2014 Night Shift - Painful Fun

Before going into last year's (inaugural) Night Shift, I had decided to organize the ride every other year. After doing Night Shift 2013, I had to seriously reconsider. Everyone had a blast riding in the unique ride - asking to please do one in 2014. Okay, done. Didn't take much convincing. Where else in Michigan can you do 100+ miles...on gravel roads...overnight? A twelve hour mission point-to-point. I will say the most nerve wracking portion of the trip, is always wondering what is waiting for you out in the woods or open fields in the dead of night.

The weather all week was looking to be pretty dismal. I decided that I would not cancel the ride unless there was full-on downpours and bad storms with lightning or hail. Monday to Tuesday to Wednesday and on, the chances of rain kept going up. Matt R kept texting me "what are we going to do?" I would say something to the effect of "WTH? We're going to ride. Stop worrying old man." Right up to the last minute there was still pop-up showers taking place. After Jeremy and I had staged our camping gear at camp that morning and up until "go-time" it had rained quite a bit between camp and about 30 or so miles south. Also inches of rain in Greenville and some hail. However, skies were clear and dry all day in the Rockford area, so the ride was still on.

Five men took the challenge in 2014. The route was to be exactly the same as last year. We still got lost a few times. It's really hard to think straight at 2am after exerting yourself for 6 hours already - regardless of knowing the route. Repeat riders: myself, Matt R, Matt L along with two newbies, Jeremy C and Matt L's uncle Doug H. Jeremy had never rode more than I think 40 or so miles in one sitting. Doug is a strong rider on the Speed Merchants team.

The fantastic SAG team of John and Judy Crankshaw met us at the church. They had a tag-along crew member this year, Matt R's newly appointed wife, Laura - who would make for a perfect and able crew member.

Before we left the staging area at the church in Rockford, I announced that there was a gimmick to this year's ride. Each rider got a metal, waterproof business card case with a laser marked Night Shift logo burnished on the top. Inside was a "Ride Passport". A card depicting the route, elevation graphic (Judy said maybe it was more like a sand-depth chart) and spots to time-stamp our pre-determined SAG stops. Laura was appointed the stamper and official time keeper. I plan to make a passport card for each future Night Shift.

We discussed how different the ride really would be this year. The route was the same, but as now the ride was in August instead of June (hopefully) not only would the midnight temps be greater, but also there would be less daylight. The 2013 ride was within one week of the summer solstice, which as many of you know is the one day of the year with the most available daylight. August, no so much.

Time to go, 7:58pm. I led the charge from the church. Myself and Doug up front, eager to get going. Mistakenly going 18-20mph out of the gates. The other three hanging behind - I think sharing beers or something. It probably wasn't more than 15 or so miles later, I would already find myself at the back of the pack - where I would stay for the remainder of the ride. I haven't had crap for time to ride this year. Weak legs.

Only a few miles from Howard City, there was a special SAG cheering section set up just as we reached the rail trail. Cowbells and cheering - along with "KEEP MOVING BOYS!" (Judy) - "THIS IS NOT AN OFFICIAL SAG STOP!" Okay, okay, fine...we'll keep moving. Later, we ran across some good-ol boys with a truck racked up on a dirt pile between there and Howard City. Another hillbilly wagon was tow-strapping them out of the mess. Funny - I don't think any of them even saw us or commented, even though we had to walk through piles of sand right by them.

Arriving in Howard City, we all eagerly approached Laura with our "Passports" open and ready to stamp - like children checking out books at the library for the first time. The time recorded stamps were oh-so-perfectly pressed onto the paper passports. We were proud. The Crankshaw SAG (to be called C-SAG from now on) already had custom-built, quartered and wrapped Subway sandwiches on board along with some other food items like chips and plenty of water ready for us. Jeremy cracked open a Miller Lite. A few trips were made inside for bathroom breaks. Apparently as the C-SAG was waiting for us to arrive, they had a dude drive up and wonder if they were tailgating and were selling drinks. The same guy inside was asking what we were doing and was stunned. "What!? 100 miles?! Why would you do something like that?" We don't know.

