Friday, June 12, 2009

Make It a Motor City Weekend

Detroit often bears the brunt of the jokes, jabs and jeers. At least this year--and last--anyway. A mayor who lands himself in jail, car companies going for broke, a downward spiraling economy (thanks GM, Chrysler and Ford) where businesses that have been up and running since my family moved to the Detroit suburbs 20 years ago have shuttered their doors, a busted real estate market (again, thank you cars). The city even landed itself at the top of the Forbes Most Miserable Cities list--as No. 1 in 2008 and No. 7 in 2009--and ranks high among the list of least-fit cities and the 10 worst cities for men and women.

As much even I jab the Motor City--once saying that the downtown should be burned to the ground a la Chicago Fire of 1871 and rebuilt--it's not always that bad. Last week I was asked to share some reasons to road-trip to Detroit this summer and list any events or sights that shouldn't be missed, and I didn't have to lie through my teeth to provide an answer. And if you check out this week's Time Out Chicago, you'll see that someone else found a reason to visit the Motor City and enjoyed his time there. In fact, I found a completely different reason to travel there this weekend. And it doesn't involve saving on sales tax, which is more than 4 percent less per dollar than Chicago.

It's the Motor City Triathlon, an event I discovered on an event calendar last year when I promised my parents I'd visit over Father's Day and was looking for something to do. And now one that I would add to my calendar annually. First because the price can't be beat in comparison to Chicago area triathlons--$50 if you register early, only $75 if you register a few days before as I did last year--and second because it's a small race limited to only 1,000 participants. Location is key, held on Belle Isle, a small island in the middle of the Detroit River that's easy to drive to and full of picnic spots, places to run and swim, and a bike lane. And even with its label as a fat city, Detroit still knows how to bring out the triathlete competition. Lots of fast men and women--fancy bikes too--among the Olympic competition and lots of first-timers in both distances. And for me, it's a good gauge to see where I need to improve for the rest of the season: more open water swimming and sighting, faster bike and dismounting, bonking on the run. Plan on the race taking place the second or third weekend of June every year--it's not to miss if you're a triathlete in Detroit.

Speaking of other Detroit happenings not to miss, I wish I had more to list than I actually do. I'm a total homebody when I visit, mostly because I'm there when the weather isn't so hot or I can't find a companion to follow in my crazy adventures (my husband doesn't go with me all the time). But another event coinciding with triathlon weekend this year is happening on the Detroit River, paid for by Canada but enjoyed by both Windsor and Detroit onlookers. Red Bull brings its aerial show to the Detroit River this weekend, with trick planes racing through a course on the river and darting in and out of pylons and looking like daredevils in the sky.

Now the Red Bull event is only going to fuel your endorphins and rev your engine to get out and active, but if you meet up with the Downtown Runners you'll expend that energy and then some. The group meets on Tuesday nights and runs between four and eight miles before quitting for food and drink. Then they're out and about at the races on the weekends. Or for more local running events, check out You won't find a calendar as full as Chicago, Denver, Southern California or New York--where there's at least one event happening every weekend--but if you feel like driving across southeast Michigan and exploring new towns when you run then you can keep racing all season.

As for cycling, I wish I could figure out the rhyme and reason to pedaling in the Detroit area. And all I can note is that cycling has definitely become far more popular in the suburbs where I grew up. It's a regular occurrence to see cyclists pedaling in packs past my parents' house--something I never saw as a kid or even 10 years ago--and pedaling the roads that used to only see cars. If you want to check out a website with more Michigan cycling info, head to

And what city would be complete without a few reward spots to refuel after an intense--or not-so-intense--day of exercise. That's how my mind works, at least. Some of my favorites--at least of the ice cream variety--include The Dairy Mat on Woodward in Birmingham and Ray's Ice Cream on Coolidge Highway in Royal Oak. If you dare to order a double scoop at Ray's, the servers will persuade you to order a single because even the single scoop is huge; Fat Elvis (banana with a peanut butter swirl) is my kinda post-race recovery snack. The Dairy Mat is my answer to Dairy Queen-like treats, except here I can get fat-free fro-yo and save on calories. OK so I don't really save on calories since I order a Flurry--their answer to the DQ Blizzard--packed with Reeses Pieces and sometimes peanut butter too, but at least I made a cut somewhere. Now for hearty eating, you have to try Redcoat Tavern, also on Woodward but in Royal Oak, with its burgers that are to die for. You can choose from a huge list of toppings to build that unique burger, or eat it plain. Whatever you decide, opt for the Piedmontese beef burger--one of the leanest cuts of meat around and waistline friendly--and don't skimp on the fries or onion rings, they are delish. Other made-in-Detroit favorites include Coney Island--American and Lafayette seem to be the faves but I've steered clear of hot dogs (aside from Hot Doug's in Chicago) after too many at the MS150--where you can get a chili-topped dog or amazing chili fries, Middle-Eastern fare--I was once told the Detroit area had the largest Arab population outside the Middle East--and Little Caesar's pizza. While we won't go bragging about our pies like Chicago or New York, Little Caesar's is one of those Detroit treats that you love or hate or deal with when you crave pizza and have no other options. I will say though, it tastes pretty darn good after a triathlon--I scarfed some down after last year's Motor City Tri without thinking twice. Geez, I just made myself hungry but if I ate all this I'd need another workout. Maybe I'll just have to space out the food favorites this weekend. Or bring a bit of the Motor City back to the Windy City come Monday. Photo grabbed from MiRea at flickr. Posted by Kate

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