Curiosity, Subversive Glory...and Gingerbread Cottages in Michigan

September 3, Day 60: 50 miles from Ludington Michigan, to Reed City, Michgan.

On my way out of town I was hailed by a fellow cyclist--Gary, I'd learn. He has clearly seen many summers, most of them on a bicycle.  Every year he cycles from Michigan to Florida, to escape the snow. He gave me wishes for a safe journey, and insisted that I choose one of the beautiful pendants he makes from copper wire, as a token of peace and goodwill. I chose one made from an oval glass ring and woven with wire to create a peace symbol. When we parted he looked me in the eye and with true knowing said, "peace," as he held up his hand with the old sign. I felt the benediction all the way to my boots, and cycled on, with new lift and comfort.

I slept that night at Saint Paul's Lutheran church in Reed City. The pastor is an amazing tiny woman of sixty-five: fit and fiery, spiky blonde hair and more piercings than I have ever seen on any protestant pastor.  She took me for a ride in her red Mustang to show me the trail head for the next day's ride, and we came across two other cyclists, looking distressed. They needed a place to camp for the night, so they joined us and we had a fireside room sleepover, complete with popcorn made in the church kitchen. Anna and Amy are two Australian-American bad-asses: they just finished their ride from New Orleans to Toronto. Bravo.

September 4, Day 61: 70 miles from Reed City, Michigan to Midland, Michigan. 

I arrived at a house at the end of a long green drive and next to a cattle ranch. I was welcomed warmly by my host, and ushered inside: a wall of cigarette smoke nearly knocked me over and the sound of pit bulls raged from a locked bedroom. Huge lipsticked smiles and more warm welcomes from the wife in the kitchen, as she puffed away and tended to an ambiguous chunk of meat floating in amber liquid on the stove. Cognitive, or some other kind of sensory dissonance set me scrambling for a way to categorize this place: good? Bad? Safe? Unsafe? Was this perhaps the devil's lair, attended by demons disguised in true-seeming smiles? In my struggle to place this place in a world, any world, that I could understand, thoughts of gingerbread cottages and other back-wood tales began to fester: should I eat the meat? It could, perhaps, be a filet from the tender haunches of the last biker that came through here...

I pitched my tent outside, electing the familiar territory of my sleeping bag over hard-to-characterize hospitality.

The lives lived here were so different than mine...I had no right to judge, not knowing or understanding the context of these lives. Were these people good and kind people? Gut says yes. Does their domestic style strike terror into my very heart: why yes also.

When I reentered the house, the bicyclist-fileting woman was helping her twenty-year-old daughter to understand her statistics homework for junior college. Her husband had gone to teach a night-school EMT class. The dogs still raged upstairs and the air was still unbreathable but Goodness was, it seemed, the reigning paradigm.

I decided it was safe to eat the meat. And it was pretty darn good.

September 5, Day 62: 56 miles from Midland, Michigan to just outside of Caro, Michigan.

Today was a long long day through sugar beets and corn and sugar beets and corn. Saddle sores ensued. Time for a break! 

September 6-8, Days 63-65: Resting and writing on Shana and Doug's beautiful homestead.

I arrived at twilight, frizzy haired and nerve tired, weary to the bone.  Like a goddess of calm, Shana walked slowly out to greet me, a little sleeping babe wrapped to her torso. She picked apples and cooed to baby Liam and urged me go inside and be at home. I did. I did for quite a few days and it was most welcome. Thank you Shana.

September 9, Day 66: 50 miles from Caro, Michigan to Capac, Michigan.

I stopped today at a little market, hoping to find some kind of fruit or vegetable. Instead I found human skulls in a smoke-filled chamber presided over by a mysterious Lady from Lancashire.

I surveyed the stores--shelves of candy and of tuna--before noticing the glass case near the register. NO PHOTOS please, it begged. More than a half dozen skulls of varying states and sizes were enclosed there. The proprietress put out her cigarette and parted a beaded curtain to stand behind the counter and in front of me.

"Are those...human...skulls?"  

She nodded gravely.  

"Where do you...get them?" 

" and there," was her cool North Country reply.

Upon closer inspection I noticed that one was small, very small; an infant, perhaps. 

"And that one..." 

"Is a child, yes." 

This lady had a cool accent but she was freaking me the fuck out so I decided to beat it. As I made my hasty way out the door she wished me safe travels and promised me a prayer and I thought: how very kind these scary Michiganders are...

 September 10, Day 67: 40ish miles from Capac, Michigan, to Camlachie, Plympton-Wyoming, Ontario, CANADA!

HOT was the day. I arrived at the home of my host and was greeted by a beach: Lake Huron, green-blue and serene. I peeled myself from the saddle and launched my weary body into the waves. Glory. In. The highest. It was like swimming a prayer.

September 11, Day 68: 25 miles from Camlachie, Ontario, to Forest, Ontario...and back again.

I started riding. It was too hot. There were too many trucks. There was too much of not enough shoulder. Why am I riding and not swimming in Lake Huron? I thought and turned back. A sticky hot thunder storm left me soaked to the socks in under five minutes and I flagged down a truck: Kent and Steve took me back to Camlachie and I jumped back into Lake Huron and to Glory. 

Next morning my lovely hostess took me and the rig to London, where she works. Huzzah huzzah for Ned and Carey. 

September 12, Day 69: 39 miles from London, Ontario, to Stratford, Ontario.

There was a mighty head wind on the home stretch; a pick-up pulled over and waved to me. It was Jim, my host in Stratford. He had noticed the shape of the wind and came to rescue me. This is one small example of the great thoughtfulness and generosity of this man. Thank you, thank you, Jim.

September 13-14 Days 70-71: SHAKESPEARE!

The Stratford Festival runs twelve plays in four theatres over eight months. Every year for the past lots of years. Christopher Plummer has often graced the Stratford stages and Brian Dennehy has worked there for the past nineteen years: they boast some of the strongest actors on the continent. This season's Mary Stuart was a revelation. Seana McKenna's Queen Elizabeth was the most powerfully honest performance I have ever witnessed. Full of grace and patience and command: I stand in awe.

Though I had the great privilege to witness some phenomenal performances (Ron Pederson's Lancelot Gobo left me utterly destroyed) I found that in general the trend was toward the traditional and clever--especially in design and direction--rather than the innovative and the raw. And but for a few, most actors gave disembodied performances with self-consciously perfect diction. Good Speech is great but come on you guys! "The expected is the enemy of living theatre," says my new guru Sir Peter Hall! I hope I hope that there is something more bold and exciting in store with a new artistic director at the helm... 

September 15, Day 72: 37 miles from Stratford, Ontario, to Cambridge, Ontario

Jeff and Leigh you are the BEST!

I arrived in Cambridge just as rain began to fall and was greeted by The Biggest Smile I have ever seen...also known as Mr. Jeff Evans.

Jeff and Leigh fed me delicious food and inspired me with stories and their plans for a year-long bike tour around the world. There is nothing so fortifying as true camaraderie.

September 16, Day 73: 40 miles from Cambridge, Ontario, to Ancaster, Ontario (via Paris and Brantford. )

Yay for playing board-games with fourth graders!!! 

September 17, Day 74: 51 miles from Ancaster, Ontario, to Niagra-on-the-Lake, Ontario.

Layers and looking silly are the key to successful early morning riding in Autumnal Ontario. I set off at 6:30am yesterday, a fluffy neon yellow velo-bundle with a headlamp blinking cyclops-like on my helmet. The morning was magical; even if it is balls-freezing cold, cycling at dawn is pure bliss.

My bliss faded hours later when I was still cycling and was still many miles from the Shaw Festival and a 2pm matinee of Lady Windermere's Fan. But glory arrived when I finally found myself cycling right up to the ticket window at the Shaw Festival. I felt wickedly subversive showing up to the Shaw on my laden bicycle, wearing smelly biker clothes and a feather in my helmet (I changed into a dress behind a bush after locking up the bike and buying a ticket.) Tickets go for more than a hundred bucks which is a crime: theatre is a Right not a Privilege, so fuck all I'm going to the theatre however I can, stare and sneer at my strange tan lines and unconventional mode of transport: I love and need this stuff as much as you do so there. Thus went my moment of subversive glory. Oh and hey they do offer a discount for under-30s so, you know, some kudos there. But only some!

September 18, Day 75: Rest day in Niagra Falls!

Wonderful Jim of Wonderful Statford has a Wonderful sister in Niagara Falls, Ontario. I stayed with Joan and her husband, Mike, last night and today and it has been so, so lovely.

The most common question I get on the road is: why? People want to know what possessed me to do such a mad, mad thing. Or if I might be cycling for a cause. I have struggled to answer this, stumbling over sentences about craving adventure, about wanting time to write, wanting to meet new people. These are all true but not quite on the money. Before dinner this evening, Mike took me FLYING in his tiny ultra-light plane: we flew over Lake Erie as the sun set on the left-hand and the full moon rose on the right. Wonder wonder wonder and I realized: curiosity is my cause. That's it. Because this world is just so freaking cool.