Thursday, September 6, 2007

Planes, Trains and Semi-Trucks

I’m back from Dalmac and we had a great time. The team performed well. Even those who were a bit short on the training side did fairly well. The first day was actually the most difficult. I totaled 84 miles on mostly flat roads. It would seem that flat roads would be to one’s advantage, but it was very warm and humid and the wind that helped us as we left Lansing, turned on us early in the afternoon. The roads were also very busy and in poor condition over the last ten miles which made for a fairly miserable finish to the day. Cold showers were followed by a hot meal and we lay down to rest around 9:30 after devotions and our CIA water bottle distribution.

Our camp site was about 75 feet away from a set of train tracks. We wondered if they were still active. 11:45 pm it was officially confirmed that they were, indeed, still in use. A diesel engine came through and lay on the air horn as it passed our tents. About 45 minutes later (just as I was fully back into REM sleep) he returned with loaded cars that groaned and screeched for at least ten minutes.


Thursday found us heading for Lake City - the highest point in lower Michigan. My mapping program says that we gained almost 600 ft by the end of the day. What it doesn’t say is that we went back down quite a bit, too. But it was great weather and lunch was spectacular at Lake George Campground. Part of the day was in much prettier surroundings than the first day. It was Andrew Smith’s birthday, and we all had ice-cream to celebrate - even though he stayed back in the camp asleep in his tent. There was a band playing down by the lake and we had a great time relaxing after another nearly 80 mile day.

Our camp was at the Lake City High School. More cold showers, but thankfully, no train tracks. There was, however, M-55 just a little way from our tent. All night long, semi trucks came into town gearing down and making an awful racket. At least the trains had only come through twice. There must have been 20 trucks throughout the night. The next morning, we would joke that all we needed now was to find a campsite at the end of a runway.


Friday morning was COLD! I put on my warmer gear and hopped on the bike early heading out with Cleo and John. They can flat out fly! Friday’s ride went from Lake City to Central Lake High School at the north end of Torch Lake. I left the others behind and rode with the two speedies as far as Williamsburg (between Traverse City and Kalkaska). What a beautiful ride! The road is rolls and twists around lakes and rivers. There were some pretty challenging hills along the way but far more interesting than the flats. One cool thing was connecting with the only guy who refused one of our water-bottles. I didn’t set out to do it, but he and I ended up riding together for several miles and struck up a conversation at a rest stop. For the rest of the week he was cordial and I hope we gave him a different view of church people.

My purpose in going ahead on this particular day was the chance to connect with my three grand-daughters who live about 3 miles from Williamsburg. They (and mom, Hope) came down to visit with me. We had a great time and shared a huge cookie. The rest of the day took us around beautiful Torch lake. Everyone was having a great time with the more interesting, even if more challenging, terrain. There was one last good climb over the hill from Torch Lake to Central Lake. I had been riding with Sharon Garner for much of the afternoon, but left her at the top of the hill to enjoy a downhill blast into town. I hit 44 mph - my record for the week. Our camp was behind the high school, away from traffic. It was a blissfully quite night, except for the snoring symphony. (I’m told I joined in on the chorus.) The showers were even a bit on the warmish side. Sharon stayed in a B & B just down the street from the camp - we were all quite jealous! Total miles for the day: 80.5.


Saturday was the shortest of the days. It was also the steepest. We got into the hills first thing. There is a steep climb out of Central lake and then right back down again. (I hit 43 on that one but took it easy because of rumors of very rough and dangerous roads ahead). I enjoyed riding with Mark Weishar for most of the morning. There were some beautiful places to stop and enjoy the view and take photos. We arrived in East Jordan before lunch and knew that “the wall” lay ahead. There is a mile or two of slow climbing out of East Jordan and then the road turns a corner and it goes up the steepest paved road in lower Michigan. It is a tough climb. I was really hurting when I heard Chisom, Jen and Andrew yelling encouragement. It is amazing what that can do for you...that and the prideful unwillingness to admit defeat in front of friends.

The rest of the day was hardly less challenging. More hills lay ahead and the long descent into Pellston was preceded with one last brutal climb. As tough as the hills were, we all made every mile and lived to brag about it. We set up camp on the grounds of Pellston High school. The showers were the coldest yet. We got camp set up, showered and relaxed in the tent while we waited for dinner. We had just settled in when a twin engine cargo plane began its approach to Pellston airport right over our campsite. The absurdity of it set us off into gales of laughter. By sunset a couple Lear jets, a Gulf Wing, assorted private planes, another cargo plane and a Northwest commuter jet had passed overhead. Mercifully, they don’t do night landings at Pellston “International”. Total miles for the day: 63.3


Sunday was absolutely gorgeous. We were up early to make the time cutoff for crossing the bridge. The road was good and mostly a slow downhill - with a tail-wind. I rode in with Paul Curtis and we averaged nearly 16 mph. We arrived in good time and connected with the rest of the group for photos down by the Straits park with the bridge in the background. Then we gathered at the van, Chisom donned the helmet cam and we headed up and over. Crossing the bridge in a car is interesting, but nothing like crossing on a bicycle. We only made about 7 mph on the climb due to other riders ahead, but nobody was in a hurry. The water was a deep aqua blue and the sky as clear and blue as could be. The height and wind made a few of us nervous, but everyone crossed without incident and joined the fellowship of only a few thousand persons who have crossed the Macinac Bridge by bicycle.

We connected with Doug Maier, our sag-wagon driver, on the other side, put the helmet cam away and said good-bye to Paul who took the ferry boat to Mackinac Island to meet with his family. The wind was getting stronger, but for the most part, would be in our favor for the rest of the day. It was fortunate that it helped us, because there were gusts up into the high 20 mph range and it was steady at 20 to 22 mph. As a result, we flew toward De Tour Village. The route took us along the northern shore of Lake Huron. We stopped several times to take photos along the way, but still brought our average up to the 17 mph range for the day. I was only a mile out of town when Marcia passed me in a black suburban with the plate “JETDRVR”. (Thanks Dan and Sonya for the use of your vehicle.) We all made it in with time to spare, got everything sorted out and headed for home: tired, sunburned and victorious.

Total Miles for the week: 388.5
Total Time on the Bike: 25:04:31
Average Speed 15.5 mph
Maximum Speed: 44 mph


This trip was promoted and supported as a CIA event. I can’t say enough for Doug Maier who took the load for most of the hands-on work with giving out water, Propel packets, apples and granola bars to many riders. Doug did a great job of connecting with people and letting them know that Faith Church cares about people. Each evening, Doug would have stories of different people he connected with, giving them a card or water bottle as seemed appropriate.

The water bottle distribution went great. We had many people stopping us to ask what it was about and we were able to promo the teaching series I will be doing in October. The video Chisom took with the helmet cam will be utilized with the series as well. As far as I know, only one person turned down a bottle - the aforementioned person with whom I later connected. We saw our bottles in use on many bikes throughout the ride.

We also rode with a number of persons who are unchurched or de-churched. I, personally, had some very significant conversations with several persons and a couple guys in particular. We also have received a couple notes via e-mail thanking us for our work this last week. I love being able to represent Christ in a very different venue. I love being out where unchurched and de-churched people outnumber us. I love it when “they” express pleasant surprise at encountering muscular, adventurous and friendly Christians. I love my job and the people I get to rub shoulders with.

Thanks to the whole team who made this event a success: Chisom Wilson and Jennifer Neal, Cleo Townsend and his son-in-law John Hughes, Sharon Garner, Paul Curtis, Mark Weishar, Andrew Smith and the best support person we could ask for, Doug Maier. We missed having you along, Joel Gorveatte, wherever you are!

Several persons have expressed interest in doing the ride next year. I hope I haven’t given the impression that the entire trip is about hurting and struggling. Most people, with a good measure of training before hand, can make this journey. There were people who were quite overweight out there and the ages ran from young children to octogenarians. There are hardships, yes, but also hours of enjoying freedom and beauty you can’t see any other way. Friendships were initiated and deepened. Memories that will last a lifetime were created. And isn’t it the overcoming of hardship and the common experience of defeating them, that gives us more to share and makes us ready to face those more significant challenges that come to us in day to day living?

About the photo: It has nothing to do with Dalmac or bicycles. I Googled "planes trains automobiles" and this came up. Too wierd not to use


BJ said...

Sounds like a great experience...I walked to my car today:

Distance travelled: 20 yards
Average speed: 5mph
Max speed: 6mph
Elapsed time: 30 seconds

AND my blood pressure is 118/68

Don Williams said...

So much more than a bike trip. It was amazing to hear the stories of connecting with total strangers and showing them that God loves cyclists too!

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