I had been anticipating the first day of DALMAC, the Dick Allen Lansing to Mackinaw City tour, like an eight-year-old looks forward to Christmas morning… on Christmas eve. I hardly slept, had my gear packed days early, my trusty 5200 tuned, perfect, and ready to roll with a brand new chain, new rubber, new brake and shift cables… the camper was squared away and packed – I’d even built a new bike rack for the camper top Monday evening. I was about to spend some of the most enjoyable time I spend all year long with my wife and friends, doing nothing more than my favorite things to do…
At 6 a.m., we were off to Lansing.
In a rare fluke, the Weather Channel said we had four rain-free days of cycling ahead. We had a chance of showers at our first destination, but that wasn’t going to hit till well after we’d arrived in town. The next three days were clear and sunny, but cool. I can do cool and sunny with a smile on my face.
Day one we had a barely there breeze from the west to start. Considering we had a lot of west to knock out early, we didn’t wait around to smell the roses. The group got smashed to pieces in the State’s Capital by stop lights. I was in the second, largest group. Three had rushed a yellow light and were up the road a ways, and we had a fairly large contingent a couple of minutes behind us. We caught the three up the road and decided to take it easy to the first rural town – we’d get out of the Capital City’s traffic, then pull over and wait at the first party store/gas station we came to. Just an hour in and we had about half of our headwind miles knocked out and we were regrouped.
Once together, though, it was a rude awakening. We had a double pace line, ten in each line, and after my first pull up front, I tapped out, rolled back… and just two bikes back a hole had opened up. There were seven riders on my side alone who wanted to suck wheel and only three willing to do any work. The other side was no better. 23 miles into a 377 mile ride and I was beside myself. It was going to be a loooooooonnnnnng weekend.
Shortly thereafter, one of my buddies who could pull took two who wouldn’t and headed up the road on the short route. The rest of us were in for 100 miles of fun. We had six horses in the sixteen or seventeen left.
I noticed a problem, which is rare form for me once I get to going because I get “cycling brain” – a little fuzzy, the calculator just takes a little longer to spit out the answer. Those who ride a lot will know exactly what I mean. Part of the problem was definitely those who wouldn’t pull through, but I saw we had a huge problem up front – and that’s where the problem started. If the pace is too fast or too hard on the hills, no wonder so few would pull through – they were afraid to lose their draft.
Pace line cycling, without consistency, turns into a cluster f*** so fast your head will spin. If you’ve got people charging up hills or half-wheeling, it turns the back into slop. If you’ve got ten people who won’t pull, they get strung out and start to yo-yo. They’re actually working 10 to 20% harder than the people up front just to stay in contact. We actually had one rare occurrence where two half-wheeler’s ended up side-by-side and up front at the same time.
If you’ve never seen what one half-wheeler can do to a pace line, it’s comical. Two next to each other is a rare catastrophe. The pace went from 21-mph into the wind, up to 28 within a minute and the two up front were entirely oblivious to what they were doing. One would pull ahead a half-length, then the other would pull ahead a half-length, then the other, and so on. One was a woman with a hell of an engine and an inferiority complex. The other, a guy from her home town, I couldn’t peg, though I’d put money on the fact he wasn’t going to let her half-wheel him. Anyway, I finally said something – it was going to be horrific if that $#!+ didn’t get sorted and in a hurry.
We stopped for lunch (!) at mile 50 in Ionia, and I was absolutely stoked for the rest. It’d turned into a rough morning with a whole bunch of headwind eaten, but our luck was about to change as we fired down our last bite of Subway. Just six miles of headwind remained for the day. The rest was just cross headwind.
Folks, it was sunny, breezy, and warm. Arm warmers were in back pockets and we were crunching out the miles, the only plus to being one of six willing to work was that there was a draft in the front four. Back of that, it was a mess. I tried going back there a few times but ended up jumping gaps to get back up to the front again.
The next 49 miles were a blur. I can’t remember much of what went on but there wasn’t much pretty about it. There were mistakes all over the place, which led to frayed nerves, which led to irritation as those nerves were lit up like a Christmas tree with a fair amount of headwind and wheel sucking. The folks up front were pissed those at the back wouldn’t help, and those at the back were pissed because the pace was too hard and inconsistent up front.
On the other hand, on reflection, I actually maintained a fair attitude through it all, though I had a tendency to bark orders to a couple of hammers in particular, but I was still cracking jokes 80 miles in. The group broke up shortly after as several of us decided to take a shortcut to get out of some headwind.
We pulled into Vestaburg High School and I still had enough in me to complete a loop with Sue and Chuck to make it an even 100 miles for the day.
And we sorted out the day’s problems at dinner. Just as the downpour hit. It was huge. I joked about looking for wood to build an ark. My buddy Mike would later call and ask if he could stay with my wife and I in our camper as his tent’s rain-fly had sprung a leak. His stuff was drenched. Day two looked more promising, with the exception of more cross-headwind, because it seemed as though we worked out what needed to be fixed earlier in the day.
It had to be better. All was forgiven and we were laughing again, though. After the rain ended we walked to the ice cream shop on the edge of town and had a few laughs before turning in for the night. It’s a rare day I sleep that well, but sleep I did. I was exhausted.
To be continued….