Our ride to the Hardy Dam was pretty uneventful. The last climb to the gas station there is always a killer. Again, we conversed with some random dudes asking what we were doing. Again, just amazed that we would want to do something like this. Why? We don't know. I don't know what is funnier. The fact that we think this would be fun, or watching the reaction on their faces as we describe the ride.

I had been dealing with trying to overcome a slightly annoying headache from about Howard City already and some minor leg cramps. Up to this point (about 4 hours), I still hadn't peed. I refused to believe I was already dehydrated. Man, this is going to be a rough night. I had religiously hydrated all week long. What was going on? Still I continued on drinking and eating to supply enough to keep my legs turning. Our next stop would be Woodville - between Hardy Dam and Woodville is where we encounter the "beige" (as Susanne coined the phrase last year). Everything is beige. Soft beige and hard beige. Rocky beige, smooth beige. Lots of it. And, that IS pretty much it. Luckily, because of the massive rainfall in that area that day, it was more "taupe" this year and not all that bad. Very well packed down and less soft. Still, I felt like mud regardless.

We made it to Woodville intact. Jeremy had fishtailed once and crashed in the same sand-downhill section as Bob last year. Again, right in front of me. It was like on instant replay in my mind. At this point, I was really suffering. Last to roll in. Headache more prevalent. Leg cramps already preventing me from standing up and pedaling. Lots of walking and granny-gearing up hills at barely 4mph. Feeling defeated. Cold, shivering, soaked in sweat. It was so humid out - everyone was soaked. I had a hot-chocolate and sat in the C-SAG truck to warm up a bit. Jeremy handed me a few aspirin which helped immensely. We all discarded our riding glasses as they were permanently coated in fog and moisture.

Leaving Woodville is where the ride gets really interesting. Within the first mile, we'd be walking in ankle-deep soft sand for up to maybe a half mile or so. More of those lovely "seasonal roads". I decide that pushing a bike is still not the most efficient way to get around - regardless of how I try and talk myself into it not being "that bad". Before we reached Hungerford Trail where we'd pick up some single-track, my Garmin already beeped saying it was down to 10% power. I didn't realize that the turn-by-turn directions must have been draining the battery much quicker than normal. Once the trail was reached, we started by going the wrong direction, (because there was no map at the trailhead) but discovered our error quickly. Once rerouted, the single track was awesome. I had my NightRider handlebar light set on "day light" (full 500 lumens), plus my helmet light.

After exiting the trail, we somehow got turned around and got in an extra 4 miles on dirt roads. The three of us riding from last year, thought the road was entirely way too nice to be called 12 mile. Last year it was about a mile's worth of walking through sand. Hmm...okay, we'll keep riding for a bit. Garmin said we were off course and heading south to southwest instead of west. I tried flagging everyone else down, but they were gone, they didn't stop for quite awhile. Once caught up, we discussed our plan and headed back to where we went wrong.

Once we got onto our route and walked through the 12 mile road sand, my Garmin died. Toast. At our next meet-up spot we tried to decide which way to go. Oh, I know, I will get out my good ol' trusty paper map which I ever so carefully prepared for such occasions - and have redundant copies of. It's in my pannier bag. I'll just get my flashlight out of my back jersey pocket, click and...uh oh. Where is it? Oh...I remember now. I discarded my entire pannier bag into the back of the C-SAG at Woodville - trying to cut some weight. Tools and all. Didn't even care. I was suffering too much. (which still didn't get any better, btw)

Luckily we could get through some tricky sections because Matt L had his Garmin with the course loaded. I tried using his battery charging device so I could resume the course after 15 minutes or so of charging. I asked our strongest rider Doug..."So what do you think Doug? You having fun, or is this bullshit?" He responded with "oh, it's alright." Which means "this is bullshit". It's okay, I can take the heat. That's right its bullshit, but there is nothing you can do about that now. And I didn't make anyone sign up.

Things got funny. Jeremy told us all that next year he wasn't going to bring his helmet because he didn't even use it. For some reason that made me laugh. And the fact that he was trying to take selfies from his "dashboard", "cockpit", whathaveyou, where he had about 7 different devices or lights attached. He also had some of those valve stem LED light things going around his wheels that kids put on their bikes. I swear I would get dizzy watching them spin around.

