Monthly Archives: July 2016

Day 44 – July 30: To Holland State Park: Beautiful Shores

34 miles

No need to rise early this day, since the bike shop did not open until 10am. So, everyone slept in (good thing, since some of the kids were up reading until who knows when). The bike shop we visited was Breakaway Fitness, in Muskegon, where one of the Service managers, Jeff, took care of me. The bad news: the hub on the back wheel is toast. The hub is the center part of the wheel, and it contains ball bearings and springs that enable it to turn smoothly on its own, yet also “catch” when you pedal. It’s fixable, but they didn’t have the parts, so our solution was to buy a new wheel. A fairly quick fix overall, and we were ready to leave by 12:30.

Our destination that day was Holland, and our route took us through Muskegon, Ferrysburg, Spring Lake, and Grand Haven. It was another beautiful ride; not always along the lakefront, but we got to see plenty nonetheless. My father lived in Grand Haven until he died, so that community has a lot of memories for me in particular. It seems like every Michigan town has it’s own summer festival: in Traverse City has the Cherry Festival; Holland has the Tulip Festival; and Grand Haven has the Coast Guard Festival – which started over the weekend. It was Saturday, so there were a TON of people enjoying the Grand Haven waterfront, but we managed to pick through them without running anyone over. I love the golden beach there, as well as the picturesque lighthouse at the end of the pier. Throughout the entire ride I had the opportunity to tell some of my kids about my Dad and some of our memories together. Obviously, I miss him; it doesn’t matter how old you are, the loss of a parent is a profoundly sad experience that can leave you feeling orphaned in some way.

We battled a lot of hills between Grand Haven and Holland, as we rode on a bike path that went along Lakeshore Drive. Some were really steep! The whole route felt a little like a roller coaster, and it wore us out. We were so glad to be meeting some dear friends at the end of the day: Brent and Karen Renkema. Brent and I were classmates in the Nuclear Engineering program at the University of Michigan, and we were often study buddies. He now works for Steelcase and lives near Holland. They not only came out to see us, but they also brought a truckload of food (again) for us. This trip has helped us come to appreciate the power and blessing of hospitality! Karen is an amazing cook (I remembered that from my college days), and she filled our bellies and our cooler with leftovers. Plus, three desserts: Rice Krispy treats, chocolate chip cookies, and key lime pie. Wow!

It had been 15 years since we’d seen the Renkema’s, and it was so good to reconnect. Our kids thoroughly enjoyed their kids, and did not want to leave. Such a blessing to see them.


Fun with the Renkema’s at Laka Macatawa (Holland State Park)

We did not have a reservation at Holland State Park, so we counted on Michigan’s policy of never turning away cyclists who need a campsite at their state parks. We were assigned an “auxiliary” site next to a campground. We were in a fenced-in grassy area that was perfect for our tent. However, it did solicit some curious expressions from passers-by. They must have been thinking: “they can’t camp there, that’s not a campsite!” In fact, later that night, after we all went to bed, as two campers visited the playground in the dark, the following rant was overheard:

“Someone camped at the park! Who camps at the park? Their tent is right at the park.  Yoo-hoo!  Anybody home?!? They’re camped at the park and they’re not even home!”

Had the kid bothered to stop talking long enough to hear an answer to his question, he would have heard Angela tell him that we were indeed home and that some of us were even asleep. However, he was more interested in his loud rant than in what was going on five feet away in our tent.


Our “auxiliary” campsite: “What is that family doing over there???”

I don’t know how current I’ll be able to post on this blog, so here’s our schedule for the next few days, until we finally get home!

July 31: To Van Buren State Park (46 miles)

August 1: To Warren Dunes State Park (38 miles)

August 2: To Indiana Dunes State Park (33 miles)

August 3: To HOME! (61 miles).

We’ll be sure to fill in the details soon!

Day 43 – July 29: Silver Lake to Muskegon: The Final Stretch begins!

45 miles

We spent last week at Silver Lake, reconnecting with Angela’s extended family at the 87th 93rd Annual Van Velzor Family Reunion. We swam in Lake Michigan (a lot!), played games with family, hiked over the dunes, and really enjoyed the break from biking. It was a tremendous week, and it ended much too soon. One more highlight from the week was on our last day there, when Joshua and Elise were baptized. It seems we are always away from Chicago when our church does its large baptism service, so we thought we would have our own. As a family we discussed the meaning of baptism, then Jeff baptized them both in Lake Michigan.

