Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Mabel Tainter Theatre

Upon entering Menomonie, we went to Acoustic Cafe to have lunch. (I highly recommend their beer cheese soup. [Only in Wisconsin!!]) While waiting for my food I picked up a tourism paper bragging of all the local attractions. Listed was the Mabel Tainter Memorial Theatre. I recognized the amazing limestone facade as the same building I had been admiring moments before. The paper listed it as ranked as one of the 10 best historical theaters in the country. I wasn't necessarily impressed. It seems to me, almost every community and small town likes to brag of their "historic theatre" even if it only dates back to the thirties. However, Ira claimed it really was quite a nice place, so we decided to stroll over and take a self guided tour.

All I can say is, walking into this wonderful building blew my mind. It truly is a wonderful place. It was built by Andrew Tainter, an obscenely wealthy lumber baron, in 1889 to commemorate the death of his child Mabel.

Andrew Tainter's lumber company made most of its loot off the virgin white pine stands in the area so a lot of the wood carving was done in white pine (and then painted gold).

The most impressive thing about this building are the details. Everything is beautiful to look at even the radiators and door hinges are impressively detailed.

If you are ever in the area you have to check this place out!!

More Waterways

We may have left the Great Lakes, but we haven't left water behind us. We have been staying with Ira's parents near Menomonie, WI. In this area, there are many beautiful rivers which we have been exploring. On our ride from Eau Claire to Menomonie we rode along the Red Cedar Trail which is part of the Rails to Trails system. Anyone who is not familiar, Rails to Trails is a group which converts old train tracks to bike trails. Because of the trails age, the woods around have grown deep as trees extend over the top of the trail forming a breezy roof.

The Red Cedar trail is very beautiful with the river flowing on one side and limestone cliffs on the other side which were originally cut away by the railroads to make way for their track.

Ira's family lives 20 miles north of Menomonie in the country. Rolling hills dominate the country here. Farmers have cleared the flattest land for fields and leave the hillier ground wooded. It makes for a very pastoral look.

A couple of days ago, Ira's mom, Janice, Ira and I decided to take a canoe trip down the Hay River, near their house. There hasn't been much rain, so the river was very low. I'm not an expert canoeist yet somehow I sat in the rear position in charge of steering. After many run-ins with the bank and random tree branches, I got the hang of it and we were on our way. The banks of the river are really quite beautiful and untouched. There are (again) limestone cliffs along the river in different areas with wildflower and mosses hanging from them.

Canoeing is a very quiet mode of transportation so we were able to sneak up on a lot of wildlife. We say beavers, muskrats, blue herons, king fishers and various other kinds of birds. At one point, we came around a corner and we saw the BIGGEST bald eagle I have ever seen. Its tail was spread out and was about the width of Ira's shoulders. It's wing span was probably between 4 and 5 feet. I spent the next 10 minutes kicking myself for not having my camera out, when we came around a corner and beheld an even greater sight. Up a giant white pine tree to our left was the entire family!!!

It was amazing. The male was perched in the tree above the nest and the female sat below. Although I never got a good look, I would say there were about two baby chicks in the nest. The male took off a couple of times and flew around trying to divert our attention from the nest, while the female calmly stood as sentinel. After gawking at them for a while, we decided to ease their discomfort of our voyeurism and continue on our way.

Our shortcut and the war against petroleum dependency.

A lot of you may be wondering why we still haven't left the Midwest. Personally, I'm itchin' to be on the road, but we've had to visit EVERYONE before heading west.

When we left Ironwood last week we decided to save some time and skip riding through Northern Wisconsin, opting to catch a ride in Olkonen's grease powered truck.

This thing has two fuel systems under the hood, allowing it two run on either diesel or straight vegetable oil. We loaded the gear and bikes on the back and drove from Ironwood to Eau Claire, by way of Ashland.

We stopped for a couple pints at the South Shore Brewery...

before continuing on to the fair city on the banks of the Chippewa.

