I walked through a wooded path off the bike trail to the roadside park. I’ve never been to the Caribbean, but have seen pictures of the turquoise waters. These waters if the Straits of Mackinac, part of Lake Huron, were the same aquamarine blue-green color. A mowed grassy field stretched to the water, a narrow rocky shoreline edged the water. It was breathtaking, and I realized I was at the TOP of the “mitten” of Michigan. That alone was a bit overwhelming. I parked Panda in the parking lot and walked to the water’s edge, taking a few pictures. When I got closer to the water, I saw off to the distance, the famous Mackinac Bridge spanning to the Upper Peninsula. It’s a suspension bridge like the Golden Gate Bridge… beautiful. I didn’t know I would see it, that I was close enough to, so it was a surprise, I don’t know why, but I was overwhelmed with emotion. Not only was it jaw-dropping pretty, I suddenly realized how far I’d come. I started bawling. Emotions of all kinds welled up.
Mackinac is a milestone, a turning point, physically, as when I get to the Upper Peninsula I again turn west, and a turning point mentally, as my route becomes more remote, more hurried, and will require more metal grit. And, just a couple miles back, my GPS “rolled over” to 1400 miles.
The fact that I’d walked that far, been through that much, and seen that much all came rushing over me.
I don’t know if I’ll make it to Washington State before the snows, I don’t know if Panda will break again, or my vague neurological disease will return, or if I’ll become grizzly shit, but I walked to the top of Michigan, from the bottom of New Jersey. I’ve seen the boardwalks and industries and the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. I’ve seen the outskirts of Princeton, Revolutionary War era homes, Colonial Homes, Victorian homes, modern homes, modest homes, the rolling hills of Pennsylvania, the flat corn and wheat farms of northern Ohio and southern Michigan, The Alleghenies, the Appalachians, the Poconos, countless rivers, streams, lakes, waterfalls. I’ve walked through hot flat lands, cool hilly forested lands, on paved roads and dirt roads and rails-to-trails bike paths.
I’ve been sunburned and I’ve been rained on, I’ve been hot and I’ve been cold. I’ve slept in hotels, campgrounds, hidden spots along creeks and in city parks, and with so many wonderfully generous people, including families, bikers, truckers, retired people, a janitor, a pile driver, hippies, short-hairs, city folk and plain country folk, on their couches or in beds. I met a millionaire, I was passed by Amish in their buggies.
I’ve bathed in rivers, roadside streams, behind a restaurant with a garden hose, with a wet bandana or wet wipes, nice hot showers, wicked cold ones.
I skirted big cities and walked miles of country. I swam (briefly!) in the Clarion River, I crossed the Sturgeon River, the Delaware River, and countless others. I rode on a Harley to Lake Erie. I rode an ATV through dense woods and prairie and past acres of wildflowers. Strangers have bought my meals, bought me beers, covered my tab, handed me cash and offered me rides. I took refuge in a stranger’s garage during a downpour. Strangers have honked and given me the thumbs up. (Strangers have honked and flipped me off as well, when there’s been limited shoulder to walk on…) People take their picture with me. I’ve been interviewed for a local paper. People shake my hand.
People have given me not just money, but food, water, a rain suit, oddly, an American Flag, matches, lighter fluid, marijuana, beer, shirts, a camera, socks, rides, and encouragement. Even a couple back rubs.
I’ve been stopped by the police at least eight times, and made to get in a police car once. People have called 911 about me several times, thinking I was pushing a baby, or going to jump off a bridge, or that I was dead, when I was resting roadside.
I’ve had more blisters than I care to remember.
I’ve seen deer, raccoons, rodents, ground hogs, muskrats, birds of all kinds, I *think* a fox (didn’t get a good enough look), turtles, frogs, lizards, a snake, and innumerable dead possums. I was followed by a dog, barked at by many, loved on by many, and nearly bitten by one. I saw a bird picking berries yesterday, and have seen big hawks chased by angry songbirds protecting their nests. Even a dead bear cub, hit by a car. I’ve heard coyotes howl and bullfrogs croak and whippoorwills warble. I’ve heard woodpeckers chipping away at bark, crows cawing, songbirds singing in the morning.
I’ve seen the sun rise and set over so many different terrains. I’ve eaten in local diners, and bent my elbow at local dive bars. I’ve passed adorable vintage motels and abandoned run down ones. I’ve been to tourist towns and quiet unassuming villages.