Somewhere between here and the last official SAG stop, just as the sky was turning from black to dark blue, Matt R and I had a run-in with a dog. Now, we had heard dogs barking at us all dang night. All from a distance. This one was different. A black and white Pitbull, came out charging and barking at full speed out of his trailer-trash yard. I yelled at Matt, "WE GOT A RUNNER!" and we both took off. Still dealing with leg cramps I was lagging behind and found myself drifting into some sand, slowing down. I could hear the dog huffing right at my heels. My left calf locked up, I stood up and powered through it, gritting my teeth knowing that if I slowed enough to let the dog drag me down, it could be a really, really bad morning. To be dramatic, life and death type of situations were going on in my head. I growled in angst and pain at my locked up calf, then took a millisecond to see where the dog was. It was running away back to its home. Apparently he thought I was growling at him and it was just enough to scare him back home. Lucky!

Urination status: By the time we reached the last SAG stop, I think I had peed twice - and it was the volume of my not quite 3 year old son who is learning how to potty on the "big potty". See, after he pees in his diaper, we remind him he can have candy if he goes on the big potty next time. Then he immediately runs to the potty and releases about 5mL of urine into the potty. Drip, drip, drip. (of course, we give him credit, even if its after the fact). That's what mine were like. So you might as well say, I basically hadn't peed all dang night. And I didn't even get any candy for trying.

I don't remember much about that last SAG stop besides Judy approaching me (she seemed close to my face, but maybe not) and saying "Tony, you okay? You look pretty bonked." (she's chuckling) Hmm, I don't know. I think I'm okay? (question mark) The C-SAG had a mobile crockpot of Sloppy Joes for us - I mowwed one of those, slammed an Oatmeal Creme Pie (glorious bike food!) and concentrated on just changing into my dry socks, gloves and jersey. There were men scattered around, laying down, resting in chairs. I think everyone was feeling the pain - but everything was a little fuzzy for me then.

Judy and John said they enjoy doing SAG just to see the pain and struggle of their fellow cyclist friends. I'm sure it's something to behold. However, try being one of those idiots riding! ha

We all wanted the ride over and now. Still 20 or so miles to go. And more hills. I was disappointed that this entire section of ride wasn't better for me. I set the standards high as last year I powered up and down the gravel hills like a mad-man. Once we reached pavement, I made myself pedal hard, Matt R drafting behind me. It hurt so bad, just needed to be done with it. Doug was long gone, way more able than myself to speed away. Pedaling down the last hill in top gear at 37.7mph on a mountain bike was reward enough for the last few miles of push. Rolling into camp, there they were: C-SAG, families, friends...cowbells and cheering with other campers looking on wondering what all the hub-bub was.

Oh, nothing much. Just a little bike ride in some dirt so we could go camping.

Why do we do this? I don't know. It IS bullshit. Maybe that's why. Keep a little bullshit in your life and you'll keep things in perspective.

Final note about "bullshit"; Garmin: my .fit file is corrupt. Ride data is gone. Outstanding!

Come on out next year. I hope to build an entirely new route heading in a different direction.

Just one of the many warnings on my tv leading up to the ride.

The aluminum protective case for the "Ride Passports"

 Matt R and I riding, having a good time.


Aliens crossing Northland Drive.

Matt L. looking intelligent. Ha!

Me. Fat and sweaty loading some Hammer Perpeteum into a bottle.

Sign at Woodville. 

The following are random pictures of suffering at the last SAG stop. Viewer discretion advised.

This was pretty much my view - out of focus.

Extreme mouth wiping by Matt R.


Jeremy's completed Ride Passport. Not sure why, but all but one of his stamps are upside down.

Rolling into camp, 9am.

Final crew (left to right):
 Matt L, Matt R, Laura (front), Me, Jeremy, Judy, Doug, John


Colored Directional Tour

(Blue Star Highway to Red Arrow Highway)

A former co-worker of mine, Matt Safirt, is relatively new to cycling. We have been chatting about bikes, gear, rides and the sort for quite a while now. Last year he set a 2014 goal to ride from his house in Zeeland, MI to Michigan City, IN, his home-town. I asked if that was something I could ride along for - because I have been contemplating a similar ride from my house to my parents near the Indiana border. Not only do I enjoy a challenge like this, but I was also worried that he was attempting to pull off his first century ride solo.

