2019 Trip Recap: Canadian Rockies (Jasper to Banff)

As 2019 skids down a steep grade right into 2020, I’m using my winter break to finally get at least the first part of my 2019 Canadian Rockies trip summarized and posted. I like having these posts to refer back to for myself and others who may want to do a similar trip, but between the amount of pictures I take and the level of ADD I have, it’s a struggle to get these posted in a more timely manner.

As I plan for next year, the pattern of “hmm, well maybe next I can try ____”  is becoming quite clear. If you had told me just a few years ago that I would be embarking on solo self contained bike tours spanning thousands of miles, I would have laughed until I had side stitches (which wouldn’t take long, because I was not remotely in shape). I still remember when getting down the street to pick up a couple items at the store on the folding bike I kept in my car trunk was a triumph of logistics and braving the concrete wilderness – and I am here to cheer you on if you’re reading this and have any sort of goal of riding more and/or driving less. I honestly only bother posting my pictures and writing these posts because I am so grateful for others who inspired me along the way, and it is the most amazing thing to me when I hear from other people that they have been inspired by me to get out and do something on their bike. So I am here to tell you that if you have no athletic inclinations/ mechanical abilities/ real sense of direction and are terrified of igniting a camp stove, you can still do all of the things I am writing about, because I kid you not, that was me.

With that said, here goes:



On July 5th of last year, I flew to Canada to meet my parents, who signed us up for the VBT Canadian Rockies Tour to celebrate my 30th birthday earlier this year. Given that this trip is only a week, I have a long bike-it list of places to see out west, and my job with a school district gives me an 8 week summer break, I flew out with my bike instead of using the provided VBT bike so that I could continue from Banff on my own solo self-contained venture afterwards (that will be part II).

The hardest (read: worst) part of bike touring to me is the planning and logistics beforehand. I went back and forth about shipping vs. flying with my bike, and due to timelines, the cost of international shipping, and the risk of my bike getting stuck in customs during the busy season in Edmonton, I ended up paying Delta $150 to fly with my bike (only a few weeks later, Delta changed their policy and no longer charges more than a regular bag for checking a bike. So it goes.) Flying with my bike was still half the cost of shipping it to Canada, plus the savings of not having to pay a shop for a build, and since international weight limit was (I think) 75 lbs, I was able to pad my bike with my tent, helmet, panniers, sleeping bag and other gear and therefore travel with just a carryon.


Unlike last summer where I assembled my bike in the airport and rode out of MSP, since my flight got in around midnight and I wasn’t traveling alone, we took a cab to the hotel and I assembled my bike there the next day after exploring Edmonton on foot.



If you can’t find one at your local bike shop, you can get one of these useful little tools here. It was all I needed to reinstall my handlebars, bottle cages, saddle/seatpost and SPD pedals, and unlike a multitool you can get some pretty good torque (which you’ll need for your pedals).




Once I had reassembled my bike, I had a slight panic when I heard a weird clicking sound coming from my rear wheel and realized I needed to find a mechanic.. around 4pm on a Saturday. I hustled over to Red Bike and was relieved to find that I just needed new rear brake pads, which makes sense given the amount of death-grip-braking I did on this bike while riding the Appalachian Gravel Growler a month before… I guess I need to write a post about that trip too. Anyway, the folks at Red Bike were wonderful and if you find yourself in Edmonton, you should definitely check them out.



I didn’t have as much time to explore Edmonton as I would have liked, but there are some great views and some enviable infrastructure including bike/pedestrian bridges and bike trails winding through parks along the river.


After the layover day in Edmonton, we loaded up on a VBT van for the transfer ride several hours west to Jasper National Park. It was overcast and misty, but the glimpses of mountains peeking out through the clouds still gave me chills.



Our first afternoon, we had a short 11 mile ride up to a lake to test out our bikes (VBT provides guests with their choice of road bike, hybrid or e-bike for this particular trip) and get a feel for the area. I might have taken a slight detour on this gravel road to test out my freshly installed Rene Herse tubeless tires, but that’s just between me and Strava.


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Our first full day involved a trip to Maligne Lake; the official trip option was to get a van shuttle up and ride 33 miles down with a picnic lunch stop on the way, but not wanting to miss a second of riding in this incredible place, I and a few other guests opted to leave early that morning and pedal up instead of hitching a ride.


