Promoting the bicycling lifestyle in The Buckeye State
Whether you’re in an urban, suburban, or rural area, every group of cyclists has their own set of traditions for the “Beer Ride.” But for the uninitiated, I provide for you here a step-by-step guide to planning your own Beer Ride.
Step 1. Select a date. Under ideal circumstances, the Beer Ride is spontaneous, i.e. “Hey, let’s do a Beer Ride tomorrow night.” But, this is the real world, and folks need time to get permission from their significant others and/or employers, so a week or two advance notice works best.The beer ride is often a recurring event on or near a national holiday, as in the case of my group’s original Beer Ride, as well as this latest one, Cinco de Mayo.
Step 2. Publicize your Beer Ride on Facebook or some other accessible place on the Interwebz. “But,” you’re asking, “Won’t that mean there will be a bunch of whackos showing up for my ride?” Well, yes, but that’s the whole idea–making new friends and having a good time. Worst-case scenario, you’ll have a good idea of who to leave off the guest list for the next Beer Ride. Plus, when some wet blanket hassles you afterwards about not getting an invitation, you can tell them, “It was a public event. You didn’t need an invitation.”
You’ll have a core group of “founders” who started your Beer Ride tradition, and a handful of others who rotate in and out on an ongoing basis. For each ride, one of the founders will have a lame excuse for backing out at the last minute.
Step 3. Choose your bike. Any bike will do, although if you’re the type of person whose bike collection is up in the double digits, you’ll have a bike dedicated just for Beer Rides. A Surly makes a nice choice, as it did for over half the people on this ride.
Step 4. Choose a starting location for pre-ride beers. A local bar, your local beer-friendly bike shop, or someone’s house makes a good choice. In our case, it was the house of the guy who backed out of this ride. If there’s anything better than raiding somebody else’s beer fridge, it’s raiding somebody else’s beer fridge when they’re not home. The pre-ride beers might get so out of hand as to force everyone to forego the actual ride.
Step 5. Take photos to share the debauchery during the ride. The photos will get progressively more blurry as the night goes on, either because of the pre-ride beers, or the increasingly dark conditions in which cell-phone cameras don’t work so hot.
Step 6. Choose a destination. You can vote as a group, either ahead of time or the night-of, or as a founder, exercise your authority to choose when you organize the event. A place with food and a good selection of beer is a good choice, such as Mr. Zub’s Deli in the Highland Square neighborhood in Akron.
An off-road route, like the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail, is nice, but not necessary. A few on-road connections are unavoidable, including a hill or two like Merriman Road or Portage Path to separate the women from the girls.
Lock your bikes up, especially if you’re riding to a place like Akron. Not everyone will remember a lock, but as long as you have about one lock for every three bikes, you should be in good shape. Sitting by the front windows where you have a good view of the bikes helps as well.
Step 7. Enjoy your meal, mid-ride beers, and the ride back. You may want to add more bars to the route–this is where group cohesion usually breaks down, as ride fatigue and beer fatigue catches up with some riders and not others.
Fellow bar-hoppers will notice your group on bikes and make some comment like, “Hey great idea; don’t have to worry about getting a DUI.” While technically, you CAN get a DUI while riding a bicycle, in our experience, The Law will leave you alone as long as you’re not acting like a jerk.
Inevitably, one rider will somehow get lost on the way back and end up at the corner of Steels Corners and Hudson Roads, nowhere near the actual return route.
When I put together my new Surly Cross-Check earlier this year, I used a Shimano Tiagra rear derailer and a SRAM 11-28 9-speed cassette, just because that’s what I happened to have around. It’s got compact double (50/34-tooth) chainrings, and Shimano Tiagra integrated brake/shifter levers.
During the first couple of rides, although the routes were rather hilly, I never felt like I didn’t have a low enough gear. However, it’s not always a matter of having a low enough gear, but being able to find the “right” gear. I always had plenty low enough gears on my road racing bike with a 12-27 cassette, and the combination of the standard double (53/39-tooth) chain rings seems to allow me to cruise along for long stretches in either the big ring or small ring as needed.
The benefits of a compact double are having almost as low of a gear range as with triple chainrings, with the lower weight and better reliability of a double. I find myself having to switch between the small and big chain rings more often with a compact double, though, and the 11-28 cassette seemed to make this issue even worse.
Looking through my spare parts, I had a SRAM 11-34 cassette, but no spare mountain rear derailer that could handle that large of a cassette. So, I turned to our store stock to see what I could buy that was a decent model at a reasonable price. In searching through 9-speed Shimano rear derailers, this oddity turned up: Deore LX RapidRise. The very definition of “new old stock.” Out of curiosity, I gave it a try.
Shimano originally debuted their RapidRise rear derailers in the early 90′s, mainly for use on entry-level hybrid bikes. On a RapidRise rear derailer, the spring action is reversed, so that the “natural” position of the derailer is on the largest, i.e. easiest, cog. This is also referred to as “low normal.” This is as opposed to a “traditional,” or “top normal” rear derailer, where the natural position is on the smallest, or hardest cog.
When you operate your right shifter with a traditional rear derailer, the shifter action that pulls the shifter cable pulls the derailer against the spring tension to a larger, easier cog. Clicking the shifter to release cable tension allows the spring tension to pull the derailer back to the smaller, harder cogs. This action is reversed with a RapidRise rear derailer.
The alleged benefits of this are twofold. First, if your derailer cable should happen to break, the derailer returns to the easiest gear, rather than leaving you stuck in the hardest gear. Second, for novice riders, it makes shifting easier and more intuitive, because on both your left and right hands, the same actions make pedaling harder or easier on both the front chain rings and rear cogs. When selling a bike to a new rider, I find that traditional rear derailers make this one of the most confusing concepts to try to explain . “Okay so you click with your right finger to make it harder to pedal, and push with your right thumb to make it easier to pedal. But on your left hand, it’s the other way around.”
So, back to the early ’90s, when RapidRise made its first appearance. I don’t know from experience, but I’m told that it never caught on because it was used mainly on entry-level bikes, and as such, the parts were entry-level quality, and just didn’t work all that well. Bike mechanics hated it, so they wouldn’t buy it, and wouldn’t sell it.
