Biking and Camping Grand Island’s Big Beauty

We see not a soul when we arrive at the campground. Dumping our packs and bikes, we run through the woods to find the best site. Each is set back in the trees and connects to the water by a thin path. We pick a site deep in the shade, then stroll the hundred yards to the beach – a narrow slip of a thing – to dig our toes in the cool sand, examine the driftwood and build elaborate temples of rocks and sticks to mark our path home.

An hour later, we’re pedaling north past pond-sized Duck Lake. When we arrive at Trout Bay, we yank off our shoes and kick through the shallows. Even in the height of summer, Superior’s temperature rarely rises above 48 degrees. The dull throb in my ankles confirms the chilly reputation. These waters are better suited for fishing – Trout Bay the hot spot for lake trout and coho salmon; Murray Bay for perch, pike, walleye and rock bass.

Already mid-afternoon, and we haven’t even started the northward push up the eastern edge of the island. We kick it into high gear and find ourselves ten minutes later lost on a loop we thought was the straight shot north. Worse yet, we need to go uphill to get back on track. I focus on the lush green forest around us, the sweet, ripe scent of leaves about to turn color for fall, and pedal to the crest.Soon we’re exactly where we intended: the path on the eastern edge of the island. The trail is still soft in spots. The majority of the island is a thin layer of soil over sandstone bedrock – thin according to geological standards, by the way, means between a half-meter and a meter-and-a-half deep. To a biker, it simply means you steer smart, aim for the grass and weeds on the edge, gain traction from the broken branches and stray leaves littering the path, and walk your bike when you’re pooped.

About halfway uphill the trail narrows under the canopy and, though we’re ascending, the climb is gradual and easy. We peer through the trees as we rise, catching peeks of Pictured Rocks’ tawny ochre cliffs rising from the bright blue water in the distance. The famed formation Miners Castle should be across the water from us now. I squint through the branches and lie and say I see it. Jon believes me. I ride on, grinning.

The wind blows harder as we near the north end of the island. The cooler air chills the sweat on my back as we snake our way through the scrub and trees, reminiscing about childhood days when a bike was your trusty steed, and your sole occupation was cruising your neighborhood and asking other kids, “Wanna ride bikes?” Jon and I agree we’ll ride bikes more, make time to come to more places like this. Then the edge of the earth disappears, our jaws drop midsentence, and we stop, hands frozen on our handlebars, feet planted on the bedrock, awestruck.

An infinite span of sky and water spreads before us. We’ve made it to the top of the island’s Northeast Point, a jagged, sheared-off rock face that towers hundreds of feet over the crashing surf. We toss our bikes to the dirt and run, then tiptoe, toward the ragged edge. We lie side by side on our bellies, inching forward on the lichen-mottled rock to peer over. The sandstone rock is laid bare below us, raw and weathered and sharp all at once. The roots of the few scraggly but tenacious pines along the walls hang onto anything they can to keep from plummeting into the frothy wrath below. We scoot backward and, in a ceremony befitting the scene, unwrap the sandwiches we’ve toted, certain we are in the world’s most spectacular picnic spot.

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