Hello from Tom in Isle Royale, Rock Harbor, Michigan


I arrived here yesterday afternoon after a seven hour ferry ride – on rough seas – from Grand Portage, MN. I’m waiting now to board another ferry that will take me to Copper Harbor, MI, where I will once again be pedaling my two-wheeler.

A little intro to the Isle Royale:

An island in Lake Superior designated a National park, over 99% designated wilderness, popular with backpackers, only accessible April to October. Resident creatures include wolves, moose, beaver, rabbits, loons, miscellaneous amphibians, not to mention mosquitoes and black flies. The landscape, vegetation, and rocky shores all are reminiscent of Maine – to the point where I have not been inspired to take many photos as it all seems so familiar. Nevertheless, like Maine, it is beautiful beyond description. My time here has been limited, yet I have managed to take a couple of hikes which helped me get a feel for the place. On yesterday’s afternoon hike, a six or seven mile walk, I encountered a moose (or should I say we encountered one another.) It was close (within 10 feet), but brief. She was gone (out of sight) before I realized she was there. Seeing a moose is not something everyone who visits here is fortunate enough to experience. It is yet another gift I’ve been given on this trip.


Arrived on the Upper Peninsula last evening around 6pm. Rode 10 miles south of Copper Harbor until I began to run out of daylight. Camped in an open space off a side road. The night was damp, so I’m waiting for things to dry out. I’m anxious to get on the road, but putitng the tent away wet is not ideal, so maybe time for a few notes.

I’ve wanted to get back to some of those thoughts that I have while sitting on the bike saddle pedaling away the miles. I had previously written about hills (see blog from 7/24 and 7/25). Today I’d like to talk about headwind and tailwind.

For a cyclist, a headwind is like a never ending hill. When climbing a hill there is the thought always in the back of your mind that once you crest the hill there will be a complementary downhill, usually of equal length and grade. But with a headwind, there is no complementary relief – even the downhill parts of the ride require work. There is no relief unless the wind changes direction (this doesn’t happen often) or the wind lets up (this usually doesn’t happen untill the evening of the day). 

During this trip, thus far, I have only encountered one day when I had to ride into a headwind for an entire day. As I did in those earlier blogs where I thought metaphorically about the uphill and downhill sides of life, I also created a metaphor in my mind for headwinds.

Things have dried out. Time to pack up and hit the road. More on this subject later.


Yes! Headwinds – interestingly enough, I had to deal with a headwind after this entry. It was a strong one but thankfully only intermittent gusts.

The metaphor that occurred to me when riding into a constant headwind was this: For some people, their entire life might feel like they are riding into a headwind. For some – people of color, indigenous people, even women – it may seem like this headwind has lasted for generations. An obstacle that never seems to subside. For these people, this headwind is systemic – without remedy. Totally out of their control. While considering this metaphor, I thought of my own mother – a widow at 35 with three children under 7 who also took on the responsibility of caring for her father who had had a stroke. Trying to get assistance was, for her, humiliating. And so the wind was in her face and seemingly endless. Granted, my mother, being white, did not have the systemic obstacles to deal with unless overcoming poverty is considered an obstacle. 

Okay, perhaps riding a bicycle for 5 to 6 hours a day gives me too much time to think. Song accompanying headwinds:

I’m older now, but still [biking] against the wind.

~Bob Seger, “Against the Wind”

I’m currently doing laundry on a rainy morning in Marquette, Michigan (Upper Peninsula on the shore of Lake Superior). This is a big bike town – bike routes all over, particularly along the lake. Sandy beaches, wind generated waves – reminiscent of Popham Beach. The ride here was perhaps my hardest yet. In trying to avoid highway traffic, I took back roads, some gravel, but the last 20+ miles was rocky, sandy, and rolling. In addition, my bike was not operating well in its lowest gears. My progress was slow (<5mph), but once I hit pavement the last 25 miles went better. My attempt at securing a “Warm Showers” host did not produce results. (Ironically in asking a man on the street for a breakfast establishment recommendation, I discovered that he was a “Warm Showers” host – one that I did not contact.) My night was spent under the shelter of a roof beside a public restroom. (Sometimes I feel like a homeless person, which I suppose at this time I am.) 

Laundry done, I’m now going to stop in at a bike shop to see if I might diagnose and remedy the problem. I’m also looking for a place that does PCR testing that may help me cross the Canadian border. Until next blog entry.

Greetings from Tom in Northeastern Minnesota

A beautiful sunset in the land of 10,000 lakes

July 31st

I’ve been trying to write something for this blog at least once a week, but after cycling for five to six hours, then setting up camp, I find it hard to sit myself down to write.

