Biking Northern Michigan: part 2

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In my pre-trip research, Google was my best friend (as if it wasn’t already).  I’m familiar with Northern Michigan, but I needed to find hotels along my route because I wasn’t about camp.  Camping meant I would have to carry a tent on my bike.  I did see a group of young men who did such a thing, and maybe I will in the future, but not for my first cycling tour.  It was quickly obvious that I would not be able to find a hotel in the first two towns along the trail – Vanderbilt and Wolverine – because the towns are so small.  So, against the advice I read online – “take it easy on the first day” – my first day cycling would be my longest, clocking in at 30 miles to get from Gaylord to Indian River.  As my route would simply backtrack on the way back, this meant my last day cycling would also be my longest.

I will admit, cycling 30 miles on my first day was a bit overzealous, if necessary.  Though the clouds held back their rain, and the sun even came out a bit by the end of day one.  This section of the trail had the best scenery, but whizzing by on a bike did not provide the best opportunity to enjoy it.  Beautiful pine trees decorated both sides of the trail, swampy marshes popped up along the way, I was surrounded tons of birds, darting across the trail, and I saw the one deer that I spotted along my route.  She saw me, and then ran down the trail ahead of me for about 100 yards before ducking back in to the brush. 

Throughout my time on the trail, I used an app called Map My Run, which uses GPS to map out your route, and you can select different exercises that you performed, not just running.  Every mile, the app calls out how far you’ve gone, how long it has been, and your split pace.  While at first I found the app’s audible function unnecessary, by mile fifteen, it became a countdown.  Around mile twenty, I was weary, and turned on Spotify as loud as I could so that music powered me through the last miles.  I ate two granola bars, and drank all my water.

By the time I arrived at the Northwoods Lodge in Indian River, I was sweaty, sore, and tired.  My heart rate monitor said I burned over 2,000 calories.  I took a bath, because that’s all I could really manage at this time.

Indian River is a small town, with not much going on.  I got a recommendation from the hotel manager to check out The Inn Between, a bar in town, about a mile down the road.  The bar overlooks the river, Indian River, and has a patio which I imagine is pretty lively in the summer.  I had a couple beers, some food, and sat with locals around the bar.  The manager sat at the bar, while the young bartender served another gentleman and me at the bar.  An older, chatty gentleman came in, who eventually succeeded in purchasing a drink for the owner.  It was not received very well.  He bought me a drink too, and we chatted about his children, Alaska, and his dog.  There was a young man, who sat at a table against the wall, who apparently comes in nearly every day to use the WiFi to play video games on his computer.  After my meal, I tried to walk around the town a bit, but by 7 pm, the town had virtually shut down, and I went back to the hotel. 

I read my book, watched some TV, and tucked in somewhat early.  With the longest riding day under my belt, I was pleased with myself, and my nerves were all but gone.  I did not know what the trail ahead held for me, but I knew it was less than 30 miles per day.  I slept quite well that night.

Keep following this space for more posts about my trip!  Any questions or comments, leave them below!

exploringly yours,
Alaina

Biking Northern Michigan, in parts.

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Have you ever had vacation time from work, and literally no idea what do to with that time?  If you’re anything like me, you want to spend that precious time roaming, exploring, traveling somewhere new and different.  And, if you’re anything like me, the wide world leads to crippling anxiety when choosing a destination.  I floundered for the months leading up to my vacation – where to go?  Which friends to visit?  What deserved to be explored next?  I had a couple ideas that didn’t pan out, and I was left idealess.

Two brainstorming sessions, one with my mom and one with my boyfriend, produced the idea to cycle around Northern Michigan.  Michigan – my home state – is a beautiful state.  I’ve explored far-flung lands (Eastern Europe is pretty far-flung, right?) but haven’t spent as much time exploring Michigan as it deserves.

As it turns out, Northern Michigan is pretty cycling-friendly.  A couple Google searches led me to the North Central State Trail, a 62 mile long trail that runs from Gaylord to Mackinaw City.  As my parents have a cottage in Gaylord, this would be the perfect jumping off point.  The trail is an old railway line, so the route is flat and covered in gravel, which made for a slower go but was well groomed and very bike friendly.  In the winter, the trail is used by snowmobilers.  There is an entire network that connects a couple of other cities – Alpena, Petoskey, among others – but I chose to remain on the North Central State Trail, backtracking my route for the way home.

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I was briefly worried about how crazy my idea was – to bike this 120-mile round trip route, alone, with limited cycling experience.  But, looking at a map, the small towns along the route were separated by 5 miles at the short end, and 16 miles at the long end.  This helped to calm my nerves, as 16 miles was not completely unmanageable by foot, should something happen to my bike.

I did research.  I got a bicycle (yeah, I didn’t have one before this trip), a bike bag, bike pants, and chamois cream (my gear will be it’s own post – that epic).  I packed strategically so that I could carry everything on my bike’s rear rack.  I drove three hours to my parents’ cottage and got a good night’s sleep.

Still – on the day I was to leave, doubt hung in the back of my mind.  Who was I, who had barely ridden this new bike, to be taking off on a 120+ mile round trip cycling tour?  Would I be strong enough – in mind and body – to complete this journey?  But, despite my doubt, and the clouds, the weather was pleasant and the trail looked inviting, so I got on my bike and took off….

