How far today?

Progress to date: 16 days, 672 miles

People often ask us, “How far do you cycle each day?” The best answer is, “It depends.” When we are cycle touring, we rarely plan more than a few days in advance. That way we aren't tied down to a fixed schedule, and can be more spontaneous in deciding where we will go. A lot of different factors go into the decision. Some are deliberate and calculated, others more intuitive. And some cause friction. Here is a sampling:

  • Food and Lodging – what is available in the upcoming towns? This one's a biggie. Even though we can camp, we don't cook or carry food so we need to be able to get meals in addition to finding a bed. In remote areas, this can easily limit our choices, either stretching our distance or cutting it short. Alternately, we may find a nice place we'd like to stay, and finagle the distance to make it work.
  • Weather – what is the chance of rain? We are willing to get wet, but we see no reason to slog through hours of downpour if we can help it. We may choose to shorten our mileage in order to start late or quit early to avoid misery. Headwinds slow us down, and may also limit how far we can get.
  • Terrain – are there a lot of hills? Significantly hilly areas, particularly if they are steep and challenging, require a lot more effort. Slower progress and more tiring equate to fewer miles. Poor pavement also impedes progress, taking a mile or two off our speed.
  • Sights to see – are there places worth visiting? Time spent sightseeing has to be carved out of our cycling time. Significant stops require much shorter distances, maybe even a day off cycling.
  • Our bodies – are we in need of rest? We are hopeless about taking rest days. For me in particular, it goes against my nature. But occasionally we need it. Sometimes we fudge by taking a “rolling rest day,” cycling only 10-20 miles at a leisurely pace and calling it rest.

Taking all that into consideration, we average somewhere around 45 miles a day. We generally cycle at least 30 and rarely do more than 65.

Right now non-cycling factors seem to be taking priority. Knowing there was a lot to see and do at Whitefish Point, we stayed two nights in Paradise and made a day trip (without gear!) just 11 miles up the road to Whitefish Point. The beautifully sunny weather encouraged us to linger there most of the day. Naturally, the lighthouse and the Shipwreck Museum were a draw.

Whitefish Point Lighthouse
Alternate lighthouse view
View from top of lighthouse

The area also includes a bird sanctuary. I am certain that was of more interest to Rich than the lighthouse. But I was perfectly happy to spend time on the beach, lingering among the sand and waves while he looked for birds. Unfortunately, not much was happening on the birding front, but I took up a new hobby and left my own mark on the coastal scenery.

Rich birding Whitefish Point
Molly Whitefish Point
Molly's stacked stones

Making our way to Macinac Island, we knew we wanted to spend time exploring the island. That and finding Twin Cedars Resort was reason enough for us to break our journey en route. Not only have we had a relaxing afternoon and evening at the lake, but we will have plenty of time for the island tomorrow.

Twin Cedars Resort
Molly on dock
Rich and rowboat
Evening bonfire

How far did we go today? A mere 37 miles. It's tough for my hard core (can't we do more?) cycling mentality to admit, but it was the right amount. It's been a great day.

 

Happiness is… A Cloudy Day

Progress to date: 14 days, 611 miles

The sky is dark and overcast. At least it's not raining yet. But we know for sure we are going to get wet. So we don our rain jackets even before setting off. We are leaving Sault Ste Marie and heading to Paradise 60 miles away. But we also have a contingency plan. Google Maps shows lodging in Brimley, just 17 miles away. Should it really pour, we can bag it for the day there.

Minutes after leaving the motel it starts. First drizzle then moderate rainfall. Yup, we're getting wet. But it's all part of cycle touring, so we forge on and don't let it get us down. Instead, we focus on navigating our way out of the city.

By the time we are on country roads, the unthinkable happens. The rain stops. Rich even sheds his rain jacket. Not me, I still need mine for warmth. We're almost afraid to say it out loud, but surely the sky is brightening. Instead of checking into a motel in Brimley we stop at a local breakfast café. We emerge well fed and in high spirits. Sure it's a gloomy day. But it looks wonderful to us!

Buoyed by our weather luck, we rejoice in our surroundings. If it was raining, we would be pedaling through without seeing a thing. That would be a shame, as we have been looking forward to this particular stretch of Lake Superior shoreline on Whitefish Bay.

Enjoying Whitefish Scenic Byway

Now confident in dry conditions, we are emboldened enough to stop and sightsee along the way. This “purple cow” calls out to us from the roadside.