I’ve met strangers who became friends, got a birth announcement from a sweet pregnant girl I’d stayed with, well wishes from many many people. Many of the people I’ve met have stayed in contact with me. One or two of them took up residence in my heart. I’ve cried myself to sleep missing the cowboy, and have cried tears of joy, like yesterday, like several days, when I suddenly realize I’m walking across America and it’s fucking AWESOME. One man texts me all the time, and he’s never met me, he just heard about me. He ran a marathon, and sends me all kinds of encouragement.
Some days are work, long hours, long distance, high heat, humidity, threats of rainshowers. Blisters, headaches, thirst. Some days I sight-see like a tourist. Some days I deeply question what the hell I’m doing. Some days I walk along smiling and waving at cars passing me, singing to my iPod. Most days I feel like I’ll never make it to Washington, or at least not in one shot, or before winter, and some days I feel like I can.
I’ve seen so much, met so many people, had so many ups and downs, good days and bad days, i’ve seen what’s along my trail, the roads I’ve chosen to walk, some on purpose, some by accident, some because it’s the most direct route. I’m only partway through my journey. Today I’ll be riding the ferryboat to Mackinac Island and again to St. Ignace in the U.P. I’ll meet more people, shake more hands, make more friends, take more pictures, get more blisters, see more of the country.
I’m seeing America at three miles an hour, and it’s one fucking awesome trip.
I left off in Gaylord.
The Big Agnes company came through. After a lot of scrambling, they managed to get the new mattress on the truck to the hotel I was staying at. As a matter of fact, Glenn, the customer service rep I was dealing with, called me at 9:30 AM as promised, and by the time I hung up it had already been delivered.
So I packed up and headed out. I got on the rail trail and headed towards Wolverine. After several miles I grew hungry and started to look for a place to eat. I found a place up the road, but as I was walking, I saw a sign on the trail said “Rascal Jakks Food and Spirits” and a grass path leading to a building. I thought it was pretty neat that they advertised on the trail, so I went in.
I had a sandwich and a salad and a couple beers. I talked to a few people, including a fellow named Rodger. After we talked a while, he offered me a place to stay. Since it saves me money to stay with someone rather than pay camping fees, I accepted. We loaded Panda into his Suburban and drove to his place, a home on 40 acres.
When we got there and unloaded Panda, I couldn’t unfold him. That’s not uncommon because stuff often snags on the webbing. I didn’t think much of it, put the bags on him and wheeled him towards the house. But something was obviously wrong with Panda. When we got him inside and looked, I saw that the frame was broken. Clean in half, where a bolt goes through. I was quite freaked but Rodger assured me that he knew a place we could take it in the morning that could fix it. Oddly, a good luck “charm” that had been tied to Panda also broke. It’s a feather and some beads a good friend gave to me for luck. I’m NOT a suspicious person, but that was weird.
I was really tired, more tired than I thought, and I lay down to take a 15 minute nap and passed out for 2 hours. Rodger woke me because he wanted to go get dinner, so we drove to town and he bought me a veggie burger. Back at his place we looked a some photos of his family and such, but I got sleepy and went to bed.
Early in the morning he woke me and said he’d fixed Panda. He used PVC piping and duct tape. He needed to be somewhere, and Wolverine was a small town, so he drove me a few miles up to INdian River in case Panda’s repair didn’t hold. I loaded Panda but his back wheels and front wheels were at an angle to each other. I was quite upset, I knew there was big trouble. Rodger left, and as I finished packing, Panda fell apart. The broken frame came out of the PVC and he had a terrible lean. In tears, I pushed Pandemonium to a McDonald’s attached to a convenience store, on his rear two wheels. After I ate a quick breakfast, I sat outside and went through the phone book. No thrift store in town, in case I needed to look for a replacement Panda. (There *is* no replacement!).. no metal fabricators in town.. I sat, tears in my eyes, noticeably upset, trying to figure out what to do. A man on a bike came out and asked if I was okay. I explained my situation, and he directed me to a mechanic’s shop about a mile or less south on Old 27. He said he’d call and give them the head’s up about me. He tried once while I was there but there was no answer. I thanked him and headed towards Rodee’s shop, stopping to buy a bag of cherries on the way, being sold at a roadside tent.
