The Wastelands

written in Manistique, MI by Chalk

July 20th:  from Indian River, we were only about 33 miles away from Mackinaw City (the “Tip of the Mitt”, where Line 5 crosses the Straits of Mackinac coming from the Upper Peninsula).  Normally that would be less than a day’s travel, but because we weren’t sure enough what the roads would be like, in particular whether more sandy roads would reduce our pace to a crawl, it seemed like a formidable distance.  As it turned out, most of the rest of the roads were well paved, and the next few days were much more manageable.

There are a lot of homes along Line 5 near Indian River.
There are a lot of homes along Line 5 near Indian River.

After spending the rest of that Wednesday catching up with logistics, most of us canvassed homes just west of I-75 and just north of where Line 5 reaches and passes through the Calvin Campbell Municipal Airport, the first of 4 airports the pipeline crosses on its way to Sarnia, Ontario.  From what we’ve seen/analyzed so far, it seems that this cluster of ~30 homes/buildings may be the densest in terms of people living by Line 5.  It’s also particularly vulnerable because of a waterway that feeds into Indian River that seems to run right along the path of Line 5.

On Friday night we stayed over at the home of a supportive connection near Levering.  She had an adorably small yet quaint and unique home which was well-decorated on the inside.  She spoke of a transformative spiritual journey she undertook involving walking for hundreds of miles, and remarked that she saw Bike the Line in a similar light.  It was humbling to hear someone speak of Bike the Line as more than just an activisty mission, as being more of a spiritual journey.

The very next day, we got to the Straits of Mackinac.  I’ve been there before, had the pleasure of seeing a massive body of water that I was actually able to drink from (which was a huge deal for me because I grew up near the undrinkable saltwaters of an Atlantic coast).  But to see my four other teammates reach the Straits and get to experience its beauty for the first time was itself exceptional, and brought new feelings.  I was thus compelled, on arriving at the Straits, to pass hugs around to every one of them and say “congratulations”.

About 12 miles from the Straits of Mackinac, the team views the Mackinac Bridge for the first time (barely visible here).
About 12 miles from the Straits of Mackinac, the team views the Mackinac Bridge for the first time (barely visible in the photograph).

I also said this knowing that three of the five teammates were stopping there, would not continue with us much further in our canvassing expedition (though one of them, Fred, later changed their mind and continued on with us for another week to Manistique).  It definitely changed the team dynamic to lose 2-3 vibrant personalities, interesting folks who brought and took back with them their backgrounds, skills and lived experiences.  I say this in Manistique having just said goodbye to Fred:  the team’s now down to two, Iona and myself, as we were when we began in Marysville.

***

A few hours after reaching the Straits that Saturday, we were gifted with the presence of yet more folks on a clearly spiritual journey.  A traveling opera theatre group known as Children of the Wild (COW) had been making its way west from Massachusetts to Minnesota, passing through the Great Lakes in the process.  Little clue had most of us Bike the Line folks that COW arranged to be at the Straits of Mackinac when we got there.  They arranged, prepared for and performed the Wastelands, what was easily one of the most well-done and meaningful performances I’ve seen in years.  What especially struck me was how amazingly thought-provoking it was… it wasn’t theatre merely for entertainment’s sake, but it seemed as though the performers were aspiring that their audiences would think hard about their ways and the ways of society, and act on what they learn in meaningful and socially transformative ways.  I was also very impressed by how well integrated the performance was to the space it was held at.  (Which, by the way, just so happened to be a mere block away from and in clear viewing distance of Enbridge’s brand-spanking-new Mackinac pump station.)  In fact, the Wastelands, as performed at the Straits, actually ended on Lake Michigan.  Literally.

