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Home > Magazine > Bikes > Arc of the Parks: Great Triangle ... a Success!

Arc of the Parks: Great Triangle ... a Success!
October 22, 2012

Whew, I made it! 200 miles in 2 days.

I'd long been planning the Arc of the Parks Bike Tour. It's been a concept I wanted to try out: 100 miles along a unique geologic feature of SE MI that crosses 8 major parks.

In these days when Detroit gets both a bad rap and a rep for renewal it's nice to consider that long ago they were classy enough to set up this double ring of parks. (Within the arc of big major parks are another series of Metroparks.)

To celebrate Detroit we need to celebrate its civic assets: the Arc is one of the biggest.

...And as far as I know no one had bike-toured it all before. Wonderfully, the Arc is a long network of quiet hilly little dirt roads that are right up against a lot of people. (Actually, there was a classic tour described in a vintage guidebook called the "Detroit Crescent" -- a 50-mi tour of several Metroparks. But the Arc is further out, bigger and more rural. Probably the roads were quieter closer in to town some decades ago.)

Wanna see my route? Here's a link to the fancy map:

Friends and I had set it up for last week but got a rain-out then re-scheduled and were all systems go for 2 bike-touring experts and myself when they both pulled out the day before the ride. Ta-dah!

But I knew how sketchy autumn weather can be and here were 2 days that both looked decent. I decided to just go for it.

The car-shuttle option for a 100-mi big day tour was shafted so it would have to be door-to-door. A car-free tour. Kinda neat. Come to think of it, I could've easily had someone drive me for the first flat straight leg to the start but the Triangle aspect was appealing so I went for it.

The 100-mi route already had 4500 ft of climbing. Thankfully, and interestingly, the Triangle had flat easy first and last legs. The elevation chart is neat: flat first 1/6th and last 1/4 -- and a buncha big zigzags in between.

We'd been planning on doing the 100 in 2 days, wild camping halfway.

Thank heavens, some friends offered to let me spend the night at their house near Detroit at the halfway. When my plans changed so abruptly I took them up on it. When I heard that there would be hot hot food and cold cold beer and live music waiting, well, that gave me some nice motivation.

Ya know, I haven't biked in a couple weeks and before that it was only a couple short but intense outings a week. Thankfully I did get in that big mt-bike weekend! That was totally great riding for this riding. But how did I train for THAT riding? Didn't! I had NEVER ridden a mt-bike that far, or even close. Well, I guess I just kinda stay ready to chug along all day. A few outings and workouts each week keep the motor tuned well enough, I suppose. Ha! If I wanna keep being able to go long I need to keep going long each and every season, at least. C'mon, probably once a month would be more realistic to avoid gothic disasters.

It was nice that I was using my old '74 Paramount -- I did my last self-supported tour on that bike about 7 years ago. Reborn for this ride! It was the first time I've ridden it since rebuilding it. And that last tour was the first sizable ride I did on it after acquiring it!

My brother faithfully joined me in the morning for the quick "transport" ride down. The French cyclotourists of yore called their fast, boring first ride out of Paris to the countryside the "transport" leg. They'd do it all Fri night, have a cat-nap, then have a fun tour Sat. He hasn't toured in eons and hesitated, despite his regular hardcore commuting, to bite off too much mileage. He at least stuck around for the first few miles of the Waterloo park, to get a taste of the quiet, hilly little dirt roads I'd be enjoying the rest of the day. Then he headed back home -- to give him his own "best of the year" ride at 76 miles. He delivered me safe'n'sound to the start of the Arc.

His whole bike weighed 50 lbs and was set up to have a sit-down lunch stop. My rig came in at more like 35 lbs and was set up for eating on the move. I've come to learn that the key to big daily miles is to keep it to a few brief stops. I brought 4 slices of superb, deluxe pizza -- sure to keep my interest! I also note that I get a bit appetite suppressed when working hard for hours. It's gotta be good!

