The day continues along a roadside path that is well shaded, allowing me to recover as we gain some ground. Around us the land grows increasingly fertile, as blueberry patches start to flank us on the left. Many of the field are dotted with immigrants, picking boxes of berries. Word on the street is that they get paid about 50 cents per pound. How many pounds of berries can you pick in a day? How much would you pay for a pint of berries?
The signs alongside many of these patches warn passersby to KEEP OUT and that their berries are sprayed with pesticides. Guess cycling doesn’t look so bad.
Along down the road Brandon spots rows of vines growing up ropes which have been tethered to a trellis. He asks me what I think they are and I send him across the street – not to be gendered, but I know the dude’s gonna be way more stoked about the hop vines than my blueberry fetish. The large cones have no formed yet, so it must be early season for the bitter greens, probably a good thing since the last time I put a hop pellet in my mouth I immediately regretted it.
That said, the bitter herb does have it’s merits, and we’re itching to get a taste of them at New Holland Brewery, where we stop for lunch. Basking beneath the summer sun out on the patio in downtown Holland I’m reminded of why I’ve given a little piece of my heart to the midwest. There is a camaraderie living here. For one, we’ve all endured the last 9 months of icy darkness, waiting as the thaw takes gruelingly long to melt into Spring. And then there’s all the white people and the 170 churches. Did you know Holland is the place where the WWJD – What Would Jesus Do bracelets came from? The very same ones I used to change into What Would John Galt Do (WWJGD) in high school. So…sunshine…yay!
On our way out of town we pass through the magnificent farmers market where we stop to get some edible gifts for our dear friend Ellen who is letting us stay with her in Fenville this evening. Purple potatoes? Calabacitas? Heavy but sturdy…pack em up.
As we approach the crest of the hill, my legs are on fire, but Brandon keeps pushing the pace to get us to the top. Then I see it. As we begin to gain momentum the cider houses begin to poke through the bucolic background. Nestled in the rural surrounding, the cider houses evoke the farms around Normandy, France, after which they are modeled. I think Brandon doubted our journey through the seemingly endless farmland of the midwest, but his faith inflates every meter we coast closer to our destination.
Virtue Cider House is a pretty mesmerizing place. While this part of Michigan is replete with orchards and berry patches, there is something magical about Virtue’s old style, and the dream that they envision for the future. I think it’s about the deep obsession that Greg Hall has with cider, it’s history, and it’s connection to a sustainable future. Even if you hadn’t been cycling for the last 30 miles in the hot hot sun, approaching the 48 acre estate would feel like happening upon an oasis of peace and promise. So much so, that when we do pull into the unpaved drive, we roll up to the sight of Missy and Ryan, Virtue head chef and farmer (respectively), painting window boxes, laying flagstone and planting flowers. Idyllic indeed.
But right now we’re thirsty.
One thing that’s great about Greg is how much he loves bicycles. In fact, part of this ride has been preliminary research for an official supported Virtue Ride from Chicago to Fennville. Greg owns more and nicer bicycles than me and my ten closest friends do collectively and likes bikes so much so that Virtue sells official Lapinette bike badges (secrets on the wing are that there may be some official Virtue red Detroit bikes to look forward to soon as well)!
Right. Ok, back to drinking.
We walk past the fat lazy kitty sunning itself beside the wine barrels to find Seth manning the Virtue tasting room. We happily step in to occupy his time.