Later, in the mid ’00s, RapidRise returned when Shimano developed Dual Control shifters for mountain bikes. Without going into too much detail about how it worked, Dual Control was kind of like the mountain bike version of Shimano’s integrated road bike brake/shifter (STI) levers. With the way Dual Control levers worked, it just kinda made sense to use a RapidRise rear derailer with them. For a couple of years, they made two versions of some of their derailers, a traditional (top-normal) version, and a RapidRise (low-normal) version. And these were nice derailers this time around–Deore, Deore LX, Deore XT, and XTR. Dual Control lever sets were available for hydraulic disc brakes and for cable-actuated brakes (linear-pull rim brakes or mechanical disc brakes).
Alas, Dual Control never really caught on. I don’t know if it’s because riders just didn’t care for the way it worked, or because bike mechanics still had bad memories of RapidRise, and didn’t want to sell it. So, with the death of Dual Control came the second death of RapidRise.
Back to 2013 and my Surly Cross-Check and Shimano Deore LX RapidRise rear derailer. The installation and setup was a snap; I just put the chain in the largest cog, attached the derailer cable to the derailer’s pinch bolt, then fine-tuned the cable tension as needed. I had to add a link to my chain to allow for the longer derailer cage of the Deore LX compared to the Tiagra rear derailer. Unless you shifted the bike, you wouldn’t know it was any different by looking at it.
Out on the road, it works like a champ. It didn’t take me very long to get used to the opposite shifting action on my right hand. Down-shifts while climbing are much easier, and I think this is where the average rider needs their down-shifts to be easier.
There are only two possible downsides to this setup that I can see. One is that you can’t down-shift multiple gears at a time with one sweep of the lever (although you can up-shift multiple gears this way). The second is that with up-shifting being just a tad less responsive, this could be a detriment in sudden chase or sprint situations. However, this not being a race bike, neither of these issues are of any concern to me.
If this all sounds like a great idea to you, then I’m sorry, but your local bike shop isn’t likely to have many RapidRise rear derailers sitting around, if any at all.
The next evolution in bicycle drive train technology is Shimano’s Di2 electronic shifting systems for road bikes. The latest versions allow you to re-program the shift buttons to customize them however you like, so you could mimic the shifting functionality that I’ve described with my setup by swapping the up-shift and down-shift buttons. You can program the buttons to shift multiple gears in either direction. You can even swap the left- and right-hand shifting if you want. I suspect that this technology will move to the mountain bike world in the next couple of years.
With this past winter being more harsh compared to the mild winter of ’12, and my diminished motivation for bundling up and riding in bad weather this year, I haven’t had much to report on since my last post after the Iceman race last November. So, here’s a quick re-cap of the riding (or lack thereof) that I’ve done this season.
On a snowy Dec. 30, I met up with my friends Dave and Pam for a snowy ride on the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail. Dave rode his Carver Ti O’Beast snow bike, Pam rode his Surly Pugsley, and I rode my Raleigh XXIX singlespeed. We started at the Canal Visitor Center and rode south for about 45 minutes (probably just a handful of miles) and turned around.
A couple of days later, for a New Year’s Day ride, I met Dave and Brent in Peninsula for another snowy Towpath ride. I rode Dave’s Pugsley and Brent rode his Salsa Mukluk. We rode up to Brecksville Station and back.
A couple of days later, I met Brent and Sean for a night ride at the Royalview Trail in the Cleveland Metroparks Mill Stream Run Reservation near Strongsville. Didn’t get any photos; the trail had been ridden by others on fat bikes already, but it was still tough going on my XXIX, and hard to follow the trail even with our headlights. We ended up off-trail a few times, as well as on some of the hiking trails. We finished up by racing up and down the road on Royalview Lane. It was fun, but the exertion in the sub-freezing air took its toll on me, and I caught a nasty head cold that put me out of commission for over a week.
I got back into the swing of things on Jan. 12 with a few laps around my “neighborhood loop,” a 5-mile loop consisting of the Twinsburg Center Valley Park multi-purpose trail, the Old Hickory Trail, and a few of the streets that connect the two. The next day, I rode to and from work for my first and only time so far this year.
On Jan. 16, it was still pretty cold, but the roads dried off, so I took the Xtracycle out for a day of exploring to Peninsula and back, using the Metroparks, Serving Summit County Bike and Hike Trail.
More snowfall came later in January, and I got two days of cross-country skiing in. The first was at the Horseshoe Pond are in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. The second was on Feb. 1 at Punderson State Park.
On Feb. 2 I borrowed Dave’s Surly Pugsley again, and we met our new friend Jack (on his new 9:ZERO:7 fat bike) for a ride on the Bike and Hike Trail. We started at the Alexander Road trailhead and rode down to Brandywine Falls and back.
I met Dave again the next day for another snow bike ride (on his Pugsley) on the Towpath Trail, from Peninsula down to the Botzum Trailhead and back.
I did a few laps on the Neighborhood Loop on Feb. 16. Finally, in early March, we had a brief period of spring-like weather. I had just finished putting together my new Surly Cross-Check, so on Mar. 10 I took it for a shakedown ride on the Twinsburg-Garrettsville Loop.
More snow, rain, and cold followed. On Mar. 21, the first day of Spring, the temperatures still hovered around freezing, but I decided to grab the Salsa Fargo and head out to the singletrack at Mohican State Park. I just did the first eight miles out and back (with the shortcut at the 4-mile point on the way back). The upside was that the frozen trail made it nice and solid and ride-able. The exception was the final mile along the ridge above the campground, which gets the most sun of any part of the trail, so it was wet and sloppy.
On April 3, I took the Xtracycle for another cruise to Peninsula, just as a warm-up for the race on April 6, the inaugural Amish Country Roubaix. This was a gravel road race, or “gravel grinder,” as these increasingly popular events have come to be known. I was way too out of shape to be competitive in such an event, with over 4,000 feet of climbing in 45 miles over the back roads of Holmes County. It turned out to be a nice day, though. I finished in about 3 hours and 40 minutes, it was a fun ride, and a well-run event that I’ll probably return for next year.