I left all the planning to Matt - he drove the route about a month beforehand and I had charted some sort of halfway accurate map in GarminConnect to get an idea of elevation and route in case we got lost. We met over lunch once to discuss tools, route and gear - a nerd's stra-tegery in cycling terms.

The week leading up to our departure was full of rain storms and many thunderstorms with rather vicious lightning. Random power-outages throughout West Michigan. The night before our departure was clear, but there were eminent storms on the way. As of 9 pm that night we were still unsure if we could pull off the ride, so I told Matt I'd get up at 3 am and check the radar. He thought I was joking, then realized that I wasn't. I told him this is serious business. (When it comes to deciding whether or not to pull off a major ride like this, weather usually ends up being your last obstacle to overcome. All your planning and anticipation could be tossed in the gutter due to mother nature. So making this call was like-I-said "serious business".) Thank goodness for technology - I could see that the storms were reduced to showers, spotty at best. Falling apart as they crested the shoreline. I texted Matt "Let's do this!"

I chose to ride the new steed, the cyclocross bike, as it has the ability to attach my panniers and rack to it's aluminum frame. The carbon road bike would not allow for that and the mountain bike...we'll it's just too heavy and slow.

Matt picked me up at work 7 am, which was super awesome, for it would save me a lot of driving in having to pick up the car on the way home on Sunday afternoon. (this was a one-way ride with each of us getting rides back with our families on Sunday.) While I was awaiting my chariot, I had to poop, so when I came out of work I saw a suspicious character stealing my bike and jamming it in a van door. It was Matt - we were ready and excited for the adventure to begin.

Once at Matt's house, we began immediately gathering our gear and I powered up the Garmin. Oh, look, I failed to upload the course. Matt "pretty much" knew our route in his head - it was rather easy - but to be safe we stopped at a gas station to get a map just in case. (we both had maps on our cell phones, not sure why we needed a paper one. That didn't hit me until the next day. ha)

After meeting Matt's family and snapping a few photos, we were off on our ride. Riding around Zeeland made me wonder if it was like Iowa. (I've never been there.) Flat roads amongst fields that you can see for miles in any direction from. Our trip over to Holland where we found our way to Blue Star Highway was pretty uneventful. We could see dark gray clouds with rain pouring down from them, but we barely felt a drop ourselves. Some roads were soaked, others completely dry. Most of the day was cloudy, but nice. We usually saw dark gray ahead, but by the time we got there, there was nothing. Mid 60's weather and cloudy all day is perfect riding weather.

Nothing to note until mile 32 when I all of a sudden felt my rear tire swaying underneath me as I pedaled. I looked down and noticed my tire was going soft. It was a super slow leak, but would be flat probably in the next half mile or so. We stopped in a nice grassy area off the side of the road to change the flat. Several neighbors and passers-by stopped to ask if we needed help or tools. We chatted with one guy about bikes quite extensively and he and his son ride pretty often. I was able to change the tube and tire within probably 5-7 minutes or so (which is fast for me), but I swear it took me 15 more minutes to get the wheel and axle back in the frame. I don't know if the disc brake was not seating well or what, but I was quickly getting frustrated and tried remaining calm. We finally get my wheel on and seated and we're off again.

We stopped for lunch in South Haven. Arby's is all we could scrounge up. We were looking for a Subway, but it was too far off our route. The food was much needed - both of us hungry and starting to feel tired. Back on the route, we found that Blue Star Highway is really nice to ride. Some rolling hills, but very flat otherwise. At some points the shoulders were probably 6 feet wide and pavement within 2 or so years new.

We would stop often to fix Matt's helmet (whose strap kept falling apart) and to just catch a breather. Sometimes we had to refill water, which is what we did when we got to St Joseph. While Matt was standing watch over our gear, I went inside to get some water and a Gatorade. When I came out I saw him talking to an elderly lady. (which is not a surprise, Matt can be friends with just about everyone) Later he tells me that she had come upon him and said "Whoa, I didn't see you there." Take note, that Matt was wearing a BRIGHT yellow jersey and had been standing there when she pulled up and parked right in front of him and our bikes. She then says "are you a runner around here?" Matt says "nope, riding bikes" as he points to two bikes right next to him. Dear Lord, lady, you're driving a car!? We let her clear the area and hopefully get miles away from us before leaving that gas station.

