Thursday, June 17, 2010

Michigan Rails to Trails Bike Adventure

June 10-15, 2010 & June 4-6, 2016

Resources – Rails to Trails Web Site - Search for bicycle trails near Reed City Michigan. Good maps. The trail reviews are worth reading.

Overall Plan – Drive to Reed City area, ride the White Pine Trail south and north as far as convenient (2 days), spend the weekend with family at my son Phil’s home in Lake County, have my daughter park my van in Midland, then ride to the Pere Marquette Trail near Highway 10 and ride it all the way to the other end in Midland, MI (2 days, 100 miles).  2016 plan involved 4 "out and back" rides, rather than the 100 mile ride.  I enjoyed the company of my good friend Stan Brown, also from the Detroit area.

Paris to points south – My original plan was to leave Birmingham at about 7AM, arrive in Paris, Michigan at about noon, and ride about 20 miles south and then return to Paris where I would camp. Paris is 10 miles south of Reed City. The campground is right on the White Pine Trail State Park. This must be the longest and narrowest state park in Michigan. None of the other trails had this designation.

Unfortunately, due to problems with one of our cars, I could not leave Birmingham until about 3PM. I arrived in Paris at about 6:30, set up camp and was riding at 7PM. I planned to use just about all the day light available, so I rode south until 8:15 and then rode back. This made it a 23 mile ride. I saw 2 deer, a rabbit, and surprised a raccoon. The trail is paved from Reed City south to Big Rapids ( 3 miles) and then turns to well travelled dirt/gravel. There are a few overlooks of the Muskegon River, lots of woods, and lots of private property. There are several businesses in Big Rapids where one could get something to eat or drink. I arrived back in camp about 20 minutes before it started raining.

2016 - We started in Reed City and rode to the end of pavement which is just south of Big Rapids.  We learned about the river trail and rode the northern two miles.  It is an "out and back", that is, it does not connect to the White Pine Trail at its southern end.  Just north of Big Rapids the trail crosses the Muskegon River on a long wooden bridge.  We took a long break and enjoyed the river sights.  This ride was about 25 miles.

Stan Brown


Reed City to Cadillac – In the morning, I had a double oatmeal and moved the car up to the major trail intersection in Reed City. I headed north on the White Pine Trail with the objective of reaching Cadillac (29 miles), the northern end of the trail, and then returning. The pavement ends almost immediately but the trails are firm, reasonably smooth, and well worn. They are, of course, exceedingly level, since the locomotives needed very modest grades to pull those heavy loads. There is much evidence of grooving out the tops of hills and filling in valleys. I was very appreciative. There are picturesque wetlands now and then but most of the trail has woods on one or both sides.

There are frequent peeks into private property, farm land or back yards. There is occasional “back 40 storage”, where you’ll find all sorts of machines that were probably going to be fixed “one of these days” but those days never came around, so the machines just sit. There are a few “failed” Christmas tree farms, marked by nice neat rows of Blue Spruce that are much too big now to be Christmas trees and were planted too close together for the trees to now be sold for outdoor planting. Someone must have had a dream about 15 years ago, but in the key years, when the trees should have been harvested, the dreamer must have moved on. I saw 8 does and 3 fawns. I was surprised to see a few does separate from their fawns as they ran away from me. I also saw two large turtles preparing to lay eggs and saw a blue heron twice.

The oatmeal wore off by mid morning and I started to dream of eggs and hash browns. I was very happy to find Mr. Pibs, just north of Leroy, MI. There is a sideways “T” sign on the trail indicating a side trail to a restaurant. It is hardly a trail but it takes you into the back of the parking lot of Mr. Pibs. I had eggs and real hash browns. You actually get to choose from 4 kinds of breakfast potatoes! It looked like I picture the Chatterbox Café in Lake Wobegon. The Norwegian bachelor farmers were at a table near the door.

Ashton is on the map before Leroy but I totally missed it on the way north. I don’t know if there is even a café in Ashton. Tustin is the next town north of Leroy. It has a store but I didn’t see a café. By the time I reached Cadillac, I was hungry enough for a BLT which I found at the Blue Heron bakery and café. With extra special grilled bread, nice thick bacon and ripe tomatoes, it was about the best BLT I ever ate.

The forecast included scattered thundershowers in the afternoon, so I thought it best to try to get back to Reed City as soon as possible to perhaps miss the rain. No such luck. It started raining lightly about 5 miles out of Cadillac. I put on my rain jacket and then stopped under the Highway 131 overpass. It stopped raining. I stretched out for a few minutes.

