The Detroit flag is a reflection of the countries that have once ruled the city. The Fleur-de-Les represent France, the lions are England, and there are 13 stars and 13 stripes for the first States.

The name Detroit was derived when the British, in 1760, shortened the French name, Fort Ponchartrain du Detroit. The city was first settled by 52 French Canadians sixty years prior.

Geographically, Detroit is in a spectacular location. It sits on the Detroit River that connects Lake Erie to Lake Huron via Lake St. Clair and the St. Clair River. This key spot allowed Detroit to become a powerhouse of shipping, manufacturing, and  culture. The “Motor City” was once referred to as the “Paris of the West”. The decline of the auto industry caused economic problems. In the previous decade, Detroit lost 25% of its population, the city unemployment rate is 15%, and the poverty rate today is still well above 30%.

Despite that, Detroit is said to be recovering, although very slowly. The auto industry is showing signs of life. The Detroit Lions football team and Detroit Tigers baseball team have constructed new downtown stadiums. Historic hotels have reopened. Within the last 10 years Detroit has hosted the NCAA Final Four, the MLB All-Star Game, Superbowl XL, and the World Series. Compuware built their world headquarters and Quicken Loans has consolidated 4,000 employees inside the city. Ford, GM, and Chrysler continue to be large employers.

On July 20, I left my hotel near the airport in Romulus and cycled through Detroit to the privately owned Ambassador Bridge. I cycled without incident through “Little Mexico”. I had to hire a taxi-cab to drive me across the bridge to Canadian Customs before I could begin cycling across Ontario. I posted four pictures that night;

My blog that night focused on my interactions with the taxi-cab driver and the Canadian Customs Agent.  A few days later I received two comments from someone identified as “Stylin,  but written in very different styles, leading me to believe that it was two different people. Both comments were highly critical of my posting that night, and defensive of the City of Detroit. The comments accused me of posting “Detroit porn” which I deduced to be pictures of abandoned, burned-out, and/or derelict buildings that may have been taken years ago and are now used to denigrate Detroit. It was also said that I was critical of hard-working people, Homeland Security regulations, and the “boarder” crossing personnel of Detroit. I was admonished to stop being unfair to Detroit.

Below is one of the comments from Stylin, in its entirety;

“Sounds like a poorly planned trip. It would have taken a minute to check the Adventure Cycling Association’s website search funtion (ahead of time) to determine the proper, safe and dignified way to access the Detroit/Winsor International Boarder Crossing, with a bike in tow. Or maybe you could have just stopped in the information center and asked the person behind the desk.

Oh, but maybe that’s way too much like right and not sensational enough for your writing purposes. BTW: that gruesome murder the cab driver told you about involved a suburbanite man who gunned down a couple in their suburban (Allen Park) home, dismembered their bodies, drove 15 miles to an Eastside Detroit canal and dumped their body parts in the river. I don’t think anyone would brag about such a horrible tragedy. You are seemingly misunderstood about his communication of the information. FYI: Cab drivers (in general) are subject to car jacking and armed robberies, so I’m sure he had no reason to “seemingly brag” about harm imposed upon another human being.

Hopefully your next report will come across a lot more authentic and positive in nature or was it your intention to put down Detroit, its boarder crossing personnel, homeland security regulations and hard working people.”

At first I had no idea why I would receive such negative comments and I went back and read my original post. The only legitimate concern I saw was that the cab driver may not have been bragging. The word “bragging” is definitely my opinion. But I could see no reason for the vast majority of all the other accusations.

Then I remembered that I did receive and post a comment from someone that I recognized and it included a link to a book published in 2012, by two French photographers, titled “The Ruins of Detroit”. I believe the commenter, Stylin, may perform Internet searches for this link, and then defend Detroit. That is the only logical explanation I can come up with. And it certainly is my fault that I did not review the link before allowing it to appear in my blog. My only excuse is that my 4G signal was horrible in Ontario and opening large picture files was impossible.

