Thursday, June 27, 2013

Northwest Bicycle Tour: Sometimes You Just Have to Roll With It (Day 1)

Leslie and me on Day One
Okay, I know this is a running blog – it says so in the title – but life can’t always be about running. Other things are important too. Like cycling…  A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to do something I have wanted to do for decades, a multi-day bicycle tour. I survived, and it was every bit as much fun as I hoped it would be.

The particular tour is called Northwest Tour. It takes place in the vicinity of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lake Shore in northern Michigan, just outside Traverse City. It is put on by the Tri-County Bicycle Association (TCBA), which I became a member of last year at the urging of my favorite partner in all manner of craziness, Leslie. I was spending some time on the bike last summer to try to continue to build and maintain aerobic fitness without adding more pounding with running miles, so joining the club sounded like a good idea.

TCBA is best known for putting on the multi-day (4 or 5 days depending on the option chosen) DALMAC bicycle tour  each year which goes from the Michigan State University Campus in East Lansing through Central and Northern Michigan and across the Mackinac Bridge.

The DALMAC is a big deal here in Michigan, but I was not quite ready for a tour that involves setting up and taking down one’s camping gear each night. The Northwest Tour sounded perfect because although it was a 5 day ride, it started and finished at the same campground each night (which meant only setting up and taking down gear once). The tour also had multiple options for ride length each day, so there would be no pressure to meet mileage goals to get to the next camping spot. When Leslie told me about it, I could not wait to sign up. (It was a good thing I didn't because it fills in a day or so each year. The number of participants is limited, this year to 300 cyclists.) The tour is a pretty good deal, as the price includes camping and two meals a day (breakfast and dinner) on the full days and breakfast on the day of departure.

As time for the tour got closer, I got more and more excited. I was a little worried about being able to make 5 days of biking in a row and to keep up, but Leslie kept assuring me that it was “touring pace” and not to worry. (I was also a bit worried about the ability of my tushie to stand up to the rigors of such a tour, but left that worry unspoken.) She also said that most days involved having breakfast, riding to a destination, having lunch, and then riding back to the campground (for dinner). Sounded like a perfect schedule to me. Still, as soon as the weather got warm enough, I was out cycling on Tuesday and Thursday evenings with the club so that I would be ready. Leslie is a veteran of many single and multi-day biking tours in various states, so I decided to trust her experience and not worry (too much).

Let me also say at this point that I am not a biker. I am a runner who occasionally dresses up in different Spandex and rides a bike. As obsessive as I am about running and knowing all I can about running, I have studiously avoided learning any more than I have needed to about biking. I did take a course on basic bike maintenance and changing flats from my friend Jonathan at Paradise Bicycles in Cape Coral, FL. He was a very good and patient teacher, but I was a very poor student. (AAA does bike flats, too, right?) 

I am also a very novice camper. Oh sure, I have done a lot of camping, but as with many things in my life, I have come under the influence of the philosophy of Jimmy Buffett. I took to heart his lyric “So, I just keep on movin’ when the forecast calls for rain…”  and have managed to never have to camp in bad weather. In fact, I do NOT camp without four absolutely essential elements: an extension cord, an air mattress, a heater, and a coffee maker. I mean why be uncomfortable, right?  

What I am is an optimist, so I took Leslie’s word for it that everything would be okay. I packed up my little Nissan Cube with all the gear it would hold, strapped my Trek bike on the back, and headed for Sleeping Bear Dunes. We were not actually staying at the dunes. We were staying in a really nice private campground called IndigoBluffs . I guess I should have been tipped off by the word “Bluffs” that there may be hills around there, but my mouth still dropped open as I drove the last two or three miles to the campground. There were some serious hills, nothing like the little lumps we call hills down in Lansing. Yikes!!

I pulled into the campground. It was awesome. Everywhere I looked there were tents and bikers. Leslie was already there. She had checked in a few days earlier. The previous weekend she had done a race up there called the M-22 Challenge, which was a kayak, bike, run event, with a few of her friends. She had just stayed up rather than drive home and back up again a few days later. I got checked in and went to hunt for the campsite I would be sharing with Leslie and another biker, Mike (more on him later).

