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Return from DALMAC - September 1999

The Dick Allen Lansing to Mackinaw Bridge ride (DALMAC) is a 4 or 5 day catered ride sponsored by the Tri County Bicycle Association in Lansing, Michigan. The highlight is a ride across the 5-mile Mackinaw Bridge the day before Labor Day. I have been on two previous DALMACs, and have had the thrill of riding high above the water looking down on all the tiny boats.

The last day of this DALMAC marked the longest distance Sarah and I had traveled. Sarah Dipitee is what I call my Tour Easy Recumbent. I'd bought her sight-unseen from a gentleman in Abilene, Texas for a really reasonable price and decided to name the bike for the feeling I had from being so fortunate.

While others were crossing the bridge, we rode on to Cheboygan, then south. It was a hot 95 miles, and by dusk I was dead tired. Then I saw a place where hundreds of really cool people were resting. It was obvious that many of them had been here a long time. Many of the sites had flowers and American flags.

I rode to the back and set up my tent on an open patch of grass. Not a word was said to me, but I understood and didn't feel ignored. They were so into their own little world that I just knew getting their attention would be impossible. When I woke up in the morning, there were wild turkeys running among the granite and marble stones. I didn't really expect them to stop and read any of the carved and weathered names, dates, and other inscriptions.

The plan for my first full day riding back included the elk viewing areas of Montmorency County. I new it included about 17 miles of unpaved road, and I was looking forward to riding on some nice hardpacked road gravel. When I got to the end of the pavement, I stopped for a snack and to notice that the road was a bit dusty, but still was hardpacked road gravel.

A mile up the road, a lady retrieving her mail had noticed me and waited. I pulled over to chat and a humming bird attacked my DALMAC flag. I guess there has to be a first time for everything. The lady thought I should have some snacks, and returned with a bag of Fig Newtons (which I never eat) and a bag of carrot sticks, a pear, an apple, and a small tomato. I thanked her and was on my way to the curve at the bottom of the next hill.

After that, the road was hilly and about ninety percent sand. Lotsa pushin' goin' on! A long ride was about a hundred feet. After about three miles on this remote backroad, I gave up and stuck out my thumb.

Within five minutes, the first vehicle, a white pickup with a bed cover, stopped. Under the bed cover was a bike rack. I was going south; they took me west about 13 miles to where there was new paving, and the Pigeon River Bridge campground. But they kept going another couple miles to show me where I could see elk feeding early in the morning. Then they brought me back and gave me most of a bag of peanut butter M&Ms. Earlier in the month, they had picked up a brochure at a tourist center about an event in which they were interested. It was a DALMAC brochure.

At the campground was a woman and her 8-year-old daughter. I asked if they could put the Fig Newtons to good use. They could, and in return I was offered a large portion of just baked chicken, still warm, that was too much for them. Yum, what a deal!

The next day, to get back on track, I had to ride west to Vanderbilt, then south to Gaylord, then east to Vienna. I stopped at a Subway in Gaylord and ended up discussing my route to Vienna with the manager. He suggested a less hilly route which I took and enjoyed. Normally, discussion of hills with non-cyclists is of no value, but this guy had used this route to train for his July ultra-marathon 11-hour, 50-mile foot race.

Big Bear Lake campground
My campsite at Big Bear Lake State Forest was awesome. I set up my tent about ten feet from the beach. I only briefly saw people from one of the other two occupied sites, only saw two boats on this mile-across lake, and then not even on the same day. Hooray for the post-season!

Farther south, I was on a remote road with very little traffic. Still, while climbing a shoulderless hill, I managed to block two cars as I slowly headed for the top. The second car crossed the double-yellow line and passed me near the top. I said a few words he didn't hear, crested the top, and the other car politely passed.

Out of nowhere, another car passed me, and fast. With lights a flashing, it took only a quarter mile for the State Policeman to stop his target. As I rode past, I said "Thank you" just loud enough for him to hear.

I'd been at Black Creek State Forest on a Self Supported Tour ride, and enjoyed it. This time, only three of the 22 sites had campers. Admission is $6, which you put in an envelope and stuff in a slot in a large, vertical pipe. I had 5 ones and a ten, so I decided to try to get change from the other campers. The only ones around were two guys and a pre-teen girl. Their site had an empty utility trailer and lots of sawdust. One guy had a five, and the other one looked in the tent, but couldn't find his five. These guys, with long, unkempt graying beards, who looked like they had their own trailers during the filming of Deliverance, explained that they went through about a cord of wood a day. I didn't ask why, but that night, I cabled my bike to an exposed tree root and got out my pepper spray. It was not needed.

On the last night before reaching home, I stopped to see a new friend I had met earlier in the year. I was allowed to stay the night. I would like to tell you about him, the man with the shovel and two old cars who could clean your clock.

Bob's home
I met Bob Armbruster while riding before I got to know Sarah Dipitee. He is a sharp, nearly 80-year-old man whos picture should be in the dictionary next to both 'scrimp' and 'innovate'. About 30 years ago, his one-room home was broken into and he was beat up. His hearing is nearly gone, as are all but four of his teeth, so he often talks and listens with pen and paper.