A model of Point Iroquois Lighthouse

Little do we know that the real thing is just down the road. I'm delighted to find that the Point Iroquois Lighthouse is right on our route. No detour means no argument with Rich about going to see it. From the top, I can see Whitefish Point, where we are ultimately headed.

The real Point Iroquois Lighthouse
View from Point Iroquois Lighthouse

Just as I reserve the right to visit lighthouses, Rich is allowed to call out a stop for birds. He spots a heron in a pond and stealthily stalks it for a photo. The heron gets away, but we enjoy the reflection in the pond.

The bird Hunter
Pretty pond

The Scenc Byway provides a number of wayside rests that are far nicer than most. A sandy beach provides a great spot for a break. And oh, by the way, check out that bit of blue sky! This rainy, cloudy day just keeps getting better.

Rest stop on Whitefish Bay

Our bodies are tiring and the miles begin to drag by the time we make the turn north to reach Paradise. But at least the cycling is easy. And we are dry!

It's abundantly clear that the town is not quite as much of a paradise as it once was. Abandoned businesses and shuttered buildings abound, and finding a place for dinner is reduced to a single option. I'm rather enamoured with the idea of trying Brown Fisheries, but not being a fish lover Rich is less thrilled. Especially when a gander at the menu reveals that fish is all they serve. Still, we venture inside the venerable establishment. The waitress regales us with her description of the fresh whitefish caught and fileted onsite daily, and even Rich relents and orders it. Sixty miles of hunger can overcome many taste preferences.

Dinner at Brown Fisheries

It's all a matter of perspective. Normally a cloudy day might have dampened our spirits, especially after all the bright sunshine we've had. Instead, every moment that it wasn't raining felt like a gift. This cloudy day made us very happy indeed.

 

A Soo-thing Day

On the 13th day we rest. After 551 miles of pedaling, the bikes sit dormant in our motel room. Today instead of cycling past scenery, the sights are moving right in front of us. And it's mesmerizing.

We are in Sault Ste. Marie, on the opposite end of Lake Superior from our home in Duluth. I've heard about the fabled Soo Locks all my life, but never seen them before. So I was all for scheduling a full day here.

I vaguely knew that the motel Rich picked out was near the locks. The full reality only struck me as we cycled up to the modest lodgings. There, practically on top of us was the Saginaw. A beautiful classic ore boat. Bigger than life. Right across the street. Moving at a snail's pace. Awestruck, that sight set the stage for our visit.

The Saginaw enters the locks

Racing over to the viewing station, we were able to get above the ship and peer down onto its deck. Hardly believing our good luck, we were thrilled to see two more ships approaching.

Saginaw leaving the lock

Ship watching soon absorbs us completely. Staying so close by allows us to pop over to the park any time a ship comes through. This morning the first thing we did upon waking was to check the maritime ship locator app. Sure enough, the Wagenborg was about to arrive. So off we went. The early morning light lent a golden glow to that beautiful ship.

Wagenborg arriving

It has been easy to spend the day watching the ship traffic. Unlike Canal Park, ships come and go frequently. And there is plenty of viewing time. With the skill and precision needed to thread those enormous vessels into the narrow lock, they move at an incredibly slow pace. Even when we spot them out in the St. Mary's River, they have already reduced their speed for the entry. Inching through the water, they gradually assume their position in the lock and halt for being raised or lowered by the water.

Many of the ships passing through are familiar from their frequent visits to Duluth. We are pleased to think that some may have just come from our home town.

The Visitor Center helps me review the geography of the locks – the smaller MacArthur lock being the closest, and the large Poe lock the next one over. Hopes and plans for building another lock to back up the Poe are detailed as well. Adding that redundancy is critical since it is the only lock that can accommodate the Great Lakes 1000-foot vessels. Unfortunately, it is still years away from getting government funding, then likely 10 years more for construction.

The Tower of History provides a birds-eye view of the whole operation. Originally built to be a church bell tower, it now serves as an observation deck offering panoramic views. We time our visit for a period when we know that several ships will be in close proximity. From the viewing platform 210 feet above the city we can see both up river and down, and spot boats in the distance as well as nearing the locks. Although the leafy trees in the lock-side park block our view of the locks themselves, it is still an astonishing overview of the city and its river.

View from the Tower
View from the tower 2

The locks operate around the clock, so following a ship in the dark of evening is a must-do. Lights illuminate the ship's outline and the rear superstructure is brillliantly lit with white lights. As it retreats into the darkness we can see lights outside each cabin door.

With unseasonably warm and sunny weather for our ship watching, it has been a most satisfying rest day. The sum total of our exercise has been walking back and forth between motel room and viewing platform. We even nixed climbing the 292 steps to the top of the tower in favor of the elevator. Our bodies tell us that it has been a most soothing day indeed.