In other news, our epic journey west will begin in a couple days.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Saying Goodbye to the Great Lakes

Its been fun, but its time to go. At Ashland WI, we got our last view of the lakes. On to new ground.

Copper Peak

Located in Ironwood, my home town, is Copper Peak. It is the only ski flying jump in the Western Hemisphere and the largest in the world. Ski flying is different from ski jumping. Ski Flying is an extreme version of ski jumping with events on big hills with jumps longer then 170 meters. Typical Olympic ski jumping is between 90-120 meters.

Can you see Ira? He is actually standing parallel to the first support, if that can give you a sense of scale.

The jump is approx 23 stories high. You can take a chair lift to the top of the hill, then a 18 story elevator and then climb three flights of stairs to the viewing deck. However, they charge $12 for this. Ira and I, with the help of our adventurous friend Olk,

to climb it on our own and avoid paying. At the top, on a clear day, you can see throughout the U.P, Wisconsin, Minnesota and across Lake Superior to Canada. I have been to the top before, and it was only mildly windy. However up there we were really swaying. It was totally scary.

So we decide to climb up. I think we got 2/3 the way up when Ira decided he had had enough. (I like to blame him, but you can see in the pic, he's had enough-look in the eyes!)

This is still incredibly high. Unfortunately the jump hasn't been used in competition in over 10 years and isn't in the best condition.

The wood is weather beaten, the side guards are made of plywood that are not always secured well, not to mention the large holes. It is also slightly disturbing that you can look down and see holes and slits through the planks 200 ft down!

All I can say is AHHHHH!!! It is always exhilarating.

If you visit, take the elevator!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

More Waterfalls.

The north western section of the U.P. is perhaps my favorite.

From Marquette we rode west to L'Anse, a small town at the tip of Keweenaw bay and the south east corner of the Keweenaw peninsula. Pulling in to L'Anse on a Friday night, we instinctively knew what was for dinner. FISH FRY!!! After riding 70+ miles and eating an all you can eat fish dinner we were feeling sluggish and not wanting to ride an additional 3 miles to the local campground. At a local church, we found a man outside to ask about close accommodations. He directed us to a spot which fit all of our requirements and then some. A short 200 yards away was a trial following the river along which locals camp.

As the river flows toward the lake small waterfalls cascade down the shale rock. (a recurring theme). Not only was the campsite close by, it was incredibly beautiful and FREE!

Once setting up camp, we became slightly hesitant when a couple different groups of hikers came walking down the trail. Instead of acting on our fears and telling us we had to leave and couldn't camp there, most stopped and supplied some friendly chat and smiles. Ira and I both give thumbs up to L'Anse.

Between L'anse and it's neighbor Baraga is a small shrine to the Bishop of Baraga also known as the Snowshoe Priest. It is an amazing bronze sculpture looking out over the Keweenaw bay.
Although I am slightly hesitant of praising the missionaries a lot of whom did more harm then good to the native people they were working with, this is not the case with Father Baraga. He spoke multiple native languages writing many of the first dictionaries of Chippewa and Ottawa among others. He worked as a translator and successfully fought to protect native lands in the area (the only protected native land in the U.P. of the time).

We headed across the base of the Keweenaw peninsula to Ontonagon and then over to the Porcupine Mountains. We rode through the park to the western end and camped along the Presque Isle River.

We spent a day hiking along the river (I'm sure you can guess where this is going...) and checked out the many waterfalls which follow the waters descent to Lake Superior. This is perhaps one of my top favorite spots on the planet (being only 30 miles from my hometown). The western bank of the river has a trail with boardwalks and stair cases making the waterfalls more accessible to children and beginning hikers.