Posing for a hike before hiking the dunes with Angela's uncle Tom, aunt Sally, and cousins Sophie, Jake, and Zach

Posing for a hike before hiking the dunes with Angela’s uncle Tom, aunt Sally, and cousins Sophie, Jake, and Zach


The hike took us from Silver Lake to Lake Michigan (in the distance). It was a blast!


Baptizing Joshua and Elise in Lake Michigan

It was time to climb back on our bikes to begin the final stretch to Chicago. There was a threat of rain on the morning of our departure, so Angela’s grandmother let us all cram into her cottage so we—and all of our gear—would stay dry. We were so grateful not only to sleep in beds, but also to wake up in the morning and see that we had missed a thunderstorm.

As you can imagine, at this point various kids (and parents) are beginning to talk about home with a sense of longing, especially for comfortable beds and nice showers that you can walk away from barefoot. Ah, home… after six weeks, it’s tempting to let it occupy our thoughts. But there’s still six days of riding, so we try to put those thoughts aside so that we can truly enjoy what’s left of our trip. In the words of Jim Elliot: “Let not our longing slay our appetite for living.” So, here we go!

The ride from Silver Lake took us along the Hart-Montague trail, for the 3rd and final time. We rode this trail to and from the Reneker Family Camp the week before, and were well acquainted with it. It runs through some really cool towns, like Shelby, New Era, and Rothbury (where we came to learn that there’s a massive music festival every year). The path goes along cherry & apple orchards, fields of asparagus and corn, lush forests, and there are several sections where it’s completely covered by a canopy of trees. We stopped—as we did on the previous trips—and gorged ourselves on berries. This week the blackberries were super plump and ripe, and we found a patch that was bursting with them. Definitely a highlight for the day.

The Hart-Montague Trail: sometimes covered by canopies of trees.

The Hart-Montague Trail: sometimes covered by canopies of trees.

Our harvest of blackberries

Our harvest of blackberries

We were on the Hart-Montague trail went for 22 miles, then connected to several other bike paths in the North Muskegon area. Out of our 45 mile trip, less than 10 miles were on roads. That’s a good biking day, especially since these trails have very few hills to climb. The Muskegon lakefront path was especially gorgeous, as it took us right along the waters edge for several miles. Caleb counted boats (he lost count after 50 or so), while the rest of us just admired the beauty of the lake.

Our destination was my Aunt’s house, in Norton Shores. With only 4 miles to go, I began to experience some problems with the tandem: sometimes when I pedaled it would go completely free – no matter how slow or fast I pedaled, it wasn’t “catching.” That makes it difficult to move, huh? I tried changing gears, and it might catch again, but if I ever stopped pedaling, I would have the same problem when I started again. Time for another stop at a bike shop.

That would have to happen the next day, because 45 miles is a long way to travel, and we didn’t leave Silver Lake until 10:45 (lots of goodbyes). We arrived at my aunt’s house around 7:00pm, where we enjoyed a huge dinner that included chicken BBQ, hamburgers, banana cake, and other wonderful things… let me just say that we have a whole new appreciation for food after long days of biking!  After dinner we took a dip in Lake Michigan to wash away the sweat and grime from the day’s journey. The rest of the evening we were also able to visit with cousins, play games, and Brittany discovered their library. She read two books that night, I believe.

We’ll see what the next day brings as we seek to fix the bike!

Days 31-35 – July 18-22: Camp Reneker. Go for it!

Hiking. Sailing. Swimming. Archery. Fishing. Horseback Riding. Games. Crafts. Campfires.

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Camp Reneker has it all!

It’s been a fabulous week at Family Camp! It has been six wonderful days of rest and fun in the outdoors! Camp Reneker is one of four Boy Scout Camps associated with the Owasippe Scout Reservation; two of the other camps are for Boy Scout Troops, and the fourth is for Webelos (Cub Scouts). Camp Reneker is all about fun for the whole family, and many families come year after year to experience the beauty, the fun, and the relationships that make it such a rich week.


The energy and enthusiasm of the Camp Staff made the week so great for us. Thank you!

For Joshua, this week has been a little different: he has left us at 9AM each morning to join the other Boy Scouts in working on merit badges. This week he is learning about lifesaving, camping, and welding. He has really enjoyed them all. After this week, he will only have two more merit badges and his Eagle Service Project before fulfilling the requirements to be an Eagle Scout. He’s getting close!

The other kids have also left at 9AM, but they have gone with their counselors and their whole purpose each morning is to have FUN. The wonderful staff here have taken the kids to hike, swim, play games, make crafts, and so much more. Their programs have run until noon, when we have lunch and then swim most of the afternoon. What a refreshing week!

A couple of stories to share:

On our second day, we walked outside our cabin to find an injured baby bird. Looking up, we saw a nest that it probably fell from. All the kids immediately wanted to come to its rescue. “What does it eat?” “Where should we keep it?” “How can we feed it?” A nest was made, and every spare moment was spent checking on the baby bird. Worms were sought. Grasshoppers were crushed into food. Water was dripped into its mouth. That bird was very loved.

Cora and Lydia, trying to nurse the bird back to health.

Cora and Lydia, trying to nurse the bird back to health.

Unfortunately, the bird’s body was too badly broken from its fall. Its breathing became labored, then eventually stopped. Many tears were shed, and we held a brief funeral service for it.  Even as the kids wished they could have done more, we encouraged them for making the baby bird comfortable in its final hours.

Another interesting event from our week was when Caleb lost one of his front teeth–in the pool! It had been quite loose, but we had no idea when it would come out. He was launching his kickboard as an underwater rocket, and it worked, right into his two front teeth!  he realized his mouth was bleeding and he didn’t have his tooth anymore. The staff took care of his mouth, but Caleb had some concern about retrieving the tooth in the pool. Never fear! Someone mentioned the area where the tooth was lost, and after about 10 seconds of searching the bottom, I felt the tooth. Kind of crazy, especially in a pool that has a capacity of 98 persons!


Caleb riding a pony – note the vacancy in the top row of his teeth 🙂

The “cheer” or “cry” for Camp Reneker is Go for it!” This week, we’ve done just that, as we’ve enjoyed much that this wonderful setting has provided.

All the younger kids caught a fish, but Cora's was the biggest. NIce one!

All the younger kids caught a fish, but Cora’s was the biggest. NIce one!

Tomorrow, we hit the road again, back to Silver Lake. Though we will be sad to sad goodbye here, the kids are already talking about all the blackberries and raspberries they hope to pick on the way back to Silver Lake.

Day 30 – July 17: To Owasippe Boy Scout Camp

Our previous day was a nice rest day at Silver Lake State Park.  Angela’s cousins, Rhonda and Dan, and their Grandson Ethan were able to meet us at our favorite beach, “The Channel”.  It is a beautiful little spot where the channel from Silver Lake meets Lake Michigan.  The beach is different every year, but there’s always a shallow area in the channel where the kids can play and dig in the sand and the water there is about 10 degrees warmer than in Lake Michigan.

We had a slow morning and didn’t make it out to the Channel until about 1:30, but it was a lovely afternoon and we stayed and played until about 5:00. Then we headed back to the campsite for Tri-tip Teriyaki and Rice, followed by Berry Cobbler.  This summer has cemented Jeff’s love affair with Dutch Oven Cooking.

A look at the weather that night told us rain was a threat for the morning, so we made sure to try for an earlier start.  Amazingly, we managed to pack up and head out before the rain hit us. As we stopped to pick up ice at the Parkside Store, the rain began.  The steady drizzle certainly dampened our moods as well as our bodies and we struggled to get to the bike path, without using the dirt road from the trip down.

Fortunately, by the time we made it to the path, the rain had largely stopped.  Within a few miles of path riding, we began to see the many blackberry, and black raspberry bushes that populate the edges of the path. Brittany remembered the tupperware containers in our lunch bags and we began filling them as well as our bellies for a special lunchtime treat.  Then we found the Mulberry tree.


Joshua climbed the mulberry tree and shook the branches…


The rest of us spread out our tablecloth and caught the falling berries. Yum!

As we headed on to find a suitable lunch spot, Lydia confided her thoughts from the morning, “I was really sad about the rain, but then I thought about how God uses bad things for our good, and I realized something good would come of it. And then we got to pick all those berries.  God did bring good from it!”  We ate lunch next to an old M-60 tank, just off of the Hart-Montague trail.


M-60 tank in Shelby, Michigan

Later, as we often do at dinner, Caleb began to reflect on highs and lows for the day.  He said, “I have FIVE highs for today! 1. The rain stopped! 2. Picking berries 3. We’re going to scout camp 4. This is a great bike path with no gravel! 5. We have five rest days after today”

Day 28 – July 15: To Silver Lake Sand Dunes

by Jeff

39 miles

Ahhhhh. It was amazing to NOT ride a bike for a few days. Our bottoms had been pretty sore, and this break was just what we needed to stop walking funny. We ate well, slept well, played our hearts out, and even napped a bit. Just what our bodies needed.

Ice cream at our Reunion

Ice cream at our Reunion

Joshua helping David make a tie-dye pillowcase

Joshua helping David make a tie-dye pillowcase


A study in contrasts: the 4-yr old uses his spoon, and the 6-yr old does what?

So ended the first of 3 straight weeks of leisure in the middle of our bike trip. The next week we would be at Family Camp at Camp Reneker, a Boy Scout Camp just east of Whitehall. And then we would return to Silver Lake for our second reunion, this time with Angela’s extended family.

You’d think that getting back on our bikes after a week break would have been easy, but perhaps our muscles were a little surprised by the sudden exertion. Our destination was 39 miles away, at Silver Lake State Park, home of majestic dunes where people are allowed to play on all types of motorized vehicles. One giant sandbox.

Our ride to Silver Lake was largely uneventful and typical of our family: ride 4 miles, stop for 3 minutes to let Caleb or Lydia use the “facilities,” then back on our way. The kids sang a lot of newly learned camp songs, while Angela and I did our best to think happy thoughts and not go crazy hearing “Your mama don’t wear no socks” or “Princess Pat.” 500 times. Okay, sometimes we couldn’t bear it and we just asked them to stop.

In the town of Hart, we connected to the Hart-Montague trail, an amazing paved trail that runs for 25 miles. It runs through beautiful forest canopies, next to cherry and apple orchards, and over some deep gorges. This is probably the most pleasant path of our entire trip. Little did we know that Google Maps was messing with us again and the chosen “short-cut” from the path to Silver Lake would be treacherous.  It directed us to a sandy dirt road, with some rolling hills to add to the excitement.  An additional bonus: Angela had messed up her knee a little playing soccer the night before, so we had moved her trailer to Elise’s bike so we could make a little faster progress as she struggled to pedal with her discomfort.  We took our time, walking up – and down – some of the hills, and made it back to a paved road.

We arrived at Silver Lake State Park in the early evening, set up camp, and cooked dinner (chicken with biscuits) in our dutch oven. Finally, we enjoyed the gorgeous sunset over the dunes. What a masterpiece!

Sunset over the Silver Lake Dunes

Sunset over the Silver Lake Dunes

Day 23 – July 10: To Barothy Lodge (Walhalla, MI). That Dam Route

by Jeff

32 miles  48 miles

After today’s ride, we wouldn’t have to get on our bikes for five whole days… everybody was excited! Turns out that we camped in clearing surrounded by poison ivy, so it was a little worrisome keeping Caleb and David out of the foliage. I woke up early and hiked down to the Manistee River: it was gorgeous. At one point I startled some deer who were resting not 20 feet away from me. Some other campers testified that the fishing on this river is amazing; I’d love to come back and try it out sometime in the future. Growing up fishing for salmon and trout on Lake Michigan and its tributaries holds some very special memories for me.


The beautiful Manistee River

We didn’t have the chance to shop for breakfast the day before, so we just emptied out all the food we were carrying from our trailers and panniers. Breakfast included beef jerky, granola bars, a couple apples, bananas, fresh-picked wild raspberries, a Cliff bar, and other sundry items. A true smorgasbord!


Our campsite at Tippy Dam. Breakfast is served!

We left around 11AM, not in too much of a hurry because Google Maps showed that we only had 32 miles to go. Hooray!

Just northwest of Tippy Dam lies the quaint town of Brethren. The sign welcoming us to Brethren made the claim, “The best little town by a dam site!” That, of course, made us all chuckle, and the kids began quoting Percy Jackson and his friends (from the Lightning Thief series). They looked for such places as “the Dam Snack Bar” and “the Dam bathroom”. (Ha, ha)

Now, as we approached the Dam, the road passed by a ranger station. Just beyond the post was a sign indicating that the road ended at the bottom of the hill. What? We stopped and spoke to the ranger, who said that Homeland Security had closed the Dam to all vehicular and pedestrian traffic. NOOOOOOOO!! Google maps showed our route going across the dam; now we would have to go completely around it!

“You Shall Not Pass!” -Gandalf

Our 32-mile bike ride just increased by another 10 miles. At least. It will forever be known as that Dam Route.

Embittered by this information, I was surly for the next 3 hours. (Just keeping it real). Google, you have failed this biker! (Any Arrow fans out there?)

By mid-afternoon, I had finally swallowed the bitter pill and began to believe again in the goodness and sovereignty of God. We even met a couple of bikers on the road who had done quite a bit of touring, and they rode with us to a local grocery store so that we could pick up some food for lunch. They were very nice, and it was fun to have some other company as we rode.

The grocery store in Dublin, Michigan is no ordinary place. Believe it or not, it is most known for its jerky. They have every type of jerky imaginable: beef, chicken, turkey, pork, ostrich, alligator, buffalo—just to name a few! The flavors were just as diverse: Spicy, cherry, teriyaki, honey, BBQ… the selection was crazy. They make jerky all day, every day, and ship it all over the United States. We tried a couple of flavors and settled for the Teriyaki beef jerky, which was excellent.

Our route this day took us by a number of lakes and natural areas, another beautiful excursion in the Michigan countryside. But we were very focused on our destination, if only for the pizza that we knew would be waiting for us. After a couple more detours, adding 16 miles to our trip, we finally pulled into the resort, Barothy Lodge, around 7:30PM, where we were warmly welcomed by my family (in spite of the fact that we were grimy and sweaty). So fun to see these people who are dear to us at the end of a long day of biking!

This annual reunion in Michigan began 15 years ago, just after my father died. Seeing all of his family at the funeral (in 2000) gave us a deeper desire to reconnect with my aunt, uncle, and cousins who knew and loved my dad. We’ve been able to attend many of these reunions, and they have become such a highlight for us and the kids. We all knew what the next five days would hold: rafting and tubing on the Pere Marquette River, swimming in the pool, abundant and delicious meals, and lots of games, including kickball, Frisbee, water balloons, corn hole, and so much more.

We made it!


Day 22 – July 9: To Tippy Dam (Manistee County)

by Jeff

38 miles

We slept in, lounged over breakfast, went swimming, visited with the Rumneys, and ate a hearty lunch of pasta. None of us wanted to leave; it was such a peaceful and fun place to be. We finally hit the road at 3:00pm.

Thank you Rumney family, for your wonderful hospitality!

Thank you Rumney family, for your wonderful hospitality!

We decided to change our route the night before, after Jeff read more details about the trip between Sleeping Bear Dunes and our next campground reservation at Orchard Beach State Park in Manistee. Turns out, there are some massive hills on that route along the shoreline. The hills even have names: the “Three Sisters.” When hills have names, you know they’re going to hurt. I believe each of them were climbs over 1000 feet, one of which was over a 2-mile stretch. Our quads were still sore from the climb the day before, so we decided to pass.

We knew we had to be at Jeff’s family reunion near Walhalla the following night, so we drew a line between us and Walhalla and found a campground in the middle: Tippy Dam Recreational Area. Only one significant hill to climb, and only a 38-mile ride. We were off!

The ride was beautiful. We traveled on county roads for the most part, through thick woods and lush prairies. Google maps pulled another fast one on us, taking us up a 600-foot climb only to find out that the road then turned to dirt; we knocked on the door of a nearby house and were set straight as to how to get back onto pavement. Later that day, Google recommended taking another trail, but when we saw that it was dirt and loose gravel, we took a pass.

It seems like our best time of riding is in the evening: the air is cool, the sun isn’t in our eyes, and we tend to talk a lot more. We celebrated our trip by sharing our highlights from the last couple of days and eating the last of our Mackinac Island fudge. As twilight came, we saw several deer in the fields around us. So cool.

We arrived at Tippy Dam Recreational Area just as darkness fell. The kids are all experts by now when it comes to setting up camp, so the tent and sleeping areas were put together in 25 minutes. We ate some quick sandwiches for dinner, including Caleb’s peanut butter and pickle creation. Shortly afterwards, everyone happily went to bed.

Tomorrow, we finally reach a long awaited break: our 5-day Koch family Reunion!

Day 21 – July 8 (Part Two): To Sleeping Bear Dunes. Drenched

by Jeff

32 miles

Once the bike was fixed, it was time to get back on the road! Our destination: Honor, Michigan, to visit some old friends who used to live in Marquette, Tom and Jonnine Rumney. Hey, it’s only 32 miles, right?  Not a problem!

After regathering at the laundromat, then eating a quick lunch, we finally started weaving our way through the town of Traverse City at around 2:00. We biked through the Cherry Festival along the Traverse Area Recreation Trail (TART), a fully paved bikeway that was just awesome. Like I said before, Traverse City is a great place for recreation! Because of the Cherry Festival, there were rides, booths, games, and all kinds of activity downtown. We didn’t have time to stop, unfortunately, but it was really cool to see.

Then, it was time to leave town. Okay, one thing we didn’t realize is that Traverse City is kind of located in a bowl. Meaning: leaving town, going west, there’s no way but up. Cedar Run Road will forever be burned in our minds as the road that nearly killed us. For three miles, we did nothing but climb. Well, we did a few other things, like gasping for breath, mild cursing, standing around, and walking our bikes, but overall, it was misery. Maybe we could have done it alright without pulling heavy trailers, but all of the weight we were pulling made our quads burn like crazy. What a momentum killer–we still had almost 30 miles to go.

Finally, the climbing came to an end. And, the nice thing is that what goes up, must come down. The rest of the ride was mostly flat, or downhill. Hooray! Our spirits lifted, and we began to gain more confidence.

Then came the rain. It rained while we were at the bike shop/laundromat, but then it stopped. We thought, perhaps we’re in the clear! Yeah, not so much. About halfway to the Sleeping Bear Dunes, the clouds got really dark.  I began to wonder which of the nice family farms we were passing might take us in. Literally, while thinking those thoughts, we came upon a significant downhill–and the raindrops began to fall. In 15 seconds, it was a DELUGE. Rain was pelting us, hitting our faces and making it difficult to see – it even took our breath away. We were going fast, downhill, in buckets of rain, and I kept thinking about wet, slippery brakes, imagining a train wreck at the bottom of the hill (Lots of praying, again!). Miraculously, we all made it down safely, and took cover in a random driveway under some trees. We were drenched. David was whimpering a little, as was Caleb. I was like, C’mon, buck up, we’ll make it through this!  Hmm, empathy? Not one of my strengths.

Then we heard a shout: the property owners were at the door and they called us to come inside. Sweet mercy! We filed in, took off our shoes, and that’s how we met Kelly and Gary. So grateful for the kindness of strangers–the hospitality we have experienced on this trip has blown us all away! We got to know them a little, and within 30 minutes, the rain had stopped, so we started to make our way again.

Just as we were to remount our bikes, our friends Dave and Sharon Buck surprised us by stopping by! They tracked us down to make sure we survived the storm, and offered to take pictures of us as we rode along. What sweet people!  Thanks to them, you can see how we’re set up on our bikes:

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Everybody is shown here except for Cora, who is on her own road bike, with no trailer. (Lucky!)

As we continued to the Sleeping Bear Dunes, Google maps, which usually does a great job of showing the best bike routes, brought us to a dirt road. Yes, it might be the shortest route, but from experience, dirt roads are a slow, painful way for us to go. Moments after we arrived at the intersection, and as we were looking at alternative routes, a car drove up. It turned out to be two women, going out to eat on this Friday night. The passenger, Cathy, leaned out of the window, and the following conversation took place:

Cathy: “Are you lost? Can I help you?”

Us: “Actually, we are trying to figure out if we have to take this road, or can go around”

Cathy: “You don’t want that road! It is up and down the whole way for 2 miles.  You’ll be walking most of it. Where are you going?”

Us: “Honor.”

Cathy: “What?!? That’s another 15 miles! Are you crazy? I have a truck, we’ll go get it.  You can put all your **** in the back and we’ll take you there.”

The Driver: “yeah, I can fit three people in here”

Us: “Wow, that’s really kind!  We’ll be okay, we just need a way to get back to a paved road to Honor.”

—- the conversation continued with Cathy and her friend reluctantly giving us the navigational information while trying to convince us to give up on biking and take the ride instead.  They were concerned that the weather would turn again, or that some other other catastrophe might befall us. We learned that Cathy is a retired teacher: “I’m just concerned about the kids…” They only let us continue on our way after Cathy gave us her cell phone number and extracted a promise to call for help if anything happened.

We took Cathy’s detour, adding just a couple of miles to our journey, and passed through some incredibly beautiful country. The forests and water around Sleeping Bear Dunes are very scenic, and did I mention that we were still going downhill? During the last 10 miles of our ride, we were practically giddy, enjoying the ride, racing each other, and clipping along at a great pace. One mile from our destination, we saw a car pull over: it was our host, Tom! He was a little concerned, and then assured us that pizza was on its way. To add more motivation for us, he said the last person to arrive wouldn’t get any pizza. Okay, we knew it was a joke, but still… you should’ve seen Lydia pedal during that last stretch!

Our stay with the Rumney’s was amazingly refreshing. Papa J’s pizza, (in Honor), is seriously some of the best pizza ini Michigan. We ate a lot. Tom and Jonnine’s son Dave was there as well, and Dave’s wife Kelly was my classmate in high school. It was so great to see them and spend time catching up. The Rumney’s live on Big Platte Lake, an ideal swimming lake for our kids – the water was about 3-4 feet deep for about 50 yards from shore. Another highlight for our kids: they had dogs. And my kids love dogs. The dogs probably didn’t get a moment’s peace the entire evening, but I didn’t see them complaining. Bellies full, bodies washed, we all slept great that night on mattresses.


