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Michigan man’s 5,000 mile bike trip around Great Lakes is a journey with lessons

Aug 13, 2022 12:56PM ● By Editor
Mark Poelman, 62, of Royal Oak near Lake Superior as he prepares to finish up his longtime goal of cycling around all the Great Lakes this week. Photo: Barbara Ann Poelman photo

By Mike McConnel from the Royal Oak Tribune • August 13, 2022

Bicyclist  Mark Poelman’s dream of circumnavigating the five Great Lakes started 44 years ago when he was teen, a journey that he is scheduled to end Saturday when he arrives in Munising in the Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Poelman, 62, of Royal Oak is cycling on this last leg of his trip with his adult daughter Corrie Poelman, and longtime friend Pierre Daniere. They have averaged about 82 miles a day around Lake Superior.

But in cycling, as in life, the journey is more important than the destination where it ends.

Before heading out on the road early Friday morning, Poelman reflected on the final segment of his more than 5,000-mile trip around the Great Lakes.

I think it’s a combination of a feeling of accomplishment,” he said, “and it also has a spiritual meaning. God has been good to me all these years and given me the ability to pursue this dream.”

An engineer with Stellantis, which owns Fiat Chrysler and other brands, Poelman grew up in Grand Rapids, where his cycling dream began around the time he graduated from high school.

“I took the first trip at 18 with a friend,” he recalled. “We had our Schwinn bikes with the metal baskets on them. I didn’t have a goal then and just wanted to have an adventure.”

He stopped after three cycling excursions that included trips along parts of Lake Michigan, Lake Huron and Lake Erie. 

Poelman went on to study at the University of Michigan, where he excelled in track as a runner and state champion. Later, he and his wife raised three daughters as he pursued his career with Chrysler

“He’s one of the most disciplined athletes I know,” said his wife, Barbara Ann Poelman, who joined her husband on one of his Great Lakes cycling trips for the first time this past week. “That’s in his blood.”

While he spent decades with his wife and family, as well as his vacation time, his goal of bicycling around all the Great Lakes eventually began to take shape.

Poleman center with his daughter Corrie Poelman left and cycling friend Pierre Daniere Barbara Ann Poelman photo
Poleman, center, with his daughter Corrie Poelman, left, and cycling friend Pierre Daniere. Photo: Barbara Ann Poelman photo

Ten years ago, he started his cycling trips around the lakes during his vacations from work.

This final cycling trip is the last of 12 segments Poelman has done. Over that time he spent at least 75 days riding around the lakes. 

The effort has taken him to Ontario, Canada, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, and throughout Michigan.

“Why would anyone visit an ocean when we have all this beauty here,” he said. “Each one of the lakes has its own beauty and I’m proud to be from Michigan.”

Always biking with a friend, Poelman’s journeys haven’t always been trouble-free. There have been breakdowns and illness along the way. But those challenges revealed lessons.

“What I learned is that people want to help,” he said. “The most exciting stories I have are about people who wanted to help when we had broken-down bikes, or didn’t have food or a place to stay.”

He found people were willing to run out to get food or beer when needed. One guy drove Poelman on a 180-mile round trip near Lake Huron to get a bike part to continue cycling. 

When he got seriously ill in Owen Sound, Ontario, Poelman and a friend had to knock on a farmhouse door.

“An old woman let us in and gave us a bed,” he remembered. “The next day my friend ended up painting her fence for her.”

Over the years, people revealed themselves to be good Samaritans, refusing to accept money for their help.   

“We tell them to hold onto the money and when they see the next biker to pass it on,” Poelman said.

He expects a joyful sense of accomplishment when his Great Lakes bike journey is completed, calling it his lifetime bucket list goal.

“Coming into Munising at the end I’m probably just going to throw my bike in the water,” Poelman joked. “I told my wife that when I die she should probably just sprinkle some of my ashes in the Great Lakes.” 

To see the original article and read related stories, follow this link to the Royal Oak Tribune website.

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