the hotel. I was exhausted.  I fell asleep on top of the covers.

In the morning I made sure that I ingested a full continent for my continental breakfast then hit the road.

I was expecting lake views but instead saw mikes of cherry orchards on gently rolling roads.

In Eastport I raided a market for fruit and liquids. The route turned inward, away from Lake Michigan on a road along Trout Lake. I enjoyed the flat ride so much I missed my turn by a mile.

Back on course I climbed one mean nasty hill past a sand and rock operation. The ensuing downhill was enjoyable but my knees thought it was a bad trade.

In Elk Rapids I had lunch. The Totty Bowl was tater tots, eggs, sausage, cheese, and gravy. It made for a nice calorie bomb.


Shortly after Elk Rapids I picked up the Traverse Area Rail Trail. This took me through Traverse City where I stopped for an early dinner at a brew pub. The fish sandwich was great and so was the cherry beer.

I checked for hotels nearby but they were all back a few miles, out of sight on the main road.

I decided to ride on. The TART continued for another 17 miles so I figured I’d ride it all the way to the end and find a hotel in Suttons Bay.

There were no hotels to be found so I continued on to a campground. My tent is pitched far from the RVers. I’m in the woods. I am hoping to sleep like a log after another 87-mile day.

UP Bike Tour Day 8: The Turn South

I awoke at 5:30 from an ineffective sleep. I glided the loaded Mule to the ferry which was over 2 miles distant. I managed to stumble into a high speed ferry. It looks like your basic small boat but it reared up as soon as it cleared the no wake zone. Smooth as silk. Not a touch of motion sickness.

It was before 8 and I was on car-free Mackinac Island. I grabbed breakfast in a cafe before taking The Mule for a gentle lap on the flat road around the edge of the island. It was so peaceful. Just some runners (oh how I’d kill to run a lap or two in this cool air), some walkers, bicyclists, and horse drawn vehicles.

I stopped to climb to the top of a stone arch. 200+ steps that my weary legs didn’t need.


A learned a few minutes later that it was clearly visible from the road.

Soon the circuit was done but not before I gawked at some magnificent Victorians.

The ferry to Mackinac City was a bit choppier but my stomach behaved. (For surviving 3 ferry rides without calling Ralph I get Carl Kassel’s voice on my answering machine.)

Mac City was confusing but I soon found the bike path out of town. No matter how hard I tried I could not get The Mule over 10 miles per hour.

This worsened when the bike path gave way to bumpy, rolling, winter weathered country roads. A headwind was not helping the situation.

I passed the town of Bliss and went into a gas station minimart. On the UP humanity came in large white male bodies. Here was the most incredible hodgepodge of humanity. Cat hats. Young women struggling to carry huge boxes of PBRs. The guy in front of me was chanelling Dennis Rodman: African American, 6 foot tall, 145 pounds, nasty looking ring in his left nostril, stud in his lower lip, pink bra under a lacy top with spaghetti shoulder straps. (Dude, your bra was too big. Either get yourself some man boobs or drop down a size.) I’d venture to guess he’s not a Yooper.

Outside while eating, Toby, a 40 something white man wearing a baseball cap with the word “bliss” on it, explained that the Bliss music festival is going on. It’s been in business for over 30 years. We discussed Hot Tuna, Arlo Guthrie, and Peter Yarrow before
I rolled out, still struggling. I finally figured out that my tent which was tied down to my rear rack was pressing against my brake cable.

Good thing I figured it out. The next 20 miles were on a road called the Tunnel of Trees. I finally started to enjoy the day when a detour sent me straight up a long. windy, bumpy hill. I managed to find a pedaling rhythm at 4 miles per hour. Something still felt wrong. After I descended back to my route, I stopped and saw that my left pedal had lost part of its structure. Basically the platform was about to slide off the pedal axle.


The Tunnel of Trees ran along a bluff affording views of the lake and awesome homed of every design imaginable clinging to the hillside.


The route descended to the lakeside and gave way to a bike path. Smooth. Flat. I cruised around Little Traverse Bay. When I got to Petoskey, I re-checked my bad pedal. It was literally falling apart. It was 5 pm on a Sunday. I called some bike shops and one answered the phone. “Were closed, but bring it in. We’ll help you out.”