The Wastelands, performance by Children of the Wild
                  The Wastelands, performance by Children of the Wild

Special thanks to them and supporting organization Great Lakes Commons for making all this happen!  And by the way, friends in Detroit should definitely attend their performance this Saturday at the upcoming Sidewalk Festival.  🙂

***

There’s more to this trip than any of us can ever write about.  But to briefly touch upon a few other things, we had a community bike ride the following day, then Children of the Wild and Great Lakes Commons facilitated a conversation about how groups can support one-another in protecting the Great Lakes and planet at large, and soon after most everyone left the site (which again, was right next to the newly-renovated Enbridge pump station which Raven Security was guarding), a Raven security person stopped me while I was biking off to converse with me about stuff.  I wasn’t sure where he was going with it since I wasn’t doing anything at all, but he was sure to tell me he recognized me from previous Enbridge events, and that he himself cared about the Great Lakes, was glad for protestors because they gave him business and that despite his work, he wanted the pipeline shut down too! Lol…

Always Learning

ants
Wow! Look at that massive ant hill!

By Kevin

On Sunday we wake up at The Place with all the Ants. Chalk had gotten up early and made a breakfast of oatmeal for everyone and Velveeta EZ mac for those of adventurous palates. After getting bit by some ants we try to head out but soon realize we have some pressing bike maintenance needs; all the bouncing around in the woods has loosened some of the hubs of our wheels. I help Caroline adjust hers and Chalk works on mine. Some ball bearings are mysteriously absent but we put it all back together and so far its been fine. Always learning! Finally we get on the road and soon we stop at a nice lady’s house. She had waved at me and I smiled and imploringly shook my empty bottle and she invited us in to fill up our  water! What hospitality!

The beautiful misty morning turns to a drizzly afternoon as we ride into Lewiston. Caroline and I think we’ve hit the big time when we find a bunch of returnable cans and bottles in the dumpster behind a grocery store but get yelled at by a manager when we try to feed them into the returnables machine. Apparently they only take cans the store sells and also we should stay out of their trash. Always learning! We wait out the rest of the rain in the foyer of the grocery store and also in a closed car wash across the street.

We bike together for a bit then split into two teams. The first person Chalk and I talk to is very receptive to what we say about Line 5 and also signs our petition. The second person cuts us off mid spiel to tell us she’s not interested. Even though I obviously think Line 5 is an important issue that people should pay attention to, thinking about all the times someone has come into my space and talked a great deal at me makes me respect her for doing that. Something we’ve talked a lot about is how to more fully engage people in a conversation instead of just unloading an avalanche of facts at them. Generally after giving a line about what we’re doing I’ll ask the person if they’re familiar with Line 5 and what they think of it and if they’ve had any contact with Enbridge. Always learning and all but if any of you blog readers out there have any thoughts in this regard, we’d love to hear from you!

Chalk & Caroline in front of the Johannesburg Library
Chalk & Caroline in front of the Johannesburg Library

Chalk and I bike off and meet up with the other folx under the awning of a closed library in Johannesburg, Fred and I go off to canvass another home but it turns out to be some uncanvassable industrial facility down a sandy road. We stand around wondering what to do next and eat some wild peas we find growing next to us and watch the sun get closer to the horizon. We head back to the others then are off again to look for a place to camp. After five or six miles we find a gate that says “closed except for public foot traffic” and let ourselves in to a nice night of camping on top of a giant hill.

The next day the skies clear up and we’re back to wondering around unmarked sand roads through the woods. Every day we seem to get a little bit further behind schedule and unfortunately the beautiful wilderness we keep getting lost in only adds to our headaches. Some eloquent person could probably speak a great deal on the irony of our fighting Enbridge, with their “productivity above all else” mentality, while ourselves cursing the sand and trees that stand between us and our objectives. Still, of all the places to be mired in existential crisis, a birch and fern laden wetland forest on a beautiful day with your comrades is pretty nice. Somehow we end up in someone’s backyard so it’s probably good they aren’t home when we try to canvass them. We go down their driveway and realize we’ve gone in a giant circle! Frick! We’re a little discouraged but continue on in a new direction to new unmarked roads and more houses with no one home.

