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M.U.P.

About a year ago I started asking around to see if people wanted to go on a bike camping adventure. Once I rounded up the usual suspects (Fiancé, Dad, Brother) and heard from an unexpected addition (Uncle), we settled on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

The first step was to decide if we wanted to register for the League of Michigan Bicyclists’ group ride or venture out on our own. We wanted to have a lot of family bonding time so we opted to strike out on our own…sort of. Fiancé contacted the League and, as luck and Michigander kindness would have it, they sold us their route maps for $10!

After a few questions were answered we were practically on our way!

  • Are there bears? (Yes.)
  • Do they come in the campgrounds? (Not usually.)
  • Are there restaurants? (Yes. Local joints.)
  • Are there grocery stores? (More like convenience stores.)
  • Is there cell phone reception? (Ye,s but you might pick up Canadian towers.)
  • What is the weather going to be like? (Colder than you think.)
  • Is the population really that small? (Yes.)
  • Are people as nice as everyone says? (Yes.)
  • Am I really about to go on a week-long bike ride with four dudes?! (…yes.)

I found campsites, mostly conveniently located…although our first three days would end up being over 70 miles each. After consulting with the group, everything was booked except for DeTour Village State Forest which was first come, first served (that freaked me out more than a little bit since, where the heck would we GO if it was full; there were no other campgrounds anywhere nearby). Straits State Park, our start/end point, allowed us to leave our cars for the entire week FOR NO EXTRA COST. I practically dropped the phone when I heard that news. I mean, helLO! I live in DC; you can’t park for 15 minutes here for less than $20.

Now if I could just convince Dad to lighten his packs so he’d roll without an additional 50 pounds, we would be set.

Our journey began. Fiancé and I took a relaxing road trip there and I’m going to be honest with you, I think the Andy Warhol Museum is overrated. Also, while Detroit’s food scene was on point, I had no clue it would shut down completely for the July 4th holiday. After our final pit stop to check out the world’s largest Christmas store, we headed to Straits to meet up with the others.

We biked. And camped. And biked some more. We ate pizza and fudge and ice cream since we’d be “burning it off tomorrow” (I gained weight this trip so…so much for that). We took the ferry to the carless Mackinac Island and were promptly overwhelmed with the sheer number of people on bikes. We toured the island at a snail’s pace, ate some fudge, and took a nap on the next ferry out. Relaxing is exhausting! We realized how heavy our bags were and started dumping things in the car before heading out, even Dad! It rained. It was sunny. It was hot. It was cold. We were hungry; we were too full. We biked on.

I must say, it was pretty amazing to only see one Starbucks and two fast food restaurants

(if anyone asks, I did not confirm or deny that we each ordered our own pizzas at Pizza Hut). And the people, the people were so sweet. During a lightning storm a couple welcomed us into their home and chatted us up for the better part of two hours.   One night a neighboring camper saw us roll in on our bikes and, not only did he bring over some wood for a fire, but he built it too. (He topped it with Doritos which are apparently super flammable although he told us Fritos are actually the best…or would that be the worst? I don’t know. Most flammable.)

And the nature. Stunning. Hello Lake Michigan, my old friend from my days living in Chicago, delightful to see your other coast. Lake Huron you say? Nice to meet you and your calm waters. And then Lake Superior…while a bit frigid I couldn’t resist stopping in, even if just to pay my respects to the late, great Edmund Fitzgerald. We saw two lighthouses and the beautiful tannin-dyed waters of the Upper and Lower Tahquamenon Falls (don’t worry, I still don’t know how to say it).

Just like that, it was over. Adios delicious breakfast places with the nicest staff on the planet. Sayonara perfect sleeping temperature for camping (40s-50s at night in JULY!? Amazing). Adieu highway shoulders littered with wildflowers instead of garbage. Au revoir ease of access to fudge. Goodbye scenery straight out of a Bob Ross painting (but for real though, look at the side by side) —>

Because biking is an adventure, an escape, a way to bring people together, a way to take some time for yourself, a vacation, that’s why I love riding my bike.

