Why Stop at One Bad Idea?

Jameson, Trevor, Mitch, Nathan, Brett, Sebastian, Sheldon - Let's get this show on the road

Last year Brett, Sheldon and I set out on the inaugural “Bad Decision Ride” from the border of Michigan/Indian/Ohio and rode basically non-stop to the Mackinac Bridge. We set out at 7:01am on a Saturday morning and rolled into our finish location directly under the bridge 23 hours and 51 minutes later (actual riding time was 18:07:54). You can read about that adventure here:

This year we decided we should try something even bigger, crazier, and possibly an even worse Bad Idea. We broke out a map and started looking for something that would make people question our sanity even more than they already do. The result; we would start at the same place and ride 401 miles all the way to Sault Ste. Marie, a route we dubbed OH-Canada, and planning commenced.

We had tossed around the idea of doing an unsupported tour of all the gas stations along the route but ultimately decided having a SAG (support and gear) vehicle would be the wise choice; the first weekend in October has far more variables than we wanted to have to deal with, the biggest being how do you pack a snowsuit into a jersey pocket? We were able to recruit Gary and his marvelous home on wheels to meet us along the route, carry all our gear and be the ride chef. We also talked a few other riders into joining us this time: Sebastian, Jameson and Nathan for the entire route, Trevor for the first 90 miles and Tristan for about 35 miles around Lansing.

Fast forward a bit, through the countless conversations about how, when, weather, tire choice, bike setup, how hard it would be to pack a pizza in a Camelbak and we had decided we should start on a Friday evening to get the night riding out of the way while we were a bit more fresh. What I did not think about is this meant we would be starting after a full day of work and having already been awake for 14-15 hours; what’s one more bad decision though.

Enough rambling, let’s get to the ride.

After a slight delay we drove to the border for the start of our ride, it was a rather uneventful drive except for a quick stop for Jimmy Johns and some gas station coffee. The plan was to start around 8:00pm but once everything was said and done we started pedaling at 8:26. It took the seven of us a little bit longer than expected to decide just how many layers to start with and to get all the computers and lights fully functioning. The most exciting thing that happened in the first few miles was my Garmin deciding it wanted to disconnect my HR strap when I had it plugged into an external battery pack. A few button fumbles and some swearwords later it was working like a charm.

Our group slowly settled in for the long haul after a couple of stops to reset some gear, take off a few layers and adjust lights. The ride started with Trevor putting in a number of long pulls; he said he wanted to do as much as he could to help since he was only riding to Lansing and I don’t think anyone was going to complain about getting a pull when the plan was to ride 400 miles and we were already fighting a headwind. The temperature was in the upper 40’s and slowly falling as we rode along in the darkness. The mood in the group was pretty chill but the pace may have been a little aggressive as we made our way to our first stop in Springport. We did meet up with our cheering fans (ok fan, Frosty) about 5 miles before our stop. It was awesome to see him out there making some wonderful cowbell music.

We rolled into the Springport school parking lot after about 3 hours, having ridden 56 miles. So far everyone was doing well and the biggest complaints were some chilly toes and fingers. We all got what we needed from Jackie, who graciously volunteered to drive us to the starting point and meet us at the first SAG stop (Mackenzie also drove a car to the start, thank you Mackenzie and Jackie). With bottles refilled, warmer gloves and some shoe covers we were back underway after about a 20 minute stop.

Stop #1 - Springport, Mile 56

Just over an hour later we had the first and only mechanical of the ride, Sebastian had a flat tire. We all did our parts to help, most of us went to the bathroom, Nathan shined his light near where Sebastian was working, Brett scared any approaching cars with his lights; it was a good time. Back underway. 330 more miles to go. The stop did allow the cold to set in a bit so when we took off the pace picked as we tried to warm back up; it was down to about 40 degrees and the wind was still fighting us.

That light is pretty close to helpful

Up ahead we saw what looked like another cyclist coming towards us. How crazy to see another rider at 1:00 in the morning. When the light got closer, we realized, sure enough it was another crazy person on a bike. As we were about to pass by the mystery rider (he was going south as we were headed north) Brett yelled out “we are heading to the Soo, jump on and join us”. To our surprise, the bike turned around and joined our train. Except it was not a mystery man, it was Tristan. Time for a party of eight. Then to our further amazement we rode by another crowed of spectators, ok, it was one person. Rebecca had driven out to cheer us on as we rode down M-100.

