Sleeping Bear Dunes Park

July 25

According to legend, a mother bear and her two cubs swam from Wisconsin, across Lake Michigan to what is now Sleeping Bear Dunes, Michigan. In the indigenous telling of the story, the bears risked the journey in hopes of food, because they were starving. 

Tragically, after many days of swimming, the cubs grew weary and slipped beneath the waves. The distraught mother bear continued to the shore, pulled herself from the water, and lay exhausted on the beach gazing at the spot where her cubs perished. 

Sympathizing with her loss, the Great Spirit Manitou raised the two cubs from the depths of the lake and created North and South Manitou Islands. The mother bear became a great sand dune and even today, she keeps watch over her two cubs.

Sleeping Bear Dunes is now a long, narrow National Lakeshore Park in Michigan, along the shore of Lake Michigan, taking in Sleeping Bear Bay, and then Good Harbor Bay at the park’s north. The Philip A. Hart Visitor Center is a “must” to fully enjoy this extraordinary park. It’s a great launch to help you decide what to see and do in the park.

We left the campsite early with our bikes on the Honda, and got maps and advice from the nice folks at the VC, as well as purchasing a few gifties for ourselves and friends.

We set off on what would be quite an adventure, after every bit of an hour’s drive from Kalkaska Campground to Empire, where the VC is, along Rt. 72 all the way. Unfortunately this route takes you through Travers City, although that was not the problem at 10A that it was at 5P. So we parked at the Bar Lake parking area (off Voice Rd., south of the “Dune Climb” and about a mile from the VC) and began riding at about 11 AM.

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We’d been warned that there was some “serious climbing” to be done at the outset of the trail, before getting to the Dune Climb. The person at the VC said there were some 12% climbs. The signs we saw along the roller part of the trail indicated only one 11%, 2@10%, and the rest 8 and 7%. It wasn’t any kind of a big deal. I had to laugh at a couple of the signs that said “Steep Grade Ahead” and it was less than our driveway through the pasture. In other words, NOT steep.

But for some folks, families especially, that would be good info to know before you started. At the end of our ride, a fellow driving through the parking lot as we loaded our bikes back onto the truck asked how we did on the “steep parts.” He was a little younger than we, and he said his buddy who was older, was intimidated by the descriptions. We tried to ease his mind, because he obviously thought his buddy could manage the rolling part. So the folks at the VC aren’t doing a great favor to a lot of folks who are more serious riders.

In any case, the first leg to the actual Sleeping Bear Dunes, where there is a large parking lot and scads of folks enduring the very long and sandy hike up the steep hill to the top, was quite a fun ride. Shady and lovely, good pavement, not terribly many other riders or walkers, it was a great start to a long ride.

The dune hike was pretty awesome to see, however. We did NOT attempt it, but wondered what the view was like from up there. We saw one person who was actually on all fours trying to get up one of the hills.

After passing the Dune Climb, we enjoyed relatively flat cycling to Glen Haven. It says it’s an historic village, but other than the cannery and an old boat, we didn’t see much to get excited about. It used to be a fishing port, since it’s right on Sleeping Bear Bay.

We rode down to the maritime museum, but it was closed. En route, we passed a group of plain aire painters, and stopped to take a few pix. Only one of the painters had been there long enough to have some work on his easel.

There was parking and a pit stop available there, but we pushed on to our next “segment” goal, Glen Arbor, where we thought we’d catch a bite to eat.

When we got there, however, it was just 11:30A, and neither of us was hungry yet. Besides, the place was trammelled by tourists. Glen Arbor is also the site of a bike, canoe, rafting/tubing, and kayak livery, and a generous plenty of restaurants and gift shops. 

We had a bit of trouble finding the route through/around Glen Arbor, as our maps left us confused and flailing. Following some cycling route signs instead of the “heritage trail” signs, we pedaled along some backroads with less traffic than in town; a nice residential section with quiet roads, mostly.

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Finally, we found not only the return of the dedicated bike route, but also the put-in for the canoe/kayak livery. It’s next to the parking area called the Crystal River Trailhead, and the livery put-in is Crystal River, called thus because you can see straight through the water to the bottom. The float from there to Glen Arbor looked like it would be a fun something to do next time we’re in the area.

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Our paper maps did not indicate anything like what we found at the END of our trek through the residential roads.

After the Port Oneida trailhead, we found a shady cemetery in the middle of farm country. It was a great place to pause for water, and a fellow who’d been riding a bike and dragging a burly trailer, apparently full of English Sheepdog, was resting in the shade and throwing sticks for the dog. 

Next along the path we found a wetland (possibly Narada Lake) with (maybe?) swans paddling around (if anyone can tell what kind of water birds they were from the pics below, please drop me a line). The bike path crossed the wetland via a wide, well-built boardwalk.

