Day 41: Otter Lake, MI to Marine City, MI

The farm was so quiet that when we turned off the alarm this morning, we fell back to sleep … until Mike got back to shooting his gun around 6:30AM. We put our things away and headed over the kitchen area of Blueberry Lane’s shop to order an enormous, delicious breakfast made by Theresa: buttermilk blueberry pancakes, eggs, and coffee. We also purchased another pint of blueberries, a blueberry cookie, a loaf of bread, and some nuts to serve as our snacks for the day. It was a great, hearty meal for our long day of cycling. Unfortunately, much of the day was spent on busy state roads with fast traffic. 

Yale, Michigan is famous for its bologna festival


We went through a few lively towns, got stuck in conversations with locals who were happy to have a captive audience as we ate lunch or waited for restrooms, and ended the day on a somewhat confusing bike path into Marine City. Marine City is right on the St. Clare river, dividing Michigan from Canada, and eventually leading to the ocean. There’s a beach, a bunch of cute shops, and a lovely Warm Showers host, Cheryl, who welcomed us into her home above the bar/restaurant she owns. There’s another cyclist here, Connor, who is headed in the opposite direction, so we’ve been trading information about places to sleep and eat, roads to avoid, etc. It’s a great place to stay, which is especially fortunate given that we have a couple of good reasons for taking a day off: free lodging, Nick’s birthday, and a bunch of work that Rachel needs to catch up on. So we’re spending Tuesday working/reading in a coffee shop and hanging out on the beach. 

Stats:
today’s distance: 89.2 miles
time in the saddle: 7 hrs, 14 min
total distance: 3,106 miles 

Day 40: Midland, MI to Otter Lake, MI

Dow Chemical’s headquarters in Midland, MI, with influence all over town, such as the school mascot: The Chemics

We woke up refreshed after a full 8 hours of sleep, and headed out of Midland, wrinkling our noses at the (real? imagined?) harsh smells coming from the Dow Chemical headquarters. We listened to new audiobooks as we rode through farmland interspersed with residences, feeling strong with the tailwind pushing us to Bay City. We hoped there would be a natural foods store in this larger town so that we could pick up today’s groceries.

vegan brunch at Heather’s in Bay City


While we didn’t find one in our Internet search, we did find a mostly vegetarian/vegan restaurant that was open for brunch today! So we took a longer break there, enjoying vegan coconut-crusted french toast, a tofu-veggie scramble, and fantastic tofu bacon. We’ve clearly abandoned our usual style of mostly vegan eating on this trip, so any meals like this are a real treat. Right next door was Jack’s Bike Shop, where, though they were closed today, the owner let us in to purchase some supplies.

Michigan bike paths are great!


After struggling to follow the bike path through Bay City (it was mostly sidewalks, sometimes poorly signed), we eventually got out of town and turned into a headwind. The weather was cool with scattered rain throughout the ride, so we kept our rain gear on most of the day. It was challenging riding, especially because we had a goal of reaching Otter Lake to get to a blueberry farm where they serve blueberry pancakes until 6PM each day. 

Blueberry Lane Farms’ many delicious blueberry products


We rode hard, sometimes on country highways, but mostly on well-maintained bike paths, until we reached Blueberry Lane, just in time to purchase two pints of blueberries, a few slices of blueberry pie, a blueberry cookie, and some blueberry lemonade. We were very disappointed to miss the blueberry pancakes, as the store was closing up for the day as we arrived. We sat down to eat the pie at their picnic benches, and the owners, “Blueberry Bob” and Theresa, came over to talk about our ride with us. They informed us that although we had missed the pancakes today, that they would be here at 6AM and would serve us breakfast.

foreground: blueberries! background: our tent!

Then, they told us we were welcome to pitch a tent right here among the blueberry bushes! The regular campground around here is pretty expensive, and would add a few miles to come back for breakfast, so we were thrilled at the offer of a free night’s lodging in such a unique location. They have toilets, potable water, and picnic tables, and it’s nice and quiet here. It’s a lovely place to spend the night. They warned us that their handy-man, Mike, would be shooting to scare away the birds for a bit this evening, and that they would let him know we were here. After he finished shooting for the day, he came over and chatted with us about the blueberry farm, the bird population, his grandchildren, and our ride. It was a good thing he knew that Bob gave us permission, because he’s been known to scare away blueberry thieves with his 12-gauge. 