As we approached Grand Ledge Trevor told us he would be heading home soon, his turn off was in town. We all said goodbye, thanked him for the pulls and wished him a safe ride home as he wished us the best of luck as well. Back to seven.

At 3:00am; nearly 6 ½ hours and 102 miles after setting off we pulled into the Fowler High School parking lot and met up with Gary and the SAG bus. We all boarded the bus for a chance to get out of the awful, awful headwind which we had been riding into all night. Did I mention it was almost straight out of the north and blowing right in our faces? All night? Without letting up? Anyway, it was time for some snacks, hot fresh coffee and a re-application of chamois cream. But now we faced a new problem; getting seven rather chilly cyclists out of a nice warm motorhome at 3:30 am and back on their bikes. 30 minutes later we succeeded.

In the warm, warm motorhome

Now the wind was picking up even more so we decided to try and ride in an echelon, picture one half of the Mighty Duck’s “flying V”, in an attempt to get something of a respite from the wind. It worked alright for a while, but it did have two downsides: the effort level notched up a bit, and it was really not a fun way to ride. To be completely honest, riding a bike for hours and hours can get a bit boring, it is the conversations and shared misery that make it enjoyable; unfortunately riding in an echelon does not lend itself to conversation or epicaricacy.  So we went back to our two up lines with little to show for the effort except for some slightly worn legs.

The slog from Maple Rapids to Alma was probably one of the least enjoyable parts of the day. 4:30am – 5:30am. The darkest, coldest (34 degrees) most agonizing stretch. At this point most of us had been awake for 24 hours straight, give or take a few minutes, and the headwind was just beating on us. This was the point in the ride when you could really see others questioning why in the world they were on their bikes; still. All those factors combined to make for a very quiet, somber hour of pedaling. Worst of all there were not even any caterpillars to call out this year. About half way through this stretch Tristian turned off to head home. Down to six.

This for me was the point where my eyes started to bother me a bit and I would close one eye for 20-30 seconds then switch, back and forth, back and forth. I am not sure how long I did this but eventually the pressure behind my eyes subsided and I could go back to having both eyes open.

6:22 am. Mt Pleasant. 147 miles done, 253 miles to go. Breakfast and more hot coffee. We are a bit tired of being cold and riding in the dark. The sun cannot rise soon enough. 45 minutes on the bus and some eurostyle chamois cream and you can see a little spark of life come back into people’s eyes. That and the forecast is saying the wind is going to shift to be out of the south at around 9 or 10. Just a little more suffering and life is going to get better.

Two miles down the road we came to a “Road Closed” sign, but we made the quick decision to ride on through. It was super early on a Saturday morning so no one would be working and there is almost always a way through a construction zone. But not this time. The bridge was gone. There was nothing but water. Too deep and cold even for Sheldon to try and ford; and we all know he likes a good river crossing. Luckily, we only had to go back about a half mile to detour around and get back on course. 401 miles is now 403 miles.

Is that the sun?

Sunrise. The glorious sun is coming up and the wind is calming down. It was wonderful to see natural light and feel the warmth of the rays that came with it. That spark is turning into something vaguely resembling hope and joy, maybe even a rekindling of that love of the bike that seemed to be lost for the last few hours. Until we passed Loomis and the road started climbing.

The hills started out small but grew and as they grew our group would get spread out. The bigger the climb the further we would spread. We would regroup after each hill but unfortunately this was very difficult for the group dynamics and made things a bit more challenging. Everyone has their own preferred pace for climbing. Some people feel more efficient charging up with a faster cadence while others may want to slow it down, ease up and just spin it out; on a 30 or 40 mile ride the group will usually pick one and everyone follows along, but when you are more than 160 miles into a ride the only pace you are going to climb at is the one you like. Once we realized this was how it was working, we all kind of accepted it and made do.

Is the wind shifting? Do we finally not have a headwind? About five miles south of Prudenville the wind was finally turning in our favor, another mile later the road flattened out and we had a nice cruise into stop number 4.

11:13am, 208 miles down, 203 of which were into a headwind. Time for a little lunch and the longest stop of the day. We were here for an hour and twenty minutes. I’ll be completely honest, I was getting a bit frustrated that we were stopped for so long and I know it was showing. I don’t like to stop for long; when I do my legs get tight and heavy and starting back up is much more difficult than it is to just keep going. I also know the frustration spread as I tried to rush things along and get the group back on the road; a prime example of different styles of riding.

