Written by Mona Will - September 2016
If you look at the map for this ride, it starts very near Lake Michigan in Montague and ends on the western most shores of Lake Huron at Bay City. From what little I know of the history of the ride, it started out as a completely unsupported ride. This means no planned sag stops or roving support vehicles to make sure any cyclists that are experiencing any major mechanical issues or physical issues are taken care. In the first years, this was the kind of ride that a handful of cyclists who had carefully planned the route earlier in the season would meet up early one morning, with snacks and tubes in the back of their jersey’s, and ride across the state, stopping in small towns enroute to replenish water supplies, food supplies, take bathroom breaks and work their way from one Great Lakes shoreline to another. Most likely hoping for the traditional west to east winds that would help push them to their destination. As with most exciting rides, word spread from one cyclist to another and the handful turned into a group large enough to need volunteers to handle cyclists and logistics.
Fast forward from those early days to the early morning hour of 6:15AM, when 5 of us, Kara Bratton, John Grabowski, Robin Mitchell, Krista Stockman, and myself Mona Will, arrived in the parking lot of Montague High School ready to begin our ride. Our plan was to leave at 6:30AM, equipped with lights for each of us, so we could cross the state and have time at the end of the ride to enjoy the meal provided by the ODRAM organizers. There is no mass start for this ride, so all riders can choose when to leave.. The sun wasn’t up yet so the dawn was all that lit the area and there was a light misting of rain. I could see some tents in the school yard and thought to myself “oh thank goodness I stayed in a nice dry house to sleep in instead of waking up to this misty rain and having to get dressed for a ride.” Cyclists were darting about from their cars to the school for last minute bathroom business, purchasing a jersey or waiting inside the building for their riding companions to show up. Bikes were being unloaded from cars or trucks, tires were being pumped, and everyone was preparing themselves mentally and physically for an 8 hour or more ride.
The misting rain turned into full rain. We decided that we would postpone our departing time in hopes of the rain letting up. I had read online the day before the ride that they had 381 registered riders. Looking at the amount of people standing under sheltered areas of the school, I couldn’t imagine that even half had shown up yet. Krista had been watching the weather radar and told us that there wasn’t much hope of the rain letting up anytime in the near future. We all agreed, some halfheartedly, that we would head out. We grabbed our wet bikes and headed for the inflatable starting line. Just before reaching it, the inflatable collapsed. Tour de France 2107 flashback except it was the finish line inflatable that collapsed there. John Grabowsk lent a helping hand in getting the generator restarted which re-inflated the starting line banner. We quickly posed while someone took our picture and then headed out. Within minutes the rain became a downpour. I have said for a few years that “I won’t start a ride in he rain, but I will end a ride in the rain”. Obviously I chose otherwise on this dark and rainy morning; question if that was such a smart choice.
The route took us out of town from the northwest and we rode east into what would have been the rising sun. Not long afterwards we rode by the site where a woman from the year before had been killed during the ride. The occasional conversation amongst the riders quickly quieted while passing the ghost bike that had been placed there, along with memorials of flowers in her honor. It was a sober reminder to all riding of the danger that comes with the enjoyment of the sport we love so much.
A few miles further we entered the Manistee National Forest area. I wish I could describe in great detail the magnificent hardwood trees and evergreens, the occasional sounds of what could have been either deer or woodchucks moving through the undergrowth, and the exhilaration of being in such natural surroundings, but honestly my focus was elsewhere. I hadn’t ridden in the rain for an extended time before so I was kept busy wiping rain out of my eyes, blowing my nose what seemed like every two minutes, and trying to find a comfortable but yet safe speed. Slowing and braking take on a whole new dimension when you’re riding around curves and going down hills in the rain. I was very grateful when the downpour let up and we were once again riding in light rain.
Our first sag was at Croyton-Hardy Dam. Krista had indicated that we wouldn’t want to miss this sag. She didn’t say why exactly, but the absence for the reason was quickly acknowledged when we approached. She wanted us to be surprised. We literally rode our bikes across the top of a dam! I don’t know how high we were but it was impressive nonetheless. The driving lane was a very narrow 2 vehicle lane. There was no room for passing vehicles once you were on the dam. A small park located at the end of the dam welcomed us with clean port a pottys, some hearty snacks, including a new favorite-peanut butter and banana roll ups, (don’t let me forget to suggest that for our festival ride next year)THE best oatmeal raisin cookies, fruit ,and fresh cold water. It seemed a bit ironic that we had been riding in rain/water all morning and here we were filling our water bottles. We lingered there longer than the other sags and I think it was probably due to beauty of the area and the fact that we were able to get off the bikes and duck under a shelter to get away from all the wetness.
