Cycling northern Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula (10 days, 1050 km)


I can't believe that it's now been ten years since I completed my first cycle tour from Vancouver to Halifax. And five years since I posted about any tour at all (a two-week trip from Frankfurt to Barcelona)! So, I thought I'd update this little blog, because I've just completed another lovely tour through Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Kris Evans and I had a very wonderful, adventuresome but relaxing ten days of cycling (followed by four days kayaking in the Apostle Islands!).

This trip was less about covering distance and more about meeting people, relaxing, and taking in the natural beauty that the UP and northern Wisconsin have to offer. Yet we still averaged over 70 miles a day (not taking into account the bit of cycling we did on our off day)! Not bad, if you ask me.

On our first day of riding, I said to Kris, "You know what would make me happy? If we could go swimming and have a campfire everyday." He laughed — how demanding! But I'm happy to report that we did go swimming every day, and had a fire each night we camped, except one. 

Some highlights:

1. Beating the rain

DAY 2: Cecil, WI to Fox County Park, MI, 88 miles 

Our goal on this day was to stay at Fox County Park, our first time hitting the shores of Lake Michigan. But when we stopped for water at a gas station about 5 miles from our destination, it started to seriously cloud over. Should we keep going to the park, and risk having to set up in the rain, or stay here? We decided to press on, with Kris leading the way and me in his draft. As we were cycling, we started to feel droplets. The urgency propelled us forward. We arrived at a beautiful, empty campground, and set up our tent as quickly as we could. The moment the tent was up, it started to pour, and we jumped inside. We didn't even have time to get our stuff off the bikes and put it in the tent's vestibules, but we were so relieved to be inside and dry(ish)!

What happened next was magical: the rain let up for just enough time to enable us to go swimming and cook dinner (due to wet wood, this was the one camping night we were unable to build a fire). Lake Michigan was really cold (but, as we would soon find out, not nearly as icy as Superior!), but the swim was invigorating. It started to rain again as soon as we were back in the tent and ready for bed. It's always nice when the rain falls only when you're in the tent :)

The next morning was sunny!

2. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

DAY 4: Limestone, MI to 12 Mile Beach Campground, MI, 57 miles

We took a day and a half off to explore Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Our original plan was to spend two nights at 12 Mile Beach Campground, right on the shores of Lake Superior. We'd heard it was beautiful, and we'd heard right:

But there was also a major problem: we arrived in the peak of bug season, and we were swarmed by black flies, which were especially keen on biting ankles. We were in paradise, but even walking along the beach was painful. Our only reprieve was to jump into Lake Superior. As much as I love jumping into the water, and even though it was really hot, I almost couldn't do it. It was so cold that even standing in it up to my ankles for more than 10 seconds was unbearable. But Kris got in with faux joy, and even stayed in for a ridiculous amount of time. So, after multiple failed attempts, I did it, too! The temperature must've been sub-50 F, i.e. sub-10 C, i.e. ICY.

We spent the remainder of our first half-day off playing cards and drinking box wine in our tiny, two-person tent, the only place other than the frigid waters of the lake that we could get away from those nasty little creatures.

DAY 5: 12 Mile Beach Campground to Little Beaver Lake Campground, 19 miles

Rather than staying two nights at 12 Mile Campground, as we'd originally intended, we decided to head to nearby Little Beaver Lake Campground for our day off. Our hope was that the bug situation would be better there. Plus, it was right on the hiking trail to see the famed Pictured Rocks, which is what we wanted to see on our day off.

The ride to Little Beaver Lake was lovely. Kris and I marvelled at how fun it was to just ride 20 miles on a day off: the fact that we didn't have any real distance to cover that day made the ride very casual and enjoyable.

We descended a fairly steep hill down a somewhat precarious gravel road

into the tiny Little Beaver Lake Campground. We found a lovely site with access to the lake. And we were happy to discover that there were no black flies there!

After pitching our tent, we set off for our hike. But as soon as we entered the thick woods, we were swarmed by dense clouds of mosquitos. And (because we kept forgetting to buy some) we didn't even have any bug spray!

Kris was admirably calm; I panicked. My hiking pants protected my legs, but my top half was exposed, since I was wearing only a quick-dry t-shirt. In a particularly distraught moment, I slipped and fell pretty hard on the trail, scraping my elbow and bruising my butt. Fortunately, Kris, being the kind-hearted soul he is, offered me his bug-proof long sleeve and mosquito head net. I was now safe!

