Week 7: Bicycling Ensign, MI to Clam Lake, WI

Total mileage: 302.4 miles

Days 43 – 35.8 miles – Ensign, MI to Lake Bluff, MI

Theme: Doesn’t the wind ever get tired? Poor planning means extra miles.

Our goal for the day was a short 25 miles from last night’s stealth camping spot. Since we are so far ahead of schedule and Eric’s presentation is in two days, we decided we should stay put for a few days. Eric needs good wifi for his presentation, and once we leave Escanaba, MI, we’re not sure if we’ll see wifi again for a while. Escanaba is only about 35 miles away though, so we needed a place to spend a few nights without breaking the bank. We opted to spend two nights at Pioneer Trail Campground between Lake Bluff and Wells and then splurge on a motel in Escanaba for the third night.

On the way, we stopped at the Gladstone Public Library to do some work and then got a few slices of pizza before continuing on. We arrived at Pioneer Trail Campground after fighting strong winds off Lake Michigan as we biked along the shoulder of a busy Route 41. We asked where the nearest grocery store was and learned it was five miles away… in Gladstone. We ended up biking all the way back to Gladstone to get food and then had to turn around and bike against the wind again to get back to the campground. At least this time we had discovered a nice bike path which meant we were away from the cars. The bike path ended roughly 1.5 miles away from the campground. Our campground and the beer store we wanted to stop at on the way back were both on the left side of the road, so we opted to ride the rest of the way on the wrong shoulder rather than running across a four-lane highway four times.

We bought three Summer Shandies and strapped them in their paper bag on Eric’s bike. We made it almost all the way back to camp before the condensation disintegrated the paper bag and the shandies jumped out onto the road. Two of them promptly burst holes in their sides, so we plugged the holes with our thumbs, ride our bikes precariously back to our tent site, and then drank the shandies faster than intended. In case you were wondering, patching a can with duct tape doesn’t really work.

Highlight: Chatting with bikers at camp

That evening we were making a fire when a young woman from two sites over came by to offer us the use of the gas stove in her van if we wanted to escape from the bugs. We were excited to have the opportunity to finally make a fire after many nights of stealth camping and also found the offer oddly intimate for someone we had not even introduced ourselves to yet. We declined and went about cooking our dinner. She went back to her van and hid. A little while later we had finished cooking and were sitting at the picnic table one site over to get out of the smoke from our fire when two cyclists showed up. We apologized for sitting at their table and then struck up a conversation with them while they set up their tents and made espresso. They were doing a six-day trip around the lake which required six centuries (or 100 miles a day for six days). We chatted with them until the bugs chased us into our tent.

Overnight: Camping at Pioneer Trail Campground. We fell asleep listening to mosquitoes whining outside our tent because we wouldn’t let them in.

Pioneer Trail Campground

Day 44 – 11.7 miles – Lake Bluff, MI

Theme: Stone Cup Coffee House

This day was hot with temperatures projected to be in the 90s around the country. We opted to go into Escanaba and find an air-conditioned coffee shop to hide in for most of the day. We found the Stone Cup Coffee House which also had a deli serving some really delicious sandwiches. We sat there until closing and then biked back to the Pioneer Trail Campground.

Highlight: Campfire packets for dinner after saving foil

One of our favorite campfire meals is to put a bunch of vegetables (and sometimes meat) in foil packets and set them on the coals. Unfortunately, buying a roll of foil means you then have to carry the left-over foil with you, so this hadn’t really been an option until now. Yesterday on our grocery store mission we had purchased potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, mushrooms and cauliflower for exactly this meal. We had also saved the foil from yesterday’s pizza slices and another meal from earlier in the trip. Our salvaged foil worked great and we had a delicious dinner.

Foil packet meal

There was a wedding happening at the campground, so there was music playing at the pavilion and lots of people milling about. When the wedding was over, people gathered at campsites to continue partying. At the same time, the heat wave finally gave way to a storm with heavy rain and strong winds. All around us were these giant trees. Eric didn’t really understand Jess’s amazement at these trees which he said were only 30% taller than normal trees. Jess pointed out that a person that was 30% taller than she was would be almost 7 feet tall, and that would be pretty amazing! Nevertheless these giant trees were swaying in the breeze and dropping pine cones, some of which would thunk onto the tent near our heads in an alarmingly loud way. After a while, we got out of the tent to look at the trees and make sure it looked like they were going to continue being upright and to assess whether they looked likely to drop anything more than pine cones on our heads. Between the parties which were continuing, the loud wind and rain, and the periodic thwacks of the pine cones, it was very difficult to sleep. On top of this, there were somehow tons of mosquitoes. Every time one of us got in or out of the tent, three or four would fly in, and we’d have to sit up, turn on the light, and go on a bug hunt. We usually managed to catch all the invaders, but some of them were pretty sneaky and would find a quiet spot under Eric’s mat to hide until we had turned off the lights and tried to go back to sleep. At some point Jess was feeling itchy and turned on the light again, and sure enough, there was another mosquito flying around the tent! This was by far our worst night of sleep so far!

