The Crossing – A Ferry Across Lake Michigan

A Rest Day with a Boat Trip – Friday 29th July.

We made a decision about a week or so ago to take the ferry across Lake Michigan from Manitowoc (Wisconsin) to Ludington (Michigan). This was another detour from our original route, which would have taken us through Iowa & Illinois.

We changed our plans because we’ve been told on 3 or 4 occasions that Wisconsin is a beautiful State, with lots of cycling friendly tarmac. I don’t have a single regret about our decision, we’ve had a great time cycling from Minneapolis to Manitowoc!

The SS Badger makes one crossing of Lake Michigan per day in each direction – the 60 mile trip East takes 4 hours (plus an extra hour as the clocks go forward onto Eastern Daylight Time). The ferry departs Manitowoc at 2pm each day & reaches Ludington at 7pm.

The Ferry Crossing route shows on maps as part of Highway 10 – so technically I should be adding these miles to my totals, even if I didn’t have to pedal. For some reason the trip across the lake didn’t show any change in elevation!!!

The submarine USS Cobia is on permanent display at the Wisconsin Maritime Museum. It was launched on 28th November 1943 & it saw active service in World War 2 from June 1944. While I was strolling round the docks & marina learning all this information for this post, I was photo bombed by a rather large badger!

The SS Badger is the last coal fired passenger steamship in operation in the USA. It’s 410 feet 6 inches long, 59 feet 6 inches wide, 106 feet 9 inches tall & it weighs in at 6,650 tons of displacement. Built & launched in 1952, it began daily services in 1953. It also has a sister ship called the SS Spartan which is now only used for spare parts * is permanently docked in Ludington.

Lake Michigan is one of the 5 “Great Lakes” on the Canada / USA border – the others are Lakes Erie, Huron, Ontario & Superior. It’s name is derived from the Ojibwa Indian word, meaning “large lake”.

It’s the only one of the Great Lakes to be contained entirely within the USA, making it the largest body of water within the US & the 6th largest in the world. You may be thinking “yes, but how large is large?” If you are, read on below!

Lake Michigan is 576 feet above sea level -this level is set based on the lowest level the lake has been. However, because the lake levels fluctuate the elevation level is reset every 25 years. In 2013 Lake Michigan was at a record low of 576. 02 feet above sea level, but by 2020 it was at a record high of 582.2 feet.

A BIG stat for you – 60 billion gallons of water need to evaporate for the lake to drop 1 inch in depth. To give that number some context, the USA sells 14 billion gallons of bottled water a year. During the average year the lake’s high point & low point vary by 36 inches – that’s 2,160 billion gallons of water!!!

At it’s longest & widest points, the lake measures 307 miles by 118 miles. The lake has a maximum depth of 925 feet, with an average of 279 feet. It has a total shoreline of 1,638 miles & a surface area of 22,300 square miles – that’s the same size as the States of Delaware, Massachusetts & Maryland combined.

It takes an average of 99 years for water that enters the lake to exit into Lake Huron at the Straits of Mackinac. The water volume of 1,180 cubic miles is so large that lunar tidal effects have been documented.

While we were waiting for the ferry to leave port, we got chatting to Ed (in the first photo with me & Sean), Anders & his parents Glady & John (all in the 2nd photo with me). John, thanks very much for lending me your spare coat, it was breezier than I expected!!!

Ed & Anders are supporting a Cycle America guided tour across the USA as volunteers. Anders did the same trip 4 years ago as a paying customer & he said that they were staying in the same places almost to the day!

We all enjoyed a couple of beers & spent most of the 4 hour crossing talking together. John & Glady are keen outdoors people & it was great to listen to their stories – the time absolutely flew by! I also managed to catch up with Lin & (very briefly) with Pat, wishing them every success on their adventure.

Sean & myself were both expecting the crossing to drag when we first boarded, yet before we knew it we could see the sandy shores of Michigan in the distance & not long after that a Coastguard Cutter was escorting us towards Ludington Harbour.

As we entered the Harbour lots of local residents waved to us – the boat does 450 crossings of the lake every season & they must do this on every one of them! We said “bon voyage” to our new & nearly new friends & were off the ship about 15 minutes early.

We stopped at the Welcome to Michigan sign & made sure our phones had caught up with the time zone change – for the next couple of days we’re only 5 hours behind the UK.

We checked in to our hotel & then headed into Ludington for dinner & a pint to celebrate a successful day where we progressed 60 miles & exerted no effort!!! Tomorrow we ride again.

In case you were wondering, you correct pronunciation of Manitowoc is “ma-ni-tuh-waak” – I hope that’s cleared it up!!

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