Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Quote of the Day: Michigan Thumb

(Running around our church yard camping spot)
"Fireflies! Fireflies! Fireflies! I just lost my flip flop somewhere!"

Quote of the Day: Michigan

"Dad and me just saw a MILLION Mayflies on the walk back from the movies!" (They are so thick on the road they sound like popping bubble wrap when cars run over them. They hatch enmasse for two weeks, once a year.)

Quote of the Day: Wallaceburg, Ontario

"Mom, did you notice that the only car that didn't move over today had Michigan plates?"

Monday, July 28, 2008

Memphis, Michigan. The guy at the bike shop 20 miles away asked us if we were calling from Memphis, Tennessee. Not the sharpest tool in the shed.

We were feeling so superior buzzing past all the cars in the traffic jam until we got the second of four flats.

Sonia's first experience using a cornfield for a porta-potty.

Northeast Michigan is referred to as "the thumb".

Pinconning, Michigan

Rattle Run describes our bikes pretty well at this point.

Brief Update: Heading for ferry to Canada

Rough day yesterday: 4 flats and one today. Rode until well after dark last night. Slept in church yard. Doing ok today and heading for Wallaceburg, Ontario tonight. More from Writer Dan later... --Alison

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Quote of the Day, Bay City, MI

"That boat in the front yard is bigger than that guy's car!"
"It's bigger than the guy's house."

Indelible Images

>Able-bodied teen female in North Dakota comes out of the Best Buy store and uses her cell phone to call her dad in a black Mercedes one hundred yards away to drive over and pick her up at the front door.

>Biking a slalom course back and forth between orange and white barrels on the shoulder of the road so Gus can reach out and smack them.

>Making up new words to old songs to make ourselves laugh after a stressful event over which we have no control: usually naughty drivers. Songs usually contain profanity.

>Gus being told he cannot approach the beach because it's private property, then the same man goes to check his truck, trailer, and Wavemaster which are parked on public property next door at the rest stop where we are drinking our warm bike water and using pit toilets. We have had many episodes like this. "You can't photograph the lighthouse from our property here, but you can go to the public area." (The one with no view.) In many societies of the world, heirarchies are not as fluid in America, but there is an invisible caste system here. I just wasn't affected by it before. I thought I had empathy for people who are struggling, but I realize I never truly understood until now. It's a gentle face-slap of reality to be a physician but to look and smell like a homeless person and be treated as such. Perhaps for the first time in my life, I understand what it is like to be cursed by motorists, shunned by barbers, and lied to about the availability of public restrooms because of how we look. --Alison

Photos: scenes from a life on the road

Sonia and Gus explore at Lake Huron.

Just add "Bike" to that list.

A campfire at beautiful Hoeft State Park.

The debate: religion vs. science!

This time NOT getting mauled by plastic wildlife!

Alison poses with her yellow helmet.

Ouch! Front yard fun in Michigan.

Sunflowers and a red barn in Michigan.

What else do you need for a party but smoked fish? Let's get the party started!

Dan strikes his best bowling form in front of Big Bowlin' Jesus, near the Dinosaur Gardens.

Outside the magnificent Bay City Library.

Bay City, also known for its fabulous architecture.

Another drive-through on the bike, this time at an A & W.

It's Alison's turn to get attacked!

After Paul and Babe were banished from Minnesota they moved to Michigan, where the progressive citizens had no problem with a man and his blue ox.

So this is where all those concrete steps went to.

Gus and Dan toast with frosty mugs at A & W.

Tawas Point lighthouse.

Help! We're surrounded by RVs and can't get out. We were the ONLY tent campers in Tawas Point State Park that night.

Gus, finally home with his people.

A penguin memorial? There has got to be a story behind this one.

Alison talks with someone about the trip. Not a day goes by that someone doesn't ask us about what we are doing.

Stay away from the worms!

Sonia and Gus play in Lake Huron.

At the Dinosaur Gardens. This was an authentic tourist experience!

Need we say more?

Yes, the food of kings!

And another animal attack!

Anyone see the resemblance?

Adversity, or Hell on Wheels

Sweet are the uses of adversity, Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head; And this our life, exempt from human
haunt, Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, Sermons in stones,
and good in everything.

