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Northbound in Mid-October—Part Four

Mind Made Up, I Head North to the Upper Peninsula

Ron was up before me and had eggs and bacon going and coffee brewing when I walked upstairs. After breakfast, he offered me his heated bib-like vest, which he said he was done using for the season, and a balaclava that I could mail back to him when I arrived back home at the end of the ride. We loaded up all the stuff back onto the Tiger, including clean clothes, thanks to Ron’s washer and dryer.

It was cold as I rode north from Eau Claire in 46 degrees, with overcast skies but no rain. I made a coffee and warm up stop after leaving the major highway out of Eau Claire before heading cross country into the woods. And, of course, how could I have coffee and not custard pie, which tempted me from the menu?

I took some small roads toward Ironwood, Michigan, and the UP. I’d finally found autumn, with many bare trees, with yellow and orange-colored leaves still hanging on others. The birches were uncertain. Some more modestly still wore their golden cloaks, while others boldly had shed their clothes and bared their naked white torsos to the cold wind.

I stopped again at the Michigan border at a small bar to get some lunch. I figured that I could afford the calories from a burger with all the cold I’d be riding through. I’d burn right through them. There's be no need to watch calories on the run through the UP.

The road took me through the Porcupine Mountains, surprisingly tall and covered in fall colors. Eventually, I turned toward the Keweenaw Peninsula, aiming to visit Copper Harbor at its tip, sticking into cold Lake Superior like a hitch hiker’s thumb. I rolled through the diminutive village of Winter and had to stop for a photo. Just earlier int he day I had encountered autumn, and now I was already in Winter!

I'd Arrived in Winter

It was getting late, so I started looking for a camping spot. Copper Harbor would have to wait until the next day. Nothing showed up, and as the day wore on, I decided I didn’t need to pick up food to bring to camp. Stopping for it would eat into my daylight I had left for finding a campsite, and I remembered that Ron had put a banana and a pastry in the top case. After my big lunch, I reckoned that would do for dinner.

Finally, I saw a diminutive brown “Camping” sign along with a “Pike Lake Boat Slipway” sign, so I turned down a little road running south into the forest. Soon it became gravel. After a few more miles in, I still had not seen any sign of a campground, but I thought I’d give it a couple more miles. When I saw another camping sign, I gave it another one or two, but with still no sign of a place I could pitch my tent. Continuing intot he forest, I saw another road turn off to the left with a small brown sign for Pike Lake, so I took that the mile more it said it was to the lake. There, at the end, was an empty boat ramp, a dirt parking area, and a few campsites, completely deserted on the shore of the lake. I picked a spot and unloaded the pillion bag that was still full of wet gear from having put it away in the rain back on the Mississippi River at Bottoms Up. I set the tent up in the brisk breeze coming off the lake, leaving it open to let the wind dry it out, then found appropriate broken branches on various small trees to drape the rest of the wet things on to dry.

I retrieved the food Ron had thrown into the top case and wandered down to the parking area, where I gobbled down the food, and where I could dispose of the banana peel, leaving the scent of food well away from my camping spot. Back at the tent, I quickly set up the rest of camp as light was fading. Everything had dried quickly, and soon all was installed where it was needed, then I readied myself for sleep. I’d put on thermal layers beneath my shirt and jeans, and this night wore those and my top layer of clothes to bed. The night was cold, but I stayed warm in my bag. As I lie there and thought about it, I realized that, although I had camped many times before, I had always done it with others, and this was the first time I had probably camped completely alone and truly in the wilds. Thoughts of bears, wolverines, and other creatures crept into my mind, but I tried to ignore them and went to sleep. But nothing disturbed me all night as I lay there in the deep North Woods.

Pike Lake

The morning again was in the mid-40s by the time I got up and packed, unusually late for me, but I’d sworn “no alarms” on this journey.

