Keweenaw Peninsula Fall Tour 2021

Sept. 16, 2021 – Sept. 29. 2021

Our Salsa Fargo Bikes ready to roll.

I guess you could say that bicycle touring is in our blood. Yea, I have to admit that the call of the open roads and secluded byways call to us. After all, we did live on our bikes for just shy of 3 years. But our goals in touring have changed. Neither of us want to live on the road month after month, year after year. We settled into more of and “event” type touring. It’s good to be able to roll out the side door and head into the woods.

This is the 3rd tour up onto the Keweenaw and we never tire of it. We take the days slow and meander our way east north east from our little red home. The ride never gets old, we have found favorite camping spots along the way to Copper Harbor, MI and then we head on up to the far tip. This year we went to the Missile Range and wow. The touring for us isn’t just about the cycling, it’s about the experience, the camping, the laughter and the sites along the way.

Day 1 – Sept. 16, 2021: We loaded up our Salsa Fargos and hit the road. Today we are attempting to make it to Misery Bay via logging roads. It was quite the adventure and we found success in the roads / trails that we were pretty sure were there. We set up camp in a grove of trees out of site of the roadway. We passed active logging operations. I’m pretty sure the men thought we were crazy but that’s ok, we are use to is.

Day 2 – Sept 17, 2021: We departed the Misery Bay area and checked out the boat ramp for future rides and additional camp possibilities. We climbed away from Lake Superior and stopped near the top for a quick snack. We traversed gravel roads today as well as 4 lane roadways. We ended our day on a bike path and found a lovely campsite at Cole Creek. We crossed the small stream and set up camp.

Day 3 – Sept 18, 2021: Gratiot River, one of our all time favorite camping spots is in our sites for tonight. We packed up at Cole Creek and headed out. There is a steep drop off of the bike trail into Houghton. Then it was along the Portage Canal and across the lift bridge entering into Hancock, MI. We found out trail out of town and set our sites on Calumet. Most of our ride today was on trails and we loved it! This route today is one of our favorites and we keep coming back to it time and time again. We have an amazing campsite along the Gratiot River and it was there waiting for us, including the stash of maple wood that we had left last year!!

Day 4 – Sept. 19, 2021: We slept late and took our time as today is going to be a very short day. We took the road to a logging road and cut in. We took this route over the hill back toward Lake Superior. It’s an incredible off road, through the weeds route. We made our way to Silver Falls and tucked back into the power line clearing. We could have gone further today but we decided to take it easy. So needless to say this afternoon was a time of watching clouds. yea, watching clouds, the shapes and colors drifting by in a sea of blue. Butterflies danced among the wildflowers, birds sang their many different tunes. It’s days like today that make life feel good.

Day 5 – Sept. 20, 2021: The ride from Silver Falls to Copper Harbor was very fast. We got into town and secured a hotel room for tonight. Curtis got a very sad phone call, Covid19 took the life of his older brother Greg. This wretched virus has touched so many families.

Day 6 – Sept. 21, 2021: Copper Harbor is a cool little tourist village. We picked up breakfast from our favorite coffee shop and then headed into the logging roads. We decided to check out the Missile Range. It is probably the most beautiful camping area we have ever done and that says a lot. It’s an uphill ride on rough dirt roads. There is a number of water crossings and we had a blast. There are campsites along the water and we found a beautiful one, complete with fire ring.

Day 7 – Sept. 22, 2021: It’s so incredible here that we are spending another day. So today we walked the rocky shoreline of Lake Superior. We build a Cairn in honor of Curtis’ brother Greg and my sister, Juli-Ann. Greg died a few days ago, we lost Juli to lung cancer in April. Today was a day to just be and that is a very good thing sometimes. We built a fire tonight and watched as the sun dipped low and the stars came out so bright. Sleeping to the sound of the waves on the rocks was magical. Yea, days like today are why we tour.

Cairn we built for Greg & Juli-Ann

Day 8 – Sept. 23, 2021: We are heading out today on unknown roads. We hope to make it to the Lower Montreal Falls but it doesn’t look like much of a road to get there. The initial road was dirt and we headed toward Fish Cove. We ended up filtering water here and passed on camping since there was literally nothing flat to pitch. We backtracked from Fish Cove to a over grown trail. This got quite dodgey and we ended up on single track along Lake Superior. Finally making it to the Montreal River, our big question of the day was “Do we cross the river here above the lower Montreal Falls or do we camp on this side of the falls and cross in the morning? Well, we decided to cross. The water wasn’t too deep and we ended up making a number of trips across the slippery rocks to get our gear from one side to the other. One woman was filming us and she stated to us later that she was sure we were going to get swept away. Not likely but she thought so. Anyway, we made it across and found a spot to camp. Today was tough and from what we are hearing from the hikers that come in from the way we will be leaving tomorrow, we are in for a push to get back to pavement. It’s all good.

