In all the years that I’ve done this event, this is the first time that I arrived on the Thursday before. It was such a relief to be able to get there and relax a day sooner than usual. Jeff Chapman and I followed each other on Thursday and set up camp at a campsite about 5 miles from the start finish. Below is our set-up at the campground.
By the time we got everything set up we’d built up a big thirst so we were off to Grand Rapids to see about some pre-race carb loading. The week before, I’d gone to a Bike Cleveland fundraiser at Eddy’s and mentioned that I would be going to some breweries in Michigan and Bob Curran suggested Vivant. It was a great suggestion. This brewery served all Belgian brews and it had been converted from an old church. Notice the bike.
While there, they recommended another place around the corner that would be still serving food since Vivant stopped serving early. It was called the Winchester and to our surprise it had a bike on the sign.
Friday morning we were up early. We needed to stake out our spots at the school. Where the race start was so we took a few tarps to mark reserve our spots. We needed to also reserve a spot for Sebastian Birch. Once we got that completed we went back to break down the camp. I was in a rush because over the years everything had to be in a rush because we wouldn’t get everything completed until about 2 hours before bedtime. Because we were there a day early we could take our time. Jeff had to remind me of that.
Here’s our set-up at the start finish. It was so nice to have everything set up before people started to arrive. We spent most of the day relaxing and the last minute things that we needed to pick-up or do we do at a leisurely pace.
Boom Nutrition was nice enough to give us a banner and flag along with several boxes of Carb Boom! Energy Gels. We took our share and gave a bunch to long-time friends I’d made over the years and also to a couple of riders who had a sunglasses stand. When we went to verify the price that Jeff had overheard, one of the guys from Global Vision verified it by saying, “Yep! They are Free 99!” There were very nice shaded and clear cycling glasses.
To get rid of the pre-race jitters we decided to take a lap around loop 3 which was 7.5 miles. It gave the guys a chance to see the course that we would be riding overnight. When Sebastian saw the ½ mile uphill he was lamenting how terrible it would be at 3am. I assured him that it wouldn’t be as bad as you think because somehow you get a second wind and we would be riding close to a normal pace as if we just started the race several hours before. I was saying that once we came off the middle (24 mile loop) it would seem like a new race. The ½ mile fast downhill would give our legs a rest and give us a chance to stretch, stand up, etc., before turning the corner to climb. It would be like a freebie. I don’t know if they believed me because I’ve been known to lie about the “24” in the past. Actually, what I was say is true for a lot of riders. Once we finished the loop we went back to relax at the school and talk to people we’ve met before as well as people we haven’t met before.
I transported a bike for Chris Coburn who used to live in the area and we arrived from Boston shortly after we return from riding.
Even though the short ride relaxed us some, I think everyone was nervous about the weather prediction that was calling for 12 hours of rain that would start at 8pm-midnight on Sat. night and would continue to morning. I was already thinking that I wouldn’t ride in the storm and that any delay due to the course being closed or not wanting to ride in the rain would ruin my chances for achieving my goal. Anyway, looking at the bright side, at least we were there and were having fun.
I slept really good overnight, which is unusual. I usually can’t get to sleep the night before but was asleep by 11:30pm. Now it was morning and you could hear the sounds of car doors opening and closing and the sounds of tent zippers all over the place. Later in the morning you would hear, as we do every year, the bag pipe band warming up doing laps in one of the parking lots. That’s the morning alarm letting me know to hit the showers before the rush. Race time was two hours away and it was time to be nervous about making sure we had everything that we would need lined up in chronological order of need. It’s really importing to have things lined up because at night it can be hard to find things without a flashlight. At the last minute Jeff was scrambling to try to get the three of us to pose for a pre-race pic. As usual, because it early in the morning and I needed to concentrate and was trying not to forget things, I was cranky. We got the pic but I reminded him that we would have plenty of time to take a pic right before the countdown. I knew that they would play the national anthems for all of the countries that were represented and that was the best time to take pics. We lined up and as it turned out, we’d forgotten to top off our tires. There we were running in reverse direction against the flow of riders. I thought were all going to dive on the ground for the pump to see who would get to pump the tires first. We got them pumped and were back in the line-up about 5 minutes before the start.
The school where the start/finish is has a driveway that is almost a ½ mile long. Before we were out of the driveway we were doing 24 mph! On the one hand, that was way too fast without warm-up we had to also scramble to stay with our packs that we would like to be able to ride with for 60-124 or so miles. The weather was very nice and we were off to a good start.
To be continued…