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)