The next morning, I felt surprisingly fresh during a ride of the Valley Loop with a group from Peninsula. More rain came during the week, but I managed to get a somewhat wet ride in on April 11 with a short 24-mile loop on the Salsa Fargo through Aurora, Bainbridge, Chagrin Falls, and Solon. Here I am on Geauga Lake Road over the swelling banks of the Chagrin River:
Spring weather finally broke last weekend, and I did a 31-mile Sunny Lake Loop on April 14, and then 40 miles yesterday with an extended loop taking in the Bike and Hike Trail, Peninsula, and Hudson (both on the Surly Cross-Check). The winds were pretty stiff yesterday, but with temperatures in the upper 70′s, it looks like Spring is finally here, with more great riding to come!
The fall cycling season is typically capped off with my traditional trip up to Northern Michigan for the Iceman Cometh Challenge mountain bike race. Brent and I headed out early Friday morning for what was to be a re-run of the first day of our Michigan trip back in August–drive to Fort Custer Recreation Area outside of Battle Creek to ride the buff singletrack there, head over the Kalamazoo for lunch at Bell’s Brewery, head up to Grand Rapids for a quick refreshment at Founder’s Brewing, then continue north to join the main festivities.
I decided to ride on my Salsa Fargo this year. I’ve given it a good workout on lots of singletrack the past two seasons, but this was its first race experience.
We woke up to some rain and wet snow in Traverse City on Saturday morning, but when we drove to the start in Kalkaska, it remained somewhat cold but sunny and dry. Brent took off in Wave 12 at 9:33am, and I followed soon after at 9:36am.
After a tough race here in 2010, I felt I had to redeem myself and turn in a good performance in 2011. This year, I didn’t feel I had anything to prove. I just wanted to have a good ride and a good time and race my own race. I felt I prepared well for the day’s conditions, with my SmartWool Cuff Beanie under my helmet, DeFeet DuraWool liner gloves under regular short-finder cycling gloves, SmartWool liner shirt, long-sleeve Century Cycles wool jersey, Ibex wool bib knickers, my new Surly Chainsaw tall wool socks, and Lake MX-100 cycling boots. I had on my Pearl Izumi Elite Barrier Convertible Jacket for the start, but I ended up pulling over about 5 miles into the race and stuffing it into my jersey pocket. I was completely comfortable for the rest of the race.
The Fargo performed well on the course. The rigid fork didn’t feel like it beat me up as much as my rigid setup did back in 2010, and being able to ride in the drops to power through the dirt and gravel road sections was a huge benefit. As I’ve mentioned before, the bike climbs like a billy goat; among the many short, steep climbs on the course, I only had to dismount on one of them, and that was due to a flubbed shift.
About halfway through the race as we approached Traverse City, we got into the snow zone, which made some of the course a little more soft and squishy than usual, but the firm Michigan mud was nothing compared to the sloppy Ohio mud.
I did the usual leap-frogging against the same handful of recognizable riders throughout the race.
The course ended up as the longest ever, about 30.5 miles, so times were a little longer than usual. I ended up at 2 hours, 31 minutes, and 7 seconds, about a third of the way down from the leader within my age group, so I was satisfied with that.
On our way home on Sunday, we stopped to ride the Potowatomi Trail at Pinckney State Recreation Area, followed by post-ride dinner at the new Grizzly Peak Brewing Company in nearby Ann Arbor; about as perfect a combination of biking and beer that you’ll find anywhere in the world.
I’ve been helping my friend Keven select bike-camping gear lately, and so we planned a Sub 24-Hour Overnight to test it out. Keven rode down to meet me in Peninsula, and we left as soon as I got off work at 4:00pm. We headed up to Hudson and stopped at the Acme for supplies.
I brought my commuter bike this time around, because it was the bike most ready to go in touring mode (my Salsa Fargo currently has mountain bike tires on it). Keven rode his Cannondale flat-bar commuter bike, with his gear all on the rear rack.
I had a couple new pieces of gear of my own to test out.
First were my new panniers from Hyalite Equipment (formerly known as Pacific Outdoor Equipment). The rear panniers are sold as a set, and the front panniers are sold individually. The rear panniers are left- and right-specific, with cutouts for heel clearance. The front panniers are ambidextrous. The rear model has zippered side pockets. They all are waterproof, and use a roll-top closure, with side-lock buckles and straps to hold the roll-top in place. There’s a loop of velcro attached to the ends of each strap, so you can roll up the excess strap and hold it in place without it blowing in the wind and getting caught in your spokes. The R&K hardware is adjustable, so you can make it fit almost any rack. It all looks kind of complicated at first, but once you get the hang of it, it’s easy to make all the necessary adjustments the first time you pack up for a trip, and everything just attaches, detaches, opens, and closes easily during your trip. There’s a double pocket on the inside of each pannier, which would probably be big enough for a pair of flip-flops, but not big enough for a standard pair of shoes (or Crocs).
My previous panniers were Axiom Monsoon (front) and Typhoon (rear) panniers. They also had roll-top closures, but with an added flap that dropped down over the roll-top. I found that the flap just got in the way more than anything else when I was trying to get stuff into and out of the panniers, so I don’t miss the flap on the Hyalite panniers.
The one thing the Axiom panniers had that the Hyalite ones don’t is a stiff bottom that allowed the bags to stand up on their own when not on the bike. This was handy when packing the bags at home. I find, however, that during a trip, I usually leave the panniers on the bike most of the time, anyway, so I don’t think I’ll miss this feature, either.
With all of the experimenting I’ve been doing this year with ultra-light, ultra-compact bike-packing gear, the space provided by a full set of four panniers was like being back in the land of luxury. There was a time when I could barely fit everything I needed for a bike trip inside four panniers, but now as I packed for this trip, I kept thinking, “What am I going to put in all of this space?”
