In 2018, James Studinger received some bad news and needed to get away from it all. Ironically, he turned to Facebook. “I literally just threw an invite that said, ‘Hey, I’m gonna go bike 1,200 miles around the U.P. Anybody want to come join me?’” Studinger recalls. “A bunch of strangers did.”
The challenge was not unusual for Studinger, 49, who has long pushed himself up against his physical limits while being gnawed on by a deep-rooted desire to explore. Nor was the location a strange choice. A native Yooper, Studinger is more at home in the Upper Peninsula than anywhere else on earth. What was out of place was the method.
“I was the only one that wasn’t really a biker,” he says. “And that was probably to my advantage.”
While not starting entirely from scratch — he had already completed a few Ironmans — he had not participated in a multi-day bike tour. If he thought the strangers who responded to his impromptu Facebook invite were a little odd, the feeling was mutual.
“These people biked a lot,” Studinger says. “They knew what they were doing. They thought I was crazy.”
What followed was 10 straight days of cycling — the equivalent of a ride from Detroit to Orlando. No other biker joined Studinger for the full tour, but a few rode along for multiple days. And everyone urged him to do it again the next year.
Four years later, Studinger’s throwaway Facebook post continues to shape his life. His original circuit is now cemented as the annual Tour Da Yoop, Eh (TDY), and draws cyclists from as far away as Europe and Hawaii. This year’s TDY runs from Aug. 6 to 15, beginning and ending in St. Ignace.
To call Studinger an outdoorsman is an understatement. Some of his fondest childhood memories involve U.P. hunting or fishing trips with his dad. He grew up in tiny Manistique, where one need venture only 10 miles outside of town to experience wilds unmatched elsewhere in the state.
“We’ve got this pond that’s crystal clear. It’s like 50 feet deep. It’s got tons of big fish in it, and you take a raft across,” he says of Kitch-iti-kipi, Michigan’s largest freshwater spring.
But to see the TDY as an inevitable extension of lifelong patterns misses critical details.
“A decade ago, I went blind in my right eye,” he says. “I vowed at that time to see more with one eye than I ever did with two. That became my motto, and I can definitely say I’m living up to it.”
Since then, he’s run triathlons, trekked up Washington state’s Mount Rainier, and sprinted the 24-mile staircase that is the Grand Canyon’s Rim-to-Rim trail. He also experienced another health scare. Shortly before his first 1,200 bike ride, he learned he has acoustic neuroma, the same type of brain tumor that Kelly Stafford, wife of former Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, suffered from.
“It’s why I was so committed to finishing all 1,200 miles in a row,” he says. “I feared the tumor would grow and take away my balance.”
Fortunately, the tumor hasn’t grown since then and Studinger can still maintain his extreme lifestyle. He prefers no single sport over any other, he says, just whatever can take him somewhere new.
“I’ve just always been drawn to seeing what’s around the bend of the river, or over the hill,” he says.
Many people can relate to the wanderlust, but they tap out at the feats of endurance. Studinger views those challenges as just another journey into a different sort of undiscovered territory.
“Fifteen years ago, if somebody told me they biked 100 miles, I couldn’t believe it,” he says. “We don’t always know what we’re capable of sometimes.”
The TDY was birthed out of one man’s singular experience, but it lives now for everyone who wants to experience its rewards. “When people get exposed to nature, it’s like hitting the refresh button,” Studinger says.
Never a lone wolf, Studinger left the U.P. twice, first for college, and then again to build a life, eventually settling in Bloomfield Hills, where he now owns a financial planning firm. But he also never really left, still enmeshed in the tight-knit Yooper community. Through the years he returned often to visit friends and family, volunteering for local charities and to help create a network of Manistique school alumni. It was on one of these trips back home that the thought of a bike tour first occurred to him.
“When I drive up there, I’d see people biking on these busy roads,” he says. “I thought they just don’t know where to go, otherwise there’s no way in their right mind they’d ever bike alongside U.S. 2 or M-28.”
Almost 90 percent of the TDY route stays off the main highways. There are a few gravel sections, but nearly all 1,200 miles are on paved roads. Along the way, Studinger has arranged for riders’ luggage to be transported between hotels.
The event is broken into 10 segments of roughly equal distances and widely varying elevation. Riders ease into the tour gently over the first two days by gradually rising 2,000 feet. The greatest challenge comes on Day 4 and requires an ascent of 6,000 feet from Iron Mountain to Ironwood, plus some mystery obstacles.
“I throw a few surprises there at the end,” Studinger says. “When people get done with those surprises, they feel like a million dollars.”
Riders can also choose their segments a la carte in lieu of completing the entire circuit. Section 6, from Holden to Marquette, is Studinger’s favorite this year. “I have completely eliminated U.S. 41, which is very hard to do,” he says. “It’s going to be a gorgeous ride. I cannot wait to have the people back.”
The deadline to register for this year’s Tour Da Yoop, Eh is Aug. 5. Visit tourdayoopeh.com for details.