Monday, July 20, 2015

Michigan's Upper Peninsula Tour - Bridges, bikes, beers, and bears

The MUP Tour is a tour offered every year by the League of Michigan Bicyclists. It is a loop around some of the small towns in the UP that includes some of the most breathtaking photo ops, like waterfalls, light houses, shorelines, operating shipping locks, and museums.
I thought I would start by sharing some of the most memorable moments of the ride, good and bad, and then give a short description of the route each day. 
I have to mention the weather because a blog about a tour would not be complete without it; and I wouldn’t be the Reluctant Cyclist if I didn’t grumble at least a little bit about Mother Nature’s quirky ways. It was July, people. There was a day as high as 86⁰F and we had a couple of nights dip to 50⁰F. We had 20 mph headwinds with rain and cold and we had a bright sunny day with a nice tailwind. Think Lake Superior; ship wrecks; Edmund Fitzgerald; unpredictable weather and you will be able to describe the tour of the UP.
Be sure to check out the routes on my "Most Recent Tour" page.

OK, so here’s the list of Most Memorable:

Jim's (aka Bike Junkie) most memorable part of the week was talking with about eight other cyclists over some great beer at the Soo Brewing Company. You will come to find that craft beer tends to make it to our favorite list every time. 
Ethan’s (son of the Reluctant Cyclist) most memorable moment was hanging with his mom (me) and Jim at the Soo Brewing Company (more beer) after the halfway buffet at Lake Superior State University. He also loved the opportunity to ride his bike downhill at about 40 mph on Sugar Island, just across the bay from Sault Ste. Marie.

Chelsea’s (girlfriend of Ethan) most memorable moment of the week was pushing through 62 miles of rain, head winds, and hills as a beginner cyclist. Yay Chelsea. You did us proud!

My most memorable part of the tour was when we rearranged the tent before going to sleep. At about 2:00 a.m. Bike Junkie had to use the bathroom. Being the engineering type he was all confused because we moved his stuff, which meant he couldn't find his shorts or t-shirt. (You know where this is going, right?) I pretended to be asleep but laughed to myself when I caught a glimpse of his scantily clad buttocks sneaking out of the tent in the cold night air to run to the porta-potty in Paradise.

I need to put a plug in here about how proud I was of Ethan and Chelsea for riding every day without once complaining. And there were some very notable things to complain about. We will get to those in a bit.

More positive, memorable moments:
  •  Buying way too much Murdick’s fudge on Mackinac Island. The problem wasn't really buying it, but eating it.
  • The taxidermy bear sitting at the bar in Newberry and then standing in the hallway to the restrooms. Bears and beers don't mix. 
  • The over-sized ice cream cone a the Dancing Crane in Brimley. When you order one dip of ice cream you don't expect you will need the help of three other people to eat it. But I must admit, ice cream never tasted so good!
  • After a long pace line formed behind us someone said Jim was really good at “pullin’ the chain” into a headwind. Way to pull that chain, Daddy-O!
  • Yooper Ale at the Main Sail in Detour Village. Now this wouldn't be so memorable because we have beer in every town. However, Detour Village has two bars and one of them has a sign on the door that reads "Cash or Check Only". Really? People still pay their bar tab with a check? This was also the last night we would be camping so we toasted some of the events of the last week with heart felt memories and true camaraderie.
 Not so positive moments, but memorable all the same:
  • Getting out of the sleeping bag at 5:30 a.m. every morning, but especially the morning the temp dipped to below 50. Brrrrrrr. This was the same morning Bike Junkie ran to the porta-potty in his skivvies.
  • The poor guy attempting to relieve himself on the side of a convenient store and getting thumped by our Marine SAG driver. He came out from behind the building like a puppy dog with his tail between his legs and got in line for the porta john with the rest of us.
  • Getting to a rest stop and finding out there was no potty. I merely stated the fact that if we didn't find a bathroom soon I would have tears running down my legs. This prompted Bike Junkie to declare he needed to find a better class of friends. Really Dude? You walked through the campground in your undies.
  • Did I mention mosquitoes? Big, hungry Mosquitoes? With sharp teeth and beady eyes? That liked to buzzzzz right by your ear while you tried to sleep? Then laugh when you smacked yourself in the head so hard it made your ears ring? 
 Most memorable people we met:
  • Chelsea's most memorable person was Doug the Marine. "Not as lean, not as mean, but still a Marine!"
  • Ethan's most memorable person was Bob from Columbus. I dont know who Bob was but Ethan said he always seemed to beat us to the bars. 
  • Jim's most memorable person was Sam with the Salsa and the wooden fenders. Sam was riding solo but liked to join us for a few beers after dinner. Jim, being such a Bike Junkie, was fascinated by Sam's handmade wooden fenders.
  • My most memorable person(s) were the twins. They just always seemed to turn up wherever we were. There's the waterfall, and the twins. Let's stand under this shelter till the rain stops, with the twins. Look at the taxidermy bear sitting at the bar, next to the twins. You get the idea.
 Day 1 - St. Ignace to Newberry

