This past weekend, I was able to take an amazing multi-day bicycle adventure to Muskegon, Michigan. Not only was the bicycle trip to be a great adventure, at my destination, I was expectingg to experience the sights, sounds, and wonder that is the Michigan Irish Music Festival! Needless to say, I was pretty excited.
First, please allow me to describe the bike trip. My original plan was to try to do the trip in two days. The basic route showed about 180 miles. I thought I would try to do one hundred miles the first day and eighty miles the next. However, after looking at the route and at my past experience, I thought that might be a bit more than I could handle. I noticed that my route led me near Grand Rapids, Michigan. So, I naturally thought of my sister who is going to school at Grand Valley State University. When I told her about my trip, she offered me the use of her apartment if it worked into my travels. I accepted her offer, especially since it would be a good chance to hang out with her. So, I split my route into three days. The original route had me do one hundred and four miles the first day, fifty five miles the second day, and another fifty miles for the third day. This seemed a lot more reasonable. Additionally, the first day, I would travel the furthest I ever have in one day on a bicycle. I think the furthest I had gone was eighty-some odd miles on my bicycle trip to Chicago.
The night before my big ride, I started packing. I packed all my basic camping gear and food for the journey. I had to make some tough decisions on what I would bring, but after a couple tries at fitting everything and deciding what I didn’t need, I was packed up and ready to go. By this time, it was well past one in the morning, and I had planned to get on the road at eight. So, I crashed into bed and went to sleep.
I awoke a little after eight and realized that I was already running late for my big trip. I took a shower and got myself mentally prepared for the ride ahead. I ate a protein bar and filled up my water bottles and camelbak. Then, I knew I was ready to start the longest bike ride I had ever taken in one day.
I put my bike outside and strapped everything to the back rack, and set off. The time was about nine in the morning. The first part of the ride was uneventful. My route was taking me to Dexter, which I’ve ridden to and through countless times. As I got into Dexter’s downtown area, I was starting to loosen up and I felt like my muscles were ready for the beating I was about to put them through. I felt the sun on my back and felt like the day held endless possibilities. I was quite excited and happy, but alas, that happy feeling was not to last.
Like a cloud that overshadows the sun in an instant, I experienced an immediate challenge. My rear derailleur cable snapped! I was just getting ready to cross onto Island Lake Road just outside Dexter when I heard a large snapping sound and something flew off right in front of me. I swerved off the road to examine what happened. I saw that the cable was frayed and broken right at the point where the cable meets the brake/shifter. When the back derailleur cable is broken, it means that I have to pedal in the hardest gear without the ease of being able to shift to an easier gear. This can be extremely difficult when there are a lot of hills. And I knew there were A LOT of hills between Dexter and my destination.
I got my phone out of my bag which has internet. I tried to search around for a bike shop to fix the problem. The time was about nine thirty. I saw that there was a shop in Dexter that didn’t open till eleven. I figured that would put me much too late to reach my destination before dark. I did find one in Pinckney called Village Cyclery and it didn’t appear to be terribly far out of my way. So, I deviated from my original route and headed into Pinckney.
When I arrived in Pinckney, I had a bit of trouble locating the shop, but I eventually found it…to be closed. I went next door and asked the good people if they knew anything about it, and they said that if his truck wasn’t here, then the owner wasn’t either. I felt pretty discouraged with myself, but I knew that I hadn’t much time to waste waiting for the owner. So, I set out yet again to find my route and to try my best to reach my destination in one piece.
Along the way, there were many steep and seemingly endless hills with which I had an extremely difficult time. I remember looking up at some of the hills like they were impossible mountains. However, as long as I kept moving my legs, I was able to crest them eventually. Sometimes, I felt like I was at a near standstill as I stood up on the pedals and tried to push down as hard as I could to keep the bike going.
Eventually, I reached the village of Dansville, Michigan where I stopped to take my rest. I stopped outside a nice-looking general store/ice cream parlour that had plenty of seating for me to sit on. While I rested there, I looked on my phone for more bike shops. I was feeling pretty discouraged, but thanks to google, I was able to see that Charlotte had two bike shops. There would be a pretty good chance that at least one of them would be open, and like Pinckney was, Charlotte wasn’t terribly far off my route either. I made the decision to go there.
As I started off again, I realized that I was already pretty tired and I was only a little over forty miles into my ride. That was quite discouraging, but I just focused on keeping my legs moving as I traveled up and down the hills, taking whatever the road would give me.
In truth, it wasn’t all bad. There’s something really special to me when I go on those long rides by myself, even when there’s tons of challenges along the way. I was able to see some great countryside that I hadn’t seen before. I really loved the pastoral scenes that would rise up and fall behind me in an ever-moving track of life. I saw strangers living their lives out in various ways, from farmers to utility workers. I remember thinking that there was beauty to be seen everywhere I looked. When the rhythm of what I was doing in each moment filled my consciousness, my tiredness fell away and could feel the joy of being on a journey where every second that I rode was a grand and beautiful thing, even if it was tiring.