Shortly into our hike, it started to rain. Except for one moment when I shrieked (and Kris laughed at me) because a clap of thunder and lightning struck very close to us, we were unperturbed. And the pictured rocks (which is how I referred to all of the rocks there!) were stunning:

It was still raining when we got back from our hike, and yet we managed build a fire — with wet wood, no less! And by "we" I mean Kris, with me as his helper (Just keep feeding the fire with the small stuff, he told me; I dutifully complied, and it worked!). We cooked over this fire, and then went swimming — all in the rain!

The thing I loved best about this day was that we made it work: we had so much fun, in spite of suboptimal conditions. These are the days that remind us what a great thing it is to be cycle touring. There's something gratifying about not only persevering, but also enjoying ourselves, even without the comforts of day-to-day life or "ordinary" vacation.

3. The kindness of strangers

DAY 8: Silver Lake to Eagle River, 78 miles

We knew it was going to rain, probably by late afternoon, when we set off from Silver Lake. After three or so hours of cycling, Kris was ready to stop for lunch, but I suggested we put it off to see if we could beat the weather. Kris was game, so we cracked on, stopping only for quick snacks by the side of the road.

This was such a fun day of riding: we both seemed to have boundless energy and, once we got going, were determined to just keep at it straight to Eagle River. It's so much fun when that happens, and it doesn't happen every day! Although it was cloudy, the day was perfect for riding, and we stumbled upon some great little gems, such as a long, paved bike path, and the old abandoned town of Alpha, WI.

We were quite pleased with ourselves when we pulled up to the grocery store in Eagle River around 4 p.m., and it still hadn't rained. But just as we were about to go in, the storm began. We consulted our phones, and it looked like it was going to last at least a few hours. We'd made it, but we hadn't: we still needed to find a place to camp, and then set up, make dinner, etc. But just as we were deciding what we should do next, a couple approached us with their groceries. Which way were were heading, they asked, and would we like to stay with them for the night? Kris and I looked at one another in pretend consultation, but really, we were both just thinking YES THAT WOULD BE AMAZING!

Barb and Steve took us and our bikes to their home overlooking Anvil Lake. We had the whole basement, which, unlike your typical basement, had a whole wall of windows overlooking the lake. We went for a swim, had showers, and then had beers and sausages and beans with Barb and Steve. Barb and Steve were wonderful hosts who shared our passion for cycling and discovering new and interesting places.

The next morning, they made us a mega breakfast: coffee, eggs, bacon, and pancakes! They directed us to Military Road to start our cycling for the day, and it was hands-down the best road of the trip. Beautiful, remote, and full of twists and turns and the fun kind of hills, those you can just fly over. Kris said to me, "A few days ago [cycling to Eagle River], I saw determined Agnes cycling. Now I'm seeing kid-in-a-candy store Agnes." And he was right! I couldn't help but smile from ear to ear on that amazing road!

There are so many more things I could write about here: our stay in lovely Marquette, MI with Warm Showers hosts Giselle and Joe; our sweet campsite in Limestone, MI and the great general store there, with its friendly owners and mind-blowing pizza and cinnamon roles; our final, determined push back to Stevens Point. And then there were the lowlights, so to speak, which are hard at the time, but make this not just a vacation, but an adventure: the headwind on the road to Limestone, the sleepless nights in our sometimes-too-hot-and-squishy two-person tent, the chaffing and various other aches and pains. But man, do I have fond memories of this trip! I can't wait till the next one!


Dr. J said...

Awesome ride, Agnes! First thing I thought when I saw the map and the dates--"black flies, mosquitoes". But the beauty and serenity, nothing like it. Many pictures reminded me of my first 10 summers spent on the shores of the Bruce Peninsula, across Lake Huron from the UP.
Thank you for sharing your experiences with us (I passed the link on to Pat, who is enjoying it as I type; she had very complimentary things to say about Kris. :-)

Agnes Bolinska said...

Thanks, Jim! Yes, the flies and mosquitoes were insane, and at first I found them to be quite unbearable! But you kinda get used to them, and it was worth it to beat the heat and the people. And now I feel invincible — I can handle all the bugs!

I hope you and Pat are both well!