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M.U.P.

About a year ago I started asking around to see if people wanted to go on a bike camping adventure. Once I rounded up the usual suspects (Fiancé, Dad, Brother) and heard from an unexpected addition (Uncle), we settled on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

The first step was to decide if we wanted to register for the League of Michigan Bicyclists’ group ride or venture out on our own. We wanted to have a lot of family bonding time so we opted to strike out on our own…sort of. Fiancé contacted the League and, as luck and Michigander kindness would have it, they sold us their route maps for $10!

After a few questions were answered we were practically on our way!

  • Are there bears? (Yes.)
  • Do they come in the campgrounds? (Not usually.)
  • Are there restaurants? (Yes. Local joints.)
  • Are there grocery stores? (More like convenience stores.)
  • Is there cell phone reception? (Ye,s but you might pick up Canadian towers.)
  • What is the weather going to be like? (Colder than you think.)
  • Is the population really that small? (Yes.)
  • Are people as nice as everyone says? (Yes.)
  • Am I really about to go on a week-long bike ride with four dudes?! (…yes.)

I found campsites, mostly conveniently located…although our first three days would end up being over 70 miles each. After consulting with the group, everything was booked except for DeTour Village State Forest which was first come, first served (that freaked me out more than a little bit since, where the heck would we GO if it was full; there were no other campgrounds anywhere nearby). Straits State Park, our start/end point, allowed us to leave our cars for the entire week FOR NO EXTRA COST. I practically dropped the phone when I heard that news. I mean, helLO! I live in DC; you can’t park for 15 minutes here for less than $20.

Now if I could just convince Dad to lighten his packs so he’d roll without an additional 50 pounds, we would be set.

Our journey began. Fiancé and I took a relaxing road trip there and I’m going to be honest with you, I think the Andy Warhol Museum is overrated. Also, while Detroit’s food scene was on point, I had no clue it would shut down completely for the July 4th holiday. After our final pit stop to check out the world’s largest Christmas store, we headed to Straits to meet up with the others.

We biked. And camped. And biked some more. We ate pizza and fudge and ice cream since we’d be “burning it off tomorrow” (I gained weight this trip so…so much for that). We took the ferry to the carless Mackinac Island and were promptly overwhelmed with the sheer number of people on bikes. We toured the island at a snail’s pace, ate some fudge, and took a nap on the next ferry out. Relaxing is exhausting! We realized how heavy our bags were and started dumping things in the car before heading out, even Dad! It rained. It was sunny. It was hot. It was cold. We were hungry; we were too full. We biked on.

I must say, it was pretty amazing to only see one Starbucks and two fast food restaurants

(if anyone asks, I did not confirm or deny that we each ordered our own pizzas at Pizza Hut). And the people, the people were so sweet. During a lightning storm a couple welcomed us into their home and chatted us up for the better part of two hours.   One night a neighboring camper saw us roll in on our bikes and, not only did he bring over some wood for a fire, but he built it too. (He topped it with Doritos which are apparently super flammable although he told us Fritos are actually the best…or would that be the worst? I don’t know. Most flammable.)

And the nature. Stunning. Hello Lake Michigan, my old friend from my days living in Chicago, delightful to see your other coast. Lake Huron you say? Nice to meet you and your calm waters. And then Lake Superior…while a bit frigid I couldn’t resist stopping in, even if just to pay my respects to the late, great Edmund Fitzgerald. We saw two lighthouses and the beautiful tannin-dyed waters of the Upper and Lower Tahquamenon Falls (don’t worry, I still don’t know how to say it).

Just like that, it was over. Adios delicious breakfast places with the nicest staff on the planet. Sayonara perfect sleeping temperature for camping (40s-50s at night in JULY!? Amazing). Adieu highway shoulders littered with wildflowers instead of garbage. Au revoir ease of access to fudge. Goodbye scenery straight out of a Bob Ross painting (but for real though, look at the side by side) —>

Because biking is an adventure, an escape, a way to bring people together, a way to take some time for yourself, a vacation, that’s why I love riding my bike.

For the Love of Biking

I love riding my bicycle. I think that much is obvious. So when a ride is advertised as “celebrating life on two wheels,” You can probably assume I’m interested.

In 2016 I was. For sure. I was meeting my fiance’s friends for the first time. I was looking forward to having a ride without cars since DC traffic is inSANE. It was the inaugural event. Besides the super-early Sunday start time and a somewhat expensive but still doable entry fee, what was not to love?

2017’s bike ride was a different story. I see those same friends on the regular now with intramural softball, dodgeball, and bocce. While I’ll always feel slightly endangered on some of the streets here, I bike on the regular. The entry fee, while still doable has increased and just seems too pricey for a measly 20 mile bike ride. Granted I’m all for supporting local bike organizations and giving back to that cycling community but this was just out of proportion. And even though the ride organizers had assured everyone they had solved the bottlenecks that plagued last year’s course, I just wasn’t into it.

Then, that fiancé found out if we volunteered for two shifts at packet pick up the day before. Doing 8+ hours of handing out packets didn’t seem worth it to me. I thought sleeping in and riding the trails sounded better but I didn’t want to burst his bubble so of we went…all day.

Packet pickup was definitely improved but the overall day did not. In 2016 it was a party: artwork on display, music blaring, free key chains at REI, snacks. This year it felt dull (then again, last year I wasn’t there quite so long).

After earning our free ride, we woke up early on Sunday. Don’t get me wrong, it is always nice to get out on my bike, even when it’s not, but I was not feeling it. We had a decent bike ride; however, the snacks were sparse, the route still had pointless (and dangerous) bottlenecks just so we could cross a bridge and come back the same way. That was very frustrating. What was also frustrating is how other riders didn’t move to get out of the way until an ambulance was directly behind them. Come on people.

We skedaddled out of the after-party, not wanting to spend money on food and already loaded down with all the free bike lights we could carry. I will say getting to try out my new cycling accessory was terrific: da brim. Yes I’m aware they seem a little dopey but it is perfect for sun and does alright in the rain.

Because biking is free, that’s why I love riding my bike.

Tip of the Day: Don’t Bike with Your Eyes Closed

I consider myself a pretty safe cyclist. I try not to run yellow lights (unless I’m seriously just about to make it). I stop at red lights and stop signs (unless it’s basically totally practically clear). I wear bright clothes, reflective gear, and currently have five different lights on my bike. And I always wear a helmet.

But sometimes things just… happen.

I vaguely remember learning to bike in my parents’ front yard. I don’t remember if it was the first time I was biking or the first time the training wheels were off but I remember falling. A lot. Luckily the grass was soft and I wasn’t deterred.

The next time I wasn’t so lucky. I took my beloved purplish bike with the streamers in the handlebars and spoke beads on the front and back tires (pause for nostalgia) up the driveway to the neighbors’ house. I wanted Katie to come play Barbies with me; she hopped on her bike and followed me to my house…maybe a little too closely because before I knew it I was splayed on the ground with two knees full of gravel. I swear 20 years later there are still some little pieces floating around in there.

Then there was the time I tried to bike in a straight line with my eyes closed. Hello ditch. (Cut me a break, I was only like…11, tops.)

Probably my most embarrassing cycling accident was in 2015. I was living and working in San Francisco for a few months. I proudly rode my bike Boudin to and from work every day. It wasn’t even that far…maybe two miles. Maybe. Probably even less. The morning weather was, per usual, perfect so I was biking in my work clothes with no fear of sweating or being too cold. I’m not going to say it wasn’t stressful because it was. San Francisco is exploding with public transportation and pedestrians so my rides often concluded with prying my white-knuckled grip off the handlebars (and recovering my breath from the last couple of hills).

But there I was, pedaling along quite well, kind of dreading a boring day at the office. All of the sudden, my bike had come to an abrupt halt and I flew over the handlebars and landed in the middle of the intersection! I will forever curse those streetcar tracks! My bike tire had lined up with them just perfectly so it fell in and got stuck. While I don’t have any epic pictures or traffic camera footage to share, I’m sure many people do. I was lucky enough that it was a red light so I didn’t get squished by any oncoming traffic, which also gave people plenty of time to whip out their phones. I picked up my bike and walked to the sidewalk to assess the damage: nothing hurt but my pride and my dress pants.

Of course there have been other terrific moments of bike safety. I was following my oldest sister too closely. When she stopped suddenly I rammed her, fell off my bike, and subsequently made a Band-Aid for my knee out of toilet paper and duct tape so we could keep going and get our miles in for the day. One day a car love-tapped me on the left shoulder/ribcage/thigh. (Don’t worry, the bike was unharmed.)

Biking has its perils; that’s for sure. But because the juice is still worth the squeeze, that’s why I’m going to keep riding my bike.

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Please Pass Me My Chocolate Hammer

I’m not sure what the Ritz Carlton in Puerto Rico is used to but I don’t think it’s two people with folding bikes and suitcases rolling into their hotel at 3AM asking to be checked in for that day. We were denied until 5AM. Good thing we still had cue cards to finish (rolls eyes); those are not fun to do EVER, let alone before the sun has risen. We made do and when we finally checked in (but seriously we’re so grateful they let us check in at 5AM since check in is technically at 4PM) we immediately passed out on the feather top bed.

When we finally awoke from hibernation we were hungry and had a lot of work to do. GVP somehow convinced me that setting up the bikes was more important than getting food; I still don’t know how he did that. Several months ago we’d decided to get folding bikes for this trip so we could fold them up and pack them in a suitcase. Easy peasy. However, I made the HUGE mistake of buying the Citizen Miami in orange. It is cute. I still think so even though I know what a piece of crap it is: the wheels are insanely hard to get off (why does anyone make wheels that aren’t quick release?), the back fender is riveted on. RIVETED! Grease oozes out of the bike from everywhere. Anyways, I had a Schwinn folding bike delivered to the hotel from Amazon (which ended up rusting in two short weeks so I sent it back; I am done with POS bikes. This is not to say that all folding bikes are awful. GVP had a Dahon which has quick release tires, fits into a large suitcase, and whose grease output does not resemble that of a teenager’s pores.)

We needed to pump up the tires. Luckily the Ritz Carlton has IMG_2443an excellent maintenance staff. Not only did they let us bring our bikes down to their shop, worked on our bikes with us, offered us sweat rags and water (it was hot down there!), but at one point Eduardo disappeared and came back with two packets of chocolate shaped like tools. Yeah. That’s real. Pliers, a wrench, and a hammer. I’m not even upset that my chocolate hammer’s head was broken off. I’m just impressed that these things even exist. And I have a lot of questions. Who else are they giving these to? Do they pass them out…well, like candy or are we the first people? If so I bet they were super stoked to give them to us.

When the bikes were ready to go we headed out for a late lunch. I don’t know what made us decide to get a couple of drinks each, a couple of appetizers, and an expensive paella dish but, but we dropped $100 on lunch. (Later when we wanted to dive into the leftovers we realized we had no utensils so we ripped off corners of the Styrofoam for spoons. Keeping it classy.)

Did I mention we got a complimentary bottle of champagne from the hotel?

Because I have love for all bikes, even the sucky ones; that’s why I love riding my bike.

 

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A Spandex Vacation

I don’t remember when I first rode my bike. I don’t remember when I first realized I love biking. I don’t think it was when the training wheels were removed and I bit it in the front lawn. I don’t think it was when my neighbor’s front wheel hit my back wheel and I skinned my knees on the gravel driveway (picking tiny rocks out of an open wound is not love inspiring). I imagine it happened sometime between then and when I went on my first bike tour. 11 years old. 7 days. 500 miles. Sounds like a great time, right?

1997 group shot; I'm on the left

I’m on the left in the GIANT t-shirt.

There I was in Whoknowswhere, Iowa on the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. Ah RAGBRAI. What a glorious thing. My companions? My badass 13 year old sister, my dad, one of my uncles, and my $100 teal Roadmaster. Oh, and probably about 12,000 other cyclists.

It was fun but man, it was a struuuuuuggle. Whoever claims that Iowa is a flat state has clearly never schlepped a 30+ pound bike across the state. I sagged. A lot. (In case you don’t know, sagging is when a rider is too tired to continue. On RAGBRAI the rider goes to the opposite side of the road, turns his/her bike upside down, and waits to be picked up by the “sagwagon.”) We ate homemade cinnamon buns and attended festivals in every town. We got free t-shirts and ate corn on the cob dripping with butter – onto said free t-shirt. Despite how ninth circle of hell it may sound, most of my memories from the ride are fond ones, so much so that 18 years later, I signed up again.

The pinwheel and I survived RAGBRAI XLIII

The pinwheel and I survived RAGBRAI

My Raleigh and I trekked from Chicago to RAGBRAI XLIII (that’s 43 for those like me who struggle with Roman numerals over 10). Joining me this time would be my dad, my brother and his girlfriend (who would wind up leaving early after a bad wreck on the morning of day one), and three friends. Oh, and probably about 20,000 other cyclists. I had done no other tours since RAGBRAI 25 so why do the same one?

I wanted to prove to myself that I didn’t need to sag.

And have fun of course.

It’s not that I’m ashamed that I sagged because that would be ridiculous. Come on folks; cut me a break. I was 11. It was more to test my 29 year old self.

Goals = accomplished! I wasn’t the fastest and I sure did complain about how sore my butt was and how loud people snored, but I did it. Not only did I have fun, but I crushed the mileage. I even completed the century day, although not quite as easily as the 14 year old girl I saw on an ancient steel Schwinn with her purse in the basket and no water bottle. She looked like she was out for a Saturday afternoon ride to her grandma’s house

But I digress.

RAGBRAI was a vacation from the structure of adult life. Work didn’t matter. Eating healthy food didn’t matter. Showering didn’t even matter. The only things that mattered were making it safely to the end town and staying hydrated (and getting to the ice cream stand before it closed).

Every bike ride is a vacation; that’s why I love riding my bike.