09 August 2015

Wisconsin: Riding the Mariners’ Trail

Although I used to own a mountain bike, I haven’t ridden since breaking my ankle rather badly back in 2008. Being incapacitated was neither something I enjoyed, nor something I want to repeat, if possible, so I’ve shunned even mildly risky activities in recent years.

I was a little dubious, then, when my friend Trudey planned this ride for us, but I needn’t have worried. Riding a recumbent trike was just plain fun! You get to enjoy the breeze on your face and exercise your leg muscles without the strain on your back and shoulders I used to feel on my mountain bike, and it’s perfect if you have balance issues.

One of Trudey’s friends, Mary, had a spare trike which she kindly let me ride, so we were a jolly group of four – Mary, Trudey and Trudey’s sister Emily – as we set off from the Lighthouse Inn in Two Rivers to ride the 6 miles south along the Mariners’ Trail to Manitowoc, and back again.

The trail, which was set up back in 2002, follows the shore of Lake Michigan, and its paved surface is perfect for bikers, walkers, joggers and roller bladers. It’s well used, so make sure you keep to the right to allow faster-moving traffic to pass – not a natural inclination for a New Zealander!

It’s a very pretty trail, in part because of the lake views but the path is also edged with beautiful gardens, all planted and maintained by enthusiastic volunteers courtesy of the Flowerbed Programme. There is also a Sculpture Programme with, currently, four lovely pieces to be enjoyed along the route, including the two artworks shown here: On Eagles Wings and Celestial Navigation, both by artist Carl Vanderheyden.

We stopped along the way to stretch our legs and enjoy a wander around the delightful West of the Lake Gardens (above). Ruth St John and John Dunham West married in New York in 1932, then moved to Manitowoc, Wisconsin, where they purchased this property on the shores of Lake Michigan to build their home. Over many years and with much hard work, Ruth converted ‘six acres of quack grass and thistle’ into the lovely gardens visitors can enjoy today. Sadly, Ruth and John have both since passed away but their gardens live on through the support of their West Foundation.

At the southern end of the trail, at Manitowoc Marina, we walked out to the 1839 Manitowoc Breakwater Light on the north breakwater at the entrance to the harbour, to enjoy views over the lake and looking back towards the city. 

Though unintentional, we had timed our arrival with the arrival of the SS Badger, the Lake Michigan car ferry, an interesting sight to see. This steamship has been carrying passengers and vehicular traffic of all kinds on the 4-hour 60-mile cruise across the lake between Ludington, in Michigan, and Manitowoc since 1953, and is a great tourist attraction.

The sun was bright and hot so the cool lake breeze was refreshing on the return journey, though it also masked the sun’s strength and I nursed sunburnt skin for a few days afterwards. Still, it was worth it. The beautiful shoreline scenery, the sparkling waters of Lake Michigan, and the lovely vistas of beaches and gardens made this ride a very enjoyable way to exercise. And we felt we had earned the delicious lunch we enjoyed at the Lighthouse Inn when we arrived back in Two Rivers.

The Mariners’ Trail is highly recommended, whichever way to choose to travel along it!