When the Angel on Your Shoulder Tells You to Listen to the Devil on the Other: Bad Idea Ride 2020
|Just four guys making bad decisions on bikes|
Two years ago through a long drawn out series of Facebook posts the inaugural Bad Idea Ride was born and Sheldon, Brett and I rode our bikes from the MI, OH, IN border all the way to the Mackinac Bridge in one day (well, one 24 hour period). We laughed, sprinted, suffered and told far too many really bad jokes, but we had a great time. So great that last year we attempted an even bigger Bad Idea Ride. We started at the same location but were headed for Canada (Sault Ste. Marie to be exact) and invited a few additional friends along. Unfortunately, the weather turned against us and we called it a day in Petoskey after covering 315 miles.
Here are the posts from the first two Bad Idea Rides
I knew I was not done with our Bad Idea Rides and I had a few ideas floating around in my head all winter and early spring, I was just not sure when I was going to be able to fit one into my schedule. I had possibly too many races I wanted to do this year, which left very little room to fit in such a big ride. Then one by one races started getting rescheduled.
I was all set to race the Funk Bottoms Gravel Grinder, a 200k behemoth with 12-13k feet of climbing. I had a campsite booked and plans were all set. Then the inevitable happened. Three weeks before race day it was canceled. I thought about going down and riding the course solo anyway (it looks amazing) but things just happened to work out for something different.
While out on a ride with Brett on May 30th, I asked if he was interested in doing something big and stupid the weekend of June 12th. It just so happened his calendar was open and we stared talking about where to ride. We discussed either taking another attempt at OH-Canada or riding the recently completed 275 mile bike path that crosses lower Michigan. After a few minutes we thought we had logistics figured out for an unsupported ride. All we needed was someone to drop us off and someone to pick us up. Everything looked good, until it didn’t. We could get to either start but we were not able to find a ride home (at least on such short notice).
Not to be deterred, we decided a big loop would still count as a Bad Idea and I went to work plotting out a route of some places I had wanted to ride for a while. During the same time we reached out to a few friends to see if we could make it a group of four, we would have gone with just the two of us, but two extra people to take turns pulling sure makes for a better day. Sebastian jumped right on board, but we were still looking for a fourth member of team “out of our flippin’ minds”. Brett reached out to Roy (not Mark’s Dad) Kranz who agreed to come along.
Now here is where I could go on about the side of these rides you don’t see: clicking through Google map satellite images to try to see what a road looks like, finding gas stations along the route and making sure they will be open when we roll through. Having four different mapping tools open to make sure the route will work and a “fire road” does in fact exist. The list goes on but I won’t bore you with that. What I do need to tell is we originally planned to do the entire route in one go. Until Sebastian and Brett both said they would rather not ride at night if it could be helped. I did a little more pouring over the maps and re-routing and came up with what turned out to be the perfect solution.
A couple quick messages and we were all set to camp at the Big Bear Sportsman’s Club in Kaleva. We could drop our camping gear off Friday afternoon and leave it there all weekend. We had access to water and electricity. And it meant we would get a nice warm up ride Friday evening of about 55 miles and have a big day Saturday. Did I mention it came with the best camp host ever: Bob Schuelke. He made sure we have everything we needed and more. We can’t thank him enough for everything he did for us.
Alright, let’s fast forward to the good stuff.
|3 of 4 loaded and ready to go|
Brett, Sebastian and I started driving about noon from the Lansing area with the plan to meet Roy at Big Bear Sportsman’s Club (BBSC) somewhere in the 3:00-4:00 range. We set up our little tent village, talked with Bob a bit and loaded back up in the truck to drive to Cadillac for the first leg of our journey. About halfway to Cadillac I realized I forgot to leave my sandals at camp. I had two choices, 1: leave them in the truck and go bare foot all weekend; 2: stick them in my jersey pockets and hope they make the trip. It was a pretty easy choice; I had no desire to walk around bare foot all weekend. They did stay in my pockets by the way.
And we were off.
|The necessary before picture|
The ride started pretty chill with a nice jaunt down the paved White Pine bike path out of Cadillac. Just south of town we turned on to some amazing gravel roads. I was even able to incorporate a few miles from the Coast to Coast gravel race, including some two-track fire roads that were not on any of the maps I looked at. These two-track connectors had some nice sand pits and even caused Brett to run his bike a bit. I guess he could have walked, but I was taking a video.
About 23 miles into the day we made our first little side-trek to nowhere. We turned off a paved road onto what looked like nothing more than small grass strip in the middle of the woods to get to the Caberfae Scenic Overlook. Riding this ¾ mile stretch was tough, there was no real path and it just went up and up. We eventually made it to the overlook, which turned out not to overlook anything, it just gave us a better view of the middle of the same trees we saw on the climb up. Not exactly a winner, but I did manage to fall over while riding back down the overlook ramp and bend my derailleur hanger (I was able to straighten it).
|Look, more trees|
Back on the road we soon found ourselves at the top of a rather large descent; about a mile at -5.5% average. What an absolute blast. It was short lived excitement, because as soon as we rode out of Harrietta, at the bottom of the descent, we started climbing. For the next 7 miles we gradually climbed our way up some very nice fire roads to Briar Hill, the highest point in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. The last bit of the climb was more like a hiking trail with trees down across it roughly every 50 yards. We hit the top and once again saw nothing but trees; strike two for climbing to nowhere. We were in the middle of a forest, so at least it was very pretty.
Turn around (every now and then….) yeah, I went there.
Time to head back down the same road we just climbed. Yes, this was added to the route just to say we made it to the highest point in the LP, and I would say it was worth it for the blast back down. One of the best parts is we had just ridden it so we knew exactly what to expect. There was no reason to hold back or hit the brakes. Back to nice gravel roads for a bit.
The next section of the route was a snowmobile trail that paralleled M-37. We turned on to it and were instantly met with golf ball sized rocks everywhere. We rode it for a while, but it was miserable, shake, raddle, bounce; all with too much work and too little speed to show for it. At the first chance (about 2 miles on) we jumped over and rode M-37 up to Mesick where we had a quick stop at a gas station for a little water.
At this point we were about 44 miles in and had started around 3hrs and 15 minutes prior, with stop time included. Mainly due to timing we made the decision to stick to the paved road back to BBSC. It was about 2-3 miles shorter than the route we had intended, but dinner and a campfire were calling our name. We arrived at BBSC after covering 57 miles in just under a total of 4 hours (ride time was about 3:40). Time for some Recoverite and a couple of brats before calling it a night.
Saturday morning came and we all took our sweet time getting around as we waited for it to warm up a bit. When I woke up at 6:00 am it was somewhere in the 36-38 degree range and none of us wanted to start the day that cold. At just a few minutes to 8:00 am with the temp just over 40, we mounted our noble steeds.
|Getting ready or staying warm? and do I spy a little Dirty Chain?|
As the sun rose so did the temperature and when we made our first stop for some breakfast about 13 miles into the day we all had most of our layers off and were down to bibs and short sleeve jerseys, it was turning into a beautiful day. Just a few miles further down the road we turned on to an absolute gem of a trail, the Betsie Valley Trailway. The first 10 miles of the trail were nice smooth two-track going through nothing but forest. No houses, no cars, and really not even any road crossings. What an amazing way to start the day.
|Eat when you can, and if you can't just stuff it in your mouth|
After a quick stop at a gas station in Honor (55 miles for the day) to refill water bottles the real adventure portion of the ride began. The next 20 miles contained about 15 miles of two-track and fire roads. We encountered sand pits, mud puddles and more dragon flies than I have ever seen in one place. I wish I could describe this section in more detail, but it was one of those areas where I just had to concentrate on riding, but I loved it all the same. The funny story I do remember from this section happened while Sebastian and I were a bit ahead of Brett and Roy. Sebastian was on the right side of the two-track while I was on the left; he moved just a bit to dodge a puddle and ended up riding through a mud pit about 6’ long and 2” deep. Mud went flying everywhere and I burst out laughing. It was probably really not that funny, but for some reason it was one of those moments that was just what we needed to lift our spirits even more. This day just keeps getting better and better.
|Brett after slogging through the sand|
I thought the next section would be a little rest for the legs. We were about to ride a paved bike path along the Sleep Bear Sand Dunes over to Glen Arbor. Paved bike paths are notoriously easy riding. But this path had a few surprises in store. First, it was very twisty and seldom had anything straight, but to top it off it was about as flat as riding a roller coaster. No joke, signs that said the trail was going up or down at 10% gradient were a regular occurrence. Not to mention we had to pass an old guy on an E-bike while going uphill. He was just pedaling along without a care in the world and I was working my butt off so he would not catch back up to me. Then we went back down a hill and he was out of sight.
We stopped in Glen Arbor for a quick lunch of whatever we could find in the deli of the grocery store: items ranged from chicken wings to pizza to potatoes and veggies. All of it was delicious and nutritious. Okay, maybe not, but after covering about 85 miles over the course of 6 ½ hours it sure did taste good.
We left Glen Arbor only to find one of the most ridiculous climbs I have ever encountered outside a mountain bike trail, and even then, they are rare. Strava has a major portion of it as a segment
It is well over a mile long with an average grade of 8%, which is a bit deceiving because the first ¼ mile spends a significant portion of time over 20%, it just tears your legs off. It is all ridable, but I did walk about 50 yards because I was working way harder than I wanted to be considering we were only about 1/3 into the day. Sebastian rode it all though. Crazy kid. Then we got to go down the other side and it made us forget about the effort it took to get to the top. Who am I kidding it was so much fun I would have done it again right then.
Following a few miles of rolling paved road we turn to head north up the Leelanau Peninsula and straight into a devastating headwind with nowhere to hide. At least when we were heading north earlier in the day we would go in and out of the forest which would give us a break, but out here there was nothing but open road and sunshine. It was gorgeous, but it was mean.
|Good thing you can't see the wind|
With another quick stop to refill water bottles somewhere around mile 125 we continued our quest to reach our ultimate destination: Leelanau State Park. At mile 134, about 10hrs and 45 minutes after setting out that morning we made it. Another quick photo op and a nature break and it was time to head back to camp. If you drove by and saw four guys reapplying chamois cream I apologize for the mental scars we may have caused you.
|Leelanau State Park|
The good news was we were going to have a tail wind for the first time all day; boy did we make use of it. We flew back south to Northport at an average speed of 19 miles an hour; remember we were all on gravel bikes and had over 180 miles in our legs between the last two days, so to us it felt like flying. In Northport we stopped for the second to the last time and revised the route for the rest of the day.
The original plan was to ride from there to Traverse City and then over to Cadillac where we would get the truck and drive to BBSC. However, it had taken us longer to get there than expected, thanks impart to those amazingly, fun and challenging fire roads and two-track, so we decided to head straight back to BBSC and get the truck later. This change would shorten our route by about 30 miles, cut off about 2k feet of climbing and eliminate a 45-minute drive.
With the new route loaded on to Roy’s Garmin we set back off on the open road. We knew the next few miles where going be a gradual climb, but at least we were not battling the wind the entire time. The climbing was enough to make sure everyone was just mad enough at me for making such a preposterous route, but not so mad as to actually be mad. We joked a bit about everyone hating me and wanting to call Uber for a ride home. However, once we hit the gradual downhill on the TART Trail into Traverse City all the joking stopped and we all dropped the hammer. We crushed that 10-mile section, averaging over 21 mph, even with the stops for crossroads.
When we rode in to Traverse City we made our last stop for the night, we wanted to make sure we had everything we needed to make it the last 50ish miles; mainly because we did not know if we would go by another gas station or store with the route we were taking. As we were filling bottles and having a few snacks the half jokes started about having Bob come pick us up. I said no and we started riding again. To make the story even better, as we were climbing the last massive hill out of TC a text from Bob popped up on my Garmin asking if we needed anything or if anyone needed a ride back. I waited until everyone made it to the top of the climb before I told them all about the text. I also told them I wouldn’t call him for a ride for anyone. Now the hate was a little stronger.
But only for a few minutes. Once we turned off Long Lake Rd and the traffic thinned, we were able to enjoys some amazingly smooth roads and a beautiful sunset. The hatred ebbed and we started putting in some pretty big pulls and making great time.
|Racing the sunset, we lost but it did not matter|
It was now full dark. The sky was huge and full of stars and I once again found myself in absolute amazement at the nothingness of an empty road. Looking behind us, where no lights shown, with not even a porch light to be seen, was a wonder few people get to experience and I was so happy to get to relish it on a bike, again. Just like on our first Bad Idea Ride.
Waxing poetic over, it was time to drop the hammer once again. Monster pulls and big speed were the name of the game for about two hours. With only 10 miles to go the temps had fallen and we slowed our pace a bit, and found cruising at about 18 mph to be the ideal speed to work enough to stay warm but not go so fast as to get cold from the wind. The miles ticked by and soon enough we found ourselves in Kaleva, just about a mile from BBSC.
I really wanted to write something inspirational, something about feeling overwhelmed by accomplishment or how during that last mile I reflected on the joys and sorrows of the day, but honestly after setting out 16 ½ hours prior all I thought about was making it back to BBSC and dreading the time it would take to get a fire going and cook some dinner. I had no reason to worry, as soon as we turned into the driveway we saw the most glorious campfire and Bob sitting by it cooking brats, hotdogs and asparagus. It was the best sight I could imagine seeing after such a long day.
After a few minutes to get out of our disgusting biking clothes and washing up as much as possible in a sink, we all sat around the fire and enjoyed some much earned dinner and a brief chat about the day. All the animosity gone and nothing but comradery hanging in the air. Joy, elation, exhaustion. Time for food and sleep.
Sunday morning came way too early, after only about four hours of sleep since we stayed up until after 2:00am sitting around the fire and I am incapable of sleeping in, no matter what time I go to bed. Everyone else slowly made it out of their tents as well and we were all in remarkably good moods for such a big day and such little sleep, but now Brett and I had to finish one last goal for the weekend. Before heading up we decided we wanted to hit 300 miles over the weekend. We were currently sitting at about 277. There was only one logical thing to do: we put on the cleanest kits we had (the ones we wore Friday) and went back out for another ride.
We just cruised around the Kaleva area, never straying far from BBSC lest our legs decide they were spent. We rode some pavement, some gravel and even a little bit of two-track (until Brett said it hurt his butt too much). To play it safe and avoid the dreaded slight mileage adjustment we seem to get every time we sync up a big ride, we rode until we hit 301 miles. Now we were done.
So what else do you want to know?
|Self standing bike, it is like magic|
Mitch – Framed Basswood with Kenda Alluvium Pro 700x45.
Brett – Redline Conquest Elite with a Kenda Alluvium 700x35 on the rear and Teravail Cannonball 700x38 on the front.
Roy – Salsa Wardbird with 700x43 Panaracer Gravel Kings and a Lauf Fork
Sebastian – Cannondale SuperX with Kenda Alluvium Pro 700x40
Brett did suffer a bit with skinnier tires in some of the sandier parts, but he made it through. If you are going to do this route, I would suggest a 40mm tire or wider if you can fit it, but a 35 will make it.
No, we did not see any caterpillars, and believe me, I was looking for them (if you don’t get this, go back and read the post from our first Bad Idea Ride, it's linked near the begining). We did see a ton of butterflies which I called out for a while, but it did not hit the spot like it did on the first Bad Idea Ride. Either that or everyone was just ignoring me….
Would I do this route again?
In a heartbeat. The terrain was constantly changing, as was the road surface. We would be riding on flat smooth pavement on minute only two turn on to a rutted out sandy two-track for a few miles, then we would find ourselves on beautiful empty gravel roads. The route itself had some really tough sections, but there was generally enough easier stuff between them that it made the difficulty just right. Except for maybe the headwind heading up Leelanau, maybe someday I’ll learn how to control the weather.
|At the beach or on the trail?|
What about the Plan and all the changes?
I like to make a plan, to develop a timeline and push to make them happen. But for this I really tried to change my mindset. This ride was more about the adventure. There was no set timeline, the only real goal we set for the day was to make it up to Leelanau State Park and back. Sure, I made a route, but I also figured out a few possible others in case we wanted to cut out a few miles or add a few in if we were going faster than expected. This mindset also made stopping to take pictures or grab a snack and do a Facebook update fun. Would I want all my rides to be like this? No. I really enjoy racing and the pressure that comes with it, with making stops as quick and efficient as possible, riding with the goal of going as fast as I can. That said, I definitely want to do this type of ride again, and there is no reason I can’t race one weekend and adventure the next.
|I need more of this gravel|
Thoughts on Supported vs Unsupported?
They both have their advantages and disadvantages. With supported rides it is nice to be able to ride light. You only have to carry what you need to get through the next 3-4 hours, and I can generally do that without a hydration pack. You stop at a set place, refill bottles, drop any clothes you don’t need and grab anything you want for the next leg. But on the downside, you have to stop at a set place. There is also a huge temptation to stop for longer than you need, especially when your SAG wagon is a giant motorhome with very comfortable seats and heat. Weather it is good or bad, there is a plan and structure. With unsupported, you only get what you choose to carry and you only take something if you really need it. Do you have room for an extra layer? How about a second pair of gloves? Or can I live without them? It also means there is a little unknown and a little more adventure. We knew where gas stations were along the route, but we did not have any hard and fast stopping points. We did not have to worry about meeting up with anyone at any certain time and we could adjust the route on the fly as we saw fit. Both types of rides have their place and can be a great time; unsupported was just the right fit for this ride. Not to mention it made the last-minute nature and planning of this weekend much easier.
|More pretty bikes, and me|
How about Nutrition/Fuel?
If you know me or have ready any of my previous blog posts, you know I am generally a stickler for a fueling plan. This ride made me be a little bit more flexible than I would like to be. I did pack ziplock bags of Hammer Nutrition Perpetuem to have as my main source of fuel and some tubes of Fizz for electrolytes. With space and weight being limited I also supplemented with snacks purchased at gas stations. I probably could have carried enough Perpetuem to make it, but part of the fun of this adventure style/unsupported ride is the fact that there are unknowns; not knowing exactly what I will find and having to adapt as the ride moved along. I would not want to do this for a race, where I have to be at peak performance the entire time, but for this ride is added another layer of fun.
What would I change?
That is a tough one. This was simply put, a great weekend. If I could, I would go back out and do it again exactly as it was. Maybe I would like to start a little earlier in the day, 5:00 or 6:00 instead of 8:00 just to have a little more daylight, but that is really nit-picking and losing a little daylight was worth it to not start the day freezing cold (it was much warmer at 10:00pm than it was at 6:00am – we kept an eye on the forecast before making the final call on start time). Maybe we could invite 2 more people to spread the work out a little more, but again, that is not a make or break.
|Roy is not scared|
Last but certainly not least – Thank You’s
I have to start with my sponsors who help make weekends like this possible – Hammer Nutrition, ESI Grips, Rudy Project North America, Framed Bikes and Kenda Tires. They all have amazing products and I would recommend them to any and every one.
Big Bear Sportsman’s Club and Bob Schuelke. Thank you so much for letting us stay and use your space. It made logistics super easy and the BBSC is a great place to stay. Bob, everything you did to help from bringing out water and opening the clubhouse to starting a fire and cooking us dinner is beyond what we can say thank you for. It was so far above and beyond what we could have expected.
To this note, Big Bear Sportsman’s Club puts on an event each August called the Big Bear Butt Cruise. If you are looking for a fun ride or a great adventure, this is one to make it to. The BBSC are always great and gracious hosts who go out of their way to make sure everyone has fun. So spread the word and get your friends to come to the Butt Cruise.
Brett, Sebastian and Roy. Thanks for coming along on this really bad idea and thank you for being so flexible throughout the day. I had such a great weekend and there is no way I could have done it without your efforts.
Also, thanks to Roy for putting together this great video.