Michigan: Coming Home

April 04, 2018

Midland

Midland, 2012 © Traverse Day Robinette

Bicycles have always been a major role in my life. I remember vividly the day when I learned how to ride a bicycle and the feeling of freedom that it instilled in me. As I got older I started to do the next logical thing with a bicycle, I started building jumps and flying through the air. As a teen I fell in love with the world of BMX. This form of freedom caused me lots of pain with two ACL surgeries - one on each knee. In my early 20’s I became conscious that I no longer wanted to put myself at risk of being injured. Biking was my life. All my friends rode BMX and it was how I identified who I was. I rode bikes, I was a biker. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever given up in life. To this day I still have dreams of riding BMX. When I moved to the Boston area my love for bicycles was rekindled with the need to get around town.  I started commuting to work and school and loved biking all over the city. The feeling of freedom returned.

In 2012 I got the idea to visit my family in Michigan by bicycle. After looking at a map I devised a way for me to bike all over the state of Michigan and reunite with my family. Being frugal and wanting to try something different I decided on taking the bus from Boston, Massachusetts to Bay City, Michigan.

The bus ride was a humbling experience. I was on the bus for over 24 hours and had very little continuous sleep. On the bus there were all walks of life on a journey. We all existed for a short time together moving in the same direction.

My bike route was Midland to Clare, Clare to Lake City, my aunt and uncle gave me a lift from Lake City to Traverse City, Traverse City to Gaylord, Gaylord to Alpena. I didn’t have GPS in 2012 and used a Michigan road atlas and drew out smaller maps of my daily routes for quick reference. It was amazing to travel to the end of a page in the atlas and then turn the page.

 

Ocean Field

Ocean Field, 2012 © Traverse Day Robinette

I passed many farms as I rode.  Farmers were cutting and bailing hay in their fields. It was hot and dry with puffy white clouds floating across the sky. Some of the fields I passed had rolling hills that reminded me of waves in the ocean.   I stayed mostly on back country roads, and there were long periods of no cars and I was alone on the road.

 

Sleeping Hawk

Sleeping Hawk, 2012 © Traverse Day Robinette

Of the many sights to see, road kill was present throughout the whole journey. I saw deer, birds, raccoon, possum, and snakes. All the animals I saw looked to be unharmed and were merely taking a nap in the warm summer sun on the side of the road.

 

Untitled

Road Study, 2012 © Traverse Day Robinette

 

Field Study 2

Cloud Study, 2012 © Traverse Day Robinette

 

Long Rapids Road

Long Rapids Road, 2012 © Traverse Day Robinette

The road I was traveling on turned to dirt and was dirt as far as I could see. There was an older man mowing his front yard and I pulled over to ask about the road. The man turned off his riding lawn mower and introduced himself as “Albert Laflech.” This introduction took me aback because I’ve never met anyone who says their first and last name upon introduction. I followed his lead and said my first and last name. Albert said “Robinette, I know some Robinette’s.” I have never met anyone who knew of my last name before and here I was in the middle of nowhere and this man knew of my family. I asked Albert how far the road was dirt before it turned paved again, Albert said, “About 3 miles.”

My meeting with Albert was at the beginning of Long Rapids Road and my way into Alpena. Once on the dirt road the going was very slow. With my bike loaded down and my skinny tires, I kept sinking into the dirt. It took me a solid hour to go 3 miles. Once on pavement, I dismounted my bike and knelt on the road and kissed it.

I entered Mackinaw State Forest and saw the moon rise between the trees of a swamp. A flock of birds - one hundred strong - flew over me and traveled for a short distance in the direction I was heading. I felt that I was flying with them.

The sun had set and on the other side of the forest I stopped for a quick break. I looked down and saw a Monarch Butterfly lying motionless on the shoulder of the road. I don’t know what I was thinking, but I picked up the butterfly and put it in my pannier. I continued my ride and dusk settled in. I raced by a field where I spooked some deer and they sprung to life and bounded through the field, again for a moment in the direction I was heading, I felt that I was running with them.

I stopped again to put on a layer and turn on my lights for the temperature was dropping and light was fading fast. When I opened my pannier, the butterfly was awake and after a few moments took flight on the night breeze. I smiled as I watched it fly away.

 

Aunt Kathy

Kathy, 2012 © Traverse Day Robinette

Soon I was riding along the Thunder Bay River. The moon rose high into a clear night sky and the stars shown bright. This moon was almost full and in a few days’ time it would be a “Blue Moon.” About this time, I could no longer feel my knee hurting (it had been sore for the past day and a half), and I got a second wind and felt that I could keep riding all the way into the morning. As I came closer to civilization more cars were passing me, and a few came too close for my comfort. I started pulling completely off the road to ensure I wouldn’t be hit for it was totally dark now and the country roads didn’t have street lights. I was even chased by some dogs, it was scary at the time, but maybe they just wanted to run with me and be free.

 

Lake Huron

Thunder Bay, Lake Huron, 2012 © Traverse Day Robinette

All my aunts and uncles were checking in with my parents following me on my journey. I was alone on the road but my family was with me the whole time. The last part of the journey was from Gaylord to Alpena and I arrived at my grandparents well after dark. I had been in the saddle for 13 hours and covered 94 miles. I was famished and ate three peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and two veggie burgers. I was finally home.


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