Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Summer 2015 Shake Down Trip

As I sit here in my quite nice Days Inn in Clare, I feel that I can start to understand my desires and capabilities for the big trip of the summer, which has been planned as Okemos to NYC, but not without   a great deal of apprehension. I want to use my 100-mile-day model, staying in motels, but I'm not sure that I can sustain it for 8(!) days. Now that I have just finished a very reasonable 97-mile day (into a brisk headwind, no less), I feel confident I can do a multiple-day trip. Eight days? Maybe, but do I want to? Perhaps I should compromise and end in Rome, NY, where I broke off my first leg of my "cross-country by installments" project. If I end in Rome, I will have continuously ridden between the Atlantic coast (Portland, ME) and Okemos. I could then start the next leg of the project somewhere in Wisconsin, since I have ridden from Okemos to Muskegon (assuming I allow myself to take ferries).

Instead of 8+ days, a trip to Rome would be 5+ days, which seems much more manageable. In Rome, I could catch Amtrak for NYC, where cindy and I are going to a bash in Central Park, but that's another story. Stay tuned. 

Anyway, about this trip. I have ridden from Okemos to Empire (or the reverse) three times. Once under the old model of four 60-mile days, once in two days using the shortest possible route (which, as a result, wasn't very pleasant), and last summer's trip down the west side of the state in three 95-mile days. 

The old-school trip with Jon was the most satisfying, since we camped and cooked and did what we always have done. But of the trips by myself, last summer's long days that ended in hotels that had been pre-reserved was the best. I don't like camping by myself. Either I only go 60 miles and arrive by 2:00 and then kill time, or I go long days and arrive late afternoon and must set up and figure out food, and still kill time for a few hours. Much better to arrive at a hotel after a really long day (I arrived at 4:00 today), soak in the tub (or, even better, in the hot tub!), wander over to the inevitable nearby restaurant for a nice dinner, watch a little TV, turn in early, partake of the included breakfast, and be on the road by 7:00. Costs more? Of course. Worth it? Absolutely. It's the difference between doing a trip and not doing it. 

I am riding my preferred touring bike, the fold up Bike Friday. It's just a great riding bike. Super comfortable, with no performance downside. I averaged nearly 13 mph today, into a stiff wind, no less. I couldn't have done better on my touring trek. 

The big innovation of this trip is the lovely rivendell saddle bag. Their biggest bag, it holds a ton. Supported by a seat post rack, it is rock solid. Unlike any other touring bags I've used, it's very easy to get at the contents of the bag during the day. Just flop it open, grab stuff, and flop it closed. Expensive but highly recommended.
My Bike Friday with seatpost rack and huge Riv seat bag. The carrying bag for the bike is strapped to the underside of the rack.

The other (expensive) innovation is an iPad (on which I'm typing somewhat successfully right now). In a stroke of small genius, I photographed (with the iPad) detailed county maps for all the counties I'll pass through. In moments of doubt or route planning, I call up the county maps (no wifi or cell service required) and get a precise view of roads and routes. It saved me a couple of long detours today by showing me better routes than the ones I had planned with the regional and bike maps I was using. 

As I ride, I prefer just to have a big state map that shows me the really big picture. That map is not very good for planning, if you want to avoid the biggest roads. It shows the nicer grey-line roads, but it doesn't say what they're called. My pictures of the county maps do, and they show the even smaller but still paved roads. And I don't need to carry all that extra paper. 

Day 2
What a day. Because I didn't want to ride the hypotenuse (M-115), I added 20 miles to the total. They were mostly beautiful, but by the time I finished I had ridden 131 miles. My second longest day ever, eclipsed only by the day that Jon and I rode from Douglas to Ann Arbor, something like 160 miles. And I was 16 at the time. I am (wait for it) 40 years older now.

The weather continued cool, mid-30s at the start, never getting out of the 50s, mid-40s by the end. My Melanzana tights were lovely for all 226 miles of this trip. Gloves, hat, fleece top, windbreaker, not my normal biking garb, but it worked.

The first part of the day was on the newly paved Pere Marquette rail trail from Clare to Evart. Absolutely lovely. Woods and wetlands, lots of birds, no other people, lots of quiet. Speaking of birds, this was a good trip for them: A flock of turkeys ran ahead of me on the trail for quite a long way, their claws clickety-clicking on the pavement; a flock of vultures perched high on an old grain elevator along the trail, spreading their huge wings to warm them in the sun; a bald eagle landed on the road just a little ahead of me, then flapped off, harassed by a little bird.

I added a few more miles by taking the Fred Meijer White Pine Trail Linear State Park (known to its friends as the FMWPTLSP) from LeRoy to Cadillac. It's all paved in this stretch, and quite beautiful, so I figured it was worth the less direct route. I was pretty tired by the time I got to the Cadillac McDonald's, which was slow and ineptly run, as usual.

The final right-angle roads of the day took me up to the former M-42, which runs from Manton to Mesick. Pretty road, but lots of hills. The fact that it was clouding over and getting colder didn't help my mood. By the time I hit Mesick, I had gone 92 miles. 

From Mesick I took the hypotenuse of M-115. Perfectly good road, relatively light traffic, and the sun was peeking out again. I was on well-known to me roads the rest of the way. 

I was tired but not destroyed by the time I got to Empire at 7:30 (after 12 hours on the road). I even made it up the big hill on Indian Hill Rd out of Honor in relatively good shape.

What worked: 
The Rivendell large saddlesack was fabulous. I opened it, grabbed stuff, closed it numerous times during the day. I've never been able to do that with panniers or dry bags, which are a hassle to open and fish around in. As a result, I stored stuff inside the bag rather than strapping it all over the outside, which is what I do with other bags.

The Melanzana fleece tights were great (directly against the skin, if you know what I mean). No butt boils, even after 225 miles.

The Schwalbe Marathon tires continue to amaze me. They're tough. I've ridden this same rear tire for four tours, and it's barely showing wear. No flats, knock on wood.

The iPad was very handy, worth bringing. It just fits in my handlebar bag, so it's easy to use during the day. I took it out every stop, checked email, consulted county maps, read newspapers. 

I had my stool with me, but I only pulled it out once for a little sit down. In retrospect, I would have been happier if I had done it more often on the long day. It's worth bringing.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Mackinac Island


We just got back from Mackinac Island, where we spent the night at the Grand Hotel (at a seriously discounted rate). The hotel was fun (although my dinner was awful), and biking around the island was fun, even though it was 43˚ and raining. Biking in the rain is better than not biking at all.

But what I liked best was seeing all the working bikes on the island. All the locals ride big, sturdy bikes with front baskets and fenders, many with dyno hubs and lights, which they just leave lying around when they are not riding them (as opposed to locking them up like precious artifacts). We didn't have fenders, which, on a rainy day, was a mistake. Since the island is covered with big old working horses clip-clopping on every road, dropping their "exhaust" everywhere, when it rains, the roads are covered with eau de horse shit. By the end of our ride, we were thoroughly coated from butt to brain pan.

Interestingly (to me), it wasn't so much the absence of a front fender that mattered. Cindy had a front fender (although one that didn't reach down far enough), and her shoes and down tube were still coated. But no back fender? Bad idea. Ideally, we would have had front fenders that reached nearly to the road (as does the fender on my commuting Trek) and full back fenders. Think of the neatness.