RADIATOR ROASTING: Another Bubble Burst

Joe Writes . . . 

When I was a kid my parents often joked about cooking a pot roast under the hood of our station wagon – on the engine block – while driving from our home in Cleveland, OH, to our cottage in west Michigan.  The trip took 5 or 6 hours and they speculated that would be the perfect amount of time for a pot roast, but they weren’t serious and never actually tried it.  My siblings and I shared our parents’ assumption that cooking on an engine block would yield food that tasted of motor oil and smelled of carbon monoxide.  Now, 50 years after those 300-mile shores-of-Lake Erie to shores-of-Lake Michigan trips I’ve decided to test that assumption.

My wife and I are setting off on a 300-mile journey of our own this weekend, with country-style pork ribs cooking away under the hood along nearly the entire length of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula.  The idea is not without its critics: my son in Arkansas thinks it proof I have finally flipped my lid, while his Arkansas in-laws wonder if I am trying to “out-redneck my redneck relatives;” i.e., them.  I suspect my biggest critics may be our two dogs – food whores, both – who will be forced to endure the entire journey with fragrant roast pork and potato fumes being recirculated by the air conditioning into the cab of my truck.  For five hours.  Poor dogs.

Prepping for the trip, I searched under the hood and found a flat spot on the engine.  I used zip ties to secure a disposable aluminum tray to a plastic hose –  the purpose of which I cannot even begin to guess – so that the tray sat on top of the flat spot.  I put the ribs, some sauerkraut to provide basting liquid and a few small potatoes in an aluminum pie pan, then wrapped the pie pan in aluminum foil.  The pie pan fit easily into the larger pan, then the whole kit-and-caboodle was covered in even more aluminum foil.  Everything was finally strapped down with duct tape – of course it was – before I closed the hood and set off on our journey.

The trip itself was uneventful.  I waited for the engine indicator gauges to tell me something had gone horribly wrong under the hood, or for the smell of melting zip ties to confirm my suspicion that the engine compartment would be too hot for my purposes.  Nothing.  Most telling, in hindsight, was what the dogs did not do: no constant whining or begging, no copious salivating with noses pressed longingly against the air conditioning vents.  The trip’s most exciting food event for them was the TimBit they were given when we stopped for the obligatory iced cappuccino supreme at Tim Horton’s in Fenton, just south of Flint.

As soon as we arrived at the cottage I ran inside to grab a couple of pot holders, certain the entire dish would be piping hot.  I popped the hood and removed the duct tape, puzzling a bit at the incongruity of not hearing the sauerkraut juice bubble or the fat on the ribs splatter.  The duct tape wasn’t hot at all, and the aluminum foil was no warmer than it would have been had I left it in my truck with the windows closed on a sunny day.  I didn’t need the pot holders as I carried the whole thing in to the kitchen.  I peeled back the aluminum foil to discover that the ribs were still pink and barely warm.  After we unpacked our belongings I put the ribs – still in the covered pie pan – into a low oven for several hours while we made our first trip to a restaurant called Moosejaw Junction.  We had a good meal there and the next day re-heated the ribs for dinner.

I’m no engineer but it’s likely that advances in engine technology account for the fact that the ribs didn’t cook.  Engine blocks are covered in hard plastic these days, and plastic doesn’t conduct and transfer heat the way an older, bare metal engine block would have.  Furthermore, increased efficiency ensures that engines generate less heat than was formerly the case, so engine compartments no longer reach the temperature required to bake a meal.  These technological advances save millions of gallons of gasoline annually and drastically reduce the volume of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere.  I’ll let you decide if the trade-off is worthwhile.

So another cherished notion from my youth is examined and discarded, but, truth be told, I’m not devastated by the development.   I’ve also accepted that I’ll never get to China by digging a really deep hole in the backyard, but life goes on.

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Sept 8: The Grand in Lansing

Joe Writes . . . 

I recently observed that Jackson, MI, had not taken advantage of the river flowing through its heart.  Today I scouted the Grand in downtown Lansing, in preparation for an upcoming paddle, and it appears that Lansing might be making the most of the river.

