Topinabee and The Michigander July 2018

I rode my first ever bike tour this year, a tour they call "The Michigander". I chose the two-day option so that I didn't have to take any time off work, and so that I didn't have to do too many miles - I have a mountain bike and not a road bike, so the miles take more effort. I've ridden these kinds of trails before, rail trails, they are crushed limestone trails replacing decommissioned railway tracks, and I've always found them to be ... less interesting than mountain bike singletrack.

This was going to be a bit of adventure, though, since the plan was to stay in tents on the grounds of Cheboygan High School, and there could be a lot of people showing up. My friend Anne from Burchfield Park graciously loaned me a sleeping pad and tent.

A couple of weeks after the bike tour was over, I took Christina for a day up to Topinabee, one of the sections I liked best, due to the trail running close to Mullett Lake. It is pretty small, though, so we did some other exploring, even going across the 5-mile long Mackinac Bridge (pronounced mackin-aw) into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

This would be our last daddy-daughter outing before Christina started college at the end of August, so it was special. Christina had had a nice long outing with her Mom a few weeks earlier, spending a whole month in the Dominican Republic.


Base camp: Cheboygan

Pulling in to Cheboygan High School, after driving through thunderstorms, it seemed that the bad weather had avoided this area, fortunately. It was pretty cool to see tents set up all around the high school. I've never been into camping, having only ever had one not-so-great experience with it. My Dad had no interest whatsoever in camping, given that he was a logger, spending decades driving into the wilderness to get to work.

I arrived after dark, so I chose a spot on the grass away from most of the other people. I was a bit concerned about putting the tent together, since I've never done that, have heard horror stories about it, and didn't have time to practice it at home ahead of time. After a while, I just gave up and went with the backup plan, sleeping in my Rav4. The inflatable sleeping pad worked great in it! I left a window an inch open and only one mosquito got in. It was really hot inside the car, I think it only went down to 74 degrees overnight. Some people had big fancy RV's instead of tents! Some people stayed in nearby hotels.

The sights: Mackinaw City to Topinabee

For the first day, we rode 34 miles to Mackinaw City, where the 5-mile long Mackinac Bridge has its Southern touchdown. I missed a turn sign and ended up riding an additional 8 miles. Some of the riders took their bikes on the ferry over to Mackinac Island. I've ridden there before and didn't want to spend the money. Instead, I looked around a bit, including checking out the building with the giant hot dog on it (Weinerlicious, below), and then headed back to the high school. The last hour was quite painful as my left knee began to hurt a LOT, a sharp pain if I tried to pedal with it. I've never had that happen before. I stopped at one of the rest stops and iced it.

On the second day, we rode along Mullett Lake down to Topinabee for a 26-mile round trip. I went slow to take it easy on my knee, and I was surprised that it was okay, considering how bad it was the day before. I iced it several times overnight. Unlike the trail to Mackinaw City, it wasn't all just a tunnel of trees with no visible scenery whenever you weren't in a city. Much of the trail ran along the side of Mullett Lake, and it was quite pretty. There were many nice houses between the bike path and the lake, and it was fun to imagine living in one of them.

Cafe Noka and the world's best pancakes

Dennis was saying that Topinabee had a restaurant that claimed to have the world's best pancakes (click on the picture of their building below right to see the window advertising). As I rode into Topinabee on my own, I could see that it is a tiny town, so I was able to find the restaurant right away. The number of bikes parked there helped, too. Anne, Dennis, and their friend Alicia (in yellow to the left) were there and invited me to their table outside. The harried waitress Leanne helped me out, despite it being very busy. No one told them that the bike tour was going to come through. No doubt, Alicia's promise of a "hellacious tip" didn't hurt :-)

This meal was so great that it was a big part of my decision to bring Christina up for a day trip a couple of weeks later. They didn't take credit cards, and I only had $6 cash with me, so Dennis graciously loaned me $10 to pay for my meal. For the record, I repaid it to Anne after they got back home. Whether Dennis ever found that out, I don't know :-)

The blueberry pancakes were huge, I really only needed one of them. As promised, they were lactose-free and didn't cause me any issues on the ride back. Apparently, they make them using water and not milk. Part of the secret recipe!

Day trip with Christina

We headed up early to catch Cafe Noka before it closed. It's a long drive and they have very restricted hours outside of a short window in the middle of summer. I guess people really only eat breakfast or brunch there. We saw a lot of what looked like retired people eating and hanging out over coffee. It would be sweet to live on the lake and go here for breakfast every day! We also saw people docking their boats and walking up to the local store for ice cream.

As you can see below, we had the car loaded up with pillows and blankets in case we didn't like any of the hotels. My online research had a lot of reviews that involved bed-bugs, other types of bugs, and surly hotel managers, for anything under $300 per night! In the end, we decided that there wouldn't be enough to do the second day to justify staying for another day, so we just drove home. Six hours of driving for nine hours of being tourists in the area, and we had a great time. Christina ordered the "peanut butter pancakes", as you can see in the picture to the left.


We drove over the Mackinac Bridge slowly in the truck lane, checking out the view. Once we got to St. Ignace, Christina wanted to go to the tourist center, where we were able to get information about local sights. She kept saying "we could just drive into the U.P. and stay overnight anywhere", trying to convince me. It was tempting, but we didn't end up doing it. Instead, we went to Castle Rock and the Deer Ranch, and drove through St. Ignace before returning to the Lower Peninsula.

Castle Rock had a nice view over St. Ignace, after a few minutes of climbing very steep stairs. Christina loved the Deer Ranch, where you could feed the deer apples or carrots that you purchased from the front desk. It wasn't easy to find a sociable deer, or a hungry one, most of them stayed out of reach. We finally found one, and while I didn't get a good picture of Christina feeding one, I got a nice picture of this friendly little girl petting one through the fence. I did get video, though, check it out to the left.


We rode our bikes North from Topinabee for a half hour, looking at the lake and the houses. Christina isn't used to riding, so the saddle was bothering her for days after only an hour of riding. We went for a swim and then had ice cream at the local gas station's convenience store.

We talked to a couple near the beach and were told that houses along the lake sold for $4,000 per square foot. When I checked at home later, it was more like $400, or less. It would be great to live along the lake here ... but maybe only for a couple of months each year!