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Michigan Upper Peninsula Ride 2015

written by Chuck Bash

I have been asked to write about my summer vacation; no really about the multiple day bike rides I did this summer, 2015. Marilyn Bash and I did three multiple day bike rides of the League of Michigan Bicyclists this past summer, 2015.

The second was in July, MUP, which stands for Michigan Upper Peninsula. It is a seven day loop tour in the eastern end of the UP. Because we have done each of the past 5 years, and likely will do it again in 2016, I will fluctuate between past and present tense.

We did the first MUP in 2002, when it stood for Middle da UP; but recently it has been strictly in the east end. We have done the last five MUP’s; in 2011 & 2012 it went counterclockwise, but the last three years clockwise, which we prefer. The overnight stays have been the same all five years, just the order changed.

Recently the play Escanaba in da Moonlight was done at Huntington University. We saw the movie in Escanaba on that first MUP in 2002, less than two years after the movie was made; we were so ahead of the curve culturally, if Escanaba in da Moonlight can be considered culture. At the showing of the movie the Mayor of Escanaba and the President of the Escanaba Chamber of Commerce both were there to greet us, cyclists, as we entered the movie theater and speak to us about their town. How cool, Marilyn & I enjoyed the movie; some of our friends walked out in the middle, they could not handle UP culture. People who live in the UP are Yooper’s; people who live in the Lower Peninsula are Trolls, since they live under the bridge. The State Bird of the UP is the black fly. One scene in Escanaba in da Moonlight is quite reminiscent of a scene in Blazing Saddles, regarding beans.

The first two nights of the current MUP are in St. Ignace, just the other side of the bridge; so really it is not necessary to arrive Saturday, the first night, since the tour remains in St. Ignace for the second night also. Some get motel rooms in St. Ignace, and we are considering such for next year, but most riders camp outside, or in, the Little Bear East Recreational Area; Recreational Area, in the UP that is code for hockey rink. A few tents were set up on the floor of the rink, some sleeping bags were just laid on the floor, but most set up their tent outside, the weather prediction for the first two nights was pretty good this year.

The Little Bear East Recreational Area is just a few hundred feet from the Museum of Ojibwa Culture, which Marilyn & I toured several years ago.

Most riders get discounted boat tickets to Mackinac Island for the first day, Sunday. Some do not, and ride a 30 mile loop on the mainland. Most get boat tickets for their bikes as well, and ride the island, like so many tourists; but Marilyn and I have gone to the island all five years, but without our bikes, just walked, we get enough riding the rest of the week. This year we and two friends from New Haven took a carriage tour of the island, which included a switch of carriages to tour the State Park on the island, which was originally a National Park, but turned over to Michigan. We got off the tour at the Grand Hotel, paid $10 each to go inside, then paid an additional $37 each for the buffet lunch; lunch costs $47 each, but we got credit for our entrance fee. I would not do that often, but it was worth it for one meal. For an all you can eat buffet lunch it was quite fancy. All of the servers were dark skinned; I did not see any dark skinned guests. From the accents of servers I doubt they were African-American, probably African, they seemed to speak English with an English accent. I felt a bit uneasy with the racial disparity, I had to fight the urge to stand up and yell to the servers to throw off their chains, slave owners lost the war over slavery 150 years ago; but I expect most of the servers were very glad to be in North America instead of Africa, hopefully earning a decent wage. Speaking of wage, I left a tip, which I later found out is against the rules; tips are not permitted at the Grand Hotel; another aspect of that Grand atmosphere they are trying to maintain.

Ridership on MUP is limited to 175, and it has filled early the past few years. We have done it on our tandem several times, but this year we took our singles. There were 5 of us from this area; Katie was registered as a non-rider, drove her truck and as private sag for her partner, Chris. Katie also drove Marilyn at least part way each day that Chris, Greg & I rode. We are feed 7 breakfasts, one each morning by a local group where we are camping. We are feed dinner 4 nights, not in St. Ignace, nor our second night in Sault St. Marie; we are expected those nights to be able to find local restaurants.

The second day, Monday, we rode to Newberry, population 2,579, for our only night not close to one of the Great Lakes. The ride to Newberry for Chris, Greg & I was 68 miles, the longest day of MUP, much of it up hill, since we started near Lake Huron and ended inland. We are fed lunch by a local group at a park, since there is little opportunity to buy food on that day’s route. We got quite a bit of rain the second half of that day’s ride, so Marilyn did not ride, but stayed with Katie and her truck. We camped that night outside the Newberry School, right “downtown.” Newberry is the Moose Capital of Michigan, but they must not have been in session, we did not see any.

