Riding Michigan Coast to Coast

As I sit here in Michigan, in the middle of winter, I’m doing a little reflecting. Other than the daily question, what the heck am I doing in this state/climate? I’m thinking about how it’s been a very long time since I posted an adventure story. This past summer I did set out on a ride that certainly would have been worthy of a few words in this blog, but that ride didn’t play out as planned, hence no story.

Now that several months have passed since that ride and finding myself in a peculiar mood to write… Figured I’ll tell the good, bad, and ugly of what happened and satisfy my yearning to pen some witty banter that will either, entertain some or continue to feed my delusion that someone besides my mom reads this stuff.

For the inquiring minds who thought the absence of posting meant I finally went off the grid to live a nomadic lifestyle for good, I have been loading the bike and getting out. It’s just been simple overnight rides that, to me, are not worth writing about. As for those wondering what I plan to do next? Some very ambitious adventures are on my wish list. Just don’t know when I can make it happen. I’m too busy right now being a responsible adult. Although, the nomadic lifestyle is looking very appealing right now. 

Grab some popcorn, get comfy, and let me tell you the story. 

This is a trip/route that had been on my radar for a few years. Cruising around the internet one day, with no particular objective, I stumbled upon an annual bike race called Michigan’s Coast to Coast Gravel Grinder. It’s a 213-mile trek from Au Gres on Lake Huron to Ludington on Lake Michigan. Instant intrigue! https://micoasttocoast.com/

To give you a quick map of this route… Hold out your left hand in front of you, palm facing away. The route kind of follows the knuckles starting with your index finger knuckle and ending with the pinky Knuckle.  The name ‘Gravel Grinder’ says it all, as 60% of the route is on dirt roads and backwood trails. 

For those who don’t follow my stories or those who forgot, let’s get one thing straight right now, I am NOT a bike racer by any stretch of the imagination. Downloading the GPX track of the race route into my GPS, provides me a route to ride anytime at my leisure. At my pace, 213 miles is a nice four-day ride. 

With the route loaded and a pile of bikepacking gear always ready to roll, it was just a simple matter of setting up the logistics and dedicating the days to make it happen. The biggest factor to sort out is that a very kind soul is necessary to pick my keister up in Ludington and shuttle me and my gear back to my car on the other side of the state. In reality, I could extend dedicated riding time a few more days and yo-yo the route, therefore being my own transport back. I’m just not a fan of doubling back on a route. Much of the adventure is missing on a familiar backtrack. That’s four days of riding time I’d like to spend exploring a new route. 

When my ride from Ludington was secured, just a few short weeks remained before our agreed rendezvous. Figured it was probably a good time to get the bike out to start logging some training miles. My normal gym time had to take a backseat during this period because I’m at the age of; ‘only good for one or the other’. Also had to put the debit card to good use and replace some pieces of my bikepacking kit that a previous ride showed were on their last legs. 

Here’s where the story takes the turn to; Better luck next time. The night before my departure, with everything loaded in the car and ready to go… Let’s just say my shuttle from Ludington was canceled. 

That night a million and one thoughts were running through my head. Where else could I do a four-day bikepacking loop? I have no short list of local “someday” rides to save the day. So I’m searching the net for a replacement route and came back with nothing. Another thought I pondered… Pushing my limits, I could do the out and back and turn it into a six-day adventure. Would just need to check with work to see if they would be good with me adding Monday and Tuesday to my Thursday and Friday time off… But I really didn’t set up responsibilities at work to be off longer than the two planned days. Riding 70 miles a day for 6 days in a row is very doable for me on 100% paved roads but is a killer on dirt roads and trails. That’s a hard pass.

The next morning, I woke up a little after 4:00 am, laying in my comfortable bed with thoughts of what the heck am I gonna do? The ride that I had been imagining for the past couple of years and intently preparing for over the last few weeks has crashed and burned. 

Nobody is depending on me to do it. Nobody will be disappointed if I roll over, went back to sleep, and stayed home. The only reward for riding is enjoying the adventure of being on the trail and the personal satisfaction of meeting the physical demands of propelling my ass a couple hundred miles through God’s country.  

I decide to ride and make up the agenda as I go. Who knows, maybe I’ll be too sick to work the following week [cough cough].

With no packing to do, I got in the car and headed off to Au Gres, arriving there at about 7:00 am. I wasted no time setting up the bike with all my gear. As everything gets stored, fastened, buckled, and strapped down tight on the bike a self-pep talk is necessary. Apprehension is building, just like it does every time I’m about to embark on a solo overnight ride. Like always, I push through the desire to get back into the car and reluctantly swing a leg over the bike to take off. Within the first few peddle strokes the forgotten but familiar feel of a fully loaded bike under me replaces apprehension with serenity. Every past bike adventure immediately fills my soul as if I never left the trail. The gentle breeze whispers a very congenial, welcome back my friend. Let’s ride.

The morning air is a tad brisk as I settle into a rhythm for the day’s ride. Simple things such as a bend in a road or the smell of pine trees randomly trigger a memory of rides past and are presented so vividly as if it happened yesterday.

The windbreaker jacket is providing the perfect cover to combat the chill, however, I’m wishing gloves would have been part of my departure routine as well. It’s not bad enough to stop and dig them out of my bags as the low morning sun and the cooler air near the Lake Huron shoreline will soon not be a factor.

As I follow the route, as it is laid out on my GPS, I admire how the original route planners outdid themselves to keep racers on dirt as much as possible. I rode past a few roads marked with signs indicating “bridge out”, making the highly erratic route line on my GPS now understandable. 

About 20 miles into the day’s ride, a road closure affected my route that I’m certain the race planners did not have to account for when the race was run earlier in June. As luck would have it, the bridge over Interstate -75 was being reconstructed. Riding up on the road closed sign presented two options. Bring up Google maps on my phone, find the reroute and head in that direction, or peddle the 1/3 of a mile to the construction site and kindly ask if there is a way for me to get across. I opted for fewer miles with a side of groveling. The guy who appeared to be the most important of the crew was very empathic to my plight, but there was no way. The bridge was but a steel skeleton with zero road deck. The reroute added roughly 4 miles to my journey. 

Sorry. The bridge is out.

Preparing for this trip I had a few logistics to work out beside the shuttle from Ludington. I spent plenty of time working on where my overnight stops will be. I absolutely love routes that transverse federal land because there I can camp just about anywhere… Legally. On this route I wouldn’t see federal land until the second night, so securing a place to camp the first night was paramount before heading out. The route goes right through Gladwin and luckily I have a friend with a summer cottage in Gladwin. 

I reached Gladwin at about 2:00 but first visited downtown for some much-needed nutrition. After lunch, I rode to the park and hung out for a bit to relax and simply enjoy the beautiful day. If you ever find yourself in Gladwin, just know a visit there is not complete without a stop at the iconic Corner House Ice Cream Shop.

Only had a few miles of riding after my ice cream calorie infusion to reach the cottage. All in all, I put a total of 72 miles on the tires for the day. Once made my stop for the night, I immediately set up my tent, traded my cycling wear for camp attire, then made my way to the lake with a towel and soap to wash the day’s road grime off my body. The hose water was too darn cold. 

Side note for those wondering what kind of friend didn’t let me stay in the cottage for the night? An offer was graciously extended, but I declined. Having access to the comforts of home did not fill the prescription my bikepacking soul was aching for. 

After relaxing for a few hours and making sure I was sufficiently rehydrated, my body told me it was time to crawl into the sleeping bag, even though there was still plenty of daylight remaining. 

Wasn’t asleep for very long when I was awakened by the uncomfortable absence of a pillow. Felling around I quickly realized it was still there, just all of the air had escaped the blowup pillow. Assuming the cap was not closed well enough, I blew it up and went back to sleep. Well… the cap on the pillow was working just fine. The morning inspection would reveal a seam had failed. I constructed a makeshift pillow in the middle of the night by digging clothes and jackets out of my bags and cramming them into the head cover of my sleeping bag. Not exactly what anyone would call “comfortable” but it worked. 

Wasn’t back asleep for very long before a noise woke me, and not just the run of the mill, a car drove by absent of an adequate muffler, kind of noise. I’m talking about the one that takes you from a dead sleep to sitting straight up wondering what the heck is that? 

I’ve spent a lot of time in the Michigan woods, hunting, camping, etc, and NEVER before have I heard a monkey being strangled. This grievous attack was taking place in a tree just a few yards from my tent. To add a little more excitement to the whole episode, another monkey is being strangled about 100 yards away. This kept going back and forth like two drunk girls Woo Hooing each other at the bar. Ok, so it wasn’t THAT bad, but still annoying. 

Let me jump ahead in the story for a moment. A few days later back at the casa, I searched to find out what in the world was making that noise. It was a Barred Owl. If you don’t know what that sounds like, search for it! If you find a video of one just making the typical mild-mannered ‘whoo… whoo’ sound, keep searching until you find the strangled monkey, because they do both. According to the leading biologist, they only do the call I heard in close proximity of a tent, between the hours of 1:00 and 2:00 am

Wish I could say once the bothersome owls took the pub craw bus to another bar, I slept well until dawn. Nope! Woke later to a sleeping pad that decided it was now its turn to; release thine air trapped within. Hmm, let’s blow that back up too, and hope it stays inflated until sunrise. Didn’t even get back to sleep before it was flat again. Morning inspection revealed the hole is patchable but overall this pad is on its farewell tour.

When morning finally came and being a little extra sore from having to sleep on hard ground, overnight developments required a revaluation of decisions made the prior day. The plan I had formulated before going to bed, was to ride to the next intended stop near Cadillac MI. From there I would then ride two days back to Au Gres. 

Very likely I could make a pillow and a sleeping pad not willing to hold air work for at least two more nights with superglue from the dollar store. 

Like a pro Quarterback on 4th and goal, down by 6 points, with just seconds on the clock, I call an audible… This ride was cursed before it began. I’m riding back to Au Gres now!

I log into Google Maps, tell it that my mode of transport is a bike, and let it route me back to my car in Au Gres. The new route was; mostly on paved roads, a little more direct (fewer miles), and more northern than yesterday’s gravel route.

After a quick breakfast and breaking down camp, I was on the road on an absolutely beautiful morning. 

This area of Michigan is known for its Amish population and the morning route took me past a collection of Amish farms. I met five Amish horse-drawn buggies on the road, giving the drivers a friendly wave as we passed each other. Riding past one farm a boy briefly abandoned his morning chores to give me an enthusiastic fist pump. Reciprocated with a fist pump back.

On the route, I came upon an Amish general store and determined my life will not be complete if I don’t stop. The small store is stocked with household essentials, obviously not a single item with a power cord or requiring batteries. One thing did catch my eye and the purchase would certainly fit into one of my bags, and that is a bottle of Maple Syrup. 

I will certainly let Google Maps route me on my bike again as the roads it chose had very light traffic. It even routed me on 5 miles of my kind of riding. A truck trail on state land. Riding the truck trail revealed the vast wildlife population in this area of Mid-Michigan, evident by the tracks left in the sandy roadbed. Riding along I could easily make out the tracks of, Deer, Turkey, Raccoon, Coyote, and even Bear.

On the easy ride back to Au Gres, I took my time, made a few stops for food, and pondered my next move. What could I do for the next two days that would keep me on a bike in the backcountry? The plan I came up with was driving to Munising in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (UP) to ride/camp Grand Island. This is a short mileage 2-day ride I did in 2018 that I vowed would certainly do again. Link to that story here: https://maunabiker.com/index.php/2019/02/23/adventures-of-2018-part-iv-grand-island-munising-mi/

About five miles out from reaching the end of the day’s ride in Au Gres, a sharp pain in my right knee had suddenly developed. For about half a mile I traded walking and riding in an attempt to alleviate the pain. Walking was painless but riding it was not improving. Decided to just ride it out, but if gets any worse I will be walking this damn bike back to the car. 

Low traffic and easy riding.

Finished the day’s ride by recording 62 miles, and knee pain that may have subsided, or I just became accustomed to its presence. Not sure. Loaded up everything in the car and was on the road headed north to the UP.  There was, however, one factor yet to be determined if Grand Island is a go or a no, and that is finding a replacement pillow and sleeping pad. 

Even though I have a full bikepacking kit that has proven it’s worth many times over, new equipment is always coming up on my radar, I knew exactly what my replacement sleeping pad will be. Heck, I can tell you what every piece in the kit could quickly and happily be updated with. There is a store on my way to the UP that just might have that pad. This store is Jay’s Sporting Goods in Gaylord MI. 

The stop at Jay’s revealed a couple of choices in good sleeping pads but not the one on my wish list. Came close to pulling the trigger on a nice pad but concluded, if I’m going to spend $200.00+ for a new pad, it’s going to be the one I absolutely want. With the new pad off the list, I pondered buying the sleeping pad patch kit Jay’s had so I could keep this adventure train on track. 

Two more deciding factors joined the party and were given high-value consideration. The two-hour rest of my knee while driving to Gaylord did not resolve the pain. Walking was now a bit painful, and a check of the weather report showed an 80% chance of thunderstorms in Munising for the next two days. 

Pffft… Been there, done all that, and then some. But not this weekend. I’m going home. 

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