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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.

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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.

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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.