When I awoke the next morning, my only objective was to pick up some food. I had left enough room in my pack to carry a few things with me. I had some money. It seemed like a lot of money to me at the time. $566. It had taken me years to accumulate. It was a tedious process of collecting it a few dollars at a time. I got $2-3 for a driveway shoveling. I got $5-10 for a lawn cutting. I got $1-2 for a dog walking. I got $10-20 for a babysitting. The girls in my neighborhood kind of hated me for that one, but it wasn’t my fault. The kids requested me, so I just obliged. There wasn’t anything I wouldn’t do for a buck. There was leaf raking. One summer a man offered us a lot of money to dig a big hole in his back yard. He staked it out and told us he wanted eight feet deep and that he would pay $200 for the job. There were four of us and it took about a week. Then there was this other man who had a monster pile of wood. He paid us $100 to pull out all of the nails, put them in a five gallon bucket, and stack the lumber all nice and neat. It too collectively took us about a week. It was all time well spent.
I left my pack at the fort, and then I went to the Hop-In first. I found 2 bottles along the way. I set them on the ground on the side of the building and covered them with some nearby litter. I’ve found that the IGA’s bottle return was more accommodating and hospitable to their patrons. The clerks at the Hop-In always jeer and make a fuss about “the kids” with their bottle returns. At any rate, I only wanted one thing at Hop-In and I had to go there to get it because the IGA wouldn’t have the thing. I walked up to the glass counter and I viewed the array of beepers. I picked out the most basic one I could find. They really were all the same. Some had fancier or more decorative covers, but that meant nothing to me. The man told me I had a choice between a yearly and a monthly service plan. I picked the yearly. Not only was it cheaper, but also it was also the most convenient. I hadn’t thought about where I was going to have the bill sent. The yearly contract temporarily solved that problem. I didn’t want it sent to the house where Boy Wonder was living. I ended up using my high school’s address. I was just going to have to remember to change it to something else within a year. I also figured I would pay the bill extra early for a whole additional year, so maybe they wouldn’t ever have to bother billing me. It set me back about $163, but it was worth every penny.
Then I went to IGA. Along the way, I found 6 cans and 3 bottles, so when you figure the other 2 that I had found prior to the party store, that was another buck and a dime right back in my pocket. I picked up a small jar of peanut butter, box of trisquits, 3 apples, 2 bananas, a small can of coffee, a box of hostess cupcakes, a 2 cans of some off-brand coca-cola, and the biggest bag of beef jerky they had. The beef jerky kind of set me back a bit, but I also knew that of all the things I purchased it was the money most well spent. I sat there with pencil and paper and figured the math between each size bag and as it turned out, ounce for ounce, the big bag was giving you twice as much per dollar.
I went back to the fort and ate. I pulled out my Rand McNally atlas of the United States, Canada, and Mexico from my pack. On some level, it was more than I needed, but on the other hand, it wasn’t enough. I was going to be primarily traveling back roads and these maps primarily concerned themselves with main roads and highways. But it was also given to me for free so beggars cannot be choosers. I had cleaned a car for a man in my neighborhood. He wanted the thing cleaned inside and out. He even pulled out the seats! I couldn’t believe how fast he had them out. He grabbed a wrench and had them out in seconds flat! It was fine with me. One of the things I hated about cleaning cars was all the little crevices and tight spots. There were so many nooks and crannies when vacuuming that it was a pain in the butt. When he took those seats out though, it made everything so much easier!
The man went through everything that I had pulled from the vehicle and had set on the garage floor. He picked up most of it and just threw it away including that atlas and two bottles! I grabbed that and those two bottles out of the garbage so fast! All I really needed was the map of Michigan, but I would take them all. I liked maps. I could keep myself entertained with a map for hours! Like I said, none of the maps were real detailed though. Michigan was just a one-page map, maybe eight inches by ten for both the upper and lower peninsulas. It had all the major highways, but they really only could be used as a point of reference. I wasn’t allowed on them without at least 17cc’s!
