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.

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