Lessons Learned on Tour: A Shorter DALMAC Report
[Here's a punchier, more-general version of my DALMAC ride report, for those who were scared off by the length of the other one.]
I just finished my first official DALMAC bike tour (The "Dick Allen Lansing to Mackinaw Tour").
About 1000 riders tour along several different route options from mainstreet Michigan up through the farmlands to the northwoods on small roads and through small towns, for 4 or 5 days, for 300-400 miles total, then they take a group bus back home.
All ages, types and speeds do this 30+-year-old tour which is hosted by my local club, the TCBA, and run largely by club volunteers.
This tour is a bargain at about $150. They take your luggage in a truck to each school-field campsite down the road. They serve dinner and breakfast at the school cafeterias. We get our own lunches along the way during the day, but they also stops where groups put on a lunch feed.
I trained for my 4-day tour, which covers 75-100 miles a day, from Lansing north to Mackinaw City, by riding 25-mile club rides once a week. It wasn't good training, but it was enough!
DAY ONE: MSU to Mt. Pleasant
My friend Chris joined me on this tour. We rode out from our houses then had a fine blue-sky day riding north through farmland and small towns with moderate crosswinds.
Boy, there are tons of recumbents on this ride! Here's a pic of one view of the streetfront at the VFW lunch stop...
There was a night football game set to play near where our tour group was tenting on campus fields. When we got to town the drunks of Drunkville U. were already hollering in support of their team, the Fighting Drunks. As we set up our tents, clusters of them stumbled through our midst on their way, making hooting sounds---the cry of the wild drunk. Thankfully they lost because later on it was quiet---no rioting. Our little tent village slept soundly.
Here's a partial view of one of our villages...
DAY TWO: MP to Lake City
We woke up at 6:30 and packed. In the midst of it I stood up and looked around. Ours were the only tents still up. Yikes! We're left behind!
We met up with the old "Road Fox" Len Provencher and started a turtle-hare pattern that lasted the whole tour. We soon got to feeling frisky and Len waved us on. We zoomed away at 20mph. We rode hard and then took long breaks to rest our aching bones. Every time we did, for the next days, we'd glance out the cafe window or what have you and there Len would roll on by!
Observation A: In general, fast or slow we'd all meet up at rest spots soon enough. And we all took a day getting where we were going. Still, it seemed like steadiness is the best way to get there sooner (if you care). It's more effective than speed.
Observation B: Except I also noticed another thing throughout the whole tour: when I went slow I got all sore and achy. When I went fast, I felt great! I think that different bikes or set-ups like different speeds. For a slow ride you want a bike that's comfy to sit *in*---a cush seat and high bars. For speed you want a bike that lets you *float*, putting the weight of both butt and hands onto your blazing thighs. The two modes don't mix.
Another thing we noticed was how *strong* some of the women riders were. Women often seemed to be the leaders of their riding groups, pulling the strongest all day.
A local bikie is also the Lake City high school music teacher and he's the one who makes this stop-over happen. He opens the school up, etc. He then puts on a one-man music show in the evening, doing singersongwriter music on guitar and accordian. He had a friend sit in with him some. It was great! I'd even gladly pay a cover. Let's have a DALMAC Fest! Music and bikes go together.
DAY THREE: LC to Central Lake
Next day at 6 a.m. we got up and packed. When I stood up and looked around we were again the last ones! But we were getting closer.
Yet Another Observation: Another funny thing is that I started the tour with a handlebar bag and big saddlebag. But every day I left more and more stuff behind until I had just my toolbag under my saddle and my snacks in my jersey pockets. Lighter seemed so much better! Speaking of which, we noticed that the most common bikes were carbon Treks. Light! There were maybe only a dozen steel bikes. ---But almost a hundred recumbents!
One More Observation: Not many bikes or jerseys look good these days. A few nice vintage bikes and jerseys could really spruce things up.
I note that tandems make for an amazing way to make the miles go by fast and easy on a tour in fairly flatland country. It's just like with a canoe: two are faster'n'easier than one! There were lots of tandems along. They were all either male/female or male/kid. Maybe we need to see more female captains! : ) Or kid/kid or same-sex rigs!
As we hit the streets I found myself riding with our same old posse. It was funny how all during the whole tour we kept finding ourselves riding near the same people even if they were fast or slow.
I jumped in with a tandem group that blasted past hauling dozens of single bikes in its wake. It was the fast elevator to the front of the ride. When our tandem train rolled into the first big rest stop 25 miles into the ride all my pals who'd started when we were still packing our tents were just arriving. They were surprised to see me. Now that's the way to make up time!
I waited for Chris then he and fell in with a mid-range group of a dozen team-jersey riders. An attractive pro racer girl was the strongest of their bunch. Suddenly Chris was riding extra hard! His cape was flying. Later that evening he realized that he'd hurt his knee. Ironically that was the same hill that last year I hurt *my* knee on while trying to keep up with a gal friend from old days on Mackinaw Island. Ah yes, another lesson learned. Keep cool! No showing off!
Later on these team people started getting wobbly but didn't slow down. Two of the guys had 3 total near-crash incidents. They were strong and had fast, superlight bikes, but didn't know when they were over their heads. Lesson!
My take on sketchy riders is that I'm able to avoid most of their glitches without getting too fretful. My rule is "Refuse to crash!" You can't take a lot of bumping, bashing and crazy action without going down with that mindset.
We finally gave up the action stuff and stopped for peaches at an orchard.
We had lunch in Elk Rapids by all that deep blue-green water that flows through town to the lake. Then we rode up the shore of Torch Lake, where the Labor Day partiers were in full swing with a raft of over a hundreds boats out on the sparkling blue waters.
I find myself torn. There's the sightseeing and lollygagging. Then there's the racer blasters. I like both approaches. But the combination causes tension in my brain. Basically, this whole tour has been a sensory overload for me. There've been conflicting signals coming every which way.
We meet a 10-yr-old boy who's been doing centuries for years already. He looks and acts like a regular boy. I've seen quite a few kids about 10 years old on this ride, with their families, some on singles, some tandems. There's also quite a few fast riders in their 70's as well. Including tiny Wolverine lifer TJ Hill who wears a feather in his helmet and who sang an amazing rousing union song for us all at the music show.
My club pals Dave and Doug are nice enough to invite us to ride with them each morning. But their fast pace is a hard way for us to start the day, at least on this first tour. Yet if I don't start with them sometime then I'll never see them again on a given day. So I decide to join them the next morning. Chris wants to stick with sightseeing.
DAY FOUR: CL to Mackinaw City!
Chris was woken up earlier than anyone due to naughty-kid firecrackers. I didn't hear a thing, but his camp zipper zipping woke me up. We're packed a half hour earlier yet. We finally start with the main group!
Even More Observation: The food lines are a fun place to meet and visit with people even though I normally can't tolerate lines.
I wonder about the demographics of this crowd. I bet it's changed since the 70's. Their 6 a.m. wake-up seems pretty Type-A! But I'm not vexed by the early rising. All those zippers in the morning are quite the unusual alarmclock.
I've heard that Special Forces troops camp so much that they like to always look good. They use electric razors in the bush and don't even get their clothes messy. They know how to stay clean and it's important to them for morale because they camp most of each year. Steve Landick, a canoe adventure hero, was a Navy Seal. A friend watched him break camp once. He wakes up and slowly crawls backwards out of his tent, packing things behind him as he goes. When he stands up he has two small packed duffles at his feet. No wasted motions. We tried to imitate such skills and find ourselves packing much better.
Sure enough the day my fast club pals start fast. I blast with their superfast tandem for the first hour but then due to lingering morning cobwebs I get dropped in some rollers and wait up for Chris. This tandem is stoked by another amazing woman rider---she got voted for having the best legs in the USA by Bicycling magazine. I can see why!
This was going to be my first 100-mile day in decades!
A Final Observation: Many people wore longsleeves and tights all day every day even though it was in the high 70's. That was weird!
Near the end there were a couple lovely stretches of twisty, humpy road along the big lake, with harbors and boats beckoning. Chris's knee hurt but I just loved blasting through these sections. I finished the day's century ride just flying along in my big gear...and finally catch up with Len "The Road Fox" at our final stop in Mackinaw City.
Chris and I had a great time on DALMAC. We're thinking of getting our wives to do it next year. We'll pick the slower 5-day route. There should be more families on it and a mellower overall tone, less temptation to go fast. We plan to bring a picnic with us each day. And to pack lighter so we can include post-ride appetizer supplies in our duffles: prosciutto, old cheese, sourdough, olives, wine. That'll tide us over til we have to stand in the dinner line. Oh yeah!
Maybe some year I'll go the fast way instead and meet up with my clubbies each morning and see how that goes.
It takes all kinds!