“It [Northern Michigan] is a great place to laze around and swim and fish when you want to. And the best place in the world to do nothing. It is beautiful country…. And nobody knows about it but us.” — Ernest Hemingway
As I rode along the Northwest shore of the lower portion of Michigan (the “Mitt”), I kept finding references to Hemingway, who spent his first 21 summers there, building a collection of stories that would fuel his writings for the rest of his life. His family had a cabin near Petoskey, and he roamed the area learning to fly fish and soaking up the surly logger personalities of the non-wealthy locals. These experiences produced his colorful Nick Adams stories, including “Big Two-Hearted River.” The Two Hearted is actually up in the U.P., and is remembered fondly today through Bell Brewery’s Two Hearted IPA, which has been my beer-of-choice throughout Michigan when I can’t find a more local option to try.
Petoskey today is a quaint town with a permanent population about the same as when E.H. was there 100 years ago, and with a huge summer crowd of tourists. It is full of lovely old Victorian homes and hotels with many layers of varnish on the aging wood, ice cream bars on almost every corner and expensive boats in the harbor. A down-state Michigander noted to me, “Oh yeah, that’s where all of Michigan’s moneid crowd goes in the summer.” That crowd includes Chicago, going back 100 years when visitors would arrive by steamship across Lake Michigan in their flapper dresses and fedora hats. Of note to this ski historian is that Petoskey used to host a huge winter carnival in the 1930s with parades, ice sculptures, ski competitions and other ways to celebrate winter in this cold part of the world.
Also of note from this area are Petoskey stones, fossilized coral commonly found in the area along beaches and dunes. Tom Gobielle turned me on to Michigan’s state rock which is a local collectors’ item, so I sent him one in an unmarked envelope — truth be told I didn’t want to carry a fossil in my already heavy baggage for the rest of the trip!
The towns along this part of the Lake Michigan shore — Harbor Springs, Petoskey, Charlevoix, Traverse City, Leland, Manistee — are prosperous and full of tourists (unlike most of the running-out-of-luck towns I passed through in the U.P.). Charlevoix in particular had nothing but high-end shops along its main boulevard, catering to a wealthy crowd, at least this time of year.
John and Karen Wells welcomed me into their home in Traverse City and served as my tour guides while I took a rest day. John is an old friend of Dave Waddell, one of my former co-workers. These Angels housed me, fed me, showed me the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and “Fishtown” at Leland, and helped me get repairs done to my bike. Nice people, indeed.
[You can see the scale of these dunes when you note the people in the lower photo trying to climb back up from the lake shore!]
As I left John and Karen, I peddled farther south along the lake shore. Karen had done some historical restoration work on the Point Betsie Lighthouse, so recommended a stop. Beautiful spot.
At the state park in Manistee I ran into Doug and Sue, a couple from Vermont who had ridden cross-country 30 years ago. Campground Angels, they fed me local IPAs and a wonderful vegetarian dinner (with kale, a veggie I haven’t encountered since Seattle). A nearby Michigan couple, Jim and Wendy, joined in the bike touring conversation after getting partway around the U.P. on their tandem until they ran into trailer issues. Nice, friendly, supportive people.
I crossed lower Michigan on a Southeast diagonal in order to head for Ontario. In Saginaw, I stayed with Mickey Waddell, Dave’s mom. At age 85 she reminded me a lot of my own mom, Rita Galvin. It was a treat to spend time with her. Yet another Road Angel offering warm hospitality.
As I crossed the middle of Michigan, the land changed from rolling hills and lakes to flat farmland. I was surprised at how much farmland remains even close to the St. Clair River where I expected more industrial settings. I crossed the St. Clair on a tiny ferry that ran every 15 minutes, at Marine City, MI, into Ontario at Sombra.
Later that day, as I was at about the 95-mile mark of a 102-mile day, a car stopped ahead of me and out popped a local farmer interested in learning where I was from and where I was headed.
We talked about my trip and also about his crops and life in that part of Ontario. As he was about to leave he asked, “Hey, would you like a beer?” Have I ever been able to say no to that question? He opened his trunk and pulled out a square “First Aide” box, inside of which were 8 ice-cold beers. He handed me one and roared off to tend to his corn. At that moment in the hot afternoon sun, PBR tasted as good as any of the ales I’ve been sampling! I continue to be amazed at the diversity of Road Angels who pop in and out of my life on this trip.
I’m more than two months on the road and have ridden 3700 miles. Looks promising that I can finish on time to make Bree and Nick’s wedding back in Seattle!
— Dave (posted from Port Burwell, Ontario on 7/20/2016)