The Bahnhof Ski shop was just a mile further along my route. In 15 minutes they had me back on the road. I didn’t take a picture of them but I am so grateful for their help.

They sent me on my way with recommendations of motels in Charlevoix, 17 miles away. The ride was mostly on a bike path along the bay and the lake. It gave way to streets lined with flowers.

I crashed at The Lodge and hit the streets for much needed liquid refreshment.

Another 83 miles in the books.

UP Bike Tour Day 7: 90 Miles of Fun in the Sun

After a restful and dry stay in a hotel in Manistique, I rolled out on US 2, headed east with no set destination. I was playing the day by ear.

The road angled northward at the start into a strong wind. Despite yesterday’s difficult finish, my legs seemed fresh. When the road angled east and the headwind went away, I rolled effortlessly on the flat highway.

It was a bit disappointing that the next 50+ miles had no views of the lake but there were plenty of trees and ferns and swamps to keep me entertained. There was even a roadkill porcupine. Damned thing was huge.

I snacked the whole way and it seemed to keep my energy level on an even keel. At 12:30 I stopped for lunch at a sub shop. Nice people (again). Yoopers are like that.

After lunch the views of Lake Michigan opened up. Under a clear blue sky there is only one way to describe it:




I actually worried that drivers would be gawking at the endless blue and run me over. Soon I was passing through dunes. Cars were parked on my paved shoulder forcingme  out into the travel lane.

Not ideal but traffic was light and forgiving.

(Around this time The Mule hit 41,000 miles. Go Mule!)


The beaches went on for miles. It reminded me of the Pacific Coast Highway between Santa Barbara and Malibu.

Every few miles the flats would give way to a climb up to some bluffs. This made the last ten miles honest. For my troubles I got my first views of the Mackinaw Strait Bridge. Cool.

I pulled into a state park near the bridge. The cost of camping is only slightly less than a cheap motel. I think I’ll be moteling more next week.

I’m dining on whitefish with Escanaba Black Beer in St Ignace. Tomorrow the ferry to Mackinaw Island and the lower penninsula.

UP Bike Tour Day 6: Where Does All the Water in Lake Michigan Come from, Daddy?

Yesterday’s last 15 miles were no fun. Good thing I didn’t camp out because violent storms came through Escanaba overnight. I managed to hobble to the hotel pub for a sammich and a couple of Great Lake Brewing’s Oberons before falling asleep in my room while watching the Nats game. (I woke up. Then they lost. Maybe I should take a Nats vacation, too. Nevertheless, I am holding Klarence fully responsible for their mediocre play while I am gone.)

I ate a truly uninspiring hotel breakfast (oatmeal, fruit, English muffin. OJ, coffee) then rolled out, headed for Spindrift Cycles. I got to the address right on the lake and the shop was nowhere to be found. I checked my phone. Spindrift Cycles is in Ludington, not Escanaba. Erp.

Lucky for me I passed another bike shop. Mr. Bike and Ski was open and its three employees were eager to help me out. Tom and Hunter worked on my bike, and I talked with Micky about bike touring. She gave me some great info on the road ahead to Manistique.

I noticed that in Escanaba the Fargo accent is behind me. Now people seem to have an Ontario accent, eh.

I headed north along Little Bay Du Noc toward Rapid River. The route took me through the nicer section of Ludington and the bayside town of Gladstone. On the way out of Gladstone I was briefly on US 2, a major trucking route with heavy traffic. My big paved shoulder disappeared twice, once for a narrow underpass and again for a bridge over the Escanaba River. Eek.

Made it unscathed.

I was cruising along with ease, a marked contrast to yesterday’s slog. And my mysterious auto shifts had disappeared. Tom and Hunter done good. Also the flat road and tailwind probably had something to do with it.

At Rapid River, I was on US 2, heading east-ish. US 2 had a 12-foot paved shoulder with a rumble strip between me and the traffic. And the road was mostly flat. And the tailwind persisted. And the sun was shining. And it was 70 degrees. Not. Half. Bad.

Alas, bad weather was forecast for 2 pm onward. My 11 am start did not bode well. Bad weather up here is super violent thunderstorms with hail and lightning and lions and tigers and bears.