Sunset at the Lower Montreal Falls

Day 9, Sept. 24, 2021: Coffee first and then it’s push time. Yea, the folks yesterday were not kidding! The trail was quite narrow and at time ran right along the lake. It was tough, a lot of log crossings and hoisting of the bikes but we made it. The hill getting away from the lake …BRUTAL at 20% grade!! We ate lunch at Lac LaBelle and then continued on to Gay, MI where we opted for supper at the bar. We camped at a local campground where we could finally shower. Tonight the rains started.

Day 10, Sept. 25, 2021: Gray skies and drizzle, the temperature was also dropping. It’s going to be a chilly wet ride today. The rain even coming in will last about 2 days so we decided to head back across the peninsula to Gratiot River. It rained, then it hailed on us. We stopped in Mohawk, MI for lunch at Slim’s Cafe and wow was that good! After a hearty lunch we braved the cold and wet and headed to our camp spot at Gratiot River. We put up the tarp and tent. We were soaked and cold but having a tried and true dependable site made it all worthwhile. Before long Curtis made up hot soup and we snuggled into a warm sleeping bag. The sounds of the river lulled us both to sleep.

Day 11, Sept 26, 2021: It’s still cold and rainy so we are staying put. There were a few times throughout the day that the rains stopped so we did some Gratiot River area exploring. We continued to dry our clothes on a line and enjoyed the river.

Day 12, Sept. 27, 2021: Goodbye Gratiot River, until next year! The rains were passed and we crossed back to the other side of the peninsula, cycling through Dollar Bay. It was a fast uneventful ride. We booked a room in Chassell, MI. Nothing that great, pretty run down actually. Curtis bought a couple of beers from the local C-Store and I got some ice cream. Life is good.

Day 13, Sept 28, 2021: Our destination today is Emily Lake and much of it will be on back roads and trails. It was a spectacular day until the very last segment. The roads got pretty rough and the trails were very sandy so needless to say that involved a lot of pushing. Emily Lake is so beautiful and we found our favorite spot and set up camp.

Emily Lake Campsite

Day 14, Sept. 29, 2021: We left Emily Lake and headed for home. The entire ride this year was incredible This no doubt will be an annual event, some of the most beautiful countryside we’ve ever cycled. But it’s good to know we have a warm cozy bed and a hot shower waiting for us at home.

Rain or Shine

Touring means you ride rain or shine, for us that also means snow, frost and sometimes ice. But today, it was just rain. We know our butts are soft and our legs out of shape but we still want to try and get in a few rides to toughen up those sit bones and help the legs a little before embarking on our Fall Tour.

Dripping wet and loving it! Cooler temps are finally here and we can break out the long sleeves!!
Wet roads with the rain falling gently made for an enjoyable ride.

Today wasn’t a long ride, 13 miles with almost no elevation gain but it was FUN! We splashed through puddles and I dodged the muddy spray that was splattering up from Curtis’ rear tire. We both sported the mud splattered back that is just one of those things to be expected when rain riding.

Ontonagon has remarkable ATV/Snowmobile/Bike trails. One of these trails run through the village along the Ontonagon River.

Trail through the village

It’s always fun to get back on the bikes, while we are riding both of us talk about the future of our riding, the epic routes and trails that we still want to explore. The ride and route list seems to grow longer than years permit but it is still fun to plan. After all, planning is half the fun…right? Anyway, this year we will ride our Fall Foliage Keweenah Tour with plans to spend 2-4 weeks on the road/trails.

Soon….

It’s a Pandemic People – No excuses

Social distancing, masks, vaccines; conversations revolve around these topics, overshadowing living. The reality that Covid-19 and all of its new variants is here to stay and there is nothing we can do about that but we need to learn to be safe and work around this forever with us virus.

Covid-19 screwed up our 2020 plans of cycling the Continental Divide but then again it messed with a lot of peoples plans. Oh well, adapt and modify but do it safely.

Social distancing is easy where we live, there are very few people and we live with a very low population density. Social distancing is and always has been the norm and its just the way we like it.

