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They Let Us Back In

August 22 through 23

Middleport, New York and Rochester, NY

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We got through the border check just fine on the 22nd, and made it through Niagara without too terrible of a crowd on the trail or parkway.  It turns out Monday mornings are a little slow at the Falls.

Of course I have the obligatory pictures obscured by mist from Niagara for proof I was even there…

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And then there was this helpful fellow who endured a grilling by Sallie and me asking a million questions all the while he was supposed to keep and eye on the maintenance co-worker below him tethered to the truck cutting grass off the cliff with a weed wacker. She survived.

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Above the falls, this is the Niagara River.  I think you are supposed to put the barrel in here.

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After Niagara, we started our 90 miles or so on the Erie Canalway Trail (spell-check loves “Canalway”). 

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The trail is mostly composed of crushed stone “fines” that makes for a very rideable surface. 

We camped at Middleport where tents are permitted right on the canal edge, power and picnic tables are supplied along with bathrooms and showers maintained by the city.  These sites appear in several places along the canal system for cyclists, hikers and boaters, who can moor up to the edge and park there for the night.

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These folks are from Buffalo and moored one site over from us during the night.  This boat was recently aquired and a year was spent updating and re-working the wood trim.

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As we approached Rochester and the associated on-going construction detours and resulting confusion, this gentleman appeared out of nowhere and identified himself as a trail ambassador.  He’s a Dave Valvo, a retired engineer from Eastman Kodak and after getting some information from us about our travels, volunteered to take us several miles down the trail through the most confusing part so we could find our way.  In the meantime, we’d cycle a few hundred yards and he’d stop and tell us details about the trail, some of the interesting parts of the canal, and point out a few details he thought we’d like to know about the area.  He spent over an hour with us and couldn’t have come along at a better time or place.  Thank you Mr. Valvo, trail ambassador deluxe!

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(More information about the Erie Canal can be obtained at http://www.cycletheeriecanal.com)

(Mr. Valvo has a web site for his photography at http://www.davevalvo.com)

 

August 17 through 21

Yale, MI; Sambra, Ontario; Port Glasgow, Ontario; Houghton Centre, Ontario; South Cayuga, Ontario;  and just south of Niagara Falls, Ontario

On the 16th we stayed in the Yale Hotel in Yale, Michigan.  It was built in the very early 1900’s.  Our third-floor room was across the hall from a shared bathroom.  The rate was $50, but cyclists get a rate of $35 so spread the word.

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Yes it had one of these staircases:

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Down the street, CJ’s Restaurant opens daily at 7:00am and we were on the doorstep at 6:59.  We had a great breakfast and very much enjoyed the company of the owner, cook, and chief bottle-washer, Sandra.  We finished our very large and generous breakfast only to find the following written on our check:

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After over 900 miles, we finally made it out of Michigan and crossed the St. Clair River into Canada. 

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This afternoon we were setting up our tents at the St. Clair Township Campground in Sombra, Ontario when the caretaker came roaring over on her tractor and told us there was a bad storm coming and it was moving across the river fast.  She offered to throw our tents onto a Gator and get them to a pavilion where we would have some protection. We barely got the rest of our gear under cover and that storm hit fast and hard.  Gosh those Canadians are polite people! 

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We'll just move this for ya!

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Sallie is getting quite fond of pavilion tenting.  There’s no need for a rain fly, the tents fold up nice and dry in the morning, and there’s never a problem with rocks or roots under your bed at night!

As to the politeness of Canadians, here’s some observations:

When there are rumble strips on the shoulder of the road, they strip both sides of the strips so no one is taken by surprise if they drift over and hit the rumbles.  In the U.S., those strips are never identified, so if one drifts and runs over them, they run the risk of overcorrecting and having to deal with that.

Speaking of rumbles, you know those pavement rumbles they put down in the U.S. as one approaches a dangerous intersection or a “T” with a stop sign?  You know, the ones that cause a driver to think the front end of their car just collapsed and they ran over it?  You CANNOT ride a bicycle over these without having your filling fall out.  In Canada, those pavement etchings are very faint.  A car driving over them causes a musical tone that alerts the driver to pay attention.  You can ride a bike over them with no-hands if you want to (do not try that at home please).

