Archive for the ‘travel’ Category.

Marquette Mountain Biking for Trolls

Over the last two years I’ve taken a few trips to the Marquette area to ride bikes. I’ve become reasonably familiar with the trails and been asked by downstate friends for suggestions of trails to start with, where to ride, etc. These had previously been shared via email or chats, but now I’m consolidating my suggestions here, in a more public form.

This is not a thorough overview of all trails in the area, but instead recommendations from a Lower Peninsula rider’s perspective for how those new to the Marquette area can get started riding comfortably on fun and challenging trail, without getting in over one’s head too quickly. The greater Marquette area offers a huge range of mountain biking, with trails that anyone who is comfortable riding in Southeast or Southwest Michigan (eg: Stony Creek, Potowatomi, Pontiac Lake, Fort Custer, Yankee Springs) can thoroughly enjoy.

To start, visit one of the many great local shops (eg: SportsRack, Down Wind Sports, Lakeshore Bike, Quick Stop) and pick up one of the Noquemanon Trail Network (NTN) Maps. Slightly older versions of these are available as PDFs on the Marquette Township Documents website (under Recreation CommitteeRecreation Maps), but it’s a really good idea to have an up-to-date copy in your pocket until you are familiar with the trails. The South Trails have maps at most intersections, but the (slightly easier to memorize) North Trails do not. These shops are all great and can help with both route suggestions and bike parts/work.

For those of us from lower Michigan, we’re pretty accustomed to one-way trails. In the UP the trails are all two-way, unless marked otherwise (typically only downhill trails). When I first rode two-way trails I was a bit worried about how it’d go, but in practice it’s not a problem. Trails in and around Marquette are much lower traffic than those downstate, and tend to be a little wider with better sight lines. Same as one does for hikers, keep an eye out for other riders, keep to one side or stop and let them by (downhill riders yield to those climbing) and all works out well. When passing, tell the other person/people if you are riding alone, how many more there are behind you, if you are last, etc. (eg: “just me”, “two more”, “last one”.) Others will do the same, and this’ll lets everyone know what to expect.

In the Marquette area there are effectively four different systems of trails, South Trails, North Trails, RAMBA Trails, and Harlow Lake area. Here’s my take on each:

South Trails

Overview: Located just south of downtown, these are generally seen as the main Marquette trails and are the most popular riding in the area. The main trailhead off of M-553 (McClellan) is where the widely-photographed trailhead sign, picnic, and changing areas are at. A huge range of trails start here; this is a great place to begin. (These trails are built and maintained by the NTN.)

What To Ride: Start with the Purple-signed Grom Loop. Yes, the kids trail. It’s a great warmup, and a fun ride to get a glimpse of the rolling terrain in the area; comparable in difficulty to Addison Oaks. Next ride either Green (Morgan Creek Loop) or Red (Pioneer Loop) clockwise. Access these by following the signs and crossing M-553. Green CW begins immediately across the road on your left, Red requires a climb up Benson Grade (the gravel two track) and then begins straight ahead. Ride down the two track at the top of the hill for 100′ or so and then veer left on to the trail if you don’t want to ride across the top of the pipe.

Green is pretty smooth, with some twisty turns, good ups and downs, and the trail takes you over the top of a waterfall. Red starts out with a bit of rock and roots and has some (signed) optional tech lines, but then gets smoother and more flowing, particularly as you enter the Greywalls golf course area. Two good routes that mix up Green and Red and make for some fun riding are:

Trailhead → Climb Benson Grade → 9 (via Red) → 10 (via Red) → 11 (via Green) → Trailhead (via Green)

Trailhead → 11 (via Green / Carp Eh Diem) → 10 (via Green) → 5 (via Red) → 7 (via Red) → 6 (via Red) → 8 (via Red) → Trailhead (via Red)

Near the end of Red, before getting back to the trailhead, you’ll find yourself back at M-553. Cross, turn right on the sidewalk, and a few hundred feet later at the top of a rise look for a trail sign on your left. Enter the woods here and ride this section (known as Mossy) and you’ll pop back out at a road. Cross at the crosswalk and continue along M-553 for a short while longer and you’ll be back at the trailhead.

After riding Red and Green, for more of a typical UP feeling with rocks, roots, and exposure, take Yellow (Gorgeous) east from the trailhead down to the Cliffs Power Road trailhead, the Blue back to the main trailhead. This section has a good bit more climbing and is a lot harder than Red or Green, but is still fun. Just before returning to the trailhead on Blue there is a split labeled More Difficult and Less Difficult. This choice is in relation to the very last section ridden, and the More Difficult section has chunkier rock than anywhere in SE Michigan; it’s quite a sight to see. This route is as follows, but has a few unmarked intersections. Just go straight, following the more-worn groove:

Trailhead → 17 (via Grom) → 18 (via Gorgeous) → 13 → 15 → 16 → Trailhead

Finally, be sure to climb Benson Grade again and ride Down Dogger and Eh Line. Down Dogger is a flow trail that’s completely rollable with only a bit of rock. Keep speed in check and anyone comfortable riding fast on twisty SE MI single track will have a blast. Eh Line is a jump line that begs to be ridden fast getting in the air, and can be ridden by starting part-way up Benson Grade on the right (at a set of large rocks — this is Eh Line) or by riding all the way to the top and starting on Upper Eh Line and crossing Benson Grade to the regular Eh Line. Both of these trails are just to the left at the top of Benson Grade, just over the pipe. We have no trails like these in Southeast Michigan.