For the Love of Biking

I love riding my bicycle. I think that much is obvious. So when a ride is advertised as “celebrating life on two wheels,” You can probably assume I’m interested.

In 2016 I was. For sure. I was meeting my fiance’s friends for the first time. I was looking forward to having a ride without cars since DC traffic is inSANE. It was the inaugural event. Besides the super-early Sunday start time and a somewhat expensive but still doable entry fee, what was not to love?

2017’s bike ride was a different story. I see those same friends on the regular now with intramural softball, dodgeball, and bocce. While I’ll always feel slightly endangered on some of the streets here, I bike on the regular. The entry fee, while still doable has increased and just seems too pricey for a measly 20 mile bike ride. Granted I’m all for supporting local bike organizations and giving back to that cycling community but this was just out of proportion. And even though the ride organizers had assured everyone they had solved the bottlenecks that plagued last year’s course, I just wasn’t into it.

Then, that fiancé found out if we volunteered for two shifts at packet pick up the day before. Doing 8+ hours of handing out packets didn’t seem worth it to me. I thought sleeping in and riding the trails sounded better but I didn’t want to burst his bubble so of we went…all day.

Packet pickup was definitely improved but the overall day did not. In 2016 it was a party: artwork on display, music blaring, free key chains at REI, snacks. This year it felt dull (then again, last year I wasn’t there quite so long).

After earning our free ride, we woke up early on Sunday. Don’t get me wrong, it is always nice to get out on my bike, even when it’s not, but I was not feeling it. We had a decent bike ride; however, the snacks were sparse, the route still had pointless (and dangerous) bottlenecks just so we could cross a bridge and come back the same way. That was very frustrating. What was also frustrating is how other riders didn’t move to get out of the way until an ambulance was directly behind them. Come on people.

We skedaddled out of the after-party, not wanting to spend money on food and already loaded down with all the free bike lights we could carry. I will say getting to try out my new cycling accessory was terrific: da brim. Yes I’m aware they seem a little dopey but it is perfect for sun and does alright in the rain.

Because biking is free, that’s why I love riding my bike.

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My Bicycle is a Time Machine

I got off my bike, climbed the dark staircase, stripped off my sweaty clothes, and climbed right into my sleeping bag; 20 minutes later, I started to feel my feet for the first time in two hours.

How did I end up there?

The C&O Canal Towpath, what a cool bike path. It’s a national park. It stretches for 184.5 miles. It links up to other trails so you can basically bike as far as you’d ever want to. There are free campsites along the way with water and latrines. It’s basically flat. It’s away from traffic. It’s in nature and not through the city. What else could a person want from a bike path?

A house.

There are locks all along the canal. At each lock is (or was) a house for the operator of that lock. Six can be reserved and rented out. Back in November we decided the first weekend of April is when we’d make our maiden voyage. Surely it would be warm enough by then for a nice, flat, 30 mile bike ride followed by a stay in a house without electricity or running water.

Our mistake.

Halfway there we stopped at the Visitors Center/Tavern and warmed up while we watched the welcome movies inside. My panniers were loaded with warm clothes and a sleeping bag and I was so grateful we wouldn’t be camping outside that night. We’d missed the rain but there were GALE WINDS. I’m still not 100% sure what that means because I’m a biker and not a boater but what I do know is that my weather app had a gust of wind picture on that day instead of a sun. I also know that, in an attempt to protect my feet from the wind I wrapped them in plastic bags and shoved them in my sneakers, a throwback to my childhood where there was snow but no snow boots that fit.

(Please note: while very effective at keeping my feet dry when I was little, the bags did nothing to help me with the wind as an adult. If anything they just trapped the sweat inside which was no bueno when I took the bags off.)

Anyways, we somehow eventually made it. I don’t think I’ve ever biked slower.

