Lake Superior Half-Circle Route: Ferries, anyone?

Words by Molly Brewer Hoeg, photos by Molly Brewer Hoeg and Rich Hoeg 

Planning a cycling tour often involves a touch of ingenuity. Having recently relocated back to Duluth Minnesota, my husband, Rich, and I resumed our love affair with Lake Superior and dreamed of doing the famed Circle Tour by bicycle. But the Trans-Canada Highway along the northeastern side of the lake was notorious for its hilly, two-lane, no-shoulder, logging-truck-laden stretch. It wasn’t the stuff for my first cycling tour. After all, Rich was hoping to get me hooked on touring, not scare me away from it.

Enter Rich’s unique solution – cycle the western half of the lake and use the Isle Royale backpacker ferries to shuttle across the middle of Lake Superior. The result was a 9-day, 500-mile tour, hugging the scenic shores of the Big Lake.

Rich and Molly at the start of their tour.

Rich and Molly at the start of their tour.

Circling counter-clockwise, we started on the southern shore of the lake through Wisconsin, arching up into the Bayfield Peninsula. Tiny harbor towns dot the western side of that spit of land, including eclectic Cornucopia. Small shops line the waterway which is home to fishing vessels in the slip behind. Our first overnight was in Bayfield, a popular tourist town rich in restaurants, sailboats and artsy shopping opportunities.

Moving into Upper Michigan, we passed through the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park. We had miles of tree-lined roads to ourselves, emerging at the base of the Keweenaw Peninsula. In Ontonagon, on we ate at a small diner which served the best beef pasties we’d ever tasted and relaxed on the quiet sand beach behind our motel.

View of Lake Superior from the Keweenaw Peninsula

View of Lake Superior from the Keweenaw Peninsula

Using the ferry meant traveling to the top of the Keweenaw Peninsula. It could easily be skipped if circling the entire lake, but it would be a travesty to miss. Part way up, Houghton is situated on a waterway that cuts through the peninsula. Leaving town, we followed a quiet byway next to that passage. Reaching Lake Superior once again, we turned up the western side where we followed local roads immediately adjacent to the water. The sunshine and lack of wind made it easy to love the route. Following a short but steep climb inland, we returned to the shore in time to find the Jam Pot. Run by Ukrainian Catholic monks, the tiny bakery features decadent breads and muffins as well as jams made from local berries. It was a necessary rest and refuel stop. Just beyond, we ogled their ornate onion-topped monastery on the lakeshore.

Eating a muffin at the Jam Pot

Eating a muffin at the Jam Pot

Sleeping adjacent to the water in Copper Harbor, I could hear the wind whipping the lines against the sailboat masts throughout the night. I should have registered its meaning. Big waves were building up out on Lake Superior. I had trained well for the 70-mile days of cycling on this trip, but nothing prepared me for the voyage across the lake.

Boarding the Isle Royale Queen IV, we were in the company of hearty outdoor folk. The 81-foot-long passenger-only ferry held 100 passengers, all bound for Isle Royale – a National Park off the Minnesota/Ontario border of Lake Superior dedicated entirely to hiking and backpacking. The only exception is the National Park lodge on the northeast end of the island, a pricey but comfortable alternative to camping or rustic cabins. With no roads, and use of bikes prohibited on the island, we had to secure special permission in advance to transport our bikes on the ferries. The crew hoisted them gear and all to the top deck, where we watched to make sure they were well secured for the passage.

The Isle Royal Queen IV arrives in Copper Harbor the night before the crossing

The Isle Royal Queen IV arrives in Copper Harbor the night before the crossing

The 4-hour trip across 55 miles of open water was a bouncy affair. Rich was in his element, riding in the open bow dodging the crashing waves. As we tacked through the rough waters, we alternately rocked from side to side then front to back. I had a less glorious trip, clinging to the back railing watching the horizon in an attempt to control my nausea. It was a challenge given my propensity to sea sickness. Next time I will consider a more stable alternative, the Ranger III, a much larger National Park Service ferry from Houghton. But not without first cycling the northern section of the peninsula, which can be done via a circle route.