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We were rewarded by sightings of elk (sadly but not surprisingly, no caribou) and THIS BEAR CROSSING THE ROAD – I still have zero chill just thinking about it. It was so exciting and profoundly beautiful that I teared up as I stood there watching it (while my mother had a nervous breakdown behind me).


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The views climbing and on the descent were incredible and the car traffic was light. The clouds even parted later in the morning for glimpses of blue sky above soaring mountains.






The rest of the trip did not disappoint. In fact, every day seemed to get more and more beautiful…





I had been watching the weather for weeks leading up to the trip and had worried that the rain would continue into our trip week, but we really lucked out – the worst we got were clouds that only added drama to the mountains peeking out at us at every turn.


Despite being surrounded by these stunning peaks, the roads themselves were very reasonable grades, super smooth, and low traffic – at least compared to what I’m used to back in South Carolina. I didn’t really notice being at a higher elevation, but I was also riding relatively casually to better take in the scenery.



For several of the days we got to ride to our next location down the road instead of being shuttled in the van or bus, but due to the length of the trip and the miles spanning between Jasper and Banff, we did have to take a shuttle in the middle of the trip. It makes total sense, but the part of me that likes drawing a line from A to B of where I’ve ridden was definitely disappointed.



However, you can’t *not* visit Lake Louise…




… or Peyto Lake. The views are just incredible! The traffic and crowds surrounding them, not so much. At the same time, it’s easy to understand why they are so popular, and while solo travel is more my jam, I’ll admit that it was nice to not have to worry about logistics/passes/permits while checking these spots off my bucket list.



The week passed by in a blur of incredible views, good food and steadily improving weather. Before we knew it, we were in Banff!




On our last full day together as a group, I rode the trail from Banff to Canmore – despite being next to the highway, it was a pleasant ride with spectacular views of the mountains. We stopped at the Grizzly Paw Brewing Company and enjoyed a local outdoor craft fair before heading back into town for our farewell dinner.


… Except I had to sneak off for one extra little loop up to Lake Minnewanka. The miles are easy when the scenery is this level of gorgeous.


If you noticed our Jasper the Bear mascot hanging out in a few of these photos, I got the honor of riding around with him on our final day in Banff. Our group had a fun time passing Jasper around during the week, adding to his outfit and getting photos of his adventures. I don’t ride on tour with a handlebar buddy, but having Jasper around made me want to reconsider that.


Stay tuned for Part II, because the day after this last picture was taken, I ventured out on my own for a 1300 mile trek southward, and the real adventure began!


Legal stuff disclaimer: nothing mentioned in this post is sponsored or promotional, with the exception of the link to that allen wrench tool, which is an Amazon affiliate link. But again, support your local bike shop first if you can!

2019 Trip Recap: Canadian Rockies (Jasper to Banff)

Does this lane make my car look fat?

Earlier this year, Strong Towns shared this video from the Iowa DOT that I think provides an excellent visual for why and how changing a 4 lane road to 3 lanes including a middle turning lane can improve safety and road conditions with a minimal impact on traffic flow.

This especially hits home for me because there is a perfect example of a road that needs this kind of road diet right at the end of the street I live on. We have road studies to show the dangers and high collision rates on this stretch of pavement with 4 lanes crammed onto what barely has room for 3. Yet our state DOT and local county council continues to drag their feet and slap red tape on what should be an obvious solution – because a superficial understanding of road design says that more lanes means less traffic.

This is the kind of discussion that one would expect at a county council or neighborhood meeting, and is probably why attendance at said meetings is so low, but the fact of the matter is both drivers and pedestrians are getting injured and dying, businesses along these roads are suffering (the cars that aren’t speeding through are avoiding the area altogether), anything larger than a compact car is hanging over the lane (just imagine the school buses coming through!), and it’s all a matter of where you put the paint on the road for about half a mile.

It’s also the kind of discussion that cannot be contained to county council or neighborhood meetings. With more awareness and education, road diets and traffic calming can become the expected norm as common sense ways of helping our neighborhoods and communities thrive. I think that too often, biking and walking infrastructure is seen as a luxury and/or an inconvenience to drivers, when in reality, multi modal street design benefits everyone in immediate and indirect ways.

