One Helluva Ride

July 12, 2003

Chelsea, Michigan

86.6  miles

Bicycle:  Co-Motion Americano

Ride Info:  Ann Arbor Bicycle Touring Society

Hell is a tiny, unincorporated town northwest of Ann Arbor, Michigan. I drove there once in 1994, but since people keep telling me to go there, I figured it was time for a return. One Helluva Ride is an annual event put on by the Ann Arbor Bicycle Touring Society. I decided to do this ride as soon as I saw the design for the jersey. It showed the devil riding a bicycle, crouched low over his aero-bars. Since my large jerseys were starting to fit a little loose on me, I figured this was a good time to buy a medium one. I also thought it was appropriate that the event was held during the Tour de France, an event that many cycling fans associate with the devil (a legendary fan dressed like the devil runs alongside the riders as they struggle up the climbs). Since I had never ridden in Michigan before, this was also an opportunity to add a 14th state to my list of those where I've ridden a bicycle.

After the usual debate about which bike to ride, the winner (surprise, surprise) was my Americano. At least the debate motivated me to change the rear tire on my Bike Friday. I unscrewed the Americano's S+S couplings to fit it inside the car. Although the couplings are touted for air travel, they are quite handy for autos, as well.

I spent Friday night at the Motel 6 in Jackson, Michigan, the "birthplace of the Republican Party" (the town, that is, not the motel). The forecast called for rain, which did not please this fair-weather rider, especially on top of the 15 mph winds that were predicted. Alas, there was nothing I could do about it, so I went to bed early, around 10 PM (I only had 3-1/2 hours of sleep the night before).

On Saturday morning at 6 AM, I was pleasantly surprised--okay, euphoric--to see dry pavement and clear skies outside my motel room. I got on the road quickly. On the radio, I hoped to find an appropriate tune for my journey to Hell. AC/DC's "Highway to Hell" would have been ideal, but instead I found Bob Seger's "Roll Me Away." "Roll Me Away" is a motorcycling song, but considering that this was Michigan, Bob Seger fit perfectly. Although I'm not much of a Seger fan (because my parents played Seger way too much when I was a kid), I have always liked that song.

It was a short drive on I-94 to Chelsea, where signs directed me to the fairgrounds. I picked up my jersey, T-shirt and map, along with a wristband that we needed to have to get lunch. Back at the car, I assembled my bike and began my pre-ride routine. Uh-oh, where's the sunscreen? The answer: in the rack pack I used on my mountain bike last weekend, which, of course, was not the one sitting on my Americano. Oh well, I had seen two drug stores on the way through town, so I'd just stop there. As I headed out, two women were checking everyone for their wristbands. They stopped me until I fished it out of my jersey pocket. Hey, I may have been riding to Hell, but I wasn't going to wear the mark of the Beast on my wrist!

I attempted to stop at the drug stores, but one didn't open until 8 AM, while the other didn't open until 9 AM. .I guess I am spoiled from living in the city where a lot of stores are open at all hours. I thought to myself that if I didn't find sunscreen, I might look like the devil by the end of the day!

There were a lot of people on this ride--the first 1400 got ride patches, including me (not sure what I'll do with it--I haven't collected event patches since Boy Scouts, and I never did anything with the stack I accumulated then). Predictably, the first 10-15 miles were spent sorting out riders of various paces. Every so often a paceline would fly past, and occasionally I'd overtake a slower rider or two. The route was marked with pitchforks painted on the roads. My mental music for this section was from the Grateful Dead: "I may be going to Hell in a bucket, baby, but at least I'm enjoying the ride."

In the town of Dexter, I found a grocery store. I rushed in, hoping to get my sunscreen quickly. No such luck. There was a company there doing inventory, so there were lots of people but none of them knew where anything was. After asking half a dozen people, I was finally directed to a small selection of sunscreen on an endcap next to the insect repellent. There were many SPF 4 tanning lotions, which made me wonder if perhaps these people had never heard of skin cancer or been lectured by friends with nursing degrees enough to know better. The only other choice was a pink bottle of Water Babies sunscreen. Cute, but it was SPF 45, so I didn't care how ridiculous it looked. When I got home I intended to put it into a smaller clear plastic bottle anyway. The single checkout line was predictably long, but my bike was still there when I got out, so I guess everything was okay. I slopped on a bunch of baby sunscreen, stuffed the bottle into my rack pack and got back on the course.