The third day, second riding, we rode down to Paradise, located on Lake Superior, the only Paradise I expect to see. Along the way we ride past Upper & Lower Tahquamenon Falls State Park. Upper has a restaurant, microbrewery, and gift shop. Probably the only microbrewery in a state park in the US; in Indiana State Parks I don’t think you are allowed to drink. Marilyn & I are not drinkers, but some friends who were on MUP with us a couple of years ago tried their tasting selection, a tiny glass of each beer available that day, and said they were good. We do eat lunch in the restaurant; do a little viewing of the falls until the restaurant opens. At the bottom of the hill the route turns left, towards Whitefish Point Lighthouse, and its shipwreck museum. Whitefish Point is known as the Graveyard of Ships, as more boats have been lost there than in any other part of Lake Superior. The Edmond Fitzgerald went down off Whitefish Point. Marilyn & I toured the museum in 2011, but not since. In 2011, as we were watching the video on the Edmond Fitzgerald, the power flickered, very spooky. The Edmond Fitzgerald was the last big ship lost on Lake Superior; since then the big ships have all gotten better radios, radar, sonar, weather reports that are more accurate, and GPS.

We usually turn right at the bottom, in Paradise, and shave 22 miles off the route, since it goes 11 miles out to Whitefish Point and returns; we spend the night camped outside of Whitefish Township School. The school has about 40 students, grades kindergarten through Senior, thus about 3 students per grade. The latest senior pictures I remember on the wall showed just two girls, no boys. We are not allowed to use the flush toilets in the school, 175 bicyclists would overwhelm the system; so there are about 10 porta johns just outside the school. We do use their showers, 3 each in the boys & girls bathrooms. We eat dinner that night & breakfast the next morning in their cafeteria, which is also the school gym and auditorium. On one end of the basketball court is the kitchen; the short wall/serving area is padded, the padding covering the court end line. The other end is the short wall to the stage, also padded, the padding covering the end line. Fans sit on the stage. The chairs for the teams and coaches encroach on the court, since the side lines are so close to the side walls. The free throw circles nearly overlap the center circle. I have played on playground courts that are larger. Their basketball team is co-ed, not enough boys or girls for separate teams. For dinner the evening we arrive in Paradise we are fed pasties, a UP specialty, meat pies that in early days were prepared for the miners to take with them to work down in the mines. They last for a long time with no refrigeration needed. The Paradise group that feeds us can begin making them for 175 bicyclists a week before we get there. It may be the only chance to get veggie pasties, a concession made for bikies, many of whom are vegetarian or eat little meat during a ride.

The third day of riding we go along the Lake Superior shore to Sault Ste Marie. Along the way we stop at a sag on the grounds of the Point Iroquois Light Station, a light house built in 1870, which provides visitors an opportunity to climb the 65 foot tower for a fine view of Lake Superior, in case the 57.7 mile ride is not sufficient exercise. Sag stops are typically a spot where a volunteer has water, probably a sport drink such as Gatorade, and perhaps some snacks, cookies, bananas, etc., plus, hopefully, access to rest room facilities or porta johns hired by the ride sponsor. The Point Iroquois Light Station is a first rate sag.

The Native American group in the UP is the Ojibwa, a peaceful tribe who rarely ventured out of the UP, nor fought anyone. The story as told me is they called the area of the current light house something that roughly translates to Iroquois Ground. The early Europeans in the area thought it sweet the Ojibwa respected the Iroquois enough to call the area Iroquois Ground, so named the area Point Iroquois. The Iroquois were a powerful group from the Ontario and New York area, who tended to roam widely, attacking other groups, killing men and taking women and children as slaves. Years after the Europeans named the area Point Iroquois some of the locals finally admitted to the source of their name for the area. Before the coming of Europeans an Ojibwa hunter saw a raiding party of Iroquois coming along the Lake Superior shore by canoes. He ran back to his village to warn. A following night, while the Iroquois warriors were camped at what is now Point Iroquois, the peaceful Ojibwa village quietly descended upon the Iroquois camp, killing all of the warriors in their sleep, but one. The next morning the one left alive was “permitted” to bury all of his comrades in a shallow grave, given one canoe, and told to return to the Iroquois and tell them what had happened and to never return. So the area became known as Iroquois Ground, but not out of respect. We still call it Point Iroquois, and the light house is the Point Iroquois Light Station. I found a slightly different version, but nearly the same, on the Internet, which said the battle occurred in 1662, over 350 years ago, that there are some minor differences in the story is quite expected.