~ William Shakespeare, As You Like It

Yesterday was the toughest day of the trip for me. But let me start with the day before.

We left Alpena at 9 AM headed for Point Tawas State Park. Although the ride was to be a long one, we figured that if we left early enough we could take our time and even play in Lake Huron for awhile at some point during the day. We were also looking forward to the state park as our experience at Hoeft State Park the day before was very good.

We decided to take our long afternoon break in Harrisville, which turned out to be a very good choice. As we cycled into town and past the local ice cream shop (as you faithful readers know, we seem to find these as if by some sort of magnetic draw or by primeval instinct), we stopped to speak with a woman enjoying a cone on a bench by the street. She directed us to a very good lunch spot just down the block by the harbor. We spoke with her for awhile about our trip and off we went (but vowing to come back for ice cream after lunch).

While we were eating lunch the very same woman we had just been talking to a few minutes earlier came in. She said that she thought our trip was amazing and offered us a warm bed, a home cooked meal, and a bonfire at her house for that evening (she lived right on the lake). What an amazing offer! Here we are, total strangers (and some might say totally strange), and she invites us to stay for the evening. Unfortunately we had to decline (that would really put pressure on us to ride over 90 miles the next day and few options to make up the distance over the next few days). We did give her our blog address. If you are the woman who made this kind offer: thank you! We wished we could have taken you up on it.

After eating lunch we made our way back to the ice cream shop. The sign said "home of the big dipper" and they weren't kidding. The cones were huge. We enjoyed our afternoon ritual sitting on a bench in front of the ice cream shop, enjoying the day and the cool breeze blowing in from the lake.

Alison wisely suggested that we take time for the kids to play in Lake Huron before we left (there was a state park just a few blocks away). We rode there, the kids jumped in their swim suits and were off. Sometimes I need to be reminded that we need to find fun things to do during the day. My inclination would be to stark early, hit the road, and get to where we are going. Some days, however, there isn't much to see at the end of the day so we need to take these opportunities as they come to us.

We finally left town at about 6 PM (ok, it was a long mid-day break!) and headed out to Tawas Point (another 30 miles south). We arrived at the state park at about 9:15. When we checked in at the park office we were told that there was only one campsite left in the whole park (of 200 sites). And it was a corner site (she mentioned this to me twice as though I wouldn't want it, since apparently 199 other campers didn't want it). And it was in the RV section -- in fact, the entire park was an RV section. There was no tent-only or primitive sites. And it was $27! Alas, it was 9:30 at this point, we were all exhausted, and we just needed a spot to put our tent.

As we rode toward the camping area I was worried that we wouldn't be able to find the site because it was dark. Our way, however, was lit by the glow of multi-colored hanging lantern lights strung on nearly every RV in the park (I bet you can tell a lot about the owners of the RVs by the types of lights they string). It was like when I was a kid sneaking downstairs on Christmas morning, my way lit by the lights on the tree).

When we got to our site I saw something I have never seen before. I had to do a double-take. In the campsite next to us (hey, all the campsites were next to us; this was the pinnacle of urban camping) a kid was playing Nintendo Wii. Outside. The television was on a table next to the RV. At least he was playing baseball and getting his exercise, I guess. Now, let me say that I am not fanatically opposed to video games. I have played my share (maybe more than my share in video game parlors of my youth). Every Thanksgiving when my brother-in-law Rob visits us in Walla Walla we usually have a video game marathon of some kind or another. SOAPBOX ALERT: but while camping? One thing this trip has shown me is that kids do NOT need to be tied to electronics. They DO have imaginations. They CAN play and make up games and have fun without being connected to an electronic umbilical cord. They WILL survive being unplugged for awhile. I don't want to sound pious here. We own a TV and watch it. My kids like to play on the computer. As a society, however, I think that we have swallowed the mass-media lie that our kids will not be happy without these things.

I also noticed that there was no picnic table (which we needed to eat our dinner). When I mentioned this to Alison one of our camping neighbors sheepishly said that they were using it. She delivered it back to our site but only after saying that we really needed it.

After a quick meal of turkey and cheese sandwiches, pudding cups, Gatorade for the kids and a 24 ounce beer for me (this is the only size they sell in singles here!), we went to sleep.

