Michigan Paddling

It rains in Michigan. Said rain drains into streams and then into hundreds of rivers and thousands of lakes. And this means there is an abundance of great paddling across the Mitten State.

Want to learn about the various watersheds? Check out these resources:

Michigan has a lot of water trails to paddle: has a lot of useful information for planning single- and multi-day trips:

And of course there are many useful general guidebooks (loosely defined):

And some specific guidebooks:

And multi-state guidebooks:

If I feel ambitious later, maybe I’ll add rental outfits, guides, and retail outlets. Maybe. Until then, enjoy #PureMichigan.


Car-less Living: Six-month Update

Six months and two Michigan seasons have passed since we last owned a car. We’ve now made it through fall and winter; next up: spring rains and summer heat.

The original three improvements have held true: (1) we’re saving money on transportation even though we pay our friends’ gas when they take us places; (2) we’re spending more time with friends; and (3) we’re getting more exercise (but my waist has actually grown a pant-size over this time).

And the tools that make this workable remain the same as I previously described–quality local businesses, kind friends who let us join in their adventures, a big backpack, bikes in good working condition, and a grocery service (Shipt).

biking in the snow

Quick ride to the bank one morning before heading to the office.

A past motto has become increasingly important: my wife’s gear should be better than mine. If I think I need good rain gear, then she needs great rain gear. If I need a warm jacket, then she needs a super warm parka. Since she’s the one pushing the toddler’s stroller through snow drifts to get to the bank, the one waiting outside for the local bus, the one keeping an eye on a boy who seems impervious to freezing temperatures, her gear needs are not to be minimized. We’ve spent a lot of time outside this winter, so good gear has been important for making that livable.

“I’ve gone a little stir-crazy,” says Cleopatra. In the past we took a lot of spontaneous trips, so it’s been an adjustment to live a life much closer to home. It’s become a big deal to visit the next town down the road.

We recognize that our transportation constraints are a challenge for our friends. Normally, it would be easy to go see friends who live a 30-minute drive away. Now we’re dependent on their willingness to drive to see us. We can bike to visit friends in town, but those who live just a bit further down the road feel far away (and we’ve learned that Google’s bike transit time estimate is much faster than we can actually pedal; we now double the calculation).

The amount of time it takes to do some things has become burdensome. For instance, a twenty-minute doctor’s appointment takes about five hours of the day (waiting for an unreliable bus, commute time that fluctuates since there is no set route, the appointment, waiting for the next bus to come through the area, dealing with a toddler who has missed a nap, etc). Plus we have to plan ahead to have the exact cash for the bus, and we have to remember to call at the right time to reserve a spot on the bus. What once would have been fairly simple is now a major undertaking. There’s no easy outing for Cleopatra with a toddler. Using public transportation to run errands is hard.

“In general, I have to plan ahead a lot more,” Cleopatra says. “I can’t just run to the store and get something last minute. I have to be way more organized.”

We’ve been really fortunate to have access to our friend’s bicycle trailer that hauls two toddlers and two bags of groceries. When the owners come back, we’ll need to get our own trailer. Plus I would really like to get a second trailer to haul more stuff besides the kiddo, maybe a BOB or a Burley used on eBay. I want to be able to carry our inflatable kayak to the river. That would also make it a lot easier to go camping this summer. We’re still trying to figure out how that will work. Riding bikes simply means adventures are closer to home; this shouldn’t mean there are no more adventures. Of course, fat bikes and Xtracycles catch my eye too.

Cleopatra has experienced an unexpected benefit of not having a car–her accelerator foot feels a lot better now. She used to drive a lot for her work, and she developed significant pain from pressing the gas pedal. Driving exacerbated the pain of a previous foot injury. That pain has gone away this year. That is, until she borrows someone’s car and drives again.

Cleopatra summarizes her experience: “I don’t miss the car much. I don’t miss pouring money into gasoline, insurance, and maintenance bills. And the car stench coming from the garage into the house.” She adds, “I also don’t miss feeling guilty for being lazy. I used to really push myself to try to exercise. I hate exercising. It’s so boring to me. I either want to be looking at something interesting or doing exercise that has a purpose besides just raising my heart rate. So I’d lie around being lazy and feeling guilty for it. I don’t even think about exercise for the most part now. And I have more energy than I did last winter.”

