UP Bike Trip: What Hit Me?

It has been a few days since I finished my bike trip. The short version is I rode 833 miles in 11 days on my 25-year old Specialized Sequoia touring bike. I camped out five nights and moteled five nights. Here are a few random thoughts now that I have had time to reflect:

  • I often talk about what my friend Flogini calls my meditation, that is, when I zone out on my bike commutes. The middle part of this bike trip, roughly from Days 2 through 7, was a rolling meditation retreat. I felt none of the stress of daily life. I didn’t think about work, friends, not-so-friends, family, or any obligations. I only thought about my legs spinning, my lungs breathing, and where The Mule and I were on the Adventure Cycling map segment of the moment. I sang songs, sometimes out loud. I gazed at the lake or the trees or the ferns or the lichens or the critters. I felt at peace. I wish I could bottle the feeling.


  • Speaking of breathing, I have mild persistent asthma that, when left unattended, can bloom into some serious breathing problems. The air in the north woods of Wisconsin and on the UP of Michigan was incredibly clean. I had no asthma symptoms at all for most of the trip.
  • I entered this ride with worries about whether my 60-year old body could take the stress of so many miles (and three ferry rides) in so few days on a conventional (non-recumbent) bike. I even padded my schedule with a 12th day to be sure. Unlike tours in my younger years, I didn’t become noticeably stronger during this tour. This may be because the last three days were the hilliest and had the most consistent headwinds. I am now confident that I can ride 60-mile days on end, which is to say, as far as my bike will take me.
  • Last year I told Mike, a.k.a Rattlingfender on Twitter, that I needed a new touring bike because mine was 24-years old. He scoffed and said that the fact that I am still riding The Mule means that it is a reliable machine. Mike was right. Even after 25 years and over 41,000 miles, The Mule abides.
  •  I had relatively few physical problems.
    • My left tricep started hurting after about a week. This is because I am right handed. I would take pictures or eat with my right hand leaving my left hand to steer The Mule. The stress took a toll on my upper arm.
    • My bottom was not happy at all. Despite my trusty Brooks Champion saddle with its cushioning springs, the flesh where my inner right leg met my pelvic area was super sore most of the last week. It’s a guy thing. It has to do with how my personal parts interact with the nose of the saddle. I had to consciously twist my seating position to the right on the last three days. I don’t quite know how to fix this in the future but I will need to figure it out. It’s a bit like a swimmer needing to learn to breath from both sides.
    • I can’t sleep worth a damn in a tent. Sleep is incredibly important when you are riding so many miles.
  • It took me a full day to stop thinking about my speed once I turned south into the headwinds on the lower peninsula. When touring on Big Nellie, I used to cover the speedometer with my map. Unless you are adhering to a strict schedule (which I do not recommend), forget about speed and miles. Just ride with the flow of the day. A good example was Day 9 when I ate dinner in Traverse City. After dinner I had renewed energy and the weather was absolutely perfect for riding, so I reeled off another 18 miles.
  • As much as I hate sleeping in a tent, I love the flexibility that having camping gear along for the ride affords me. Without camping gear, I probably would not have added the 18 after-dinner miles, but I knew there was a campground a mile beyond Suttons Bay so I went for it.
  • Trail angels are the best.
    • The folks in the bar in Wrightsville, Wisconsin who served me three ice cold beers in frosted mugs. For $1 each.
    • The  man at the gas station in Freedom who pointed me to Rico’s diner where I had mass quantities of food for breakfast on the Fourth of July.
    • The retired truck driver and his friend who helped me out at the campground in Tilleda Falls, Wisconsin. And the other camper who gave me a huge bag of shrink wrapped trail mix.
    • The Little Pine Motel owner in Hiles, Wisconsin who handed me a bottle of ice cold water, then a can of ice cold beer when I checked in.
    • The westbound tourist who told me about the campground at Lake Pentoga, Michigan.
    • The three bike shop people who fixed my rear hub at Mr. Bike  in Escanaba, Michigan while I waited.
    • The two gas station clerks who practically pulled me out of the pouring rain in Manistique, Michigan.
    • The pizza shop workers and customers who gave me so much encouragement in Naubinway, Michigan.
    • Toby, the man who explained the Bliss Festival to me, over lunch at a gas station picnic table near Bliss, Michigan.
    • The folks at the Bahnhof Sport Shop in Petosky who stayed open on a Sunday evening and replaced my broken pedal.
    • The campground manager at the Wild Cherry Resort near Suttons Bay, Michigan who also stayed open to get me situated in a campsite.
    • Holly and Kristen who gave me much info about the biking and moteling in and around Arcadia, Michigan.
  • I am still flabbergasted by the size of food portions in Northern Wisconsin. Cheeseheads can pack it away!
  • Accents were a pleasant surprise. I went from “Da Beahs” to “Fargo” to “Hosers” in the course of the first week. Eh.
  • I had read an account of a bike tourists who rode across the UP on US 2. He really felt uncomfortable with the logging trucks blowing by him. Now that I have ridden to work twice since returning and I’ll take logging trucks over the drivers of DC any day.

