Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Most Elusive @Strava Segment Ever

In chest waders with a fly rod, I walked back from the creek after striking out fishing for Steelhead trout.  I wasn’t much of a bike rider then.  A camouflaged gentlemen rolled up the double track in a blue sun-faded early 80’s Chevy Imapla with black steel wheels sans hubcaps.  Using the crank on the inside of the door, adding to the backwoods drama, he physically rolled down his window.  Locking eyes, he quizzed me, “Nuttindoinaina?”  I stopped dead in my tracks.  A bit of water sloshed in my waders around my feet.  What the hell did he say?  Nuttindoinaina.  Miles from anything resembling civilization, I wasn’t scared, only caught off guard that I had to translate the native dialect in this land.  Nuttindoinaina was his way of asking, "Nothing going on huh?"  “Oh.  No.  Didn’t catch anything,” I answered.  He thanked me with a nod and a wave and drove off.  A few miles from the town of Gay (really...look it up), that was my first encounter with a real live native Yooper, a person from the upper peninsula of Michigan.  I’m thinking about going back, this time with a bike.

A Pastie is Like a Homemade Pot Pie
Traveling through Wisconsin, there is no physical border going into Upper Michigan.  It’s porous, sort of like Mexico.  The roads get skinnier, the signs for restaurants selling Pasties get more frequent and four wheelers seem to be the preferred mode of summer travel.  In winter they use “sleds.”  We call them snow machines or snow mobiles.  Coming through Lower Michigan however, you have the majestic Mackinac Bridge linking Mackinaw City with Saint Ignace in the UP.  It towers so high and stretches so long; you’d think a northern San Francisco is on the other side, not summer cabins.  As I discovered last night, the Mackinac Bridge is a Strava segment.  As I also learned, it must be the most elusive Strava segment ever.  I kinda want it.

It’s a 4.4 mile segment with 180 feet of elevation gain.  It’s a bridge, up one side and down the other for a zero net pitch.  The KOM is 16.1mph.  Don Kring of Grand Rapids bagged it in a time of 16:24.  I have no idea who Mr. Kring is since his Strava profile photo is a picture of a sock that says “I Heart Beer” but I thought I could easily take this one while on vacation.  There’s nothing better than bagging out of town segments, leaving the locals to scratch their heads wondering who “that guy” is.  It’s an odd segment; only 16 cyclists are on the leaderboard, not the triple digits we see in major cities or tourist destinations.  Still Mr. Kring’s KOM has stood since September 4th, 2011.  Now I realize why he rests easy.  No one will have a chance to beat him for another few weeks. 

“If we go here, we are so doing this bridge,” I said to my wife.  I could average 16.1mph over four miles in cutoffs on a beach cruiser with a puppy in a flower basket.  Then I looked at Don Kring’s ride where he set the KOM on the Mackinac Bridge.  He rolled a very respectable 76.1 miles in 4 hours.  He ain’t no slouch.  He wasn’t riding platform pedals or stopping at the pastie-selling tavern I imagine on the other side.  There’s got to be more to this bridge than data allows.  

It's no bike path noodle.  There are deep dish wheel-yanking jacket-puffing 40mph winds howling across the deck.  I heard rumors of a steel mesh deck, sasquatches and trolls too, but haven’t seen proof.  Reader Holly told me she was once on the bridge in a car over Thanksgiving.  On windy days, the police will caravan the cars to limit the speed.  Halfway across, they closed the bridge.  Ice chunks were breaking loose from the cables and pelting Holly’s car.  I understand Mr. Kring didn’t set the KOM in November’s Edmund Fitzgerald sinking gale force winds.  It was early September, where temperatures are in the lower 70’s, the leaves start thinking about changing colors and Da Yoopers start thinking about their sleds.  Digging into it, nearly all the people on the leaderboard rode the bridge in September.  2nd Place rode on Sept 2nd, 2012.  5th Place rode on September 6th 2009.  

According to our readers on Facebook Jeni and Seldomseen, native Yoopers from what I gather, the bridge is only open once or twice a year for pedestrian traffic, otherwise it’s a freeway.  One event authorities open the bridge for is the DALMAC bicycle tour, which takes place annually from Lansing to Mackinaw around Labor Day.  However, the 2013 application deadline has passed.  It’s a multi-day bike/camping tour.  So now you can guess that Mr. Kring might have set that KOM with some heavy gear as he rode up and over the Mackinac Bridge with strong crosswinds.  Either that or he took part in the Mackinaw City Bike Tour.  This year’s event is on September 15thClick here for details.  There’s still time for that, but only 400 some spots are available according to the website.  Like the Eminem song “Lose Yourself,” also a Michigan original, if you want this KOM, don’t let the opportunity slip.  The Mackinac Bridge is the most elusive Strava segment ever.

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