2016 Night Shift

The Fourth Annual Night Shift is in the books. Lots of anticipation, worry and stress about the night’s possibilities comes to a peak all on one day. This year, Friday, August 12 was that date. Will someone get hurt? Will we have some run-in with a back-woods hillbilly? What about wild animals? Turns out, thankfully, none of those things would happen. The most “wildlife” we saw were toads and frogs in the road later in the evening and there was virtually NO traffic all night.

As far as “new” things go, this was our first ever loop route. Jeremy had the brilliant idea last year to suggest changing from a point-to-point ride. Because of our finishing destination, it requires a lot of driving on Friday to set up camp, then drive back to my house to leave for the ride – 2 hours each way and over 3 for those coming from the Lansing area. This year we began and ended our ride from camp near Nordhouse Dunes in the wonderful Lake Michigan at Manistee campground – so it saved a ton of driving around and we could prepare for our ride at leisure. You can reserve sites well in advance, which we all did in February. We also did a better job of placing ourselves strategically closer to each other which proved to be great for family gatherings later in the weekend.

We had our “usuals” (if you can say that only after 3 previous years of rides) of myself, Matt R, Matt L and Jeremy. Our friend Matt U came back for round two after attending only the very first Night Shift in 2012. We also had three newbies join us this year. They were fellow Rapid Wheelmen George R, friend of George’s, Mark G and friend of the Crankshaws, Rick P. All very good cyclists ready for a new experience and challenge. Rick had just bought a really nice used full carbon Niner cyclocross bike – which he had never ridden. Mark and George were mounted upon their fat bikes. I had just picked up my new Velocity ‘cross wheels that morning as my stock Cannondale’s kept popping spokes – so I was going to get these wheels some action right away.

Nearing 7:45pm, we assembled around Night Shift Ride Headquarters (campsite 55) where we were all anxious to get rolling at 8pm. Only one person was missing…hmmm, Jeremy. (Who had coincidentally been drinking beer since 2pm that day. Not surprising he hadn’t rolled on over ready to ride yet.) I had previously made a presentation to the Crankshaws, our magnificent SAG-wagon drivers, of some artfully crafted vehicle magnets. John was super geeked and installed them immediately. They look so perfect on their bright red pickup.

The few days leading up to the ride had been really hot and humid. Friday during the day, it rained HARD around the Grand Rapids and Lansing areas, prompting severe weather alerts. However, there wasn’t anything around the Ludington area except some light showers earlier in the day. Lucky? Maybe. The forecasted chance of rain for Friday evening had been decreasing throughout the week, but not enough to make me think we were going to be totally dry. It sure was HUMID. Like, throw up in my mouth, humid. Miserable when not moving. No breeze.

Jeremy finally showed up, now ready. Time for a group photo around the beautiful new magnets on the Crankwagen, then we were off. There were parts of this first section that Jeremy and I never scouted and John suggested it would be a good idea for us to get a little more dirt in our first miles leaving camp, so I bit on that idea without actually seeing the roads and altered the route a bit. I wasn’t sure of our first turn, so when I approached the first dirt road, it seemed like a plausible direction – because I couldn’t remember the name John told me to look for. Little did I know we were headed more south than south east. Let me say this…Nurnberg in German, must mean “dirt road of shattered wrists”. Man, was it wash-boarded out. Chatter bumps were deep and solid. Anything that was smooth was dangerously loose and sandy (for a ‘cross bike anyways) so I had to take the bumps and hope my eyes would stop shaking and become un-crossed later. The pounding was killing my neck and back and I had a headache even before we cleared 10 miles in the ride. I was telling the other riders that this section was a planned equipment shake test. Anything not properly secured was going to get ejected here. The pre-determined route would have had us doing only 1.3 miles on this crap, but instead it was 4.7 miles. It was actually miserable and we were all hoping there was no more of this for the rest of the night. (Which, thankfully, we came across very little.)

Shortly after this, I don’t know how, but we got lost again. That made twice in the first 13 miles. New record. This section wasn’t recon’d either as it was added last minute to get us some additional dirt miles. It looked simple enough that no one needed to drive it. So I guess I’m too dumb to read a map and watch for road signs while trying to straighten out my eyes. Getting lost meant that we ended up shortcutting about 2 miles off here – which was okay because we had added a few with the first lost episode.

After getting our bearings, we’re happily riding on pavement when all of a sudden, I see a bike swerve and there is half of a crank laying the road. Then I see Jeremy shaking his left foot with the other crank-half still attached to his cleat. What the heck?! We had only been riding for an hour. Jeremy’s crank just fell completely out of his bottom bracket. We all stopped to find the parts, he was pretty upset and he thought his night was over. Between he and George, they were able to do some quick work torquing away at it with tools, while we all stood by in the middle of an untraveled road, getting attacked by mosquitoes. Turns out, Jeremy’s night was far from over and he would finish out the ride with no other bike mechanicals. No mechanicals actually for anyone else on this ride either. Sweet!

Crank fail.