Just like in Alberta, we saw no broken glass on the shoulder of the roads.  Are you kidding me?

On the 21st we stopped for second brreakfast at a small cafe in Dunnville that had a sign out front featuring “Chili Toast”.  I couldn’t resist going in as I’ve never had chili toast.  Seeing we were cyclists, the owner/cook insisted he’d fix a proper breakfast for a cyclist – we each were treated to 3 eggs, home fries, bacon, sausage, and a pile of toast that was at least eight slices. The charge for all that? $20 (Canadian).  Cheapest eats of the entire time in Ontario.

The coffe shop talk with the customers and the cook resulted in some speculative answers we had about the controversy over wind energy in Ontario.  We witnessed a lot of yard signs and other indicators that many folks were opposed to wind turbines, meanwhile we saw hundreds of the things up and operating. 

As described by the folks in the cafe, the proliferation of wind turbines is the result of offers to farmers of $50,000 a year for 20 years for each turbine on their property.  Their neighbor may not have enough acreage to support a turbine, and therefore unable to cash in like that.  As a result the neighbor’s property values decrease significantly due to proximity to the turbines and that has caused a significant split in the community.

In such a polite society, this cannot be easy.

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Old meets new

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Lake Erie

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Ontario...elk??

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Look out Canada

Special Note…

August 8

We will be entering Canada tomorrow and re-enter the U.S. in about five or six days.  We’ll be in Ontario and re-enter in Niagara.  This will mean I’ll likely not be able to post during this time, but if I get the opportunity, I will try.

In the meantime, remember Greenbriar?  His travels are completed and he has a particular statement about riding the Northern Tier:

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Going Inland

August 11 through 16

Wolf Lake, MI; Lake George, MI; Bay City, MI; North Branch, MI; and Yale, MI

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Take a good look at this house near Brown City, MI

It was supposed to rain all day and through the night on the 12th so a day of rest was a strategic decision.  Only it didn’t really rain until we set off for Wolf Lake on the 13th.  Then it rained.  That happens sometimes, but we got our rest day in and that may (or may not have been) the recommendation of a doctor or two, so check that off the list.

We FINALLY started our trek eastbound once more moving away from the coast of Lake Michigan after tracing that coast for what seemed like miles that would not end.  Lake Michigan is absolutely beautiful in that part of the country, but it was past time to move on.

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Going inland immediately put us back into farmland and Sallie made the observation that she missed the crops and associated farm activity during our time on the lake.  She observed, “I missed the smell of corn.”

However, as we were enjoying th the U.P. and Lake Michigan, someone came along and harvested all the wheat.  That’s too bad as I wanted to get Sallie a ride in a combine.

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All the wheat is gone...

As so often happens, sometimes multiple times a day, we encounter folks who express genuine interest and curiosity about us with these heavily loaded bicycles.  It’s always fun to watch their expressions when we tell where we are going.  It’s even better when we tell them where we came from.  Today we had two encounters I’ll relate.

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This is Victor Lucas.  He is the Town President of Luther, Michigan, population 318.  We stopped for a mid-morning snack in Luther and he spoke to us as he was leaving the post office.  Victor is retired now, but occasionally teaches ballroom dancing.  Years ago he worked 15 years for Arthur Murray Dance Studios in Chicago.

Victor was so impressed with our adventure, he invited us to his home.  We had to decline, but I gave him the contact information for Adventure Cycling Association as he has plans to offer camping for cyclists at the town park.

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We stopped in LeRoy for lunch and this couple sat near us and immediately engaged us in conversation regarding our journey because they saw the bicycles parked outside.  They are from Grand Rapids and have a summer home not too far from the restaurant.  They call it their “weekend getaway”.  We told a few stories and listened to a few more and had a very nice time visiting with them.  Toward the end of the meal, they collaborated with the wait staff to pick up our check.

