I will draw thorns from your feet.
We will walk the White Path of Life together.
Like a brother of my own blood,
I will love you.
I will wipe tears from your eyes.
When you are sad,
I will put your aching heart to rest.
~First People of Canada and America : Turtle Island
Child friendly site about Canadian and American Indians. 1400+ legends, 400+ agreements and treaties, 10,000+ pictures, clipart, Native American Books, Posters, Seed Bead Earrings, Native American Jewelry, Possible Bags and more.
This weekend, I was able to go to Saugatuck, Michigan with my friend Kam to visit our mutual friend Alisha. I met Alisha through her boyfriend Rich, and I had met Kam through Rich and Alisha. Though I’ve only known both Kam, Rich, and Alisha for a couple of years, I number them among my very dear friends.
On Saturday, Kam stopped by my apartment around 10:30am and off we drove to Saugatuck! It rained a bit on the way there, but it looked like it was going to clear up by the time we arrived.
When we got there, we met at Alisha’s house. She is currently living with her parents and her younger sister while she works at Holland Hospital. The place they live in is filled with history, as her father used to own a hardware store, and they still live above the same space that the hardware store used to occupy. It was a really cool place, to be sure.
Alisha, Kam, and I went to lunch at this restaurant called Wicks Park, and we shared a delicious meal of pasta, scallops, and ribs. Everything was delicious and I had a great time as we sat and talked around the table.
After lunch, we went to Lake Michigan by way of Mount Baldhead. Mount Baldhead had a lot of history surrounding it as well, and it was awesome because Alisha was an excellent tour guide as she showed us lots about the surrounding area. We ran down the “mountain” and onto Oval Beach, which Alisha was proud to inform us that it was one of the top ten beaches in the United States (according to MTV), and it definitely was a great beach.
Alisha and Kam Hiking Down from Mount Baldhead
Alisha, Kam, and I at Mount Baldhead
We walked along the water for a while towards a pier, but then we decided to jump in the water. The waves were about three or four feet high, and it was really cool to jump up into them and through them. It felt awesomely freeing, and all I could think of was that it was great to be alive. A storm was rolling in to our south. We saw lightning split the sky a few times, which was amazing to see with all that distance between us and that storm. However, the storm turned a bit north and it started to rain. So, we got out of the water and continued on our hike. We hiked to the pier and then did a really cool hike through some woodlands and dune areas. Kam got pretty tired and discouraged by the rain and the challenging hike. He also accidentally dropped his towel in the lake, and so he had to carry the heavy wet towel for the remainder of the hike. Soon, we made it back to the car, and we were safe and warm at Alisha’s house. It didn’t take long before Kam was back to his normal happy self.
Kam Dropped His Towel in the Lake
We had dinner with Alisha’s family that evening. Her father, Ron is a great man. He has traveled a lot and has a great number of interesting stories to tell. I also really appreciated his sense of humor. Her mother, Bonnie is an amazing woman as well. I could tell that she was really intelligent and empathetic from the moment I met her. They were both excellent hosts throughout the entire weekend, and I soon felt like they were my friends. Alisha also has a younger sister named Tess. Tess has a wonderfully sarcastic sense of humor and is really cool. She baked a blueberry pie for the dinner, and I have to say that it might have been the best blueberry pie I’ve ever tasted. The presentation was excellent with the top crust having that great lattice-work you see on television. Oh, and the taste was sensational! It seemed to me to have a perfect blend of sweet and tart. I even asked if there was rhubarb in it or something to give it that great taste. Tess informed me that it was just blueberries, corn starch, and splenda. Overall, I was very impressed at how generous, kind, and loving Alisha’s family was. I could definitely see where Alisha gets those same qualities.
Tess Makes Awesome Pie
After dinner, Alisha took a short nap, and then got ready for work because she would be working third shift. After she got up, we were able to spend a short while with her and that was very nice.
Alisha is Off to Work
At midnight that night, Tess would be celebrating her birthday. Kam and I joked about hanging out with her as her bouncers. I was very surprised when she asked if we actually did want to hang out with her. That’s another example of how that family seems to operate. Even though we were Alisha’s friends, Tess was willing to include us in her life! I thought that was incredibly nice of her. I was hesitant at first but she seemed geniunely serious about it, so Kam and I decided to join her. First, she and a few friends went to SwirlBerry and had frozen yogurt. I had some as well, and it was quite good. After that, we met her friend Sam, and the four of us drove to her friend Edgar’s house. There were quite a few cool people there, and I enjoyed spending time with them. We counted down to midnight and when it came, we all clapped and wished her well. I considered it an honor that she included us on her special day. We hung out for a while after midnight, and then headed back to Alisha’s house.
The next morning, I woke up fairly early and told Kam that I would wander around town for a while. I checked out quite a few of the sights and sounds of Saugatuck, as well as some of Douglas (a town practically connected to Saugatuck). I also thought it was pretty cool to see one of Tess’ friends that I had met the previous night on the sidewalk when I was coming back from Douglas. We chatted for a couple seconds and continued on our separate ways. Saugatuck itself is a really cool village with a lot of little art galleries and interesting hole-in-the-wall-type places. Before too long, I noticed it was getting to be about time to head back to Alisha’s house.
When I got back to the house, Alisha’s mom and dad helped me to make some eggs, and Alisha’s mom offered me some amazing tea that was mixed green and black tea with an Earl Grey sensibility. I was very impressed with it. Kam and I then listened to some music with Alisha’s dad. He has great taste in music, and I was really happy to hear a few bands that I hadn’t heard of before. Then, he took us on a tour of his former hardware store, his current workshop, and introduced us to a couple of his tenants. It was really fun, but it was also greatly informative. His skills as a tour guide are well-developed. It seemed that he was very nonchalant, but he definitely kept my attention with all the little tidbits of knowledge he was willing to share with us.
We went back upstairs and relaxed for a while before Alisha got up. However, when she did get up, she was still really tired from the night before as it had been quite stressful for her. We talked for a while about our plans for the day. Finally, we settled on Kam and I going to a local museum, as Kam is really interested in urban history and architecture. Alisha would then meet us there. We took the chain ferry across the river and walked to the museum. The museum was small, but they had quite a few excellent exhibits on village life over the past hundred years or more. I learned a lot about Saugatuck and they had some cool maps of the town at various stages in history, which I thought was really interesting. I love maps, and especially old ones, so it was a lot of fun for me to see them. Kam seemed fairly interested, but not as much as I thought he would be. Before long, it seemed that he was getting antsy to go, so we walked outside to call Alisha to let her know that we were finished. Lo and behold, she was walking up as we were about to call! She didn’t seem too put out by the fact that she had come across the chain ferry just to stop in for a moment, which I appreciated. So, we then took the chain ferry back across the river to eat a meal.
A Real Working Chain Ferry!
Alisha and Kam on the Ferry
We ate at this wonderful restaurant called Mermaids. The food was superb. We sat on an outdoor deck that butted up to a dock, so we could see the boats moored up as well as some others passing by from time to time. It was lovely.
Alisha Likes Her Meal!
Kam Likes His Meal
After eating at Mermaids, Alisha, her mom, and I took a hike up to a place called “Crow’s Nest.” It held a fantastic view of Lake Michigan! As I looked over the expanse of green, brown, and blue, I couldn’t help feeling a sense of wonder and joy at the world. It was absolutely beautiful. It was also great to hear stories from Alisha and her mom about the area and its people throughout the hike. I love how connected they are to that place, and I could see that it means so much to them. I was really grateful for what they shared with me.
View from Crow's Nest
Alisha, Bonnie, and I at Crow's Nest
That evening, Tess was going to have a birthday dinner with the rest of the family. Although they were really kind and generous, I thought it would be a bit forward of us to stay although Alisha had invited us to do so. Eventually, I was talked into it, and we stayed for the dinner. It was a great steak dinner, and I really enjoyed basking in Tess’ happiness and the family’s joy. They sang a special birthday song to Tess, and it really reminded me of my family’s birthday song. Though they are two very different songs, my perception was that it was something as special as my family’s.