Don’t be afraid to go explore; trails here really aren’t as remote as they may seem when riding. They almost all cross two track at some point, and many adjoin neighborhoods. You won’t become truly lost. Anything labeled as Black Diamond (Very Difficult) should be doable to an experienced rider from SE Michigan, but will be a step (or three) beyond what is found downstate. The only section I would suggest avoiding at first is the climb from 18 to 19 into Marquette Mountain Ski Area. It’s a fairly uninspiring climb, and finding one’s way through the ski area and back down can be a bit confusing. This can be a fun ride, but isn’t as good as other parts of the South Trails.

North Trails

Overview: Often overlooked or dismissed as too-easy, located on the north side of town, across the lake from the popular Tourist Park campground. Typically more mellow and smoother than the South Trails, but with some truly beautiful views and fun riding. (Built and maintained by the NTN.)

What To Ride: Everything here should be ridden. I suggest starting at the easterly Tourist Park Trailhead and exploring to the west, sticking to the single track. This is easier climbing and far less technical riding than most routes on the South Trails, but still a lot of fun. Some of my favorite sections are the climb to (and descent from) the Blue Heron Overlook, Collinsville Cut, The Oxbow, and portions of EZ-PZ which run directly along the river. Be sure to ride under the penstock itself on the way to Collinsville Cut. This is the large wooden pipe seen in countless MTB tourism videos (and above).

There are a number of small offshoot / casual trails along here, so watch for the main groove and stick to it. In some places the trail spiderwebs a bit, but don’t be afraid of getting lost. It’s a pretty easy area to understand. If you feel like exploring, head east off of Blue Heron Overlook down the two track and look for the Snow Bike Route (SBR) signs on your left. This is some fun single track which crosses an active railroad and connects to the Noquemanon Trail, an XC ski trail that’s open to bikes which can be ridden east back to the Tourist Park trailhead.

By heading east on the North Country Trail from the trailhead (blue rectangular blazes) one can get quite close to Lake Superior and connect to the bike path into Presque Isle or town. Note that as of mid-July 2016 much of The Pines trail near Wright St. has been destroyed by construction, and as of now it can’t easily be used to link up to the Board of Light & Power Trailhead.

The North Trails are extremely popular with runners and dog walkers, so keep an eye out for other users, particularly in late morning or after work.

RAMBA Trails

Overview: Mostly located in the space between Ishpeming and Negaunee, about 20 minutes west of Marquette, built and maintained by the Range Mountain Bike Club (RAMBA Facebook Page).

What To Ride: These are a collection of hand-built, rugged trails. Maps of some trails are available via Trail Genius, Trailforks, or in print at shops. This area is a spiderweb of trails that is somewhat signed, but can still be confusing to navigate. Head out here, parking at Jackson Mine Park in Negaunee or off of the Iron Ore Heritage Trail (IOHT) in Ishpeming at Cognition Brewing Company (which is one of the official RAMBA trailheads.)

There are two weekly RAMBA group rides open to all levels of riders. The first is on Wednesday at Cognition in Ishpeming, and the second on Thursday at Chappers Pub in Neganuee. Both rides leave at 6:30 pm during the summer, moving back to 6:00 pm as the year moves on. (Check the RAMBA Facebook group for details.) At these rides there are groups which range from extremely fast locals who intimately know the trails to more casual riders who will head out for a stroll on the two track. Introduce yourself, ask around, and find a group that seems right to ride with. The groups ride is an excellent way to see the RAMBA trails and meet up with some great people.

These trails to range from fast and fun to rocky and challenging, with a number of sections that are currently way beyond my skill level. Each time I’ve gone to ride here alone I’ve become a bit lost and frustrated that I couldn’t find trails I’d been on in the past, but still had a good time. One of my favorite parts is riding through the Negaunee Caving Grounds / Old Town Negaunee, a portion of the town which was literally undermined and closed down. Trails run along the old streets, sidewalks, and stairways which are now a park.

Harlow Lake

Overview: Trails located in and around Harlow Lake and the Little Presque Isle Cabins.

What To Ride: Home to some of the more photogenic and technical trails in the area (such as Bareback, seen in a Trail Genius video here), Harlow Lake is often touted as some of the best riding in the Marquette area. However, I do not recommend that someone from SE Michigan head here for first rides in the area.

