Friday, February 24, 2012

1979: Touring in the UP, Part 4

(Final installment on my 1979 UP Tour)
In the shade in Trenary, MI,  1979
The next morning was my turn around day for St. Ignace and I would have to save the western UP for another trip. I started out heading south and west, through the small towns of Chatham and Trenary. One of my favorite self-portraits was taken in Trenary, sitting on the sidewalk in front of a shop, in the shade of a couple of trees. Thirty some odd years later, Google Maps Street View will let me find that spot, with the same wood siding and door, but the shade trees are no longer there. From Trenary, I continued south to Gladstone and a campground near there.

The next day I was heading east, riding a mix of inland and Lake Michigan coast line along US 2. On my last night out, I camped just west of St. Ignace, and again split the camping fee with another rider, this time a girl from from Toronto who was riding west.

Looking across to Michigan side, from
west of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, 1979
It was fun meeting other touring cyclists in the UP, headed both east and west, some crossing into Canada at the Soo (Sault Ste. Marie) to short cut the distance to the northern East coast, others riding south to cross into Ontario from St. Clair or Detroit, or riding all the way down to the Michigan-Ohio border. A few years later when I helped some friends plan a trans continental tour, the later reported that after riding from Duluth, MN to Toledo, OH, Michigan was the single state they rode the most days and miles in.

I wish I had kept my contacts with all the riders I met on those trips. I am sure that today, I would have friended them on Facebook with a smart phone the same day, but now those names are lost in journals and note pads misplaced after too many moves in the years since. Who knows, maybe they will stumble across this blog, and we will strike up a conversation again.

I finished with 6 days of riding and including all the side trips and meandering, almost 500 miles.  It was not my longest tour, though it would the longest one I rode alone.  And the changes in my life that had just begun meant that I would not be touring alone for many years to come.

Sunset from Brimley State Park, MI, 1979
A final footnote on my 1979 UP trip. As I said, many of my journals and note pads are scattered, so much of this is recalled from a normally reliable memory. However, in the process of looking through my boxes of color slides from these trips, it became obvious that some details were blurred between my UP tours of 1976, 1977 and 1979.  I have the gross details correct, but may be off a year or two. The boat tour through the Soo locks, turns out to have been on a my trip in 1977. And I know a group of kids tagged along as I headed south of out of Sault Ste. Marie, but I may not be able pin down which trip it happened on unless I find that years journal. It is not a case of a fabrication, just misplaced details.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

1974: You were supposed to call home

(This is really a story about my Mom and Dad, and their support of a bicycle crazed teen ager.)

After just two seasons of riding, I learned about the DALMAC (Dick Allen Lansing to Mackinac) ride from friends in the bicycle club in Jackson.  DALMAC, organized by the TriCounty Bicycle Association was then just a 4-day, 350 mile, supported touring ride, starting the Thursday before Labor Day (Today, there are 4-5 route options with 2,500 riders).  One of the highlights of the ride was biking across the 5 mile long, 200 foot high Mackinac Bridge to finish the ride. They expected 500 riders, and the fee was reasonable, since it was all camping for the overnights.

Getting dropped of in East Lansing for my first DALMAC,
my youngest brother Chad watching.
There were a few obstacles for me to overcome before I could go on that ride.  I was only 17 and needed to be "accompanied" by adult on the ride, I had never  been gone from home on my own for more than a overnight and I had no tent or camping experience.  Then I learned John Whitehead, an 18-year old senior in my high school (I would be starting my junior year that fall), and the other "serious" rider was also riding DALMAC. A couple of phone calls and I had my "adult" on the ride with me.  I signed up that spring, and started getting ready.

It was a busy summer; I was working three jobs (putting up hay, a paper route, and washing dishes) and I used that money to buy a new bike, a handlebar bag, panniers, and a sleeping bag.   I also picked up a couple of pairs of cycling shorts and a jersey.  I had found some books and magazines on backpacking and camping, and borrowed a tent a for the trip, and even tried it for a night.   I didn't think much of it at the time, but the riding to get ready was also pretty intense.  I rode my first century in early June, and then my first double century (200 miles in 24 hours) 3 weeks later.

The pre-start announcements.  Note the head gear!
So the big days arrives, and we leave at 5:30 in the morning for the hour drive to East Lansing.  Mom drops me off with my bike, and gear on the south side of the Michigan State campus, where almost 600 riders have gathered, about 200 of them kids my age and younger.  "Be careful and call home." says Mom as I say good bye. Then for the first time, I check-in, tag my bags, toss them on the baggage truck, and then join the line-up for the ride mass start.

The next 4 days of riding made an indelible mark, and shaped my riding from that point on.  I have since gone back to ride DALMAC 4 more times since that first ride, and I hope I will be there again in 2014 for a 40th anniversary ride.  But there were parts of the story of that first DALMAC I did not hear until just a few years ago from my Mom and Dad.

That first day, I really did intend to call home like Mom asked, but every time I got near a pay phone, there were 10 to 15 people in line.  So I missed calling the first night. Riding the next day, I never saw a pay phone that did not have a line, and on the second night we were camped on a lake with no pay phones nearby.  By the third day, calling home just became less important, and the third night didn't have a pay phone either.   I knew I was supposed to call, and should call, but it was just going to take so long, and before I knew it, it was Sunday and I was going to be home the next day.

