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. 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. 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.
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, 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. 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…..Although 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!
Day 3 (Wednesday) – 55 miles
Sadly, we woke to find that some damn critter ate the rest of our shortbread cookies. We were heartbroken.Breakfast 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. 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. 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…..Although 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. 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??
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.
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.
Day 4 (Thursday) – 64 miles
Up at sunrise, I wander toward the lake to enjoy the beautiful morning light. 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. We got a great campsite under a shady tree with a soft grassy surface. ahhhhh
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″.
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. (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. 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.
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…..