The plan was to basically begin on M-15 and head north to Richville, then head west on M-46. There was a small excursion that I wanted to make in Saginaw, but I will get to that in more detail later. I would resume on M-46 to Six Lakes, then head north on M-66 right up to the coast at Charlevoix. I was going to head east along the coast to Petoskey. Then I would be in Hemingway country. There was a lake called Walloon. On that lake, there is a cabin that is still owned by the Hemingway family to this day as far as I know. I just wanted to walk the same grounds as Nick Adams for a bit, you know? It all depends on where I am at in terms of Labor Day though.
So this was basically the rough sketch of the plan. I would fill in all the detail later on as I went along. Of course, I didn’t know then how much the detail was going to be filled in ways that were way beyond my wildest imaginings. It is like I fell through a rabbit hole and awakened into whole new universe that was parallel to his one. Here I go, getting ahead of myself again.
Regardless of how it all eventually worked out, I would give myself plenty of time to trace the coast of Lake Michigan to Mackinaw City. Then there is the Mighty Mackinaw and hopefully Labor Day is the next day by the time I arrive there! Once I got to the Upper Peninsula, I was going to head west and settle down near Mount Arvon, which was the highest point in Michigan. I would literally have access to the top of Michigan. I would be able to stare down at the rest of her splendid glory! There I would build a small, unassuming, yet sufficient living structure. I would just blend into the scene. I would become an animal again! Unrestricted and free! I would hunt, fish, scavenge, gather, and grow from the land.
It took about three days for Boy Wonder to make it to the fort. He came on my bike too! I didn’t know if he would be able to pull it off, but he did.
I asked, “So what has been going on? What have they been saying? Are they doing anything to you?”
“No. They haven’t really said anything. It is like it never even happened. Mrs. Wettle offered to drive her around the neighborhood to look, but mom just shrugged and said, ‘If a kid wants to run away, then there is no use in trying to catch them—let them run!” Then she let out her signature nervous almost hysterical laugh. Mrs. Wettle seemed almost awestruck. Then she just stared all dumbfounded-like at mom. It was like she had no context to process what she was hearing. She walked away without even really saying anything. She was shaking her head. I saw her look back a few times as she was walking away. When she got back to her house, she turned and looked back to our house. She just sat there and stared for a long time. Then she went inside. Boy Wonder paused momentarily and then continued, “Mom did ask me about how you got all your clothes and stuff out. I just shrugged. She didn’t press though.”
“Good. So you don’t think you were followed?”
“Hell, no!” His brow was furrowed and he was shaking his head, “They think you’re like a cat! You might disappear for a few days, but eventually you come back.”
“Boy, are they wrong! She didn’t notice you riding away on my bike?”
“I don’t even think she knows which is which. She won’t even notice that it is gone right away. When she does, she’ll just draw the same conclusion.”
“I was worried they were going to beat you because of what I did.”
“No.” Then he just shook his head. “If anything, they’re being kind of nicer.”
“Hopefully it stays that way! Maybe they’ll even spoil you! Wouldn’t that be nice?”
“Right!” He said with a roll of his eyes.
“Well, I got something for you.”
I handed him a piece of paper. He opened it and said, “It’s a phone number.”
“Actually, it is a beeper number. You’re the only one who has it. Nobody else needs it. You understand? Don’t tell anyone else that you have it. Okay? Nobody else needs to get a hold of me. Got it? That is for you and you alone. Promise?”
“No, I mean, I’m going off the grid. I’m going underground. Undercover. Whatever you want to call it. I gave that to you—the lifeline. I didn’t give it to anyone else and I just want to know that you know what is at stake.”
“I do now, jeeez!”
“Well! I have to make sure! I mean, I don’t think anybody cares, but just the same I need to make sure that you never allow yourself to become bait! I dropped off the face of the planet on you too!”