Hours later Chalk and Iona miraculously navigate us to the Song of The Morning yoga and meditation retreat center and we emerge wearily onto their beautiful property. The generous staff offers us showers and left over chili, salad, and lo mein. It’s all so beautiful and delicious I can’t help feeling like I’m in a fairy tale. I start doing laundry in a bucket and more learning occurs when Chalk shows me how you can use hotel shampoo tubes as laundry detergent. Wow! We decide to switch our plans around and ask SOTM if we can camp there that night. They agree and some of us treat ourselves to some much needed relaxation. Others heroically plunge into logistics planning and routing.

The night passes pleasantly and the morning gets rearranged so we can help out in their garden for a few hours. We hit the sand about 4pm and canvass as a group for the rest of the day. Iona and I talk to a nice banjo maker who bemoaned letting Enbridge have a life long lease on his property for only $5000. “Thats like pennies for them,” he says. We also talked to a lady who agreed with everything we said about Line 5 but didn’t want to sign the petition out of fear of some sort of retaliation from Enbridge. This has become an unfortunately common reaction for us.

Thanks for the great route, Google!
Thanks for the great route, Google!

We bike on and get lost again and soon find ourselves talking to some nice people in a golf cart. They let us sleep on their lawn! One of them even drives Fred and Caroline to a grocery store in Wolverine. Chalk and Iona and I kick it with some of the other golf carters around a fire, I’ve been lugging around my accordion and Iona’s got his recorder with him (a much more practical traveling instrument) and we play some music with Jed, who lives there and plays a wooden box drum instrument. Willow, who also lives there, shows us pictures of her paintings (we wish we could post them here cuz they’re amazing!) and there’s one really cool one of a psychedelic cow! Caroline and Fred return and we make a big meal of rice, beans, and vegetables. Mmm! In the morning Chalk is up early again making oatmeal and I get up and help him make eggs that someone gave us cooked in some beef tallow I’ve been traveling with. Mmm! Also cooked was some greens with salad dressing used as cooking oil. We don’t have any other vegan oil so this is an experiment. It was OK but not quite “Mmm!” status.

We break up into teams again with Chalk and Fred zipping ahead and Caroline, Iona, and I hanging back and canvassing houses close by. We take off down the road and Petey, Willow’s lovely exuberant tiny pit bull, runs alongside us with his big goofy tongue slobbering in the wind. One mile and several turns later he’s still kickin it with us. He’s messed with some people’s dog and chased a rabbit and we yell “Go home Petey!” but he just pants and looks at us blankly. I decide to bike back to get him home and Iona and Caroline try to find the next house to canvass. We meet back up and struggle to make sense of our outdated map. Luckily a friendly mail lady stops and gives us some better directions. We get to all our houses and an additional one but unfortunately we aren’t able to talk to anyone except for one mean old fart of a neighbor who yells at us for being in someone’s driveway. We bike off and go through the town of Wolverine then get on a bike trail that takes us all the way to our friends working online at the McDonald’s in Indian River, MI. Hurray!

Hike the Line Part 2

…”Hike” the Line continued.  Read part 1 here.

***

That afternoon, we made a fateful turn onto a sandy road with the hopes that it would turn back to pavement soon. As the sand grew deeper, our tires got increasingly wobbly in the deep sand and we were forced to walk our bikes. Bike the Line had suddenly morphed into “Hike” the Line as we strained ourselves past sand intersection past sand intersection past sand intersection. It became apparent we were becoming increasingly lost as road signs disappeared and we became less and less sure of where we were headed. Thankfully, we managed to get a few bars of service in order to reach our much more well resourced support team to attempt to give us directions. Unfortunately, by this point, were over nine miles away from any semblance of paved roads. The only choice was to keep trekking. Wild blueberries lined our route, providing a quick distraction from our rather dire situation. Our spirits suddenly lifted when we spotted a porcupine climbing a tree, and we all stopped, transfixed at a mammal that seemed to be a mix of koala, badger, and cactus.

