Follow the adventures of Bryan Thorp as he lives his dream of riding across Canada from coast to coast.
Day 44 - July 26 - Sun
Ashland, WI - Wakefield, MI - 90km
I was really surprised that there was no rain on the tent in the morning. After 2 drenchings yesterday afternoon, and dark skies before sundown, the odds were for rain, 40% in fact. I got lucky. Still, I did not sleep well because it was a warm night, the warmest yet of my tour. It was too warm for a sleeping bag and too cold without. :-( I happily packed up and headed for brekky. I was told the pancakes were huge so I just ordered 2 and they were full sized and the 2 were enough. I do think I need less food now as my body has been doing this kind of exercise for 43 days now. In fact, my average heart rate has dropped since the early days of the trip.
After brekky, I rode into the older area of Ashland, just blocks off the highway. I was rewarded with many beautiful older buildings from circa 1885. That's more like it! I didn't leave Ashland for 2 more hours as I chatted with a store owner and took pictures of the interior of her store, and chatted with a couple visiting from nearby Michigan who also got drenched in yesterday's downpour. I also chatted with two guys on the street who were just hanging out. The conversation with all ranged from the history of Ashland, to which route to take through Michigan and Canada's contribution to the war in Afghanistan!
From the get-go, I knew today was going to be a low mileage day. As I mentioned in my previous diary entry I was feeling a bit of burn-out. So, I took my time today. The goal would be to get across the state line, about 55km away.
One of the businesses I came across was a coffee house - whoa! I have not had a REAL coffee since leaving home. So, in I went and ordered an Americano, made with espresso. That's the kind of coffee that puts hair on one's chest - for us males, anyhow. Ah yes, a bit of the Pacific Northwest way out here! Nice! OK, it was way past lunch time, so time to hit the road.
I rode a bit on a bike path right on huge Lake Superior. Now, y'all remember from geography that this is the largest freshwater lake on the planet, eh? It's simply humongous! I forgot to top up my groceries while in Ashland, most likely because I don't recall seeing a grocery store! However, I came across a Wal-Mart on the outskirts of town, and stopped in there. Once groceries were taken care of, I got back on the road and churned out some clicks.
My heart wasn't into cycling today, especially with the boring scenery thru the Bad River Indian Reservation. The only thing worth noting was that the road had a red colour to it, as did some of yesterday's. I sweated up a 65m hill, and my bike computer shows the temperature as only 29C. It's been a while since a hill made me sweat, and this wasn't a big hill but it was my body's way of telling me to take it easy.
The aboriginals had a casino conveniently located on their reserve a few more clicks down the road, so I stopped there, found a bench and made myself a lunch. A break almost always rejuvenates me. Interestingly, aboriginals get their own state license plates, with their reservation name on the plates, for their vehicles. I wonder why? What's the point?
On the road again, I finally cross from Wisconsin into Michigan. The name of the city on the Michigan side is Ironwood. There's a nice tourist info right on the border, so I ascertain where to stay tonight, where I can get a decent dinner and what route do they recommend to get to Sault Ste. Marie, ON. I'm hoping today's lo-mileage day will be like a semi-rest day. If I'm still feeling a bit off tomorrow, which will be my 6th day of riding since my last rest day, then I will have to take a day off. I was hoping for my day off to be in the Soo, when I get back into Canada.
Anyhow, I had dinner in Ironwood, and chose a lasagna. After dinner, it's only 20km to Wakefield, MI, where there's a municipal campground with showers. I accomplish that distance easily enough, find the campground, setup, shower, and work on my diary. I still have yet to see one touring cyclist in the US on this tour. In fact, cyclists of any type seem pretty rare down here. In fact, I've definitely seen more ATVs/quads than bicycles. Perhaps Americans are averse to exercise?
Day 45 - July 27 - Mon
Wakefield, MI - Vermillac Lake - 133km
Today was a pretty quiet day. It rained a bit last night and my tent wasn't 100% dry when I packed it. I rode around Wakefield a bit taking photos of the old brick buildings, then grabbed breakfast, topped up groceries, and finally hit the road. I'm now going to follow Hwy 28, likely all the way to the Soo.
