Tag Archives: bike trips

Bike Trip Wrap-up, and Preparing to Peace Out, Man

SIGH. WE’RE BACK FROM OUR FINAL TRIP UP NORTH for the year, and the camper is back in the driveway until next spring. But the weather is still fine for a bike ride, which I did this evening to help warm up for this weekend (see the end of this post). So while I’m in the mood, time for a final look back at the August “500 at 50” bike trip. Without further lead-in, here are three things I really liked about the trip:

1.  The small towns. The weekend rides in May that took me through 50 towns was a lot of fun, and I managed to visit over 30 on this trip. Some I’d been to before (such as Eaton Rapids, Mason, Charlotte, Mesick), some were new (including Portland (shown below), DeWitt, Alma, Reed City, Rockford) and some I’ve driven through many times but got to see a new side from the bike (Farwell, Cadillac, East Lansing).

I could live here, if only the coffee shop didn’t close so early.

While I got strange looks in some places (sorry, Stanwood, I don’t feel the need to visit you again soon), by far the majority of my experiences were great. Life, and the outlook on life, really is different in small towns, at least around here. For example, I finally got used to the idea that no one was going to steal my bike if I left it outside unlocked. It’s hard to find a decent organic wrap, however.

2.  The people I met and their stories. It was important to me not just to get from Point A to Point B every day, but to have the time to stop at places and talk to people. Starting conversations with total strangers isn’t easy for me, and I’m sure I missed opportunities along the way, but I met many people and made new friends, and maybe even a few new readers. (One can hope.)

Fellow cyclists enjoying the great day outside Zou-Zou’s in Chelsea.

Go Blue!

Some of my favorite moments can be found in earlier posts on the May trips and the August trip; meeting the Australian traveling couple in Union City, talking fitness with the barista in Eaton Rapids, the Civil War camp in Jonesville, chatting with relay runners on the White Pines Trail. (Just enter any of the key words in the “Search My Site” box to locate the posts.)

3.  Freedom. I had a plan on where I would end each day, and a general idea of how to get there, but other than that the trip was mine to make. I had no duties other than to ride, and no deadlines other than the sunset. Other than that, I could stop where and when I wanted. And eating? The only thing I had to worry about was that I got enough calories.

How many Chocolate Bomb cookies do I need to make it to St. Johns?

But of course there were also some things that weren’t so great:

1.  “Yap! Yap! Yap!

For some reason the last two days of the trip home took me past every dog in mid-Michigan, and they all had to let the world know I had entered their territory. (Maybe they don’t get all that much excitement.) Normally I like dogs just fine, but there was something about getting continually yapped at that got on my nerves.

2.  Getting buzzed by vehicles. Pickup trucks were the most common offenders. Is it being in a pickup that makes you think you don’t need to make room for uppity cyclists, or the nature of people who tend to drive pickups? Oh, how I fantasized about what I’d do if I had force field powers.

3.  Cemeteries. Along with the antique shop, hardware store, pizza place, and bar guaranteed to be on every town’s main street, I couldn’t escape passing one of these every few miles. I know they have to be located somewhere, it was just a bit creepy to keep coming across them, no matter what type of road I was on.

Final Thoughts (Mainly because I don’t want to end on a photo of a cemetery)

That’s the spirit! (I’ll forgive him for assuring me the whole White Pines trail was paved.)

What a great experience!

What’s the next bike goal? Not sure. I’m still finding it hard to believe that something I started training for in 2007 is now over and done with. But for now, it’s back to running and Aikido for a while, and trying to actually achieve my writing and cooking goals before the year is out.

Got to go. Getting ready for three days of Peace, Love, and Running starting this Friday. Yep, it’s the Run Woodstock weekend, in which I will run in 4 events, including a 50K, and just hang out with other ultramilers. Stories and photos to come, I promise.

Fitness at 50 Ride, Final Day: Moose Drool, Lemon Mousse, and the JoyBox

THE FINAL DAY OF THE RIDE started out perfect – sunny and not too hot – and pretty much continued that way throughout. With a light ride of “only” 65 miles and traveling on mostly familiar ground, it promised to be a good day. And it was, mostly. Flat, smooth roads and low traffic made the ride itself very pleasant. The overall experience, however, turned out to be a set of alternating ups and downs.

