Wild Yet Simple Times of the Road
Live from the top of Michigan in Copper Harbor, this is Ryan, bringing you the next description of the Great Lakes Great Stories bicycle trip around Lake Superior.
We last left off explaining our journey in Nipigon, Ontario. We had pushed through the day to arrive to the Nipigon Post Office to retrieve our package (or “parcel” as they say in Canada) by 4:45 p.m. before they closed. However, when we arrived, they said it wasn’t there. I looked at the packing slip and it said we sent our care package to Terrace Bay… back where we started the day. We all somehow managed to be on the same wavelength and mess up our package location. After eating some food and making some calls, we came up with some solutions.
Based on an insider note from a local resident, we went and camped down at the marina on the Nipigon River (for free!). I got a local history lesson from that person about what their life was like growing up in the wild town of Nipigon. What a character!
We woke up the next morning and headed towards the thunderous Thunder Bay, Ontario. The ride was relatively calm until we rode up to the city and, as the name suggests, a booming crack of thunder sounded and the skies opened up. Navigating a new city by bicycle with no map or GPS in a downpour makes for an interesting time. It doesn’t help that the drivers in Thunder Bay aren’t too fond of bicyclists.
We found our way eventually and stopped at a local gear shop to restock some of our gear and then headed to Community Spokes Bike Coop on Lakehead University’s campus. This bike shop was the location of our story recording event. After we changed out of our drenched gear and into our warm clothing, we were able to learn about the inner workings of Community Spokes and how they fulfill a unique need in the Thunder Bay community with both of their locations. Ian and Mike (along with the help of many volunteers) run a rad business! We listened to some rich and vibrant stories from some amazing individuals, too. They were insightful and involved topics of farming, sustainability, living off the grid, Lake Superior, bicycling, and more. We’ll be sharing those stories with you all soon.
After we finished our event, we packed up and hopped on our bikes to follow Mike through the damp city to his home for the evening. On our way, we stopped along a river where a body of a First Nations teenager had been found earlier that week and a memorial had just been placed. Unfortunately and ironically, a poster for another First Nations teenager was posted on the telephone pole just across the river from that memorial. Later that week we got a message from Mike saying that the teenager had been identified and was killed in the same area. You’ll have to listen to Mike’s recording to understand more of the issues that First Nations people face in the Thunder Bay community.
From Thunder Bay, we turned south towards the U.S. The ride was calm and the border crossing was alarmingly quick. All three of us were through in less than a few minutes! Once we got into Minnesota, the weather got weird. We climbed hills, went through tunnels and enjoyed the beautiful paved bike paths. However, the cold and rain eventually got to us. We tried our best to stay warm and dry but not much worked. We stopped at a gas station in Grand Marais to warm up with coffee and make a decision whether or not to push on or stay in Grand Marais. I was getting full body shakes, couldn’t feel below my waist, and my limbs were white and purple. We called around for a hotel room and found a place to stay because we didn’t want to continue to be miserable in the cold and camp in the rain before riding in the rain again the next day.
After a much needed night in the hotel, we were set to leave by 6 a.m. from Grand Marais and make up our lost mileage. The day to Duluth was about 113 miles. When we left the hotel, it was 40 degrees with pouring rain, not quite ideal conditions for riding. About 20 miles down the road, we had to make an emergency stop at another gas station. This time Dylan and I were both showing warning signs of possible hypothermia. This was our lowest point as a group that day.
We worked through the situation and purchased more gloves, hot coffee, tin foil to wrap our feet, and as many hand and feet warmers as we could. We were not going to be taken out by a storm. While we were preparing to head back out, the cashier mentioned that we were lucky to have left Grand Marais so early because it was snowing there now…
The day into Duluth slowly became less dramatic. We approached the beautiful city with sunshine in the sky and warm limbs. We hosted our event at the Zeitgeist Arts Café and got to bed early that night. What a day in Minnesota with the GLGS crew.
After Duluth, we had a much shorter day (only about 67 miles this time) to Cornucopia, Wisconsin. Crossing the bridge from Minnesota to Wisconsin was interesting and not graceful. Just imagine three college kids on bikes going onto the wrong ramp and then realizing it by lifting their loaded bikes over the fence to the sidewalk. Yeah, we messed up, and we made sure to get some weird footage of it.
On the way to Cornucopia, we were stopped by our friend Neal as he was headed towards Lutsen for a 50K ultramarathon. He pulled up as we were in the ditch about to eat lunch. Seeing Neal was a great morale booster because he was full of energy and it made us feel much closer to our end point by seeing someone we knew from Marquette.
In Cornucopia, we planned to camp on the land of Nancy Langston, an environmental historian and professor at Michigan Technological University. Her hospitality and planning were superb. She provided fresh whitefish and invited all of her neighbors from her area to bring food as well. We were stuffed with food, laughter, and stories of Lake Superior. Her care was incredible!
