I awake with smoked scented hair and with a deep seed of anxiety in the pit of my stomach. Was it the previous day’s ghost stories? Or just a lack of solid calories? Whatever the cause, I’m feeling stuck in and don’t want to get out of my sleeping bag and pedal another day. At this point I am an expert in dealing with my inner toddler so I promise myself another good meal and a few more miles closer to the finish line. I finally feel motivated to get up and out of the tent and stir up some instant coffee and munch down a chalky powerbar while writing out a blog post on my phone, which quickly frustrates me and I decide to stop dawdling in this dumb beautiful spot and get a move on. As I am packing up, the campsite host swings through one last time and told me that he said a prayer for me for safe travels. I give my thanks and feel sturdier as I move through my packing up routine. I need every bit of spiritual protection that I can get. I soon roll out down the road, continuing on the scenic lake drive and try to let all the trees and blue lake soak up my grump. I’m stopping at every wayside that I come upon and learn a bit of history and use the bathroom and maybe spending ten minutes walking around. I am procrastinating from any more time on that dumb bike.
Soon the scenic trail moves into another highway away from the lake and I roll into Paradise, a place I faintly remember. My cell phone battery is completely dead and I need to plug it in to route the next section so when I stumble upon the Paradise Tourism Center, a small storefront with lace curtains, I consider myself lucky and lock my bike up outside and head in. Little did I know how lucky I was. I had stumbled upon the Sistine Chapel of tiny town tourism centers. The entire left hand wall of this tourism center (small carpeted room) was taken up by this art piece, with backlit photographs long faded and wood cutouts of men performing feats of strength and cute oops. A complete village tableau. The righthand side featured a table crammed with pamphlets about snow mobile lodging, fat bike tours and local AA meetings, along with a donation box where the visitor can add their change so that one day Paradise can build a more modern tourism center. I was in a replication of someone’s living room, deadly quiet except for the electrical hum of all the wiring from the magnificent display. I find an outlet so that I can plug in my phone long enough to see that there is a pub nearby and I take as many pictures as my dying battery allows before getting back on the bike. I am awestruck.
I arrive at the local restaurant, which labels itself as a gastropub and smokehouse, which is something I was not expecting to find in the UP. Their menu is sophisticated but I’m just hear for the basics so I order a double patty cheeseburger with caramelized onions and an orders of fries with horseradish mayo for dippin’ along with a pint of beer. As I sip my beer and wait I look around the dining room as the wails of the Kid Rock/Sheryl Crow duet echo around me and start writing in my notebook about one of my most cherished UP items: decorative mailboxes! When I was a kid and driving up to the UP, I knew we were very close to the cabin when I started to spot the mailboxes along the side of the road, with decorative carved wooden totems or nicknames for beloved vacation spots (“loafers paradise” or “slice of heaven”), brightly painted signs emblazoned with the family name. Old school avatars that marked each plot. I memorized my favorite ones, beacons at the end of a long boring car ride from Ohio that I would be back in the woods soon. It has been a treat biking past these mailboxes and noticing each one with adult eyes and chuckling at the weird humor or just enjoying the artwork. END OF NOSTALGIA.
The food has arrived and the burger is just magnificent with a butter brushed brioche bun and oozing cheese and I eat the entire thing in a few groaning bites while stuffing fries into the empty spaces of my mouth. Soon both plates are completely clean and I order another round of French fries so that I can keep scooping up horseradish aioli into my face. By the time the second plate of French fries arrive my stomach capacity has caught up with my brain and so I only eat about half and then roll the rest into a napkin and tuck in carefully into my fanny pack for later. Waste not, want not. I order a cup of coffee to round out the meal and motivate myself to ride the final 10 miles to the campground I’ll be staying at tonight. After heavy cream and sugar, I chug the coffee and make my way to the front to pay the bill and catch two teenage servers smooching around the corner. Gah! I am seriously a magnet for displays of puppy love. Check paid, I head on out to Tahquamenon Falls State Park and although it is only 10 miles, it feels like 30 after demolishing that burger.
I make it to the campground head office and I’m surprised by how packed the campgrounds are, considering that for most of my Ontario tour I was the only one around. At the head office next to the register I found this gem, which I used every ounce of my self restraint to not buy it, mostly by weighing it in my hands (would you rather have this or more peanut butter huuuuuh?).
I roll into the campground proper and realize that it is extremely RV friendly, with rows of the loud hulking machines next to each other. Fuck. I try to find the quietest corner, next to a little playground but still with no tree cover, and set up my tent as clouds start to roll in. The only good thing about RV campsites is that they always have a little power box that I can plug my phone into. The worst thing about this site? The fucking red squirrels. I’ve been dealing with red squirrel antics ever since one knocked over my morning coffee at Split Rock and the shrill cry of the Ontario one when I pooped in the middle of the woods but these particular UP squirrels were they very worst of all. First off, they were everywhere and unafraid of humans. Once I set up my tent and crawled in, one squirrel started pacing around my tent, stopping every few feet and letting out an ear crumbling scream and then scurrying a few feet more and repeating. I think he can smell the leftover French fries in my fanny pack which is why he is launching this full on audio assault with homes that I’ll just chuck a few at him so he’ll keep quiet but NUH. I sit in my tent quietly eating the fries while reading my book, waiting for my phone to charge enough so I can tap out some more blog goodness. I slip into a quick nap but then I hear the plops of fat raindrops hitting my tent so I hustle outside and grab my phone and secure my gear for a wet night, my hopes for a shower dashed by the rain storm. I have enough juice in my phone to write a quick post and to listen to an episode of Two Dope Queens while eating some gummis, to keep up morale. I fall asleep to the majestic whir of nearby RV generators and faint pop music.
DISTANCE RIDDEN: 38 miles
HAPPY PLACE: freshly exfoliated, orange nails, coconut scented body oil, fresh coat of mascara