We stopped to admire the beauty of a porcupine in the wild.
We stopped to admire the beauty of a porcupine in the wild.

Trudging our bikes mile after mile, we finally retired to camp next to the path and cook a quick meal of black bean veggie burritos. Our water supply began to get dangerously low–but in a moment of serendipity, Chalk encountered a generous park ranger who gave him six plastic water bottles when Chalk went ahead to explore the route for the following day. We put up our tents and fell asleep almost immediately to the sounds of whippoorwills and howling coyotes, our tired bones eager for rest.

Our route forced us through sand roads for days... sometimes on the Line 5 easement itself.
Our route forced us through sand roads for days… often on the Line 5 easement itself.

We awoke early, eating leftover English muffins and Velveeta mac ‘n cheese for breakfast. The difficulty of the sand path only worsened as we forced our bikes through oil-like mud pits and steep sandy hills. We got more than a few very puzzled looks from people on four wheelers and dirt bikes. After a few more wrong turns, in the late afternoon, we finally reached a tiny town. I don’t think any of us have ever been so happy to see asphalt before. We refuel our bodies at a local grocery store and canvass a bit more before happily retiring for the night, putting up our tents between gargantuan ant hills. We slept in but when we woke up we felt ready to take on anything–as long as we could manage to stay on the road.

Teammates took a victory pic after spending the better halves of two days walking bikes along unbikeably sandy roads.
Teammates took a victory pic simply upon seeing asphalt for the first time after spending the better halves of two days walking bikes along unbikeably sandy roads.

“Hike” the Line: Part 1

On a bright Tuesday morning, we made a brief stop at the post office. Waiting in the parking lot, we met an exorbitantly friendly Michigan militia member who offered his lawn for us to camp on that night. After canvassing for the day around Bay City, we headed back to his house and he greeted us with a massive salad made from ingredients from his garden and introduced us to his Chihauhau affectionately named Taco. We sit on his deck as he talks at length, telling us tall tales from his days fighting the mafia, building coal plants, and Taco’s numerous run-ins with bears. The next morning he happily sends us off, and we leave with PB&J’s sandwiches, Clif bars, and considerable knowledge of the Michigan state’s gun laws.

Kevin passes a waterway...
Kevin crosses a waterway… because Google told him to??

We split into groups to canvass again, and it turns out that Google Maps is not, in fact, flawless. We started to find that these gravel back roads often decide to spontaneously end with no warning. My group decided to trek through a couple mile long swampy field to get to the next house that happened to be something else that was awfully stingy–but also thankfully with a nearby anti-inflammatory of Jewelweed. Sitting on the road and crushed plant stems rubbing all over my itchy legs was not how I pictured Bike the Line would go–but the high spirits everyone maintained throughout the trip was infectious. Once out of the field, at the first house we canvassed we meet a wonderful guard dog named Molly, who upon seeing us, promptly sprinted up to us and rolled over onto her belly and looked up at us pleading for us to pet her. We make a camping version of steamin’ hot pho with ramen noodles and canned veggies for dinner, and once our bellies were full, we slipped into our sleeping bags before the next day’s adventure.

Caroline stands with the owner of Home Pub, a bar owned and operated entirely (and proudly) by women!
Caroline stands with the owner of Home Pub, a bar owned and operated entirely (and proudly) by women!