From Dexter, it was only another ten miles to Hell. It was rather disappointing that Hell came so early in the day (since in my mind, that was the climax of the ride), but judging from the traffic north of Dexter, the route was set up to get past the busiest roads early. The terrain was gently rolling and I felt pretty good. I began to debate whether to stay with the 76-mile route or go for the century instead. Since I had another 30 miles to go before the split, I decided not to decide.

All through this section of the ride, I had Chris Rea's "The Road To Hell" going through my head. I hadn't thought about that song in quite a while. I got a good laugh out of the street I turned on to actually go to Hell. It was called Darwin Road. I thought surely some creationists were responsible for labeling Darwin as the road to Hell! Darwin Road was rather rough, with lots of bumps and occasional chunks of pavement missing.

Hell was located on Hell Creek, which was fitting because that meant it was in a valley. Soon, I descended into Hell. Coming into town, I saw a sign denoting that this was "a D.A.R.E. community." Sure, lots of towns are, but something about daring to go through Hell amused me. There wasn't much in Hell, just a general store, a couple of restaurants and a few other buildings. The sign board in front of the store said, bluntly, "Welcome to Hell." There was no post office to send letters from Hell, but the store sold postcards with predictable lines like "It's Hell here without you." The store also had T-shirts and other items, but I had purchased my share of souvenirs the last time I was there. There is probably more potential for merchandising there. A friend wondered if they sold pitchforks. I think Hell snowglobes would be a hoot (perhaps with "Chicago Cubs World Series Champions"). Or how about bottling "official" Hell ice water?

This view looks back at my descent into Hell.

Enter Hell... if you D.A.R.E.!

Hell Country Store says, "Welcome to Hell!"

Notice that the mercury fills the thermometer to the top!

A pole with a bunch of directional signs and distances (which always makes me think of M*A*S*H) pointed to places like Devil's Lake, ND Purgatory, CO and Amityville, NY. Incidentally, it was easy to tell the local cyclists from the visitors. The locals barreled right through Hell, but the visitors stopped to check it out. I think I was the only one taking pictures, but hey, I'm a seasoned cyclotourist! One of the features of Hell was the "official Hell weather station" with forecasts like "hotter than Hell," "colder than Hell," "gone to Hell" and "run like Hell."

Hell wasn't quite as infernal as Dante made it sound.

Accurate and dependable, here's your local forecast...

Here's proof that my Americano has been to Hell and back.

Inspired by this, I headed back onto the road like a bat out of Hell (no Meatloaf, please!) with Pink Floyd's "Run Like Hell" in my head. The road was still rough.The highway department used a coarse stone surface (as often seen in Wisconsin) rather than smooth asphalt like in Illinois. After a few miles (and a short detour onto a deserted dirt road for a "nature break"), I was out of the valley of Hell Creek. Finally, I hit a stretch of smooth road. I chuckled at the thought that this must be the road to Hell that's paved with good intentions!

Here I prepared to rise up from Hell...

The first rest stop was in Gregory, 27 miles from the start. Aside from mildly rusty water, it was okay. As I pulled out, a tandem stopped on the road and a woman jumped off to retrieve her keys from the ground. I've always been afraid I would lose my keys somewhere on a ride and not be able to find them, so I was glad to see that this fate didn't befall her. This stretch of the ride was where I first noticed the wind. It came mostly from the west at perhaps 12-15 mph. It was enough to slow me down a bit, but not enough to frustrate me. There were also more hills than earlier, but they were nothing compared to the Horribly Hilly Hundred. In fact, I didn't need the smallest chainring even once all day.

The pitchfork pointed the way to the first rest stop.

In Stockbridge, I stopped at a gas station to buy some rust-free water. I drank a lot of water that day, so much that I couldn't believe the total when I added it all up later: at least two gallons during the ride, plus two or three quarts the rest of the day. It wasn't even an especially hot day, with temps somewhere between 75 and 80 degrees. I recently read an article that said that the body excretes more electrolytes when it gets dehydrated in order to maintain a proper balance. From that, I surmised that if I drank more water, I wouldn't need to take as many Succeed! capsules. This was a bit of a revelation because I had thought, judging from the salty crust on my brow, that my problem was that I was losing too many electrolytes, when in fact that was just my body compensating for not having enough water. Since I drank so much on One Helluva Ride, I only took four capsules all day, much less than the one-per-hour that worked in the past, and had excellent results. After a short conversation with a woman who was wondering about the ride, I continued out of town. The next fifteen miles or so were pretty uneventful, just a pleasant ride on low-traffic roads on a beautiful day. At that point, I was feeling great. I was still debating whether to go for the century, but I had another five miles or so to decide.

Then, as I came over a hill, I saw something ominous. Just past the next intersection, a police car blocked the road. Beyond, several emergency vehicles were parked on the highway. I immediately assumed the worst, that a cyclist was hit by a car. I was among the first twenty or so riders to come to the roadblock. Another cyclist said they weren't letting anyone through and asked if anyone knew a good detour. We consulted our route maps, but they showed only the roads that were on our route, so we couldn't find an alternate. There was more confusion as riders piled up behind and news trickled out from the accident scene. Yes, it was a cyclist. However, he wasn't hit by a car. He had a heart attack. He was dead, and the road was closed until the medical examiner came out to the scene. An older rider, old enough to have better manners/respect/sensitivity but obviously lacking, pulled up through the crowd. "What's the hold-up?" he asked. We informed him that a cyclist had died up the road, so it was closed. "Oh, is that it? So why can't we go through?" We explained that the medical examiner was coming. "Oh, so we have to wait for the medical examiner," he exclaimed with some exasperation and impatience. I was very close to letting the guy have it, and no doubt several others would have joined in. Fortunately, he dropped his attitude and shut up.

When someone representing the ride finally came to talk to us (granted, he had bigger concerns than what to do with us), he said that we could ride the "family route" backward to get to the lunch stop. I headed out quickly, not wanting to waste more time or dwell on what had happened on the road ahead. The hills here were the toughest on the route, and I couldn't imagine why this was part of the family route. Then it hit me. Duh, I was riding the route in reverse--for the family riders these were downhills! Then I realized that because of the road closure, all the kids and leisure riders I had seen were going to have to turn around and go back up these hills. Yikes. I hope it didn't ruin anyone's ride, but I'm sure it was hard for some of them. I also hoped the kids weren't freaked out about what had happened.

The lunch stop was at Portage Lake State Park. There was an entrance fee for cars, but not for bikes. To my surprise, the atmosphere was quite festive. Either people didn't know what happened or weren't talking about it. I must confess that a rider having a heart attack didn't affect me quite like a rider being hit by a car would (the latter having more "it could have been me" immediacy), but it still made me feel uneasy. An Ann Arbor cycling shop offered recumbent test rides in the parking lot. There was a stereo system, and a guy played a handheld keyboard between oldies. At the lunch tent, I pulled my wristband from my jersey pocket and showed it to get in. It was a make-your-own sandwich line which I, as a picky eater, preferred over the way most rides that include lunch do it. It was self-serve, except two young girls served the turkey and the onions. I could see why they wouldn't want someone hogging all the turkey (how's that phrase for mixing species?), but I didn't understand why the onions were rationed. Most likely they just wanted to keep both girls busy.

The detour onto the family route had added ten miles to my day, and I decided not to do the century route. I still felt great, though, and my average speed thus far was 15.2 mph. As I pedaled out of the parking lot at the park, a couple came in with a tandem towing a baby trailer, except there was a small dog inside. My wife keeps saying I should take our dogs along in a trailer, but the two of them would be over 125 pounds! The next few miles were nicely shaded with little traffic. The ten miles to the last rest stop passed very quickly. I topped off my water bottles there and continued. With 15 miles to go, I felt strong and passed a number of other riders who weren't doing as well. When the route turned north, I found that the wind had changed direction from morning to afternoon and now came mostly from the north. It didn't bother me much, though. I was "in the zone," to use a tired phrase. In fact, I just about hammered the last seven miles, often climbing out of the saddle. It felt good to be light enough and strong enough to do that more often than I used to. Two girls in front of a farmhouse were passing out free water and lemonade, but I had too much adrenaline pumping to stop, so I just smiled and waved as I passed.

The miles passed in a blur, and soon I was riding into Chelsea. I passed a couple on two mountain bikes pulling matching trailers one carried a baby and the other carried a dog. Back at the fairgrounds, I rode straight to the car, bouncing over grass and gravel "where skinny-tired roadies fear to tread," as I like to say while riding my beastly touring bike (indeed, they were walking their bikes over this terrain). At the car, I discovered that I had increased my average speed over the last 25 miles of the ride. Final totals: 86.6 miles in 5:36:31 for an average speed of 15.5 mph. For a hilly ride with a moderate wind, I thought that was a pretty good performance. Best of all, I felt just right. I was tired, but not wiped out.

All in all, it really was One Helluva Ride. The route was pleasant and very well marked, the food was good, the jersey was awesome, and on top of all that, I rode strongly all day.

This was the front and back design of the OHR jersey.

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