Sunday, July 13, 2008

My thirty-four mile bike ride

Today, I went on a 34-mile bike ride. The Kitchen Empress' birthday was yesterday, but due to he being under the weather, was not much in the mood for celebrations. In addition, the inclement weather in the morning - and the chance for rain throughout the day - kept me from trying to get out to Pinkney on Saturday.

However, with the promise of a nice day (and it was), I headed out to Pinkney this morning, via Dexter. Now, you should know that I've never really ridden a bike more than about eight miles at one time, however, I had always wanted to get out to Dexter (all the bike riders on Huron River Drive seemed so happy in their ride). My thinking was that if K.E. was still not in the mood for visitors, then I could have lunch there and return to Ann Arbor.

On my way out, I rode through Bandemer Park - where the city has added amenities (more bike racks, a dirt bike course, disc golf, permanent toilets at the crew site, and an artificial wetland) - and along the AmTrak rails until I got to Barton Dam Park. From there, I rode along Huron River Drive, trying to keep the gears between 2x5 (on the climbs) and 2x7 (on the descents and flats). I was able to do this for much of the time, only having to switch to 2x4 one time on my way to Dexter. Somewhere along my journey, I heard a bike coming up to pass me, and I looked to my left, and there was Ted.

"Hey, Shaw!"

"Hey, Ted!"

"Whatcha doin?"

"Riding to Dexter. You?"

The conversation went on kind of like that for about 30 seconds. He had said that he and his wife had seem me riding, and he rode up to say, "Hi." He then turned back to catch up with his wife, going back to Ann Arbor. I was passed by only one other cyclist before I got a call from K.E. about 200 yards from Mast Road.

I informed her that I was cycling to Dexter, and asked if she would care to meet me for brunch/lunch at the Lighthouse Cafe (which we found later had a prominent display of "God Bless America" painted on the side of the building). My cycling out to Dexter seemed to cheer her up and motivate her to come down to Dexter and meet me for lunch (even though she was still suffering from congestion), and she said that she would proceed to get ready and head out. I cycled into town, taking photos of some buildings near the Huron River before heading to the "downtown." There I saw massive cranes working on a bridge going over Mill Creek. Cycling out there, I noticed that the rumor that Dexter would be soon taking its dam out was a past rumor. That, indeed, it was out, and the construction crews were in the middle of taking that opportunity to fix up the bridge.

Having had the opportunity to lead class field trips to the site just downstream of where the dam stood (when it was there), I had a pretty good idea of the quality of habitat and stream flow at that site. The removal of the dam had drained areas of the upstream dam-formed wetlands, and the river had slowly cut into the loose sand and silt that had laid dormant behind the dam wall. Looking at this site, I became really excited about the possibilities of having a master's student group measure the impacts of dam removal on the river and the surrounding (now exposed) land. The benefit is that over the past several years, many classes have been taken to the site below the dam, providing ample data for measurement of a "before dam removal" conditions. I will have to talk to my faculty advisor about this one.

At lunch, we both ordered the Eggs Benedict (aka "Benny") and what turned out to be rather anemic (what my mother calls "American-style") coffee (what my dad calls "brown water"). The Bennys were decent and the hashbrowns crispy (as I like them). During lunch, K.E. asked if I wanted to go up to Pinkney with her - and after some vacillating on my part (not wanting to have her put up with me while sick, while also needing to be in town for a 9:15AM meeting tomorrow) - I did end up acquiescing to her invitation, loaded my bike on her truck, and headed up to Pinkney.

On the way, we stopped at a small garage sale and met two lovely ladies (and a very gregarious Irish Red-and-White Setter puppy) with lots of conversation and horse tack for sale. After talking with them about this-and-that, we headed off with two extension cords, a travel mug, and a watering wand, all purchased for a grand sum of $1!

Returning to her cottage on the lake, we were surprised (K.E. was delighted) to see two friends of K.E. - Katie and John. They had vowed earlier in the week to take a party out to her, and they were true to their word. Luckily, they had only had to wait for 5 mins. Although K.E. was very happy to see them, and proceeded to show them all of her gardening experiments, she did have to cut the meeting short with a promise to hold a real party at a later date. I stayed with the Empress for a little while longer before heading back into Ann Arbor - almost a marathon's worth of riding.

Before continuing this rambling story, I need to make two things clear. The first is that much of rural Michigan does not have bike lanes or much of a shoulder, meaning that bicycle riders have to contend with constantly on the edge of literally riding off the road and having to share the road with motor vehicles that may (or may not) get over very far. The second is that my bike is not what you would call a road bike by any stretch of the imagination. It is a "hybrid" bike - defined as a cross between a road bike and a mountain bike - that allows primarily for an easy mid-speed ride on relatively flat surfaces, but no real aerodynamicity (as you would get on a road bike) or robustness (as you would get on a mountain bike). What's more, the bike (with loaded pannier) weighs in the order of 40 lb (much heavier than a road bike). With these two points in mind, please continue reading (if you can bear it).

Heading out from K.E.'s place, I knew of a bike trail that ran along an old railway route between Jackson, MI and (possibly) Northville, MI (although the existence of the track is no longer visible outside of Livingston County. It would take me along a slightly longer path back to Dexter, but one with wider roads and (I hoped) less traffic, due to a sparser population. Cycling along the bike path was wonderful - trees shading the path and breaking most of the wind. Once I got to Merrill Road, things started to get a little more hairy - wind gusts in my face, hills (remember: heavy bike), cars (remember: no shoulder). Still, I was pretty fresh, having rested for several hours at this point, and getting to Strawberry Lake Road for my brief trek WSW would not be a major issue. However, once I got to Strawberry Lake Road, I ended up cycling right into the wind, making a ride along slowly rolling hills much more tiring than originally expected. I ended up stopping once along that 3.2-mile segment to take some water and catch my breath. (I was still trying to keep within a 2x5 and 2x7 range on this segment).

Turning on to Mast Road (for my 6.5-mile ride into Dexter) proved that this path on my bike was not likely the best choice. It had three hills (one before N. Territorial, one after it, and one before Dexter), and I had to down-shift to 2x3 on all three of them. In addition, much of the ride is through farming country - no trees - and the wind really did not help with the climbs. (Gripe, gripe.) However, after what seemed a really long time, I made it into Dexter - roughly 1 hour after I left K.E.'s cottage - and stopped at the Bearclaw Cafe for some coffee (laced with a lot of sugar for my sore muscles).

After calling the Kitchen Empress to see how she was faring, I decided to cycle back along Ann Arbor-Dexter Road (the direct path back to Ann Arbor). Heading out of Dexter, I was pleasantly surprised to note the presence of a bike lane that transformed into a wide shoulder once out of town. This made cycling along the road much less of a hair-raising ride, and with the massive amount of sugar in my coffee, I was quickly covered the 3.1 miles to the Miller Road/Ann Arbor-Dexter Road junction. Here I was provided with a choice: either continue down Ann Arbor-Dexter (with its wide shoulder), and add 1.6 miles (with some more hills) to my ride, or take Miller Road, with the small (nearly non-existent) shoulder. I chose the latter, since I was gambling that it was also the road less-traveled. I turned out (in my opinion) to be a wise choice, since it had long downhill sections that really allowed me to try and get to my maximum speed on 3x8. Unfortunately, at the bottom of one hill, the back of my shoe accidentally caught the bottom of my pannier, and it unhooked off the rack and was torn off the bike as it was dragged on the ground. This forced me to head back and pick it up, re-attach it, and repack it before starting off again ... to almost immediately do the same thing. (Augh!)

Once my foot-clumsiness was sorted out, I slowly climbed the hill that I found myself at the bottom of up to the 4-way Stop at Wagner road, and then slowly climbed the constructed hill taking me to the M14 overpass bridge. From there, it was mostly downhill home, and I took the opportunity (again) to cycle on 3x8; the sensation of being passed very slowly by a motor vehicle while going really fast on a bike is sensational, let me tell you. Finally, before returning home, I decided to head up Spring Road (on a whim), and noticed a really nice looking house with circular trim work and building design. As I slowly cycled past, I noticed several books lying strewn out along the driveway. Looking through them, I found a 1946 edition of Grey's Anatomy and some pulp fantasy novels. These I put in my pannier before continuing home.

I ended up cycling more than four times farther than I had ever cycled before (admittedly, in two chunks of time), and my legs are sore. Even after soaking in a hot bath for over an hour, I think that they will be complaining either tomorrow or the next day. This is not something I look forward to, but the elation of cycling such a distance really makes me happy. (My arse is quite sore, too, and I'm really thinking that if I'm going to attempt some similar distance again that I should purchase some riding shorts!)

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