8.18.2017

2017 Night Shift

The 2017 edition of Night Shift went off without a hitch last Friday night, August 11. This year saw the most riders with 9 (Myself, Matt R, Matt L, George R, Doug H, Allison H, Mark G, Rick P and Chuck G), plus we added three newbies who wanted to ride one segment for the sake of sharing our experience (Laura R, Patti M and Judy C). So that counts as a dozen total from SAG2 to SAG3. It was a blast. Chuck and Allison were our two full-ride newbies this year. Chuck a seasoned cross and road racer from the Carolina's and an expert who Judy once told me "I've seen him ride through sand up to his hips!", (we joked that by mile 60 "maybe" Chuck was just getting warmed up) and Allison our second female to ever participate - now a "doctor" as I understood it and recent graduate from college.

This year we based our operations out of Yankee Springs Recreation Area on Gun Lake. It was a very busy campsite, people packed in and lots of activity, dogs barking, children crying, cornhole beanbags being slammed on boards. Ugh. Not exactly a place to go if you want to "get away". However, the location was super-premium for what turned out to be around 5000' of elevation gain through the night on gravel roads in Barry County. (And I will admit a shower after the ride was a HUGE bonus that we usually don't have.) Much of the course would follow the famed Barry-Roubaix route, which brings in a range of Pros to amateurs from the across the country to race on gravel, snow and ice every March.

Most people started rolling in to camp on Friday afternoon - near 5pm. Our family had been camping since Wednesday afternoon, which I enjoyed more than staying for days after the ride instead. (for days after the ride, you're still a little mushy and disoriented due to lack of sleep and physical exertion. So this was more fun for playing with the kids and exploring a little with them before the festivities.)

The usual hustle and bustle of planning gear, prepping our wheels and nutrition was happening for an hour or two leading up to 8pm, official start time. We ended up starting thirteen minutes late as Rick had some tubless-goop related tire seal issues with his cross bike before we left. Once he got that fixed, we continued with the start of the ride. Awesomely, that turned out to be the only mechanical of the evening.

(from left to right: Rick, Doug, Mark, Matt R, Me, Chuck, Allison, Judy, Matt L, George, Patti, Laura, John and Crankwagen)

Our pace for the first 24 miles to the first SAG stop seemed really fast. It always seems like you're going faster than you really are in the darkness, but I swear for a casual group ride, we were still cruising around 18mph. And, as (most of us) are just regular guys, barely able to keep up with life let alone some sort of regular riding schedule, that's pretty fast. The first SAG stop was a good one, at an old school house - apparently at a rather busy intersection for 10:30 pm. Lots of cars were slowing down and checking on us with all our blinky lights and beams shining everywhere.

This next segment wasn't unlike the first with some nice rolling hills, but nothing really to mention too much about. SAG2 would be in Nashville (thankfully in Michigan, not Tennessee). It was surprisingly well lit up. What a nice little town. The Shell station there was really clean and had great bathrooms. The girl working the counter didn't seem to care we were using their parking lot and street at almost 1:00 am. Now about half way done with the ride, a few of us were beginning to feel the pain. This was where I slammed a Redbull.

Need.
Caffeine.
Now.



This would be where we were pick up the three ladies that wanted to ride one segment. Everything up to this point had been very hilly up and down. I was nervous about not really knowing what to expect out of this third segment for the sake of the ladies, but it turned out to be perfect for them, and maybe perfect for us husbands who might have needed a bit of a break too. I was hoping their first experience wouldn't be a deal breaker to having them potentially ride another Night Shift. Both Laura and Patti are relatively new to riding bikes altogether, let alone riding on dirt. Oh yeah, and in the dark. Between 1 and 3am. So otherwise, no big deal, I guess, right? ha

Laura had nice fat tires to roll on, Patti had her cross/city bike. She did great climbing any inclines, but was really hesitant to let herself coast full speed on the downs with her skinny tires. We spent most of the time riding together in the peace of the dark, dark night. Finding ourselves spending this time like we do when we're traveling in a car...just sitting there, not talking. Minding our own business. I guess we each enjoy the peace and quiet of not having kids continuously asking us questions and asking us to "lookit, lookit". This segment turned out to be just right for the newbies, (as far as I know) they enjoyed their time with us trying something new. 17 miles, boom. No tears. No fights. No anger. Can't get much better than that, right?

