Carpe Diem, The Series: “SO, YOU THINK YOU’RE PRETTY GOOD, EH?”

cycling along lake

Paul Stevens

This past weekend, the Manditos (my cycling group in Sarnia) headed to the “thumb of Michigan” where one of our members has a family cottage.  Next time you look at a map, check out the outline of Michigan and you will readily see that, excluding the peninsula, it is the shape of a mitten and our target area was the top of the thumb. Oddly enough to me as a relative newbie to the area, it is the name by which the area is recognized.  You say that you are going to the ‘thumb’ and everyone knows what you are talking about.  This is what I would refer to as a local phenomenon.

The Thumb Of Michigan

I had not previously travelled to this area which is only about a 90 minute drive north from Sarnia once you cross the Bluewater Bridge over the St. Clair River and enter Michigan at Port Huron.  It’s basically at our doorstep but quite frankly, I never had a compelling reason or desire to make the trip.  Let’s not read anything into that; it just never made it to my bucket list.

For the drive up to the cottage, my fellow cottage owning Mandito warned us of two things be aware of:

  1. Police speed patrols

  2. Deer  

Driving up early on a Saturday morning, the local constabulary must have been on coffee breaks as we didn’t come across any speed patrols but we did see a number of deer crossing the road to the point where we had to come to a near stop to let the animals pass in front of us.  I find deer to be a very handsome animal and I would be shaken if I had the misfortune to hit one.  That it would do damage to my car is an afterthought; I just don’t want to see Bambi across the hood of my vehicle. 

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The Ride

Once at the cottage, we had a beautiful sunny day to greet us so after some unpacking and settling in, we headed off for a day of cycling.  We travelled the shoulders of   the only highway in the area which is a two lane road but very lightly travelled at this time of year. Biking on highways , paved shoulders or not, is usually not our preferred choice but the shoulders on this road could easily handle two bikes abreast with a rumble strip separating the highway from the shoulders and this was available on both sides of the road.  What a great idea and hats off to the designers! 

Our ride was dotted with a number of small towns and the waters of Lake Huron were always close at hand. Michigan’s ‘thumb’ is a relatively flat area and coupled with a well maintained roadway and towering trees along the route, makes for a fine biking area.

Pedalling along does work up an appetite so we stopped at a town called Caseville that was halfway in to our planned trip.  Like flies to you-know-what, we quickly found a great little brew pub to grab a quick lunch and sample the local craft beers.  Time to hop back in the saddle and make our way back to the cottage.  One more stop along the way however before the trip was finished and in a manner of speaking, it would prove to be our most challenging.  In a small crossroads community called Grindstone City, our host invited us to stop at a local ice cream shop for a little refreshment before the short remaining distance to the cottage.  ‘Little’ is the operative word here and it is significantly out of place.

Grindstone City

Grindstone City is a quiet hamlet at this time of year and yet the ice cream shop was a beehive of activity.  It was like the entire community was there.  Lining up gave us the opportunity to see what was being ordered and it quickly became apparent why this place was attracting the crowd.  When you think of generous portions, this place has to come to mind as the standard bearer.  I, and most of us, ordered what they call the ‘Baby’, the smallest size on the menu.   It was about the size of an aircraft carrier, maybe bigger. The evidence is provided in the photo below.

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Therein was the challenge; get that bad boy downed before it got dark so we could safely make our way for the rest of the trip.  Not an easy feat and I can only imagine what it would be like to move up to even the ‘Kiddie’ size, the next step up on the list.  The largest size would have been enough to feed a family of four but I’m sure there are those out there who feel it their duty to try it on their own.  I personally would not put my health and personal well-being at such risk.  I am still shaking my head at the outsized portions that are were provided and how they could possibly considered to anything close to ‘normal’. 

We did make it back to the cottage with some 100 km (about 60 miles) in the books.  After a BBQ dinner, some refreshments, capped by some good-natured bantering, rest came easily that evening and it was required as the plan was to set out on our bikes again the next day.

Bright And Sunny Sunday

Sunday greeted us with another bright and sunny day so after a hearty breakfast, we were off, this time heading east along the same roadway.  We eventually passed through a small town called Harbour Beach whose to claim to fame is having the largest man-made fresh water harbour in the world. Having a look at the scale of the harbour, the claim would get no argument from me – it’s huge!  Reading the historical marker that explains the history of the harbour was interesting enough but also on site was a plaque dedicated to a marathon swimmer born in Winnipeg named Vicki Keith.

A ‘Quick’ Swim Across Lake Huron

In the summer of  1988, the 27 year old  Ms. Keith decided that she would swim all of the Great Lakes; not one or two, but ALL.  The marker at Harbour Beach was there as it was the starting point for her trip across Lake Huron, ending up on Goderich, Ontario, some 75 kms (about 47 miles) to the east.  At this part of Lake Huron, the other side is only a rumour as there is no way, even on a cloudless, sunny day that the far shore can be seen – it is just too far away. The Lake Huron crossing was the third leg of her journey as she had already completed crossings of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario.  After Lake Huron, Lake Michigan and then Lake Superior would follow.

I certainly remember her doing this that summer but seeing the plaque and recounting her story caused me to pause and think about her epic journey.  Looking out across Lake Huron, I might as well have been looking out on the ocean since there was no other side to be seen. 

She completed the Lake Huron swim in 47 hours, 55 minutes.  Think about that for a moment.  That’s almost two full days in the drink, without more than in-water breaks to have some nourishment.  I can handle a day on the bike and have done this several times but when you get to what I consider to be super-human efforts, I just have to wonder what is the driver that keeps people with this bent to do it.  When every cell in your body is telling you to stop, an override mechanism of some sort must kick in to keep these folks moving forward.  They have it and I don’t and I can’t say that that causes me any regrets. 

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110 Percent

My hat is off to such people and I am almost glad that I am not one of them. I hate to lose and love the satisfaction of giving it 110% but that is within the confines of the game or a defined journey that is to be completed in a reasonable timeframe but these marathon exercises cause my head to hurt just thinking about the effort required to complete them.  Finishing up our ride for the day, we had done about a 150 km (about 94 miles) for the weekend. Now, that’s not bad for a bunch of guys in our seventh decade but seeing that plaque about Vicki Keith put it in perspective. 

I thought to myself, “So, you think you’re pretty good, eh?”  Well, as it turns out, I would have a l-o-n-g way to go to be in Ms. Keith’s class.  But then again, “No thanks!”

Your friend, Paul. 

And remember – Carpe Diem (but in relaxed sort of way)!

group eating ice cream


                                              …and this is the “Baby!”  Baby Huey maybe!

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