In this area of Michigan sand is part of the landscape. Walking across a lawn or grassy area you pick up sand on your shoes not dirt like we have here in northern Indiana. Every animal, bird, tree, and plant survives due in part, to the sand.
Moving eastward the National Forest gave way to endless farmlands and rolling hills. Instead of acres of trees there were acres of midwestern crops growing lush and green. Amish have settled in these parts so there were the familiar Amish farm food stands, the impeccably tended family gardens, and the occasional sighting of horse and buggy. When traveling on the back roads of the Midwest, one thing that will forever make me smile are the friendly waves from people that are sitting on their front porch, the gardener that looks up as we pass, or the children swinging on a swing set. We are just travelers that pass through their slice of life in just a wink of the eye.
The first half of the ride is a constant incline. At mile 85, marked on the pavement in orange spray paint are the words, “top of the ride”. A speeding vehicle would most likely not even see the marking, but a cyclist that has been riding for over 5 hours and is cognizant of the topography, cheers inwardly or outwardly at this point in the ride.
Distance and time are measured a bit differently on all day rides. Distance is measured between one sag and another, not necessarily by x amount of miles and time isn’t broken down into minutes or seconds the way a racer would, but by hours. The sun is in your eyes at the start of the ride, at lunch time it’s overhead and about 2/3 of the way through the ride it’s on your back.
The rolling hills flattened out and between Kent and Meridian as we rode along a meandering river. I remember remarking about the beauty of the river and the foliage. I could see the transition of summer to fall in the colors of the plants and leaves on the trees around the river.
Our last sag stop was at a church. Krista’s husband, daughter, and son were waiting for her when we rolled in. They were there to offer moral support for the final leg of the journey. We went to the basement where we found the usual array of road food and snacks-fresh fruit, cookies, something salty-maybe pretzels (?) AND dill pickles and dill pickle juice! For those that are wondering why I’d add an exclamation point after pickle juice, let me say that dill pickle juice is to cyclists what kryptonite is to Superman. It’s the magic pill for cramping. Not everyone prescribes to this remedy, but those that do, are forever grateful to sip, not gulp, the juice to keep cramping at bay or to squelch a cramp.
We pulled out of the church ready to wrap up the ride. The last leg always seems to drag on, or at least that’s my experience. We could see dark rain clouds directly above the area of our final destination. The landscape started to change as we continued to move east. The expansive farm fields changed to small plots of land. The houses began to pop up more frequently and the outline of a large city landscape was outlined on the eastern horizon like an Etch A Sketch drawing. The tailwind that had pushed us from lunch to the final sag was now hitting us as a cross headwind while zig zagging closer and closer to Bay City. We moved from country roads to city roads, two lanes to four lanes. From the quiet of nature to the abrupt harshness of city sounds. We had to focus our awareness of everything around us to navigate safely in the traffic.
Finally we saw the sign that the state park was just 3 miles ahead. We picked up the pace. We rode with and beside other cyclists that were heading to the finish also. We talked about how hungry we were and couldn’t wait to get off our bikes. We entered the park and could see the inflatable finish line ahead. We weaved through the parking lot. Greeted by cheers and cowbells we crossed the finish line with smiles on our faces and relief in our eyes.
We had completed 153 miles in just under 10 hours of moving time and 12 hours from start to finish. Krista was met with hugs from her children and husband, the rest of us hugged each other. We dropped our bikes and headed straight to the grill for food and then to the coolers for beverages. We sat at a picnic table all together, family and friends, talking about whatever seemed important in the moment. Then almost as quickly as we had unloaded our bikes in the morning, we loaded them back up and left the park, heading in our separate directions.
The finish is always bittersweet. Bitter is the parting of friends at the end of the day; sweet is the euphoric finish, the telling of the tales of the day, and the mention of another ride. Both are temporary, but everlasting are the memories of finishing ODRAM 2016.