Our TOWUP Tale (Touring the western UP of Michigan)
|Our favorite stop
|Heading up the SE coast of Keweenaw. This is the resort we found closed||Most of the tourists as we leave our home in Ironwood, Mi.||The NW shore of the beautiful Keweenaw penisula||The last feast on the last night of TOWUP||On highway 45 heading East to Baraga||Relaxing at Baraga State park||Lunch in downtown Houghton, Mi.|
Last winter as Sandy and I planned the summer’s tours, she mentioned
that we should do our very own tour of the upper peninsula of Michigan.
We’d lived in the western UP (as the upper peninsula is better know as) for 4 years and had yet to seriously tour any amount of it. The previous
summer we’d toured the Mickelson trail in the Black Hills of South Dakota. During this week long tour we’d gotten rather lonely seeing so few cyclists
in the 220 miles. Thus came the idea of inviting folks along touring the western upper peninsula of MI for a week long tour. We included the Keweenaw
peninsula because it’s one of the most scenic and rugged peninsulas we’ve ever visited. Sandy promptly named the tour “TOWUP”, for Tour Of the
Western Upper Peninsula.
After selecting a date and roughly organizing the route mileage with
camp-over locations, I posted the invitation to various touring and tandem
computer lists. To include the non-computerized folks I also posted it to a few cycling clubs and a Midwestern silent sports magazine. To our surprise
we received a huge response and decided this trip was definitely a go! TOWUP was to be a self supported tour for which we reserved camp sites
and supplied maps to attendees. For this we charged a small fee to cover the many long distance phone calls and other expenses in getting this organized.
If anyone ever wonders why putting together a tour costs money, just ask us how many long distance calls it takes!
Now to add some pre tour drama. Each summer we do organized cross state
supported tours and this summer we did GRABAAWR
(GReat Annual Bicycle Adventure Along the Wisconsin River). We were having simply the best time ever seeing the scenic Wisconsin river valley
and riding with friends. But fate didn’t smile on us. Half way across the state a rider clipped our front wheel and we went down hard. Of the three
that went down Sandy fared the worst with a severely broken wrist. This was especially sad for her since this would keep her from partaking in the
tour she helped organize. The crash occurred a month before TOWUP but since we don’t ride or own single bikes it presented me with a “who to ride with”
problem. During GRABAAWR a couple we got to know, Lane and Linda, had been test riding a tandem of ours. They fell in love with tandeming and
mentioned that they toured so we invited them to TOWUP as well. In the ensuing conversations it was decided that Lane would attend the tour and
ride our tandem with me.
The last week of a July finally arrived along with the 13 folks attending
our little tour. Most drove to Ironwood but one gentleman flew in from
and another toured here from Minneapolis, MN. The tour was to begin on Sunday morning so most folks arrived on Saturday. That evening we met at a
nice Italian restaurant and ate a hearty dinner as we got to know one another. It sure was a fine group of folks. Riders included three tandem teams
(a father/daughter team, a married couple, and Lane and I), and the rest of the guys rode single bikes. Early Sunday we awoke to light westerly winds
and perfectly clear skies. Most of us gathered at our home for a mass 9 am start heading east to Ontanogan which was our 1st camp over.
Off we went! With Lane and I pulling a Burley cargo trailer, four others using BOB trailers, while the rest toted panniers. We lead them out on
back roads for the first 5 miles, and even a nice down hill that pushed us to nearly 50 mph! Despite this, it was to be a fairly flat day and with that westerly
wind we cruised right through the 60 miles to Ontonagon. Here we found a quiet little campground with 2 very interesting retired lady teachers as owners
and hosts. They must have thought we looked famished because they gave us a watermelon to eat. That evening we walked into town to eat at a local
restaurant. Good thing we weren’t in a hurry, as one gentleman with us waited 2 ½ hours to get his food!!
The next morning we met a friend who wished to ride 30 miles east with
us to meet his family at a 4-H camp his kids attend. We spent much of the
riding with him, being pushed by a tail wind. Before we left Lane and I had traded seats so he could captain (front position) the tandem today. Today’s
route was a straight shot east, basically cutting under the Keweenaw peninsula. It was all rolling wooded hills of pretty easy riding until the last 10 miles
when we hit road construction. A road crew was seal-coating the highway which made parts of the road deep with gravel. We were just getting tired
of riding in this when we finally crested a hill to see the great Keweenaw Bay. Wow were we glad to finally turn south for the short distance to the Baraga
state campground which we had reserved sites at. Here we met 3 other cycle tourists camping. Two were American and the other was Canadian.
Our “neighbor to the north” had shifting problems so I replaced his derailleur cable for him. Another asked about tandems so I took him for a ride around the campground.
The next morning we headed north towards Houghton on one of the busiest
roads of this entire tour. But it had a clean wide shoulder and the winds
switched to the south which helped push us north. All these tail winds started to make me nervous. Would the remainder of the tour have all head winds??!!
While traveling north we stopped to take photos from cliffs overlooking this great bay with the Huron mountains as the background to the east. Near
Houghton we watched for and finally spotted a RR grade that had been converted into a paved bike path. We got onto it and found it closer to the shipping
canal and more scenic than the highway. It was a nice change from the auto traffic plus it brought us all the way downtown to where we found a nice
restaurant to eat. Houghton was not our destination of the day but municipal camp ground at Lake Linden was. This was another 15 miles up the coast.