Inside the Crankwagen (SAG)

Since Patti and I were the latecomers to the party at SAG3, I tried to refill my bottles and jam a Subway sandwich segment in my face before we quickly took off. I didn't want to hold anyone up. So we bolted pretty quickly. There were more hills on this fourth segment, although not too terrible and it would only be 12 miles till the the single track, then a few more till the SAG anyways. Totally easy if you break it down in your head just right.

We seemed to get to the single track section at Hammond Hill outside of Hastings pretty quickly, although once we reached the staging area, we had a hard time figuring out where to start. We all had some hesitation on who was going to lead us out. Doug stepped up and took the lead. What a BLAST! Wow. This was perfect for riding at 4am, with increasingly weak and uncoordinated bodies (read that as: a need for an increased degree of sloppy bike handling skills). The trail in many spots was nearly 2-3 feet wide and was extremely "flowy". Ups and downs with good rhythm, high embankments in the turns with fast, turning descents. If you knew what you were doing and carried some speed you might be able to catch some air and rail over a few burms at a time. But that wasn't happening for us. There wasn't much to stand up and pedal for even on my cross bike. So that was sweet too. It was just what we needed to spark some adrenaline at such an early hour.

Once finished with the single track, we were only two miles away from SAG4, our final official break. Now around 70 miles in, John and Judy's parking lot "Gravel Jacks" sandwiches (special mix and take on "Sloppy Joes") were delicious morsels much needed. I wasn't sure I could even eat mine, but before I knew it, it was gone. And I burned my mouth they were so hot and I was so hungry. After laying flat in the parking lot to stretch out a bit, I loaded up on some short-wave sugary snacks (a baby-sized Mountain Dew and a PayDay), took a stroll to the bathrooms at the Family Fare and we were off!

This last segment was the Boss Hogg of the entire route as far as hills go. Much of this is the opening 10-15 or so miles of the Barry-Roubaix race. We quickly got crushed down by the three sisters (those whores!, and honestly I think I counted eight of them) and there was just more coming after them. Hill after hill after hill. Approaching 90 miles, it was getting brutal. Near the end of the route we had a choice: turn right on some beautiful pavement for our last few miles, or continue on the planned route straight ahead on a sandy two-track, which dumps us out to the same pavement anyways - just later. Judging by seeing Allison with her head in her hands across her bars, I asked everyone if the pavement was just fine enough. (because I was feeling just like Allison and I gathered that from a few others in the group too.) Then Rick chimes in. (the guy doesn't talk hardly at all.) "Hey, I thought this was was a dirt ride!?" Okay, lay the guilt trip on me. So we made choices of compromise. If we take the pavement, we have to hit Yankee Springs trail. If we take the sandy two-track, we get to skip Yankee. So, that's what we did. Bring on the sand. Oh how I hate the sand.

No major incidences and now leaving the dirt behind us for the balance of the route, I felt myself becoming complacent even with 7 or so miles to go. I was riding at the back of the pack, just chatting with Rick. Then I remember how fast and long the hills are leading back to camp. I want the ride over so fast. Three words came to my head: Done. Fast. Destroy. So on the next downhill, I slammed into top gear like a Ferrari (bam, bam, bam, bam) and just took off. Pedaled my ass off for the last few miles up and down hills going as fast as I could. At one point reaching 33 mph, about the max for my cross bike with knobbies. Rick was with me most of the way, he with around 3,000 riding miles this year, me with 350. I think he was still chatting and cruising along side me as I tried not to vomit. After pedaling and pedaling and pedaling and being as "aero" as a 200 lb man wearing spandex with hairy legs can be, I decide to look behind to see where everyone was. I only saw two more riders; Chuck (which I pictured as coasting, eating a piece of pizza and sipping a martini as I abused my legs) and Doug.

