Chilling out at Crisp Point

Keepers sign

Five layers of clothing. And a buff around my neck. Wool socks, a ski hat and winter gloves. All topped with a heavy down jacket. It’s my daily attire. Just enough to keep me warm.

I stand in the Crisp Point Lighthouse Visitor Center manning the gift shop. With temperatures in the 40s the cement walls are welcome shelter, but lacking any heat source the building does nothing to aid my cause. Gentle shivers involuntarily rack my frame as I strive to maintain body heat. I fear I’m losing the battle. But I am determined to muster on.

Visitors regard us with a mix of incredulity and awe. “That your tent out there?” they ask as they shiver in sympathy. They too are outfitted in winter gear. I answer with a grin and a touch of macho pride, “Yes, and it’s the warmest place around.” They are mighty grateful we are here, keeping the lighthouse open for them. And honestly, we are happy to do it.

Tent at Crisp Point

We quickly learn to manage. Nothing generates heat like exercise. So I escape for an energetic run each afternoon and relish shedding hat and gloves as I go. I return with enough residual heat to handle a cold sponge bath. Rich follows suit riding the sand on a fat tire bike.

Rich and fat tire bike

A hot meal goes a long way, warming our innards. Followed by a blazing campfire, evenings are quite comfortable. Crawling into my down sleeping bag at night I feel the warmth immediately radiating around my body. My little cocoon keeps me toasty all night long, nestled into the soft sand. I wasn’t kidding about the tent.

Cooking outside
Dinner outsid

With fresh reserves of heat I’m primed for sunrise. I feel impervious to the wind and cool air as I search out the best vantage points for the morning light show, followed by a brisk walk down the beach. This is my favorite time of day here. Even in October.

Crisp Point sunrise

By the end of our five days we are coping well. More than that, really. Continue to love it here. I miss the warm days when I could sit on the beach and write, or nestle up on the lighthouse cat walk to read. But it’s still a privilege to claim this remote beauty as home for a spell. Good thing. We’ve signed up to return next October. To chill out.


Finding Crisp Fall Colors

Fall leaves have been a tease this year. Throughout September and the early part of October we cycled through upper and lower Michigan amid scattered fall colors. Leaves were just beginning to turn, surrounded by their green neighbors. Isolated pockets of color delighted us. But it was only a hint of what was yet to come.

That was actually a blessing for us. We deliberately planned to miss peak leaf season due to the tourists it attracts. We had no desire to cycle crowded roads or fight for motel rooms populated by leaf peepers. So we took pleasure in seeing the mild nascent display.

Returning home to the Northland, it was no surprise that the leaves were past peak. Color remained, but many trees were already bare. So we expected nothing more when we drove through the UP to Crisp Point Lighthouse. Nature had a gift for us this time, and we traveled a shoreline of brilliance. Trees at their finest blanketed the countryside and adorned the lakefront. Stopping at the overlook in Munising provided a fine view in the late afternoon sunlight.

Molly and Rich fall leaves
View at Munising 1
View at Munising 2
Leaves in Munising

The road into Crisp Point Lighthouse is notorious for being rough. Its 18 miles of dirt road is susceptible to potholes, washouts and bumps. You have to really want to see the lighthouse to make the trip. This fall the area saw unending rainfall, resulting in flooding on the road. We encountered numerous puddles that stretched the full width of the road, daring us to cross. Navigating them tentatively at first, we gained confidence with each one and ultimately plowed right through.

For everything that road delivered in adventure it compensated with beauty. By the time I went for a run in the afternoon, the pools had become reflecting ponds and the colors popped against a deep blue sky.

Fall leaves Crisp Point road
Leaf reflection Crisp Point 1
Lead reflection Crisp Point 2

Catching the colors against the lighthouse required patience and the right angle. But the chase was half the fun.

Crisp Point colors 1
Crisp Point colors 2

My autumn is now complete. I found fall colors after all. Where I least expected them.


A Brush with Civilization

Spending days on end on a bicycle has a way of holding the outside world at bay. For five weeks, on our Liberation Cycling Tour, our possessions consisted of the limited clothing and a couple of electronic devices in our panniers. Food choices were constrained by what was on the menu at local diners. We didn’t ride in a car, watch TV or listen to the radio. We remained blissfully out of range of the antics of the upcoming Presidential election.

Returning home has reopened a wealth of choice. A closet full of clothes present themselves each morning, requiring a decision on what to wear. I can smother my home made toast with natural peanut butter as I savor my favorite morning coffee. My car easily transports an array of fresh fruits and vegetables, and I have all the tools I need for preparing them to my liking. I still don’t watch TV and only dial in to MPR on my car radio.


