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Mark Braun leading the Joybox Express

Sprint for Flint

Mark Braun is racing to Mackinac Island by land and lake.

by Sandor Slomovits

From the August, 2017 issue

Since 2009 Braun, aka Mr. B, Ann Arbor's internationally acclaimed blues and boogie-woogie pianist, has crisscrossed Michigan a number of times on the Joybox Express, the specially tricked-out giant tricycle that has enabled him to bring his music-plus a 385-pound piano-to formal and informal venues throughout the state. In 2015 he and a few friends rode the Joybox Express down the length of the Mississippi, 1,840 miles from Minnesota to New Orleans. That trip was a seventy-five-day marathon. Now he's planning a twenty-four-hour sprint: on August 25, he'll ride 240 miles from Flint to Mackinaw City in a fundraiser for after-school programs in Flint schools.

Once Braun and his fellow cyclists arrive in Mackinaw City, the JE will be transported-conventionally, by truck-across the Mackinac Bridge to St. Ignace and loaded onto a small barge. Then Jim Dreyer, Grand Rapids' renowned long- distance swimmer, will don a harness and tow it to Mackinac Island.

The sprint will benefit YouthQuest, which offers educational and enrichment activities for young people in Flint. "A lot of people have said, 'I've wanted to help Flint, but I didn't want to just buy another case of water,'" says Braun. "This is a chance to help. We want to fund YouthQuest, and we also want to raise awareness of the need for programs like YouthQuest."

Braun is assembling a large team of helpers for the bicycle sprint. He hopes to have three other riders to take turns with him guiding the Joybox from the front, and forty-eight back riders to push, two at a time, each cycling a ten-mile shift.

Dreyer plans to swim all the way to the island, assisted for an hour or two at a time by Braun, Skyline High swim coach Maureen (Mo-Jo) Murrett Isaac, and six or seven other swimmers (Braun is still working to recruit more riders and swimmers, and to raise more funds). Dreyer previously has swum across all five Great Lakes and has, among other feats,

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attempted to tow a Lincoln MKC alone to Mackinac Island. Swept off course by strong currents, he detached himself from the barge after ten hours-but after another four hours made it to the island.

Braun, sixty, has been training with Skip Bunton of Body Specs gym, who helped ready him for his previous trips. For the swim part he has been working with Isaac in the Skyline pool, pulling an underwater parachute. Braun has also been practicing in local lakes: "Occasionally I'll pull around a boat full of people."

The Sprint 4 Flint will conclude on Saturday, September 2, when Braun, drummer Pete Siers, and bassist Paul Keller play a concert at the Grand Hotel as part of its annual Labor Day Jazz Festival.    (end of article)

[Originally published in August, 2017.]


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