We have a plum tree (La Crescent, probably named after the town in Minnesota that we biked through last summer) that always flowers profusely but has never produced an edible fruit. So I emailed the NAFEX (North American Fruit Explorers) special interest group for plums, and was rewarded by several emails and some plum and cherry scionwood from a member in Eaton Rapids, MI, southwest of Lansing. At least one graft took okay but we still never got any fruit. It is too humid here.
After numerous emails, the NAFEX member said he would like his kids to meet us. Luckily our grex friend John from Tecumseh often visits his parents in Eaton Rapids, so he loaded us and our bikes and tents into his truck on Saturday and drove us there. We had a nice chat with John's father John, who made most of the bookshelves and cabinets in their house, and his mother Ruth served us a a homecooked meal. John then gave us a ride out to the NAFEX member's home and we got a tour of the pears, apples, plums, persimmons and grapes and various nut trees and really big squashes as it was turning dark.
In the morning while they were at church, we biked back into town and had a walk around Eaton Rapids and saw the lovely park on the Grand River, and, of course, their computer.
We spent the rest of Sunday with our gardener friends including four kids ages 3 to 12. We dug potatoes and helped winnow the chaff from the black turtle beans, and met some of the sheep including Jesse and James. We saw the barn that was hit this spring by a tornado.
In the morning we had found a little corner store that sold Mexican groceries and sandwiches and puzzles and beer so we got tortilla flour and the two youngest kids helped (?) mix up this edible play dough while the oldest daughter helped fry the dough. We had a feast and retired to our tents in their orchard. We were given a giant squash and some purple potatoes to take along.
The next morning we biked around town, read email at the local library, which has a deal with the local video store to buy their old videos, which they then rent out for 25 cents/day, and the public restroom near the park, and a nice school park, and the Chinese buffet, and we then went to use the pay phone at the supermarket to phone Roger Miller, the other local NAFEX member. We ran into his distant cousin who was head of the produce department and phoned for us. He was not home. They told us we could not possibly miss his place. It looked different.
So we biked the four miles south and waited for him in his yard under a pawpaw tree with fruit , and cooked lunch, then we walked around for a while looking at persimmons, and walnuts, and grapes and lots of apples (we sampled a few) and chestnuts and pecans and lots more. It was turning dark so we left a note and pitched our tents in the apple orchard. We met Roger and his wife in the morning. They apologized for not offering us a bedroom (they did not even know we were there), and we had a brief but fascinating tour, and were given some giant onions to take on our trip. The rest of the area was mixed - people who drove to Lansing to work, and corn and bean farmers.
Eaton Rapids used to have a woolen mill, then a plastics mill. You can still see the samples of all the plastic fencing around it. One mill was turned into fancy condominiums on the river.
We headed east out of Eaton County into Ingham County and passed through Onondaga, site of a few pizza stores and a pay phone, where a family sitting on their porch stopped us for a chat. One of them used to bike with his rock band.
We stopped again for a snack in Leslie, which has a town park with pavilions donated by various local organizations and a really elaborate children's play area built by many volunteers. There were a few pizza stores and bars and some tourist shops on the one main street.
We headed east again and stopped for a bigger meal in Bunkerhill, where I found a general store and gas station that sold ice cream, canning supplies, stale candy bars and instant corn grits (which we learned later are popular with the many immigrants from Tennessee and Kentucky who live in that area and came to do agricultural work when the area still grew onions rather than turf.) Jim took another nap.
We headed east once again and noticed it was growing a bit dark. Oddly enough, all of the roads were paved, so we could bike on paved roads without encountering much traffic. Just after passing a yard full of peacocks, we stopped to talk to someone digging holes to plant evergreen seedlings around the house he was building. Hundreds or thousands of holes. He was nearly done. We then noticed the only traffic on that road. Don't miss this photo! We cropped out the owner of the two lovely draft animals in training, who is a bank president and did not want to appear dressed informally. He said he got the pair when they were only a few days old. He carved a yoke for them, and attended a drover's course. He grew up on a farm.
Since it was rather dark by now we asked for suggestions where to pitch a tent. He said his dog was friendly and might bother us, so he and the dog took us next door to his mother's farm house and she offered us a nice secluded spot behind a row of trees to tent in. You can see trees in the arial photo. The friendly dog stuck around and came into the tent to visit the next morning. Two more dogs, a cat, and his mother Lucretia and daughter Audra welcomed us for the next day and night (it was raining hard most of the day). We had a tour of the peacocks, black Muscovy ducks and other exotic birds in Audra's barn, where they showed us an antique bike.
We met their friend the motorbiker, who looked the part, and told us about his Christian biker's association, which raised money to send motorcycles to countries where they were needed, and went to a poor area of the Appalachians to help fix up houses every year with his church. We cooked together (including giant onions and squash) and we slept in real beds rather than pitch in the rain. All this from complete strangers!
The next day we chatted (Lucretia was township supervisor for many years and had fascinating stories to tell) for a few hours and then set off to beat the rain home. We made it as far as Pinckney State Recreation area, where we took a brief dip in Highland Lake at the boat access area. The sky was growing darker. We biked via the hiking/biking trail to the primitive campground and wondered why there were a few large tents all in one end. We chose the other end. We met the state's youngest female motorcycle mechanic, who got her mechanic's license at age 16 and was waiting for her driver's license. We turned her fly 90 degrees and staked it out so that it would keep the rain out. We used a few trees as stakes, since her stakes were with her friend who was off at work. It is amazing how many abandoned stakes and clotheslines are to be found at campgrounds.
We introduced her to the Ann Arbor Community High group, who were eating spaghetti in and near the cooking tents. We listened to the Commie High group screaming until at least midnight and then listened to the rain all night. In the morning we packed up a wet tent and continued east out of the park.
On the way to Stockbridge we stopped for a rest at a yard sale, where we bought a large electric pressure cooker and a nice collection of files and an outdoor thermometer. We chatted with the newlyweds , who are both ministers, and saw photos of their grandkids, while it rained. We then headed east to Stockbridge. In Stockbridge we stopped at Medinas Mexican store and takeout where we bought two bags of their authentic greasy tortilla chips. On the way out of town, just to the south, I spotted a Lakelands State Trail sign for a 'linear park' made out of an abandoned railroad bed, which was for hikers and bikers, with some sections allowing horseback riding, and went from Stockbridge to Pinckney.
We passed only one other trail user in a few miles, after wondering what sort of tricycle was ahead of us producing triple tracks. It was one of those jogger's baby carriages occupied by one baby with father and two dogs. We stopped at an intersection and bought tomatoes which we ate with one bag of tortillas. The other user agreed with us that the trail was not very usable for bikes because it was made challenging by deep horse tracks and occasional manure. So we got off it fairly soon and took back roads around Pinckney to the south, where the trail was supposed to end, and as far as Lakeland, a cluster of tourist cottages, where we resigned ourselves to having to go on a highway to get across the Huron River. Just south of the highway we encountered another stretch of the same trail, continuing from Pinckney east to Hamburg, which we took to Hamburg. It had started to drizzle.
This part of the trail had no horses to deal with and was much more picturesque, going across valleys and past gravel pits, with lots of leaves turning colors and goldenrod and asters. But someone had taken advantage of the local gravel pit to dump a gravel hill every 20 feet or so so we were on a roller coaster this time, covered in deep gravel. We walked a lot of this trail and eventually reached a bridge over the Huron River, at which point the rain got heavier. I spotted shelter, a rather low structure near the path which Jim thinks must have been some sort of open rail shipping container that someone piled some boards on top of to make a roof, and that the kids were using as a playhouse. Jim sat on a broiler oven and bent over so as not to hit his head on the roof, while I crouched, and we both tried to dodge the leaks while eating greasy tortilla chips, tomatoes, and Roger Miller's apples . In Leslie Jim had, against my advice, purchased a large blue tarp just in case it rained, which he stretched over both bikes and the entrance to our box.
The rain let up for a bit and we used the respite to spend half an hour taking shots of the footbridge, accidentally at low resolution, and then Jim climbed the railing for a shot of Sindi and the bikes and some ducks, and then Sindi took a photo of Jim and the bikes and pressure cooker - Note that I have the lid and Jim the bottom, on his big blue tarp. The thermometer is in his front basket. We are still travelling relatively light.
We made it into Hamburg and admired the local white Gothic style church. Jim has a habit of turning the camera sideways to photograph tall objects but we have learned to rotate photos by now. Unfortunately the viewer that I use with my browser will not display photos that were rotated with the program that I use to rotate photos. As you can see, the sky was still rather overcast.
We wandered across the street to admire yet another yard sale, this time for the special Olympics. People were bringing in donations. There were two very rusty old bikes, cheap. Note that the roof has been lowered on one section to keep the rain out. We helped raise it again, and then lower it again when the rain got heavier. We and our bikes waited it out under the leftmost shelter. While there we bought a large volt-ohm meter that needs fixing, something that might be used to test transistors, a better pot and lid (we left them the wok and also some videos and books picked up after another yard sale), and a few other odds and ends.
A few blocks south of town the rain got heavier again so we stopped at another sale where we helped bring everything into the garage when the rain got heavier. We bought a few tools including a drill bit sharpener. We weighed our bikes when we got back and Jim was carrying 85 pounds and I had 50 pounds, before draining. The pressure cooker works well. The meter still needs fixing.
The next few hours can be summarized as: rain, mud puddles, and rush hour traffic. We got back south of the Huron during a dry spell, then biked up the hill and got to my back yard just as it really started pouring. A minute after we arrived my gutter, which is full of bits of roofing shingles, fell off. It is tolerable to bike in the rain (after you take off your glasses to see) if it is warm, and if you can get home to a dry bed at the end.
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