My body is most grateful to rest in the same familiar bed each night. Sleep patterns begin to resettle into normal again. My feet relish the expansiveness of ordinary shoes. I get the haircut I have been craving. The eyebrows I have ignored are waxed into submission once again.

First on my priority list for re-entry is seeing family. Hugging those I love. Then connecting with friends. Coffees, dinners and conversations follow. I re-engage with writing and begin a new story assignment.

Apple orchard

Oh, it does feel good to return to civilization. But it is an ephemeral phase. A tease. A fleeting moment. We are off again.

This time it’s the car we pack. It is stuffed to the gills with camping gear, food and warm clothes. Feeling flush with space, we bring a larger tent, thicker sleep mats and our own pillows. Car camping brings unfettered luxury.

It’s time for our annual 5-day stint as lightkeepers at Crisp Point Lighthouse. For the third year in a row, we are returning to man the visitor center and welcome all who come to see this remote light and walk its pristine beach.

Molly at the top of Crisp Point Lighthouse

Our keeper’s campsite for one comes with no electricity, drinking water, cell service or internet access. If we felt removed from normal life while on our bikes, this is truly off the grid. We are able to enjoy the solar power in the visitor center by day, and the flash of the lighthouse by night. Beyond that, silence reigns. Our only connection with the world beyond our 18 mile rustic dirt road will be the visitors who make their way here.

It was nice while it lasted. That brief brush with civilization was enough of a taste to want more. For now that will have to wait, for a worthy purpose. It will be all the sweeter in a week, when I expect to indulge in a good healthy dose of home life. With all its comforts.


Signs of a Successful Tour

I can’t help myself around signs. Invariably I have to stop and take a picture. Reasons vary from humor to documenting locations. But viewed as a collection after the fact, they tell a good tale.

Let’s start with the obvious. As our tour jerseys state, the Liberation Cycling Tour was planned to take in the Northern Great Lakes. The bulk of our miles were spent along the shores of Lake Michigan, Lake Superior and Lake Huron, catching a part of each lake’s Circle Tour. Their shorelines were distinctly different but all shared the same expansive views of endless blue water.

We found a number of good cycling trails along the way. We were grateful for the Interurban trail, for getting us in and out of Milwaukee without dealing with urban traffic and congestion. The Pere Marquette trail kept us off a busy highway while going across the lower peninsula.The Little Traverse Wheelway was a particularly pleasant way to travel along Lake Michigan.  To mention a few.

Some roads were as good as bike trails. And particularly scenic. We didn’t need signs to tell us that.

Signs were often informative.

Or simply told us where we were.

Looking back this way already reminds me of the good times we had.  All the signs point to a very successful cycling tour.

Finishing in Style

Final Totals: 33 days, 1,418 miles

We prefer a circle route. It means constantly covering new ground and seeing new sights. This Liberation Tour followed that principle well, but our final stretch from Door County back to Milwaukee inevitably meant retracing our route. But that's not all bad. It allowed us to linger in places we admired earlier, take in attractions we bypassed and stay over in different towns.

The weather favored us in our final days. The sun returned and temperatures rose into the 60s and we even saw 70. In Kewaunee we got up early to catch the beautiful sunrise behind the lighthouse.

Kewaunee sunrise

We had admired the USS Cobia submarine in the harbor in Luddington several times already. So after bidding farewell to Jim, as he left us to take the Badger back home to Michigan, we went to the Wisconsin Maritime Museum and took a tour of the sub. We were able to walk through it from end to end, taking in the cramped torpedoed room, where men slept sandwiched between the artillery. We saw where they ate and worked, and the engine room. It was all preserved just as it had been outfitted in WWII.

USS Corbia tour

We were especially enamoured with Sheboygan Falls, with its picturesque downtown and multiple parks on the river. It offered few accommodations, we just passed through the first time. But by this stage in our trip, we were willing to spring for something special. So we booked ourselves into the historic Rochester Inn for the final night of our tour. Our lovely two-room suite had its own entrance off the side garden, and was tastefully decorated with lovely furniture and period decor. It was pure luxury compared to tired roadside motels and our tent, so we relished the space and comfort. And it seemed only fitting to snuggle in for a pizza dinner.

Rochester Inn
Dinner in our suite
Leaving the Rochester In

Cedarburg was our other favorite town on that stretch. So with only 15 miles to go, we exercised the art of slowing down and stopped at a local coffee shop for a leisurely afternoon break.

Our last leg was graced with pure sunshine and warm temperatures. A delightful way to complete a tour. Making our final turn to reach Lakeshore Drive, we could feel the cool breezes coming off Lake Michigan. The end was near. Despite having repeated some miles, we had come full circle. And finished in style.

