Epilogue

To state the obvious: I really enjoyed this tour. I chose it for the physical challenge, to experience the scenery & wilderness around Lake Superior, and to cycle a road somewhat less travelled. All objectives met. I have been advised I am now an EFI’er: something to be proud of, and I am!
I hoped to have good companions and leadership. That aspiration was exceeded. Sharing this adventure with strangers produced friendship and mutual respect. My 21 companions were capable, strong and filled with diverse talent. I hope to cross paths with many of them in the future.
As for other bike tours: there are no plans yet. I expect to do some somewhere, somehow, sometime. They will unfold in their own time.
I hope you enjoyed my bike tour tale, and I wish you happy pedaling in whatever form that takes.
Jill

Total Base Tour Distance: 1,345 miles (2,152 kilometers)
My Total Tour Distance: 1,421 miles. (2,274 kilometers)

P.S. My interpretation of EFI is Every Fabulous Inch!

Thursday August 1st – Full Circle. We Did It!

Every view of the Lake today felt precious. It is an amazing body of water; to which I never expected such emotional attachment. Not surprising given the epic tour and my personal passion to ride it. Our final day was as it should be: sunshine, rolling terrain, lots of great views and mostly a tailwind! Bad luck be gone!

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Several of us took extra time to savor whatever came along today. We had some nice stretches of bike path, a detour to the Split Rock Lighthouse and simple playtime taking photos.

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Riding into Duluth was straight forward, mostly on bike paths. It was quite a thrill to arrive at the exact point we left 24 days earlier and complete the circuit. I was happy.

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After necessary mundane things like shipping bikes home, sorting out cars & luggage, etc. we 22 women gathered one last time. First for a celebratory photo, and then for our parting banquet.

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We ate well, shared memories, took more photos and expressed sincere appreciation for the work of our four sag drivers, and of course for the huge job done by Cy and Sue. They had been a tremendous team together – unflappable Cy investing a huge amount of personal time to give us rich descriptions of the upcoming historical, cultural and scenic details, and being the glue to keep the group positive no matter what was thrown our way. Match that with easy going culinary guru Sue delivering flavorful ever varied meals with variations to fit celiacs, vegans, vegetarians, my crazy theme and the “regular” folks. Yo – they all rocked!

Today’s ride: Base: 59 miles. My ride: 67 miles

Wednesday 31 – Luck and a Dry Day

We had a good breakfast outside before setting off under dry skies from scenic Grand Marais. I found it a nice place, complete with attractive waterfront, bike store and newly expanded natural food co-op.
Shoulders on highway 61 were now narrow, complete with those bumpy cross cracks every ten meters or so. About 10 miles in I hit a larger crack. Bang. My new rear tire was flat. Through a strange twist of luck, my good fortune overcame the bad situation. My helpful bike mechanic had overlooked rim tape in the new wheel, a simple and key element to prevent spoke ends puncturing the tire. Having had a rim tape issue many years ago, I have carried some for years and never used it, until today. I felt very lucky to soon cycle on, with rim tape installed and an intact rear wheel.
The rest of the ride was fine: very nice having our first totally dry day in many. The captivating beauty of the lake continued, and we really appreciated some excellent bike path from time to time: evidence of successful bike advocacy on a long and difficult project.

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The terrain was relatively flat. The wind was more in front of us than not: tough going with my least favorite two conditions. I was happy to pull into our lodging in Silver Bay, where a sweeping 180 degree turn gave a joyous few final moments, confirming the evil headwind.
Tonight was our last dinner from the trailer galley. We fittingly ate in the sun facing the lake, and savored Sue’s final gourmet fare, yet again different from all those that came before.

Today’s ride: Base: 55 miles. My ride: 57 miles

Tuesday 30 – Back into the US of A

Leaving Thunder Bay was markedly easier than entering, although not without some confusion. Before long we were sailing south on Highway 61 and very much enjoying the wide smooth shoulders. For the first time the end of the trip felt near: only three more riding days. Having had our final rest day, the return to Minnesota, or whatever the cause: the shift could be felt. The road signage confirmed this as Duluth, our starting point appeared.

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I suddenly felt the lake on my left to be very precious. It has been the epicenter of my life for the last three plus weeks: coming and going as our roads went inland and returned. Today as we returned to the lake, I was pulled more than ever to capture its beauty, its vastness, and have enough photos to take a little bit of it home with me. It had become my friend.

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Today we were dry to about the 30 mile mark, then had 10 miles of rain through the US border. The border agent was much more focused on our bicycling adventure than what we might be bringing in. Fine with us!
Recurring scenic themes such as waterfalls, light houses and coastal vistas continued today. Directly after crossing the border, most of us took a short detour to High Falls, the best waterfall so far.

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My hilight of the day was the National Monument at Grand Portage, an extensive exhibit in tribute to the history of the area with the fur trade and the Ojibway people. It was very well done, well worth a good chunk of time.

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The riding today had a different flavor without the rugged Northland of Canada. The terrain was much more flat, no longer having the rocky hallmark of the Canadian Shield. It certainly had other features, such as this extensive artistic display.

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At the end of the day, the cause of my rear wheel wobble was sadly easy to diagnose. A serious crack in the rim would be playing with fire to keep riding on. Good luck was with me, and Grand Marais: population 1,351, had a bike store complete with a basic wheel and a mechanic who could fix it tonight. My bike was in working order by supper-time for less than a hundred bucks. Only two more riding days to hold things together. A better wheel could wait until I was home. Another good supper was followed by a sound and worry-free sleep.

Today’s ride: Base: 81 miles. My ride: 86 miles

Monday 29 – Our Final Rest Day

First an addendum to my tirade on the new highway into Thunder Bay yesterday. Apparently the Highway from Hell is a restricted access road, not meant for cyclists to travel on. Rumor has it there is a restriction sign, although several members of our group missed it. Adding better signage will be very positive, and a whole lot easier than fixing the road! I’m much happier knowing it was poor signage and my error, not a total lack of consideration for cyclists.

Thunder Bay is the largest city on the Circle Route around Lake Superior with a population around 110,000. I was fatigued from all the miles, so didn’t do much exploring. What I saw, albeit not the main tourist sights, was pretty ordinary. I found the city to be struggling, lacking a vibrant core, and very spread out. The latter is likely a legacy of the merger of two separate cities, Fort William and Port Arthur, back in the early seventies.
My day was pretty simple. Slept in, did a walking tour based around browsing three bike shops, bought a few groceries (notably a fruit fix), vegged out and enjoyed a lazy social dinner.
As usual the rest day melted away.