Now, to the hard day. Yesterday we needed to ride from Tawas Point to near Bay City. The road had a very narrow shoulder and more traffic than we have seen anywhere else on this trip. It was, in fact, non-stop. I think Gus said that the longest time he counted between cars was 19 seconds! Our original plan was to find a small motel north of Bay City. Up to this point there were numerous options in the towns we rode through. But not yesterday. The day seemed to drag on and on, we were fighting traffic and a headwind, and the miles seemed longer than usual. When we got just north of Bay City we saw a couple of motels. The first I wouldn't have sent my dog to. The second looked better, but we decided to pass on it an ride a couple of more miles into town. At this point (about 9:00) it was starting to get dark and I was worried about our safety.

So, this is where I can either gloss over what happened, or not write about it at all. But in an effort to keep the narrative honest, and to show that there can be bad days on the trip, I will relate what happened.

As we rode into town I asked Alison to pull over so we could look at the map. She said that she would stop up the road at the McDonald's. I was in no mood for this so I stubbornly stopped my bike in a small parking lot about a block away. Now, Alison also being on the stubborn side, rode to the McDonald's. Gus and I sat there for a few minutes, me fuming that I was NOT going to ride down the road and that SHE could ride back here. Gus, after sitting with me for a few minutes, wisely said that maybe we could just go down to McDonald's and figure things out. I agreed, but I have to admit that I was fuming (you need to understand that we were 70 miles into the day and it was getting dark and we had no motel prospects at this point). When I got to the McDonald's I found Alison getting some food. I was even more unhappy (what I didn't know at this point was that she had already found out where a motel was and that it was less than 10 minutes away; on a well-lit street; with very little traffic). At this point my brain should have said "Dan, before you do anything crazy, ask Alison if she found a place yet". But, as you probably have guessed, I didn't. I went into a bit of a rant and even, if you can believe it, threw my helmet on the floor. Yes, even 47 year old men can have tantrums. I left the restaurant and waited outside. Needless to say, both Sonia and Gus were stunned (as was I, in fact). When Alison came out I apologized. We decided that if we found ourselves getting into a situation like this again we would try to calmly sit down and assess the situation together and come up with a plan. And no more helmet throwing. As I write this the next morning after getting a good night sleep, I can hardly believe it happened. Hey, maybe it was a dream. I have the feeling, however, that when the kids wake up they will remind me of the reality of the evening!

So, adversity can show the real character of a person. I'm not sure I did well on that test!

Today should be a shorter day since we rode about an extra 15 miles yesterday. The next few days as we head toward the border crossing for Ontario there may not be a lot to see. But we will make due, and the kids will find their own fun as they always do. Everything will be fine. We will, as Shakespeare said, find "good in everything". And we will live to ride another day.

~ Dan

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Quote of the Day, Alpena, MI

If these hills had a machine for the uphill, they'd be just like roller-coasters!

Quote of the Day

Mom, I don't care about fancy hotels or swimming pools. I just want a dry place to lay down and my family next to me. (Gus earns extra hug points for that one. Maybe he's just buttering me up for more ice cream.)

Quote of the Day, Epoufette, MI

I saw a bear and a coyote and some wild turkeys today, and they weren't even squished! (Gus savoring wildlife that actually moves. Interestingly, roadkill changes as you cross the US, from antelope and foxes and prairie dogs to porcupines and turtles and frogs.)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


When the people leave, the geese party.

Sunrise over Lake Huron.

Our bikes look longer than the boat.

A throng of tourists descend on Mackinac Island.

Pasties, as we learned, are a local delicacy.

This is a pastie, a meat and root vegetable-filled, hand-held pie.

Enjoying an empty beach on Lake Michigan.

The only mystery is why I didn't stop.

Look at the sign above us. Do you think we are the kind of bikers they meant?

Crazy hair on the ferry.

I took this picture while riding. Sonia, Alison, and Lake Michigan.

What else is there?

Good Bye UP, Hello LP?

What do they call the rest of the state of Michigan? The Lower Peninsula? Which would be odd since it is not very peninsula-like.

I am having a hard time believing that we have really made it this far. When we look at the state maps we have I don't really get a sense of distance since we are looking at only a small slice of our entire route. Back in Minnesota we stayed at a motel that had a map of the US in the foyer showing locations of motels in the chain across the US. I showed Sonia where we were. We both kind of stood there in shock for a moment. Last week in the UP we saw a similar map. I was again amazed.