Further along the Lake Superior shore that day the riders have the opportunity to stop at the Dancing Crane Coffee House, to purchase drinks or burgers. The Dancing Crane is run by a lady I expect to be a Hippie from the 1960’s, running this coffee shop in the UP. She seems to be doing a good business, even without 175 bicyclists riding by her shop that Wednesday. Marilyn & I each usually get a fruit smoothie and a veggie burger grilled by a Native American about the age of the Hippie who owns the shop; I speculate that she and he are more than employer and employee, but I have no evidence. Marilyn & I are not coffee drinkers, but we hear others ordering some unusual sounding coffee drinks. The griller keeps track of lots of notes of what burgers he is to make and does a very good job with all sorts of burgers.

We end that day on the grounds of Lake Superior State University, which is in Sault Ste Marie, Michigan. LSSU oddly enough does not appear to me to have a view of Lake Superior, but rather the St Mary’s River. Not our St Mary’s River, but rather the one that drains Lake Superior to Lake Huron. LSSU has extremely nice accommodations, a tremendous change from Paradise. We camp within sight of the International Bridge between Sault Ste Marie, Michigan and Sault Ste Marie, Ontario. It is lite much of the night, the US half in red, white & blue; the Canadian half in red & white, very petty.

We spend two nights in Sault Ste Marie, so have a layover day. In odd numbered years we typically take a boat cruise through the locks, upstream through a US lock, downstream through the Canadian lock. Recently for a doctor’s appointment I was asked if I had been outside of the country within the past year, I said no, then quickly corrected myself and admitted I had been to Canada, but had not stepped foot on Canadian soil, just been through the Canadian lock and on the Canadian side of the Saint Mary’s, she did not think that presented a problem.

Bicyclists are permitted to ride across the International Bridge, and one year we had our passports with us so that we could have ridden over and been able to get back into the US, but we did not go. We were told riding to Canada was easy, but ridding back into the US was a bitch, possibly a long wait behind cars trying to get through US Customs. We were warned not to joke with Customs; one year a cyclist was asked if he had any outstanding arrest warrants, he replied none he knew of. He regretted that answer for the next few hours.

An interesting structure running through Sault Ste Marie, Michigan, is a man-made channel, diverting some water from upstream of the rapids to downstream. It causes part of the town to be an island. The water in the channel remains at nearly the elevation of Lake Superior, falling very little, until it reaches a power plant just as it is about to re-enter the Saint Mary’s River; so nearly all of the drop for that stream of the St Mary’s is used to generate electricity for the town of Sault Ste Marie, Michigan. So the water has three routes to lose elevation as it flows between the two towns of Sault Ste Marie; over the rapids; through one of the locks when it is operated; or through the man made channel to generate electricity. I doubt if such a channel could be built today, because of the permits that would be required.

The two towns of Sault Ste Marie are quite different. The Ontario town is much larger, more industrial, less clean, with little of interest to tourists other than the Canadian Heritage Bushplane Museum. The Michigan town is mostly a tourist village, lots to see and do, lots of interesting stores and restaurants, lots of motels. We are fed both breakfasts and dinner our first night in Sault Ste Marie in the cafeteria of Lake Superior State University as part of our registration for MUP. The second night in town we are expected to find our own dinner. This year we ate at Karl’s Cuisine Café & Winery with the other 3 people from Fort Wayne or New Haven. Several of us ordered White Fish, which seems to be an obvious choice when in the UP. The very nice, but new, waitress got one order confused and brought Chris a salmon dinner instead of white fish; Chris was not pleased and refused it, so the waitress started to take it back, but since I often order salmon I stopped her and told her to give Chris my white fish and give me the salmon. Great move, probably the best tasting salmon I have ever had; next year I will vote for Karl’s for dinner and order the salmon.

The day after our second night in Sault Ste Marie we ride to DeTour Village, at the mouth of the Saint Mary’s River, where it flows into Lake Huron. Along the way we are fed lunch by a local community group, since there are few restaurants along the route. We do pass just a mile away from the site where the horses from Mackinac Island winter, if we want to detour and visit, but we have not. DeTour is the turning point, where French voyageurs turned their canoes, and later ships turned sharply from the river to head for Mackinac and the straits.

The final day we ride back to St. Ignace and our car.