by guest blogger and MTGA Board Member Paul Wiklanski
It was a little more than a month ago that we wound our way along northern roads and trails towards a finish line in Mackinaw City; it seems like only yesterday and already days, weeks and now a month has passed and I miss it; I miss the ride. People always ask if riding for six or seven days is hard. No, I always tell them. Do you know what the hardest part of the Michigander is? It’s not the heat; the headwinds or the hills sprinkled in along the route, no, the hardest part is coming back to everyday life after the ride.
What do I mean? Think about all the things that the Michigander represents. Yes, on the surface it is an incredible excuse to ride your bike for days on end along quiet trails and winding roads amidst beautiful scenery. It’s a vacation, your stress melts away as you realize that all you need to do is ride your bike, decide where to have lunch and unwind; no commute, meetings, conference calls or deadlines, simply a vacation that’s actually good for you. Yet it’s even more than that. The Michigander is about discovery and friendships.
As you pedal along the scenic miles that make up the route you’ll discover natural beauty; lakes and streams that mesmerize with their tranquility and shimmering surfaces. There are the canopies of trees that you ride beneath, the dappled sunlight and shadows creating patterns ahead that are like kaleidoscopes. If you take a moment to pause, and look you may be surprised to see wildlife that is absent from your daily life, various birds, deer, foxes, and you’ll also see butterflies, moths and maybe a walking stick or two. The beauty of Michigan becomes real; and for this journey you are a part of it.
The miles traveled take you places you may not have even heard of before, points on a map, maybe exits along the highway that you’ve passed by in your everyday hurry. But when you slow down, when you pedal your way into a town you become a part of it even if only for a moment. You discover the rich, and at times tragic, like Metz fire, history of communities that you may pass through. You’ll find places that take on new meaning, places that become new favorite destinations; like Aloha State Park, Indian River and others. For every rider there is a new favorite stretches of road or trail, new towns that you plan to return to and new discoveries that become personal and yet shared by those you ride with.
Discovery isn’t limited to places; discovery comes from looking inward as you ride. For many of us riding often means being acutely aware of traffic along busy roads but here, along the miles of trails your thoughts may run free as the scenery inspires you to set aside the stresses of our usual days and weeks. Rather than obsess about the car about to pass your thoughts can turn to taking in what you see; to creating memories of routes less traveled. What better way to reassess what’s important to each of us, we’re free to consider possibilities that we often don’t grant ourselves the time to explore.
One of, if not the best part, of the Michigander is the people; there is a true sense of community while riding or in camp. It’s amazing to be able to ride alongside of someone that you may not have otherwise met and strike up a conversation. If you’ve ridden more than once you’ll probably recognize familiar faces of fellow riders or volunteers, people that may only come together this one week in July and yet we begin to know one another as bonds and friendships form. Something happens when we ride, we feel free to smile, to say hello, to strike up casual conversation; while at home we may not even know our neighbors names, here we talk to them, we share experiences and stories along the way. What always strikes me is the variety of people you can meet; families from New York, couples from North Carolina, riders from Chicago, Kentucky and even from cities much closer to home. We reconnect with friends and we make new ones with each passing mile; each passing day. We greet people with a smile, a hello or a cheerful, “on your left” as we all share in the experience that is the Michigander; in this way we truly are more than individuals brought together for an event, we are a community, dare I say a family.
And so, returning home is always hard, walking past strangers and realizing that they may not understand a smile; riding silently in an elevator or listening to people grumble around the coffee maker as opposed to the friendly banter as we pour Gatorade and munch on Twizzlers. The Michigander is a bike ride; at times it can be hard while at others it’s like rediscovering the joys of childhood as you speed along as fast your legs can pedal. Each of us has a favorite memory, a trail or stretch of road that we look forward to riding once again and that’s why everyone’s experience is unique. This is a an event that provides anyone the perfect excuse to forget about car keys and take a slower alternative to seeing Michigan. Every day brings something new to those of us who travel these roads and trails; every day offers us another reason to enjoy a distinctly Michigan experience.
For my part I am already looking forward to next year’s event, wondering what new experiences await, which familiar faces I will see again and who I may meet for the first time. In the mean time, enjoy the memories, prepare for the next year and call out “on your left” on occasion just to smile and remember the magic of the ride.