Two pm came and went and the clouds were a-buildin’. But no rain fell. I pulled into a roadside store for bananas, quinoa, and kale. Sadly, all they had was beer and junk food. I settled for the latter and an energy drink.The proprietor let me use the bathroom. It was an outhouse. We’re yoopin’ now!

When I came out the rain was starting. The owner was talking with a customer. It seems the customer’s wife’s car was ruined by a hail storm yesterday. It came and went in only a few minutes.

The rain was very light. It came and went as I rode the second half of my ride. I left US 2 and headed on back roads for the last 16 miles. The clouds thickened. The skies darkened. Rumbles. Flashes of heat lightning. Then the winds picked up and the temperature fell.

Now I had a tailwind and a half. And a crosswind and a half. And deafening thunder. And cloud to ground lightning. And rain. Harder and harder and harder. I pedaled on making note of shelter along the way. Anything would do. A carport. An overhang in front of a closed store. An abandoned house.

Nothing focuses the mind like impending doom. My friend the Great Flogini calls my bike commute my meditation. Meditation ain’t got nothing on a bike ride in a violent storm.

With six miles to go I was totally soaked but flying along at 18 miles per hour. Tailwinds are the bomb. As I pulled into Manistique, the rain was so heavy I could not see where I was going. Cars were surrendering, pulling over to the side of the road. I pulled into a gas station and stopped next to the gas pumps under a canopy that did little to keep me sheltered. Laurel and Nicolette were working in the station’s minimart. They told me to come in with my bike. SAVED!!!

We chatted until the rains subsided. They set me up with a hotel room east of town and sent me on my way down a street that was closed for construction. Laurel promised a smooth ride. What she didn’t know was that the storm drains were apparently covered. The street had at least two feet of water on it. No lie.

I pedaled through one lake then stopped at the next. I am glad I did because the deep water obscured the torn up road beneath. I’d have fallen for sure. I managed to find a somewhat dry path around the perimeter and after riding through some construction and other town activities (there’s a folk festival of some sort in town this weekend), I walked into the hotel lobby and everyone had a good laugh. I was utterly drenched. No worries. Take your bike in your room. Have a cup of coffee. Do some laundry. Relax.

Don’t mind if I do.

I was worried about getting caught in the storm. And I know it’s incredibly irresponsible and stupid to ride in this sort of thing. But it was such a rush!!!!

Tomorrow, dry and cool is the order of the day. I ride until I don’t feel like it anymore. It is likely my last full day on the UP.

UP Bike Tour Day 5: Maybe I Should Listen to Felkerino

Last night Felkerino, who is on a tandem tour of the Sierras and Cascades with Coffeeneur, advised me that my touring itinerary might be a tad too aggressive. Today proved him right.

After a somewhat restful sleep (shut up owls!) I left camp at 6 15 am. A dense fog had fallen overnight. It was spooky. Fortunately there were very few cars on the road. My legs were dead but I soldiered on in search of a rejuvenating breakfast. The town of Alpha offered a general store but it was closed. Crystal Falls looked promising but all it had was a gas station with two scruffy townies sitting out front. I grabbed my back up Clif bar and rolled on.

The fog had lifted as if to welcome the logging trucks. These sucker are HUGE. I rode on to Sagola, 25 miles from the start. It had a gas station with day old pepperoni rolls. (They weren’t even proper pepperoni rolls but I didn’t care.)

I ate and hit the road with new life in my legs and ears wide open for the sound of big trucks coming up from behind.

Yesterday’s encounter with a westbound bike tourist led me to believe that I would hit a steep hill near Crystal Falls. I did. It was a steep down hill. Ahhh.

It was the exception though. The terrain was much more like the first day and a half. The hills were long and gradual. After my first 25 miles of struggling, I was cruising along nicely, powered by junk food.

I finally found out what was going on with the logging trucks. They were carrying logs from the National Forests (run by the Department of Agriculture) to an assembly point. Here they were sorted and trucked to lumber mills. When I took the photo that follows, I thought I was looking at all the logs. In fact, as I rode on. I saw that the operation went on for what looked like a half mile.


