"It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door" … "You step into the Road, and if you don't keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to."
~ Bilbo Baggins from The Fellowship of the Ring by JRR Tolkein

Friday, June 5, 2015

Riding in the Rain to Escanaba

Our Route: Nahma - Escanaba 

Rain hits thankfully on our shortest day. Not cold, no thunderstorms just light rain. Months ago we'd envisioned cold rain or even SNOW. This ain't bad in comparison!

Departed:Jun 04, '15, 10:45AM
Starts in:Nahma, MI, US
Distance:36.7 mi
Elevation:1121 / - 1105 ft

Total Duration:04:55:21
Moving Time:02:53:20
Max Speed:27.1 mph
Avg. Speed:12.7 mph

Riding Wet

Robb and Will on a foot bridge in Gladstone's beautiful lakefront park

We'd try to wait out the rain in the morning knowing it would be a short day, only 35 miles with little in the way of historical sights or other attractions to engage our time. But, shortly after leaving Nahma it began lightly raining and kept that up steadily all day, sometimes lighter, sometimes heavier. Most glad we were of a lunch break at Jack's restaurant in Rapid River where we could change into some dry clothes, add a few more rain protective pieces of clothing before continuing the last 15 miles.

Emerging from the Woods

But, after riding for miles and miles with little but trees, road and trucks for company, we were a bit startled to suddenly come upon - Civilization - or rather congestion, houses, businesses and even a McDonalds in the far northwestern corner of Lake Michigan. Leaving the small town of Rapid River we pass through the increasingly industrial areas of Gladstone and finally Escanaba our home for the night.

Lovely statue of grandfather & boy looking out to the lake
Gladstone lakefront park
From up here, in this corner of the wilderness came the raw materials of the midwestern's 19th century horrifically rapid growth. Iron ore, lumber, white fish in unbelievable quantities got shipped from here to other Great Lake ports like Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit - creating those cities, providing jobs for the millions of new immigrants. From here men made millions and millions more raised families in this new land of opportunity. What they clearly did not realize was that by extracting resources in the extreme they were laying the foundation for their own demise. Today Escanaba and environs still thrive on shipping ore and lumber but a greatly diminished scale. Unlike the abandoned iron town of Fayette or the struggling village of once mighty Nahma, this area reinvented itself enough to survive.

Escanaba's House of Ludington

Home for the night was the magnificent and welcoming  Ludington Hotel now known as The House of Ludington, once of Escanaba's historical treasurers. Great food, a great bar topped off by our wonderful hosts Suzelle and Ed made for a comfortable evening.

Dramatic Evening Sky Should Signal a Great, Dry Riding Day Tomorrow - Maybe Even a Tailwind?

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Nahma & Fayette Historical State Park

Our Route: From Nahma to Fayette and back Again

Day trip from Nahma to Fayette Historical State Park on the
Garden Peninsula
Our route and accommodation planning paid off BIG time to take a wonderful day trip to Fayette Historical State Park

Departed:Jun 03, '15, 09:30AM
Starts in:Nahma, MI, US
Distance:52.8 mi
Elevation:1331 / - 1265 ft
Max Grade
4.5 %
Avg. Grade
0.1 %
Total Duration:07:30:11
Moving Time:03:53:36
Max Speed:25.4 mph
Avg. Speed:13.6 mph

The Nahma Inn

The wonderfully lovely historic Nahma Inn
Months ago as Will and I were planning our trip we discovered a sight we thought too important to miss, Fayette Historical State Park three quarters of the way down the Garden Peninsula and really in the middle of NO WHERE. The only way we figured we could actually get there and enjoy the place was to stay over night someplace “close” by and make an extra day trip. But, in the UP what’s simple elsewhere presents all kinds of complications here. Not many places to stay, or at least not many that we could find remotely using travel guides and Google maps. So we settled on staying in the small, remote town of Nahma and riding the 25 each way to visit the park. I remained a bit nervous about this plan, the place, the ride and whether the park would be worth it. Nervous that is until we actually arrived at the wonderfully delightful Nahma Inn in Tuesday night.

A bustling lumber town in its day, Nahma sits in the middle of the Hiawatha National Forest across the Big Bay de Norc from the Garden Peninsula and Fayette. Somehow the folks of Nahma have created a lovely little oasis amongst the trees. The Inn, a former lumber town hotel provides modern conveniences, a GREAT dinning room, and a bar while maintaining a wonderfully quaint historical feel. I would most definitely stay here again whether I was riding or driving.

Our first night there we met John a retired schoolteacher at the Nahma Inn. John comes for the fishing and the camaraderie. He's 
also a licensed "cormorant shooter." Cormorants in this area have multiplied so fast to the 
point that they are decimating the fish population. The State of Michigan has licenses John and 
others to hunt them, or more particularly harass them enough to leave particular fish spanning areas alone. 
Since the havoc of the industrial era, which decimated the beaver, the forests, the minerals, and the fish, keeping something close to a natural balance in Lake Michigan requires constant diligence and an on-going struggle. You can see a nice photo of John on "Lovely People We have Met - Part 2" page located on the right side of this blog. 