My first real stop was Bergland, where I cooked myself some oatmeal, etc, at the local park. Unfortunately, I left behind my MEC rain jacket when I left. I discovered this about 20km after leaving Bergland. Going back was pointless, as there was no guarantee it'd still be there. I'll have to check bike shops, for a replacement jacket as I go along. Meanwhile, if I get any more torrential downpours, and have no shelter available, it's going to suck big time. Other than a cheap pen, this the first thing I've lost on this tour. I think I've done well!
Bergland is the 1st town in the Eastern time zone. I'm now 3 hours ahead of the folks at home. The time change also shortens the current day's riding hours. At least sundown is closer to 22:00 again. Anyhow, by the time I get to Trout Creek, where I had a yummy double-scoop ice cream cone, I'm thinking of where to stay. I choose to take my chances and go to Covington. I figured since 2 highways meet there, there'd be a good chance of a campground in Covington, or even a motel. As it turns out, I struck out on both counts. The local gas station advised me of a boat launch on Vermillac Lake, about 4-5km away, as a spot where I'd not likely be bothered. That's where I guerrilla camped that night all by myself. Oh yeah, it started raining just as I was setting up my tent, but then stopped. Hopefully, it stays dry overnight. If it does, I'll probably leave as soon as it's light out.
Day 46 - July 28 - Tue
Vermillac Lake - Munising, MI - 176km
Well, that was some lightning and thunder storm last night! Good thing I don't have a fear of those two things, even if I was the only person camping - illegally - at the boat launch at Vermillac Lake. Needless to say, my tent was wet yet again. I made peanut butter bagels for breakfast and ate some other 'odds and ends' from my food bag. The nearest town is 35km so I had to eat something.
I hit the road late at 10:15 because I let the sun dry out my tent as much as possible. I rolled into Michigamme, MI and checked out the Home Town Cafe for lunch. I had my Internet tablet charged while eating, and filled all my water bottles before leaving (the boat launch at Vermilac Lake did not have water, only a pit toilet). I then started cranking out some miles to reach my 'stretch' target of Munising.
My first stop after lunch was a gas station near Champion, where I topped up on some groceries. Gas stations in the 'middle of nowhere' sell an amazing array of goods, from fruits and veggies to Shoe Goo and hardware!
Back on the road, I met my 1st US tourist cyclist, and the 1st since Jerome in Redvers, SK. Peter was riding around Lake Superior, which is approximately 1100 miles/1750km. He was riding a Surly Long Haul Trucker, a popular choice of bike for touring cyclists. He only had 2 front panniers and a Rivendell large bag hooked to the back of his Brooks B17. I didn't get to ask, but I suspected he was doing a credit card tour (motels vs. tenting). We said our goodbyes and continued on our merry ways.
I finally reached Marquette, which has some really nice old buildings. I wish I could've stayed there for 3 - 4 hours and explored more. Marquette's right on Lake Superior and they've build a lengthy bike path all along the lake front. I did drop by the local bike shop and bought a light weight Sugoi rain jacket. Haha! The Sugoi product is from Vancouver - I hope Canadian customs doesn't try to charge me duty or it!
Back on the road I went thru 2 construction zones and then about 8km out of Marquette I realized I wasn't going to see any restaurants for a while. I was looking for a decent eatery heading out of Marquette, but there weren't any on my route. Time for tuna bagels! I stopped roadside and made dinner.
A roadie on a Greg Lemond bike - boy, I haven't seen one of those for a while - stopped and wished he could be doing a x-country ride. He asked me why I wasn't doing the more scenic route 28 along the shore of Lake "Superior. I said I was! He told me I missed my turn 4km back! Oh no! All that construction had distracted me. So, I finished dinner and went back the 4km. Thankfully, I caught that error early!
And what a scenic ride it was where the road ran beside the lake. There were multiple rest areas plus scenic stops, where there were steps down to the sandy beaches of Lake Superior. I don't recall anything but granite on the Canadian shores of Lake Superior but it's been awhile, so I could be wrong. It's a very nice area and if I was in the area again someday, I'd make the effort to come back to the beaches on the southern shore of Lake Superior and visit the nearby city of Marquette.
I got a bit of rain but it was just a drizzle - nothing for a hardened Vancouverite like myself. Since it's 21C outside, it's actually refreshing and revitalizes me somewhat. I finally find the Munising municipal campground, but - ouch! - they want $19 US! That seems like a lot. As it turns out, I'm right on the sandy beach of Lake Superior - nice! Still expensive, though; most municipal campgrounds tend to be in the $8 - 12 range. Oh yeah, rain is forecast yet again. I sure am looking forward to 2 nights in a motel in the Soo!