I started riding again, and it started raining again. This time is rained hard and steady. I put my jacket back on and rode until I arrived in Tustin. I took shelter at the museum that is right next to the trail. While at the museum I saw a Lincoln pickup truck driving on the White Pine Trail. It had no official designation. I saw it’s tracks for several miles south of Tustin. I wonder what they were doing on the bike trail? I waited out two rain showers on the museum porch. That was the end of the rain but the change in weather brought in a headwind. No fair, I didn’t have the tail wind in the morning. I little lesson I learned in the morning was that there is a very lightly used paved road parallel to the trail immediately north of Reed City. I took advantage of this for the final 4 miles. It is wide and smooth.

I was surprised at how exhausted I was. I noticed it at Pompeii’s Pizza as I waited for my midget pizza. I must have had 5 glasses of Sprite with that pizza. I drove on up to Phil’s. Google Maps had suggested a route from Phil’s down to the bike trail (US 10) via King’s Highway, so I took that route rather than my usual route. I missed a turn but managed to travel the whole alternate route in the car. I enjoyed Saturday and Sunday with some of my family. We slept a lot, ate well, read and relaxed. I ran 6 miles on Sunday.

2016 - We started in Ashton, avoiding 14 total miles of unpaved trail.  The first 4 miles were unpaved and quite wet and soft, but between mile markers 73 and 74 the pavement begins and continues all the way into Cadillac.  Stan's bike developed an annoying noise which we couldn't diagnose on the trail, so he turned back at about 8 miles.  The weather report indicated that it would be dry with a 40% chance of rain at 1PM but it actually drizzled all day.  There was a 14 MPH cross wind as well.  Stan offered to pick Norm up at any point, but he rode all the way up and back.  We spotted the big turtles again, but only 2 deer.  From Ashton, the trip was 45 miles round trip.

The Adventure Begins60+ miles to Surrey – I had breakfast at Phil’s and headed out. The major road to connect to the trail was King’s Highway. There were literally more deer along the road than cars. 10 does, 1 fawn, only 8 cars. By the time I arrived at the bike trail, I already had done 14 miles. I began riding on the Pere Marquette State Trail at Nirvana. The plant life was knee to thigh deep and there are many sections where there were no tracks in which to ride. The “trail” is rough since no one has packed it down. Phil warned me that the map he had indicated that this was merely abandoned rail road bed used by snow mobiles but little else. From Nirvana to Chase, there is no reason to call this a bike trail at all. I suspect the section from Baldwin to Nirvana is much the same.
2016 note - we did not ride this stretch but a visual check indicates that there is enough trail maintenance that there is no troublesome vegetation.  It is gravel at the point King's Highway crosses the trail.

At Chase, there emerged a pretty clear “two track”. I suspect this was worn in by horse, motor cycle, car or truck traffic, rather than bike traffic. It made riding a little easier. I was able to shift from 4th to 5th gear.

There were three tunnels under side roads so it was evident that someone has spent some funding to improve this trail. Again, I suspect the intended benefactors were snowmobilers and probably not bicyclists.

My first breakfast wore off by the time I finished my first 25 miles at Reed City. I had a very nice breakfast at the Nestle’s Café. Again, I had my choice of potatoes. At Reed City, the trail is paved. It continues to be paved all the way to Everet. This stretch was a wonderful break after the rugged beginning.

I was hoping it was paved all the way to Farwell but alas, after Everet the pavement ends. It turns back to pretty clear “two track”. If I had read the trail reviews I would have known what sections are paved. In this section of “two track” there are several sections which are very soft. They were not exactly wet but I suspect they were quite wet in the spring.

About 2 miles before reaching the community of Lake I encountered large bright orange signs indicating the trail was closed ahead. I could not see any issues but I did not want to ride a couple miles only to find that a bridge was out and I would have to pedal back to that spot. I left the trail and went over to Highway 10. The cars travel at over 60 MPH but traffic was light enough that they could usually give me plenty of room. The shoulder is about 24 inches wide, with another 3 feet of gravel. Within less than a mile the trail was very near Highway 10, so I could observe it to some extent. I soon saw a highway barricade on the trail. It was not near a bridge. At the next opportunity, I took a driveway up to the trail. The trail had been graded but looked ridable. I gave it a try and found it to be no worse and sometimes better than the ungraded trail had been.

There was a proud sign that this had been paid for by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. I was at first happy that some of the stimulus money had been spent 1) in Michigan and 2) on bike trails. I was then a bit upset that they hadn’t finished the job and they were putting cyclists out on the highway while the project just sat idle. I rode on the graded path, around the barricades at every intersection, until I reached pavement again, just west of Farwell. It looked like the pavement might be the result of the ARRA too. The grass along the side looked like it might have been planted last year. I couldn’t be sure.

