Supérieur Royale Part Three: Isle Royale and Copper Harbor
Day four of the trip gave us some time to absorb Isle Royale in the morning and early afternoon before our boat left at 2pm for Copper Harbor. We had to remember that Isle Royale is in the state of Michigan, and we were now in the eastern time zone. This meant it was pretty easy to sleep in an hour later than usual. After coffee and breakfast we gathered our belongings and mounted all the bags back on our bikes. We had a few hours to kill, and we heard there were docks on a water plane landing area just a short walk away, so we decided to check it out.
Isle Royale has many inlets where the water is protected by slivers of land. These inlets maintain calm water, even when Lake Superior has 3-4 foot waves. These are great spots for sea planes to land, and they are also great for swimming. The water was ice cold, but a quick jump in was super refreshing.
Before we knew it, it was time to board the boat to Copper Harbor. This ride would be quite different than the ride on the Voyageur II the previous day. The boat was bigger, and we would be traversing the open water over the great depths of Lake Superior. As we left Rock Harbor there was a strong wind coming off the lake and the water was looking much rougher than the day before.
The ride on the back of the boat was choppy and we had to hang on at all times. Life on the Queen IV was good!
Although there was no mobile phone service, the GPS on my phone was working and it was pretty cool to see our progress on the Google map. Just as we could start to see the coast of the Keewenaw peninsula the map showed us we were more than halfway to Copper Harbor.
When you arrive in Copper Harbor via the Queen IV boat, it is a 40 year old tradition for the staff at the Harbor Haus to greet everyone with a traditional German dance as the captain sounds the horn. We had heard about this beforehand and thought it was just folklore, but they ACTUALLY did it!
The deck hand and captain of the Queen IV were also very helpful and happy to load and unload our bikes. Everyone was so nice to us, and the entire 2-day journey across Lake Superior went flawlessly. We had arrived in Copper Harbor!
Our plan was to stay for three full days in Copper Harbor to take advantage of the world class mountain biking. Frank was riding his MTB for the entire trip, and carried his 27.5 x 3.0 tires with him like a badass. Since I was riding my Cosmic Stallion, I chose to ship my full suspension bike to Fort Wilkins State Park. Without a car, retrieving the bike in the huge shipping box was going to be interesting. In the end, the rangers were super helpful and delivered the bike directly to our campsite. Their level of service was unbelievable.
Using Bikeflights.com was flawless. It was more affordable than renting a bike for 3 days, the bike showed up on time, was not damaged, and I was able to ride my own familiar set up with the tires and components I am used to. Shipping my MTB to a destination in the middle of this long bikepacking trip got me thinking about an extended trip out west, shipping my MTB from location to location and riding my bikepacking rig to it. Imagine bikepacking to all the great MTB destinations out west and having your MTB waiting for you every time you showed up!
We were excited to ride the singletrack in Copper Harbor, so the first morning there we got all geared up. It was 49 degrees fahrenheit, there was a layer of fog on Lake Fanny Hooe, then it started to rain. Damn it.
It was a short ride to town, and the rain prevented us from riding trails the first day, so we enjoyed the libations that Brickhouse Brewery for most of the afternoon.
The following day the weather cleared up, and our top priority was to ride the new point trail all the way to the end.
The trail was super fun to ride, and it spit us out right at the Keewenaw Rocket Range. The rocket launch pad was used in the 1960's to shoot the 28 foot tall Nike Apache more than 100 miles high to obtain meteorological information. This was one of the few spots in the country where such launches were staged.
It made for a perfect spot to have lunch before riding the point trail back to town. It's not every day you can say you had lunch on a rocket launch pad!
Riding up Brockway Drive is always a big challenge (20% grades), but comes with a nice reward of scenery and miles of flow trail that meander back down the mountain with Lake Superior right in front of you. This is one of the things that makes Copper Harbor such an incredible place to ride.
Thimbleberries were ripe, and ready for the picking. Several stops were made to enjoy the brief period of the year when these berries are ripe enough to eat.
After all the riding, drinking beer, and eating on rocket ranges it was time for some astrophotography to wrap up our time in Copper Harbor. The position of the moon was really good, and there is very little light pollution at the tip of the Keewenaw Peninsula. That made for a fun 25 minute exposure of the night sky over Lake Fanny Hooe.
After Copper Harbor we began the last 6 days of riding down the Keewenaw back to Duluth. This is where the Supérieur Royale bikepacking trip got gnarly. Part Four will cover the two days between Copper Harbor and Ontonagon.