Another large gap in the blog, I'm so sorry everyone!
The last blog left us spending a night in a sex motel just near the border of Indiana and the next day we had to check the map that we'd definitely crossed into another state because there just didn't seem to be any sign. Usually we'd seen a lovely welcome sign, but either because Indiana is humble or because of the sheer number of roads criss-crossing this state boundary, there just wasn't one on the road we were on. The most understated "Welcome to..." sign I've ever seen was this one announcing my arrival into Wales whilst cycling the length of the UK a few years ago:
A little disappointed but still glad to be adding another state to our tally, we made our way to our warmshowers hosts just near the border with Michigan. This corner of Indiana is really small. I guess they just desperately wanted a piece of Lake Michigan and that's all Michigan and Illinois would let them have. Either way, we pretty much crossed Indiana in a day but technically stayed 5km just shy of Michigan that night.
We arrived with Amer and Jim a little later than hoped after getting a little lost in the quiet country lanes but we were welcomed by the grandma of the family and offered a glass of wine. Oh my gosh, wine! We hadn't had wine in a while, mostly because beer is so much cheaper and I have a habit of drinking wine far too easily and soon the bottle is gone. Nevertheless, wine was had and soon Amer and Jim were home bringing with them the welcome joy of fresh pizza. As soon as Amer found out we were wine drinkers, the following day was planned for wine tasting. I, for one, didn't know that Michigan had a plethora of vineyards but the next day we went to not one but two wine tastings plus a distillery. We don't drink a huge amount now; our bodies just can't take it anymore. So it's safe to say we were pretty drunk and shoving pizza into our bellies again after a really brilliant rest day.
Due to the inebriation of said Saturday night we had to take Sunday off too. It wouldn't have been a pleasant ride for anyone otherwise. At this point we needed to decide whether we were going to head further east along the south shore of Lake Erie towards Buffalo (New York state) and cross into Canada at Niagara Falls, or scoot north of Detroit and cross at a small ferry terminal at Algonac. It had been a bit of a stressful ride after we came off the excellent rail trails of Illinois and onto the roads of Indiana so, wanting to avoid more large cities like Cleveland, we jointly voted to skip out of America early and cross into Canada at Algonac. It would've been fantastic to get to New York state but seriously, the American roads are pretty badly potholled and the drivers were getting more and more erratic and the hard shoulders getting less common. So we plumped for safety.
We felt pretty fresh as we set out on the Monday towards Kalamazoo and zig zagged along the country roads with very little traffic to contend with. Jim and Amer had explained to us that Michigan gets $0 federal funding for the maintenance of its roads and the taxes aren't high enough for good upkeep after the winters so they're either insanely holey or actively being returned to gravel/dirt. We made it most of the way to Kalamazoo and aimed for a small campsite in the middle of nowhere. A couple of kilometres away from the campsite, in the middle of some woods and along a dirt track we cycled past an opening in the trees and a track. Tempted by the idea of wild camping again, we doubled back to check out the potential site. An awful lot of American land is privately owned and adorned with "No Trespassing" signs but this small bit of woodland didn't have any such thing. The track hadn't been used in at least a few weeks and led to a field with no fencing. It's the safest place we'd felt like camping for a long time and we were well out of view of any passing traffic along the dirt road (which did have a surprising number of cars). We made sure we weren't about to camp on top of a patch of poison ivy. We set up the tent on the track just as it opened up to the field, cooked our dinner and tried to settle in for a buggy, light sleep in the Michigan summer heat.
Through the night we heard a multiple of bizarre, almost unnerving sounds from the scratches, coughs and grunts of what later turned out to be a possum, to what felt like a large creature stomping through the woods. We slept somewhat fitfully. Despite being convinced that we were secreted away, we woke up in the morning to the sound of farm machinery nearby. It sounded as if it could be ploughing the very field we were camped beside so we quickly repacked and rejoined the dirt road where we found that a vehicle had used our track as a turning, so we were grateful not to have been discovered. Whilst all the Americans we've met have been quite down-to-earth people without any threat of any malice, there's always a worry about crossing someone's personal and sometimes physical boundaries and the response we might be met with. I've never felt totally safe camping in America and that's quite an unfortunate thing.
Approaching Kalamazoo that day, everyone we stopped to talk to urged us to be careful on the roads. We get this a lot, but this day it was more than normal. We had seen in the news that a couple of days earlier a local man had been sentenced to 40 years in prison for killing 5 cyclists whilst under the influence of drugs. It was obviously quite hot local news, and actually made it onto the cycling Facebook pages we're members of but considering the circumstances it was frustrating that WE were being told to be careful. I'm pretty sure there was nothing those cyclists could have done to avoid that event besides not being on the road. But let's face it, what would life be if you didn't do anything because of the fear of what *could* happen. They were legally on that road, where there was a rare, wide hard shoulder in bright clothing and lights. Yet people still find a way to blame the riders. It wasn't pleasant riding through Kalamazoo that day especially as I was nearly hit by a driver edging into the shoulder a missing me by a few inches. Definitely on their phone.
Thankfully we made it out of Kalamazoo and over to Battle Creek where we called it a day and went to the pub. We'd contacted a warmshowers host, Shannon, for the following day and stopped at Battle Creek gave us a really long day to get there but sometimes you just need to listen to your body and go for a cold drink and coincidentally avoid a large rain shower. We were reaching a part of Michigan which was fully of rail trails, much like Illinois, but like the road their quality was hit and miss. The trail was rideable once we approached Brighton and we were chased down by a local gentleman who wanted to know if we had a place to stay. We did, but we thanked him for the effort he made in catching up with us (he'd passed us in the opposite direction then turned around to chase us) but this warmed our hearts up again after a difficult emotional day the day before. Because of the long day, we got to Shannon's late and didn't get to spend too much time getting to know each other. Her fiance was at work anyway so we decided to do their tradition of a morning breakfast all together. Their flatmate worked at a local bakery and we were fueled up for the day by a delicious breakfast sandwich, cold chocolate milk and rocket fuel coffee! What more could a cyclist ask for!?
We were headed east to the border with Canada which is demarcated by the St Clair river. There previously were two ferries which crossed the river in this vague area, but the Marine City ferry was severely damaged by ice earlier this year and is out of action for the forseeable future. So we knew we needed to head south east eventually towards Algonac, but the area between Richmond and the river (a distance of about 25km) had absolutely nothing in. Not even the potential to wild camp, it's just open fields cross hatched by roads. Roads with no shoulders.
We reached Richmond late afternoon and were spat out off the rail trail we had been on most of the day and onto the terrible roads again. We picked a road which we hoped would take us easily, without too much traffic towards the river and the hotel which we'd booked that night (there is pretty much nothing else and paid way over the odds for that hotel). The road got narrower and narrower and eventually we felt very much in danger and stopped when a local woman shouted at us from her yard. After a minute of "I can't hear you!", Mike ran over to her to ask what she was saying. Basically, she couldn't stand the thought of us going any further. She was once hit by a car whilst she was entering her own driveway and then a couple of weeks later a cyclist was killed just up the road. She gave us new directions to a quieter road which took us parallel and we were off again.
And this highlights a bit of a problem with being totally foreign to an area and to the roads. There's pretty much no way of us knowing which roads will be quiet and which ones busy. We can make an educated guess by looking at what might be a popular way between an urban centre and the nearest highway, but you can't always account for local people deliberately avoiding these "main" roads and taking a rat run route and making an otherwise quiet road another "main" road. We're really grateful to that lady for stopping us. We'd chosen that road because we'd google streetviewed it and seen that a shoulder was meant to appear not too much further up, but she said it was still very narrow and just not worth it.
So we were diverted to a parallel road and continued on. It was most certainly quieter and we were making up the kilometres towards our hotel. Then we reached a cross roads where the road ahead of us was shut because of a bridge closure. We asked a the corner shop (luckily at this crossroads) what the deal was with it. Was it a case of the road being relaid but there was a path we could push our bikes across? Or was it totally down? Turns out it was found to be structurally unsound about 4 years ago and there wasn't any money to rebuild it so it had been closed ever since...... *cough*.....
It was getting quite late and our patience was running thin with the American infrastructure we were experiencing. Apparently our only two options were to go back to the awfully busy road and risk it, or turn right and do a detour along washboarded dirt roads to come out the other side of the bridge. Both prospects were pretty awful but those were literally the only two options. Until we met another Ken. We've been helped out by an awful lot of Kens on this trip. By which I mean, there are a lot of men named Ken who come to our aid. Ken took pity on us, chucked out bikes in his pick up and took us over the 4km of washboarded dirt road to the asphalted road on the other side of the bridge. That may not sound like a lot, but we'd just totally had enough. If we hadn't already booked our hotel we'd've just called it a day back at that cross roads. Thanks Ken! We were back on track and could still get to our hotel before dark. We celebrated [almost] reaching the American border that day with a Mexican dinner and a beer. Just how we started our American adventure down in San Diego!