Guess Who's Birthday
After dinner, Kam and I said our goodbyes and we headed on our way. Though I was physically tired, my soul felt very refreshed from such an amazing time with such wonderful people. Overall, it was a fabulous weekend and I am so grateful for all the people, places, and things that made it that way.
I woke up at 8:30am with a growl in my stomach. As my stomach growled, I remembered that the free continental breakfast lasted till 9am. Naturally, I had the desire to run out of the room to get some food! The night before, John and I had decided that we would leave sometime towards the midmorning, so I really didn’t want to wake him. I tiptoed around the room, gently getting ready. I made my way to the door of the room, and pulled the handle downwards. It made a small click and I softly tugged on the handle to open the door. It wouldn’t budge. Finally I gave it a hard pull, and it opened at last with a very loud squeaking sound. Undeterred, I stepped out in the hallway and tried my best to shut the door quietly behind me. However, I had to pull it hard until it slammed. “John is probably up now,” I said to myself. Oops.
I made my way down the hall and into the dining room. As the breakfasty smells hit my little nostrils, my Pavlovian response was nothing to be scoffed at. I was hungry! I nearly skipped to the counter and began to make a waffle forthwith. While the first waffle was cooking, I grabbed a glass of orange juice and downed it. I grabbed some fruit from a nearby counter as well. Then, my eyes settled on some bite-sized doughnuts. I popped a couple of those in my mouth. By then, the waffle was done and I decided to make another. Sliding away from the counter, I made my way to my seat at a table nearby and began to eat (more). It all was quite tasty.
Meanwhile, John sauntered in and we wished each other good morning. I hoped that I didn’t disturb him too greatly with my slamming of the door. He said that he was glad he made it for breakfast, so I didn’t feel horribly bad about it.
After breakfast, we went back to our room to get ready for the last bike ride of the trip. We took about an hour or so to let our food settle. We then filled up or camelbaks and waterbottles from the sink in the room, packed up, and checked out. We were on our way on this, our last day!
As soon as we got on the road, I took a sip of my camelbak. “I’ve got to stay hydrated,” I thought to myself. As I took a sip, an awful taste filled my mouth. It was semi-metallic tasting, but with hints of something else that my taste buds definitely did not like. It was a bit of a shock to me as I was expecting some nice refreshing water.
I tried not to let the bad tasting water dampen my mood, but driving through downtown Toledo did! Toledo is not set up very well for biking (or at least the parts that we rode), and after riding through Chicago, where it’s busy but with plenty of bike lanes, I think I was a bit shocked at the lack of biking ability. Aside from the lack of bicycling infrastructure, I found the residents of Toledo to not be very friendly either. For instance, at one point on Cherry Street, we were waiting to cross an intersection on the crosswalk. When the light turned green and the “walk” light came on, a truck that was making a right turn cut in front of us. The gentleman riding shotgun just stared at me with a menacing look. So, I just smiled and nodded my head in order to not have any provocation for these two to be upset.
We had rode about five miles that seemed like ten when we found that the connecting road out of town was under construction and completely closed. After a few minutes of figuring a new route, we were on our way again. I was sipping the “bad tasting” tasting water all the while, and though I soon got used to the taste, I noticed that my stomach was becoming less and less happy with me.
At last we reached Douglas Street, which would take us out of town. I was really happy to be on it! We rode for a while longer and then took a break. During the break, John informed me that he had stopped drinking the water entirely because it was so bad tasting. For a second, I thought about getting out my water filtration system, but we didn’t have enough containers to make it feasible. I decided to follow John’s lead and not take any water until we reached a gas station or some place where we could fill up with fresh water. My stomach was not feeling good at all, and every time I took a sip, it seemed to aggravate it. I wish I had thought to stop at a gas station while we were driving through downtown, but I was far too concentrated on getting out of that zaniness.
I didn’t know that the nearest gas station on our route from our current location was in Dundee. The heavily populated outskirts of Toledo soon gave way to farms, and the road was ringed with corn and soybeans. It was a very welcome sight after the craziness of riding through Toledo. However, I became more and more thirsty as the minutes and miles dragged on. I even thought a truck parts store was a party store for a minute. John and I laughed about how it was a mirage!
At last we made it to Dundee. We stopped to take a rest and decided to stay in Dundee for lunch. We ended up eating at La Fiesta Mexican Restaurant. The food and service were stellar, especially considering they were serving two raggedy, dirty, and sweaty gentlemen.
La Fiesta Lizard
La Fiesta Second Floor
After lunch we hung out in front of the establishment to let the food digest a bit. Then we headed on to a gas station to change out the nasty water for some fresh stuff. That water tasted as sweet as morning dew on wood sorrel! We also bought a bottle of vitamin water to replenish our electrolytes. Then, we were off again.
Alas, we were not off again for very long. I chose…poorly in terms of our route. Not being familiar with the area, I chose to head up Platt Road. Little did I know that Platt was completely filled with gravel, and not the small smooth-cut kind, either. After about twenty feet of bumping and almost falling, we decided to get off and walk our bikes. I really hated that idea because I had an open blister on my heel that got really aggravated by the walk. Nonetheless, we pressed onward.
After about a mile and a half, we hit Milwaukee Road. It was paved, so we took that and just headed west. We cut up a couple of different streets, and I must say that I was starting to run out of juice. John had also started falling back a bit as well. So, we stopped at the Washtenaw County Line for a break.
Washtenaw County Line
After our break, we got up into Mooreville and then took Saline-Milan Road up towards Saline. Of course, the hills started again, and those were challenging. When we got to Saline, I saw that John was nearly done. I certainly didn’t feel much better, but I felt the need to press on while I still had any kind of energy at all. It was only ten miles or so to our destination. “We are almost there,” I kept telling myself.
While we were sitting there trying to recoup enough energy to ride the remainder, a really nice young lady by the name of Michelle came up and spoke to us. She was looking to ride a century in the next couple of years, and wanted to know more about our bikes and what we did. Like an answer to an unsaid prayer, talking to her about biking for about forty five minutes helped us to (mostly) forget how tired we were!
After we bade Michelle goodbye, we started again, and rode back to Ann Arbor without incident. We were incredibly tired as we reached Ann Arbor, but I know that I was soon excited as we neared our destination! When we pulled up into John’s driveway, I couldn’t believe how good I felt. I felt almost as good as I felt when we got to Chicago. Once again, we had overcome quite a few obstacles and challenges to arrive safely at our destination!
We Made It!
We toasted to our success with some Recoverite, took a picture of our triumph, and then parted ways. When I reached my apartment, that same feeling of having accomplished something worthwhile swept over me again.
As the time between me and this trip fade, I wonder how it will change me. I feel another piece of me has changed and grown in the process of this trip, but I wonder if that will transfer somehow into the every-day process of living. Only time will tell, but I can tell you one thing: this trip was amazing!
I awoke around nine o’clock, and I felt a bit groggy, but very excited to have a full day of exploring the city ahead of me. John woke up a short time later, and we got ready for the day and headed downstairs.
We did have a few items on our to do list:
Get Breakfast – We were hungry and definitely needed some food to help as our muscles tried to recover
Get Bike Boxes – We were planning on taking the train back to Ann Arbor, and the boxes you buy at the station require some “breaking down” of the bikes, and I’ve never done it. So, I figured it’d be a good idea to check them out before we had to leave tomorrow.
Check Out “Orange With a Peel” and “West Town Bikes” – Our friends we had met along the way had told us to check out these two places
Explore the City – We were hoping to get some time to wander around downtown and see a lot of the touristy places
Hang Out With Friends – We were going to meet some friends that we hadn’t had a chance to the night before, and hopefully hang out with Laura again.
As we left the hotel, one of the valets from the day before asked us how we were doing and if our legs were sore. He told his fellow valet how far we had ridden and the new valet was very impressed. He asked us lots of questions about what ways we had gone, how we camped, and lots of other pertinent queries. The valet we met the day before told us about this great Greek breakfast place (since we were in Greektown) just a few blocks away. We thanked him for pointing us in that direction, and we headed there.
