Over the past weekend, my wife, stepdaughter, and I scaled and crossed the five mile long Mackinac Bridge (Mighty Mac or Big Mac) between Michigan’s Lower and Upper Peninsulas. The ride was part of the “2016 Big Mac/Shoreline Scenic Bike Tour “ which includes a mandatory 25/50/75/or 100 mile ride on Saturday for the privilege to bicycle across the Straits of Mackinac. Two years ago, my wife and I thoroughly enjoyed our rented bicycle ride over the Lion’s Gate Bridge in Vancouver, BC during our honeymoon, so we were really looking forward to this adventure. As a resident of Michigan for the past 24 years, tackling the Mackinac Bridge by foot or bike has been a long-term dream. There are limited options for walking (once a year on Labor Day) or riding (three times a year) over the bridge given it does not have sidewalks or bike lanes. The Mackinac Bridge Authority and MDOT gracefully allows such occasional special events on the nearly 59 year-old bridge.
This year was particularly poignant for me as the spring ride fell on the 25th anniversary of my father’s passing. While he was not a cyclist, I have many happy memories of cycling while growing up and distinctly recall several very special gifts of bicycles from my parents. I can also recall some aspects of learning to ride without training wheels.
Saturday was a very comfortable and enjoyable day for our 25 mile ride as it began cloudy and foggy. The sun broke through the clouds mid-morning and shortly after 11:00 a.m. we completed our day’s ride. From that point we explored historic and scenic sites in Mackinaw City and St. Ignace and enjoyed a terrific dinner at the Driftwood. Late in the day the winds greatly increased and we were worried the ride might be called off, as the bridge is sometimes closed due to high winds.Sunday, we awoke to a lovely early morning sunshine with temps at 50 F at 6:30 a.m. – the appointed arrival time. However, the winds were still strong across the straits, but thankfully not enough to cancel/postpone the event. At 7:00 a.m. sharp, 250 bicyclists riding all kinds of makes and models began their two abreast ride across one of North America’s most scenic bridge crossings. You will not see any photographs of the actual ride as picture taking during the crossing is prohibited for safety reasons. Given the weather conditions, it would not have been very smart either, though at least one rider had a Go Pro on his helmet.
The minute we turned north onto I-75 from the exit ramp we were met with a stiff headwind of 15-20 mph. This headwind never abated throughout the ride and often gusted to well over 30 mph making the ride a significant workout for all of us. Some of even joked about the lovely hurricane season we were experiencing. The wind was so strong, that there was no such thing as coasting on the downhill portion of the ride, as to keep moving and upright we had to pedal the entire way.Some seasoned veterans of the ride said this was the toughest trip across the strait by bike in the 30 years they had participated. Needless to say, the three of us and many other riders were worn out by the time we reached the Star Line ferry dock in St. Ignace seven miles to the north, but what an amazing experience! From the wind, to the sunrise, to the harp-like song generated by the wind through the bridge cables, to the ship sailing below the bridge, to the glistening waters, to the varied riders, to the seagulls accompanying us, to the ferry ride back to Mackinaw City, we had a very, very special adventure. It was worth every single penny.
Kudos to all of those involved in holding this particular event twice a year (late Spring and early Fall). This ride/tour should be on every cyclist’s bucket list and certainly goes down as the A, number one bicycle ride of my lifetime thus far. Sorry, Lion’s Gate Bridge, you are now a close second.