I have since reviewed that link and I include it here, not to put down Detroit, but as part of a discussion. I will say that I find the photos stunning for two reasons; 1) that such beautiful architecture has deteriorated so badly, and 2) at how beautiful it once must have been.

http://blogs.denverpost.com/captured/2011/02/07/captured-the-ruins-of-detroit/2672/

I hope Detroit continues to recover. I would like to see impoverished neighborhoods everywhere, in every city (including my own), regain strength and vitality. In 1805 a terrible fire burned Detroit to the ground. The two Latin phrases on the Detroit flag reflect the sentiment of the Detroit residents at that time;

Speramus Meliora: “we hope for better things”.

Resurget Cineribus; “it will rise from the ashes”.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012; Reflections on Canada, or more precisely, Ontario.

Ontario is big. It’s southern border is comprised of four of the Great Lakes; Superior, Huron, Erie, and it’s eponym. I entered Ontario on  July 20 at Windsor and returned to the USA on July 24, following a path mostly along the north shore of Lake Erie, north along the Niagara River, and back into the USA near Lewiston, NY.

I spent the first night at a Bed & Breakfast in Tillbury, the only accommodations in town, and the only B&B I used on the entire trip. A lovely retired couple made me feel at home and cooked me a wonderful breakfast. I noticed a photo of their son in his military uniform (he served a tour in Afghanistan). Eventually we got on to the subject of the War of 1812.

There are lots of Canadian flags flying all through Ontario and I think the 200th anniversary of the conflict has helped to stoke Canadian pride (it certainly did so 200 years ago). They are staging re-enactments of the larger battles of the two year conflict and some USA citizens are taking part. I got the impression that my hosts felt they kicked some USA butt. I have done a little light reading about the war and, interestingly, both Canadians and Americans were generally pleased with the outcome, and national pride soared for both. That’s probably because we felt we kicked some Great Britain butt, and Canada felt they kicked ours.

Ontario is fertile, one of the most productive areas I cycled through. No wonder it is such a desirable place. Back in 1812, Canadians in Ontario felt we had intentions to annex them. There were some American politicians that felt all we had to do was march in and claim it.

Ontario was probably more of a bargaining chip than a goal. The USA was angry at Britain for blockading France and eliminating American trade with them. Britain was also stopping American ships and impressing sailors. Additionally, the English attempted to establish a huge coalition of native tribes to slow American expansion to the west.

After a couple of years, Britain and France made peace and most of the reasons for the war disappeared. Everything was worked out in the Treaty of Ghent in 1814. It was basically a stalemate, although many soldiers, American, Canadian, and Native Americans lost their lives.

The USA is probably lucky that they didn’t get Ontario because how could they possibly fit 51 stars onto a flag?

Canadian money has lots of cool animals on it. There is a beaver on the nickel, a loon on the dollar coin, and a polar bear on the two dollar coin. (I wish we had a turkey on one of our coins.) But one thing occurs in Canada that does not occur as much in the states. Invariably, I always had about two pounds of coins to carry. I would try to use my change whenever I could but usually I would be about a dime short, and they would give me another pound of coins to carry.

This is the only photo I have of a Canadian coin. It is there for scale to show the size of the nail that stuck into the tread of my tire and came out the side wall!

Ontario is flat (at least it was along the north shore of Lake Erie).

The north shore is also windy and beautiful. The prevailing south-west breeze was a joy, pushing me along and keeping the temperature moderate. There are lots of wind turbines and more are planned. Some of the lake-front homes had signs protesting the installation of the behemoths (they are nearly 22 stories tall!). I visited a wind power interpretive center, which was really a propaganda disseminator for the wind turbine company. They gave me a free t-shirt which I wisely did not wear until I got out of Canada.

The Canadians that I met are happy, proud, easy-going, and almost without exception, polite drivers. They believe in free choice. I finally figured this out after three days of watching lotto ticket sales at the local convenience stores that I frequently stopped at for liquids. At first I thought it was a marketing technique. The scratch-offs are encased under plastic at the point-of-sale making them impossible to ignore.

