For some people Michigan is by no means the highlight of a cross-country bike tour. In fact, many of the people we met touring along the way were taking the Manitowic alternate to spend 300ish more miles in Wiscconsin and avoid Michigan's upper peninsula all together. Me, on the other hand, I was raised in Michigan so I've been looking forward to cycling the state since this adventure was just a twinkle in my eye.
Our tour across the lower portion of the upper peninsual of Michigan — which consisted of stops in Crystal Falls, Escanaba, Rapid River, Manistique, Naubinway and St. Ignace — was…. full of ups and downs.
- The lake at Runkle Lake Park in Crystal Falls was beautiful. There was a tiny small dock where Dustin and I sat to drink our coffee in the morning. The bathrooms there had showers and the whole shebang only cost $12. The woman who took our money did the entire transaction with a Mild 100 hanging out of her mouth — and she never had to ash once. Her house (the RV that served as the campsite office) smelled like aged wood and cigarette smoke, a smell a remember fondly and associate very closely with the U.P. It made me feel comfortable in a weird Sweet Home Alabama way.
- In Escanaba we washed our really smelly down sleeping bag finally! That whole ordeal was a total pain the butt worth a whole blog post of its own one day…
- We did something a little different and stayed in a cabin in Rapid River, MI. That was fun in a weird way. The cabin had about a dozen '90s VHS tapes (not rewound, by the way) in it, including Fried Green Tomatoes, Joe Versus the Volcano and Buckmaster 7 Volume 2. We watched the first of the three, but got just as much enjoyment just looking at the cover of Buckmaster 7 Volume 2. There was a kitchen in the cabin so we cooked a real dinner — which was awesome — and the cabin was near a lake so I got to sit by the lake and watch our down sleeping bag (theoretically) dry.
- We saw a giant bald eagle in a tree right next to the road right outside Naubinway and the Hog Island State Forest Campground. It was amazing and it stayed put for a really long time looking regal so we got to take a lot of pictures and then just stand there and stare quietly up at its majestic beauty for a long time. It was really amazing.
- Hog Island SF CG was really pretty. The campsite wasn't too full and we got to camp in a spot with a beautiful view of Lake Michigan. The view was so nice it more or less made up for the pit toilets.
- The view of the Mackinaw Bridge coming into St. Ignace was really spectacular and fun.
- In St. Ignace I bought this sweet Truckin' vinyl sticker to put on my pannier and we gorged ourselves on Mackinaw Island Fudge. #Win
- We found a moderatly cheap St. Ignace hotel to stay in, which allowed us to take a day off out of the rain, and to dry out our tent as well as our clothes.
- The Mackinaw Bridge Authority hauled us and our bikes across the Mackinaw bridge for $5 a person. This was much better than the $30+ the ferries were asking.
- We spent a lot of time riding on craptastic highways in Michigan. Busy roads or roads with little to no shoulder. At one point in St. Ignace the shoulder basically went away while I was riding up a hill on what seemed to be a full-scale highway. It wasn't the most relaxing of riding conditions.
- There's no falls in Crystal Falls. Don't be fooled. There's actually not much of anything there. Oh, and the “Four Seasons” you see in the ACA map — it's a baby motel that happened to be sold out when we were there. It's not a “Four Seasons” proper.
- We rolled into Escanaba the week of the Trapper Convention so everything was booked to the gills with trappers. This was a total pain in the ass at the time because we'd really been planning to take a day off in Escanaba. The woman at the Hiawatha Motel told us this covention happens about once every 10 years and people come from all over to attend; we have really funny timing, Dustin and I do. Also– we didn't get to see any cool trappin's!! WTH.
- The aforementioned Rapid River cabin…. well, that gem smelled just a tinge like poo all the time. I think there was something up with the plumbing. Not a deal breaker, but for sure a downer.
- We were really looking forward to going to Mackinaw Island until we learned the ferry is about $30 per person. Woah. How disappointing.
- It rained like crazy while we were touring through the UP. One day it rained so hard we (and a bunch of motorcyclists) had to actually pull off the road and seek shelter under an awning. We thought we might actuallly get hit by lightning the thunder was so loud. (Pro: We did not get hit by lightning.) The rain really cramped our style riding through Michigan's moustache (assuming the LP in the beard).