"I can't take anymore hills or logging trucks!" Said I as we rolled into Newberry, Michigan at about 3:00 Monday afternoon. We had left Saint Ignace at 8:00 a.m. after a hearty breakfast served up by our hosts, the League of Michigan Bicyclists.
This was the first day of the Michigan Upper Peninsula tour (MUP). A six-day, 350 mile ride around the UP.
In between the start and finish was 70 miles of UP back roads. Of course that is about all there is in the UP. That and mosquitoes.
And it wouldn't be a bike tour without a little rain. I should say without a down pour. We got to Renton, MI, about 44 miles into our ride and the skies opened up. The lunch was fantastic and most of the cyclists had already passed so we waited it out.
The last stretch of road headed toward the school and our camp for the night was really busy. Not only was it busy, it had big trucks on it going 55 miles per hour.
After dinner we headed to Timber Charlies where we met the bear and had a few beers.

Day 2 - Newberry to Paradise
This was probably the most eventful day but also provided the most rain and wind. We woke up cold in Newberry, got started in the rain, it drizzled rain most of the way. By the time we got to the North Star bakery we were pretty much chilled to the bone. Big, warm, soft cinnamon rolls were a welcomed treat. When we left it was even colder than when we got there. 
Checkout my awesome arm warmers!

Next we headed to Tahquamenon Falls to walk down 94 steps to the observation deck. The club blogger was there and captured us on pictures. After that we stopped to eat at the Camp 33 brew pub. You guessed it, for beer. We weren't very hungry after the cinnamon roll. I really liked the Black Bear Stout. After lunch we headed to Paradise with a 20 mile an hour head wind  all the way. Sure didn't seem like Paradise to me! 

  Jim and I decided to  ride to Whitefish Point just to get the extra miles in. (Did I mention he was a Bike Junkie?) After dinner of pasties at the Paradise school we jumped on the bus and went back out to Whitefish Point to tour the Shipwreck Museum. This is where the infamous Edmund Fitzgerald went down, as did 6,000 other ships.

Day 3 - Paradise to Sault Ste. Marie

Day three was very enjoyable. Each rest stop was in a park or picnic area next to the coast of Lake Superior. One of the stops was at the Point Iroquois lighthouse. We stopped for lunch at the Dancing Crane Coffee House. Ice cream never tasted so good. 

Day 4 of MUP was the layover day, and a sorely needed one at that. We had experienced a lot of weather in the past three days - rain, 20 mph headwinds, full sun, 80 degrees, 50 degrees. Ugh.

The day was sunny and warm. Chelsea and I decided to go on the optional ride to Bell's Belgian Horse farm. Thank goodness I only had to ride a total of eight miles. Too many miles in the saddle and the gynoanatomy starts to complain. (Bike Junkie coined that phrase)

The route to the farm was pretty boring with part on a bike trail and part on a fairly busy road. I really hate being passed by the big trucks, buses, and trailers.

The horses were one of the biggest highlights of the entire trip. Three mares with foals. And I can't forget the two super-friendly kitties. (This is where my camera went on the fritz or I would have covered the page in horse pictures.) One of the mares preferred to sleep lying down and she snored. She was particularly fond of Chelsea and got horse slobber all over the front of her shirt. Eeeewwww! 

You can not visit "The Soo" and not go to the Soo Locks. We were able to watch two freighters, a tour boat, and a Coast Guard ship go through the locks. Well worth the trip but kind of like watching paint dry.

Day 5 - Sault Ste. Marie to Detour Village

Seriously? The wind changed direction so that, even though we are heading back, we had another headwind and more rain. Sixty- two miles to get to Detour Village, MI and at least half was pedaling in the rain. We looked like drowned rats. Lunch at mile 44 was good, though, and the rain stopped while we were eating. The locals made homemade macaroni salad, baked beans, and sandwiches. They also made a lot of homemade cookies and brownies. The Snickerdoodles were fantastic.
There was a steep, long hill leading up to the lunch stop. I could feel my calves knotting up so decided to get off my steed and lead him up the hill on foot. This is the stretch of road with the Wolverine Rest Stop tucked nicely into the woods. If you happen upon it and decide to visit, know  you are forewarned that you will become mosquito bait. 