Day 47 - July 29 - Wed
Munising, MI - Newberry, MI - 113km
Whoo-hoo! No rain last night ... In fact, the temperature was almost perfect such that I didn't sweat with the sleeping bag on top of me. I took my time packing as I knew I had about 125mi to do to get to the Soo and I was going to do it in 2 days. Maybe I'll do some ad hoc touring, i.e., extend my days ride to wherever might be interesting.
I rode the 4 - 5km to Sydney's restaurant which has Eggbeaters so I can have an omelette without killing myself. I'm following my daughter's request to leave some pancakes for the rest y'all. :-) I chat with 2 older ladies upon exiting the restaurant and we get on the topic of health care in our 2 countries. They assert that there is no problem in the US with people getting medical care. They could not explain why we Canadians see so much negative press about the lack of access to medical care in the US. The ladies also asserted that they didn't want the Canadian-style of medicare.
I moved on and did my groceries across the street, and had a second breakfast outside the grocery store. Talking takes a lot of energy, eh?!
I hit the road, on highway 28 still. The shoulder narrows to perhaps 1/2m and the traffic has become heavier since yesterday; it's manageable but I don't care for the traffic. Worst of all, the scenery is unchanging for almost 60km to Seney. Boring, boring, boring.
Just before Seney I met Justin from Guelph, ON, pulling a BOB look-alike. This was the only 2nd BOB I've seen since the Pacific coast, and only the 2nd cycle tourist since I entered the US. Justin was heading to Medicine Hat to a new oil field job. He was riding a new Specialized but already had some problems that were made worse by an incompetent bike mechanic in the Soo. We chatted and exchanged contacts, took photos of each other and parted ways. Justin had stayed at the KOA last night in Newberry; it had a pool, hot tub and sauna! Maybe I'll treat myself for my last US night? It was $28US, though, quite expensive.
Since towns are sparse in this part of the country, and it's already approaching 16:00, I figure it's time to have another meal. So, I stop in Seney and do a reasonably healthy and cheap, soup and salad buffet. It was quite good but I probably overdid it as my performance just died after that buffet. It's tough cycling when you're bloated! Fortunately, I didn't have to be anywhere specific today.
Eventually, I got to the Newberry highway intersection. Newberry was actually off the highway about 5km so I uncharacteristically went the 5km off the highway - normally, I don't go more than 1 or 2km off my track. Well, I get into Newberry, and a local tells me that there's no campgrounds in Newberry, just the KOA a few hundred metres past the highway intersection! Damn! 10km for nothing! Back to the highway and I check into the expensive $28/nite KOA. Hopefully, no rain tonight...
Day 48 - July 30 - Thu
Newberry, MI - Sault Ste Marie, ON - 147km
I woke up to sunshine on the tent! However, when I broke camp I noticed that earwigs were clustered in the darker corners of the tent (but not inside). I grew up with earwigs in Montreal and I find them kind of disgusting, although they are harmless, as far as I know. I made the mistake of leaving my cycling shoes outside the tent and found a number in my shoes. There were even a group of about 20 clustered under the flap of one of my bike panniers - yuch! I don't ever recall seeing any in the Vancouver area, nor mosquitoes, nor horse flies, etc! :-)
After breaking camp I headed for breakfast just down the highway from the KOA, at a place called Pickleman's. They had Eggbeaters, so I had an omelette. I noticed that the restaurant had monitors hanging from the ceiling encouraging one to play Keno, run by the state lottery corporation, plus lottery forms on each table. I hope that doesn't become the norm in Canada.
I hit the road heading east on 28 and again it was boring. The shoulder was about 1/3m and the traffic was a bit heavier than the previous day, but again it was manageable. Somewhere along this stretch of hwy 28, I spotted a touring cyclist coming in the other direction. He turns out to be Rick Hubbard, from Vermont. Rick's riding along much of the same route I just came along but stopping in the Border Waters area of Minnesota, where his wife will meet him in their vehicle. Rick's done a number of tours before, including Nice, France (as a base) and the Alps. Rick asked if I was a member of warmshowers.org and I responded affirmatively.
