It's the lemonade of autumn. The hot chocolate of fall. As iconic as an Oktoberfest ale, fresh apple cider signals the taste buds that a new season is on its way. Change is in the air.
It's the air that makes fall bicycling so invigorating.
Mornings start out cold and damp. The cool breeze is a slap to the face, forcefully asking "do you really want to go through with this?" The first mile or so is bone chilling. Slowly, your core temperature rises and the numbness leaves your fingers. Your body and your spirit warm as you watch the rising sun illuminate the changing colors of the treeline. Your discomfort evaporates along with the morning dew.
Predictably, that was my experience with Southwest Michigan's Apple Cider Century Ride this past Sunday.
The organizers couldn't have asked for a more symbolic day to usher in autumn. The morning chill gave way to a gorgeous afternoon. The bright sunlight and cloudless sky accentuated the emerging color palette of early autumn. The warmth of the sun took the sting off the cool breeze coming from Lake Michigan.
The ride meandered along the lightly trafficked back roads of Southwest Michigan and Northwest Indiana. Our cell phones worked overtime in an attempt to keep us in the appropriate time zone as we crossed the state line multiple times on the 62, 75, and 100-mile routes. Hundreds of cyclists pedaled up short hills to savor scenes of woods, pastures, and farm fields unrolling before them.
Riders that chose the route options under 50 miles in duration were treated to views of the shoreline, apple orchards, and vineyards. I was a bit disappointed that my chosen route - the metric century - included none of the above. Still, the scenery I was treated to was so refreshing that I didn't even notice what I had missed until afterward.
Six thousand people registered to ride the Apple Cider Century. With staggered start times and six route options, I hardly noticed more than a half dozen or so riders near me at any given time. It was just another stress-free Sunday ride with different scenery. And cider...
In my last post, I was a little hard on the ACC about its published stance against "bandits" - riders that don't register for the ride (or pay the $45 fee). After registering for the ride and participating in it, I will reiterate my stance; bandits are inconsequential.
Sure, these "freeloaders" get to travel along a very clearly marked route at absolutely no cost to themselves. But if they really wanted to, they could ride these back roads any day of the week.
It's not the route that makes the Apple Cider Century - it's the SAG stops!
The security-controlled rest areas constitute the full value of the ride. It's not the standard staples of trail mix, grapes, bananas, cookies, water, and Gatorade, either. It's the hot potato soup, fresh apple cider, and cyclist camaraderie!
Sitting at a picnic table, sipping cider, slurping soup, and making new acquaintances is the one element of the ACC that bandits can't steal.
The ride attracts people from all walks of life and all levels of cycling interest and experience. Moms and dads with tiny tots on tag-alongs. Sixty year-old men on time trial bikes. Amateur racers. Self-supported tourists. Bike culture chicks on Surlys and old steel Bianchis. Non-riders that just pulled their old ten-speeds out of the shed for a Sunday ride.
Every rider has a story and those stories are freely swapped at every stop. It reminds us that other people "get" bicycling. While each of us ride for our own reasons, one beautiful autumn day in Southwest Michigan inspires us all to share...
Keep riding and be safe!
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