As I drove across the mighty Mackinaw Bridge and turned east on US-2, I was wondering what I had gotten myself into by scheduling a second week-long bike trip barely a month after my Lake Erie excursion in June. It had seemed like a great idea when I was making my reservations with the snow flying outside, but now it seemed like I had been so busy since the first part of June that I was no longer looking forward to it as much, especially because the weather outlook was not great with the prospect of a summer edition of the dreaded Polar Vortex to contend with.
Saturday, July 12, 2014
Still, I had enjoyed my other forays into this part of the state, with my last trip there being about 15 years ago on a motorcycle. Plus, this trip would revisit some of my favorite spots from previous trips, such as Munising and Grand Marais. I was especially looking forward to riding the 50 miles between those two towns on a road that has finally been paved all the way in recent years. My previous time on that route was way back in 1971 on a fully loaded Ossa Pioneer dirt bike, struggling to negotiate the unpaved, deep-sand forest road on a day that set record high temperatures for the area. There would be no danger of record highs this time!
Entering the U.P. really is like going into another world. East of the bridge the roads are all two-lane highways and the terrain is flat to rolling and covered with pine trees, the hardwood having been logged out in previous generations. There are few towns of any size and the lodging is of the roadside tourist motel variety. By the time you get to the west end of this part of the state, you’re a good 500 miles from Detroit and the other population centers of the lower peninsula; it’s easy to see why my area’s problems are like reading about another country when you’re up here.
The tour, put on by Bike Tour Vacations, was to start at mid-day on Sunday in Manistique, but I figured it was best for me to get there the day before to get settled in and be rested for that day’s scheduled 30-mile warmup ride. US-2 is a very nice road that runs along the southern shore of the U.P. and in some places just outside St. Ignace runs right on the edge of the Lake Michigan shore. In fact, there were a number of cars pulled off on the eastbound shoulder with their occupants enjoying the beautiful white-sand beach that is so typical of the Great Lakes region.
Another thing I noticed on the way to Manistique were a number of touring bicyclists that were using this road, taking advantage of the smooth 6-foot-wide shoulders. I later talked to a couple of them and discovered that this is part of the well-traveled Northern Tier cross-country cycling route that is published by the Adventure Cycling Association. Many of these cyclists were on a trip from Washington or Oregon all the way to Bar Harbor, Maine! Most of them were more or less on the same schedule and this just happened to be the time when they were all passing through Michigan. One couple that I talked to had started in mid-May and expected to be in Bar Harbor in mid-August. Naturally I felt guilty about balking at having to ride “only” a couple hundred miles in a week’s time.
I checked in at the Gray Wolf Lodge, which was also to be our motel for the first night of the tour, and went off to explore the town. Manistique was a major wood-processing city during the lumbering years in the U.P. and still has an active paper mill even though they no longer use the Manistique River to float the logs down into town. The downtown area has the typical look for this area of the state, and on the day I was there a street festival was in action. After a meal at the Three Seasons Cafe next to the motel and some more exploration of the Lake Michigan shoreline area, I turned in to get ready for the first day’s warmup ride.