I thought back to when we were planning the trip. I can remember looking at maps for the route, studying the town names, looking for clues to what we might see. When planning, every day is 70 degrees, the wind is at your back, and the cars give you a wide berth on the road. And the town names can sound romantic and mysterious. At times while planning, I will admit, I was somewhat apprehensive about what we might encounter and how we would handle adversity. What if we had a mechanical issue we couldn't solve and were far from a bike shop? What if one of the kids got hurt or sick (although that one we should have covered with a pediatrician in the group!). What if we just hated every minute of it and wanted to go home? Those fears seem to fade once I was on the bike. So far we have managed to deal with issues as they have come up. We have been flexible enough to change plans when necessary. We have taken the time to wade in Lake Michigan at an empty beach even though we had miles to make that day. We have made sure to take the time to try the local restaurants, staying away from most chains when possible. And we have made sure to sample as much ice cream as possible. I keep thinking of something I read once: the worst day on the bike is better than the best day at work. I count myself very lucky to have a job I love and still be able to have an adventure like this.

The Ride

Two days ago we rode to Epoufette, Michigan and stayed in a small "motor court". These motels seem to have come about as part of the car culture in the United States in the 1950s. These small, one story motels are iconic: neon signs, vibrant colors (often pink),room doors facing the parking lot, chairs sitting under an overhang so people can sit outside and visit after a day of travel. The motor courts are mostly gone in cities (although you can sometimes find a few hanging on in between mega-hotels). They can still be found on the back highways of America, however. We have stayed in several. I find them charming. It hearkens to a time when people traveled not on super-highways (since there were none) that cut the most direct line between big cities by passing all the small towns along the way, but on the interstates of the time: two-lane black top that snaked from small town to small town, luring weary drivers with bright neon and catchy names. The interstates all but killed these motor courts. But some are still out there if you get off the main roads and look around.

Our motor court, the Wonderland Motel, had a great view of Lake Michigan. We fell asleep to the glow of the pink neon shining through the curtains. What more could a tired traveler ask for?

Yesterday we rode from Epoufette to Mackinaw City via Mackinac Island. We were all looking forward to visiting the island. We had read that it had a quaint charm to it: no cars were allowed. Bikes and horse drawn carriages ruled the road. But when we got off the ferry and rolled our bikes out to the main street we found ourselves in the middle of tourist trap hell! I'm sure that Mackinac Island has its charms, but at that moment we were in a swarm of people, all going from one store to the next, trying to fill voids in their lives by purchasing cheap t-shirts and over-priced fudge. We stood there for a few minutes and watched as the boats disgorged their tourist loads and like zombies, they made their way to the street, themselves overwhelmed with all the shops and restaurants trying to draw them in. You could almost see a hypnotic trance come over them as they went from one store to the next.

Needless to say, we did not stay long. In fact, only long enough to get the bikes from the main street back to the dock for the ferry to Mackinaw City. I'm not against tourism (we are, after all, tourists ourselves). I'm also not opposed to entrepreneurs taking cash from people who have more money then they know what to do with. What does bother me is the taking of a place and reinventing it for the sake of drawing in visitors. I don't think you can have an "authentic' experience of a place if the place is portrayed and marketed in a way that draws in tens of thousands of visitors each year. To be honest, I would rather visit the "Mystery Spot" that we passed up before getting to Mackinac Island than a Potemkin Village like Mackinac Island (unfortunately we did not stop at the Mystery Spot -- something I regret as I write this!).

After escaping Mackinac Island with our bikes, lives, and wallets intact, we found a motel in Mackinaw City and watched the day come to an end over Lake Huron from our balcony.

Quote of the Day

People say you can't do this kind of trip with kids. And you guys are proving them wrong!

~Smilin' Joe, a fellow cross-country cyclist we met in the UP of Michigan

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Photos: Michigan Upper Peninsula

Voyageur outside Manistique.


Bart Simpson runs for office in Michigan.

We get endless amusement out of being attacked by plastic fish.

And we thought Alison was Our Lady of the Highway.

A Star Trek fan finds a home.