DFP 2013-2: Michigander riders beat Northern Michigan heat, near finish line


PHOTO ABOVE (L to R): Les Rosan of Alma and Barb Jackson of Mt. Pleasant ride along Mullett Lake in Topinabee on the North Central State Trail during the 2013 ‘Gander. PHOTO BY RON CAMPBELL

Detroit Free Press Special Writer
July 18, 2013

MACKINAW CITY – Why would a seemingly normal person want to spend a week-long vacation riding a bicycle 280 miles on country roads and rail trails – abandoned railroad corridors that have been converted into multi-use recreational trails – in the summer heat?

For Julian Jeun, 39, a percussionist in the Windsor Symphony Orchestra, it’s the chance to check off a challenging adventure that’s been high on his bucket list.

For 62-year-old Les Rosan, a newspaper columnist and private investigator from Alma, it’s all about maintaining a healthy lifestyle while renewing old friendships and forging new ones in a unique “adult summer camp.”

And for Sarah Williams, a 41-year-old mother of two from Troy, it’s another opportunity to prove wrong the doctors who told her she would likely never walk again after suffering a severe back injury in 2000.

These three cycling enthusiasts pedaled 36 miles on the acclaimed North Central State Trail (NCST) from Indian River to Mackinaw City yesterday on the fifth day of the 22nd annual Michigander Bicycle Tour, accompanied by 384 other riders from Michigan and 23 other states and Canadian provinces.

“It’s physically more challenging than I thought it would be, but I’m enjoying the challenge,” said Jeun, who saw a preview story about the Michigander on the Free Press website and decided to gear up for his first bike tour on his beloved white Electra Townie cruiser. “The people on the ride are great. This whole thing for me is about going slower, getting into a groove and enjoying the ride and the scenery of northern Michigan.”

In addition to the region’s natural beauty and highly-regarded trails, one of the reasons tour officials chose this “Up North” route – with rides to and overnight stays in Charlevoix, Harbor Springs, Bellaire, Gaylord, Indian River and Mackinaw City – is the promise of cooler northern Michigan weather.

But with unusually high humidity and temperatures topping out at 82, 94, 91, 95 and 93 degrees on the first five days, that hasn’t exactly been the case.

“It’s hotter here than it is back home in Arizona!” said 60-year-old Phoenix resident Laura Thomas, who is driving a support vehicle for her husband Bob Thomas, 71, and their friends Lee Lambie, 62, and Ron La Moureaux, 78, also of Phoenix. All four are participating in the Michigander for the first time.

“But everyone is so friendly and kind,” Laura Thomas added. “Northern Michigan is really pretty, lush and green. We’re all glad we came.”

“You’ve got to be flexible to ride the Michigander,” said tour director Barry Culham. “Everybody’s hanging in there and having fun.”

Many riders have beaten the heat – at least temporarily – by taking refreshing dips in big swimming holes such as Little Traverse Bay and Mullett Lake, going tubing on the Sturgeon River and rehydrating and relaxing under shady canopies at the numerous rest stops along the route. Medical personnel are also on duty throughout the tour, but according to Culham, no one has dropped out due to the oppressive conditions Up North.

The Michigander’s 2-Day option concluded in Charlevoix on July 14 after a 56-mile ride to Harbor Springs and back on the Little Traverse Wheelway, a paved trail on which the Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad, and later the Chicago and West Michigan Railway, operated.

The riders have an optional off-day today in the multi-colored tent city they have set up at the Mackinaw City Recreation Complex. Some planned short rides around Mackinaw City; others, including the Arizona contingent, a visit to Mackinac Island.

After racking up almost 200 miles on the first five days of the tour, however, the Westerners have no intention of riding their bikes around the island’s famously car-free, 8-mile-long M-185.

“We’re going to give our bottoms a rest,” said Bob Thomas, a retired Nissan engineer.

The Free Press co-founded the Michigander with the Michigan Chapter of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy in 1992. The roughly 200 cyclists who signed up that first year rode cross-state – with much of the mileage on rough, undeveloped trails – from South Haven to Rochester, finishing on the Paint Creek Trail.

With its ever-increasing network of such greenways, Michigan leads the U.S. with 2623 total miles of rail trails, and the Michigander is now the nation’s largest and longest rail trail-based bike tour, according to Nancy Krupiarz, the executive director of the Michigan Trails & Greenways Alliance (MTGA), the nonprofit organization that runs the event.

Rosan has written about the Michigander several times in his columns for the Morning Sun, a Mt. Pleasant daily. He recalled reading former Free Press outdoors writer Eric Sharp’s stories about the ride in 1994 and thinking, “That sounds like something I would like to do.”

After overcoming a rough start due to inexperience and a lack of training, he liked riding Michigander III so much that he has ridden every edition since, 20 in all.

“It was like an adult summer camp,” said Rosan, who talked two friends – audiologist Barb Jackson, of Mt. Pleasant, and Linda Luneack, a retired Spanish teacher from Alma – into joining him on this year’s tour. “The Michigander has never been about the ride, per se; it’s about the people you meet and the friendships you form.”

Rosan’s wife Carol is philosophical about the physical toll a 280-mile bike trip in July could take on her husband, a retired police officer.

“She says, ‘If he drops over dead on a bicycle, he’ll be happy.’ ”

Les Rosan is determined not to drop over anytime soon.

He has successfully battled lung cancer and a progressive genetic heart condition in recent years, and credits the Michigander and bicycling in general with inspiring him to maintain a healthy lifestyle. He rides about 2500 miles every year on his red Cannondale road bike and his black Cannondale hybrid. The latter came in handy on the 62-mile, crushed-limestone North Central State Trail between Gaylord and Mackinaw City, on which the cyclists pedaled July 16 and 17.

Riders on the overlapping 6-Day and 7-Day routes will complete their long journey and roll triumphantly under the yellow “2013 Michigander Finish Line” banner tomorrow at Harbor Springs Middle School.

Williams’ triumph over a spinal cord injury in 2000 that left her wheelchair-bound for four years is particularly remarkable.

“I never accepted it when doctors told me I probably wouldn’t walk again,” said the 41-year-old Troy resident and mother of two. “I was motivated to stay physically active.”

After a major breakthrough in her diagnosis and years of intensive physical therapy, Williams ditched her wheelchair in 2004 and rode her first Michigander in 2007. This year marks her seventh consecutive ride.

She’s accompanied on the tour by her husband Bill Williams, a 40-year-old software project manager, their 5-year-old son Brayden and 3-year-old daughter Aurora, and another family they’ve been reuniting with on the Michigander since 2007: Novi residents Maria Tilmos, her husband Wayne Tilmos and their 5-year-old son Mason, who alternates pedaling behind his mom and dad in a recumbent tagalong and is the youngest rider on the tour. Brayden also rides a tagalong; Aurora is pulled in a bike trailer. The Tilmos’ youngest child, 2-year-old Vayla, is back home with her grandmother.

“It feels good being able to do normal things that normal people do,” Sarah Williams said, then broke into a big smile as she made a sweeping gesture around the ice arena at the Mackinaw City Recreation Complex, where her fellow riders – many clad in unforgiving spandex shorts and jerseys, sunburned, helmet-haired, exhausted and walking gingerly, but enjoying each other’s company and still in good spirits – were having dinner after adding 37 hot miles to their cyclometers, with the end of their singular seven-day, nearly 300-mile bike ride now in sight.

“But ‘normal’ people don’t do this, do they?”

–For more information about the Michigander, log on to: http://www.michigantrails.org/michigander-bicycle-tour

–Detroit-based freelance writer and Michigander veteran Ron Campbell can be reached at: roncamp22g@gmail.com.



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