Thursday, July 28, 2016

Running the Kal-Haven Trail

Kal-Haven Trail
Before the advent of automobiles and highways, trains carried Michiganders and cargo across a system of rails connecting small towns, big cities, and Great Lakes ports. As cars and air travel became more popular, this rail system slowly became obsolete. Beginning in the 1960s, conservationists and outdoors enthusiasts around the country started a movement to convert these railroads to trails for public use. Michigan now has approximately 120 rail-trails totaling more than 2,000 miles.

On my recent trip to South Haven, I had the opportunity to run along the Kal-Haven Trail on the morning I left town. The trail is a 34.5 mile former railroad that connects Kalamazoo and South Haven. I started at the trailhead, which is about one mile northeast of downtown South Haven. I parked in the trailhead's lot, stretched, and began running.

A view of the Black River from the Kal-Haven Trail
I ran an out-and-back of approximately 15 miles, so I only saw about 7.5 miles of the trail. The first stretch of the trail is paved before it eventually turns into crushed limestone. The starting mile marker is probably about 0.2 miles into the trail. The trail has a mile marker every mile. I  questioned the accuracy of a couple of mile markers because twice I had a very quick (for me) split immediately followed by a slow split, and I don't think my pace was varying that much.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A Weekend Getaway in South Haven

Lake Michigan and the South Haven Lighthouse
This past weekend, my wife, Allison, and I visited South Haven for a quick vacation. South Haven is on the shores of Lake Michigan, about an hour drive from Grand Rapids, two hours from Chicago, and three hours from Detroit. We arrived around 4 p.m. on Friday and left around 1 p.m. on Sunday, just enough time to get a taste of South Haven and to leave us wanting more.

Our Accommodations

We stayed in the beautiful Yelton Manor Bread and Breakfast on North Shore Drive. South Haven is carved into two sections by the Black River, and Yelton Manor is on the north side of town, across the river from the downtown. It is far enough away from the crowds downtown and the larger beaches near the mouth of the river to give guests a relaxing setting to unwind.

The Manor
Even though it is on a quiet street removed from the downtown, Yelton Manor is close enough to walk to almost everything South Haven offers. Downtown is about a ten to fifteen minute walk away, and the South Beach lighthouse near downtown is about a twenty minute walk total. Best of all, a public beach access is across the street from Yelton Manor.

Monday, July 11, 2016

An Afternoon in Lake Orion

Downtown Lake Orion
Michigan has so many great towns to visit for a weekend, a day trip, or even an afternoon. In Metro Detroit, there are a lot of walkable downtowns with restaurants and shopping, but not many of them are within a short walk to a lake.

A dragon guarding the art center
Lake Orion in northeast Oakland County feels like a small resort town that you might find Up North, but it is only 45 minutes north of Detroit. The town actually served as a vacation destination for people from Detroit and beyond in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and it even had an amusement park. The lake and a public park (a park pass is required during the summer) with a swimming beach are only a few blocks from the downtown.

Public art near Paint Creek
My family and I visited Lake Orion on a Saturday afternoon and parked in a free public lot between Broadway and Anderson streets. There is also ample and free street parking throughout the downtown, but the street spots have a two-hour limit, unlike the 23-hour limit of the public lot.

Monday, June 27, 2016

What's Been on My Plate During the First Half of 2016

Osso Buco from Roadside B&G
We're almost at the halfway mark of 2016, and I've had the pleasure of eating at several excellent Michigan restaurants this year. Here are some of my favorites from this year.

Roadside B&G

I have eaten at Roadside B&G in Bloomfield Township several times, and I always leave satisfied. Their balsamic glazed brussels sprouts with dried cranberries is a great appetizer. As for main courses, my favorites are the roasted vegetarian enchilada (I get it with short rib added) and the baby back ribs. On my most recent trip, I tried an osso buco with polenta special that was perfection. The restaurant also makes a very good mac & cheese (and the kids menu version, with its large portion, might be the best bargain on the menu).


Chartreuse makes a lot of "best of" lists for Detroit, and the Detroit Free Press named it the restaurant of the year for 2016. I have only visited Chartreuse once, but one visit convinced me that it deserves the accolades it receives. The restaurant is next door to the Detroit Institute of Arts, so my wife, Allison, and I decided to try Chartreuse after attending the Freep Film Festival at the DIA.

It was a snowy April day, and Chartreuse's bright chartreuse-colored interior felt warm and inviting. We had a short wait for a table, so we ordered a couple of drinks at the bar. I tried the delicious "gon now git," a combination of rye, averna, and lemon. Allison had the Last Word (Then again, she always does), a tasty mixture of gin, chartreuse green, lime, and maraschino. For dinner, I tried the spare ribs, which were phenomenal. Allison had the vegetable bulgogi--a strange mix that included pineapple, poached egg, green curry, and excellent kimchi, but all the flavors worked well together.