Liberation Tour complete


Winding Down the Tour

Our days on the bikes are numbered. The quantity left qualifies as “few.” It is always a bittersweet stage in our tour.

By this point we have settled into the touring mode, and the daily rhythm of our lives is a well honed routine. No longer do we readily recall the day of the week, much less the date. Current events are fuzzy. Our priorities are how far we will cycle, where will we stay, and what food options we have. Beyond that, we focus on the scenery we pass ever so quietly and slowly. We needn't think beyond the tour.

Rich in Cedarburg

Until now. At some point, the miles between now and the end become finite. The route turns static. And we know how long it will take us to finish. The end is in sight.

My first emotion is always a sense of loss. Soon we will turn in our status as touring cyclists, and resume our normal lives. We will no longer be unique, with an automatic ticket for conversation starters. This year's cycling jersey will be retired from active duty to assume a new identity as a souvenir.

Molly on Lake Michigan beach

Despite wanting the tour to go on indefinitely, a few perks begin to weasel their way into my subconscious. A little math tells me I have enough clean clothes to last the final few days. I need no longer be a slave to the drudgery of washing out my attire in the sink each night. The declining storage on my iPad may not be as traumatic as I thought. I might just squeak by with enough space for the last remaining pictures I take. I can stop being so abstemious with my shampoo and toothpaste. I'm going to have enough.

Clothes drying

There are also things to look forward to. I may finally get a good night's sleep successive nights in a row, once I get back in my own bed. That tingling in my hand and the cramp in my foot are almost certain to go away in short order. Soon I can decide exactly what I want to eat for meals, and make it myself. I can already taste the fresh fruit and hearty whole wheat bread I've been craving. And I can get a haircut, to tame the wild frizz I've been stuffing under my helmet.

Best of all, I get to see the rest of my family again. Keeping in touch through Facebook, texts and email can only go so far. I'm anxious to hear about our kids' new jobs. Find out how Ben likes kindergarten. Give those little ones a squeeze. And just spend time with them all.

I will miss the daily miles on my bike, and the challenge of repeating it day after day. But I can now log time with my running friends. I needn't be uber conscious of the weather. If it's raining when I wake up, I can revise my workout plans. And I can even use the car and stay dry. I have a closet full of clothes to deal with the increasingly cooler temperatures, and don't have to worry about whether they will fit in my panniers.

Molly in the rain

I love meeting new people each day. Trading stories about cycling, adventures and life is inspiration for for our travels and becoming a better person. But I long to reconnect with my friends, who enrich my life and are always there for me.

Winding down is hard to do. But I think I'm going to manage.


My Happy Hat

Progress to date: 30 days, 1,258 miles

I don't know what made me say it. It just came out of my mouth. “This is my happy hat.” But it's true. The little black skull cap is the difference between being cold and miserable and feeling comfortable and warm. It's as good as an extra layer of clothes.

It's October, so it's no surprise that the weather has suddenly turned colder. But except for a few chilly days in the UP, we have had extraordinarily warm weather. As we left Egg Harbor it was in the mid 60s, one of our warmest mornings yet. We optimistically set out in light gear.

Rich and Jim about to cycle

But it all nosedived from there. Not only did the temperature drop, but strong winds blew out of the west. We were battered by crosswinds or headwinds throughout the day. Although we had only 33 miles to get to Sturgeon Bay, it felt like twice that.

Despite the weather we still had a scenic ride. The highpoint for me was visiting Cave Point County Park. There the waves crashed against the shore sending impressive sprays up against the rocks. The lake's action had carved caves and canyons in the rock, and we could see water pouring out of them as each wave receded. The entire shoreline had evolved into uniquely shaped rock formations.

Cave Point Park 1
Cave Point Park 2
Rich and Molly Cave Point Park

Rich's favorite was this “purple cow” dinosaur sighting. He quickly made friends with the natives and called for a photo shoot.

Rich and dinosaur
Molly taking picture

As the day wore on, we added layers of clothing and battled on against the wind. We counted down the miles. And cheered when we reached the motel.

Morning brought even colder temperatures. It was 43 degrees when we headed out to a coffee shop. And that interminable wind was still blowing. Sipping hot drinks and hoping it would warm up a bit seemed preferable to an early start. We probably gained a degree or two at most, but still benefitted from the caffeine perk. In the end, we dug deep into our panniers and brought out our full armaments. Tights, wool socks, thermal tops and full gloves. Ready to do battle.

Leaving the hotel
Trio on the road

And yes, my happy hat. Because when I'm warm, I'm happy. And so is everyone else in the group.

My Happy Hat