He nodded and said, “Okay.” It was sincere. I trusted it.
Then I remembered, “Oh! You have to give me some time to get to a pay phone, you know? Like maybe even as much as an hour. It might take awhile. And I don’t know if you should be using their number. You know, do it from a friend’s house if you’re hanging out for a bit or a payphone. There is instruction you know, when you call the beeper number. You just input the number…”
“I know. John has a beeper.”
“He is not a drug dealer. His parents got it for him. He is always in some sport, so they need to coordinate for practices.
“Oh…okay. Well I was thinking that we could have a sort of code. To put at the end of the number I’m calling you back at, you know?” Just to give me a hint as to why you are summoning me.”
“His parents do that too. Actually, that is about all they do. Times and codes. A certain number means a certain meeting place, so yeah…”
“Cool! I was thinking if you put a 111 at the end of it, it tells me you just want to talk at say hello, you know some 1 on 1. Then I was thinking if you do 666 that means you got some crazy shit to say about that woman you live with–get it?”
I thought it was funny but he pursed his lips, furrowed his bow, and said, “She is still your mom, Piper.”
“I’m an orphan, Boy. That doesn’t say anything about you and I though. We’re brothers to the bone–always will be!”
He wasn’t completely satisfied, but seemed content enough to drop the subject. So I continued, “Then there is 911 as well. Of course, we’ll use that. What else? Can you think of anything you’d like to communicate in a beep?”
Boy Wonder shook his head, “Not really. I’ll think of something later on! You know? When you’re long gone!”
There was a hint of levity from each of us for a moment, but it dissipated fast. “Well, I am probably going to head out soon. Next time you come back here, I’m going to be gone. In a few years, you can drive up and come see me. When you’re 18, they can’t say shit about what you do. I should be more than set up at that point.”
He nodded in agreement and then we just hung out and talked about ordinary stuff for a bit. I was going to miss him so much. It was hard to let go. He had never hugged me so hard and so tight in his whole life. He didn’t care that I was an abomination. He loved me just the same. That is why I knew I had to go. That is what I held onto as I was leaving. The next morning, at first light, I headed out.
It took me about 3 hours to get to State Road 15. One of the things that I discovered about the bike even before got there was that I didn’t really like having it. It almost made things more difficult. It allowed me to travel greater distances in a shorter amount of time, but time wasn’t really of the essence. Every time I saw a bottle or can, I had to stop, then get off the bike to retrieve the returnable. If I didn’t have my pack on, it would be one thing, but it was quite a chore. Then when you are back on, it takes some time to get stabilized, seemed like every time I got stable, there was another stop to be had. The stops became a nuisance, but I needed those stops because they were giving me money. There were other problems too. There was only so much my butt could take of that seat in a given day. Even the next day, I could feel the prior day’s wear. Sometimes I would just walk with the bike rolling next to me.
It took me three days to get to the Zilwaukee Bridge. I didn’t think I would be there that quick. I guess I figured at least a week, maybe more. This is the excursion that I spoke of earlier. It was a little out of the way, but I think it was worth the adventure. It was definitely illegal, but not necessarily unsafe. It would be more exhilarating than a roller coaster. I had been across the bridge a time or two in a car. It was kind of scary. I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like on a bike. So I was going to cross the bridge and then I would double back south through the town of Zilwaukee and then into Saginaw where I would hook back up with M-46 and head west. Of course, things never really go as planned.
But first things first—the Bridge. What can I say? I threw my bike over the wire fence, which might be sufficient to stop a raccoon or a hare for a few moments, and then I jumped over along with it. Put my bike on I-75 North and I began peddling like it was nobody’s business. Turns out, I was wrong. Apparently, it was the Officer Kris’s business. He spotted me when I was about half way up the incline. He promptly pulled up behind me and squawked his siren. Of course, I had to stop, and I did. He exited the vehicle and escorted me and my bike to the front of his cruiser.
He said, “Where you headed, son?”
“Over the bridge.”