I’ve forgotten the name of the place we ate at, but I was very impressed with the guy who took our order. He was very efficient, though he wasn’t very patient as I tried to order while I was still half-awake. I didn’t see a sign for the meal I had wanted, so he was sure to point it out to me. I said, “yeah, I want that.” He nodded, and then took my money. I really appreciated that he didn’t act rude or anything. He just seemed to say that he had a job to do, and it would help him help me if I paid better attention. Another thing that really impressed me was while we were waiting for our food, I heard him speak Greek to one of the old customers, Spanish to the line cook behind him, and English to the customers, all without missing a beat. It really spoke to the melting pot that is Chicago!
The breakfast was really good. I don’t know if it was because I was near to ravenous or if it was actually good, but I just chowed down. They also had a really nice lime drink that I hadn’t seen before. Overall, I considered breakfast a success. After breakfast, we decided to go check out Union Station and to figure out the sizing and how we were going to arrange fitting our bikes into the bike boxes.
We found Union Station to be a beautiful place. It was impressive to see the wear marks on the stairs. You could see a definite wear in the stone from countless feet walking up and down them over the last century. The architecture was rich with symbolism and was simply gorgeous.
Union Station - Flag Through the Pillars
Union Station: Through the Pillars
Some of the statues at Union Station
Taking It All In
Columns at Union Station
After exploring for a little bit, we made our way to the Amtrak customer service desk. I explained to Yvette at the desk that we were looking to head back to Ann Arbor tomorrow, but wanted to check out the bike boxes beforehand to get an idea of how much we would have to break down our bikes. She looked at us for a second and said, “You can’t ship your bikes to Ann Arbor.” Shocked, I replied, “What do you mean we can’t do it?!? I spoke with someone at your customer service a while back and they said we could!” She just shrugged her shoulders as if to say that that might have been the case, but it didn’t change the fact that we couldn’t ship our bikes. She informed us that the “Wolverine” line (as it’s called) doesn’t do checked baggage, nor does it have the bike tie-down areas or racks that some other lines have. Seeing our shock, she called her supervisor just to make sure, and the supervisor confirmed that there was no way to send a bike on the Wolverine line.
All through the trip, I had felt like I had overcome many adversities and challenges to get to this point. This particular adversity seemed absolutely insurmountable! To give a background, I had looked into about thirty different ways of shipping our bikes back when I was planning the trip, but the Amtrak option had seemed the least risky and the most reasonably priced. I knew that I had already gone down this road with various freight lines, bus systems, express shipping, UPS, freight forwarders, LTL operators, and independent contractors. I knew that any of those options were either unable to accommodate our needs or were exorbitantly expensive. I looked at John and he looked at me. We weren’t really in a position to ride back all the way to Ann Arbor. I could tell that in his eyes. However, I couldn’t think of any other way of doing it. While we were sitting there and Yvette was sort of staring at us with a compassionate “I’m sorry” look, my glance turned to a large US map on the wall of all the Amtrak lines.
Amtrak System Map
Chicago - Detroit Area
I was looking to imagine how hard the ride would be and to sort of mentally prepare myself to suggest to John that we might have to ride back. But, as I viewed the map and looked at where Ann Arbor was on the map, the word “Toledo” seemed to stick out. I knew that Toledo wasn’t all that far from Ann Arbor. I asked Yvette about the line to Toledo, and she said that we could ship our bikes along with us to Toledo! She told us the train left at 6:10pm and 9:10pm each evening. We thanked Yvette for her help, and we decided to go back to the hotel to figure out what we could do.
When we got back, we thanked our valet friend for leading us to the breakfast spot. We started to tell him a bit about our tragic tale of unexpected woe. I asked if the hotel had any computers we could use to try to get a few options for returning home, and he showed us where they were.
We had made reservations for two nights at the Crowne Plaza, so John went to the front desk to see what time checkout was. Checkout was at noon, and the time was 12:05pm. I went out to the front desk and explained our situation, and the gentleman at the front desk said he could check us out at 2pm at the latest. That was definitely a godsend to give us a couple of hours to make calls and research.
John and I got on our computers and phones, and started trying to get a hold of people who might be able to help. After researching numerous options, we got to the point where our original plan of riding the train to Toledo was looking more and more promising over some of the other crazy options we were trying to make happen.
We frantically got to work trying to book the train to Toledo and find a hotel since the train would be arriving at Toledo at 10:50pm (if we took the 6:10 departure time). I definitely didn’t want to ride my bike back to Ann Arbor through the night! The first dozen or so hotels near the train station were all booked. We did have one “interesting” hotel that was not booked. I called them and they said that they would indeed have beds available. I asked if I could make a reservation, and the guy on the other end said, “No…and bring $43…cash.” I looked at the hotel on Google Maps’ StreetView because that sounded beyond sketchy. It didn’t look much better looking at it on StreetView. Finally, we found a Days Inn about 3 miles from the station. I made reservations and bought the amtrak tickets.
The next step was to find a route from Toledo to Ann Arbor. I used google maps, and did my best to limit the number of turns and avoid some of the busiest parts of Toledo (what little I knew of those). I felt fairly confident that I had mapped out a decent bike route, and told John the same. He went upstairs to start packing while I printed out two copies of the maps and the directions from google. I tried to get as much of what I would need in the maps as possible.
Then, I went upstairs and packed. In packing, I noticed that I still had a lot of camping fuel in my fuel cannister. I did not need to be held up or arrested if they checked my bag or something because I was pretty sure that it is not allowed on the train without special permission. So, we had to find a way to dispose of it. I asked the hotel front desk, but they wouldn’t take it. I figured I would just have to get to a camping store and maybe they could take it off my hands.
In the meantime, we finished packing. The next step was to take our bikes to the bike shop because I knew that we needed to get the pedals off, and my drive-side pedal was too tight for me to get off. John had a few questions on his bike as well. We realized that we didn’t have time to go to West Town Bikes like we had hoped. So, we found Mox Multisports which was much closer.
After we had gathered everything and checked out of the hotel, we rode over to Mox. The people there were amazing and friendly! They had a hard time breaking my pedal loose, but one of the guys eventually did. They showed us what we needed and what to look for when we took our bikes apart, as well as took measurements to confirm that it all would fit in the box from Amtrak. They did all this, but didn’t ask for any money for labor. Then, the manager (or owner) came and talked to us. She was really nice. She went in back and got some bike boxes for us that she was willing to give us (which would have saved us $15), but the ones she had required removing the wheels. That seemed like a lot more work to put the bikes together once we were in Toledo, so we thanked her profusely for all Mox’s help, but declined the gift of the boxes.
It was getting on 2pm, and we hadn’t eaten any lunch. So, we decided that since we were in Chicago, we would get some pizza. We found Tomato Head West Loop was pretty close, so we ate lunch there. John and I split a large pizza and tore into it pretty good. Finally, there was one piece left. John said that he couldn’t eat another bite, so I swallowed hard, made sure I had enough room, and then finished it. As we lunched, we talked about the craziness of the morning. I was really glad that things were seeming to come together.
After lunch, we rode around trying to find a place to dispose of my camping fuel. We finally found a place and I disposed of it, but by this time it was getting on 3:45pm.
We rode over to Union Station and began the process of checking our baggage and getting our bikes ready. The lady at the counter seemed rude at first, but once she realized that we didn’t have a clue what we were doing, she was really nice to us. She showed us how to fill out everything for our panniers to check, and told us where to go to get our bike boxes and ship everything. She came around the desk and even brought us to the elevator we needed to get to. The gentleman in the basement of Union Station was also a spectacular man as far as customer service was concerned. He was very patient with us while we removed our pedals and took off our steering wheels. He showed us how to mark up the boxes correctly and was generally a friendly guy. After all the stresses of the day, those two people were the beginnings of a real bright spot in my day.
We then went upstairs to wait for our train. We had a heck of a time trying to find where we were supposed to wait for our train. We found one line, but it ended up being for a completely different train that was delayed (though it was leaving through the same gate). We met a young lady with two kids of about five and seven. She too was looking for our train. We looked together for a while, but she ended up wandering to a different area to ask someone else.
We eventually found the general area that we were supposed to be in, but because of the delayed train, everything was even busier than Union Station is normally! Along the way, a cool young lady by the name of Tiffany joined John and I in our quest for the right area. We became fast friends, and she also ended up helping us get right on the train.
