Week 6: Bicycling Manistee, MI to Ensign, MI

Total distance: 337.3 miles

Day 36 – 51.9 miles – Manistee, MI to Empire, MI

Eric has been taking every opportunity to work on his presentation, which is now just over a week away. The opportunities don’t arise that often since he usually needs power and wifi to make progress. Today his partner was doing an initial dress rehearsal to some people at work and Eric wanted to listen in. Unfortunately, cell service in the area was pretty spotty, so roughly 10 miles into our ride, we pulled over on a grassy area so Eric could be on the phone for an hour.

Working hard

Theme: Super strong headwinds and long hills

After riding for another hour and a half, we pulled into Arcadia to find food. It had been an exhausting twenty miles given the wind. Our maps showed the next town was 10 miles away with two large hills in between, and it wasn’t clear there would be food there. There was a food truck cafe in Arcadia that looked like an awesome lunch spot; however, there was only one person working and he had just received a large order for a single family and expected it would take him 30 minutes to fill it. We went in search of other food options and found our choices were very limited. We ended up settling for ice cream to get us to the next reasonable food option which we found at an A&W in 12 miles.

When all else fails… ice cream for lunch!

As we were leaving ice cream, Jess’s bike computer suddenly flashed a bunch of strange speeds in rapid succession and then stopped recording any further mileage. In the past few days, we had managed to refine the error estimation between our computers’ mileage to 2.22%, so we had had a way to convert Jess’s mileage to Eric’s while his was on the fritz. Luckily Eric’s computer had been functioning reliably again after some further repairs, so we could rely on his distance record again now that Jess’s wasn’t working.

Highlight: Forest bathing

We had been aiming for the D.H. Day Campground in Glen Arbor because we thought we had stayed there a few years ago before the wedding of some friends. We thought it would be fun to say we had made it back there again. Unfortunately, it was still another eight miles away and we were ready to stop biking. We noticed a small hill just off the road that looked like it might have a clearing at the top, so we pushed our bikes up the hill through the woods and found an awesome place to camp.

View from the road of our stealthy spot in the trees

After dinner, Jess wanted to solve her bike computer mystery, so she and Eric started poking and prodding it. Eric got out his pliers and painstakingly removed three of four screws that held the mount together, only to discover it was also glued together. Everything looked ok, so he painstakingly twisted the screws back into place with the pliers. Jess started feeling the cable and noticed a place with a subtle kink in the wire. It was so slight, Eric could hardly feel it, but when Jess first touched it, the computer registered a series of strange speed numbers again. Of course, when we started looking at it more closely, it wouldn’t record anything. Still, with this spot as the mostly likely problem area, Eric cut the wire nearby, removed the section we thought was bad, pulled back the wire casing, and twisted the wires back together. When he tested it, it recorded speed and distance! We duct-taped the wires in place and re-installed the computer on the bike.

Performing surgery on Jess’s bike computer

We subsequently discovered that the error between Jess’s and Eric’s bike computer results was now much smaller – somewhere around 0.6% – which suggests there may have been a problem with the wiring of Jess’s computer all along.

Overnight: Stealth camping. There were lots of trees to set up the hammock which meant Jess got to try out sleeping in the hammock. There was also a perfect clearing for the tent. It was a cold night, so we were both cold in our respective beds. Jess got up in the middle of the night to retrieve the blanket she’d been given for Christmas. It was kind of a strange plasticky material, but she thought it might work similarly to a tarp which she’d discovered on a previous camping trip was incredibly good at keeping her warm. It definitely made a difference, but it was only in the morning when she was trying to look up why the blanket would keep you warm, that she discovered it was actually a picnic blanket! That explains the pocket corners which are for sand or stones so the blanket doesn’t blow away.

Our awesome campsite in the trees

(It turns out it wasn’t the D. H. Day Campground we had stayed at a few years ago, it was the Platte River Campground which we had passed nine miles before our stealth camping spot! Oops.)

Day 37 – 56.4 miles – Empire, MI to Kewadin, MI

We woke up to a woodpecker pecking at a nearby tree and saw butterflies playing tag. It was very peaceful.

Theme: Hill training

Shortcut to Traverse City

We still wanted to make it to the D.H. Day Campground, but looking at the map, we realized the route was making us go almost 30 miles out of the way to stay by the coast. We used Google Maps to plan an alternate route to Traverse City that was more direct. It took us past an asparagus farm and tons of cherry trees. At some point we ended up on a dirt road that led to a seasonal road covered in sand that was too deep to bike on. We abandoned that path in favor of a detour to get on Route 72, which took us almost all the way across to Traverse City. The route was a series of small hills, but we ended up saving about 22 miles!