Trails in this area are effectively unmapped, are unsigned, and are some of the most rugged, rocky, and technical in the area. If up for some exploring, then head out here, parking off of 550 at 46.6150311, -87.4690363,441, and planning to do a lot of way finding. TrailForks has some of the trails recorded here, but a couple of these (eg: Climb Trail) aren’t quite accurate and most trails simply aren’t listed. There’s everything from dirt roads and two track to burly rock stairways. Cell phone service is spotty, this area is fairly remote, and you’re unlikely to encounter others, so be prepared.

Riding in the Marquette area is great, because it’s usually possible to safely ride from wherever you are staying to the trails. In Marquette itself there are rail trails, multi-use paths, and safe residential streets that connect almost everything. One can even get to the RAMBA Trails from Marquette via the IOHT and up into Harlow Lake via dirt roads that connect into the SBR (off of the North Trails). When I’m staying in the area I’ll typically ride from wherever I’m staying to the trails. It’s a great way to see the town and warm up or cool down one’s legs before getting to the single track.

After a day of riding you’ll want food and beer. Here’s a post I did in mid-2015 covering good places to eat in Marquette: Marquette Food Recommendations.

Finally, the great trails in the Marquette area are all built and maintained by volunteers. Sign up for a Noquemanon Trail Network Single Track membership (I’ve got the $45 level myself, which seems good for an out-of-towner) and give a bit back to the trails you enjoyed. Support RAMBA by clicking the Donate button at the bottom of their page and tossing them some money as well.

Marquette Food Recommendations

After traveling to Marquette a handful of times I began putting together a short list of restaurants and such which I think are worth eating at. This started as a list that my friend Marty sent, but I’ve built it out and added my own descriptions. This was sent to a few friends who are heading to this part of the UP for the first time and now I’m wanting to share it as a blog post.

Just because something isn’t here doesn’t mean that it’s bad; I simply haven’t tried it thus don’t have anything to say about it. Every place listed here I’d gladly eat at again:

Donckers: Candy shop, has a restaurant upstairs that’s great for breakfast. I haven’t had any other meal here.
Sweet Water Café: I like this place more than Donckers for breakfast, but it’s different. Donckers is more like a high quality greasy spoon; Sweet Water Cafe is more like an Ann Arbor restaurant with high quality ingredients. Both are good.
Lagniappe: Cajun place. The food seemed good, but prices struck me as a bit high. Tasty, though.
Vango’s: Pizza place which is outstanding, the cudighi (local style sausage) sandwich is great.
The Vierling: Little more upscale restaurant and brewery, but t-shirt/jeans is still fine. Good food, more sit down-y.
Border Grill: Tex-Mex short order stuff, really good. The fish tacos were some of the best I’ve had.
ToGo’s: Good sandwich / sub shop; great for carryout.
Jean Kay’s Pasties: Classic UP pasties, really really tasty. You can also buy them par-baked / frozen to take home.
Ore Dock Brewing Company: Good brewery, snacky food (not much). You can bring food in.
Blackrocks Brewery: Great brewery, no food at all. I think you can bring food in.
Third Street Bagel: Giant bagel sandwiches, decent coffee. Open early.
Dead River Coffee: Outstanding small coffee shop. Very, very good.
Marquette Food Co-Op: Great little grocery store, prepared food, real high quality stuff.
Tadych’s Econo Foods: Regular grocery store, great beer selection. Essentially across the street from the north end of the black trail (Harlow Farms Connector) or whatever; the easy way into the trails from town.
Jasper Ridge Brewery: This place is in Ishpeming and where a group ride meets at 6pm on Wednesdays to ride the RAMBA trails. Beer is nothing special, food is basic. The deep fried mushrooms are great.
Muldoons Pasties: This pasty shop is located in Munising, about an hour from Marquette. Pasties are tasty, but different from Jean Kay’s. I think I like Jean Kay’s more, but a pasty from Muldoons is definitely good and hits the spot.
Steinhaus / Steinhaus Market: Two locations, same people. Really good German-style food. Outstanding for breakfast or dinner. Just simply outstanding. Do not miss.

Manistee / Cadillac / Ludington Area Fat Bike Suggestions

A few months back I happened across this page on fat-bike.com about Ken Blakey-Shell and Scott Quiring riding part of the Little O ATV Trail on fat bikes and wanted to try it myself (Video 1 · Video 2). A mutual friend put me in touch with Ken, and within a few days I’d received a boatload of excellent information about where to ride in the area. Ken encouraged me to share the info, so I’m posting it here for public consumption. While I haven’t ridden any of these trails yet myself, the routes sound excellent and something I hope to do in mid-June.

I’m really excited about riding these. Back-country rides like this are something I love, and new trails to explore sound wonderful.