I now find myself in Gran Portage, Minnesota, located in the very northeast corner on the shore of lake “Gitche Gummee*” (Superior). It is an Indigenous reservation of the Ojibwe people (a miniscule portion of land that was once an entire nation). Through a miscalculation, I will be here until Wednesday morning when I will take a ferry to Isle Royale (I thought I was leaving on Tuesday). The time here will not be wasted. More time to write this blog, for example. I have many stories to tell and thoughts to share. Also, I will have time to investigate this land and maybe its people, past and present.

So, stories. Another reason for not having time to write is that I’ve had a rash of flat tires.(I’ve lost track. Six at least, all rear tires.) I had replacement tubes and a patch kit, but after the second flat, I was out of patches. Then, a third flat on a gravel back road. I dragged the bike and panniers to the main road and began trying to hitch a ride to Ely, a 50 mile distance. A woman driving a road grader for the county pulled over and, although she couldn’t give me a ride on the huge machine she was driving, she got on her phone to try to find some help. Eventually, she called the county sheriff’s non-emergency number and they sent the sheriff to save me. The woman who stopped for me was Kay (another angel). Ironically, her son is a cyclist and had only left that morning to drive to Maine with his bicycle to compete in a triathalon.

The sheriff put me in the back seat of the truck/cruiser that she was driving. This is the seat where they put arrestees, void of any objects with which I might hurt myself. She was not able to bring me to Ely (it is out of her county), but she could bring me to Virginia, MN. This was farther south than I had intended to go, but it was the closest town with a bike shop.

The people of Virginia were very friendly and very helpful. The woman who was working at the shop told me about a bike trail (paved and 90% complete) that runs from Grand Rapids to Ely and just happened to have an access in Virginia. So, after repairing my tire for the fourth time, I set off on the Mesabi Trail.

This trail turned out to be a gift. There was no car traffic (except where the trail was incomplete) through, for the most part, what felt like back country: marshlands, forest, land-and locked ponds. There was no sound except the hum of my tires and the birds and frogs. I felt like I was given a gift, being able to experience a part of Minnesota that most people never get to see. All due to happenstance. Bad luck transformed to good luck OR an uphill followed by a downhill!

August 1st – OMG it’s August

Ely (Eelee), Minnesota is the gateway to the Boundary Waters, an area extending across the border, traversed by a seemingly random system of gravel roads and home to many of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes. It is favored and enjoyed by canoeists, kayakers, and fisher people, as well as just campers who appreciate its wilderness quality. (Didn’t meet many other cyclists, though.) It is also home to the North American Bear Center and the International Wolf Center, both of which I took the time to visit. Each of these centers has a large educational display and each has as many as five resident animals who, because of a variety of circumstances, have been deemed not able to survive in the wild. These creatures have been acclimated to human handlers. One of the bears, for instance, insists on being hand fed and the wolf handlers can pet the wolves. 

Also while in Ely, I visited Ely Bike and Kicksled, where the owners Alvin, Alexia and Ullr let me work on my bike in their shop. (I had had another flat since leaving Virginia.) Alvin was very helpful. I purchased another tire and headed south on Minnesota Route 1 late in the day, but determined to put more miles behind me.

In the end, it was a 32 mile day ending at a campground five miles off Route 1 on Birch Lake, where before I had a chance to get a campsite, I was met by Julia Murtha. After talking for a few minutes about what I was doing – where I was coming from and where I was going – Julia invited me to join her and her family (mom, dad, husband, and 3 children) for dinner. I spent the evening with them around the campfire. New friends with Maine connections.We hope to meet again. I hope to repay the hospitality.

The following day, I continued south on Route 1, all the while looking for a gravel road that Alvin had told me would take me to Grand Marais. I never found that road, but a fellow by the name of Joe Ernest found me in my search and offered me an alternative route along another gravel road. He even drew me a map that was invaluable. (This is almost wilderness, remember, easy to get lost.) The next day I made it to Grand Marais (had another flat tire) and traveled north along “…the shore of Gitche Gummee, by the shining big sea water*…” otherwise known as Lake Superior. 

I stopped at Judge Clarence Magney State Park where I was met by Brian Fyksen, who invited me to join him, his wife Jane, son Teal, daughter-in-law Jenny, and their three children for dinner. (I must look hungry.) Another night making new friends while chatting around a campfire. I think that because I’m traveling by bike some people take a particular interest in me. Or perhaps it is just more angels making sure I am taken care of.

~ Tom
*from The Song of Hiawatha, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow