Wednesday, March 4, 2009

To Hell and back - on a bicycle!

The August 13, 2006 edition of the Chicago Tribune had a story about an 87 year old man named Clayton Klein who was planning (again) to walk from Paradise to Hell to raise money for cancer research.

The journey from Paradise, Michigan to Hell, Michigan is roughly 420 miles, and would take him three weeks to complete. Even though I’m in pretty good shape for an old codger, I’m absolutely impressed by someone that age undertaking a walk of that length.

Since the publication of that article in 2006, Mr. Klein has completed two more walks in his quest to raise money for charity. In 2008, his charity of choice was Michigan Hospice.

If you Google “Clayton Klein”, one of the sites that pops up is a blogsite monitored by a woman named Susan Parcheta, who describes herself as a friend of Mr. Klein.

Her site is attached below:

Susan Parcheta

I keep raising the bar on my bike journeys, because I enjoy challenges.

A 100K was a terrific challenge, until I completed my first one.

Then I completed my first North Shore Century, in the fall of 2005, and raised the bar again.

In July of 2006, I completed my first round trip bike ride to Milwaukee, which was a 160 mile round trip.

To keep my life in balance, I interrupted the journey by having lunch that day with my old neighbor Jim Livingston at a restaurant called “Beer Belly’s” on Layton Avenue, just west of Billy Mitchell Field in Milwaukee. I had a brat sandwich, and the equivalent of four beers (two boombahs), and rode back.

Although I plan to eventually ride to Minnesota and back in a week, the next step is to ride to my old home town of Waukesha,Wisconsin (100 miles each way) and back in a two day time period.

But the ultimate trip?

Obviously, that would be to ride to Hell and back!

According to MapQuest, it’s 255 miles from Evanston to Hell, Michigan. At my average pace, I had calculated that I could accomplish a round trip ride in less than a week.

When I first started thinking about the possibility of making the journey, I ran the idea past a few of my friends and relatives.

My daughter Kelly, who is the world traveler in our family, also thought it was a good idea, so we started to make plans for a joint ride to Hell.

Conveniently, my cousin Steve lives in a small town not far from Hell, so we made a “reservation” with Steve to stay at his house on our third night out.

I ordered maps from Indiana and Michigan, and we plotted our route, most of which was on Highway 12 in Michigan.

We finally settled on traveling the first week in August, which later turned out to be the hottest week of the entire summer.

Since Kelly’s friend and former roommate Zach worked for the Marriott hotel chain at that time, we made arrangements to stay the first night at a hotel in Mishawaka, Indiana, about 125 miles from Evanston.

By 6:00 that night, we were still about 30 miles from our destination. The hills were getting bigger, and the daylight was starting to fade, so we took a more pragmatic approach to finishing the day.

We hitchhiked.

A great guy named Mike put our bikes in the back of his truck, and brought us right to the hotel door. He refused all efforts to pay him for his help, which left us with the impression that the trip was starting off on a pretty good foot.

We swam in the pool, relaxed in the sauna, and then walked across the street to enjoy a delicious pasta dinner.

The next morning, we used the computer in the hotel’s business center to plot the course for the next day. We had both decided that 125 miles was too ambitious for a day’s ride, so we scaled back to about 100 miles for the second day’s leg.

We found a hotel in Jonesboro, Michigan, and booked a room for the night.

Although the oppressive heat had forced us to take rest breaks every 20 minutes or so during the middle of the day, we were within 10 miles of the hotel by 6:00 that night.

The village of Quincy, Michigan is located in Branch County, Michigan, and it is bisected by U.S. Highway 12.

There’s not a lot of industry, nor are there a lot of people. In the 2000 census, its population was listed as 1701 people. The only structure of note in the town is a single set of railroad tracks that crosses Highway 12.

At a 45 degree angle.

