Tag Archives: MI

Back, and There Again

I GUESS IT’S TRUE WHAT THEY SAY: You can’t go home again. You can’t even go back to where you’ve been.

Last weekend I worked a race at a cider mill near Charlotte, MI. I’d had lunch there many years ago during a long bike trip, and looked forward to seeing it again. My route would also take me through Eaton Rapids, a classic Michigan small town for which I have particularly fond memories.

That first bike trip, I’d been struck by how charming its main street was. I’d stopped at a coffee shop (naturally) with terrific chocolate chip scones, had a nice chat with the baristas, and enjoyed the view of the pretty pond out in back. I arranged to go through it again during my 500-mile bike trip in 2012, and had another welcome break there.

The place back then. Later renamed Evelyn Bay Coffee.

I’d been told at the coffee shop that there was only one “Eaton Rapids” in the entire world. Someone in the UK had put that to the test once by addressing an envelope to a friend with the address reading only Eaton Rapids – no state, no zip code, no country – and it had been successfully delivered. Urban legend or not, it’s a good story.

Swapping stories with Aron and Andrea at the coffee shop.

This visit was a bit different. Instead of cruising on my bike on a warm summer afternoon, I drove through at 6 a.m. on a cold morning in my Jeep, towing a U-Haul with my Zero Waste equipment. No worries, though. There would be time after the race to see the town again and have my coffee and scone.

The race went well, and we were finished, packed up, and out of the orchard just before it clouded over and a light rain began falling. I pulled out my phone and asked the “Big G” for directions to the coffee shop. But there were no results. Just a sandwich place that served coffee drinks.

A more detailed search turned up Evelyn Bay Coffee at the address I remembered, but it was closed. Not a good sign. But Charlotte also had a coffee shop with that name, so I drove there. After ordering lunch and coffee, I asked my server (a co-owner) if she knew what had happened to the shop in Eaton Rapids.

“The owners sold out,” she told me, “and the people who took over just couldn’t make it work. They offered it to me, but I had my hands full managing this one. Too bad.”

Still, as I drove through Eaton Rapids on my way home, I stopped to take a look around. The coffee shop is now a Mexican restaurant. Sigh.

The place today. (I didn’t ask if they had chocolate chip scones.)

I walked down the main street and browsed a bric-a-brac shop of vintage items, but I couldn’t shake a feeling that matched the weather outside – dull and gray. Perhaps on a sunny day filled with the gorgeous fall color, I might have recaptured some of the nostalgic glow. But even the other buildings and shops now seemed – well, just ordinary. I returned to my warm, dry car and headed for home.

And yet, on the way down M50 I passed another place I’d stopped at on that same trip – a party store, of all things.

The sign that had read, in part, “Dragon’s Milk” had intrigued me enough to turn the bike around and go back to find out what that was all about.

I’d found out, as most of you probably know, that Dragon’s Milk is a type of dark, strong beer. While it didn’t appeal to me much, I just had to get a bottle to share with my D&D gaming group. And there was the store, all by itself along the road, looking the same as ever. I didn’t stop. They didn’t have scones.

But this experience doesn’t mean I want to return to those times. Life goes on, and a lot has happened since then that I wouldn’t want to give back. Like, for instance, getting hugged by my daughters after my safe arrival at our campground during that 500-mile trip.

I can always go back, too; maybe next summer another bike trip out there will be on the docket. And even if I don’t, I’ll always have the memories of those summer days by the pond, with good coffee and scones.

Sorry, Conditions Are Too Good Today

RIDDLE FOR YOU: What goes up four times, but comes down only three times?

Here's a hint.

Here’s a hint.

ANSWER: The Winter Switchbacks, an evil little 5K on the trails near Chelsea, MI.

The writeup makes it seem like the worst race ever

Facebook promo - Winter Switchbacks 2016

Truth is, it’s mainly cross-country runners from the nearby high schools, and also a fair number of veteran trail runners. About 60 runners showed up, including kids as young as three (!) giving the bill hill a try. The race is put on by Eric and Mike, who coach the Chelsea teams.

That said, it is a “no frills” event. The entry fee is only $5.00, which goes to support the cross-country teams. There’s no bottled water, no porta-potties, no race bibs, and no finisher’s medals – you know, all the stuff you get for free at a $40.00 event.

The hardened veterans prepare for the grueling contest.

The hardened veterans prepare for the grueling contest.

The race is named for its singular feature, a climb up a very steep hill accomplished by weaving back and forth in a gradual climb, just like what trains do to get up steep inclines. The race begins at the low point of the loop, with the finish during the fourth loop at the top of the switchbacks.

Race day conditions were too good for Eric’s likings. Last year there was a fair amount of snow on the trails, and the roads were iced over and slippery. With practically no snow or ice this year and temps on the warmer side, the worst he could do was toss some large branches and logs across the trail (which he blamed on “localized winds”). I saw a few slips, but as far as I know there weren’t any “agony of defeat” spills.

Link to Agony of Defeat Video

If you have never seen the “Agony of Defeat” clip, you must. Click the image.