Once on Isle Royale, I was grateful for the comfortable bed in the lodge, and slept off my queasiness before setting out to do a little hiking and canoeing. Isle Royale is 45 miles long by nine miles at its widest. It boasts 165 miles of hiking trails, including a 40-mile trail running from end to end. In one afternoon, we could only get a taste of the island’s unspoiled environment. Now, with more experience behind us and having added camping gear to our tours, I would opt for a more authentic island experience and camp in a wilderness site.

Sunrise at Split Rock Lighthouse

Sunrise at Split Rock Lighthouse

The only blight on my island stay was the reality that I faced another ferry ride in the morning. But that trip was smooth sailing. The Voyager II serves as the mail boat as well as hiker transport. So the first portion of the journey was spent hopping between points the length of the island to pick up or deliver both. The actual lake crossing to Grand Portage, Minnesota was only two hours out of the total six hour voyage. We landed mid-afternoon, with just enough time to cycle to Grand Marais before a raging thunderstorm struck. Timing is everything.

The Voyager II

The Voyager II

Gooseberry Falls on the North Shore

Gooseberry Falls on the North Shore

Our final two days took us down the North Shore of Lake Superior on Scenic 61. We were on familiar territory, and took advantage of the Gitchi Gami State Trail for bicycles on the completed portions. There was plenty of time to stop at our favorite state parks dotting the shore, savoring the fact that cyclists get in for free.

On the Gitchi Gami State Trail

On the Gitchi Gami State Trail

Choosing Canal Park and the iconic Aerial Lift Bridge for our finishing line in Duluth, we were greeted by family and friends to celebrate completing our tour, just as an ore boat passed under the bridge. Quizzed immediately about the trip, I answered without hesitation – I was hooked. I couldn’t wait to do more. 10,000 miles of cycle touring later, I still look back fondly on our modest beginnings. And I’m still eager to do it again.

Trans Superior Tour Final Map


Molly Brewer Hoeg is a freelance writer living in Duluth, Minnesota. She is currently writing a book titled America at 12 Miles an Hour about her experiences bike touring with her husband. You can also read more of her work on her website, Superior Footprints. Her husband Rich is a photographer and birder. His work can be found here.

 

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Take a virtual tour of Fyxation’s new retail space

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Located in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood in southeastern Wisconsin—home to a vibrant cycling community and the Riverwest 24 hour race, one of the largest urban bike races in the country—Fyxation recently renovated its new location to include retail.

Housed in the same building as Milwaukee’s Colectivo Coffee Roasters main roasting facility on North Humboldt Boulevard, the smell of fresh coffee is always in the air.

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“It’s a pretty amazing space and is not your typical bike shop,” co-founder Ben Ginster said. “The new space houses our leather production as well as our design center, office, warehouse and our new retail space and bike repair department. We’re located right off of the Humboldt Boulevard commuter route, which is one of the busiest bike commuter paths in the city and home to Milwaukee’s first green bike lane.

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“Our space is unique; in addition to housing our design center and warehouse, we’ve also relocated our leather production into the new facility and the new space is also home to our first ever Fyxation retail store,” Ginster added. “Our new flagship store is about 2,500 square feet and features Fyxation bikes, parts, our new line of Milwaukee- made backpacks and messenger bags, a full service area and our in-house leather production/assembly.”


Take a virtual tour of Fyxation here.


“As you can see from the Google View inside tour, the store is very open and in addition to having our service area out on the floor so customers can engage with our service team, the shop is focused around three large, open bike kiosks that let you walk through the store and explore current bike models.

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“All of the displays in the store are mobile so that we can quickly convert the shop into an event space like we recently did when we converted the shop into an art gallery for a fundraiser for a  local cycling non-profit. Our leather production is in plain view and gives visitors a chance to see our production up close as we cut, rivet and assemble products for the shop and for our domestic and international customers.”

