Since my last blog about my cross-country bike trip from Oregon to Maine, I’ve biked through Montana, North Dakota and around the Great Lakes of Michigan. Read on to hear about all of my adventures. Be sure to check back at the end of October for my final blog in this three part series, which will cover our ride from New England to Maine during the height of the fall color season.
Glacier National Park is beautiful and Montana is BIG
If you think it takes a long time to drive across Montana, I suggest you ride your bike across it. They don’t call it Big Sky country for nothing. We had more than an amazing time, and for my girlfriend and I to see Glacier National Park for the first time, via bicycle, was a real treat. Tourist season had slowed down quite a bit and we were treated with an early season storm, which brought snow to the high mountains plus some much-needed rain to quench the many wildfires in the area.
Not long after we descended from the majestic peaks and vistas of Glacier, Montana became memorable for much different reasons. Looming smoke from all of the wildfires burning in the Pacific Northwest had been blown eastward and was becoming very thick above us. That famous “big sky” was gloomy and almost apocalyptic. For a few days in a row we only had a few hundred yards of visibility.
Eastern Montana Smoke and Sunflowers
Fortunately, we met a lot of other touring cyclists during those few days, and it was really great to have a bit of camaraderie as we shared stories from the road. During one very fortuitous moment along U.S. Route 2, three guys from Vermont invited us to ride with them for the day. They, too, were riding a cross-country bike tour.
We were cruising along talking about sharing a huge tub of ice cream in the next town when, unexpectedly, the local sheriff pulled us all over. He warned us that not riding on the shoulder and being left of the white line would warrant an $80 ticket. We actually knew this to be false, so we pushed on only to have him circle back and sneak up on us about an hour later.
He even attempted to give one of our new friends a ticket. Because none of us had the $80 in cash on us, the sheriff kept his license, which meant we got to meet the town judge that very afternoon just a few miles down the road, who let him off scot-free and then proceeded to inform us where to get the best ice cream in town.
North Dakota Wind, Dairyland, and Bike Paths
It seems like on every trip I’m always checking a new kind of weather. During winters in Park City we’re glued to our favorite snow forecast apps almost more than teenagers are attached to Twitter.
Riding across North Dakota, though, all we needed to know was the wind direction. One ominous stormy morning, we woke up to a 20-25 mile-per-hour headwind and we only rode about 25 miles before giving up that day. The next morning that wind had shifted a full 180 degrees allowing us to completely make up time from the day before, riding over 95 miles with a welcome tailwind and still making it to camp early.
Riding mostly along country roads really provides a great vantage point from which to observe how people work and live. The route we followed through North Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin predominantly took us through small farming communities with tiny markets and diners where every interaction was very pleasurable and personal. Many times small-town farmers and residents would go out of their way to offer a place to stay to cyclists like us.
After passing by thousands of picturesque dairy farms, we headed north to the lake country of Minnesota and Wisconsin. Fall temperatures had finally set in and we found ourselves riding along hundreds of miles of bike paths that followed old railroad grades. There are quite a few rails-to-trails systems in the area, and every day we were giddy when we could get off the roads and enjoy the peaceful lake country, riding side by side and watching the trees beginning to turn color.
Pasties and Great Lakes
Our route out of Wisconsin brought us into Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and straight to the north shore of Lake Michigan. It was really nice to get out of the hills for a while and ride along the flat shoreline, where we ate plenty of the local covered meat pies, called pasties, along the way.
After riding to the eastern end of the U.P., we opted to ride the ferry over to the touristy yet gorgeous Mackinac Island, where the only mode of transportation is bicycle or horse carriage. Riding a bike around this historic island is a super fun and beautiful way to sightsee. And take my advice – be sure to have fenders on your bike and pay close attention to what is on the bike path in front of you. Remember you’re sharing the roadways with horses, who pretty much poop wherever they want.
As I write this, we are riding south through Michigan, traversing lakeside towns and enjoying autumn leaves, where temperatures are becoming more pronounced by the day. From here we’ll turn east and have one more month to enjoy fall as we ride across New England towards Maine, so stay tuned.
Mike Dicken, Bike and Ski Technician, Jans Park Avenue