Two Hot Centuries

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Hottest day so far. Mid- 30s Celsius. As soon as the sun rose it baked the inside of the tent and forced me out early. An eye mask can keep out the light but not the heat. Smooth hot cycling through the day with that curious view ahead of heat rising off the pavement that looks like waves of water.

At a rest stop I meet a group from the southern part of Wisconsin who are on a loud, dusty All Terrain Vehicle – ATV – tour through the trails that often line the highways here, the same trails that are used for snowmobiling. I am confident the group thought I was nuts but I think I share the same thoughts about them. They plow through dusty and sometimes muddy trails and, except for the person in the lead, they can hardly see anything but a dust cloud. The noise is deafening and they scare off all the wildlife. It’s like we are from different tribes.

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Through this rural part of northern Wisconsin, there is a small town about every 20-30 km or so but most are full of boarded up buildings and for sale signs are everywhere. In this beautifully named town, the library is only open two hours per week. At least it has one.

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And there are signs that the weather is very different at other times of year.

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And maybe this is the reason for the affinity with other northern countries, whose people came here to settle during the time when iron mining drove the local economy.

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I keep on pedaling through the heat, being mindful to stay hydrated. I marvel at the biochemistry that must be at work to convert liters of water, Gatorade, chocolate milk, coffee and oranges into what comes out of the pores of my skin, which then leaves a salty crust over everything I am wearing. And soon I enter another state.

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Michigan has done a much better job of branding and promoting its own northern reaches. This area is now called the Upper Peninsula or the U.P. and people here are called Yoopers.

The roads are in great shape and the area is dotted with lakes.

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But their small towns are also closing up and another common sight is an abandoned high school, this one from the sonorous town of Michigamme. Many of these have become untouchable monstrosities as they are filled with asbestos.

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Without Leisa with me, I spend more time cycling so I end up doing a kind of double century, pedaling first 100 km then eventually reaching 166 km or just over 100 miles all the way to Marquette on the shores of Lake Superior. It is great to be on a shoreline again. But before I get to anything beautiful, like the approach to any town or city in the US with a reasonable population, I have to go through the mess of strip malls and big box stores. Collectively, not only are they ugly, they sell lots of stuff we really don’t need and they suck the life out of once thriving small downtown businesses. These architecturally beautiful downtowns, where people used to get to know each other and where you can walk on sidewalks are economically crushed when Wallmart and its many kin come to their outskirts. And the only way to get to these warehouse sized stores is by car. So goes so many towns and so many good community habits with them.

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When I get past this ugly neon stretch, I go past Northern Michigan University. They have a great solution for parking bikes, one that other colleges and universities ought to consider.

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But something not to mimic would be signs like these. How did it ever get past admissions or first year student orientation committee?

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Oh well. Finally I get to the shore. How peaceful.

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The only sad ending to the day is that my bike fell over after I had it pose for that photo by Lake Superior. Right onto a rock and it scraped my trusty companion in three places. Well, a scratch or two had to happen sometime. Sorry bike.

Stats – for Thursday 12 July 2012

Start: Bruce Crossing, Wisconsin
Finish: Marquette, Michigan
Distance: 166 km (Canadian and US centuries)
Time on Bike: 8 hrs 10 min
Average Speed: 20.2 km/hr
Distance to Date: 4,625 km

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