At Farwell, I left the trail and rode northwest on Highway 115 to get to the Surrey Motel in Surrey, MI. It was only 1.6 miles and Highway 115 is not very busy. When I arrived, I found the office closed but a note on the door indicating I was to have unit 1. The key was in the door. At that point, I was so happy I had decided not to camp but rather get the motel room. A shower, a bed, and not carrying all the extra weight were certainly worth $37. I only carried a change of clothes, snacks and tools. I was happy to see K’s café immediately across from the motel. I don’t recommend the hot turkey (or roast beef) sandwich. I read a four day old news paper and watched TV until I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer. Including all the stops, and the varied surfaces I had averaged about 90 minutes per 10 miles.

I had a strange, uneasy feeling about the ride the night before I started from Phil’s. I wondered if I could physically complete the ride. There was not much basis for that fear. I had already done 60 miles in a day. I had built up my mileage well at home. I wondered who would come and get me if I had some major break down. There was little basis for that fear. The bike was new. I had a patch kit and a pump, and basic tools. I didn’t like riding those first 14 miles on highways but that turned out to be a non-issue. I just felt very alone and vulnerable. Strangely, those fears faded away as I started riding on that first rough, overgrown section. I just had to pay attention to riding and had little extra capacity to worry. It seems more logical that all the fears would have been magnified by those conditions but that is not how it worked.

Surrey to Midland – I rode down to Farwell and had a nice breakfast at Chrisman’s café. I was riding again by 6:40. I had 5 miles to go to get to Clare. I knew the Pere Marquette State trail stopped west of Clare and the Pere Marquette Rail-Trail of Mid-Michigan began in Clare. The trail is very nicely paved going east out of Farwell until it ends abruptly.

I thought perhaps the Trail Ends sign meant the pavement ended and that I could ride on the grass. I rode only a few minutes, through trees and bushes until I arrived at the bridge which had no deck.

I rode back to the Trail Ends sign and then down onto Highway 115. It was only a mile or so until I arrived in Clare. I followed my map taking Pine Street south from Highway 115 directly to the head of the Pere Marquette Rail-Trail of Mid-Michigan. There are still active rail road tracks in the right of way, so Clare had to go to some considerable expense and effort to make a trail with several bridges to get out of town to the unused rail right of way.

The Pere Marquette Rail-Trail of Mid-Michigan is exquisite. It is very wide, very smooth, and very well marked. There are trail maps at every intersection with point to point distance matrices.

There are benches for resting, many of which are even covered. There are clean rest rooms. Each town has its own park with clean rest rooms right along the trail. Farwell to Midland was 37% of my total mileage but only about 25% of the work. This riding was just so effortless. The land is basically level, so there is little evidence of the railroads making big changes to the terrain. This stretch has several bridges which must date back to the railroad though.

The farms in this part of the state look more prosperous and the fields are all planted and stretch as far as you can see.

The deer I had seen of previous days were replaced by rabbits and pet cats. As I rode, I realized that about 30 years ago I had ridden out on Highway 115, which parallels the trail, on a trip from Bay City to Mackinaw City. It was so much nicer to have this wonderful path with no concern for cars or trucks.

As I neared Midland, I encountered more and more users of the trail including bikes, roller blades, strollers, runners and walkers. I was a bit concerned that the Midland police might not like my van being parked at the trail’s end overnight, so I was greatly relieved when I saw it, right where Anne said it would be. I had set a goal of being “done by one (PM that is)” which was based on the paces I had ridden on prior days. With 97% perfect pavement and no second breakfast, I was done by 10:20.

2016 - We rode from the trail head in Midland west 25 miles and back.  We lunched at the Korner Kafe in Coleman at 30 miles down and 20 to go.  People on the trail were amazingly friendly.  This trail was the best of all we rode; smoothest and widest.  We took a break on the big iron bridge over the Tittabawasee River where we saw fish and many large turtles drifting or swimming.
Helpful Signage at every road crossing

Our final ride in 2016 was a 15 mile ride starting east from Reed City.  This trail is paved but a bit rougher than the others.  We simply rode 7.5 miles and turned around.   On the return when we got within four miles of Reed City, we were hit by a nasty storm, with plenty of rain, thunder in the distance, and then hail. We had a head wind so the rain was hitting us in the face.  Fortunately it lasted only about 10 minutes and we were not far from dry clothes.  The depot in Reed City has nice clean rest rooms.  We had two breakfasts and a lunch at the Seven Slots Grill in Reed City and enjoyed each one.  It is quite busy at noon but the service was still excellent.

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