I had originally installed a Sunlite Epic Tour frame-pack for my extra clothes. It turns out that it only holds flat things -- it has a center divider. Might cut it out. The Jandd frame pack does better despite being smaller as it puts the width in a better location. Maybe I had it installed backwards, come to think of it. I was workin' fast. Anyway, I used my OYB Saddlebag instead. Perfect! Why this matters is that the bike handled far better with the loaded saddlebag than with the frame bag. Some bikes really like front or rear weight better. (The idea is that a steep head-tube, long rake fork likes a front load.)

I also first strapped on my old Carradice. I liked the idea of that, but then realized that my own OYB Bike Bag could hold the extra clothes and was probably lighter. I weighed them both: saved a full pound! Same capacity! But with the OYB Bike Bag I get capacity via Top Lash Straps while the Big C is all inside stowage. Since it would be a bit chilly I realized I wouldn't need the extra stowage much.

So we'd started in 45F drizzle. It was raining at 8am so we held off til 8:45 and clearer skies. We rolled at maybe 16mph ave.

Man, that Waterloo -- the start of the Arc -- is gorgeous. After that I wound my way up Werkner, a nasty road by contrast, to Hankerd, which is in terribly cratered condition and not safe to ride. The whole section to the Lakeland Rail Trail was terrible. Gotta find another route next time. I missed the Chilson offramp north to Brighton and rode Hamburg instead. Too much traffic. I did enjoy passing a quarter-mile row of ancient Osage Orange trees along the road. Whitmore Lk to 96/23 was also terrible. The neighborhood cut off of GR to Island Lake Park is easy to miss (old fieldstone pillars -- I missed em). The park is GREAT. Kensington, next, is dandy, too, if darn suburban. From there I took a spur road, Buno, east to Wixom and my friends. Buno proved to be exceptionally lovely -- narrow, dirt, smooth, quiet, hilly, with a far valley overlook. Right about then my inner thighs started cramping. Yikes! 9 hours of riding hills will do that to ya, I spose. I'd only stopped for, uh, zero minutes except for THREE flats! (Turns out I'd had a shard of glass hidden in the tire tread that I just wasn't finding. Thankfully I had tubes and my pump worked and the tire come off the rim easily. 5 min's per fix.)

At a flat stop on Hankerd in Pinckney Rec Jason Jones came rolling up on his carbon cross bike. Rockin'! It was fun to see him. As usual in our chat a story came up about him being accosted by an authority figure while he was on his bike doing something beautiful -- this time the story was a grad student in the Arb. He's a magnet for trouble! Funny that's he's a major bike organizer and also some kind of banking/treasury analyst. A high energy powerhouse whose made himself leak plenty of red on all the outings I've been on with him. Jason said Hey, you're doing the Arc today? I was going to go with you tomorrow!

So I had a nice evening and break at our friends near Wixom. Legs feel fine in the a.m., but I was a little scared in the dark before dawn, at 35F. It was so nice and warm in the house... Still, the minute I got rolling outside in the FRESH AIR all was well.

Back to the Arc on Sleeth alongside Proud Lake park. From downtown Milford it was immediately a tiny, quiet, little hilly dirt road up through Brighton Rec. Wonderful! Then Rattalee east across 75 and Wildwood N to Holly Rec. Then dirt west to Holly.

So, much good mileage but some sections need better solutions.

As a rule, though, all the dirt roads were wonderful, captivating. Smooth. Sure, with potholes, but they were easy to avoid mostly. So quiet. Yet I was able to cover a lotta miles on them! So many were so untypically narrow. And so tree-lined. We don't have many like them around where I live, only a couple. It's so nice to ride on such winding roads. (Mr. Hilty, who you'll meet soon, told me they'd be the only kind he'd ride. So you know they're good.)