With all the hill running and ultras I’ve run in the last few years, I figured I was in good enough shape to run the inclines without too much trouble. Reality slapped me upside the head the minute I hit the switchbacks the first time. I’d run this race last year, but had forgotten how much of a lung-draining, life-sucking grind it is up that thing. I was able to recover on the downhills, though, and actually ran the final lap faster than the others.

Final climb!

Final climb!

What’s really annoying is that it doesn’t look all that hard when going uphill. You need to look down from the top and watch the runners behind you gasping and slogging their way along to really appreciate what you’ve just done.

"Ouch" prize winner!

The “Ouch” prize winner!

The winning time was just over 22 minutes, but glory is all you get for winning! There were only two awards: the first to the top on the first loop (but you have to finish to claim the prize) and the “Ouch” award for the person with the most spectacular fall.

My time of 25:56 was good for 8th place, and I admit to some self-pride about beating many of the cross-country runners. Coach Rob of PR Fitness may be “hill happy” when it comes to our group routes, but the payoff is undeniable. And I’m getting to the point now where I see hills as opportunities, not obstacles; in races I pass many people on them. So I think I’ll be back next year. Hopefully there will be subzero temperatures and whiteout conditions!

When this happens to a teenager, you know it's a good workout!

When this happens to a teenager, you know it’s a good workout!

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P.S. I earned an award for running the entire way. I don’t put a whole lot of stuff on my car’s bumper, but this one went on for sure.

Bumper Sticker - I RAN the Switchbacks

P.P.S. There is a summer version of this race, and I was told that some runners can finish it in under 17 minutes. Now that is practically superhuman.

BONUS PHOTO: I didn’t see any puking mules, but there may have been some foxes puking from exhaustion! Check out the fox hunters!

Fox Hunters - 2

The Perils of Pacing: Race Recap, ShamRock ‘n Roll

KARMIC RETRIBUTION. That must be it.

As payback for my perfect-weather Dances With Dirt race last week in Florida, Nature turned the polar vortex back on for this morning’s ShamRock ‘n Roll 10K. In another tweak of cruel irony, the race is part of the Kona Running series – hardly a name that evokes sub-zero wind chills.

But I’d volunteered to pace it, so I pulled on two pairs of tights, slipped a green shirt over my Heater Hog and wind jacket, and headed to Kellogg Park in Plymouth. And to my surprise (well, not really) the turnout was as strong as ever and the costumes just as wild. There were so many runners that wave starts were used for both the 10K and 5K.

I warned you.

I warned you.

Larry, the pace organizer (among other duties) gave us some advice before the start. “We know there’s black ice out there,” he said. “So don’t worry so much about sticking to your time. Just line up in the proper spot and be safe out there.”

I was grateful he said that. Because I apparently wasn’t done paying for the great experience last week.

Cold - No problem - we're PR Fitness!

Cold? No problem – we’re PR Fitness!

For the first time in a Kona race, I paced solo. Usually Larry assigns two or three people per time, but understandably he was a few pacers short today. So I took the 52 minute sign and assumed my place in the starting queue. The horn sounded at 7:30 and off we went.

I started in the back of the first wave, so I had to work through the crowd for about a half mile to get to my target pace of 8:23 per mile. And just as I was settling in, my right shoe came untied. I’ve run with an untied shoe before – even set a 5K PR that way – and my hands were numb despite the double gloves, so I stuck it out a while.

By the end of mile 2 my hands had thawed, so I pulled over. Procedure: Put sign down. Take off two sets of gloves. Tie shoe, with double knot. Put gloves back on. Pick up sign. Resume running, faster, so I can catch up. This wasn’t a problem for me, but it meant I was passing a lot of people. “I thought you were [already] ahead of me,” a woman said as I went by.

Now I felt guilty; the runners around me may not have been as fast or as fit as I am, but they were working hard. It couldn’t have been encouraging to see a pacer pass them. But it was only until I got back on target. As the end of mile 4 approached, I was just about there – and then my left shoe came untied.

This time I stopped right away and duplicated the above routine, except for jamming on the gloves rather than fitting them on right. And I was determined not to embarrass more runners, so I lowered the sign and took off in a sprint. After a bit I glanced at my watch to see when to slow down – and it had shut off. Battery failure.

Bundled up but rarin' to go! The 5K starts.

Bundled up but rarin’ to go! The 5K starts.

Now there was nothing for it but to make it look good. So I slowed down and just winged it, and headed toward the finish line with head and sign held high. And after all that, I finished at the 53:26 mark. Given I’d crossed the start line over a minute after the gun, I was remarkably close to target. Maybe the cosmic spirit likes me after all.

Right afterward, someone came up to me. “Thanks for keeping the pace,” he said.

“Hey, no problem,” I replied.

Me with another famous "Shoelace", Denard Robinson. Taught him everything he knows about running with untied shoes.

Me with another famous “Shoelace”, Denard Robinson. Taught him everything he knows about running with untied shoes.