I’d memorized the turns to the camping spot on the way in, so reversing them, I made my way along the dirt roads again until I found the paved highway where’s I’d turned off in late afternoon the day before.

I aimed up the Keweenaw on cruise control, running up the middle of the peninsula until Houghton and then crossed over to Hancock, on the north side of Portage Lake on a beautiful high ridge overlooking Houghton, the lake, and the tremendous lift bridge connecting the southern Keweenaw to “Copper Island,” the remainder of the peninsula jutting into Lake Superior separated from the mainland by Portage Lake and the Keweenaw Waterway cutting across from the northwest to the southeast.

In Hancock, I stopped at the Kalena Café, a fixture in the town since 1918. The place was packed, but I got a seat quickly, and while I sipped my coffee, I read the history lessons printed on wall art hanging above my booth, telling the story of the bridge and community. I had a much too big breakfast of eggs, corned-beef hash, potatoes, toast, coffee, and two enormous blueberry pancakes. Even with the cold, I couldn’t afford that many calories, so I left about to burst, leaving half of the food still on my plate.

History Lesson on the Wall at Kalena Café

Fall in the Keweenaw Peninsula

Lake Superior from the North Shore of the Keweenaw Peninsula

I was riding up the central route toward Copper Harbor when I passed a very tall red and white sign, or marker of some sort, prompting me to turn around to investigate. What I found in the little roadside park was a sign, tall and narrow like a thermometer, denoting snowfall for Keweenaw County scaled to actual size. At the very tip was the record set in 1978-1979 of 390.4 inches, or over thirty-two feet! About two-thirds down was the fifty-four year average snowfall at 24.8 inches, and the all-time low, about halfway down, was still 161.1 inches, or fourteen and a half feet. It was certainly a photo-worthy sight.

The highway continued its central route, so I turned off when I got to a road that would take me to Eagle Harbor on the north shore. The route took me alongside Lake Superior, curving away through little villages and lined close on both sides by evergreens, making me think of the Christmas Holiday, with its powerful Christmas tree smell permeating the air as I passed through it.

Snowfall Records

Finally, I reached Copper Harbor, the last village on the road. I rode a couple more miles, to the very northern end of US Highway 41, with its southern terminus in Miami, over 3,000 miles away in the direction from which I had come eight days before.

The Northern End of US 41

I retraced my steps back to Copper Harbor, after the obligatory photo in front of the “End” sign, then took the central highway back to Houghton and the only bridge connecting to the mainland over Portage Lake Canal.

Once I had reached the base of the peninsula, at L’Anse, I rode south for a while into the interior then, continued the trek across the UP, going east through forested land toward Marquette, where the highway rejoined the shores of Lake Superior.

It was getting toward five o’clock, so I started scouting for a campground. Near the little hamlet of Christmas, I struck out at Bay Furnace Campground in Chippewa National Forest. I followed the drive to the campgrounds only to be stop at a closed barrier at their entrance. The National Forest campgrounds had already closed for the season; I’d have to look elsewhere. Disappointed and watching the lowering sun, I only had to go a mile or so further east before I spotted Munising Tourist Park Campground on the shore-side of the highway. No one was in the office, but it was obviously still open, as evidenced by the many campers around the site. It looked like the campground was used primarily by RVs and camping trailers, but a small map of the grounds outside the office showed a “Primitive Tent Camping” area at the west end, with a rather high price tag of twenty-nine dollars. It would have to do. I would take a spot and settle the bill in the morning, as it was too late to look for something else. I rode across the park to the west end and past the car barrier onto the beach sand, being careful to put a kickstand puck under the side stand to keep it from sinking in. I was careful to not move out of the tree cover, beyond which the sand became softer and might present a problem getting the bike out in the morning. The sites were directly on the shore among pines. I chose the nearest one to set up camp. There were magnificent views across the water to Grand Island, just offshore to the north. It was perfect and made the cost seem insignificant.

The View of Lake Superior from my Camp Site West of Munising


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