Keep your eye on this space, as I’ll be making posts over the next week detailing my trip!  Have you ever took a leap of faith on a crazy trip?  Have you ever been crippled by traveling-anxiety that you simply couldn’t book a trip?  Let me know in the comments below…!

exploringly yours,
Alaina

Lessons from Missing a Place

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Grazer Hauptplatz, Graz, Austria

I’ve been back from Austria for nearly three and a half years now.  I spent two school years teaching English there, exploring, meeting some of the best people I know, and generally being up to no good.  I met people from all over the United States, Great Britain, and Europe.  We were paid way too much money to do not that much work, and in our free time we had fun.  We all ended up there because we had studied German in college, and, I, for one, was not ready to figure out “the rest of my life” quite yet.  It is crazy to think how long ago it was now.

I think of that time, that place, and those people at least once a day.  When I am daydreaming at work, when I am walking to the bus, when I hear a song, or when a random German word pops into my head.  The two apartments I inhabited there, my friends that went through those years with me, the routes I walked, the public transport I used, the birthdays celebrated, the food, the beer, the cigarettes – all the memories are there and tinged with nostalgia.

My personal philosophy is that it is never healthy to live in the past, but this is a bit different than that.  These are memories so strong and vivid that they just seem to come to mind automatically.  And I think that the newness and foreignness of that time had intensified everything; I mean, I can barely remember what I did a month ago, but I feel that I remember all of those two years.

So, as more time falls between myself and Austria, I try to reflect on what I learned there, and how I can apply those lessons to my current life.  Lessons like: always have a sense of adventure, and spontaneity; your bed may be comfortable, but you must earn that rest after a night of fun; there is always some new place to explore, despite the seeming mundaneness of it.

But, since then, I have accomplished so much.  I went back to school, and I am now a registered nurse with a 40 hour per week job that I love.  The hard part is, after experiencing such freedom and newness, to now stay in one place, and do the same job each day.  Part of what I am also trying to teach myself is that exploration does not have to be on a grand scheme, in a foreign locale.  Exploration of yourself, and your mind, can be just as new and exciting as exploring a far off city.

And those are some lessons I’ve learned from missing a place.

Exploringly yours,

Alaina

Oh, hi there!

Waves on Lake Michigan; Grand Haven, MI

Well, hey there Blogging World, how’s it going? It’s only been about a million years since I’ve updated and I’m terribly sorry about that. It’s been such a busy summer that I’ve barely tackled anything on my Bucket List, (sadly). Alas, c’est la vie, and I really can’t complain, as I’ve been so busy that free time was minimal anyway.

What were you so busy doing?, you might ask. Well, let me elaborate…

  1. BELL Summer Program. After a month of “vacation” (aka, sliding back into my American life) and spending time with family/friends, I started up teaching (well, teacher assisting) summer school in Detroit at the William Beckham Academy. Detroit, Home of 8 Mile, is the #1 most dangerous American city, as ranked by Forbes.com, and one of the top 10 most dangerous cities in the world (along with Baghdad), as ranked by CNN.com. Yes, friends, I was busy teaching little rambunctious kindergarteners for 6 weeks in this fabled Michigan city. And while I was never told to “Fuck off!” or called a “fat bitch” by my students (like other TAs I know), I sure had my hands full. Five year olds do not listen to logic, nor do they respond well to a raised voice. Additionally, these kids needed more help than I could give; a number of them could not write their own name or identify all the letters in the alphabet. It’s hard to imagine that a 1st grader could not write her name, but I encountered it. My time there was difficult and tiring, but I miss those sweet little hellions more than you know.
  2. Logan’s Roadhouse. BELL ended nearly a month ago now (I can’t even believe it), so I was quickly on the hunt for another job… And I found one, hosting at Logan’s Roadhouse. If you’ve never heard of it, it’s “The Real America Roadhouse,” as they say, and we’re famous for steaks and peanut shells on the floor (woo.).

Beyond that, it’s pretty much been “business as usual” around here. I have managed to make it to 7 concerts (Brad Paisley, Something Corporate, Passion Pit, MGMT, Tom Petty, Pink Floyd Laser Spectacular, Lynyrd Skynyrd), and I have a few more up my sleeve. Believe it or not, I won concert tickets to Eminem and Jay-Z. The two are only playing a few shows in their respective hometowns (Detroit and New York City) so it will be a wild night in Detroit, (September 2nd!).

I have spent some time Up North and on the west side. My family went up to Traverse City for the Cherry Festival, and that place couldn’t be more beautiful. I hope to spend more time there in the future. Also, I ventured to Grand Haven for the Coast Guard Festival and the waves on Lake Michigan were 3-4 feet high! People were surfing them, for Pete’s sake! So I have managed to get in some travel. 🙂

One thing that was on my Bucket List that I did was learn how to golf! I really enjoy it, though I never thought I would. I’m not very good, but then again not too bad for a beginning lefty who is golfing right-handed. Hopefully I’ll get out to the driving range again this week.

I’m gearing up to go back to Austria, and can’t wait for another year of (mis)adventure. (Part of the reason I chose to make this post, to get the blog wheels once again turning.) I still have a number of posts in mind about my trip to Berlin, so I hope to get to those before I land in Austria.

Hope everyone is well.
Cheers,
Alaina