By Kristi Kates
It was 22 years ago - 1989, to be precise - that Greg Drawbaugh got a new mountain bike and decided to celebrate that purchase with a little more than a ride round the block.
Id ridden the road from Harbor Springs to Mackinaw City a couple of times, Drawbaugh explains, so with the new bike, I thought, hey, lets go bike this thing, but with some friends this time. We talked five friends into doing it and went over to the island afterwards.
The following year, Drawbaugh wrote up a little one-page flier, and sent it out to more friends, calling them to meet at the hotel parking lot at Boyne Highlands.
We had 80 people show up, Drawbaugh chuckles.
SEVEN THOUSAND WHEELS
From 5 to 80, the experience just kept growing as the years passed. The people who wanted to participate in this wheeled trek from Harbor Springs to Mackinaw went up to 350 people then 400. Last year 3,000 cyclists did whats now called the Zoo-de-Mackinac, and owner/coordinator Drawbaugh (his day job is as an accountant) expects 3,500 this year for the 2011 edition of the event, on May 21.
Not bad at all for someone who just wanted to add a little camaraderie to his own bike trip, although Drawbaugh says he had no idea it would get to this extensive of an event.
Well, we did it just for fun at first, he says, and then, after it started getting bigger, after a couple hundred people, I started worrying that someone would get hurt, so we charged an entry fee so we could get some insurance.
Now a full-blown business, the Zoo-de-Mackinacs participation fees cover a wide range of costs for Drawbaugh and his team, including rental facilities, the Zoo-de-Mackinac website, the staff themselves (mostly friends and relatives), and support vehicles for the event.
We have three or four vehicles out there during the day to help people with breakdowns and flat tires and such, he says, a support crew, basically.
Some people even travel Up North with their friends just for the fun of it, even though theyre not biking the route themselves, but will instead drive along in their cars as a support structure of their own for family and friends who are pedaling their way through.
The Zoo-de-Mackinac course sticks close to its beginnings, still starting right at Boyne Highlands, crossing a little of the countryside, and then heading west out to M-119, past Sturgeon Bay and then inland and up to Mackinaw City.
And just how long does this 51 mile bike trip take? Well, that all depends on you.
SIX SPEEDY HOURS
People are free to start when they want, Drawbaugh says, typically, we try to get everyone moving no later than 11 a.m. Most of the riders start between 9 and 10:30. We end up in Mackinaw City in the evening.
Drawbaugh cant, of course, give any medical advice to Zoo-de-Mackinac participants, but he does say that the trek is within reach for most people in good health.
My comment is that anybody thats in pretty decent physical condition should be able to do this, he says, my mom did it until she was 64 years old. I typically tell people to go and do a 20-mile ride before this, which most anybody can do. If youre a little unsure, just start early, because youve got all day to do it, so you can take your time, stop, rest, and enjoy the day.
Most people, Drawbaugh offers, ride about 8-10 miles per hour.
So its probably 5 or 6 hours of actual biking, he says, if you start at 8 or 9 a.m. and mix up a bunch of stops, you can be done and in Mackinaw City easily by early afternoon.
IT ALL ADDS UP TO FUN
And Mackinaw City is definitely the place to be after the Zoo-de-Mackinac. Another part of the event is the big post-ride party at Mackinaw Crossings.
Were in the second year of our big party, Drawbaugh says, so were turning everything up a notch there so that everybody has a good time.
Included in the after-party will be live music, a big tent for the festivities, several sponsors featuring their products, and a pig roast - plus yet another trek, this one over water instead of over land.
Everyones entry fee includes a round-trip ticket to Mackinac Island, Drawbaugh explains, so most everyone goes to the island, and we pretty much take it over for that one night, he laughs, so its really fun.
In addition to the celebration and completion of the bike trek, Drawbaugh says he most appreciates helping his fellow cyclists.
I would say a lot of our participants are not serious cyclists, he explains, theyre just your everyday average person. So its gratifying to see that many people doing something they havent done before, riding 51 miles through this beautiful area.
At the end of the day, theyre proud of themselves, he continues, and its great to see that many people out getting exercise, which they may not have done were we not there to give them guidance.
For more info on the Zoo-de-Mackinac biking event or to sign up, visit www.zoo-de-mack.com, or telephone them at 313-821-8414. This years event takes place on May 21.