Here is the summer newsletter and wow, summer is nearly gone. So here is the summer recap>>>
We started the garden seeds in the basement as usual, but just a few less after being inundated with squash plants last year. I figured that the squash was a fast-growing plant so I would just sow the seeds directly into the dirt like I used to do. Now I like to put seeds in early and if frost kills them off, then I just reseed and figure that I planted at the earliest possible date. It’s not like I plant several acres, so the price of seed is not as big a concern as getting a good harvest. Well, we didn’t have any late frosts that I can think of, but I do recall the place where I plant my seeds as resembling, well, it looked like a swamp! I have pretty good drainage, but all the rain and cool weather kept the ground too wet to work in. The first and second weeks of May (my targeted seeding dates) turned into the first and second week of June! By the end of June when the emerging sprouts were few and lonely, I sorted through the dirt to find ungerminated and rotted bean and pea seeds, uggh! By now the seeds are on sale, only 25 cents for a pack! The selection was pretty meager, but I found enough bean and pea seed to meet my needs. Now I can plan for a staggered harvest. The zucchini plants finally emerged in early July; last year we were eating some tender young zucchini by that time. The cucumber plants that were started in the basement were floundering, only 2 plants in 6 showed any promise. The butternut squash plants are growing, but not many blossoms or fruit are on the vines. By now it’s late August and frost will not be unexpected in a few weeks. All is not lost! To date we have harvested wax beans twice, some peas for salads, 2 cucumbers, 1 or 2 zucchinis, and a dozen tomatoes. The tomatoes show the best promise of a good harvest, we are picking 6 or more every day as they are ripening (12 plants). We should also have a good potato harvest. Our potato seed was the runts from last year’s crop; the small golf ball sized ones that always got pushed to the back of the bin and begun to sprout. We planted Ida Reds, Golden Russett and purple potatoes that we got from the grocery store years ago and planted as an experiment. Those purple potatoes really flourished! We continue to get good yields and replant the runts every year. If you’ve never had purple potatoes, they are a visual treat; purple skins, deep purple flesh that stays purple when you cook it. The flavor is on par with a Golden Russet and mashed potatoes end up looking like purple velvet!
Between rainstorms and garden plantings, I took a little adventure on one of my bicycles this year. Bikepacking… the act of packing everything you need for (an off road) adventure in your bicycle and heading into the wilderness. My bike of choice was my FatBike, a bicycle with unusually wide tires. In this case the tires are nearly 5” wide and rides pretty well with between 5 and 8PSI pressure in the tires. This style bike was designed for use over soft ground such as snow or sand, and I have ridden it throughout the winter on snow packed trails. This time I was planning on riding on sand. I packed a rainsuit (of course) a small camp stove, cooking gear, mess kit, water filter, enough food for a week, a sleeping bag, a tent/ hammock (I don’t sleep on the ground anymore) a jacket, spare shoes, hatchet, and numerous personal and small camp items that many might consider luxury items. (cell phone and solar charger, even though there is no signal during my journey, I could take pictures and listen to Audible in bed) All in all, I had about 50 pounds of gear strapped to my 28-pound bike. My adventure started on the beach in front of the Lighthouse at Whitefish Point. I headed west intending to ride the beach of Lake Superior all the way to Grand Marais. The 5” tires with about 5PSI pressure did a fine job in all but the loosest sand. I found that if I kept in the wet sand, just out of the water, I could ride like I was on the road! I found many challenges and found just as many solutions! Just 2 miles west of the Lighthouse I came to an erosion control project with large stones piled high from the top of a 25-foot bluff down to the water and all tied in with a wide piece if chain link fence. I couldn’t go over it or around it, so I backtracked nearly back to the Lighthouse. I could get on top of the beach here and found a road that eventually dead ended so I had to backtrack again to find yet a different road. I was guided by a hand-held GPS that would show trails and roads but I had no way of knowing if the roads are passable or gated on private property. I think it took 3 hours to cover the first 5 miles from my point of origin, but I had peddled more than 15 miles! I passed the Vermillion Lighthouse before stopping for lunch, then continued on to Crisp point without any challenges. I shouldn’t say without any challenge, because challenges presented themselves every minute; as the firm sand turned to golf ball sized beach stone, the challenge was finding a firm pathway through or around the obstacle, but always moving westward. In some areas, the sand texture was not firm, but soft and powdery that even when wet would yield under my wide tires. There were areas where the beach was only 10 feet wide with the water on my right side and a 20-foot-tall sand bluff on my left. The extra high water this year has been causing quite a bit of beach erosion, lapping at that sand bluff and toppling any trees growing on top into a log jam across my path and extending into the water. The challenge here is picking my way through the giant log jam or getting up on top of the bluff to get around it. To get on top would sometimes include riding back East a mile or more until the terrain lent itself to an access point to get on top. There was no problem if it was a bald, grassy dune, but as often as not the bluff top was forested with pine and spruce with more trees toppled in my path as were still vertical.