2021 has been a rollercoaster year, again postponing our summer tour plans. After my time in south Texas (December – April) I was emotionally spent, frazzled and flat worn out. I just wanted to go home. I hate to admit it but bikes have been dormant, lost in space so to speak and every time we think “now’s the time” something new rises up and grounds the bikes once again. Fall is fast approaching and it’s time to make it happen. It’s time to dust off the bikes, air the tires and pack those panniers.

Today is August 20, 2021 and we got out for a short 10 mile ride.

Taking the Salsa’s for a spin to Lake Superior. What a lonely, lovely spot!

Sliding onto the saddle of my Salsa Fargo I feel like I am getting re-acquainted with an old friend. We spin down the roadway and find ourselves at a quiet beach. This is peace, this is freedom, this living the life we choose with no excuses.

Life is Good ; Life doesn’t get much better than this!

After family has gone this next month we are loading up and hitting the road. We have gained weight and our butts are soft but we need this. We need the open road, the secluded trails, the lonely campsites. It re-sets the soul and we are ready, not physically but mentally. Cycling is physical but more than that it is mental. Hills are a mind f*ck and if you let them conquer you they win. The realization that “I can do it” is a strength that I rely on and push that little negative voice to the back. It doesn’t take and enormous physical ability to tour but it takes an open mind and willing attitude.

So get ready, CJBikeTours will soon be ready to roll. See you soon!

Carretera Victoria Austral

We departed home on a Tuesday morning, June 23, 2020 once breakfast and coffee were done. Bikes were loaded up and we headed for Pat’s IGA for some lunch provisions. The lupines are thick around Pats and we took advantage of the photo opp to get the ride started.

From place to place throughout the North and South American continents, things are not so different. Plant species are very similar if not the same; our region of North America is not much different from Patagonia. Weather is not much different, climate is not much different, bugs are not much different and back roads are not much different. One could say we live in the North American Patagonia.

Skies were overcast at the temperature was 48F/9C, beautiful weather to cycle in. We headed out of town on M64, heading west before turning south on Norwich Road. A destination was researched and the Norwich Bluffs our goal.

It’s been a while since we’ve toured. It’s been a while since we’ve spent more than a couple of hours in the saddle and needless to say these aging, overweight bodies felt every pedal stroke. The steady climb to our destination made us feel like we were dragging lead bricks behind us. We stopped for a Clif bar break, we stop to look and eat wild strawberries, we stopped to look at flowers and the Monarch caterpillars eating as well. The Sandhill cranes called out to us as we passed by. We stopped at Pioneer Multi-use Trailhead for a lunch of fried chicken that we had picked up at Pats earlier. This put us only a couple of miles from our destination for the evening.

We continued on Norwich Road and then turned east on Victoria Road. Victoria Road is a gravel road going up along the Norwich Bluffs.

We gradually climbed 1.3 miles on Victoria Road before turning off on a non-motorized trail. It was slightly overgrown and 1.6 miles to the top of the bluffs. The grade was a constant uphill. We were able to cycle some of it but soon had to stop to hoist bikes over downed trees. Then I hit a tree that was hidden in the tall grasses. I had been able to ride over many but this one that was slightly off angle took me out. I was literally pinned into the long grass into a mix of dead tree limbs and branches. I could feel myself falling almost in a slow motion drop. Curtis was laughing and got a few photos before helping me out of my predicament. I was pinned in such a manner that I couldn’t get my right arm out to push myself up. It seemed I was in some kind of notch between branches. It was funny. After a few attempts, with Curtis and I working together we were able to get me semi up and the bike off me. From here we pushed, there were too many hidden downed trees and the grass was pretty high. We passed beautiful rock outcrops. The grades were up to 12% in places and the push with loaded bikes was often times not easy but we kept going.

I really cannot move, my leg and right arm were pinned in a depression between the small tree branches. I was able to finally get up and out with just a few bruises and a lot of laughing.

We pushed to the end, 1.6 miles in distance. The old watchtower pilings were all that was left of it. We found an interpretive trail that is right off the North Country Trail. We had passed a lot of water sources on our push up, but there was not any water at the top. Hoping to camp on the edge of the bluffs was a no-go. The vegetation was pretty overgrown and we decided it was best to head back down the trail to one of the water streams.

We saw small snakes and some frogs and toads today but other than the chipmunks that was pretty much it for the critters.

The proverbial question of the day is “Does a bear shit in the woods?” Yes they do and from the numerous piles we found while looking for an adequate campsite I would say that there are quite a few up here! We brought along bear spray as well as scent-free bags and our bear bag for food storage.

