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“MY FADING MEMORIES” by The Mad Viking

DMan's Retirement Gift

After the DMan retired this summer, we rode the 320-mile Lake Michigan Circle Tour (LMCT)—Sud Option route. The first part of this is article is the story of that ride. It started with me calling DMan to say, “I have a retirement gift for you.”

“Oh, great, thanks. What is it?” he replied.

“I’m going to do all the planning for us to do the Lake Michigan Circle Tour—all the necessary work involving detailed route plans and overnight scheduling,” I said.

“What tour?” he asked.

“The Lake Michigan Circle Tour,” I said. “Biking in around Lake Michigan. Start in Chicago, bike thru NW Indiana, up the west coast of Michigan’s lower peninsula, then over the Machinac Bridge to the Michigan’s UP. Then across the UP and down eastern Wisconsin back to Chicago. It’s a well-traveled route of about 1,000 miles…I know several people who have done it. As so-called ‘Master-MP,’ I thought you’d be more familiar.”

“That’s way too far for me to ride,” he said, with a wimper.

“Hmmm. OK, I can cut it down for you. There are options…I can make a ‘southern route’ option. There’s a ferryboat which crosses from Muskegon-to-Milwaukee (the other ferry, the more widely-known USS Badger, was shut down for repairs), we can take that…it’ll end up being about 300+ miles.”

“300+ miles!” he moaned. “That’s still sooo far. On the other hand, I have nothing else going on now that I’m retired.” After a few more exchanges he finally consented, “I’ll do it if and only if we ride e-bikes, not regular bikes.”

“OK, DMan, however you want to do it…it’s my gift to you,” I graciously replied.

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Part Uno. We departed 8am on September 9 from DMan’s townhouse—it was a beautiful, clear 60°F morning, and the lakefront trail was crowded with runners and walkers.

As we began our counter-clockwise arc around the southern lakefront, we took a morning break by detouring into the Steelworkers Park—now part of the Chicago Park District, but once home to the massive US Steel Corp complex known as South Works. The complex dates to the late 1800s, but at its peak in the 1960s, 20,000 workers worked here. I have childhood memories of family trips in the 60s passing on the nearby Skyway when I used to entertain myself by counting the many hues of colors of polluted “smoke” spewing from the numerous South Works factory smokestacks.

Huge concrete remnants still stand in Steelworkers Park among what today is otherwise vast open space, monuments to the industrial heyday. Encouragingly, creative environmental remediation measures have begun to show promise for healing the decades of accumulated molten slag dumped throughout the grounds which otherwise prevents any sort of life or natural growth. One day, this massive, yet empty, waterfront wasteland within the city will be revitalized with a brand new, not-yet-envisioned purpose.

Casual readers (loyal subscribers of MP) may be surprised to learn that Day #1 of riding—85 miles, all the way to New Buffalo, Michigan—was roughly 90% bike trail or bike lane…a testament, I suppose, to outstanding route planning. Due however to poor BM (Battery Management) on his part, at about 75 miles, DMan’s e-bike batteries were just about on EMPTY, but the Shoreline Brewery was just 1-block off our route in Michigan City, IN and made for a convenient re-fueling stop to make it those last 10 miles. Note the photo of DMan during our Shoreline break where he clearly forgot that we still had another 10 miles to ride!

Beautiful lake-side riding in SW Michigan was one highlight of Day #2 as my planned route connected with USBR 35 (more on that later). Another highlight was the Michigan Maritime Museum (free admission to educators, like me) located in South Haven, MI, which featured the historical exhibit Full Steam Ahead: The Golden Age of Great Lakes Passenger Steamships. Steamships were a big thing back in the day! Sadly, DMan didn’t want to pay the $5 admission, and instead rode to the nearby pharmacy looking for “Tiger Balm” to rub on his weary, sore, out-of-shape leg muscles…he missed a fascinating display.

Day #3 was rainy…the one bad weather day in 5. It was likely the dreary weather which triggered DMan’s melancholy confession to me, “I’ve run out of ideas for MP.” That’s when the begging started, pleading for me to author the upcoming December MP feature article. “Write about this trip; write about the USBR system—I didn’t know anything about the USBR (U.S. Bike Route) system until you educated me. Write about anything,” he pleaded. Maybe the weather wore me down, but “Sure,” I said, “anything for a despairing friend.” Thus, Loyal Subscribers (LS) now have the true backstory of how I came to pen this factual recollection of the LMCT-Sud Option ’23 ride; and as a bonus to MP, I will also present an overview of the USBR system in the second part of this article.

The weather brightened Day #4 when we awoke at our AirBnb in Muskegon, and so did the DMan’s disposition, at least until we caught the 10:15am Lake Express ferry…the pictorial story of the beginning of the ferry ride is reflected in these three photos. The first shows how we lashed our bikes to the ferry’s lower deck sidewall.

The second shows a lighter moment on the top deck shortly after departure. The third shows the beautiful lighthouse view with the gentle (LS note the gentleness), vast lake beyond as we pulled out of the Muskegon Harbor for the 2.5 hour boat journey. What is NOT shown is the outcomes of how the tender landlubber DMan handled (or didn’t!) the slight rocking over Lake Michigan waves, and how the crew scrambled to accommodate the “second coming” of that morning’s breakfast! As a seafaring Viking and master of the seas—speaking of second coming, I find that I am often referred to as Norwegian Jesus (NJ)—I was not impacted in the slightest way and thoroughly enjoyed the water bound sojourn, rejoicing in the sun, wind and water.

After the 1-hour time change, the ferry landed in Milwaukee before noon, after which we rode 60 miles to CDC-Norte (Casa De Conrath-North) in Twin Lakes, WI on a familiar trail. From there, the next morning’s ride to CDC-Sud in Inverness was an easy and well-worn ride and we wrapped up the trip there before lunchtime.

We ended up riding 320 miles through 4 states in 5 days. I enjoyed it very much. DMan, congratulations on your retirement!

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Part Dos. The U.S. Bike Route System (USBRS, or USBR System) is similar to the U.S. Numbered Highway System (or US Routes), but for bikes. It consists of interstate long-distance cycling routes that use multiple types of bicycle infrastructure…in other words, bike paths, bike lanes and simply bike-friendly/low-traffic roads. Still being “built,” it is intended to eventually traverse the entire country, similar in scale to the EuroVelo network that crosses Europe.

The system roughly follows a grid, just like the Interstate Highway system. Even-numbered routes generally are east-west, with lower numbered routes in the north. Odd-numbered routes are north-south, generally increasing east-to-west. As of now, there are 31 official “parent” routes with various states of completion, often bridged by “prioritized corridors” and also by a number of subsidiary and alternate routes.

I routed our LMCT-Sud Option onto USBR Route 35 which starts in Indiana and runs up the west coast of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula; eventually, Route 35 will also run through Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi. The photos show our rainy Day #3 with a route sign, and a US map of the current USBR system. Where ever possible, in addition to the pleasant riding conditions on USBR 35 and other routes, I would recommend and encourage other riders and the LS of MP to following USBR routes to help support Rule #3: Safety First!

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