At this point Matt and I are getting pretty tired. We had been fighting a headwind ever since Saugatuck - Matt with no more max than a 40 mile ride under his belt in one sitting and me piloting what must have been a 50 lb bike with gear. Neck, back and shoulders are now feeling it. Sun is now coming out and the air is getting thick and humid.

From south of St Joseph, we now pick up Red Arrow Highway. Boy, what a treat. Four lanes of no-shoulder road (okay, maybe there is 2" of paved shoulder) and pot holes and frost heaves abound. We were dieing a slow painful death by rattling and shaking - trying not to swerve too far into traffic. It was also at this point that idiots on the road made themselves known. Up to this point, people had passed us with plenty of space to spare, now it was like we were trying to ride just outside of Chicago.

I had told Matt that the 60-70 mile range on a ride like this is the turning point. You usually feel really terrible, but the end is in sight. Once you go numb to the pain, you just need to keep pedaling and watching the miles peel away.

I could tell Matt was getting tired. I was getting there myself too. But we were getting closer and closer. I kept giving him encouragement and counting down the miles every 10 or so.

Soon we were squinting ahead looking for the Indiana state border sign. We see it! We stop to take some pictures then we're on our way with less than 10 miles to go.

Matt pulled through - very tired, but he did it. He made his goal he set last year and I was happy to be there and be a part of it. I made him ride with me to the other end of the parking lot so we could get 104 miles exactly. He wasn't super excited about it, but he did it anyways. ha!

I was nervous about how Matt would ride as I had never ridden with him before. Turns out we ride very similar and were a good match for a long tour like this. Nice to catch up on various things with him again. Hopefully we meet up again to do some other crazy ride somewhere. I spent the rest of the weekend at my parents house on the lake, playing in the water with the kids and chatting with the parents. What a fun weekend!

I have taken 3 vacation days this year to do nothing but ride bikes. I can say, none of them have failed to disappoint. Hmmm...could there be a common thread there? Riding bikes....no work, no worries?

I can't wait for retirement (only 25+ more years)!

Two dudes, two bikes, one mission.

Our "Directionals".

Happily changing a flat.

Well, wasn't that a pain in the ass!?

Matt, obviously having a good time with my misfortune. ha

Our bikes at the St Joe gas station - where the old lady didn't see Matt or our bikes even though she parked right in front of them/us.

This was right off the highway. Great view!

Funny guys.

Only once have I been happy to see an Indiana state border. This was the day. Otherwise, Indiana Sucks.

The heat and exhaustion might be making me a little delirious. Oh no, wait, that's just regular me.

Finish line! 104 miles exactly.


Morley to Canadian Lakes to Big Rapids Loop

Took the day off yesterday to get in another sweet-ass ride on with perfect weather. It was Marissa's last day of school, so after the festivities there, I packed up my gear and headed to Morley. I wanted more miles in order to prep for my next BIG adventure (secret), but had to be back in time to pick up Nick at the sitters. Running out of seat-time in the upcoming schedule.

I plotted the course the night before using Garmin Connect. Just random roads. Taking the cross bike I knew (and was excited for) the fact that I would end up on a decent amount of gravel roads - which I did.

As I was stuffing my jersey pockets with energy gels, a Honey Stinger (magic) waffle and my phone, etc, I realized that I left my ID, credit cards, cash and other items at home. Now twenty-five minutes away. Dammit! I was to now decide to abandon the route and play it safe to just ride up the rail trail and back. What a waste of a day. A day of exploration. Not going to ruin it, I'm proceeding as planned.

So, for the first first five miles of so I was thinking nothing except what bad things might happen without ID and a cash source. The worry consumed me. I had to talk myself out of it as it was no longer a relaxing, adventurous ride.

