Great Lakes Circle Tour 2018
Does this sound like work or vacation? Picture this. You wake up at dawn with a sore back. You start the stove, make and eat breakfast, wash dishes, take down the tents, and pack up. Then you hop on your bike and pedal for 8-10 hours and stop occasionally for lunch and snack breaks. You continue to grind away for 80 or 100 miles until you get to your next campsite. You set up camp, make a fire, make dinner, eat, wash dishes, set up tents, relax in the evening and then go to bed. Sounds like a workday, right? Although it seems like manual labor and has a 9-5 rhythm to it, this is actually my favorite format of vacation.
Ryan and I started these bike trip vacations years ago. I think that we have finally hit a stride with this year’s trip to the west coast of Michigan. There were five of us in the car on the drive out to Holland, Michigan. Kyle, Hannah, Myself, Ryan, and Johanna. The car was overpacked and uncomfortable but, once we unloaded, there would be at least one of us with bike wheels on the ground for the 500 mile route up the “pinky” of the Michigan mitten. We would then drive the Mackinaw Bridge and continue the bike trip across the Upper Peninsula.
We rotated through the expeditioners and designating each person their half-day to drive the support vehicle. Everyone had time in the saddle and time behind the wheel. At any given point, we had three to four riders on the road. The fifth person would be kicking their feet up on the dashboard at the noonday lunch stop waiting for the bikers to catch up. This kept the car within reach for emergencies and for anyone to call it quits halfway through the day if they were no longer having fun. There was no pressure. Despite appearances, this was a vacation.
With four riders on the ground throughout most of the trip, we solidified our paceline strategies. Whoever was in front was pulling the group by setting the pace, minding the course, and bearing the brunt of the wind. Using the leader as a shield from the wind, the three behind him/her could rest up and wait for their turn (or “pull”) at the front. If all pulls were equally timed, each person would have 3x as much rest as work. However, part of the advantage of the paceline was that each pull could be lengthened or cut short to utilize riders who were feeling sprightly or protect those who were wearing down. The whole rotation was a largely collective decision stemming from a voiced “Next Pull!” coming from whomever felt the pace could use a fresh leader. The call echoed to the front and the leader would swerve off, slow down, and find their place in the back.
It was in the time between each call for a “Next Pull!” that the bike trip felt like a mental vacation.
If you are like me, in the course of modern life, you don’t realize how little you stop to let your brain relax. You move throughout your day from task to task and fill all the gaps of boredom with checking your phone or watching TV. Then, you relax enough to fall asleep at night and repeat the process in the morning. A dichotomy develops of either actively using your brain or cooling down and turning it off. On or off. Mentally engaged or asleep. No in-between. Riding a bike breaks that rhythm by engaging your body in an activity that won’t let you fall asleep but does not require much of your brain. Your mind is on a mental vacation and it’s sitting there in the window seat along for the ride and admiring the view.
For hours on end, I had plenty of view to admire. U.S. Bicycle Route 35 follows the coast of Lake Michigan close enough to feel the lake breeze before you see the actual lake. I say “feel” but the properties of the waterfront transcended all of the normal properties of sensory experiences. The sensation of the wind blowing up from the massive body of water would hit your skin like any blush of A.C. on a hot day; but it did not blush with artificiality. In your nostrils, it had a quality like a scentless smell of chill. Its chill was in the deepness of the lake. You would feel the lake’s depths in your breath and on your skin. In the chill on your skin, you could peer around the curve in the road and you knew. In the breeze, you knew the deepness of the blue and its sound as it licked the shore. Just as the shore, framed in a space between the trees, felt the waves. Those waves were driven by the wind; the same wind that ebbed against your skin. You could feel and smell and hear and see it all in the breath of the lake.
…And then there were the times when you got off the bike and dipped your toes in the lake and saw the whole thing for yourself.