“Nowhere, really. I’m just doing it for fun.”
He cracked a smile and while shaking his head, he said, “No you’re not.”
I said, “Why not?”
“Because it is dangerous and it is against the law!”
I said, “I wondered why I never saw anyone else do it before. All my life, the only thing I ever wanted to do was ride up this bridge and coast down the other side. I used to wonder how I was the only one who ever thought of it.” I shrugged and said, “I guess you learn something new everyday. So I’ll get off ASAP! I didn’t know! Can’t jump off here or else I’d end up in the Saginaw River! At the bottom is an exit, right?”
He shook his head, “I’ll get you off this bridge. Are you carrying any weapons? Or have anything sharp that I should know about in your pockets?”
“No. I don’t have anything in my pockets. I have utensils in my pack for eatin’.”
He frisked me anyway and discovered I was correct. He then put me in the back of his cruiser, put my pack in his trunk, then put my bike on the bike rack. We sat on the bridge for a few minutes. He said, “What is your name?”
“Is that really your name?”
“How old are you, Piper?”
“You don’t have a driver’s license?”
“No, but it is on my bucket.”
“What’s your address?”
“I live in a trailer in Zilwaukee.”
“That’s fine. What is the address?”
Even back then, they had these little computers up there with them and I knew if I gave him too much that I would be being sent back to whence I came. So I clammed up. I said, “I have a right to remain silent.”
“You do. But you’re not under arrest. Yet. ” He put the cruiser in drive and proceeded up and over the bridge. Then he exited and we went back up and over the bridge the other way. Then we headed east to Caro, which is some 20 or 30 miles east of where we were. He didn’t say much…to me. He was quite busy talking to the dispatcher. I just watched out the window and took notes about things as we passed them. I thought about how I was going to wiggle out of this one. By the time we arrived at the station, I had my story. It was short and sweet and would dodge every bullet. I practiced it in my head like it was baseball practice—do it over and over again until it is muscle memory at work. I was going to stretch the truth a bit, but I wasn’t going to lie.
We arrived back at the station. He pulled behind the station into a back area where the cruisers all parked. He parked his cruiser in its designated spot and got out. He took my bike off the rack and leaned it up against the building. Then he went to the trunk and retrieved my pack. Then he opened the back door to let me out. He took me into the precinct and into an interview room. He pointed to a chair on one side of the table and said, “Have a seat.”
He put my pack on the table and asked, “May I search your pack?”
“You don’t have to consent. I can get a search warrant, but if I find something, you are not helping your cause.”
“Yes, any contraband, like narcotics.”
“I don’t have any narcotics. I’ve never done drugs in my life. I don’t even smoke cigarettes.”
“Is there an ID in this pack?”
“You don’t have any ID?”
“Not even a school ID? No. Why would I need it? School just got out.”
“Piper Applebee is your given name—this is the name that is on your birth certificate?”
“As far as I know, yes.”
“Where do your parents live?”
“I’m an orphan.”
“Even so, orphans come from somewhere.”
“Well, I don’t. I’m a turtle. I carry my home with me. That’s my shell.” Then I pointed to my pack.”
He examined me for awhile. Then he said, “Do I need to get a warrant to search your pack?”
“You mean my shell?” I know. I got kind of defiant with him. I know it was wrong because he was an adult and an elder, but I was in a pinch. However, in the next moment I did and about-face when I shrugged and said, “No. Go ahead and search it. I don’t know what the sentence is for being an orphan and homeless, but I’ll go ahead and plead guilty to it. I’ll serve my sentence. You’ll be happy, then I’ll be on my way. What do you think I am facing here–3,4, 6 months? It is just camping gear mostly. It is all very carefully packed. Pull it all out and go through everything. But please allow me to repack it. You’ll just make a mess of it. And I don’t mean any disrespect. It’s just that it’s a real pain, but…”
He cut me off saying, “Can I get you something from the vending machine? It has sandwiches in it. They’re not bad.”