About halfway through this trip I began to feel badly about posting some of our less than pleasant encounters so I started making notes about the folks who were extra nice to us and I’ll probably do a post about these at some point, but it is worth mentioning (more than once) that these kinds of positive encounters take place every day, often multiple times a day.  When we got to the campground this afternoon, a fellow from another site stopped by, heard we did 61 miles today, and gave us a high five each, and he’s not yet aware of our whole trip.

There’s a lot to be said about the great encounters we continue to have.  There is so much attention paid to the 24 hour news cycle filled with disastrous stories that we are in danger of losing touch with the fact that people are fundamentally good and very supportive in this country.  Our travel experiences prove this every time we venture out.

On the 15th we stopped for lunch in Frankenmuth for “World Famous” fried chicken from Zehnders.  For some reason when we showed up after riding in the humidity we were not seated at a table with a white linen tablecloth, but the chicken was good.  Frankenmuth is a large tourist attraction for the way they honor their Bavarian roots.

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Frankenmuth was lovely, but Sallie doesn't do well with a lot of tourists, so we didn't hang around.

That night we stayed at a campground outside of North Branch and as the weather was supposed to drop a lot of rain in the evening and through the morning, we were invited to set our tents inside their pavillion.  Rain indeed.  It rained several inches and flood warnings were on until about noon.

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August 5th through 10th

Petosky State Park, MI; Whitewater Township, MI; Suttons Bay, MI; Elberta, MI; and Manistee, MI

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We hit a bit of a snag that’s cost us a couple of days and some miles, but resolutions are forthcoming.  We’ve had some compounding medical issues that resulted in a trip to an emergency room and a subsequent follow-up to a walk-in clinic.  I won’t go into details here as that’s not appropriate for the internet, but as stated, we are confident resolutions are forthcoming, and basically both of us are fine…well that is a subjective opinion, isn’t it?

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2 Months and 3,000+ Miles

For those who are interested in such things, I have some stats for from this ride.  August 9th marked two months that we’ve been eastbound on the Northern Tier (remember we are doing the North Lakes option as well as the Erie Connector).  As of the 9th, we have completed 3,179 miles total. 160 miles of that was associated with our riding the San Juan Islands, so on the NT itself, we topped over 3,000 miles.

When we started the ride, we estimated mileage at something close to 4,500, but that did not include miles in the San Juan Islands.  We have no deadlines so we are quite flexible with our mileage and not having to estimate averages and ETAs is a bonus.  We’ll finish when we get there, so if you ask in the comments, we don’t really know.

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We’ve had no flat tires due to punctures (knocking on some wood here as I say that) to date. I experienced one flat tire that was actually a tube failure at the neck of the valve, so that hardly counts.I rotated tires on both bikes at about 2,500 miles as the rear tires were wearing a lot more rapidly than the front.  That is normal and expected. 

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By the way for those interested in tires, Sallie is running the ever popular bombproof Schwalbe Marathon Plus (700×32) and I have on a set of Schwalbe Marathon Supremes for the first time (700×35).  I had expected I might be more prone to flats and greater wear than using the Plus, but so far I am impressed with how they are holding up and I find them to be very comfortable, more so than the Marathon Plus.

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This is how hops are grown. They must be heavy.

We lost one tent due to that windstorm in North Dakota that shredded Sallie’s fly, and had one tent die on us as my old and trusted REI Quarter Dome finally gave out and was sent home for major repairs.  That tent has been replaced by a marvelous Mountain Safety Research MSR Hubba Hubba, two nights in that and I’m spoiled for life.

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A maple leaf canopy as seen looking up through my tent fabric

I broke a kickstand plate, had a compass, a bite valve and a tail light fail me, but all of those things were quite old and the miles are starting to take their toll.  Most importantly we’ve sent nothing home that we packed but didn’t need, and with the exception so far of a spare tire, we’ve used everything we packed at one point or another, so that’s worked out well for us. 

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As I’ve said many times, we are not fast, but we are steady.

Fudgies

August 2nd through August 4th   

St. Ignace, MI; Mackinac Island; Mackinaw City, MI; Petosky State Park, MI

The approach to Mackinac Island (pronounced “Mackinaw” for what? simplicity?) is a bit like Going-to-the-Sun-Road in terms of logistics, but not nearly as complex in terms of deadlines.  Just long lines.  Of people.  They call them “fudgies”.  People who go to Mackinac Island for the fudge.  Okay, Sallie and I both tried a sample, but no, we did not really partake in the whole fudge thing.

