We have almost finished our 5-day ride across Michigan, the seventh state on our route. In two days, we’ll be in Canada, and in less than four weeks, we will be on the coast of Maine. Today is a mundane day: making reservations in Canada, sorting through our photos; this post is being written in a laundromat – not as inspirational a place as a brewery, but still a necessity for us after not having access to a washing machine in almost 2 weeks.
We closed out our Wisconsin time with rides from Amherst Junction to the aptly named and beautiful High Cliffs State Park high above Lake Winnebago, and then the final 43 miles to Manitowac, on the western shore of Lake Michigan.
I spoke with a woman who was selling her home in Rural and moving full time to Florida. She is asking $390,000 for her beautiful house on 2.5 acres of land, and all her neighbors have been telling her she’s priced the house way too high. When I told her a similar house in the Bay Area would sell for 5-10 times that amount, she almost fell over.
As I was cycling away from Rural, I realized that much of the joy I’ve gotten from this bike trip has come from the chance interactions like the one I had with the guys in Rural. or in small businesses along the route. On the way toward High Cliffs, I passed several mom and pop cheese factories – including this nondescript one that made a marvelous 5 year old cheddar.
The day’s route descended consistently toward Lake Winnebago, the largest lake in Michigan.
I’m sure the famous Winnebago motor homes are – or were – built near here. Parts of the eastern shore of Lake Winnebago consist of sheer limestone cliffs, and our campsite at High Cliffs State Park was set right on top of one of them.
The sunset view from the cliffs was breathtaking- with storm clouds building up to the west.
The ferry company has a crew of folks who are amazingly skilled at maneuvering all sorts of vehicles onto the Badger, so that there is hardly a square inch on the car deck that isn’t covered by a vehicle. We held our breaths as we watched a true professional back our beloved trailer onto the boat.
We had considered a detour to Sheboygan to eat a famous Sheboygan sausage (my go-to meal at Giants’ games at ATT Park) at the source, but the extra 40 miles were not worth the effort. So … close, but no Sheboygan.
We had arranged a lunchtime rendezvous with Wendy’s girlhood friend, Laurie Nixon and her husband Rich. They had visited the Bay Area a few years ago, and it was great to see these wonderful folks again. They waved us goodbye as the Badger fired up its belching coal-fired boilers and headed east to Michigan.
Apparently, this is a uplifting ritual for each arrival of the Badger.
The 65 miles across Lake Michigan on the Badger were the easiest miles of the entire trip!
In Ludington, we grabbed dinner and headed a few miles north to Ludington State Park, set just behind the dunes that front the lake. My preconception of Lake Michigan as a murky, cold, and uninviting body of water was blown apart the next day, when Wendy and I headed to the soft sands of the beach and the clear and warm (sort of) water for a swim. I had no idea. The Lake Michigan shore reminded me of Cape Cod, eastern Long Island, Cape Hatteras, and other stretches of Atlantic shoreline – with dunes, dune grasses and forests all coming together in a lovely way. None of this was a revelation for Wendy, but it was for me. Several people we talked with made us promise not to reveal the secret of Michigan and its many wonderful attributes. We told them that as Californians, we had a duty to out the state and encourage everyone to visit.
The day after we arrived, Wendy and I went back to Ludington to explore a bit. The place seems to be a great town with a vibrant downtown and friendly people. We were lucky to be there for the weekly Friday night live street fair and Farmer’s Market. I finally got a long overdue haircut at that great American institution, the Main Street barbershop. We were both very taken with Ludington.
That night, Saturday August 28, on the strong recommendation of Mark and Sue Adams (friends of our San Francisco friends, Darla and Richard), we decided to try against all odds to get a campsite at the Lake Michigan Recreation Area, 23 miles north of Ludington. Campgrounds at LMRA are fully booked 6 months in advance, but, lo and behold, the touring gods were with us again. Ron and Bertha, the gracious and generous campground hosts, invited us to share their large site, hooked us up with electricity (at a non-electric campground), and generally took us under their wings. How can you ever forget those small kindnesses?
On Sunday, Mark and Sue (now our Michigan gurus) joined us at LMRA. They have been coming there for years and knew all of the required rituals, like the obligatory trek to the dunes to watch the sunset. The next day was Mark’s birthday, so we were able to enjoy the best blueberry pie EVER, baked by Sue.
The following day, all of us headed east. Mark and I rode 72 great miles to the town of Hersey, on the banks of the Muskegon River. On the way, we stopped for an enormous rib birthday lunch for Mark. We also stopped to explore the now decaying and largely abandoned but formerly thriving town of Idlewild, which has a totally unique history.
