Lake Superior Tour

| October 12, 2009 | 0 Comments

Submitted by Kathleen Vacek

It’s day ten of an eleven-day, 500-mile bicycle tour on Lake Superior, and it’s the longest, toughest day yet. Trying to live out our ethic of simplicity, my husband and I are riding our everyday commuting bikes: 1970’s Schwinns converted to single speeds. That means no granny gear, and there have been several times today when we’ve had to get off and push our loaded bikes uphill. I remind myself that every hill has a top, so there will be an end to the agony. Wind, on the other hand, is relentless. For the first time on the tour, we’re fighting a brutal headwind. It’s demoralizing. I wonder how I will ever complete these 75 miles.

Lake Superior

We stop for lunch at a wayside a few miles west of the tiny town of Port Wing, Wisconsin. I perch on a rock and contemplate the lake and the geology that formed this beach. There are three boulders nearby, splashed by waves and glistening wet in the bright sun of high noon, surrounded by rocks of various sizes: basketballs, grapefruit, buttons, and the tiny bits of sand, delicate granules that I realize were once like their larger brothers. Every color of rock I see around me black, tan, orange, pink, white, clear is in the handful of sand I scoop up. The hefty black basalts have become tiny poppy seeds stuck to my skin, and the rose quartz pebbles have turned into baby pink jewels. Fatigue has allowed me to notice all these rocks. I’m too tired to talk, too tired to move. All I can do is sit and observe and know that this moment is a reward for hard work.

The adventure began a little over a week ago when we set out from Jay Cooke State Park, just south of Duluth, Minnesota. After pedaling into Duluth via the Willard Munger State Trail, we hugged the shoreline, riding on Highway 61 and the Gitchi-Gami State Trail. We shared the highway with plenty of cars, RVs and semis not bad when we had a nice wide shoulder to ride on, but stressful when we didn’t. Just north of Beaver Bay I had my moment of sheer terror: with heavy traffic in both directions on the two-lane highway, the shoulder had shrunk to a crumbling patch of asphalt less than a foot wide, and I teetered on it, wedged between the traffic and a metal guardrail. A logging truck roared by, passing me within inches. I could smell the pine logs. Adrenaline surged through me, the way it does when you know your life might be snuffed out in a second. I gripped my handlebars tighter and kept pedaling. When we rolled in to the Silver Bay Marina for a lunch break a few miles later, my heart was still pounding and my legs were shaking as I got off my bike. The tension gradually dissipated, and after resting and refueling with snacks, we forged ahead. Over three days we traced the North Shore from Duluth to Grand Portage, nearly reaching the Canadian border.

Rather than ride the entire loop around Lake Superior, we planned our trip to take an interesting shortcut. In Grand Portage we caught a ferry to Isle Royale National Park. Our bikes and all our gear were lashed to the top deck as we cruised through Superior’s deep blue water. The ferry crew was quite accommodating, but there’s a slight problem with visiting Isle Royale on a bike tour: bikes aren’t allowed on the island. Even so, every summer a few crazy people like us bring bikes over on the ferry, much to the consternation of the rangers. One was not happy about us riding the short asphalt path to the lodge where we had arranged to store our bikes for the night (I would have pushed, but he let me ride, probably because my husband was already halfway down the path). After getting a taste of the island on the hiking trails near the campground, we departed the next day aboard the Isle Royale Queen III, also known as The Green Queen. I spent a lot of the trip out on the rail, hoping the cold wind would take away the nausea. It didn’t, and I was relieved when we finally landed in Copper Harbor, Michigan.

We spent the night at Fort Wilkins State Park, where I enjoyed the best shower of the trip lovingly varnished wood beams overhead, spotless tile, plenty of room to hang up towels and clothes, and endless hot water. All of this soothed me after the difficult ferry ride. For a moment I ignored all the good reasons to conserve precious resources and luxuriated in the hot water and steam. The campground overlooked a pretty little lake, and I watched a tandem kayak silently slip by as a full moon rose, its brilliance reflected in the calm water. In the tent that night I fell asleep to the music of a bell buoy out on Lake Superior.

Kathleen takes off

Kathleen takes off

With the ferry crossing behind us, our mission was simply to ride back to our car. We quickly established a rhythm of bike, eat, bike, eat, bike, sleep. My thoughts focused on my endless appetite, my sculpted legs and sore neck, and the delight of hitting my Thermarest each night. Along the way we visited a historic lighthouse, devoured pasties, and discovered white sand beaches. In Bayfield, Wisconsin we admired the sailboats at the marina and treated ourselves to a suite in a historic inn with a whirlpool tub. We needed the rest and relaxation for the tough day ahead.

It’s only noon, and it’s already been a long and difficult day. Even though I’m strong now, even though my body is an efficient little furnace that turns all the bananas and crackers and cheese I can eat into energy, I fear I’m no match for this wind and these hills. But at a little wayside near Port Wing on the South Shore of Lake Superior, I can look across the water and see the North Shore, and I know that I have pedaled every mile of it. It seems like eons ago. Time has slowed down. Traveling by my own power, I’m learning to appreciate slowness and patience and endurance. The waves I’m watching will eventually turn those boulders into the tiny grains of sand that are sticking to my bare feet. Now it’s time to get up, brush off, get back on the bike and pedal. It will be tough going, but every turn of the crank will bring me a little closer to the campground where I can rest my weary body for the night and I’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that my body can do just about anything I ask of it.

Category: Reader Stories

About the Author ()

This story comes to us from one of our readers. Want to submit your own story, tip, photo, poem, recipe, or rambling thoughts? Send it to us!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *