“How many roads must a man ride down/ Before you call him a man?”
I’m beginning to get my Michigan geography strait after talking with the locals: there is The Hand (most commonly known as the “U.P.” for “Upper Peninsula”), and there is The Mitt (known as the lower peninsula but never referred to as the “L.P.” and rarely as the Mitt!). I’ve heard that the population can be divided into two types; 97% are Trolls, living below the bridge, while 3% are Yoopers, living above the bridge. Those in the U.P. fondly call themselves “Yoopers” and claim that “Life is different above the Bridge.” Especially in the winter, fer sure ya betcha. I loved my visit here in the warm season.
The Bridge, of course, is the Mackinaw, or “The Mighty Mac.” It is one of, if not the, longest suspension bridges in the world. While the tower heights and span between them are slightly less than the Golden Gate, the whole bridge is more than twice as long. It is definitely one of the engineering wonders of America, an awesome sight. Hardly anyone outside of Michigan knows about it.
I came across the U.P. specifically to visit the U.S. Ski Hall of Fame and Museum in Ishpeming. Why Ishpeming, you might ask, out in the middle of nowhere. The early Norwegian immigrants who settled in the U.P. held the first organized ski competitions in the U.S. here (jumping and cross-country) in the late 1800s, and formed the U.S. Ski Association here in 1905. Thus Ishpeming represents the origin of skiing in this country and hosts the U.S. Ski Hall of Fame just as Cooperstown, NY (who otherwise would have heard of Cooperstown?) hosts the basketball, er, I mean the baseball hall of fame. For me, the Ishpeming museum is a shrine of sorts, and it was a treat to wander around the exhibits and explore the archives. A ski-history nerd I am!
Onward to Marquette, a neat little city on Lake Superior’s southern shore with a long history of shipping iron and copper ore, and hosting Northern Michigan University and Michigan Tech as well as the ore docks. It seemed prosperous compared with many of the other towns I went through in the U.P., and reminded me of Bellingham, WA, home of Western Washington U.
I rode by Ore Dock Brewery and my bike turned to a stop as if pulled by a magnet. “Open yet?” I asked the guy who was beginning to set some tables outside (turned out to be one of the owners). “Nope,” he replied. “But I’ve ridden my bike all the way from Seattle to taste your ales,” I pleaded. “We’re open,” he said with a smile, holding the door for me. Ore Dock is a relatively new micro-brewery and is producing some awesome ales as well as helping build community in this historic town on a Great Lake. I tasted an experimental, double IPA called Gong Show with a ridiculous score of 100 IBUs — it was amazing to this hop-head.
A huge, rusting ore dock loomed on the nearby waterfront. An imposing structure that speaks to the industrial history of this region as a center of iron and copper mining for over 100 years. Some ore is still shipped from a new dock on the north side of the city, but the region’s mining heyday has come and gone.
I peddled some beautiful bike trails along Lake Superior, in the fog created by this enormous inland ocean, chilled to the point of putting on my wind jacket after many hot days just a few miles inland. This huge body of water reminded me so much of the ocean coasts, yet neither the air nor the water was salty, and there were no tides. A mind stretch, indeed, for this coastal boy.
I found myself at the end of the day in Munising and camped right on the shore, sand-and-all.
I found a local eatery called Duck Pond, that had great Michigan ales, really friendly staff and customers, and yummy food. The young server, Elena, recommended that I try the Whitefish Reubin sandwich, an unlikely combo that was delicious. I drank Ore Dock’s Reclamation IPA, and chatted with staff and customers, all of whom were really supportive of my trip. At the end of the evening, Elena gave me the best compliment of this whole journey: “I’m honored to have met you,” she said. “You are the kind of guy Bob Dylan would have written a song about!”
The next day was the wettest of my ride. No more rain charm. Huge thunderstorm cells were on the radar as I peddled across the peninsula. As the first one hit, while I was on a remote stretch of highway, suddenly a restaurant — the Haywire — appeared out of the forest. I veered in, but it wasn’t open. As I huddled under its entryway roof, the door cracked and the owner asked, “So, aren’t you going to come in out of the rain?” They made me coffee and gave me a dry place to stay until the storm passed over. Angels. Here is a picture of that first of the three storms that hit me that day:
I wasn’t so fortunate as the second wave hit: no civilization in sight as the count of lightening-flash-to-thunder-crash got too low for comfort. I’m riding a solid steel bike, after all, and that is not a safe place to be sitting in an intense lightening storm. I dropped the bike by the side of the road and ran into the forest as more lightening flashed and the rain came in torrents — after the first 30 seconds I was so soaked the rest didn’t matter. Fortunately all my gear is in waterproof panniers, so it was just me that got soaked. Once that front passed, I rode the rest of the way into my destination port, Manistique, MI, only to have the third and most intense front hit just was I was riding to the store. I huddled inside with many other refugees as a hurricane-intense wind/rain/lightening storm crashed outside. I was happy not to be caught outside in that finale. We don’t get such intense storms back home in Seattle! Yikes. I enjoyed a nice U.P. pasty while I waited for the rain and lightening to pass.
I dried out over the next day, and headed for the Straits of Mackinaw. I am not allowed to ride my bicycle across the Mighty Mac, so I took the ferry to Mackinac (pronounced “Mackinaw”) Island, which has a wonderful history in this region going back to the 1600s, including interesting turn-overs in the War of 1812, and contains many historic homes, inns and the old fort. On a sunny, mid-July Sunday the place was packed with tourists, but was still fun to visit since the only modes of transportation on the island are walking, bicycles or horse-drawn carriages. Among the burger and fudge joints on Main Street I noticed Twist-N-Sprouts, a spot that offered vegan options — the first time I’ve seen that word since Seattle! Jack Armstrong, the owner, was really into his menu offering a healthier alternative to everything else around. He was very supportive of my trip. The wrap I had there was awesome.
Near Mackinaw City on the lower peninsula I found a campsight and immediately encountered yet another Road Angel. Curt from Chicago was camped nearby, a professional bicycle racer who had been on the U.S. team and in Olympic trials (and who, as an aside, had camped at this same campground since he was a kid). He was interested in my ride, and insisted on taking me in his SUV to the laundromat three miles away rather than let me ride there on my bike (“You’ve ridden far enough today, Dave”). It was a good excuse to talk more about my ride, about our families, and about life in general. Amazing how close one can feel to someone you’ve just met. Road Angels come in many forms.
Today, as I was cycling along (through?) the “Tunnel of Trees” road along the Lake Michigan coast, the best Road Angels of all materialized in a moment of need. In a sharp, steep uphill, my chain jammed and, for the first time on this trip of more than 3000 miles, I fell over into the middle of the road. Two women in a blue Prius stopped right behind me, helped me collect my breath and get the chain back on right (I only suffered skin damage to elbo and knee, nothing serious), and waited until they were sure I was O.K. I love people like this — caring, totally anonymous, there in the moment to offer help and support. Angels are everywhere. I’m convinced of that fact.
As I head south into The Mitt of “Lower” Michigan, I’ve decided to exercise the international option and cut across state and into Ontario, Canada to head more directly for Niagra Falls. Family and friends of my friend and former colleague, Dave Waddell, who grew up in Michigan, are offering to help me out across the state. I feel continually blessed.
“How does it feel/ To be without a home/ Like a complete unknown/ Like a rolling stone?”
It feels wonderful!
— Dave (posted from Petoskey, MI)