I did get one flat tire as I was riding on Kipp Road in Mason, Michigan. It was a slow leak and at first, I thought that road was starting to just get a little rougher. Soon, it got a bit worse and I realized that I ought to at least stop to ensure that nothing was the matter.
When I got off the bike, I could see that my back tire was losing air. So, I removed my packs, flipped my bike over, and examined the back tire. I found a large staple lodged inside the tire.
“Well, there’s your problem,” I said to myself. Then, I changed the tire and continued on my way.
An hour or so later, I arrived in Charlotte. I was very happy that Skidmore’s Village Cycle Shop was easy to find and the shop owners were very friendly. They stopped what they were doing and took care of me. A nice lady at the counter helped me by using her computer to map my way back to my original route while the mechanic changed out the broken cable. I was so happy to see everything all ship-shape again.
After I got it fixed, I walked down the street to a park bench. I sat down on the park bench to rest a while and eat some dinner. I ate a grand meal of chia seeds, honey, an apple, and a protein bar. After that scrumptious dinner, I closed my eyes “for just a minute.” I awoke with a start to realize that another twenty minutes had gone by. So, I repacked my bike and headed for the hills.
When I say that I headed for the hills, I mean that literally. There were quite a few hills between Dexter (where my derailleur cable broke) and Charlotte. However, it seemed that there was nothing but rolling hills on the last thirty miles or so of my journey. I was worn out from the hard ride earlier, but the fixed derailleur cable allowed me to continue riding at a decent clip.
I was about one hundred miles into my ride and as I was huffing and pushing myself up a hill, a guy came out of a house and yelled at me. He asked if I had seen his dog, which was black on top with a white belly. I told him that I had not seen the pup. However, a little ways down the road, I saw a black and white animal out in a soybean field. At this point, I was coasting downhill and still breathing hard from the earlier climb. For a second, I thought that I should keep going, but if it were my animal, I would want to know where it was. So, I turned around and went back up the hill that I had been coasting down to tell the owner that it was in the next field. Then, I turned around and started back up the hill that I had just ridden down. As I crested the hill, I saw that the owner had turned around and was heading back towards me, but it appeared that the dog was still in the field. I pointed at it, thinking that perhaps he didn’t see it. He slowed down, and I said, “Isn’t that your dog?” He looked at me like I was crazy and said, “Uh, that’s a cat.” I looked back at the animal and it looked like a black-and-white animal, and yes, it probably was a cat because of its height in the soybeans next to it. I looked back at the guy and said, “Oh, my bad.” Then, I continued on my ride while kicking myself for going back in the first place up and down that hill three times. That also goes to show what kind of state my mind was in ten hours into the ride.
Aside from that little incident, I made it to Welcome Woods Campground in Hastings, Michigan. The entire trip (including rest stops) took me ten hours and fifty three minutes. The sun was setting as I pulled into the campground, and I found a campsite off the beaten path a little ways inside the campground. By the time I finished making camp, the sun had passed below the horizon.
I hurried up and cooked dinner in the dark. However, I was so exhausted that I kept falling asleep while I tried to eat the dinner. I kept forcing myself awake because I knew that I had another big day of riding tomorrow. Even if it was only fifty five miles, it was definitely going to be tough after that hundred and eight miles (as it turned out to be when I mapped it out later). At last, I finished my dinner and cleaned up a little bit. Then I drifted off to sleep. Well, actually, I didn’t exactly drift off…it was more like I dropped off the map of consciousness in a moment.
My phone battery was dead because I spent so much time googling and searching for bike shops the day before, so I did not set any alarm. However, I did wake up at nine in the morning without much issue, though my body felt quite heavy and sore.
I gathered my things and got ready to hit the road. My plan for the day was to go to Millennium Park in Grand Rapids for the day and then meet up with my sister after eight in the evening when she got out of class.
The ride to Grand Rapids was a pretty one, and it was much flatter than the day before. There were a couple of monster hills at the beginning, and one in the middle of the ride, but for the most part, it was gently rolling at best. I really enjoyed myself on that portion. The sun was continuing to rise behind me and the world seemed to be waking up all around me as well. I took my time and tried to take it pretty easy after the previous day’s hardship, and that helped make it very enjoyable.
Once I got into Grand Rapids, it wasn’t quite as pretty and there were a lot more cars. I found myself wishing for the long open roads that I had left behind. Nevertheless, I made it to Millennium Park without much incident in a little over three hours.
