Northern Michigan Commute

Each month, Deb Fellows, Editor in Chief of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine, writes a column for each issue of the magazine. In the September 2015 issue she reflects on a weekly routine, enjoying the best of Northern Michigan biking with her family.


My husband, Neal, and I have been riding our bikes to work several times a week this summer, about 12 miles on a bike trail. It’s a manageable distance for us given our timeline. Almost every day, we ask ourselves, “Why have we not been doing this for years?” But the answer always comes, “Oh, that’s right, life.” There have always been kids to get to school or to camp or to summer jobs. Now they get themselves where they need to be and we leave quietly on summer mornings with them, and often three or four others, sound asleep.

We park next to a bike trail and fly into work in the mornings. The air is clean and cool. The morning light seeps through lush, leafy canopies. Meadows and farm fields still glow slightly gold, left over from the dawn. And when we reach town, a ride along the water greets us, boats bobbing gently amongst handfuls of diamonds tossed randomly about them, and a lovely breeze hops and skips along the surface. It really is that beautiful: Much more if truth be told.

The trail is quiet in the morning. There are always a few hardcore bikers, some runners beating the impending heat, a woman whom I’m pretty sure is a “reverse” commuter and a smattering of older people on bikes or walking. I often see two elderly women walking together, one with a bucket hat placed sensibly on her head. I sometimes wonder if they are sisters who have wandered many a path together or newfound friends, seeing in each other another soul who is drawn by the morning light, the rejuvenation of that early air, the power of movement. There are couples, one that holds hands but scurries to move one behind the other when they see us coming. Inevitably when I pass them, I look ahead to Neal, sometimes gliding in gleeful “S” curves when the trail is empty, because that’s Neal, and I think about this day and how lucky we are to be traveling it together to whatever lies ahead.

In the morning, riding that trail, I feel young and strong and so happy. What a sweet discovery that is, every time it happens. It is joy to realize that feeling is still within your grasp. In the morning, I feel connected to myself at a much earlier time in life, experiencing such a sense of freedom and discovery, it’s as if I can do almost anything.

The ride back out is a somewhat different story, but a story all its own. By 5:30 p.m. it is hot. The backpack with my clothes, empty lunch containers and laptop feels much heavier. But the biggest thing about the ride home is that the trail can be fairly busy. Happily so, as I love seeing all the different kinds of people experiencing the safety and ease of a bike trail.

If I feel connected to a time much earlier in my life on the ride in,I find my life of the last 24 years around every turn. Young couples pull babies in cargo carriers and often, as we pass, they have that contented look on their faces that says, “We can do this! Life is going to be great!” Sometimes we pass couples pulled off to the side, debating, tensely, just what to do to get more shade on the fussy baby. One father pulled off his T-shirt and began zipping it into the stroller cover and I remembered every Rube Goldberg thing Neal came up with to get us home. And that little group will make it home, too, because you always do. And everyone is just fine.

I pass little ones who have clearly had enough. One little girl announced calmly, in such an adult voice, to her mom, “I think I’m done now. No, I’m done.” Another little one was less content, throwing his helmet onto the grass. His slightly older brother was announcing in that sweet, encouraging voice, “There’s ice cream at the end,” and I remember so well the endless encouragements, and all the visions of ice cream, just to get to the end of the ride.

We pass families with kids who have come of age just enough to ride ahead. In one mom’s voice I hear my worry, and my joy in their sense of freedom, as she calls out, “Stop at the next road! The next road!” Her little guy turned on his bike that wobbled dangerously, just to wave with unabashed joy at his mom. It just stopped my heart as I was transported to that very moment in our lives years ago.

It is not lost on me that I am now one of the figures that flies past it all, just like all those that passed us as we wove our way through life on the trail with kids. For a while, it was hard to believe that I was now one of the people whose only worry was what the speedometer said between my handlebars. Now, I find joy in the chance to be where I am now while find- ing, along the way, reenactments of the life that I have so loved.

We arrive back at the car, hot and happy, where I send out a family text to see who will be home for dinner. Back come the answers: “Eating brats at the beach!” “I’ll be home in 30 minutes.” “I’ll be home for dinner but have a bonfire at 8:00.” We scale the meal to size, always prepared to upsize. We sit in evening light with our now young adults who drape themselves across chairs on the deck and tell us about their day at work, or the day on the lake with friends, or what the stars looked like the night before. Sometimes they stay in for the evening and we get to let the night unfold with them right there. Many nights we call to them in voices filled with worry, and with joy in their freedom, “Be safe! Be careful!” They are young and strong and happy.

In the colors of deep red, lavender and twilight blue, I pack my backpack for the morning ride anticipating that air and those colors, and feeling joy and a sense of peace that I will always be taking those I love along for the ride.

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