Warmshowers.org was started with the intention of providing free shelter and a shower in a hosts home, for touring cyclists. When one joins, one is expected to reciprocate, so I will offer my backyard for cyclists coming thru Vancouver. When my kids vacate the family nest - an assumption, admittedly! - I will have a room or two to offer visiting cyclists. I had contacted a warmshower.org host in Jasper as I was concerned about not getting campground space but didn't need to take advantage of a host's home, so I have yet to stay at a hosts' home.Anyhow, Rick mentioned a very nice host in the Canadian Soo, who also had a Rolhoff bike. I had to see the Rolhoff, so I took note of the host's contact info.
Near Eckerman, MI, after cycling close to 40km, I stop for lunch at a roadside diner. After lunch, I then headed north on 123 so I could get onto the "Scenic Lakeshore Drive". I reach the drive about 20km later and head due east again. For the most part, this road I also found to be boring, however, there were unmarked rest areas scattered along the 1st 20km or so of the drive, where one could access the sandy shores of Lake Superior. Otherwise, the shoreline's homes seemed to belong to retirees or were summer cottages. There were very few vehicles on Lakeshore drive, perhaps because there was a slight drizzle and it was relatively cool. There was even a historic, heritage lighthouse, called Point Iroquois, decommisioned in the '60s, open for viewing. I climbed the 72 steps to the top with no problem at all - I should hope not! - and took some photos at the top. It was a very beautiful little lighthouse.
Back on the road and still heading east, I came upon a rustic little gas station somewhere in the vicinity of Bay Mills. It was named the Iroquois Store and an aboriginal with a prosthetic leg ran it. There was a totem pole off to one side, a huge log fire going with benches around the fire, and Larry the Llama was in a pen right beside the driveway! Inside the gas station there was a collection of animal skins, such as a black bear, more carvings, and a small scale canoe, perhaps 1.5m long, made of birch bark. It was probably the most interesting gas station I've seen on the whole tour so far. I got myself some sugar based foods and chatted wih the proprietor and sat in front of the large fire while watching Larry graze! Different!
With directions in hand to get to the International Bridge in nearby Sault Ste. Marie, I navigated my way to the bridge. It is technically on an Interstate, which had a sign on the freeway entrance saying "no motorcycles under 125cc". I took that to mean that bicycles were also not allowed (sounds logical, eh?), so how was I to get across to Canada? I cycled around the customs office, but didn't see any pedestrian access. As it turns out, there is no sidewalk on the bridge, so one cannot walk over the bridge. I ask at various gas stations in the area, but they're clueless. I even called Susan at home and ask her to check the web while I try to figure it out. Finally, I run into a cop at a gas station who also doesn't know how a bicycle can cross over to Canada, but suggests going back to the US customs nearby and ask them.
They key information he gave me was HOW to get into US Customs 'cos it sure looked like an inaccessible bunker from the outside. I got in, took an elevator upstairs and got my answer: Ignore the freeway sign and ride my bike right onto the short stretch of freeway, go to the toll booth, and ride the single lane all the way across - almost 3km I later found out. Sheesh! I lost almost an hour due to this confusion! The signage at the freeway entrance could certainly be more clear.Ah well, I finally made it back to Canada... guess Canada sill wants my tax dollars. ;-) So, I cleared Canadian customs with no issues (still, no one wants to check out my Gatorade powder!).
I made some phone calls from the pay phone at customs, one of them to the warmshowers.org host. The phone is busy and it's getting dark fast, so I move on and start looking for a motel. I finally find the Algonquin Inn in the old downtown of the Soo. A room there sets me back $38.50 - pretty cheap, but it's smells smokey and it's not the Ramada, I assure you, but it'll do for the night. They even have wireless! As I'm putting my bike in the storage area just off the lobby, a bunch of 'kids' come in and there curious about how far I've ridden, as a lot of people are. I tell them, and also add, as I usually do, that anyone could do it, given health, desire and time from work - which I truly believe, btw. The kid then asks me how old I was and asserted that he was older than me. I still had on my headband and helmet so he couldn't see any of my [few] grey hairs, so I told him my age and he then said "You're an inspiration". I was a little taken aback, as I really don't feel like an inspiration. They invite me to join them and I politely decline saying I got to hit the road tomorrow am and they then say "You're going further?". I tell them I'm going all the way to NF and they're even more impressed. I go to my room and spend time getting organized for tomorrow. I make contact with my warmshowers.org host in the Soo, and arrange a further 2 nites in the Soo.