On Thursday, we met a retired high school teacher named Barry with a protective shih tzu named Morgan, who at first was quite suspicious of us comin’ up to surprise him at his very rural home, but after sitting with us for a while, he brought out ice cream, cherries, and plums and started to really come around to the idea of shutting down this pipeline. We barely spoke a full sentence to his neighbor, a man named Art, before he immediately asked what he could do to help our cause. That same afternoon, we met a whole range of supporters; a collie dog breeder, a junk yard connoisseur, a woman who collected every cardinal memorabilia she could find, and an incredibly amicable bar owner with a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy tattoo that got nearly every person in her bar to sign our petition. Almost each person we met seemed to have a new story about Enbridge digging up the line near their house to fix something, or a nearby leak, and all of them agreed–you just couldn’t trust them with the Lakes when they were run by money.

Giddy in Bay City

By Caroline

Rubbing sleep from our eyes at dawn, we dragged ourselves out of bed and strapped on our helmets, arming ourselves with annotated printed maps and a plethora of granola bars. We were ready to take on the first day of canvassing. We split into two groups; one crew with Iona, Kevin and I, and the other with Chalk and Fred. The latter group had a bit more ambition and biked a full 16 miles to Reese while we biked around half the distance to Munger in order to reach out the community that lived along Line 5.

Our hands full of stickers, pamphlets, and petitions, we eagerly awaited on each stoop to spread the message about Bike the Line. After some unanswered doors, at the third house we met a man who didn’t know the pipeline ran directly next to his property that listened intently to us and commented, that you never could trust companies to do what they say when they are motivated just by money. He took a couple stickers and asked us extensively about the risks of a pipeline and our journey to shut it down. Each supporter built our confidence, and we approached each new house with vigor. The vast majority of people we talked with were not only interested but immediately wanted to know what they could do to contribute. A wonderful lady affirmed that although Enbridge kept in contact with her household regularly, she thought the vulnerability of a pipeline directly under the Straits was far too much of a risk for the precious Great Lakes. After enthusiastically signing our petition, she sent us off with some freshly made salsa, BBQ chips, carrots, and ice-water. There were, of course, a few people that did not feel too fond of strangers showing up at their lawn and told us we should be doing something better with our time—but the receptiveness and support from so many community members showed far outweighed the few negative responses. House after house shared our same concerns for a potential leak in the Straits to destroy thousands of livelihoods in Michigan.

Rare image of a community member signing our petition to shut down line 5. (We didn't often invite community members to be pictured because of how quick the overall interaction usually is.)
Rare image of a community member signing our petition to shut down line 5. (We didn’t often invite community members to be pictured because of how quick the overall interaction usually is.)

We stopped for a couple minutes when Kevin spotted some Lamb’s Quarter, a relative of spinach, growing alongside the road. We picked it for our daily greens before stopping at our last home for the day. The last man we met was quite familiar with Enbridge’s spotty safety record because his sister-in-law previously worked as the head of the clean-up for the Kalamazoo River spill. She subsequently quit in utter distaste of the company’s half-hearted efforts to mop up the million gallons of oil spilled–and now works for the Environmental Protection Agency.

Standing by our bikes at Wenonah Park in Bay City.
Standing by our bikes at Wenonah Park in Bay City.

Heartened by the last supporter, we headed back to town to slice up watermelon for our afternoon press event. Our generous hosts, Lauren and Patrick, warmly greeted us back home and had already prepared a feast of spinach salad and bean dip. We packed their car up and headed together to Winona Park for our afternoon press event. Once we arrived, a table was already chock-full of desserts (including a vegan apple cake!) set up by the Bernie supporters that were helping us organize the event to reach a higher turnout. The press arrived as people mingled around, talking politics, bikes, and oil spills. Each of us participating in Bike the Line stood up to explain what our goals and motivations were for Bike the Line, and why we felt so invested in the project. We all shared the common thread of feeling the need for another avenue outside electoral politics to enact the change we need in the world. People generously dropped their cash in the helmet we laid out on our info table for our food costs, and the Lone Tree Council, the organization our hosts were a part of, spontaneously decided to donate $150 to our cause! We left feeling invigorated by others’ support and filled with immense gratitude for all of the people that make this trip possible for us to continue. Onward towards the Straits!