We thought we’d be riding all the way to the Good Harbor Bay endpoint (according to our paper map) but we had discovered at the cemetery, that part of the trail was blocked out with paint from the signage. We’d heard there was a part of the trail that was under construction or development, so we figured the Park Service didn’t want anyone to go up there—anyone who didn’t want to ride along Rt. 22 and Rt. 651 to get there, anyway. So we figured we’d continue until Bohemian Road, which dead-headed at the western-most beach of Good Harbor Bay, and call it a turn-around point. By that time, we had about 22 miles on our trip.

So we reversed our direction and re-traced our ride back toward the car.

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Back at the cemetery, the light was right to see a hillside covered in the pretty purple asters we’d been seeing everywhere along the ride, across Rt. 22 from us.

The swans were gone by the time we re-crossed the boardwalk, and we made it back to Glen Arbor for a spot of lunch at around 1:30, stupidly thinking that a lot of the lunch set would be done by then. But there were still lines out the doors of the most attractive places to eat.

There weren’t many folks at a country store type place where you could get a hot dog at the back and carry it out front to eat. On the side of this place was a Leinenkugel’s sign—I’ve no clue if it was old or not.

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We found another place, however, with a shady terrace and there weren’t many folks there. Steeling ourselves for a bad meal or slow service (since few folks seemed to be eating there), we had a quite nice shrimp taco meal with restorative Pepsi and lots of cold water. It was actually quite fine. I wish we’d remembered the name of the place—someone’s bar and grill, we think. Anyway, it was a great meal stop and charged our batteries for the ride back to the car.

Not far out of Glen Arbor, my bike slipped its chain for the second time of the day (very unusual for my bike, but not a rough loss). When I got it back on, the derailleurs began going crazy. I was not trying to shift but the chain kept leaping from the different sprockets in the back and the two chain rings at the front.

I stopped to see what the problem was, and found one of my chain links to be seriously bent sideways, taking quite a few of the following links into its slant. This link and those following were hitting both derailleurs and forcing the chain to leap from gear to gear. It was the damndest thing and neither of us have a clue how it could have happened. Our best guess is that a stone had lodged itself in between the gear cassette in the back and when the chain hit it, somehow it bent. But that’s only a guess. 

These pix (above) were taken after Jack pried it back into alignment a little with the only tool he had with him.

This happened at mile 38, 3 riding hours into the trek. We had calculated that the endpoint of the ride would be 44-45 miles. So I limped along, keeping the rear cassette in the middle (around 4 or 5), although with Jack’s temporary “fix” (bending it back closer to straight) I was able to use the front gears, switching from the small ring to the larger one—but even then I was down from 20 gears to 2.

At every trail head, we thought about just leaving me behind with Jack heading to the car to come pick me up—the chain braking altogether was a real possibility, and that option was available to us, if that had happened. But it didn’t.

And I took things gently and did some “cross-training” (walking up hills) on the 11% grade, and one of the 10%, easing up all the other grades in gear 14.

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Cross-training = time to stop and smell (photograph) the flowers.

Actually, I was surprised when we made it back to the car, because it didn’t seem all that far. I lost some “average speed” stats, but overall, the injury to my bike was pretty insignificant, if annoying. In fact, by the time I was circling the parking lot, most of the chain-slippage that I’d endured for most of the ride (sometimes it would slip out of 4 and then back in; sometimes it would slip from 4 to 5 and then back to 4) appeared to have abated.

We drove through rush hour Travers City (not recommended) and got back to the campsite by around 6, re-heated the poultry stew on the stovetop, and called it an excellent day.

Bike Stats:

  • Ride Time = 3:52
  • Stopped time = 2:30
  • Distance = 45.5 mi
  • Average speed = 11.75MPH

 

Into Canada

Our trip to and stay at Selkirk Shores State Park (July 8) on the New York shore of Lake Ontario was uneventful. We off-loaded our bikes upon arrival to see what the “beach” might be like, and to check out if there was any cycling of note.

Unfortunately, there was absolutely nothing of note — nothing to recommend this State Park for any of our future or our friends’ travels.

Possibly, it was because it was the Sunday of the weekend after the Independence Day holiday, but the place was full of trash. It looked beaten to a pulp, and none of the sites or the campfire rings had been cleaned in quite a long while. I never saw a camp host or a park ranger of any stripe. There were out-of-control kids screeching everywhere, and we didn’t even want to put down our outside “rug” because our site was so grody. Unidentifiable greasy spots everywhere, broken shards of who-knows-what on the “platform” and in the grass, bits of candy and cigarette wrappings hither and yon — it was seriously unkempt and dilapidated. Even many of the paved roadways around the picnic, camping, pavilion, and boat launch areas were pitted, pot-holed, broken-up, and useless as pavement.

