Caroline and Judy’s Big Adventure

It was quite a week.  Going into it, Caroline and I knew that we would laugh hard, make a few (well, several actually) wrong turns, ride hard, and push ourselves physically.  All true.

As I’ve mentioned before, my best cycling experiences have all been with Caroline.  We’ve ridden in New Zealand and Spain, and lots of other fun places.  She’s got far more touring experience than I, having ridden cross-country twice.  She’s a camper from way-back, and has cool matching stuff.  Her bike looks tidy and compact – I looked more like Judy Clampett – mismatched panniers, and stuff bungy-corded onto my bike rack.20140602_075013 A few days, there were bike clothes attached – drying in the breeze as we pedaled down the road.  Although it looks like I was carrying a huge amount of stuff, I really didn’t have anything that we didn’t use in five days (except one pair of long pants that I didn’t wear).  I was happy to have packed right.  The bulk on my bike came from carrying our cooking gear – pots are bulky!  Spatulas, spices, food all take up a lot of space.  In addition, my tent and sleeping bag/pad had to be on top of the bike rack.  Caroline’s stuff squishes up small enough to go into a pannier – not mine.

Anyway, off we go……

Day 1 (Monday) – 62 miles

We immediately don’t get off to a great start.  Caroline’s neighbors’ house burned to the ground on Sunday night, and she was up half the night watching the action (everyone’s ok).  But, that turned our 7:30am start into a 9:30am start.  We loaded up with a big breakfast with John and Greg, and wobbled down the road – getting used to our unfamiliar loads.  We had planned a 60ish mile ride heading south to Rose’s Retreat in Grand Junction. (note:  DON’T GO THERE!!!  JUST DON’T!).  Interestingly enough, a big storm was moving in, so we had a huge headwind all day.  There’s an old cyclist’s saying, “Hills make you strong.  The wind makes you mean”.  We were two mean, ugly cyclists that day.  Topping that off, our route (prepared with bicycling maps from Michigan DOT) took us down a very ugly stretch of State Highway with a one-foot shoulder and screaming trucks!  In the wind and rain, it was very unpleasant, and not a little terrifying.  At one point, we did have to seek shelter when the sky just opened up.  This was after about seven hours of cycling already.

After riding forever, we finally reached our destination.20140602_173631 This was an odd spot – I had spoken to the owner who gave me a code to unlock a box containing a key to open a padlock on the gate.  Are you still with me?  We decided to just wheel our bikes around the gate, onto a sandy two-track.  Past a few run-down cabins and an overflowing dumpster, a couple of kids toys lying around, and thick, thick woods surrounding the dwindling path.  We saw one other occupied campsite.  After unsuccessfully trying to find a site that would give us enough space for our two tiny tents, we decided to make camp near one of the cabins which had enough clear space for us. P1020109

Only then did we check out the bathroom – HORROR!  20140603_082450

Let me tell you, I really needed a shower, or I would not have gone in there.  Nasty.

It was already getting near dusk.  Mosquitoville!  We doused ourselves with bug juice and cracked open a beer (for me), and wine (for Caroline).  I had small lunch-type cooler strapped to my bike that first day which held two cold beers, chicken, and wine. Once we got our balky backpacker stove going, we dined in style – rice with chicken & peppers and wine.  Citrus shortbread cookies for dessert.  We were exhausted.  Driven into our tents by the mosquitos, and the overall creepiness of our camp.  Dreading the thought of having to get out of the tent in the middle of the night for….well, you know what.

We survived the night.  Chowed down on oatmeal with cranberries/honey and coffee in the morning, and bid a happy goodbye to Rose’s Retreats.  We won’t be back.  Ever.

Day 2 (Tuesday) – 52 miles

Another 60ish mile day planned, terminating at Grand Haven State Park, on the shores of Lake Michigan.  We spent a pleasant morning riding on the limestone Kal Haven Trail,20140603_101017 before heading north along the Blue Star Highway.  Got our first glimpse of Lake Michigan – always such a pleasure to see, even though I’ve lived in Michigan for all of my 60+ years. 20140603_115014 We had difficulty getting much energy into our tired legs, but the bright sun and generally pleasant road surface took the sting out of our slow progress.

Along the way, I got disturbing news from John that Jezzy had to have foot surgery.  We discovered an ugly lump on her foot the previous weekend, and he took her into the vet that morning.  She didn’t like the look of it.  In addition, Jezzy has infections in both ears.  Boy, do I feel like UnMom of the Year.  John decided to schedule her surgery for Thursday, checking in with me to make sure that I was okay with having it done while I was away.  Yes/No, but we decided to go ahead with it.  Since she was going to be knocked out for surgery, we decided to have her teeth cleaned as well.  Why not have her hate us for everything all at once?

Back on the road, Caroline and I decide to abandon our Grand Haven plan, and roll into Holland State Park instead.  We were anxious to have a bit more daylight in camp, and also to spend a bit of time in downtown Holland.  Ahhhh – lunch at New Holland Brewing.  We were starved, and enjoyed a beer and giant sandwiches.

It’s Graduation Week!  Tons of new grads all camping out – skates, scooters, skateboards and lots of oogling going on at the State Park.  We channeled our inner teenager selves, and fell into the flow.  What a hoot!  One 5th wheel trailer sported six bikini-clad beauties all sitting on the roof!  Three young studs put up camp across from us with the trunk of their car wide open to let the bass-blasting stereo flow into the beach-y atmosphere.  Pickup trucks loaded with young bodies in the back, cruising the campground.  The biggest tent I have ever seen in my life…..20140603_202651Although this campground isn’t directly on Lake Michigan, it’s right across the street from Lake Macatawa – pretty quiet quiet compared to all the campground ruckus!20140603_200151

Day 3 (Wednesday) – 55 miles

Sadly, we woke to find that some damn critter ate the rest of our shortbread cookies.  We were heartbroken.20140604_062239Breakfast didn’t sound too appealing, so we settled for coffee and a Clif bar before heading off to the north.  We felt a few (tiny) raindrops as we packed up.  We hadn’t even ridden out of the campground when we had to stop and don our raingear.  Bummer!  It didn’t rain particularly hard, just steady.  We were fortunate to be able to ride along the Lakeshore Trail – far enough off the road to protect us from the spray kicked up by cars & trucks on the busy route to Grand Haven.20140604_085956 As we steadily moved northward in the rain, I suddenly let out a big yelp as a poorly designed sprinkler system poured a blast of water directly into my face.  In the rain, I hadn’t seen it coming.  About 10 seconds later, Caroline whooped as the same sprinkler caught her right in the chest.  Hazards of trail riding, I guess.  The coolest thing?  We had a large Barred Owl fly right in front of us, and perch (briefly) in a tree where we could get a good look at him.  Owls are amazing…

First stop was a proper breakfast at Dee-Lite Grill in Grand Haven, about 20 miles into the day.20140604_111133 Loaded hash browns for me, and Eggs Benedict for Caroline.  We poured over our maps, and decided to head for Muskegon State Park for the night.  Still raining.  Make it stop!!  This is my first selfie (probably my last).  It’s a pretty adequate reflection of my general attitude this morning, though…..20140604_111148Although it never quit raining, we had a good ride.  Low-traffic roads and a marvelous Trail around Muskegon made for a pretty good day on the bike. 20140604_12042320140604_13183920140604_131900 We made a grocery stop, then headed toward the Bear Lake Tavern for happy hour before the final push toward camp.  The longest, steepest hill one would want to ride on a bike loaded with gear awaited us.  I was truly crawling up the hill, the bike groaning with the weight of me and my gear.