I prefer the eastern bank, an older trail which climbs in a constant up and down fashion from the river bank to the clay cliffs 30-40 ft above. The banks of the river consist of steep red clay cliffs covered in old growth of mostly cedar, white pine, and birch. Old growth does not mean virgin. The timber in this area was probably harvested in the mid 1800's but have been left undisturbed since that time. The cliffs are steep so erosion is a problem. Many times along the trial, it is necessary to climb over trees which have fallen over because their roots were unable to compete with gravity. You can also climb out on the rocks and get very close to the falls on the eastern side. However, the trail is not always kept up as well as the more traveled western side. At one point the trail had us climbing up a huge decomposing cedar tree trunk as a type of bridge. It was very sketchy looking.

Near the mouth of the river, the river separates into two branches creating a "presque isle" in the center. The eastern branch is very calm where the western branch is very fast moving. On this side, the water spirals and has dug multiple semi circular pockets in the sandstone river bank creating small whirl pools.

Emerging from the dense forest onto the shores of Lake Superior is truly a magnificent experience.

We were lucky to have amazing weather the day of our hike.

Our campsite was nestled in above the lake up a 20 Ft cliff. We hiked down to the rocky beach to see the sunset.

I can never get sick of seeing a Lake Superior Sunset. (I hope you aren't yet either because here are more pics!)

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Permanent summer vacation.

We went to Black River Harbor on Tuesday.

We brought some beer...

Olkonen built a fire...

And we cooked salmon on the rocks.

Andrea worked her cooking magic.

And it turned out awesome.

That's pepper on the potato, not sand.

I'm going to miss the Great Lakes a lot. They have been central to our trip so far.

I hope everyone is having an excellent summer so far. Isn't the Midwest great?

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

I <3 Marquette.

We're in Ironwood, MI right now, but we stayed in some pretty nice places since our last update.

Marquette is incredible. It is like taking Madison Wisconsin, removing 80% of the cheesy hippy shit, putting it on the most beautiful chunk of Lake Superior shoreline, and surrounding it with moutainbike and XC skiing trails. There's also a harbor, college campus, rivers, waterfalls, ect. There are no jobs, however, so the population is sparse like most of the U.P..

The Ojibwa Casino. We blew five bucks in fifteen minutes.

We met Steve Lindberg on our way into town. He was campaigning for State Representative by going door to door on his bike. Nice guy.

Scott and Erica were our generous hosts. Not enough can be said about their hospitality. Buy them beers if ever your paths cross.

We ate and drank at the Vierling Restaurant & Harbor Brewery. They brew 10+ different beers on site, available to go in liter plastic bottles. I recommend their stout(toasty) and blueberry wheat ale, which tastes much better than it sounds. Marquette is famous for blueberry production and this stuff is better than most fruit beers.

Andy Gregg is a great guy. He is involved in the MTB culture in town and makes furniture out of bicycle wheels. You may have seen his work at the Handlebar or many Chicago bike shops. We had lunch and rode out to Little Presque Isle together. We also met Stella at Rustico Furniture- she is a class act.

We wanted to go to the Maritime Museum, but that will have to be next time.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

What to do in the UP...

Find a river and hike down it. You are bound to find some waterfalls. We are currently in Marquette staying with our friends Scott and Erica. Last night they took us on a hike down the Dead River. It was amazingly beautiful as you can see here.

Here are exposed cedar roots along the trail.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006


I just wanted to do a quick list of thanks to people who have helped us along the way so far....

Alee Peoples for many gifts and much support.
Margo, Steve, Connar, and Alexandar Powell, for an unexpected gift before departing.
The Riverside Bicycle shop in Oscoda MI for excellent advice.
The Woodland Louge and Resturaunt in Shingleton MI for lettings us camp out back behind the bar.

For the hospitality and food:
Virendra and Sherry Singh in Mattawan MI
Steve , Margie Scott, and Zak Drohn (my uncle, aunt and cousins) in HowellMI
My Mom and Dad
My sister Emily and Jason her fiance in Flint
Fred and Nancy Cross (my aunt and uncle) in Oquioc Mi

Thanks everyone for all you have done!

Taking a day off.

