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Biking Lake Michigan- Aug 15th-23rd 2011

Mackinac Bridge

For the third year in a row my friend and biking companion Paul Nicholson decided to do a week long bicycle tour. To escape the heat and humidity of Indiana we decided to ride 540 miles around the northern half of Lake Michigan. We began our trip at the harbor town of Ludington MI and caught the ferry SS Badger for the 4 hour trip across the lake to Manitowoc Wisconsin.

Shipping out on the SS Badger felt like we were going on an ocean cruise rather than a bike ride. Paul was concerned that I might get sea sick and insisted I take Dramamine. I told him I would not take it unless he did and foolishly we each took 2. After we left the scenic harbor we both passed out in deck chairs and did not wake up until we arrived in Wisconsin. We were both so groggy from the Dramamine that we could barely get on our bikes.

From the waterfront in Manitowoc we had a 45 mile ride up to Green Bay WI where we were staying for the night. Besides still feeling groggy we had to fight roads with no shoulders , heavy truck traffic , and miles of construction zones.

On the ride to Green Bay we also noticed that our new panniers (saddle bags) were really slowing us down. On previous rides we had carried the very bare minimum but we had so much room this time we took "luxuries" that added up to about 50 pounds each.  Anytime we came to a hill we noticed that our speed would drop way down and the required effort was much greater.  We did manage to make it to Green Bay, had a fine dinner, a good nights sleep and were anxious to hit the road the next morning.

Once we got out of Green Bay we had the Wisconsin back roads to ourselves. We rode for miles without having a car pass us. That is a very good thing because the road had no shoulder of any kind.  We were skirting around the western side of the lake but the woods were so thick we could not see it often. Since there was not much to see that day we rode hard and covered the 70 miles with only a few short snack breaks .

Once we crossed into the upper peninsula of Michigan we began to see the gorgeous shoreline of Lake Michigan and the country side turned from farm land into the deep north woods.

The next day we knew was going to be a tough one. Since towns were so far apart in that area of Michigan we had to ride 108 miles to get to a town that we knew would have a motel for us. We had never ridden 100 miles in a day and especially not with the weight we were carrying.

Luckily traffic was light most of the day and we had wide shoulders to ride on for half of the day. Unluckily we also had strong head winds to fight and more hills than we had expected. We did stop often for energy snacks, to drink water and enjoy the great scenery.

At about the 90 mile mark I was pretty tired and needed a rest where I could lay down and get out of my bike shoes. Since there was no rest area nearby the shoulder of the road had to do. After 15 minutes I was refreshed and back on the road.

At the 103 mile mark we made our last rest stop of the day to refill our water bottles.  We were really proud of ourselves for making it that far but we knew the last 5 miles would be the toughest of the day due to our fatigue and the strong headwinds blowing off the lake.

We were so happy to finally get to our motel for the night and then discovered there were no places to eat nearby. Poor Paul had to get back on his bike and ride to get us fried chicken with all the trimmings for dinner and chocolate cake for dessert. We were very tired but we ate like kings that night.  We decided right there that with the weight we are packing 100 miles is too far to ride in one day. We are so glad we did it but do not want to do it again any time soon.


The next day after a very good night of sleep and an extra long soak in the tub I was more than ready to hit the road for our usual 65 mile ride. The scenery was even better and for once we did not have a strong headwind.

That night we stayed at the Chapel Hill Motel in Brevort MI. We really needed clean clothes but there was no Laundromat in the tiny town and the motel had no guest  laundry. When we told the owner our problem she let us use her washer and dryer. This was the first act of kindness we had from the Michigan locals but it would not be our last. They are some of the nicest people I have ever met.

Our ride the next morning took us to the Mackinaw Bridge that connects the upper peninsula with the rest of Michigan. It is one of the longest suspension bridges in the world.