In my left rear pannier, I had my sleeping bag, pad, and shelter, with room to spare. In my right rear pannier, I put a pair of Crocs, a pair of pants, t-shirt, sweatshirt, underwear, and a spare pair of socks, hat, pack towel, a bottle of camp soap and sponge, and my toiletries kit; again, all with room to spare.
In my right front pannier, I put my stove, cooking pot, coffee press, bowl, mug, utensils, small pack towel, small scrubbing pad, and fire starter sticks and matches. After putting my food supply in here after the stop at Acme, I still had room to spare.
Finally, the left front pannier was left only for the obligatory 6-pack. While packing, at the last minute I decided to toss in the couple of zip-lock bags full of tools and spare parts. I didn’t think I’d need any of this for a one-night trip, but then figured that since I had the room, it would be foolish not to pack them in case I did end up needing them. This still left plenty of room for the 6-pack as well as room to spare.
The next new piece of gear is not really bike-related, but it’s my new choice of off-the-bike footwear. No matter how comfortable my bike shoes are, I always find that it feels good to have a non-cleated pair of shoes to wear around camp in the evening. I’ve always felt flip-flops were not quite substantial enough. I never thought I’d buy a pair of Crocs; I always thought they were the ugliest and dumbest-looking things around. In talking it out with my other bike-touring friends, though, we came to the conclusion that they’d make the perfect bike-touring shoes. Enough support to walk around for reasonable distances, toe protection, they can double as shower shoes in less-than-ideal facilities, and you can strap them on a rack outside your bags if needed and not have to worry about them getting wet. I decided that if I were going to dive into the world of Crocs-wearers, I may as well dive in feet first and do it right, so I got the garishly bright blue version, to match all of the blue components on my Salsa Fargo.
Finally, the last new piece of gear was the Outdoor Research Highland Bivy. I had been thinking about investing in some kind of ultra-light shelter in place of a full tent in order to get the bulk of my bike-packing gear down even further. The Highland weighs next to nothing, and packs down to next to nothing:
The head area is supported by a single shock-corded pole. It’s got two stake loops on each end, plus a tie-out loop at the top of the hooped head area. I didn’t use any of these, but the stake loops would come in handy if it’s really windy and you need to worry about the thing blowing away when you’re not in it.
The inside is plenty roomy enough for my rectangular inflatable sleeping pad. The head end has a mesh zip-up panel, and then the outer zip-around panel. Getting into the shelter is a bit more of a challenge than a regular tent, but it’s not that bad once you get used to it. It’s not big enough inside to change clothes, but the head area does provide enough space to read or write for a bit before you go to sleep.
I had read in an online review that it’s recommended to leave the outer zip open six to eight inches in order to allow enough air to get inside for you to breathe. I did this after working my way inside for the first time. As I laid there trying to get to sleep, I was panting heavily and out of breath. I figured at first that this was just from exerting myself to get in, so I gave it a few minutes. After about 10 minutes, I was still panting heavily, and I realized that I was suffocating myself. I opened up the outer zipper completely, and that made all the difference in the world; I was able to breathe easy immediately.
With the outer cover zipped almost all the way, the tension from the front and back is enough to keep the hoop upright. However, with the outer cover unzipped, the hoop drooped over. I’ll have to experiment some more; maybe unzipping the cover halfway would provide a balance of enough air with enough support for the hoop. Tying a guy-line to the loop on the top of the hoop would provide good support, but that might make getting into and out of the bivy that much more of a challenge.
There were a few brief showers throughout the evening, but I stayed completely dry. With the outer cover unzipped, I had to try to make sure the edges of the top still hung out over the bottom edge, so that any water falling down would roll onto the ground rather than inside the bivy. This seemed to work well enough during the light rain this evening, but for a full-on downpour, this may not work as well.
In conclusion, the Outdoor Research Highland Bivy provides a reliable and comfortable enough shelter for when I want an ultra-light and ultra-compact option for a one- or two-day trip. Whether or not I could stand having it be my only home for an extended six- or eight-week trip remains to be seen.
Keven and I slept in and took our time packing up our gear in the morning. After making some camp coffee and having some breakfast snacks, we left around 10:30am and rode into Kent for a full breakfast at the Wild Goats Cafe.
I rode a century on my singlespeed Surly Cross-Check about a year ago, all on the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail. I wanted to do it again this year. I thought about it the past couple of weeks on my mid-week days off, but errands and other life stuff got in the way. This weekend, I found myself with a Sunday off and no other plans.
I got up early and headed out under darkness, driving down to the Botzum Trailhead, and got started pedaling just as the first signs of daylight made their way on the horizon. I stopped at the Valley Cafe to fuel up with some pancakes just two miles down the trail. I hopped right back on the bike after eating. I should have relaxed a bit and let my breakfast settle a little more. Perhaps too much “All Hailing the Ale” the night before didn’t help, as well. Either way, my stomach was doing somersaults the whole time.
I stopped to take a break on the floating bridge on Summit Lake, then another longer break just before Snyder Road in Barberton, hoping things would settle down. This was the first time I’d ridden the new section of trail between Snyder Road and Eastern Road, which was the final part of the Towpath Trail to be completed in Summit County earlier this year.
Anyway, my queasiness continued, and I started to debate whether or not I should pack it in earlier than planned. When my front tire went flat just south of Canal Fulton, that sealed the deal for me. I swapped in my spare tube, and was able to use my mini-pump to get it re-inflated enough to ride, although just barely so. I continued south towards Massillon, hoping that Ernie’s Bicycle Shop would be open for me to borrow a floor pump.
I started to see a handful of bright green Electra Townie bicycles coming towards me on the trail, which I assumed were Ernie’s rentals, so that was good news. I arrived at the shop a little before noon, and asked about borrowing a floor pump, which of course, they graciously agreed to. After topping off both of my tires, I hung out a bit, topped off my water bottle, and peeled off the base layer I was wearing under my jersey (it was starting to warm up quite a bit).
I headed back up north and made good time. My gut felt a bit better, although still not 100%. I got back to my car around 2:30pm, with a total of 71 miles on the day, and no regrets. It was a fine ride and a great way to enjoy the unseasonably warm Indian Summer day.
I took a long ride today to do some exploring and run some errands. I grabbed my commuter bike, just because it was handy in the garage, and I didn’t have to check anything over other than pumping up the tires.
Throughout the ride, my fenders seemed to be rattling and making a lot more noise than they should; they have been pretty securely installed up until now. I stopped to check them out; after bouncing the bike up and down a bit and wiggling the fenders with my hand, I figured out that the noise was coming from the rear fender.
The bolt holding the rear fender to the seatstay bridge had worked loose a bit. This is normal; especially since this is my commuter bike, I should check these kinds of things more often.
I took out my multi-tool to tighten the bolt up. I found that the space was so tight between the seat tube and the fender that no matter which way I oriented the tool, there was no room to turn it to tighten the bolt, not even a tiny little bit at a time.
This is the Crank Brothers Multi-19 tool; I’ve found it to be quite a fine tool for most situations, and I would have had this problem with just about any folding multi-tool.
For these situations, you really need an L-shaped hex wrench. That’s why on overnight tours, I carry a small set of L-wrenches to be prepared for any roadside repair situation. The set that I bought were sold under the “Lifu” brand at the time. Since then, I’ve found that you can get them sold under the “IceToolz” brand. The set comes with metric sizes 2-2.5-3-4-5-6, plus an 8mm adapter. There are ball ends on the 4, 5, and 6mm wrenches. The wrenches aren’t as long as you’d get with a shop-quality set, but they’re far more useful in tight situations than any multi-tool. The separate 8mm adapter is the only thing I don’t care for; these things inevitably get lost. I may pick up an extra set or two of these wrenches so I can keep them at hand on more of my bikes.
You can go back to Day 1 of this trip report if you haven’t read it already.
Brent and I arose from our tents not long after sunrise, packed our gear back up, and had some breakfast. I ate a bagel with Nutella, some dried fruit, and instant coffee. We got pedaling around 8:00am, I believe about an hour earlier than our start the first day.
We turned right out of the access road for the Tomahawk Creek Campground, looking for the blue markings where the High Country Pathway crossed. We didn’t see any marks before we came to Spring Lake Road, so apparently, we missed the trail. We decided to just head south on Spring Lake Road, since it paralleled the Pathway. About a mile later on this dirt and sand road, we finally picked up the trail markings again, and the Pathway actually followed this road for a short stretch. The sand got deep enough to be unrideable in one brief spot, and then turned back into the woods.
The Pathway went through one or two clearcut fields; sometimes the lack of features on these sections can make the trail even more difficult to follow.
There were one or two road crossings, and we came to a section of Pathway that was the most unrideable as we had seen so far–downed logs, dirt mounds, and severe overgrowth. We could see that a dirt road more or less paralleled the trail a dozen or so yards to our left, so we bush-whacked our way over to the road and proceeded to pedal happily unfettered. Since it appeared that we’d be doing more riding out in the open today, I stopped to apply some sunscreen to my face and ears.
We took out the map to see if you could figure out which road we were on, and what our next course of action should be. Many of the undeveloped roads in the area are not signed, and there are logging and maintenance roads that aren’t on the map, so it can be tricky. The rising sun was at our backs as we rode, so we figured we were heading west, more or less, and we concluded that we were on Clay Pit Road, which would lead us to State Route 33 again. This road had some long, rolling hills with some loose sand; I had to walk up one of the hills after getting bogged down in the sand at the bottom of it.
We reached M-33 and turned left (south). Not long after that, we saw a sign for the junction of Clay Pit Road, so the road we were on before was actually NOT Clay Pit Road, but another unnamed, unmapped road. We ended up in the same place as we had intended, though, so no harm done.
We had noticed another side road on the map called Tower Road, and off in the distance to the southeast, we could see a radio tower that appeared to be several hundred feet high, so it was obvious where Tower Road went.
This section of M-33 did not have a wide shoulder like the section we rode the briefly the day before. As we rode down the right half of the lane, Brent was a little spooked by the numerous large logging trucks that zoomed past us. I guess I just didn’t think about them enough to be bothered; I was just glad to be pedaling along at a good clip.
We went on for a few miles until we got to Clear Lake State Park, and turned right (west) onto County Road 622 along the south side of the lake. This paved road wound through a residential area until it turned to gravel, and then joined up with the Pathway.
The Pathway soon left the gravel road and turned back into the woods. The trail finally became much more rideable again, other than one brief stretch through a low marsh area where it crossed Van Helen Creek. There were a couple of steep but do-able climbs as the trail left the creek valley, including one past the Pug Lakes area.
We rode through a couple more clear-cut fields. One was especially rough, as whatever machinery was used left deep, soft furrows in the earth that went across the direction of the Pathway, making riding across them impossible. The Pathway followed alongside the three sparse trees shown on the right side of the picture:
We continued through more wooded sections, mostly rideable with a few short, steep climbs. We were getting closer to Rattlesnake Hill, which, from our pre-trip research, seemed to be the most notorious climb on the Pathway. Along the way, we pedaled up the side of one large mound, and were rewarded with a smooth, flowing descent down the other side that was probably the most fun and true singletrack experience on the whole Pathway. We ended up at a road crossing, at the intersection of Rouse Road and an unnamed service road, which I dubbed “Rattlesnake Junction.”
We proceeded on the Pathway, and soon were pedaling up some switchbacks, which eventually became a steep climb straight up the fall line. I managed to keep pedaling until I reached the peak, and for a short time was proud of myself for having pedaled all the way up Rattlesnake Hill.
We stopped for a while for a lunch break on the peak. I ate my last bagel with some pepperoni. It was a nice shady area, but there wasn’t much of a view, as it was blocked by surrounding trees.
This is where having studied the contour lines on the map more carefully would have paid off. It turns out, we were NOT on Rattlesnake Hill. We dropped down a very nice descent from this hill, and at the very bottom, there was a small sandy patch, with a downed sapling across it, which sucked all of my momentum. As the trail immediately turned steeply upward again, it was at this point that we realized that THIS was Rattlesnake Hill. I didn’t have the energy nor the will to attempt to pedal all the way again, so I stepped off the bike and trudged up sheepishly.
