Saturday, July 14, 2012

1975: Second DALMAC, the pre-tour

I rolled out of our drive way and down the short gravel road to M-124, my first time on a loaded bike, headed for my second DALMAC (the Dick Allen Lansing to Mackinaw bike tour). It was the end of my last high school summer. It had been a rocky year of changes since my first DALMAC the year before. I had finished high school, but would not be joining my friends in going off to college. Other than my restaurant job and some college classes later in the winter semester, I was really without a plan. My anchor through it all had been my ever expanding bicycling. And I had found a big way to make it even more so.

Tour ready, 1975
Chuck Harris mirror, Denim "helmet"
The plan had started when I learned my grandparent’s, who lived in Toledo, Ohio, would celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary the weekend I would be on DALMAC. So with my mom’s permission, I would miss the anniversary party, but would visit them the week before. And then some friends from Jackson, also riding DALMAC, decided that they would be riding back from St. Ignace after the ride. So instead of a 4 day trip and a bus ride home, my second DALMAC would have 7 additional days of biking, and I would be riding with my gear on the extra days.

I had a mix of touring gear that while not state of art, was fairly representative of what you could find in midwest bike shops on a teen’s budget. My rear rack was a simple Pletscher alloy rack, with a single pair of skinny stays, and a steel spring “rat-trap” clip for holding items on top. My nylon panniers were a one-piece arrangement of side bags and top compartment that draped over the rear rack, with my sleeping bag and pad then strapped on top. I had added a home-made bike flag holder to back of the rack for the required DALMAC flag.

With almost everything on the rear rack, any time I stood up to accelerate or climb, the load would sway and wobble with the 6 foot flag pole swaying in a ridiculous arc. I soon learned to ride at an even steady pace. Aside from my few pairs of cycling shorts, I was still carrying a heavy assortment of jeans and shorts, a sweat shirt, multiple t-shirts and underwear. Even without a “kitchen” and tent (I was sharing a tent with one of the Jackson riders), I was probably carrying 30 pounds of gear.

My biggest frustration was my handlebar-camera bag. I was riding with a 35mm SLR, and shooting color slide film. Over the past year, I had started with a square Bellweather bag that strapped directly to the handle bars, but it sagged and interfered with my hand on the tops. Then I found a steel bag support that slipped over the handle bars, and moved the bag away from my hands, but the bag still sagged. So I had added some sheets of plastic from a high school shop project to support the bag. It held my camera, maps and wallet, but it was a kludge solution.

My first days ride was 50 miles to Toledo and my grandparents. They were very excited to have me for the overnight, and treated me to a great dinner of home made pasta and bread. For good luck, they gave me a 1924 Liberty silver dollar (that I still have). And they also told me about my mom’s 3-day bicycle trip from Toledo to a youth hostel in southern Michigan while she was in college, something I had only heard vaguely about from Mom.

I left that morning for the ride back to Brooklyn, under cloudy skies, and after an hour or so, it started to rain. And rain, and rain. I was riding through the flat, tree-less farm land of southeastern Michigan, with few opportunities for shelter. I was rolling through long puddles of standing water when I realized I had passed a car that stopped because they couldn’t see in the driving rain. At that point, I pulled off the side of the road and just stood their until the the rain let up some, and then rode on. I arrived home with everything on my bike soaking wet, the water streaming from packs has I leaned my bike against the garage. I had to unpack and dry everything, and then began bagging everything in small plastic bags before re-packing - my first real touring lesson.

The next day my final pre-tour destination was Lansing, almost 70 miles from home, meeting my friends from Jackson almost half way. Two of our group were leaving after work, so after lunch at home, I set out to meet them about 5 PM. The four of us stopped for dinner at this brand new fast food place called Wendy’s, the first one to open in Jackson.

We left Jackson headed straight north, and were soon on the service roads along US-27. It was my first group riding with panniers, and we were all all comparing notes on how our bikes handled. It was good practice on the mild rolling hills between Leslie and Mason. Even here, we had to be especially careful on downhills, since with all that gear over the rear wheel, our bikes would have a tendency for the handlebars to start shimmy if we picked up to too much speed on a downhill.
Leaving Toledo, Ohio,
DALMAC bound.

We ended up finishing the last few miles into East Lansing by street lights, riding to a friend-of-friend’s house. We had thought about tenting in their backyard, but with the wet overnight forecast and early start, we all settled for sleeping bags on their living room floor. This was good decision, since it rained all that night.

(I hope you will like The Ride So Far on Facebook.  Look for more tips and comments there soon.)

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