When a ticket is purchased, the entire plastic case is lifted and presented to the gambler, who then gets to pick any ticket from anywhere in the display. Here in the states, you get the next ticket off the roll. It’s kind of cumbersome, but I like the way the Canadians do it. If you pick a loser, it’s your fault.

Canadians have a great sense of humor. In Blenheim I was entertained by the announcer and spitters at the Cherry Pit Spitting Contest as the contestants went through contortions to propel the “stone” far enough to qualify.

And I am sure I would enjoy the “gas” fest in Selkirk;

There are 33 million inhabitants in Canada. They have high taxes and universal health care.

There are 33 million inhabitants in California. They have high taxes and no universal health care. And three of their cities have declared bankruptcy this year, with probably more to follow. Ontario is probably lucky they kicked our butt.

One thing I always liked about New Hampshire (and any river anywhere that has rocks) is the rocks. This photo (credit B.Pawlow) was taken as we were gently ascending (at the time) up the Wild Ammonoosic River, alongside NH Route 112. At one spot, a sweeping highway of rocks curved in a wide arc, bending just enough not to bury the road. I imagined the spring floods, kinetic energy unleashed, rocks tumbling and clunking invisibly because of the raging waters. That is why the rocks are all worn smooth. All of them, without exception.

Two days earlier, Brian had mentioned to me that he was wondering why I had not written a heartfelt post about my sister, whom I love very much. I did not have a good answer for him and this is what I was thinking about as I enjoyed the scenery, watching the now calm and lazy river struggle down the mountain. And then, just as my Dad would have done, I invented a metaphor (or a simile or an analogy, I can never keep them straight).

How is it possible that all of these rocks, countless rocks, have been worn smooth? Only rushing water can have such an effect. The water runs constantly, but it is my understanding that the majority of the smoothing process takes place during times of high water, when the force moves the rocks easily, as if  they were game pieces on a playing board.

The capacity of water to move things, things that we believe to be unmovable, is amazing. The floods in Vermont last year, at a time when no one expected them, is a good example. Entire hillsides and highways, bridges and cars, were swept away, as easily as leaves off your driveway. For some, it was a major inconvenience for a few weeks or months. For others, life changed forever. Such is the power of water moving.

Then, as I have often done on this bicycle excursion, I started to think. I wondered how the rocks would feel if they actually had feelings. What if the rocks were like people with emotions and loves, fears and worries? The water flowing over them could be the minutes and hours ticking away, unstoppable. Each spring flood would be a birthday, with new adventures and surroundings awaiting. Of course, you would be a little smoother too.

I thought I discovered a flaw in my musings. I saw a huge rock to in the middle of the river, towering over all. Surely, no waters were going to move the behemoth. But, in reality, this rock had already been moved here. Any illusions that it was impervious to the passage of time (and water) was simply that; an illusion. It too, someday, would be one of it’s smaller neighbors, clunking along, bumping into everyone else.

I occasionally feel like such a large rock. When I arrived home yesterday, to comfortable surroundings, turned up the air conditioning and opened the refrigerator, I was the biggest rock in the river, immutable. And this is the fallacy.

No one can resist the passage of time, even as the rocks can not hold themselves in place, as the roaring waters push them along. Even the biggest of all the rocks, when it wakes up in the morning and is proud to say “I have not moved”, when it looks around everything is completely different because every familiar rock is gone, forever, succumbing to the force of time and water.

I am working my way back to my sister, and if you have made it this far, you probably know me very well. I am very comfortable amongst my friends. They have the ability to make me happy and content and to never move, spring floods or not.  I attended my ski club’s bicycle ride tonight and I realized that at this very same ride, last year, my Dad was there helping to check the riders in and collect money for pizza at the local restaurant.

For years and years, my Dad was the biggest rock in the river to me. Year after year, he never faltered, and he loved me, he always supported me, and I always knew I could meet him for breakfast and he would listen attentively to anything that was on my mind. He never passed judgement, he just listened, and then maybe had a word of encouragement or advice.

