This post, written one year after day 33, is drawn from the daily journal I kept, and is written as if it just happened.
June 18-June 24
Paradise, MI >>> Munising, MI
Back in my home state. It’s so relaxing to be on familiar turf. I love coming up to the UP, and I especially love showing it off to non-Michiganders. It always surpasses their expectations. We could have ridden south from the Soo to hwy 2 and rode along ACA’s North Lakes Route. But the Lake Superior shore is…well, superior.
On my first day as tour guide, we rode 22 gloriously unloaded miles, round trip, out to the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum and Whitefish Point Lighthouse.
We returned for lunch back in Paradise at the Red Flannel Saloon – I think it’s called something else, but this is out front so…
It had Hopslam and Kalamazoo stout which I recommended to Craig – he’s been itching for a good stout, and Bell’s did not disappoint.
Next it was on to Tahquamenon Falls. Historically, I’ve always preferred state and national campgrounds over private camps. The state grounds are usually cheaper and more remote. However, this trip is switching my preference to the private sites. For one, they usually have nicer showers and are closer to other amenities like a grocery store – two things I either don’t care about or actively try to avoid when I’m on a camping trip – but this is a bike trip. I have different priorities now. However, my biggest hang up with the state parks is cost. On a normal camping trip with a few people, they’re usually cheaper, but they keep forcing us to get two sites for the six of us. They have absolutely no flexibility. At Tahquamenon I tried to reason/negotiate their four tent per site limit. I pointed out that two or three of our tents would fit in the footprint of a car, and since we don’t have a car we should be able to have the extra two tents. I told them we all had single person tents, three or four could fit inside a tent the park would count as one tent, so we should be able to get one site. They would not budge. Carl started theorizing on the definition of a tent. If we attached all our flies, would that be considered one tent? At private campgrounds, the person working usually owns the place or is close with the owner and is fine negotiating the tent limit and letting us share one site. This makes the state parks more expensive per person with less amenities. So I think I’m going to start favoring the private grounds. For that night, we got two adjacent spots. A couple hours later a massive RV, 50 times the size of our tents, parked in the spot next to us – their AC ran all night long.
After setting up camp, we checked out the falls (they get their copper color from the tannins leached from the cedar swamps upstream) and got some dinner. Carl got a flat, in the dark, in a cloud of viscous mosquitoes.
The next day we headed south along hwy 123 until 407 which turned north to Pine Stump Junction. This was new ground for me. In a car, you’d just head down to 28 and go west, but this would add 15 miles, and the cars go so fast on 28 I wanted to avoid it. So we headed north. It was so hot – how is it this hot in the UP in June? I should be in a sweatshirt, but it’s 88!
From Pine Stump, I knew there’d be 12-15 miles of dirt road before we reached Grand Marias. On Google street view, only the first mile was pictured, but I assumed (and hoped) it would remain in the same condition.
I. was. wrong. Holy. crap! A mile or two after the nicely packed dirt road had begun, it turned to sand. Pure sand. Please watch this video and focus on the tires sinking into the road. In the middle you can hear Rachel say, “I think I’ll just drag me self over here and die”. Here are some stills…but seriously, watch the video.
I don’t know if it was freshly grated, or if it had blown onto the road from the shoreline, or both, but there were drifts of sand. Drifts that were invisible until you hit them. Mike, with the fattest tires, was the fastest. I followed his tread lines. They would go along smoothly, suddenly dip into a pit, there’s be a mess of tracks – fishtailing and wheel spinning – what looked like some drag marks, and then more tire tracks. For the next 12 miles, that was our life. Ride, swerve, wheel spin, fall, drag the bike, walk the bike, try again. On top of that there was wind, which I’d curse until it died down and the black flies came out, which I’d curse until the wind came back. It was relatively busy too, people would pass in Jeeps and trucks, kicking up sand. Fortunately, since it was busy, someone picked up Abby and Craig – they have skinny tires and couldn’t ride at all. We couldn’t stop laughing from the ridiculousness of the road. It was tough to go more than 5mph – when we were even on the bikes.
Twelve miles later I kissed the pavement, and we all rode into Grand Marias together.
Carl and I secured a beautiful camp site right off Lake Superior. It was a private campground, so we all got to share one site. Soon after, my friend Brian arrived! Yay! I told him he had to visit at some point so he could maintain his title as my only friend who has visited every place I’ve ever lived. I am counting these three months as living on my bike. Originally he was going to ride with us, but the logistics didn’t work out. This turned out in our favor though because the next day we got to drive (cars are terrifying – they go so fast) to the Chapel Rock trail head of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and swing by Kingston Plains on the way.
My last day as tour guide brought us to Munising by way of the Breakwall Bakery and Grand Sable Dunes. Brian had to head back to Nashville after that.
Our ride to Munising along 58 was nice. We only had one of two log trucks come closer than I’d like, but all in all, it was a very pleasant. We went straight to Shooters – a great brewery – and got pasties for dinner, then checked into a motel.
I started planning for the following week but fell asleep with all the maps – this is what happens when you haven’t slept well in 6 days. In general, plotting out approximate locations of where we’d stay for the next week worked out nicely. It maintained long term flexibility while assuring we’d find a spot for six people every night. Everyone would take one night and call around until they found our lodging.
