Monday, September 24, 2018

Lake to Lake Bike Tour 2018

The Lake to Lake Tour is organized by the Top of Michigan Trails Council.  We met at the headquarters in Petoskey, Michigan on Thursday evening for a meet and greet and for a description of the tour, and the various arrangements.  
 Bill Prall, Safety and Maintenance Director, doubled checked our spare inner tubes to ensure they actually matched our tires.  He then did a quick check and adjustment of each of our bikes.  The bikes were then loaded into a trailer to hasten our departure the following morning.

We met near the boat docks in Petoskey on Friday morning and left before 7:00 AM heading for Alpena, on the east side of the state.  The notion behind the title of the ride is that we will ride from the Lake Huron side of the state to the Lake Michigan side of the state.  This would be a direct trip of about 100 miles.  By taking the trails, we would add 30 miles but LOSE ALL THE CARS.  This is a pretty good trade-off.  In order to dip our rear tires in Lake Huron, we started the trip at the Thunder Bay boat basin in Alpena.

We proceeded, as a group, to the actual North Eastern State trail head which is about 2 miles out of town.  

About 125 miles of the trip were on limestone covered trails converted from railroad rights of way.  The soil beneath the limestone is well compressed and the limestone gravel layer is pretty thin so it is a good surface for cycling.  Our group included a variety of bicycles and tires.  There were mountain bikes, gravel bikes, and a few road bikes.  

In the center of the picture below you can find 4 yellow poles across the trail.  These poles keep motor traffic off the bike trail.  There are 4 similar poles before and after each intersection with a significant road.  Bill Prall wanted to ensure that we had unparalleled SAG support, so he obtained permission to drive his car behind us for the entire 133 miles.  This means he had to remove and replace about 300 yellow poles.  That's dedication!
Our first scheduled stop of the day was in Metz, right on the trail.  There is an authentic "Up North" tavern where we partook from a BBQ buffet.  Following lunch we enjoyed a presentation regarding the history of Metz and the Metz fire that almost leveled the whole town.  I say almost because the Catholic Church was spared.  The Lutheran Church was the first building to burn.  Does that say anything about divine preferences?  Perhaps the Catholics of Metz thought so.
 The destination for the day was the Nettie Bay Lodge, which is located on the beautiful, peaceful Nettie Lake.  It is about a mile off the trail.  There were signs to direct us.  We enjoyed liquid refreshments under the shade of giant oak trees and enjoyed the tranquility of the lake.  The host took us for rides on the pontoon boat to see the lake and more specifically to observe the loons that reside there annually.

We had a wonderful dinner featuring meat loaf and mashed potatoes with gravy, mixed root vegetables.  For dessert we had ice cream-filled cream puffs.  The rooming required a bit of cooperation.  Most of us shared bathrooms with people we had just met.  We were a congenial lot and there seemed to be no problems.  Breakfast featured oat meal, pancakes, scrambled eggs and excellent, thick bacon.

 On Saturday, we proceeded back to the North Eastern State Trail and stopped in Millersburg for a tour of the town museum which featured many tools from the logging days, a historic school class room and dozens of historic photos.  Next stop?  Onaway.  This is the largest town on the North Eastern State Trail.  It features a sculpture park.  Finding the park is a bit of a challenge.  I took the first snowmobile trail to the left right after crossing Main Street.  I rode past the ball fields, followed a couple short streets and came to a beautiful little park.  I saw a metal bridge but due to lack of signage, I went back to the trail and proceeded west.  Others were more persistent.  They crossed the bridge and found the sculptures.
These sculptures were created by by Tom Moran of Moran Iron Works.  His home is just off the bike trail and is striking.  It has it's own beautiful sculpture.

 This stretch of the trail has many beautiful ponds, lakes and rivers.

 Our lunch stop was well past half way, at the Aloha state park.  This corresponded well to the completion of my 1,000th mile in 2018.  We ate in the shade of the park pavilion.
 Our destination for the day was the Best Western Motel in Cheboyagan, which is situated just a few blocks from the bike trail.  It backs up to the Cheboygan river.  Every room has a view of the river and a patio.  At this time of day, it was nice and shady on that side of the building.  The Trails Council had arranged for us to ride to dinner on pontoon boats on the river.  This was a relaxing 45 minute ride.  We had a delicious dinner at the Pier M33 Restaurant right on the river, preceeded by an interesting presentation of the inland waterway that goes from the Cheboygan River almost all the way over to Lake Michigan.

The hotel had a good breakfast and we were able to get an early start for the 53 miles ahead.  The first portion is on the North Central State Trail, which would take us as far as Mackinaw City, site of the Mackinac suspension bridge.  I jumped off the trail to visit the Mackinac State Roadside Park to get an early view of the bridge. 
 At Mackinaw City, we transitioned over to the North Western State Trail, which would take us back to Petoskey.  On the map this trail seems to be right next to Highway 31, but along most of the route there is a good buffer of forest between the trail and the road.  

 This trail has more towns with services.  Several of us ate lunch in Pelston, at the Small Town Grill, an authentic "Up North" grill with the kitchen in the dining room.  I ate in; several others ate at a picnic table outside the grill.  At Alanson, the trail joins city streets for about .7 miles.  Pay attention to the signs.  They will get you back to the trail on the south side of town. Just 2.7 miles south of Alanson, I easily found the Oden Fish Hatchery which features the historic Wolverine train car.  This car was used by a crew of hatchery specialists to transport fish from hatcheries to the sites where the fish would be released.  It shows the state of technology for transport, aeration, and the living arrangements for the crew.

 When I reached Poteskey, Jeff from the Trails Council, made sure I got a picture with my front wheel in Lake Michigan to complete my Lake to Lake Tour.

I was surprised at how spread out the group became and how quickly it happened.  Much of the time I could not see anyone ahead or behind me.  If I could see someone ahead, they were a mere yellow or red dot.   Most people came with spouses or friends.  Some found riding partners.  Some of us were happy to ride alone and enjoy the solitude.  We had plenty of opportunities to meet and fellowship after the riding and at meals.

On Saturday, I was feeling especially wonderful about riding.  I started wondering just why I felt so especially wonderful.  I had ridden hundreds of miles on similar stretches of the North Central Trail.  Then it dawned on me.  Every other ride I had done this year was an out-and-back.  Ride, have breakfast, ride back.  Ride, have lunch, ride back.  For three glorious days I did not have to "ride back".  I did not have to see the same scenery again.  I could ride 37, 43 or 53 miles all away from my starting point and toward another place entirely.  When I got there I was done.  I didn't have to turn around.  It doesn't get better than that!

This is a very well organized tour with many special "Up North" touches.  If riding three days in the north woods without cars and without turning around sounds interesting, I highly recommend it.  The tour is limited to 30 riders.  They get you from your car to the start location and carry your duffel each day.  You ride back to your car.

My thanks to the volunteers who made the countless arrangements, drove us to Alpena, trucked our duffels, picked up the lunches, provided liquid refreshment, drove the pontoon boats, did the paperwork and e-mails, and rode with us.

Most of these photos are mine.  Thanks to those on the ride who shared the others.

If you want to work out your own transportation, it seems that you could start in Alpena, ride to Onaway, 45 miles on day 1 (there are 2 motels), then Mackinaw City, 42 Miles on day 2, and then all the way to Charlevoix, 52 miles on day 3.  You'd have to carry your own clothes, etc. and no sweep rider or sag.

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