Tubin’ down the river

Tubing on River

Tubing on the Thornapple River near Hastings, Michigan. Image: Eric Freedman

By Eric Freedman

There are many ways to enjoy a river. On a boat. In a canoe or kayak. Wading. Fly fishing or ice skating, depending on the season. Dangling your feet from a dock or overhanging limb. With a camera or binoculars.

This time of year, it can be floating in a tube on a shallow, slow-moving river such as mid-Michigan’s Thornapple.

It’s an 88-mile-long tributary of the Grand River, meandering at a restful pace from Eaton County downstream to Ada. We put in a few miles from Hastings, the Barry County seat.

Certainly the Thornapple isn’t a storied river of song. “Now the Missouri is a mighty river,
Look away, you rollin’ river,” as we know from the folk song “Oh Shenandoah.” The Thornapple isn’t the mighty Mississippi of Johnny Cash’s “Big River” and the mournful Mississippi that Paul Robeson sang of in “Ol’ Man River:

O’ man river,
Dat ol’ man river,
He mus’ know sumpin’
But don’t say nuthin’
He jes’ keeps rollin’
He keeps on rollin’ along

And it’s not the powerful Columbia River that Woody Guthrie celebrated in “Roll on Columbia”:

Green Douglas firs where the waters cut through
Down her wild mountains and canyons she flew
Canadian Northwest to the oceans so blue
Roll on Columbia, roll on.

The Thornapple, is, just well, it is.

Like other Michigan tubing rivers like the Chippewa, Lower Platte, Cedar, Manistee and Rifle, the Thornapple is the kind where turtles bask on logs, barely disturbed by passing tubers. The kind where luminescent green, blue and red dragonflies alight on your hand or hat. The kind where snags of storm-fallen branches gently clutch a tube for a moment before releasing it to continue its journey. The kind where the scattered folks who live along its shores can sit in their backyards and watch or ruminate or chat or doze. The kind where butterflies take off when a tube passes by, where vines of wild grapes hang over the water, where waterfowl fly low and where around each bend a gentle adventure lies.

Had Louis Armstrong spent a summer afternoon tubing on the Thornapple, he could have written his “Lazy River” with it in mind:

Oh, up a lazy river where the old mill run
Meet the lazy river with the noonday sun

Linger in the shade of a kind ol’ tree

Throw away your troubles, dream a dream of me, dream a dream of me.


Knight Center alum nabs byline in Audubon

Andy McGlashen

Andy McGlashen

Knight Center alum Andy McGlashen has a story in Audubon about how even a little bit of oil can make it hard for birds to fly.

McGlashen recently started an editorial fellowship with the birding publication in New York City. He is the former communications director for the Michigan Environmental Council.

His freelance reporting has appeared in Scientific American, Midwest Energy News, Bridge Magazine, The Daily Climate, Environmental Health News  and other publications.

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The lure of the beater bike

By Eric Freedman

Beater Bike with Freedman

Eric Freedman with Nishki Beater Bike, Photo Credit Ian Freedman

I love my blue Trek road bike. It’s light and fast. It’s taken me thousands of miles over the years.

But my Trek hasn’t been out of the basement for the past two years.

I like the black Nishiki beater bike that I recently bought at the Michigan State University Surplus Store’s annual spring bike sale. It was one of the 1,200 – 1,500 abandoned bikes the Surplus Store sells each year.

I paid $95 and spent another $70 or so to replace frayed cables, adjust the derailleur, tighten the rear hub and lube the chain.

My beater bike is sturdy — maybe heavy is a more precise word. It’s got some rust and some scratches and some dings. It doesn’t shift as smoothly as I’d like. A piece of one plastic pedal is missing.

I’m using my beater bike in Colorado this summer, mostly tooling along bike paths. Because it’s a beater bike, I don’t worry much about it getting wet or muddy or hitting potholes — yes, Michigan isn’t the only state with pothole problems.

Beater Bike

Beater Bike, Photo Credit Ian Freedman

There’s been a transition in my bikes over the decades. I remember a little about the first bike that I got in about 3rd grade. It was red, and I didn’t get to use it outdoors for several months because we lived in a second-floor apartment in Boston. In truth, I didn’t know yet how to ride a two-wheeler but spent time sitting on it and looking out the window. When the weather got good enough, my father took me to a park to learn how to ride without training wheels.

As children we don’t think in terms of beater bikes. Bikes are for fun, plain and simple. Puddles are to be ridden through. Curbs are to be ridden over. Races with our friends are expected. We deliberately skid to lay rubber on the street. We deliberately slog through the mud to leave tread tracks.

We dress them up with bells and streamers on the handlebars, We stick on a basket — although maybe that’s not cool any more — and a back rack.

If it rains, it’s OK if the bike gets wet. If we stop, it’s OK to drop the bike onto the ground, even if it has a kickstand. Scrapes and dents are par for the course and nothing to fret about. We never think about lubing the chain or toweling off the rain drops or puddle spray.

I don’t remember the next successor bikes of my junior high and high school days, but when I was in college I used my father’s old one-speed Italian bike that he’d used as an amateur racer in the 1940s — until he was sidelined after a serious crash — and then as bike tourer in New England. Its single speed made it challenging for me on the hilly streets of Ithaca, New York, but it served its purpose as a beater bike, exposed to the snow and rain characteristic of the Finger Lakes region.

I still have the frame hanging in my shed, but my good intentions to restore it to working condition are no longer on the table.

When I got into serious riding and bike touring, I bought a new road bike. I loved it, but my teenage nephew irreparably bent the frame when he crashed while riding down some stairs on the Lake Superior State University campus during our multi-day bike tour of the eastern Upper Peninsula. When we returned home, I bought the blue Trek that’s now hanging in my basement.

As for the Nishiki beater bike, it’s well-appreciated, rust, dings and all.

EJ alum shoots high

Madison Hall

Madison Hall

Madison Hall, an alum of the Knight Center’s Environmental Journalism master’s program, is now ranked 11th nationally by USA Shooting for Women’s Air Pistol..

Hall competed in the USA Shooting Winter Air Gun match at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Hall, now a doctoral candidate in Fisheries & Wildlife, belongs to the MSU Shooting Sports Club.

In an interview with Outsports.com, Hall said, “While my academic goal is to complete my Ph.D. in the coming year, my competitive shooting goals remain fixed on regional, national and international air pistol shooting events, and I hope to be a role model to younger students, scientists and athletes who are trying to find their way with intelligence, compassion, strength and dignity.”

Hall’s plans include combining graduate studies and a competitive career, including a desire to compete in the Olympics.