Holly is a great rest stop. It has exceptional antique shops and a splendid old hotel with a classic zinc-top bar and waitstaff with aprons. Hard not to spend a couple hours there. But I'd like to blend it in with a bike tour. Because it also has my world's favorite store of all kinds. It's an antique shop, Balcony Row, run by a classy elderly couple, the Hiltys. Actually, she might've kept her maiden-name. I think she's a painter. This antique store is totally like visiting your own personal fancy museum. There are a dozen little rooms and interior halls with views onto an inspiringly decrepit courtyard. Little corner speaks play classic music throughout. There's a Civil War room and a Napoleana alcove. An African space. There is a worldclass Lincolniana room and a tiny side-study where Mr. Hilty often lurks in an easy chair with a book under a lamp. He has many good stories. ...Especially one about taking his 3 kids and their 3 friends on a bike tour from Paris to Rome in 1967 on new Peugeots they bought everyone in Paris. What an adventure! The youngest was 6. The kids would mark a city-pylon with a color-coded fingernail paint if they'd turned off the route into a town. They stayed in hostels and used the police to round up the kids each day. There is also a secret diorama passageway. It's about 50 feet of cave-like stucco that winds its way between rooms somehow with the history of Man on a dozen illumined displays within. These dioramas were rescued from the UM after they made-over their museum decades ago.

I had to check in to see my favorite store and make sure everyone was in good health. What a nice visit.

Mr. Hilty said that if I hosted a bike tour that he'd be happy to have us stop by his authentic Italian village courtyard on the edge of town for lunch. This is a grand, European styled facility. Boggling. He said we could have the hotel (which he used to own) deliver food or it would be fine if we brought our own. Fountains, espalier trees, indoor/outdoor spaces...and another even better Lincoln library. Gorgeous flowers. A nice offer, eh? These are offers one shouldn't pass up.

The next 20 miles were just as nice as those on the Arc. Then I realized I had to find a good straight westward route home. The road I'd picked online proved nasty so I hopped south a mile and found another, quieter and motored all the way back.

I ran low on gas with 30 to go. Thankfully I was able to pull the effort outta the dumpster. I suppose I hadn't eaten enough. What's enough? I have no idea. More? I guess I'm glad I used the rando trick of drinking chocolate milk -- I had one each day plus an extra 'protein/vitamin shake' near lunch on Sun. Jan says he burns 150-200 cals/hr. I wonder what cals the burritos and muffins and choco milks and pizzas had. I should make a better study of such things!

It's amazing how I didn't notice the miles go by except when the suffering hit the one time each day. (The drear lasted longer the second day.)

Our friend Val had cooked me a great breakfast and then...packed me some Trader Joe's burritos ...and... some MUFFINS that her daughter had baked the previous day! She even cut two blueberry muffins in half and added a layer of CREAM CHEESE then smushed them back together. Boy, those muffins saved my butt. So nice. I'm sure the burritos did, too. I took a swig of 5-Hour. I ate a Snickers. I felt weak and bleery. I added Butt Butter to my shorts. Help!

I was in awe of the dudes who ride 150 miles a day of dirt for weeks on the Tour Divide continental divide route. Or of the rando dudes who ride, like, 700 miles nonstop! Thru the nite! I suppose they just build up to it. Who has the time? I guess time on the road is important to them. I was in boring, sprawl-like farmland. The dirt was smoooth. I'd let air out of my tires several hours before for nice smooth cush. I was at maybe 60psi. 32mm Michelin Dynamics. Very plump and bouncy.

I daydreamed about an insulated water bottle -- for coffee, tea or cocoa. Or maybe 3 bottles.

I daydreamed about a carbon front handlebar bag rack that had a built-in aerobar. Also a carbon front fairing built as a bar-bag and low-riders both.

I daydreamed about an adjustable front drop-out to test the handling traits of various amounts of trail.

I daydreamed about what the fancy 50psi 42mm Grand Bois Cypres 650B tires must be like.

I daydreamed of a carbon touring bike. And of using zipties to support my bar-bag rather than the solid IRON rack, to easily save about a pound right there. My handlebars started creaking and shifting in place in the morning. It was tight, though -- what's up with that? Very annoying.

I daydreamed about how this Tour could ideally be run. Better roads in a few places, sure. But a loop seems tough to do. Yet a shuttle also seems a pain. Maybe we could somehow encourage people to do more self-supporting if they're just dropped off or picked up. They could ride one transport leg themselves. Like, if I'd been driven to the start, I suppose I could've biked to Ortonville Rec Area, my original destination (and end of the moraines) then camped and biked home the next day. Maybe make it based on the wind? Proximity? It was nice there were good dirt roads homeward for me. It seems like there also are good dirt roads going to Detroit from Ortonville.