I rode on losing energy with every mile. I stopped at a general store for more junk including a bona-fide UP treat, a Yooper Bar.


Off again I found my head sagging and my mind contemplating my route map more than the scenery, a sure sign of burn out.

I played mental games to take my mind off the fact that it was now raining and I was riding into a slight headwind. I was very grateful to be going ever so gradually downhill.

The terrain was very reminiscent of the counties north of Albany NY, where I grew up. I finally rolled into what I thought was Escanaba, my destination. Instead I got 5 miles of dull, flat boredom. When I finally arrived at Escanaba proper it looked just like Valparaiso, Indiana. Zzzz.

The rain made me rule out camping on Lake Michigan. Nothing like a wet campground with the promise of more rain overnight to put my sorry old ass into a hotel for the night.

Some idiot scheduled another 80 miler for tomorrow. Fortunately the same idiot found out that The Mule’s rear hub is loose.

I now have an excuse to lay in, go to the bike shop at 10, and ride a more modest distance, albeit in the rain.

For the record I managed to ride 89 miles today. It felt like 189.

UP Bike Tour Day 4 – UP at Last

It rained last night so my choice of a motel worked out fine. I slept soundly and hit the road at 6:30. The first miles on a deserted byway were a nice warm up for the best road ever. Military Road through the Nicolet National Forest was a dream out of a car commercial. Windy. Rolling. Through forests on a fern-lined road. I zoned out completely except for when the occasional dump truck passed me.

After Military Road the bliss ended. For most of the next 13 miles I was on high speed 2 lane roads with but a 3 foot shoulder and lots of massive trucks blowing by me.

During this bit of bicycling hell I stopped at a general store. It was filled with hunting and fishing gear. Culture shock.

Once I reached the town of Conover about 40 miles into the day’s festivities I turned east. My hope was for flat roads.  My hopes,we’re realized for about 4 miles before the hills began again. At least the scenery was pretty. More forests. More ferns. Puffy white clouds.

Every five miles or so the road would flatten out. Ahhh. Then more hills. I am such a sucker. To add to the fun, the road had expansion cracks every 100 feet. My body was getting seriously beat up.

I stopped in Alvin WI at a roadside bar. The stench of cigarette smoke hit me as I walked in but I had to eat. I’d done 50 miles on junk food.

I ordered a grilled cheese sandwich with chips and a side salad thinking that a modest amount of food  would be served. The sandwich was normal but the side of chips was more than four people would normally eat. The side salad was bigger than my head!


I did my best to down this gastronomic monstrosity but failed to finish it.

On the road again the hills were spaced farther apart. I left the Nicolet Forest and entered the UP,  the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.


Long flat stretches ended with grinding climbs. New road signs caused confusion but I managed to find my way to the town of Caspian. To get th re I rode straight up a steep hill past the town’s water tower. This was by far the hardest hill of the trip and maybe the hardest I’ve ridden in a decade.

Caspian appeared to be rode hard and put away wet. After another snack break I decided to carry on, even though it meant more hills.

But the hills quit after a few miles and I had a two lane road with manageable rollers. Then a beautiful bike path appeared. No more cars! Yesss!

Just outside of Pentoga a touring cyclist came my way. We stopped and compared notes. He told me about a community camp ground on the lake ahead. He also said that the hills are nasty ten miles beyond so I decided to call it a day. Good move. This lake is gorgeous.


So another 87 miles of riding are done. With luck I’ll see Lake Michigan tomorrow evening.

UP Bike Tour Day 3 – Going Up

Last night I slept well in my tent. Maybe it was the sound of the waterfall. Maybe it was the nice people. One camper, a retired trucker, helped me get set up when the campground manager was AWOL. Another camper came by to chat and gave me a shrink wrapped bag of trail mix. (I thanked her profusely and didn’t mention that trail mix makes me gag. )

I left a little after 6. The roads were empty. Just as I thought, “There will be deer around.” There he was. A young buck was standing in the middle of the road

The trucker told me that I could get breakfast in Bowler but the place was closed so I continued on to Mattoon. The only place to get food was also closed but I spotted the manager and asked him to open early. He did!

Today’s breakfast was fruit and chocolate milk.

The roads were getting hillier and hillier. And hillier.

