Day 1- Lake Superior Bike Tour: Ashland to Brule River
We began our Lake Superior bike tour in Ashland, Wisconsin, the small town where I attended Northland College for four years. It always brings back a lot of memories back when we visit, and we spent the night before playing Ticket to Ride with my friends who live in town.
Getting coffee with my sister at the quirky Black Cat Coffeehouse was the first order of business the morning we left Ashland. We officially started our Lake Superior bike tour by taking our bikes under Highway 2 through the pedestrian tunnel in Howard Pearson Plaza. The tunnel is a great piece of bike infrastructure and is a piece of art as it is mosaicked with native animals.
Once through the tunnel, we were on the great Gitche Gumee! It would be to our right for the next 1,200 miles. We thought about dipping the wheels of our bikes in the lake, like cyclists who do trans-American routes do with the Atlantic and the Pacific. When we thought about it though, we realized that since it was a circle tour, we would just be dipping our wheels in the same spot at the same beach twice. It seemed a bit silly, so we settled for taking a few photos.
A journey of 1,200 miles apparently begins with four stops in less than four miles. We were grateful for Ashland’s paved Lakeshore Bike Path that took us out of town, but we didn’t make it very far before stopping to fill our water bottles from the artesian well at Maslowski Beach on the western end of town. Artesian wells, which are very common on this end of the lake, don’t require any pumping. The ice cold water flows constantly from the natural pressure of the aquifer alone.
From Maslowski Beach, we had to head out onto Highway 2. Heading west out of Ashland, Highway 2 is a four-lane divided highway, but it has a wide shoulder. We had the pleasure of navigating the only roundabout of our circumnavigation, before stopping at the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center to get our very first stamp on our Lake Superior Circle Tour Passport!
After these early stops in our ride, it was already 10am and it had gotten steamy! The first two days of our tour were the hottest and most humid, with temps soaring into the 90s. Fortunately, when you are down by the Lake, it almost always feels cool. Unfortunately for us, we were about to turn inland into the heart and heat of the Bayfield Peninsula.
We pedaled through the Whittlesey Creek National Wildlife Refuge, passed the abandoned Ondossagon School, and up and down steep grades with sweeping pastoral views of hayfields and orchards. Once we hit County Highway C near Washburn, WI, the landscape changes to sandy pine barrens and long climbs. The hot smell of sweet fern was pungent in the air.
A herd of deer flies followed in our draft. Despite the intense heat, taking breaks was unbearable. If we spent a moment still, we would immediately look like Pig Pen from Peanuts with deer flies swarming around us, us slapping at them frantically as they tried to find access to exposed skin. And those little bastards will bite right through your cute little bike shorts from Aero Tech Designs.
Finally, we reached long, fast descent into Cornucopia, a tiny “Fun-incorporated” village as the locals like to say. This is the first point where we really felt like we were on tour, since we had biked across a peninsula to another town!
Cornucopia has an adorable, touristy main street, but the best part of town is the long, sandy Corny Beach where we ate lunch. We refilled our water bottles at Cornucopia’s artesian well, and I went swimming in my bike shorts. Boy, did my butt cheeks paid for that later. I wouldn’t recommend it. I would, however, highly recommend visiting the sea caves near here either by kayak or by walking when the lake is frozen in winter, but unfortunately that was not on the itinerary for our Lake Superior Circle Tour. It was pedal power only for the next 19 days.
Biking west on Highway 13 was the first place that we encountered any traffic, but all the drivers were extremely courteous. There was a hazardous linear crack, running along the shoulder road almost nonstop from Herbster to Port Wing. It would have eaten a narrow road bike tire in an instant had we swerved into it.
Port Wing, WI
We stopped under a pavilion in Port Wing to rest and discovered that there was a Plein Air painting station. Paints, brushes, and heavy paper were provided, and the organizers request that each person paint a portion of the scene they see before them. Later the community paintings would be displayed at a festival. I, of course, painted two bike travelers riding along Highway 13.
For some reason, we had convinced ourselves that we only had 40 miles on the schedule for the day, but it turned out that to reach our free campsite by the Brule River, it was actually 60 miles. That made the first day of our bike tour the furthest that either of us had ever biked in a single day before! And we had fully loaded bikes!
Bois Brule River
We were so tired and overheated by the time we reached the Brule River at end of our first day. Like some cruel joke, we descended down to the Brule River, had to immediately climb back up, and then had to descend back down to its banks to reach our campsite on Town Park Road. The final descent was down an unbelievably steep gravel road, where we had to peel our butts off our saddles and walk. We barely kept our heavy loads under control while walking down the sharp incline by using our bikes’ brakes.
We were rewarded with an isolated free campsite on the banks of the babbling Bois Brule River. We pitched our tent and went for a swim, by which I mean we dunked ourselves awkwardly in the shallow river. Still nothing could have felt better than rinsing the salt off our bodies after such a hot day on the bikes.
A massive electrical storm passed through the area that evening, causing major wind damage and power outages in surrounding communities. We weren’t even hit by a drop of rain. We realized the next morning that we had camped beneath a rotting widow-maker of a popple tree that had already dropped its canopy. Even though we might have “felt the heat” on the first day of our crazy Lake Superior bike adventure, sometimes you just get lucky.
See our full route for Day 1 on Strava!
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Have you been bike toured around Lake Superior or visited the Chequamegon Bay region? Tell us about your experience by leaving a comment.