June 18: Da U.P. and northern Wisconsin

I strained my right Achilles tendon just before I wrote you last time, so I made an effort to cut down on my daily miles. I decided to forego the Midwest Renewable Energy Association's annual Sustainability Fair this weekend (you may recall I visited their location in the second week of my trip and nothing was going on at that time) because I'd have to ride fast and hard for six days... besides, it happens every year. My joints are feeling much better now.

I followed the Hiawatha Tour bike route shown on my maps through most of the Upper Peninsula. It took me down highways that had low traffic and good shoulders, which was a nice change. There was only one hill; otherwise flat farmland and pine forests with a ferny understory.

I stopped for lunch in Rudyard and talked with the diner's owner. He gave me a bumper sticker that says I ate there. He and the waitress were perplexed that they get so many bicyclists. I explained that anyone using the same map as me would come right by, but that didn't satisfy them... I guess they don't see why a diner would appeal to bike tourists.

I stopped Monday night at Garnet Lake campground in Lake Superior State Forest. The wildlife around the lake was very vocal, especially something that sounded like a timberwolf! The swarm of mosquitos hovering above my tent (trapped under the rainfly) was so loud it almost kept me awake.

The Hiawatha Tour joined US-2 Tuesday morning, and I followed that highway all the rest of the way into Wisconsin. It's a lot like the Trans-Canada Highway, only with paved shoulders and less interesting rocks... lots of motels and campgrounds and wilderness on either side.

I had heard a lot of rumors about "Yoopers" from friends who've lived in Michigan (you know who you are), but I found them to be very friendly and civilized, no more provincial than anyplace else I've gone.

I had planned to ride through Manistique (suggested motto: "C'est Manistique") Tuesday afternoon, running some errands and seeing some sights before continuing west to a state park, but on my way into town around 3:00 I saw a motel with a campground... and an indoor pool and a free breakfast... so I set up camp and then went into town. The sight I had looked forward to seeing, a floating bridge, has recently been replaced with an ordinary bridge, but I had a nice ride anyway.

I waited to leave Manistique until the rain stopped Wednesday morning. It didn't return all day, though there was drizzle on and off, and the wind was very strong at times.

I met a cyclist coming the other way with hardly any gear. He was coming from northern Wisconsin, going to someplace in northern Michigan -- but on the mainland; he pointed to his right hand like a true Michigander. He hadn't yet figured out how he would get across the four-mile-long Mackinac Bridge... he might have to take two ferries instead. I may have been a bit patronizing when I told him his week-long ride was "a good start," but he was disdainful of my trailerful of gear. He says he sleeps in a couple of trash bags with a shirt over his head. I think he's risking being mistaken for a corpse!

I rode through Hiawatha National Forest most of the day, and on the far side, at Rapid River, I stopped in at the ranger station and was glad I did. Their map showed some municipal campgrounds that were exactly where I needed them to be!

Thursday was cooler and very breezy, but I still made over 50 miles, from Escanaba to Iron Mountain. I crossed into Central time, so now dawn comes at 4:30 AM!

In Escanaba I had needed earplugs to keep out the highway noise, so I stopped at a more remote county campground outside Iron Mountain hoping for some peace and quiet. But alas, it was full of families who wanted to play their radios. After two weeks of highway riding, I wanted to throw every radio in the lake, but earplugs work for that, too.

I felt rotten in the morning (yesterday) and really didn't want to get back on the highway. I stopped in Florence, WI to use the Internet and supplement my breakfast... just after that I left highway 2 behind and immediately felt 100% better. The coffee may have helped a little.

There's a joke that small towns in Wisconsin (and other states, I suppose) consist of just a church and a bar, and the church is optional. Well, the town of Spread Eagle, WI, has six bars and no churches, and half the bars feature dancers. And Romeo wants to know what's in a name...

I spent the rest of the day riding through Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. My older US map shows these as two separate forests; I'm not sure whether the merger means there's less forest than there used to be or just less bureaucracy, but in any case it's a beautiful, quiet place. I'm guessing that the mix of hard and softwood trees is not suited to industrial logging like the other national forests I've visited... diversity is strength! The weather was gorgeous, and I got in a full day's ride in spite of the lousy start.

Toward evening I decided I hadn't had enough silence yet, so I headed for a campground 3 miles from the main road rather than one right beside it. A lot of other folks had the same idea, but fortunately they weren't into making lots of noise... except for a bunch of unsupervised teenagers near me, but after I chewed them out they settled right down! Be quiet or the crazy piebald man will get you!

Q: I can't believe your perseverance in sticking with the BikeE. Granted it is a well made bike, but it would not be my first choice as a long distance tourer!

A: I get that a lot from people who are familiar with the BikeE... they like it for around town but wouldn't take it touring. I'm not the only person to tour on one; the guy I met in upstate New York had ridden from coast to coast on a BikeE, then sold it (to a collector!) and bought a conventional mountain bike. But I stick with it for the same reason I bought it in the first place: I haven't found anything I like better! The seat position in particular is better for my neck and back than either an upright bike or a more expensive recumbent. Your mileage will undoubtedly vary.

Q: I can imagine a variety of emotions you might be having on the home stretch; what have you been feeling about it?

A: I'm sorry to say that mostly I'm eager to be done. I've had a lot of fun, but it's starting to get a little tiresome. I have to keep reminding myself to slow down and enjoy the ride, not only because that's the point, but because I'll hurt myself if I ride too hard. The days are nearly 16 hours long now, so I can afford to take lots of breaks, but it's tempting to just keep riding until I'm exhausted and then stop early in the afternoon.

A word about regional foods... I eat a lot of hamburgers because they're satisfying. In North Carolina, when you order a burger "all the way," it comes with coleslaw and chili on it. Order a burger with "the works" in Ontario and it will come with bright green sweet pickle jelly! All through Ontario there's a dish called poutine which is fries with brown gravy and cheese. (I didn't get up the nerve to order "pogo" for fear it might be opossum!) In the UP they haven't heard of poutine, but that's OK because they have "hot hamburgers" -- a hamburger on white bread smothered in brown gravy. Also pasties (meat pies).

Q: Do you have a short term plan for when you get back "home"?

A: I'm committed to living in the Twin Cities for the next year, so I'll get some sort of job while I lay plans for the longer term. Depending on the job, I may stay for several years, but this trip has really verified for me that I don't want to settle permanently in a city.

Well, folks, I've got less than a week left to go! Next time I write you this migration will be complete, and I'll be back where I started, give or take a few miles. See you there! --Ben