Odd, indeed. When was the last time you saw a sign advertising FRESCA?

The first leg took me back along M-50, which is a fast road but had a decent shoulder. And when I saw the store pictured here, I just had to stop,  if only to find out what “Moose Drool” was and how you could possibly sell it. Turns out it’s a Michigan beer, one of many local brews this store carries. But even if I drank a lot of beer, that name wouldn’t appeal to me much.

Dragons and flying monkeys, on the other hand, I just had to get – for my D&D group, of course. (Click to see the labels better.) FYI, “Dragon’s Milk” is a dark, full flavored beer reminiscent of Guinness.

Eaton Rapids, my first planned stop, meant a mandatory visit to Hamlin Square Coffee for a chocolate chip scone and first-rate cappuccino. The baristas there, Aron and Andrea, recognized me and we shot the breeze awhile. Andrea told me she’s lost over 10 pounds this summer by riding her bike more and changing her diet. Great going, Andrea!

For a reason I forget, Aron mentioned Onondaga. “There are two bars there,” he said, “and all these people talk about going to Onondaga just for the bars.” He didn’t know why. I didn’t think much of it until, back on the road, I saw a sign for Onondaga just two miles south. So I took a detour. It was noon on Sunday, but I could at least look at the bars and maybe ask someone what the fuss was all about.

I’m afraid I didn’t learn much, as the place I entered didn’t live up to its advertising as “friendly”. The bartender/waitress acted like I was an inconvenience and the couple next to me at the bar were interested only in canoodling each other and completely ignored me. I ate a very average BLT and got out of there. (Hint to any bartenders out there: even non-drinking cyclists can be good tippers if you treat them like valued customers.)

I hoped my next stop in Leslie would be better, but  the shops were closed and the streets were deserted. I took a few minutes to ride around anyway, and on one of the back streets I found what remained of a town-wide weekend garage sale. I browsed for a bit and found a book on desserts (naturally) with a recipe for chilled lemon mousse, which is on my list to make. My panniers were stuffed, but somehow I got the book in there. I promised Brittany (shown here holding my bike) I’d let her know how the recipe came out, and I’ll post it here as well when I get the chance to make it.

On to Stockbridge and the Cravingz Cafe, where I’d stopped on Day One. Alas, they had closed an hour earlier. So no coffee until Chelsea – could I survive 13 more miles without it? And would the Gourmet Chocolate Cafe still be open? I texted my wife and daughters just in case; Tori’s reply, “You can do it!” inspired me to tough it out.

Tragedy! The GCC was closed. Fortunately Chelsea’s other cafe, Zou-Zou’s, was still open, and I remembered that it was popular with cyclists. As I’d thought about that morning, I’d spoken with all kinds of people during my trip – except for other cyclists. How’s that for irony? And as it happened, there were several other cyclists hanging out at Zou-Zou’s, and I had fun talking with them.

I rode from Chelsea to Dexter with a local couple, Curt and Joey, who told me about Mr. B’s Joybox Express, a jazz group that raises money for supporting participation of children in arts and athletics. As the picture shows (taken from their website), they travel by bicycle, carrying or towing their instruments – including their piano. Their next big tour is down the Mississippi River.

From Dexter it was a short hop back to our house, where I’d started out two weeks before. A bit anti-climactic, as no one else was home except for our three cats, who were more interested in getting their dinner than in where I’d been. But it was good to be home.

Mission accomplished! 6 1/2 days, 610 miles.

“500 at 50” Return Trip, Continued

Day Three – Doughnuts and Daughters

Saturday morning at Grandma’s House (*), warm and dry again, I had breakfast with “Grandma” (real name Chichi) and chatted with her and her husband Larry, and Madison, one of her great-granddaughters, who was staying with her for the weekend. I found out they had lived in the California desert at one time, but came back to Rockford because they missed it, and much of their family (seven children, 19 grandchildren, and 7 great-grandchildren) live in the area.

“Grandma” (Chichi), Larry, and Madison.

Rockford is another community in transformation. Like Reed City, it depended on a major employer (Wolverine Worldwide, the makers of Hush Puppies and other footwear) but suffered when most of the jobs were outsourced. Today it’s a bedroom community for Grand Rapids and according to Grandma, a lot of politicians live there. But it still has the small town values. She works as a greeter at the local Meijer, and they’ve been trying patiently to convince their store manager (a transfer from Detroit) that no one there steals things or wants to take advantage of him.