Once my sleeping bag warm-up was over, I put on my leggings, sweatpants, carhart socks, slippers, long-sleeve t-shirt, sweatshirt, winter hat, wrapped myself in a blanket, and headed downstairs for dinner (cold sandwiches which tasted amaaaaaazing) followed by half a dark chocolate candy bar. Yum. Then my fiancé successfully taught me how to play checkers. There we were, just two people playing checkers by lantern light until we were tired enough to go to sleep. I wouldn’t have changed a thing about that Friday night…except maybe the temperature.

Not only does this place not have electricity or plumbing, it also doesn’t have box springs. You know the old expression “sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite.” While I think many people now know more about bedbugs than they ever wanted to, we were experiencing the “sleep tight” part of that saying. That’s right, our mattress was supported by ropes. There was one loose one which we never did figure out how to tighten but, it was actually surprisingly comfortable. I don’t know what people back then were complaining about (besides the disease, hard work, and lack of modern amenities, but I don’t blame those on rope beds so that’s neither here nor there).

Then again, maybe the lack of plumbing got to them. I can’t lie, when I woke up in the middle of the night and needed to pee, I glanced at the (I’m assuming decorative) chamber pot and considered the convenience but that was only for like one second…two max. (Don’t worry, I went outside.)

Lucky for us, the ride home the next day was beautiful.

Because a trip to the 1860s is a mere bike ride away, that’s why I love riding my bike.

Tip of the Day: Don’t Bike with Your Eyes Closed

I consider myself a pretty safe cyclist. I try not to run yellow lights (unless I’m seriously just about to make it). I stop at red lights and stop signs (unless it’s basically totally practically clear). I wear bright clothes, reflective gear, and currently have five different lights on my bike. And I always wear a helmet.

But sometimes things just… happen.

I vaguely remember learning to bike in my parents’ front yard. I don’t remember if it was the first time I was biking or the first time the training wheels were off but I remember falling. A lot. Luckily the grass was soft and I wasn’t deterred.

The next time I wasn’t so lucky. I took my beloved purplish bike with the streamers in the handlebars and spoke beads on the front and back tires (pause for nostalgia) up the driveway to the neighbors’ house. I wanted Katie to come play Barbies with me; she hopped on her bike and followed me to my house…maybe a little too closely because before I knew it I was splayed on the ground with two knees full of gravel. I swear 20 years later there are still some little pieces floating around in there.

Then there was the time I tried to bike in a straight line with my eyes closed. Hello ditch. (Cut me a break, I was only like…11, tops.)

Probably my most embarrassing cycling accident was in 2015. I was living and working in San Francisco for a few months. I proudly rode my bike Boudin to and from work every day. It wasn’t even that far…maybe two miles. Maybe. Probably even less. The morning weather was, per usual, perfect so I was biking in my work clothes with no fear of sweating or being too cold. I’m not going to say it wasn’t stressful because it was. San Francisco is exploding with public transportation and pedestrians so my rides often concluded with prying my white-knuckled grip off the handlebars (and recovering my breath from the last couple of hills).

But there I was, pedaling along quite well, kind of dreading a boring day at the office. All of the sudden, my bike had come to an abrupt halt and I flew over the handlebars and landed in the middle of the intersection! I will forever curse those streetcar tracks! My bike tire had lined up with them just perfectly so it fell in and got stuck. While I don’t have any epic pictures or traffic camera footage to share, I’m sure many people do. I was lucky enough that it was a red light so I didn’t get squished by any oncoming traffic, which also gave people plenty of time to whip out their phones. I picked up my bike and walked to the sidewalk to assess the damage: nothing hurt but my pride and my dress pants.

Of course there have been other terrific moments of bike safety. I was following my oldest sister too closely. When she stopped suddenly I rammed her, fell off my bike, and subsequently made a Band-Aid for my knee out of toilet paper and duct tape so we could keep going and get our miles in for the day. One day a car love-tapped me on the left shoulder/ribcage/thigh. (Don’t worry, the bike was unharmed.)

