DFP 2015-3: A little Hemingway, lot of love on Michigander Bike Tour

A LITTLE HEMINGWAY, LOT OF LOVE ON MICHIGANDER BIKE TOUR

PHOTO ABOVE (L to R): Rochester Mills Bike Club members Kathy James, Ron Lenders, Karen Lenders, Doug Carnegie, Mary DePouw, Debbie Rice, Jeffrey Rice and John Zalewski take a break in Mackinaw City during Michigander 24 on July 12, 2015. COURTESY PHOTO

By RON CAMPBELL
Detroit Free Press Special Writer
July 20, 2015

MACKINAC ISLAND — Papa would have been proud.

Tall, strapping Jeffrey Rice and his wife Debbie celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary on July 14, the day the 24th annual Michigander Bike Tour passed through many of Ernest Hemingway’s old stomping grounds: Harbor Springs, Petoskey, Boyne City and, most notably, tiny Horton Bay, the site of the tall, strapping writer’s first wedding — to Hadley Richardson in 1921 — as well as the setting for several of his beloved Nick Adams short stories.

Hemingway would have ridden his bike on some of these same roadways. He would have taken train trips along some of the same railroad corridors on which we now ride.

Everyone up here wants to talk about the just-completed Port Huron-to-Mackinac Island Boat Race, but the 2015 Michigander, which concluded at Cheboygan High School last Saturday morning, July 18, is still on my mind. My ‘Gander family and I owned this timeless resort on July 12, only nine days ago.

I have remained Up North since crossing the tour’s festive finish line — while being serenaded by cheers from early-finishing cyclists, tour officials and volunteers, Sister Sledge’s ever-appropriate “We Are Family” blasting from Rita Kennedy’s boom box and her 23-time ‘Gander-riding, checkered flag-waving husband Sam Kennedy’s calls of “COME ON HOME!” and “CONGRATULATIONS!” — to take a vacation from my vacation.

It was challenging at times, but Michigander 24 was awesome. This rocking, rolling two-wheeled adventure through Pure Michigan always is.

My 298 fellow cyclists and I faced some tough hills last Tuesday on the rail trail-based tour’s combined 6-Day and 8-Day routes. Early in the day, we pedaled along Lake Michigan’s spectacular Little Traverse Bay on the paved Little Traverse Wheelway, a state-of-the-art “bicycle freeway” constructed on the old corridor where the Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad and the Chicago and West Michigan Railway once operated.

Fittingly, our ride on the Wheelway took us right by an old train depot in Petoskey that has been converted into the Little Traverse Historical Museum — and features an extensive Hemingway exhibit.

Like many of my resilient riding buddies, I got a few leg cramps on the tougher portions of the back road route that took us into Bellaire.

A temporary Michigander “farewell to legs,” you might say.

I asked Jeffrey Rice, a 56-year-old residential contractor from Rochester Hills who completed his fifth ‘Gander on July 18, why he keeps coming back on the tour Bicycling Magazine cited as one of its ten favorite events in its 2012 Multiday Ride Guide.

“I like the people, the route, the scenery; just being together,” he said over a Huma Lupa Licious at Short’s Brewing Company in Bellaire. He and Debbie upgraded from the Michigander’s lively tent city at Bellaire High School for the night, getting a hotel room and a nice dinner in town.

A ‘Gander withdrawal-fueled side note: If Rice let his meticulously-groomed silver goatee grow out into a full beard, propped a beret atop his head and slouched a bit — Hemingway was 6-feet tall, Rice goes 6’5″ — he would fare quite respectably in an Ernest Hemingway look-alike contest.

“I enjoyed riding the weekend route,” said Debbie Rice. The couple shared an orange and white Co-Motion Java tandem on the 2-Day, riding a total of 70 miles from Cheboygan to Indian River and Mackinaw City, respectively. Jeffrey Rice continued riding the 8-Day route on his beige Specialized Rockhopper while Debbie followed along in their car. She returned home to Rochester Hills the day after their unique silver anniversary bike tour.

“It was fun being around all the volunteers and other riders on the Michigander, and Bellaire was a nice place to spend our 25th anniversary,” Debbie Rice added.

Two years ago, a pair of ride veterans actually exchanged their vows during the tour.

For whom did the Michigander wedding bells toll?

Brighton residents Kelly Poppe-Purol and Fred Purol got married up in Michigan at the Harbour View Inn right here on Mackinac Island on July 17, 2013. They boxed up leftover food and returned to Michigander 22’s camp in Mackinaw City the next day.

The newlyweds put their leftover wedding cake out on the Michigander’s dessert table at the Mackinaw City Recreation Complex that night for their ‘Gander family. How’s that for a moveable feast?

The day after that, they completed their unforgettable week by finishing the tour in Harbor Springs.

Kelly Poppe-Purol, a veteran of six ‘Ganders who works in human resources for Thai Summit America, and Fred Purol, a five-timer retired from the finance industry, celebrated their second anniversary on Michigander 24.

“This is a big deal for us, because we got married on the Michigander — and because we share a passion for bike riding,” said Poppe-Purol. “If we’re still able to ride our bikes 23 years from now (during their own 25th anniversary), we’ll definitely be here on the Michigander.”

Longtime volunteers Lesa McDowell-Smouter and Scott Smouter of Troy, both 52, were back on the ride with their own “Romance of the Rails, Michigander-style” tale. They first met in South Haven during the 2005 tour, nurtured their friendship on subsequent ‘Ganders, started dating in 2008 – and married in August, 2009.

One of the final “finishers” at Cheboygan High School on July 18 was Michigander Director Barry Culham. After some post-ride wrap-up work, he is retiring after18 years as the tour’s primary planner, logistics supervisor, trouble-shooter and overall manager. In recognition of his hard work and dedication, he was coaxed into prying his cell phone from his ear and riding the last 100 yards of the 364-mile 8-Day route himself.

Since taking over as director in 1998, he’s only ridden one day of the multifaceted, often frenzied bike tour he has worked so tirelessly on for almost two decades.

“Thanks for all you’ve done for all of us, Barry!” Kennedy shouted over the din of the music and the applause and the noisemakers as Culham approached the yellow Michigander 2015 Finish Line banner, waving his trademark checkered flags with a little extra vigor. “Now it’s your time to feel the love of the finish line!”

I asked Culham what was running through his mind at that memorable moment.

“Absolute joy — and relief!” he said. “I was glad the ride went smoothly.”

“Now that you’re loosened up, do you feel like racing Pit Bull?” I prodded.

Sam Kennedy, a 62-year-old retired GM warehouse worker from Belleville, spends a considerable amount of his free time in the gym, or “The Office,” as he calls it. We call him Pit Bull.

He can have a nice, leisurely chat with you as he pedals gently down the trail, or he can rev up his Cannondale Raven and blast off like a bullet train. Or a Harley. He rides one of those, too.

“Nope, I’m not quite ready to race Pit Bull yet,” Culham deadpanned.

Maybe next year, Barry, when you’ve been able to log more time in the saddle.

In the grand scheme of things, Saturday’s grand finale wasn’t really the end of something. After all, there are only 51 more weeks to go until Michigander 25.

I’m already counting them down, kind of like a brakeman in Papa’s day eyeing the mileposts along the railroad tracks until he finally eases back into the station he calls home.

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

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

AFTERWORD: If a young Hemingway had set one of his short stories on the Michigander, I like to think a snippet would have gone something like this:

“Let’s go ride,” said Mick.

“My rear end is sore,” Will replied.

“So’s mine.”

“Enjoy the campfire at Hartwick Pines?”

“Yeah, the s’mores were pretty good,” said Mick. “They had a swell, smoky taste.”

“They were all right,” Will said. “My rear end is really sore.”

“That’s swell,” said Mick. “‘Cause mine is, too. Let’s go ride anyway.”

Mick thought for a moment, then added brightly, “Let’s ride to the ice cream store.”

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