At Rodee’s I was greeted by a young man, 21. He didn’t know anything about it, but “the boss” was inside on the phone. We talked a bit as I unloaded Panda and cut the duct tape off. A second man came out and also said, “wait for the boss.” Finally Rodee himself came out and took a look. By now the frame was all exposed again. Rodger made an effort, but the PVC piping he used was too big and too thin, and the bolt he put back through didn’t go through the right pieces. Immediately Rodee started barking orders at his crew, get this, bend that, get that sized bit, cut that off, etc. All 3 men worked and within a half an hour, maybe less, Panda had a fitted steel sleeve over his broken part, screws through it and his frame, and the support arm screwed back on so he was straight and sturdy again, to me, nothing short of a miracle. I thanked them and asked what I owed. “A postcard when you get to Washington!” Eric, the man on the bike, showed up as I was repacking. I showed him the repairs and thanked him as well, too, for directing me to such nice people. I was in tears, of relief and happiness this time, and hugged Rodee and headed back into Indian River.
I stopped at the post office and mailed some items back, including air mattress number one. A man with a long ponytail asked if he could photograph me and Panda.
It was a bit after noon by then, and right next door to the post office was a bar and restaurant called the Brass Rail. I stopped in for a sandwich and a beer, or two. Problem is, I got talking to so many nice people I lost track of time and it grew later. A nice couple paid for my lunch. I was still stressed, or reeling, and ended up staying in Indian River for the night, and in the morning I bought some Dr. Scholl’s stuff for my feet, shod up and hit the bike trail.
The trail ran right along the west bank of Mullett Lake, past public and private beaches, cottages for rent, etc. Really a lovely walk,
I was headed for Cheboygan State Park originally, but when I got to Mullet Lake General Store after about 14 miles of walking, I GPS’ed it and another campground. As I had a sandwich and a beer, I studied my GPS and stuff. Although Cheboygan State Park was supposed to be pretty, it was another 12 miles, and 20 miles to the Mackinac Bridge, and the closer campground was only 4 miles, and still 20 miles from the Mackinac Bridge. (The state park was a bit east.) So I walked to Waterways Campground which sits right on the Cheboygan River, AND right on the bike trail. There were no trees to hang from, so I tried out my new air mattress. It stayed inflated all night, a welcome change from my leaky one. I slept on it, in my bag, on a picnic blanket I carry. I was soaked in the morning from condensation. I woke very early and started packing, hanging things to dry, showered, and was on the road by 8:15 AM. I stopped at a convenience store as I always do, to get Gatorade and fill my packs before reconnecting with the bike trail. When I left the store and headed for the trail, the checker, a cute girl about 20, ran after me and told me I was going the wrong way if I was headed for the bridge. She didn’t know I was taking the bike trail, made me laugh.
So I walked the trail, uneventfully, for about 5 miles and stopped at a roadside bathroom. I was in Cheboygan. Signs along the trail said downtown Cheboygan was snowmobile friendly (the bike trail becomes a snowmobile route in the winter), so I thought I’d be going through a downtown area, and as I walked I looked for places to eat. After a bit I checked my GPS and realized I’d bypassed Cheboygan and all the places to eat were south east of me now, so I snacked on whatever was in my bag and kept walking. MIles down the road a sign said “roadside park” and through the trees I could see water. (See Part II)
Downtown Gaylord, Michigan, which calls itself The Alpine Village. It’s on the 45th parallel. Neat town.
Cabins and motels and 1950’s style lodges and such sit along Old 27, facing Otsego Lake. Neat cozy little places, wish I’d had the money to stay at one, just for the ambience.
I thought this little guy was a painted rock until I touched it.. and it jumped. Never saw a white frog before. Cute little bugger. He’s on the rail of the porch of the cabin.
This is the view from Rob’s brother’s cabin near Houghton Lake, Michigan. The hunting cabin was very remote and sat on 120 acres, surrounded by more empty land. We heard coyotes howl and bullfrogs croak, and whippoorwills singing in the evening. And the sky showed a million stars. I could live there….
Typical of the roads I’ve been walking in Michigan. Nothing but trees on either side. Good thing I have an iPod. I talk to Panda too, guess my mind’s going…
When I left the campground in Harrison, I walked north on “Old 27″ aiming for a campground at Houghton Lake. Lots of pine trees, snowmobile trails, weekenders pulling boats to the lake.. a neat atmosphere.