There is a bench at the top of Rattlesnake Hill, and the view is much more memorable. It is much more open and exposed to the sun, however, so at least I was comforted in believing that at least the “false” Rattlesnake Hill was a better place to stop for lunch.
The descent off of Rattlesnake Hill was a little rough; it looked like the trail had recently been re-routed, and the new trail was not yet very well-established. I didn’t bomb down, but just took it easy to stay in one piece. Not long after that, the Pathway re-joined County Road 622. We decided we had enough trail experience for a while, and stayed on the road to try to cover a big stretch of ground more quickly.
The road was the usual dirt, gravel, and sand. The sand was a little thick in spots, but never so much so that we couldn’t keep pedaling. It felt good to be pedaling along at a good, steady pace, but it was hotter out on the open road, and the sun reflected off of the sand, making me fell like I was getting double exposure. County Road 622 ends at Black River Road, which we took north until it intersected the Pathway again. There were a handful of residential houses on both roads; the people in them must really enjoy living off the beaten path.
We followed the Pathway (alternating between rideable trail and unrideable wooden bridges again) until it met Chandler Dam Road. We turned right (east) here to follow the road into the Town Corner Lake Campground in order to top off our hydration packs. Standing at the well, a guy came over from his RV parked at the adjacent site. He was wearing a mountain bike-related t-shirt, so he apparently recognized us as fellow adventurers. He was from Kalkaska, and told us about trails and events in the area that he recommended we try out someday. He mentioned that he had biked the Pathway in the past; I asked if he would do it again. He chuckled and said, “I think you’ve answered your own question.”
We headed back west on Chandler Dam Road until it ended at Tin Shanty Road. We intended to follow this north until it crossed Sturgeon Valley Road, but again, with scant road signage, we ended up going all the way to Hardwood Lake Road. This goes west until it joins Twin Lakes Road, which shortly brought us to the park headquarters and our car, for a total of 40 miles ridden for the day. We enjoyed an impromptu post-tour celebration.
I would conclude that the High Country Pathway of Michigan is a worthy challenge for any mountain biker looking for a unique backcountry adventure that can be completed in a couple of days. It’s an ideal testing-ground if, like Brent and I, you’re preparing for a longer off-road tour, such as the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. However, being that it’s not what the average mountain biker would call a “pure” riding experience, I would not say that it’s a trail that needs to be on every mountain biker’s “bucket list.”
Despite the couple of minor unplanned detours that we had, navigation of the Pathway is pretty straightforward. A GPS and/or compass may have helped a little, but the average person should be able to find their way around the Pathway using the map and common sense.
We were amazed that we suffered no flat tires, especially after having ridden (or pushed) through so many overgrown weeds, many of which were thorny branches. However, I later found at home the next day that both of my tires were flat, so that would have been something to deal with had I been on the trail a third day. I would recommend either tire liners, sealant, tubeless systems, or whatever your preferred combination of puncture-protection technologies is.
Similarly, we were amazed that neither of us suffered poison ivy; not long into the first day, we gave up trying to avoid it as we pedaled through the weeds. To avoid both the poison ivy and just plain being cut up by the weeds, I’d recommend long sleeves and some type of long pants or tights. As I mentioned before, the insects were not as bad as we had feared, but the dry weather may have given us better than typical luck in this regard.
Because of the rough and less-developed nature of the trail surface, a full-suspension bike would be ideal for traveling the Pathway most efficiently. However, I am still quite happy with the performance of my rigid Salsa Fargo, and wouldn’t hesitate to keep using it for other similar adventures.
There are couple of things that I learned from this trip that might influence further refining of my bike-packing setup (see Day 1 for the details). The slight changes I made to my cooking and eating gear for this trip really helped create the extra space I needed for food in the frame bag. Eliminating a lot of extra clothing saved me both space and weight on this trip, but I’ll still need to account for that on a longer trip through more varied weather, such as the Great Divide.
I found that I really didn’t need all of the snacks and personal care items so close at hand in the top tube bag. That stuff could have easily gone in my backpack, and for the times that I needed it, it would not have been that big a deal to retrieve it from the backpack. Maybe I can find a way to better utilize this space.
The only issue I had, and it was quite a minor one, was with the two zip-lock bags containing my tools and spare parts. During the first day, I had them in the front of the seat bag, with my sleeping bag and sleeping pad in the back of the seat bag. The irregular size and shape of the tools and spare parts left voids in the space between them and the sleeping bag and pad, causing the bag to sag a bit. On the second day, I put the sleeping bag and pad in first in the front of the seat bag, and then the tools and spare parts in the back. But, this put the heavier items more towards the back of the bag, so it still sagged more than usual and I had to stop and re-cinch the straps a few times throughout the day.
Maybe I can distribute the tools and spare parts between the top tube bag and frame bag, or maybe put them in the handlebar bag, and use the top tube bag for my smartphone and digital camera. Either way, it’s a good excuse to continue planning short adventures to work these things out.
My friend Brent and I are planning to ride the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route in 2014. We wanted to do a short tour to test out our bikes and gear, as well as our mettle in handling a multi-day off-road adventure. We selected the High Country Pathway, located in the northern reaches of the Michigan lower peninsula, because it is within a reasonable drive, and we figured we could handle the 80-mile loop in two days.
The High Country Pathway is open to hikers, mountain bikers, and cross-country skiers. There are also equestrian and snowmobile trails in the region that intersect it. We referred to the trail using the abbreviation “HCP,” but locals and the trail signage refer to it as simply the “Pathway.” It spans a four-county area, mostly within the Pigeon River Country State Forest. You can order a map of the Pathway, printed on quality waterproof and tear-resistant paper, from the Pigeon River Country Association (please let me know if any links become dead).
Despite the remoteness of most of the Pathway, it’s easy to get to where you can begin your adventure. The nearest town is Vanderbilt, just off Interstate 75. Turn east on Main Street, and as you leave town, the road becomes Sturgeon Valley Road. The park headquarters is a few miles away, just up Twin Lakes Road on the left.