The four of us rolled into the entrance to camp, and waited for the rest of the crew (only 30 seconds behind), then coasted into camp together. Victory! 7:20 am. Hmm. No one is up. Surprise, surprise. Get me into a shower and bed ASAP. In all, it was a very successful ride. I think Chuck and Jen will be back next year (I hope anyways) and Allison not only became the first female to ride and finish the ENTIRE ride, she also accomplished her first century ride ever. Congrats Allison!! You're a strong rider, hope you can also come back and bring some friends!

The rest of Saturday and Sunday was filled with great visits with friends and families, a giant group coordinated breakfast, then a group coordinated Mexican dinner complete with authentic (Pandora) mexican music by a campfire and stories shared by all. By 9pm our site was vacant of all visitors, we stayed up for a bit till the mosquitoes forced us in the camper.

Some ideas are already flowing for Night Shift 2018. Hope to see you all there. We will try and keep it more local like this year as that seemed to be a good option for many and makes it easier for camping and travel.

See you in 357 days!


(let's be clear, this was BEFORE the ride, NOT after!)

7.29.2017

Gravel Ride

Nice, cool, sunny morning for a gravel ride. Preparing for Night Shift and had to try some new nutrition stuff too. Only 16 more miles till I hit 10,000 since 2009. Hope to accomplish that next week.


6.13.2017

Buddy's First Trail Ride

My little buddy and I (okay, most of you know him as "Nick") took our first dirt trail ride together on Sunday. It was near 90 degrees and we rode just over 2 miles. Not too many cars in the lot at Luton, so it was nice to not have to worry about people trying to pass us on the trail. In fact, we didn't see anyone out on the trail the entire time. We rode the Green loop to the Blue and finished out on the Green again.

He just learned how to ride a bike without training wheels almost exactly one month ago. Ever since then, he's been riding like crazy. (It helped apparently to get him a new bike, then add some technology to it - a digital speedometer, and then a kickstand.) That first week he took a 3 mile ride with Patti while she ran on the rail trail. This kid is going to be a very capable pedaler.

While preparing for and enjoying our actual ride, I couldn't help but reminisce of days long past (5 years ago) when Marissa and I went on her first trail ride. It was similar (lots of tiny-voice-talking about random things and nature) but unique in its own way. He was similarly nervous about being left behind, but also not afraid to get dirty and crashed a few times - and still thought it was fun. No tears. He just got back up and kept on pedaling. We walked a few hills up and down as needed. He never complained about any of it. Our little "Mr Technology" said it would be "cool if all the leaves of the plants were colored the same as the color of the trail on the map so you wouldn't get lost."

I still can't help but feel that this was a bigger moment for me, than it was for him. With Father's Day coming up, I hope he will remember our "man-time" spent together. Special little trips like this - there will be more, but the firsts are always the most memorable. I also couldn't help but hope mom was peeking in on us as we enjoyed nature and bikes together. She would have loved that.

Happy, happy day. Hot and sweaty, but happy.

Here is some GoPro footage of our ride too. Something I didn't have five years ago, unfortunately.

 
We got the little 16" Giant on the rack!

 
Gotta get the picture in front of the sign!


 
Time for a break! It was hot out.

 
Another break. Almost finished.



 
This sweaty kid had fun and said he'd like to come back someday.
I'm pretty sure we can do that.


4.06.2017

A New Tradition

New traditions have to start somewhere I guess. Whether out of something glorious or something terrible.

Yesterday, mom would have been 70 years old. Last weekend we should have all been gathering to celebrate such a milestone with a surprise party of some sort. A room filled with laughter, hugs and kisses, cake and sugary pop (or in my case a cold glass of milk) and catching up with relatives and friends. So yesterday was tough, none of that happened. A "regular" day of work full of complaints, stress, drama and overall draining tiredness. I felt I didn't have time to even set aside to think about mom and I was a bit disappointed about that. I felt bad that life was just "continuing on".