You should have heard the seagulls at our campsite Friday night. They must have been nesting on the top of the school. I was afraid all the tents would get bombed overnight.

Day 6 – Detour Village to St.Ignace

Last day of riding, warm sunshine, slight tailwind, and only 56 miles back to the car. We had a blast. First of all, at the end of a week-long tour of only 170 people you tend to make some new friends. Today we greeted and exchanged nice words with all we had gotten to know, stopping at the SAG stops to chat as much as to take a break. As reluctant as I am to get started on a long ride, I am just as sorry to see it end.

The car ride home was almost as exciting with severe thunderstorms lighting up the sky all around us. We were glad to get home about midnight after getting up at 5:00 a.m.

Now to start planning the next tour. Next year. No more this year. No, you can't make me do it.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Week Long Bike Tour

As I, the Reluctant Cyclist, prepare for another week-long bike trip I have a mental list that I go through while the departure date draws closer. Right now that date is two days away so I think I am winding down my preparations and nearing completion of packing. Tomorrow, the only thing I should have left to do is keep checking and praying the weather forecast remains cool and clear for the whole ride.

Over-packing is a problem, and is also easy to do. Luckily this tour is supported so we can take a few luxuries that would otherwise be a hindrance, like extra snacks, several more changes of clothes, and more toiletries.

I usually pack enough riding clothes to have a set each day. This trip I think I will cut back and just wash them at the end of the day. Bike clothes will dry hanging out overnight as long as Mother Nature cooperates and keeps us dry.

So, first the bike basics – Bike shorts and jerseys, socks, helmet, gloves, head band (or sweat band), sunglasses, rain jacket, arm warmers, saddle cover, water bottles, lock, extra tubes, pump, handlebar bag or seat bag (or both), Bike computer.

Next the personal basics – ID, insurance info, moolah, credit card, vitamins, ibuprofen, toiletries for shower, toothbrush and paste, hair bands, Butt-r, sunscreen, first aid stuff

Then there are the camping basics – Sleeping bag, tent, air mattress, flashlight, plastic bags, bug repellant, pajamas, everyday clothes for when you are finished riding

And don’t forget your bike!

Extras if you are a reluctant cyclist – Nuts, applesauce, Cytomax, deck of cards, money for Fudge on Mackinac Island.

Here is my mode of operation (MO). Leading up to the day of departure I will suffer every minor illness known to man (and woman). Headache, toothache, bloating, fatigue, cold and allergies, sore throat, acne. My bike will also have issues. Seat needs adjustment, gears won’t shift right, or they simply shift by themselves, brakes won’t release. Lucky for me, Bike Junkie is a patient and supportive partner. He also remembers all the stuff I listed above so that I don’t have to.

If you haven’t guessed by the fudge reference we are headed to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. 
 I Bike da UP

 The forecast looks marvelous, highs in the mid-seventies, lows in the fifties. I am thinking “what great weather for sleeping in”. Wishful thinking. We must be up and at ’em by about 7:00 a.m. every day so the camping gear can be packed and loaded before 9. Again, my MO is grumpy and slow in the morning, finally warming up about 30 to 90 minutes into the ride. Once I get going, I can just keep going. But oooooh baby, those first few lengths…! Throw a hill in there and you just might hear some choice words. Bike Junkie says getting me going in the morning is like starting a diesel engine, stiff and reluctant at first, but can run all day.

I will try to keep my Most Recent Tour page up-to-date but the ride passes through some very rural areas and internet connections are sketchy at best.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Fourth of July, 2015, Mustaches and a Freedom Ride

The Bike Junkie and I had several adventures this past weekend. Independence Day happened to fall on a Saturday so we had the luxury of getting Friday off for the holiday. I want to preface this collection of escapades with the fact that I had tooth surgery the previous Friday, was still on a round of antibiotics, and was taking Advil for the swelling and a three-day headache.

Plans for July 3rd started out pretty simple. The Bike Junkie and I were going to head out on our bikes from home about 9:30 a.m., which we did, have a simple breakfast, which we did, then go home and take it easy for the long ride on Saturday until we met family for dinner at 6:30 p.m.
We rode to Newport on the Levee to pick up some books from Barnes & Noble. Great so far, not a hitch. While walking to the bikes I got a text. Friends are in town unexpectedly and want to get together. Since I already had dinner plans we decided to go to the Casino afterward. Needless to say, I stayed at the casino too late, lost too much money, and ended up getting about 5 hours of sleep before the 100 K ride (62 miles) on Saturday.

