After spending a half decade devoting myself to higher education, it’s time to ride off into the scholarly sunset and wave goodbye to the rectangular rides of Allendale.
Five years, I’m told, is a respectful time to spend reading and writing and going to class. While the gracious support of Aunt Sallie Mae appeared well intentioned, it turns out she’d like some of it back on behalf of my Uncle Sam. So much for giving. So much for putting education first.
But I’ve definitely put in some serious miles around the area in my time at the wonderful Grand Valley State University. In years to come, as I slip checks into sour-tasting envelopes licked with a grimace, I’ll remember sitting in classes with legs burning from rides in rectangles. Long, long, flat rides, perpetually in the wind, along corn fields either thriving or shorn or frozen. Out around the metropolis of Marne, through the town of Lamont, with its signs promising eternal damnation to all passers-by, and skirting north of Jenison along Bauer Road.
My favorite route is the one I first discovered the spring I returned to bike racing. Fat as I’d ever been in my life, I dragged my rotund and jiggling self along South Linden heading east. The gentle slope descending into the Grand Valley itself (the landmark has and needs a sign to exist) and a quick right, suddenly you’re off a highway and in the rural fields again. Past a few well-to-do subdivisions and up a gradual bump, the road twists along fields and pumpkin stands and hay bales until it hits Wilson all the way east. In the past few years, I’ve memorized every crack, met every dog, waved at every soccer mom taking the kids to school.
Allendale, like a lot of places, is at its best in the morning. With the same wind off the same lake as my native Traverse City, that alarming chill is comfortable and exciting. The landscape is so flat that when the sun breaks over the trees everything explodes golden and frosty, even the asphalt and the cars rolling past. It can be grey, and is too often, but in the morning it catches nicely.
Aside from graduation, the season is going along quite smoothly. My brother Wes and I declined the collegiate season in favor of more training time and to conserve funds for races later in the year. We both relented and took on transfer spots at Barry-Roubaix, finishing poorly but happy with improving on our average speeds from last year, even with a longer course and a slower section through Shaw Road. Cycling is a sport where the result is a terrible measure of the race itself, or even of the experience itself. There are too many variables, too many issues with each pedal stroke to grade the race by a finishing position. We rode as hard as we could, and we could not have done anything differently. The results are the results, and we ride again the next day.
I ventured north for St. Fatty’s and took a solid sixth place. Guys like Ron Sanborn and Steve Andreise and a very tough Ryan Kennedy were the class of the day, and I was happy to keep them in sight even for a few minutes. St. Fatty’s is a great event with exactly the right attitude, though I’d expect nothing less from the incomparable Jason Lowetz. He’s doing things the right way, the best way, the fun way, and I’d politely submit that anyone with a sour attitude about bicycles spend five minutes with Lowetz or Whittaker to cure their bike-dispepsia.
This past weekend, Watford the Station Wagon rambled up to Traverse City, myself tucked at the wheel and with Wes cramming for a final paper in the passenger seat. 150 miles over two days, beautiful scenery and wonderful company was well-worth the gas bill. The Hagerty team meeting went swimmingly and everyone is very excited for the season, especially with our shiny new U-25 team looking extremely impressive. It’s going to be rather grand to see five or six new guys in Hagerty blue this season, some of them making their very first starts ever on a bike. That’s something I’m very proud to have played even some small part of.
On that note, Wes and I were bumped up to CAT 4 just yesterday and we’re both very excited to lend a hand to the other guys already up in 4s. It is going to be a brilliant feeling lining up in 70 or 80 men fields at West Branch and Cherry-Roubaix, and doing it with a mission and a role and guys there to win the race after I’ve done everything I possibly could to get them in with a chance. Cycling is more a team sport than even us amateurs realize sometimes. There are no half-measures or cop-outs. It’s all for one, one for all, or you are wasting your time out there.
I am very excited to get back in the habit of looking calm, cool and collected during the neutral portions of Tuesday Night Worlds, and to see all the Up North riders again. There certainly are a lot of characters up there, and group rides throughout the week are popping up more and more often, which only means more time with great people. There are plans in the works for a few informal bike races, a ride up to Short’s Brewery (100 miles round trip with a sandwich and brew halfway) plus an awful lot of races to boot. Get a kolo t.c., tell your friends, and spread The Word.
See you all up in Traverse City, and enjoy every ride.