If you’d like to follow me down the rabbit hole, here are some resources that have totally changed the way I used to think about personal transportation:


Jeff Speck, Walkable City

Strong Towns

American Public Transportation Association

Does this lane make my car look fat?

Carry that weight

As a commuter, the #1 question I get asked is “how do you get ____ on your bike??” – usually the question is about groceries, and the answer is panniers, but showing up somewhere with live plants or a kombucha starter has made me realize that there are a few more details and tips I can share from many rounds of trial and error over the years.

The number one answer to ‘how the heck did you carry that?’ is to have quality bags to attach to your bike. My go-to brand that I use and point people towards is PoCampo, an awesome woman owned bike bag company that has thought about everything (and I do literally mean everything) a commuter needs for schlepping their stuff around. I love their bags and while I do receive a discount for documenting how I use their bags, as a commuter with lots to carry, I would be buying their products anyway!


I used my PoCampo Kinga handlebar bag all summer on my self contained Rockies tour, and it’s great for everyday use as well – it’s the perfect size for stashing your wallet, phone, keys, chargers, and sunscreen. I love being able to easily detach it when hopping off the bike for a side hike on a trip or for popping into a store when I’m riding around town. This bag comes in several colors and doesn’t need a rack or special mounting system, and fits great on just about any type of handlebars – so it’s a great gift idea as well for the cyclist on your shopping list.

For larger items, it’s a relief to get rid of the backpack and make the switch to a rear rack with panniers (in the case of my Raleigh Port Townsend above, I have both a front and rear rack – I typically carry more weight in the back since it doesn’t affect steering). I use my Mardy Cargo pannier daily for my commute and love how its thoughtful features come together to make the ultimate work pannier: recycled materials, durable and easy to clean, compartments to keep you organized including a shoe compartment at the bottom, built in rain cover and light-up zipper pulls — I really can’t think of anything it doesn’t have!

I like to stash a spare bungee in the bottom of my pannier for certain random purchases that I might want to secure to a front or rear rack – I’m the queen of impulse purchases like house plants, “but they were BOGO!” grocery purchases, and even furniture. A clever upgrade to a typical bungee that is sure to impress is the Voile Strap, which lends a more secure fit to a variety of situations. I’ve used mine on everything from stifling a rattling tent pole on tour to securing a bottle of wine wedged into a water bottle cage for a quick trip home from the store.

Since I like to frequent farmer’s markets and gardens, I’ve made my share of spills inside of my panniers – and learned that it’s much easier to contain messier cargo than it is to scrub out a bag later. I absolutely love the Flip and Tumble reusable bags because I can use them for quick and easy shopping trips, but also to wrap up items that might spill since they’re machine washable – think small plants, jars of liquids that might leak, and lunch containers.

For the record, most plants I transport aren’t *quite* this large…

When you’re a full time bike commuting nut, you’ll go all in and get yourself a cargo trailer. The Burley Flatbed Cargo Trailer is a definite commitment, but for large grocery trips, furniture purchases, or even moving most of your junk between residences, I’ve found mine to be totally worth it. In the case of this fiddle leaf fig, it can actually move many tall or otherwise awkwardly shaped things than an average car can’t.

Wherever you fall on the spectrum of cycling, I genuinely hope you consider experimenting with different bags and transport options so that you can ride your bike more places, more easily. I’ve talked to a number of other commuters who have struggled with the limitations of being confined to just a backpack, and then experienced the freedom that the right bag/pannier/trailer setup can bring. Money can’t buy happiness, but riding your bike can – so get comfortable and go ride!

Carry that weight

Favorite things: Quad Lock phone mount

One of the most frequent questions I get while riding is ‘what’s that thingy on your stem?’, so I figured I would post about how much I love my Quadlock phone mount.

(They were nice enough to give me a discount code to pass on to readers, so be sure to check the end of this post for details!)

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If you follow me on Instagram, then you know how much I love taking pictures of my bike while out riding. That’s probably my favorite thing about the Quadlock, because it allows me to keep my phone handy and easily detaches with one hand for snapping a quick picture, no fumbling in pockets or advanced bike handling skills required.


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I frequently switch bikes for different types of riding, and although it takes just a few seconds to switch the mount to another bike using the included rubber bands on the classic stem/bar mount version, I’ve found it easier to just have one ready to go on each bike (I have enough things to remember trying to get out the door!). This mount type also zip ties on easily should you lose/break/otherwise struggle with the rubber bands.


Recently I got to try out the Out Front mount designed for road cycling, and I’m really enjoying that one as well. The release is slightly different and took a little getting used to, but still easy to do one handed and this mount type provides a comfortable angle for viewing my phone screen when glancing down at Strava or using my phone while on the trainer (oh hey, winter riding). 

Unlike most phone mounts that keep your phone handy by stretching around it and hugging the edges, Quad Lock sells a phone case (or adhesive mount that you can stick to a regular phone case or just about any flat surface), which easily and securely locks on to a base that stays right on your stem.

Mine has been secure enough to stay put on rough terrain and weather (pre-iphone 7 models come with a removable clear cover to protect from rain), yet it’s easy to take on and off with one hand (which is quite handy for snapping pictures while riding, and convenient for commuters who are on and off their bike constantly). A couple of times I’ve found myself stuck without a front light, so just to stay street legal while getting home I just turned on the flashlight on my mounted phone as an improvised front light. I’ve also found that by keeping my phone accessible and securely mounted, I haven’t had the urge to go buy a Garmin or Wahoo since my Strava recording and navigation needs are well met.




If I had a magic wand, I would make the case available in more colors (celeste, anyone?), but that’s about all I could ask for. Like any phone mounting system, it’s more convenient to have one for each bike that you ride regularly, and upgrading your phone will mean changing out your case (I sell my old ones on ebay pretty easily). Given how much I use mine, I find the price to be totally worth it, and if you want 10% off, you can use code REBEL10 for 10% off (one time use per customer)! Thank me later – no really, if you’re a fellow QuadLock fan, let me know what you think!

Legal disclaimer stuff: QuadLock provided me two mounts to add to my collection in exchange for this product review. All thoughts and opinions shared are my own. 

Favorite things: Quad Lock phone mount

A Cleaner Commute

When I was in middle school, my parents basically forced me to ride my bike to school. Part of me liked the independence this afforded me, but another part of me really liked impractical clothes and was tormented by the results. It was 2002, so between my peasant tops sleeves flailing in the wind like a tube dancer at a used car lot and my bell bottoms snagging in my chain, my commute wasn’t the most graceful thing you’ve ever seen.

All that shopping at the Limited Too and Delia*s wasn’t great for my yearbook photos, but it was also not great for the planet. In recent years as I’ve learned more about the impact of the apparel industry, I’ve experimented with brands and practices that can lower my footprint, while also opting for more styles that lean more towards ‘classic’ than cringe-worthy.

Tapered ankles and sweat-friendly fabrics are my current MO

Being car free keeps me away from big box stores, but it does make online shopping more tempting, and I’m definitely guilty of buying and owning far more clothing than is necessary or practical. Some compelling statistics on the impact of our clothing choices has helped start to steer me away from my fast fashion habits:

That’s just the tip of the information iceberg on the mess we’re making in the name of clothing ourselves. So the real question is, what are we going to do about it?

Here are a few of my own suggestions:

  1. Buy less stuff. Earlier this year, I wore the same dress for a week straight to see if anyone would notice. Guess what? No one cares but you. Project 33 and ‘capsule wardrobes’ are great places to start on Pinterest if you want to see how some people structure a streamlined, simplified and smaller wardrobe.
  2. Swap! I’ve hosted two clothing swaps this year at my house, and it was not only a great way to try out new and different pieces for free, but also a fun time to hangout and catch up with friends. Here’s one of many how-to resources to get started on having your own.
  3. Learn how to fix things. Sewing a button, repairing a seam, or even some minor alterations are easy given a little practice.
  4. Thrift! Secondhand shops are overwhelmed with donations and full of treasures. Shopping secondhand saves perfectly good clothing from ending up in our landfills.
  5. When you do have to buy new, shop smart and support businesses with responsible, sustainable resourcing and production practices. Toad & Co Clothing is one such company, and they even sent me an outfit recently to try out for commuting and celebrating National Car Free Day. I was super impressed with their commitment to using recycled materials in their fabrics, reducing and carefully selecting packaging materials, and educating consumers about the importance of sustainable fashion. Their clothes fit and feel great, are built for an active lifestyle, and have a classic feel that defies fleeting trends that tend to drive up our clothing consumption.
Top: ReForm Flannel Shirt in Blue Moon
Bottoms: Earthworks Pant in Starfish

In short, I’m a big believer in making choices you can feel morally smug and superior good about. We can save the planet, save money, and enjoy more of the good life when we slow our roll and save our resources.

Disclaimer: outfit provided free from Toad & Co Clothing; opinions and reviews expressed are my own.

A Cleaner Commute

you’re so brave

Fingers crossed, the next post I write will be a summary of the 1300 or so miles I logged between Banff and Jackson Hole on the ACA Great Parks and TransAm routes last month. It was a life changing trip in more than one way, and it’s going to be an exercise in futility to try to summarize and adequately express just how incredible an experience it was.

However, before I get to all of the good stuff… I couldn’t help but notice a recurring theme in many of my interactions and passing conversations on this trip, from cyclists and non-cyclists alike. These comments and questions nagged at me more than the mosquitos (which is saying a lot):

“Are you scared of being alone? Like, as a chick?”

“Do you carry a gun? How do you protect yourself?”

“You’re so brave.”

The last one I heard I think almost every day of the trip in some form or another. Usually said politely, as if attempting a compliment.

Maybe I’m way off base here, but I don’t think the guys I met along the way doing their own solo tours heard these or similar comments half as much as I did. Especially being called “brave”. So what exactly makes me brave? I wonder if I heard this comment so much because there aren’t as many female solo cyclists out there, or if our culture/society gives the impression that it’s not safe. Either way, I think these interactions stemmed from genuine curiosity, surprise, and/or admiration. It just strikes me that as a culture we treat solo female travel as something inherently dangerous or unusual when statistically speaking, women are more at risk in their own homes.

Obviously, there are risks to bike travel, and to traveling alone. I could have been mauled by a bear (yes, I carried bear spray). I could have been stalked, abducted, raped and killed (that’s the reality of women on any day and in any place). I could have been hit by a car, slid off a cliff, gotten trampled by a moose, or drowned in a lake. Aside from taking appropriate precautions to reasonably mitigate these and other risks, I wasn’t thinking about all the horrible things that could happen; I was having the time of my life, and the risks were 100% worth it. In a sense this is just being ‘pragmatic’, rather than ‘brave’. Every day that we spend on this earth holds inherent risks, and sometimes the risk itself is not taking it, but playing it safe. Since none of us are getting out of here alive, we owe it to ourselves to ask the really hard questions in order to make the most of what we have left. Are we going to risk staying in a job that doesn’t satisfy us, a relationship that isn’t working, or remaining in a town that is making us miserable? Taking a hard look at how we are spending our very finite amount of time here is, to me, the bravest thing we can do.

So I argue, if we want to encourage others in pursuing what makes them feel most alive and free, and build an environment that encourages more people to do so, we should avoid calling adventurous people “brave”. We should stop shouting out “BE SAFE!” as a farewell. We should trust that they are armed to the degree that they feel comfortable, and that they are wearing enough sunscreen. I promise you, we hear all these admonitions enough, and we will hear them plenty more times again. We don’t need more reminders of what a scary and hostile place the world can be; what we need is encouragement to go and discover the absolute magic the world has to offer. So give us a smile and a high five, tell us to “HAVE FUN”, and ask if we have everything we need. And then ask yourself the same, and go carpe that diem ✌️

you’re so brave


Now that it’s Spring Break I can finally take a moment to get caught up on a few things — including sharing that I am a super ecstatic recipient of the 2019 Adventure Cycling Greg Siple Award for Outdoor Leadership!

In June, I will fly out to Colorado for a 3 day outdoor leadership training with Adventure Cycling pros and learn all about how to lead bike tours, including camping, cooking, group leading, and other logistics. The other perks of this award include some sweet gear and getting to sign up for an Adventure Cycling self contained trip of my choice – I haven’t picked one yet, but it will probably be one in 2020 because this summer will be packed!

As I described in my application video, I plan to use my outdoor leadership training skills with Momentum Bike Club youth in Greenville. Our high school youth Challenge Team members meet several times a month to ride road bikes, participate in career and college readiness skill activities, and learn about resiliency and overcoming obstacles from other members of the community who can speak to their varied life experiences.

Bike touring has given me confidence and perseverance that I didn’t know I had, and I am so excited to be able to share this experience with a new generation (wow that makes me feel old)! I will share what I learn here on the blog, but be sure to follow Adventure Cycling and Momentum Bike Clubs on social media as well to put some joy and inspiration in your newsfeed!


Riding Adventure Cycling’s ‘North Lakes’ route from Minneapolis to Detroit

It seems the more fun a trip is, the more photos I take to document the experience, and therefore the longer it takes me to process/wade through everything and get a blog post written. This was also my longest bike tour so far at 18 days on the road (plus two riding around Minneapolis/St Paul).

(ok yikes, I started a draft of this post in August 2018. I’ve now procrastinated long enough to make this post one of my ’19 for 2019′ items.)

I documented highlights of my ride (and post about bike commuting among other things) on my Instagram, but I like to have at least a summary of each trip here as a reference point for others who may want to try a similar route (or for myself if and when I’m old and gray). I learned so much on this (my first solo) trip that it’s kind of overwhelming to attempt to summarize, but I will give it a go.

So. Upon realizing last spring that my dad and I would have to reschedule our Upstate New York Erie Canal trip due to family obligations (we are planning attempt #2 for this June!), I decided to put all the gear I had collected for the trip to good use on my first solo trip. A friend had mentioned the Adventure Cycling North Lakes route, and I decided to start from Minneapolis, cross over Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, follow the coast of the mitten and wind up near Detroit. The starting/ending points were chosen more or less based on cheap one way flights on Southwest Airlines (I particularly like Southwest’s policy of no change fees, should I need to adjust my travel plans). I had also heard good things about Minneapolis, and my brother and his wife, as well as a good biking friend, live just outside of Detroit.

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True to form, I procrastinated planning the details of my trip until about a week or so before I left. I had the gear (which I’ll do a separate post on), but not a good idea of where I was going to camp or stay. As it turns out, the route in Wisconsin was dotted with Warm Showers host locations, and one evening I forced myself to sit down and figure out the mileage I needed to cover based on my beginning/ending date parameters. Knowing that I didn’t have to worry much about elevation, I focused on plugging in a couple of low mileage and rest days between 70, 80, and 90 mile days (not having had to do this before gave me an all new appreciation of my dad for the planning he’s done for our GAP/C&O and Natchez Trace trips). My last fully loaded trip had averaged about 65 miles a day (pretty flat terrain) for a week, so I had no idea what 2.5 weeks of 80-plus miles a day would feel like. Fortunately, it worked out swimmingly since I was on my own and for this route, I didn’t have much to distract me from pedaling on to my next host or campsite.

I chose to take my commuter instead of the road bike that I used for Natchez Trace because I felt quite comfortable on the steed that gets me to work every day, and I also felt more equipped to handle any mechanical issues that might arise (spoiler: I didn’t have a single mechanical or flat tire for 1400 miles. Yeah, I know, I just jinxed myself for my next trip).

Although I had the gear and seemed to pack enough food to have camped the whole 3 weeks, this area of the country doesn’t have a whole lot to offer in terms of bikepacker camping. The options on the North Lakes route are generally to pay an RV/car rate ($40 a night when you need one single camping spot… no thanks), stealth camp (people are so nice that asking permission to park your tent in someone’s field wasn’t a problem), or find a motel. I love getting the chance to meet local people while traveling and I’m always looking for free lodging options; so while I did camp for about 1/3 of the nights of this trip, I took advantage of many wonderful Warm Showers hosts along the route (like couch surfing for bike touring). By doing so, I met so many fabulous Midwest locals, stayed by the most beautiful lakes, drank in the scenery, ate amazing food, and slept like a very pampered princess for a good bit of my trip. Not even close to the ‘roughing it’ that I had imagined while loading up on gear in REI before the trip..

Finding hosts on Warm Showers felt easy since I was just asking for a spot for one person and I communicated as best I could ahead of time so they would know when to expect me. Since most hosts have done their own bike touring, meeting new people every night felt more like you were staying with a family friend instead of a random stranger. More specifically, a family friend who has been on a bike tour and knows how wonderful it is to be welcomed in, offered a meal, and get a warm shower (thus the admittedly odd name of the hosting network). Technically, to be a host on Warm Showers all you really have to offer up is a place to pitch a tent, and depending on the location even just a secure campsite can be a perfectly suitable arrangement. But all of my hosts on this trip went completely above and beyond to make me feel at home and honestly, they all put “Southern hospitality” to shame. The Midwest is where it’s at, y’all.

So anyway, the biking and stuff. The first day was an aggressive 93.4 mile shot out toward Cumberland, Wisconsin. The Gateway trail (above) exiting east from St Paul was very pleasant and shady, and eventually spouted me out onto the smooth, rural roads of the Midwest I’d heard so many good things about. Before long, I had crossed over into Wisconsin (which I could tell, apart from the sign, by the intensifying accents. Not kidding, it was amazing).

The terrain on the North Lakes route is pleasant rolling hills, with well paved, low traffic roads going through bucolic countryside. Sometimes you could see in front of you for miles, which I found to be different from riding back home and rather pleasant (admittedly, by the time I got to southern central Michigan and the days got hotter, seeing in front of you for miles on end wasn’t quite as charming).

Although there were random surprises, like modern art sculptures in the middle of a field.

While riding through Chequamegon National Forest in Wisconsin, I had my closest wildlife encounter when I startled a wild turkey that must have been resting under a Jurassic sized fern by the side of the road. I got my bear bell out after that and had no other such wildlife encounters on the road, although I had hoped to see some elk crossings. 

Also, don’t ask me how to pronounce any of these place names. Amusingly enough everyone I met insisted on a different pronunciation, so I couldn’t tell you what the correct one is.

The best part of the North Lakes route is… wait for it… the lakes! Seriously, nothing better than riding 80+ miles and getting welcomed by your host with an invitation to go jump in the water. Glorious.

I even got to experience some brand new bike trail connections between Manitowish Waters and Sayner. The pavement had literally just been laid down about a week prior and I think it technically wasn’t officially open… Heh.

I hadn’t originally planned to dip off of the official route to go down to Sayner, but these trails were so good that I’m glad that the profile of a Warm Showers host (also named Mary, so you knew she had to be a good one!) caught my eye.

This area appeared to be popular with families, judging by the various ages and groups I saw pedaling on the connected bike paths and enjoying the lakes. It was clear that the bike trails had been well received in the area, and they were eager to keep building expansions to draw more tourism in the area. I really wish more small towns could see this example, because it really was wonderful to ride through, enjoy the scenery and see other people out and about, and not have to worry about traffic. 

PS – if you find yourself in Sayner, stop in at the Corner Store, get a blueberry pie ice cream and tell Mary I say hello!

After a whirlwind few days, I had gotten through most of Wisconsin and was ready to head into Michigan and the Upper Peninsula (aka the U.P. or “Yoop”). An incredibly kind Warm Showers host let me stay at her empty lake house, and while I wished I could have met her, it was a great chance to take a short 36 mile “rest” day, have some quiet reflection time out of the saddle, charge up my devices and organize my gear before I started the camping section of my trip.

This is pretty much everything I brought, except my ginormous tent was already on the bike. The blue stuff sack on the bottom left held my food and the black and blue stuff sack in the top right held my clothes. I could have done without the blue water bag on the right, and never used my bear spray, but everything else was pretty spot on. A full rundown of my gear will have to be in a separate post.

It was exciting to get to my third state after just one week of riding! 

It was also really exciting to finally see Lake Michigan and experience the Great Lakes, up close and personal.

I had a lovely view of the summer Strawberry moon as I stealth camped behind a church for my first night of camping. There was a campground a little farther down the road, but I wasn’t sure if there would be spots available by the time I got there, and didn’t want to get stuck setting up my tent in the dark. So I got my water refilled at a bar, and picked a church with a funny sign and pitched my tent behind it. 

Although the UP was pretty much just following route 2 west to east, the shoulders were wide (wider than the stretch in the shot above shows), and there were some really pretty sections that made up for the occasional bouts of traffic.

I also made a bunch of turtle friends along the way. This one looked particularly ancient, and particularly capable of removing a finger.

