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Hell's Angel and Other Surprises - August 2004
My first self supported tour of the year was no picnic, literally. Eight alumnae of the 2004 Self Supported Touring classes decided that they would rather go to Hell (Michigan) than go to the Tri-County Bicycle Association picnic.
By Friday, the group had been reduced to five. One was tuckered out from PALM riding. Another couldn't find a substitute pet sitter. The third couldn't get a ride to the ride.
Four of us met on Saturday at 9:30 at the Williamston Township Hall to decide how to get to Stockbridge for lunch. By 10:00, it was evident it would just be Mick Fulton, Jason Max Stotter, Ed Noonan, and myself.
We opted to take back roads, trading the wide shoulders and traffic of M-52 for quiet countryside. After lunch, we wandered out of Stockbridge on residential streets avoiding traffic on M-52, to the Lakelands Rail Trail. The first quarter mile was way to bumpy from being used by horses, so we got onto wonderfully-smooth M-106.
The terrain was flat to rolling until we got to Patterson Road. There, the extra weight of our equipment became more noticeable on half the hills - the ones going up.
We got to Hell before 3pm. Checking our maps, we decided to try a rustic campground at Crooked Lake, just a couple miles south on the first road to the east. We noticed the loose gravel right away, but we forged ahead anyway.
Just around the first curve was an intersection. This is where we discovered that by going left, you can actually get lower than Hell, and in a hurry. On the other hand, the road we were on went steeply uphill, and had a 'Dead End' sign. Was the sign real, or a devilish con? I guess people who go to Hell should expect this sort of thing. What to do?
Our map suggested we should go straight, and so we decided to rise to the occasion. The others rode up that hill; I had to get off and push the last part of it.
From the top, we could see that it dead-ended at a turnaround, but there was a path to another gravel road - a heavenly portal - and we took it. At best, this new road was only a lane and a half wide. It looked so remote that I jokingly called out "car back". Within thirty seconds, we saw two cars from the rear, one from the front, and a couple mountain bike riders crossing it from a trail.
One driver said there was a campground at the bottom of the hill. Off we went (sometimes having to walk through sand) only to find that the campground was full for the weekend.
A camper near where we stopped offered to drive me to the camp office where I could sort things out. That ride had a lot of traffic and the road was terrible, with washed out areas that were repaired with limestone rocks - too large to be called gravel.
The officials said we could stay in the place that had a sign "NO CAMPING", or in a small area down by the dock. The charge would be for one campsite that didn't exist - $9.
We were planning to go back to Hell to have dinner, and had little food with us that would keep us from riding that terrible road three more times. I paid the money and completed the paperwork, then rode back in Mr. Nice Guy's van.
The tiny spot by the dock was the best, but was barely large enough for 4 tents, and not level. Knowing we had this option, but wanting something better, we headed back to Hell to eat and look for alternatives.
Back at the top of that big hill I'd had to walk up, I let the others get ahead while I satisfied a biological commitment. As I started rolling down the hill, I unclipped my sandals and held my legs out as wide as I could. Like a tight-wire walker with a long pole, this allowed me to maintain my balance while the wheels bounced around among the rocks on the road. I never used my brakes and by the time I reached the bottom, my max speed had gotten to 29.4mph. Whew! That was fun. And I still had all my skin.
It was still too early for supper, and we knew there was a private campground about a mile east of Hell. About half way there, my RealLITE tail light bracket broke and the light went skidding along the road, still blinking. That gravel downhill must been too much for the bracket.
Hell Creek Ranch was just a short way down - what else - a gravel road. The entrance was being guarded by several burly, leather-clad, tattooed guys at a table. They were part of the Forbidden Wheels Motorcycle Club from Ypsilanti, and had rented the whole campground for a big party. We could join them and camp for the price of admission - $10 each - and so we did.
We found a nice, grassy, and nearly level, spot along the edge of the woods looking down on the main camping area. There was music from a band called Pocket. They had a wide range and were quite good - so good that the others thought that the band hadn't started - they were just hearing CDs.
Although food and drink was available, the other three decided to go back to Hell to the Dam Site Inn for prime ribs.
I was hungry and rode Sarah straight to the food tent, and then to the drink tent. Some of the conversation was interesting, but not appropriate for publication here.