Once on the way to "freeing my mind", I reached the Canadian Lakes area. Wow, I have never been there before. What a beautiful area of lakes, homes, beaches and blue skies. I will have to visit there again. Now, headed west out of that area, my next turn led me to a "Seasonal Road". For those of you that may remember from Night Shift, the words "Seasonal Road" in native English translate into "Bullshit Sand". My excitement for this unexpected adventure, dwindled after about a mile of trying to ride narrow cyclocross tires through sand. On the bike, swerving. Bailing. Walking. Clipping in to coast for about 20 feet. Swerving, clipping out. I was in a low-lying area rich with mosquitoes that could have probably carried me off had I not been securely holding onto my bike. They were stealing my blood right through my spandex they were so hungry. I had to keep moving as they were in my (almost non-existant) slipstream behind me. A cloudy mass of random flying parasites being baffled by my breeze.

For a full mile I had the Garmin tell me I was off course or not moving at all. Argh. Shut up! Swatting at mosquitoes. I was now lost - hoping that this road came out somewhere. After about 2 miles I spotted an old, old, barely painted sign that said "Private Road, Keep Out". Woah. Really, I come all the way back here and I have to turn around? NO WAY I'm going back in there with those bugs. I've probably already contracted West Nile, what next? Rabies from that scurrying raccoon I saw?

I eventually came out to better roads after walking/riding/swearing at the last three miles. Got back on course and headed off to Big Rapids via rail trail. Met some people new to the trail and gave them some advice to where to ride (pavement). Got to my usual turn around point - tressel bridge. At this point I was starving-hungry and almost out of water. Wow, money sure is a nice convenience to have when you need something. I got some free water at the gas station bathroom (yuck), chomped the magic waffle and headed out.

It was getting hot, I was starving and all I could do was think about downing an ice-cold Coke once I got a hold of my money!

All in all, it was an adventure. Was kinda pissed about the Seasonal Road, but then again, I can laugh at it now...Night Shift is in two months. I have nothing to be pissed about quite yet.

I learned two things on this ride:
1) The cross bike will likely not being ridden for that ride because of the seasonal roads and single-track as part of the course.
2) Riding a bike is WAY more efficient than pushing one.

 Seasonal Road in all its glory!

 More garbage sand.

Ruts and bullshit. Terr'ble.

I can't figure this one out. I think this is the "road" that Garmin said I could take NorthWest. Ummm, no. It's not even a road - just a section of....nothing. What the hell!? This makes the Seasonal Road look like an Amish highway.

I love this old train depot just east of Big Rapids on the rail trail. There is a trail staging area here.

Great swamp between Stanwood and Morley. I think I stop here almost every ride through here. Look at the bright greens and blues. Fantastic!

BayShore Half Marathon Spectating

May 24 - I was once again on the spectating side of the BayShore Marathon event(s) in Traverse City. Totally fine with me. I ran the 10K three years ago and as I like to advertise, it was my race running debut and my retirement. Running is dumb.

Anyways, as long as my wife wants to run and kill herself, I will watch. Especially from the seat of a bicycle and without any kids in tow.

We had a nice relaxing weekend away (2 days/nights) as the MIL watched the kids at our home.

Patti's race wasn't all that she was hoping. Knee trouble really put her down, she walked most of the race. As it was such a beautiful day, she still had a great positive attitude and was just happy to be participating.

As for my ride, it was a chilly start, but quickly warmed up as the sun crested the Bay. In all, I crossed the penninsula 4 times (brutal). Steep uphills and sweeping decents in and out of spectators and vehicles. (watch out for the cops and pretend to behave)

To the last spectator checkpoint before the finish, Center Road was closed to all traffic. It was a blissful 3+ miles of decent between 30-35mph with two full lanes to myself. No one in sight. So great! Considering the miles I packed on just the day before, this ride was nice. I chatted with a fellow rider also watching his wife. As long as you're not a true "roadie", bikers are really cool.

Sun coming up - near 6:50am. Mile 1 checkpoint - waiting patiently for runners.

Cherry Blossoms!

Funny Sign.

Patti running. In pain, but running nonetheless.

"Scenic Overlook" on closed Center Road. I had to stop to see why a sign was necessary. Wow!

This was our view from our STELLAR $89/night Condo. We got lucky with this one. Everything else cheap was booked. Many of the only vacancies were charging $150-$220/night. We're coming back to this one for sure! (Iceman?)

My view Sunday Morning.