Camping can be… *in tents*

My second night in the UP consisted of stealth camping on a pretty spot by the river in Hiawatha National Forest (there were some RV and car camping spots but unfortunately no hiker/biker type spots).

I wish I had brought a hammock for this trip, the couple nights of stealth camping would have been easier and overall it would have saved weight and space, since the tent I have currently is large and way too much tent for just 1 person.

In the middle of the UP, I took a detour up to Lake Manistique and was treated to a boat ride and bird watching with yet another wonderful Warm Showers host couple. I saw a snowy owl and several bald eagles!

The next morning I headed out, planning on around 70 miles before camping around St. Ignace before spending the next day exploring Mackinac Island. But it was very foggy all day, especially around Brevort, which is supposed to be a nice scenic beach spot – so while that was a bummer, I ended up making it all the way to St. Ignace by around 6pm and took the ferry over the Mackinac Island. When I saw how touristy St. Ignace was, I thought I might end up paying the $37 ferry ride just to ride around Mackinac for an hour before crossing over to get to a campground by 9pm (it stayed light out until almost 10 that time of year). Buuut, things didn’t quite work out that way…

It turns out, Mackinac Island is absolutely gorgeous and there are a lot of photo ops to take advantage of.

I also had serious indigestion (note to self: limit dried fruit intake), so I had to stop and lie down on several different benches while making the simple 8 mile tour around the island. So what could have been a quick and simple tour took a lot longer than I had planned for.

I did get to enjoy a beautiful, peaceful sunset, and ended up spending the evening in a spot off a horse trail that a WS host had described.. which was definitely not planned, but given how much my stomach had slowed me down, turned out for the best.

The next morning I was back on the Michigan “mitten”, and started my tour down the west side of the state, which was pleasantly spotted with beaches where one can stop and take a dip.

There were also a lot of gorgeous vistas and other reasons to stop…

As the days got warmer, ice cream intake increased.

The roads around Petoskey/Traverse City were a pleasant mix of trails and waterfront roads.

Because I had shaved off time by spending a night on Mackinac instead of a day, I was able to spend a day on Walloon Lake with my brother and his lovely in-laws, where we enjoyed a boat ride and I made a vague attempt to work on my tan lines.

After a fun evening with another Warm Showers host in Traverse City, I spent the 4th of July exploring the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Monument, met some lovely people in Empire while watching a bizarre cloud formation roll in from Lake Michigan, and was invited to camp in a backyard, which I was glad to take instead of trying to find a quiet campsite away from fireworks.

Towards the end of my trip, I was still trying to use up the coffee and oatmeal I had started with since my hosts were all so incredibly kind and generous with meals. I thoroughly enjoyed cooking my breakfast by the beach as my lakefront time was coming to a close.

Then I got to central Michigan, where things intensified. Just kidding, the heat was quite bearable (especially from a South Carolinian perspective) and the route I had downloaded from League of Michigan Bicyclists that took me from Muskegon to Ann Arbor proved to be a good one.

I arrived in Grand Rapids, tired enough to not care that I was ruining someone’s wedding pictures as I got this shot with the famous blue bridge (see the background, above…)

And arrived to meet my final Warm Showers hosts, plus their awesome chickens…

…and even got a ride to dinner nearby.

My one place to strike out for a Warm Showers host was in Lansing surprisingly, but fortunately a kind stranger (who I met while standing in line for ice cream, naturally) offered me a camping spot in their back yard. Which turned out to be the huge lovely field pictured above. Not too shabby! I’m glad I packed thank-you cards for my trip, as they were the perfect thing to leave in their mailbox on my way out the next morning.

At long last I reached Ann Arbor, and got to see and stay at the new house that my brother and his wife had just recently bought.

I had one more stop before flying out of Detroit to see a friend, who was another 50 miles on a messy route that I would most likely not do again (definitely a Google Maps fail)… but it was pretty perfect to get to end my trip by seeing the friend who introduced me to road cycling and bike wandering!

So there it is, the fastest summary I can manage that just skims the surface of my first solo bike trip. Big thumbs up to the ACA North Lakes route and all the memories made on this journey.

Riding Adventure Cycling’s ‘North Lakes’ route from Minneapolis to Detroit