Fork n' Pint

Asian beef tacos from Fork n' Pint
I reviewed Fork n' Pint after my first time eating there. I have been back to this Waterford restaurant a few more times because it has quickly become one of my favorite restaurants in Metro Detroit. I love their fries. Their pizzas and burgers are very good. The walleye n' chips (served with potato chips, not fries) are wonderful, and so are their vegetarian options, like the coconut curry tofu. And they have fantastic tacos, as I recently discovered when I tried their Asian beef tacos. With its great menu, large drink menu, and relaxing atmosphere overlooking Cass Lake, I am always happy to visit Fork n' Pint.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Five Michigan Books for Summer

Summer is here. Even the upper reaches of the U.P. are seeing temperatures in the 70s and 80s.

It's time to take advantage of the glorious outdoors that Michigan blesses us with. Whether you are packing up beach towels and umbrellas or camping and fishing gear, don't forget a book.

Michigan has produced amazing writers, and it is the setting for many fantastic works of literature. The following books are set in Michigan and written by people who called Michigan home. They are perfect companions for you while you sip morning coffee on a cold morning overlooking a still lake, unwind during quiet evenings in the woods, or relax on a hot, sandy beach.

South of Superior

Ellen Airgood's debut novel tells the story of Madeline Stone, a woman who leaves a safe, yet unsatisfactory, life in Chicago for McAllaster, a small Upper Peninsula town on the shores of Lake Superior. Madeline struggles to adjust to life in the small town and its inhabitants. As an outsider in a new locale, her good intentions often backfire, but she ultimately adapts and learns to love the simple things in life. Airgood's writing captures the feel of the Grand Marais area, where she lives. Her description of the road leading to Lake Superior and Madeline's first view of the lake captured how I felt as I drove over that last hill on M-77 leading to Grand Marais.

The Feast of Love

Charles Baxter spent many years of his life in Southeast Michigan. He taught at Wayne State University and the University of Michigan, though he now lives in his home state of Minnesota, where he teaches at the University of Minnesota. Several of his works are set in Michigan, including The Feast of Love. This novel takes place in Ann Arbor and follows several characters' interconnected tales of love. Baxter's writing superbly examines love in all of its forms. Love is not simple, and neither is The Feast of Love. It is a story full of anguish, yearning, ecstasy, and sweetness.

True North

Confession: I never read a single book by Jim Harrison until this past month. I was turned off by the film Legends of the Fall, and Brad Pitt's Hollywood pretty boy looks on the film's movie posters. The film, which I have not seen, is based on a Jim Harrison story.

When Jim Harrison died in March, I read so many beautiful tributes to his poetry and literature that I decided to cast aside my ridiculous prejudice and read one of his works. I chose True North. I read it quickly, thoroughly, and passionately. The novel follows David Burkett, a descendant of Upper Peninsula logging barons, from his teenage years in the 1960s to the 1980s. David struggles to understand his place in the world in light of his family's destruction of the U.P.'s forests and his own father's wicked crimes. Harrison's writing exposes the beauty of the U.P. and the pain and emptiness in David's heart.

Returning to Earth

After finishing True North, I wanted more Jim Harrison, so I immediately purchased True North's sequel, Returning to Earth. Returning to Earth is set several years after True North, and it follows the lives of David Burkett's family members. Several family members, including David, take turns as narrator of the novel, and it is interesting to see their different perspectives on their family, especially when his half-Chippewa brother-in-law Donald or his sister Cynthia narrates.

Like True North, much of the action in the novel occurs in the woods of the U.P. as the family tries to understand and cope with the death of one of their own. It is clear through Harrison's writing that he loved the woods and lakes of the Upper Peninsula, and it is the land perhaps more than anything that ties the family together.

Here: Women Writing on Michigan's Upper Peninsula

Here is a collection of poems and short stories by women about the Upper Peninsula. This collection begins with the poem Here in My Native Inland Sea by Bame-wa-wa-ge-zhik-aquay (a.k.a. Jane Johnston Schoolcraft), and each subsequent story and poem weaves together a larger tapestry that brings the U.P. to life. In addition to Here in My Native Inland Sea, my favorite story and poems in the anthology are North Country by Roxane Gay, Imprinting by Janeen Russell, Censors by Stellanova Osborn, Incomer by Gloria Whelan, and Mad Dog Queen by Sharon Dilworth.