We found a spring that had good water for filtering. Perched on the edge we dropped the filter end in and started to pump. Something is wrong. The water isn’t filtering through, rather it is spraying out where it shouldn’t be. Upon further investigation we found that a gasket was missing making the filter un-usable. All water would have to be boiled. On a positive note, we had packed along our new solo-stove that is a wood burner so our fuel source was plentiful.

The tent site we found was actually an old campsite complete with a grown over fire ring. We did not make a fire but we could have it we had chosen to. It was near an old downed tree.

The forest floor is very densely covered with leaf litter and downed trees. Chipmunks visited us often and watched while I set up the tent. Oaks and Maple Trees along with Beech trees were the predominate tree life with an occasional Hemlock thrown in.

We walked the woods, discovering a few mushrooms and other plants. We watched the chipmunks play and we noted large piles of bear dung. Tonight we will need to be bear aware and make sure food is hung. Birds sang, woodpeckers tapped out their morse codes and we sat back, enjoying our supper and enjoying the cool breezes.

This plant was a new one for me. It is called Squawroot (Conopholis americana). It is also known as Cancer Root and Bear Cone. It’s a strange and fascinating little plant that looks like a pinecone, produces no chlorophyll of its own, and lives mostly underground as a parasite on the roots of oak trees, seemingly without harming them.

Curtis boiled water and then cooked supper. Supper was our standby, Lentils & Brown Rice with dried vegetables mixed in. It’s a simple meal but it’s filling, nutritious and tastes so good after a hard day.

One new piece of gear is a small saw that works great for cutting small pieces of wood for the stove. Sure this small maple branch still needed to be split but the saw made it easy to get the lengths appropriate for use.

Bugs, yea there are bugs but there are bugs everywhere. Mosquitos were not too bad and we had the occasional horse fly come by. Bug spray is a must! Once we turned in I discovered a tick that was attempting to sink it’s tiny fangs into me. I ended its life, it had chosen the wrong host. Sleep came quickly.

Total miles today, Tuesday June 24, 2020 was a mere 21.1 miles with 1,347′ of elevation gain.

We were both awakened a few times through the night but sleep took over. Morning arrived with blue skies and light breezes.

We enjoyed our coffee and oats. While were were on the Carretera Austral in Patagonia we discovered that oats could be eaten raw. It was out of hunger and need to conserve resources that we discovered this and have not cooked oats since while touring. Our oats were mixed with walnuts and dried tart cherries.

With the tent packed up and the gear stowed away we made our way back down to Victoria Road. Mosquitos were thick and Curtis donned his bug net. For some reason they weren’t bothering me quite as bad.

Once back to the road we headed east / northeast on Victoria Road. At first it was gradual climbing but before we knew it the first 10% grade hill was behind us, then we hit a 12%. By the time we hit the next 12% grade hill we both opted to get off and push/walk it. We were not on Victoria Road rather we dubbed it Carretera Victoria Austral.

We climbed then we would drop and then we would climb again. The road was remote, the entire 2 days we only saw 3 cars. This is definitely my kind of traffic! We stopped often to look at flowers or watch the butterflies dance across the flower tops. Chipmunks darted across the gravel in front of us. We were definitely in our element.

The road changed from gravel to pavement as we entered Victoria, MI and we turned right and headed down the steep hill to Victoria Dam. This was a beautiful place to enjoy a peaceful lunch. I had made up banana pancakes with peanut butter before we left home. This is a hearty lunch, good carbs as well as protein. We sat and watched the beautiful waters of the backed up Ontonagon River. This is a popular canoe launch and also portage.

The push to get back up the hill back to Victoria Road was tough, reaching 16% grades according to my GPS. Plus this offshoot to the Dam was again gravel so grip was an issue.

Back on pavement we headed once again down to the Ontonagon River before embarking on the 1.6 mile climb out of the river valley. Gear down, go slow and crank is about the only way to get up a long hill. Grades were not bad, maxing out at 9.8%, at least it was not double digit!

We opted to take a gravel route from Rockland, MI back to Ontonagon and found an ATV trail that used to be a railway. We were passed by 2 ATVs but other than that the only traffic was the birds and butterflies. At one point on the trail we were swarmed by hundreds of tiny yellow gold butterflies. This was quite magical.

Our ATV trail dropped us out at Woodruff Road and from there we made our way home.

Total miles today, Wednesday June 25, 2020 was 27.2 miles with 1,989′ of elevation gain.

We will do more overnight bike trips and this one just wet our appetite for more of them. It is something we both enjoy especially being able to combine cycling with camping in the wild.

Yea…. it was good to be back on the open roads.