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Melvin, Ruby and Armada - October 17-19, 2003
Bitten, I was, by my three days riding the thumbnail of Michigan. I got the itch again. A favorable weather forecast for the next weekend tipped the scales. Friday through Sunday would have highs in the upper 60s and lows in the lower 40s. Winds could be helpful if I planned it right.
I decided to stay in the thumb, but to drop down to between the first and second joints. As I comfortably did 125 miles on my previous three-day weekend, I figured I could handle 50 to 60 miles a day.
I seek out roads that wiggle, or at least are not north-south or east-west. I also look for small towns. I decided to mostly focus on St. Clair County, which includes Port Huron, Algonac, and Marine City.
My MDOT (not DNR) map of St. Clair County turned up missing, so I went to visit Lucinda Means at the League of Michigan Bicyclists. There I got a replacement as well as the so-new-the-ink-was-barely-dry set of county maps created by SEMCOG (Southeast Michigan Council of Governments). The colorful SEMCOG maps show which roads are paved, traffic levels of some, and includes parks (and a chart of their facilities), bicycle paths and trails in the area.
Friday morning arrived, and the drive to the start was in a 40 degree light rain.
The Imlay City police said I could park my car at the nearby Senior Citizens building. At the library, a quick check of the weather radar showed green (moisture), with pockets of yellow (rain), from the Mackinaw Bridge all the way to Detroit. The predicted overnight temps were lowered to the mid 30s. Not wanting to ride in a cold rain, I killed more time with breakfast and a browse of an antique shop.
I headed out at noon. The first 22 miles got me to Melvin. Along the way, I visited Capac (KAY pack), rode two wiggly roads, and had riding surfaces varying from fresh blacktop with a wide shoulder to unpaved roads with some washboarding and loose gravel. Most of it was low traffic and out in farm country. The best unpaved roads were smoother than the worst paved roads.
In Melvin, I stopped in at the Wagon Wheel Market, a convenience store, where I met Theresa, the cashier. I wanted to know how the town got its name.
Well, the guy who started the town over a hundred years ago was named Hogg, and so it was named Hoggtown. By some coincidence, as farmers began driving their ham-on-the-hoof through town to the nearby railhead, it became better known as Hog Town. Well, the town fathers took exception to that and decided to find another name. The father with the most influence decided to name it after his wife Melvina. It was before women could even vote, and that name was rejected by someone with more power than Melvina's husband. So they compromised by dropping the last letter, thus getting Melvin. I just had to ask.
But there is more to this story. Theresa used to be an Eagle. (I didn't ask if her dad had any hair.) Then she married a Wetter. Fortunately, she didn't believe in hyphenated last names, but she did believe in fun. In fact, her whole wedding went hog wild.
It was not in a church at the alter, but in front of an arch made of hay bails. Serving dishes were made to look like hog troughs. There were hog salt and pepper shakers. The bride and groom toasted each other from cups shaped like pig heads. Their limo was a motor home, paint pink and made to look as much like a pig as a motor home can. The new Wetters toured the local towns in the Hogmobile. It was written up in a half dozen local papers about 8 years ago.
Yale is a clean and attractive small town. A man in his early thirties asked me where I might be going. When I told him "to Ruby Campground", he said he'd been there many times. I should ask for his favorite site on the creek - number 17.
After a tailwind pushed me 7 miles east, another 2 miles south got me to Fargo (MI) where my body was treated to some chocolate milk. I can go just about anywhere if I get some french toast in the morning and some chocolate milk in the afternoon.
A few miles later, I stopped to talk to an old guy working his garden by the road. He wasn't really old - he was only 80. He told me he was raised in Detroit and had seen Henry Ford go by in a sulky (a one-horsepower vehicle). He served during World War II in the Merchant Marine, hauling petroleum from Arabia. Being a quartermaster, he avoided having to clean the sludge out of the hold. He did see a nearby ship sink with a bunch of his friends aboard.
As we were talking, a couple people with horses came by, and then some more, and some more. They were going to ride on the Wadhams to Avoca Trail about 3 miles away, but their young leader got lost. Once they were on the ballast of the trail, they discovered some of the horses were only shod on the front. Their rear feet became bruised, and those riders became pedestrians. I think daughter and daddy are going to have a serious discussion when he finds out.
We now return to the gardener. He met a sweet young thing at the bowling alley, and now they are living together. She is barely 78. I decided it was time for me to ride off into the sunset.
There was a scary downhill into the Mill Creek valley. It was steep, and curvy, and fun. The scary part was realizing it would be going up like it went down. It was the first time this trip I pushed Sarah up a hill, but not the last time. Remember, this is in almost flat St. Clair County.
As I approached my last few turns, my map showed lines, but not names. When I asked a couple of boys on scooters for directions, they innocently gave me the long way around.
Ruby Campground was not my first choice for the first night. I didn't even know it existed until I called Lakeport State Park. It was Halloween weekend and they were full. Ruby was one of the private campground alternatives. I had to reroute myself the night before, and I'm glad I did.
Three weeks earlier, Bob and Mary Shagena had bought the campground. It was the first campground I'd heard of that had a bicycler orientation. With 66 mostly wooded acres and 5 miles of mountain bike trails, it is far enough from any city so that at night, you can see the stars and hear the wildlife. (www.rubycampground.com)
I was the only camper, so I could have my choice of 60 spots, but Bob wanted to show me his favorite. We went right past #17 to a private peninsula that Mill Creek meandered around. He called it "The Point". Nothin' but nature there, with the creek gurgling a few feet from where I would plant my tent and lay my head. This spot was IDEAL!
