On Sunday, August 31, 2014, Einstein Cycles closed two hours early to go for a bike ride. Dressed in baggy clothes that would have been hip enough for Brew TC and stylish enough to make the glossy pages of GQ, we mounted up without squeezing into Lycra. It was weird. It was nice.
The plan was simple; get form Point A to Point B as indirectly and leisurely as possible. To that end, we were on every kind of bike you could imagine. Eric was on a steel touring bike with double racks and some stately-looking bags, trucker hat to match. Lowetz chose his Salsa Warbird Ti, with a Burley in tow filled with supplies, including sleeping bags and a spot for empty beer cans. Never litter, kids. Jake Ellis was on our Foundry Broadaxe, and I was on my seldom-seen, much-loved Surly Krampus which, I should add, is the best adventure bike I could imagine. For simplicity JW took the cake, aboard his Salsa El Mariachi SS. the embodiment of creativity and ingenuity, Nate debuted his ultra-touring Beargrease. He build a rack out of closet shelving and brake clamps that perfectly carried his 50 pound backpack, even with access on the roll. Dan, too, improvised a simple but perfectly useful bar roll for his sleeping bag, just using a bike rack strap and a bit of a belt.
The route took across the Vasa 25km for about 6 miles, Lowetz's Burley bouncing along rather cheerily across the roots and in the sand. The pace was slow and leisurely, the mood chipper. The weather turned out beautiful, with just enough wind to keep it cool but buckets of sunshine pouring down overhead.
The halfway point fell in the metropolis of Kalkaska. Wheeling in was a bit of a relief, and based entirely on reputation, I followed the gang into the Kal-Ho with the tremulous feeling of high anticipation. I like few things as well as rolling into a small-town bar to order a soda.
It felt like home. It was as if the Karlin Inn and Cedar Tavern had a bar baby and left it in a back alley of Kalkaska on accident. Or on purpose. The walls had the obligatory beer signs, street signs, sarcastic signs and the long, rectangular mirrors that the patrons seem so careful to avoid catching their own eyes in. It was late afternoon and we'd caught the lull before dinner. We had half the room to ourselves, two close tables with legs up and chairs at odd angles. We drew polite nods from the regulars, acknowledged and accepted. There's harmony in the clinking of glasses and of profane conversations over shoulders. There's a deeper sight in place where the lights stay low. It's a lesson in not looking to closely, not thinking too much. It brought on a better feeling, a sense of recklessness. We were in. We were cutting loose. This is fun.
A few drinks and we were rolling, down a few guys with other obligations. East of Kalkaska, we quickly found, is a gravel road paradise. Not a mile out of the village limits we wheeled onto two long stretches of immaculate gravel surrounding on either side by rolling green hay fields with freshly rolled stacks dotting the horizon as far as could be seen. The harvest isn't far off, or the turn of summer to autumn, or the first frost, the first sting of cold. We were sneaking in a ride before the change of things. Labor Day couldn't be more perfectly timed for such an endeavor.
The rest of the route included a stretch of Kniss Road that would probably have been flooded in the rains of the next day, but as it was, made for a numbingly enjoyable slalom around deep mud puddles for mile after mile. Lowetz' bounced bravely along as the rear guard, with Dan next up, riding steady. JW lingered in the middle, holding everyone in sight and together, while Nate and I spun along in the forward positions, the scouts of a wheeled brigade.
We made it to the cabin and met some motorists. Racers, super-friends and newly weds Wes and Renee were already at our destination, though regrettably dinner was not cooked. Wes and I were distracted by a supply of BB guns and some menacing-looking PBR empties that needed to be pumped full of copper. Nate rallied to the grill and put on a clinic, putting together some of the best kebabs anyone has ever eaten, ever. Tim and Jody Pease were also en route, slightly lost but then found, along with Eric and then Keith Conway and Birgit.
As dinner cooked, we explored the cabin grounds. Situated along the Manistee River, there were a number of intermingling tributaries on all sides, with two foot bridges giving us access to the cabin itself and providing platforms to dangle feet into the frigid shallow water. The building was actual a second try; the original structure burned down some time ago, with only the chimney left standing, but still serving a purpose as a rather dramatic backdrop to the fire pit.
It was a memorable ride for a lot of reasons, and one that will become an annual event. We found some great locations, some great gravel roads and roads that hardly make the cut as a functioning road, but a blast for explorers and adventures with the right pack set-up and spot for empty beer cans in a Burley.