1 Lake, 4 States, and 300 Miles of Cycling

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If you want to see charming landscapes in every state that touches Lake Michigan while riding a bike with thousands of other people, then here is your itinerary for next year:

  • Door County Century: Door County, Wisconsin
  • North Shore Century: Northern suburbs of Chicago and Kenosha, Wisconsin
  • Apple Cider Century: Southwest Michigan and northeast Indiana

I was lucky enough to be able to do all three of these 100 mile bike rides this year, and put together a little comparison of them below. But first, a little backstory…

After enjoying my first century ride at Apple Cider Century last year, I was hungry for more. I searched for additional supported century rides near Chicago and discovered that they were almost done for the year; century season is basically just the month of September. I would have to wait another year.

Over this past winter and spring, I commuted to work via bike daily and got into better bike shape. As each century registration opened, I signed up. At that time, I didn’t have full confidence that I could do 3 centuries 3 weeks in a row, but I knew I had to try.

I was ready to do all of these rides on my own, but did not have to. My significant other – the person who got me really interested in cycling in the first place – was excited to join me for all three centuries! We also had friends and ad-hoc riders join us while riding (or we joined them), so we were always in a group of three or more riders. Even having a couple more people to ride with makes a big difference; rotating out the leader of the pack helps everyone to conserve energy, and having friends to chat with is much more fun!

Door County Century

Sunday, September 10th

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Typical view during the Door County Century ride.

The Door County Century (DCC) registration is limited to 3000 riders. Parking was plentiful, though we didn’t need to park for DCC, as we stayed at a nearby Airbnb and only had to ride a short distance to the start/finish.

The weather started out a bit chilly in the morning, but warmed up to being perfectly comfortable in the 70s during most of the day. There was also plenty of shade along the route to keep us comfortable.

There was a large variety of riders which ranged from the unprepared to the over-prepared. We were surprised by how many tandem riders were there too!

The DCC route takes riders on a tour around the perimeter of the Door County peninsula, primarily through low traffic residential areas and quaint downtowns. Even though we rode alongside Lake Michigan (including Green Bay) for most of the ride, we couldn’t always see the lake due to shorefront housing. However, most of the rest stops made up for that with gorgeous lakeshore views.

The route was pretty well marked with signs, and we could almost always see other riders along the way. The landscape was generally flat, but included a handful of small hills, which kept things a bit more interesting. The elevation totaled ~2600 feet, which was more than North Shore Century, but less than Apple Cider Century.

There were 6 rest stops, which was 1 more rest stop than the other two centuries. This resulted in reduced distances between all the stops, with the last stop only being 7 miles away from the finish line. Each stop had similar, but slightly different foods to enjoy. The best snack was the cheese curds at the very last stop! #wisconsin. Some riders even named their team after DCC’s cheese curds!


The following link shows a map of the route, as recorded through Strava:

Time-Lapse Video

2017 Door County Century from Laura Shields on Vimeo.


North Shore Century

Sunday, September 17th

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We occasionally got glimpses of Lake Michigan during North Shore Century, but our typical view was a bit less scenic.

I read somewhere that the registration limit for North Shore Century (NSC) is 2000 riders. If that is true, then NSC had the least amount of riders of all three centuries. Parking was a little scattered, but there were plenty of side street options in addition to the main parking lot.

The weather ended up being pretty nice in the 70s/80s, though we did feel a little drained while riding through sunny sections during the hottest part of the day. Compared to the other centuries, NSC had the least amount of shade along the route, though still a decent amount of shade.

In general, the riders at NSC seemed to be more serious cyclists. It was not uncommon to see teams and large groups speeding along while drafting each other. There were more high-end road bikes and aero bars, and less casual bike geometry. We didn’t see too many families and kids, though perhaps the 100 mile route didn’t overlap much with the shorter routes they might have taken.

It was nice that NSC had a digital route available via the Ride with GPS app. There were paper cue sheets available at the registration area and rest stops. The roads didn’t have as many markers as the other centuries, and sometimes the markers were a bit abrupt or confusing, but we still used them as our primary way to navigate.