I woke up after 8 and the temperature was closer to 30 than 40. There was no frost. The outside of my fly was dry; the inside was wet from my condensed breath, even though I had the top of my tent door open for some ventilation.
I was packed and out of there by around 9, where I faced my second hill to walk - the gravel drive out of the campground. It didn't seem that bad when I came in.
The destination for today was Algonac. I was sure the state park wouldn't be having a Halloween celebration because I remembered that Lakeport and Algonac were on different weekends. But I get ahead of myself.
Breakfast was less than 10 miles away in Wadhams. Half the distance to the goal line was on wavy and serene Abbotsford Road. Just inside Wadhams, I came to a fork in the road. Well, it really was on the shoulder, and who knows where the knife and spoon were, but the tines were pointed right in my direction. I stopped and got a photo.
I approached a couple in a grocery parking lot to ask about a place for breakfast. I was encouraged when I noted the woman wearing a large pin of a bicycle. They suggested a 'family' restaurant about three miles away, or the cafe across the intersection, which was a favorite of the locals. The cafe served me good hot chocolate and french toast, and a heavenly slice of lemon meringue pie, but zero conversation. I guess I looked like a guy who slept in a tent and had missed a shower and a shave. Now, why would they think that?
The leg to St. Clair was over 20 miles and included two unpaved wiggly stretches and 5 miles of high traffic road. This is where anticipation and reality clashed. The wiggly parts were not bad, but boring. Three miles of the high traffic road had a multi-use path alongside. It was nicely paved, with few others using it, and I flew with the tailwind.
In St. Clair on MI-29 along the St. Clair River, I stopped to talk to a Harley rider. He had come 25 miles north to smoke his pipe, then go another 25 miles back. I told him I did that on my loaded bicycle the day before, except I didn't smoke anything.
Just down the boardwalk, my attention was drawn to a full-size sculpture of three bicyclists. As I got closer, I realized the sculptor was not much of a cyclist. The mother in the middle had both hands stretched to the sky with her hair blown back by the wind. The dad on the left was holding onto one of her hands, with his right foot planted firmly on the ground. The kid on the right was caught zooming past on his training-wheel-equipped bike. No one, of course, had helmets.
The last 14 miles to Algonac State Park were split fairly even thirds between a multi-use path, the Bridge to Bay Trail, and MI-29. As I approached the campground, it looked like I beat everyone there. Getting a spot would be no problemo. Then I read the sign at the entry building - just after their Halloween party two weeks ago, they closed for the season for significant repair and improvement.
It was still early. I don't make good decisions on an empty stomach, so I wandered south down a MUP (Multi Use Path) that went through the park, then west along MI-29 a ways to a McD's for a fish sandwich and fries. Two kids were hanging out there, looking for anyone who bought fries who wasn't playing the latest game. They wanted my fry box.
I took a look at my maps to consider alternatives, then asked the kids how to get to the MUP I just got off of. They had bikes, and would take me there. One of them had a small single-speed bike. The seat was all the way down. On the down stroke, his knee almost hit the handlebars; on the upstroke, his chin was at risk. Still, I clocked him at 14mph as we rode along.
I went to end of the MUP, just north of the state park, and took the road along its northern border for a mile and a half. I spotted a hunter who had just parked near an open field and discussed my options. Yes, it was hunting season, and the area I was looking at was open to hunters. But it was only small game, and it was unlikely I would become a target.
I broke camp around 9 the next morning after another ccccold night. I had been bothered only by the thoughts running around in my head.
I planned to have breakfast 17 miles down MI-29 at New Baltimore. It just didn't work out that way. I rode the MUP for a third time, then wandered through Algonac. There was a man walking ahead of me with an empty newspaper bag over his shoulder. He convinced me to avoid taking 29 and use the back roads. They were quiet and scenic and unaffected by the cold wind blowing off of Lake St. Clair. At Starville, I bought a half gallon of chocolate milk.
I avoided all but 4 miles of 29, but after a mile back on it, I had to stop for food when I spotted a 50's cafe.
Fortified with another order of french toast, I headed down the rest of wide-shouldered 29 to New Baltimore, then angled northwest to a curvy road at Wolcott Mill Metropark. There was an educational farm - someplace city folks can learn a thing or two. I decided to see what I could learn.
I found farm animals and buildings, and two guys with tools. One had a shovel; the other had a metal detector. They were looking for the metal handles of a septic tank. They had already dug several places unsuccessfully. It turned out the metal detector was getting a hit every time the sensor got close to the workers steel-toed shoes. Oh well!
I missed a turn and ended up in Armada. I made the best of it with a trip to an IGA for cheese, meat, and a banana. I took it all to the town park - a small grassy downtown lot between two businesses. It had a bench, a picnic table, and a place to play chess or checkers. And now it had me.
With my belly happy, I headed on out of town, but on the wrong road. A couple working outside helped me avoid going to Memphis. They said I needed to go two miles back to Armada, then head north on North to Berville.
Eight miles after Berville, a chocolate fudge sundae in Almont had my name on it. I sat on a bench enjoying it, while watching the traffic on the busiest road at the busiest time of day. I figured I'd have to take the last 7 miles to Imlay City in stages.
Wrong again! M-53 had a shoulder wider than the traffic lane - all the way . To top it off, there was a strong tailwind. I was flying with little effort. What a great way to finish a tour, with energy to spare!
This late in the year, you have to be ready for cold weather. On this trip, the overnight temperatures approached freezing. At one time, I rode wearing a shirt, sweatshirt, and wind jacket, plus shorts and sweat pants. Add to that a balaclava, bright orange Thinsulate hunting mittens, socks and oversocks. By noon the last day, I had packed everything I could without being arrested.
This trip logged 175 miles, and left me feeling great, and a couple pounds lighter.
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