Puppy love

Tomorrow: We head south!

Day 21 – July 8 (Part One): Torched

by Jeff

I woke up this morning with one thought on my mind: can the bike be repaired?  As many of you know, there’s nothing like desperation to improve one’s prayer life. The great thing is, the Lord is fine with that… regardless of our circumstances, in good or bad, He welcomes us to come to Him with our needs, our joys, and anything that’s on our heart or mind. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6)

Rain was threatening in the morning, so, having learned our lesson in Petoskey, we packed up quickly and were ready to head out by 9:30am. Well done crew!  Dave and Sharon Buck came by our campsite with all the best breakfast foods:  an abundance of yogurt, fruit, and that most healthy and delicious of all cereals: Cap’n Crunch with Crunchberries. I, along with the rest of my family,  hope there are Crunchberries in heaven.

While the rest of the family ate the amazing buffet laid before them, Dave and I loaded up the crippled tandem and headed to Einstein Cycles less than a mile away. I had called them the day before to let them know our issues, and Dan (one of the mechanics) suggested we get the bike there when they opened at 10:00am. When Dan saw it, he gave a low whistle and said, this is going to take some work. But he was optimistic, and so Dave and I returned to the campsite to finish breakfast.

An hour passed. Then another half hour… and no word from the bike shop. I was getting nervous. I called, and Dan told me that his manager had to run out to get a blow torch… something about bending metal is easier when you have a torch.  *Gulp.  Okay, sounds, um, good!  The derailleur hanger, which is the mount for the mechanism that moves the chain up and down the various gears, was bent in a couple of different ways. Translation: the steel, which isn’t supposed to bend very much, can break when a lot of pressure is applied. Hence, a torch would make the metal more malleable, allowing the metal to be bent, but it would also leave it more brittle. More praying…

After breakfast, we decided to divide and conquer: Angela took the kids and biked to the laundromat with all of our dirty, smelly clothes, while Dave Buck took me, Cora, and Caleb back to Einstein Cycles. Einstein’s is a fabulous bike shop, by the way. It even has a coffee shop attached to it, so that’s where we waited while the bike’s outcome was being determined. As soon as I got there, it started hailing–like crazy hail–and I was soooo glad that we packed up when we did.  I checked with Angela to make sure they had made it inside before the hail hit – they had (barely!).  In the words of Hannibal from the A-Team: I love it when a plan comes together.

So, we waited in the coffee shop. Finally, at 12:45 in the afternoon, Dan came over. And… he was able to fix everything! He bent everything back into shape, installed a new derailleur, new chain, and adjusted everything.  Not only that, but he tightened my headset, which is the steering element of the bike–it was quite loose, and I wasn’t sure how to do that job on this strange tandem bike. What a guy! I can’t heap enough praise on this shop and the professionalism & kindness that I experienced there. Here’s what Dan wrote on the receipt, among the itemized list of things they did:

Labor 1 hour: Surgery on very bent derailleur hanger and dropout

Labor 1 hour: Lots of surgery, very delicate, careful surgery with a propane torch.

Ha ha. Love the humor. It was an expensive repair, but they also gave a significant discount. Like I said, these guys were generous and awesome. And I picked up a correct size master link chain for the next time the chain breaks!


See the black parts? Those were yellow, pre-propane torch. Time for a new paint job…


The mechanics at Einstein Cycles. Dan’s on the right, he masterfully put my bike back together. Thanks Dan!

Time to get back on the road! More to come in Part Two!



Day 20 – July 7: To Traverse City. Disaster

(The one when I really mess up my bike)

written by Jeff

(52 miles) 46 miles

We had a long way to travel today, so taking our discussion the night before to heart, we were packed and on the road by 10 AM. Woo-hoo! The objective: Traverse City State Park.

Traverse City is one of the most beautiful and recreational-friendly towns in all of Michigan. Located at the southern tip of the Grand Traverse Bay, there are wonderful stretches of shoreline and numerous opportunities to boat, sail, fish, ski… no wonder it’s such a popular destination during the summer.

There is also a week during the summer when the population of the Traverse City area goes from 150,000 to 500,000: the week of the Cherry Festival. Yep, you guessed it, we were arriving there smack dab in the middle of the festival.