After eating we stopped at a hardware store for bolts a rider needed. We then headed north out of town through the traffic crossing a lift bridge which would
bring us across the canal. On the way to the campground we passed many ghosts of copper mills which had stamped copper ore here for nearly 80 years.
These left black coarse sand everywhere. We found that the was built on this stamp sand. The small town of Lake Linden was a retired mining town and
really a “suburb” of Houghton. Within the small stores and restaurants were neat old photos of its boom days, when copper mining was king. Many of us did
laundry here as well, so as we waited Lane and I walked around town. We walked past an interesting old church with a priest standing out front. He let us in
where we got to hear of its interesting history and French Revival design. It was really interesting to hear and see.
The next morning we broke camp and headed northeast following up the
southeastern shore of the peninsula. I had warned fellow riders that today’s
passed few businesses to purchase food or receive water at. We did have one resort located on Lake Lac La Belle which was reputed to have services.
As we headed up the coast a light rain fell and was to be the only rain of this tour. But with “another” tail wind we zipped along , stopping for photo’s at a
scenic water fall. The fair weather and beautiful coastline reminded us why we are cycle tourists. Late that morning a group of us reached the Lac La Belle
resort at the same time. Unfortunately we found it had been permanently closed about a month earlier. Sure was glad I suggested bringing extra food and
water this day. Leaving here we headed north away from the coast climbing a great hill up onto the ridge that creates the backbone of the Keweenaw
peninsula. I’d been up it before and knew it was a formidable challenge, but a smoking woman at Lac La Belle claimed it be just a short ¼ mile climb
to the top. Wrong!! It was well over a mile climb with sections quite steep. Even after the peak it was still a gentle uphill all the way to highway 45.
This road would take us to the very end of the Keweenaw and to the state park we had reservations at. Coming down 45 into town was our second 50 mph
descent of this tour. I think we may have broken the cargo trailer’s speed limit again! This park and small town of Copper Harbor was a busy tourist location.
Folks here could board a ferry crossing Lake Superior to Isle Royale. They even had a tiny summer time bike shop here.
This was the turnaround point of the tour and from now on we’d be riding
towards home. We awoke again to, you guessed, it clear skies with another
The wind had now switched to the northeast which pushed us down the north shore towards our next camping location in Hancock. The lightly traveled road
follows the northwest coast which is very rugged with small islands and rocky outcrops in the great lake. One can even see huge freighters plying the waters
as they pass the Keweenaw. On the land side of the shore the hills rise up 1000 feet in just a short distance from the road. It reminds me of the mountains,
or like the coast of Oregon. Just beautiful!! Near Eagle Harbor we passed a bakery operated by Byzantine Monks called the Jampot. Being normal hungry
cyclists we stopped in to see what was cooking. We found pastries, fruit breads, and candies that were truly heavenly. They even picked local thimble berries
for making jams. We recommend this stop!! Eventually the road turned inward from the coast and past small towns where we found a small restaurant to eat at.
Later we rolled into Calumet wishing to tour their historic municipal
theater built of red sandstone in the early 1900’s. In front of the theater
we found the streets
closed with barriers which were not a problem for us cyclists. In front of the theater firefighters were having some kind of water cannon competition. After our
tour we rolled back to the lake shore down a long hill to do last 20 miles to the campground in Hancock. We decided that being more like “tourists” and stopping
to see things was more fun. The Hancock municipal campground was quite nice. It was located close to the shipping canal and was within easy walking
distance from eating establishments.
The next morning we needed to climb a great hill to get out of the Houghton
valley. It was a busy 4 lane street with a questionable shoulder which
worry. We looked at maps considering another street to climb but we were told it was a narrow street and possibly no better. In the end we opted for the main
4 lane street as we headed out in a southwesterly direction, basically following the coast. And strangely enough another tail wind!! The early morning traffic
was very light and did find a shoulder to ride on. It was another day of rolling wooded hills with a few small towns to pass. During the last 10 miles returning
to Ontonagon we rode down a large valley with a few farms planted within. On the outskirts of town we met and waved to a lone woman tourist leaving town.
She was the only cycle tourist we saw on the road.
We found Ontonagon hopping with the all school class reunion in full
swing. Everyone said the restaurants would be very busy and slow(er). This
since the first time we’d been here it was already slow. We decided to hit a grocery store and prepare a meal at camp since three of us had cooking equipment.
We returned with the all important beer, sweet corn and various vegetables. Back at camp we cooked up a real cycle tourist banquet. Hummmmm good.
The next morning most of us did the short route home, the same as we’d
come out on the previous Sunday. Others took the longer but more scenic
through the hills of the Porcupine Mountains State park. These folks later mentioned that these hills WERE indeed a challenge and some spotted bears
within the park.
What a great bunch of folks to spend a week of cycle touring with!!
How could you ask for a better cycling vacation: tail winds everyday, only
short rain to ride through, rolling wooded hills, quaint little towns and quiet county roads to ride down. That’s what cycle touring is all about.
Since my dear Sandy was healing with her broken wrist we’ll again be doing the same tour next summer. Please contact us if interested in attending.
Arlyn & Sandy Aronson, email@example.com
Superior Tandems (906) 370-2911
Quality tandems and accessories
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