Biking has its perils; that’s for sure. But because the juice is still worth the squeeze, that’s why I’m going to keep riding my bike.

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I Bike to Work (Even in the Winter)

Look at my options. I don’t know if you know this but I live in Washington, D.C. and parking downtown isn’t cheap. I guess I could take public transit but ANYone who has EVER been to D.C. knows why I’m not doing that. D.C. public transit is one of the main reasons I never wanted to live here. Expensive. Unreliable. Crowded. Stops running at like midnight. How is that even allowed? Top all that with a bunch of people looking 100% miserable on their way to and from work. Sounds like a great way to start and end your work day, right?

Then there’s my commute. Biking to work is amazing. I love the freedom of it. When I’m ready to leave the house, I leave. When my supervisor lets me out of work early, I don’t have a train to wait for. It wakes me up in the morning and clears my head at the end of the day. Some people will say it’s part of their workout but…I’m not exactly doing time trials so I’m not sure it “counts” but whatever.

It’s perfect really. In the fall and spring. Winter and summer can make it downright miiiiiiiiserable.

Winter Woes

  • I layer up so much I start sweating halfway through the ride;
  • When I breathe with my balaclava (facemask) on it fogs up my glasses (which I use to block the wind from my eyes) so I have to choose seeing or a covered nose;
  • I usually have a ring around my face from the balaclava for about an hour;
  • The snow-plowing efforts (or lack thereof) of the city.

Summer Struggles

  • Humidity;
  • Helmet hair;
  • Deciding on whether or not I need shorts on under my skirt, sometimes deciding I can still be ladylike without them, and subsequently flashing oncoming traffic.

I am super lucky that there is a parking garage attached to my office where I can lock up my bike. Not only that, but there are locker rooms on the main floor with showers. I’m not sure how comfortable I would be changing in front of my co-workers but desperate times and all. To be honest though, usually I just throw on some extra deodorant, change, and let it ride for the day. I think there are a lot of my co-workers who don’t even know I bike to work; who knows what they think when they see me coming and going. When they finally figure it out, they’re both incredulous and a little jealous. How could they not be when the words “single-tracking” don’t ruin my day?

Because biking to work is the antidote to zombie-commuting, that’s why I love riding my bike.

 

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Metric Century Anyone? No thanks.

I ran a half-marathon once and it was amazing. The high energy crowds were motivating; the Elvis impersonator at the top of a hill made me smile. There were just so many great vibes there. I haven’t done it since. Why not? I hate the idea of paying to exercise, especially when it’s exercise I could do for free. Now…was the fact that I paid almost $100 a motivator to train? Yes. It was. Did I have a great time? Yes. I did. And yet I still refuse.

Then again, every once in a while I pay to ride my bike. Never a race, just a tour or a large group ride. RAGBRAII in Iowa (which I highly recommend), smaller day rides in and around DC, and most recently, a weekend in Staunton, VA for the Fall Foliage Bike Festival (even though it’s December now, the ride was legit in the fall, mid-October). And I have surprising news, I would pay to be a part of this ride again.

That’s right people. This ride was so fun, beautiful, and logistically easy that I would love to participate again. We strapped our bikes on the back of the car and started our three hour road trip from DC to Staunton. Traffic wasn’t too terrible, which was a pleasant surprise for the Friday afternoon mass exodus. Before we knew it (aka four hours later…DC traffic is still DC traffic), we were pulling the car in front of the middle school and heading to registration. Hello stickers and t-shirts and free food from a local farm; don’t mind if I do! After hitting up the pupusa food truck, we pulled the car around back, did a lap around the track (in the car…which was a little weird), and parked. Tents on the inside; cars on the outside.

