"It never gets any easier. You just go faster." ---Greg Lemond
"Don't buy upgrades. Ride up grades." --- Eddy Merckx
"You drive like shit." ---The Car Whisperer


Michigan, again

We arrived at Mark's cottage in Three Rivers on Friday evening after a peaceful drive out, escaping the worst of Chicago traffic and nabbing some roadside Dairy Queen along the way.

I'd been waiting since late July to have a seat on that faded couch, kick off my shoes, breathe in the room's pleasantly musty scent of procrastination, and take that first nip of peppery-velvet bourbon. I sighed a long sigh, letting the last of the stressful summer and road cycling season drain out of my feet; allowing fall's cool breath to whisper on the back of my neck, and the warmth from old mismatched lamps, reflecting off of cloudy windows, to seep in through my pores.

We drank our drinks and played trivial pursuit and chatted the night away as the dogs' toenails clicked on the floor to the rhythm of Sam Cooke's voice. And when they'd stopped their curious pacing, contented sighs from the couch would interrupt our conversation occasionally.

The night got away from us. Soon it was 2:30am and the bottle was over half-empty.

I awoke on the couch feeling bloated and had a headache, and didn't even remember shutting off the light. It was still somewhat early, but I'd still slept in by my standards. We took a stroll through the woods up the hill to the clearing, letting Jack and Charlotte run ahead in a glorious breach of protocol for them, leashes nowhere to be found. The break in the woods at the top is the result of a bad storm years ago, Mark tells me. Huge swaths of trees needed to be cleared, and it's now a peaceful surprise, a grassy field dotted by manicured bush groves and a tree or two, after walking through scruffy and uncouth undergrowth.

Imagine hippie drum circles or an aboriginal dance party and what-not going on up there.

After a breakfast of bacon and eggs, and a longer walk with the pooches, we took a moderately long ride as a prequel to Sunday's Century in Three Oaks, about an hour west. On the area's lightly traveled and beautiful roads (belied by the constant road kill - a veritable critter holocaust), we rode up and down constant and surprisingly challenging rolling hills, dodged the dead raccoons and feasting turkey buzzards, and stopped to the take the occasional odd sight, such as this huge red bard that was covered in deer antlers:

About an 90 minutes into our scheduled two hour ride - still outbound - we realized just how freaking big Chicago is...East Michigan Avenue?

We got a bit lost, missing a few turns, but the flat parts always seem to do that to you:

What would I do for a Klondike Bar? 57 miles, apparently:

We still had another 100 miles on tap for tomorrow, so additional recovery was needed:

And yet, with the great day so far, and all that was planned for Sunday, it's photo-ops like this that make getting out of the city entirely worthwhile:

Still, that 100 miles up tomorrow did weigh heavy on our...appetites:

Kirby arrived late that night, and after staying up a bit more chatting over a beer, we hit the sack well after 1am. The alarm was set for 6, and both Jack and I had a hard time getting to sleep. Jack wasn't quite sure what to make of the extra person in the room, and his toenails clicked all night long as he paced between Kirby on the floor, me on the couch, and Mark and Charlotte behind the closed door of the bedroom.

As I jumped blearily up to shut off the twitching, treble-y phone, I noticed he'd finally fallen asleep underneath my feet at the opposite armrest. Wake up, jerk.

Being in the far western end of the eastern time zone ensured it was dark for our 6:30 am departure to the Apple Cider Century in Three Oaks, an hour west. We left Jack and Charlotte to entertain each other over a huge bowl of water.

After a pancake breakfast, we donned the spandex and met several friends at the start finish...

...and were soon rolling with the sun chasing our heels:

The Apple Cider Century is becoming a tradition among us, the perfect way to end the season with a fun, stress-free, yet hard ride. About every 20 miles is a rest stop with cookies, PB&J, soup, and yes, apple cider. There is every kind of rider imaginable, from roadies like us, wearing full kit and giving our sponsors their due, to more relaxed weekend warriors in Primal Wear jerseys - lots of beer labels this year - even a few culture warriors on fixies were spotted, and lots of kids and families.

There are many route options, ranging from 15 miles all the way to the 100 miler we were tackling. Jonathan and Lara in fact were towing their year-old son Jacques in a trailer, and rode with us for the first 6 miles or so before reaching their turn to continue on the 37 mile route.

Kirby admires gravity's work at the 2nd rest stop:

Over the course of the ride our group got a bit smaller. Evan was riding with us on his cyclocross bike, with wider, lower pressure tires, and we'd picked up a 15 year old named Sam from Chicago riding on a old, vintage Trek steel racer a few sizes too big for him. By mile 50 the day was taking its toll on them, and they started falling off the back on the rolling hills. We said goodbye to Sam shortly after the 2nd rest stop, and Evan would catch up to us as we were leaving the 3rd and final stops.

Kirby was having mechanical problems and took the opportunity the turn-off for the 75 mile option offered, and there was just us: myself, Mark, and Loukis.

Fatigue hit all of us pretty hard rolling out of the last rest stop at mile 82, but Loukis had the most strength. He relished the effort of going 100 percent on the hills, and only a few times was I able to muster the motivation to chase, fewer to beat him to the top. Mark has been out of racing for nearly two seasons now, and the lack of training was showing. After a modest push for Loukis and I up a steeper roller, we'd look back to see Mark hurting.

But in his fitter days Mark was one of the fastest guys on the team and a tireless worker. Most casual riders train for months, very focused, to just complete a century. Mark kind of just did this one. That's saying something. See? I'd say he looks pretty good for mile 98.5 (and dig that tailwind!):

Since I had my camera out, I thought I'd record the last few images of the ride:

As I snapped this picture:

...Loukis had been waiting patiently for me to put my camera away as the city limits sign approached. There is nothing more sacred to the Long Ride than the sprint to the City Limits Sign. Soon it was almost too late, and as I was still reaching into my back pocket, there was the sound of his chain dropping cogs.

"You son of a BITCH!" I roared with laughter, and scared the bejeezus out of a family of four as I tried to grab his wheel. But the sign was right there. The century was over.

Yeah, that was rude of me, but like I said, nothing is more sacred.


There was the spaghetti dinner and ice cream afterward.

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