In the 1950’s and 1960’s, black leaders from Chicago and Detroit established Idlewild as a summer home community – this during a time when almost none of the many summer home communities would permit black Americans to buy a home. In its heyday, Idlewild had such notable summer residents as Louis Armstrong, who owned this lakefront compound. The greatest bands of the era, including Duke Ellington’s and Count Basie’s, played the dance palaces of Idlewild. The town’s history says a lot about the American Dream and the horrible Jim Crow era that extended well into the 1960s.
Part of the ride to Hersey was on the Pere Marquette Rail Trail. This 100+ mile trail (which I eventually rode end-to-end) is unpaved for approximately 20 miles, but the rest, eastward from Hersey, is very nicely paved. These rail trails are an absolutely wonderful thing.
On Monday, Wendy and I said goodbye to Mark and Sue and continued eastward for 63 miles to a campground in the woods near Sanford.
Before we left Hersey, we had a visit by the gregarious mayor of the town, Robin Marvel, who had been told about our trip by the campground hosts. Apparently, we were big news in Hersey, which is a lovely town perfectly situated for a stop along the Pere Marquette trail.
Interpretation on the Pere Marquette Trail described the days of logging and rafting logs to be floated on the various rivers to sawmills downriver. We stopped for coffee and a chat with some thoughtful and warm folks in Evert. A while after Wendy turned around to return to get the van and trailer, I stopped for a beer break in Clare, as the sky grew ever darker. I asked the server if she thought I should wait out the passing storm. She said she thought I should try and outrun it, which I did with just scattered raindrops hitting me. But my threatening sky was nothing compared with the one Wendy faced as she returned to Hersey.
Yesterday was not a particularly special day of cycling. Wendy and I rode together to Midland for a delicious Japanese lunch, in a restaurant on the ground level of one of Dow Chemical’s many office buildings in Midland. In fact, Midland seems like a modern-day company town.
From Midland, I turned southeast and rode another 62 miles to Otter Lake, our current campsite, where this edition of the blog will be posted soon. The ride was not noteworthy, though there is always some quirky fun to be found on almost any road.
Toward the end of the cycling day, I experienced another kind gesture, this one from some guys repairing farm equipment around 20 miles away from here. I had run out of water, and stopped to ask if I could fill my water bottles in their shop. Not only did they offer me cold water, they insisted that I top off the bottles with ice.
Tomorrow, we will ride to St Clair, MI; and the day after tomorrow, we will enter Canada at Marine City-Sombra.
It was really wonderful to see my middle school friend Laurie and her husband Rich in Manitowac! We enjoyed a too brief lunch and then it was fun to have them see us off on the SS Badger. We hope that our paths may cross again on our return trip back to California (our route still TBD).
The 4 hour cruise on the SS Badger was lovely – warm, sunny, really enjoyable to be out on the deck. I had forgotten how the Great Lakes are each so big that they look like the ocean!
It felt crazy to us Californians to have fresh water in what looks like the ocean. After swimming in Lake Michigan, there was no need to rinse off. I also loved the sand dunes – reminiscent of my family childhood trips to Indiana Dunes.
At Lake Michigan Recreation Area, we were really surprised to see how the dunes supported an ecosystem beyond just dune grasses (but then again, Golden Gate Park in San Francisco is all on dunes).
We have continued to enjoy the conversations with people who voted for Trump.These connections often come up when we stop for lunch or a snack, or ask someone to take a photo of the two of us. After Laura took our photos at Lake Michigan, we enjoyed talking with her and her husband, Mike.
They identified themselves as a “divided couple” – she votes Democrat and voted for Clinton; he votes Republican and voted for Trump (not because he likes Trump – he feels that the Republicans have the correct approach – and he definitely did not like Clinton). Laura is a teacher with many Muslim students who are very frightened in our country with the Trump administration.
We experienced our first (and we hope only) sketchy campground at Black Creek State Campground just outside of Sanford, MI. It was mostly empty and there were a couple of sketchy characters, one who seemed like he was on drugs, roaming through the campground. This was the only place where we did not feel safe leaving the van and trailer while we both cycled – so we moved our rig elsewhere and then cycled.
The terrain has become more varied in eastern Wisconsin and Michigan – with forests re-entering the picture and orchards for the first time. It’s interesting to see fruit orchards and forests juxtaposed with crops.
We continue to LOVE our trailer (despite having to tape the screens on at each camp) – and have no interest in staying in hotels or AirBnBs.
We have been so lucky with weather. Southern Wisconsin had flooding from drenching rainstorms – luckily our route missed that!