Who drives more than 8 hours, does a 100-mile bike ride, then drives another 8 hours home? Well, here’s the thing...
Last winter, when I was spending a lot of time on the indoor trainer and Zwift, much of it was riding with an organized club called “The Herd”. Because we use Discord for voice chat, over time you get to know people and form friendships irrespective of where folks are physically located.
The Herd's Fast Group
Caught in Samsara!
The Herd @ LHT
Tim W. & Chris S.
Brad, Chris A., & Tim W.
Ornoth @ Little Traverse Lake
Tim W., Timm M., Brad, & Louise
Ornoth @ Grand Traverse Light
Early in the year, The Herd announced their first big real-life get-together, at the Leelanau Harvest Tour, an organized century ride in Traverse City, in the northwestern corner (the pinkie) of Michigan. Since that’s just within a day’s drive from Pittsburgh, I added it to my calendar.
In the end, we had 16 attendees: several from around Toronto, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, eastern and western Pennsylvania, but also individuals from as far away as Boston, Oklahoma, and one of the group leaders (Marius) traveled from Norway!
Several of the ride leaders had met one another before, but for others it was their first time meeting other Herd members in person. Gathering to meet "online-only" friends from various locations is a familiar feeling for me, having gone to the internet’s first-ever Chatcon in NYC in 1985, several Where’s George meetups, and having run a dozen "summits” in various locations for DargonZine, the internet writers’ group I founded in 1984.
The Herd event was extra ironic for me, because our 2005 DZ summit actually was held in Traverse City, co-hosted by a writer based in Ann Arbor. I never imagined I’d visit there once, never mind a return engagement fourteen years later!
So on the morning of Friday the 13th I hit the road, leaving Pittsburgh at 7:15am. A long drive with a bad achilles (right foot, of course) wasn’t a lot of fun. The weather was fine except for my brief passage through a rain front, but I arrived, got into my downtown hotel, and showered.
I was surprised there was no group meeting Friday evening, but that gave me the opportunity to dine at one place in Traverse City that I really wanted to hit: a Thai restaurant with the amusing (to a Buddhist) name of Samsara! Samsara (wikipedia) being the name for the endless cycle of birth, suffering, death, and rebirth, I had to get a selfie and make a couple inside jokes.
The place had no pretensions. Located in the side-back of a strip mall, with a linoleum floor, drop ceiling, and about six tables. My “ghang gahree” was delicious, but was served "Thai-hot”.
I returned to the hotel and bedded down, a little disappointed that with such a short amount of time to spend together, there was no welcoming activity before the ride. But that was tempered with the understanding that other folks might take their pre-ride preparation more cautiously than I do.
Saturday morning I grabbed some Gatorade and drove up to the Suttons Bay ride start, where the petulant ride organizers made dozens of us stand in line while they strictly waited until 7:30am for the official opening of registration. After gathering my cue sheet, wristband, and tee shirt, I pulled my bike out of the trunk and began putting everything together, happily discovering that the group’s van—where everyone was to meet up—had parked a couple spots down from me.
I don’t know why technical difficulties tend to crop up at major events, but this is where my trials began. Having brought my Nut-R mount for my GoPro action camera, when I went to attach it to my rear axle, I couldn’t close the wheel’s quick-release, even after removing the Nut-R. I feared I might not be able to ride, but Julie H. wrenched the quick-release back into shape so that it would close properly. But even then, I had trouble threading the Nut-R onto the quick-release and wound up not using it at all.
We waited around for everyone to get ready, assembled for a group photo, and rolled out about 20 minutes later than the planned 8am depart. The first 11 miles were along the Leelanau Rail Trail, providing a pleasant warm-up and the opportunity to chat, enjoy the beautiful morning, and take a few action photos.
With 16 riders all having different expectations, priorities, and experience levels, it was inevitable that the group split into fast and slower groups shortly after we left the bike path, when a gusty headwind and a couple small hills provided natural sorting mechanisms. Although we weren’t pushing it at the front, I found myself in a reduced group of five, with Brad H., Louise B., Chris A., and Tim W.
At the Mile 25 rest stop, my GPS battery was low, so I went to connect it to the portable battery I carry on long rides. I usually attach it to my handlebars with an elastic band, so I can ride and recharge the unit at the same time; however, my elastic chose that moment to disintegrate, and I discovered that I’d somehow misplaced its backup. I fell back to using an extra hair band, which only barely worked.
We began the second segment with three additional riders: Tom W., Timm M., who had flatted, and Chris S., who had paced him back to us. As the course turned north through Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, the eight of us enjoyed a delightful tailwind on a long section of smooth pavement. While pulling at the front, I amused the others by sitting up, taking my hands off the bars, and flapping my arms like a seagull leading a formation of birds.
All too soon, that segment ended at the Mile 39 rest stop, which fronted on the stunningly blue waters of Little Traverse Lake. I consulted the mechanical support dude, who remembered that new inner tubes often come wrapped with an elastic, so I happily used one of those to secure my external battery.
The next section featured consecutive rolling hills, which the group ate up without complaint, and long stretches along the banks of Lake Leelanau. We saw an occasional tree with a tiny bit of color, but that ominous hint of autumn was made up for by the brilliant gradations of blue in the lakes and the perfectly clear sky. The turquoise waters were repeatedly compared to the Caribbean.
At the next lakeside rest stop we said goodbye to Chris, Tim, Timm, and Tom, who resisted our attempts to persuade them to switch from the 65-mile route to the full hundred. Although eleven Herd riders had registered for the century, only four of us continued on: myself, Chris A., Louise, and Brad, who diligently pulled at the front, as he’d done nearly all day.
Passing through the tiny town of Northport, Louise flatted, but we were fortuitously spotted by the SAG wagon driver, who had been fetching coffee for his crew, so we were back on the road in short order.
After navigating a three-mile construction zone, we reached the end of the road: the northernmost tip of the Leelanau Peninsula, which featured a state park of the same name, as well as the Grand Traverse Lighthouse. We stopped and marveled at the high surf and the azure expanse of Lake Michigan, then returned the way we’d come, back through the road construction.
The final 25 southbound miles were a slog against the headwind we’d forgotten about on our way north. My achilles began hurting, and as the miles added up, our group of four lost cohesiveness. At the Mile 84 rest stop, the others inexplicably left without waiting for me; I promptly caught them up, but by this point we were riding at our own individual paces. The route had a fun and interesting finish: a gradual, mile-long 3% descent, followed by a mile-long 6% climb and equivalent descent right to the finish.
At 4pm I completed 101 miles, discovering that the parking lot where we’d started was almost empty. I’d expected the team to hang out at the lunch offered by the organizers, but they’d all gone back to their lodgings to shower. The four of us who had ridden the century together packed up and followed suit.
Between the easy pace, the 4pm time, and the fact that everyone else had gone home, I figured we’d ridden ridiculously slowly, but it was actually a 7h38m century, which is casual but not especially self-indulgent.
After the ride, I went back to my hotel, showered, and headed to the group’s post-ride gathering downtown at Seven Monks Taproom. I nibbled some ribs and socialized, enjoying more time with both the friends I’d ridden with and those I hadn’t. But it was awfully loud, and I was hoarse by the end of the night.
After abbreviated sleep Friday night, Saturday night was worse, with a thunderstorm that left me fully awake at 4am. I opted to try the hotel's 6am breakfast, which was utterly indefensible.
As the rain tapered off, the bleary-eyed group gathered for a final brunch meetup at the “Flap Jack Shack”. One of the odder moments was when David T. perceived a likeness between me and the portrait of Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill, then extended that idea to others in our group. We chatted and pretended to eat for an hour and a half before everyone went off on their own again: some homeward, others following their own local plans.
Tired, headachey, and nauseous, I went back to the hotel and slept for a couple hours, skipped dinner, and watched some footy until bedtime.
Having planned to be ready for group activities on Sunday, I’d booked my hotel through until Monday. After another uncomfortable night, I was up early for the long drive back to Pittsburgh. Along the way I passed the immediate aftermath of a tractor trailer that had Storrowed itself: misjudging a bridge and peeling itself open like a can opener. But the day’s real highlight was arriving home, receiving a warm welcome, and passing out in bed.
Looking back on the event, other than a couple missed social opportunities, I only had two minor disappointments. Although Herd team jerseys have been in the works for nine months, they weren’t available by the time of the ride. And the event’s date unfortunately collided with one of my favorite Pittsburgh events: the Every Neighborhood Ride, which I rode in 2018, 2017, and 2016.
But overall, it was a wonderful time. I enjoyed the ride’s route, the gentle terrain, gorgeous lakes, and especially the delightful weather. After the wettest year in recorded history last year, somehow all of my major rides with fixed dates in 2019 have had stunningly beautiful weather. And it was great being able to meet and ride with so many Herd members whom I’d previously only known online.
This was my record-setting 13th century of the year, and the final major event on my calendar. Honestly, after nine 100-mile rides in the past 12 weeks, the prospect of not having any more centuries is pretty appealing! The Herd gathering was a very rewarding and fitting way to close out the high season, and now it’s time for some well-deserved rest, healing, and a trip to the doctor to treat my achilles injury before contemplating a return to Zwift over the winter.