Monday, July 1, 2013

Day #34: Firebows & Small Town Loveliness

Today's Route: Bay City, MI to North Branch, MI (65 miles)
Total Trip Miles: 1733

My morning began with a quick stop at a grocery store on the way out of Bay City. I was surprised to see two touring bikes in front of the store.

The waterbottles on the bikes stated "Spokane, WA," and a Tyvek jacket from the popular STP (Seattle-to-Portland) ride was strapped to one of the bikes. In fact, it was the same jacket I had from riding the STP back in 2008.


I walked all the aisles in the grocery store, trying to locate the two riders. It wasn't difficult to spot them - us cyclists are easy to identify with our black spandex shorts and our helmet heads. Plus, the cyclists were at the bakery counter, getting a box filled with calorie-laden pastries. Yup, those were definitely the owners of the two bikes out front.

The two riders were a father-son duo. They are "riding home," as they said, across the country from east to west.

I found it interesting that the two riders were "riding home." Just last night I had asked Emma and Mary (the two cyclists who were also staying with the Warm Showers host in Bay City) why they decided to ride from east to west. (Because of the prevailing winds, it is often advised to ride from west to east.) Emma and Mary said that they didn't want their destination to be home - a place they were familiar with; they wanted to be able to look forward to something new and different.

I'm totally on-board with Emma and Mary. Since I live on the west coast, this trip is most appealing to me in the eastward direction - away from home.

Nonetheless, it was cool to know that there were at least six cycling tourists in a 60-ish mile radius - me, Emma, Mary, Andy, and the father-son duo. I'm hoping this is a sign that I will see more cyclists in the coming days.

Today's ride had a bit more variety than yesterday's ride. Although the curves were mostly in the vertical direction, I welcomed and embraced the little rolls in the roads.

Part of today's route took me along four miles of the Harger Line Trail. Before starting the trail, I pulled over for a refueling of calories. Sitting on a nearby bench were Tracy & Keith.

Tracey & Keith.

Tracey and Keith were out for a bike ride along the trail. They saw my loaded bike, which sparked a conversation about my travels. We talked about other things. Healthy food, for one. And Tracey & Keith's upcoming move to Phoenix; they don't want to grow old and stagnant in Michigan.

Tracey & Keith were super kind and offered that I spend the evening at their place tonight. As they live ten miles off-route, I wasn't too fond of riding an extra twenty miles round-trip. They kindly offered to pick me up along the route and drive me to their place.

In sharing stories the night before, Emma and Mary mentioned that they had stayed in a church in North Branch. A lot of cyclists stay in churches, and so this is something I wanted to try. While I would have loved to stay with Tracey and Keith (they are rock-awesome people), I was curious to try out the church experience in North Branch.

Before I reached North Branch, I still had a few miles to bike.

The maps I'm following do not always follow the most direct of routes from Point A to Point B. From Frankenmuth (the unappealing-year-round-Christmas-in-Germany-town) to Millington, for example, the route leads way the heck out of the way to the town of Vassar.

The maps specifically advise to stay on route:
Many of the rural roads in Michigan and Ontario change from paved to gravel - they can be dusty when dry and very muddy when wet. What may look like a tempting shortcut down a paved road may become a miserable ride on a gravel road. Cyclists are advised to stay on the route.
I took my chances and created my own shortcut between Frankenmuth and Millington. Lucky for me, the route was paved the entire distance.

As I was riding along Swaffer Road towards State Route 15, I glanced at the clouds (as I often do when I ride) and I spotted what looked like fire in the sky! The clouds were flame-like wisps. The tops of the wisps were red, with orangish-yellowish colors just below, and then greenish-blueish hues near the bottom.

Firebow, framed by the electrical lines.
(This photo doesn't do justice to the true colors in the clouds.)

I did a double-take, thinking I was hallucinating. I pulled over and took off my sunglasses, wondering if maybe the polarized lenses were playing tricks with my eyes. Nope, not the case.

I asked my friend Eric (the bird guy from Day #5) about this phenomenon. Fortunately, he "knew someone" who could assist in explaining the clouds I saw.

Eric emailed his friend, Marissa, and she replied with the following explanation:
...I have been looking for these all month, but haven't spotted a good one yet. This is a circumhorizontal arc (CHA).'s also sometimes called a "fire rainbow" because of its tendency to make wispy cirrus clouds look like flames. Unfortunately, the cloud buffs look down on this term because the rainbow effect is cause by ice crystals, not rain. (I vote we call them "firebows" because people tend to stop listening when they hear the phrase "circumhorizontal arc.")

This isn't by nature a rare halo, but it is strictly a summer phenomenon for mid latitudes. The sun must be high in the sky (>58 degrees) for a CHA to form. In Seattle the firebow can only form in the middle of the day from about May to August; they're possible for much of the year in Mexico, and never spotted in Alaska. CHAs are caused by light refracting in hexagonal plate crystals in cirrus clouds. When the crystals are clear, CHAs can have much higher optical purity than a rainbow, making for very vivid colors.

Marissa provided a website with further information of this phenomenon,a incuding a gallery of firebow images. These are super-duper beautiful clouds. To learn more, click here.

A little while later, I found myself in North Branch. The only thing Emma and Mary told me about North Branch was to stop at the hardware store when I arrived in town to inquire about staying at the church.

I pulled off at the first hardware store in town, mentioned the two cyclists who had passed through town two days before, and inquired about staying at the church. The two gentlemen at the front counter knew nothing about a church. It must have been the other hardware store, the one that is closed on Sundays. The two gentlemen recommended that I go talk to a "Beth" who owned the grocery store next door.

Beth & me.

I wandered next door to the North Branch Food Center. I found Beth and inquired about staying at a church. She said that a "Cindy" would know more. Beth didn't have Cindy's number, so Beth asked the customer at the cash register if she had Cindy's number. (Apparently the customer's daughter and Cindy's daughter are good friends. Oh, how I love small towns!) A few minutes later, we tracked down Cindy's number and learned that Cindy was at the church at that moment for a bridal shower.

I headed over to the church, spoke with Cindy, met a number of other super wonderful people, and made arrangements to stay at the church.

I then headed back to Beth's store for some chocolate milk. Beth and I chatted for quite some time. She is an awesome woman and definitely exhibits a wonderful "best friend" charm. Without Beth's help, I doubt I would have ever found the church in question.

After spending some time at the local park catching up on phone calls, I headed over to the church to settle in for the evening. A few minutes later, Bill and Pam stopped by to say "hi." Bill and Pam live across the street from the church and serve as caretakers for the church. They showed me the lights, the bathrooms, the kitchen, and the tennis raquet (more on that in a bit).

Home for tonight.

Pam pulled out a bunch of food from the fridge. Sweet Cindy had saved some leftovers for me from the bridal shower.

Holy hospitality!

In addition to all the food in the fridge, the gang at the church said to help myself to some chocolate-covered banana popsicles in the freezer. I'm typically not a huge fan of bananas, but these things were the bomb! I had not just one of them, but two of them! Yummy!

Going cuckoo for coco puffs over the sprinkles!

When Emma and Mary had stayed at the church a few nights back, they had an incident with a bat in the downstairs area.

Emma and Mary were in the kitchen when they saw something move. At first, they weren't sure what it was. But not long thereafter, they identified the movement as that of a bat.

The poor bat was flying in madcircles. Literally, like a "bat out of hell" - completely disoriented and wanting nothing more than escape. Emma was freaked out. Mary was laughing. All of this was caught on videotape. It was pretty hilarious to watch.

Bill had come back to the church and headed to the downstairs area, armed with a tennis racquet. A few minutes later he came upstairs and declared that the bat issue had been taken care of.

The infamous bat racquet.

The bat ordeal was Emma and Mary's story. Not mine. Back to my story...

Bill stopped by a little later in the evening to share an article he had seen in today's paper, about a local 66 year-old man who just finished a 2,600 mile bike tour.

Cyclists everywhere!

I'm telling touring is becoming a popular thing! Like my friend Alex said, there should be a reality show that follows a handful of bike tourists across the country. As much as I hate everything television and everything reality show-related, that would make for a fun show.

After a long day, I spread out my sleeping bag on the couch.

A cozy sleeping place.

I turned off the lights and lay there thinking about how completely blown away I was today by the lovely people of small town North Branch, MI. Thank you, North Branchers, for your wonderful display of generosity. It is days like today that create meaningful memories of a lifetime.


  1. I loved this story of North Branch and all the wonderful people you met! So glad I read this today, it made my day! Thanks, Sarah! x

    1. Indeed! These people were absolutely amazing!


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