Newport on the Levee was fun, though. The MLB All-Star Game will be in Cincinnati on July 14th so there are giant mustaches all over town commemorating the Cincinnati Red Stockings from the 1920s. Below is a picture of me standing by one on our Tour de Mustache.
The Reluctant Cyclist
Which brings me to another point – why am I so soft in the middle? Look at me in this bike jersey. I used to be able rock a jersey like nobody’s business. I guess we pass 40, then 50 and bam, no more waistline. One of the coolest things about cyclists is that we all wear bike jerseys for solidarity. Nobody judges another cyclist in a kit. But I must admit I am somewhat reluctant to don the garb sometimes. We can save the long version of that for a later blog.

So day two of the July 4th weekend was the Vandalia Freedom Ride, a 62 mile ride around rural Ohio starting, where else, Vandalia. This has always been such a well-organized ride and this year was the 20th Anniversary. Because it is about a 90-minute drive from our house in Cincinnati and both Bike Junkie and I got five hours or less of sleep, we left later than desired.  I told you my reason for getting to bed late, friends in town. His reason was because he wanted to watch the live streaming of the last Grateful Dead concert, minus Jerry Garcia of course.

Bike Junkie
After signing in and getting our super, awesome technical shirts, we didn’t get started on the ride till almost 8:00 a.m. The first rest stop was about seven miles into the ride. 7 MILES! Who puts a rest stop at mile 7? We stopped anyway because our rushed breakfast was rather lacking of substance. Come to find out, so was the rest stop. Crappy lemon or oatmeal cookies, some grapes and some trail mix. Trail mix was out for me because of the tooth surgery, and because I hate raisins anyway. Bike Junkie thought there were five rest stops on the ride and we figured there would be more food at the next stop, so after eating a couple cookies and a half dozen grapes we left.

Tooling along the back roads, meeting other riders, Hills Angels were close by so we could hear their classic rock music, just a nice day to be out on two wheels. OK, where is that next rest stop? Ah, here it is at about mile 22. Mind you Bike Junkie had put the route into his Garmin GPS so we did not bring a map. Little did I know the instructions stated the route was actually 65 miles due to construction and a detour. This stop, at the Bruckner Nature Preserve, at the top of a steep hill, with a sharp switchback, was nearly out of everything. We had a few more crappy cookies. Good thing I brought two water bottles on my bike. Hopeful for the next rest stop.

We must be coming up on the third rest stop, it’s been more than fifteen miles since the last one. What? Twenty miles? Did we miss it? It has to be coming up soon. How are they going to get three more stops in? Twenty-five miles. Dying. Need food. Finally, at nearly thirty miles after the last stop, we see the rest stop ahead. Cookies, grapes and trail mix. This stop did have some good chocolate chip cookies, but where are the granola bars and peanut butter sandwiches?

So now, about thirteen miles to go till the end, maybe there aren’t five stops after all. We were right. The last stop was at mile sixty-four. WHAT? The ride is supposed to be “about” sixty-five miles. Oh no, you still have about six miles to the finish. More lemon cookies, about six grapes and off we went. Bike Junkie knows how much I hate it when they move the finish line so he stopped talking. It had been a few years since we did this ride and they changed the route going back into the park so we weren’t sure just how much longer we had to go or what to expect. After winding through some streets in a sub-division we turn the corner and WHAM! In your face! A long, steep hill. Then another. And another. WTH. Oh then let’s just jump on this busy road and come back in via the front of the park.

Six hours after starting we pulled into the rec. center for lunch. I was so afraid we would get back and they would be out of food. Hallelujah. Fried chicken, mac & cheese, green beans, rolls, lemonade, yogurt parfaits, chocolate chip cookies. It made the whole 72 MILES worth it, even if we did have to eat alone.

The rest of the day was free. Bike Junkie and I celebrated the 4th of July with a Graeter’s Ice Cream sundae and then spent the evening at home with the dogs.

Were we finished riding for the weekend? Of course not. Sunday brunch at #RivertownBrewing with #wakeandbakebus. Met up with the kiddos and a good friend and the five of us rolled out from home headed to Lockland for some breakfast and beer. It was a very enjoyable Sunday morning, except for the sore bum from the day before and the flat tire Bike Junkie had on Spring Grove Ave.