Since we were getting close to our resting spot for the night, we were riding along at a pretty good clip.I was in the lead, and as I crossed the railroad tracks at about 15 miles per hour, the channel adjacent to the tracks pulled my bicycle off to the left, towards the middle of the road.

Momentum being what it is, my body continued forward towards the shoulder of the road, and I landed with a sickening THUD on the gravel shoulder.

Kelly was riding close enough that she also fell, but her only injury was a flat tire on her brand new bicycle.We quickly dragged ourselves and our bikes to the side of road, and pondered our next move. Although we had made plans to bring spare tubes and bike pumps with us, they somehow never got purchased, so our journey definitely fell into the category of “on a wing and a prayer”.
Ultimately, our salvation came in the form of another guy named Mike, and another truck. He drove us to our hotel, where we tried our best to get a good night’s rest. I will have to admit, though, that’s not an easy thing to do if you have gravel embedded in your arm.

The next morning, the proprietor was kind enough to drive us to the hospital in the next town, and bring us back, which saved us a lot of grief.

We swallowed our pride, and called home, and at 3:30 that afternoon, the old Buick, and the new bike rack, showed up at the hotel, and brought us back home.

My old Peugeot picked up a few scratches, and I wore my arm in a sling for about a week afterward, but I was back on the trails again in less than a month.

Before our journey, Kelly had already registered for her first Chicago marathon, and she also kept in shape by riding back and forth to work in downtown Chicago, where she worked as a tour guide for
Bobby’s Bike Hike

Although Kelly had also signed up for some training sessions for the Marathon, her work and other commitments prevented her from logging a lot of miles. By the start of the race, the longest distance she had run on one day was 8 miles.

The temperature on the day of the race eventually climbed to 88 degrees, forcing race officials to cut the race short. A 35 year old man from Michigan died of a heart attack, and over 400 people required medical attention.

Due to her extensive cross training, including a trip (partially) to Hell, Kelly easily finished 20 miles, and could have finished the race if the course had not been shut down. Judging from the pictures we have of her posted on our refrigerator, it looks as though she had run around the block, which still continues to amaze me.

In the summer of 2008, she completed her first
, and plans to do it again in the summer of 2009.

Eventually, I’ll make another attempt at riding to Hell and back on a bicycle, but I’ll be better prepared for the next trip.

Once that’s accomplished, I’ll move on to the NEXT logical step.

The Cross Country Challenge is a 52 day, 3800 mile, journey that runs from San Francisco to Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Nobody ever said it’s going to be easy, and there may even be a few people who might say, “Brennan, aren’t you supposed to be retired?”, but that’s missing the point.

At the age of 56, I sold my house and most of my possessions, and moved halfway around the world to teach English in a country where I didn’t speak the native language.

It was a magnificent adventure, and I don’t regret doing it for a minute.

When I heard the Dalai Lama speak in downtown Chicago a couple of years ago, he said that the purpose of life is to be happy. Although there ARE people who may be content (and happy) watching reruns of “I love Lucy” on TV, that just isn’t for me.

To borrow a line from the Dodge commercials, I’m going to try to continue to grab life by the horns, and will seek adventure as long as I’m able.

If at some point in the future somebody tells me to go the hell, I’ll be able to respond,“No thanks. I’ve been there, and it’s not much of a place”.

Clayton Klein has ALREADY been to Hell and back (more than once), and I KNOW that he would agree with me.


  1. Somebody found your blog right away.
    If you haven't already done so, list your as a website within your Facebook Profile Information block.

  2. To Hell and back calles for a Utube clip of Audie Murphy. Remember on the ride to Waukesha, it's a big hill.

  3. Dave:

    I watched the Ballad of Audie Murphy on YouTube this morning, as well as the 5 minute clip from the 1955 movie.

    Like many WWII vets, he went through some tough times in his youth, and he became an orphan at the age of 15.

    At the age of 16, he lied about his age and joined the Army.

    Wikipedia has a LOT of information about him: