Road Stories: Tom’s 2020 Adventure

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Tom’s 2020 Adventure

by Tom Fedewa

It was the summer of 2020. Sick of COVID-19 event cancellations, I shipped my touring bike via UPS to Spokane, Washington from Maryland, and drove to the family homestead in central Michigan. I then flew to rejoin my bike in Spokane for a solo 2300 mile, 29 day ride back to central Michigan. In normal times, I'd travel with my bike on Amtrak, but these are not normal times. It was to be my personal COVID quarantine and big summer adventure. 
My bike arrived with a rear rack bolt sheared off at the frame. Something heavy had fallen on the bike box en route. The UPS damage claim service was next to useless; however, a kind UPS contractor on site tracked down a bike shop willing to fix it and dropped me off there. 
The first really cool place I passed was Sandpoint, Idaho. It was a cute town next to a big deep glacial lake. Traveling on US-2, I encountered several more picturesque glacial lakes in northwest Montana. 
After three days of riding, I coasted into a municipal campground in Libby, Montana. In a few minutes, a guy pulled up on a heavily loaded touring bike, also to camp. He was only one of four bike-packers that I met on the entire trip. A merchant en route told me they usually see over a hundred every summer.
The next morning the fellow bike-packer and I chit-chatted. Turned out he was a South African named Peter who had spent the last 6.5 years of his life bike touring the world, with 2 more estimated years to travel down the east coast, fly to England, then ride back to South Africa along the east coast of Africa. He and I rode east on US-2 together. The guy was a wealth of information on bike touring equipment, technology and methodology. He also had a million magical trip stories to share. 
I was going to avoid Glacier National Park's (NP) famous "Going to the Sun" road and proceed east on US-2, but without a lot of effort, Peter talked me into riding into the park and up the highly scenic road. It was a heavenly ascent up the Sun road to 6644' high Logan Pass and the Continental Divide. The route was devoid of cars due to COVID-19 restrictions. The road was closed east of the divide, due to the Blackfeet Indian Reservation being closed at the Park's East entrance. Riding cross-country, it was going to be a tough pill to swallow for us to flip back west 50 miles and ride out of the park the way we came in. Also, Glacier NP's campgrounds were closed due to COVID restrictions. We disobeyed the road closed signs, as bikers sometimes do, and continued east down the Continental Divide. Near the bottom, park police held us for two hours in the road, ticketed us, and then told us to turn around and ride up, down and out of the park the way we came in, as there was no camping in the park. Peter tried to talk our way out of the mess, but to no avail.
By the time we reascended to Logan Pass it was dark, partly because we had to wait 30 minutes for a mama grizzly and three cubs to clear the road. We then descended the Continental Divide in the dark, and rode 50 miles back to our bushwack “unofficial” campsite of the night before, finally exiting the park at 3:00 AM.
We awoke mid-morning the next day to a drizzle. We packed up our damp camp gear and proceeded west on US-2 to Marias Pass, elevation 5216'. We camped out at a Forest Service campground in a constant mist on the pass. A number of rumbling freight trains passed by throughout the night. The site was the lowest elevation pass over the Continental Divide in Montana. The trains each had 6 or more high-powered diesel locomotives to haul up and down the mountain. I used every layer of clothes I brought that night, in the middle of summer, to stay warm. We camped there because we had to descend the mountain, and ride through the entire Blackfeet Indian Reservation without an overnight stay.
Peter and I parted ways the next day. He wanted to rest a day and to use library WiFi to reconnect with his world. I had cell phone coverage, had spent a week in the mountains, and wanted to make time to travel with my daughter Lauren to Maryland from Michigan. Also, Peter wanted to angle south to see friends in Chicago, and I wanted to ride north through the Upper Peninsula (UP) of Michigan
People I met were saying; "See this, see that." However, 30 miles off route on a pack bike means another day on the road. Two spots I'd have loved to have seen were a sacred Indian site on a windswept ridge near Cree Crossing, MT, and the site of an old fur trading post at the mouth of the Yellowstone River where it meets the Missouri River just into N Dakota. Perhaps another time.
I passed through 10 or more Indian reservations on the trip. Their lands were clearly managed in line with their natural and cultural heritage. Coming off the Rockies into the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, I saw the most beautiful wetland I have ever seen! Further on, in a show of neighborly kindness, a couple Native American women stopped and gave me a cold water. On a bumpy construction zone, unbeknownst to me, my tent fell off my bike. A couple of friendly Native Americans tracked me down and returned it to me.
I really enjoyed passing through North Dakota. Especially pleasing to my eyes were the prairie pothole region, where wetlands and agriculture mixed, and the Devils Lake region.  
US-2's shoulders were the worst in Minnesota. I think it was there that a driver stopped and chewed me out with pretty rough words for riding on the road and not the shoulder. If only a car or two was behind, I was letting them pass me. I’d hit the road shoulder if many or big vehicles passed. I tried to explain to the complaining driver that there was a lot of flat-causing debris on shoulders. The further from the road, the worse it gets. He wasn't buying it. We agreed to disagree. I pulled out riding on the shoulder. He actually flipped around to see if I was still on it.
The bridge over the St. Louis River between Duluth, Minnesota and Superior, Wisconsin had an amazing bike lane on it. So fun to cross! 
I had experienced nice tailwinds in eastern Montana and North Dakota. At one point, I covered 430 miles in 3 days. However, the gods of the winds turned on me in Minnesota and through the UP of Michigan. It was lots of work that I mitigated through refreshing dips in rivers that I passed over.
The mosquitos were pesky from east of the Rockies onward. From eastern North Dakota on, they were a downright nuisance when I pulled up to camp. I'd set up my tent close to dusk, and they'd just about carry me away.
The tourist traffic on US-2 was heavy the entire way. Seemed everybody was searching for some form of COVID-19 relief. In the UP of Michigan, I switched to M-28 for traffic relief, to no avail. I partly wanted to pass by Lake Superior. It was there I had my nicest bushwack campsite of the entire trip, on a bluff overlooking a beautiful secluded beach “By the big lake they call Gitche Gumee,” as Gordon Lightfoot famously sang.
PPTC stalwart member Ron Tripp graciously offered to meet me at Saint Ignace, just above the Mackinaw Bridge, haul me over the “Big Mac,” and stay with him and his wife at their cozy troll (a UP Michigan thing) cabin on Lake Michigan, just below the bridge, of course! A fabulous whitefish dinner, a staple of northern Michigan, followed.
I closed out the trip in 3 more days of riding. It seemed like a lot of slow progress in comparison to driving. It was quite an experience to see the gradual change of climate and landscapes throughout the trip. I feel like I got one over on all that COVID-19 misery too.

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