As a side note, my mom and family friends also met us at Nancy’s cabin. One of my family friends had gone to school at Northland College in nearby Ashland, Wisconsin. They planned to come to Cornucopia to show their kids the area and also support our bike trip. It was a nice surprise to have cookies and support from back home during the journey.
In another surprise, two of the three runners from the group “Our Shores” showed up at Nancy’s place. “Our Shores” is composed of three superhumans who ran around Lake Superior last summer. Their names are Evan, Allissa, and Andy. They are just as funky and cool as they sound. These three have been extremely helpful with a lot of logistics about our trip and we’ve created a fun friendship over the lake. Evan and Allissa stopped by Nancy’s place on their way from Ashland to Lutsen where they were headed to support Andy who would be running in the same ultramarathon as Neal. Small world.
We set out the next day to reach Hurley, Wisconsin. We were lucky enough to have Olivia’s parents meet us there and get us another hotel room (we were starting to feel fancy now with so many hotel rooms). After they took us out to a great restaurant, we hit the hay early for our ride to Ontonagon the next day.
Riding to Ontonagon was simply gorgeous. Although it was drizzly, for the first time in a long time, we didn’t have to ride on the highway. We took backroads through the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park and loved every minute of it. With all of the rain lately, everything was saturated and the rivers were much louder than usual. The sights and sounds (and mosquitos) were unreal!
Along the way, my dad rolled up! I knew we were planning to meet my mom and dad again in Ontonagon to camp that night, but I didn’t expect to see him along the way. I was surprised but then remembered that he had been coming from Duluth. After he shared his leftover pizza with us for lunch and gave us more water, we flew through the rest of the Porkies and headed for the campsite. We were welcomed by my parents with warm food, a roaring fire, and a site next to Lake Superior for our tent. After surviving primarily on oatmeal and pasta by ourselves for the first half of the trip, we felt like we were in luxury with so much hospitality and love lately.
Life is simple on the road and I recognize that. Each day we eat, ride our bikes, eat some more, ride some more, record great stories, eat again, and sleep. If that’s all I have to do for 1,400 miles, I’m content with it. After all, it’s all for the love of the lake.
~Ryan (Ry Guy)
East Coast Surprises
Bulldozers and forklifts were our alarm clock in Sault St. Marie, Canada. Apparently there was some very time sensitive construction in the back lots of Michael's that just couldn't wait until after 5 a.m. But lucky for us, we were able to have a solid breakfast before our ride to Montreal River Harbor and although we were tired, our spirits were high. The ride to Montreal River Harbor was relatively easy with a few long climbs that provided stunning views of the east side of Superior. During one of our rest stops, we talked to a man hitchhiking across Canada. We never got his name but he was just one of a few of the interesting characters we met that day. When we arrived at Twilight Resort in Montreal River Harbor, we were greeted by some eager individuals who were watching our GPS Spot Tracker and had an enlightening conversation with two former Central Michigan University professors regarding the east coast of Superior and the stories they have gathered in the 40 years they have been exploring the area.
The next day we rode to Wawa, Ontario. I think I am speaking for the whole group when I say that the ride from Montreal River Harbor to Wawa was the best leg of the journey so far. Aaron Peterson, a local filmmaker, director of the Fresh Coast Film Festival, and solid friend to us all, had told us about the hills on the east side of Superior and boy was he right! One of the amazing things we saw that day were the pictographs drawn by the Ojibwe people nearly 400 years ago. I viewed those images as a testament to the power of Superior and it's connection between different cultures and generations. I also managed to leave my phone in the Lake Superior Provincial Park office and didn't realize my mistake until we were 30 miles down the road, more on that later. We were lucky enough to have an amazing contact in Wawa by the name of Joel Cooper. Joel helped organize our conversation with environmentalists, park rangers, biologists, historians, and lovers of the lake. One of those people Joel invited also happened to work for Lake Superior Provincial Park and was able to bring my phone back to me! Needless to say, Joel really saved the day by inviting the people he did. We got to spend the night in the spectacular Rock Island Lodge at Naturally Superior Outfitters and experience the beauty of the easternmost point of Superior.
The next day saw us ride from Wawa to the Pic Mobert First Nation. The day started off with chaos when were were trying to track down a care package that we had sent to ourselves for when we were in Wawa. We were saved by Joel yet again when he managed to find the package while we were buying groceries to replace what we assumed to be a lost care package. We can’t thank Joel enough for all of his help!