Fayette Historical State Park

The Furnace Complex at Fayette Historical State Park
So why did we want to visit Fayette in the first place? As I did my research for this quest / pilgrimage I found Fayette written up in book after book - guide book and history specific. For 12 years or so at the end of the 19th century the company town of Fayette made pig iron for the industrial southern cities like Chicago and Detroit using the local limestone cliff and tons of purchased hardwood to
Former deep water harbor at Fayette - allowed large iron ore
carrying ships to dock
charcoal to purify the iron ore they took out of the mines in the UP.  The thought was to save shipping weight and thus expense by eliminating the slag before sending it south. But, the vast hardwood forests where thereby stripped bare making charcoal to purify iron to build the railroads, and machinery necessary for the industrial south land. With the advent of more advance coal fired plants in the south this operation was no longer profitable. By that time the hardwood forests were gone anyway. Almost in one fell swoop the mine company just closed down. Leaving the 500 or so people, supervisors, skilled and unskilled laborers, and trades people without jobs, the community without economic support, but the buildings in tact. The hotel and a few small retail shops remained open until just after WWII. In 1959 the State of Michigan acquired the land, established an archeological site as well as a beautiful state park. Based on census data and surviving payment records the park's exhibits feature not only the industry, but the people who worked there. 

A reconstructed charcoal kiln, just the right size for
Suzie. These used to be enclosed by wooden buildings.
The furnace owners constantly worried about
running out of the native hardwoods necessary for
creating charcoal.

The Garden Peninsula

Dioramas, strategically placed placards, informative exhibits and a very congenial guide, Luke, helped us get a sense of the place and what life might have been like for the folks 120 years ago. A windy but sunny day helped us visualize a pleasant but hardworking life. But, what did we ask would it be like in the middle of winter here at the edge of this peninsula jutting out into the ever changing Lake Michigan?

In my judgement, this little park is certainly one of the gems of anyone's tour of Lake Michigan - a MUST see despite being so out of the way. 

Sticking out into Lake Michigan the Garden Peninsula is one of two along this stretch from St. Ignace to Escanaba. Both are remote, rural and support a rather thin population. Denuded of the ancient trees, no longer sporting any significant industry, Garden is in the process of trying to recharge its economy though WIND POWER, not without significant controversy however. All along the way from Manistique down the peninsula, over to Nahma we see signs against the "fans" as our family calls them. On the peninsula itself we see supportive signs. What, we asked the locals, is the source of this division? Don't really get much of an answer but we suspect some is just the natural resistance to change, some is being cut out of the economic pie, some is the reluctance of the power company to be straight forward. Hate to see such division. It strikes close to home however, as our small village was just torn asunder over a plan to repair and modernize our lakefront park. Change is hard everywhere. Communication is difficult. Trust can be hard to come by.  We wish Garden the best of luck as they try to bring themselves into the 21st century.

Back to Highway 2

A STRONG headwind going south, blew us almost all the way back to Nahma. The ever challenging Route 2 however, did not let up but sported a most brutal cross wind. Suzie DOES NOT LIKE WIND!!  Much thanks are do to Robb and Will for shepherding me through this most enjoyable of days. Beers all around!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

First days on the UP

Our Route: St. Ignace - Gould City - Nahma 

The first section along US Route 2 presented several surprises. After that it became a heads-down grind until we reach Manistique

Total Miles: 116
Max. Grade: 3%


Last view of the Mackinaw Bridge as we head west along the
Lake's northern edge
Whatever I expected to see riding on Route 2 across the Upper Peninsula it was not what I found – at least not for the first 40 miles coming out of St. Ignace. Remember I said that we’d be leaving the dune country behind once we got to Mackinaw City? WRONG! Remember I feared that we’d have no place to eat, little water, few rest areas and nothing but endless vistas of trees? WRONG! The road from St. Ignace at least to Naubinway surprised me completely. We road through miles of gorgeous, untouched dunes with spectacular views of Lake Michigan to our left.
Stopping for a short break along Route 2

The day – perfect: sunny, warm enough and with that most beloved tailwind to push us along.  The road, while busy with truck traffic (some rather LARGE) sported a nice, wide and very clean shoulder.  And while it was true that services come less frequently than in other areas, we still had plenty of food and rest stops.