Unfortunately, this was the only state park on our entire route where we did not have a reservation. And, as you can imagine, almost every hotel and campground in the Traverse City area was packed full. We might be in for a little trouble…

A month before our trip, when thinking about contingency plans, we discovered that state parks in both Michigan and Wisconsin have “cycle-in” policies: they will not turn away cyclists (who have no other vehicle), but will find someplace for them to camp. It makes sense… if you ride into a state park, and it’s already full, what can you do? Pedal another 20-30 miles to the next campground?

This was our first time trying out the “cycle-in” policy, and we weren’t certain if it would work.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Because we had so many miles to travel, we decided to take the most direct route, which also happened to be the busiest: highway 31. Google maps kept trying to divert us onto side roads, but those just added miles to our ride, and we were a determined group. By following 31, we shaved off 6 miles (hence a 52-mile day became a 46-mile one) Stops were short (and therefore the grasshopper-catching was limited). True to form, Caleb and Lydia watered a lot of trees and fields along the way, but they were only quick stops. We stopped for lunch at Friske’s Orchards, where there was a playground, goats to pet, and… a chance to celebrate CORA’s 10th BIRTHDAY! They didn’t have cake at Friske’s, but some yummy cherry donuts seemed to suffice for our celebration.

Our spirits were high. Our bellies were full. There was singing, rejoicing, and high hopes because some friends were planning to bring us dinner tonight—fried chicken. What a great day!

Last summer we were in Ecuador... Maybe next summer we'll go to the North Pole?

Last summer we were in Ecuador… Maybe next summer we’ll go to the North Pole?

Then, disaster struck.

At 5:45, with just 10 miles to go, Jeff felt a jerk, and then slack in the pedals. Looking down, Jeff saw there was no chain on the tandem. It was laying on the road about 40 yards behind. Hmm, it’s tough to move without a chain. No problem, right? Just before we left, I found a “master link” that can be used to repair a broken chain. Looking at the master link, and looking at the chain, I saw that the length of the link was the right size, but the width was a little greater than the chain. Hmm… such a small difference, what harm could happen? I spliced the chain together, ran it through the gears a moment, and declared it “repaired.” Meanwhile, Angela and all the other kids were now 1-2 miles down the road, as I had assured them that I had it under control.

Cora, Caleb, and I all mounted the tandem and started pedaling. Then, all of a sudden, CRUNCH! Everything locked up, and I knew I had really broken the bike. Sure enough, hanging from my chain was my derailleur, in a few pieces, and the bike frame itself was bent where the back wheel attaches to the bike. Oops. This is bad. Very bad.

As soon as it happened (and after I died a little inside), I texted our friend Dave Buck, who was bringing us dinner. Immediately he came to our rescue, borrowing his son’s pickup truck, and loaded us all up; Cora, Caleb, and me. Although I was still dying inside, kicking myself for stupidly wrecking the bike by using a wrong-sized link, I was also reminding myself that the Lord is in control, and today Dave was His provision for us. Dave took us to the campground, beating the rest of the family, and it was time to see if the “cycle-in” policy was really a thing.

The first thing the person at the front desk said to me, was, “Sorry, we’re full.” Yep, knew that.

Me: “I’ve been told that Michigan state parks have a “cycle-in” policy to let cyclists get a campsite even when the park is full. Is that true here?”

DNR person: “Yeah, some state parks have that, but not ours.”


DNR: “But the ranger is on break right now, and I’ve only been here for a year. Let me check the computer.”

C’mon, please have something…

DNR: “Hmm, look at that. I click here… then cyclist… and that… okay, that will be $20.”

Me: “You mean you have a place for us?

DNR: “Yep! Never seen this before, but we do. It’s telling me to put you on site 1001—and that’s actually back where we used to have a playground. You’re all set!”


That night, we celebrated Cora’s birthday, friendship, God’s provision, and so much else over several boxes of fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, egg salad, cole slaw, root beer floats, and cake. Dave and Sharon Buck totally spoiled us, and they were so much fun to see. Dave and I met more than 23 years ago as I raised support, and it was so much fun to reconnect in person, giving my family the chance to meet and know these amazing people. Part of our dinner was spent doing our birthday tradition of having each Koch share about the things they appreciate about the birthday person, so Cora was showered with praise. We also shared our “highs” and “lows” for the day, of which there were many more highs than lows… but the specter of the ruined bike was in the back of many of our minds. We would find out the next day if it could be repaired!

The bounty provided by Dave and Sharon Buck. Thanks friends!

The bounty provided by Dave and Sharon Buck. Thanks friends!

Dave and Sharon left around dusk, promising to return in the morning with breakfast, and we all went to bed, most of us with full bellies and smiles on our faces.