Fudgie. It’s a loving term bestowed upon any tourist that makes their way along the northern tier of Lake Michigan where fudge can be bought at any stop. With the help of amazing hosts and friends, we found ourselves at the best bar in the town of Empire. We shared tales from the road over regional beers, monopolizing the jukebox and playing pool with the locals. A couple took special liking to Daniel Pasley that night, endearing him ‘Fudgie’ while playfully tossing his hair and sharing their own thoughts on photography. Clearly the right way to introduce ourselves to the region, but sadly it was the only real visibility we’d have along the M22.
Lake Michigan is 118 miles wide and 307 miles long, and it has more than 1,600 miles of shoreline. It’s the second largest Great Lake and the only one contained entirely within the United States. The less developed northern part of the Upper Great Lakes Region has a magnificent stretch of coastline resplendent in dunes and crystal clear aquamarine shoals, more similar in appearance and character to Hawaii than Chicago.
Following eagerly along the lake’s edge, for 116 miles of the Leelanau Peninsula, is state trunk line highway M-22. Nationally renowned and widely regarded as one of the Midwest’s most scenic drives (part of the Lake Michigan Circle Tour) the M-22 is theoretically a Continental epic. With a generally abundant shoulder, low traffic, direct access to Sleeping Bear Dunes and views of a gorgeous Lake Michigan it has all the characteristics for a great day in the saddle.
But the beauty wasn’t meant for us. The last time we saw Lake Michigan was when we set off from the beachside resort in Onekama.
All day long the fog sat heavy while the mist, and occasional driving rain, made sure that we were soaked through. Our Stowaway Jackets were no match. Our glasses, unnecessary for keeping out harmful UV rays, worked as rain shields for wheel spray. Riding past fields, trees, barns, deer, yacht graveyards, colorful beach chairs and hundreds and hundreds of piers made it appear that we were seeing things—when we never really saw a thing. There was the outline of a sand dune, but luckily we had the guidebook post-ride to show us the sandy stair steps of Sleeping Bear Dunes.
Forever and always on the M-22 and never with a view of Lake Michigan. It wasn’t boring as much as it was damp and deflating. At several points and for stretches of miles at a time Lake Michigan was only twenty, ten, three feet from where we rode and stood and ate Clif Bars. We huddled on the side of the road, lamenting the lack of lake, water all the while lapping at our feet. Had we been able to quiet our chattering teeth, we might have just-heard the muffled sound of inland tide at work.
Our ride and the route was truncated by a unanimous vote to beeline for our finish in Traverse City. And wouldn’t you know it, as we approached dusk and Traverse City, the sunset brought along with it relief, with merely yards to go we got our first clear view of the Lake since the morning. It figures. There we sat on a sidewalk bench in downtown T.C. stripping layers of dirt and road grime, one sopping wet arm-warmer, vest and knee-warmer at a time, hollowly smiling and laughing at that other sort of epic.
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