Once we got off the ferry and arrived on the island we stopped for a second breakfast snack and each of us got a soda and a piece of carrot cake.  That cost us a quick $18.  Hmmmm.

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After experiencing the local tradition of fleecing tourists, we departed for the loop road around the island where the crowds thinned, but the sights were plentiful.

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We stopped for lunch at a recommended place that had good food at a fair price and visited with the local college youth that were there for the same reason.  They seemed to very much enjoy their summer jobs on the island and that was nice to learn about.  Someone has to sell the fudge.

As soon as we could we left the crowds once more and rode the interior paths and drives catching what we could of the sights before taking the ferry off the island.  I’ve always wanted to visit Mackinac because there are no motorized vehicles allowed.  The concept interests me but if you put a gazillion tourists in one place you still have a gazillion tourists even if they are getting around on horse drawn carrages and bicycles.  We pretty much don’t do well with large crowds, so that’s now checked off the to-do list.  I recommend folks try the island in January. 

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Arch Rock, Mackinac Island

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Grand Hotel. We were going for their brunch buffet, but htere's a dress code. No spandex allowed.

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The Governor's Summer Residence

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This is the bridge that links the U.P. with the rest of the state. If you have to cross a bridge is the U.P. correctly called a penninsula?

The swimming in Lake Michigan is extremely enjoyable.  We take every opportunity we can, particularly because there are no alligators.  Visibility right on the shoreline is about 20 feet, so the water is clear making the experience all the more enjoyable.

This is the famous M119 road, “Tunnel of Trees Scenic Route”.  Nice riding.  It’s interesting that on narrow roads without lane markings cars are quite a bit more cautious.  We should do this everywhere. 

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I once read of a study where a town removed all traffic control devices.  They had record low numbers of traffic collisions as a result.

July 28 – August 1

Iron River, Michigan; Hardwood, MI; Rapid River, MI; Indian Lake State Park, MI; Little Hog Island State Park, MI

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We crossed into Michigan on July 28, straight into the Upper Pennisula, or U.P. as they refer to it. 

Before reaching Michigan, we had one last ride on a trail in Wisconsin (free of charge) on the Heart of Vilas County Bike Trail.  A great trail that brought smiles to everyone especially after we got our bearings and were no longer looking for missing trail markers and signs.  They said they will be up in two weeks.

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Still rocking the Maple Leaf in Escanaba

Upon arriving in Iron River we discovered we were sharing an entire campground with volunteer firefighters from all over the U. P. engaged in not just one, but two parades that very night, and a firefighters competition the next day.  Let’s just say we were lucky to get out of there with some sleep.

Our next stop brought us to Hardwood, MI where the campground was what is referred to as “primitive”.  That means a pit-toilet and a water pump.  The good news was this site is on the shore of a lake on the east branch of the Sturgeon River so Sallie and I went for a swim to help clean up after the day.  For me this includes cold shaving in the lake.  That’s not pleasant, but it is better than cold shaving in the frigid waters of the water pump.

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Ryan Conaughty arrived to join us at this site and a swim.  We had great fun hearing his always entertaining stories of his adventures since we last saw him in Fargo.  Toward sunset Ryan and I took a few minutes to go down to the lake to watch the sunset.  He was quite moved by the view and spoke of the beauty we are so privilaged to see when we set out on our tours.

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I have to confess that the hours I keep prevent me from seeing too many sunsets until later in the year when the days get shorter or we get close to the eastern edge of a time zone.  Its not like I’m not paying attention though, I spend my day checking the sights, sounds, and smells of the land and I am forever gazing at the enormous display of stars when I rise at night.  Sallie and I get up at 5:30am and getting to bed before sunset is pretty much mandatory for us.

Ryan runs on a different schedule.  He can sleep in until some time after we’ve already left camp.  He once said, “The later I sleep, the more rest I get.”  Can’t argue with that.

He sees more sunsets than I and maybe I should take more time for these.

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