Great Lakes Tour

A daily blog (whenever I can find a library to upload from) of my adventures bicycling from Detroit to Michigan's UP, then through Wisconsin to Chicago.

The adventure nears...

3 May 07: Once again, the day nears for the newest adventure. For many reasons, this trip proved more challenging to prepare for than previous tours, between crises at home, other vacations, and the myriad problems trying to create new DVDs for my speeches. Hopefully it will all come together tomorrow.

4 May 2007 - A Day of Firsts

Detroit airport to Ypsilanti: 19.9 mi; tail wind, 60s

It was:
  • The first time I assembled my bike at an airport, rather than doing it leisurely at where I would stay that night.
  • The first time I had not arranged my first night's accommodations ahead of time. I had checked out hotels on the web, so I knew which direction to head.
  • The first time that I never trained with a load on my bike. It didn't hurt my speed, though - I couldn't have gone any faster without risking flats until I could get my tires properly inflated to 100+ psi.
  • The first time a cop ever pulled me over on my bike -- and the first time I was ever happy to see those flashing red lights! As I cycled out of the airport, still getting used to the balance of my fully loaded bike, I hugged the right curb as cars that had picked up passengers zoomed past. Suddenly, two more lanes merged with ours, with cars that had dropped off passengers now whizzing by on my right. As I rolled down the middle of this four lane highway, still getting used to my balance, I wondered how I could possibly get over without dying. That's when the motorcycle cop pulled up, lights flashing to slow the traffic, ordering me to pull over. When I did, he kept going, only stopping when I began waving at him so I could get directions.
A side note: don't you hate it when an obnoxious tune gets stuck in your head, endlessly replaying itself? I had that all day. That feeling is even worse when it's the silly ditty you created a week earlier. (If you haven't heard my 'Camping Song', go to and search for 'litterwalk'.) I wonder if Lennon and McCartney ever felt like that...

5 May 2007 - No News is Good News?

Ypsilanti to E Lansing: 73.4 mi; 60s, high thin clouds, tail or side wind

Pretty uneventful day - and when you're on an adventure, uneventful is not bad.I had perhaps the best weather of any day 1 of my tours - filtered sun in the morning, high clouds in the afternoon, a wind that mostly stayed at my back (it hit from the side the last ten miles).
The road from Ann Arbor to Chelsea was a biker's nirvana. I've never seen so many bicyclists on one road in any of my tours.

6 May 2007: Excess Miles & No Memories

E Lansing to Mt. Pleasant: 80.6 mi; 60s, cool breeze from SE

Today I covered six more miles than yesterday, in the same amount of time. I must be hitting my stride. Of course, seven or eight of those miles came courtesy of the MI highway system.
I had mapped out a route that took me nearly due north, requiring only a few miles on the area's main highway, US127. When Old-127 merged with that highway, though, big signs barred all bicycles. I bopped back a quarter mile to the last E/W road and asked someone about the best parallel route. After all, roads hew to the mile-square grid here.
True, he said, but all the farm roads heading north every mile quickly turn to dirt. He gave me the bad news: I had to head west six miles to find another N/S paved road. That forced me to then backtrack a mile or two east (into the wind) to reach Alma. (This, of course, violates US DOT regulations, which state that limited-access roads must allow bicycles if there is no adjacent alternate route.)
This was my return to my old haunts. Thirty-one years ago during college, I spent one summer vacation living in Alma and working outside Mt. Pleasant. So far, it's a bust - I haven't seen anything that stirred any specific memories. Sure, I vaguely recalled the main drag in Alma, a road that the local teens cruised up and down every Friday night. I also saw a sign for Woodworth Ave, which sounded familiar -- is that the street we lived on? Otherwise I'm drawing a blank. I know that it has been three decades. I was here in a different era, before the freeway bypassed the towns, before the internet and cell phones, before WalMarts proliferated into every corner of the country.
It's ironic, I guess. When I spent the summer here, I sold books (not my own) door-to-door. Now, I hawk books (my own) school-to-library. Has life really come full circle?

