She Said You Wanna Check Out A Rowdier Bar–It’s Saturday Night I Replied

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Superior, Wisconsin

July 27, ‘80

Biking was good, and I arrived in Duluth around 6 p.m. I didn’t stick around. Except for the hills, the old city wasn’t that impressive. On my way out of town, I had to cross a bridge that didn’t allow bicycles. The bridge connected Duluth to Superior, Wisconsin. There was a fifty dollar fine if you got caught crossing the bridge on a bicycle. The traffic wasn’t bad, so I rode across the bridge. Embedded in the pavement, in some spots, were large metal bars with gaping spaces between them. After almost wrecking my bike on the first two holes, I found that if I rode across the bars counter to the direction of the highway I stood a pretty good chance of not falling through the holes. It was a relief to make it to the other side of the bridge without a ticket, and in one piece.

I decided I needed a drink to celebrate my arrival in Wisconsin. Bars were not difficult to find in Superior, the place was full of them. Inside, I ordered up a nice 45-cent draft, and a pizza (even though it had sausage– for religious purposes I had given up eating red meat a couple of years ago). Some girls came in and sat at the bar next to me. One of them asked me if I wanted to check out a rowdier bar. I said, “Sure, it’s Saturday night, isn’t it!” I figured I could roll my sleeping bag out behind the gas station next to the bar. It was already dark, so I stashed my bike there, and went off with the girls.

Before long, I was out on the street, walking around in a drunken haze. For me, it was too many beers too fast. I remember being in one really crowded bar where I ran out of beer. Instead of pushing my way through the crowd to get another one, I walked over to a shelf by the pool tables and grabbed a full beer. With beer in hand, I just kept walking, right out of the bar. That incident was so totally out of character for me that I knew I had gone over my limit, but I had also lost the girls. Luckily, just before the panic set in, I ran into one of them on the street, and she and her friends drove me back to my bike. Behind the gas station, I more or less crawled out of the back seat of their car, and that’s where I remained until morning. When the sunshine and the gas station attendant intruded on my hangover space, I went looking for coffee.

I couldn’t enjoy bicycling. I felt a little better after I stopped at a restaurant and had pancakes, eggs, and corn beef hash. Actually, the corn beef hash wasn’t all that good (again the red meat), but I needed to get my alcohol-wracked body back in shape. I spent the night somewhere in the Wisconsin woods, and after the next morning’s breakfast, I finally started to feel normal again.

I’m presently cooking at a wayside about 20 miles from the Michigan border. I’m frying up some potatoes, onions, and eggs. I’ll be in tiptop shape when I cross the Michigan border tomorrow. The last three days have been beautiful. If my memory serves me correctly this is only the third time I have had three days in a row of good weather since Oregon.

Michigan

July 29

It’s a beautiful morning in the upper peninsula of Michigan. I just met the wayside greeter lady. She’s very friendly, and quite a character. At 73 she’s still going strong. She lives with her son on a small farm.

Yesterday, while I was writing in my journal, the clouds started to roll in, and by the time I had finished eating breakfast, I had to don my rain gear. All total, I was in and out of the rain four times, but I missed the main cloudburst by hanging out in a store. It started really raining about 30 minutes after I reached the wayside. I almost got caught in it because when I pulled in this nice family immediately befriended me, and I was obliged to drink a beer with them. They were really nice people, but when the rain hit, I was still putting up my tent.

It doesn’t look like rain today, but the voice on the radio, coming out of one of the parked cars, just said thunderstorms for tomorrow. Oh well I guess I can handle a few more days of rain. Anyway, it looks like a super day today. Yesterday, when I was in and out of the rain, I noticed a bulge in my front tire–bummer. I had over a hundred miles to go before the next big town. I patched the tire on the inside
of the bulge. With that added strength, I should make it. That said, I am disappointed in myself; strapped to my sleeping bag, I carried a used spare tire all the way across
Canada. When I hit Minnesota, I threw it away. I figured I was home.

In The Winter They Got Snowed In A Lot, Sometimes For Weeks

Upper Peninsula Farm

July 30, ‘80

Hi journal. Lots to talk about.

Back at that wayside, before I was able to head out, the lady greeter came over to me and asked if I ever worked odd jobs. She wasn’t really offering me a job, but she was offering me food and a place to sleep if I would help her son put up bails of hay. It was bailing time back on her farm, and the job, apparently, was strenuous and a bit dangerous. “Normally I help him,” she said, “but I can’t get away today.” If I ever had a romantic daydream, it was putting up bails of hay in a barn’s loft. The closest I had ever got to living that dream was when I fed bails of hay into a mulcher. I worked for a sodding company and the hay kept the sod from drying out. Under those conditions, I found out what straw sticking to sweat felt like, but it still wasn’t the “real thing.” This time around, however, I wasn’t just going to throw bails of hay, I was going to see how people survive using only their God given wits and resources! After I told the lady I would help (and that was the easy part), I headed off to find the farm.

The farm was twelve miles northeast of the wayside. To get there I had to backtrack four miles, and then go north on a county road. After another four or five miles of pitted pavement, I found myself in “no man’s land,” and that’s when I made another turn and headed down a bumpy, gravel road, my eyes clued to the bulge in my front tire. After a mile or so, I began to regret my decision, but I gave my word, and besides, I was repulsed by the thought of wasted effort. Before I reached the farm, the road went from gravel to a dirt trail. After two and half miles of bicycling through the backcountry of northern Michigan, I came to the meadow where the farm was located. I was not happy. Scratching through my sweaty t-shirt the five or six insect bits that I accumulated along the way, I road up to the house and found nobody home. I sat on the steps of the back porch contemplating what to do next.

The house itself was a small, wooden structure, badly in need of paint. Out back was a falling down barn, and on the other side of that was the hay field. I was ready to leave when out of the hay field came this roaring motorcycle headed in my direction. I was warmly greeted once the guy on the motorcycle realized there was someone sitting on his back porch. After introductions (his name was also Guy), I explained to him that with a little coxing, his mother had gotten me to volunteer to help him put some hay in the barn. He just chuckled and said, “Yeah, she’s always looking after me, but I can handle it. And anyway, as you can see we don’t have a barn.”

I felt a little uncomfortable. Guy was right, the barn was good for only firewood, and there I was in the middle of nowhere, talking with this guy who didn’t seem to need my help. But more importantly, he wasn’t surprised to see me. It was as if I was just another “no name” his mother had sent him. I wanted to get on my bike and ride, but I bit my lip and said, “Well, here I am. What do you want me to do?” As long as you’re here,” he said, “I’ll go get the tractor and we’ll stack some hay.” And then back into the field he went on his motorcycle. Minutes later, he was back, pulling a wagonload of hay with his tractor.

Once I started working, I felt much better. Guy turned out to be a nice guy afterall. What I originally took to be slow wittedness wasn’t. Guy talked slow, even slurred his words, but he was not “slow.” He did have a hard time with why I was there, though. My desire to get a feel for what it’s like to be a farmer just didn’t make sense to him, but I couldn’t fault him for that. Before we were through, we had stacked 150 bales of hay, and secured the stack with plastic. The hay was protected from the long, cold, windy, Upper Peninsula winters by using tires strapped together with ropes (and in some cases chains) to hold down the plastic. “I always seem to lose the weather side, but the rest of the hay, or hopefully most of it, remains good throughout the winter,” he said. The hot, very hot afternoon sun saturated me in sweat, grit, and the smell of the barnyard. I was not disappointed. The conversation I had with Guy was the best part of it, though.

The Kitzman’s numbered nine children with twenty-nine year old Guy the only child still living at home. Together, he and his mother worked the farm. According to Guy, his seventy-three year old mother did the same work I was doing. (I didn’t know whether to be happy for her or sad. It was a little hard to believe, however.) All the children, except Guy, were born in the little shed out back. The shed now contained a calf and a very pretty colt. The Kitzman’s had lived on their farm for a long time. In fact, the gravel road I came in on was named Kitzman road. The farm itself was 350 acres, but only 150 were cleared. The farm fed 10 cows, 13 horses, 2 pigs, 2 geese, and one dog. They kept a grove of apple trees to keep the bees happy, and the bees produced
the Kitzman’s sugar. Sitting just inside the back porch was a milk separator and butter churn. Also, on the back porch, a huge number of houseflies were buzzing around. They were three or four inches deep on the window seal. When we went inside the house, after the work was done, I found myself sitting in room full of flies. “They’re here because of the heat,” Guy told me. “When the sun goes down, they thin out some.” They didn’t seem to bother Guy, but they did me. The room itself had some furniture scattered around the wood stove. Aside from the refrigerator and radio, no other signs of luxury were present. It was pretty easy to tell that the Kitzman’s lifestyle was work, work, and more work.

According to Guy, in the winter, they got snowed in a lot, sometimes for weeks. They survived on his trap line. It produced food and brought in $1000 to $1500 each winter in pelts. It was a two-day affair to run the trap line, which meant a cold night in the woods each time he went out. Occasionally, he even got caught in his own traps. He told me he never worried about it, since his mother fixed everything. One time he shot himself in the knee with a 22-caliber rifle and had to walk three miles back to the farm. His mother fixed that too. Guy’s trapping even developed into a philosophy of life. He told me there are four kinds of people in the world: the sheep that follow, the wolf that is always out to get the sheep (by the way, while trapping guy has run across wolves — upper Michigan wolves), the conniving and complaining coyote that will do whatever it takes to survive, and the trapper. The trapper is always ready to fight, both for himself and for others. In either case, though, he is always fighting. Guy considered himself a trapper, and that was apparent.

My trip to the farm was a great experience. I originally planned to spend the night, but I was already uncomfortably dirty, a love-boat to the flies, so I thought it best to say farewell to Guy, and bicycle off into what was left of the afternoon sunshine. The northwest wind not only made bicycling easier, it also took away the barnyard smell that had not left my body. Before the day was done, I had covered another 40 miles. I camped that night at Perch Creek wayside, another beautiful Michigan wayside—paradise for long distance bicyclers.

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2 Responses to “She Said You Wanna Check Out A Rowdier Bar–It’s Saturday Night I Replied”

  1. sue s Says:

    I loved reading that….such pictures it conjures up….of the tough old lady and her son…butter churns and black flies….horses and cattle…loved it

  2. dave Says:

    Thanks for the comment. I’ve stumbled into many interesting situations, but this one stands out as most memorable. Oh, back then the DNR (Department of Natural Recourses) said there were no wolves in Michigan. Now, they acknowledge that there are not only wolves but puma’s also. These predators live in the northern reaches of the state.

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