Well, after rolling out at 7:00 AM last Sunday morning I ended up in…drum roll please…Beer City USA 2013, Grand Rapids, Michigan. Yep, I stuck to the plan and headed north. And I’m glad I did. Enjoy the ride; I did.
My first clue that I was heading into “Da Nort Country” was seeing Tim Horton Coffee shops on every corner. Well, actually my first clue was the weather. A couple days ago my garage registered 104 degrees and the humidity was unbearable. Once I broke free from that oppressive haze, the weather told me I had made the right choice. When I crossed the Michigan State line it was 67 degrees…and I was chilly!
My destination for the day was Grand Rapids, which turned out to be an interesting city I’d like to explore again. The downtown was very clean and modern in appearance. I’m sure it has its rough spots but I didn’t see them. This was a recurring theme of Michigan towns I visited…until my last stop.
The purpose of any bike trip for me is to ride. Sounds silly maybe but by that I mean the majority of my sight-seeing is done in the saddle. However, I found myself stopping and exploring much more on this short ride than usual, something I’ve been saying for years I need to do. Once I got settled into my room, my first destination was Founder’s Brewery. Their Breafast Stout ranks as one of my all time favorite beers…probably because it’s loaded with coffee!
I had not even swung my leg off the bike before I heard someone behind me talking about my bike. “That’s a kickass bike man! Wow! That is freakin’ awesome! Oh my gosh. How fast will it go? 180? Oh, that is bad ass!” I dismounted, turned and there stood the first of three homeless gentlemen who served as my Founder’s Brewing Welcoming Commmitte. He went on to tell me a story about how a guy who was drinking too much caused him to crash his bike, then he was right back to mine. “Oh man, hot chicks love bikes like that, you know, right? They would love this bike. You need to take that bag off the back seat so you can set some hot chick’s ass on the back of that bike man!” I said, “Dude (I speak the language!), I’ve got a hot chick at home. And if she ever heard that I put another woman’s ass on that seat, it would be my ass!” His final bit of advice, “Only one beer man. You’re on a bike. Gotta be safe.” True story.
And here is where theme two of my trip came into play. Every person I met, every person, was so nice it was almost unreal. Even the homeless dudes were extremely polite. Never asked me for a thing. Just wanted to talk bikes and hot chicks! Between the spotless towns and the overly nice people, I thought for a minute HBO was doing a remake of the Stepford Wives and I had stumbled onto the set.
Grand Rapids is also home to a very good coffee roaster: Madcap Coffee. It was only a few blocks up the street so after my beer and a bit of food I headed over to get my coffee fix.
People go to Michigan for a lot of good reasons. The summer weather is sweet. The winter is cold, but…snowmobiles! I mean, I’ve never seen a “Snowmobile Crossing” sign in Kentucky. Miles and miles of off-road snowmobile and motorcycle trails. Oh yeah, and then there’s the water.
And blueberries! Just so you know, I love blueberries. Probably stems from our many Canada fishing trips when I was young where it seems the fruit of choice for everything was blueberries. Then somewhere along the way Mom began making blueberry pies. Man, I loved those pies! Later, once her blackberry patch began producing, she switched to blackberries…equally great, maybe even better, but they don’t hold the nostalgic draw that a good blueberry pie does for me. Since blueberries are a huge crop in Michigan, I set my radar on one of the many roadside farms.
Pie for breakfast? Why not…I’m on vacation! I grabbed a blueberry muffin while I was there and saved it for breakfast the next morning. From there my day was spent riding up the coast, going from one beautiful small town to the next, all the while enjoying perfect weather instead of sweating in 90 degree temps and high humidity. Did I mention Michigan summers are awesome?
My goal for this day was Muskegon. Why? A little brewery called Pigeon Hill. I’d never been there before, never even heard of it till a couple days before the trip. So why go? Well, again it’s all about nostalgia. My parent’s were depression era children. They lived in a rough time. My father’s family was especially poor. My mother’s was not well off, but living on a farm, they ate better. They grew up in a less than glamorous part of town. Some would call it the wrong side of the tracks. The poor part of town. The West Side (why is the west side always the poor side and the East side always the affluent side?). They called it Pigeon Hill. I don’t know why, I guess I never asked. All my life I heard my parents tell stories about growing up on Pigeon Hill. So when I discovered there was a brewery with the same name, well, I just had to go.
They served up some tasty beer as well. The more interesting one, 2nd to end, was a Salted Caramel Porter. I swear it smelled and tasted just like caramel popcorn! There was another brewery just a few blocks down the street I really wanted to visit as well, but riding and drinking is one of those things you just cannot do. Heeding the homeless guy’s advice, Unruly Brewing and Rebel Pies will have to wait for another time.
From there it is back down the coast. I wasn’t able to get a room anywhere I wanted to stay, and since I was planning to go to Goshen, IN and visit my daughter and grandsons the next morning anyway, I took the only room I could find…in Battle Creek. This is where my utopia got a bit dirty. After all these nice people and idyllic little towns, I was of the conclusion that it must be the blueberries and black cherries that make all these Michiganders so wonderful and their towns so perfect. Like maybe they are the Paradise fruit after all. Apparently there is a shortage of blueberries in Battle Creek. To be fair, the people were great. The desk clerk was fantastic. The town looks a little rough around the edges, like maybe Kellogg moved all their Frosted Flakes plants to Mexico or China or something. They better start planting blueberries! I did manage to have a reallly good pizza and some okay beer at Arcadia Brewing downtown.
The next morning I set my course for Granger and let my GPS lead me through the back roads of Souther Michigan. It was very rural and beautiful, traveling much of the time through family farms on one lane roads, gravel roads off shooting everywhere. I loved it.
Due to my own fault, the week was short and the trip not nearly as extensive as originally planned. Hey, I’ve got issues! And regrets, so hopefully I will conquer those restraints before the next ride. All in all, it was great. The weather, the water, the food, the beer, the State…and the bike. On 2 different days I spent 9 hours in the saddle of the Super Duke and it proved itself a fantastic traveling companion.
Thought I’d leave you with an old tune from a Michigan boy singing about that sweet, summertime, summertime…however, I wrote this blog on the iPad WordPress app and after 30 minutes of trying to figure out how to embed a YouTube video, I gave up…so follow the link…lame, I know: Bob Seger Night Moves