The big surprise was pulling into the Lake Michigan Campground of Muskegon State Park.  Rolling alongside the deserted ranger station, I attempted to read the notice posted about site availability/price.  However, I was severely hampered by the thousands of mosquitos which swarmed me.  Truly – thousands!  My unprotected skin was covered.  My flailing arms and slapping hands were ineffective against the mosquito squadron.  Any wonder why there were only two occupied sites in this beautiful campground??P1020114

We rolled through the campground, clouds of mosquitos following.  The really bad news?  I had to unpack nearly my entire bike load to get at my bug dope.  In the meantime, I had grabbed my fleecy pants to pull on over my bike shorts.  My rain hood covered my head and neck.  Rain jacket back on to keep bugs off my arms.  The good news?  Caroline was too busy protecting herself to take any photos of our ridiculous garb.  Once we were able to cover every exposed centimeter of skin with repellent, we calmed down enough to gather firewood – got a roaring blaze which helped keep the critters at bay.  It stopped drizzling, a breeze came up, and the sun helped move some of the bugs away.  Whew.IMG_0753

Next issue?  The bottle of wine we purchased had a cork – we had no corkscrew, and no sturdy knife.  We waited for the other campers to return to their tent and wandered over, looking for a tool we could use for this task.  A sturdy jackknife let me chip away at the cork until I could push down the remains into the wine (to any of you who are appalled at the thought of opening a bottle of wine this way, let me just say that perhaps you have never been as desperate as we were).  The final shove of the cork into the bottle created an outward slosh of (red, of course) wine onto my only long-sleeved shirt!  Oh well….dinner of chicken, mushrooms, peppers, and rice with wine in front of the fire made the trials of the day fade.20140604_190110

Day 4 (Thursday) – 64 miles

Up at sunrise, I wander toward the lake to enjoy the beautiful morning light. 20140605_063031 The mosquitos are awake for their morning feeding, and we fight valiently to protect ourselves.  My body is a mass of mosquito bites – probably more than a hundred.  The worst are my feet and my forehead.  Ugh.

Tonight’s destination is Sandy Beach Campground, a county park on Hardy Pond, the impoundment created by Hardy Dam.  It’s a beautiful day for a ride – cool in the morning (50s), but sunny.  Along the way, we adjust our route a few times, trying to find the most enjoyable route.  Dang – we were so close to having it!  But, we were foiled by both The Google (as I call her), and by the MDOT bicycling maps.  End result – a few extra miles resulting from wrong turns and a long ride down a road terminating into a gravel road, not ridable for us.  But, our average speed was better, so our longest mileage day turned out to be a spectacularly pleasant day on the road.20140605_104642  We got a great campsite under a shady tree with a soft grassy surface.  ahhhhh20140606_065432

Dinner was disappointing.  Stir-friend pork with mushrooms, peppers, and couscous.  Kind of tough.  Sometimes though, quantity can make up for mediocre quality – this may have been one of those days.  We were hungry!  We actually had to purchase firewood, but it was our last night in camp, and fire was a necessity.

Day 5 (Friday)  – 55 miles

Packing up for the final time was quick!  No more worries about keeping stuff cleaned or organized – jam it in the packs (evenly weight-distributed, of course), and go!  We did observe a huge moth on the screen of the camp office though.  He must have been 3-1/2″ long – a Polyphemus Moth.  Its large comb-like antennae aren’t really visible here.  In checking Google, I find that the wingspan of an adult male is 4-6″. 20140606_064221

We knew that today’s ride home would be the hilliest, and we were ready for the challenge.  The first ten miles were highlighted by the excruciating climb away from the Muskegon River up to Hit the Road Joe, home of the best breakfast ever.20140606_08555920140606_085751 (If you go there, have a Kendra’s Sandwich.  Or maybe the Linda’s Sandwich.  Or Eggs Florentine.)  Fortified, we cruised up & down, making steady progress home.  Sailed into Caroline’s driveway around 2pm.

John was home keeping our post-op patient Jezzy calm, so I decided to ride the last 9 miles home instead of waiting for him to fetch me. Not sure actually if he was keeping her quiet, or just pissing her off by wearing her Cone of Shame.photo 2-1photo 1 Oh, I was so smug…..rolling through town with my crap all strapped to my bike!  Arrived home on a bike coated with sand and other assorted road grit, panniers loaded with stinky camp clothes, and a huge smile on my face.

Post Ride

If you cycle, and have never tried touring, please give it a try sometime.  You don’t have to go for a week – just an overnight.  There’s something so pleasing about being self-sufficient on a bicycle.

Caroline and I are already planning (plotting?) our next tour…..