Once we got on the train, John, Tiffany, and I sat near each other and were able to talk a lot. The train had an observation deck, so Tiffany and I went to see it. I was amazed! It was so much easier to see everything and to take pictures of all the things that you would normally see from the tiny train window!
The Allied Metal Building
I remembered riding my bike through this area
It was interesting to remember riding through Gary
We stayed there for a good portion of our trip until it was starting to get dark. Also, Tiffany’s stop was coming up pretty soon, so we headed back to our seats. John was asleep, though he did wake up when we got back. John and I said goodbye to Tiffany when she left and the rest of the train ride was pretty uneventful since it was already quite dark.
We arrived at Toledo’s station around 11:40pm or so. We looked around for the baggage area, and if it wasn’t for seeing other people waiting in a specific area, I’m not sure we would have found it. After a bit of waiting, they got our baggage to us, and we began the process of reassembling the bikes. I already felt dead tired, but I kept telling myself that we didn’t have much further to go tonight. About a half hour later, we were on our way to the Days Inn!
I was pretty scared of riding through downtown Toledo in the middle of the night. I’ve ridden many times at night, but for some reason, this time felt different. Maybe it was because I wasn’t sure of the route, or maybe it was because there wasn’t much of a shoulder. Irregardless, I was a bit concerned. We wound our way up onto Clayton Street. As We crossed a bridge over the Maumee River, I remember seeing a giant flaming smokestack in the nighttime skyline. It looked really crazy to me, and didn’t set me too well at ease. We dodged potholes as best as we could and I tried my best to keep my spirits up. Within fifteen minutes or so (that felt like an hour), we were at the Days Inn.
After checking in and bringing our bikes inside, we both just sort of slumped into our beds, and I slept like an old, wet, and heavy log till morning.
We awoke early to start the day. We had debated the finer points of two routes to take the night before. One route completely avoided Gary (which is fairly notorious for its crime rate) and ran on a lot of trails. The big drawback was there was a lot of intricate turns in the route and we weren’t sure we could follow them. The other route we had seemed far more direct and seemed easier to follow, but it went through Gary and was on some pretty busy roads. We eventually settled on the more direct route, but decided it would be a good idea to get an early start.
We packed up our bags and got ready for the hard ride ahead. However, not even the previous three days had prepared us for the challenges yet in store!
I can’t say we started in exactly the best way. As we left the campground, I led us up Broadway drive towards the Lake. I was looking down at the map and trying to memorize some of the turns further down the road and I guess I wasn’t paying as much attention as I should have. We overshot our first major turn by about 3/4 of a mile!
When I realized that I had passed our turn, I felt a little sheepish. We stopped for a moment while I looked at the map to confirm my mistake. Then, I saw that we would be able to cut down a road called Beverly and save us a good bit of backtracking. Proud of my navigation skills, I led us down Beverly. We rode for about a half mile when ahead of us loomed a large pile of dirt that stood about five feet high and ran the width of the street. There were construction-orange road barrels in front of the large dirt mound as well. My heart sank when I saw it, but I rode up to the base of the mound to see if there might be a navigable strip of pavement on the other side. I’m sad to say that the situation on the other side was not so good. In the end, we had to backtrack almost to our starting point before we were on our way in the right direction!
We rode for about an hour or so before it was time to take a break. It had been a rough hour because there wasn’t much of a shoulder to ride on and cars and semi trucks seemed to be just whizzing past us.
After deciding that we probably could use a break, there didn’t appear to be any great places to stop off. We rode for another three or four minutes before we finally just decided to get a little off the road between the pavement and some railroad tracks. We stopped and snacked there for a bit. Though it wasn’t the prettiest place we’ve stopped to take the break, it was pretty cool when an amtrak went by.
This was not quite as pretty as other areas we rested in
It's good to take a break and relax a little.
After our break, we started getting into the outskirts of Gary, Indiana. Gary has a lot of remnants of industry, but also has a high crime rate. We had planned on riding on US-12 through Gary to hopefully avoid some of the seedier parts of the city. However, traffic was just too heavy on US-12, and since there was no shoulder/sidewalk to speak of, we stopped for a few minutes across from Gary’s city hall while I rerouted us through downtown.
Gary City Hall is quite beautiful
I tried my best to keep a positive attitude, but since I didn’t know much about the city, I was a little afraid that I might lead us on a worse route than the one we had been struggling on. I finally decided on a route that didn’t take us too far out of our way. It did take us through some of the neighborhoods of Gary, so that was interesting. It wasn’t much different than riding through Detroit, in my opinion. The only difference was that we stuck out like a couple of bulbous sore thumbs with our fancy pannier bags and gear.
I was happy when we got back out onto US 12 and outside the Gary neighborhoods, but only for a little while as the traffic was still pretty heavy. There also were some deep and large potholes to dodge. Because I was always looking around and trying to pay attention to traffic, every once in a while I would miss one and feel like my entire bike was going to bounce to the moon (or more likely pop a tire)!
I was happy when we turned off the main drag (US-12) as we got into the southeastern outskirts of Chicago. However, our problems were not yet over. The road we were going to take north to catch South Shore Drive had a bridge under construction. So, once again, I had to take some time and reroute us.
It just so happened that as we rode a little ways further, John got a flat tire. I had heard him hit a pothole really hard. “Are you all right?” I had called back to him. He replied, “I think so.” Sadly, within a few hundred yards, he saw that his tire was going flat. So, we pulled in behind the storefront to Crowley’s Yacht Yard on 95th Avenue to change the flat. It began to rain about the same time. Though the rain didn’t last long, it was a bit disheartening.
While John changed his tire, I went inside Crowley’s. They seemed like nice people and didn’t say a word about the fact that we were hanging out in their yard changing a tire. One of their customers came out a short while later and talked to us about the trip. He left us with a word of warning to be careful “around here.” I think he saw that we were unaccustomed to the big city, and he might have meant the “south side of Chicago” when he said “around here.” I thanked him and waved as he pulled out of the parking lot.
In a short while, John had the inner tube changed. We rested for a very short time and then began our trip yet again. Within a mile, he had another flat! This time, I examined his tube and noticed a hole that was probably caused by the tire irons. It looked like the inner tube had gotten rubbed to the point of failure in those spots. So, while he was replacing the tire, I tried to patch up the bad tube as best as I could since he didn’t have any more spares. He had a really hard time pumping up the tube that he had just installed. I took a look and saw that the nozzle on the pump had come unscrewed a little bit, so it was leaking air. After I screwed it back in, we were able to pump it up to a more usable pressure.
We rode for about ten more minutes and found the entrance to the Lake Shore Trail. This is a great paved multi-use trail that runs along Lake Michigan from 71st street to Roosevelt (and it might even extend beyond that). Right before we got on that trail, we got our first full view of the Chicago skyline.
First Full View of the Chicago Skyline
After all the issues we’d been having, I was filled once again with elation to see that we were so close to our destination!
We rode a bit longer on the trail before John said that he might be getting ANOTHER flat. I rode behind him and saw that the pressure didn’t look all that bad. It is sometimes hard to tell such things, especially with a loaded bike. So, I let him lead the way for a while until I told him that I could see that he was indeed losing air.
We stopped again, and then tried to just fill up the air instead of changing the tube, since it was apparently a slow leak and we were so close to our destination. We rode for a mile or so and it was flat again. This time, we stopped right around Promontory Point Park. John took the inner tube out and I examined what had happened. There was a very small puncture on the tube, so I told him to wait before installing the patched tube. I felt the inside of the tire and found a small staple-looking thing embedded in the tire. That tiny shard of metal had cost us a lot of time!
After fixing the flat, we continued on our way. We both were very tired and were really wishing we could have been at the hotel already. We took the Lake Shore Trail all the way up around the aquarium. It is a beautiful stretch of trail and I was very glad for the break from the craziness of biking in the streets.