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.

Bike to Work Day – Seven Day Version

On Saturday morning I head out on my first bike tour in a decade. I only have four tours to my credit. My first tour was ridden on The Mule about 16 years ago. It was not very successful. The plan was to ride to Cockeysville MD north of Baltimore, pick up the new North Central Rail Trail and ride it to York PA and then ride home. It was brutally hot and my saddle tore the bejesus out of my…er…flesh. To add to the disappointment, the NCRT was not yet complete resulting in me turning around at Hanover Junction PA. It was a learning exprience.

In 2003 with a new recumbent (Big Nellie) designed for touring I left my in-laws’ house in Indiana for a ride back to DC. This tour also crapped out but for different reasons. Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to ride 113 miles on my second day. Also, carrying an spare tire is not the worst idea in the world.

In 2004 I rode from Niagara Falls to my Mom’s house in Albany. This four-day tour also on Big Nellie worked like a charm. No rain. Two hills. Beautiful scenery along the Erie Canal and Mohawk River.

In 2005 I rode from DC to my in-laws house, the 2003 tour in reverse. This time, despite a couple of equipment failures, I made it the entire way.

The 2005 tour included riding nearly the entire C&O Canal towpath. (A section far to the west was underconstruction.) From Cumberland MD to Meyersdale PA I rode the very hilly highways and byways of western Maryland and Pennsylvania. These hills were TOUGH!  I picked up the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) trail in Meyersdale and rode it to West Newton PA. It was bliss.

This year’s tour is planned to be six days entirely on the GAP trail and C&O Canal towpath. No hills to speak of, just some mild railroad grades. I am riding with @ryansigworth and @bicyclebug (a.k.a Kevin).  The plan is to take a shuttle to Pittsburgh from DC. This will entail riding from home to DC on Saturday morning. This is basically 85 percent of my bike commute. On Saturday night we are going to a baseball game. We head for home on the GAP – which now goes continuously from Pittsburgh to Cumberland) after breakfast on Sunday morning.

We are hoping to meet up with fellow blogger Red in Pittsburgh on Saturday night at the game. There is some talk about Red giving us a rolling escort out of town. Also, I have two friends from my Boston days who live in Pittsburgh. We may do breakfast with them if Mother’s Day doesn’t fill all the eateries up.

I am a little concerned about The Mule’s ability to make the entire trip. I’ve crashed The Mule a couple of times in recent years and the steering tube is probably not in the best of shape. The handlebars are also slightly bent. At least the saddle is in good shape. As for me, I am riding a bit slower these days but I actually feel very good on my bike. During my 2005 tour I got stronger with each passing day. It would be great if that happened again.

I don’t much know if we will do much off bike stuff along the way. What I really need and want are six days of nothing but shady trees and gurgling water and critters and the sound of bike tires rolling over the trail.

My only regret about this ride is the fact that so many of my #bikeDC friends have said, “I wish I was going with you.” So do I. Some of these folks are thinking about riding out the C&O on Friday to intercept us on our last day. It would be fun to roll into town with an escort and, perhaps, top off the tour with some cold liquid refreshment and a pile o’ grub.

Then I’ll get to ride the rest of my bike commute home. This seems fitting as this will be Bike to Work Day.