I woke up before the sun had risen, for today my friend John and I were about to sally forth into a new and amazing adventure: a bicycling trip from Ann Arbor, MI to Chicago, IL.
The night before, I had frantically packed and repacked everything into my panniers. I had reorganized everything at least three times to try to distribute the weight evenly on both sides of my bike.
While weight distribution was a big issue, my biggest concern was our food and water supplies. I wanted to carry enough water for at least half of a day of biking and I believed that I had achieved that with a 2L camelbak, a 32oz Nalgene bottle, and a 20oz bicycling bottle. I also made sure to carry quite a few days worth of food just in case we couldn’t make it to the campground we had chosen.
I was only able to sleep fitfully the evening before, and was able to wake up before my alarm clock went off. I did one last check to make sure I had everything I had planned to take, and then I brought my bicycle and bags down to where I was going to meet John. I carried a backpack on top of my rear rack, and two panniers each for my front and rear racks.
John was punctual as always, and I noticed that he had two panniers and a large dry sack strapped down to his bike. I asked if he was “ready for this.” He gave me a smirk and said, “Not really.” We laughed for a moment together because we knew it was probably true. I had never ridden that many days in a row before and neither had he. We had very little idea of what was in store, but we had prepared as best as we could.
The first thing I noticed as we began our journey from Veteran’s Park was that having a good deal of weight on the front rack really changes how to steer the bike. It required a great deal more leaning into turns and less actual turning of the handlebars. If I turned the handlebars too sharply, the whole bike would veer far more quickly than I was used to. It seemed the bike would jump in that direction in an almost dangerous way. Looking back on it, I probably overloaded my bike for this trip.
Nonetheless, we set out around 7:10AM with the sun barely clutching to the tops of the trees, heading south towards Saline, MI. We talked and laughed lightheartedly about the trip ahead with excitement filling our bones. I remember stopping at one point for a red light and remarking at how beautiful the morning light shone over a field off to our left. We started off again and before we knew it, we were in Saline. We saw a breakfast/pancake place and John said that maybe we should stop, but since we were still so close to home, we decided it would be better to keep on going. The fields of corn, soybeans and wheat were bathed in a golden glow as the sun rose higher and higher at our backs while we rode the large and spacious shoulder of highway US-12. Though the temperature was rising, I hardly noticed as we rode down the gently rolling hills towards the town of Clinton.
When we reached Clinton, we decided to take a quick rest stop. We had been riding for almost an hour and a half, only stopping for traffic and lights. A lady was remodeling the marquee of a theater right in the middle of downtown, so while we rested, we watched her work. I took a quick check of myself and began to stretch a little. I felt pretty good. John shared some rye bread with me and I shared a fruit strip with him. John then went to a station to fill up some water, but there was no public restroom for him to use the sink in. We rested for a little over twenty minutes and then we continued onward.
We rode fairly hard until we reached the gas station across the street from Hayes State Park. There we were able to replenish our water bottles from the fountain machine. I noticed while I waited for John outside that there were quite a few people looking at us. I guess a couple of guys with loaded-down bikes was a strange sight to see.
We then headed for the hills, literally. The Irish Hills held some challenges for us, and I began to really feel the extra weight of the load I had chosen to take with me. A biker rode alongside us and talked with us for a few minutes and that helped break up some of the monotony of the ride, though I must say that it didn’t seem all that monotonous as we pushed hard up the hills and coasted down them. One thing I began to realize along the way was that John’s bike was better equipped to coast downhill than mine was. I assume it was because of the weight I was carrying, but it’s hard to say. In either case, I had to pedal fairly vigorously in order to keep up with his coasting speed, so I was scared that situation would make me tired towards the end of the day. Nonetheless, we pressed onward.
We found ourselves at McCourtie Park which was a little over 44 miles into our ride. Stopping for lunch seemed like a great idea!
We stopped in a little picnic shelter and I cooked up some freeze-dried macaroni and cheese (for John) and some spaghetti and meatballs (for myself). A couple with three children came up and talked to us. They asked where we were going and were surprised at our answer. They seemed duly impressed and talked to us about how we were carrying our food, getting water, cooking meals, etc. A few minutes later a couple of young ladies came up to speak with us. I believe they were from Chicago and the couple that had stopped to talk to us had told them about us. So, we talked to them for a while, and they adamantly suggested we check out “Orange With a Peel,” which is a frushi restaurant downtown. We thanked them for their advice, and we continued our meal.
After letting our food digest and wandering around McCourtie Park, we rode for a bit longer to a gas station where we stopped to fill up on water. The gas station was in a valley and for a moment I contemplated not stopping so that we wouldn’t lose our momentum on the large uphill that loomed before us. The only reason I could see to stop was that I had no idea how much further it was till the next gas station. We only stopped long enough for me to use the restroom and to fill up our waters, and then we were off again!
We stopped twice more before we reached our destination. One time we stopped in Jonesville at a park for a brief break.
Then, we headed on to Quincy, where we stopped for a few minutes and then decided on getting some Dairy Queen.
I got a large Strawberry Shortcake Blizzard and that tasted like heaven. We rested for a while longer, and then prepared ourselves for the last eleven (or so) miles from Quincy to our day’s destination: Coldwater Lake Campground.
While those miles weren’t effortless, the fact that our destination was so near did seem to lend wings to my legs, and we made it to Coldwater Lake Campground in a decent amount of time, considering how tired we both were.
Coldwater Lake Campground is a very nice campground, though it seems to be set up mostly for RV-style camping. There were lots of RV’s that probably stayed there all summer long. A friendly and cozy feel had settled on the place, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Bill, the owner, gave us a quick overview of the rules and what he expected of us. He was very friendly, though I must say that I was so tired, I hardly paid attention to what he was saying.
One thing I did pay attention to was how to get to the lake across the street. After running across the street to jump in the lake, the cool water hit my tired muscles and they felt invigorated! Then, they felt almost too tight, but I didn’t care. I was cooled off! We stayed in the water for a while, and then headed back to finish getting ready to camp.
After setting up camp, we walked down to a little party store a few hundred yards from the campground, where we bought a few groceries and snacks. We debated buying a gallon of milk to share. Though it sounded quite good, we weren’t sure if each of us would be able to finish a half gallon by ourselves. We settled on a gallon of iced tea instead. We then unpacked our goods and cooked up some dinner.
After dinner, we were cleaning up and getting ready to start a fire when a man clad only in shorts and flip flops came up to us yelling, “Drop your socks, grab your [rocks], and follow me.” He said something about it being his wife’s birthday and how after biking all that way, we could use some cake. Then he said, “You can follow me or not. I don’t give a [hoot].” Curious, we decided to follow him.
I believe his name was Gary and his wife’s name was Tammy, but I’m not completely sure of that. He led us to the recreation building of the campground, and talked to us all about the campground, his life, his wife, and the community around the area. We were introduced to his wife and their two dogs, and they gave us some delicious cake. We talked with them for a while and they were amazingly nice people. They let us borrow their cart to haul firewood to our campsite and they told us where a great spot was to pick up kindling.
Soon, I felt pretty tired and thought it would be a good idea to return to the campsite and get a fire going in order to get to sleep. We thanked Gary and Tammy for their kind hospitality and returned to our campsite. On the edge of our campsite was a fence, and when we returned, we found a mule, a donkey, and a horse grazing nearby! We fed them some grass for a bit, and the donkey almost bit me. It did end up biting John later, so we decided to stop feeding them.
We built a fire, talked for a little while, and then I was more than ready for bed. I crashed hard and slept very very soundly.