On Labor Day morning, we board the charter busses at 8 in the morning for the 6-hour drive back to East Lansing.  It is a great ending to the trip, and I am so pumped and already thinking about the next tour, and what gear to have for next time. I think it did cross my mind that I had neglected to call home, and I hoped my parent's would remember to pick me up.   Thankfully, when we arrive at the parking lot, Mom and Dad are there for me, but I can't figure out whey Mom is crying.  "You were supposed to call" she says over and over again.  I apologize and begin to spill out the adventures of the last 5 days as we grab my bike bike and bags and load up for the drive home.

Do you remember those 200 kids under 17 that were on the ride?  Well it turns out my attention to details like having an adult along, and even having a tent, was the exception, not the rule. Many of those kid's were dropped off at the start with just a sleeping bag and some extra clothing, and few were actually "accompanied" by a responsible adult.  They became a children's crusade of problems for the ride organizers over those 4 days and 350 miles.  From the minute they left Lansing until we boarded the busses in St. Ignace for the trip back, there were dozens of little incident which resulted in calls between children, local law enforcement and families across the state.  They all finished safe and sound, but the rules were changed to keep that from happening again.

But I only heard the best part of the story while having dinner with my Mom and Dad in Brooklyn the night before Justin (then 13) and I rode DALMAC together in 2009.  I was telling Mom and Dad, that as parent's ourselves of 16- and 13-year old boys,  Linda and I had already been thinking about whether we were ready to let our our sons take off alone on a 5-day bike trip.  We both thought that it took quite a bit of faith for a parent to let a child do a ride like that.  And that is when Mom told me the rest of the story about her 5 days at home while I was on the road in 1974.

"You didn't call the first night, and then you didn't call the second or third day.  You were always so good about calling, so you had us worried.  Finally we looked at the map and where you would be that third night, and called the nearest State Police post.  We asked the officer on duty if had any news from the bike ride, and an apparently exasperated state trooper replied 'Yes, they are up here, and none of them are dead yet'.  At least then we thought you were ok."

And that is why my Mom was crying when I got off that bus on Labor Day, 1974.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

1979: Touring in the UP, Part 3

Resting and writing in the shade in Trenary, MI, 1979
I awoke to my fourth day of riding, moving inland and away from the southern shoreline of Lake Superior, which the maps I could find indicated was mostly gravel roads. So I was riding inland, through the narrow waist of the UP, the band between the eastern UP and the peninsula jutting north into Lake Superior and South into Wisconsin. It was going to be a perfect summer riding, sunny, temps headed to high in low 70’s, with little wind or humidity. After an early start and some zig-zag exploring, I was riding along at a steady pace, with 40 miles by lunch. I loaded up with groceries and continued on, and by 4 PM I had almost 90 miles, but another 5 hours of daylight.  I  decided to keep riding, which meant riding the Seney Stretch

State Highway M-28 ran the east-west the full length of the UP, but the 25 miles from Seney to Shingleton was two lane road, perfectly straight, across a huge expanse of peat bog. There were no cross roads or stops, and only a parallel railroad track and a line of telephone poles. So once I was on the way, I would be committed. I topped off my bottles and began rolling west out of Seney.

It was a quiet mid-week afternoon, and I was riding at a steady cadence for 15-16 mph. (No bike computers for another two or three years, so speed was just dead reckoning from cadence, the axle mounted cyclometer and mileage markers.) The first thing I noticed was that the overtaking cars were literally coming up over the horizon, and disappearing into the vanishing point ahead of me in a 6 to 7 minute process. The road was that straight and that flat, and only a handful of cars would pass either way during the ride.

And then came the deer flies.

After the first 20 minutes, I heard a buzzing and realized I had company. A cloud of about 2-dozen, dime-sized deer flies, were drafting me. Apparently they can fly at a sustained 15 mph, since they could not get close enough to light, and by varying my pace a bit, the would gradually come a little closer, or gradually just fall back. So for the next hour and half I had another reason not to stop.

I rolled on, first hitting 5 miles. During my first few years of riding, 5 miles was distance from home to town, and it became one of my first benchmarks of independence. Then I had 10 miles, based on the mile markers. I held a steady 90 RPM, turning my 47 by 15 or 17 gear. I came up on halfway, and then 15 miles, and then 1 hour down. My camera came out for a couple of rolling pictures, but there was no reason to stop, and my deer fly escort was still flying in formation with me.

As the miles rolled by, it almost felt like I was motionless on my bike, on a giant painted roller of road and sky, rolling toward me from oncoming horizon, only to drop endlessly behind me. Even the few oncoming and overtaking cars, in the minutes long progression, contributed to the illusion.

Finally after an hour and a half, the horizon started to change. After 25 miles I came up on the first building and an intersection Shingleton, a little 4 corner town. It was a little after 6 PM, and I had almost 120 miles for the day. I found a grocery shop, had coke, and ate a sub for dinner. Then I rode on the another 10 miles to a park near Munising. On the way into campground, I actually met another rider, from, New York I think, heading east on a coast-to-coast ride. He was ending his day and we were able split the campground fee. I setup my tent and settled in for a good nights sleep. That 128 mile day is still my longest day of riding on a loaded touring bike.