Sunday, July 22, 2007

Story - Tour de Michigan - Part 1 - Getting There

Some time during 1991 my friend Abdul asked me what I thought about doing a race out in Michigan named the Tour of Michigan.

As you may know, anything that starts with "Tour of" usually means time trials and road races, two event types which I, well, suck at.

So to have someone ask me about doing any "Tour of", especially halfway across the country, would normally get me all defensive.

"Um, I don't have a time trial bike."

Okay, so I had one. It was even a sort of double disk (wheel covers but hey, I couldn't afford the real thing). It had a cutting edge 24" front wheel, 17mm tubulars... So that excuse didn't cut it.

But my road bike... I'd have to convert my bike from a crit monster to a road racing bike.

Meaning take the 45T off, replace with a then 42T small ring, take the 12-21 and put a 12-23 on. Put my light wheels on. And finally my 43 cm bars (not my 41's) which entails redoing tape and possibly cables.

In other words, a real pain.

I took a breath to start spewing out my standard excuses when Abdul continued.

"I figured you'd like this because it's eight 25 mile crits in ten days. And there are no hills."


Did someone create a dream stage race just for moi?

He showed me a flyer - I think it was in Velonews.

Cat 3's.

That would be me.

And 4's.

Oooh. Lots of pack fodder.

25 miles each race. Whatever, it was more than 15 miles.

Night crits. Oooh. Never did a night crit.

20 places a day. Twenty! I could place every day.

But it's in Michigan. And that could be like, you know, half way around the world.

I knew it was otherwise. I'd recently done my trip around the country, one that started during Desert Shield and ended under Desert Storm. During that trip I stayed in youth hostels everywhere. Met lots of people. Had a blast. And saved money, at least from a housing point of view. From that trip I also knew about driving long distances - 7 AM to 2 AM, breaks for gas, food, and bathrooms (not in that order). Michigan, if we had two drivers, was one day away.

Easy cheesy.

We committed and sent in our entry fee - $90 or something like that.

We started planning things. Since I didn't have a reliable car (the hood was bashed up and held in place by a Miami Vice pink toe strap), we decided to take Abdul's. He had a trusty Honda CRX Si. Since we committed to eight races, we decided to bring two bikes each and I think four sets of wheels (i.e. two extra sets each). Fitting four bikes and sixteen wheels in a CRX is a bit tough. But we had to make it work. It would be horrible if we went there, stacked it on the first day, wrecked a frame, and sat around for the next nine days watching the other race.

We collected what roof rack things we could gather and stuck a lot of it on the roof. We each had a gear bag and each had a "regular" bag for normal clothing.

We called the promoter and asked about housing since the flyer said there'd be volunteer families hosting racers. They promised to hook us up with a local racer family at the first race in Muskegon, MI. All we had to do was get there.

So, armed with my trusty AYH directory, we booked a couple beds in the local Muskegon hostel.

And one early morning in August, I drove to Abdul's, we packed our stuff, stuck my radar detector somewhere up on the dash, and set off.

We figured, based on looking at (paper) maps, that we could get there in about 15 hours of driving. Figure Chicago is a little less than that. As a sort of diversion we'd go through Canada. Hopefully, with a smaller population, they also had less traffic.

I think Abdul drove a bit at the beginning and then I drove through a lot of New York. Then he took over as we went into Canada. Unfortunately we didn't realize that the highway didn't connect the Niagara Falls area with the Detroit area of Canada - there was a section where we had to drive on local roads.

We also realized we were falling behind schedule. And when that happens, well, you have to pick up the pace. With Abdul piloting we started really pushing the car, cruising at about 95-100 mph between groups of vehicles. The temp needles were pegged - coolant (or maybe oil or both?) temperature and tach was up there. We drove with the gas pedal literally on the floor of the car.

And this was on a two lane, non-highway road.

(Incidentally I do not recommend doing this - it's extremely dangerous.)

We continued our frenzied pace once we got back onto highways. When we came up to trucks the car would creep up to about 112 mph due to the drafting effect. Then we'd pull around and the car would slow back down to 106 or so.

The bikes on the roof were a real drag but we simply didn't have room inside. So we kept up our insane pace.

Once back into the US by Detroit, the highways got wider and the speed limit stratospheric - I think 70, maybe 75 mph. We maintained our high pace. I know I was driving for a bit and could feel the instant we started entering a truck's slipstream - it was about 100-120 yards away. I'd approach as close as I dared, pick up maximum speed, and swing out to pass. Then the slow let down as the car eased back to its normal cruising speed.

Finally, sometime late in the evening, we approached Muskegon, a smallish town on the edge of Lake Michigan. We found the Youth Hostel and checked in. They had some cute new-born kittens tumbling around and a few adults were already checked in and hanging around. One professed to be a plumber "between jobs" or something to that effect.

I'd told Abdul I needed to get a haircut - the whole "I want more ventilation" thing. I'd brought along a buzzer type cutter specifically for this reason. I also figured that Abdul couldn't mess up my hair too much - just cut a shorter fitting on the sides and a slightly bigger fitting on the top.

We set up in one of the public bathrooms and Abdul started cutting my hair. Big, black clumps of hair started falling everywhere. He kept clicking his tongue - the kind of clicks you make when you make a mistake.

I started rethinking this whole haircut thing. Maybe a Sinead O'Connor look would be acceptable. After all, no one out here knew me.

The plumber walked over to the buzzing and watched. It was apparent that Abdul was out of his element.

"Hey you want me to cut your hair?"
"You? I thought you were a plumber!" I said.
"Well, I was a hairdresser before I was a plumber."

Abdul looked at me. I looked at Abdul. I shrugged.


I steeled myself for some scalp cuts, ear nicks, and other haircutting disasters (I already gave up hope on the actual haircut).

Plumber Man started buzzing away. He actually seemed pretty competent. He even got the scissors and did that thing that hairdressers do - gather hair with one hand (using a comb) and cut with the other.

Abdul ran off and came back with a camera. I guess he simply couldn't resist.

This is what he saw:

When Plumber Man was all done, I had been sheared like a sheep. I asked Abdul how it looked.

He hesitated.

"Not that good."

When you hesitate and then answer a bad answer, it's got to be really, really bad.

I think I was too tired to care. My head felt cooler and I decided it was a good thing.

We sacked out on our respective beds, looking forward to tomorrow's opening day.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I ... cannot ... believe ... that the bikes actually stayed attached at that speed! On the way to vacation, I won't drive much over 70 - but then again, I must not have our bikes strapped down as good . . .