There were no fish swimming up the ladder located at the big dam in downtown Lansing today, although I expect that will happen soon as salmon make their way from Lake Michigan to the west to Lansing in the center of the state.  There’s a public parking lot here at the point where Turner terminates at East Grand River in the Old Town area of downtown Lansing.  Leave your vehicle in the lot to check out the fish ladder and the dam, or to access the river with a canoe or kayak.

Here’s a view of the Grand from the top of the dam and then looking back at the dam.  If you’re looked at any of our previous entries you can see that the river is an entirely different animal here.  Back in Jackson County we were frequently stymied by shallow water and deadfalls blocking our progress.  Here in our state’s capital city the river is wide and runs fast.  I’m looking forward to the change of pace, as we have worked hard thus far.  It will be nice if the river just takes us downstream a bit.  Simply having enough water under the Billie V’s* bottom will be a blessing.

Often we are scrambling to figure out where and how to put the Billie V into the river; here in Lansing there’s a sign announcing the location of the put-in and steps leading into the river.  We’ll have to work hard in order to avoid becoming spoiled.


This is the river we’ll set off into from the steps pictured above.  Again, a vast difference from what we have become accustomed to.  From this point in Lansing our plan is to paddle 5 +/- hours to Grand Ledge.  It may be a while before we get out again, as Tom is working every weekday for a few weeks and I’m busy on weekends.  That’s OK.  There’s no time clock to punch on this journey.

*We named our canoe the Billie V in honor of our grandmother, Luella (Billie) Verschoor.

We would love to hear from any who may stumble across this blog: Tom Neely can be reached at timbuktom1@gmail.com; Joe Neely can be reached at joeneely55@gmail.com.   It’s likely our trip from Lansing to Grand Ledge will be during the last week of September.  If you have a kayak or canoe we would love to have you join us for the day, or for some trip in the future.

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Sept 5: How Way Leads On To Way

Joe Writes . . .

I will remember the summer of 2016 as the summer of the canoe.  It’s sort of funny how this whole thing started, this idea to canoe the length of the Grand.  It’s funny, too, how way leads on to way (Robert Frost from ‘The Road Not Taken,’ if that sounds vaguely familiar) and we end up doing things we never expected as a result of the decisions we make.  Here’s the short version.

My wife and her daughter were considering a trip to Italy next year and looking into the particulars.  The off-season rates were good and it seemed like the whole thing might work out for them.  I got feeling sort of left out – acting like a big baby, probably – and raised the idea that maybe Italy should be a trip for the two of us, as a couple.  She wasn’t opposed to that idea, but pointed out that a trip to Italy almost requires time spent in the vineyards and I no longer drink alcohol.

Damn-it-all, I knew she was right because I occasionally catch myself debating whether I might be able to enjoy a few glasses of wine again someday if I were to travel to Italy or France.  Could I drink a normal amount of wine under those circumstances without then going on a quest to sample every vodka available for sale on the continent of Europe?  This issue is probably not worth investigating – pretty sure I already know the answer – but I digress.  I stopped sulking fairly quickly and told my wife, “Fine, you can go to Italy but I’m going to canoe the entire length of the Grand River!”  So there!  She thought that was a swell idea and here we are, way leading on to way.

The fact that I gave up drinking four years ago, and sulked about it when wife was considering a trip to Italy, led to my buying a used canoe on Craigslist.  That led to selling my car and buying a used pick-up truck for transporting the canoe, which has led thus far to four outings exploring the Grand in Jackson County, the realization that there’s a lot more going on in the city of Jackson than I ever would have guessed, and a day spent canoeing and swimming in Crooked Lake near Columbia City, Indiana.

(That last one – Crooked Lake – stems from the fact that my wife spent youthful summers at a family home on that lake and it has always held a special place in her heart.  Having a canoe and a pick-up truck allowed us to visit for a day recently, and I’ve become a huge fan, too.  Clean water, superb swimming, no-wake so no noisy Jet Skis . . . simply put, it’s a great place.  We paddled around the entire lake and explored connected Little Crooked Lake as well – Linda says it used to be called Penny Lake.  Maybe we’ll buy a place there one day, when our ship comes in.)