Sara, Matt’s wife, with a carload of kids were also following along with the Crankwagen up to our first SAG stop, so they headed out to come find us. I assured John we were fine and we’re back on the road and they probably won’t find us because we were off course. We arrived at the Krolczyk Cellars Winery (a pole-barn in a field with dirt driveway – no place I would ever visit), we dismounted and discarded our jerseys immediately as there was no breeze, only hot and humid Amazon forest like conditions. The Sara/kid wagon wasn’t far behind.

Weird wine cellar place. Probably just a processing facility.

Sweaty Wrastlers spotted at SAG 1.

After consuming some Subway and other snacks along with reloading of fluids, we headed out on more dirt roads heading for the North Country Trail single-track section. Closing in on the last few miles before the trail, we got lost again – or so we thought – until some bright lights from an SUV were slowly coming at us. We were all standing at a dirt intersection looking at paper maps and maps on phones. A lady, maybe in her 60’s, (we think she was drunk) stopped to ask if we were okay. She was kind of loud and seemed like she was slurring her speech. After assuring her we were fine, but slightly turned-around, she proceeded to help us gain our direction back. Note to self: This is where we should let Jeremy do all the talking.

Jeremy: “Is this County Line Road?”
She replies, “Yes, it is.”
Jeremy responds with “Which way does it go?”

I’m thinking to myself - Sir, the road clearly goes this way and that way, we just need to pick a way.

It’s like last year’s “Where ya headed?”
Jeremy says, “The forest.”


Some other chit-chat and hilarity ensue. Jeremy asks “Hey, do you have room for eight?” While she’s driving away someone blurted out, “we only have 70 more miles to go!” Before disappearing out of our lives forever, she slammed on her brakes and yells out “WHHHAAAAATTT!!!!?”

So, we found our way and rolled into SAG stop #2 for more refreshments, food, jersey changes and light-beacon charges. Last year we entered a time warp section when we rode another part of the North Country Trail and were out there for two hours to ride eleven miles. We could not figure out where the time went. So before leaving this time, we reminded the SAG of this and told them not to fear, we wouldn’t let that happen again. This was near midnight and it was starting to drizzle. Which felt good, the cooling effects were a nice feeling on the arms and face.

The single track was tough. Most of it is uphill for long sections. This trail bisects the Big M mountain bike trail. Lots of roots and climbing. Matt U crashed once going through a sandy intersection and a few others got dropped behind the train due to cramps and exhaustion from the long climbs. Our reward for those long uphills, of course, was some nice and long descents. Kind of scary, I wanted to let my bike accelerate, but the trees were ever so close – and a tired man on a bike at 1am could brush any of those trees at any given time. One feeling that I will never get tired of is stealing some single track at night and riding with nothing but handlebar and helmet lights in pure silence and nature. If you’ve never renegaded some single track at night, you need to try it. So fun! SAG #3 was only 6 miles away from the last SAG at the beginning of the trail. We arrived safely, no time-warp, and didn’t stay there long – just enough to refuel again and be off.

Map Reading. We do a lot of this in 12 hours. When the maps are dry, at least.

It continued to drizzle on us during this next section for awhile, then began to actually rain around 2am or just after. This section was mostly all dirt and some hills on the last road leading toward SAG #4. George was having issues with leg cramps back on the NCT and was still struggling with fending them off now. Our next SAG stop is at mile 55, just over halfway on our route. It seemed like it took forever to get there. The plan was to consume the much-missed-from-2015 pulled pork sandwiches! I love it when we have a goal – especially when it’s of the subject of eating meat. We were about .2 miles away and Matt R says “I can smell the meat!” ha ha  (That might have just been his bib shorts.) By the time we reached Trak’s Bar & Grill (sadly, closed for the evening), we were really exhausted and pretty soaked from the rain. Men’s backs were getting crumbly and stiff. I kept thinking, I can’t believe we’re only half way. This is going to be miserable – another 45 miles yet? C’mon.

I thought the next section after this was comprised of 60/40 dirt to pavement ratio, but it was more like 20/80 dirt to pavement. This surprise was MUCH needed. There were some long climbs and descents on this section as there were many river and creek crossings. Our speeds increased, but so did the rain. By the time we were headed straight west towards the lake, it was a full-on rain, coming straight down, but refreshing. No wind, no lightning to be seen or heard. The rain was now cascading down the inside my helmet, laced with salty sweat that was coming down into my eyes and burning them. There was nothing I could do but keep wiping my forehead and eyebrows (with already soaked and sweaty riding gloves). Makes sense, right? Duh. But I had no other options. A dry forehead would only last seconds at a time.