Home Sweet Home!!
Leslie helped me get my tent set up. I had brought my huge tent, the one that she and I usually shared. It was big enough for two twin air mattresses and all our gear with still room to walk around in, but I would have it to myself for the trip. Setup went faster than expected (because of Leslie's help), and we were soon ready to get our first ride in before dinner. As we were getting ready, Leslie warned me about the hills. She said we would be doing a couple of tough ones. I just nodded and said I saw some of them coming in. “Those aren’t even the bad ones,” she warned me. Yikes!!

Our first day we opted for a short 27.5 miles into Glen Arbor and then on the Heritage Bike Trail in Sleeping Bear Dunes Park. Leslie had spent plenty of time in the previous days studying the maps and previewing the area. Plus, she vacations up there often. I could not have had a better tour guide! Thankfully, she was cutting me some slack as a newbie and did not seem to mind charting our routes each day and otherwise making sure I did not do anything stupid and/or get totally lost. (I owe her big time for that!! Left to my own devices, I would probably still be up there somewhere.)

We road toward the town of Glen Arbor. It is a little village just outside the Sleeping Bear Dunes Park on Glen Lake. Our ride toward town took us down this huge hill coming out of the campground. The fun of the exhilarating downhill plunge was marred by Leslie reminding me that what goes down must go back up. We would be climbing that baby on the way back to the campground. After the long downhill, we started around the lake. The circuit around the lake involved passing over “Inspiration Point.” I am assuming that is a native American term for “long sucky hill climb,” based on what we faced for those next few miles.

I guess now is as good a time as any to mention that this biking tour also had a running element thrown in. About two months before the tour, Leslie had messaged me. She threatened, tormented, and cajoled me until I finally agreed to enter the half marathon with her. The conversation went something like this:

Leslie: Hey, there is a half marathon at Glen Arbor the Saturday of the bike tour. It is only about 3 miles from camp.
Me: Really? Cool!
Leslie: I think I am going to enter it to get another half in.  (She is doing 13 half marathons in 2013).
Me: Really? Cool!
Leslie: Do you want to do it too?
Me: Of course!!  Where do I sign up?

As we were pedaling up the hill to Inspiration Point, Leslie said, “This is on the half marathon route.” “What?” I gasped. “But I think we go the other way,” she said. “Good,” I said, “because there is NO WAY I want to climb this in a race.” She said, “I think this is around mile nine.”  I smiled then and felt better, thinking of the nice long downhill to the finish. 

Eventually we made it to the top and pulled into the Inspiration Point viewing area.

The view was incredible. 

Several other bikers were up there taking pictures. Some had come the other way. We soon learned that we had gone up the “easy side.” That did not seem possible, but as we flew down the other side (faster than I had ever been on a bike), I got a good look at what would be a really long and even more seriously sucky uphill on the other side, the one we would be running up. “Are you kidding me?” I thought, “A hill like this after three days of nonstop biking? I don’t think so.”  Right then, I said a prayer to the running gods: “Please, please let them allow me to switch to the 5k at packet pickup.”

After a brief stop at the bottom of the hill in Glen Arbor, we split off from the main route most cyclists were riding to do the Heritage Trail through Sleeping Bear Dunes Park. It was a paved bike lane that went out to the dune climb that Leslie had done during the M-22 Challenge. In the middle of the Heritage Trail there is the Glen Haven Maritime Museum  we stopped for a few pictures before we continued on to the dune. 

Gassing Up!

The dune was pretty impressive. It reminded me of something you would see in the Southern California desert out near Glamis. I was even more impressed that Leslie had run up it during a race. Leslie assured me that it wasn’t even the “big” dune. She said she would show me that later.

As we rode back toward the road to the campground we both were aware of the “elephant” in the sidecar, so to speak. We had to go back up those hills to the campground… We stopped briefly at the base of the first hill to catch our breath and contemplate our fate and then off we went. It was horrific. Nonstop steep hill as far as we could see. And, once we crested the first hill, there was another one even steeper just behind it. It was horrible. In case you have any doubts about the horribleness of what I am describing, see for yourself. I was NOT exaggerating.

Well, eventually we did make it back to camp, and no there was no dismounting and pushing the bikes (although the thought did cross my mind). Actually by the time I finished I felt pretty darn good. Nothing left then but a trip into town (by car) to stuff our faces at Art's Tavern and plan the route for the next day. At Art's I got my favorite picture of the whole trip: 

Day One of the Northwest Tour was a definite success!! But what did Leslie have in store for Day Two???

1 comment:

  1. What fun! Now, to get you signed up for DALMAC. You know you want to! Ice cream is involved!!!!


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