- I feel like there's a lot of beauty to be seen in the upper peninsula of Michigan and the route we were on just didn't do it justice. Every day I was like, “Yeah!! Today is the day! Show me your majestic awesomeness UP!” And every day…. it just didn't blow my hair back. Too much riding on the highway trying not to get run over by trucks. Not enough natural beauty.
- Oh, and at the Norrmandy Motel — the motel we stayed in while in St. Ignace — I found the world's largest toenail on the floor right next to my face while I was stretching and then I discovered what I hope hope hope is old chocolate stuck to our blanket that we'd been sleeping in for the last two nights. I think it was really poo, but to save myself from the reality that I slept in motel poo for two nights, I am going to really ride our this chocolate theory. This was definitely what I'd consider a “down” of the upper peninsula experience.
Some U.P. Pictures…
After Dustin and I left Don Olson’s Adventure Cycling Bunkhouse, we headed east toward Wisconsin. On our way toward the state line we hit a landmark incident — Dustin rode completely through his back tire and we needed to buy a new one!
The folks at Outdoor Edge in Cambridge, MN, were excellent. Really nice people. Ok, ok, enough about MN in a WI post… Heads up, this post is super long because — as you’ve noticed — I haven’t updated this blog in weeks. Apologies! And, you’re welcome if you’re looking for a one-stop “all about Wisconsin touring” post. 🙂
Wisconsn Day One: The Lindstrom to Osceola Cluster$@&#
From Dalbo, we got Dustin a new tire in Cambridge, MN, then we were off to spend what we thought would be one more night in MN in the city of Lindstrom (population 4,442). After all the luxury at the Adventure Cyclist Bunkhouse we were feeling pretty lazy so we planned to make it a short day — 50 miles from Dalbo to Lindstrom plus a couple for the tire detour. Piece of cake. So we’re trekking, and finallly we pull up to the Hillcrest RV Park at the intersection of CR9 and CR20 right outside Lindstrom, MN. We’re thinking we’re in the middle of nowhere and we won’t have any problems finding a plot to pitch our baby tent in. Boy were we wrong. Turns out Lindstrom is having their “town parade” today and everyone from all the surrounding middle of nowhere places have come in to participate in the parade and hang out in Lindstrom — so there’s no camping. The woman at the campground directs us 10 miles SW to Chisago City where we can find a big hotel and a little hotel. When we arrive in Chisago City we find both the little AND the big hotel full! Turns out there’s a wedding in town and the wedding party has everything occupied. After helping us call several local hotels/motels — and getting rejected by several local hotels/motels — the woman behind the big hotel reception desk offers to let us stay at her house. She says she and her husband have backpacked out of the country before and she understands what it’s like to be tired and S.O.L. The catch: her house is eight miles in the wrong direction. Hrm. So I go outside to consult with Dustin who, since having to trek 10 miles out of the way to Chisago City, is turning into quite the bear. (The man hates backtracking; who can blame him?) Being a man who hates backtracking, we decide that if we have to ride another eight miles it should be in the right direction, so we thank the lady for her Don Olson-esque kindness and push onward toward Osceola, Wisconsin. (A new state!) 16 miles later we arrive in Osceola, are greeted by a Dairy Queen (a luxury that’s become quite a theme for us on this tour) and the River Valley Inn & Suites. With hour short 50-mile day rolling over into a 77-mile day, it would be accurate to say that we have never been so happy to see an overpriced hotel in all our days.
The shower is warm, the bed is King-size, and the Continental breakfast includes cereal with milk, so I am happy.
Wisconsin Day Two: Interstate State Park + St. Croix Falls
The next morning we wake up for the first time in Wisconsin and push off toward Interstate State Park where I am told they have many camping spots (yay!) We plan to canoe in the state park but are foiled by rain. Despite the rain, the park is beautiful and we stay for two nights. The park is better described with pictures:
I would definitely return to Interstate State Park again!
Wisconsin Day 3: Cumberland, WI
From Interstate SP we entered what I call the land of CR-random letter. From CR G to CR DD, all the random letters were represented in roads we traversed. Silos were abound (Wisconsin apparently makes lots off cheese did you know that? ;)) Our third night we spend in Cumberland, WI, at “Country Quiet” RV Park. We slept right on the lake and witness an amazing sunset. Dustin said the water in the lake was really warm and we considered staying to take a lake day but then decided to press onward hoping our next stop, Edgewater on Lake Chetac, would yield a beautiful place to swim the day away.