We couldn’t always follow the pack because not everyone was doing the 100 mile route, and there were some stretches of road where we didn’t see anyone for a while. During those stretches, we often wondered if we were still going the right way. One time, we stopped to check and discovered we actually had gone the wrong way! We may not have been the only ones to do so either; we had followed another cyclist. Luckily, we were only a couple miles out of the way.

The route navigated us through residential suburbs, on the shoulders of faster-moving roads, and on access roads next to highways. Some road sections had dedicated bike lanes and others did not. Most of the route was flat; NSC had the least elevation of the three centuries at only ~2000 feet total. It also had the longest stretches of straight road, which meant that people generally went pretty fast. There were more stopping points compared to the other centuries: stop signs, stop lights, and even an unexpected extended stop for a unmoving freight train. However, even with all the stops, we averaged faster speeds and finished this ride the quickest!

There were 5 rest stops. We were very impressed the the massive amounts of homemade baked goods at every stop, including zucchini breads, banana breads, brownies, and blondies! There were also some unique and delicious food items, such as grilled hot dogs, pizza, Egg McMuffins, and ice cream! Instead of Gatorade for electrolyte drinks, they had Nuun. Everything was delicious.


The following link shows a map of the route, as recorded through Strava:

Time-Lapse Video

2017 North Shore Century from Laura Shields on Vimeo.


Apple Cider Century

Sunday, September 24th

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Typical view during Apple Cider Century: small country roads with rolling hills in rural Michigan and Indiana.

The Apple Cider Century (ACC) is limited to 6000 riders, which is double the limit for DCC and triple the limit for NSC. I’m not sure if registration filled up, but we never felt crowded at any point along the ride. Parking took a little longer than expected, but seemed fairly well organized.

The weather was very hot this year – around 90 degrees and humid. However, the burden of heat was lessened because the majority of the route was shaded by trees.

The route was very different than last year’s and this seemed to be an improvement. This year, the route was almost exclusively made of rural roads. These small rural roads weren’t always super smooth and sometimes had quite a bit of debris from trees: walnuts, apples, etc. The route was more hilly than the previous year route, as well as the DCC and NSC, but this actually made it more fun for us Chicagoans. We discovered that this year’s route, with ~3500 feet of elevation, resulted in about 1000 more feet of elevation compared to last year’s. Overall, this year’s route seemed safer and even more beautiful than last year’s.

There were 5 rest stops. Some stops were as little as 13 miles apart, while others were as much as 22. All the stops had almost the exact same food and drink options, which included plenty of PB&J sandwiches, potato chips, bananas, cookies, mini Clif bars, Clif Bloks, gatorade, and water.


The following link shows a map of the route, as recorded through Strava:

Time-Lapse Video

2017 Apple Cider Century from Laura Shields on Vimeo.



To summarize these centuries, here is a quick list of distinctions we came up with:

  • Most Friendly Car Traffic: Door County
  • Best Ride Accommodations: Door County
  • Most Elevation: Apple Cider
  • Best Ride Directions Signage: Apple Cider
  • Best Food: North Shore
  • Most Competitive: North Shore
  • Our Overall Favorite: Apple Cider

Although I’ve made it a point to find the differences between these three midwestern centuries, they were actually quite similar. These rides were full of friendly volunteers and a varied range of riders: young and old, casual and serious. There was always a pleasant array of bikes, from road to mountain and cyclocross to cruiser, even steel tandem to carbon tandem 😀 We always saw jerseys from other midwestern rides/races – Ragbrai jerseys seemed to be an especially popular choice. All the rides had similar food and drinks, including Clif as a sponsor. All had plenty of SAG vehicles and a phone number to call in the event of an emergency. Our rumps hurt at the end of every ride. There was no shortage of beautiful landscapes. And at the end of every ride was a crowd full of tired, happy cyclists.

Needless to say, all of these Lake Michigan centuries were great fun. If you like riding bikes, I recommend giving them a try, even if you don’t think you can do the full 100 miles. You might just find out that you’re capable of more than you thought.


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