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In Print: Cycling Wisconsin’s North Coast: Fat Bikes, Beer and Badgers

Editor’s note: This feature originally appeared in Bicycle Times Issue #32, which is on sale now. Grab a copy at your local newsstand, order one here, or best of all, order a subscription and never miss an issue.

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Words and Photos: Dave Schlabowske

I may never go to Colorado again. After a whirlwind weekend tour of Wisconsin’s North Coast along Lake Superior, I found some of the best mountain biking I have experienced since I last rode in Durango. While the trails don’t have quite the same mountainous vistas, the views of Lake Superior from the top of Mt. Ashwabay are just as spectacular, and oxygen is a lot easier to find at 1,280 feet than it is at 12,800 feet riding over Engineer Pass.

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I first visited Bayfield last February, when my friends Julian, Nick and I made the trip north to ride the ice road to Madeline Island and explore the frozen sea caves on our fat bikes. That trip was so much fun, my family and I took a three day weekend in Bayfield in July to paddle the same places I rode on my Schlick Northpaw (see Issue 29). It was an amazing experience to see the very same caves in polar opposite seasons!

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During the family trip, I was invited by the folks from the North Coast Cycling Association (NCCA) and Chequamegon Area Mountain Bike Association (CAMBA) to ride the local trails at Mt. Ashwabay with State Representative Janet Bewely from Ashland. I was so blown away by the quality of the flowy, fun mountain bike trails, that I made a promise to myself to come back and ride them again when I had time to take photos for this story.

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Julian couldn’t make out most recent trip back over Labor Day weekend, Nick and I spent some serious time ripping Torogdor, Upper Diesel and the other trails at Mt. Ashwabay with John Murphy from the NCCA. There are currently a little more than five miles of really challenging, fun trails to ride, but the plan is for 25 to 30 miles of trail. Construction moves relatively quickly because the northern CAMBA crew roughs them in with the mini-excavator they purchased and then finishes them by hand. 

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Beer

Every time I head to Lake Superior I make a mandatory stop to fill a growler or two and eat some amazing deep dish pizza at The Thirsty Pagan in Superior. The micro brews there are some of my favorite because they always have an interesting sour on tap. This last trip it was a tasty Berliner Weiss.

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You can’t find a better pairing for microbrews than bicycling, so as you would expect, Thirsty Pagan owner Steve Knaus is bike guy and a big supporter of Cyclists of Gitchee Gumee Shores (COGGS). COGGS was started in 1994 when the Superior Bikers and the North Star Bike Club combined. Since then the nonprofit organization has built 35 miles of killer mountain bike trails in the granite hills that tower over the Twin Ports of  Duluth and Superior. The trails are part of the Duluth Traverse system, which includes a plan to build 100 miles of mountain bike trails right in town! There are even a lift-served trails at Spirit Mountain. 

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Fat Bikes: Badger Build

During my repeated visits to Superior this year, I’ve been curious about the opportunities for beach riding but didn’t have the time to investigate the shoreline until this recent trip with Nick. Since we knew before we left that we would be looking for sand, we brought two of Fyxation’s prototype carbon fat bikes as test vehicles. My rocket on two wheels tipped the scales at 26.5 lbs built up with as many quality components from Wisconsin companies as possible.

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I started with Answer carbon bars and seatpost, Hayes Prime brakes, Sun-Ringle Mulefut 80SL rims laced to Fyxation hubs with Wheelsmith spokes. For sneakers, I got a pair of the new Bontrager Hodag tubeless tires. Add Fyxation grips, bar-end plugs, pedals and a red Selle-Anatomica saddle made in Elkhorn, and you have the Badger Build. I did have to look south of the Cheddar Curtain for the SRAM X9 drivetrain, but otherwise the entire build is from Badger State bicycle industry.

