Pedaling to Niagara
By Dan Sheridan
Originally Published in Marion Star August 23, 2009
Iíll agree to most invitations for a bicycle ride, but this one was intimidating. Riding from Lake Michigan to Niagara Falls? Continuing to Lake Placid? Riding with a group that was cycling across the country?
Fr. Jim Klima, then the pastor of St. Mary Church in Marion, planned the trip in the summer of 2000 as a dry run for a cross-country ride the following year. Corky Cusick bicycled across the USA in 1995, and his trip inspired Klima to dream of a similar journey.
Klima and Cusick invited me to join them on their journey. I didnít want to be away from my family for two weeks, but the trip sounded intriguing, so I decided to join them for the first week of their odyssey, from Lake Michigan to Niagara Falls.
Our tour was organized by Cycle America, as part of a nine-week bicycle journey across America. About half of the 94 riders in our group were riding across the country, while the rest of us joined them for a week or more.
The trip leader drove a day ahead of us, marking the next dayís route and preparing maps. Other employees drove luggage trucks, repaired our bikes, and prepared picnic lunches. Our breakfasts and dinners were usually served by local organizations.
Cusick, Klima, and I first met our fellow riders on Sunday afternoon near Ludington, Michigan. The group had ferried across Lake Michigan from Wisconsin the day before, and was enjoying a rest day.
Monday morning we headed east across rolling terrain in a misty rain. Six miles of the route were unnerving for me, as we rode on the narrow, crumbling shoulder of busy US Route 10. After 84 miles, we pedaled into Farwell, our destination for the day.
Tuesday we pedaled east on a quiet, foggy road into a Native American reservation. The pavement soon ended, and we were on a dirt road. As we started to adapt to the slippery surface, two dogs began to chase us. As soon as we escaped the dogs, a downpour began. Fortunately, the pavement resumed in about a mile, and the skies soon cleared.
We continued to a picnic lunch in a shelter house overlooking Saginaw Bay, where several riders danced to tunes from a boom box. After lunch, we cycled on to historic Frankenmuth.
Wednesday morning we quickly packed our tents and raced a thunderstorm to a nearby restaurant. Most of us made it just in time, but several riders were drenched. Once the storm stopped, we began a challenging 93 mile ride to the town of Richmond, battling headwinds and hazardous road shoulders.
Early Thursday we pedaled a dozen miles to the St. Clair River, which marks the US-Canada border. Smiling, we realized that we had bicycled across Michigan. A small automobile ferry, resembling a floating carport, carried us across the smooth blue river to Canada. After stopping at a bank to exchange currency, we continued to West Lorne, Ontario.
Early Friday morning I saw flashes on the side of my tent. Afraid that a thunderstorm was approaching, I unzipped the tent door and peeked out, finding a group of cyclists taking flash pictures of a beautiful reddish-orange sunrise.
Fridayís route took us nearly 100 miles, following the beautiful north shore of Lake Erie through scenic villages. In Port Stanley I parked my bike in the middle of a drawbridge while wandering around snapping pictures, realizing later that it was not a smart place to leave a bike. Fortunately, no boats needed to pass, so the bridge stayed down.
As we continued to our evening destination in Port Dover, we met Satoru, a young Japanese man who was in the midst of a 3-month long, self-contained, bicycle ride across America.
Saturday we continued east along the Lake Erie shoreline, passing beautiful homes and large freighters. Near midday we reached the Welland Canal, where a pedestrian ferry transported us across the canal. My family met me in Niagara Falls, where we stayed until Monday.
In our travels we saw only a small slice of the USA and Canada, but it was a very scenic slice. The week was challenging for me, so it was humbling that the cross-country riders considered this to be one of their easier weeks. It was especially delightful to have my family waiting at the end.
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