Saturday, June 14, 2008

Tour de Superior: Day 1 Ashland, WI to Houghton, MI (RUSA 435)

Today was day 1 of Tour de Superior - Dave, Jerry, and I are going to ride around Lake Superior. We're going to take 10 days to do it at something like 120 miles per day on average. Yes, we're nuts ... we proved that last year when we rode across the country from LA to Boston on America By Bicycle's Fast America ride. That is where we met. We generally rode together on many of the 32 days of that ride. It was a great time and the natural reaction was ... what's next? Dave came up with the suggestion to ride around Lake Superior and so here we are. While last year's ride was a fully supported ride - sag wagon, scheduled sag stops with snacks/lunch, mechanic - this year's ride is not. Sandy (Dave's wife) and Dorothy (my wife) are driving the luggage from motel to motel, but we won't see them along the way. Not as cushy as last year, but it is great not to have to deal with the luggage or to have to try and live out of a pannier. Thanks Sandy and Dorothy!

Here's an overview of the 10 days:

Day 01 Ashland, WI to Houghton, MI (RUSA 435)
Day 02 Houghton, MI to Houghton, MI
Day 03 Houghton, MI to Munising, MI (RUSA 436)
Day 04 Munising, MI to Sault Ste Marie, MI (RUSA 437)
Day 05 Sault Ste Marie, MI to Wawa, Ontario (RUSA 438)
Day 06 Wawa, Ontario to Marthon, Ontario
Day 07 Marathon, Ontario to Nipigon, Ontario
Day 08 Nipigon, Ontario to Thunder Bay, Ontario
Day 09 Thunder Bay, Ontario to Silver Bay, MN (RUSA 433-part)
Day 10 Silver Bay, MN to Ashland, WI (RUSA 434)

Six of the ten days have been set up as RUSA Free-Route Permanents - Dave and I are RUSA members and we'll follow the RUSA requirements to document our rides. We would have had more of the rides set up as permanents, but there is a requirement that the rides start in the US, so it was not to be. Permanent 438, from Sault Ste Marie, MI to Wawa, Ontario is the first RUSA Permanent to go into Canada.

My alarm was set for 3:30 AM ... 5:30 AM local time (Central), but I hadn't adjusted from Seattle time. Seemed a bit early, but we wanted to be on the road at 6:00 AM local time to go for breakfast in town and then get started. Today was the 2nd longest day ... mileage wise it was about 150 miles, so we wanted to have plenty of time. Not a lot of climbing - turned out to be about 3,500 feet - but that's just fine. Right to left in the above picture is Dave, Jerry, and Geoff. So we set off and had breakfast at the Country Kitchen in Ashland, then started our ride at about 6:45 AM.

A little ways down the road we saw a historical marker. We had to stop in honor of Ken. Four of us had planned on making the ride. Unfortunately, last fall Ken, the fourth, had a catastrophic failure of his bike's forks and had a major accident and wasn't able to recover in time for the ride. Ken was also on last year's Fast America ride. It seemed like Ken stopped at every historical marker along the route ... so we stopped at this one for him.

A couple of hours later we crossed into Michigan. Jerry flagged down another bicyclist (one of the few other bicyclists we saw all day) to take our picture. We have many of these state sign pictures from last year; this was our first from this ride.

One of the parts of this ride that I had been looking forward to was the opportunity to visit Bessemer, Michigan. Now Bessemer is a pretty small place, with not much going on. Why did I want to go there? Well, I wear a garnet ring on my right hand that was my great-grandfather's. He was killed in a mine accident in Butte, Montana in 1910 - fuse too short on the dynamite according to the inquest. Family lore says he was killed because he was active in the miners union, but who knows. He is buried in Bessemer. I had directions to where his plot was at the Hillcrest Cemetery (picture from We went up and down the rows, but unfortunately couldn't find his grave. Oh well. Gives me a good excuse to come back some time!

From Bessemer we continued on towards our next stop in Ontonagon, back on the coast. It was a nice ride ... lots and lots of green around. And blue sky too! Today was one of the first nice days around here - per the locals. Having forgotten what riding in the sun means, I forgot to put on sunscreen and so am now paying for it. At least I went and bought sunscreen for tomorrow (although supposedly we won't need it per the forecast). But it was nice to ride with a bit of a favorable tailwind, blue sky, and without fenders! Anyway, we made it to Ontonagon in good time and stopped at a new Subway. It hadn't been there when Dave and Sandy scouted the ride last fall. It was so new that the address on the receipt I got from the credit card machine had the address of a different store in a different city - hopefully that won't cause a problem with validation of the Permanent Card (Ontonagon was a control stop).

With fifty miles to go, we hit the road again about 2:45 (Eastern now). Jerry was having problems with his knee, so we ended up going a bit slower at this point. This was fine by me, as we had been riding a lot faster than I am used to riding (although similar to last year's Fast America pace). Dave got a call from Sandy - the trailer has a flat tire, but fortunately it is only about half a block from the motel. We'll deal with that when we get there - they can get to the hotel just fine.

About half way through this leg (by Twin Lakes) we pulled over at a local convenience store that had a sign for homemade Pastys. Pastys are miner food - sort of like a beef pot pie, with beef, potatoes, carrots, and rutabagos in a pastery shell - that they would take down into the mines for their lunch. Jerry bought one and split it with us ... I've had them before, it was pretty good.

A couple of miles from the end Jerry cramps up. He says he's going to walk it off, so Dave and I head for the motel. We make it to the trailer, get our bags and head for the motel. We've made it. At 6:25 PM (Eastern), after 10 hrs and 40 minutes from our official start in Ashland. A little while later, Jerry pulls in - he had a flat tire to end his ride! Dave changes the tire; I provide a bit of moral support.

After a shower and a quick soak in the hot tub, we head for dinner at Applebee's. Then to DQ for desert - a tradition from our cross country ride. I have a guilt-free cherry blizzard. Good stuff. Fun day.

Tomorrow is a shorter day where we head out to the end of the peninsula and back ... end up at the same hotel, so no need to pack up tonight. And since it is Sunday tomorrow, they don't serve breakfast until 7:00 AM ... gee, I guess we'll sleep in a little - although the alarm clock will still say 3:30 AM unless I reset it.

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