First off, writing a tour report feels very different than writing a race report. A race is typically 30-45 minutes long, 3 or 4 hours max if I'm doing something like the Gravel Metric. In comparison, my tour around Lake Michigan was 18 days long, with 15 days of riding, and 3 rest days. In terms of mileage, I probably cover something like 5-9 miles in the average cross race, once again maxing out at around 70 miles for a really long road race. As best as I can tell, we covered over 1200 miles on the tour, meaning that we rode an average of 80 miles on our "on" days. So with the big, all-encompassing numbers out of the way, here's my attempt to write a short, linear, tour report.
Erik, Brad, and myself started off in Humboldt Park, Chicago on the morning on Friday, May 4th. I had gotten to town a day and half earlier, and finished putting together a Surly cross check that Ben lent to me. Erik had done a lot of work already, but we still had to get all of the cabling done, and adjust everything so that the bike more or less fit me. By Friday morning though, the bike was looking great, all of our panniers were packed up, and it was time to go. We spent the first day on a mixture of roads and trails to take us around Gary, Indiana and over to the Indiana Dunes. We celebrated our first day of touring by going to a Brew Pub in Michigan City and having a few beers and lots of food. I was probably the most hungry the first day, my stomach got used to touring pretty quick. The next day was highlighted by a trip to the summer home of one of Erik's professors where we went for a walk in the woods, ate snacks, and checked out the bee hives that the family keeps. The following day, we continued up into Holland, MI, arriving unexpectedly during their annual tulip festival. We drank some great beers at the New Holland brewery, and enjoyed a beautiful night at the state campground. I even managed to briefly get in the lake , the only time the whole trip I had a real opportunity to.
The following day, Brad's plans called for him to head back to Chicago, so we rode up to Muskegon and he rented a car at the airport to drive back to Chicago with. While leaving the airport, I suffered the one major mechanical of the trip when my rear rim exploded due to the braking surface cracking and separating from the rest of the rim. Fortunately, Brad hadn't left yet, so we threw my bike in the car on top of his, and drove a few miles to Breakaway bicycles in Muskegon. I bought a new wheel on the spot, we got the cassette and tire moved over, and we were back on the road in under 2 hours. Probably the best possible time we could have had a major mechanical. From there, Erik and I rode on, getting out of Muskegon, and traveling along some beautiful country roads. That night was the first night we had thunderstorms, and they'd be a presence for the next few nights.
The following day was our longest in terms of mileage, with us riding about 110 miles to get up to Sleeping Bear Dunes. Fortunately the weather was great all afternoon and we were treated to some stunning lake views and some climbs that stunned our legs. We made it in with plenty of time to spare though and enjoyed a dry evening before the rain came in. Our first rest day at Sleeping Bear was unfortunately pretty rain and lightning filled, so we mostly stayed in our tents and didn't get a chance to see the big dunes except from afar.
The next day was one of the best of the trip, we rode through the Traverse City peninsula and spent a wonderful afternoon drinking cider and eating pickled eggs at the Tandem Cidery outside of Suttons Bay, MI. I can't recommend the cidery enough If you are ever in the northwestern part of the lower peninsula, it is just awesome. We then rode on to Traverse Bay, and from there, we rode on to Petoskey. The day following Petoskey was a tough one on the bike, constant heavy rain that only built as the day went on, nothing but highway miles, and temperatures in the 40s. Gah. Eventually we got to a Burger King in Mackinaw City, got a little warmed up, and then called the bridge authority to come pick us up and take us over the Mackinaw bridge to St. Ignace. Once there, we sprung for our first motel room there, dried out, and ordered a ton of pizza.
From St. Ignace, we had several uneventful days getting across the Upper Peninsula. Being a yooper from Houghton, I typically like to rave about how great the UP is, but the SE corner is basically all forgettable. After an uneventful and very lazy rest day in Manistique, we spent two days getting ourselves out of Michigan and down to Green Bay, and then another day up to Door County.
Temperatures had been pretty cool since we got to the UP, but things finally started to warm up in Door County. We were lucky enough to stay at a farmhouse that belongs to Erik's aunt and uncle, and we had a great rest day exploring the little towns that dot the west coast of the peninsula. All of our time in Door County was excellent, and I was sad to move on when it was time to go. We had some tough winds getting down to Two Creeks, WI, but nothing prepared us for the following day. Extremely strong winds straight out of the south as we rode 95 miles down to Milwaukee. For good portions of the day, we were averaging 10-12 mph, and riding our hearts out to even go that slowly. Definitely one of the toughest days I've ever had on the bicycle. Fortunately, we stopped to eat and rest in Port Washington for a while, and the final 30 miles to Milwaukee weren't so bad, though we did get caught in a thunderstorm. We were welcomed at Evan and Emily's house right in the city and enjoyed a great evening of eating burgers off the BBQ and hanging out with the dogs. From there, it was another 95 mile day back down to Chicago. Thankfully, the wind shifted, and we were treated to the warmest, sunniest day on the bike. With the wind to our side and our panniers mostly empty, we made great time down to the city.
Outside of the Great Lakes Naval Base, we ran into the only other bicycle tourers we saw on the whole trip, a cute couple going from DC to the west coast and we chatted with them for 15 minutes. Then, just a few miles later, we ran into Jamie from the Chicago Cuttin Crew out on a training ride. We rode and chatted with her down to Highland Park, and then enjoyed the final 25 miles of our tour in relative peace until we got into the city, and then all of a sudden we were officially finished! The feeling of finishing a tour like this is hard to describe, but I was definitely very happy and very content with the world.
So for my first time touring, I think it went well and I believe I can speak for Erik when I say that neither of us wanted to kill each other by the end (separate tents helped enormously), and that at nearly every moment, I felt very happy to be riding and to be able to see and experience everything from a bicycle. And now I can't wait to do a tour again!!