Super tall trees!

Overnight: Pioneer Trail Campground

Day 45 – 7.2 miles – Lake Bluff, MI to Escanaba, MI

Theme: Eric’s presentation

The big day was finally here. Eric’s presentation was happening today, and even though he wasn’t actually presenting, he was still nervous. We packed up our tent, went back to Stone Cup Coffee House in Escanaba for lunch, did some laundry at a laundromat and then biked to the Hiawatha Motel. It started raining just before we arrived.

Downtown Escanaba

Highlight: Thai food

After the presentation we ordered Thai food from a nearby restaurant. Jess noticed the heat scale on the menu went up to “Thai spicy” and opted for medium. Eric who generally has less heat tolerance than Jess noticed the heat scale and opted for “spicy”. All of the food was plenty hot!

Overnight: Hiawatha Motel

When we checked in we noticed the “We do not rent to locals” sign on the door. Jess thought that was an interesting policy and got lost in an internet rabbit hole trying to learn why a hotel would exclude people from its own community. The internet reported that locals tend to be more trouble on average because they choose to come to a motel for something they don’t want to do at home.

The Hiawatha Motel was a nice respite from the heat and rain, and we had a nice free breakfast in the morning.

Day 46 – 60.6 miles – Escanaba, MI to Sagola, MI

Before leaving Escanaba, we had a few errands to run. We stopped at a Walmart to load up on snacks and groceries. Then we tried to go to a Verizon store to see if they had any thoughts about Eric’s phone which still hadn’t awoken from the deep slumber it had entered almost a week before. Since Eric isn’t a Verizon customer, the Verizon store wasn’t really eager to help. Jess thought we still needed to plug it in to a wall outlet and let it charge for a while before we gave up entirely, so we went back to the Walmart to try stealth charging it there for a while. That did exactly nothing, so we finally got on the road.

Highlight: Eric’s new socks

Eric’s socks have been steadily wearing out because he brought all his old socks on this trip. At Walmart he found some cool socks with dragons on them and treated himself to some new ones.

When looking at the map a few days before, Jess had noticed that there were four counties in Michigan that were in the Central Time Zone. We would be biking through three of the four. We had wondered how obvious it would be when we made that transition. Eric didn’t think he had every driven over a time change before (except in South America in a bus in the middle of the night). When we crossed into the Central Time Zone, the only indication was a tiny sign, which Eric didn’t even notice.

Eric’s cool new dragon socks!

Theme: Everything is uphill when you’re in Michigan.

We passed through a series of tiny towns on a steady upward climb from around 600 feet above sea level to around 1400 feet above sea level. Just before Sagola, MI, we started to get tired.

Steady uphill climb

Overnight: Stealth camping outside Sagola, MI

We were a little bit like Goldilocks trying to find a camping spot. We had found a couple of un-owned lots, but the first one had grass that was too long and the second one wasn’t really flat. There was an area under the power lines that looked flat-ish, but there were lots of no trespassing signs. The woods had lots of sticks that didn’t look very comfortable. Finally we found a spot that was lumpy and had lots of ferns but also had some woods nearby and there was a small section between the pine trees that was tent sized.

An early site we turned down because the grass was too long

We had bought chili at Walmart with the idea that we would heat it up on our gas stove. Eric was in favor of eating the chili cold in the tent to escape the mosquitoes. Jess thought cold chili sounded gross, so Eric started setting up the cooking station. The mosquitoes were relentless and after about two minutes, Jess gave in, and we jumped in the tent to hide. It turns out cold chili isn’t that bad after all.

Our wooded home for the night

Day 47 – 58.1 miles – Sagola, MI to Phelps, WI

Theme: Tree-lined roads

Tree-lined roads and hills

Highlight: Seeing a hawk with a large nest on top of a power pylon. Finding an actual grocery store when we thought there wouldn’t be one

We woke up and biked a few miles to Sagola to get breakfast and coffee at a gas station. Twelve miles later we stopped at a grocery store to get food for lunch. We should have picked up food for dinner too but we didn’t realize there would be such a dearth of stores on the rest of our route.

Twenty miles after that we could tell we weren’t going to find a place to buy food for dinner. The route map showed we would be entering Wisconsin at the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest and there was no grocery store or restaurant before our intended camping spot. We were standing outside a gas station that only had snack food and looking rather lost when a guy walked out and asked if we needed help. We said we were looking for a place to get food between here and Nelma. He pointed us to a grocery store at the intersection of Route 73 and Route 2 which was a few miles off route. We picked up hot dogs and salad and rejoined the route.