 

From Lower to Upper Peninsula

Progress to date: 12 days, 551 miles

Michigan. One state, two peninsulas, two different worlds.

Cycling the western coast of Michigan's lower peninsula was scenic, populated, and let's face it, wealthy. Pristine villages with tidy homes, stately mansions and manicured gardens. The better the view, the bigger the homes. In between, the shores of Lake Michigan were dotted with lake places. From small cottages owned by generations to large new log homes with soaring windows.

Homes in a coastal town

One of my favorite areas was cycling through the “Tunnel of Trees” on the last bump before reaching Mackinaw City. The road was narrow and lacked not only shoulders but a center line. Traffic was light and we had almost constant views of the lake and towering trees overhead. A cyclist's haven.

Rich in the Tunnel of Trees

Once we crossed the Straits of Mackinac, all that changed. Here in the UP, wilderness prevails. Population has dropped dramatically. We can cycle for miles and miles with no towns, no services and few cars. Traveling the upper shore of Lake Huron, all was quiet. A stop in Hessel took us to a small marina. We were in the region known as Les Cheneaux, for the narrow channels between the cluster of offshore islands.

Marina at Hessel

Camping at nearby Loon Point Campground allowed us to enjoy these new environs and the peaceful lakeshore.

Loon Point Campground
Near Loon Point

Our next destination was Drummond Island. That stretch of cycling afforded us more views of the lake and we were surprised to find that even where there was open water, the shoreline still harbored marshy wetlands. Perfect area for attracting birds and wildlife. And cyclists like us.

Lake Huron
Molly on Lake Huron shore

Drummond Island is home to only about 1,000 full time residents, which swells to nearly double that number in the summer. Unlike other northern islands, their ferry runs year round. Its hourly trips and the current of the St. Mary's River keep the passage open. It is a beautifully wooded island, with limited roads and only one small village. But its residents are fiercely loyal and love it there. Established in a modest room right on the water, we were perfectly situated to sit out the showers that broke out in the afternoon, and enjoy the faint rainbow afterwards.

Rich on Drummond Island ferry
Drummond Island rainbow

Rich even caught the Northern Lights that night just outside our room. That's how you know you are in a remote spot. Firmly entrenched in the Upper Peninsula.

Northern Lights Drummond Island by Rich Hoeg

 

Good Morning Drummond Island

I mount my bike in the near darkness, illuminated by the faint moonlight. In reality, it's probably the glow of the nearby streetlight, but I like the idea of the moon better. And it's clearly visible amid the deep blue of the sky overhead.

We are headed for the ferry landing. We have started cycling earlier than our 6:40 start this morning, but never this late in the year. It is still 40 minutes until sunrise. I can just barely make out the pavement ahead of me. The headlights of the approaching cars blind me. Blinky lights on the front and rear of my bike seem a feeble attempt to be seen. And they do nothing for my own vision. I am thankful, remembering the good smooth pavement on these roads.

The approaching sunrise lifts the darkness surprisingly quickly. Cycling west, I can see its glow in my rear view mirror. There is a pink cast at the horizon in all directions, topped by pastel blue as the world gently shifts toward daylight. Barely a car passes us on the main road. The gradually waking morning is ours alone.

The chilly air penetrates as I speed through it, fully awakening all my senses. Occasional rises bring blasts of warmer air. I welcome the warmth that envelopes me, however briefly. The wind is absent and glimpses of shoreline reveal calm water reflecting the morning's colors. Cycling seems effortless and 10 miles pass quickly.

We over-achieve and reach the ferry landing long before the boat's 8:00am departure. We could have left a good half hour later and still made it. And avoided that pre-dawn cycling. But I'm glad we didn't. It was a memorable ride. A good morning on Drummond Island.

Ferry landing on Drummond Island

 

Roadside Delights

Some of the best finds are the ones that appear spontaneously by the side of the road. They aren't in any tourist guides. They don't show up on Google Maps. They have no feedback ratings. They are just there, and we are in the right place at the right time. On our bikes.

It's not surprising that these stands frequently involve food. Any touring cyclist is a hungry cyclist, and particularly vulnerable to such offerings. And we are no exception. We have availed ourselves of a number of worthy delicacies through our journey along Michigan's west coast.

