ride view, H-58 east unpaved 2007

Bicycling between Grand Marais and Newberry via H-58 and H-37

I decided to make this the first route to write about on upbt because I've been attracted to it as an automobile route since the 1980s, and more recently have included it on a couple of my UP bike tours (2007, 2009, 2015).

This route goes between Newberry (more precisely the junction of M-123 north of Newberry) and Grand Marais. H-37 is the part that goes north from M-123 near Newberry to Deer Park (near Lake Superior); H-58 is the part that goes between there and Grand Marais (and on west to Munising). The section between Muskallonge Lake and the Alger County Line, about a dozen miles, is unpaved.

This is a special route to real fans of the UP. It traverses mostly forest lands, passes several scenic lakes, rivers, and wetlands, and provides some of the best and easiest 'wild shore' Lake Superior experiences possible by bike. Because the long stretch of H-58 between the Alger/Luce County line and Muskallonge Lake State Park is unpaved, many automobile travelers are frightened to drive it, thus there is little traffic compared to H-58 along Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore west of Grand Marais. It's not exactly a deserted road, however, and in midsummer there can be enough traffic (and dust) to be a little annoying - but not so much that I'd say that there's any other route in the UP that I like more!

You might be thinking that a 15 mile stretch of sandy unpaved road isn't the best for a loaded touring bike, and in general you'd be correct. What it takes is a little luck, timing, and planning. Luck - that it hasn't been so dry that the road has a lot of loose sand and that the traffic hasn't degraded the surface to washboard and squishy sand pits; timing - not a busy time like a summer weekend; and planning - to travel when the conditions may have the previous desired qualities. One should consider those and this route's benefits vs. distance to alternates before attempting it, particularly because the next closest route east-west in that part of the UP is M-28 (35 miles south!), and if you find H-58 poor riding you'll have a long way to backtrack.

On the other hand, if you get H-58 under the right conditions, it can be very ridable - I've now had 100% success in three different years on this road in spring and autumn with a fully loaded bike. In 2015 I don't think I had to push my bike at all, and in previous trips maybe a couple sections of 50-100 feet or so. The difference may have been that on the 2015 trip I had 35mm Schwalbe Marathons and previously 32mm Panaracer Pasela tires. On all occasions I was fortunate in that there had been decent rains in the week previous to my travel, which minimized the squishy loose sand. In 2009 I was traveling before the busy season, in 2007 and 2015; after. In all cases I also camped for a few days along the shore and in the earlier two trips saw the road condition get less ridable as the surface became drier (in 2015 it got wetter, so had exciting muddy sand to go through which also coated my bike and baggage!).

There's much more to add here, but this is a little bit to get started...

To add details: topography, how to time a ride after rain, why the best season is autumn, etc. Hills, squishiness, etc. Distance to towns or services...

H-58 listing at Michiganhighways.org


H-58 west of Grand Marais, and the perversion of 'road improvement'

One dark cloud, in my opinion, hangs over H-58 east: paving. It's been proposed for years, but still hasn't happened. I got a little shock a few years ago when one map (the EUP bicycling map, actually) showed it as having been paved; this turned out to be incorrect thank goodness.

If you take H-58 west from Grand Marais, it is now quite different. It's unfortunate that H-58 west is now all paved, straightened and re-curved (yes!), leveled and sometimes re-hilled (really!!) and widened now, allowing more, heavier, and faster automobiles to go faster and with less effort on what not too long ago was a pretty quiet stretch of road. This is because it traverses areas through and near Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (=National Park), and the US NPS is obsessed with roads...

To tell the truth, I liked it much better in the 80s when it was mostly unpaved like H-58 east. I actually avoided it for a long time after the major paving that was done about 2009, knowing it's be a lot busier than before. Of course the pavement does make it easier biking and I am sure I am in the minority, but I think the 'fakeness' of the road near Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is worse than the roughness, dune encroachment, and other 'features' of the old road. And people had to go slower, too, and not as many drove it so it wasn't as busy, so it was prettier! And of course you saw more of the actual, historical landscape of the area that evolved with the road.

Typical of US NPS roads, they spent too much time (and money) attempting to make it 'interesting' via various formulas, plan-books, etc. to vehicle drivers. This is usually carried out - as it was here - by adding curves, hills, rerouting sections, etc. - as if the actual curved road is the excitement and not the nature itself. It becomes a sort of parody of 'ye olde country roade', as imagined by a team of bureaucrats, highway engineers, construction crews, and 'view designers' in far-off Washington DC - people who would probably never drive on a real UP road themselves, let alone bicycle. So as I biked along, late in the day on a long day (and rain) I was a little annoyed by the superfluously added curves, hills, etc. that I had to pedal up, around, etc. In an automobile maybe its fun to steer and drive on such roads, but on a bicycle I definitely notice so many artificially added curves, hills, etc. than on a more 'natural' road. It felt more like a mini-golf course at times than an actual travel road.

Having worked for a number of years for the NPS I can say that this obsession with curving and re-routing roads is a major fetish in other NPS areas as well, as if they just can't leave a road alone (yet the scars from the many re-routed roads are anything buy natural-looking - usually poorly 'hidden' as a large and unnatural berm with a linear stretch of visibly treeless (former roadway) sky behind it. This approach I believe is a shallow, simplistic attempt to make a road 'interesting' when the road should not be interesting; getting the hell out of the vehicle and looking and walking into the nature is what's interesting! Adding more curves may force a driver to 'see' more trees ahead, and may fit some bizarre DC "NPS style book' but a driver who attempts to find 'interest' there will still be stuck in a 5000 pound metal and plastic isolation chamber!

Well all that commentary sort of typed itself! I'll have to move it to a separate page, or H-58 west page at least in future.