I took a half hour or so at Crisp Point and climbed the lighthouse and took some pictures. The volunteer staff there does a superb job of keeping the buildings and grounds in immaculate condition. Next stop, the campground at the Mouth of the Two Hearted river, or so I thought. Next challenge in my way was the inlet to Little Lake Harbor. As I approached, I was checking the GPS for an alternate route. The sand bluff on my left was towering more than 100 feet and had been at that height for several miles. There was no way over that! I saw a man with his dog at the water’s edge and he asked me if my bike floated, because that was the only legal way across the inlet, the harbor was ringed with private property and gated roads. It ended up that this man was a caretaker of many of the properties and the only living soul in miles. He gave me directions across several front yards, through private drives, around the harbor and to the beach on the other side. I thanked him profusely and continued. Just 2 more miles of loose rolling golf ball sized beach stone and I was done for the first day! Finally, the Campground at the Mouth of the Two Hearted River. I set up my tent/ hammock, had some dinner and fell asleep listening to the story of the marooned expedition of the ship Endurance near the South Pole in 1915.
Day two started with a little rainstorm, so I waited it out and got a little later start. I was only going as far as Muskellunge Lake State Park, less than 15 miles, but I still ended up with more than 20 miles on the bike. I was really surprised to find agate hunters on some of the most isolated areas on the beach, but probably not as surprised as they were to see me riding toward them, exchanging a few pleasantries, and slowly riding westerly until out of sight. Agate hunters have a lot in common with mushroom hunters. They seem to have their ‘secret’ spots and are reluctant to share those locations.
I approached a populated area of beach just after noon on the second day and thought that I must be close to Deer Park and Muskellunge Lake State Park. A friendly beach walker pointed me to the access trail up to the road and eventually the campground. The skies were clear and the air was warm but breezy after the morning showers. I found a suitable campsite and checked in with the Ranger station at the State Park. My campsite had a clear southward facing view of Muskellunge Lake and most importantly, two suitable trees to support my hammock. With camp set up and lunch in my belly, I took a ride into ‘town’, to the all-in-one Deer Park Store to buy an adult beverage to enjoy with my evening campfire. When I returned to camp the warm breeze had increased to a near-gale force wind and was whipping my hammock like a flag in a storm. No doubt it had the durability to weather such a beating but I was sure there wouldn’t be much sleeping going on with the nylon tent fly slapping in the wind like a drum. I thought that if I re-oriented the hammock to the cross wind that it may deflect the airflow more efficiently. Only after untying one end did I realize my folly, there was no way I could re-tie this giant wind sock to ANY tree in this weather. By now there were whitecaps rolling in from the tiny lake and leaves were being stripped from the trees I was trying to tie to. There was only one thing to do; sacrifice view for functionality. I packed up my stuff and headed to a less stunning campsite, sandwiched between a couple of large campers and a few more trees between me and the lake. At least here I could take refuge from the wind, tie my bed to the trees and enjoy a campfire with a fine view of the Winnebago beside me. I was self-sufficient, I could have camped anywhere, but I chose to pay for the privilege of using a picnic table and a taking a warm shower. You never realize the luxury of having a nice place to sit, until you don’t have one. Not packing a camp chair, I chose to stay in campgrounds just for the picnic tables. Isn’t it strange, how we place priorities? The wind gently rocked my hammock as I listened to another chapter of Shackleton’s Antarctic adventure. The story was riveting and I wanted to listen to more, but the rhythm of nature won over as I was rocked to sleep with the intoxicating smoke from the campfires last embers drifting past my nose.