Northern Most Point

Just before reaching Naubinway we crossed the Northern Most Point on Lake Michigan. Aside from its geographical significance, it also marked the politicalboundary of what Congress declared "Michigan Territory" in the 1806. All else to the west was designated "Indiana Territory."  Ten years later, in 1816 the boundary was push further west to the Mississippi in a move consistent with the US policy of pushing the Indiana tribes further and further away from white settlement areas. But, to us the point marks a significant milestone on our journey. Two weeks ago we were near the southern most point while at the Indiana Dunes State Park. Surprisingly this northern point is almost as sandy as its southern counterpart. The vegetation is a little scrubbier, a little shorter, but similar in type despite the fact that their climates have to be drastically different, particularly in the winter. 

Along with reaching the Northern most point, we crossed our mileage half way point somewhere around Manistique. In many ways it seems unbelievable that we've come all this way just one pedal stroke at a time. When we look at the distance on the map, when we compare where we were from day to day it doesn't look that far. But, when we have the opportunity to gaze across the vast water scape to places past, they appear SO FAR AWAY!!! Hard to image that we actually were there not long ago. 

These days our orientation is in constant flux. The Lake is no longer stable in one place. It has moved from being on the east when we left home, to being north then west for a long time and now generally south. Yet its direction moves more frequently than that we we go up and down various small peninsulas and around large and small bays. The sun being out until almost 10:00pm doesn't help much either and stays mostly to the south. My traditional sense of direction is getting turned topsy-turvy for sure. 

Robb fixing my flat tire & battling bugs along Rt 2

The Long and Tiresomeness of Route 2

Once we left Naubinway the road turned straight west and moved away from the shore. And I mean STRAIGHT - miles and miles of STRAIGHT, FLAT and busy road. The body gets weary of riding in the same position mile after mile, with little visual distraction and no hills to climb or descend. We long for the steeps of the earlier days. The riding becomes more of a mind game than a physical one. We take whatever chance we can get for even a small break. Thankfully the weather has co-operated and we haven't needed cover from either rain or heat. But still the road goes on. 

Riding the boardwalk along the shore near Manistique

Monday, June 1, 2015

Getting to and around the Straights of Mackinaw

Our Route: Harbor Springs - Mackinaw City  - Mackinac Island - St. Ignace

The Tunnel of Trees: Harbor Springs - Cross Village: one of the most beautiful bike rides I've ever done.

Departed:May 29, '15, 09:26AM
Starts in:Emmet County, MI, US
Distance:40.0 mi
Elevation:1260 / - 1311 ft
Max Grade7.2 %
Avg. Grade0.3 %
Total Duration:05:58:35
Moving Time:03:06:01

Max Speed:31.3 mph
Avg. Speed:12.9 mph

Our 8 mile perimeter ride around Mackinac Island

Photo Disclaimer

Now that we're on the UP internet is a little slow and I'm having trouble uploading photos. I hope that somewhere else along the line we'll have better communication and I can add them to this post. - Sorry

Approaching The Mac

When I posted the other day that we'd made it to "The Mighty Mac" several people asked, "But, did you go through the Tunnel of Trees?" The answer - yes, of course we did, its one of the most famous and now I can attest, the most beautiful bike rides I've ever done. Just didn't have time to do it justice yesterday. So, here are some photos from the day. If you ever have a chance to be in this part of Michigan, by bike, by car or on foot, take this in. The combination of lake views, forest, wild flowers is stunning.

Robb and Will riding through the Tunnel of Trees - somewhere south of Cross Village

After leaving Cross Village we headed east and more inland passing through the beautiful Wildness State Forest. More dune area than forest, it will be, I think the last of the large dune areas we'll pass through as these giants only occur on the windward, eastern, side of Lake Michigan. From here on it will be more Limestone cliffs and possibly some granite outcroppings

The Straights of Mackinaw

We stop for the night in Mackinaw City and board the ferry the next day for Mackinac Island (don't ask me why they're spelled differently - must have been one of my direct ancestors that did it because as those of you who know me well can attest, spelling is NOT my long suite). A dry but cold and windy day on the island gave us some magical sights and some interesting history as we visited first rode the 8 miles around the island then visited the outside of the Grand Hotel and the inside of the fort. Another ferry ride and we finally arrived on the Upper Peninsula (da UP).  The island presents an interesting contrast of tourist hordes -vs- elitist luxury; modern commerce -vs- historical lumbering, fur trade and wars. It leaves one much to ponder.

Encountering History

In St. Igance, a much quieter cousin to Mackinaw City, we find two places to study the history of this extremely important area. From the beginning of human history in the area to the early 1600s to well into the 1900s, the Straights of Mackinaw were the center of Inland Commerce in North America. First for Native American trading then for the French with their missionaries and fur traders, then the British again with furs, then lumber, then the Americans with every time of industry you could think of. The Straights was the sight where EVERYTHING that went by water crossed paths. So until the late 1800s and the rushing advent of the railroads, Mackinaw was the center of cultural and economic exchange.  More on all that later. But, for me at least, its a very exciting place to be and very moving to think that such ancient and important peoples looked out on these same waters, these same islands, these same forests as I do today.