Wisconsin Day 4: Edgewater + Lake Chetac
The ride to Lake Chetac was beautiful. Lake Chetac itself, on the other hand……… was less beautiful. We refer to this as the “Ectoplasm green boat scum lake” in our discussion of Edgewater. Pros of Edgewater: – They had a convenience store where we could buy french onion dip and chips (a craving Dustin and I both had been carrying about for a while). – They had a bar where we ate some deep-fried cheese. (As you can tell, Dustin and I are both on a very low-calorie touring diet…) Wisconsin Day 5: A Hayward Detour for River Tubing After our Interstate State Park canoe day being foiled by rain, and then our Edgewater lake day being foiled by green boat scum, we had reached our limit and we needed a lake day with some GD tubing/kayaking/canoeing/family-freakin-fun. So we took the long way east to swoop through the Hayward KOA where they have both tubing and kayaking built into the ridiculous camping price. At this point there was no price that could be put on the value of some good ol’ river tubing, for real. So, we trekked into Hayward where we were met by a crapton of people. Apparently Hayward has become quite a tourist destination (??). I did not see this coming. Walking our bikes past the Jersey Shore-style t-shirt shops and candy slangers we made our way to the post office so that I could take care of about 6 weeks worth of backed up mailing I had to do (hobo bag bike was getting out of control). This is important to the story because it was outside the post office (and after, literally, I was in there for an hour) that I met Kris Mayberry — the Mother Theresa of Wisconsin. I wrote a whole post inspired by Kris Mayberry earlier in the blog (the Let Go and Let God post). Please take the time to read that post if you’re interested in hearing a story about a stranger inviting a couple of other total strangers back to his house and being totally awesome. Or, here’s the Cliffs Notes recap: Kris Mayberry lives in Hayward on the river right behind the KOA; he offered to let us stay for free; fed us a lot of really amazing food including fresh from Georgia peaches; he lent us tubes and we river rafted for free on his property. He is awesome; Life was good. Commence river rafting photos:
Wisconsin Day 6: Glidden City Park with Stef and Brendan
After Hayward the plan was to ride to Clam Lake. Instead, we ran into Stef and Brendan — two newly weds cycle touring the Northern Tier as their honeymoon trip (our kind of people!) — and rode past Clam Lake to a free city park in Gliddon. The ride between Hayward and Gliddon was pretty alright. The elevation wasn’t crazy yet and we spent most of our riding hours on county roads named after letters (CR AA; CR G; etc.) Camping in the city park with Stef and Brendan was super fun! Up until this point we hadn’t really camped with any other cyclists; we see them aall the time on the side of the road and stop and chat for a few minutes, or we camp near them and they do thheir business and we do ours, but this time our forces combined and we actually camped together and spet the evening sharing and comparing road stories. As mentioned… it was really fun. Turns out Stef and Brendan are a lot like us and they’ve been tackling a lot of the same challenges that we have — which is always nice to hear; I always find it reassuring to know my issues are common ones that can be solved. I don’t know why we didn’t take any pictures with Stef and Brenden (that was dumb), but you can read all about their journey on their blog: PedalingBS.com.
Wisconsin Day 7: Big Lake State Park with Dinosaur Kid
After parting ways with Stef and Brenden in Gliddon (they were headed toward the Manitowic alternate, and we were headed toward the U.P. of Michigan. Plus… they ride way more miles than we do every day; like 100+ miles. They are human machines), we headed onward to Big Lake State Park outside of Boulder Junction, WI. The “Big Lake” was pleasant — not filled with green boar grime — but, it’s funny, the most memorable part of this day way the camp host’s red-haired grandson. He was about 8 and awesome. The kid just wanted to talk. He told me he was going to be a police man, then he told me, alternately, his plan was to open a fish museum. He also told me that dinosaurs still existed very deep under the ocean. All of this he told me breathing very little while his grandfather tried desperately to talk over him (to Dustin) about our trip and our camp registration. It was really funny. I liked that ki
Wisconsin Day 8: Star Lake Lake Day!!
