Author Archives: jakochs

Day 48 – August 3: Home!

by Jeff

63 miles

Angela woke at 5:30 to the voices of LaToya and Louis discussing raccoons.  She looked up to see LaToya at the door of the tent watching the culprits hanging around the cooler.  She was trying to determine whether or not they had actually gotten into it or not.  She unzipped the door and all but one of the masked bandits dispersed.  Angela headed out with a “Git!” and stomped over to the cooler.  The leader only wandered off about ten feet, but it was enough for her to see that their nimble little fingers had indeed unzipped the cooler and they’d been fighting over the day’s lunch meat and cheese!  She yelled at the remaining raccoon and it skittered up the tree, then poked it’s head around the trunk as if to say, “I’m still here…”

After a short, but fabulous night’s rest in my own bed, I drove back with Elise and Cora to the campground by 8:30AM. We threw everything into the van to go back to Chicago: tent, sleeping bags, the rest of our clothes, etc… and only kept one bike trailer, the first aid kit, and the cooler with our lunch. We were traveling light today!  LaToya’s family, however, were traveling with all our gear tucked into every nook and cranny around them. Hopefully some of it worked well as comfy pillows for the ride home.

Before we got too far, we wanted to get a couple broken spokes fixed on my bike. So, we rode a few miles to Chesterton Bicycle Station, a great bike shop just off of the South Shore stop in Chesterton. The owner took at look at the bike, said he could do it that morning, and suggested we peruse the nearby shops while we waited. So, off we went! And the first store we found: a used bookstore.  Brittany promptly sat down with a book, and we didn’t see her again for an hour. The rest of us went to a park across the street, and Caleb and David made up a game involving little round seeds that they found. I think it was a game like marbles, but I’m still not sure.

The kids playing a game like marbles... except using seed pods to shoot :)

The kids playing a game like marbles… except using seed pods to shoot 🙂

We were soon on our way… with just 60 more miles to go. It was such a beautiful ride–there are amazing bike paths through northwest Indiana and into Illinois, including the Prairie Duneland Trail, the Oak Savannah Trail, and the Erie Lackawanna Trail. All asphalt paths, taking us through Gary, Hammond, and many more communities. Since I was the only one with a bike trailer, we cruised along pretty quickly. Our typical speed with trailers was 10-11mph; without the trailers, we were clipping along at 12-15 mph. It was so much fun!

At almost the exact halfway point, we reached the Cabela’s superstore in Hammond, IN. We grabbed some lunch meat and cheese from the Wal-mart across the street, then ate sandwiches underneath a pine tree in the Cabela’s parking lot. We had to take a look inside, and were amazed by all there was to see: a massive freshwater aquarium, mounted animals of every type, a trout stream, and every type of camping, fishing, and hunting accessory you could think of. We were entertained for at least an hour.

Back on the bike paths for the second half, we soon found ourselves going through Wolf Lake Memorial Park–on a causeway through a beautiful natural area within a quarter of a mile of the Chicago Skyway. Awesome!

Our friend, Brian Parache, is an avid cyclist, so we invited him to ride with us along the last part of our trip; he biked down from Soldier Field and met us with about 20 miles to go, in Calumet Park. It was so fun to have him travel with us! From that point, we met up with familiar sights and the kids began to call out, “this is where Mommy’s chain came off and we saw the huge boat!” and other mishaps from our practice trip. Excitement built as the kids realized we’d travelled this route before, and we could certainly do it again, but faster!

Our group continued on, finally hitting the bike path along Lakeshore drive and we knew we were getting close. The sun set just as we approached the Shedd Aquarium. We stopped for a few minutes to sit on the grass, share a few memories from the trip for which we were thankful to the Lord, and pray as a family. It was special to take that moment to celebrate the accomplishment of our trip, and give praise and thanks to the Lord for making it happen.

We missed you, Chicago!

We missed you, Chicago! (Brian is on the far left)

The rest of the trip was a blur; we were moving quickly (even after 63 miles!) and finally pedaled back into our garage around 9:30pm. We were exhausted, but exuberant. Brian’s mom, Julie, had come to our home beforehand and cooked a huge meal of tacos for us. It… was… awesome. What a night to complete our dream trip! We made it!

Day 47 – August 2: To Indiana Dunes State Park

by Jeff

34 miles

Leaving Warren Dunes State Park, we traveled along another fairly busy highway much of the day: the Red Arrow HIghway.. Until age 11, I lived just across the Indiana border, only 5 miles away from New Buffalo… and today’s journey took through an area where I had a lot of memories. We left the highway at one point to begin riding along the lakefront–again, we saw so many huge, beautiful houses on the beachfront (and a lot of Illinois plates in the driveways!). Growing up, when my family wanted to go to the beach, we would go to the New Buffalo City Beach–so on our ride, we had to make a stop to swim there. It was magnificent, especially since the temperature was in the high 80s. From there, we picked up the route along Highway 12–a busy road, indeed. At one point, a woman rolled down her window to shout at us, “This is not a bike path!” Yeah, we knew that, but there wasn’t any other way to get to where we needed to go…!

Shortly after that incident, Elise crashed when she hit some loose gravel at the bottom of a hill. It looked just awful, but she came through with just a few scrapes. It was painful, but we were grateful that it wasn’t so much worse!

We got off of the highway at our first opportunity, and began to ride along the beachfront. The homes were in communities named Michiana Shores, Long Beach, Grand Beach, etc… and they were packed closely together. Lots of gorgeous homes, as well as beautiful views of the lake. Coming into Michigan City, we stopped at the Armory for the National Guard–my father used to work as a fisheries biologist for the Indiana DNR, which had an office in that building. He passed away 16 years ago, so my kids don’t know much about him; it was a neat opportunity to tell my children about his passion for the environment, fish, and all the fishing we used to do. When you have nothing but time, you begin talking about things you may never have talked about before… and that became a pretty special part of this whole trip.

After Michigan City, our route took us back onto Highway 12. Ugh… this was miserable: not much shoulder, and a lot heavier traffic. At one point, a driver pulled over and said he could barely see us in the shade of the trees. He then opened his trunk and gave Jeff a bright fluorescent green vest with reflective tape. Honestly, I felt a little stung by his rebuke, but it was also really thoughtful and helpful.

Two flats on the way delayed our arrival at Indiana Dunes State Park, but it didn’t keep us from swimming as soon as we could. It was going to be our last opportunity this trip to take a dip in Lake Michigan, so the kids and I cooled off.  It was glorious!

IMG_4545

Woo-hoo! We made it to Indiana Dunes!

We had some special visitors that night: our friend Latoya drove our van to the park (from Chicago) and brought her family to camp with us that night–some of her kids had never before camped (yeah!). Dinner was simple, yet plentiful: brats, Italian sausage, and hot dogs. Our plan was this: the next day we had 63 miles to bike.  We couldn’t possibly make that distance with all the weight we were pulling, so we decided to drive everything we wouldn’t need back to Chicago. So, while dinner was being prepared, I loaded our van with most of our gear: tons of kitchen stuff, the bike trailers, clothes, etc… anything that would not be used in the tent that night. When darkness fell, Elise, Cora, and I piled into the van and drove back to Chicago, to sleep in our beds for the first time in 47 days. And, it was amazing! I unloaded our van first, so I didn’t get to sleep until 1:30AM, but the bed was absolutely heavenly. Even though we would get up at 6:00AM to drive back to Indiana Dunes, then bike 63 miles… it was absolutely worth it.

Only one more day to go to complete the adventure!

Day 46 – August 1: To Warren Dunes State Park

38 miles

By Jeff

Only 3 more days until we get home! Thoughts like those were beginning to dominate our minds and conversations.  We can do this!

Leaving Van Buren State Park, we jumped onto the Blue Star Highway (Hwy 63), not ideal for biking, but it had a wide shoulder to accommodate bikers.  Our route took us along the shore, through the communities of Lake Michigan Beach, Benton Harbor, and St. Joseph.  We passed by Whirlpool’s world headquarters, just north of Benton Harbor; it was interesting to see the massive building on the east side of the highway, and the land on the west side was a massive field all the way down to Lake Michigan. What a nice view for those with offices on the west side of the building!

Benton Harbor and St. Joseph are older communities, rich in history, made evident by some of the architecture we saw. We stopped in the St. Joseph Public Library to fill water bottles and use the restrooms… but we almost lost a few of our kids. If you know our kids, you know that they can’t resist a good book. Libraries are dangerous places for our family.

At one point, we needed to fix a flat tire, so we pulled into the parking lot of a wealth management business. The owner, Brett Dodds (www.brettdodds.com), a cyclist himself, came out to give us a hand and invited us to use restrooms, get water or a soda, anything we needed.  Again, the Lord showed His graciousness through Brett’s hospitality. We arrived at Warren Dunes State Park around 6:00pm, and after setting up camp our friends Sue and Jerry brought us an amazing meal of tacos and watermelon. I met Sue over 20 years ago while raising support in the Upper Peninsula, and she has been a source of great encouragement ever since then. Ever wonder what it might look like when a horde of locusts finds food? That’s about the same picture as what happens when our kids eat food on this trip…

Day 45 – July 31: To Van Buren State Park

46 miles

by Jeff

We got a few more quizzical looks in the morning (“why is there a tent in the playground area??”), but after getting breakfast and packing up our campsite, we started our journey toward Van Buren State Park in South Haven. We hadn’t realized this before, but apparently there is no way to cross Lake Macatawa by land except by a bridge on the far eastern side of the lake. And… we were camped on the western side. Bummer! That meant 6 miles added to our route, as you can see from the map below. Ugh!

Screen Shot 2016-08-10 at 3.36.54 PM

Yep, that’s Lake Macatawa… and it’s a loooong way around!

The ride along the Lake was beautiful, as we went through the communities of Saugatuck, Douglas, and South Haven. Riding along the lakefront of these towns was a huge treat, as we were able to admire the shops, boats, and attractions along the waterfront. As you can imagine, we saw a ton of magnificent homes along Lakeshore Drive – we were often amazed at the size and beauty of the homes on Lake Michigan.

We had a couple of bike issues along the way: I had to change a flat tire, and on one of the bike trailers a bolt sheared off that attached the trailer to the bike. Fortunately, we had anticipated that possibility, and had a couple of spare bolts with us. Glad we had more than, since the bolt sheared not only once, but twice on this trip. That meant we needed more spares, so Joshua and I made a quick detour to Menards to make sure that we would be prepared for future occurrences.

We arrived at Van Buren State Park just an hour before the sun set. We quickly set up camp, got dinner cooking, and took off for the beach. An east wind had come in a couple of days before, taking all of the warm water out to the middle of the lake. The water was freezing!  David and Caleb went in up to their knees and were content to splash Joshua and me. Silly boys.
We experienced the kindness of strangers a few times at this campground.  We found grocery stores scarce during the ride and ended up without the milk we needed for our dinner recipe, or for breakfast the next morning. So, what do you do when you’re short on food? Ask around!  A couple across the road from us gave us the ½ cup of milk we needed for our dinner entrée (Texas Pioneer Pie), and the next morning I went biking around the campground, looking for anyone who might be packing up to leave.  I found an RV pulling out, and when asked if they had any milk they weren’t using, they gave us half a gallon. Then our next door neighbor emptied out their larder as they pulled out.  We feasted on cereal, banana bread, apples, and orange juice.  We were grateful since the bananas we had planned on eating were dragged into the trees and eaten by raccoons in the middle of the night, along with an entire bag of delicious chocolate chip cookies (baked for us two days earlier)!  Promises to make more cookies when we got home helped the mood in the camp upon hearing the news of our lost food.

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.

IMG_4532

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.

IMG_4535

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

IMG_4494

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

IMG_4510

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.

IMG_4437 IMG_5001

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.

IMG_4474

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!

IMG_4456

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.

IMG_4960

Joshua climbed the mulberry tree and shook the branches…

IMG_4966

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.

IMG_4986

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

IMG_4399

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.

IMG_4386

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!

IMG_4387

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!

IMG_4395