Category Archives: May 2012 Bike Trips – 8 days, 50 towns

My preparation for the “500 at 50” bike trip, consisting of bike trips around mid-Michigan, with a goal of visiting 50 towns in May.

Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign

IF THERE’S ONE THING I LOVE, IT’S AN ENTERTAINING SIGN. One fun part of traveling for me is looking for signs that stand out in some way, whether it’s an intentionally funny message, or an error someone didn’t catch or bother to fix. My May bike trips were a rich source of such signs, and I’ve gathered the photos into a gallery on this blog. Here is a slideshow of what I have so far. More will follow as I pull more such photos off my cell phone and other sources.

To have a longer look at the photos, position the mouse over the photo and a control will appear. Click the center square to stop the auto-forward and the arrows to go back and forth at your own speed. Enjoy!

Note: all the photos here were taken by me, at the location of the sign. I don’t collect signs off websites or photos taken by others.

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More May Bike Trip Highlights

WITH MAY GONE IT’S OFF THE BIKE FOR A WHILE. On to my June goal (to be announced shortly) but there are still some memorable May moments to report. So without further ado, here are highlights from bike trip #3 (May 18-20), along with the answers to the mystery photos I posted earlier.

Friday: Thinking of Mom

Union City bills itself as “a slice of American Pie”, so who are the first people I meet there? A couple from Down Under, Colin and Pam Tuck. They split their time each year among the U.S., France, New Zealand, and their home in Australia. They get around in an RV, which they have in each location, and on bikes (see the left side of the photo) for short trips in the areas where they stop. “We’re gypsies,” Pam told me. Nice life if you can get it.

The Daily Grind, the coffee shop where I met the Tucks, is elegantly appointed (see their Facebook photo – follow the link) and has great sticky buns. This place is definitely on my “return visit” list.

I worked hard to keep the village of Schoolcraft in the route, because it had both a bike shop and an Underground Railroad house/museum. Unfortunately the house was not open when I visited, but I encountered quite a variety of other houses in the village. Here’s a sample:

I could definitely live here.

Or here.

No thanks. (Across the street from the second house. )

Small towns in Michigan tend to have a conservative flavor, so you can imagine my surprise when I entered downtown Three Rivers and spotted these two stores:

Mom, you have one guess what her name is. Synchronicity at work?

Now tell me, how can any red-blooded son pass by a shop named Love Your Mother? It’s referring to Mother Earth, and sells all kinds of earth-friendly products made from renewable sources. Naturally, I had to pick up at least a little something for my own mother. But should it go on her car, or on mine?

World Fare is a fair trade store that carries items from all over the world, but its focus is on products from less developed areas.

Crafted in the West Bank.

The idea is to give farmers, craftsmen, and artists a market for their goods while paying them a fairer price for their goods. The shop works with established and reputable distributors to make sure the products they carry were purchased using fair trade principles.

Saturday: Keeping Up with the Jonesvilles

Coffee, pastries, and science fiction. Who could ask for more?

My first stop was the Swallow’s Nest coffee shop and bookstore in Quincy, a village that according to Bill Swallow is struggling to find an identity, with the much larger city of Coldwater just five miles away. “Quincy people go to Coldwater to shop,” he said, “but not many Coldwater people shop in Quincy.” Bill told me about the annual Q-Town day of races (5K and 10K), set for August 24 this year. I’ll be there.

After a short swing through Allen, the self-proclaimed antiques capital of the world, I rode into Jonesville – smack into their annual Riverfest. Here are a few photos to give you the flavor of it all (click to enlarge).

This place goes all out.

So “small town” – and good cookies, too.

The men of the 7th prepare to save the Union.

 I spent a lot of time at the Civil War camp set up near the museum. The men and women I met here are reenactors who go to several events each year. Their unit is based on an actual regiment (7th Michigan) that saw action in several battles, including Gettysburg. They are looking forward to the events scheduled for the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg next year, and encouraged me to check into it. To see what a soldier’s tent, weapon, and mess kit might have looked like, click the thumbnails. (Items are accurate reproductions.)

So what does the woman pictured below left do for fun when she’s not supporting the Union Army? See the photo on the right. Yep, she did that on her 70th birthday, and plans to parasail next year. Not bad for someone born in 1790! Another woman in the group is a runner, and we swapped a few stories. They wondered about my strange outfit, though, and the “two-wheeled buggy” I was riding.

Just outside Tecumseh Sunday morning. (There’s a skydiving school there.)

Sunday: Young Entrepreneurs

The big excitement on Sunday turned out to be at my first stop in Clinton (see my article on the subject, which explains why this firefighter is wearing pink), but there were other memorable moments. On my way to Adrian, while looking for the entrance to the Kiwanis bike trail, I came across this sure sign that it was nearby:

Recalling my own experience selling roadside lemonade as a kid, I naturally had to support them. But whatever happened to the cup of lemonade for a quarter, I wondered – and then, while leaving Adrian:

An amazing demonstration of the power of visualization! Now, whatever happened to those guys who showed up at your front door with a check for a million dollars…?

My final stop for the weekend was the village of Manchester, perhaps best known for its annual World Famous Chicken Broil. The coffee shop and restaurant where I had breakfast was closed, but Frank’s Place was still open, and my wife and I celebrated with some good hoagies. I happened to mention my bike tour and mission to our waitress, and soon we were speaking with Denise Collins, who owns the restaurant with her husband, Jim. They’re most known for pizzas, she told me, which is one reason why they stay open late in a small town. They bought the place four years ago, including the recipes, and their son is the main cook.

Denise (left) shares her thoughts of life in Manchester.