While Grandma’s breakfast – yogurt, French toast, sausage) was fine, she likes her coffee weak, so I was hoping to find some good stuff in Belding, my first stop. The Morning Glory Bakery met my needs there, and had good doughnuts, too. Jan (pictured here) said her daughter started the bakery after making her own wedding cake and deciding she could do that for a living. Jan had been a teacher, starting at a one-room schoolhouse in Nebraska, then teaching special education in Ionia for 20 years. She’s a strong believer in education at any age; she’d gone back to get a literature degree at 50. “I think older students appreciate the education more,” she said, “and it keeps you socially engaged.”

Jan had gone to college in Chicago, “so I wouldn’t end up marrying the guy down the road and become a farm wife.” There she met her husband, a medical student, and he set up his practice in Belding. “He had a practice here for 53 years,” she said. “He made house calls, delivered over 200 children, and if someone couldn’t pay him, that was okay.” Are there any doctors like that left anywhere today?

In Ionia I had another of those moments I’ve had during my bike trips this year, where I think about something and it appears in front of me. The 25-cent lemonade stand in May was one example, as was when I thought about getting Mother’s Day cards and looked up right at a Hallmark store. This time I was worrying about needed repairs. Among Friday’s series of unfortunate events was the failure of the speedometer and odometer, and the shifting had become balky, making hills more challenging. As far as I knew, Skidmore’s in Charlotte was the only bike shop for miles around. But I’d have to push hard to make it there before it closed. But as I enter downtown Ionia and coast to a stop to look for a place to have lunch, what do I see directly in front of me:

I left the bike in Dan’s hands while I went to lunch, where I indulged in deep-fried mozzarella sticks for the first time in years (they still taste the same). When I returned, not only had he fixed the computer and shifter (a cable needed replacement), he pointed out an attachment bolt on my pannier rack that had nearly come out. With a full load in those panniers, losing that bolt would have been bad news. For the entire rest of the trip, the bike shifted beautifully and I had no further problems.

In Portland I happened to stop in front of an antiques store. Now while these are practically required in small towns – I cannot remember a town I visited that didn’t have at least one – I hadn’t gone into any of them. But the window display looked intriguing, so I yielded to curiosity and went in. Tom, the owner, lives in St. Johns but has his shop in Portland because it gets more traffic. “Nobody stops in St. Johns,” he said, and I couldn’t disagree; we’ve driven through it on US-127 for over 20 years and have never stopped there. (**) And while poking around, I found something I could actually still get into my bike bags, a war diary of Guadalcanal. With the coffee shop having just closed (the nerve!) it was on to the final stop of the day.

And Google said, “Take this road for 6 miles.”

I started out on the Charlotte Highway, but my map directed me onto a dirt road. I wanted to avoid the main road, but I had a bad feeling about it. And after two miles of hilly dirt roads, I come to this (see right):

So after some wailing and gnashing of  teeth, followed by yet another vow to never EVER get on a dirt road again, it was back to the main road, which put me onto M-50 into Charlotte. Fortunately, traffic was light and I got to the hotel ahead of schedule.

My daughter Rachel drove in from Kalamazoo to meet me, and we went downtown for dinner. The Eaton Place (get it?) was just about to close, but the Eaton Pub next door fit the bill, and both were recommended by the hotel. I recommend it too. It has excellent French onion soup and good pizza.

With just 65 miles of mostly flat road left and good weather forecast, I looked forward to Sunday.


(*) This B&B is an incredible value, and a chance to talk to some very nice people. Anyone cycling in the area should consider staying there. But be sure to call in advance, as they often cannot accommodate drop-ins.

(**) Except once at that ultimate tourist trap, Uncle John’s Cider Mill. It’s very popular, but I wasn’t all that impressed.

Bike Trip Home, continued

Day Two – And the Rain, Rain, Rain Came Down, Down, Down

Friday morning was overcast and cool, which was fine with me as I pushed off for a 110-mile trip south to Cadillac, then down the White Pines trail to Rockford, just north of Grand Rapids. The rain began as I entered Cadillac, and I tried out Da Dawg House for breakfast. This place is big on fun. There is some kind of meal called “dog chow,” and whenever someone orders it, the waitress puts on a dog hat and calls out, “Dog Chow!” and the customers all howl. The enormous cinnamon rolls looked to be too much even for me, but I gamely gave one a try. Unfortunately, it lacked flavor and was so dry I gave up after just a few bites. But the omelet was good.