 

 

 

 

35 thoughts on “Caroline and Judy’s Big Adventure

  1. I applaud your sense of adventure. I have a beach bike (a gift) in my shed waiting for me to get enough courage to get on it. I haven’t ridden a bike in about 55 years and I’m sure I’ll fall over and break a hip. You inspire me! Maybe today I’lI get on it!

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    • Hey Irene, you know what they say about riding a bicycle? You DO never forget! Your hips will be fine. Wear a helmet, and keep your eyes open, and your senses about you. A little bit every day, and you’ll be riding like a pro in no time. There’s no better way to get to the library, or make a quick trip to the hardware store! Enjoy – let me know when you’ve had your first ride.

      On Wed, Jun 11, 2014 at 10:37 AM, campshaws wrote:

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  2. I don’t know why everyone thinks our trip was horrible. It was a lot of fun, Judy is just pointing out some of the humorous parts. Michigan is so beautiful especially along the shoreline.

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  3. I am thinking you sound just like some of our biking friends…..you write about mosquitoes eating you, screaming trucks with narrow lanes, scary storms, bad meals, a house burning, critters eating your cookies and your fur baby hospitalized. Then you say “the best trip ever”!

    Don’t get me wrong…am/was a biker….but never a bike packer! We did the MUP with a tour ten years ago. It was lovely, must have forgotten the bad parts.

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    • Forgetting the bad parts is what it’s all about, Lynne. They make the story more fun, and more dramatic, but if they were all I remembered, I probably would have given up cycling long ago!

      I’m generally happy to have a short memory these days, in general. ;-) Thanks for commenting.

      Summer trips planned in your Casita?

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  4. I think I’ll stick to my “cozy” camper! Sure wish you’d have hit one of our weekends at Sandy Beach, you’d have come into a nice, hot meal with a good campfire. Where is the coffee shop?
    Tell my brother how proud of him I am for wearing the cone…and tell Jezzie her auntie is saving a treat for her being brave through all her ordeal (not the least of which would be John and the cone)

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    • Next time, well pick a better weekend. Hit the Road Joe is on Elm Street in Croton, right at the top of the hill, across the river. About 10 miles from Sandy Beach. Wonderful food.

      I think John still wears the cone when he thinks I’m not looking. See you soon.

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  5. I’ve always wanted to a self-supported trip. Do you use a ‘touring’ bike to do it? Sounds like a fabulous trip! Thanks for sharing.

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    • You have to have a bike that will support a rear rack – the front can be jury-rigged. Mine is my old road bike – John put a heavy fork on to support the front rack. Heavier, fatter tires. Caroline’s bike is specifically built for touring – steel for a more comfy ride. But, it’s a bit heavier unloaded.

      Geri, if you pull a trailer, you don’t need a special bike. Lots of them around to borrow, I’ll bet. Do it!

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  6. Judy and Caroline’s Most Excellent Adventure!! I loved reading about it – I really can’t see myself ever doing it. Ever! I will look forward to reading all about your experiences though. And I agree with Ellalou – John looks great in the cone. Glad to hear that Jezzy is doing well!

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    • Cycle touring may be an acquired taste – John and I actually went biking/camping for a few days the weekend we got married. Romantic, eh?

      Are you getting much camping time in your new T@DA? I’m going to paint the small wall by the dining table this month. Hope it comes out as great as yours.

      Jezzy doing great. John, too! Thanks, Susan.

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  7. Darn so close…we were in Holland last week! Thought you were so much farther North. Jealous of all your fun…minus mosquitoes, wow! Glad Jezzy and Dad faired well…you all need some rest :)

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    • We will stumble across each other yet! Were you camped at the State Park? We never actually got down to the beach – seems odd, now that I think about it. If you come near again before heading off, give me a holler. Would love to meet you. Thanks!

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  8. Judy, it sounds like the most wonderful getaway ever. How I would love to be able to do something like that! Thanks so much for posting a journal of your trip. Years ago I used to go to a site that had bike touring journals. I spent a lot of hours dreaming I was along for the ride.

    I do hope sweet Jezzie is feeling okay now.

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    • Bike touring is a great getaway – for me, the riding requires a bit more concentration because of the load. So, it’s easy to clear your mind of all the other day to day stuff that you usually carry around. A real vacation for your mind!

      Jezzy doing great. Ears almost cleared up. We go back to the vet next week, and will get the report on the tumor that was removed. She’s much like her old self already – ready to grab an unsuspecting squirrel.

      Thanks.

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  9. I hope that Jezzy is OK!

    I’m sure it was a lot more fun than what it sounded like as I read about your trip, but I still think that I’ll be sticking to my Subaru.

    I have a silly question, wouldn’t be easier to carry all your stuff in one of those kiddy trailers than strapped to your bike? A side benefit may be that people in cars and trucks would give you more room also, not wanting to hit a kid, since they don’t know what’s in the trailer.

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    • There are a couple of kinds of trailers – the kiddy trailer, which is not very aerodynamic, and certainly not very stylish. My friend Joel Bierling got hit pulling such a trailer last year (with his son inside), so the concept of ‘getting respect’ certainly doesn’t seem to apply. Incidently, Joel was struck by a car again last week (2nd time in 13 months). After surgery to repair his broken hip and leg, he’s hanging tough.

      The other kind of trailer is called a BOB trailer. It’s more like a skateboard with a frame, which holds a large duffel bag. Pretty easy to tow, I’m told. Caroline has used both, and overall prefers panniers. It’s harder to tow a trailer up a hill, than it is to heave up a heavy bike.

      Part of the fun is the struggle. KInd of like hauling the Beast – more work, greater reward. Nobody said it would be easy….

      There’s still something to be said for camping in the Subaru. ;-)

      On Sun, Jun 8, 2014 at 7:53 PM, campshaws wrote:

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      • Sorry to hear about your friend.

        Since I’ve never tried it, I suppose that it was a silly question.

        BTW, I bought the 300 mm lens to get away from all the extra exercise I got with the Beast. ;)

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      • Friend doing ok, all things considered – he’s got a lot of support from cycling community.

        Not a silly question at all. I never personally have pulled a trailer. I’ve always gone pack-mule style. ;))

        You want to hear silly questions? Wait until we go for our walk. Soon, I hope.

        On Sun, Jun 8, 2014 at 8:31 PM, campshaws wrote:

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  10. What a cool adventure … I’m amazed at how much energy you have. You’ve also inspired me to add more narrative to our travel blog instead of so many pictures. Someday, if we ever meet around a campfire I’ll tell you a story of why mosquitoes no longer find me attractive. I haven’t had a bite since 1970 :-)

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    • Hope your mosquito story is a happy one, not chemo-related or something like that. Looking forward to swapping stories with you and Yoli.

      On Sun, Jun 8, 2014 at 4:25 PM, campshaws wrote:

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  11. I am scratching just thinking about all those mosquitoes! Gross! Although I’m not sure I’ll ever be game for a cycling tour, it does sound like you had a great time. And sounds like corkshow will have to be added to the “camp gear” and just like there permanently. I have a TSA approved no knife corkscrew that just lives in my carry-on bag. Best thing ever. Although, have you heard about the trick with the wall and the shoe? I haven’t tried it, but if I were desperate…

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  12. OK! It’s official. You two are heroes on bikes. I would have pulled into the first driveway and turned around to go home after the first drops of rain. Great story of your epic adventures.

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  13. I’m thinking——WHAT WERE YOU TWO THINKING? It almost sounds like the worst trip ever! Thanks for sharing your adventure and I totally agree that cork in wine is much better than no wine. Despite the weather, campsite and the mosquitos, I just know you two had a blast though. Having finally seen a picture of Caroline’s oh so sleek rig, I can see you need to do some updating of your gear if you are to do this again. :)
    John looks great in a cone and Jezzy’s bandage is styling! Hope she is continuing to improve.

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    • More like best trip ever, with a few crappy moments! My gear isn’t really old, just purchased at different times, and not matching. Does all your luggage match, Ellalou? I like to think of the fun places my bags have taken me.

      Jezzy doing great. Bandage is off – followup with vet in a week or so. Tumor has been sent to lab – hope it turns out to be nothing. John as Conehead is cool – CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW?

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