Time on Saddle: 7:59
Temp: rainstorm, misting rain, sun
My eyes blinked open and all at once, yesterday flooded into my mind. I sat up abruptly, groping frantically between my legs. The aloe had worked! No chaffing. My eyes darted around the tent, taking inventory of all of yesterday’s wet clothes and gear that appeared now to be mostly, miraculously, dry.
I let out an audible sigh of relief. Today was set to be our biggest day: 80 miles to Mark’s house in Ludington. Mark was a stranger we met online, on a website that connects traveling cyclists with hosts. “Mine is the house next to the school, with a big pile of dirt in the front yard,” he explained in an email. “You’ll know if I’m home by the Buick in the driveway with a big dent on the side from a deer hit.”
So after packing and wandering aimlessly around the RV lot in search of the free coffee promised to us by a sign in the bathroom (we never found it), we set off.
Rails to Trails
The bike paths ran through horse farms, Christmas tree farms, apple and cherry orchards, dairies, forest and fields. Murals announced when you had arrived in a new township, and each town decorated their stretch of bike path with art, informational placards, and planted flowers. We waved at people whose backyards butted up against the path, took pictures with their horses and the wildflowers and all the surprising sights the trail took us past, including a rickety wooden rollercoaster that we though was defunct until a coaster full of people screamed by!
The GPS was still a bit untrustworthy after getting drenched, so I was unsure when we reached the actual Rails to Trails (RTC) because the surrounding towns had all made connecting bike paths that seamlessly spanned about 70 of the 80 miles we needed to travel.
We didn’t see a car all day. Until, I suppose, we arrived in New Era, where we pulled off the RTC to have lunch. New Era is a tiny town, home to two diners, a hardware store, and, inexplicably, a giant, new Chevy dealership. So if you count that, we did see some cars.
By nightfall, we were cresting the highest peak of the day: a steep shoreline hill next to a water-treatment plant. Approaching the summit, I could time my pedal stroke to the pulsating electric buzz from the plant, punctuated by blasting horns from the commuter ferries that circled people from Milwaukee to Ludington and back. At the top, a purple storm blurred half the sunset.
“Beautiful… and terrifying,” Ivan said. “Like you.”
In Ludington, we found the school, then the house with the pile of dirt and the Buick and let ourselves into Mark’s backyard.
Mark came out and greeted us warmly, unlocked his shed and showed us where the hose was. He, too, is a cyclist and outdoorsman, and with his greying hair and twinkling eyes he bore an uncanny resemblance to Richard Dreyfus.
We began to unpack and Mark reappeared, this time with a bottle of Michigan wine and a notecard with the keypad codes so that we could enter the house and use the bathroom. I got the impression he wanted to get a look at us first, before literally handing over the keys to his place, and was so grateful for his generosity.
He explained that this was his summer home, a fixer-upper as his retirement project, which explained the long and detailed emails about all the things we could do in Ludington, which most would be inclined to describe as a “one-horse” sort of town. Mark loved Ludington, wanted to enjoy the rest of his days in this peaceful little lakeside town, and wanted us to share in his enthusiasm.
We cooked chili over a tarp in the shed, giddy at the prospect of being warm and dry for a night.
Rails to Trails:
RTC is a non-profit that converts defunct railroad tracks into paved, multi-use trails. They have projects all over the world and since the trails used to be railroads, offer really scenic routes. They are known on social media for reposting the stunning pictures cyclists take while on the unique trails. Check their website for a trail near you!
I was hesitant to use this site because it does sound a little creepy to bunk up with a stranger. Plus, when I first checked out the website it didn’t appear that there were any hosts in Michigan. Long story short, it’s not and there are.
For security reasons and to ensure personal information is only used for intended purposes, before you can view available hosts you must make a profile, which takes only a few minutes. Once you’ve made a profile, it “unlocks” a search feature where you can enter a city, state or zip code and search for available hosts in that area. Hosts may offer a guest house, private room, couch, or backyard camping - all for totally FREE! There are hosts all over the world! The profile section is how you get to know the host and the host gets to know you. Most hosts are also cyclists and most people on the site have been either a host or guest before. Also, in our case and from all the stories my friends have told, hosts tend to go above and beyond - offering not just a place to camp or sleep, but often also cooking dinner or offering a bottle of wine!
Our host, Mark, sent us several detailed emails with directions, things to do in the area, what to watch out for on our travels, which roads were closed - Seriously, he was so thoughtful and thorough.