Here are the suggested routes as Ken emailed them to me. I’ve edited these slightly add links, GPX copies of routes, etc, but it’s otherwise his words:

Little O ORV Trail / North Country Trail

The Little O ORV Trail (PDF Map) / North Country Trail (NCT) figure 8 just north of M10 is the easiest and least technical. It is 50% NCT and 50% moto trail with a around half of the moto trail being super good and the other half of it being only ok. The moto trails are fairly sandy and are best on a 4″ tire fat bike setup although 29+ and 26×5″ work OK too. Regular MTB is a no go. The moto trails are wider (4 wheelers use them too) with lots of banked corners and whoops. There are some extended downhills that are super fun. The other half of the ride is on NCT which is awesome in its own right. There is some significant climbs on this loop but it is all pretty gradual and none of the downhills are very sketchy. I normally start and finish on the northern end of the 8 but you could just as easily start at Timber Creek on M10 and ride NCT a little ways to connect up with the figure 8 loop.

  • This is the shortest route cutting out part of the upper 8. If pressed for time, fitness… this gets all the best parts: Strava · GPX
  • Strava link for just the figure 8: Strava · GPX
  • Strava link for the figure 8 plus some extra NCT starting and finishing just north of the Sable River: Strava · GPX
  • You can also start from the NCT Freesoil Trailhead on 8 Mile Rd but that makes for a fairly long ride: Strava · GPX

North and South Caberfae Loop

The other two routes I recommend are between Manistee and Cadillac. One route is north of M55 and the other is south of M55 and both start at the Caberfae Snowmobile Trailhead. Both routes are a combo of moto trail and two tracks. The moto trail is a lot more technical than anything I have seen for MTB trail in the LP  – I often describe them as the most non-IMBA approved trails in the world. They go straight up and down hills, have tons of water erosion caused trenching, exposed roots and rocks and are really challenging on both the up hills and down hills. There are tons and tons of whoops and bermed corners. Unlike the Little O which is a wider 2 track type trail, these trails are tight singletrack. Quiring and I find these trails to be the most fun of any trails we have ridden in the state but you have to like a challenge to fall in that camp. 29+ is the ideal setup but 4 or 5″ fat bikes work great too. You may be able to ride a regular MTB but it would be tough. You can combine the two loops if you want into a monster ride but you need to be in top shape (both upper body as well as normal riding shape) because you are going to get worked. Both loops are equally good so it is a coin toss which to do. I normally break people in on the north loop first because you start out on one of the best downhills around as soon as you start riding the ORV trail.


Maps

Here’s some heavily annotated map snippets that Ken has graciously provided. The base image for these comes from the National Geographic’s Trails Illustrated maps of the Manistee National Forest: 758 Manisteee National Forest, North Trail Map and 759 Manistee National Forest, South Trail Map. I strongly suggest buying the base maps, as the additional context is necessary to find your way to the trails and for understanding the area. These maps appear to be a great compilation of road, ORV trail, and North Country Trail maps all in one. No other map that I’ve seen as clearly shows how they all overlay; something which is incredibly useful for hikers and mountain bikers alike:

Marquette, MI

With two weeks off of work I took some time to head up to Marquette, MI for some mountain biking focused around the Noquemanon (NTN) Trail Network. Thanks to suggestions from my friends Nick and Marty Shue it was very easy to find my way around and I had a great time and I’m looking forward to my next trip there.

Here’s a dump of my thoughts consolidating information.

Lodging / Location

I stayed at the Ramada in downtown Marquette. Location for this was excellent, with a couple mile easy bike ride (via safety paths / non-road bike/foot specific trails) to both the North and South trail areas. These same trails extend for miles outside of town and would make for good road riding as well. I stayed in room 106, which was a single queen size bed located quite close to an outside door. This was very convenient for riding to and from the hotel. The room itself was nice, although it felt a bit damp in there and gloves/clothes took quite a while to dry.

The Hampton Inn location would also be good location-wise, but it’s quite a bit pricier than the Ramada.

Local Bike Shop

Upon arriving in town I stopped by Sports Rack, located about a block from the Ramada, to purchase an up-to-date trail map and get suggestions for riding. The folks here were extremely friendly, sold maps with all monies to benefit the NTN, and just seemed like a great shop. I didn’t need to buy anything from them, but if the need had arisen I would have gone here immediately. Definitely seemed like a great shop for summer and winter riding.