A sudden rainshower hit and I just happened to be by a small bar so I stepped in and had a coke while it passed. I had pleasant walking weather afterwards, and a small shoulder on the road, so I was plodding along pretty well. I had walked about 12 miles or so, so I stopped and switched shoes and socks, and shortly after, a man in a black truck asked if I was okay. I explained I was walking across the country, and he talked to me a few minutes, and continued on.
Miles later the man in the black truck pulled over again. He asked where I was headed, and I told him. I was about 7 miles short of the campground, and fairly tired. He offered me a ride, and since it was getting late, I figured it would give me more time to set up my camp and such, so I accepted his offer.
We arrived at the campground and despite explaining my situation, the campground wouldn’t budge on their $25 price, and sent me to some national forest campgrounds further north. I’m not so sure they wanted me there, even though I COULD pay the $25, I think they were largely an RV park or something. My money was really low. Rob (the man in the black truck) offered me a place to stay at his brother’s hunting cabin he was taking care of. I can’t turn down a free place to stay with a shower, so I agreed.
We drove on miles of dirt roads past acres of deep woods, and turned down the dirt driveway to his brothers beautiful hunting cabin, which sat by a pond. We unloaded Panda, Rob showed me the cabin for a minute, but said he had more bush-hogging to do, so he disappeared. Said, make yourself at home. He was such a quiet, soft-spoken man I felt a bit uneasy at first. I sat and messed around on my phone, looked about the cabin a bit, and after a while Rob parked the tractor and came in. He asked if I wanted to go for a ride on ATVs to see the 120 acre place.
We rode around on grass trails, past beautiful wildflowers, across grass pastures they grow to attract deer, had to duck under low branches,.. he was experienced at it, standing while he drove. I did my best to keep up. Occasionally he’d stop and I’d pull alongside of him, and he’d tell me about an area, or what was growing, or point out the fields of purple wildflowers and such. After a while we parked the machines back at the cabin. Then we got in his truck and drove to the store to get some food for dinner and some beer to drink. Houghton Lake was beautiful, a giant glassy-surfaced lake, docks jutted out into it, pontoon boats lines up along it’s banks.
After we ate spaghetti salad and such, Rob poured us some rum and cokes and we went outside where he made an enormous hot bonfire in a fire ring in the yard by the pond. We sat and drank and talked and listened to coyotes howl and bullfrogs croak. A strange light passed overhead which neither of us could agree on what it was.
I got tired and went on inside and lay on the fold out couch. He stayed with the fire awhile and slept on the couch in the main room.
In the morning I took the coldest shower I’d ever taken, or at least it felt that way. He couldn’t figure out why there was no hot water, but a shower’s a shower.
He drove me to Houghton Lake, but was telling me he merely dozed and never went to sleep, and felt way too sleepy to drive or work. He was supposed to paint some lady’s doors, but was exhausted. I was tired too, as we’d stayed up way too late talking by the fire. Without my knowledge, he grabbed a room there at Houghton Lake, and we both napped a bit. The Super 8 had a really hot hot tub, so a little later we both sat in it and talked some more. Rob was a gentleman. He’s a very soft-spoken quiet man, quite simple in his lifestyle, just a hard working, kind man who was rather intrigued with my journey.
Anyway, since he had the room, we crashed there, and in the morning he drove me to Grayling, since I was now a day off schedule (well I’m further off than that, but he felt bad cause he got so tired and didn’t drive me the day before). I didn’t mind, he was good company. I like meeting people and getting to know people.
In the morning he drove me up the road a ways to the town of Grayling. Clouds loomed overhead and it started to rain. Then it rained more. He needed to get going, and I hate starting my day in the rain, so I asked him to take me to a motel. We tried a couple and finally found one that rented by the day, or night, rather than weekly or monthly. The room was $50, more than I wanted to spend, but once the lady found out what I was doing, she said I could have the room for $35 if I let her take my picture.
Rob and I sat and talked a few minutes, and sunbeams started filtering in as we talked.. I checked the radar and the storm had moved off. It was only 11 AM, and clearing, so I asked the nice hotel owner if I could get a refund, and she said that was okay. All we had to do was smooth the comforter out.
Rob said goodbye and headed south and I walked north towards Gaylord.