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Nick and I looked at Google Maps and it looked like sand as far as the eye could see on the Wisconsin side of the Superior Entry on Wisconsin Point by Allouez Bay. To get there you take HWY 53 east to Moccasin Mike Road (seriously) and out to Wisconsin Point where there are a bunch of places to park by trails that lead you to the beach, which is part of the largest freshwater sand bar in the world.

With very few cars, lots of smooth, flat asphalt and bike lanes, Madeline Island offers a wonderful opportunity for an easy ride through gorgeous scenery.

After filling our growlers and eating pizza with Steve at the Thirsty Pagan, Nick and I only had time to ride about five miles of beach when we had to turn around so we could get back to Bayfield. With so much more sand to explore, we plan to bring our Fyxation fatties back to ride more sand. The beach had so much driftwood, that it offers some really fun technical opportunities, which is unusual for beach riding.

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Back in Bayfield, Nick and I hopped on the ferry with our touring bikes to ride around Madeline Island. With very few cars, lots of smooth, flat asphalt and bike lanes, Madeline Island offers a wonderful opportunity for an easy ride through gorgeous scenery. Nick brought his four-piece fly rod and we took a break along the beautiful shoreline to toss some flies in Big Bay State Park. He didn’t have any luck pulling in a shore lunch, but we snacked on blueberries, which were plentiful pretty much anywhere you looked down.

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In town we found our whitefish at the Bayfield Inn Lakeside Restaurant, which is right across the street from the Isaac Wing House where we were staying. I can’t say enough good things about the Isaac Wing House. Our two room suite had a huge bathroom with whirlpool and two porches, one overlooking the bay and the other more private and surrounded by wild flowers. It will definitely be the first place I try to reserve the next time I head back to Bayfield.

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Perfect cheesie vacation

While I might still visit my friends in Durango, I honestly have to admit that I can’t wait to get back to Bayfield. The tiny town of 457 sits on the edge of one of the most beautiful natural areas in the world, the Apostle Island National Park, so it is the perfect home base for a silent sports adventure.

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With quick access to great MTB trails, unparalleled sea kayaking, and scenic paved roads. Throw in great food (you have to try the whitefish livers), a good coffee shop, a bike shop, and you have the making of a perfect Wisconsin vacation.

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Keep reading

If you like this feature, purchase the complete Issue 32 here, or choose from our print or digital subscription options and help support your favorite cycling magazine.

 

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Rolling A Fatty: Custom rear rack for a Northwoods adventure

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Words and photos by Dave Schlabowske

Last November, the night before I headed off for my Northwoods deer camp in Peeksville, Wisconsin, I decided to build a new rack for my blaze orange Schlick Northpaw hunting rig. Because I was putting it together at the very last minute, I started with a really basic rack, but left it bare steel so I could continue to modify.

My Schlick is built up with a Shimano Alfine 11 IGH and Gates Carbon Centertrack belt drive, plus a Super Nova E3 powered by an Alfine dynamo hub. Adding the rack, a pair of 45Nrth studded Dillingers and some full coverage fenders from Big O Manufacturing in Minneapolis and I had ultimate winter commuter and an incredible hunting rig. After four months of tweaks over the long winter, I think the rack is finally done.

I typically use a backpack and sling my rifle over my shoulder when I ride to my deer stand, but this rifle season, I decided to hunt a couple of miles deeper in the woods, and I wanted to bring some camera gear with me. In order to save my back, I decided to build a rear rack to haul the gear.

Read the full story

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Hundreds of Santas ride through Milwaukee

Photos by Dave Schlabowske

Sleigh bells were ringing as hundreds of riders decked out in holiday cheer swarmed the streets of Milwaukee last week for the annual Santa Cycle Rampage.

Traditionally not much more than a pub crawl, some of the restaurants along the route took it upon themselves to donate a portion of the profits to the Wisconsin Bicycle Fed. Lowlands Group Restaurants event even brewed up a special Santa Rampage Belgian Bier. Lakefront Brewery offered up free beer. And Great Lakes Distillery donated $1 for every drink sold.

If you missed out on the action you can read about it and see more photos at wisconsinbikefed.org.

 

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