Last weekend, Chris and I headed up to Michigan for some time away.
Time away, you ask? Isn’t that every weekend around our house? Not really – sometimes it’s time to race, or time to train, but never really time away from it all – the noise of northern Illinois, the traffic, the barricades, the stoplights, and bad roads, bad attitudes, and……see what I mean? We needed some time away.
And where better to go than Michigan? If Wisconsin is Illinois’ drunken older sister than Michigan is the quiet younger one that hides under the table when friends come by. And that’s ok. Because even us Midwesterners need a quiet Midwestern place to go.
We headed up to Fennville where Chris’ grandmother has her summer house. It’s a quaint house on a tranquil street, 5 acres of tall trees, hummingbirds, and quiet nights. The minute we got there I could sense that not only in crossing the state line had we crossed into the Eastern Time Zone but we had crossed into another type of time – Michigan time.
Michigan time means things move slower. Not a painful slowness, but a quiet mind your own business take your time kind of slow. Grandma Joan, however, has no plan to slow down. She’s somewhere over 80 but just as spry as ever. Walks 2 miles a day, climbs stairs, gardens, feeds the birds, goes to the beach, drives around town.
Of course, she was full of grandma news. You know how this goes:
“I saw Debbie the other day. The next day I saw Grace and she said did you know that Debbie passed away. I said Debbie didn’t pass away I just saw her the other day, Grace said Debbie died just late yesterday so I said how could someone die in less than a day?”
After grandma spilled her news, she asked about ours. We explained that we had come up not only for a visit with her but to head north tomorrow to Kalamazoo for a ride. Then we spent the next 20 minutes explaining the difference between a race and a ride and why on earth you would drive 150 miles from home, and then another 50 miles more from her home to ride our bike 100 miles. She had a point. The math just didn’t add up. But then again, we were on Michigan time - we had time to do the mathematically impossible.
The next day, we awoke early for the drive up to Kalamazoo. We were going to do a 100 mile ride. It was my first 100 mile ride of the season, the first in preparation for Ironman with many more come.
I was excited about this ride. Because I was planning to do it completely alone. Of course I did Ironman completely alone with a little help from my friends race wheels and aero helmet, but today – really, really alone.
We set off on to the Michigan roads and within 5 minutes Chris, Meredith, and myself were completely separated and would spend the rest of the ride all alone. The sun was shining, the morning was quiet, 100 miles of roads were waiting ahead.
Now for the most part this was a smooth, comfortable ride. Except for the occasional 3 miles of loose stone on the road. I’m not sure why Michigan does this but it seems to be their version of a clever speed trap. Throw about 2 – 3 inches of loose stone on the road and see who slows down. Case and point – a time trial bike will slow down. It will also come to a squiggly, shaky halt almost toppling over into a pile of loose stone.
But other than that, it was a steady, smooth ride. I decided to play my usual century game. The game of how long can we go before stopping. And I made it 45 miles. I pulled into a reststop , did my business, filled my bottles, and got ready to go.
And then I saw what looked like Tom Demerly sitting on the grass eating a banana talking to another rider. I thought to myself this is what happens when one spends too much time riding steady in the Michigan sun. It’s the perfect Michigan mirage – Demerly at a bike rest stop, and man literally wrapped around Michigan cycling. Maybe it was him, maybe it wasn’t him. Maybe it was too much sports drink in my mind.
The next 40 miles were completely alone. The course twisted and turned out through vineyards and cornfields in the dry, hot sun. The day was heating up, and my stomach was turning up. Maybe I was drinking too fast, or not taking in enough salt, or maybe it was my body’s silent protest against long rides and Power fuel but something wasn’t going right. I
spent every one of those miles with the “mukes” and feeling off.
But I had to press on – because I was alone, and because I could. I had to. This wasn’t a choice. I was keeping a fast pace, I was riding hard. I spent an hour attacking hills, an hour overgearing hills, and an hour just in a steady state with some climbs. By the fourth hour, my legs were trashed, my stomach was inside out, and my head……
My head was actually on firm. And it was strong. Because it kept telling me something I had read earlier in the weekend said by a world class rock climber – it’s what's in your mind that gets you where you want to go. Not your legs, not your bike, not your strength or speed but your mind. It's the power of attitude in achievement. Your mind can talk you into anything, through anything, and today it will get you through.
84 miles and still nearly 20 to go. Sunday morning in Michigan was so quiet all that I could hear was my mind. The little chatter going on between mind and body about how much more to go, shut up, can we please stop, buck up, must we go, push on. Michigan was the perfect place to focus entirely on this conversation with so few distractions in the way.
And when I focused, I found as the ride rode on my mind bemoaned about the mileage ahead, until, until we reached back into the Ironman files and found a trick from long ago – the old it’s not 16 more miles to go, it’s 84 miles you never have to see again. And that's how it happens - the mind getting you where you want to go. At just the right moment it reaches back into the file box and pulls something out. It's when you find the word possible in impossible. Something that pulls you through.
From there on out, it was 15 miles to go, 14, 13, until finally 3. 97 miles in my legs and 3 more to go. My legs just didn’t want to go. They were ready to dismount and crawl all the way back to the car. Today, Michigan wins and Liz sits on the side of the road. And that’s when it hit me again – idiot, 97 miles under your legs and you sit there complaining about 3 more to go? Buck up camper, you’re in Michigan, there’s no place for crybabies here. Michigan doesn't have time and Michigan doesn't really care. Get your feet on the pedal, push, and go.
I go. I watch my computer roll over to the 100 mile mark. And with that I shout WOO HOO. Because it was the first time ever I had gone 100 alone. Not counting the race. Counting all the training, all the centuries on Ragbrai, all the times Chris pulled me along. This was a different day. This day, this century, these 100 miles were entirel y my own. And as you get older, there’s not too many “first times” where you can shout WOO HOO. So today, I shouted loud.
2 more miles for extra credit and because at 100 I was nowhere near the car. I pull in to find Chris and Meredith already in. Chris said I wasn’t too far behind and Dit decided that 65 was quite enough for the day.
Back at grandma’s house, we ate chicken and roasted marshmellows. Then had cereal and bananas. Soy milk and watermelon too. It wasn't a perfect meal, but one of those post-century anything will do meals. 2,752 calories burned, 102 miles covered, and the end of one very long day.
So Michigan, thanks for letting me into your time zone, into your quiet cradle of empty roads, and even the loose stone. You reminded me that my mind can take me many places and connected me to that solo place of quiet mind where if I listen I will hear it talking, a place where you can push past 84 miles, pull through stomach upset, and shout woo hoo in victory at the accomplishment only your mind and yourself will know.