Cherry farms

Highlight: Rail Trail near Traverse City

We stopped for lunch in Traverse City and then got on the Rail Trail which runs for approximately 15 miles. At the end of the Rail Trail we found ourselves winding between a bunch of small lakes: Elk Lake, Bass Lake, Birch Lake and East Arm Grand Traverse Bay of Lake Michigan

One of many lakes we passed along the way

Overnight:  Stealth camping in some woods on a residential street near the lake. The next campground was 15 miles away and we were getting tired, so we started looking for a spot to stealth camp.  Lots of the woods were marked with no trespassing signs, but we found a small mowed clearing just off the route that led to a wooded area that didn’t obviously belong to anyone.

View from the road of our stealthy camping spot

Day 38 – 71.3 miles – Kewadin, MI to Middle Village, MI

Theme: Cute, little lakeside towns with big houses

Highlight: Beautiful bike path around Little Traverse Bay at Petosky complete with Michigan sweet cherry van. Starting at Charlevoix there was a bike path running parallel to Route 31 and along the coast for approximately 20 miles.

Michigan sweet cherries are delicious!

We stopped at a restaurant in Harbor Springs for pizza with the plan to go a little further after dinner. The next campground was 35 miles away, so we knew we would be stealth camping.

Pizza at Turkey’s in Harbor Springs

After dinner, the route took us through the Tunnel of Trees which was an amazing stretch of residential road lined with trees near the edge of the lake. We could see the sun setting over the lake and were racing the darkness to find a place to camp. Eric really wanted to cross the 70-mile goal since we were only four miles away from it. Jess had two goals: avoiding poison ivy and avoiding setting up the tent somewhere we could be run over. We saw a few woods that looked promising but they also looked awfully green and we didn’t, at that point, know exactly how to identify poison ivy. Then we found a mowed section under the power lines, but it was clear vehicles sometimes drove in that area, and there was technically a no trespassing sign even though it was lying in the dirt. Jess was concerned this didn’t meet the not-being-run-over goal, so we kept going.

Overnight: Not so stealthy stealth camping. Shortly after crossing the 70-mile threshold we saw a patch of grass across the street from a house. It was clear the patch of grass belonged to the house, so Eric bravely went to ring the doorbell to ask if they would mind if we camped on it for one night. No one answered the door, and since it was getting late and starting to get dark, we pitched our tent on the furthest edge of grass and hoped no one would mind. When we finally crawled in the tent, it was 10pm, and the sun was setting! Being on the western edge of the Eastern time zone results in very long evenings! In the middle of the night, we woke up to deer snorting near by. It’s a funny noise that sounds almost like they are sneezing.

Not so stealthy camping

Day 39 – 36.3 miles – Middle Village, MI to St. Ignace, MI

We make oatmeal and coffee for breakfast almost every morning, but we decided it was best if we packed up and got on the road as soon as possible since our camping spot was a bit exposed. When we got to Good Hart, we found a boutique shop that served coffee and had a crepe truck outside and we splurged on a crepe breakfast.

Boutique with crepe van in Good Hart

Theme: Very rough and bumpy roads

From Cross Village to Mackinaw City, the roads were some of the worst we have experienced. There were cracks and holes in the asphalt as well as some lumpy patches of asphalt that took up two thirds of the lane. The smoothest part of the road was near the center line. For miles we wiggled our way around the worst of the bumps trying not to weave too much when cars were nearby. We were relieved to finally make it to Mackinaw City.

Highlight: Ferry rides

View of Mackinaw Bridge from first ferry

From Mackinaw City we had to cross the Mackinac Straits to St. Ignace. The Mackinac Bridge connecting the two cities is one of the longest suspension bridges in the world, but cyclist and pedestrian traffic is prohibited. There is a ferry you can take from Mackinaw City to Mackinac Island and then a second ferry from Mackinac Island to St. Ignace. The ferry rides are very pretty and Mackinac Island is cool because it has no motor vehicle traffic; however, the ferry is also the more expensive option. We didn’t know at the time that the Mackinac Bridge Authority will ferry cyclists across the bridge for $5 per bike, so we paid $76 to get ourselves and our bicycles two ferry rides.

Overnight: We camped at the Straits State Park Campground.

Day 40 – 18.6 miles – St. Ignace, MI to Brevort, MI

We woke up to squawking seagulls who seemed to be fighting over some invisible food between our campsite and the next one. We were planning to spend some time at the St. Ignace public library which was just across the street since Eric wanted to get some work done for his presentation. We had packed everything up just as it started to rain. We raced over to the library, parked our bikes, threw a tarp over them, and ran inside.

Theme: St. Ignace public library

St. Ignace public library

We ended up spending all day in the library until it closed at 5pm. Then we started biking for the day with the goal of making it to a campground roughly 20 miles away.

Highlight: Campsite with beach access

We arrived at the Lake Michigan Campground and discovered our campsite had beach access. We thought there would be a pretty sunset, but some thick clouds rolled in just before the sun set and the sun was just barely peking through.

Sunset over Lake Michigan

Overnight: Lake Michigan Campground. It rained hard during the night and the campsite was all gravel, so our tent ended up pretty dirty.