After a detour along the way to ride the singletrack at Fort Custer State Recreation Area, lunch and dinner stops, we arrived after dark. We set up camp at the Pigeon Bridge Campground, the camping area just before the park headquarters. There are several such campgrounds along the Pathway to provide starting and stopover points. There are no showers or electrical hookups, but there are toilets, fire rings, and wells with clean drinking water.
The Pathway runs right through this campground:
Although, it turns out we would not end up riding this particular stretch.
Checking in at the campgrounds is done on a self-registration system; only cash and checks are accepted, so remember to have some small bills on hand for correct change. As of this writing, the fee is $13 per campsite per night. In addition to camping fees, you’ll need to buy a state parks recreation pass to bring a vehicle into any Michigan state park or recreation area. You can buy one at any state park office for $8 per day or $29 per calendar year (for non-residents). Michigan residents can purchase passes when they renew their driver’s licenses. I’m guessing non-residents can order them by mail or online, but I could never locate that information on the Michigan Department of Natural Resources web site.
There was one other site occupied, by a couple in an RV. They were running a generator, which broke the silence of the otherwise isolated area, but fortunately, it didn’t run continuously, and most of the evening was spent in quiet. We hit the sack in our tents.
It had been warm most of the day, and remained relatively warm through the first part of the evening. I slept inside my sleeping bag in my shorts and t-shirt, until I woke up in the middle of the night feeling pretty cold. I got my sweatshirt out of the car, and slept comfortably again for the remainder of the evening.
In the morning, while we re-packed our tents and sleeping gear, the gentleman from the RV stopped over to say Hi and get some water from the well. He said he’d be making a pot of coffee, and apologized if his generator was disturbing. “Gotta have it for my coffee,” he said, “So I figured it was only fair if I offered some.” After I ate a bagel with Nutella for breakfast, I took my travel mug and wandered over to the RV to partake. We chatted a bit; his name was Philip, and he was from Traverse City. The women with him was actually his sister; he said he brought her out to “give her a break from her kids for a couple of days.” They planned to do some fishing later in the day.
Brent and I weren’t sure if the best course was to leave our car there at the campground, or move it somewhere else while we were out on the trail. So, we loaded our stuff back into the car, and drove up the road a bit to the park headquarters. There’s a small trail parking area right next to the headquarters building, so we decided to use that.
Brent had forgotten the car charger for his mobile phone, so it was pretty much dead at this point. He asked if he could plug in for a few minutes at the ranger station, and the ranger generously agreed. It took about 30-40 minutes for us to get our bikes set up and change into our cycling clothes, and by that time, he had a decent 40-50% charge. I had noticed the night before that my cell coverage dropped off as we left Vanderbilt, but we thought we might get occasional coverage on high ground, and he wanted to be ready to check in with his wife once in a while when possible.
In our research about the Pathway, we had read that the mosquitoes, deer ticks (carriers of Lyme disease), and other insects were particularly nasty. Brent bought some 100% Deet insect repellent; I stuck with the more innocuous Deet-free Natrapel that I already had. I applied some to the exposed area of my lower legs. Since I figured we’d be riding under tree cover for most of the day, I didn’t bother applying any sunscreen.
We finally started pedaling, some time around 9:30am if memory serves, but we weren’t really watching the clock. We joined the Pathway immediately in front of the park office. We passed a couple of backpackers almost immediately, and then rode through the Pigeon River Campground, which is located along the Pathway just northeast of the park office.
The terrain of the Pathway was mildly rolling; the climbs were not extreme. The route of the Pathway was easy to follow, marked with blue blazes painted or nailed onto trees or sign posts. The surface was pretty solid dirt most of the time, but it seemed that it didn’t get enough traffic to pack it down smoothly. To a hiker, it would seem perfectly fine, but our rigid bikes felt every minor bump and trough. At times, the path through the woods would be fairly wide open, but much of it was very overgrown with weeds. This made riding cumbersome sometimes, as it felt like we were continually bushwacking to find and follow the path of the trail. The weeds, often thorn bushes, slapped against our legs, leaving them looking like we had been attacked by feral cats. I wore long sleeves mainly to keep the sun off of my arms, and this gave me the added benefit of keeping the weeds off of my arms. Brent, in short sleeves, was not so lucky.
It didn’t take long, however, for the weeds to deposit a plethora of burrs on my gloves and sleeves:
Our first major break came about 4-1/2 miles in, on top of a hill overlooking Grass Lake, although with the tree cover, the lake itself was not visible. We took some pictures and rested a bit, marveling at our so-far slower-than expected progress.
About 5-1/2 miles in, we came to the first of only a handful of significantly steep climbs. I’m no expert at reading maps with contour lines, but I could see ahead of time that the “Devil’s Soup Bowl” would turn out to be an apt name. There was a steep, fast downhill, then the trail immediately turned steeply upward to get out of the bowl. I was able to grind it out in the granny gear on my Salsa Fargo bike, but Brent, on his singlespeed El Mariachi, had to push it up.
The Pathway continued for several miles with more of the same as before–some wide trail, some overgrown, mild ups and downs. We came across another trail feature that would bedevil us for the rest of the trip. In some low, marshy areas, wooden bridges were built to provide solid footing over the soft, muddy ground. For a hiker, again, this would be no problem, but the bridges are usually too narrow to risk trying to ride across (unless you’ve got mad trials riding skills), and also makes it very tricky to push your bike across. A bike loaded for touring is too heavy to carry for very long. I usually put the front wheel in front of me on the bridge, and held my bike so the back wheel swung out beside me over the edge of the bridge. This was tricky as well, because often the weeds were as overgrown on the bridges as they were on the other parts of the trail. Sometimes I would tilt my bike up vertically, so that I could hold the handlebars in front of me and roll it on the rear wheel as I pushed it from behind, but it got heavy after a while in this mode.
Often, the transitions from the dirt to the bridge are abrupt and not very bike-friendly, which in many cases, was what made them less rideable than they could have been, because you couldn’t get a good start. Some of the bridges are built wider and are much more rideable, but these were the exception:
There were also a couple of larger footbridges over streams and creeks, which were just barely wide enough to be rideable:
About 9-1/2 miles in, we stopped at the Pine Grove Campground to top off our hydration packs and take another short break.