It was cold. Very cold. I was wearing more clothes than I have since airlines started charging for checked bags. Unfortunately (and I would say this is the only downfall of camping at a school), fires were prohibited. So we froze. BUT, a benefit of camping at a school is we had access to real toilets and showers. Granted, the showerheads were about three feet tall but it was a middle school after all.

img_0948We’d been planning to do a metric century on Saturday but most of our friends were doing a shorter loop, around 50 miles. That is the genius thing about this ride; there are all these different loops for people to choose from: century, metric century, 50, 30, and a family ride that was 10 miles long with a shortcut that could make it seven. Normally when I go on a bike trip, it’s hard to convince people to come because the mileage is intimidating; not so with this one. Not only were there all these different rides, but they were well marked! Colored arrows along the road, each ride a different color, and an extra arrow after each turn, just so you know you went the right way.

If I had one piece of advice for the organizers, it would be to not use red for the family loop and pink for the 50…especially when they overlap on some roads. I can’t guarantee the six year old with streamers and training wheels on her bike wasn’t doing the 50 but…her parents looked lost.

And then there was the food. The food! Lunch on Saturday and brunch on Sunday were homemade. Yeah. Farm scrambled eggs, fresh pie, and casseroles as far as the eye could see.

Camp one more night, a quick 10 mile family loop before brunch, and then we were on the road back to DC. Not so much traffic this time. Everybody wants to leave on Friday but there’s not quite the same rush to get back on Sunday.

Because there’s nothing like getting in country via bike, that’s why I love riding my bike.

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What Happened in There?!

As it turns out, the beauty of El Yunque is not the only thing that is indescribable. Another part of our two weeks that took my breath away was the STANK of our rental car. We had it for less than 24 hours and I’m pretty sure they had to total that car.

But Enterprise exacted its revenge. It took over an hour to return the car; we were afraid we would miss our ferry to Culebra Island so we enacted the “we pick you up” service of Enterprise and had them drop us off. So, while we did circumnavigate the island, we actually rode in a car for seven miles from Luquillo to Fajardo. (Don’t tell GVP I told you.)

Despite all the online ruckus, it was surprisingly easy to take our bikes on the passenger ferry from Fajardo to Culebra. We had to pay a little extra but it was literally no problem. Another reason I’m grateful we went on the off season (also because it is slightly cooler in the off season bringing the average temp down from 85/90 to 77/82).

IMG_2479That first night we grabbed dinner at a kiosko for a whopping $37 (note to self: ask how much before ordering), laid out our tarp on the beach, and saw more stars than I’ve ever seen at once. In one direction the sky was endless. In the other direction was Flamenco Beach, which Discovery Channel voted the second most beautiful beach in the world. Not too shabby. Not too shabby at all.

We stayed for two nights which was pretty perfect. You might be doing some (very simple) math in your head and realizing that so far we have only biked 28.5 miles (and six from the ferry to the beach and back, so THERE) but don’t judge. There are another 308.5 to come (343 total…yes that 7 mile car ride kept us from 350).

Culebra was a definite highlight. We had pizza and rum. I reluctantly ate shark for the first time; I’m a
vegetarian but was eating all seafood on the trip. Unfortunately that night no one had anything but shark or chicken (GVP got the chicken and when he couldn’t finish it he threw the extra to some chickens and we100_5848 saw CHICKENS EATING CHICKEN). On a romantic sunset walk on the beach we saw a guy owning these HUGE waves with just a noodle floatie for assistance. Legit the waves were so gigantic we didn’t get in past our waists. We also saw a couple of the tanks the US Navy abandoned on the beach when it was a training base before WWII; while the natural beauty was better, I like a good juxtaposition as much as the next person.

I also learned a lot about my likes and dislikes while on the tiny island. Likes: Dr. Bronner’s peppermint soap (because I don’t feel bad when it runs off like with soap that’s full of chemicals), cortisone cream, doing laundry in an abandoned camp chair, this one perfect spot on the beach under the shade of some trees. Dislikes: mosquitoes, a big family coming up and blasting their music right next to the perfect spot, the tide coming in a soaking us in maybe our not so perfect spot.

Also a big like is that guy I call GVP is my boyfriend now.

Because even a bike vacation isn’t all about biking, that’s why I love riding my bike.