The road, old 27, passed Otsego Lake, and was shaded by tall pine trees. Cute old motels and cabins sat nestled in the trees on the east side of the road, the long skinny lake lay on the left. I’ll post pictures soon. Really pretty place.
In Gaylord my good friend got me a hotel, I’d walked 24 miles to get there. This morning I called the post office in Wolverine, but my air mattress hadn’t arrived yet. I never left Gaylord. I walked a few miles into town, stopped at the chamber of commerce and got information on a rail trail I can hook up on to Mackinaw City, and got maps and camping information, then had a beer at a tavern (which I thought sold food).. then walked to a place that DID serve food. When I went to pay my check, an anonymous person had paid it. Nice.
So I’ve been in a hotel this evening, phone calls back and forth for quite a while to the Big Agnes company, the place sending me a replacement air mattress for the leaking one. Just like with the down bag back in Pennsylvania, they shipped it FedEx to a post office, which doesn’t work. So they’re trying to re-route it to the hotel here. If not, it’ll be up the road about 40 miles, a couple days, at a FedEx facility.
Tomorrow I get to hit the rail trail and head to a town called Wolverine.
Been a weird couple of days, but it sure is pretty up here. Taking it as it comes. 1300+ miles down, 2000 to go, give or take.
I gotta get some sleep.
My intentions upon leaving Mt. Pleasant were to go to a campground up the road, about 20-something miles. Probably closer to thirty all told. But my feet were KILLING me, still. Despite new shoes, I had old blisters that just didn’t get healed. Partway to the camp, I knew I wasn’t gonna make it. I decided I’d best get a room.
I still walked twenty miles to the Days Inn in Clare, stopping in downtown Clare at a pub for dinner and a cold one, before arriving at the hotel north of town. I soaked in the hot tub they had for a while, hoping it would be healing for my feet, which hurt all over, not just where the blisters were. I was still limping sore the next morning, so, against my time schedule, I decided another day would do me good. My friend, again, generously got me the room. I slept a lot, soaked in the tub a lot, swam a little, and went to bed early.
This morning when I woke, I soaked one more time. I only had an eleven mile walk today, so I wasn’t in any big hurry. I have to pick places to land, and this is the same campground I was shooting for a few days ago. The next one is 24 miles north, so that’s a full day of walking.
Just as I checked out, a storm hit, and it poured. I sat in the hotel’s breakfast area and watched part of War Games, an old movie, while alternately watching the radar and the weather channel. Pretty soon the rain ceased, I had a quick lunch, and I headed north.
On the way up a lady stopped me and asked if I needed help, she thought, as many people do, that I was pushing a baby in Panda. When she found out what I was doing, she asked a few questions and said she’d pray for me. (to come to my senses?)
A mile or two up the road, she came out of her house as I passed, and copied down the websites on the front of Panda, and gave me her email address.
I saw a dead bear cub in the road, poor lil guy got hit by a car. And before that, a fluffy skunk moseyed across the road in front of me and disappeared into long grass.
The terrain changed from when I left the hotel. Gone are the flat cornfields, now it’s rolling hills and lots of woods and trees.
Last night I left the hotel to buy some stuff at a dollar store, and parked among the cars in the parking lot was an Amish horse and buggy, cute. I also passed an Amish farm today, black buggies parked out front. I could see horse tracks along the road a ways today as well. Guess I’m still in Amish country.
So now I’m at a campground in Harrison, Michigan, my hammock strung up for the night, firewood ready to burn, cold beers in my cooler. I stopped at a sporting good store I passed today and bought ANOTHER pair of shoes, so I can alternate even during the day, and see if that helps alleviate this persistent blister problem. They were on sale, so it wasn’t too bad, but my budget is tight. Two pairs ought to last a bit longer, and hopefully so will my feet.
There were about a hundred or more seagulls flocked around this barn and a big pile of manure, grain, compost, something.
I liked how the rolls of hay are same shape as the tanks on the red trailer.
It’s apparent I love barns. This is country I’ve never seen, the vast fields of crops are pretty cool to me.
I changed the color to make the cloud stand out more. Looks like a thunderhead cloud building in the distance.
I know most of my pictures are barns lately, but that’s about what I’ve been seeing… I’ve been walking through rural Michigan, through a lot of corn and wheat fields. Some of the barns are picture-perfect, some are old, rugged utility buildings, all have character, I liked the paint job on this beauty.