Biking from Mackinac City to Dansville
by Roger S Nelson
This is a true story, originally written the day after the ride and appearing in the Chainwheel Chatter, the newsletter for the Tri-County Bicycle Association. This ride was typical of one of my training rides for a RAAM qualifer race.
A friend wanted someone to drop his car off in Mackinac City for him so he would have a way home from DALMAC, a four day bike ride from Lansing to Mackinac City. I volunteered. He left Thursday morning and will arrive here in Mackinac City on Sunday (tomorrow) night. After work last night (Friday) I drove his car to the Bridge and slept in it. This morning I parked it in a safe area and now I'm going to ride my bicycle home. "CAMLAD" is DALMAC backwards. I'm not really riding the DALMAC route backwards, but the idea is there. I'm going in the opposite direction of everyone else. The route I'm taking is neither the DALMAC route nor is it Old 27 as I've ridden parts of it in the past and know it has a lot of traffic, and is narrow and bumpy. The weather is in the 60's right now and threatening rain. In the back of my mind I'm thinking about riding home in one day. Will a thunderstorm or a strong headwind could stop me? Will I make it home or have to spend the night in a motel or along the road somewhere?
It's 8:45 a.m. as I start out on US-23 to Cheboygan. After 13 miles a little stone "snake bites" the rear tire. I decide to patch the tube even though I carry a spare. Flat fixed, I pedal to Cheboygan. About 2 miles past Cheboygan I turn South on Butler. Upon reaching the town of Alverno I feel a couple of raindrops. I stop for a Snickers bar. After riding by Black Lake I'm heading South on M-211. It's just a few more miles to Onaway. I stop for lunch at a party store kitty-corner to the Shell station and get a sub sandwich, a bottle of Minute Maid orange pop, and a Butterfingers. (this sub is good! I'm going to remember this store.) After lunch I head on out M-33 toward Atlanta.
It starts sprinkling. Weather reports say it's going to do this for two days so I may as well keep going. So far I've been wearing a tee shirt and bike shorts but it's raining harder now so I stop and put on my red vinyl rain jacket. Also I stop along the roadside and pick up a piece of plastic litter to cover my bike computer. On I go. As I cross into Montmorency county, it’s really drizzling. I wonder if I should go on. However it’s early in the afternoon so I should at least make Atlanta. Then if I lay over I'll only have 200 miles to go tomorrow. I stop at a roadside park about 10 miles North of Atlanta. Even in this rain I still need a drink of water! Up to now biking has kept me warm. After stopping I feel cold so I put on some new tights to try them out in the rain. They have nylon on the front to protect from the wind. On to Atlanta I go. I stop at the IGA and get a pint of chocolate milk. I can't believe the rain hasn't soaked through the tights. Well, maybe it has, but it doesn't feel that way. (My feet sure are soaked!) I'm starting to feel cold again so I put on a thermax shirt under my rain jacket. The rain shows no sign of letting up. People say the weatherman is calling for two days of the drizzle. At least I don't see any lightning. It's really too early in the day to "hole up" somewhere. By now I'm curious as to how long it will be before these tights start feeling uncomfortable. Thinking I can make it to Lewiston or Lovells by supper time, so on I go.
I'm heading out of Atlanta on M-32, one of the two "bad" places along my route. There's no paved shoulder and it's not in good condition. Also I'm starting into some hills. I finally make it to where F97 joins M-32. I can't believe it - the rain has stopped! In fact, I'm overheating now. So I pull off the tights and rain jacket and continue on. I even see a little sunshine. Here's Lewiston. Oh oh. Feels like my back tire is soft. I pull into the 76 station at the west end of town and get a chocolate milk. This time I change the tube in the rear tire. (I seem to have better luck patching tubes at home than on the road.) I pull my shoes and socks off and wring the socks out. I hate squishy feet.
On to Lovells where I stop at the Sunoco station. They don't have any sandwiches so I settle for another chocolate milk and go on. I think I can make St. Helen by dark. I'll be halfway home. Then I can have supper and maybe I'll spend the night there.
F97 runs into M-18. After a couple of looong hills (whew!) F97 splits off and goes to St. Helen. I arrive at dusk and stop at a Total station. I want to call home, but the pay phone doesn't work. Darn. I get a large burrito and a quart of chocolate milk. I look for some corn curls but settle for some Doritos instead. I go outside wondering why I bought so much. Bikes don't run on gas so why the beans? A pint a milk would have been enough- why a quart? After stuffing myself I head on out. I find a pay phone that works and call home. Next stop - Gladwin.
I'm riding with lights now. So far no cars have even come close to me so they must work OK. People ask me, "Isn't it dangerous riding at night?" No, I don't think so. Not with proper lighting and reflectors. Although in these Northern counties I've had some drivers blare their horn at me, they all see me. Also, I can see them better at night because their headlights give them away. As they go by me, my shadow in their headlights moves to the right. If it doesn't move the right I know I better move right, but so far I haven't had to do this.
I stop to read my map. A car goes by, stops, and backs up. I think maybe they want directions. Instead, they ask if I need any help. I explain I'm on a training ride and I'm fine. "I'll be find if the rain holds off," I tell them. They go on. It's nice to know there are people who will stop and help.