Soon, we reached our turn off from the trail. Once on the streets, I found that there were lots of wide bike lanes. However, since I am not from the area, I was a bit overwhelmed by all the traffic in and around me. Some bike lanes ended and others just had the biker symbol in the middle of the right lane. I felt a little scared, but also a little thrilled. Before long, we found our way to Halsted and took that up to Madison. Our hotel was the Crowne Plaza right on the corner.
The valet at the door started asking us a few questions and was absolutely impressed that we had ridden all the way from Michigan. He told his friend, and they talked to us for a little while. I then ran inside and checked us in. I asked if it would be okay if we bring our bikes to our room, and they said that it was fine! I was very glad of that because I was a bit concerned about theft.
We walked our bikes into the elevator, pushed the button for floor 6, and I immediately felt my body relax a bit.
They let us take our bikes up to our rooms
View from the Hotel Room
As soon as we got in the room, we unpacked and John took a shower while I unpacked some of my stuff. I then took my turn after he was done, and that water felt simply magnificent! I took my time shampooing and washing the dirt and dust from the day’s ride away.
After we got cleaned up, I lay down on my soft bed and decided that a nap would be a good idea. John thought the same thing, so we slept for a few hours. The time was about 2:30 CST. We had made plans to meet up with some people at 7:30, and then we were going to meet up with my friend Laura around 8:30 or 9pm. I woke back up about 6:00, and woke John up so that we could go down and get dinner.
We decided to dine in the restaurant connected to the hotel called “Dine.” It was a pretty fancy place, and though we were clean, we weren’t very fancily dressed. Roxanne, our waitress was very professional and friendly anyway. John wasn’t feeling very good, so he ordered a couple of appetizers. I ordered a shrimp scampi dish. For reasons beyond our control, we didn’t get our food till about 7:15. This meant that we couldn’t meet our friends at 7:30. I was disappointed, but we made plans to meet with them the next evening (as we were planning on staying two nights).
After dinner, John didn’t feel well and was too tired to go meet my friend Laura. So, I went and explored a bit of the city before I met up with her. Here’s a few of the pictures:
This is a giant water fountain!
Millenium Park - The Promenade
After exploring for a short while, I met my friend Laura at the Great Park in Millenium Park. It’s this grass-covered field that has a network of speakers overhead with a bandshell and pavillion at the north end of the field. It is a very beautiful place.
When I arrived, Laura’s friend Jon was serving cupcakes from a little fold-up table. I got a vanilla one with this amazing strawberry buttercream-type icing. I had it gone in about three bites!
Jon and His Cupcakes
Laura and I
I also met Laura’s friend Mary Luce and a few other people whose names I’ve forgotten. It was a very nice time hanging out with her group of friends and acquaintances. About 10:30 or so, we headed to her apartment. This was the first time I’ve been able to visit Laura since she moved to Chicago, so it was great to see where she was living. Her and I have been friends since we were five years old, and went to school together from grade school all the way up through college, so she is one of my oldest and dearest friends.
After arriving at her apartment, I realized that I was incredibly thirsty. So, I had about three glasses of water while we caught up on all the great and terrible (just kidding) things we’ve done over the past few years. We also hung out on her balcony for a while. The view from her apartment was amazing! A storm blew in and it was really cool to watch until the wind was blowing the rain onto the balcony (and us). It was a really crazy storm with lots of lightning and it downpoured for an hour or two.
Her friend Paul offered to give me a ride back to my hotel after the storm had subsided a bit. By that time, I was starting to get very tired and looking forward to a good night’s rest. I certainly did not feel like walking back to the hotel at all and was very glad for the lift! When they dropped me off, I said goodbye to Laura and Paul, and trudged inside. Within a few minutes, I was underneath the lovely covers of my bed and I fell into a deep and glorious sleep!
The morning light shone through the trees as we groggily started to wake up and get around. I felt exhausted from doing battle with the raccoons throughout the previous night. The two previous days of biking probably didn’t help the situation either. Nonetheless, as the sun rose above the horizon, my spirits began to rise again while I also tried to mentally prepare myself for the ride ahead.
Mentally Preparing for Another Day's Ride
As John woke up and got our supplies from the tent, he found that the raccoons had done a dastardly deed! They had sliced a hole about seven inches long into his tent! What made the matter much worse was that it was a hiking tent that he had borrowed from a friend. Those dirty scoundrels!
We decided to not let that situation drain our spirits too much because we figured the road may just destroy our spirits anyway. So, we got our things together, and walked out of the campsite.
I'm a frog! John's a turtle!
We set forth down the road and after about an hour and a quarter of riding we rolled up under the shade of a few trees right around 18 miles from our starting point. There, we took a thirteen minute break, stopping to chow down on jerky, chia seeds, and honey. I also had little packets of country time lemonade mix, which I added to one of my water bottles to replenish some electrolytes.
We set off yet again and stopped for a few minutes while we tried to cross M-60. As we crossed into the median, we stopped for a short while again while traffic passed. While we were stopped, we saw a truck almost hit a car that pulled out too slowly less than fifty feet from us. That made us take extra caution to cross when the traffic was FULLY cleared.
We continued on and after another hour or so of riding (mile 33), we stopped in the shade of some more trees to take another ten minute rest. As we stopped, a dog started barking at us. It didn’t stop barking till we continued on our way. It was a good watch dog, in my opinion.
As we continued on our way, we saw quite a few of the Amish and Mennonites in the fields. In a lot of ways, it felt like we had entered another country, where people dress a little differently and work in the cornfields all day long. There were school buses parked up alongside some of the fields with tons of people working. I couldn’t tell exactly what they were doing, but it certainly looked interesting.
Very soon, we reached Olive Branch Road, which was a very hilly and rolling road (or at least it seemed that way). With a name like Olive Branch, we thought it would make a far better sign of peace if it wasn’t quite so hilly. Nonetheless, we made our way at a pretty good clip.
We started to run mighty low on water a little further down the road. We hadn’t seen any good watering holes, nor did we see any stores where we could buy some. John completely ran out of water at our next stopping place (mile 48), though I had a couple of ounces left. Looking at the map, we were about three or four miles from where La Porte Road intersects I-94. We decided that we could probably make it there, and there had to be a place near that intersection where we could fill up.
We rested there for about a half hour after we decided we could make it to La Porte Road. I just collapsed on the ground while John took a look around at a swamp nearby. I noticed that we were directly across the street from a landfill. It was interesting to see all the pipes coming out at intervals along the road, which I assume was to take samples of the methane levels.
After our thirty minutes were up, we packed up and went on our way. We rode at a little slower pace (I think), trying to conserve our energy since we were so low on water. We reached La Porte Road in a little under twenty minutes. John and I went into the gas station where he bought a gallon of water, which we shared.
We knew we were only five miles from Lake Michigan, so we set off once again with water in our bellies and our camelbaks. 24 minutes later, we crested a sharp hill and I literally gasped as I realized that I was seeing Lake Michigan! Though we hadn’t reached Chicago yet, the feeling of reaching Lake Michigan at last really made me feel like we had accomplished something great.
This was our first glimpse of Lake Michigan
Within a minute or two, we found a public beach. We changed into our swimsuits and though our legs were still burning from the ride, we practically ran across the hot sand to the edge of the water. We dropped our bags a short distance from the water’s edge, and got ready to enter the lake. Stepping carefully among the large rocks and stones, we slowly waded into the water. As I got past the large pebbles and into a little deeper water, I dove right in. Oh, what a feeling that was! If I could bottle that pure elation and save it for other times in my life, I definitely would!
We made it to Lake Michigan!
After swimming in the cool water for a while, we went back to the beach and laid out to bake in the warm afternoon sun. Within minutes, both of us were napping. John woke up once to say that if we stay too long out here, we might get sunburned, but he promptly fell asleep again, and so did I.
We were so tired
I woke up a little while later and noticed that it was getting close to 4:30 (EST). I woke John up, and we packed our things and got ready for the remaining ten or eleven miles of our trip. In truth, I really didn’t want to leave the beach, but I knew that if we didn’t leave soon, Michigan City’s rush hour might cause problems for us. Also, it was a pretty good bet that I could fall asleep and sleep till the next morning!