Farmers Markets are always a favorite of mine. The brilliantly colored fresh veggies in their attractive displays are like eye candy. And I always keep an eye out for the bakery booths, for a treat. When we happened on the market in Harbor Springs we were already well sated after a good breakfast, so it was the flowers that drew my attention. Realizing I couldn't purchase a bouquet, the vendor tucked a vivid pink chrysanthemum in my handlebar bag, where it remained to brighten the remainder of my day!

Farmers Market in Harbor Springs
Flowers for cycling

On a smaller scale, roadside stalls are just as fruitful. Along with the usual assortment of farm stands and orchard sales, I discovered another variety. Coasting through the town of Empire looking for a good resting stop, I spied a tent in a front yard. Closer inspection revealed a treasure trove of home baked goodies. It was tough to make a selection, but that lemon ginger scone was a winner.

Front yard goodies

Taking it one step smaller, we aren't immune from picking directly from Mother Nature. Apples were in abundance throughout the area, and we claimed a few that grew right on the bike trail. Attempts to scavenge crab apples were less successful, as Rich learned through several mouth puckering attempts.

Apples for the eating

Some folks simply cater directly to passing cyclists. We particularly appreciated these two humanitarian services, which need no further explanation.

Water for cyclists
Bench for pooped cyclists

We thought we'd seen it all until we reached the Straits of Mackinac. There we stumbled on the annual Truck Show. With Main Street in St. Ignace lined with hundreds of semis, we could ogle the macho machines as we cycled. But that was only the beginning. Around 9:30 that evening, those same behemoths thundered past our motel, on their way to drive over the Mackinac Bridge. Multi-note air horns blaring, engines revving and decked out in garish colored lights, they roared by one after another, and another and another… And naturally we were out there to witness this astonishing display of Americana. Just another roadside delight.

Truck show parade

 

The Long Way Around

Two peninsulas

Bike touring is all about getting from point A to point B. It is the journey. We see the countryside intensively, at a slow pace. But only right along our route. Despite our best intentions to live in the moment, we often find ourselves focused more on getting to our next destination. On this trip, and in particular in the last few days, we have endeavored to break that mold.

We had a hunch that the western side of Michigan would hold some of the best scenery, so our goal was to prevent rushing through this area. Our intentions have been assisted by the existence of small roads right along the coast that allow us to meander and linger. Peninsulas in particular offer perfect opportunities to practice this approach. It would be easy to cut across the bottom. But we have resisted the temptation.

Rich and Jim taking a break

The Leelanau Peninsula impressed us with its coastal parks and prosperous towns. The fine sand beaches and tall dunes were such a contrast to the rocky shores of Lake Superior that are more familiar to us. And we continued to be amazed to see frequent lakes and bays so close to the big lake. We were as likely to have water views inland as we were on the coast side of the road.

We ventured up the peninsula to Northport before turning down the opposite shore. Had we not done so, we would have missed a surprisingly tasty breakfast stop. Dining on eggs with a Mexican flair surrounded by a vivid yellow décor was a day brightener. Resuming cycling, we were bathed in equally brilliant sunshine sparkling on the waters of Lake Michigan. That carried us all the way down the eastern side, passing vineyards and orchards.

Old Mission Peninsula was far more of a whim. Smaller, narrower and with almost no towns, we had little reason to go there. I had to cajole Rich into doing it. And it was the best morning of cycling yet.

Molly cycling Old Mission Peninsula

Under a cloudless blue sky, we headed up the east side of the peninsula. We traveled small local roads, with barely a car in sight. Crisp cool air flowed over us and the low sun was only just beginning to provide its welcome warmth. But it's golden rays illuminated the blue of the water, the dark brown tree trunks and the rich green grass. It was an ambiance that not only encouraged loitering but demanded it.

Bald Eagle by Rich Hoeg

There is no denying that this was a wealthy area. We enjoyed gawking at the sprawling mansions with immaculate landscaping. There was an impressive array of water toys adorning the long docks that jutted out into the lake. Beautiful beach-side patios hosted colorful collections of Adirondack chairs. And bountiful fall flowers bloomed in the carefully tended gardens. Even a bald eagle graced the tall trees and obliged Rich by lingering long enough for a photo.

Crossing over the peninsula we found orchards, colorful farm markets and tidy vineyards. A picturesque marina greeted us on the other side. By then the sun was high enough to stream through the trees and reach us on the opposite side. It was the kind of morning that we wanted to last forever.

Farm Market on Old Mission Peninsula
Old Mission Peninsula

By the time we finished our loop, we had traveled 27 miles but progressed only one mile toward our destination for the day. And yet we had just taken in tantalizingly beautiful scenery. Proving it was worth it to go the long way around.