Eventually F97 ends by joining M-18 again. I follow M-18 to Gladwin. It’s about 11:00 p.m. now. Gladwin is the biggest city I've been in today. I've got 113 miles left to home. All the hard riding is behind me - no more big hills and the wind has died down. (even though the wind has been light it has been from the South - a headwind all day.)
Now I have to ride the only other stretch of "bad" road - the part between Gladwin and Beaverton - a busy State highway without a paved shoulder. I wouldn't take this road if I knew a better way. As usual on this road, I get blared at by several passing cars on either side of the road. I could understand someone blaring their horn if I was slowing them down, but why from the other side of the road? Also, they blare when passing even if there is no one else on the road there is lots of room to pass. I just smile and wave back to them. The world is full of idiots and life is too short to get upset by them.
I've been seeing the sky flicker from lightning all night. I can't hear any thunder, but I still wonder if I'll have to stop somewhere.
Just South of Gladwin there is another roadside park on my map. I'm thinking of spending the night there since it's raining again. In the darkness, rain, and traffic, somehow I miss the park, so I'm going on to Beaverton.
What will I do if I get caught in a storm? I have an aluminized "space blanket" and a plastic drop cloth. I will put on all my clothes to keep warm and take shelter under the blanket and drop cloth since I don't have a tent or sleeping bag. I could picture myself sleeping under a picnic table.
In Beaverton I stop at a Total station and get some Minute Maid orange pop and some water. The rain has stopped again so I'm going on again. I take some aspirin, but not because I'm in pain. I take aspirin during and after hard rides because aspirin reduces swelling, promotes healing and possibly helps prevent certain kinds of injuries. It doesn't affect the biking any but recovery time should be less. It's a preventive measure.
I continue South on M-18 into Midland County and find paved shoulder. Since it is after Midnight there is hardly any traffic. I wonder about all the people who on Labor Day weekend hop in their car and go somewhere to have a good time. It must be that when they get there they're still "bored" so they hop in their car and go somewhere else (usually to a bar) to have a good time. Even though traffic is light, it's still surprising to see the number of cars out after 1:00 am.
I've got less than a hundred miles to home now. I don't see anymore lightning so maybe I'll make it.
I finally hit Old US-10. It's back roads the rest of the way now! After meandering around Midland county I finally cross into Gratiot county. (Saginaw county has bumpy roads - I use Gratiot when there is a choice.)
It's around 3:00 am now. I realize that I'm starting to fall asleep while riding. I'm not riding in straight lines anymore and I'm having instants on the bike where I'm actually dreaming - out of touch with reality. If I keep going, these instants will soon become seconds, and then I'll ride into something, perhaps a car, maybe a ditch. Some of my friends have fallen asleep while riding and had accidents. I know I'm not safe now. I have to stop. Ordinarily I would have had some caffeine before now but I've avoided any use of caffeinated beverages today because of the weather. I could see myself getting all hyped up and then having to lay over because of a storm but not being able to sleep. Now it's time for some caffeine.
Caffeine is one of those drugs that has not been banned (in small amounts) by the Ultra Marathon Cycling Association (or anyone else) that can actually help one ride better. I stop and take a couple of NO-DOZ (the equivalent of two cups of coffee). It doesn't look like a storm will stop me and I think I can make it home tonight. However the NO-DOZ doesn't work fast enough. I'm still wobbling around the road. The last thing I need is to wobble into a ditch or the path of a car and make some "bored" driver even more unhappy.
I see a tree by the edge of a field surrounded by grass. I set the countdown alarm on my watch for 30 minutes. Even though the grass is all wet it feels great to lie down. Zzzz. I'm startled by a noise in my bike bag. Some little animal must be after a candy bar stashed there. I make a growling noise and it scampers off into the cornfield - probably a raccoon. As I lay there chuckling about the animal I can feel my heart beating faster. The caffeine is working. While getting back on my bike my watch starts beeping. I turn it off and head South again. I feel like a new person, zooming home (in straight lines again) at 18-20 mph. On to Edgewood. On to Bannister. The road to Bannister is closed so I head two more miles East on M-57 before turning South to Elsie. I count exactly three cars in three miles - all going the other way. It doesn't take long to cross Gratiot county.
When I left Beaverton at midnight I only had two bottles of water and three candy bars for the 105 miles home. I'm on back roads in farm country and I'll probably make it home before I see another open store. In Elsie I look for a pop machine and find one at a Marathon station. (I carry change for night riding in case there are vending machines around.) I buy two cokes and drink one, leaving the empty can on top of the machine. On to Ovid. On to Laingsburg.
Now I'm glad I missed the park near Gladwin. It's only 26 miles to home. I eat my last candy bar. It's getting light out and I won't have anymore trouble staying awake. A dripping fog keeps the road wet, but like a horse headed for the barn I keep on pumping. I cross into Ingham county. On the corner of Barry and Zimmer roads I stop to drink the other coke. I race to Dansville. After 280 miles I'm home. It's 8:30 a.m. What a ride! There's the couch. Zzzz Zzzz Zzzz