I have been riding with WSI/Team Active for about 7 years and racing for about 5 of those. Before I was adopted by the Team Active family, I did a couple group rides with my fraternity brothers. These group rides happened once a year (for 24 years!) from Birmingham Michigan to the Big House in Ann Arbor. This last weekend, was the annual event and after I describe this gathering, you will know why I was an easy convert to a cycling enthusiast.
The Friday night before our annual ride, we all get together along with our spouses at one of the rider’s homes to catch up. I have known many of these guys since 1980 and some of them knew each other when they were in diapers. (We joked about the fact that long before ‘keg stands’ some of these guys may have been done ‘sippy cup stands’). We carb load (excellent pasta and cheeses) and have some of the best wine in the country and then we try to retire to our respective homes before it gets too late. Some Saturday mornings are easier than others, but the older I get, the more intent I am in enjoying the morning ride instead of having a pounding headache until we reach the Ann Arbor Township line. This year, I was at home double-checking my gear, well in advance of 11pm.
Our ride starts early in the morning because we want to stay ahead of the traffic and ensure we have ample time to get to the Big House and ‘tailgate’ before the game. I leave my house in West Bloomfield and ride the 15 miles to Birmingham by myself with my lights on. It is a very cathartic ride, rarely do I see more than 5 or 6 cars on some of the most travelled roads in Oakland County. 5am is just a little early on Saturday for most people to be out, let alone on a bike so I am sure people are wondering what I might be doing until they see that I am dressed from head to toe in the University of Michigan cycling team gear, and on game day! (Then they might at least suspect that I am headed toward Ann Arbor.
There are about 25 to 30 of us who ride and everyone is at all levels of experience and fitness. To say there is a no-drop rule would be a complete lie, but we do try to stay together in small groups. There are so many people and we are so spread out, often times, we have no idea if anyone has had a mechanical until they roll in after we have been standing around for 30 minutes. (So much for being our brother’s keeper!) I doubt we have ever taken the same route twice, and this year we went more south than previous years because some of the roads were under construction. I am not that familiar with the route but I was out front with Steve Frank pulling into the 11 mph headwind from the south. We missed a turn and by the time Steve and I turned around, the main group had already made good progress toward our final check point (a party store at Plymouth Road and North Territorial).
This is a false flat and there was a crossing wind and the two of us were well separated from the group. This group ride suddenly felt like a road race. Steve is a spinning class instructor and very solid, so I tucked in behind him and he started to pick off the back of the group one by one. They would try to hold on to my wheel, and I was doing everything I could to hold on the Steve’s. After about 5 minutes, Steve said that was all he had and we were still 1/10th of a mile behind the lead group. I pulled for a couple minutes and gave Steve a chance to catch his breath, then he got in front again and started to narrow the gap again. We narrowed the gap, but did not catch them before our final stop. When we rolled into the party store, the lead group said they were going so fast because they thought that Steve and I were on a parallel road trying to beat them to the check point!
At this final stop, many of the group grab a quart of beer (which conveniently fits nicely into a standard water bottle cage) and we have our own victory lap complete with the champagne of beers for the last 6 miles to the stadium.
When we arrive at the stadium, we do a bit of a tour of the tailgating area and then find where we stowed our change of clothes and commence to celebrate our 50 + mile ride to the stadium (and that we all made it one more year). It is great to see these guys every year and do something that is so enjoyable. It is a nice long ride for me and it underscores the miles that still need to be completed before the upcoming IceMan Cometh Mountain Bike race. Go Blue and Go WSI/Team Active Racing.