Two days ago was our weekly rest day which we spent in Munising. Right before we got on a boat for a shipwreck tour, Carl started feeling really queasy. I started to wonder if that was the reason he was acting so weird the day before. He had been angry – like really angry – about staying at Grand Sable Dunes too long, and when I tried to ask follow up questions, his responses didn’t make sense – Carl is an extremely rational/reasonable person (part of the reason we get along so well) so it was very odd. Plus it was pretty upsetting – having a friend that mad at you is never pleasant. Fatigue from an underlying illness could explain it. Sure enough, he had a fever a few hours later which fluctuated for the rest of the day peaking at 101.
The next morning (yesterday) Carl was out of it – he attributed it to lack of coffee and did seem much better once he had a cup. The rest of us wanted to take an extra rest day – we had several sick days built into the overall tour timeline for this very reason, but Carl did not want to hold us up. When we instructed him to rest, he insisted that he at least be allowed to pack up – he wanted to see how he felt after moving around a little. I knew exactly what was happening. If he was allowed to do that, he’d want to try something else. I caved despite being fully aware that I was being manipulated. He seemed on edge, and I didn’t want him to get mad again, so I let him pack. Sure enough, he felt fine, so then he wanted to ride around town – just to see how he felt on a bike. After than he insisted we only take the morning off. So we left Munising around 11AM, taking it slow and stopping every five miles for a water break. Just under 15 miles out, he said he was feeling great and since he was upfront about not feeling well the day before, he wanted us to believe he was OK now. I told him I believed he felt OK, but we needed to take it slow since the fever fluctuated a lot the day before. He agreed and started to drop back. I felt his front panniers begin to push on my rear bags. I thought he was just momentarily distracted, but it didn’t stop, and I could feel myself begin to lose control of my bike as I was pushed toward the edge of the road. Not knowing what to do, I pulled forward and looked back to see him fall onto his side and slide along the gravel shoulder – eyes wide and glazed. For a minute he didn’t know where he was. Craig and Rachel took on the calm medic roll quickly and flawlessly. Abby called an ambulance, and a woman, Becky, driving by in the opposite direction stopped and waited with us. He must have passed out. It took a long time for the ambulance to come – 45 minutes, I think. I sat next to Carl in the grass on the side of the road. He apologized for getting angry the other night – he also attributed his mood as a pre-illness symptoms. I told him there was no need to apologize – I had figured that was the reason, but I did appreciate it.
Jan and Cody, the paramedics, said everything checked out – although his blood sugar was on the low end – but he needed to go back to the hospital in Munising. I got pulled into the ambulance – Carl wanted to talk to me, but I think Jan was also hoping I’d talk some sense into him. He was talking about continuing the ride right then and there. I reassured him no one would be upset returning to Munising; he needed to get X-rays. Becky drove his bike back into town, and I’ve never ridden 14 miles so fast in a headwind. I was sure everything was fine, but in medical situations, my imagination always takes over and goes nuts. I should have asked to ride in the ambulance! I cursed many things on the push back the town, the road, the hills, the wind, how easily I was manipulated that morning/how poorly I negotiated, the heritage museum a 1/2 mile before the hospital. It looked like it could be a hospital! I was mad I had to slow down to find a sign. I realize how ridiculous it is to curse at a heritage museum.
The intensity and fear surrounding the situation started to subside once inside the ER. Carl was in good spirits, and the nurse cleaning out his road rash had some ridiculous comments. When she said, “you sure these aren’t fingernail marks?” I had to leave the room stifling laughter. The rest of the staff facetiously referred to him as Dr. Carl as he wanted to see his X-rays after being informed of the small cracks in his collar bone and rib. Next to a large old break was a small crack. Carl reasoned that, as he was not aware he’d ever broken his collar bone – and the old break looked huge – he would be able to continue riding with a tiny crack.
Last night he was lightheaded again. He needed to take a week or so off and just rest, somewhere comfortable and familiar. The bone wouldn’t heal in a week, but at least it would give the underlying illness a chance to pass. If he ignored that and fell again, there’d be more than a crack, and then his tour would definitely be over. We tried to get him to understand this, but it wasn’t sinking in. I just looked helplessly at Rachel, and she got the message across. Good ol’ Brit, no problem telling it like it is.
My Uncle Jimmy, from California, is on a road trip and just happened to arrive in Munising two days ago. He also just happens to be on his way down to my other Uncle in the norther lower peninsula today (the day after the ER visit) who just happened to live about an hour from my other Uncle who will be driving down to the Detroit area tomorrow. Carl lives just outside Detroit. By pure chance, a shuttle of Uncles is ready to take him home for a week of rest.
We were very familiar with Munising now – especially our favorite restaurant, the Falling Rock Cafe – a bookstore/sandwich/coffee/ice cream/arts and crafts place we’ve patroned at least once every day. Rachel, with her regal accent, is famous around town. Tomorrow, after four days and nights in Munising, it will be time to move on to areas of the UP I’ve never been.
Between the events surrounding Peter and Carl, It’s been a crazy week. I told everyone I want the rest of the tour to be super boring!
Hindsight notes: In general, private campgrounds were a better option when there were over four of us camping together.
In terms of the accident, I can play the what-if game forever. What-if we’d taken that second rest day? What if I hadn’t pulled forward, could I have balanced both our bikes until we slowed down enough? etc. But that’s not constructive. The most concrete lesson I took from this week was how important it is to learn the signs of underlying issues. This wasn’t the last time Carl acted a bit off, but instead of shrugging it off, that was a prompt for a water break, or an offering of food or rest, etc.