Food

The following restaurants were recommended to me by Marty, along with my thoughts on each. I would gladly eat at any of these again next time I’m in Marquette:

  • The Vierling: Little more upscale, but still casual and friendly. I had the whitefish with pasta, which was good, but the pasta was kinda lump-ish and together, which might have been caused by all the cheese. Still tasted good, though. Beer was good, even though when walking by the brewery one evening I saw an employee smoking while working in the brewing area.
  • Jean Kay’s: Seems to be proper pasties, nicely located between the North Trails and downtown not far from the bike paths. Good outdoor seating and deck for keeping an unlocked bike. Very tasty, not too heavy, great after a few hours of riding.
  • Donkers’ Restaurant: Candy shop / restaurant with good breakfast. Hash browns seemed a bit oily and I was disappointed that the sausage patty on one of the breakfast sandwiches seemed to just be a typical patty instead of something locally made, but it was still good. I had breakfast here twice.
  • Vangos Pizza: Bar that serves excellent pizza. Ate a small (one size up from a For One) with pepperoni, mushroom, and their house made sausage. Surprisingly good crust. Easy walk from Blackrocks as well.
  • Dead River Coffee: Really tasty coffee. I had a cappuccino while reading All my friends are dead.. I was there early enough in the morning that it was just myself and some employees so I felt a bit out of place (they were deeply discussing coffee roasting quality control techniques and whatnot), but not uncomfortable. This seems like a proper small coffee shop with people who really care about making good coffee.
  • Blackrocks Brewery: Probably my favorite of the local breweries. Great beer, really comfy atmosphere. Lots of bikes locked up outside. Bring food from elsewhere, though. Built in an old house.
  • Ore Dock Brewing Company: Another big name local brewery. Great beer as well, but didn’t feel as comfortable to me, perhaps because it’s more of a large hall-type building. Has pretzels (hot and cold) and popcorn for food, but also allows outside food.
  • Third Street Bagel: Bagel / sandwich place. Ate a breakfast bagel from here which I’d first purchased intending to eat while driving, but after seeing its size I ate it sitting outside the restaurant. Also has good coffee. Both were quite tasty and made for a pretty quick breakfast.
  • Togo’s: Sub/sandwich place. On recommendation of an employee I had the hot pastrami sub with mustard and horseradish. This was a good choice; ate it at Ore Dock Brewing Company.

Trail Routes and Difficulty

To start, the maps on the NTN website are not as up to date as the one which can be purchased at the local shops. Additionally, the purchasable map does not include the 1-2-3 portion of the Harlow Farms Connector Trail which is incredibly useful for accessing the south trails from the Iron Ore Heritage Trail (rail trail / non-motorized path) which runs through downtown and within a couple hundred feet of the Ramada. Signs like this lead the way. Still, this was quite easy to find when actually riding, and both of the main Marquette systems were close enough to downtown that I didn’t regret riding to the trails each day.

Once on the trails, though, the marking is outstanding. I almost never had a problem figuring out where I was on the South Trails, and only a couple parts of the North Trails (in particular in The Cedars section where the trails is very close to the Noquemanon Trail and there are a spiderweb of connectors) where I got a little confused, but I wasn’t lost — I just wasn’t sure if I was on the right trail. It was still loads of fun, though.

Anxious to get out and ride, on my first day of riding I found myself on a black diamond trail, and this is where I had my first fall. I was trying to ride up some rocks, got my wheel stuck, and just toppled over. I slid a bit, but wasn’t hurt and was more amused than anything else. This photo shows where I fell, which in retrospect (and after riding other trails there) was really quite an easy spot. I think I may have been arrogantly pushing a bit that first day.

What I learned was that the trail designations are pretty spot on to the IMBA descriptions. Black diamond is about my upper limit, and these seem to either be because of exposure (steep drop-offs) or technical challenges, or a mix of both.  I can deal with both by walking, but my slight fear of heights makes it harder to deal with the exposure. On my last day of riding in Marquette I found myself on a trail called Gorge-ous which had enough exposure in spots to nearly induce a panic attack in me. It’s beautiful, but it snakes its way down the edge of a gorge up above the Carp River, and the drop-off would cause some serious problems. This photo shows one of the more exposed spots, complete with a repurposed truck mirror to allow riders to see around the corners (these are two way trails, remember).

I mostly enjoyed the blue square (intermediate) trails, as there was pretty much nothing on these I couldn’t ride comfortably. They were nice for just rolling around and seeing how beautiful the area is. When I’m up in Marquette the next time I’ll likely try out more of the black diamond stuff, but after being a bit thrown off by a technically difficult group ride on Wednesday evening I was playing it safe.

Group Ride

The folks at Sports Rack told me about a group ride at Al Quaal Recreation Area in Ishpeming on Wednesday nights at 6:30pm. Wanting to see some new trails I headed out for that. This ride apparently breaks into three groups (A, B, and C), and I made a mistake when I chose the A group. If/when I go back I’ll likely ride with the B group.

I’d heard that the A group was fast, and that Al Quaal was mostly XC ski trails with small amounts of single track. I’d also heard in the parking lot that the single track is about as difficult as the Blue loop at Marquette South, which sounded fine to me. I could ride hard on the wider stuff, then deal with the single track. This turned out to not be the case, the trails were some of the most technical and rocky that I’ve ever personally been on and I was in way over my head. There were numerous 8″ – 12″ rocky step-ups and climbs far beyond what I’ve ever ridden before and thus I walked quite a bit. For the part I rode there was actually very little XC ski trail, even though the climbs and downhills on it were quite fast and fun.

