The drive north from Lake Michigan into Ontario Province was stunning and I'm looking for a bike touring pal to ride this peninsula next summer! Any takers?
I spent my first weekend in Sault Ste Marie to regroup (phone, laundry, money, food, etc.) before heading off for a 7-hour drive to Algonquin, Ontario's oldest Provincial Park. It was a long but scenic drive with views of the northern bay, and through a number of small towns where I was surprised to see Amish people in buggies dressed for Sunday service. Of note: the Canadians definitely drive slower than Americans do and this was quite pleasing as I watched for my next route or turn!
I arrived at the Wolf Den Retreat to a warm welcome, and headed down the road to Ragged Falls for a walk in the woods. My bunkhouse was set to sleep 8 but most of the week was spent with an Aussie roommate, Thea and a few days with a local gal, Topaze. Spacious quarters, cool night breezes, and deep sleep.
Algonquin Provincial Park, created in 1893, is over 7,600 square kilometers of forests, lakes and rivers. There is a vast interior (back country) that's accessible by foot or canoe but I stayed to the park's hiking trails which were enough of a challenge! Sadly, the only wildlife I saw were birds and turtles.
Of course, there were cycling days which is how I discovered the nearest town of Dwight and the most wonderful sandy beachfront lake. It was a lovely start to my summer in Canada.
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My first visit to the Great Lakes and I am yearning to return! On the NW shore of Michigan's lower peninsula is Sleeping Bear Dunes National Seashore, not a park as much as a region of clear lakes, sand dunes, forests, and lovely small towns.
Anishinaabek natives settled here some 3,000 years ago, then in 1837, Michigan became a state and the Lakes shipping and commerce boomed. Manitou Passage, the stretch between the mainland and the Manitou Islands became a shortcut for shipping on Lake Michigan. Today, the town of Glen Haven is historically restored to reflect this time.
From the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail (22 miles of paved bike trail) to the Dune Climb (3.5 miles of sand) to the Platte Plains Trail (15 miles of rolling hills & lakes), there is so much to enjoy. I could have stayed another week, ferried to the Islands, and found time to simply sit by the water!
Long ago, in the land that is now Wisconsin, a mother bear and her two cubs were driven into Lake Michigan by a raging forest fire. They red and swam and swam, but soon the cubs tired and lagged far behind. Mother bear finally reached the opposite shore and climbed to the top of a bluff to watch and wait for her offspring. But the cubs drowned. Today "Sleeping Bear," a solitary dune in Michigan overlooking Lake Michigan, marks the spot where mother bear waited. Her lost cubs are the two Manitou Islands. -- Anishinaabek Indian Legend
I've already been asked why I would spend a week in Penfield, Illinois. The reason -- it was enroute from Eureka Springs to Lake Michigan, and it was lovely greenspace within a day's drive.
The Middle Fork River Forest Preserve has over 1700 acres of forest, meadows and prairie, 4 miles of the Middle Fork River, 3 ponds, and a diversity of birds to be seen and heard. Native Americans and European Americans settled in this area but in 1869, a group of German immigrants brought drainage techniques that made the land farmable.
It was a lovely week for me to regroup. I cycled the farm country just outside the gate for many miles. I walked the trails on property. I met interesting people from West Virginia. I caught up on reading and hours of sleep. When I left Penfield, I was ready for the travel ahead.
NOTE: The Preserve abusively used Roundup, and yes, I am writing an email to headquarters next!
Before I launch into Eureka Springs, I have to note that my first stop out of Austin was actually Tulsa, Oklahoma. While I did walk a few miles along the Arkansas River, I'm embarrassed to say that I was so fried after 10 hours of driving, that I didn't even take one photo! In fact, I wish I had 2 nights in Tulsa as I enjoyed my AirBnB spot, wanted to bike the path along the River, and would have loved to visit the Woody Guthrie Center. Live and learn!
In just 3 hours, I landed in Eureka Springs, Arkansas and happily put up the homestead. I have mixed feelings about this place although I found the downtown quaint, the history and architecture interesting, and the locals friendly. However, it gets two strikes: one for not being road bike friendly, and one for an odd array of tourists!
Beginning circa 1856, the springs here were promoted for medicinal benefits (as well as bottled) for more than 20 years, but today they are simply sites to see due to bacterial contamination (I won't get started.). The entire downtown district is on the National Register of Historic Places, and has sustained a gorgeous collection of Victorian architecture and gingerbread houses. Another major attraction is The Christ of the Ozarks, built on Magnetic Mountain, which includes a Holy Land Tour, The Great Passion Play, a Bible Museum, and more. On the edge of town, I enjoyed Lake Leatherwood, one of the largest city parks in the country.
So, an interesting place for a weekend. I was just out of my comfort zone with the combination of Harley Davidson bikers ("It's all about the ride"), the mass of Bible groups heading to the Holy Land, RV campers you've seen in people of Walmart photos, and other cultural oddities that I simply did not blend in with. That said, I did find normalcy (and some great bike service) at Adventure Mountain Outfitters (thanks, Denton!).
So, I feel like I've been living two lives for the past 90 days -- the one that involves work and home alongside my "real life" of enjoying the people and places of Austin.
Since I always want to end on a happy note, I'll begin with the "faux life" scenario. Indeed, I survived 91 calendar days at the IRS without slapping anyone! That said, it remains to be seen if the letter I've written as an aghast worker and appalled taxpayer is sent during the next few days. This scenario can only be surpassed by home life with a controlling, the world owes me roommate. I'll skip the details but yes, I did call the Austin Police on my last evening to get my key deposit back before I left. Note to self: you should NOT own a gun.
Fast forward to my "real life" in Austin, and on my last night, I had 2 friends who opened their homes to me, so I left town on June 1st with hugs, fond farewells and a spirit ready to start the next phase of my journey. I still have items on my "Austin to do" list, and I plan to be a tourist on my next visit.
I'll let the photos tell the highlights of my last week with the special people I've met and the lovely spots to enjoy in Austin.
Cyclist, writer, teacher, avid reader, bike/ped advocate, nomad, pie lover