Miles In Michigan: The Dalmac

Just a few short days since the 335 mile Dalmac Ride wrapped up and I am still trying to wrap my mind around the thought of biking for 30+ hours.  As you may, or may not know, cycling is not my sport of choice. Even running didn’t come natural to me. 

A little backstory for you: my sister is 13 months younger than me, and she learned to ride a back before me. I still remember only getting enough confidence to ride my bike around our childhood farm without training wheels because she could!  I was not born with innate skills of balance or stability. I have always been clumsy. So, as you can imagine – clipping into bike pedals and trusting two wheels to hold me up wasn’t the easiest of tasks. 

When I met Josh in 2012, he made it very clear that he likes any sport on two wheels. His BMW motorcycle is his first love and his mountain bike was a close second. When we were dating in 2013, he convinced me to buy a cheap mountain bike from the REI outlet website for their semi annual sales. My first bike ride with him to Ridgway Reservoir, I threw the bike off the trail, sat on the side of the trail, and cried like a child. It was beyond difficult for me. Riding was not my jam at all. I don’t think we rode together again for at least a couple years. 

Fast forward to 2021. In February (just 7 months ago), I decided to buy a $100 road bike. I figured for a hundred dollars, I’d cross train for my ultra with it. As it turns out, I fell in love with the speed and adrenaline of road biking. I was also pretty fond of the time Josh and I got to spend together biking as a “couples thing.”  Being from Michigan, I had heard about the Dalmac since I was a child. I have aunts and uncles that have ridden it. And, I remember riders passing by when we were kids. I decided to research the ride, work out some details, and see if I could sign up. I signed up, downloaded the training plan, followed their social media pages, and the fun started. 

Always Choose Adventure

We flew into Grand Rapids, MI on a Saturday and spent a couple days with various family. We went out to my Uncle Ken and Aunt Kathy’s to get our gear ready. They were riding the Dalmac on their tandem, and Josh was going to be crewing all of us.  Let the fun begin! 

Tuesday night, Josh and Uncle Ken loaded up all our bikes and gear while I walked around aimlessly looking into the pink skies wondering what the heck I had signed up for. 350ish miles from Lansing, MI to the Mackinac Bridge felt like a huge journey on my butt! 

Wednesday morning we pulled out of the driveway by 5:45am and arrived to Michigan State University by 6:30am. While I did not go to college at MSU, my sister and several of my friends did. And, my mom has worked at the university since I was very young. So I know this campus very well.

As soon as we pulled up the MSU Pavilion, I felt nervous, but I just reminded myself “this is where I brought my nephew to a tractor show when he was a toddler.” Anything to take my mind off getting on the bike sounded good. We met up with the group we were riding with, took some photos, and headed out.  

Day 1 (Wednesday) we were riding MSU to Vestaburg, MI. We passed through so many areas that I knew from my teenage years: Dewitt, St. Johns, Maple Rapids, Alma, and finally Vestaburg. Being that this was the day closest to my hometown and family, it was the only day we’d really have spectators and see family. One hour into the ride, I got to see my Aunt Mary and Grandma. Two hours into the ride I got to see my Uncle Lonnie and Aunt Cindy. It was great to see family the first day to remind me that this is meant to be a tour, fun, enjoyable. Just think of it as a biking meet and greet. No need to rush anything.  The route that day was pretty hot and 75 miles of a headwind.  One of the highlights of Day 1 ride is that Josh rode to Alma so that he could ride the last 12ish miles with us. Anytime I get to ride with Josh is a great time! 

Day 2 (Thursday) we were riding Vestaburg to McBain. I know very little about this section of Michigan. Every single road that we explored that day was new to me. I just know it was farm after farm after farm. Plus, there were so many windmills!! I left camp at 7am with my aunt and uncle (riding tandem) and their large group of friends. But within 30 minutes, I knew that I could not keep up with them for the day. I quickly lost speed and fell behind. At our first stop that day, everyone recognized I’d be the slow one for the day and they introduced me to another gal my age who rides similar to me (Christine). We got on together really well. We chatted and rode together for a few hours. It was great. Turns out, we spent the next few days leapfrogging each other and occasionally riding together.  This day was also my only hiccup of the journey: a flat tire. 

Oh, the irony of that flat tire – I wasn’t even on the bike! I was taking a break in a park in Farwell, MI waiting for our group (because I randomly got ahead of them). I literally set my bike on the side of a picnic table and the tire went flat. UGH! But, a very kind man changed my tire in less than 3 minutes and we were on our way. Next stop was McBain. I very vaguely remember coming into McBain – like not at all remember. I don’t even remember where we camped that night. 150 miles in 2 days had me exhausted.  I was really wondering how the heck all of these other riders significantly older than me were not sore or fatigued? 

Day 3 (Friday) was the day that I had been dreaming about! We were riding McBain to Elk Rapids. I had never been to Elk Rapids, but I knew it was just a skip away from Traverse City and almost right on Lake Michigan, but closer to Elk Rapids Lake and Torch Lake. I was dreaming of lake days! While I am a mountain girl through and through, I was born and raised in Michigan – the lakes hold a very special place in my heart. I absolutely love Traverse City and the Grand Traverse Bay area, so I knew Elk Rapids would be amazing! 

Anyways, I knew that it was a shorter day – mileage and hours wise. So,  I had it in my mind to ride pretty straight through from McBain to Elk Rapids in order to enjoy the town and sit at the lake. We rode a solid ride that day, with just one short stop in Fife Lake. Since it was a solid ride and we covered miles pretty quickly, we arrived on Main Street of Elk Rapids by 12:05pm! It was barely noon and we had a whole day ahead of us to hang out. We had lunch at a local brewery, where I proudly drank a caramel apple cider beer to celebrate riding through Michigan. 

Since my body still felt okay that day, Josh and I went for an afternoon ride through Elk Rapids and on Bayshore Drive. It was beautiful; and we could see the Leelanau Peninsula directly across from the bay. It was really nice to be able to ride with Josh and share this whole experience.  Camp that night was right on Elk Lake so I went for a solo walk to the lake to just sit in the stillness and take it all in. 

Day 4 (Saturday)  was absolutely stunning. We rode McBain to Petoskey, riding right through Charlevoix. Anybody who has seen the west coast of Michigan along Lake Michigan knows – words and pictures will never be able to portray the beauty of this route and these towns. One thing I will say though – a car tour through this area is nothing compared to a bike. The lake, the trees, the colors are absolutely stunning from a bike. Being in a car and being on a bike are two totally different experiences. I highly highly suggest at least riding that section of Michigan on a bike (even if it’s an ebike or motorcycle) at least once.  

Being that this was the day we (Uncle Ken, Aunt Kathy, and myself) were really looking forward to “touring” and exploring Charlevoix before the rain was torrential, we left camp early. We departed at exactly 7:00am and rode along Elk Rapids Lake, then Torch Lake, then Lake Michigan. We had a solid mix of trees, orchards, and lakefront views. We leapfrogged with each other for about 20 miles, but then I took off solo. The group stopped for a quick stop at mile 20, but I had an agenda of doing photos, videos, and getting to Charlevoix before the rain. I rode a solid 42 miles before stopping. This segment was my farthest distance and longest amount of time on the bike without stopping – in my life. There was a large portion of that segment of torrential downpour and really reconsidering why I would ride in such conditions. But, I made it to Charlevoix by 10:30am and Josh had a change of clothes and dry socks for me. That was also the first time of the journey that I felt an incredible amount of hunger. I literally ate all the food from my bike pack in that one stop. I had about 900 calories in a five minute time frame, and felt no shame. Thank you Honey Stinger for the quick and efficient calories! 

Be a tree. Be rooted, be grounded. Stand proud in the toughest of situations, even when it feels like the world is flooding in around you and all you can do is stand up and say “I am strong. I am beautiful. I am independent. And I got this.”

The next 22 miles, Charlevoix to Petoskey were amazing. We were on the bike path the whole way, on and off the lakefront. I have no words for the colors or views – just photos. If I ever get the chance to return to this bike path for one of their foot races such as the marathon, I will be there. 

We arrived in Petoskey to beat the rain. The hills coming into camp were NO FREAKING JOKE. People were walking their bikes and falling over from going so incredibly slow on an incline. I just know, I felt pretty proud to have ridden the whole way into camp. That felt like a victory to me. Thank goodness I trained on Dallas Divide, Norwood Hill, and Lizard Head Pass for these hills! 

Petoskey was a great stop. We visited the food trucks venue, the chocolate fudge/ice cream shop, a local Michigan shop of random items, and went walking at the Bayshore Park.  I hadn’t been to Petoskey since I was about 14 years old (21 years ago) and it was just so different than I remember. 

Day 5 (Sunday) was our final day – Petoskey to The Mighty Mackinac Bridge. Like many other portions of the route, all of these roads were new to me. While I have been to the west coast of Michigan, I don’t think I have ever been on these “back roads” along the lake that we rode. Petoskey to Harbor Springs, then Harbor Springs to Good Hart, Good Hart to Mackinac City. Almost this entire day was on the lake, along the famous route for the “Tunnel of Trees.” Again, these routes and “tunnel of trees” are very famous for car tours. But, if you get the chance to go on a bike, it is a completely different experience.  

Riding on this day was my first real experience of drafting with another group of women. That’s a whole other experience. While I was with a large group for these 5 days, we didn’t ride together all the time. I spent a lot of time riding solo, taking it all in. About 15 miles before the finish, these ladies circled back for me and I heard them talking about how to stagger so I could draft with them. I insisted that they don’t have to slow down or wait for me. Then suddenly one responds, “Hey, you’ve done this entire thing yourself. All your training. All your miles. Most of these days. You’ve done great by yourself, but we are all in this together.” That was touching and I got so teary. In that moment, I recognized – I literally trained for 6 months solo (Josh did join me for some), I stayed dedicated to my training, I put in the time, I rode the miles. And here we are in the final hour and someone recognized and reminded me: you’ve done this. 

Coming into Mackinac, our group made a plan to meet up together right before town to ride in together. Of all of us that were riding, I was the “Dalmac First Timer” and got the honor of riding the group right into Mackinac, around the lake shore, right to the bridge, into the water. I was so tired and emotional; I tried not to get teary. Thank god Ken makes good jokes because right as I was about to let my eyes water, he made a joke about me getting a flat tire in the final mile (did not get a flat tire, just a joke). 

While the Dalmac is just another tour for some people, and others have ridden it dozens of times, it was a huge accomplishment for me. And, I cannot / will not downplay that. I am not a natural athlete. I only got into wellness and physical activity a few short years ago. I only got into biking this past year. So, the Dalmac is more than just a 5 day tour to me; it was a journey of learning about myself as a person, as an athlete, and finding a ton of inner strength and determination.

While I am not a great cyclist, I actually know very little about cycling and bikes. I spent the first half of the tour just learning. Just understanding it all was a battle of it’s own that I feel good to have experienced. It took/takes a ton of hard work and dedication. It took a serious mindset to put myself on training mode for 6months and then put my butt in a bike seat for 30+ hours in 5 days. 

I will forever be grateful for my husband, all my family, friends, and my aunt and uncle for the support I got in doing this ride (and Kathy for letting me use her bike/gear of course). From the day I signed up, until now – they’ve all given me the guidance on what to expect, how to navigate training, how to take it day by day and even now to navigate the organized chaos of camp. Honestly, as a first timer, preparing for a 5 day event – I didn’t really know where to start or how the start/finish, camp or anything works. Ken and Kathy laid it all out for me and helped me feel less stressed/nervous about it all.

The Dalmac is a true first class tour of Michigan that I’d highly recommend to anyone. Whether choosing 2, 3, 4, or 5 day route options – give it a go. Believe in yourself to learn a new sport, get on a bike, and just pedal into the beauty.

Fun Facts: We rode a total of 335 miles. My cumulative hours of biking was 30 hours. My average speed was 12.2 miles/hour. (not very fast, but I rode a leisure “take photos/videos” pace.)

Will I do it next year: I will be support crew for Josh, Ken, Kathy. It will be amazing!

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