There was consternation and finger wagging the evening before day three at dinner. Angst. Day two had been pretty chippy and a couple of newcomers helped take the bickering for the day over the limit.
A larger contingent of the group was talking about the possibility of cutting day three short, even more than normal, by skipping the famous pie stop (the blackberry is simply amazing, if they’re out if pecan, of course), then another few miles later in the ride, taking their total from 89 miles down to 84. Chuck and I simply didn’t believe they’d cut out the pie stop. We always stop at the pie stop. We made nice about the earlier bickering, went and got ice cream in Lake City and had some laughs. Shortly thereafter, we turned in for the night.
Day Three started, after breakfast and more talk of a short day, with cool temps, but fantastically clear skies. It was cool enough the whole ensemble of “warmer” accessories was required; arm warmers, knee warmers, vest… I even pulled out the wool socks and full-finger gloves (43° or 6 C). We met at the front of the school and the 80-ish mile day was confirmed. We split into two groups – the larger, by far, opting for the short pie-free route. Two of the horses even decided to go short (one of which had cramped up on the way home the day before after opting for the long route, so it made some sense). That left seven in the century group, and we went our separate ways…
We settled into a rhythm almost immediately and I could tell within the first few rotations that we had an excellent group. After 10 miles I had a fair inkling we were going to have a great day. We were perfectly matched up, all seven of us. We took it easy up the hills and saved the hammering for the flats and downhills. There were no breaks in the group, nobody fighting to suck wheel, just perfect turns up front and decent recovery in the rest of the line.
The pie stop, 34 miles in, was fantastic. A piece of blackberry and a Coke for me, a quick restroom visit, and we were getting ready to roll again. Next up was the cookie stop, just fifteen miles up the road. It was a fantastic pace line fifteen miles, too. Oh, and we’d traded our cross headwind for a full-on tailwind! The amount of people we passed with that group was amazing. We even elicited excited exclamations of wonder as we cruised by. Our group was the very essence of precision cycling. I can’t remember ever being in such a perfect group in a DALMAC.
We stopped in Kalkaska seven miles later to drop our cool weather gear. Chuck arranged for his wife to meet us at the McDonald’s as she headed up to the next camping point in Boyne City with their camper. A few minutes and a photo, and we were off.
With the lack of gear, the speed picked up and we quickly found our pace again. We also hit the best part of the ride, a nine mile descent that easily allowed us to keep the speed up. By the time we hit the cookie stop at mile 54, we had a 20.6-mph average and smiles on all our faces. The cookie stop was quick because we had lunch just another 14 miles up the road.
On the flats now, we kept the pace at a steady 21-23-mph. The rest at the back was huge as we were all taking fairly equal turns up front. With the light tailwind we made excellent time heading into Bellaire. A quick climb up a tough little hill and we were cruising down the back of the hill at 44-mph into town. We chose the Subway on the east part of town. Not exactly grand fare, but the other restaurants are always slammed when DALMAC comes through. We were second in line at the sub shop.
After lunch, it was 26 miles north to our next stop in East Jordan, the last rest before “The Wall”, the mighty climb of the day. It’s a 2-4% climb for 2-ish miles, followed by two tenths of a mile at upwards of 18%. It’s a brute, and the hill I set my Trek up for. We hit the rest stop at the East Jordan fire station at 89 miles, just ten left for the day, but they were the hardest ten miles of the ride. I had a Coke, and a friend suggested I suck down a Gu as it’d likely kick in just before I got to The Wall. That sounded just about great, so I did, and off we went.
The climb out of East Jordan is punchy at first. Several steep, short climbs before you hit the main road leading to the Big Dog. I kept up with the group until we hit the lead-in climb. I waved at Chad as the group sped away from me and said, “Don’t worry about me, I’m taking my sweet-@$$ time”. And that’s exactly what I did. By the time I hit the ramp to the wall, that Gu had kicked in and I had spun all of the lactic acid out of my legs. I felt fantastic as I started up the ramp.
I was in my second-to last gear, 34/24 when the ramp turned into the main climb. I took a few strokes in that gear and decided I didn’t want to pull that much weight up the climb. I opted for my last gear. 34/28. As I approached the halfway point, as has always been the case, I wondered how I’d keep from hyperventilating. I thought, for a split second, about walking – then a fella ahead of me did stop and walk. As he awkwardly tried to climb off his bike I thought, “no way I want any part of that”, and I kept on up the hill. I craned my neck to look to the top and I could see my wife up there snapping photos and cheering me on as I threw my bike from side to side with each pedal stroke. With three-quarters of the behemoth behind me I could sense victory. I could feel it. I put my head back down and reached deep, concentrating on not increasing the pedal strokes which leads to the dreaded hyperventilation… and then it got easy. The pitch eased and I sat down to spin the rest of the way to the top. 90 miles in, I fought The Wall and I won.
Mrs. Bgddy rode in with us, leading much of the way. I had one more task at hand, though. I wasn’t done.
After The Wall we have some serious rollers. As in, you head down topping 35-mph, then lose your momentum entirely halfway up the next and have to climb the rest in the baby ring. My wife got caught climbing the final roller so I asked the gang to wait up a minute. I took the lead after because I know, after a short climb, there’s the descent into Boyne City… and halfway down the hill is the City Limits Sign.
I want that sign.
The uphill was fairly smooth, not too fast, and as I crested the hill, I quickly used the downhill to ramp the speed up without giving away that I’d be going for the sign. Down in the drops I waited till the sign just came into view and I absolutely put the hammer down. Out of the saddle, head down, in the drops, pushing with everything I had… and the final City Limits sign of the day was mine. Double points, and the Yellow Jersey.
The rest of the cruise into the high school was sweet. The best DALMAC day I had ever taken part in. Perfect pace, lots of laughs, great weather, a fair tailwind, and a pace line that was second to none. I lost my 20.6-mph average on the climb out of East Jordan and The Wall, but I didn’t care. It was the best of times with my friends, and not a word of bickering the entire day. It really was a perfect ride.
I slept well that night… and I’d need it for the final push into Mackinaw City.
We were heading off-route to hit the Seven Sisters (a series of seven rollers just outside Walloon Lake) on the final day. Doug had been trying to get us to do the hills every year since I rode DALMAC, and every year we shut him down. Chuck and I had a conversation before dinner and we conspired to give Doug what he’d wanted so badly.
We saw him shortly after the conversation, in line for dinner. I said, “Hey, Doug, we’re doing the Seven Sisters tomorrow morning”. Hindsight being what it is, that doesn’t read right, but whatever. That’s what I said.
And Doug’s face lit up like a kid at Christmas. It was priceless…