Thursday, February 2, 2012

1979: Touring in the UP, Part 3

Resting and writing in the shade in Trenary, MI, 1979
I awoke to my fourth day of riding, moving inland and away from the southern shoreline of Lake Superior, which the maps I could find indicated was mostly gravel roads. So I was riding inland, through the narrow waist of the UP, the band between the eastern UP and the peninsula jutting north into Lake Superior and South into Wisconsin. It was going to be a perfect summer riding, sunny, temps headed to high in low 70’s, with little wind or humidity. After an early start and some zig-zag exploring, I was riding along at a steady pace, with 40 miles by lunch. I loaded up with groceries and continued on, and by 4 PM I had almost 90 miles, but another 5 hours of daylight.  I  decided to keep riding, which meant riding the Seney Stretch

State Highway M-28 ran the east-west the full length of the UP, but the 25 miles from Seney to Shingleton was two lane road, perfectly straight, across a huge expanse of peat bog. There were no cross roads or stops, and only a parallel railroad track and a line of telephone poles. So once I was on the way, I would be committed. I topped off my bottles and began rolling west out of Seney.

It was a quiet mid-week afternoon, and I was riding at a steady cadence for 15-16 mph. (No bike computers for another two or three years, so speed was just dead reckoning from cadence, the axle mounted cyclometer and mileage markers.) The first thing I noticed was that the overtaking cars were literally coming up over the horizon, and disappearing into the vanishing point ahead of me in a 6 to 7 minute process. The road was that straight and that flat, and only a handful of cars would pass either way during the ride.

And then came the deer flies.

After the first 20 minutes, I heard a buzzing and realized I had company. A cloud of about 2-dozen, dime-sized deer flies, were drafting me. Apparently they can fly at a sustained 15 mph, since they could not get close enough to light, and by varying my pace a bit, the would gradually come a little closer, or gradually just fall back. So for the next hour and half I had another reason not to stop.

I rolled on, first hitting 5 miles. During my first few years of riding, 5 miles was distance from home to town, and it became one of my first benchmarks of independence. Then I had 10 miles, based on the mile markers. I held a steady 90 RPM, turning my 47 by 15 or 17 gear. I came up on halfway, and then 15 miles, and then 1 hour down. My camera came out for a couple of rolling pictures, but there was no reason to stop, and my deer fly escort was still flying in formation with me.

As the miles rolled by, it almost felt like I was motionless on my bike, on a giant painted roller of road and sky, rolling toward me from oncoming horizon, only to drop endlessly behind me. Even the few oncoming and overtaking cars, in the minutes long progression, contributed to the illusion.

Finally after an hour and a half, the horizon started to change. After 25 miles I came up on the first building and an intersection Shingleton, a little 4 corner town. It was a little after 6 PM, and I had almost 120 miles for the day. I found a grocery shop, had coke, and ate a sub for dinner. Then I rode on the another 10 miles to a park near Munising. On the way into campground, I actually met another rider, from, New York I think, heading east on a coast-to-coast ride. He was ending his day and we were able split the campground fee. I setup my tent and settled in for a good nights sleep. That 128 mile day is still my longest day of riding on a loaded touring bike.

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