Lunch? Don't mind if we do

After leaving Prudenville we found ourselves at another road closed sign. This time we stopped for a moment to decide if we should try our luck again or just look for a detour. Before we could come to any conclusion Brett rode on ahead, the rest of us stood there and waited. After a few minutes Brett called and said we could get through. What he didn’t tell us is that we would have to walk across an I-beam to make it. Not that it mattered because we would have gone even if we had known; and it made for a good little adventure. The closed road did mean we had a few miles of completely empty road.

The secret way through

Not much later we turned north on to Military Rd toward Grayling and found the head wind was back with a vengeance. And so was the climbing. We had a 5 mile stretch with a slight uphill gradient; just enough to drain the legs but not so much you feel like you should be working as hard as you are. Eventually we made it to Grayling and the road flattened out. In an attempt to get out of the wind we got on the bike path through town and rode it all the way to Hartwick Pines State Park. It was nice to be off the road away from traffic for a bit, but it was slower going because it was rather narrow and quite twisty, turny. Along the way we stopped so Brett could pull out his sausage. The one he bought at a gas station earlier as a snack.

At Hartwick Pines the bike path ended and so did the flat road. The next thirteen miles was strewn with sizeable climbs coupled with headwinds as bad as we had seen all ride. Once again, the group would get spread out only to regroup in the short flats between the climbs. This was another pretty dark area for the group dynamics. The road was pretty rough and spreading out so much didn’t help anyone’s mood. We were over 250 miles into the ride and the day was starting to take it’s toll. With less than five miles to the stop in Waters a couple guys were starting to struggle. We all slowed down and made an effort to stay as a tight group the rest of the way to fight the wind and provide a little moral support.

The last half mile into Waters was all downhill and we blasted down to the motorhome to refuel and prepare for the most difficult leg of the day. It was 5:00pm, we had started riding nearly 19 ½ hours earlier and covered 263 miles, but nothing could prepare us for what we saw when we checked the forecast. I massive storm with torrential rain, even stronger winds and dropping temperatures was fast approaching; there was no way we could make it to Sault Ste. Marie in those conditions.

It is almost here to ruin our day

All hopes and dreams for the day were officially crushed.

We looked at three or four different weather apps to figure out just how much time before the storm completely ended the day for us and we came up with two options. The first was to load everything up right then, drive to St. Ignace and ride across the U.P. to Sault Ste. Marie. This option would mean riding at least an hour in the rain with the threat of hypothermia nipping at our heals but reaching our ultimate destination. The second option, and the one we chose, was to keep riding to Petoskey and call it a day upon arrival. If we hurried, we had the potential of making it before the storm.

At this point Brett decided to call it a day. The threat of getting cold and wet is one thing when you are going to accomplish your end goal, but knowing we were going to be forced to quite 85 miles short was not worth the risk. He knew he had the legs to make it all the way to the end; and considering he missed a good six weeks of training this summer (broken collar bone) and was only two weeks post Marji Gesick we will call it a win.

I'm not sure I want to explain this one

Unfortunately rushing at this point was not really something that was going to happen. The five of us heading back out were ready to go after about 50 minutes and now the storm’s ETA in Petoskey was down to about three hours. 52 miles in three hours would normally be pretty easy for our group, but with 263 miles already in our legs and with the climbs we were about to hit, it was really going to be a stretch. Time to drop the hammer.

5 riders, 52 miles to the new finish line.

Time to race the storm

As we were riding north towards Gaylord the headwind finally let up a little bit. For the second time all day it was not punishing us. It’s a shame it only lasted about 30 min before it picked back up. We slowed down a bit as we rode through Gaylord on a bike path with far too many road and parking lot crossings, but we made it safely through town.

When we got about a mile north of town the motorhome caught up with us (we planned for it to leap-frog us in case the weather moved in faster than anticipated) and Sebastian called it a day. He was not feeling all that well and was just not having much fun, he did put in a solid 275-mile day though.

4 riders, 40 miles to go.

After a couple of decent climbs, we found ourselves on a nice long downhill stretch of road heading towards the giant metropolis of Wolverine. Home of something I’m sure, I just have no idea what. It was about this point in the day Sheldon decided he was going to hit the triple century mark and call it. Over 16.5 hours of ride time (22.5hrs total) and knowing it was not going to be the day and ride we had wanted took its toll. After a good climb right around mile 298 he told the three of us remaining to ride on, he was going to use the last bit to cool down then call the bus to pick him up.

Down to 3 with 17 to go.

The sky still looked pretty clear, only a few clouds here and there so we joked a little about “where’s the storm”. It was coming and it was coming fast. It was almost like someone flipped a switch as we reach the base of the biggest climb of the day. It went from being bright enough to not need lights to pitch black and pouring rain instantly; but with only 6 miles left and my wife and kids waiting to meet us in Petoskey (they happened to be up there for the weekend) I was not about to stop. Most of my rides and races are not what I would call spectator friendly, so my kids don’t get to see me ride all that much and this was going to be a chance for them to see me still looking strong even after 315 miles. Time to push it and finish this thing.

Soaking wet, we crushed the last big climb, I even managed to take 10th on the Strava leader board, and rode the last few hair-raising descents into town (with wet rim brakes they were hair-raising anyway). We pulled into the hardware store parking lot we planned as our meeting point only to find no one there. With how dark and rainy it was, riding was boarding on no longer safe, so Gary was looking for the first good place to park and get us off the road. Unfortunately he missed a turn and ended up somewhere else. Luckily the hardware store had a nice big overhang so Jameson, Nathan and I were able to get out of the rain and a few phone calls later the motorhome and my family were on their way.

Soaking wet, cold and tired but still happy

That was it. We were calling it a day. It was just not safe or smart to continue.

315.27 miles
17:44:21 ride time
23:24:02 elapsed time

We all loaded up in the motorhome to get dried off, change into some real clothes and eat some delightfully awful McDonalds.

Time for some post ride musings and a few other things we learned.

First thing. The ride did not turn out like we had hoped. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad we went, we all put in some great efforts and I would do it again without questions; but the larger group did make this year’s bad decision ride much different than last year.

Pacing was more difficult this year than last year. The headwind was one major factor, but also when it was just three of us it was much easier to work together. With six riders (or more at times) we were much more likely to get spread out or surge when it was not necessary. As the miles passed by those extra efforts started to take their toll.

That stupid, awful, never ending, leg killing headwind. It just never really stopped. Talk about soul sapping; especially when you expect it to turn to a tailwind and every time you check the forecast it says just one more hour.

This one surprised me a bit, but it was much harder to have good, long conversations. I think that was part of what made the ride last year so much fun. Even when we were hurting and ready to be done, we were still joking and being just socially unacceptable enough to laugh at pretty much everything. That did not really happen this year. We did call out a few caterpillars, but the jovial atmosphere was just not there.

Starting in the evening made the night riding a bit easier but it also meant at the end of the ride I had been awake for over 40 hours straight. It really is tough to be awake for that long, let along putting in a full day at work then riding 315 miles. I’m torn if it was better to start Saturday morning or Friday evening. They both had their advantages and disadvantages.

Refueling 6-8 riders takes longer than 3. This is a simple fact I did not consider when I made the timeline for the ride. Sure, if we had unlimited space and a helper for each of us it might not, but when we were all in the motorhome only two people could really be getting stuff around at any given time. Time to throw myself under the bus here: My timeline had us stopping for about 15 minutes at each SAG location. I in no way expected this to happen, but I had hoped that by putting this out there we would all go quickly and maybe take 20-30 minutes. When 30 minutes came and went, I would start to get antsy and try to rush things along, which only served to lower morale a bit. Not good. My fault. Sorry guys.

Space to get stuff around is limited

October is probably a bad time to do this ride. So much clothing is needed, no matter what you are wearing it is probably not the right thing and once you get cold it is game over.

In the world of positive information

Between all eight people who put in saddle time we covered over 1,900 miles and only suffered one flat tire and no actual mechanical issues.

At the fastest point in the day I was going more than 48 mph

All the cars that passed us gave us plenty of room, especially at night.

We did see a few caterpillars

We ate like kings

I learned a lot about group dynamics and how they change over a long ride.

We were still “Splittin’ the Mitten” albeit at a slightly different point in the north.

Brett’s bag of “Not Cocaine” did not get anybody arrested.

My nutrition plan for the day was dialed in. Hammer Nutrition Perpetuem is the perfect fuel for me on a ride like this and it kept me going the entire ride. 

I love big, crazy rides; the ones you tell people about and they look at you with a mixture of amazement, bewilderment and a touch of “how do I get this person committed”. This was one of those rides. We may not have made it to Canada, but we made a great story and had an adventure I will not soon forget.

Lastly, I want to say a big thanks to everyone who rode, drove us around, came out to cheer us on, or helped any other way. 

Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/2766008615/overview

I guess Brett got left up north somewhere


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