Copper Harbor: mountain-biking the Keweenaw Peninsula

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Saturday, July 15th, 2017

I have to move my campsite this morning because the site I'm in is booked for Saturday night. There are thunderstorms unleashing period downpours... in the brief respites from the rain I make mad dashes carrying my stuff to the new site. I've got a bicycle booked for today so I'm not going to wait around for things to clear up.

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Wild clouds this morning carrying thunderstorms.

I do the paperwork and take posession of the bicycle but there are some nasty-looking clouds still overhead. I leave the bike and go looking for something to eat in the hopes that these thunderstorms will clear out soon. At a bakery by the docks I see an enormous, awfully tasty-looking pecan sticky bun for $4.50. Price-gougeing notwithstanding, I'm a taker. I eat it with my coffee in some chairs overlooking the harbor. I duck back in the bakery to throw away my paper plate. The two girls working behind the counter exclaim:

"Wow! You ate that already?"


"Did it go down hard or easy?"

"I have to say it went down quite easy."

I eat too fast. I may not be cycling much anymore but I haven't lost the appetite that goes with it.

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Big old turtle on the dirt road after Route 41 ends.
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The road and subsequent 2-tracks are chock full of muddy puddles to try and avoid (some successfully, some not...).

A mile of pavement then I'm on dirt and gravel. I take a two-track turnoff that has a sign for Rocky Point. I'm thinking this will take me out to the tip of the peninsula. A couple walking towards me a few hundred yards down the path tells me that they just saw a bear. "Sing a song" the woman says.

Soy un hombre muy honrado, que le gusta lo mejor/Las mujeres no me faltan, ni el dinero ni el amor...

I doubt the bear will appreciate my singing... I'm excited to catch a glimpse of him but the bear never materializes for me. Instead I've got a rocky, bouncy, muddy path. In some spots the puddles are unavoidable, I just have to ride very slowly near the edges and hope I don't accidently hit the deep end of one of these pools.

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This path eventually takes me out to the shoreline, and a beautiful shore it is. The bugs are unbelievably bad, however. Biting flies and mosquitos swarm me constantly. I want to stop and eat something on one of the beaches but I just can't sit still with these swarms of insects.

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My bike for the day, a Trek something-or-other. 29-inch wheels with front suspension.
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This path I'm on eventually dead-ends. No choice but to turn around for the long trek back to the last turn-off I saw, about 4 miles back. I don't like retracing my steps on the bicycle but this is what I get for not planning a route. Back at that turnoff, it's a path made specifically for mountain bikes. It's a blast: roller coaster bumps, built-up embankments for fast turns, a whole lot of fun. I guess I had seen videos of these kind of trails but had never been on one myself. It goes on for what seems like forever, maybe 10 miles through the forest.

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The mountain bike path is a blast, with embankments to fly around.

The path brings me to "High Point", the eastward-facing end of the Keweenaw Peninsula. Another beautiful spot; small, rocky coves for as far as the eye can see in either direction. The bugs aren't quite so bad on this side, there's more wind. As I'm pulling up a little hill to get a view the back wheel actuall falls off! That's a first for me. I've pedaled most of the way around the world and never had a wheel fall off. I should have checked the bike better when I picked it up. I just assumed they knew what they were doing...

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The coves at High Point, a beautiful spot (if not for the raging flies).
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The return trip to Copper Harbor is more muddy two-tracks and some gravel roads in somewhat drier condition. I'm bonking with about 10 miles left to go... I didn't eat anything other than that pecan sticky bun. Good as far as it goes but not enough for this kind of calorie-burning day. I've been out of water for a while as well. Should have brought the filter.

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Schlatter Lake.
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Reminds me of Bolivia.

I limp into Copper Harbor thoroughly exhausted. I drop off the bike and tell the guy the wheel fell off. He's very apologetic. I hop on the motorcycle (I had left it at the bike place) and head down to the talks to relax. 10 minutes later the bike shop guy -- and a woman I'm guessing is his wife -- pull up and call over to me. They say they are going to refund me 10 bucks because of the wheel incident. Well it's a gesture at least... and they took the time to come look for me.

After a hot shower at the campground (the one good thing about state campgrounds: they invariably have showers) and dinner I'm restored enough to take a walk down to the lake to watch the geese swim around. I'm in for a long sleep tonight.

Ride stats:

Distance pedaled: 32.7 miles

Riding time: 5:33:29

Elevation gain: 2,230 feet