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It's a shame the extent to which I have developed a hatred for Michigan, considering how much I like saying the name.
The only pleasure I have taken from each mile I pedaled over the last two days is that it has taken me a few steps closer to getting the hell out of this state. This is a rant, and will not be in any way an accurate reflection of anything other than my need to vent. There is no video; there are very few pictures. Survival remained just about within my grasp; keeping my sanity was touch and go.
I have spent 36 hours here, and until I until this evening when I arrived at a lovely house with nice people, the only remotely enjoyable time I had in Michigan were the hours spent asleep. Even they weren't that great.
Things began to go wrong at noon yesterday. After a relaxing morning with Troy and his family in Sarnia, Lily and I made our way to the Bluewater Bridge - the border crossing between Ontario, Canada, and Michigan, USA. It's a motor vehicle only bridge but we called ahead and explained our situation, to which the Canadian's were very sympathetic and arranged a lift to the border control terminals. Pedalling to an access point on the highway, we were picked up by Mike, the Bluewater man with a van. This part was smooth. The next two hours - not so much. Even now I feel myself getting worked up; suffice to say it wasn't pleasant. I honestly think I came within a hair's breadth of deportation. In fact I was told as much, in no uncertain terms. To cut a long story short, I had applied about a month ago for an extension of my stay in the US. In order to do this, I had to mail off my I-94 form to the USCIS centre in Vermont. This form is essentially the slip of paper which details how long, and under what conditions I can remain in the country. Arriving at a border without this is not recommended. However, tracking my extension request online, I was able to see that I had been approved, and so was just waiting for the new I-94 to be mailed out to me. I imagined this information would all be on some system somewhere that the border officials could easily access. I was wrong.
None of the officers knew what I was talking about in regards to the extension application, and it seemed that they assumed I was lying. They were also unsure how the two of us on bicycles got there in the first place. A lot of confusion, questioning, threatening and paper shuffling went on. After being repeatedly told I was there illegally, something somewhere went my way, and I was allowed to leave. This, as I said, is the very short version. I realise they were just doing their job, and perhaps I shouldn't have tried to cross until I got the form back. But, still...I'll leave it at that. Suffice to say I made it through, justice was done and the border officials did a thorough job on checking out my story. Everyone is a winner, and I cannot complain.
Then came Port Huron - we were released onto the expressway, and tried valiantly to get off it. We succeeded, but the replacement road was nearly as busy. Cars and trucks flew past with only inches to spare, and it seemed almost every vehicle that went by blew their horn or shouted obscenities. "Get on the sidewalk!" suggested one female driver, helpfully. I declined to point out the flaws in her statement. Another woman in a red SUV beeped her horn right behind me, and yelled something particularly unpleasant. I childishly responded with a hand gesture (not the thumbs up,) which wasn't the cleverest idea. I began to regret it as a freewheeled past her at some traffic lights shortly after. When the traffic moved again, she drew up along side me, revved her engine as hard as she could, and accelerated past me diagonally - cutting my already fine line between the road edge and the curb into nothingness. Somehow our respective speeds did not cause a collision. I wasn't having fun.
A wrong turn led us in an 8 mile loop through the 'ghetto' of Port Huron, for want of a better description. Finally hitting the correct road out of the city, we dealt with headwinds, bad road surfaces, rush hour traffic, no shoulder and impending rain. A cycle path came to the rescue, and half a mile of sweet traffic free bliss lifted me briefly into ecstasy. That's when it's turned into thick, loose gravel and led us 7 miles in the wrong direction. Convinced more and more each passing second that my bike was going to be shaken to bits, we made it out the other side and had to retrace those lost miles. Into the headwind, of course. Mentally and physically exhausted, nerves shot and tempers frayed, Lily and I decided that a campground would be the best option - I for one was not in any frame of mind to be choosing a good stealth camp spot. A $5 bottle of whiskey made setting up camp easier - I had to work hard to remember that I was drinking to unwind, not to forget.
After that day, it should have come as no surprise that racoon's had knocked over my bike and eaten every single scrap of food I had. Even my peanut butter, through the thick plastic jar. I was so distracted from the previous afternoon's events that I forgot to put my food in a bag and sling ip up a tree - bungee-ed to the back of my bike was an invitation to hungry wildlife.
10 miles of good roads led only to 35 miles of the most horrendous surfaces imaginable. Potholes and cracks that would destroy a bike if you hit them at the wrong angle, and headwinds that required hard pedaling downhill let alone on the flat. Mile after mile I bumped and clattered along, slowly boiling up inside. Next on the gauntlet was a not-so-friendly neighbourhood dog, who chased me up a hill. Hills are not that common round here, so the chances of the dog chasing me at that exact moment was pretty slim, but man, he sure picked his time. Pounding the pedals with every ounce of energy I could muster I yelled back, 'Piss off, you furry bastard!'
This surprised me more than him. As someone who rarely if ever resorts to swearing, let alone yelling obsenities at animals, it was clear I was a little out of sorts. I had a word with myself at the top of the hill, and prayed things would get better. The roads did, slightly, just enough in fact to allow more trucks on it. With a hard shoulder lacking, these trucks happily brushed past us at full speed.
I think I've gone on long enough. I am aware that there is much beauty in Michigan, but I have found precious little of it so far. And I feel obliged to show the negative side of cycle touring as well as all the positivity I've been professing on this blog. I've been very lucky to have had only great experiences so far - a bad day was overdue. And, of course, most of the cathartic qualities in a rant like this come from ignoring the facts and basing everything completely on my heightened emotions.
So that's it really, I have little love for Michigan. I hope that changes, but currently I dream only of leaving. You fooled me, Sufjan Stevens, you fooled with with your lyrical voice and intriguing instrumentation. I apologise for the immature manner in which I have addressed my issues with this state, but I feel a heck of a lot better now.
P.S I love riding my bike. I've woken up this morning completely unaffected by all these past events, and am excited about the days to come. Just needed to let it all out, I guess!