When a cinnamon roll is the driest experience of the day, ya know it’s gonna be a long, wet one.

I headed onto the trail in light but steady rain, which stayed pretty much that way the entire day. The rain gear I’d packed isn’t quite suited for cycling – the parka hood did not fit over the bike helmet, and I ditched the rain pants after they ripped while mounting the bike. My core stayed dry, though, which meant I stayed reasonably warm.

The paved portion of the White Pines trail ends just past LeRoy, but I was prepared. I got off the trail there and headed for Old Mackinaw Road – and found it all torn up and under construction. But no problem, the guy at the general store told me; just continue on the trail a bit longer, then take a short jog back to the paved road. What was that I said earlier about trusting locals with directions? At the pavement end I turned left and went up and down a slick and muddy dirt road, to have it dead end at another muddy road stretching out of sight.

Deb and Grandma Jean – a welcome sight for a wet, weary traveler. Their brownies and lemon long johns were great morale boosters.

At this time that my loving wife texted me, asking how I was doing. My reply – It’s raining, I’m on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere, and I’m pissed –  reflected that it was one of the low points of the entire trip. I turned around and slogged back through the mud, and found the paved road on the other side. Things improved from there, and hot coffee and pastries  in Reed City restored my soul. “Grandma Jean” (her chosen moniker) told me it’s a nice town,  but it suffers from the problems a lot of small towns share – overdependence on one large employer, and “big box” stores taking business away from the mom-and-pop shops. In Reed City’s case the employer is Yoplait, who was late to the Greek yogurt craze and has suffered a large sales drop, resulting in layoffs.

Back on the trail toward Big Rapids (paved again), I began encountering runners heading north. They were wearing numbered bibs, and I asked one if there was a race today. He said yes, it was a 200-mile relay race from Grand Rapids to Cadillac and back. I wanted to find out more, but didn’t want to disturb the runners, so I continued on, and at Big Rapids there was a relay station where I got more details and talked running for a while.

The next town was Stanwood, where I stopped for a quick bite and encountered “the stare” – everyone in the place looked up at me and stared as I entered. No doubt I was a sight, coming in wet and dripping from the rain and in bike gear. I’m sure it was just curiosity, but with no one smiling or offering welcome, it unsettled me. I had a quick bowl of chili and got back on the road, looking forward to getting to Sand Lake and dinner at the Lakeside Inn, which the reviews said had good food and was very friendly.

Getting there proved to be one of the hardest grinds I’ve ever done. The trail went back to sand and gravel after Big Rapids, and the parallel road lacked a shoulder and had traffic akin to the Indianapolis 500, with pickups and semis added. So most of the time I took the trail, choosing safety over comfort and speed. And all the time the rain continued down, getting me wetter, colder, and dispirited. For me, the final few miles of both long runs and long rides are very tough; there is a mental “wall” as tough to fight through as the physical one, and as I passed mile after mile on the barely passable trail, it began to feel like a Twilight Zone episode – the trail had no end, and I’d be following it forever.

Finally, Sand Lake! But the Lakeside Inn was another disappointment. The food was average, and the waitstaff seemed indifferent to my being there. It was busy, but I’d hoped for a little more warmth and consideration. Perhaps they’d had their fill of cyclists. But more worrying was how I felt afterward. A hot dinner had failed to warm me back up, and I was shivering as I got back on the bike.

I had no time to lose; it would be getting dark before long, I had about fifteen miles to Rockford, and there were no other options for stopping before then. I pulled my other jacket, thankfully dry, out of my panniers, and put it on under my wet outer jacket. After a couple of miles I warmed up and felt better. Lesson learned – pack another long sleeve underlayer, even in the summer. The trail became paved again, and taking full advantage, I got to Rockford around 8:30. Grandma’s House was a welcome sight.

Destination! (Actually taken the next morning. I was too anxious to get warm and dry again.)

I walked in the front door, and the owners appeared. “Hello,” I said. “I’m Jeff, I’m wet, and I’m here.”