Stats:
today’s distance: 68.4 miles
time in the saddle: 6 hrs, 12 min
total distance: 3,017 miles 

Day 39: Le Roy, MI to Midland, MI

Michigan goats on a truck cab roof

Today we had ambitious plans of riding over 100 miles to Lake Huron, but we ran out of steam and time. The weather was quite cold and rainy, which is preferable to last week’s heat wave, but still difficult at times. So 86 miles seems good enough to us! After the first 20 miles, we were starving, and happy to come upon a diner where we ordered Breakfast II for under $4 each, plus a nice dose of caffeine in the never-ending coffee cups. We continued riding rolling hills on empty roads, surrounded by old farms and forests, until we eventually reached the Pere Marquette bike path, which was very flat, very straight, and in excellent shape.

surprisingly nice rail trail!

It’s a “rail trail,” or a bike path made from an old rail line, and though these can get boring, it was a nice break after all the hills — especially with the tail wind. We stopped in Farwell, where we were excited to find a farmers’ market, and then disappointed to learn that it was all crafts and no produce. We then stopped in Clare, where an excellent bike shop supplied us with new tires for Rachel’s bike (it turned out that the tread was nearly down to the thread, making the blow-out in Manitowoc much more likely). Then we stopped in Sanford, where the owners of the Tin Roof gave us free ice cream while we surfed the internet and charged our phones, trying to figure out where we would spend the night. We decided on Midland, the first town we’ve seen in this state so far that looks like it has some real wealth — and then we realized that Dow Chemical’s name is all over the town. It is a striking contrast to the last couple of days, but a nice place to spend the night.

Stats:
today’s distance: 85.6 miles
time in saddle: 7 hrs, 17 min
total distance: 2,948 miles 

Day 38: Ludington, MI to Le Roy, MI

near Ludington, MI

We left Claudia’s place with a decent tail wind, heading along the shores of Lake Michigan until we turned eastward to cross our 9th state/province. The views were more beautiful than we had expected out of Michigan, and the route followed rolling hills with roads in varying condition. We encountered very little traffic, and were surrounded by forests and mainly dilapidated farm structures. Eventually it began to rain, and so we cut our ambitious mileage goal down and decided to stop for the night in Le Roy. Although we are trying to limit hotel stays, the motel at the bar in Le Roy was a whopping $30, which was only $4 more than the campground down the road (campgrounds are expensive here!), and the weather did not look good. The motel’s quality was about what you would expect for $30. The sheets looked mostly clean, the carpet was missing some patches, and the bathroom was missing most of its tiling. But it was a roof over our heads, and the bathroom was still preferable over a pit toilet.

free peaches!

After cleaning up in the metallic-smelling shower, we headed next door to the bar for some delicious local beers, nachos, and salad bar, and to use the bar’s wifi so Rachel could work. On our way, we met a man in the parking lot selling peaches — they were awesome. We explained that we could only carry a few on our bikes, so we wouldn’t want one of the large bags of fruit he was selling for $5. He gave us four peaches and would not take a dime for them! The room worked out, despite being woken at 2 in the morning as people cleared out of the bar. 

Stats:
today’s distance: 72 miles
time in saddle: ~6 hours
total distance: 2,863 

Day 37: High Cliff State Park, WI to Ludington, MI

working at the Culture Cafe in Manitowoc, WI

We had a bit of a head wind today, so we we happy that we had a shorter ride due to the ferry ride today. We headed to Manitowoc, where the ferry to Michigan departs, where we found a vegetarian cafe with awesome espresso, the Culture Cafe. It’s in a strip mall on the way into town, but the interior felt like a small, independent shop. The owner was very friendly as he prepared our chili and spicy bean burger. We spent a little bit too much time at the cafe, making our ride to the ferry dock a bit rushed. Of course, if something can go wrong, it will. And it did. About 1/2 mile from the ferry dock, Rachel ran over something that caused a horrible tube blow-out. After unsuccessfully begging for a ride from someone driving a pick-up truck, Nick raced ahead to let the ferry staff know that Rachel was running with her bike as fast as she could to get there. Luckily, a staff member offered to come get the bike in a van, so we were able to make it to the ferry just in time.