I think John and I both were still pretty tired, but we got ready to go anyway. We talked to quite a few people about our trip while we were preparing to go. We got our picture taken with someone’s granddaughter as well. It was all a bit strange to me that all these strangers wanted to talk to us, but I didn’t mind at all. To use an old cliche, we met a few strangers, but soon found them to be friends.
As we set off, a gentleman rode alongside John and struck up a conversation. His name was Jim, and he asked us some of the usual questions like where we were headed and all that. We found out that he was a mechanical engineer and knew the area pretty good. He talked to me a bit about how to get to Dunewood Campground (our destination), and after a bit of talking, he decided that he would take us there via a fairly scenic route that wasn’t too far out of the way. Since I was fairly familiar with the map of the area, I knew it wouldn’t add more than a few miles to our trip, and it probably was a better way to go through Michigan City. So, the three of us continued onward into Michigan City.
We stopped for a few minutes to take in the majesty of the power plant, and a nice lady riding by stopped and asked if we wanted our picture taken. We asked Jim to be in the picture as well.
John, Jim, and I at a bridge in Michigan City
We talked the remainder of the ride about Jim’s life, our lives, and generally bantered back and forth where traffic would allow. Before we knew it, it was time for us to part ways. We didn’t shake hands, but we did give each other a bikers’ wave as he veered away while we continued on the remaining half mile or so to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore Dunewood Campground.
We rode up to the ranger station, but there was no one inside. That’s when I caught sight of a young lady waving to us from out of a toll booth up the road a little ways. So, we rode our bikes up there, and found out that that is where we needed to go to check into the campground. We paid for our campsite, and rode up into our area.
We found our campsite without any trouble, and I quickly started unloading bags. I wrapped my helmet on the handlebars, but somehow it fell down and hit the ground below. When I picked it up, I found that the helmet had been cracked into the shape of a quarter-inch pebble. “Whoops,” I said to myself, and made a note to buy a new one at some later date.
Here we are as we started the unpacking process
After we unloaded our bags, we decided to ride a little ways back out of the campground to a party store to get firewood. We got in the store, and my mind immediately went to the ice cream freezer. We got a few supplies like milk (since we didn’t have to ride a long ways further like the previous day) and firewood. I also got a strawberry shortcake ice cream bar. John got a chocolate ice cream bar of some sort. Nick, one of the owners talked to us and asked about our bike ride. He was a bit more than impressed. He cursed a bit and couldn’t believe that we had ridden all this way. He told us that we were crazy. Then he invited us down below the shop for a drink. Apparently, the bar downstairs is made from an old ship’s hull. I thanked him for his hospitality and told him that I needed to just get back to the campsite, eat some food, and fall asleep.
After that, we headed back to our campsite, where we met Kyle. He was biking from Oregon to Brooklyn, NY and serendipitously had a campsite directly across the road from us! We went over there and heard all about some of his adventures going over the Rockies and his current daily mileage. The most impressive thing about Kyle (in my humble opinion) was his bike.
This is a side view of Kyle's cool bike
He had moved to Oregon to learn how to build a special type of bike that had a large area in front of the handlebars to carry a load. He built the bike that he was riding himself! He was riding to Brooklyn to start a nonprofit where he would be able to teach kids to build and ride bikes.
That bike can easily handle a load of 80lbs (not including the driver)
We became fast friends with Kyle since he was a kindred spirit of the road. We invited Kyle over to partake in some of our jalapeno, corn, and chicken-rice mixture. While the three of us were talking, the ladies in the campsite next to ours overheard us and got curious. One them, whose name was Dakota, came over to talk with us. She also brought over some leftovers from their dinner. At first she brought over some veggie burgers and buns. We talked to her for a few minutes and began our meal. Then, one of their party brought over some lentils and rice for us, far more than we could eat. Kyle, John, and I just chowed down on all this extra food, though I must say that we couldn’t even finish it all!
After dinner, we just hung around the campsite. John started a campfire, so we let that burn for a little while.
A dragonfly immediately became friends with John
Before long, I realized that I was getting VERY tired. I started cleaning up the site and was most of the way done when a deep exhaustion took over. Because of the previous night’s fight with the raccoons, we gathered our food in a bag and hung it from a tree. I cleaned up and washed quite a few of the dishes, but I felt my body beginning to slow down. I asked John if he could finish cleaning up because I didn’t think I could do much more. He said he could, so I trudged off to bed.
One thing I noticed (actually when we arrived) was that the campsite was entirely covered in gravel. I’m sure this made cleanup easy for the rangers, but it did make for a bit of uncomfortable sleep in the nighttime. With nothing but a sheet and a bit of tarp between me and the gravel, I curled up into bed, and very soon, I had nodded off. I think I slept fairly good, considering the rocky terrain, and before long, my alarm went off.
We awoke around 7:30am, and we prepared for the day by cooking some oatmeal with dried cranberries. Sometime in the night, John had been awakened by the fire roaring and had thought the entire campsite was on fire. I too had been awoken, but it was by Gary. After we had gone to bed, I saw him come up to our campsite breathing heavily. I pretended to be asleep to see what he would do. He just stood at the edge of our campsite for a while and then he left. What I imagine happened was that he might have added some wood to our fire for some reason and then wandered off. I had also awoken to a raccoon sniffing at my head as well, but as soon as I moved, he/she scampered off. All of these things were the topic of conversation over breakfast.
Now this is camping: Lay-Z-Boy and a field...
After breakfast, we cleaned and packed up, getting back on the road about 8:50am. The road skirted a bit of Coldwater Lake and a gentle breeze was blowing. While my legs seemed a bit sore, I felt pretty refreshed while we rode around the lake and onto Centennial Drive. However, once we got on Centennial Drive, I noticed that my legs felt very sluggish and the sun seemed to already be beating down on us. “Uh oh,” I thought to myself.
About a half hour or so later, we arrived in downtown Coldwater. It is a pretty city overall, with decently well-kept streets (at least the streets we rode on). There were industrial-looking buildings, but it didn’t have the air of the classic “dirty” town. In fact, it seemed pretty nice.
We got out of Coldwater on M-86 (Colon Road), and we were about five miles from Coldwater when John informed me that he had a flat tire. So, we stopped in front of a little farmhouse and John got to work replacing the tube of his tire.
John works diligently at fixing his flat tire
When that was done, we headed on. After a few minutes of riding, John realized that he had left his tire irons at the place where he changed his tires. He tried calling out to me to tell me this, but for some reason, I could not hear him. He turned around and went back for them, while I continued riding merrily along.
At some point, I looked back and saw that he was out of sight. With all the hills, I just assumed that he had fallen a bit behind, though that’s not like him. I slowed down a lot and looked back again. No John appeared. Finally I stopped and waited for what seemed like minutes (but was probably on the order of seconds). I then turned around and headed back towards the spot where I had last seen him. I pedaled hard, thinking of all the possible things that could have happened to him. Finally, a figure appeared at the top of a hill. I continued pedaling for a while until I could verify that it was indeed our man John. A wave of relief swept over me, and I turned around to wait for him to catch up. He explained what had happened, and I told him that I was glad that he was all right.
Because of the unexpected delays, we pushed hard for another two hours or so until we arrived at the city of Three Rivers, which consequently is where three different rivers join together. The town itself has a fairly bustling downtown, but a lot of vacant storefronts. We decided to stop at this town for lunch.
We rode around looking for a nice park to take our lunch. Along the way, we saw a party store, so we stopped in there and since we didn’t get any milk the previous night, we decided to buy a half gallon of the stuff. Sweaty and dirty from the road, we strode up to the counter where the cashier was waiting. After paying for our delicious drink, the cashier told us, “I would tell you to keep cool, but I saw what you are doing.” We laughed and said thanks anyway.
After walking outside, I tried to strap the half gallon of milk in the netting that held my backpack to the top of the rack. Telling John to “watch the milk,” we set off for Memory Isle Park nearby. After traveling about 20 feet, I heard something fall behind me, and lo, the milk jug was laying in the middle of the street! I couldn’t hold back a gasp, but after seeing that the jug was not damaged or leaking its precious cargo, we both started laughing. I then carried the milk in my hand since we didn’t have very far to go.
