Motorcycling turns out to be more physically and mentally demanding than I remembered from my twenties. I had heard about dedicated riders who would take on long routes– there was even a recognition for them: the Iron-Butt award. It involves collecting gas station receipts along a route that would prove that you had covered 500 miles within a single day.
I had no interest in competing at that level, but we created the mini-version of it by taking the optional Circle Tour excursion into Keweenaw Peninsula. Initially Poldi did not think we would have time to include this additional day of travel, and so had planned the bypass around it. Somehow, this just didn’t seem right; we had come all this way and were unlikely to be back soon, and I was intrigued at the geology that created both the “iron range” of Minnesota and the “copper range” of Michigan.
The copper mines had closed more than two decades earlier, and the area was in transition from deriving its income from mineral extraction to tourism, much as we see in northern Minnesota. We saw towns that had seen better times, but also new businesses catering to activities like bicycling and kayaking in addition to traditional fishing and camping. The landscape provides a draw for people wanting to experience this natural beauty at close range.
We arrived at the town at the very end of the peninsula, Copper Harbor, and enjoyed visiting “Swedes”, a former tavern run by two Swedish entrepreneurs in 1900, and now a rock shop/tourist souvenir store. The owner, who seemed to be related, or otherwise had inside knowledge, had plenty of stories to tell about the mining days and its eventual ending in the 1990s.
The transformation of the peninsula to a tourist-centric economy was not complete however. I wanted to visit the various museums and visitor centers in these former mining towns, but they were closed on the weekends, the official summer season had not started, and even the next day, they did not open until after noon.
Unfortunately the requirements for the Copper Butt award demanded that we keep moving, so we were unable to fully immerse ourselves in this bit of local history.
Superior Circle Tour: The Copper Butt Award