7 May 2007: From Frenzied to Friendly

Mt. Pleasant to Cadillac: 64.8 mi; 36 degrees to school, 60s for ride

Talk about a surreal way to start a big day...
With a morning talk scheduled for 8:25, I arranged a wake-up call for 6:40 on the remote chance I would oversleep. Instead, I tossed and turned all night, waking up and immediately falling back asleep many times.
When I finally opened my eyes to check the time, my watch said 7:35. Panicked, I leapt from the bed, threw on my clothes, answered the hour-late wakeup call, and rushed downstairs. I stuffed a few muffins and an apple from the continental breakfast in a bag and biked three miles in near-freezing temps to the school.
My watch showed 8:15 when I got there - my agreed time to arrive. The school was locked and dark, so I had to call their number to get someone to let me in. The person who arranged my talk didn't arrive for another 30 minutes. When she got there, Holly remarked that I had arrived rather early. After all, it was only 7:45!
I have NO idea why my watch was off by an hour. I had set it ahead two hours when I flew in. I'm sure it was right when I left the airport, and the following morning waiting for the museum to open. I could swear I'd turned on the 10:00 news at 10:20 the night before. So am I resetting my watch in my sleep? (That'd be a trick - I have a hard enough time setting it when I'm awake.)
The talk went well (but for a DVD glitch) at the school. The ride to Cadillac excelled -- for the third day running, my biking speed increased, even with the late hills slowing me down. With the exception of one narrow, dusty stretch, the roads were a biker's paradise.
As I get further from the big cities in the south, I'm finding the Michiganders to be a very friendly lot. In Clare, Chuck and Mary asked me all about my trip as I stopped for a protein break, and were extremely grateful when I gave them a book (they reciprocated by giving me Cliff bars and Larabars). A half hour later, in Farwell, three different people stopped to ask about my trip or tell me about the road ahead.
In Cadillac, the Essenmacher family were incredible hosts. I chatted with Vickie and Andrea (who had just graduated from med school) until Doug came home. We then met another Friend of the Library (Rosemary, who first arranged my talk) for dinner as they treated me to Mexican food. After my library talk, they gave me a tour of the scenic town.
The library talk went well, even when we couldn't get the DVD to play. I regaled 22 people with memories of the road, and sold six books to boot That ranks as one of my best talks ever!

8 May 2007: Some Time for Relaxing

Cadillac to Traverse City: 45.3 mi; 65 @ 9:00, up to 75

Another great day, another great host family. Scenery kicked up a notch, so did the hills.
Had a relaxing start to the day, repacking my panniers, still searching for the best way to organize them. Vickie whipped up a fantastic breakfast with eggs, sausage, toast, and berries and cream, then I helped her install a new knob on a door they'd just painted. By the time I hit the road at 9:00, it was already warm, en route to getting hot.
In the early going, I struggled to maintain my speed. Had I worn myself out? No, there was a steady, imperceptible grade. After an hour, actual hills erupted, and I grunted up the worst and screamed down their backsides. I ended with the same average speed I'd been hitting.
I finished at 12:30, and rented a car to drive to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. As always, the NPS site impressed me. At the Lake Michigan overlooks, fog rolling in off the lake made for dramatic vistas, with headlands jutting above the clouds.
My hosts for the night, Yvonne (president of the Cherry Capitol Cycling Club) and Don Cunkle, again made me feel at home. Don - a handy man who restores and gives away broken-down bikes, and who teaches Special Olympic kids to snowboard - took me to the library talk, then over to Mt. Holiday, where Yvonne worked with the mountain biking crowd. In the winter, Mt. Holiday is the local (and non-profit) ski mountain -a solitary bump rising maybe 250 feet, with a chair lift going to the top.