1949 Ford
In his front yard is the last car he ever bought, a 1949 Ford. He gave up driving it when the insurance rates got to high. He covers it each night with a tarp, and in the morning, removes the tarp. In a shed behind the house, he has a Model A Ford he bought in 1951 for $45. He has since refused offers as high as $4000 for it.

When I got there, Bob was recovering from a fall. He had been repairing the roof of one of his sheds and the wooden ladder broke lengthwise. He lost some hide on his arms and legs, which he had treated, first with aftershave, then with Intensive Care lotion. From what I could see, the wounds were dime-sized, unbandaged, and healing nicely. He had already repaired the ladder with some long screws.

I asked him if I could set up my tent for the night. He said OK, but I should know about the skunk that was in the area. He had left his door ajar for ventilation a few nights earlier and a skunk walked in, toured his home, then left. As I set up my tent, I took a mental inventory of the tomato juice available at the store two miles down the road. It would not be needed.

Bob asked if I had eaten yet, and I said I'd been snacking and wasn't hungry. He mentioned a Friday fish special back at Marion Springs. Bob occasionally walks there with a wagon to get supplies, but wasn't up to walking now. I offered to go buy him dinner. He said I didn't have to do that, but I did anyway. As I left, I counted nine wild turkeys in Bob's front yard.

While I waited for the dinner to be prepared, I talked to the owner and others at the bar. They knew Bob as a fair and kind man with many talents, among which was watch repair. He has a watch repair stand, with many well constructed drawers, which he built when he was 13 years old. At one time, Bob figured he had a better watch collection, dating from 1600 to 1750, than did Ford's Greenfield Village.

When I got back, I wanted to finish getting my tent ready for the night, and said we could talk after he had finished his meal. He would rather talk now, saying he ate breakfast at noon, lunch at five, and dinner at ten, and it was only about seven. I later found out that he planned to split the fish dinner into three meals for himself. His refrigerator had two gallons of milk, eight large loaves of bread, and not much else. In the freezer, he had two or three more gallons of milk. (In the morning, he found a bag of tomatoes someone had left.)

So we talked. Bob got out his cigar box of photos. Some he passed over quickly; others he dwelled on. There were pictures of relatives, girl friends, and local kids who liked the way he listened to them. There were pictures of him when he was younger, and several of a small table-top steam engine he still has. He is fascinated by mechanical things. But he would be; he used to be a mechanical engineer.

One photo was of a horse skeleton. He discovered a foot bone while digging his pond (more on that later), and carefully removed dirt to reveal the entire skeleton of a horse on its side. He recalled that as a kid, there was a horse that suddenly disappeared after a visit by a vet.

Upon inspection of the skeleton, Bob found two small bottles in the area of the throat. Back then, medicine was dispensed by covering the nose to get the mouth open, then shaking the medicine out of the bottle into the mouth. Apparently, the vet couldn't hang on to the bottles, and they got caught in the horse's windpipe, suffocating the poor animal.

Hand-dug pond
Now, the pond. About ten years ago, when he was only 70, Bob dug a pond at the back of his 3-4 acre property. It is somewhat rectangular and looks to be at least 50 feet across and 5-6 feet deep. He did it by hand with a shovel. It somehow got frogs and minnows. He built a bench on one side so he could spend time back there.

Scare Heron
Once a Blue Heron visited and had a meal. Bob immediately got some sticks, a white plastic milk carton and some old clothes and made a 'scare heron'. It worked.

I wanted to wash my hands and spotted an old hand pump in the front yard. Bob indicated that it was only for show. It was on a three-foot diameter wood base, which rested on/in what looked like the end of a clay culvert. Bob tilted the pump and hinged base over to the ground to reveal the rest of a 10 or 12-foot culvert descending into the ground, with water at the bottom.

Running Water
He had a three-quart metal bucket with a handle and chain which he tossed down into the well (carefully holding onto one end of the chain, of course), and retrieved some water. He placed the filled bucket on a table to show off a spigot he had attached to the side of the bucket near the bottom. Running water! He said the water was pure and had no chemicals - he'd been drinking it for years. I filled a water bottle and, although it looked like tea, it tasted OK. (The next morning, there was less sediment at the bottom than I had with water from a state park pump.)

X Factor
He replaced the cover and pump and pointed to something on top of the pump. It was a thin piece of tin, in the shape of an X. It was actually suspended a couple inches above the pump on a wire, which went through a hole in the middle of the X. He said he had notice birds liked to land on the pump and relieve themselves. When they tried to land on the X, it tilted one way or the other and they couldn't get a perch on it. Bob had also made each leg of the X a bit too wide for the span of their claws. Another invention with only one user.

Bob records for each day on a monthly calendar, the temperature, weather, and the highlight(s) of the day. When I was last there on August 1, I was the highlight.

If you want to have more interesting bike rides, all you need to do is to stop, look, and listen.

Each day, I had logged my computer readings and reset my computer. My trip home was longer and shorter than the trip there (6 vs 5 days and 32 less miles). My time on the bike going up was twenty-six hours and one minute. My time going home was 26:01. I double checked, then bought a lottery ticket, but I guess all my good luck went into the ride. That's fine with me.

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