The ride itself to the Pic Mobert First Nation was boring. We rode away from the lake on the Trans Canadian Highway and ran into some rain just after White River, the birthplace of Winnie the Pooh. We were greeted with hotdogs and warm smiles at the Pic Mobert reservation and were able to have some very deep, personal, and moving conversations with some of the tribe members. They were even gracious enough to let us stay in their guest house and provided us with food for the next day. This was such a special stop and one I will cherish forever.
From Pic Mobert we headed west towards Terrace Bay. The day was very uneventful except for what seemed like the climb that would never end that led us to Terrace Bay. It felt like every turn we made, the road went longer and steeper. We eventually made it to town and camped on the city beach with Superior watching over us. Little did we know that as we were hunkering in for the night, another care package we sent to ourselves was waiting for us in the Terrace Bay post office. It was not being sent to the next town, Nipigon, like we had led ourselves to believe!
The first part of the Canadian section was beautiful and challenging with many great conversations and people. It made us extremely eager to see what else northern Ontario had to offer!
Live from Sault St. Marie Canada, I, Olivia, bring you the first official Great Lakes Great Stories update! As I type this, Ryan is going over our first story recording and Dylan is taking the first shower of the trip. Tonight we are staying at Vélorution, a bike shop with a camping area and bathroom specifically for people bike touring. We hosted our first story recording event this afternoon and had the pleasure of meeting the owner of Vélorution and got to hear just a few of his stories about Lake Superior.
Leaving Marquette on Monday was surreal. We’ve been planning this trip since October so it seemed like the day to leave would never come. A special thanks to the few close friends that sent us off from the Ore Dock. We covered 92 miles into Grand Marais through the beautiful northern woods we love so much. Dylan is convinced that Grand Marais is a movie set since we didn’t actually see another living person there. Our campsite was in an RV park where we had the option to pay extra for cable. However, we were right on Lake Superior for an amazing sunset and sunrise (see Instagram for the picture I took of Ryan eating breakfast, I’m pretty proud of it). Ryan made the best dinner possible with a camp stove that first night. Dylan’s sleeping pad deflated in the middle of the night so there was quickly three people on two sleeping pads. The patching of Dylan’s sleeping pad is still a work in progress, because, like everything else, it has to be jerry-rigged.
On Tuesday, our 5:00 am wake up time rolled around much too soon and we begin another 92 mile day for Paradise. I personally saw some great water fowl on the ride towards Newberry but the boys are really holding out for a moose. At our stop in Newberry, a man approached us about our bikes and told us that he read in the paper that three Northern students were biking around the lake, which was us. We got to stop at Tahquamenon Falls – which Dylan promised for about 20 miles was “just ahead”. None the less, we got to avoid gravel and M-28 by taking the route past the falls. We rode through Paradise – where we actually saw one other human being – and camped five miles outside of town at a state park near the mouth of the Tahquamenon River. For dinner, we killed our remaining pasta and two blocks of cheese prepared by Chef Ryan.
This morning I thought that I was going to have to be physically removed from my sleeping bag – it was so warm and the outside was so cold but we had to ride 57 miles and get across the border for our first story recording event in Sault St. Marie, Canada. The roads were still empty enough where we could all ride together and talk. During one of our descents, the bug spray flew off the front rack of Dylan’s bike and all of the plastic broke off of it.
Crossing the border into Canada was interesting. For about 100 yards we had to illegally ride on the interstate to get to the toll booth on the American side. Once on the bridge, there was construction where it was closed down to one lane. Dylan got through without any issues but Ryan and I got an experience. The construction man stopped us in the middle of the bridge right in between America and Canada and we stood there as a line of cars formed behind us and semis whizzed past us the other way and shook the entire bridge. When we were allowed to go, we got to set the pace for the line of cars behind us. On the final stretch of the bridge, Ryan’s Nalgene somehow shot out from my front rack. RIP blue Nalgene somewhere on the international bridge.
At customs, Dylan got asked maybe three questions and was let into Canada. The guy at my booth asked me why I wasn’t a physiology major since I liked biking, where I was staying in Canada, and how much money I had. He asked me long I had known Ryan for and when I said “two years”, he replied with “Hmmmm, stable”. So now a Canadian Border Patrol agent thinks Ryan and I have been dating for two years.
But, we finally got to Vélorution and met the wonderful staff and set up for our first story recording event. As we began, THE Derek Hall shows up! Derek is the Assistant Vice President of University Marketing and Communications for NMU and the person who got us on the NMU Adventure team, stickers, patches and a logo. It was so nice to see a familiar face after three days of riding. During the event we also realized we needed to get better at our conversions from miles to kilometers if we didn’t want to confuse the friendly Canadians.
After our event, (which I can’t wait to share the recording from) we went out to dinner where I got to eat an entire gluten free pizza—so I am as happy as possible. We grabbed a few more groceries after dinner and have settled in for the night.