Day three and on to Grand Marais. I had slept soundly, but after two days on the bike, I did not feel refreshed. Not yet. I started my morning ritual with two ibuprofen tablets and two cups of coffee (Starbucks instant, I don’t just camp, sometimes I glamp!) and a bowl of oatmeal. NOW I feel refreshed! I had done some reconnoitering the previous day and found the beach impassable to the west of the Park. The sand bluff had again grown to 100 feet, the beach was quite narrow, about 15 feet separated the water from the sand wall and 60-foot oaks and pines were scattered like pick-up-sticks everywhere. I found the North Country Trail on top of the bluff and followed it for a mile or so, but it also ended with a precarious drop over the eroded bluff. Mr. Obvious was here last week and nailed a sign on a tree stating that this trail is closed until further notice! DUH! My GPS showed the road was only a quarter mile south of me so I foolishly chose to bushwhack a direct path to the road. It would have been quicker and easier to backtrack, but hey, that’s the way I did it. I followed the road for a few easy miles and hit the beach again after crossing the Blind Sucker River on a real bridge. Any other streams I came across I had to judge if I could just ride through them or I would wade through carrying the bike. The bridge was just another solution to a challenge. The beach is a little more populated as I close in on Grand Marais, the houses here vary in size from small two room hunting/ fishing camps to grandiose three-story log lodges with stunning dormers and rooflines. I wonder how much time these home owners spend here on the shore of Lake Superior. Today is a wonderful day, weather-wise. I would bet there are fewer days like this than cool blustery ones, and I am certain that no one has ever enjoyed the warm soothing waters of this Great Lake. The day progresses without incident until I round an un-named point and am greeted with a log jam that stretches at least a mile. I parked the bike and proceeded a half mile on foot to see if there was a feasible passage through the tangle. Finding none, I consulted the GPS for an alternate route. I spied a dashed line on the screen that most likely indicated a logging road about one quarter mile inland. The high part of the bluff here is only about 12 to 15 feet tall with the top five feet being vertical with a sod overhang. I climbed up to scout out the terrain. There again were more trees lying down than standing up, another challenge. Then there was the hill. Along with the jumbled mess of pick-up-sticks, a small hill of no less that fifty feet of elevation stood between me and the fabled logging road. Half way up the hill I stumbled across a well-defined foot path. The North Country Trail! What a great alternative! I scrambled back down to the beach to retrieve my bike and packs. The first challenge was the top five vertical feet of the sand bluff. Using the ever-plentiful downed trees and a bit of rope from my pack, I hoisted my steed up the sandy slope, rolled and hefted it over the brush and up the hill to the footpath. Again, I reconnoitered on foot before proceeding. The NCT was not promising with many downed trees across it in the first half mile and the likeliness that I would again encounter another eroded drop off as the trail followed the lakeshore. I opted for the logging road. Cresting the top of the wooded hill I was pleasantly surprised that the south facing side was practically void of trees and brush. I could again mount my bike and slalom down the hill to the point on my GPS that promised a road. And the road was there!
In retrospect, I probably should have checked the GPS a little more carefully to see where this road went to. At the moment of discovery, I really didn’t care, it had to go SOMEWHERE, right? When I left the beach, my GPS showed that I was only about 3 miles from my destination, Grand Marais. I peddled along the sandy two track being conscious of the time. It was now 11:30 and the plan was to meet Kris in Grand Marais at 1:00 for lunch and a ride home! The road started to improve as I rode along finally seeing some recent tire tracks. The sun hung on my right shoulder as I realized that I was again heading East! I had no choice, this is where the road goes, the road I had struggled to find. Have you ever been in the middle of nowhere, on a dirt road such as this, and see a new road sign that just looks so out of place that you want to laugh. I found that sign. It read “Welcome to Luce County” Argh! I went so far east that I crossed the county line again! I have no choice but to follow the road. No cool lake breezes here. The sun is high, the sand is dusty and gritty salty sweat is burning my eyes. I was wishing I was still on the beach, but the beach wouldn’t have me. I peddled on. I had made it to the paved portion of the Grand Marais Truck Trail and the houses were more numerous when my phone jingled with a text message. “How far out are you?” Kris was asking. I checked my odometer. I should be seven miles past Grand Marais, having peddled ten more miles with only three to go when I left the beach. Only a mile or two from my destination, I welcomed the chance to stop and text back “See you in 10 minutes”. I found her at the public beach scanning the shore of the harbor when I rode up behind her. Neither of us realized that I would finish my beach ride on the road.