Monday, August 22, 2011

Thursday: Flint

I had planned an early start for Thursday morning so that I could bike the fifty miles to Flint, paint, then bike twenty more miles to the Holly State Recreation Area campground. I woke up, ate breakfast, and packed up camp as fast as I could...which was not especially fast. (I still haven't quite mastered the art of efficient camp set up and take down.) As I was simultaneously drinking coffee, trying to roll up my sleeping bag, and deflate my thermarest, a 7-year-old boy and his grandfather walked up. "Hi," said the grandfather, "we have some questions about your bike. Are you taking a bike trip?" "Yes I am," I said, swallowing a mouthful of coffee. "So, you just tie your tent and all your stuff to your bike?" asked the seven-year-old.
"Pretty much."
"Where is your bike trip taking you?" asked the grandfather.
"New York City."
"New York City!?!" shrieked the seven-year-old, "can you even last that long? You might die first."

Risking death, and my gear all packed, I headed towards Flint. Four hours of pedaling and one lunch break later I reached Flint's western margin. I ducked into a beat-up Seven-Eleven to refill my water bottles and buy some M&Ms. "Hey bike shorts," a voice behind me said as I paid for my candy, "is that your Surly bicycle sittin' outside?" I turned around to face a skinny man with mangled yellow teeth and beef jerky skin. An unbuttoned leather vest revealed a sparsely-haired birdcage chest. "Yes it is," I said. He shifted the chew in his mouth. "I got some Surly hubs on my mountain bicycle. They're nice. So where you goin' to with that thing?"
"New York."
"Holy fuckin' Jesus! By yourself?"
"Can I ask you a question?"
"Are you fuckin' crazy?"

I rode northward because I had heard that the north side of Flint had the most factories and industry. I biked through neighborhoods where half of the houses were boarded up. Check cashing stores sat glumly on street corners. After a couple hours of riding though increasingly collapsed neighborhoods, I finally found some factories (this with the help of my dad, who was examining 'Google Earth' views of Flint and acting as my GPS-over-the-phone-industrial-heap-locater). I drew for a while, but never did I feel safe enough to set up my easel and paint. (Painting is a 2-3 hour project, which in Flint Michigan felt like too long to be standing still without a bodyguard.)

After several sketches, the increasingly jumpy-stomach-flippy feeling told me it was time to leave Flint and head for the campground. I pedaled south on the bicycle route highlighted on my map. The 'bicycle route' turned out to be a four-lane undivided road with no shoulder hosting a car rally (the 'Back to the Bricks Rolling Cruise'). The road was clogged with people showing off their fast cars and their big cars and their loud cars. A slow, small, quiet bicycle (me) was an unwelcome addition. Lawnchairs full of car fanatics lined the sidewalks on either side of the street. Periodic LED signs flashed: 'No Burnouts, No Public Alcohol'. Both prohibitions were rampantly ignored. "Hey Lance Armstrong," a slurry voice yelled, "this ain't the Tour-de-fuckin'-France." Ten miles of similarly witty comments later, I finally reached the end of the car rally.

Completely wiped out from dealing with Flint and biking 79 miles, I rolled into the Holly State Recreation Area Campground. The 'campground' was a hot, treeless field littered with campers full of vacationers and family-reunioners. I set up my tent in my assigned spot (#149) next to a christmas-tree-light-bedazzled 'Dutchman' trailer. The inhabitants of the Dutchman sat in folding chairs around a TV hooked up to an extension cord, and contributed regularly to a quickly-growing beer can pyramid.

After dinner, whiskey, and a few phone calls to friends to complain about Flint and the football field campground, I headed to the bathroom for a shower. Twenty minutes under a stream of hot water would surely make things better. As I hung up my towel on the hook next to the shower door, a small sign caught my eye: "Showers: 25 cents per minute". Below the sign was a coin slot. I dug through my pockets. I only had one quarter.

Mileage for the day: 79
Total trip mileage: 684

Below (from top to bottom):

Burnt-out house
Boarded-up house
Pawn shop
Industrial rubble heap
Moore Street!
'Bring It Fest' (?) bus
Flint window-cling at the car rally
Dog sculpture made out of car parts (at the car rally)


  1. when driving from my relative's in Ontario, back into the US at Port Huron/Sarnia, it always felt like I was entering a 3rd world country, as the road quality immediately deteriorated, there were broken down cars along the roadway, etc.
    America looks like a 3rd world country
    and it is way more dangerous than China, that's for sure.

  2. I was once referred to as Lance Armstrong, here in Madison, as I rode under an overpass with 3-4 kids standing on it. I was concerned at first that they had something to throw at me, but no, they just wanted to chat, and to know about my bike and where I was going.

  3. @Ferguson: I have heard that the US is by far not the best country for cycling. Maybe I should consider this trip a hazing ritual...

    @Ali: I have been called 'Lance' in Madison a couple times, too! (on State Street)