The Sunrise Side

It is a quandary. Early on in this cycling tour, we headed north on Michigan's lower peninsula along the Lake Michigan shore. It is the eastern shore of the lake, but the western coast of Michigan. So which is it? We found examples of both references, so the evidence is inconclusive. We're still not sure what to call it.

Lake Huron sign

Now headed down the Lake Huron side, we are spared this confusion. This coast has clearly defined its identity in a manner that is unambiguous. We are cycling the “Sunrise Side.”

This is new territory for both of us. Like the Lake Michigan side, it has a single scenic highway running the length of the coast, at least as far as we are taking it. Both roads cling to the water's edge, as much as possible. Despite the popularity of the route, traffic is reasonable, the road is in good shape, and the shoulders generous. Nirvana for cyclists.

We were curious to see how different Lake Huron's shores would be. My initial reaction is that it has the same wonderful Great Lakes appeal, with the long water views and endless horizon. It feels more wild, somehow and less tamed than the Lake Michigan shore. It doesn't boast the same level of posh development. And it seems to host far more resorts that cater to the general population.

Where Lake Michigan has carved out long narrow peninsulas and frequent bays, Lake Huron's coastline feels straighter. There are no tall dunes, but plenty of sandy beaches. Homes, cabins and resorts claim much of the actual waterfront, and our views are limited to peering across yards to the water beyond. In place of sophisticated and picturesque villages, there are small, more ordinary towns. Fewer marinas. An abundance of lighthouses.

Huron beach at campsite
Forty Mile Point Lighthouse was well worth visiting. It had a number of buildings and displays to visit, and we enjoyed trading experiences with the volunteer lighthouse keeper there. It also turned out to be a scenic spot for changing a flat tire…
Forty Mile Point Lighthouse
Rich changing a tire

We also found other lakes nestled inland from the shores of the big lake. Grand Lake delivered a lovely little resort with peaceful water views.

Grand Lake sunrise

Alpena had a lovely park and wildlife sanctuary, as well as an attractive harbor and lighthouse.

Alpena lighthouse

One sight was very familiar. We toured the retired Coast Guard Icebreaker Mackinaw, which occasionally visited Duluth to assist in opening the port in spring. The best part was meeting a 10-year veteran crew member, who was there to tell us about the engine room. His real life experiences on board the ship were tales worth hearing.

Icebreaker Mackinaw

It was unfortunate that we had mostly cloudy skies when we visited the Huron coast, which may have tainted our perspective. It certainly limited our propensity to take photos. But even so, it did live up to its name. The Sunrise Side.

Huron Sunrise


Why we camp

The waves are thundering against the shore. They crash on a narrow band of sandy beach, a silver of coastline. The noise is constant, ceaseless, loud. Our tent lies just feet from the edge of Lake Huron. This white noise was our lullaby when we nestled into our sleeping bags last night.

Lake Huron's waves

We are camped at Harrisville State Park. I'm sure these prime lake side sites are difficult to get in the summer. But in late September we have our pick of the lot. Our pup tent is dwarfed by the campers that surround us. A car noticeably absent. Just two bikes leaning against the picnic table. It's our own private lake place for the night.

Lake Huron campsite

In the overall scheme of things, we camp only a few nights during our bike tours. We are admittedly fair weather campers. It's far too easy to rationalize that we are hot and grubby, or cold and wet at the end of the day. And a beckoning motel room wins. The same goes for a poor weather forecast.

But it's the nights of camping that spawn lasting memories. On the top of my list are the beautiful spots we have camped, that otherwise would be inaccessible. Camping has allowed us to perch on cliff tops. To hear the ocean. To hike in the mountains. To sit by a campfire. To watch a meteor shower from our tent. On this trip it motivated us to swim in Lake Michigan, and take in both sunset and sunrise from a dock.

For all its rewards, I still wondered why we were doing this as we selected our site yesterday afternoon. The sun had disappeared under the clouds, bringing a chill to the air. I was cold and wanted only to get warm. Jumping under the shower in my unheated cubicle was a bracing experience, even though the water was warm. As I stepped outside, the wind off the lake was predictably cold.

But as my body warmed up, so did my attitude. There was only a mildly colored sunset, but I admired it from the beach. Had I been in a motel, I would have been too absorbed with my iPad to notice. Settling down in the tent, when sleep did not come immediately, I stared up into the star-filled sky. I admired the same starry wonders multiple times during the night. (Anyone who claims to sleep well on the ground is kidding themselves.)

Awake early, we both rise in time to catch the sunrise over Lake Huron. The wind still howling, the waves still battering the shore, it feels wild out there on the beach. But I'm ever so glad to be there. I feel so alive.

Lake Huron sunrise

Watching the sun make its appearance, waiting for it to pop above the clouds, I now remember why we camp.