We circled around Memory Isle Park for a while and then found the entrance on an unexpected street. I saw a pavillion next to the river that looked perfect. So we rode into the shade of the pavillion and prepared for lunch.
We noticed a group of people across the river, and I jokingly said that it must be a wedding. Though I had been joking, I was not mistaken. It actually was a wedding. I was very surprised because there aren’t usually weddings on Mondays.
Some people across the river having a wedding
John went into the river and drew out some water for our meal and to fill our water bottles with while I prepared the meal.
Preparing Our Meal
John getting water from the river for our meal
Lunch itself was a lovely dinner of baked beans and macaroni and cheese. The milk washed it all down so very nicely. A girl and her dog walked by and we got to meet the dog, though I’ve forgotten its name. Other than that and a few bikers, no one came into our area of the park while we ate.
I was feeling fat, sassy, and happy as we cleaned up and prepared to ride onward. However, I did not yet know that all the milk I drank would settle into my gut and feel like it was beating my stomach with a lead pipe. We started off going through the rest of Three Rivers at a decently slow speed, however as we continued out of town and into the heat of the day, I felt worse and worse.
Finally, I told John we would have to stop after about 32 minutes of riding. The hills heretofore had seemed tortuous to me, and I saw more hills on the horizon. So, we stopped for about eight minutes while I caught my breath and cooled down a little.
I had been leading the ride up that point but John was willing to lead, and I wanted to stay back a bit. So he then led us up to Dutch Settlement Road, which would take us to within a few miles of our destination. The hills on Dutch Settlement Road seemed never-ending. Up we would ride, hoping and praying for a nice downhill to follow. Down we would ride, hoping to have enough energy to make it through the next uphill without slowing down too much. Over and over, this continued. I imagined that a huge rubber band was attached to John’s bike, and that if I got too far behind John, it would snap. This trick of the mind helped me keep up with him in spite of how bad I was feeling.
We stopped in the shade of some trees near an old farmhouse after another half hour of riding. I sipped on water, ate a little beef jerky, and took a shot of honey. I was starting to feel a bit better, though I was nowhere near perfect.
After a short break, we continued our journey. John led the way like a champ while I tried my best to keep up. A little over an hour later, we had arrived at our destination: Cool Springs Campground.
Along the way, I had been worried because I had left messages for the proprietors of the campground both before and during the trip, but they had not returned my calls. I had called them during the now-infamous “milk lunch” as well, and that time, it had said that the voice mailbox was full. So, we were not sure what we were getting ourselves into or if we would be able to stay there. I figured that I would be happy to just camp in a field somewhere if it didn’t work out.
When we arrived, I walked up to the office, a small log-cabin-type building with two rocking chairs on the deck. No one was at the office, but I did see a drop box for choosing a campsite and paying. So, I grabbed one of the envelopes and we went off to choose a site. After pondering over the map for a minute, we came to see that there were two areas, one filled with walk-in sites and another for rv-type camping. We choose the former and walked back to take a look at the sites. We didn’t see a single soul during our entire exploration. That made me feel a bit silly for thinking that we might not be able to get a site.
All of the walk-in sites were quite pretty and we eventually settled on a site that topped a bluff overlooking a small stream. We unpacked and relaxed for a few minutes before dropping off the envelope to pay for the night. While we were there, we also picked up a load of wood (again, there was a drop box) and explored a bit more of the campground.
This was our campsite
This little guy was really attracted to my map
The entire campground seemed to be deserted, but the campground itself was really cool. There was a pond with a water trampoline. A large recreation building with a nice-sized deck was nearby. There were beautiful gazebos and a couple of waterfalls.
There was a nice-sized bass that was cruising the shallows for minnows
One thing that piqued my interest was the petting zoo. John and I met Osama Bin Llama and joked about finding his hideout.
This llama's name is Osama
There were a couple of cute miniature goats as well. The little black goat would come up and bite the edge of your shorts until you noticed, and then he’d prance away.
This little guy liked to eat clothes. I think he wanted attention.
This goat always wanted to kneel on its front legs...kind of weird in my opinion!
We stayed in the petting zoo area for quite a while hanging out with the animals, but by now my stomach was feeling better, and it was starting to gurgle with hunger.
We cooked a vegetable goulash and snacked on sardines and crackers. Though in normal surroundings, it might not have tasted all that great, in my mind it tasted amazingly delicious.
Trying to get a fire going
After dinner, we took a walk back to the ponds, and rested for a little while. After a completely crazy and hard day, I was ready to just relax. It felt amazing to sit at the edge of the water and cool my tired feet while the pond’s gentle waves lapped at my ankles. It was then that I noticed a blister developing on my heel, but that point, I didn’t care. I felt like I was in heaven.
It felt like a little slice of heaven
We hung out and watched the sunset at the pond, and then we headed back to our campsite and prepared for bed.
Sunset at Cool Springs Campground
Given the nature of the place with lots of animals, we packed everything up good and tight. Then, we lumbered off to bed not aware of the battle we were about to wage.
In the middle of the night, I awoke to the sound of one our pannier bags getting dragged away! I grabbed my camera as I couldn’t find my flashlight and hit the flash. Lo and behold, there was a raccoon trying to drag a bag into the woods. I scared it off, and gathered all the bags together next to me.
This raccoon kept trying to steal our stuff
I then started nodding off to sleep. A short while later, the raccoon was back, but this time I think he brought a friend or two.
You're NOT getting our panniers!
I scared them off for about a minute this time, and heard them sneaking back towards us. We repulsed another wave, and John volunteered to put the bags in his tent. We did this, and I fell back asleep. This time, I slept soundly till daybreak.
I woke up before the sun had risen, for today my friend John and I were about to sally forth into a new and amazing adventure: a bicycling trip from Ann Arbor, MI to Chicago, IL.
The night before, I had frantically packed and repacked everything into my panniers. I had reorganized everything at least three times to try to distribute the weight evenly on both sides of my bike.
While weight distribution was a big issue, my biggest concern was our food and water supplies. I wanted to carry enough water for at least half of a day of biking and I believed that I had achieved that with a 2L camelbak, a 32oz Nalgene bottle, and a 20oz bicycling bottle. I also made sure to carry quite a few days worth of food just in case we couldn’t make it to the campground we had chosen.
I was only able to sleep fitfully the evening before, and was able to wake up before my alarm clock went off. I did one last check to make sure I had everything I had planned to take, and then I brought my bicycle and bags down to where I was going to meet John. I carried a backpack on top of my rear rack, and two panniers each for my front and rear racks.
John was punctual as always, and I noticed that he had two panniers and a large dry sack strapped down to his bike. I asked if he was “ready for this.” He gave me a smirk and said, “Not really.” We laughed for a moment together because we knew it was probably true. I had never ridden that many days in a row before and neither had he. We had very little idea of what was in store, but we had prepared as best as we could.
The first thing I noticed as we began our journey from Veteran’s Park was that having a good deal of weight on the front rack really changes how to steer the bike. It required a great deal more leaning into turns and less actual turning of the handlebars. If I turned the handlebars too sharply, the whole bike would veer far more quickly than I was used to. It seemed the bike would jump in that direction in an almost dangerous way. Looking back on it, I probably overloaded my bike for this trip.
Nonetheless, we set out around 7:10AM with the sun barely clutching to the tops of the trees, heading south towards Saline, MI. We talked and laughed lightheartedly about the trip ahead with excitement filling our bones. I remember stopping at one point for a red light and remarking at how beautiful the morning light shone over a field off to our left. We started off again and before we knew it, we were in Saline. We saw a breakfast/pancake place and John said that maybe we should stop, but since we were still so close to home, we decided it would be better to keep on going. The fields of corn, soybeans and wheat were bathed in a golden glow as the sun rose higher and higher at our backs while we rode the large and spacious shoulder of highway US-12. Though the temperature was rising, I hardly noticed as we rode down the gently rolling hills towards the town of Clinton.
When we reached Clinton, we decided to take a quick rest stop. We had been riding for almost an hour and a half, only stopping for traffic and lights. A lady was remodeling the marquee of a theater right in the middle of downtown, so while we rested, we watched her work. I took a quick check of myself and began to stretch a little. I felt pretty good. John shared some rye bread with me and I shared a fruit strip with him. John then went to a station to fill up some water, but there was no public restroom for him to use the sink in. We rested for a little over twenty minutes and then we continued onward.
