This is a shameless attempt to save the the most advanced civilization in
history from imminent self destruction by eliminating carbon emission,
dependence on foreign sources of fuel,obesity, hypertension and diabetes.
Cycling accomplishes all those things at once and helps us develop a better
understanding of ourselves, each other and our relationship to the cosmos.

Oh, horse puckey!
I like to ride bikes, have been doing it all my life.
The rest of that crap is just a fringe benefit,
and the blogosphere gives me a chance to share my interior
monologue with virtual rather than imaginary friends.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Connecting the dots.

I decided to go on a ride last week.  My son had the pleasure of dropping his parent off in the middle of nowhere with nothing but survival gear.  His pleasure  was abated by the fact that I knew what I was doing and how to get back.  But the house was his for a few days.  
After my abandonment at Benzonia, Mi, he returned to a few days of unsupervised bliss while I made my way to USBR 35.  That's the Bike Route #35 on the map of the bicycle superhighway system.  I had ridden most of it at different times but there was a segment between Traverse City and Holland I had never seen, so I went there.
Going south from Elberta, the Bike Route winds it's way along the coast using the infamous M 22 highway.  It's a famous scenic route along the lakeshore of Lake Michigan.
It is a well chosen route which has large paved shoulders and most of the traffic maintains a moderate and watchful pace.  Not that they are worried about cyclists or not killing anybody, most are just busy gawking at the forests, hoping to see a bear and 
anticipating another scenic overlook where they can take a prolonged look at a beautiful lake shore.

   It must be some sort of natural hypnosis because we never seem to get tired of looking at big hunks of water.  I can't figure it out.  Maybe it's Freudian, but we always want to look.  Well, water looks like water whether it's salty or not.
   Making my way down the coast, I managed just around 50 miles to the Orchard Beach State park on the first day.  The terrain is hilly, bordering on mountainous, but becomes less so as you go south of the Leelenau Peninsula.  The wind was right in my face going south (I expected that) testing my patience.
   I was reminded how cycle touring is different from club and charity rides.   It's a lot of fun on a club or charity ride to pretend race with spandex hamsters across a defined and  repetitive route.  Out here, on a bike loaded with camping gear and clothing, there is a destination which needs to be attained each day.  That's it.  There is no incentive to "leave it all on the pavement" striving for a KOM on Strava or beating your buddy on his new Cervelo.  Just whatever it takes to get there with enough energy left to enjoy where you are.  Against the wind on hilly terrain, it's best to gear down to whatever cadence is comfortable and stop as often as you please.  You don't want to get there too early with time on your hands, or too late, but you want to do it again tomorrow.
   A nice thing about the coast of Michigan is the proliferation of campgrounds.  This is not a trail with rustic sites like the CO or IM trails.  I suffered the luxury of a swim at the beach and shower on a daily basis as well as electricity to recharge my phone and the company of curious campers who had never seen anybody go anywhere without a car or 90' mobile whatever.
   The route is fairly well marked with the official USBR 35 signs in most places, but those are overridden by local signage like the ones in Manistee which lead safely into and around the town.  I somehow managed to use my imagination and ignore one of the signs.  I went a little off course for a while,but used my touring instincts and Google maps to keep heading south toward Ludington and found a pleasant gravel road which took me through the Manistee National Forest.  It was a beautiful ride through a canopy of forest with no traffic until I realized that the area is known for it's Black Bear population.  I wasn't carrying bear spray but the best repellent is a lot of human noise, so I turned on the tunes to back me up.  I'd seen one of those critters from a car and did not want to get any closer.  I figured The Who, "Live at Leeds" would scare the shit out of any wild animal, so I let Roger Daltry protect me.  I was safe.
Somewhere out there, I intersected with USBR 20 the east west version of the bicycle superhighway. It runs from the ferry at Ludington to the ferry at Marine City between Detroit and Port Huron.  The ferry at Marine City is the only sane way for a cyclist to cross the Canadian/US border here in Michigan.  It's a trip for a later day.  USBR 20 led me back to a more civilized area and BR 35 which winds down along the coast through the scenic drives in residential areas through Ludington and Pentwater.
Along the way are the beginnings of a wind farm or two.  A lot of people have complained about them destroying our views.  I don't have a problem with them, there is an elegance and simplicity to their methodic rotation, I hope to see more.  The wind was supposed to shift and be helping me by changing from SW to NW, it failed. I still fought a headwind all day, but only a mild one compared to Sunday.  I got frustrated and took my private jet to Dubai for a little breather.
  Really, that's what it looks like when you look across Silver Lake at the dunes.  The dunes here are something of an environmental catastrophe well used.  At least that's what I am told.  The little scrubs you see poking their noses out of the dunes are supposed to be the tops of old pine trees that were not cut when the forest was clear cut.  I was told that the pine forest here (and a couple other places along the shore) was harvested to provide lumber after the great Chicago fire way back when.  The absence of trees accelerated the growth of the dunes and they have become a major recreational area for dune buggy racers and tourists.  I've never bothered to look for documentation on the story.  It might just be another suburban myth, but it makes sense.
   Leaving Silver Lake Tuesday morning was an exceptional day of riding.  It's just a few miles to Mears to jump onto the Hart-Montague trail heading south into Muskegon.  The trail is all paved and I ignored the orange barrels and signs that said the trail is closed.  What could be wrong?  I survived 20 ft washouts and chasms on the IM trail so this could be no big deal.  It wasn't.  There were a couple of crews working on some new decks and the pavement had been marked for repair.  Repair? Hell, it's already one of the most best trails I have  seen.  It has consistent asphalt, nice shade, few road crossings and seems to get very little use.
Down the road a piece I saw the result of the upgrades.  It is pristine asphalt, a widened path, wider shoulders and a real pleasure to ride.  I hope the DNR plans to upgrade the rest of the trail to this level.  What wind I had to deal with was dampened by the tree cover and the temperature had moderated considerably.  After the end of the Hart-Montague trail I took to the streets for a few short miles down Whitehall Rd.  It led to the Fred Meijer trail which led around the bay to the downtown of Muskegon.  Again, this trail is in excellent shape and had little traffic.  Trails like this are perfect for a cycle tourist.  There's great pavement, a few cyclists and, for some strange reason, no multi-taskers (walking the dog while strolling the baby, listening to headphones, and texting their friends...while on roller blades).  Trails do create more intersections, but how fast do you expect to ride on a 70# bike?
  Winding through downtown I saw a retired Navy vessel converted to a museum, a reminder that this is a port city.  The route at this point is part of the designated USBR35 but I saw no signage.  Google mentions the route in it's directions and I followed the residential streets from downtown south parallel to Henry St until I reached Norton Shores.  Henry St. terminated at the turn to the Hoffmaster State Park which also has excellent modern camp facilities.  It had been a stressfree ride all day.   I had plenty of energy to hang out at neighboring campsites where people had a million questions about my trip.
 Wednesday morning following Google instructions to the route (again, I saw no signage on this portion) I caught the Lakeshore connector trail north of Grand Haven which is again a harbor town with a large Coast Guard station.  Their harbor looked more like an ad for the banking industry, it was strewn from end to end with second mortgages. The trip promised to be very challenging.  The wind had picked up and reached 10-15 MPH with gusts up to 25.  The route was relatively simple and comparatively flat but the wind was a trial from the beginning.
The Lakeshore trail at this point parallels the highway cutting along the shore in well developed residential areas.  As you might expect, the trail is a glorified sidewalk with frequent drives to negotiate, but I was getting nowhere fast against the wind and being separated from the high traffic volume was a relief.   This area between Grand Haven and Holland is residential and there is a lot of business and commuter traffic on the Lakeshore Rd.  If you expect any scenic view of the lake, you won't find it here.  This is expensive real estate.  The lake shore views have been jealously protected by some very large homes and landscaping to maintain the privacy of the view purchased.  Really, how much do you want to pay to look at a hunk of water every day?  