We made it to Wisconsin!

Welcome to Wisconsin!

We had intended to camp at the US Forest Service’s Kentuck Lake Campground. but it was 3.1 miles off route. We started down the gravel path, but roughly 7/10ths of a mile in the gravel turned to sand. Jess’s road bike tires don’t like gravel much, and Jess thought she’d be better off walking. Walking three miles in cleats with loaded bikes would take a long time, and we’d have to do it again tomorrow to get back to the route, so we bailed and decided to stealth camp instead.

When we came back out to the main road there was a beautiful hawk soaring back to its nest at the top of a power pylon.

Overnight: Stealth camping in Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, a.k.a. Slug Forest.

Expecting to camp at a campground where we could have a fire, we had opted to buy hot dogs for dinner. Unfortunately, we were now in the middle of a grove of trees in a National Forest thirty feet from the road with swarms of mosquitoes around us, so we opted to hide in the tent and eat salad and peanut butter sandwiches instead.

Slug Forest

Eric was convinced it wasn’t going to rain – he’s not sure why he thought that – so we left the rain fly off the tent and went to sleep. In the middle of the night, Jess woke up because it was raining. She woke Eric up and we both leaped out of the tent to put the fly on. It rained pretty hard for a few hours and all the excitement made it hard to go back to sleep. Luckily we didn’t get too wet.

Sneaking back to the road in the morning

Day 48 – 69.7 miles – Phelps, WI to Mercer, WI

All the rain of the previous night made the slugs come out. When we woke up there were slugs everywhere. Eric had a slug on his helmet. There were slugs on the tent. Jess found a slug in her shoe.

We had been trying to set up a Warm Showers stay in Cumberland, WI (roughly 225 miles away) on Friday night which meant we had to bike roughly 56 miles for each of the next four days. Based on the map, we had two choices for campgrounds for tonight. One was 48 miles away. The other was 67 miles away. We opted for a big day so we could have a shorter day in the future.

Wisconsin’s Tunnel of Trees

Theme: Manitowish Waters Bike Trail

We found ourselves on this beautiful tree-lined road that resembled Michigan’s Tunnel of Trees. We stopped in a small clearing on the side of the road for a picnic.

Manitowish Waters Bike Trail

Highlight: Manitowish Waters Bike Trail

A little while later we turned onto the Manitowish Waters bike trail which was a beautiful path winding through the trees, up and down hills, and over bridges for 30 miles.

Overnight: Loon Lagoon RV Resort and Campground in Mercer

We rolled into the Loon Lagoon RV Resort and Campground around 7:30pm. The owner of the campground was a funny, gruff woman who would have been in bed already if she had managed to get her dog inside earlier. Luckily we were able to snag a campsite beforehand. We started a fire to cook yesterday’s hot dogs. The bugs were so bad we ate as quickly as we could and then hid in the tent.

Camping at Loon lagoon RV Resort and Campground

Day 49 – 59.3 miles – Mercer, WI to Clam Lake, WI

In the morning Eric thought his bike had earned some attention after seven weeks without any failures. His rear tire was considerably more worn than his front one, so he decided to swap them preventively.

Preemptive bicycle repairs

Theme: Forests and rolling hills

Rolling hills

Highlight: Playing on the seesaw and swings at Marion Park

We stopped outside an old gas station in Marion to make and eat our sandwiches for lunch. While we were sitting on the asphalt, a woman pulled up in her car and told us there was a nice park in town that offered free camping. We weren’t planning to camp in Marion since we hadn’t gone far enough, but we went to the park to rest in the shade and spent an hour playing on the swings and the see saw.

Swings at Marion Park

We biked another 16 miles to Clam Lake where we found a restaurant called Ransom’s Place that had an all-you-can-eat taco buffet. We ate as much as we could and then headed to the nearby campground. On our way a group of people on an ATV almost ran over a bear that was lounging on the ATV path!

Ransom’s Place

Overnight: US Forest Service’s Day Lake Campground

The Forest Service campgrounds are usually self-service: you pick a site and then put your money in an envelope and push it through the fee slot. The campground was buggy as soon as we pulled in, so we didn’t waste too much time picking a site (site #1). Jess pitched the tent while Eric paid for the site. We put our food bag on the edge of our site away from our tent but decided we didn’t need to hang it even though there had been a nearby bear sighting. No one ate our food while we were sleeping.

Camping at Day Lake Campground

Week 7 was back to smooth sailing. Both bikes were functioning well and we could focus on biking. With our intended push to Cumberland, we did four 60-mile days in a row which felt like a big accomplishment. We kept our average at 43.2 miles per day even with two rest days. Average cost of week 7: 64.50

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