I used to roll my eyes every time my mom would tell me to eat breakfast or remind me that it’s the most important meal of the day. Although I was lucky to have a BBQ food cart right next to the campground last night, it was certainly not open at 8 am. The camp office and store? Closed. Of course, I picked a campground that wasn’t in a town or city. So, I stubbornly did what I had done so many mornings and figured I would tough it out until I found a half-decent place to stop. Fasting, it makes you stronger, right? No, it just makes you grumpy.
I didn’t want to be grumpy on a morning like this. I was most looking forward to this segment of the UP because it would reconnect me with water. Like, real water. Like, Lake Superior water. As I started my ride, I passed more areas with sad-looking, dilapidated, abandoned gas bars and family restaurants. Closed. Okay, next. Closed. Okay, next. Ammo shop? I don’t think they’ll carry chocolate milk… This area was rich with hopeful signs to “Make America great again!” My sore legs needed fuel. I had gone 10 km before I came to the Corner Cafe in Humboldt. You can always count on a major highway junction to have some services. I was welcomed by a sweet-as-pie grandma who served up a rich and delicious order of biscuits and gravy with a side of hash browns. The potatoes were so good that I asked for second helping. She proudly handed the hash browns and said: “your carbs for the day.” Some of them, at least. Oh, don’t miss breakfast, kids; it’s the most important meal of the day.
I continued on a lack-lustre section of Highway 28. About 20 km down the road, I was feeling the need to stop again. The choice was between an IGA or the gates leading to downtown Ishpeming. I’ve been to enough IGAs for one lifetime, but I’ve never even heard of Ishpeming. Passing the water treatment facility, I started to second guess myself, but I pressed on and found the beautiful Lake Bancroft Park before hitting downtown. The park was next to a mining museum with mining shaft tours. Like so many other things in this area, closed today. There’s a lot of rich history related to the iron ore industry. There’s also a lot of Italian influence here. My server at the Corner Cafe taught me about Cudighi, a form of spicy Italian sausage. Who knew? And as I rolled past the brick buildings of downtown Ishpeming, the Italian flags waved back at me. I ignored that they were blowing to indicate more headwinds today. The town was still waking up when I passed through, but I’m glad that I stopped in for a visit.
Wandering through the downtown streets, I found a bike crossing, which led me to discover an urban bike path, the Iron Ore Heritage Trail. It was a well-maintained, paved route that meandered through the woods, well off of the highway. I passed a few local cyclists and what appeared to be a lesbian threesome. You never know what you’ll find in the woods. The trail connected me with Negaunee, the next community on today’s route. It was pretty slow going, but it didn’t matter. It was going to be a shorter day and I was trying to embrace the “enjoy” mantra.
I hoped that the trail would proceed smoothly all the way to Marquette, the “big city” in this part of the UP. When I hit an area called Beaver Creek (not to be confused with the lesbian threesome), the path abruptly changed to gravel. It was packed enough that I could carry on until I reached the nearby Highway 492. This highway was a quieter, well-paved county road on the outskirts of Marquette. I was finally rewarded for all of the elevation gains over the past few days. I dropped into Marquette on long stretches of downhill with speeds of over 60 kph. I hadn’t gone so fast since the Rockies in BC. The fun ended when I hit a wall of construction and was dumped back onto Highway 28. No pedestrians or bikes were allowed on that stretch. It was almost impassable and I considered avoiding any further attempts to get into the city.
Bypassing Marquette would have been a mistake. A few crafty twists and turns and overpasses brought me to its historic downtown core. If you’ve been following along, you can tell the kinds of things that I like in cities (architecture, locals shops, signs of life). Marquette had all of these things and is worth exploring if you find yourself there. To make it even better, I wandered into a downtown street festival. It seemed like everyone in the city had called in sick to attend. I saw how vibrant a city could be when its people were out. I passed a vendor who was selling an 18,000-piece Ravensburger puzzle. The puzzler in me thought it would be a fun way to spend a rest day – or 10 – in Sault Ste. Marie. Rational thought made me move on.
I descended to the city’s waterfront where the city has capitalized on the use of its lakeside lands. It continued the Iron Ore Heritage Trail, but once again paved and friendly to cyclists. And there it was, Lake Superior, shimmering under today’s blue skies. I had an unobstructed view of the lake as I pedalled along the trail until Marquette became a speck on the horizon.
I couldn’t seem to move quickly. At first, it was the meandering path, then the street festival in Marquette, then I had a flat tire. Something had poked a hole in my “impenetrable” front tire. It was annoying, but bound to happen eventually. I was impressed that these tires have gone almost 4000 km with only 2 flats. Fresh tube in place, I hopped back on the path which brought me to the junction of Highways 28 and 41. The trail suddenly changed to gravel a few kilometres after the junction. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Back to highways, I guess. Highway 28 was busy with both east and westbound travellers. It sounded like I was being chased by a dementor every time a truck passed beside me.
The remainder of the ride was exactly what I was hoping for. The traffic dispersed. The pavement was in good condition. I came around a corner of residential properties to suddenly find the lake in view again. I could hear the splashes on shore. It felt like water was calling “welcome back”. I haven’t had conditions like this since leaving the Pacific. I had to stop to snap photos. Pulling up to a beach, I surprised a dad who was teaching his three boys to swim. That was followed by countless kilometres of waterfront riding. Definitely a highlight of this trip.
Knowing that there were two hills ahead, I stopped at Wagener’s, a German delicatessen and cafe. I figured it was time for an early dinner. I ordered their delicious homemade Jager meatballs with spätzle, everything covered in copious amounts of gravy. It was what I needed for the final stretch that contained two steady 70-meter uphill climbs. I had an equally rewarding descent on the other side of the climbs to reach the Munising Campground. The campground looked very busy and was fully booked. They had pity on me and allowed me set up in the overflow camping area.
Now I’m at the site. No waterfront property for me today because it’s so crazy on Friday nights. I didn’t realize how popular this area would be with tourists. I’ve already met friendly people, like Kayleen from Wisconsin who has a nephew riding from Wisconsin to California. She was reassured to hear that it’s mostly enjoyable and rarely a slog. Then I met John and his dad, Doug. They’re in town for a family reunion. Doug, 83, grew up on the UP and had lots of stories to share about the UP and pretty much anything that I would listen to. I’m hoping to push hard tomorrow and get to Sault Sainte Marie. I’m looking forward to being back on Canadian turf.
Start time: 08:43
Finish time: 17:39
Riding time: 4 hours, 56 minutes
Distance: 120.35 km
Total distance: 3653.44 km
Elevation gain: 451 meters
Total elevation: 17377 meters
Average speed: 24.4 km per hour
Number of flat tires: 2
Number of times being thankful to be by the water: too many to count