There were still some nice long hills and steady climbing in this section. It was starting to wear on us though, the group was splitting apart at times. Just before we reached M-22 near the lakeshore, we could feel the descent towards the lake. (Note: Can’t SEE it because of the sweat-stingy eyes and darkness, you could only FEEL it by speeds picking up fast and your bike wanting to GO!) For about a mile we had a long, nice and swift decent. Remember the sweat waterfall that was happening on my forehead and into my eyes? Yeah, it kept up on this section too and got worse the faster we went – plus other bikes were kicking up even more water from the road. Even your own bike (front tire) was kicking up so much water, you could see it getting ejected off the top of the tire, out in front, then pushed back into your face by the wind due to our speeds. It’s like regular rain, times three. This incredible decent had us doing 30mph coasting, not able to see a thing through burning eyes, the reflection of rain drops in our lights and full darkness. I was holding the bars for dear life, just hoping there wasn’t an unexpected pothole, animal or other obstruction in the road we couldn’t see. If that would be the case, one guy was going to go down, and all the rest would follow. Imagine the carnage of ripped clothing, bloodied flesh, maybe some broken bones and carbon and metal bikes and parts scattered everywhere. Luckily, none of that happened! MAN, that was a fun experience though. That kept me charged up for the next hour. Pushing on the edge of what makes “careful” sense. You gotta take those chances every once in awhile in life.

Once the decent was over, we paused to rest a bit. A few of us contemplated just peeing in our shorts because we were already soaked, what’s the big deal? But alas, no one did. Or at least I didn’t hear about. Our route took us straight south along the lakeshore to Manistee. Nothing but driveways, big houses and stretches of beach between us and Lake Michigan. We were still getting poured on and now I was getting border-line chilly. The water was flowing in Manistee on the roads like a shallow creek. We had no idea where the Wesco gas station for our last SAG was, so we had to look it up on our phones. Turns out, it was just up a hill about two blocks away from where we were standing.

The Wesco was busy! John says the fisherman were coming through in droves starting at about 4am along with kids of all ages hanging out. We pulled in, some riders immediately spotted sugary donuts so went in to snag some. A few men used the bathroom, dripping and soaking the floor every step they took. The poor guy running the counter had to get out the mop to clean up our mess when everyone exited. I had a piece of beef jerky that Jeremy bought and some more to drink and random snacks. We huddled under the roof overhang as it was still down-pouring. The end of this system was just about a mile south of where we were.

At Wesco. Rainy wet.

All my options for paper maps had expired. I was on my third one, and this last one didn’t fare well in the rain at all. I don’t like putting them in plastic bags. They’re too hard to get in and out when you need them on-the-fly so I just jam them in pockets let them get ruined. But too much moisture this evening had reduced some of them to the pulp condition they had started as before being delivered to my house as a nice flat, dry, wrapped ream. Since we had no more maps, I had a plan to give each rider two street names to remember, then had to remember which riders where in which order. Which led to me giving Matt R like 4 street names for some reason, then abandoned the idea when we both decided that no one would remember them. (A whole “Who’s on First” situation.) So, John has the ingenious idea of writing down the names on a dry piece of paper with a writing device. Brilliant!! This is why he’s our SAG captain. So we worked on hand-writing street names and directions and stuffed them in a plastic bag to encase it in that Rick had donated. It was loaded with Hammer Endurolytes. It looked like a drug baggie with a cocktail formula written inside it and it worked perfectly. I told John, also, I was excited that this might be the first time we finish a Night Shift ride with clean bikes. Then he set me straight and reminded me that there was at least one more dirt road left on the route. Oh, darn.

Destroyed paper map.

Drug baggie with road names.

We headed out from Wesco, found all our streets. The rain had stopped and the sky was gradually getting lighter. We finished our last dirt road, then came in on the paved road that leads into the campground loops. Oh, the endless curves. Jeremy kept saying the next one was the “last one”, but it wasn’t. Back at camp, it was strange – no one was up, no one was prepared for us to arrive before 7am. We took our traditional victory lap, dinging bells, squeaking disc brakes. Still nothing. We were short of 100 miles by about 1.75 – but none of us had it in us to ride any more. We tossed our gear aside and walked down to the beach to wash off in the lake. The lake felt amazing. It was a good morning, not great by any means. Cloudy, not at all what I hope for each morning of Night Shift: the full-on sun that wakes the human spirit. That’s truly energizing. I was disappointed that the newbies wouldn’t get that this year. They’ll have to come back to try again next year for that experience. We were back at camp early enough that we all took naps before we had a group breakfast at 10am. The rest of the weekend was spent playing with the kids on the beach, swimming, laughing, drinking and eating with some of the best friends in the world.

It was a quick route this year, mostly flat and despite the rain, getting lost a few times and Jeremy’s mechanical, we didn’t have many delays.

Planning for Night Shift 2017 will begin soon and into this fall. I’m going to have to find some more hills – Judy thinks we’re pussing out and that every year it gets easier. Hmmm…which is weird, because in the four years we’ve done this, she’s never ridden even a mile of it with us on a bike. (wink, wink – I love poking at you, Judy!) There always seems to be some sort of challenge that makes up for whatever “easy” we think we have. And, someday, we’ll re-ride the inaugural route filled with quad splitting hills and seasonal road sand trudgery. Just for “fun”? Sure, yeah, that’s it because we love the agony.

Good times ahead, people! Talk again in the winter - let’s get ready to ride another Night Shift!

Sunday evening sunset.

1 comment:

  1. Great write up for a great ride. Thanks for putting it together again. I'm looking forward to 2017!