Saying goodbye to Wisconsin, and getting coal in our beers on the SS Badger

 

SS Badger

Once we had made it on the SS Badger, we promptly ordered some beers and went out on the deck to wave goodbye to wonderful Wisconsin. Unfortunately, our beers were in plastic cups, which became dusted with coal ash from the SS badger. Yes, the SS Badger is powered by coal. This means a huge smoke stack belches coal ash out into beautiful Lake Michigan and our beers. They replaced our beers after we told them what happened. As for the rest of the ride we blogged, fixed tires, contacted a bike shop in Ludington, ate nachos and ice cream and talked to other passengers about our trip across the USA. 

Nick’s temporary fix for that side-wall puncture of the tire: a dollar bill! The puncture is so huge that you can see the bill clearly.

 

Stepping off the ship in Ludington, MI ran into another cross country cyclist. He started in early July from Seattle and was about to pass us, as he was averaging 100+ miles a day. We only did that kind of mileage for six days, and it has taken us a week to recover.

Warm Showers host, Claudia, in Ludington, MI

We biked just about a mile into town to stay with a Warm Showers host, Claudia, and Nick took a detour over to the bike shop, where the owner had agreed to meet him after hours to get us a replacement tire (the old tire got some large gashes in the tube explosion). Claudia welcomed us into her lovely home, and shared a delicious dinner with us: homemade hummus, tabouli, bread, grilled veggies, and wine. We happily went to sleep in a real bed. 

Stats:

today’s ride: 45ish miles (tech difficulties!)
total distance: 2,863 miles 

Day 36: Tilleda, WI to High Cliff State Park, WI

Wisconsin dairy cows


Today was one of those days that makes this trip, and cycling in general, one of our favorite ways to spend time. We had a light tail-wind, a high of 70 degrees, and blue skies punctuated by a few sweeping clouds. The route took us all on small county roads in good condition, through the last remnants of northern Wisconsin woods and into solidly Central Wisconsin territory: Sandhill cranes, barn quilts, and many dairy farms. We seem to have recovered from pushing so hard before Eagle River, so that the 90-ish mile ride felt relatively easy. 

barn quilt!


 

After the first 20 miles, we were ready for some caffeine and a snack, so we stopped in Showano, WI, where we found the Home Plate Cafe, a very affordable diner where the friendly staff bantered with regular customers. We were happy to get Breakfast II there, and then headed onward with the tailwind. After some more lovely riding, we stopped in Black Creek, WI to enjoy a picnic in the park: the usual banana-peanut butter sandwich, supplemented by goods from the supermarket there — pomegranate juice, yogurt, chips, and frosted animal crackers (Rachel has been craving these for the last several days and finally gave in).

so many cabbage farms


The last 10 miles of the ride were a bit difficult, as they usually are, especially given the difficult climb up into High Cliffs State Park. The park had very nice campsites, and the fee was lower than most campgrounds in Wisconsin, so we were happy to settle in for the evening. 

sandhill cranes


Stats:
today’s distance: 94.8 miles
time in saddle: 8 hrs, 5 min
total distance: 2, 746 miles 

Day 35: Crandon, WI to Tilleda, WI

We miscalculated our route today, thinking we had about 85 miles to do, but it was actually 67.5 miles. That wasn’t too bad though, as we were still feeling a little weak after our insane week of cycling followed by the break in Eagle River. We had a tail-wind most of the day, up and down rolling hills through the woods. We passed several small towns that epitomize Wisconsin: 1 church and 3 bars. When we reached Bowler, WI, we stopped at Bonnie’s Place, a bar with only a few local beers but *very* decent cheese curds. Very few cheese curds can match The Old Fashioned’s in Madison, in our opinion, but these were the second best we’ve ever had. Bonnie’s was in the process of handing out a gun from a gun raffle, so we watched as the owner (presumably Bonnie) and a customer checked to be sure that the gun was properly sighted (we think). After way too many cheese curds and a few beers, we stopped by the convenience store/grocery store for some dinner supplies and biked the last five miles to Tilleda, where we stayed at a private campground by Tilleda Falls.

Stats:
today’s distance: 67.5 miles
time in the saddle: 5 hrs, 40 min
total distance: 2,651 miles