The idea was to go to a mountain bike race in Marquette, MI. Just the two of us. My son Nelson, age 12, and I. It would be his first “big” 10-mile race and the first weekend trip for just the two of us.
Of course, a few conditions were placed on the outing. We would have to hunt trains (his) and stop frequently for snacks (mine).
The road trip
We set out with a full 6-hour drive ahead of us, taking the long way through the UP to look at various train tracks along the way. The conversation wore thin by the time we crossed the Mackinac Bridge, and the desolate stretch of road from the Soo to Marquette was filled with just one thing: RVs.
The entire traveling public had a trailer hitched to its backside. Hoping to keep us busy, I decided we would count them (old school genius indeed).
Yes. Great idea. Until we hit 30, 40 then 50. The game was getting old. We couldn’t do anything except count motor homes, pickup campers and travel trailers.
We decided to put skin in the game. We would take turns delivering a “surprise” for every 10 RVs we counted. When we hit 60, Nelson’s surprise for me was a near-bruise-inducing punch to my arm, nearly putting us into the ditch. I shouted in approval. At 70, I delivered a pinch to his leg that rivaled abuse. Things escalated. Nelson promised death at 100.
By dinnertime, we’d arrived in Marquette and checked-in to the world’s most spectacular economically priced hotel room.
It was deluxe because of this and this alone: Our bikes fit in the room with us. We felt like real mountain bike racers. Our babies would be in, out of the cold, bedded down with us. We slept as if we’d already podiumed.
The race was the next morning. At the start gun, we took off with a mob that was mostly mom/dad and kid combos. It was a friendly group and the most polite racing I’d ever been a part of.
Nelson slowed down whenever we crossed the railroad tracks. I was doubting his devotion to the race, however, I was still thrilled we were racing together.
As the race wore on, we decided to pass, our friendliness wearing thin. But there was a trick to it. We’d call out, “on your left,” then wait patiently for the rider to lose control and veer left. We then passed on the right.
The best part was a young boy, maybe 6 years old. When I called out that we were passing, he shouted back, “OH NO YOU’RE NOT!” and gunned it. Despite his size, he was surprisingly fast.
Nelson and I took off after him, game on.
“Stop! Don’t get hurt!” his mother shouted.
We all ignored her.
It was an all-out effort for a full minute. When Nelson and I overtook him, it was on a wet slippery wooden bridge that aged his mother by a good 10 years.
“Now that’s racing,” I said.
The chase continues
An hour later, we were at the finish line. Time to celebrate. We had lived, beaten a little kid and been given a free donut hole. An unqualified victory.
But the chase wasn’t over yet. Nelson waited about 10 minutes before announcing we should hit the road and look for trains.
We headed to Eagle Mills, 15 minutes away, chasing the elusive ore trains of Marquette. I had plenty of doubts, but Nelson had more faith.
And when we arrived, we saw a railfanner’s dream: Another railfanner set up with a tripod and camera overlooking the tracks. Someone in the know was waiting for a train. It was like winning the lottery.
Sure enough, in a matter of minutes, a train came through.
Nelson could tell you the type and what it was carrying, but I can tell you I was relieved. We’d traveled a roundtrip of 12 hours for a bike race, biked over an hour through the countryside, but, finally, we had reached the real finish line.
We headed home an hour later. We stopped at Pickleman’s in Newberry and got Sun Chips and a Faygo pop. I decided to check the race results. Guess what? I’d won my age group. We started laughing and hooting and hollering. We’d won! Kinda!
We toasted each other with our Yooper pop and got back on the road. And we started counting again, one bruise at a time, to 100.