9 May 2007: Answers, Rain, & Kids

Traverse City to Bellaire MI: 11.4 mi in city, 37.5 to Bellaire; rainy morning, partly sunny and 60s on ride

Into every ride, some rain must fall. And if I had to choose one day for it to happen, it would have been today.
The skies opened up while I enjoyed a breakfast of yogurt, oatmeal, and homemade jam on toasted homemade bread. Don and I got wet on our six-mile ride to the bike shop where I got some minor maintenance, but by the time we headed to the school (where Don stayed for my first presentation) it was barely spitting, and when I left school after lunch, the storm had passed.
The kids at Grand Traverse Academy were enthusiastic and receptive. Two great questions came up: "If someone gave you all the money you needed or wanted, would you do this full-time?" & "How much longer will you keep doing this?" (a question I'm certain Sue has thought of asking for years.) After the second presentation, one boy came up to me, looked me up and down, said, "WOW," and walked away to join his class.
The ride: again, hills, but again I ended with the same average speed. (For five days, I've hit 15.0, 15.3, 15.5, 15.3, and 15.3. Talk about consistent. If only I can hit that tomorrow.) I rode several miles on the TART, an exemplary bike trail following the railroad tracks. The trail took me by picturesque Grand Traverse Bay, and later I cycled beside beautiful Torch Lake. (One road had a great Adopt-A-Highway sign: "Bellaire Lions neatify this road".)
In Bellaire, the elementary school's only male teacher hosted me for the night. He took me on a tour of another MI ski mountain, this one a golf resort in warmer seasons. After dinner, we drove around Bellaire Lake, and then came home and conversed about kayaking (something I like more than biking!) and summer camps (Ken worked summers as a bus driver and chef and camps in MI).
At least I now have an explanation for Monday morning. (Don't we all wish we could explain Monday mornings?) When I woke up today, my watch said it was shortly past midnight, 1/1/1985. Obviously, my battery was on its last legs, and in its final act of defiance, moved itself up one hour Monday morning.

10 May 2007: My Feets Didn't Fail Me Now; Neither Did Michiganders

Bellaire to St. Ignace: 83.5 mi; 73 @ noon, 50s at 2:30

Chalk up two more school presentations at the elementary and middle schools in Bellaire. After the first one, a boy came up with a magic marker asking for my autograph. Since he had no paper, I asked where he wanted me to sign. "My hand!"
After partaking of the potluck lunch at the school (it was staff appreciation day), I finally left at 11:25 - and I had to go 80 miles for my 7:00 talk in St. Ignace. If I hit my same average speed with breaks, I'd get there around 6:30 - barring any misfortunes. This is one of the days I'd been stressing over.
My feets (and legs, and arms) didn't fail me. Despite one rough stretch that featured eight back-to-back (-to-back-to-back...) hills, I averaged 16 mph the first 90 minutes to Charlevoix. Then I started going fast. The road hugged the shoreline (i.e., flat), and I found a wonderful bike path squeezed between the road and the water. The temps dropped 15 to 20 degrees as fog seeped in over the water. Even after Petoskey, when I had to rejoin the road, I still barrelled along - two hours at a steady 17 mph. I ended the day with a 16.5 average.
As I rushed into St. Ignace at 6:00, none of the three motels I passed en route to the library had yet opened for the season. Due to my late arrival, I just stopped at the library, changed clothes and washed up in the restroom, and prepared for my talk.
I had a small (seven people, counting the librarian) but enthralled crowd. When I opened it for questions after my talk, one woman asked where I was staying that night. Before you could say 'Michigan hospitality', I had a bed for the night.
Bill and Marian King continued my string of wonderful hosts. Their home was unique: built in 1956, it was constructed with GE's 'Kitchen of the Future', an all-steel unit including the cupboards, fridge, and oven in an integrated design. The rest of the house they'd decorated in a railroad motif - train bath towels, locomotive end tables, train telephones, even clocks that played steam whistles on the hour. For my guest room, I had the choice of Northern Pacific or Santa Fe.
On the stroll to their house, Marian filled me in on the history of the region. (I didn't know St. Ignace was the third oldest European-established city in the country, after St. Augustine FL and Sault Ste. Marie MI.) At home, Bill delighted me with his tales of a bicycle trip he took in the Upper Peninsula (UP) in 1944. Besides black-and-white photos, he had typewritten pages describing his days. Example: "Fish Camp to Trout Lake; 45 miles; start 7:30 a.m., end 9:00 p.m.; 4 flats."

Click here for blog entries from week 2.

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