She talked about the challenges Manchester faces, challenges that are shared with many of the towns I visited. But she said a couple of new businesses were going to open soon, and thanks to a recent grant the village was installing new sidewalks, light poles, and trees. So hopefully things are picking up there.

Coming soon: a summary of the entire month, with what I learned, and some “best of” lists. Stay tuned!

May Goal Accomplished, and Trip #4 Highlights

WHAT BETTER PLACE TO CAP OFF MY MAY BIKE GOAL than the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore area where we camp many times each summer? The village of Honor was town #50, with lunch at Papa J’s Pizzeria, the same place I celebrated my first-ever “century ride” (100 miles in one day) in September 2010. Saturday’s ride was 35 miles and four towns, a short, relaxed experience following two three-day weekends averaging 80+ miles and seven towns per day.

I unfortunately left my notes from trips #2 and #3 at home, so I’ll skip right to Saturday’s adventure and post the others later. However, I will honor (pun intended) my promise to show you what I purchased at the firefighter benefit for breast cancer in Clinton last weekend. The photo is at the end of this post.


The Cherry Hut on M31 is the best known tourist attraction in Beulah but I think it’s a bit too touristy and overrated, so I went to the Phoenix Cafe downtown instead. They had a good latte and ginger scone, and there was a lively group outside that appeared to be a family get-together. I wasn’t sure how to approach them, so I went to find the Betsie Valley Trailway which would take me to Elberta and Frankfort. As I prepared to get on it, I reminded myself that one purpose of touring the small towns this month was to talk to local people about life and such. So go get the story, I told myself, returned to the cafe, and introduced myself to the group, who were very welcoming and began telling me stories immediately. Here are some of the highlights (photos from left to right, click to enlarge):

  • This lady, who everyone called “Aunt Mary”, has had a summer home on Crystal Lake since the 1930s. There was a time, she told me, that she knew everyone in town, and everyone knew her. She leaves that duty to her son now.
  • Jae (center of photo) once cycled Highway 1 from Los Angeles to Portland. Today she’s the manager at Sunseed Farm in the Ann Arbor area, just a few miles from my house. (When we got to talking about the local roads, someone said, “My God, they speak the same language.”) Sunseed Farm participates in the Community Supported Agriculture program, which means you can purchase “shares” and get fresh produce on a weekly basis.
  • Phil is so well known and popular that he receives the “Norm from Cheers” greeting when he walks into his favorite tavern.
  • I was invited up to a gazebo on their property that has a panoramic view of the lake. This photo doesn’t do it justice, but you can get the idea.


“Elberta isn’t what it used to be,” a fellow cyclist told me when I arrived there, and indeed there wasn’t much to it. But Elberta is home to the Conundrum Cafe, a coffee shop/deli/novelty store run by Rob and Michele Cannaert. They also rent and service bikes – very useful to know, since bike shops are few and far between in this area. Rob looked somewhat disappointed when he asked if my bike needed anything and I told him everything was working fine. They told me that they get a lot of bike traffic through the area, due to the trailway and that their stretch of M-22 is part of the Lake Michigan Circle Tour. And indeed, there were two other bikes parked outside the cafe, and I saw many other cyclists all during the ride.


My future Ironman partner (left) and her daughter.

Saturday is Farmer’s Market Day in Frankfort. While it more resembles a crafts and baked goods market than farm produce, I wasn’t going to complain, especially when I found Jeri and Jeannie’s booth with homemade cookies and scones. Alas, chocolate chip was not among the scones offered, which still leaves Eaton Rapids as the only place I’ve found them this year. But Jeannie told me they make scones to order with advance notice. So I will be back in July.

Jeri, 66, swims for two hours every morning. I told her we’d have to team up and do a triathlon together – she’ll do the swimming, and I’ll do the running and cycling parts.


Linda (left) and Jama – making time in their very busy lives to support their cousin in need.

I wasn’t sure I’d get a story in Honor, disappointing given it was the 50th town. But nothing much was going on at Papa J’s, nor at JoMo’s, where a stop for a root beer float after a long ride is a tradition with me. As I was about to give up and head back to camp, I passed the fire station, where a “Yard Sale” sign was posted and a man and two little girls were waving at traffic. Now I’d been seeing yard sale and garage sale signs all morning (’tis the season) but a sale that motivated that kind of behavior just had to be checked out. Well, for the second week in a row, I found a fire station assisting with a cancer benefit, hosting a combination yard sale, bake sale, and raffle. Proceeds were going to support Susan Volpe-Lemon, who is undergoing experimental treatment for ovarian cancer without much help from insurance. Linda and Jama are cousins of Susan who came up here to support the sale. Linda in particular has other issues to deal with, including a house that burned down and raising eight-year old twins by herself, but she found the time to come up from Grand Rapids and help raise money for Susan’s fight. This is a family with a lot of courage, folks.

And regarding the other fire station benefit…

Clinton (Last Sunday)

So exactly what am I doing in this shirt? Supporting a good cause, of course. You can read more about it at my post on the subject.

Bike Weekend: More Small-Town Adventures

BIKE TRIP #3 is complete! Three days, 280 miles, 26 towns visited, and many good stories to tell. Click any of the maps below to expand the view and see which towns I visited on which day.

Friday, May 18

Saturday, May 19

Sunday, May 20






Here are a few tidbits while I’m writing up the details:

  • Friday: Where is this couple from, and what are they doing in a small town in Michigan?
  • Saturday: What does this woman do when she’s not supporting the Union Army? (You’ll never guess. Trust me.)
  • Sunday: Why is this firefighter wearing pink?

Is that enough to pique your interest? Hope you’ll stay tuned to see and hear more!