Every site was chock-a-block to the next, without even a hint of privacy, even to the point of sharing the electric pedestal between every two sites (many of which were inconveniently situated in poison ivy and oak). The “platforms” for a trailer or tent were four cement squares arranged together to form a box, and many of the slabs were broken and heaved away from their partners.

The “beach” was okay, I guess, with a lifeguard and everything. But to one’s left peering to the southwest was a nuclear generation plant that was particularly ugly. Up to the right it might have been pretty, but we would have had to cross the beach to see that direction. Re: screeching children above.

We rode down to the boat launch area, and through a couple of picnic areas with pavilions, and there were tons and tons of people everywhere. So the place is popular. But definitely not our cup of tea.

The bath house was on the seriously elderly side, and not clean at all. I can take old facilities if they’re kept as clean as possible despite having old fixtures, etc. This was not that.

We read that the place was originally built as a CCC camp back in the 1930s, and one can imagine the well-to-do of Syracuse coming “to the shore” to escape the heat of the city. And I admire the effort to re-purpose and keep up infrastructure. But this place — at least the camping areas — is not keeping up with the minimum necessary maintenance.

Instead of sitting outside, we cocooned for our simple meal of re-heated shepherd’s pie, and decided to watch our first movie on the road from my laptop. Hidden Figures is a very very good flick. We enjoyed it immensely. 

We staged everything for an early departure on Monday, July 9, and were rolling out of Selkirk Shores by 6:40A. Not only did we not want to stay a moment longer than necessary (all this for just $45/night!!) we had a long drive to get to Camping de l’Ile in Roxton Falls, Quebec, Canada.

This is a place we’d discovered on our very first trip to Quebec to see if we wanted to purchase an Alto or not (of course, we did) and we were tent-camping in a lovely, shady, grassy area of this private campground. It was so nice, and the people so friendly, we decided to hit the ground there, beside a nice river (home to the falls, we assume).

Getting here from Selkirk Shores took us about 8 hours because we stopped for a while and a bit of wifi for breakfast, and then again for lunch (possibly 1.5 hours in stopovers) and there was a significant stoppage along the highway as our “faster” route AROUND Montreal merged back into the through-Montreal road. Never did figure out what the holdup was, but that added every bit of a half hour to the journey. 

But we finally arrived, and we’re right beside the river, surrounded by folks speaking French (two groups of which have already taken a tour of Roomba); the breeze is blowing fresh (although the mud in the river — or possibly a nearby farm using manure for fertilizer — is a bit stinky) and the temps are cooling to the low 80s. We have electric and water in Site #4 (although for one night and with our onboard jugs of water, we did not hook up the hose or filter). This arrangement is tight like Selkirk Shores was, with no privacy between the sites, but they’re bigger, and many trees shade each site. On top of which, it’s much more quiet and we can hear the river babbling to us at our back. It’s just a nicer place in nearly every respect (and has private showers that are clean and well-kept, as well as excellent wifi at the sites).

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I had forgotten, however, that to take a shower here, you need Canadian dollar coins. There is no heat control, no faucet control, just the meter. One dollar lasts a long-ish time, mind you. But be sure before you head to the shower rooms (each private with a toilet and sink also) that you have one or two dollar coins with you.

We fixed the second of the two Delmonico steaks we’d purchased at Pete’s Meats, the same way we’d done it our last night at Bald Eagle, with Gauvreau’s Compound melted on the top again. Accompanying was the last of our lettuce, a chilled can of green beans, topped with pecans and cheese for a salad, and good old fashioned grits from our “emergency stores.” We’d tried to empty our fresh and leftover foods before crossing the border in case they had a problem with some of the stuff in our fridge (they didn’t, even though the crossing fellow was a bit of a prat).

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Our view during dinner.

Sometime around 7 o’clock, in the town of Roxton someone had an accident that took out a power pole, so the campground was without any power at all for the evening. We had still been running our air conditioner, so we switched to the fan, and stayed outside for the evening. 

Lovely evening with an exceptional sunset.

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Although going to sleep was a bit hot in the high 70 to 80 degree range, we slept fine and the next AM the power was back on. The worst of it was that there were no lights in the bathrooms, so we had to remember to carry our headlamps with us — the toilets still flushed, though.

We arose early on Tuesday not for any rip-snort need to get to our next stop, but so we could have sausage rolls for breakfast and leave enough time for the grill to cool before we wanted to leave mid-morning.

Next stop: La Jolie Rochelle, site 13, where we’re likely to see an Alto friend or two before the Big Rally at Safari Condo.