You Did What For Your Vacation?


If your idea of a perfect vacation is sitting by a sun-dappled lake with a good book in hand, I couldn’t agree more.  But that part is what I usually look forward to after pedaling about 60 miles on my touring bicycle.  Yeah, the kind where YOU supply the power, not the Harley – Davidson.  Each summer we embark upon a real road trip, the kind where the skinny tires meet the road.  This year we brought along our 16 yr. old nephew, Bennett, to the eastern Upper Pennisula of Michigan for the MUP ride.

Limited to 150 people, we hit some of the most famous highlights of the U.P.  For you geography fans, we started in St. Ignace – Mackinac Island area and then pedaled our way over the rural roads, into small towns filled with pasties, fishermen and lumbermen, and dipped into 2 of the greatest fresh water lakes around – Huron and Superior.  Towns like De Tour (Michiganers pronounce like ‘road construction” road sign vs. its French, fur trapper de’ tour), Sault Ste. Marie, Paradise (another name to get your imagination going while your seat is semi-numb) and Newberry greeted all of us that thought pedaling 60 miles into a head wind in mid 80 degree temps. was fun!    Image

From the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island to the Soo Locks of Sault Ste. Marie, we got off our bikes and visited small museums and lighthouses that told the story of life in the U.P.  One of my books was about the CCC camps in the mid to late 1930’s that told how these camps saved a generation of men in the UP and built the state parks, forestry lands, cleared roads and rescued those stuck in monstrous snowstorms. (Saving Our Sons – Larry Chabot)

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Our accommodations were wonderful – our own tents.  The photo above was made out my ‘front door’ as we camped on the Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie.  It is the International Peace Bridge at night.  Some of my braver, fellow riders road over the two-lane bridge to Canada and back.  I had not brought my passport along so was ‘skunked.’

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It was in Sault Ste. Marie that we kayaked on our ‘day off’ after touring the Soo Locks.  If you’ve never been here to see the locks in action, I highly recommend one of the boat tours.  We got to go into the locks with the big boys – one of which was a tour boat out of New York City.Image

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It’s something to see a 700 – 1000 ft. ship going by you in the locks!  I learned that the Soo Locks puts through more tonnage each year than either the Suez Canal or the Panama Canal.  Way to go Great lakes!ImageHere a dredge barge works to keep the locks deep enough for the ships.

Image In Sault Ste. Marie, the old electrical station is the sight where the St. Mary’s River comes into Lake Huron.

While back on the road, the Dancing Cranes coffee shop/bakery/local meeting place, did a bang up day of business as many caffeine deprived cyclists stopped by for some “fuel.”  You’ll note the colorful cycling jerseys and ages of the riders in the photo.  Riders range from kids to seniors.  A 10 year old pedaled her bike with her father and sister on this trip and the oldest rider, we had met on a previous ride in WI, was 78.

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ImageFurther down the road we came upon one Point Iroquois Light House, outside Brimley, MI.  This lighthouse is kept by a retired couple and they live there year round.  As I contemplated the notorious storms that blow in off of Lake Superior, I spied a satellite dish as I rode away.  One would need some company on those long, winter days.

The grounds were beautifully decorated with the pebble fence and flowers.  Cyclists LOVE to stop and take in the local environments and historic places along the route because it’s a way to stretch your legs, and bum, and get a water/snack refill from the SAG wagon.

ImageOur weather ranged from overcast to sunny but the temps. were mid 80’s all week.  We delighted when two of the nights were 60 degrees – nice for sleeping in a tent.  Here Kathy and I have fun making a mock Viagra commercial.

ImageIn Paradise, MI – a very small town that swells in numbers during the summer months. While exploring the town on my bike, I came upon a chainsaw artist – Edwin Lafitte.  I watched as his put his chainsaw down and burned the dark spots onto Mr. Bear with a blow torch.  After an application of wood sealer, Mr. Bear would be for sale.  He ships them, so no need to worry about carrying one on your bike!

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If you’re one of those cyclists contemplating the pros and cons of a newer, lighter bicycle, you can skip the ones we found outside of Sault Ste. Marie.  When I saw this public art display, I knew we had a Christmas card photo!  Thanks Bennett.

ImageAnother public art display we almost missed.  We’d been told at the previous evening’s meeting that we should be on the lookout for this U.P. comfort station.  I found it a wonderful place to check my messages until I realized I had no bars.  Who says cycle tours are boring??

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Some days the miles, heat and humidity can get to you.  Add a full stomach after lunch and you have the perfect combination for a post-prandial nap – even if it’s on concrete.  Gotta love that cycling jersey though!!  Naps are allowed on cycling trips because you have all day to get to your next destination.

ImageVanna White (aka Kathy) models the tent camp outside of Lake Superior State University at sunset.  It’s fun to see all the different style of tents and camping gear that people bring along.  This year we packed some cards and crossword puzzles that we did in down time.

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Bennett and I are still looking pretty good about halfway through the week.

ImageWhile cycling into Tahquamenon Falls State Park, the most visited state park in Michigan, I came across a three-legged red fox.  Most likely a trap victim, he seemed to enjoy part of my power bar.

ImageTahquamenon Falls is 200 feet wide and is the widest river east of the Mississippi.  In the late 1800’s, millions of board feet of lumber came over these falls on their way to Lake Superior.  Fireweed dances in the breeze in the foreground.

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Fireweed is an herb that’s usually found in open fields and burnt over land.  It flowers from the bottom up and in Alaska, they say that summer is over when top part has bloomed.  Tahquamenon Falls is in the background.  Image

Along the route I spotted some blooms of water lilies.  A quick hit on the brakes, I pulled out my nifty compact digital camera (Nikon S8200), zoomed in and made the photo.  As a pro photographer, I’ve got to say what a nice job the camera manufacturers have done with lightweight, compact cameras.  Perfect for traveling, backpacking and cycling!

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Speaking of great, compact cameras, Bennett showed me some of his excellent images he makes in his iPhone 4S while we were on the Soo Locks tour.

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Back in St. Ignace after a 67 mile day, we started to get packed up, head for the showers and then home.

If you’re interested in giving bike touring a try, let me explain that you don’t have to be in Olympic- athlete shape.  The longest ride I had in before this 350/7 day trip was 15 miles.  I road a lot of 8 miles trips that I fit in after work.  Your first few days on the trip you pace yourself and stop at all the planned rest stops. (We stop at them whether we need a rest or not.  It’s part of the fun!)  The rest stops are usually 10-15 miles apart.  For one St. Ignace woman on the ride, it was her first ride ever and she did it on a hybrid bike – alone.  She met many new friends along the way, however!

Cycling is considered to be “the new golf.”  A place to get in exercise, meet people and make business/pleasure connections.   Just click on this highlighted URL for a list of all the National Bike Tour Directors rides.  Pick one out and give it a try.  We’ll be seeing you on the road making new friends along the way!

NOTE:  all images made with Nikon S8200 and S9300 compact cameras.

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