  There were a couple of interesting preserves along the way, nice foot/cycle paths to explore, but I had no time for that.  Finding my way through Holland, I stopped at the south end of town for a break and bought the evening and morning meals I needed.  Thirty miles in the wind had me whipped and I decided not to attempt reaching South Haven.   I had seen what I came for, the USBR35 route from here is Blue Star Highway going south until it connects with Red Arrow highway north of St Joe.  I had been there and wanted to get home.
   I cut across the farm land of  northern Allegan County.  Zig-zaging my way through the excellent county roads gave me a welcome relief from wind and would make my Thursday ride much shorter. I saw Silver Creek County Park on the map near Hamilton and wanted to reach it for the night  I couldn't find it.  I finally ran out of energy and decided to backtrack a couple of miles and make do with the back yard of an abandoned church or schoolhouse.
   The building was neglected and obviously hadn't been used in years but probably served as a church and/or school house sometime over the past hundred years.  I was secluded from both roads at the intersection and sat down to cook dinner and wait for sunset.  As darkness began to fall, nobody had come by to question me so I set up camp.  If somebody had come by, I would have told them the truth and perhaps they could have directed me to the campground at the county park. No concern, nobody came by, I slept late, woke to a heavy rain and went back to sleep waiting for it to pass. Sleeping late, felt good.   I broke camp, Leaving No Trace.  Heading down the road I found the campground about 1/2 mile farther than I had looked.  Oh, well.
    I wasn't more than 40 miles from home, so I took my time.  Riding easy with a mild wind quartering behind me, I meandered through a few county roads into Allegan and took M-40 a few miles until I could cut over to catch the Kal-Haven trail outside of town.   Thursday was like an easy recovery ride after the stress on Wednesday.  I had no mechanical issues all week and except for the wind and heat it was a great 250 miles over 5 days.  If you take a trip on US BR 35, it's best to start at the south end since the prevailing winds are SSW. The logistics didn't work for me on this trip, but if I decide to try the whole route some day, I will take the train to New Buffalo and ride North to have somebody collect me later.


  1. I rode with a group from Holland to St Ignace (way back in 1994). It was 450 miles over 7 days. I don't think we had the luxury of many trails. Most of our route was along the highway. We did travel off the main drag to see wonderful towns. I would love to go back and take more time.

    1. It is a wonderful piece of nature to experience. At some point I hope to ride the entire route.

  2. Great write-up Marc! Thanks for sharing!

  3. What a lovely ride. Any chance Daltry works with aggressive dogs on the loose?

    1. Domesticated critters may be used to that kind of raucous behavior.