Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The day dawned with a promise of sunshine, warmer temperatures, no rain, and favorable winds. On top of that, the 50 miles to Grand Marais looked to be the most interesting ride of the trip. What else could a cyclist ask for? Well, for several of us, he or she could ask for a short lift to the top of the big hill that loomed at the start. It was not really that much of a grade, but I was still concerned about stressing my knee right at the beginning of the ride with a couple more days to follow. So once again Bike Tour Vacations exceeded expectations and took a few of us up the hill for a head start.

This day’s route couldn’t have been easier: turn left on H58 in front of the motel and stay on it until you get to Grand Marais. As I mentioned in the intro post, it is only recently that this road has been paved all the way. Before that, Grand Marais was even more isolated in its location at the end of a 25-mile spur route that goes north from the main east-west U.P. highway — a real “land’s end” type of town. The road also goes through the land that is now part of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and is administered by the park service.

An easy ride with the wind not a factor. You can see the sand dunes near the Grand Marais end of the route.

The only “difficult” part of the day’s ride was the first 8 or so miles back to the Bear Trap, where we had our first SAG stop and regrouped with those who had taken even more of a shortcut. From there on, H58 is a narrow but lightly traveled two-lane road that winds around through the ubiquitous pine trees as it makes its way in a generally eastward direction. There are not many obvious places to do a sag stop, so Pam just pulled off to the side at an arbitrary point another 10 or so miles down the road, where we were attacked by the swarms of mosquitoes that I had been expecting in the area. Fortunately, in these cases the wind is your friend and a breeze did spring up that cleared them away before they inflicted too much damage. But poor Pam had to stay there until the last riders came by!

Riders pulling into the Bear Trap
SAG stop at the Bear Trap
At the next sag stop on H58. At least my cool weather gear works against mosquitoes!

Moving on down the road, we passed several areas whose names were familiar to me from that first trip to the U.P. almost 45 years ago, but it all looked very different now from a new road and new perspective. Some of the inland lakes are beautiful in their own right, such as Grand Sable Lake, which we passed as the road swung northward toward the Lake Superior shoreline.

The road swings down along Grand Sable Lake

Due simply to a lack of suitable locations, we again had lunch rather late and without that many more miles to the day’s destination. But the scenery at the Lake Superior overlook where we stopped made it worth the wait. The BTV crew brought out a folding table and set up fixings for deli sandwiches with fruit and all sorts of extras. The sun was shining in the first blue sky we’d seen in a while, we were shedding the layers that we’d started out with, and everyone’s mood had shifted in an upbeat direction.

Parked at the overlook
The beginnings of a good lunch spread
Overlook on Lake Superior
Relaxing before and after lunch

After lunch and on the road again, the next significant point was the Log Slide along the sand dunes that line this portion of the shoreline. The slide itself was used in the logging era to (what else?) slide logs down into the lake, where they were chained together into rafts that could be floated to one of the many mills that operated up here in those times. Adjacent to the log slide area was a scenic overlook that provided a side-view of the slide and dunes. It was a picture perfect scene!

View of the dunes from the overlook near the slide
An exhibit about shipping during the logging era that references one of the wrecks we saw in Munising

The town again being down at lake level, the day’s ride ended nicely with a significant downhill run. Grand Marais was and is mainly a fishing village with a “downtown” consisting of a few streets with the usual vital businesses including a couple of restaurants and bars. It has changed little over the years and was instantly recognizable right down to the bar that I’d visited both previous times that I’d been here.

Downtown Grand Marais

Our hotel — the North Shore Lodge — was about a mile out from town on a narrow spit of land along with a park headquarters and Coast Guard facility. I had looked it up on Tripadvisor and found that it had horrible reviews. It was easy at first glance to see why, as it had all the appearances of a once-nice property that was slowly going to seed. The sign had once touted “Lodging, Restaurant, Pool, Spa, & Lounge,” but as parts of it were closed or went into disrepair, the words had been crudely painted over so that it now said “Lodging, ——-, ——-, ——-, & Lounge,” and even the lounge did not appear to be open. Strangely, it still had one of the best-stocked gift shops (t-shirts, sweatshirts, caps) that I saw on the entire trip!

Our unit at the North Shore Lodge
My steed in front of my room. It was better than it looked.

Although the building with the rooms appeared a bit shabby on the outside, my room itself was large, clean, and quiet. It was a bit oddly stocked with enough towels for several people for several days, but that’s better than not having enough. In any case, it didn’t take long to settle in. Later, I got back on the bike to make a short exploration of the town and look for where the restaurants were located.

Grand Marais’ harbor and marina

Dinner was again included as part of the trip and we had a choice of two or three places that we could go. In the end, I think we all decided to go to the Lake Superior Brewing Company, which is the same place that has always been known as the Dunes Saloon. I don’t remember what I had, but I do remember that the beer and food were very good and I was impressed enough to buy a souvenir t-shirt while I was there. The service from our very efficient waitress was excellent, especially considering our large group. Just give the check to Jim over there…

The evening was pleasant enough that a number of us skipped the shuttling and just walked back to the hotel. Later that night, in hopes of seeing a starry sky, we sat around a campfire in the hotel’s outdoor fire pit and swapped stories. In the end, it would have been way too late (after midnight) for the skies to be really dark this far north, so we headed off to our rooms before tackling the next day’s last long ride of the trip.

Continue to Day 5

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