I shrugged and said, “Sure.”
“You want turkey or ham?”
“Mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup?”
“Want a coke?”
“Alright, sit tight. I’ll be right back.”
He wasn’t right back though. He was gone awhile. It was getting a little nerve racking. He came back after what seemed an hour with a turkey sandwich, a coke, a bag of chips, and a snickers. He had it all on a cafeteria tray and set it down in front of me. He went around to the other side of the desk.
“It is not against the law to be a vagrant. I suspect that you are a status offender, but I cannot find anything to verify it.”
I furled my brow slightly and said, “Status offender?”
“Legal term for being a runaway. It is not a punishable offense, but when we come upon a status offender we are legally obligated to return them to their home. I’m not finding anything on you. You threw me off when you told me you were 17. I thought I was dealing with an adult. An adult probably wouldn’t have been drug all the way back here. I would have processed you at the scene, and when you checked out, I’d let you go. 17 is kind of a gray area. You are sorta a kid and you are sorta an adult.I don’t have any reason to detain you, nor do I have any probable cause to search your pack. If you do not want to be bothered by the police, then don’t involve yourself in illegal activity. It is the only time a police officer will ever ask you for your ID. Just be straight with me, okay?”
I shook my head to indicate I would.
“So uh, what are you on some sort of backpacking adventure before you go off to college–roughing it?”
I don’t know why he did that, but I ran with it! “Well, you see, it is a bit more complicated than that. My parents have been really pushing to go to college. I tell them college isn’t for everyone, some people need to learn a trade, others just need to go a job doing anything, you know? My grades aren’t the best. They have never been the best. I’m not really book smart, but I am great with my hands! So yeah! I just wanted to get out on my own and think it over! For a couple weeks, maybe months. No car, no money really, no parents pressuring me to make something of myself or try to be somebody. Just me, alone in the woods, survivin’. “
All the while he just sat there nodding sympathetically. I could see it! Why couldn’t he see that every word that was coming out of my mouth was a lie! He was an officer of the law for christsakes! Aren’t they trained to be human lie detectors? Meanwhile all of this fibbing wasn’t doing anything for my soul! I could feel it deteriorating as I spoke! It was awful!
“Well Piper, I know it doesn’t seem like it, but they really do want is best for you. I understand what you’re doing. There is certainly nothing unlawful about it. However, you do have to stay off the expressways. You know, go out and sew your wild outs. Go out and have fun, you know—clear your head. Then in a little while, why don’t you go on home and give your folks a hug, you know maybe even say thank you. You think there would be anything wrong with that?”
“No sir, not at all. I think you’re right.” Ugh! One of the things that woman always used to say—Oh what a tangled web we weave, when at first we learn to deceive. I don’t know why she always said it to me because I wasn’t the liar in the household. Yet, here I was spewing lie after lie to a very nice man who clearly meant well. Whether he was a police officer or not.
“So how far north you going before you pick a camp?”
“Well, I don’t know that I ever will–settle that is. However, a short answer for you is Petoskey. I have an old friend up there with a cabin. I am trying to get there at least by the middle of August. I ride for a few hours a day, then I stop and camp somewhere at night. The only thing in my pack is the stuff I need. I don’t steal from anybody or ask anything of anyone. I collect bottles and cans for money.”
“What is your route?”
“46 west to Six Lakes, then due north from there. The bridge was the only time I was going to be on the expressway…I swear. I just wanted to ride up it and then down the other side.”
He just sat there looking at me for a long time. The awkward silence. Then he said “Alright, well I can get you back on 46. I might even be able to take you as far as Merrill, though we may have to stop and issue a few citations. By the end of the day, you’ll be further along than you would have if you had never met me. Go ahead and finish up your food and I’ll get you back on the road.”
I shook my head to agree, but I wasn’t in agreement. I had some unfinished business in Zilwaukee and I didn’t want to leave town until I settled the score.