Last spring my editor at the Observer asked if I’d ever done One Helluva Ride, the Ann Arbor Bicycle Touring Society’s annual invitational that goes through Hell, Michigan. I told her it was on my bucket list. So one Saturday morning last July, my daughter Emily and I–and about 1,500 other people–were at the Chelsea Fairgrounds for the start of the forty-first OHR.
I didn’t learn to ride a bike until I was in my late twenties. When I was thirty-three, my wife and I pedaled around Mackinac Island on a tandem bike on our honeymoon. I didn’t want her to think she’d married a wimp, but I also chivalrously offered to let her ride in front–while I hung on for dear life in the back.
Over the years I gradually developed a bit more confidence but until OHR I’d never ridden more than twenty miles in one day. The OHR offers a number of different rides ranging from fifteen to 100 miles. Emily and I chose the 66.7-mile distance because it was closest to my age. We trained by riding ten to twenty miles every day for about five weeks before the OHR.
The morning of OHR, carbo-loaded and caffeinated, we began pedaling Old US-12 toward Dexter, me on my rusty, trusty comfort bike, Emily on her mountain bike. Most riders whizzed by us on touring and racing bikes, although we did see other mountain bikes, a few recumbents, and one tandem. By the time we turned onto Dexter-Chelsea Rd. we were warmed up. We went by a train like it was standing still–because it was standing still–then into Dexter and onto Huron River Dr.
We wound through Washtenaw, Livingston, Ingham, and Jackson counties, mostly on two-lane country roads often canopied by lush trees, past fields of corn and soybeans, lakes, cemeteries, railroad tracks, occasional houses, and small towns. The ride was mostly flat, though after some rolling hills I welcomed the long descent into Hell. We stopped for the obligatory photo op in front of the Hell Saloon, then went on to the first rest stop near Gregory, where I asked a mechanic from Aberdeen Bike of Chelsea to check my tires–which turned out to be seriously underinflated.
Rested, refreshed, and properly inflated, we continued, following the Dan Henrys–white tridents with arrows spray-painted on the paved roads–indicating our route. Emily, a fit twenty-three-year-old, generously chose to follow me the entire way; there was a SAG wagon had we needed help.
After a leisurely (standing) lunch at Portage Lake State Park, we climbed back in the saddle for the final leg to Chelsea. We finished in the rear guard to claim our prizes: the OHR patch and delicious watermelon slices.
Bucket list item: One Helluva Ride. Check.
The forty-second One Helluva Ride is Saturday, July 14.