If we find a way to family camp on bikes this summer, I’ll post a summary. Otherwise, the next transportation update will probably be either the nine-month or the one-year mark.

BONUS 1: Here are two videos about adventures on bikes: Slow is Fast (31:30) and The Last Hill (15:30).

BONUS 2: I’ve enjoyed following people on extended bike trips. A great example is Fredrika Ek, The Bike Ramble. She rode around the world in 1,000 days. Most impressive.

Three Types of “Fun”

The outdoor community often references the different types of fun, but I don’t think I’ve written about them here. I’ll share a few article excerpts that address the categories, and then provide a link to a representative t-shirt.

The Three (and a Half) Types of Fun, Explained (Ryan Dunfee, Teton Gravity Research, 10 April 2015)

On a base level, everything you could ever do in the outdoors qualifies as fun. From bluebird pow days off the high-speed quad to grueling multi-day backpacking trips in the rain and sleet, it’s all better than being at work, and thus fun. But do you know how to properly classify the type of fun you’re about to embark on this weekend? (link)

The Fun Scale (Kelly Cordes, REI)

Into which category a given experience falls, of course, is highly subjective and highly subject to shifts (particularly from III to II) born of the rosy reflections afforded us by the passage of time.

Which is probably a good thing. After all, as alpinists and mothers both know: It doesn’t have to be “fun” to be fun. (link)

When Fun Isn’t: A Guide to Type II Fun (Alex Blackmer, Backcountry, April 25, 2014)

Even if you’ve never heard about the fun scale, you will probably understand it pretty intuitively. On this highly scientific spectrum, Type I is the easy, fun-while-it’s-happening stuff—mellow powder skiing, lazy cragging, afternoon hiking. You’re bummed when it’s over, but you’d be hard-pressed to remember more than a few specific examples. Type III fun resides at the other end of the scale—miserable while it’s happening, still miserable when it’s over and just as miserable to think about later. Anything that ends with you eating your own shoes, being evacuated by helicopter, or featuring prominently in a non-fiction bestseller likely classifies as Type III.

Somewhere in the middle of this mess lies Type II fun, which is God-awful while you’re doing it, but totally worth it once you’re done. (link)

And now that t-shirt I mentioned. The Dirtbag Diaries podcast has a shirt that maps this all out (based on this podcast episode from December 2009):


Get to Know Your LBS: Cycle & Fitness

Every group has its own language. If you read bike repair forums as I have over the past month while trying to learn how to fix a chain (successful) and mount a rack for panniers (not successful), one of the more frequent acronyms is LBS, or local bike shop. Who is your LBS? What do you like about it?

Since we’ve lived in this area off-and-on for the past 15 years, we’ve appreciated our LBS—Cycle and Fitness—for some time. I bought my lock and tire pump there about 10 years ago, and who knows what else along the way. Maybe you saw I listed them as a quality shop in SW Michigan a few months ago.*

With this new experiment in car-free living (car-ownership-free, to be more precise), we’ve been spending more time and money there. For example, after the accident, we used the insurance company’s short-term rental car to take Cleopatra’s bike in for a tune-up. She said it runs a lot smoother now, but I wasn’t sure what she meant until this week when I took my own bike in for maintenance. Amazing!


Taking a selfie with the new Ortlieb Back-Roller Classic on the rack C&F installed for me. My problem was with the top eyelits. Moments later the waterproof feature was put to the test. No problem, of course.

I have brakes again. They fixed my skewed front fender. They got the rear cassette in fine working order. They figured out how to get my rack on properly so I can use panniers now. Excellent service—quick, friendly, and very helpful.

When I rode in, I had a cargo rack in my backpack. When I rode home, I had everything in a pannier on said rack; a significant improvement. I should have caught the mechanic’s name.

With the rain making travel a bit dodgy, I decided to ride the bike to Cycle and Fitness on back roads. That made the round-trip about 33 miles, which was the most I’d ridden in a day since a 50-mile outing in the late 90s. Thankfully Cleopatra lent me her rain pants. True love.

While we were in the shop, I enjoyed talking a few minutes with Mike the owner and a fellow patron. They shared stories of riding through snow, dressing for the weather, and other biking tips.

Appreciating my wife’s rain pants. “There’s no bad weather, just the wrong clothes.” And yes, those boots (or reservoirs) were “wrong clothes” for this ride.

We talked about a local rider who decided to go without a car for a year so he could buy the bike he wanted. At the end of the year, he decided to keep at it, and he’s now been car-free for three years.

It’s encouraging to hear of people making it work. I have a lot to learn. Over the past few years, I’ve been watching YouTube videos and films (like 23 Feet) about “van life” (plus Goal Zero’s En Route series). But now I’m starting to find stories of people living without cars; the opposite of van life, but just as engaging.

The LBS patron in the conversation advised renting a car once in a while to do all those things that are difficult on a bike — taking a trip up north, running errands that require more storage, whatever. He suggested keeping a list of everything you want to do when you rent that car so you make the most of the rental period. We’re going to remember this one, especially since the Muskegon yurt calls me in the winter.


  1. Even if you don’t sell your car, what errands could you start doing on your bike?
  2. Would it be possible to start commuting to work at least once a week?
  3. What would be your +one with biking. That is, how could you kick it up just one notch in either frequency or duration?
  4. Does your bike need some TLC this fall? If so, don’t procrastinate—check out your LBS, especially if it’s Cycle and Fitness in St Joseph, MI.

*If you live anywhere near St. Joseph, or you come for a visit, these are key outdoor shops to be aware of (and please suggest more in the comments section; I don’t know about hunting, fishing, and many other outdoor sports):

Five Panels and an Unplanned Transportation Experiment

Twenty miles per hour is enough. If you’re wondering how fast you need to drive to total your car, it’s somewhere under twenty miles an hour.

That’s how fast Cleopatra was driving when someone hit her front panel from the side. By the time our car ground to a halt, the other vehicle’s front end had scraped across all four side panels and the section below the doors. That was more than enough for the insurance company to deem it a total loss. Farewell, good and faithful car. So much for my goal of 300,000 miles.

When I got Cleopatra’s text message alerting me to the collision, two questions ran through my mind in quick succession: Are you okay? Could we live without a car or would we need to replace it?

She was fine, and our toddler was home with me, so we were all free of cuts, contusions, concussions, and broken bones. That was the first blessing, if you will.

So that second question, Could we get by without a car for a while? We want to do refugee foster care eventually, so I know we’ll need a car at some point, but what about an experiment? Cleopatra had once experimented by going a year without buying anything new (besides health and safety items). And we’d once done a food experiment where we ate only foods available to the average person in the countries where most of Cleopatra’s immigrant students were coming from. Would she go for this new experiment — life in Michigan with a toddler sans auto?

Let’s try it for a month? If that works, maybe two months. If that works, let’s try to go all winter.

I’d been interested in car-less living ever since reading about Tom Sobal, who I wrote about on this very Pack Light blog in 2005. And we’d lived in Asia for three years without a car. It certainly slowed things down, but it was fine, though we had great public transportation there.

We agreed to try it, but we decided not to tell anyone for a month. Then if people said it couldn’t be done, we’d be able to say we’d already done it for a month. Word leaked out a bit, but this is our announcement: as of yesterday, we have not owned a car for a month.

The rest of this post will cover three things: (1) how we’re making it work; (2) how the accident addressed three different and seemingly unrelated prayer requests; and (3) “but what about…?”

How We’re Making It Work

We had some things in place and we’ve made a few adjustments that together make this easier than one might expect. First, we already had bikes, and we had a bike trailer on loan from a beautiful family. That helps us transport our toddler and loads of groceries regardless of the weather. Also, I’m in the process of putting panniers on my bike so I can carry loads more easily. If we were going to do this long-term, I’d also either want to get a bike trailer or an Xtracycle. Second, we live in close proximity to my work, our bank, a hardware store, our church, and a grocery store with an adequate health-food section. Third, I sold my 32L pack and got a used orange 40L backpack for carrying groceries and other household items.


Public transportation in our area isn’t great, but Berrien Bus covers our county. We haven’t found Lyft or Uber to be of any help here, but friends have been key. Friends who are going to Costco, a grape vineyard (pictured above), or other helpful destinations have offered rides that have meant a lot. A friend has weekly driven Cleopatra out to a farm to pick up our CSA half-share, so we give her half of the produce. Win-win. This week we tried a grocery shopping/home delivery service for the first time. Brilliant!

And right now there’s a car in our garage. Some friends lent us their extra car while Cleopatra’s mom is in town. But we’re going to pay this friend for the service; we’re not asking people to pay for our transportation. We just want to try to get by without owning a car ourselves. “Help us with transportation once in awhile, and we’ll help pay your car expenses.” Again, win-win.

Prayer Requests

After we’d been doing this for a week or two, Cleopatra pointed out to me how this experiment in car-less living is answering three things we had been discussing and praying about: loneliness, exercise, and money.

First, we were looking for ways to connect with people more. Cleopatra is home with our toddler all day, and I’m busy with work and a few side projects. That wasn’t leaving us much time or energy for socializing. Now we’re spending a lot more time with people. In the past, if we wanted to go to a large grocery store, we hopped in the car and went. If we wanted to go to the beach, we fired up the internal combustion engine. If we wanted to pick fruit, we pulled out of the driveway and headed straight to the orchard, field or vineyard. Now we go with friends. We talk on the way, while we’re there, and at home when they decide to stick around for a bit. We’re sharing life.

Second, I had been trying to figure out how to make time for more exercise. Besides my 20-minute walk to and from work everyday (a great time for podcasts), I was doing a lot of sitting. At this age, it was beginning to show. Now when I need to go to the bank, I ride. When we need bolts or bubble-wrap, I ride to the hardware store. On Friday I took the 40L back to the grocery story with Toddler in the stroller; we returned with a fine haul for friends who are about to come over for soup and a fire out back (we scavenged wood using the stroller and the bike trailer; again see picture above). We’re both exercising significantly more now.

Third, we had been praying over the budget, looking for ways to cut back. Under the influence of Mr. Money Mustache and others, we were already living pretty simply, but we were still looking for ways to cut expenses since there are three of us living on my hourly income. I don’t think I ever could have convinced Cleopatra to sell the car for the sake of the budget, but since it’s gone, we’re seeing the financial benefits. We had been spending about $300 a month on auto expenses (loan payment, insurance, gas, maintenance), and I figure we’ll still spend around $100 on transportation per month now, so possibly saving us around $200 a month.

But What About…?

But what about emergencies? What about the winter? What about next spring during camping season? What about doctor appointments? What about…?

Yes, these are all important questions. We don’t pretend to have perfect answers to all of them. And we don’t intend to go without a car indefinitely. We’ll see how the experiment goes. The most important question is definitely about camping, and these families found a way: Gone Camping, Family Bike Camping.

I don’t think this experiment would be possible without friends who share rides with us. At least it would be a much more constricting experiment. I haven’t personally felt much of a change yet, to be honest. I already walked to work year-round, something I’ve done at different jobs for years. Even when I worked at home for Toddler’s first year, we didn’t have a car while Cleopatra was away at work. We’d go for long walks in the stroller, on good days making it to the closest gas station for a treat like a Clif Bar or apple juice. For Cleopatra it’s been a bigger change, but so far she’s rockin’ it.

As the Beatles sang: we get by with a little help from our friends. Long live community!

Bonus 1: Check out these documentaries:

Bonus 2: TEDx Talks

The Dirtbag Diaries — Endangered Spaces

I’m a big fan of the Dirtbag Diaries podcast. Episode after episode is so good (e.g., Winnebago Warriors, Catching Hope, The Fear is Real, etc.), but I’ve especially appreciated a new series they’ve started on environmental activism–important stories, committed people, practical insights. Love it. Here are the first three:

Endangered Spaces: Bears Ears. “In the beginning, Josh came to Bears Ears, Utah in search of adventure. But the more time he spent there, the less his relationship with the landscape had to do with first ascents, and the more it had to do with connecting to the current people and ancient cultures who call Bears Ears home. Now, Josh is a leader in the fight to protect the 1.9 million acres of wild, history-rich, red sandstone landscape.”

Endangered Spaces: Katahdin Woods and Waters. “For Lucas, the endangered space wasn’t the land he was working to protect, but the communities that surround it.”

Endangered Spaces: Boundary Waters. “For our third Endangered Spaces episode, we travel to Northern Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness to follow Dave and Amy Freeman on ‘Paddle to D.C.’ and ‘A Year in the Wilderness,’ two adventures that had a real impact in advocating for the protection of the place they love most.”

Fitz, Becca, Jen, and Anya: keep rockin’ the stories. You’re the best! (And one of these days my wife and I are going to send you our short about adoption and the river that runs through it.)