However, a few weeks ago I decided that I'm going to start a new tradition - something to look forward to every spring. Something as constant as celebrating a birthday, but not a birthday. Just a dude and his bike, celebrating his love of cycling because of a mom who encouraged him to ride bikes and seek adventure and nature in the first place.

So going forward, every April 5, you will find this man riding his bike in honor of his mother's birthday. As long as I can lift a leg over the top tube, I'm riding. No matter the weather. And yesterday was the first challenge. It had rained all day, a downpour. Flood warnings were out. About two hours before I was to start riding home, the storm split in half. There was this sweet gap of no rain or clouds cutting right up through Grand Rapids. I was going to ride no matter what anyways, but it sure made it nice to not get wet until the last three out of twenty-four mile commute. I couldn't help but to talk to mom while riding, as this was the first time she got to see my route and what I experience on my rides home from work. I felt like a tour-guide for passengers on vacation.

So, the ride was good. My legs felt energetic, my back was great. I was just warm enough. It wasn't a fast ride, and the trail was bare except for a few dog-walkers - so a good ride to just think.

There are plenty of things I can do throughout the rest of the years to "honor" mom - whether it's picking up trash on the roadside, helping someone in need or lending an ear to someone that needs to get something off their chest...but this one day a year is now forever, just for me.

3.01.2017

Missing her today

My mom passed away on Monday from a two year long battle with cancer. I'm really missing her today, then I stumbled on this...


This turned out to be our last ride together. She got on her bike after her diagnosis to go for ice cream with friends and also to fetch the mail down our lane. For Mother's Day 2016 I got her a new bike pump. We put air in her tires, she grabbed her bike out of my cautious hands and took off. She wouldn't let me help her. She was just gone. I miss that.



And now, she's really gone.


1.02.2017

Welcome 2017!

Well, if I had to rate 2016 a score I would give it a 7 out of 10. Okay, maybe better than average, but not everything I had hoped it would be. I completed 3 out of my 6 goals I set from last year, so I've rolled the non-completed ones into this year and added a few.

I did not make it to 2,000 miles last year like I had hoped. Almost 1,400. Meh. I guess it was a decent improvement upon 2015, so I will take that. I did ride the 24 Hour Challenge and met my mileage goal. Thumbs up. Thumbs DOWN for not losing weight. Didn't work on that as hard as I should have. I've already begun working on that so far. More on that later. ODR (one day ride) to Sturgis...does it count partly if I have the route scribbled out? Just have to do it I guess. Commute to and from work at least once a month for all 12 months of 2016. Complete. And, the last one...run a 10k with Patti. Check. I thought I retired from running again, but then I signed up for another 10k this year over Memorial Day weekend. Patti talked me into it.

So here is what I'm shooting for in 2017: Two mountain bike races, still looking for 2000 miles, Ride to Sturgis, 10k run, lose 20-30 lbs and continue the commute streak.

As for the whole 10k thing....maybe I will just run one a year and keep that streak going too. It's too much work to retire, deal with all the media hype then come back...negotiate contracts, press appearances and re-work product endorsements. Ugh. So I guess I'll just be a mediocre runner and make one special star appearance per year until no one notices any longer.

Oh, and this will be the year that I ride past 10,000 miles since I've been keeping track in 2009. That is decent I guess.

As for the weight thing...so since I tend to do things rather bizarre fashion, here's what I decided. I'm sick of being a tub of goo and fat. I decided that for all of January, I'm going vegetarian - but not totally veggie, I'll add some fish. I just want to see what happens. Will I get angry and hate life. Good chance of that. Will I be lethargic and zapped of energy. Doubt that. And that's really what I need right now. I did my kids a favor and cooked up a pound of bacon for New Year's Day morning, boy that was hurtful. I was good and resisted even a taste. (I will tell you though, I almost spread the bacon grease on some bread and ate it!)

Anyways, we'll see how this goes. I also finally "checked in" to the Planet Fitness. I had re-upped my membership back in September I think when they were running a special, but never bothered to go in since. I guess when it's only $10 per month, it makes it too easy not to commit. The problem is getting up at 4:30am to prepare and go in before work. I really do need to do it though. Maybe I'll go after work some times too to mix it up.