Over the years, the current of the river slowly eroded away his foothold. The unexpected flood washed him away, and when I woke up the entire river was different. The big rock was gone, I looked around, and thank God my sister and my friends were still there. And this is where I finally get back to my sister, Lynn, and I apologize for taking so long. Luckily, when I looked around, there was my sister. The swiftly moving current, that had either moved me or moved my Dad, had left us shoulder to shoulder. We are tumbled smooth, the water has had its way with us, and it will continue to do so. I can only hope that when I wake up in the morning, that familiar rock is still next to me.

I don’t know if I have answered the question Brian asked. It’s tough to answer a tough question, and it’s equally hard to write a reply. My sister is an awesome person. She rows a scull on the Connecticut River and has raced on the River Charles. Lynn loves her garden, flowers and veggies. She is happily married to Jeanne, with several grandchildren (I witnessed my grand-nephew running into the house, screaming excitedly, “Gramma’s here, Gramma’s here”). I often brag about Lynn being the Vermont Teacher of the Year, which bothers her to no end because she wasn’t. But she should be. And I love her.

Sunday, August 5, final day. I’m pretty sure that the weather forecasts for the last two weeks have warned of thunderstorms everyday, from a 20% chance to 60 %. Brian and I had been amazingly fortunate avoiding rain, but not so with heat and headwinds. All-in-all, I think we were better off soaked with perspiration than precipitation.

So when I left Holland, Massachusetts for the relatively easy 45 mile ride to Wethersfield, Connecticut, I was not that worried about weather, even though gusty winds and torrential downpours were possible. But I left much later than usual, 1:15 in the afternoon.

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The first time I got lost, it was my fault. There are two roads that cross the hill between Holland and Route 19. I should have gone straight, but I took the right into Union, CT. I found fresh pavement on remote, rural roads, thick with trees, steep with hills, and pestering flies that enjoyed my snail’s pace on the climbs. At first I was so lost that I didn’t even know I was lost. After several descents, I realized my mistake. There was absolutely no way I was turning around and climbing back so I relied on my compass (again) and pressed onward, trying as best I could to go west and south.

I found my way into the tiny town of Stafford and kind of knew where I was. In Stafford Springs the road signs disappeared and I was soon confused (again). My compass heading was acceptable, I pedaled on, and I kept a wary eye to the north-east at a line of thunderstorms. In short order, I began to hear the thunder; long, deep, rolling and growling. Soon after that, the line of clouds would illuminate from within as lightning looked for a path to ground. Scanning the homes to my left and right, looking for one with a big enough front porch, or an open garage door, the wind suddenly got stronger and colder. Just a few seconds before it reached me, I could hear the rain pelting the thick, dark green, August leaves, like a freight train rumbling in to town. It was time to seek shelter. With the amazing luck that has followed me across the country, it is no surprise that at that exact moment I spied a house with a front porch, no steps, just a few feet from the road. I knocked on the door and when the gentleman answered, the rain was sweeping through and the lightning bolts were zig-zagging. The thunder no longer purred like a hungry stomach: it cracked and exploded with July 4th intensity.

No problem. Been there done that. I checked the weather radar on my iPad and saw that I would soon be back on the road. I calculated that I might reach Hartford before the next line of storms moved in. We both arrived there at the same time.

Barely 5 miles from my destination, I imagined pulling into the Old Town Cafe, soaking wet and bedraggled, standing at the bar as a puddle of water formed at my feet. I crossed the Connecticut River on the Charter Oak Bridge, rising high above the watery obstacle. The gang of thunderstorms was terrorizing the north-end of Hartford and I had a ringside seat while I was trying to skirt to the south. Highly motivated by weather, the thought of finishing, and sharing a beer with my friends, I pushed hard on the pedals, and tried to stay cognizant of road hazards and traffic (I was too close now to suffer a stupid accident). I arrived at the Old Town at 5:50, just as Ron Kapraszewski got there with his van. “Hey Neal”, he yelled, “do you want to put your bike in the van?” The question didn’t really need to be asked. With the efficiency of a Tour de France mechanic changing out a bike for the wearer of the Yellow Jersey, we had the dirty, and somewhat tattered Waterford bicycle safely tucked away. And then it rained cats and dogs!

