M.O.R.E. or less day 3: Nichols Lake to Manistee River Lodge

Previous: Day 2 Wabasi Lake to Nichols Lake

Commentary by Chuck (in green) and Steve (in yellow). My occasional responses in blue.

June 3, 2021

It was another chilly night, and once again I didn't sleep well. It's normal for me to sleep poorly the first night out on a trip but less so on subsequent night. Still, I woke easily at 6:15 and started the morning tasks which would become routine over the next weeks: put in my contacts and sunscreen my face, pull my riding clothes out of the bottom of my sleeping bag and dress, let the air out of my sleeping pad, put my clothes and tent bags in my vestibule, then roll up and pack my sleeping pad. Once all of that was accomplished I'd leave the tent, hit the bathroom, and then pack my tent while breakfast cooked/soaked. 

I took a walk around the campground after my breakfast and packing was finished, then chatted for a bit with one of the hosts. She told me how this was their first time at Nichols Lake and that in September they'd be moving on to a host position farther south. "So you live in your camper full-time?" I asked.

"Our motorhome," she corrected me, slightly offended by my full-time RV faux pas.

Which instantly became our recurring joke for the rest of the trip whenever a huge opulent motorhome was sighted.

Nichols Lake
8:51 a.m.

We rolled down the campground road to the boat ramp, where we picked up the NCT once more and started a slight uphill. Chuck offered to pull off to the side to let me go first, and as weird as it still feels to do so, I went on ahead. I'm definitely the least skilled and least confident of the three of us on singletrack, but I was the only singlespeed of the group and struggled to maintain momentum when the guys could spin uphill. There was no weird macho guy stuff about staying in the front. When it made sense for me to go first, that's what we did.

Long years of racing and adventuring together have helped strip away non-essentials.  Ego and macho BS are definitely in that category.

We quickly warmed up and paused at the top of the hill to pull off our jackets and admire the view. The open woods, the lake below us, the trail stretching in front of us...all so beautiful. I was so happy to be exactly where I was.

NCT above Nichols Lake
8:57 a.m.

Singletrack was the word of the day, as our first 41 miles were primarily the North Country Trail with a few short road connections. 

One of Chuck's trip goals was to see a porcupine. We saw several, all dead, so I guess we can consider that goal a partial success.
9:44 a.m.

I collected a handful of quills too, not exactly sure what for yet, maybe blowgun darts?

9:47 a.m.

One of the road sections was about ten miles in, as we attempted to go slightly off-route to hit the only close-to-on-route resupply for nearly 30 miles. Did we need resupply? Probably not, but we weren't racing, we were going to be covering less distance because the majority of our day would be spent on the trail, and my general practice is to not pass on food when opportunities to restock are spread out.

As I mentioned before, I spent a lot of time in the days before we left researching the route with an eye to services. Matt Acker's website was a valuable starting point as he'd listed many services available on the route as well as providing a google map with the same information in similar form. I'd then basically zoomed in on the route mile by mile, comparing RWGPS and Google, in an effort to be even more specific and thorough, noting hours and phone numbers when they were provided. I added this information both as Points of Interest on my RWGPS routes and noted it on a spreadsheet I made for the route as well.

And yet, there's always more research to be done, as I was reminded when we passed the location of Mel's at the Lake without finding it. We stopped to check the maps. Noticing a bunch of roads coming up, Chuck suggested it might be ahead of us. One more mile down the road, there it was. Well, there was a place called Mr. Bib's, which was not what we were looking for...or was it? 

Back on Google, Chuck looked at the reviews for Mel's and noticed what I'd missed: "It's now called Mr. Bib's." We've all learned by now that Google isn't infallible, and this was another reminder. I'd put the POI exactly where it had been mapped; the restaurant just wasn't there. No big deal, though. While we ate our second breakfast (pulled pork FTW!) I was able to edit my RWGPS map, moving the restaurant/store to the correct spot and renaming it, then saving the updated route. 

This last move proved to be a bit of a mistake because I didn't re-download the update. Later in the day I'd switched between routes in RWGPS, and when I attempted to return to our current one it was no longer available for offline use. Though with some exceptions I had pretty consistent cell service on the trip, naturally this was a time with no signal. Like the food stop, we didn't really need to see the route info, but I still found it unsettling to be without it. Note to self: if you update a route in process make sure to either re-download it or save your update under a new name.

OK, so that's what was happening. I couldn't really follow the conversation beyond "It's not there." The rest of the conversation was a bit cryptic and I couldn't comprehend the underlying exchange going on between Kate and Chuck. My focus was to follow blindly until we reached the next food source.

Of note: I'd sent all of the routes and info to both Chuck and Steve, but I was the only one with the paid RWGPS membership that allowed you to download the routes for offline use, so in places without cell service my app was the only one where we could reference the routes. 

This little navigational hiccup was still a couple hours away, though, and at the time my map showed a quicker way back to the route than retracing our rambling path to Mr. Bib's, so we turned onto the seasonal road at the corner, noting the "road ends" sign but continuing onwards. I found the sand base more challenging than the guys did. Thankfully it only lasted a mile, though I did punctuate the end of our detour by toppling over on a sandy corner. Anyone who mountain bikes knows that roads are generally faster (though less enjoyable) than trails, but in Michigan this was always a crapshoot. Maybe you have smooth sailing on pavement or packed gravel, and maybe you drag your bike across a wannabe beach. Meanwhile, the packed dirt/sand surface of the NCT had proved to be reliably rideable.

Was this the crash where I fufilled my Team Virtus duty by snapping a picture first and checking for blood and broken bones second?

Nope, that's still ahead of us.

On anything remotely technical, I typically lag behind the guys, but this day's stretch of NCT was smooth and flowy, allowing me to stay close. The climbs were gentle enough to ride, and the downhills were straight enough for me to hold speed instead of riding my brakes. Well, until we reached one spot where the trail dropped down a veritable wall. Log steps were build into he hill, and even with those it was a little daunting to descend.

The photographs really don't convey the sudden change in gradient. When Kate and I arrived at the top of the long flight of log steps, my first words were, "You can't be serious."

Looking down the super steep hill. 
12:38 p.m.

And the view from the bottom!

Pictures never show how steep things are.

I felt great and strong until around 2:30, when the figurative wheels came off. I may have gotten behind on nutrition, or maybe it was my body's way of saying, "Hey dummy, if you want to go from 40-mile weeks to 80 mile days there's going to be a cost!" Of course, that 2:30 time frame also coincided with the end of 6 miles of pretty steady climbing, so there are a number of culprits in my meltdown lineup.

Even with the afternoon slump I was proud of how well my body was holding up under the workload of this trip. Since hurting my back last fall I'd lost a lot of fitness, slowly beginning to rebuild mileage in the spring. I'd done two short bikepacking trips and worked my way up to a long ride of 62 miles in the weeks before Michigan, but I definitely had questions about how well I'd manage as, I think, did the guys. In the days before we left, we'd settled on a Virtus motto -- "It'll work itself out", or IWIO -- and so far, it had.

IWIO has never failed!

Around 6:00 we crossed a road, and rather than follow the route to more singletrack we detoured to Na-Tah-Ka, a nearby restaurant, for dinner. Afterwards we went next door to pick up supplies for the next day. Instead of returning to the singletrack on route, we used Google maps to take a more direct path to Manistee River Lodge in Wellston, where an adventure race friend had offered us a room at a special AR rate. We hadn't planned to stay inside yet, but I can't resist a bargain. When it started to sprinkle shortly after we arrived the decision felt like serendipity.

This place was perfect. I'd love to return someday for some guided fly fishing and paddling on the river.

There were two queen beds, so Chuck took the first turn on the floor. The fastest of us at packing up, his choice gave Steve and I the opening to possibly beat him ready the next morning. 

I don't know what it was but that floor was my best sleep since starting the trip.

Our room at Manistee River Lodge

I'd been delighted to find Dr. McGillicuddy's butterscotch whiskey at the C-store, and whether is was the whiskey, the comfortable bed, or the cumulative effort of the past three days, I finally had a good night's sleep. 

Lots of good ride (MLK) and race (Rocheport Roubaix) memories contained in these bottles.

Fun to reminisce about old races and adventures!

56.4 miles for the day, most of them on singletrack.

Next: Day 4 Manistee River Lodge to Scheck's Place SF Campground


Ride with GPS route - section LP3

Matt Acker's info page for section LP3


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