Why the Grand?  Why not the storied Au Sable, perhaps?  Because the Au Sable – nor any other river except the Grand – is not storied to us, to brothers Tom and Joe Neely.  We spent our summers on the shore of Lake Michigan in Grand Haven, walking a mile south to the pier most days to watch the Grand empty into the Big Lake.  We watched huge lake freighters head up the river to load sand, then head back downriver and out into the lake, all the while dreaming that one day we would travel the lakes like this.  We heard the fog horn (AH-EEWWWW-GA!) guiding boats into the river’s mouth until one year that horn gave way to an electronic ping; safer for shipping, no doubt, but nearly as romantic to young boys dreaming of adventure on the Great Lakes.  We hiked through the dunes to Dewey Hill, below which someone had affixed a rope to a tree on the Grand’s shore.  Out, out, out we swang, then let go at just the right point and dropped into a hole so deep we could never touch the river’s bottom just 20 feet from shore.

So, you see, it was the Grand or nothing for us. What or where is your Grand River?  Might you get back to it still?  Or is the Grand River of your past leading you somewhere entirely new in the future?

Happy paddling!


The Road Not Taken (Robert Frost, 1915)

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.


Tom Writes . . . 

My brother and Captain Joseph has waxed literary! He challenges me to a poetry contest in our conquest of the Mighty Grand. El Rio Grande. Flumen Grandissimus Michiganensis.

Publius Vergilius Maro wrote about the mighty helmsman Palinurus, in noble hexameters, in Book V of the Aeneid. Joe actually reminds me a lot of Palinurus.

Father Neptune yoked his wild horses with gold, set the bits
in their foaming mouths, and, with both hands, gave them free rein.
He sped lightly over the ocean in his sea-green chariot,
the waves subsided and the expanse of swollen waters
grew calm under the thunderous axle:
the storm-clouds vanished from the open sky.
Then came his multi-formed followers, great whales

But, then, Palinurus fell asleep and fell overboard.
Behold, despite his caution, the god shook a branch,
wet with Lethe’s dew, soporific with Styx’s power,
over his brow, and set free his swimming eyes.
The first sudden drowse had barely relaxed his limbs,
when Sleep leant above him and threw him headlong
into the clear waters, tearing away the tiller
and part of the stern, he calling to his friends often, in vain:
while the god raised his wings in flight into the empty air.
The fleet sailed on its way over the sea, as safely as before,
gliding on, unaware, as father Neptune had promised.

ecce deus ramum Lethaeo rore madentem
vique soporatum Stygia super utraque quassat 855
tempora, cunctantique natantia lumina solvit.
vix primos inopina quies laxaverat artus,
et super incumbens cum puppis parte revulsa
cumque gubernaclo liquidas proiecit in undas
praecipitem ac socios nequiquam saepe vocantem; 860
ipse volans tenuis se sustulit ales ad auras.
currit iter tutum non setius aequore classis
promissisque patris Neptuni interrita fertur.

I actually prefer the Latin. Don’t you?

We would love to hear from any who may stumble across this blog: Tom Neely can be reached at timbuktom1@gmail.com; Joe Neely can be reached at joeneely55@gmail.com. If you have a kayak or canoe we would love to have your join us for a day. We have been basing our trips on the routes laid out by the Grand River Environmental Action Team, which can be see here: http://great-mi.org/trail_maps2.htm. Our plan is to complete all these Jackson-area trips before the onset of cold weather.

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A Brief Photo Essay: the source and the terminus

The Grand near its source in Liberty Township, Jackson County.  With firm footing, a good high school long jumper could clear its width . . . 


The Grand a few miles downstream from the headwaters, little more than a stream here.


Lots of shallow water, we get out and pull a lot in Jackson County.

. . . contrast with the Grand at its mouth, where it empties into Lake Michigan at Grand Haven.


Looking across the Grand towards Dewey Hill in Grand Haven; as kids we hiked there and played on a rope swing which dropped us into the Grand.


Looking down the last stretch of the Grand, to where it empties into Lake Michigan. Great Lakes freighters travel this part of the river, so it’s deep and wide.


You’ll not find pretty girls like this lining the banks of the Grand near its source. Granddaughter Natalie is amazed at the size and number of boats on the river.

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August 26: Sharp Park to Downtown Jackson

Joe Writes . . . 

Pain in the rump.

Class-A Deadfall outside of Jackson: no getting over this one.