Millennium Park is a really beautiful place. There’s all kinds of lovely trails and there’s a paved trail that circles the whole park. There’s a large bridge a person can use to got to the Hopewell Indian Mounds State Park as well. When I got on the Indian Mounds’ main road, it looked like a normal two-lane road, but there were signs every once in a while that said “Do Not Enter” and “Wrong Way.” That’s when I realized that an entire lane of the road is reserved exclusively for bicyclists! I thought that was pretty cool.
After exploring Millennium Park and resting for a bit, I made my way out to Allendale to see my sister, Theresa. She wasn’t going to be out of class for a few hours, but I thought it best to get to my destination, and then I might be able to take some good rest and not feel like I had to get on the bike again any time soon. That ride was a bit of a challenge just because there wasn’t a lot of good roads to get there, and the road that I did end up taking to get into GVSU’s campus (Fillmore Street) had a gigantic hill about eight or nine miles into my ride. But, because I knew it was so close, I powered up it and found the rest of the trip to be fairly flat.
I arrived at GVSU and met up with Theresa and her roommate Mary Kate. They were very hospitable to me. Theresa provided ice for my knees because they were feeling quite sore from all the hard pushing the day before. They also gave me some milk, which tasted lovely after a long day of bike riding. We then went out to dinner at La Pita Fresh. It was Mediterranean cuisine, and I finished off a huge plate of chicken shwarma without any issue. I wasn’t dead tired like the night before, so I was able to stay up talking and watching tv shows with the girls for a little while before I needed to head to bed.
The next morning, I woke up about half seven and started getting ready. Theresa made me eggs, and I made her some oatmeal that I brought with me. I’m pretty sure Theresa wasn’t usually up at that hour, but she definitely was a good host in seeing me off. We shared our breakfast and then I got ready to do my final leg of the trip to Muskegon! After I had bidden Theresa adieu and thanking her for being such a gracious host, I headed off. It was about half eight or nine in the morning.
I got on the busy Lake Michigan road for a mile or two before I was able to take some back roads to the Musketawa Trail. It is a very nice flat trail that runs from Grand Rapids right to Muskegon.
Within a few minutes of getting on the trail, I crossed a road and saw a little sign on the trail that said, “Bridge Ahead.” I thought it rather strange that the builders of the trail felt the need to warn bikers of such things. As I came to the bridge, I saw that it was a wooden bridge with some nice tall handrails. There was a sheet of maybe 3/4″ plywood in the center on top of the rest of the boards. I stayed to the right (off the plywood) and started across at a decent clip, but I soon found the bridge to be a bit wet. My front tire started slipping to the left, which I corrected, but in doing so, my back tire drifted to the left with my correction, and it hit the edge of the plywood in the center. With all the weight of my bags on my back tire, it brought the whole bike over in a half second. I went down hard on my left side and slide off the bridge and onto the pavement on the other side.
“That wasn’t so good,” I thought to myself. First, I made sure that I was okay. Blood was gushing from my elbow and trickling from my knee. Additionally, my left hip and shoulder felt pretty sore, but there didn’t appear to be any real damage. I picked my bike up and got out my first aid kit. I used some antiseptic and bandages on the bloody parts and got cleaned up in about fifteen minutes. Then, I continued on, ruing the time a few moments before where I thought it strange that they would be warning bikers about a “bridge ahead.”
I was traveling slowly on the trail about five minutes later when I heard voice behind me. They seemed to be getting louder at a pretty decent rate. I looked behind me, and I saw four bikers coming up pretty hard upon me. One slowed down to ask me where I was going, coming from, etc. He seemed pretty nice, but I was still in a bit of shock. I just answered his questions and didn’t say much else. Then, the four of them started moving past me. I wished them a good day, but then I thought that it might be easier for me if I drafted off them. They didn’t seem to mind, so that’s exactly what I did.
I got to talking with a few of them, and I found out that they were with Team Traction3, a group of tri-athletes who raise funds to benefit Safe Families for Children. They seemed like pretty awesome guys, and were very inclusive of me. It helped that two were named Jon and two were named Andrew, so the fact that I was a John as well made it that much better. We talked and joked, and I was able to ride with them for probably twenty miles or more, and they made my life much easier!
We said goodbye near downtown Muskegon, and they headed north, while I cut west towards Muskegon State Park. Not long after I broke off with the Team Traction3 guys, I was able to find the Lakeshore Trail and make my way to the park. That is a beautiful ride along Muskegon Lake to reach Lake Michigan.
I felt a wonderful sense of accomplishment as I reached Lake Michigan. I was reminded of my Chicago Trip, though I didn’t immediately jump into the water like I had on the last trip. Instead, I went to the campground and set up camp.
I then took a shower and a short nap to prepare for the Irish Fest, which would be starting that very evening…