08/02/06 Issue 7 - Grooves, Grates and Gravel

I'm in Marquette Michigan on the Upper Peninsula. I have seen exactly 7 unattractive women in town today. The other 68 have been GORGEOUS!!!!!!!! It has been 3 days since my last entry, this is the first place that I've found that has internet access on the entire upper peninsula. The ride from Cleveland to Detroit was fairly easy. I made camp at Sterling State Park. It's square between a Ford plant and The Enrico Fermi nuclear power plant, right on Lake Erie. There was nothing special about the park at sunset when I was making camp. My neighbors were nice enough to build a fire that I spent much of the evening tending. That evening I got my first introduction to the prolific mosquitoes of Michigan. Again, nothing special aside from the hums of the plants (incessant) and the buzz of the mosquitoes (incessant). I awakened at dawn as is my wont when sleeping outside. I discovered that the dawn was spectacular. There were towering thunderheads to the south and east as the morning sun pulled moisture from the lake to the sky. I watched them build until they broke apart in the winds thousands of feet up. These would in turn appear as whisps, whisked like a meringue into the upper atmosphere. The sun was illuminating the clouds from behind, so that all of nature's special effects were lined in the quicksilver light of dawn. I now directly understand the mechanics of lake effect snow. I walked to the beach to admire the sunrise and was surprised to find a Great BIue Heron standing next to a Crane. Herons are REALLY BIG! I never knew the difference aside from color. Now I know, herons are about twice the size of a crane. There was a large flock of gulls that flocked into the lake. I stared in horror as they took to the air in a tornado of caws and feathers. They were chasing a hawk the same way they chase eagles in Alaska. I followed Lake Erie for a long long time, where when it wasn't hot and wet, it was windy and wet. There are bicycle trails around every great lake. It's good to see that biking is popular elsewhere than the extreme east and west. Ever onward, this time to Detroit.

I can see why Detroit has such a high crime rate. There is more dead city per capita than I have seen anyplace outside of Baltimore. There are whole mills that are shut down and rotting. There are active mills, however that rival Baltimore's Sparrow's Point. I passed one that looked as though it could house all of the stadiums of all the NFL teams in the country. Not the fields, the whole stadium! And have room leftover for a couple of ballparks. Detroit also has legalized gambling, and multiple casinos. The northern border is 8-mile road, just like the movie. 8 mile is sandwiched between 9 mile and 7 mile roads. They got really creative as they expanded north. The northernmost numbered road is 36 mile. It took 2 hours with minimal traffic to cross from city limit to city limit. The city itself is gargantuan. Right around 36 mile road is a 10 story church with an neon light on top that says "Clutch Cargo". If anyone has heard of this please tell me. I have been passed by more trucks with 42 wheels than I knew existed. It's amazing what they get away with up here.

I took backroads from Detroit to Saginaw. Saginaw is a gorgeous town with highly diverse architecture. Alot of the residences look like fortified castles with small windows and thick walls. The houses that aren't fortifications are 60's designed brick monstrosities, with strange curves and oddly placed openings. Occassionally, one can see a combination of the 2. I bought the last pack that I'll smoke in Saginaw, I've come to look for America (think Paul Simon). I bought the pack from Collette, who has never left the city of Saginaw her entire life. She was a huge black woman with a smile like a picket fence. Some people just need to get out more. I tucked at a joint called the Savoy. They have the lightest peanut butter pie in the nation (that I've had). People don't eat sandwiches with their hands up here. They use a knife and fork. I'm looking for pasties, it's a meat pie and apparently pretty good. Just on the North side of Saginaw I passed an establishment called Taco Tony's. Casey has been told by his co-workers from our neighbor to the south that there are so many Mexicans working in America because they want to take us over. With this restaurant, this Taco Tony's, in such a critical position on the Canadian border, I have verified my greatest fear. The Mexicans are using the US as a jumping off point to take over Canada. We're gonna be stuck in the middle. It seems that the Mexicans want socialized healthcare, a stable leader, and they don't care what temperature the desert is, they just want desert. I hopped onto I-75 as soon as I passed Taco Tony's, trying to put as much space between this attack point and me as fast as I could. Also, I was trying to get to Pictured Rocks National Park on the north shore of the upper peninsula before nightfall. Unfortunately, I-75 has a 70 mph speed limit, wind gusts of 25 miles per hour, and deeply grooved roads to make construction easier. It was only 150 miles of grooved roads. With tires that have vertical grooves. That would get sucked in. And twist the bars every time the grooves shifted. Suffice it to say I went 10 under the limit. Part of that whole "be safe" thing that people keep saying to me. Eventually, the grooves ended. They ended about 10 miles south of the Mackinac bridge. Right around the 45th parallel (the midpoint between the arctic and the equator). The bridge is about 5 miles long. It is a two lane bridge that goes from the southern tip of Michigan to the upper peninsula. There is one mile, in the middle of the bridge that has a steel grate in the left lane. There is one mile, in the middle of the bridge that has construction. Guess which lane it's in? I'll give you a hint. It's concrete construction, not steel. So as I go over this 3 inch square grate, the bars of my bike are shaking with a delta of 6 inches for a full mile. Well, half of a mile. I rode illegally in the construction zone for half of that section of the bridge. Across the bridge, the Upper Peninsula beneath my tires, I start to notice the little differences between the 2 peninsulas. This one is more sandy, the other more clay. The plants are different. On the lower peninsula, there are still poplars and locust. On the southern coast of the UP, it's mostly a verdant coniferous forest full of Juniper and Cedar, speckled with maple and aspen groves. The marshes look almost exactly the same as baltimore salt marshes. It's really quite uncanny. I stopped in a place called Narski's for Gasoline. They have a wide assortment of smoked and dried meats. They call it gerky (sic). I picked up a variety pack of their beef "gerky" as protein supplements and a smoked turkey gizzard for dinner. As it turns out, these cats know what they're doing when it comes to smoked meats and freshwater fish. The beef gerkies are not as good as Wild Bill's, but they are in the same league. Narski's Has a great taxidermist working there, most of the decor was dead animal parts (heads, hinds, sides). There happens to (apparently) be a good sized Boar population on the Upper Peninsula. With any luck, I won't see one. I didn't bring my boar spear, and I'd hate to waste the chance to spear hunt a boar (or as Patricia would say "go chase wileboar").

