by Matt Schiff
While traveling through an area, our schedule (our own self-imposed arbitrary schedule that keeps us moving fast enough to finish this thing in a year) never allows us too much time in any one place. While we’ve spent a few nights in some areas, usually catching up with old friends from school, our average stop, whether it be a rest day or school presentation is just one day. That’s enough time to find out where the library or wireless internet is and time to meet a few people. We get a sense what the town is like but leave many areas unexplored. Our visit to Escanaba was a little different and not just because we spent a little more than two full days there, but because we met so many people, commuted the streets enough to not need a map, and even learned the off-road shorts cuts. The town gained a familiarity that comes when you live somewhere.
Our stay in Escanaba began with a stop at the local pasty shop. After riding consistently all morning, with a slight wind at our backs, we’d covered almost a whole day of riding (45 miles) by lunch time. Forget grocery store lunch, it was time to get another pasty.
In the U.P. people are a little different; they talk with an accent, really pronouncing those o’s, are quite hardy and hospitable, and eat these little pot-pie like pockets called pastys (pass-tees). A meal that originated for miners, heated up on a shovel over a fire, a pasty is an enclosed meal in a pocket that most likely sparked the quite inferior and more disgusting hot pocket. It was in this pasty shop (Gram’s Pasties) that we met our first helpful gentleman and guide of the town, Bob Stasewich.
Bob is a local who works down at city hall and was the perfect contact to help us figure out where to shop and where to camp. Since the best possible place to camp was in the direction of his house, he gave it a thought and after a few minutes invited us to camp at his place and save a few bucks. Lately we’ve been quite lucky in getting more offers from complete strangers but it’s no coincidence that this has been happening in the U.P.; people here are friendly. Bob’s a down to earth guy who doesn’t beat around the bush when asking questions or telling stories. Over the course of the next two days we spent a good amount of time talking with him and sharing stories. He’s spent a good number of days hunting and ice fishing. Early in the year when the ice first forms he walks out behind his house on the little bay of Lake Michigan to go ice fishing. It’s thin ice but he figures if it breaks he only goes down a few feet since the water stays shallow for a while. He’s also the kind of person not afraid to mention the train bridge – a shortcut to his house – as an option for the adventurous type. Even with his experiences and that no worry kind of attitude, he found our trip pretty remarkable and exciting.
Our next stop for the day was to get some internet and as we headed east down the main street, we stopped at the first place advertising wireless. It was a coffee shop and deli (Stone Cup Coffee House & Stones Deli) with an unusual amount of space – perfect for events, parties, or a couple of cyclists trying to hide out in a corner (too bad we came with full stomachs). Soon we got to talking to the owners, Jim and Rachel, and with what has become typical U.P. hospitality, they even offered up their shower for us to use (as well as treating us to breakfast the next day). It was also here where we met Roger Good who helped us get some more media coverage with the local television station, as well as sponsoring us with another meal. Looking back at that time, a few days later, we were three stinky cyclists enjoying great hospitality and a bit of small town fame as we passed through. It went all to our heads.
It was good we had an extra day before presentations because with all the interest it spilled onto our scheduled rest day. I guess we can’t complain; we’re not working too hard right now. The presentations leave us plenty tired though. I don’t know how teachers do it, but 5 hours of classes leaves us more wiped out than full days of bike riding.
On Wednesday we spoke to 1st and 2nd graders at Lemmer Elementary school, 7th graders at the middle school on Thursday, and then more 1st, 2nd, and 4th graders in the afternoon. Thursday was a full day of school. We got up at 6:30 in order to make the 6 mile commute to the middle school and be on time. It was a slight rush get there, unpack our bags and set up our tents, stove, and things we carry for entertainment in the gym, but it’s hard to get motivated to move when it’s dark out. Being on the western edge of the time zone the sun didn’t rise until 7:45 meaning we had to pack up and ride in the dark. It seems about time to get rid of the daylight savings hour.
Later on in the day we spoke to 4th graders and then ate school lunch with them in the lunchroom. We’d apparently made some new friends, about a tables worth for each of us. Stardom was once again going to our heads as the kids gathered around us and fought to sit close. Now it was our turn to listen to them and hear their stories. By the end of the lunch period plenty of kids were talking about riding their bikes to school the next day so we felt we must have succeeded on some fronts.
By the end of Wednesday and Thursday we’d talked with 7 classes and 240 kids, leaving us a little spent and ready to fill our Michigan pizza quota (Tommy’s goal of eating pizza in every state). It was time to get out of town… before we got another offer for a place stay. Escanaba was just too good to us. We’ll remember this place for all its generosity – from people like Roger, Bob, Jim and Rachel, and Stephan (a former bike mechanic who worked on our bikes for free) who didn’t know us from a stranger on the street, but offered to help.