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My total mileage for the trip is 4,262 miles. I weighed myself this morning and I am 21 pounds lighter. I started on May 26, took a total of 15 days off, and finished on August 5. I think that is an actual 57 days on the bike.

I have two or three more posts in me before I stop blogging. One will be a thank you post. One will be a reflection on Canada, and I might do one about Detroit. And I’m pretty sure I can say some nice words about my sister too.

Bonus photo (credit Brain Pawlow); Weston, VT, July 29.

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Saturday, August 4.The blog is late today because I was busy hydrating last night. I camped at my friend Ernie Riley’s lake house in Holland, Massachusetts.

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Brian and I have had a couple of tough days in a row. Saturday started out wonderfully on the Nashua River Rail Trail, 12 miles of paved bliss

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We had a 75 mile day planned to Holland where Brian’s wife Marion could easily pick him up. Marion delivered Brian to Amasterdam, NY to meet me and now had to drive in the opposit e direction to collect him.

20120805-105830.jpgBut before we could do that we had to cross Massachusetts top to bottom, as well as a sizable chunk east to west. We were trying to use all back roads.

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This was my 15th day in a row on the bike and the hills seemed especially tough. We finally jumped on the numbered state roads and limped up the hill to Ernie’s house at 5:15. Cathy’s family was here for a surprise birthday party for her (she is the oldest of 12 siblings!). My timing was perfect.

20120805-110401.jpgI am thankful and grateful for the kindness and hospitality extended to me by the Riley and Bartram families.

I will force myself back onto my touring bicycle soon, and do a few more hills before I arrive at the Old Town Cafe, on Main Street, Old Wethersfield, at about 5:30 Sunday, August 5. And the best part is I will be able to attend the Monday Night bike ride with the Newington and Mountain Laurel Ski Clubs tomorrow and ride a bicycle that weighs less than 20 pounds!

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I am really glad Brian was here today. He got to see first-hand several things that I have grown accustomed to; temperatures and humidity that are a little higher, mileage that stretches out into the eighties, headwinds that persist throughout the day, and the google bike mapping function (it is in “beta”) that can put you on a dirt road suitable only for a 250 horse-power all-terrain vehicle.

We allowed google to select us a bike route from Kennebunk to Nashua and finally stopped for breakfast in South Berwick, Maine, across the Salmon Falls River from Dover, New Hampshire.

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We needed a little help from a couple of fellow cyclists when a two-mile section suddenly turned to dirt but we were doing OK. It wasn’t until we got to the five mile Rockingham Recreation Trail that things got really confusing.

20120803-221009.jpgYou may notice in the photo that all of the permitted vehicles have motors that burn gasoline. Brian and I dropped back and punted, and took the long way around on the paved roads.

We stopped for directions in at the Epping New Hampshire Fire Department. All four front bay doors were wide open and I knew immediately that we could get some help. I rode my bicycle into the bays, leaned it against the rescue boat, and went in search of the office. I could not find the office entrance, so I walked out front and went in the main door. I found myself inside the police department “reception” room. There was one locked door, a two way mirror, and a window, but no one to say hello to. I saw a police officer in a back office engaged in a conversation and he looked at me, but wasn’t interested enough to get up and come and greet me. Finally I noticed the telephone on the wall with a button for “receptionist”.

Brian, on the other hand, rode his bicycle around the back where the entrance to the fire office was located. The Chief of the Epping Fire Department, Don, DeAngelis, happened to be there, said hello to Brian, and asked how he could help. Brian mentioned something about the heat, being lost, and trying to get to Nashua. The Chief replied “We can get you to Nashua” and invited him inside.