Our last and final day in Wisconsin was supposed to be our first day in Michigan, but we got distracted by the Wisconsin Northwoods, the elevation of the state’s backroads, Star Lake and the promise of our infamous lake day (!) Stef and Brended had mentioned they might stop at Star Lake to have a lake day because they heard the lake was beautiful. We didn’t see them at the lake but I hope they did stop because the lake WAS beautiful!! It was warm and pleasant and everything we’d hoped for in a lake day. We took lake baths with the Bronners and we did cannonballs and backflips and we tested the waterproof claim of my Lifeproof iPhone case (which, by the way, was totally waterproof and allowed us to takee UNDERWATER pictures!! Awesome.) We hung out in the sun and we went to a FISH FRY at a bar. (Which, by the way, sucked. Ok, it was alright. But not what I had built it up in my mind to be.) I took some great nature photos and our lake day ended up being the perfect ending to our tour through Wisconsin. If you don’t believe me, check out these best-day-ever photos:
Some Other Pictures of Wisconsin…
Here are some other pictures from our trek across Wisconsin that didn’t quite fit into the narrative above, but I find worth sharing. You can also find more pictures of our entire journey on our Flickr account. Enjoy!
Do you know where Dalbo, MN is? I assume not since people within a 20-mile radius of Dalbo don't even know where it is.
It's a small town — population 80 — at the intersection of SR47 and SR6 in Eastern Minnesota; the streets are lined with old barns and silos, much like many of the places we've been riding through for the past 10 weeks. There's more or less not a lot going on, so rolling up to Don Olson's Adventure Cyclist bunkhouse in the middle of SR47 to find a 100-year-old barn (completed with silo!) converted into a cyclist's dreamhouse with cots and fresh eggs and a toaster and a shower that Don built himself was like a dream.
You know that scene in Cinderella when she swoops into the castle and spins around and magic is in the air as she finds herself surrounded by so much luxury? That's how I felt entering Don Olson's bunkhouse — like a road cycling Disney princess. There was a refrigerator with cheese in it! Fresh cheese — for free — for me! Just because. (Yes!) There was a toaster so that we could have toasted bread! (Yes!) There were other cyclists!! (Yes!!) Just hanging out looking at maps and drinking coffee — because there was also a coffee maker! (YES!!!) For a cyclist who's been living in a tent the size of a twin-size bed with another adult for 10 weeks, Don Olson's bunkhouse is like Cinderella's magic castle.
If you've never spent 10 weeks living in a tent and off only the things you can carry, you may not be able to relate when I refer to toasted bread, cereal with cold milk and a shower that runs at whatever temperature the sun dictates as “magic.” That's fair. On the other hand, if you have cycle toured The States before and you've never been to Don Olson's bunkhouse, please go. It's free (!) and the experience is priceless.
Why Don Olson Has Restored My Faith in Humanity
So, once the inital Disneyland-esque head rush wore off and I was finished with my actually-quite-warm hose shower and my cereal and my toast and my coffee I found myself sitting in a real piece of apolstered furniture fat, happy and overwhelmed with gratitude for a man who transformed his father's 100-year-old barn into a safehaven for adventureres traversing through the middle of nowhere. Just because.
He told us that he wanted to keep the barn alive and that the best way to keep it standing was to use it, and this — opening it up to shelter strangers — seemed like the best way to use it.
Don hung out with us (while I was there Dustin and I shared the bunkhouse with four other cyclists; Ted and John — a pair riding together who D and I met earlier in our ride when we were sleeping behind a bar in alightning storm (worth mentioning again), Tom — a fellow on a recumbant from MN we'd run into earlier in the trip around the Continental Divide, and John — a teacher from Texas who started riding with Tom around the middle of MN) and he told us stories about the barn, and the military, and past cyclists, and his wife, and his life. He made sure the coffee never ran out and offered to drive us to the store if we needed anything. He gave us real towels (yes!) and eggs and toast, and footed the bill for all of it, asking only that we sign the gustbook before we leave.
I like living in a world where people do nice things for other people just because. Where people trust one another; where no one takes advantage; where the community meets in the middle to share stories in passing. That is the place where I want to live; that's how I want to create my life; those are the people I want to surround myself with.
It's selfless people like Don Olson who pave the path and create footsteps in which to follow.
I loved the toaster and the coffee maker and all the non-Thoreauean creature comforts the Bunkhouse had to offer me, but what I really loved the most about the bunkhouse was the big fat human experience hug I received inside those barn walls. Something that I will keep with me always, and refer back to often, as I return to my normal life and the icy shitstorm that can be shopping at Costco (or other such scenarios that represent civilization is at its worst).
Don Olson reminded me that you choose who want to be, how you want to interact with others, and how you want to embrace your community — and those simply passing through. Don Olson is the Mother Theresa of Minnesota and I will think of him and his bunkhouse often when I am feeling like humanity is spiraling downward, and when I am making my who, how, here and now choices.
Some Pictures From Don Olson's Adventure Cycling Bunkhouse:
After our fast-track tour through North Dakota Dustin and I got back in the saddle in Fargo and headed toward Moorhead to start exploring the land of 10,000 lakes.
…And, in the six days it took to ride across Minnesota, I think we truly saw at least 6,421 lakes, indeed. And only about 100 mosquitoes! Minnesota is amazing!
While traveling across Minnesota we stayed in Pelican Rapids; Dalton; Sauk Centre; Ramey and Dalbo.
Since we we are using the North Lakes maps to enter the U.P of Michigan, we took the Trails Alternate in Northern Tier map number 5 (a detail that will only matter to other cyclists traveling the Northern Tier).
While we were (and are still currently) bummed about missing Bemidji and nothern Minnesota (we’ve made plans the visit northern Wisconsin for a future holiday), the Trails Alternate was great; lots of bike paths (!) and no lack of scenery. Here’s a MN day by day break down.
Pelican Rapids, MN
From Fargo, ND we headed south then east through Downer, MN (yes, a real place) and Cormorant before finally landing in Pelican Rapids to camp in a downtown city park.
Pros of Pelican Rapics and the city park camping experience:
- The camp site — despite being, literally, a city park in the middle of the “city” — was actually really pretty and right on the Pelican River (I thought at the time this was a lake, but looking at the map now, it’s clear it’s a river). The grass was green, there were park benches, and generally we felt safe.
- The camp site was right next to Pelican Rapid’s river suspension bridge; a bridge they are very proud of for right reason (it’s pretty cool).
- The camp site was right next to a city pool that was really warm, not full of poo, and cheap (only $2 to swim) so we got to take a dip with some city kids, and that was fun.
- We camped right by the Pelican Rapids giant pelican!
- There were flush toilets and showers (ok, a single shower) in the camp group. No quarters required.
- On the way into Pelican Rapids, Dustin saved this turtle from near road-side death:
If you’re reading, the turtle heroism was for you, Virginia Nussey!
Cons of Pelican Rapids:
- Apparently the men’s bathroom was much funkier than the women’s and Dustin dropped his pants in some water….. that turned out to be poop based on the way it was drying. So, we spent a while at the Pelican Rapids laundry mat (which, by the way, if you’re cycling through, I don’t recommend. The laundry mat was overpriced and I saw a man washing some large canvas thing that potently smelled like gasline even after he was done washing it. Yikes. There are no pictures of this laundry mat because it was forgettable.)
From Pelican Rapids, we took CR3 and the Otter Trail Scenic Byway southward through Edwards and Fergus Falls, then hopped onto the Central Lakes State Trail — the first of many bike trails we would take through Minnesota. We planned to ride all the way to Alexandria on MN day two, but instead ended up sleeping in a city park off the bike trail in Dalton because of some super heavy suprise rain fall.
Dalton — the city, the people who live there, and the park — were all great. There is actually a giant sign ini the park that says “no overnight camping,” despite the ACA map saying that camping is available. So, we called the city clerk, and, after offering to let us sleep in her front yard (amazing), she said that even though they recently discontinued camping in the park it was fine for us to sleep there. And if anyone said anything to us about it, to tell them that Sandra [names changed to protect the innocent] at City Hall said it was ok.
One highlight of the Dalton city park was definitly the bored teenager grafiti scrawled in the covered picinic area including, a personal favorite: “Cheyanne and her new boyfriend are gay.” Hilarious.
A Sidebar about Minnesota’s Amazing Bike Trails
Apparently, Minnesota is amazing. I mean, if being bike friendly is a criteria you use for judging amazingness (as it should be). Using the Central Lakes Trail, the Lake Wobegon Trail and the Soo Line, you can ride Rails to Trails bike paths all the way across Minnesota — and then in the winter, you can ride snowmobiles on the bike paths (if you’re into that).
I love the Rails to Trails program, and I loved the number of people I saw cycling all over the state because of the convenience the paths provide. From moms with kids and grocery bags, to walkers, you could tell the bike trails were really inspiring people to get out and get active. I love it.
Some bike path pictures that prove Minnesota is the shit for bike riding:
(In my personal and humble opinion that is.)
Sauk Centre, MN
From Dalton we were back on the bike trail headed toward the Wobegon bike trail and Sauk Centre. Along the way we stopped at the Kensington Runestone Museum in Alexandria and stood witness to (supposed) evidence that the vikings were in the United States long before mister Columbus landed here. This museum was also a Native American + natural history museum, so we saw many interesting non-viking artifacts as well — oh, and a gigantic 40 year old statue of a viking named “Big Ol” (the museum had kind of a lot going on).
After the viking/Native American museum, we ended up camping at the Sinclair Lewis Campground, which was pleasant. Actually, it was very pleasant and I would highly recommend it if you’re trekking the Northern Tier. The shower was really clean and hot; we were right next to a beautiful lake; the grass in the tent camping area was green; mosquitoes weren’t bad; and we were about a five-minute walk from the “downtown” area where you can find a coffee shop, a grocery store, a movie theatre and some other schtuff.
One of my favorite parts of our stay in Sauk Centre was meeting Dick and Joyce Stock, a couple of lovely snow birds who rode bikes “before it was cool.” They invited us down to their campsite to share a campfire and a sunset by the lake and we had a great time. Dustin and I shared stories about our trip, and they told us about ther travels, and we all watched the lake as ducks and white pelicans swam around in the mirror-calm water and the sunset changed colors in the distance. In the morning they invited us over for toast and coffee (two of my favorite things!) but we had to politely decline since we had a long day of riding ahead of us.
Although I dropped the ball again and didn’t get a picture with Dick and Joyce, we will definitly keep in touch with them via snail mail.
Off-Roadin’ On the Way to The Ramey-Ish Rum Shack
Leaving Sauk Centre, we hopped back on the Woebegon Trail toward the Soo Line. After asking for some bikepath help in Holdingford (heads up, the “Wobegon Spur” isn’t labeled and may or may not be a real thing; we had to take the 3 to get to the Soo Line Trail), we we found the Soo Line, took that to Nature road.
Adding to the adventure we found ourselves faced with a road closed ahead detour sign…. which we decided to ignore. Sometimes these detours will take you 25 miles around in circles that work just fine for cars, but add hours of riding to a bike tour. So we decided to chance it and found ourselves faced with a gigantor whole in the ground about 10 miles in. So, naturally…….. we walked aroud the giant hole and the construction through the tall grass on the sides. Ah, the magic of bike touring. On the other side of the giant hole the road was business as usual. (I must say, that tall grass adventure was a real bitch, though. It was like dragging 40 pounds through a thick forest with four-foot pokey grass. Dust and I felt like real off-road bad-asses when we made it out alive on the other side.
After our off-roadin’ adventure, we were about 20 miles from the days final destination: a tiny bar named the Rum Shack at the corner of CR 22 and CR 7 (which is why I call it the “Ramey-ish” Rum Shack; it’s not really in Ramey, it’s more or less in between towns) . This is where we met John and Ted, a couple of touring dudes we would lend up inadvertantly trailing for a few days, and where we experienced our first raging Minnesota lightening storm. Oh — and where I ate half of the world’s largest most delicious pizza ever and the most amazing Billy’Os-esque-salty-free bar popcorn.
The owner of the Rum Shack was ridiculously nice and, aside from allowing us to sleep behind his bar for free, actually invited us to sleep inside his house in the basement if the storm got too bad. A combination of laziness and fear kept us in our tent, but the offer really warmed our hearts (even more than the pizza. And that pizza made us pretty darn warm and happy).
From the Rum Shack we continued on to the most magical place on Earth…. Don Olson’s Adventure Cyclist Bunkhouse. That place was so magical it deserves it’s own post. Here’s a teaser picture to hold you over:
To be continued….