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.
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!
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.