We canoed for 5 hours yesterday and never saw another soul out on the water, at least not until we woke a homeless guy sleeping under a bridge as we approached downtown Jackson.  I’m pretty sure I know why we had the river to ourselves: this trip was damn hard work!  I’m glad I’ve gotten in better shape during the past year or so – I dropped 40 pounds and started exercising 2 or 3 times per week – because otherwise I might have been reluctant to attempt the journey we made from Ella Sharp Park to downtown Jackson.

The difficulties we encountered consisted of deadfall – trees fallen across the river – and shallow water where we bottomed out and had to exit the canoe.  We approach deadfalls slowly; more often than not a tortured pathway through reveals itself and we are able to make our way through the obstacle without exiting the canoe.  These are your average ‘Class C’ deadfalls (I am making this classification system up on the fly).  Class B deadfalls require that we get into the river and pull the canoe up and over the obstruction, and there were several of these yesterday, too.

Most daunting of all are Class A deadfalls, requiring us to pull the Billie V (‘V’ is an initial, not a Roman numeral) out of the river and carry (portage) her and all her contents around the obstacle.  We ran into two of these yesterday.  After we got around the first I swamped the canoe while getting back in, sending both of us and all our gear into the river.  It was bound to happen eventually, I suppose.  Canoes are, by their very nature, unstable and it’s not as if we were able to search out flat easy river bank for taking out or getting back in.  You take what the river gives you; there’s no debating with her*.

The second Class A deadfall was just as we approached downtown Jackson.  This area presented a rather difficult portage in a somewhat desolate setting, and made me think how nice it would be if the river were largely clear so that residents could more easily enjoy its charms.  In fact, what if our rivers were treated like parks and maintained for the betterment of the river, the enjoyment of the citizenry and the overall health of the planet?

Downtown Jackson was very nice and appeared to have a lot of positive things going on: we saw a small but bountiful Farmers Market that operates three days per week through early November http://www.jacksondda.org/farmers-market/; had lunch at the Grand River Brewery, a spot we both liked a lot http://www.grandriverbrewery.com/ and where I discovered Brix Soda Company’s delicious root beer http://brixsodacompany.com/.  We would have stopped to look at the gorgeously-restored cars on display had we not been so tired, late and dirty http://www.jacksondda.org/event/cruise-in-4/.

The Grand is a resource Jackson could certainly display and exploit to better advantage.  In downtown Jackson the Grand runs through a spillway and the only vegetation on the banks are weeds fighting their way up through the cracks in rough-poured concrete river banks.  Imagine a river walk in Jackson and a hip retail environment built around a restored river running through the center of town.  It’s a blank canvas right now with limitless possibilities, an exciting time to be in Jackson.

Jackson is by no means the only city which has yet to take advantage of the opportunities presented by a river; Ann Arbor has been talking about opening up river views and access in the North Main Street area for decades, and Detroit has only recently begun to capitalize its riverfront.  Two cities which come to mind as having taken advantage of their riverfront assets are Windsor, Ontario, Canada and Grand Haven here in Michigan.  I’m looking forward to testing the river in Eaton Rapids next year and it will be fun to see what other cities along the Grand have done as well: http://lansingjournal.mi.newsmemory.com/publink.php?shareid=1f038eb8f

*Tom and I discussed whether the Grand is male or female.  Brief research shows that rivers can be either and that the Grand’s gender is not firmly established.  This is a topic for another time, but for now I have decided the river is feminine.

Tom Writes . . . 


Untying the ‘Jesus Knot’ which holds the canoe to Joe’s truck, preparing to put in on Aug 26th.

Next Leg along the Grand River


Our put-in at Ella Sharp Park, just downstream from the Probert Rd bridge.

We put the Billie V. in where we left off last time. That is at the park, right at the Jackson city limit. But, the river is crooked, and we had to paddle east, away from Jackson, away from our ultimate northwest goal. Then back west, to make up for the darn river’s actual course.

Today, we had a long paddle, about five or six hours, when everybody had told us it would take three hours. Oy!

We ended our trip at the Grand River Brewery in Jackson. GRB is a nifty saloon with good food. They also distill their own booze. And they have close affiliation with a couple Michigan wineries, and, as I said, good food. House-made sausages, soft pretzels, Mediterranean pizza, good beer and root beer for us. They took us as customers despite the river mud all over our legs and posteriors.