I spotted a sign for a ski resort, pointing in my direction of travel. Good thing I started early.

Up, up, up. Only a few hills were steep. I refused to use my granny gears on them. Pride goeth before the knees.

I hoped that the top would be a plateau but the road came right back down. It was a fun ride but short. I stopped to take a picture of the sign for Lily, WI. (It’s my daughter’s name.)


I foolishly had not bought water in Mattoon and now I was paying for it. I arrived at a lakeside community and asked a woman sitting in her carport for some water. After a pause, she stood and stomped into her house. She came out with a 12 ounce bottle of cold water. “Here” she said but you could read the “Get lost” from her demeanor.

What a peach.

The water and the flatter road along the lake made for 6 easy miles into Crandon. I stopped at the first restaurant I saw and ordered a skillet with corned beef hash. It turned out to be a massive pile of food. I struggled to eat it all while downing three glasses of water and three of Pepsi.


Before I left, the waitress filled my water bottles with ice water. Yess!

While I ate, the outdoor temperature had spiked. The humidity also was higher.

So I checked into a motel instead of camping. The owner gave me a bottle of water and, then, a can of beer. The room is old but huge.  I’m coming here when they put me in the witness protection program. There’s a lake nearby but the Nats are playing the Brewers (Wisconsin’s baseball team) on TV. And I bought some Totally Naked beer which is brewed somewhere near here.

I had strongly considered adding miles to my planned 80+ miles but the water deficit earlier in the day did me in. I stopped at 84 miles. This put me near 70 miles per day. So far.

Aside from the hills, today’s ride featured much more forest than farm. Also, the drivers were very courteous and careful around me, even the logging trucks.

Tomorrow’s plan includes 39 miles of riding to the north before I turn east for the Upper Peninsula.

UP Bike Tour – Day 2. Breakfast for 3

I slept all of two minutes last night. The drunken campers two slots over were watching the movies until midnight. And it was way colder than I expected. And my sleeping pad is useless.

So I got up early and hit the road. I ended up in Freedom (I kid you not) on the 4th of July. As I was about to raid a minimart, a local told me to eat at Rico’s around the corner . So I did.

For $12 + tip I got 2 plates of food, a giant glass of OJ, and 3 1/2 mugs of watery coffee. I simply could not eat it all. Good thing too. All the other Rico’s customers were about as large as you might expect.


For some reason the next 15 miles seemed uphill the whole way.

There were farms. Of every persuasion. It was depressing to see the veal operations. I don’t eat veal often but I think I’ll stop altogether now.

For much of the ride I was off in space. I’d sort of snap out if it from time to time. My biking is my meditation indeed.

I was serenaded by red wing black birds all morning. Their chirps were so regular they had me wondering if something was clicking on my bike.  A pair of quail burst out of some roadside underbrush.


The terrain began to get hillier. Despite this, I was considering pushing for an 85 mile day until I met a cross country bike tourist heading east. He stayed at the campground I was shooting for. He said it was crap so I went back to plan A. I stopped at 70 miles. The campground is quiet and has a waterfall.


Tomorrow is set to be my first 80 mile day. That’s the plan but I’m going to take it one mile at a time,  Riding  between over and next.

UP Bike Tour – Day 1

I was worried that I’d puke on the ferry crossing to Wisconsin this morning but Lake Michigan was like glass. I ate breakfast on the boat and took a nap. I awoke thinking in was still in the hotel! Then I heard the rumble of the ship’s engines and went back to sleep.

Once across the lake, I made arrangements for a campsite near Freedom WI. ‘Merica.

Once clear of Manitowoc where an SUV nearly hit me during a dangerous pass, the ride was bliss. Rolling hills. Tailwinds. Farms. Simpson’s clouds.

At one point I spooked a red wing blackbird. It followed me for a quarter of a mile chirping in protest.

Another highlight was riding side by side with a fawn who had lost its mother. Mama deer made a bleating sound from the high reeds near the road and the fawn reversed course and dove into the reeds.

The finale was the pair of sand hill cranes feeding next to the road.

I am drinking $1 beers from frosted mugs and eating tater tots with cheese in them. When in Rome…

I have a mile or 2 to go before setting up camp for the night.