I was having less luck. The receptionist, beckoned by the phone I was using, appeared from around the corner. She picked up the receiver, and with all the personality of getting your prescription at the local drug store, staring at a hot, tired, lost, sweaty cyclist through the bullet proof glass, she said in a rather annoyed voice “Yes?”

I quickly explained that I was lost and was trying to find my way to Nashua. She asked me what street I was looking for. I perused my list, but I was lost, and I really couldn’t tell her what she wanted (I was lost). Finally she said “I will give you directions” and she rattled off a half dozen street names, intersections, and rights and lefts in about 30 seconds. I stood there with my mouth open trying to make sense of anything she said. I asked her if they had a map I could look at. She said no. I asked her if the fire department had a map. She said no. I asked her to repeat the directions again so that I cold write them down. She was so disgusted with me that she rolled her eyes and said, very sarcastically, “I will get you a man to give you directions”. This was not going well.

A uniformed police officer suddenly appeared from behind the tamper proof metal door. With one hand on his gun and the other on his handcuffs, in an authoritative voice, he took immediate charge of the rapidly disintegrating public relations fiasco. “What’s the problem here?, he sternly inquired. I tried to explain that there was no problem, that I was lost, and I needed to look at a map. He told me that there were no maps. I told him that I had been looking for the fire department but the only door I could find was the police department. He sent me around the back.

When I found Brian he was sipping an ice cold bottle of water while the Fire Chief, Don DeAngelis, asked him all about the bike trip. We were invited inside to soak up some air conditioning. Sitting in the kitchen, the Chief gave us each a fresh apple and another bottle of water. Chief DeAngelis is retired from the Concord Fire Department. He got bored and applied for the chief’s job in Epping. We talked shop for a while and I found out that he is friends with Lt. Ian Tenny of Hartford Fire who is a fellow instructor with me at the CT Fire Academy. Before we left, we checked out the map, and took a photo.

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Eventually, Brian and I found our way to Nashua. The small city has been twice named the “best place to live in America”, but both of us think it is one of the worst places to be a cyclist. Someone yelled at me to get on the sidewalk (even though there was no sidewalk). In a rotary, the car behind Brian was blowing the horn at him. A driver pulled up next to me and attempted a right hand turn. And apparently, the state slogan “live free or die” also means you don’t have to use your turn signal while you are smoking a cigarette and talking on your cell phone. A police car rolled out into an intersection in front of us and a few seconds later a parked car door flung open in our paths. We survived. We had a wonderful dinner downtown before proceeding to our hotel on the outskirts. We are getting out of town tomorrow, headed south.

Brian’s wife, Marion, may be picking him up tomorrow in the Sturbridge area (he wants to get home to mow the lawn). I will continue may trek and will probably arrive home late Sunday afternoon. I am aiming for the Old Town Cafe, on Main Street in Old Wethersfield, around 4:00 or 5:00.

In the blink of an eye, Brian and I crossed the state line, and stopped for breakfast in Fryeburg, Maine. We were headed for Portland, south on route 113, which was nicer than we expected. About halfway there, in Steep Falls, we realized that the gently rolling terrain and light winds were going to get us into Portland by 1:00. I used my iPad to google a bike route to Kennebunk and we set off on a new adventure from there.

20120802-225751.jpgWe got to this section a day late.

Overall, google did a good job. We rode the 6 1/2 mile section of East Coast Greenway between Biddeford and Kennebunk, a firmly packed, smooth gravel surface (Dexter and Jo-Pat will be biking this later in the month).

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Brian left most of his luggage in the room, but I did not remove any. We arrived at Mother’s Beach, shrouded in fog, at about 4:30 and I man-handled my bike over the soft sand, to the harder, low tide, exposed surface.

I did not have much to say, unusual for me. I called Mac and Ty and left them voice-mails, and e-mailed photos right there while the tide was coming in.

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Brian whipped out a couple of flamingos.

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Tomorrow we head south and west, making our way back to Connecticut. Also tomorrow, my friends Mac, Drew, and Ty, will dip their front wheels into the ocean down in New Jersey.

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