Sunday 28 – Under a Rain Cloud into Thunder Bay

Having a dry outdoor breakfast with happy encouraging chatter was a nice way to start the day, and the norm earlier in the trip. With breakfast at 7, most bags were in the trailer already, and many bikes out and ready to go. Hot cereal, eggs, fruit and potato fritters were plentiful, and the snack table was laden with nut butters, breads with and without gluten, jams, snack bars, a variety of mix & match GORP components etc. All was well.
Cycle clothing had replaced street clothes, and all were game for some or all of the 70 mile day. The van would bump those wanting a shorter ride. Sadly we made it only one kilometer before the sprinkles started. The rain was light for a while, and did not detract from my exhilaration with a strong tailwind. My legs felt strangely strong after all the days and miles. It was almost effortless to cruise at 40 odd kilometers an hour – waaay more than I can normally handle. Yippee: “May the tailwind be with you sisters!” was my call of the day.
Okay, back to reality. The forecast had said 60% chance of showers. What is that supposed to mean? Seems that cloud stayed right on top of me almost all the way to Thunder Bay, gradually rendering me very wet and cold. My body had simply had too many days of this. Today had zero indoor services: unfortunate given the conditions.
We were on Route 17, the Transcanada Highway, our only road since we left Sault Ste Marie a week ago. Today we passed the site of the tragic accident, although with one of our riders having a group momento to leave, sadly we saw no indication of the location. Our thoughts and condolences remained.
Continuing to ride our daily game of now you have ‘em, now you don’t shoulders, we were looking forward to the brand new highway ahead, opened 2 days ago to much media aplomb. Welcome to the Highway from Hell. A great surface with 4 lanes, yet zero shoulder with a rumble strip guarding the soft gravel beyond. In my cold wet stupor and eyes watching the approaching 18 wheelers in my mirror, I missed the detour sign a few miles before our appointed turn. (Honestly I missed the turn too, but it was closed due to construction and all ripped up.) So onward I go with ever increasing traffic toward the funnel back to 2 lanes, of course complete with barriers and a rumble strip. Strategy: stop, let many 18 wheelers go, wait for a gap, then go like hell fortunately still with the tail wind. I made it through the funnel, back into the more accustomed death grip on the handlebars amidst far too much traffic and a variable shoulder. Finally an exit appears. I take it and relief flows physically from head to toe. Only my hands don’t get it as they are too cold. Their dexterity is gone. Happily I am off Route 17 for good. When we head south from Thunder Bay, it will not be on the Transcanada.
I connected with the planned quiet route into town, then threaded my way through the urban glob to our Days Inn. I was hugely thankful that tomorrow would be a rest day. There would be no need to muster the strength to ride in the morning.
As the group reconnected in the functional and toasty laundry room, or over dinner, a lot of thoughts were shared on the day. Most riders were challenged with the entry to the city, a risk with an inaugural tour offering as is this one. In this day and age, it is frankly unconscionable that such a cycle dangerous road with no alternative could be built. I am confident that WomanTours will make some adjustments for the future.
Dinner was fun as usual, folks more giddy than ever having another day’s adventures behind us, and barely over 200 miles remaining. We all needed the rest day, and copious wine flowed smoothly with Sue’s tasty meal. Even Cy’s skills were challenged getting the route briefing done. As is the case most days, we then had the day’s poetic and or song compositions shared aloud to great laughter and applause. Plans were shared for tomorrow ranging from sightseeing, to bike store hopping, to very little.
Even with small groups who knew each other previously, this tour has never felt cliquish. Everyone makes an ongoing effort to make everyone welcome, whether for riding together, eating, sightseeing or whatever. I have been very impressed with the group. All are strong women with great life stories, and many miles in the saddle. There is no discrimination. Everyone is appreciated for who they are, and their unique contribution to the group. Inclusiveness is important to me.
Today’s ride: Base: 70 miles. My ride: 73 miles

Saturday 27 – The Big Lake Keeps on Giving

Waking up to dry conditions was a huge psychological boost. Between all the rain, and getting chilled several times yesterday, I didn’t want to face the question of a 66 mile cold soaker on the bike. By the time we hit the road about 7:30, it was 9 degrees (48F) and misting. Eight of us were on the road. It has become clear that Lake Superior can deliver all sorts of weather at a moment’s notice. Fortunately it is even better at delivering ever changing spectacular scenery. By the 20 mile mark, the sun was burning off the clouds and mesmerizing views had us hitting the brakes. How couldn’t we? Along with a physical challenge, the scenery is what we came for. Yes, the big lake delivers.

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The mist came and went several times during the day. Never heavy but still wet. I enjoyed the ride, which included a few long climbs and descents. The worst part was about 6 miles of striated pavement where the road was under construction. My group was fortunate to have a traffic flagger describe the length and nature of the disruption as we started into it. Knowing what to expect is mentally helpful, although it didn’t help the arm jarring journey.
Had a view of the Nipigon marina as I arrived.

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Enjoyed a good lunch at the Nipigon Cafe upon arrival.

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Our rooms are rarely ready when we reach town, and the calorie infusions rarely impact our ability to eat supper.
I drew the long straw for the motel rooms tonight, getting a single that was a huge housekeeping suite. It went to good use hosting the group for dinner versus a rather cool venue outside. A large motel grill contributed to a tasty supper.
Tomorrow we ride to Thunder Bay where we have a rest day. I’m very much looking forward to that as I’m tired. As expected, this tour is very physically demanding.
Today’s ride: Base: 66 miles. My ride: 67 miles