Joe and I have been somewhat arrogant.  We believed we already had paddled past the shallow parts of the river, and the river blockages. Wrong! Today, we encountered two total blockages, where we had to pull out the boat and drag it around on land. And, we had at least half a dozen instances of low water to the point where we got out of the canoe and towed it to deeper water.

Info for the people who clear out the Grand River: There is a giant tree just upstream of the Probert Bridge, and a huge log jam just downstream from the Jackson Lions Park Bridge. Joe and I will help you clear these, but they are too much for a couple amateurs. We cannot do it on our own.

The Jackson Parks Department or the State of Mich. maybe should take care of these things. These things would be great summer jobs for American high school guys.

And!  Joe and I had our first canoe tip-over today! Details are sort of hilarious. Will explain later.

We would love to hear from any who may stumble across this blog: Tom Neely can be reached at timbuktom1@gmail.com; Joe Neely can be reached at joeneely55@gmail.com. If you have a kayak or canoe we would love to have your join us for a day. We have been basing our trips on the routes laid out by the Grand River Environmental Action Team, which can be see here: http://great-mi.org/trail_maps2.htm. Our plan is to complete all these Jackson-area trips before the onset of cold weather.



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August 19, 2016: Approaching Jackson

Tom writes . . . 

We made it from Vandercook Lake all the way to the city limit of the city of Jackson, Michigan. The river flows generally northward in this section, but still is very twisty. The river is wider here, at least fifty feet (16 meters) wide, most of the way, with some wider pools and only a few narrow spots. It is deeper, easier to float on, with fewer obstructions than in upstream sections.

This is the south central part of Michigan. It is not a famous place. Northern Michigan, “Up North,” is well known for its natural beauty; our Great Lakes shorelines are big-time tourist destinations; Detroit is famous and infamous for many reasons. But, nobody ever talks much about this south central part of the state.

Joe and I have found it to be a lovely area. The river is clear and clean. We paddled through three sparkling fresh lakes. We saw deer. We were NOT pestered by mosquitoes. Along our route, utterly wild sections alternated with areas of very nice homes. And, the sunny August weather was glorious.

Michigan is in the northern tier of US states. In the winter, we get lots of snow. If you have not been here, you may believe Michigan is a cold place. But, no! The climate here between June and October is perfect, especially perfect if you can get out on the water. And, we have lots of water here. And, that is exactly what Joe and I have been doing: spending days on the water under the perfect sun, in the perfect summer breezes, with our shirts off.

Our next leg will be the first urban section of our trip, right through downtown Jackson. So far, this Jackson area seems great. I hope we will find a riverside tavern or a bistro right in downtown Jackson, and a place to pull out the boat so that we can stop and buy lunch and celebrate.

Editor’s (i.e.; Joe’s) Note: Tom takes his shirt off; I do not. He weighs about 185, I weigh closer to 210.  Enough said.  We would love to hear from any who may stumble across this blog: Tom Neely can be reached at timbuktom1@gmail.com; Joe Neely can be reached at joeneely55@gmail.com. If you have a kayak or canoe we would love to have your join us for a day. We have been basing our trips on the routes laid out by the Grand River Environmental Action Team, which can be see here: http://great-mi.org/trail_maps2.htm. Our plan is to complete all these Jackson-area trips before the onset of cold weather.

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August 19, largely photos

Vandercook Lake to Ella Sharp Park

Joe writes . . . 

There is water in the river as a result of 5″ of rain a few days ago.  This was a nice stretch because we had some open water paddling across three lakes in Jackson County (Vandercook, Brown’s and Williams) and the river had a bit more current than our last trip so it felt as if we were, indeed, going downstream at times.  Never bottomed out once today.


The Grand flows through Vandercook Lake, lots of nice homes here.


From Vandercook one goes under this small bridge and into Brown’s Lake to stay on the Grand. Note the clear, clean water here.


Looking back across Brown’s Lake, just before the river goes on to Williams Lake. Clean water, very swimmable.


There are two log homes near the point where the Grand continues on from Brown’s Lake and towards Williams Lake, this being one.  A beautiful spot.


The first real ‘river’ scenery of the day as we leave Brown’s Lake, note there’s even a bit of a current in the water.


It’s as if the Grand is laying a path for us here, between Brown’s Lake and Williams Lake.

Questions or comments? We would love to hear from you!



Got a canoe or kayak?  Join us for a few hours some day!


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