This held the group up a great deal, so after making my way through a bit of it I was going to head back early. Very kindly of them the group didn’t want to let me head off alone somewhere I hadn’t been before (even though I knew I could find my way back) so I kept on a bit further, before splitting off and heading back to the cars with someone who was cutting out early named Don. After this the group carried on to some other trails which apparently have considerably more exposure, including rocky ledges looking down at the tops of trees. I’m glad I didn’t carry on to this area.

(This technical loop seems to be partially labeled with pink signs indicating the Quaal Loop. It does not yet seem to be mapped.)

Later that evening I ran into two of the B group riders at Blackrocks who I had previously talked to in the lot, and that conversation confirmed that I was in over my head. It sounds like the B group would have been much more my thing… More XC ski trails, more single track but not things as hard as what the A group did. Whoops.

I just hope I didn’t squish the group’s plans too much. I definitely learned something that day, though.

Routes Ridden

In the three riding days in the Marquette area here’s where I went, as illustrated via Strava:

After Marquette…

After leaving Marquette I headed down to Glacial Hills in Bellaire. I’d heard of this trail for a couple years, and finally having the chance to ride it I wish I’d gone there sooner. This is incredibly flowing, quite easy (but fun) machine-built trail. I was amused that it was about the same difficulty as the Grom (Beginner / Kids) Loop in Marquette, but for almost 30 miles. It was a blast. (Strava data.)

Once I was done riding at Glacial Hills (mostly because the sun was setting) I headed to Traverse City and checked into a hotel, staying the night so I could attend an Iceman Out-and-Back ride put on by Einstein Cycles. This was a not-fast-paced-but fun ride from the shop out to Kalkaska, then back via most of the Iceman route. Due to pacing, stops to chat, and getting turned around on some of the newly cut trail segments we didn’t have time to do the full route, but it was still a good time. It was nice to spend some time in the northern Lower Peninsula riding as well; which is completely different from what’s found near home, and different still from Marquette. (Strava data.)

Photos

Photos from this trip to Marquette, including a couple along the drive and riding to and from there, can be found here.

Back Roads…

Quite a while ago now, back when I was 17-18-whatever, not long after after graduating from High School, I spent a lot of time just driving around randomly with friends, listening to music, poking around random dirt roads and interesting areas doing little other than driving around and talking; essentially hanging out in a car.

I now realize that many of these areas where we ended up are the northern Oakland County dirt roads where I’ve found myself riding bicycles with friends. I’m really happy with the way life has turned out and thus while I recognize that such days-gone-by were great, I don’t particularly want them back. They were good, but are best left as memories to be reflected on while enjoying the now.

(Photo above is Jered and Wendi from thus autumn when we rode an extended version of the Flying Rhinos Back 40 Challenge on some of the aforementioned dirt roads. It started a bit cool, but was otherwise a great weather day.)

Thoughts on Interbike by Invitation

Having vacation time to use up I decided that heading out to Interbike would be pretty nifty. I didn’t have time to set things up for attending as a proper attendee (one day I would like to go representing CRAMBA-IMBA to get us more sponsors/donors), but Mike Flack at Trails-Edge was able to get me on the Interbike by Invitation program.

This new program allows invited consumers to attend the last day of Interbike as a VIP and receive a gift bag on registration, for a $50 fee. This seemed reasonable to me, so I booked a trip to Las Vegas.

On my first night in town, Wednesday, I planned to attend CrossVegas, which was recommended by both the Interbike site and CX-fan friends. This is where I hit the first wrinkle: Interbike passes were required to board the shuttle to the race site, but by Invitation people couldn’t pick up their passes until the following morning. I ended up taking a $40 cab ride out to the venue and was able to just board a shuttle back without showing a badge, so everything worked out. But, it was a bit frustrating to not be able to use the outbound shuttle.

The CrossVegas race itself was great. A full writeup on the race can be found here at Cyclocross Magazine, and the venue is a great bowl-shaped grassy area with great visibility. There was also plenty of reasonably priced beer and burritos (from Qdoba, but still decent) available. I’d love to attend races like this more often.

When collecting my ticket for CrossVegas I received an interesting coupon: offering my admission to Interbike on Friday, the same day I was already limited to via by Invitation, for $25. This is half the price of the way by which I’d registered, and didn’t involve receiving a bag of goodies, but upon receiving mine the following day I found it to not be worth the $25 up charge. My bag included a poster, long-form uber-stylish cycling magazine, cooling band, size small T-shirt, and some sample self-adhesive reflectors. I feel bad and wasteful saying this, but it is mostly stuff that I’ll toss out because it is completely not useful to me.

