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.