Bicycles are not permitted on the 6 mile bridge but for a $2 fee the bridge authority carried us and our bikes across in the back of a pick up truck. Paul was feeling a bit ill at this point from a combination of slight food poisoning and dehydration so we decided to take a rest day and catch the ferry over to Mackinac Island . Mackinac Island does not allow motor vehicles. Everyone gets around by bike or horse and buggy. It is such a pretty place known for it's fresh fudge. It was a perfect place to stroll , rest up and get ready for the second half of our ride. By the way the fudge was great !

Fully rested and feeling much better we headed south from Mackinaw toward the 60 miles to Petoskey MI. Up until this point we had nothing but blue sky and sunshine. That changed this day with black rain clouds and lightning right in the direction we were riding. We had decided we would ride until the rain hit and then take shelter. We carry rain coats but they are more rain filters than water proof. Just as the downpour was about to hit us a red pickup came out of a side road, slowed next to us and asked if we wanted a ride to shelter. Michael S. who owns a dog kennel in Brutus MI offered to drive us the 10 miles through the storm and through the busy traffic of Petoskey MI. We gladly took him up on his offer and while it rained he gave us a short driving tour of Petoskey. By the time he was finished the rain had stopped and he dropped us at the south end of town thus saving us from a cold soaking rain and lots of heavy traffic.  Thank you Michael !!

Our next two days took us away from the lake shore  and into much hillier country than we expected. The traffic was always heavy but we usually had a good shoulder and most of the drivers gave us plenty of room. During a climb up one very long hill a motorcyclist went by and gave us hand signals to say "you two rock". That made our day. The scenery was very pretty and besides crossing the 45th parallel we also came across a shoe tree where for some reason people throw pairs of shoes up into the limbs.

At our lunch stop at Fife Lake we stopped at a restaurant that was so short staffed that they drafted some "regulars" to help serve. It was a mad house but everyone was having a good time and even though the service was not fast it was a fun lunch that we will never forget.  At our motel at Mesick MI one of the maids found out I had no hair dryer and went home to get her personal one to loan me. We also needed laundry done again and the  owner of the motel told us his wife likes bikers and if we asked her real nice she would do our laundry. Sure enough in 2 hours we had clean fresh folded clothes. Once again the local people impressed us with their kindness.

The last day of our ride was through some of the prettiest forest we had seen but also through hilly country with no towns to find food or drinks.

Every afternoon the wind blows off of the lake and gave us a head wind to fight that made riding so much tougher. The last afternoon was even worse. With more storms coming the forecast was for winds over 40 MPH.  Just as we were heading into the worst of it we stopped for a short rest and along came Jack and Clarice, a local retired couple that wanted to know how we were doing and if we would like a ride into Ludington in the back of their pickup. Once again the kindness of strangers saved us from hours of misery. Thank you Jack and Clarice!!

Before we knew it we were back in Ludington , sad to see the ride end but happy that we had enjoyed another great adventure. Thank you Michigan for being such a great state with the friendliest people.

Final Thoughts- Janet   First I have to thank the people of Michigan.  You are the friendliest,  most helpful people we have ever encountered during our bike trips.  Your encouraging words and your eagerness to go out of your way to help your fellow man was amazing.  "THANK YOU!"   This ride was more of an adventure than most as neither of us had traveled these roads before so whatever lay ahead of us was a surprise and that's always fun!  Paul thank you for all the planning for this trip.  As usual due to all your efforts it was flawless.  You too are the best riding partner ever. The feeling I have knowing you are always on my rear wheel protecting my back is beyond words.  Not to mention the close encounters you had with the 44 wheeled semi-trucks and you never flinched.  Paul had it not been for your rendition of favorite songs  I would never have made the 108 mile day!!  All your efforts make our trips the great adventures they are!  Thank you for everything!!

Final Thoughts - Paul.  Another great ride with lots of surprises. This ride was much tougher than I expected. Partially due to our extra loads but also the heavy head winds and the unexpected hills we faced. The very fact that it was tough made it all the more enjoyable. Janet you are the best riding partner ever. Your sense of humor, your love of adventure and your constant cheerfulness make all of our adventures unforgettable. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.