Got Great Lakes? Try cycling around them

LANSING — As a professor of politics at Ithaca College in New York, Thomas Shevory knew that his decision to bicycle around each of the Great Lakes would lead to numerous observations of environmental and economic conditions.

But he was surprised to learn how central the lakes are to much of the development of the United States.

“I just never put it together how early exploration and settlement in what is now the U.S. occurred in the north, along the Canadian border,” he said. “I tend to associate colonial America with places like Plymouth Rock, Jamestown, the Puritans, et cetera. But it was hunters and trappers who drove the economy, and they were able to easily get around because of the lakes.”

Shevory has put together an enticing read of what it’s like to travel around the Great Lakes on two wheels. “The Great Lakes at Ten Miles an Hour,” published this fall by the University of Minnesota Press, is available online for $16.95.

Born and raised 25 miles from Lake Erie, Shevory was no stranger to the Great Lakes. The idea that there was still so much he could explore in his own backyard didn’t even cross his mind until he was more than 6,000 miles away in Ulan Bator, Mongolia.

SHEVORY

“I had just got to thinking that we sometimes travel long distances in search of the mysterious or exotic, and that in doing so, we might miss those amazing places that are closer to home,” he said. “And the Great Lakes struck me as being like that — not that far from me, but in many respects very mysterious.”

Shevory first decided to make a hobby out of cycling in the summer of 1989 after participating in RAGBRAI (the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa), a seven-day bicycle ride across the state. Heading into its 45th year, RAGBRAI is the oldest, largest and longest recreational bicycle touring event in the world, although Shevory wouldn’t call it a true cycling tour.

“There was plenty of food and beer,” he said. “I remember some great pulled pork. It wasn’t the most vigorous cycling trip I have ever been on, and it didn’t involve much training. But it definitely sparked my interest.”

The following summer he took his first tour from his home in Ithaca to the northern border of New York. He was hooked.

In the summer of 2011, Shevory began his Great Lakes journey in Sarnia, Ontario. This first leg of his five-lake trip allowed him to see Lake Huron in a different light. Readers feel like they’re accompanying him through bike-friendly tourist towns in “the Thumb” of Michigan.

They accompany him past the industrial Essar Steel Algoma plant as they cross the Sault Ste. Marie Bridge into Canada.

Shevory makes observations about the economic, environmental and historical backgrounds of each area he cycles through. Commentary about the bankruptcy of Detroit and loss of jobs in Buffalo not only gives the reader perspective about the deindustrialization of many cities but also casts an optimistic light on their revitalization with new ways to stimulate their economies.

“We know that it is not likely for these industries to be rebuilt as they once were,” Shevory said. “That’s what made it so much more inspiring that these big cities weren’t giving up and are finding new ways to develop the economy by capturing their rich histories, and bringing tourism into beautiful cities.”

As he comments on how each Great Lake played a role in the creation of the United States, he advocates for worldwide environmental stability.

Shevory’s journey ended June 27, 2014 after cycling around Lake Ontario. Each leg of the trip took two to three weeks over a three-year period.

He’s now moved on to rivers and his sights are set on the Colorado River for next summer.

His advice for aspiring cyclists: “You don’t need too much experience to start touring, but you always need to be prepared for the unexpected. Make sure you have proper clothing, and you should be able to change a flat tire or a broken chain.”

Editor’s note: Jacqueline Kelly is a reporter for Great Lakes Echo.