We rode fairly hard until we reached the gas station across the street from Hayes State Park. There we were able to replenish our water bottles from the fountain machine. I noticed while I waited for John outside that there were quite a few people looking at us. I guess a couple of guys with loaded-down bikes was a strange sight to see.
This was where the stagecoach would stop on its way to Chicago
We then headed for the hills, literally. The Irish Hills held some challenges for us, and I began to really feel the extra weight of the load I had chosen to take with me. A biker rode alongside us and talked with us for a few minutes and that helped break up some of the monotony of the ride, though I must say that it didn’t seem all that monotonous as we pushed hard up the hills and coasted down them. One thing I began to realize along the way was that John’s bike was better equipped to coast downhill than mine was. I assume it was because of the weight I was carrying, but it’s hard to say. In either case, I had to pedal fairly vigorously in order to keep up with his coasting speed, so I was scared that situation would make me tired towards the end of the day. Nonetheless, we pressed onward.
We found ourselves at McCourtie Park which was a little over 44 miles into our ride. Stopping for lunch seemed like a great idea!
We packed pretty lightly for the trip, eh?
We stopped in a little picnic shelter and I cooked up some freeze-dried macaroni and cheese (for John) and some spaghetti and meatballs (for myself). A couple with three children came up and talked to us. They asked where we were going and were surprised at our answer. They seemed duly impressed and talked to us about how we were carrying our food, getting water, cooking meals, etc. A few minutes later a couple of young ladies came up to speak with us. I believe they were from Chicago and the couple that had stopped to talk to us had told them about us. So, we talked to them for a while, and they adamantly suggested we check out “Orange With a Peel,” which is a frushi restaurant downtown. We thanked them for their advice, and we continued our meal.
One of the many cool bridges at McCourtie Park
After letting our food digest and wandering around McCourtie Park, we rode for a bit longer to a gas station where we stopped to fill up on water. The gas station was in a valley and for a moment I contemplated not stopping so that we wouldn’t lose our momentum on the large uphill that loomed before us. The only reason I could see to stop was that I had no idea how much further it was till the next gas station. We only stopped long enough for me to use the restroom and to fill up our waters, and then we were off again!
We stopped twice more before we reached our destination. One time we stopped in Jonesville at a park for a brief break.
Honey provided some quick fuel to get us going after breaks
Then, we headed on to Quincy, where we stopped for a few minutes and then decided on getting some Dairy Queen.
The Dairy Queen was so close, so we decided to stop in
I got a large Strawberry Shortcake Blizzard and that tasted like heaven. We rested for a while longer, and then prepared ourselves for the last eleven (or so) miles from Quincy to our day’s destination: Coldwater Lake Campground.
While those miles weren’t effortless, the fact that our destination was so near did seem to lend wings to my legs, and we made it to Coldwater Lake Campground in a decent amount of time, considering how tired we both were.
Coldwater Lake Campground is a very nice campground, though it seems to be set up mostly for RV-style camping. There were lots of RV’s that probably stayed there all summer long. A friendly and cozy feel had settled on the place, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Bill, the owner, gave us a quick overview of the rules and what he expected of us. He was very friendly, though I must say that I was so tired, I hardly paid attention to what he was saying.
One thing I did pay attention to was how to get to the lake across the street. After running across the street to jump in the lake, the cool water hit my tired muscles and they felt invigorated! Then, they felt almost too tight, but I didn’t care. I was cooled off! We stayed in the water for a while, and then headed back to finish getting ready to camp.
After setting up camp, we walked down to a little party store a few hundred yards from the campground, where we bought a few groceries and snacks. We debated buying a gallon of milk to share. Though it sounded quite good, we weren’t sure if each of us would be able to finish a half gallon by ourselves. We settled on a gallon of iced tea instead. We then unpacked our goods and cooked up some dinner.
After dinner, we were cleaning up and getting ready to start a fire when a man clad only in shorts and flip flops came up to us yelling, “Drop your socks, grab your [rocks], and follow me.” He said something about it being his wife’s birthday and how after biking all that way, we could use some cake. Then he said, “You can follow me or not. I don’t give a [hoot].” Curious, we decided to follow him.
I believe his name was Gary and his wife’s name was Tammy, but I’m not completely sure of that. He led us to the recreation building of the campground, and talked to us all about the campground, his life, his wife, and the community around the area. We were introduced to his wife and their two dogs, and they gave us some delicious cake. We talked with them for a while and they were amazingly nice people. They let us borrow their cart to haul firewood to our campsite and they told us where a great spot was to pick up kindling.
Gary, Tammy, Us, and the dogs in the rec building
Soon, I felt pretty tired and thought it would be a good idea to return to the campsite and get a fire going in order to get to sleep. We thanked Gary and Tammy for their kind hospitality and returned to our campsite. On the edge of our campsite was a fence, and when we returned, we found a mule, a donkey, and a horse grazing nearby! We fed them some grass for a bit, and the donkey almost bit me. It did end up biting John later, so we decided to stop feeding them.
These animals hung out right next to our campsite
They really liked the fresh grass from the other side of the fence
We built a fire, talked for a little while, and then I was more than ready for bed. I crashed hard and slept very very soundly.
This past weekend, I was able to go to the Michigan Irish music festival. It was an amazingly great time. I have gone in years past, but this time, I didn’t spend very much time on the planning and organizing of it. I can tell you that it didn’t dampen the experience even a little bit!
One change this year was that I tried a lot more of the festival food. I had Corned Beef, Potato and Cabbage bread bowls, Shepherd’s Pies, deep-fried twinkies, walking tacos, root beer floats, and Corned Beef Ruebens. It was all delicious!
On the Friday evening, the three acts that stood out to me were Millish, Danny Burns, and the Elders. I had seen all of them before, but I still really enjoyed their sets. Millish is from the Ann Arbor area, and whenever I hear their music, I am often left with a feeling that I’ve transcended into a different realm of sound and vision. Danny Burns is a Fermanagh/Donegal man who has been living on the road since he was 17. He’s a singer-songwriter, and one of my favorites as well. He has a very impressive vocal range and quality. The Elders also put on a great set with their Celtic Pop/Rock sound. Their lyrics and rhythm got me up and dancing before their set was through.
That evening, I got to hang out with the Waxies and the Tosspints as we were staying the same hotel. I got to hear a little more about why the Waxies’ last concert is October 2, and I’m excited to see how the rest of the band will reinvent themselves. Here’s a couple of pictures from their “hotel set.”
The next day, I had a great time as well. One band that stood out for me was An Dro. The percussionist was amazing. She played everything well, even a jaw harp! Here’s a picture of her playing the jaw harp:
Two of my sisters met me out there for some of the day as well. That was a great time. We danced to a few songs from the Waxies, but it got tiring quick, especially after all that festival food! I’m really glad they were able to come out!
Another great set on Saturday consisted of Jessie Burns and Danny Burns. Jessie is a fiddler from Gaelic Storm and you’ve heard me speak of Danny before. The combination of the two was pretty good. I recorded one of the songs on my phone. Sorry about the quality, but it might give you a smidgen of an idea of what it was like:
All in all, it was a wonderful festival with lots of great music, food, dancing, and fun. I’m already looking forward to next year!
Early yesterday morning, I logged 2000 miles of biking (since I started commuting on April 1). Using my 2006 Impala’s average fuel efficiency and AAA’s monthly gas prices, I saved $274.07 in gas alone. That doesn’t include maintenance costs or anything like that, either! I also saved well over 1700 lbs of carbon emissions!
One cool thing for me is to think about how far away that is if I had driven it straight through. It’s the same as driving to Jacksonville, FL and back. It’s also about the same as driving one-way to Las Vegas, NV.
It’s very interesting to see my progress, both in terms of physical ability, mental and spiritual acuity, etc. over the past few months. In some ways April 1 seems like a very long time ago, but in others, it feels like a speck of time that’s been flicked away without a care.