I saw a canopy set up where shirts, coffee cups, bumper stickers and other event souvenirs were being offered. I rolled up on Sarah and stopped in front to examine the offerings. The burly fellow behind the table said that I would have to buy something. It was a rule, since I had come to a complete stop. We kidded back a forth, then he got serious.
He asked me what I did in my other life. When I told him I was a consultant, he fished a business card out of his wallet. He told me he was the head of a heating and air conditioning contracting company in the Detroit area. Before the recession, it was a $60,000,000 business, but now it had fallen to only forty million. Then his wife divorced him and got $2 million in the settlement.
As we were talking, two girls walked up, one of them asking for his advise about which of two leather vests to buy. She modeled each several times. He said he liked them both. She said she should have both. He agreed and gave $120 cash to his daughter. After they left, he said she was his second wife. A short time later, she came back, saying she thought the $50 vests cost too much, so she just bought two shirts and a hat. She kept the change.
He wanted me to help him with some business advise, admitting that several other consultants had listened to him, then declined to work for him. Would I please call him on Monday? I agreed. (On Monday, his secretary gave me his cell number, on which I left a message. To this day, the call wasn't returned. I'm guessing he gave me someone else's card, and made up the story.)
Beyond mister-big-shot's tent I stopped to talk to an old cyclist and his gal. He told me when he was young, he had a 3-speed English bike. He removed the left crank and attached a pulley. He attached a 5hp Briggs-and-Stratton lawn mower engine to the bike, then connected it to the pulley with a belt. He took it to scenic Hines Drive in Detroit and revved it up.
As he hit top speed in third gear, the siren of a police car got his attention. He squeezed both brake levers hard and the brake pads immediately left the bike. He had to coast to a stop, which took a while. The police had clocked him at 73 miles per hour. I guess he was destined to become a motor cycle rider.
Our admission tickets were actually raffle tickets, and one of them was a winner. I exchanged the ticket for a small package. A couple of biker babes wanted to see what I had won. I opened it to find a size small halter top with spaghetti straps. There was the expected reaction when I held it up to model it.
Would you believe it - none of my co-tourists wanted it. I decided to go back down to the crowd and look for an appropriately-sized biker babe. That proved to be really difficult. I had gone all the way to the end of the camp and half way back when a Forbidden Cyclist ran up to me from behind.
"Who do you know?" he yelled. "What do you mean?" I said. "How did you get in?" "I bought a ticket and won a prize." "Oh, what did you win?" I told him, and he said "Are you looking for someone to give it to?"
I was astounded! This is the first mind reader I had ever met (except, of course, my wife). When I said I was, he led me across the campground to his girlfriend.
He told her I was willing to trade the halter top for the insulated can holder she had won, but she had to put it on right there. To prove my brain was not engaged, I assured her that it was his idea. When she traded, I gave the insulator back, saying the top was a gift. She appreciatively gave me an unexpected hug and kiss. When I told her it is nice when an old guy like me can get a hug and kiss from a pretty girl, she went and did it again.
When I got back to our campsite to brag, I couldn't get any attention. It seemed that down on the stage, they were trying to bribe some biker babe to remove articles of clothing. From our distance, only binoculars would have given any satisfaction.
I wanted to go back later to see how a size large biker babe looks in a size small halter top, but bedtime came and I though sleep was a better idea.
It didn't matter what I thought. Although the band stopped by 11pm, the revving of motorcycle engines lasted most of the night. And then there was the little shuttle bus taking people to town. It would go around the campground, stopping many times and honking its horn to attract more passengers.
I know Ed slept some - I could hear the evidence. I know I slept some because I remember a dream. The others reported they got to sleep quickly and slept soundly. By the time I got up at 7am, very few of the motorcyclists were around.
We packed and rode 7 miles to Unadilla for breakfast. There was no cafe, so we went to Gregory - another three miles away. We were all hungry and the food was good. Mick, normally full of energy, had the farmers breakfast and lagged behind for a while.
Riding M-36, it didn't take long before we arrived in Dansville. The pie was good - no one wanted a meal. From there it was almost a straight shot north to get back to the Williamston Township Hall to end the adventure.
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