Hearing the bats crack
After the ball flies away
I recall making
Plans with my friends by yelling
Across the marsh – country kids
Hearing the bats crack
After the ball flies away
I recall making
Plans with my friends by yelling
Across the marsh – country kids
Lower Upper Midwest
A cool, steady breeze
Betrays the high summer sun
Northfield, not da Yoop
A green lawn, not a stone beach
A corn sea, not the Big Lake
Iron Range Towns
Though I don’t know them
The towns of the Iron Range
From childhood years of watching
Weather forecasts from Duluth
On Driving up North, v. 1
Fir, pine, spruce, cedar
Canyon a narrow blacktop
River that allows
Cars to sail through the northwoods
Between the small lonely towns
On Driving up North, v. 2
I’ve sailed cars over
Thousands of miles of blacktop
Rivers running down
Evergreen canyons to towns
Clinging to the roads’ edges
Hunting Camp Thoughts
I recalled the hunting camp
During this sodden green week.
Rain dripped from the eaves.
Mosquitoes hummed. Pines and firs
Palisaded the creek’s bank.
A door, a wide porch
Cordwood for the cast-iron stove
A table, chairs, beds
The window the bear camethrough
Mud Creek rippling past outside
I doan tink I sound
Much like a Yooper no more
But hearing a good
Strong Copper Country accent,
I can feel it in my mouth.
(Inspired by Kristin Ojaniemi’s gorgeous, thought-provoking documentary about hunting camps in the western U.P., UP a River.)
What: the Marji Gesick 100
When: Saturday, September 26, 2016: 7:47 total riding time, about 9 hours total time on course.
Why: Because the MG is supposed to be one of the hardest MTB races in the Midwest, if not the country, with more than 10,000 feet of climbing over the 100-mile distance, and because I need to finish a 100-mile MTB race. I’m 0-3* lifetime!
Also, because I’d never raced in the homeland!
Where: Marquette to Ishpeming, Michigan – in the center of the gorgeous Upper Peninsula. Our drive up to the race took me through some old stomping grounds and directly past my Grandma and Grandpa’s house in Channing. This is a fire tower outside Crystal Falls, not their house.
The course was mostly singletrack in the woods – always demanding and often relentlessly technical. Though there was plenty of fast, fun trail
Best gear: My front shock and my Bontrager XR2 tires, run tubeless at about 20 psi.
Worst gear: My rear derailleur, which failed catastrophically at mile 53.
The low point was when chain suck wrapped the derailleur around my cassette and neither I nor a fellow racer could fix it or switch the bike to singlespeed.
The key lesson I learned was that I have the fitness for a long MTB race, and that my technical skills have improved enough that they’re no longer a liability (as they’d been at the 2015 Chequamegon 100). I just need to combine those qualities with a good day from the bike – or a different, more forgiving bike. It’s no surprise that virtually all the finishers rode full-suspension machines.
The takeaway is that the Marji Gesick is a great event run on a stupid hard course. I need to get back to there in 2017 and earn a finish like my friend Galen:
* My results in four attempts at century-length MTB races:
My maternal grandfather can be politely described as a distant figure. I didn’t know him well and was kind of frightened by him until one day when I was in my twenties on which I realized he was actually a pretty small guy with a flannel shirt over a barrel chest.
When I was a kid, he was an “owner-operator” at Jauquet Trucking, driving tractor-trailers for a living.
As such, during my visits to my grandma’s house he was usually on the road (hauling logs to the paper mills), working outside in his garages on his white and blue trucks, or asleep on the sofa.
My grandpa’s life then was as probably as far from my life now as two white guys’ lives can be, though of course his work (and my grandma’s, and my other grandparents’, and my parents’) made my present life possible. When I think about these facts of generational change, class mobility, and all that, I think that he would find my current life almost impossibly frivolous. Working indoors all day? In an office at a college? Not making my children work all the damn time? Spending my free time (free time!?) riding a bicycle?
And yet my bike has created an odd sense of connection to him. Being out in all weather? He might appreciate that, though he might also wonder why I don’t earn any money by doing my winter rides.
I’m hardly handy, but I handle some of the mechanical stuff on my bike now and then, and invariably I get grimy and have to wash up at the utility room sink with a dollop of citrus-scented pumice soap. That smell sends me right back to the kitchen at my grandma’s house, where I’d be sitting drawing or reading and waiting for dinner – maybe one of my Grandma’s homemade pasties. When Grandpa came in from the garage, he’d wash his hands at a tiny sink off the kitchen, scrubbing and scrubbing at the grease and dirt with a pumice soap that smelled faintly orangey.
His was a no-nonsense block of Lava soap, where mine is probably made from ethically-collected pumice and free-range oranges, but there you go. Once sufficiently (but never completely) clean, he sit down at his spot in the corner and we could all eat.
That indoors memory is complemented by an equally distinct but much less predictable outdoors memory. The truck garages were massive hangar-like spaces, dimly lit, full of trucks and truck parts and tools.
Their dirt floors were slick and black with oil, and the air was full of the smell of grease. My life now is as un-greasy as could be, except when I work on my bikes and at random moments out riding, when I encounter that same creosote smell. Sometimes it’s coming from wet railroad ties at the spot where some lonely road crosses the tracks. Other times, it’s coming from ties that someone’s repurposed for a bridge on a bike trail. Other times, it’s from telephone poles – maybe a stack of new ones awaiting installation or, like last Sunday, a pile of old ones stacked mysteriously at the edge of a marsh where I’ve paused to take a break. The melting snow was driving out an overpowering scent of creosote, and for the minute I was there, drinking water and pissing into the reeds, I was eight or ten or twelve again, standing in Grandpa’s truck garage. Luckily for me, there was a U.P. pasty waiting for me back home – not Grandma’s, but a good one just the same.
I was probably in elementary school when I first heard people talking about how the area where we lived, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula – a.k.a. Upper Michigan, the U.P., or now, “da Yoop,” – could or even should be a separate state.
This state – North Michigan or perhaps Superior – ought to be separate, the thinking went, due to the stark geographical and demographic differences between the U.P. and the Lower Peninsula – a.k.a. the L.P., “the Mitten,” or just “Michigan.” Anyhow, the only reason “we” were part of Michigan was the stupid compromise with Ohio over Toledo.
I didn’t know then, but was fascinated to learn later, that (as Wikipedia says in its article on Superior) Yoopers had agitated for the area’s statehood in the years just before I was born in the U.P.’s southermost city. This agitation in fact reached a high point just after I was born, with an unsuccessful effort to pull the U.P. and the northerly parts of Wisconsin out of their respective states and combine them into a new state, something like this, which I saw recently on the amazing Lost States blog:
I loved the idea then and I love the idea now, even as I recognize that a state of Superior would probably be unfeasible, if not terrible, as a political or economic entity. (Recent-ish news coverage of the idea says as much here in the Detroit Free Press and here in the New Republic.)
One of the reasons that Superior would not be a great state is it’s big and empty – Wyoming, but all forests; Alaska, but no tundra. Wikipedia says in its entry on the U.P. (the actual place, not the imaginary state) that “the Upper Peninsula remains a predominantly rural region. As of the 2010 census, the region had a population of 311,361,” of whom only a third live in one of the twelve towns that have populations greater than 4,000 people.
Even if Superior included both all of the current U.P. and the Wisconsin counties that (or almost) border da Yoop*, you’d only get a total population (if you believe those lying liars at the U.S. Census) of 410,340. This scattering of humans over almost 22,000 square miles would make Superior – as of the 2010 census – the state with the smallest population, well behind Wyoming’s throng of 563,626. (The numbers would rise a little, but not much, if you included the several other Wisconsin counties that the Lost States map above include within Superior.)
For comparison’s sake, Wyoming’s capital, Cheyenne, had a population of 92,000 in 2010 – a third bigger than Marquette County, the most populous county in Superior, and 425% bigger than Marquette city, which, with a population of 21,355 in 2010, is the most populous city in
the U.P. Superior. Marquette – as the putative capital of Superior – would be the fourth-smallest state capital, bigger only than teeny-tiny Montpelier (just 7,855 people lived there in 2010!), Pierre, and Augusta.
And like many a rural, underpopulated state full of white people and public lands and almost wholly dependent on tourism and natural resources (in the U.P., lumbering and mining), Superior would probably be a blood-red state. In 2012, all but two U.P.’s counties went for Romney in 2012, and all but one supported the (horrifyingly bad) Republican governor. The U.P.’s fifteen counties – grouped in Michigan’s first congressional district – have elected Republican and Tea Partier Dan Benishek to the House of Representatives in 2010, 2012, and 2014.
So yes, Superior is a terrible idea.
But still, we can have some fun with the idea, right? A few facts, ideas, and guesses about what Superior would be like:
* Running west to east, Ashland, Iron, Vilas, Forest, Florence, and Marinette. The latter is the most populous in the group, and would be the second-most populous county in the state, after Marquette County in
Even though our vacation came at the start of summer, we saw lots of firewood for sale in the UP. Every other rural house or small-town gas station seemed to be selling camp wood for sale, always on the honor system. $4 a bundle was the normal rate, but I did see some priced to move at $3. This appears to an unexploited marketplace inefficiency. Someone should buy all the cheap wood, then sell it to desperate tourists at campgrounds for $6.
Here and there, I also saw bigger quantities for sale – by the cord, by the pile, or even by the truckload, albeit through a raffle.
When I’m out in "bad" weather, I think a lot about how much time my grandfathers – a farmer on my dad’s side, a trucker and logger on my mom’s – must have spent outside in horrible conditions, doing their jobs. I’m lucky that I can choose to go outside and enjoy (not just endure) the experience of being outside, no matter temperature, precipitation, wind, etc.
Of course, both grandpas knew how to enjoy winter, too. Here – at a Christmas in the late 1990s – is Grandpa Jauquet at the reins of his sleigh, pulled by his two Belgian workhorses and laden with grandkids, including me, Shannon, my sister, and a bunch of my cousins.
Late-summer rides often pass by fields where farmers are haying. I wish I remembered more about haying on my grandpa’s farm in the U.P. I didn’t participate in the haying very often – maybe five times – but I remember driving the big old truck up and down the rows. I was in elementary school, so I could barely see over the dashboard. I remember how we’d freeze water in washed-out milk jugs so we’d have cold water to drink in the fields. I remember how the hay got into everything – clothes, shoes, hair… The warm, dry smell stayed with you for days.
When my mom visited a while ago, I scanned a bunch of old family pictures that she’d brought down. One of them is this (rather bad) shot of one of the dogs my grandpa had when we lived with him on the farm in North Ironwood, Michigan. This scruffy mutt’s name was Musti, which we understood to be Finnish for “Blackie.” He was a good dog, but a farm dog through and through. I’m sure he came inside sometimes, or maybe every day, but he spent most of his time outside. He must have smelled awful, but you can see the intelligence in his face. My recollections are of him trotting protectively after my grandpa as he did farm chores or, alternatively, lying on the roof of the entrance to the cellar – which is where he’s standing here. Rain or shine, sun or snow, Musti would lie there, just the other side of the kitchen window, where he and Grandpa could keep an eye on each other. The second he saw Grandpa get up from his chair at the kitchen table, Musti would scramble up and jump down from his perch to go wait by the front door.