Munising has a great public library so I'm catching up on some internet time.

We just finished a shipwreck tour of the harbor. The guides were a charming brother and sister team: Captain Joe and Captain Kate. They showed us three different wooden ships from the 1800s.

The glass-bottom boat was pretty neat, but pictures don't do it justice.

Apparently wood does not decompose when submerged deep in cold fresh water. Salvage divers have retrieved billions of dollars worth of hardwood logs that were lost in nineteeth century timber operations.

This is the lighthouse on Grand Island. Grand Island has a healthy black bear population. They swim across the the channel from the mainland, which I think is mindblowing. Bears are both cute and massivly powerful, and the idea of a bear swimming is off my scale of great mental images. Next time I'm sitting on the el train and it's a hundred degrees out, I'll just think of a bear swimming through Lake Superior and the car will instantly be full of ice like one of those Coors commercials.

Happy trails cowpokes- we are riding to Marquette!

I seriously hate mosquitoes.

The UP is huge and desolate.

Everything is pretty, like this:

We have been eating smoked Whitefish every day. It is super tasty.

We rode through Seney yesterday, which is a massive chunk of forest with a straight line of highway scratched through it. The sun and flies were hellish and there was nothing to look at but pine trees. There are giant logging trucks, and we saw a pair of herons that were very majestic and prehistoric.

We ended up in an awesome small town called Shingleton, where the owner of the bar let us camp for free under some apple trees. Shingleton gets an A+ for hospitality.

We are in Munising right now and are about to go see some shipwrecks and giant cliffs.

If You Seek a Pleasant peninsula, Look Around You

This is Michigan's motto. Also is Great Lakes, Great Fun. We are defiantly enjoying the lake shores we have passed. Our very first day was spend riding down the coast of Lake Michigan. When we reached Bay City in Michigan, We hit Lake Huron for the first time and spent the next couple days riding along the coast of Huron on M23. Crossing the Mackinaw bridge, we spent a day riding along the northern coast of Lake Michigan along US 2 and now we have reached Munising and finally got our first glimpse of Lake Superior. Growing up in Ironwood, MI which is located 10 miles east of Lake Superior, I must say this is my favorite of the great lakes. It is huge, wild, and untamed. It is a very long ride through Michigan so it is taking us many weeks to complete this state.

Here I am before getting to Alpena in the lower peninsula. Once crossing we can say we are officially in the northland.

Here is a section of beach at my aunt and uncle's place near Roger's City, near the bridge.
This is a natural artesian spring flowing into Lake Huron and Ira getting excited about the bridge.

The U.P. is much less populated than the lower peninsula, so we have been able to pitch our camp for free. Two nights ago, we were camped out behind an abandoned motel and last night behind a bar in Shingleton. We have been trying not to eat out so much because after a couple of weeks of grilled cheese and fries everyday, we have gotten sick of fried foods. The smoked white fish I mentioned in my last post has lasted us for a couple of meals, and the protein is really appreciated by my body. We also have been drinking less alcohol as well suprisingly. After a long day on the road, we stopped by the bar we ended up crashing behind and had a couple of high lifes. It just gave us a headache. So I'm only gonna be drinking more than one beer or a swig of whiskey on off days.

We are having a rest day in Munising which is located just to the west of the Pictured Rocks state park. We went on a shipwreck tour, which I believe Ira is currently writing about. To give you more info, the lighthouse you saw in his post is from 1847 and was active until 1913. The picture of the ship was the Bermuda Schooner and was sunk in 1860. It was carrying 450 tons of high grade iron ore. Besides these highlights, we also enjoyed the rocky coast of Lake Superior It was very beautiful. This is how they got the name pictured rocks.

Tonight, we have a campsite right outside of town on the shore of Lake Superior. It is incredibly windy today, so I am glad we are not riding. We heard of a place which makes smoked fish sausage, so we may be munching on that for dinner. We also have to go to the laundromat. How exciting!!!