I did get in a few riding miles yesterday during the Hair of the Dog Annual New Year's Day ride in downtown Grand Rapids. It was the usual good fun. After a few miles we stopped in a weird off-beat parking lot where were met by the Michigan Coast Riders, who furnished some cookies, pretzels and get this...FREE BEER!! Cases of PBR, All Day IPA, Miller High Life, Butt Light and Strohs. Free for the taking.

After this rather lengthy stop (it only seemed like a long stop, because I had no one to talk to) we rode about a mile to The Point (a bar), then stopped for more beverages. I snuck a roadie in my back pocket before I left the party bus and warmed up inside sipping my imported beverage (since I brought it in from outside, right?). The expected time of departure was one hour later. Ugh...I've got no one to talk to. So I finished the beer and headed out on my own. Back to the car I went and headed home. It was fun, but didn't have the time to be standing around listening to the voices in my head. At least this way I had time to get home and take down all the outdoor Christmas lights, tree and other thing-a-ma-bobs - so that was good.

Glad 2016 is over, but really cautious about expecting a lot out of 2017. This will be Patti's last full year of school, where she starts her residency - which is almost 1.5 hours away. Ugh - its going to be painful for all of us, even Patti as she's going to have to deal with me being whiny. Then I'm also kinda worried about mom. She's up and down, really tired. She's tired of being tired. That's been going on for a few months now. The kids don't know but there is a fantastic trip we'll be taking with mom and dad in February to a special place in Florida and then Patti and I have a date weekend planned in Chicago for a Blackhawks hockey game and stay downtown Chi-town. That gets us to March....let's hope we make it that far first in one piece before I go planning too much more for the rest of the year.

Happy New Year everyone. Hope I see you out there on the trails/dirt roads.

New Years Day breakfast: eggs, onions on tortillas and a little mustard. It was actually really yummy.

Vegetarian Chili. Basically almost like how I make my chili but without about 2lbs of random meats.

Pretty ingredients for the chili.

Hill race prep. You can see the riders at the base. This is one of few REAL cobble stone roads in Grand Rapids. I rode up it as fast as I could and I was bouncing all over the place.

 Secret rest stop. I found this can of hot chocolate in the back of the van just behind the can in the picture. It was delicious.

Inside "The Point" bar. Full of bikers.
 
Pretty sure in the previous picture you could see that there was more than 80 people in there.

Cool pano of the secret rest stop.

12.24.2016

Commute #12: December - Mission Complete!

Well, I was lucky that the weather broke for a few days just before Christmas. Two days after Winter Solstice (day with the least amount of light), I made my last trek of the year and the last commute to meet the goal I set last year of doing at least one trip a month to and from work, for each month of 2016.

I was not motivated at all to begin this last journey. Lots of the snow the past few weeks left me to decide where to car-rack my bike to in order to begin the journey. I was tempted to get the most out of it that I could by staging my bike at Russell Road where they end plowing of the trail. That is just shy of 4 miles from my house. However, knowing that I hadn't been doing much of any riding this fall/winter, I didn't really think my legs were going to be up to it. I also was also worried about my exploded back I had in the last month and had to put on the studded tires for this trip as it was still kind of icy even where it was plowed. Those tires have so much rolling resistance, it's like pedaling uphill both ways.

So the trip in to work was "meh". I really couldn't wait for it to be over. All 15 miles of it. (roll your eyes here - gee, Tony, tough). The ride home was much better. There was little to no traffic as many people had Friday off from work due to the holidays. My legs felt much better and the temps were much more mild. Ended this 12 month journey in a pretty good mood.

Happy for it to be over? Maybe. It just gets kind of boring. However, now that I've done that for 12 months, perhaps I should just keep it going for as long as a I can, and make it "my thing". We'll see how January and February goes. If I can make it work through December through February, the weather usually isn't much of an issue the rest of the year.

This concludes my riding for 2016. Hoping the weather is sort of okay (at least) to do the Hair of the Dog ride on New Years Day. That's only one week away, then we're on to 2017!