Ya know, I wonder if there are any nice, sneaky dirt roads bordering Kensington? It was the only Metropark and it was way too tame, but it's in nice country -- as soon as I left it I did hit a great dirt road. Maybe there are more and we could ride north alongside it next time. Who knows! If you have any planning ideas, please share!

My clothing was dandy. But my blaze orange lycra jersey breathes for crap. My wool stuff is far better, but not as thin or bright. I didn't notice my lycra tights much but wool is probably nicer. Same with the shorts. Wool rocks. But for me it has to be colder than 50F. It warmed up to maybe 60F.

I have SPDs for touring that are nice to walk in -- but give me hot-foot. So I used my racing Looks -- terrible to walk in but ultralight and comfy.

I guess I could've imagined tenting along the way. It would've been different, for sure. I probably would've ridden later and started again in the early dark. No problem. I had a good headlamp. But those cramps last night... Anyway, a tour groove is interesting. I don't like stopping but I also like stopping. Visiting friends involves more of a major mental 'extraction' from tour mentality than tenting would. Antique shops might also be jarring. But the Garden Park...oooh!

I passed a couple driving along in a Curved Dash Olds! An 1800's car! WAY older than a Model T! I whipped back around to get a photo -- and saw they'd stalled. Ran outta gas right there. Too bad I didn't get a pic of them tooling along. It was cute.

Really, though, if you wanna get somewhere you can't be stopping much or looping around to take pics. Holly put me back an hour. But it was a joy.

And you need to be checking your maps BEFORE intersections. I got better at this but you really don't want to be putting a foot down for any reason for safety or health. Bad planning is bad. Rando events are supposedly not races but it's fun to optimize performance across every aspect. It is like a race only more complex. Self supported eating, nav, repair, all figure in.

I didn't do any singing or poem memorizing.

Oh, my maps SUCKED. Two big snags there: Someone suggested I use so I did, months ago, to start the project. I was revising the route up to the night before the ride. My mistake was I assumed when I was done that I'd hit "print." I'd noticed the word "cue sheet" days before, so I thought that would be a cinch, too, if I needed it, which I didn't think I did, but it's a popular, feature-rich site, I thought. Turns out: NOT. No way to print a map! DOH! TERRIBLE! The Cue Sheet function results in NOTHING! I tested with 2 browsers on both Mac and PC. Maybe you need new computers. They should put such BASIC PROBLEMS on their site in bold type so nobody makes my mistake! I printed each screen view for an hour as a kludge. Then my printer starts running low on toner. Doh! So the output is FAINT. Only my route and some main roads appear, no small roads. Some faint road names. That's it! So in my final desperate hours of chasing roads westward was mostly by feel. The map was blank in those needful zones. A map of white. Sigh. I suppose I only lost a half hour, though. Lucky! (Thankfully, the previous day when my bro needed to turn back home we finally realized that I could just give him the pages we'd already used! He was able to piece together his own improved route home. Main roads aren't ever the best even for Transport stages.)

I'd stopped earlier Sunday for 5 minutes at a classic Rods car show. Nice to see some cars. Though not my type. 100 fat and infirm people. Yikes -- that's the doom of our nation. NOT what our health care policy is! No policy can save people from themselves.

My bike held up fine. I missed some chances to unload trash, which was peeving as it cluttered up my bag. I changed my cadence during the hours, but fast seems better. 90rpm would be my highpoint. The big-ring seemed good. Usually 53x16 seemed nice, oddly. It was a 5-10mph quartering headwind on the 50 mi leg home. I used my 1st gear (39x28) a few times on Saturday -- 32 woulda been better. None on Sun.

When I was 15 miles from home I finally got a call thru to Martha (I'd been trying without luck for hours beforehand). She mentioned that she was wondering if I'd be home in time to go to a DINNER PARTY at some friends' house. WOW! I'd totally forgotten. Wow, what a wonderful and much-needed final motivation! ...Jam home, shower, change and off to a fancy dinner! WHAT LUCK!

Here's a link to a couple dozen pics of my weekend:

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