11:00 pm local time, and it's time to make camp. Didn't make it to Pictured Rocks, I'm an hour away. It's late, and I'm covered in mosquito guts. 2 of the bastards got me on the hand, even though I'm going 60. I figure they did a Kamikazi dive into my hand when they noticed I was coming. There are few things in this world less pleasant than having an exploded and liquefied moth on your thumb. I appreciate the fact that we have enough wildlands to sustain this level of insect life, but they're still at the bottom of the food chain. I'm looking for a campsite when I pass a motel. The sign outside says "Generic Motel, $25 and up". I figure that I payed more than that to camp in Jersey, why not? No AC, but the rooms are clean and I don'thave to hang a bag, or pack a tent in the morning. 2 rooms down are taken by some drunken electricians working in the area. Imports from the southern peninsula. These cats reminded me of working in O.C. Work hard all day, drink alot at night, do stupid shit and get made fun of in the morning. One of 'em wanted to take the bike for a ride. NO WAY!!! When you're working like that, you miss your girl more than anything else. 3 of the guys were married, one had a girl he knocked up. I don't think I could spend my life that way. Especially so when I have a family. Those guys had been there a straight month, no time off, no weekends. It was while hanging with these guys that I noticed. There aren't any liquor stores in Michigan. They are all called Party Stores. 'Cuz Michigan ain't nothin' but a party.

Wake up, get my bags on the bike, and head up to Pictured Rock. It's Gorgeous. Check it out if you can. When you do, it is imperative that you do one thing. Drive a car! The roads are mostly unpaved. Now when you and I think unpaved, we think gravel. I know that I can handle gravel, what else could I do to practice for those times that I'm going to have to ride on gravel anyway. So rather than taking the long easy way around the park, I decide to go through. The unpaved roads aren't gravel.The unpaved roads are sand. What they call "sugar sand" up here. Don't drive a motorcycle in sugar sand. Ever. Especially so when it's topheavy, old, and hard to get spare parts for. I only crashed twice. Luckily, I landed in 8 inches of sand (as did my bike). The only damage to the ride is a sandy chain, and the necessity to readjust my brake lever. Both of which are handled. It took me 4 hours to do 20 miles. That's right, average speed of 5 miles per hour. You're right, I could have walked faster. The cliffs of this park are 300 feet above Lake Superior (which never caught on fire). Lake superior is crystal clear. It's easier to see through than the water in the Gulf of Mexico, and you can drink it! Even with the extreme cold, I understand why this area is heavily settled. The flora is different here than it was on the south side of the UP. It's mostly northern deciduous hardwood (Birch, Beech, Sugarmaple, Aspen) and the occasional Juniper, Spruce and Douglas Fir. You can tell that the winters are bad up here. There's still salt on the road, I can tell because it's getting all over the mouthpiece of my camelback. I stopped in at the American Legion in Munising for a beer and a little respite. It was here that I met the two members of the Vietnam Veterans of America that made my evening survivable. John Cotey and Al Boutilier, unless you read this, you will never know how grateful I am for your help. It started raining when I was 2 miles from the V.V.A. in Christmas, Michigan. By the time I got there, I was soaked through all my clothes. The directions to get to the pavilion at the V.V.A. were to "take 28 into Christmas. Turn left at the 30 foot Santa Claus. If you see Mrs. Claus, you've gone too far." It was raining so hard that mist was carrying through the pavilion. I set up my tent underneath of this thing, threw down my sleeping bag, and had the driest sleep I've had since I started (including the hotel, but not Melinda's). The rain and the wind in the trees helped me to sleep very deep, and was soothing to hear.

This brings us to today. I've not traveled too far, but I needed to get this stuff out, so I could have a decent length thing to type next time I do. I hit Lakenenland on the way into Marquette. It's the sculpture garden of Tom Lakenen. It's really cool. Check out his stuff at www.lakenenland.com.. It's not high art, but it's art nonetheless. Thank's to third street bagel for letting me use their wifi for entirely too long.


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