Campsite at Lake Michigan Campground

Day 41 – 46 miles – Brevort, MI to Blaney Park, MI

In the morning we took our oatmeal and coffee to the lake and enjoyed a final view of Lake Michigan. Even though the water was cold, Eric took a dip in the lake before we packed up. For some reason, Eric’s phone had decided this was a good time to die, seemingly for good, and hasn’t turned on since despite repeated attempts to charge it, force it to restart, or factory reset it.

Taking a dip in Lake Michigan

Theme: So many butterflies fluttering by

We expected the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to be more scenic than it was. There were beautiful forests on either side and the lake view s were pretty, but the bike route runs along Route 2 pretty much from the Mackinaw Bridge to Escanaba, MI (almost 150 miles). Route 2 is a noisy highway with one lane in each direction except for the occasional passing lane. The shoulder is wide, but you can still feel the wind from passing cars and trucks. The wind was against us, so the first day on Route 2 was long and difficult. There were lots of long grasses and flowers on the side of the road and there were tons of butterflies fluttering about along the entire route. Sometimes, the butterflies would lose control in the strong wind and fly right into us.

A few miles into our ride, the route map showed the path diverging from Route 2 for a short span. The detour just looked like it made the path longer, but there was no explanation for why we would divert here. We decided to stay on Route 2 and soon discovered there was construction on the bridge. We were a little worried about going over the bridge with the logging trucks, but then Eric saw a path off to the right. There were some signs with sandbags in the way, but often road construction signs are in the shoulder where bikes go, so we ignored them. There were some long grasses that were growing over the sidewalk, and it became clear we weren’t really meant to be there. When we got to the other side we saw a sign that said “Pedestrian Bridge Closed”. Oops!

Closed pedestrian bridge

Highlight: Smoked fish

We had seen many signs for pasties and also for smoked fish in the area. We decided we would stop and the next place offering either one and get a snack. Unfortunately, we never saw another pastie shop, but we did find a store selling smoked fish. We bought a pound and a quarter of smoked trout and ate some as a snack and had some for dinner that night. It was delicious!

Smoked fish shop
So much yummy smoked fish!

Just past Naubinway, we found a spot to pull off the road and have a snack. Eric practiced his handstands and we stretched. As we were packing up to get on the road a car pulled up and a woman got out and asked if we wanted any ice water. She hosts cyclists through Warm Showers, had seen us, and had pulled off the road just to be helpful. We filled up our water packs, thanked her, and continued on our way.

Handstand practice

Roughly 20 miles later we started looking for a place to camp. There were some campgrounds in the area but it looked like there would be plenty of options for stealth camping. We found some woods off to the side of the road that looked promising, but what had appeared to be soft ground from the road was actually piles of sticks. We would have had to do quite a bit of work to clear a spot for our tent so we kept going. We scoped out a few other options before settling on a spot at the end of a short gravel road next to a cell tower. The cell tower was fenced off and had some ominous warnings about 24-hour surveillance, but we were pretty sure they related to the inside of the fenced area, not this road, so we set up camp.

Overnight: Stealth camping next to a cell tower

Stealth camping next to a cell tower

Day 42 – 56.8 miles – Blaney Park, MI to Ensign, MI

In the morning as we were packing up, a baby deer ran right through our campsite! We have never been this close to so many deer.

Theme: Logging trucks

We were back on Route 2 for a second day. Luckily the wind had died down, so biking was easier, but there were still tons of logging trucks on the road. They can carry so many trees! We went past a logging operation that had rows and rows of enormous piles of tree trunks.

Logging operation – so many trees!

Highlight: Finding this stealthy spot off the highway

The ride was pretty uneventful, but we started to get tired in the middle of a 32-mile stretch with no campgrounds near the route. Jess decided she needed to find a spot to use the bathroom and happened to pull off the road just at a place with a clearing. There was no lot number or mailbox, and nothing to indicate this land belonged to anyone. Better yet, there were no “Private” or “No Trespassing” signs. Further in there were some trees and then a clearing in the trees that was perfect for camping.

View from the road of our stealth camping spot

Overnight: Stealth camping just off Route 2. We set up the tent and the hammock, and Eric took a turn sleeping in the hammock. We fell asleep to the sound of frogs croaking nearby.

Awesome camping spot!

Week 6 took us to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We had heard so many good things about the U.P. and were excited to see it. Unfortunately, biking through the U.P. means biking on Route 2, which is essentially a highway with a wide shoulder, so our U.P. experience was a little disappointing. We did have some awesome stealth camping opportunities, finding mostly hidden spots along the way five of seven nights. All that free camping brought the average cost of week 6 down to $65.36, even after the huge ferry splurge. We also biked our furthest distance so far in week 6 with an average daily mileage of 48.2 miles. Jess’s bike seemed to be as good as new, so we were able to cruise without worrying about what was going to fall apart next.

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