The following evening was the USA CRITS final in a parking lot of Mandalay Bay, the venue for Interbike. This was a pretty fun and exciting race as well, but due to the onsite food being handled by the resort it was a good deal more expensive ($6.50 for what seemed like a 12oz cup vs $5 for 16-20oz at CrossVegas), and I suspect this contributed to the more mellow crowd. I’d never seen a crit before, so it was pretty exciting to see pros holding ~27MPH for 1.5 hours around a twisty, metal-edged 1km course.

After getting a good night sleep I woke this morning, excited to attend Interview and see what the show was like. Overall this was a really good time, but I was actually a bit let down as many of the brands that I hoped to check out weren’t present. Of QBP‘s family only Surly was there, which disappointed me as I really wanted to see All-City who, per this blog post, chose to skip the show citing strong sales. Salsa also wasn’t there; maybe they are doing so well that they don’t need to be touting their wares at a B2B show.

There also seemed to be a strong standoffish feeling from many vendors, which I can’t help but think from our notably different …by Invitation badges. While I can’t really fault internal sales folks for being apprehensive about talking to the general public, it seemed as if some of the brand reps didn’t want to say much. Then again, it was nearing the end of the last day of what’s probably their most hectic week of the year.

It was also pretty clear that the brands people were dancing around their normal show sales, with tape covering (or changing to MSRP) prices for show specials and others just saying that the product (even those which aren’t shipping yet or were special Interbike versions) are available at your local bike shop. This is good for the shops in general, but always came after some awkward checking of ID tags. A couple vendors offered me their products on a deal anyway, and while I’d love to have tried the two, I didn’t really need them and they would have been awkward to carry. I probably could have snagged some cheap carbon rims or a frame from one of the Chinese vendors as well, but again… no need.

I did get to see some pretty interesting folks as well. For some reason I kept crossing paths with Jeff Jones, and saw Kirk Pacenti,
Ron from King Cage, and a very business-looking guy with the last name off Thomson in the Thomson booth. I also got to meet and shake hands with Stan of Stan’s NoTubes while talking to him about his prototype fatbike tubeless rim. (He kept having to stop and ask people — including me — not to look inside because it is the very first prototype and still has some very secret details. He seemed quite proud of it, though, and holding it with a deflated tire soundly seated I’m apt to believe his claims.)

So all said, I think it was a good trip thus far, and if the Emerald Expositions folks can sort out the … by Invitation quirks I think they’ll have a good option for the general public. I think for me I won’t want to come back unless it is as a full attendee, hopefully with a bit of business to do as well.

Jamis Nova + CrateWorks Pro XL-C

I’d previously had plans to ship a bicycle out to California for a trip visiting friends, but ended up cancelling this part after beginning to pack my bike. A buddy of mine, Tom Lining, was nice enough to let me borrow the CrateWorks Pro XL-C box which he used on a recent trip to Germany for Bike 4 Peaks. This would have worked out rather well, but mid-packing I came to the realization that my trip will likely be much less stressful if I don’t bring a bike.

While it’d be nice to have a bike out in San Francisco and people to ride with, these downsides felt overwhelming and kept me from wanting to bring it.

  • Packing the bike: If I do this wrong, it’ll get damaged, either outbound or inbound.
  • Unpacking the bike: I’d really prefer to have my full suite of tools for bike assembly. Without this I’ll have to make do with a multitool and whatever I pack.
  • Clothes: I’ll also have to fit in bike clothes, shoes, helmet, gloves, glasses, bottles, etc.
  • The City: I’m not at all familiar with road riding, much less in an urban area. If I wasn’t certain to have someone to ride with I’d be very apprehensive about going out myself.
  • Routes: I don’t know any good cycling routes in the area, and it’d be very complicated to find some if I can’t find people to ride with. Thus, my desire for lengthier (2-4 hour) rides each day would likely not be met.
  • Insurance: Should something go wrong, do I really want to have to deal with insurance and prove that I didn’t screw up? And what if I did?

Shipping via BikeFlights.com was quoted at a very reasonable $170-ish (round trip) with $3000 insurance, but that’s still $170 I don’t have to spend. I’d consider this same setup (a CrateWorks box + BikeFlights.com) again in the future should I need to ship a bike. It seems like a good setup, but for this trip… I think I’ll stick to walking / hiking, and maybe renting a bike for a short poke around the city.

Just simply coming to the decision that not bring a bike was for the best made me feel more relaxed. And that’s what vacations are about, right?

