By Ben |

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on August 29, 2004]

Hi, folks! I'm writing from Battle Creek, Michigan, where I'm staying with a friend for the weekend. Here are some notes from my journal from the last few days.

I was on the road at 7:30 Tuesday morning, anxious not to miss the ferry. As it was, I got to Manitowoc 2 hours early, though very tired from Monday's ride. I went straight to the Lake Michigan shore and happened to see the S.S. Badger on the horizon. I got some good photos of it approaching the dock. I stopped for a snack at a local place and wound up buying a full lunch plus dessert, the deal was so good.

Got to the ferry in plenty of time and checked the whole boat over before it set sail. I took my first photo ever with a cell phone, showing the lifeboats with inboard motors. The Badger is one of a set of coal-burning car ferries -- originally for railroad cars -- made during the '50s, and the only one still in service. Coal-burning ferries were hailed as part of the solution to the '70s energy crisis (according to the ship's museum) but the belching brown smoke looks archaic today.

The ferry has lots of seating of different types in different places, including a movie room and private quarters. A lot of passengers are content to ride inside with a TV screen, but I stayed out on deck for most of the 4 hour ride. As soon as the boat left harbor, I wished I had skipped the rich food on shore... I was queasy for about half the trip, but it was still very enjoyable.

Got into Ludington, MI around 6 EDT and headed straight for the campground some friends had recommended. As they had warned, it's pricey, but you can't beat the location: right across from their favorite pizza place! That night there was a serious downpour that plastered my tent and bike with mud, but nothing got damaged.

I woke to the sound of foghorns in the harbor but didn't see any fog until after I had finished errands in town and hit the road -- then the fog was thick enough I felt I had to turn on my taillight. The roads I took from Ludington to Hart looked ideal on the map but turned out to have a lot of traffic and no shoulders much of the time. I was discouraged and tired when I got to Hart, but the prospect of a rail trail -- free of charge (!) and paved with asphalt (!!) spurred me on.

The Hart-Montague Trail (technically a "Linear State Park") was a wonderfully easy ride. Outside of Hart I bought a bag of peaches from an unattended roadside stand. I bought the smallest bag offered, but it was still 12 peaches... I ate 3 immediately and 4 more during the day and gave the rest away to strangers. In the days to come I wished I still had fresh peaches, but I didn't want to attract any wildlife by keeping them overnight!

I got into Montague around 7:00, and the trail brought me right to the campground, as well as an ice cream shop, a grocery store, and a huge pharmacy. Judging by the campground, it's a big town for snowbirds.

I had a strong headwind all day Thursday, and the road from Montague to Muskegon was pretty unfriendly to cyclists, so that I was tired and discouraged when I got to town. I tried to get info about the trail to Grand Rapids, which would have shortened the distance to Kalamazoo (being diagonal), but what info I could find just pointed me more toward my original plan, to continue south through Grand Haven. I did learn of a trail -- shown on the Rail-Trail-Conservancy map of the state -- from Grand Haven to Holland. The prospect of another flat, asphalt path buoyed my spirits, and I headed south from Muskegon. Along the way a trucker forced me off the road: first time yet. I also stopped for sweet corn and discovered that my front brake was dragging (!!). It was easy to fix, but I wish I'd noticed it earlier!

Got to Grand Haven and discovered that if there was a railroad grade to Holland, the road must have taken it, because the trail certainly did not. No matter: my afternoon second wind had kicked in, and I tackled the roller-coaster hills with determination and vigor. I had had high hopes for Holland State Park. That turned out to be a mistake. The Michigan parks have had their budgets slashed and so have had to cut services and raise prices, so for $16 I got a site with no fire pit, no picnic table, no elecricity, and noisy neighbors. I did get to walk to the beach after sunset and see Lake Michigan by moonlight.

On Friday I followed back roads south until I reached the Kal-Haven trail (which goes west as far as South Haven on the coast), then followed the trail into Kalamazoo. After two free, paved state trails, I was expecting Kal-Haven to be free and paved, but it was crushed limestone and cost $3. Still it was a good trail and got me to the western edge of Kalamazoo about 6:30.

I asked some fellow cyclists about camping options. They didn't know of any, but they directed me toward some cheap hotels. Along the way I saw People's Church Unitarian Universalist, with some cars parked in the lot, so I stopped in and asked about camping. They let me use the phone, and I soon determined that there were no cheap hotels on the near side of town. The church folks let me camp on the grounds for free. After they left I took a sponge bath at the outside spigot. A tremendous thunderstorm passed through overnight, but again none of my gear got damaged. When I took down the tent I found it was covered with slugs, though!

I rode into Kalamazoo and visited a bike shop, where I got a new mirror to replace the one that broke the day before when the bike fell on it, and the People's Food Coop. I had been looking forward to visiting my first actual coop since the Twin Cities, but it turned out to be a little hole in the wall place without much selection. Fortunately I had found a commercial natural-foods store the day before and stocked up on staples.

At 1:00 I met Sister Ginny, who is the founder of the Manitou Arbor Ecovillage, now 6 years in the making. They have a plot of ground (to be sold them by the Sisters of St. Joseph) and a rough plan of what buildings will go where, but that's about it: no organizational status, no deed transfer, no floorplans, no financing. Over the years people have come and gone from the group, some frustrated by the consensus decision-making, others just out of time. Sister Ginny is highly qualified to start an ecovillage: she has degrees in ecology and at least two related fields, she teaches eco-spirituality at the Sisters of St. Joseph, and she has lots of connections. The members of the group have all the skills necessary to make this happen... they just need to do it. I'm sure progress is being made, but it's a little slow for my taste. [2014 update: it still has not happened.]

From there I rode to Battle Creek, getting in around 5 PM. It was very satisfying to see the familiar landmarks and realize that I'd pedaled all the way this time! A Greyhound bus passed me just as I entered town, as if to remind me how I'd arrived the previous times. I had dinner with my friend Keith, who's hosting me for two nights, and went with him to a social hour at Sign of the Covenant Metropolitan Community Church, where I'm an "honorary lifetime member" on account of my contributions 7 years ago. Looks like most or all of the female members have left the congregation, but that doesn't seem to concern the men much. We had a nice talk, and I'll see them again Sunday morning.

Q: Does it feel like fall out there?

A: On and off. Close to Lake Michigan the maples are already turning, but farther from the coast everything's still green.

Q: Have you gotten into any good books along the way?

A: To the extent I can... the only time I have for reading paper books is after I'm tented down for the night, and then it's only about 20 minutes before I fall asleep. Books on tape are even more of a challenge, since they require a quiet road or bike trail. Still, I have been doing some reading in both media. Nothing I'm eager to recommend. Given the time constraints it's probably just as well that I'm not sucked into some compelling novel; it might detract from the scenery, etc.

'Till later,