The first bicycle trip was only 12 miles. A loop from Round Barn Winery to several other wineries and back.
And I was nervous.
I’d never ridden that far in one day. I’d never been on a tandem bike with my lovely wife Bethany. And we were riding with our friends Karl and Michelle who are experienced cyclists. I don’t remember for certain, but I’m pretty sure I whined a lot before we started.
Once I got to the wine, I was fine. I was more than fine, in fact.
That was about five years ago. Once or twice a year we go on one of these jaunts. There’s a lot of banter and discussion about the route, the hills, the arrangements.
We’ve started calling it “wiking.” We bike to wineries. It’s kind of our thing. And wouldn’t you know, every new trip is longer than the previous one.
I blame Karl. I blame Karl for a lot of things — at least in jest — but anytime there’s a difficult stretch or a hill that he claimed was small and turned out to go on for a mile, words are directed his way.
We’ve loaded a bike rack or trailer on a vehicle and driven as far south as Bloomington and as far north as Traverse City.
The one-day trip has given way to long weekends, usually involving two days of biking.
We often park at a winery to start the day. They often open in late morning or around noon and after a sizable breakfast, we get on the bicycles and start to ride. You can wear those tight bike shorts with a padded rump. It’ll make your ride more comfortable, but you’ll look goofy. I prefer shorts that are still padded, but less tight. I don’t look good in spandex.
We take water and food so that we can stay hydrated and have a picnic. And using Karl’s routes, we bike to another winery.
Most wineries these days offer tastings where you get a sip or two of various wines for about $5. This isn’t to pound alcohol and get wobbly on a bike. The point is spending time with friends, exploring new territory and tasting what’s offered.
At the end of a day of wiking, it’s nice to have a lovely dinner, wash off the sweat and fall into bed. You may never sleep better.
Six tips to start wiking
- Start small. If you head to southwest Michigan, there’s a winery every few miles. It’s pretty easy to build a small loop using a Google map or even one of the maps available from michiganwines.org. You can also use paper maps. If you head to Kalamazoo, you’ll have to ride a bit farther between wineries.
- Plan a route and have an escape plan. Having a mapped route makes it easier and safer to do this. But if it rains or you have a mechanical issue, you should have some sort of plan. That may involve a better cyclist riding back to get the vehicle while you stay put, but it’s helpful to have those conversations. It’s helpful as well to have one person be in charge of routes and mapping rather than everyone, but involving everyone in big decisions.
- Don’t forget to eat real food and drink water. You are working more than if you were sitting in car and you may be sweating as you stop to sip wine. Eat more than the crackers that go alongside the tasting. And keep drinking water. Meltdowns alongside the road aren’t fun. Trust me.
- Don’t plan to buy a case. If you have a pannier (bike bag) or a backpack, you may carry a couple bottles you purchase from a winery you like. If you have a basket, you may get in a few more. But remember that whatever you buy, you’ll carry up the hill ahead.
- Take someone who’s experienced. This isn’t mandatory, but it sure helps to have someone who knows how to fix a flat tire or how to get the most out of your pedaling.
- Wear a helmet. Duh. Your noggin matters. Protect it.
This story originally appeared in the fall edition of the Flavor 574 digital magazine, which is loaded with cool stuff.
To get it, just download the free Elkhart Truth Publishing app from your tablet’s app store (if you haven’t already), then open it up and download the fall issue, Flavor 574: Make Merry. If you already have the app but can’t find it, check your tablet’s Newsstand section.
Once the issue is on your device, you can access it from anywhere (with or without an internet connection) to read at your leisure.