Thoughts on Yankee Springs

Today I rode Yankee Springs for the first time. I did two laps, then a bonus third lap of the warm-up/beginning/first part of the trail which loops back to the parking lot. Random thoughts went through my head about the trail while riding, including…

  • This is rather like Western Michigan’s version of Pontiac Lake Recreation Area.
  • Bald Mountain could be similar to this, if it was developed with more single track.
  • Lots and lots and lots of blind corners with semi-surprising things: roots, drop-offs, things where I should have had more or less speed.
  • Devil’s Soup Bowl (a very deep, steep geological formation) is apparently not meant to be ridden into. Whoops. Good thing I stopped part-way down at the first plateau and hiked out.
  • After becoming a bit familiar with the trail, it’s a lot of fun. I’d like to go back.
  • Riding up plastic matting (photo) is weird and somewhat awkward. The same with rubbery water bars.
  • Southeast Michigan trails are mostly hard pack clay and gravel. Wester Michigan trails seem to be light sand over a firm bed. It’s different, but nice.
  • Trails through needle-covered ground in stands of Red Pine mixed with green foliage are beautiful.

I also identified the source of a rather irritating sound at the rear end of my bike: the Salsa skewer. If I didn’t stop and periodically tighten it a loud tick/knock would develop at the rear of the bike. I’ll try replacing it with an XT from my first proper MTB. Hopefully that fixes it, and then I can pursue a more permanent replacement.

Fat Biking in The Thumb

Yesterday some friends and I had plans to meet up in the tip of The Thumb to do some fat bike riding, which resulted in two separate rides. For the first, Bob, Rodney, his friend Gary, and I met up near at Danielle’s family’s cabin near Sleeper State Park and rode along both Sand Road and some of the forested dunes near there. This went well, but wasn’t really much different from riding typical sandy two track, and after an hour of this it was time to drive down the road and meet James for some beach riding at a park he’d picked out.

Arriving at Jenks County Park we found a rather nice beach heading in both directions, along with rocky shallows extending quite a ways out into the lake that we could ride on. This worked out quite well for almost two hours of riding, doing everything from super low tire pressure (~5 PSI) plodding along in the sand, riding in the edge of the lake, cruising over dinner plate like slate, and riding in 4-8″ deep water along small boulders. Being on the beach the average temperature for this ride was 97.3°F with the peak up at 102.2°F. The water helped temper this a bit, but it was still hot and very sunny out there.

Riding in the water seems to have been a bit problematic, as my chain is pretty gunked up and resulted in some frame-scratching chain suck that was really frustrating me. Per this article (a pretty authoritative source) this shouldn’t happen even with a dirty chain, so now I have to figure out how to repair (mostly recolor and cover) this damage and keep it from happening in the future.

After riding we chose a restaurant mostly-randomly (based on proximity and sane reviews via Google Maps) and ended up eating at The Farm. While not cheap (entrees were $15 – $30), the food was outstanding. I was quite glad we were able to find a quality restaurant somewhere up north. It was a very nice end to a fun day.

If you’re interested, here is the GPS plot + stats from this ride, and here is a small album of random snapshots taken at various points along the way. There is also this video of James riding his fixed gear Pugsley through the outflow of a river in Port Crescent State Park. It was a bit too deep for him to keep going, as the buoyancy of the tires and thickness of the water seemed to keep him from moving forward once the bike got to the top tube.

Post-Barry-Roubaix Treats

This weekend Danielle and I traveled out to the Grand Rapids area for my first go at Barry-Roubaix. After a great race and hanging out for a while we headed to get Roxie and then back home, but not before stopping in Ann Arbor at Zingerman’s. Being just off of I-94 we were able to easily stop at both the Bakehouse and Creamery where we picked up a bunch of great baked goods and cheeses. This resulted in tonight’s outstanding snack of a sea salt bagel spread with pimento cheese spread, eaten while sipping a glass of Bell’s Hopslam. We’d also picked up some doughnuts from Zingerman’s Bakehouse; properly fried ones filled with chocolate pudding. A picture of it can be see here, and this may be the best doughnut that I have ever eaten. The filling, dough, and topping were perfect.

As far as the race goes, it was a wonderful time. I probably could have pushed myself a little harder, but during the race I felt good, and finished with a time that I’m content with: 2:21:42 / 15.2 MPH average / 66th our of 92 in my class. My max heart rate was right at the end meaning I probably could have pushed a bit harder, but with an average of 156 I think I was doing okay.

The course was through some really beautiful areas, and the rain the night prior had the dirt roads in tip-top shape. Some of the anticipated sandy bits were a bit of a slog and required dismounting and walking, and there were some serious puddles in a few sections, but it was overall quite fun. The weather was absolutely beautiful, with 60-ish temperatures and overcast skies making me perfectly comfortable in typical summer wear of shorts and a short sleeved jersey, lightweight gloves, and simple socks. A bit of misting rain found its way to us for around 20 minutes of the race, but only the slight visibility degradation was a problem.

The start/finish area was also very well set up and included both some great beer and excellent food. I had some Korean-style pork tacos (with kimchi!) and a really nice chili-pork burrito. There was also a few kegs of Founders beer on hand, with tickets reasonably priced and proceeds going to benefit the WMMBA‘s campaign to build fifty new miles of single track trails in the next five years.

This was a really great race. I’m extremely glad I went.

My Garmin Connect data from it is here, if you’re interested.