I’ll take this opportunity now to list my gear and packing setup. What I used was a more pared-down version, with some refinements to the cooking/eating gear, of the bikepacking setup I first used on a sub 24-hour overnight last month.
- Bell Sweep helmet
- Buff bandanna
- lightweight long-sleeve jersey
- Endura Hummvee Lite 3/4 baggy shorts with snap-in liner short
- Merrell Chameleon socks
- Pearl Izumi X-Alp Seek shoes
- Giro Bravo gloves
- Road ID
Osprey Manta 25 hydration backpack:
- 3-liter water bladder
- Ibex boxer shorts
- large pack towel
- two rolls of camp towel paper
- zip-lock bag with all-purpose camp soap and small sponge
- one ActiveWipes towelette
- Princeton Tec Byte headlamp
- Seat To Summit Mosquito Head Net
- Columbia Sportswear booney hat
- Surly wool cycling cap
- small Case Logic digital camera bag for personal care items:
- camp mirror
- nail clippers with file
- travel-size deodorant
- meal-ready-to-eat (MRE) with chicken and pasta shells in tomato sauce, diced pears in heavy syrup, crackers, peanut butter, grape drink mix packet, instant coffee packet
- one packet of StarKist tuna
- two packets instant mashed potatoes
- 7-ounce packet of Sun-Maid dried fruit
- 1-pound packer of pre-sliced pepperoni
- three bagels
Revelate Designs Viscacha seat bag:
- tent poles
- Pacific Crest 40-degree synthetic down sleeping bag
- Big Agnes Insulated Air Core sleeping pad
- O2 Fluid3 hooded rain jacket stuffed into a small mesh stuff sack
- MSR MiniWorks EX water filter pump
- 2 zip-lock bags with tools and repair supplies:
- Pedro’s compact chain tool with spoke wrenches
- cable cutters
- Leatherman multi-tool
- spare brake cable
- spare derailer cable
- spare derailer hanger
- spare chain links and master links
- miscellaneous nuts, bolts, and washers, cable tips, ferrules
- Park Tool tire boots
- zip ties
- duct tape
- Tenacious repair tape
- 2-ounce bottle of Tri-Flow lube
- 2-ounce tube of Buzzy’s grease
- two shop rags
- two Gojo wipes
- spare batteries: 2032 for cyclocomputer, AA for headlight, AAA for taillight
Revelate Designs frame bag:
- two spare inner tubes
- Guyot Designs Squishy cup and bowl set
- Markill compact canister stove
- small scrubbing pad
- REI titanium cooking pot (with the above four items inside)
- small pack towel
- REI plastic mixing spoon
- Brunton titanium utensil set (knife, fork, spoon)
- small jar of Nutella
- zip-lock bag of trail mix
- basic repair kit in smaller left-side pocket:
- Slime Skabs patch kit
- IceToolz L-bend hex wrench set
- Craftsman flat/phillips convertible screwdriver
- Topeak Shuttle Lever 1.2 tire levers
- Lezyne Pressure Drive Medium mini-pump
Revelate Designs top-tube bag:
- insect repellent
- lip balm
- Clif Bar (Chocolate Brownie is my favorite flavor)
- two sample packs of Gu Chomps
- a few electrolyte drink mix tablets
- Planet Bike Blaze 2-Watt headlight
Outdoor Research 10-liter stuff sack on Salsa Anything Cage on left fork leg:
- Big Agnes Seedhouse SL2 tent, stakes, fly, and ground cloth
Outdoor Research 10-liter stuff sack on Salsa Anything Cage on right fork leg:
- neoprene socks
- Showers Pass Storm pants
- Pearl Izumi Zephyrr shell gloves
- DeFeet DuraWool liner gloves
- SmartWool Cuffed Beanie hat
- SmartWool liner shirt
- SmartWool liner pants
Avenir Metro Mini handlebar bag:
- smartphone in waterproof case
- digital camera in zip-lock bag
- car key
- small notepad
- trail map
I didn’t get the opportunity to weigh the complete setup, but I suspect it was just a few ounces less than the full bike-packing gear setup that I broke down in an earlier post. It probably came to about 24 pounds, including the bags themselves, on a bike that comes in around 27-1/2 pounds.
The handlebar bag was a last-minute decision, because I figured I wanted to have the trail map and my digital camera close at hand at all times. I had planned to add a cable lock somewhere in the mix, but that ended up being the one item that I inevitably forgot.
I also added a bottle cage to the mount on the bottom of the down tube, just so I’d have a bottle that I could use to mix up a sports drink along the trail using one of the electrolyte tablets.
The MRE had been given to me by a friend about nine years ago; I figured this was a good opportunity to finally try it out. The tuna and potatoes were a backup in case the MRE didn’t fare so well.
I did not end up needing any of the cold- and wet-weather clothing in the one stuff sack, but it was all fairly light, and I felt better knowing that I had it in case I did need it.
I usually like to pack a pair of non-cycling shoes or sandals when I’m bike touring. No matter how comfortable my cycling shoes are, it always feels good to have something different to change into for walking around camp in the evening. To save space, however, and since it would only be for one night, I decided to let my feet rough it for this trip.
I felt like the Salsa Fargo handled well on the off-road terrain while carrying all of this gear. I was a lot more tentative than I would be compared to riding singletrack on an unloaded bike, just for the fear that something is bound to come loose if given the opportunity. But, during the few times that I did “let it all hang out” on some fast sections, the gear was none the worse for wear.
We decided to stop for lunch around the 12-mile mark. There was no distinguishing landmark at this point, other than a fallen log beside the trail that provided a convenient place to sit. I ate a bagel with Nutella, some pepperoni slices, trail mix, and dried fruit.
Around the 15-mile mark, the trail crosses Osmun Road, and here we encountered our first navigational error. Maybe where the trail continues was not marked clearly enough, or maybe we just didn’t look carefully enough, but we thought the trail continued along the road, so that’s the way we went. The road surface became very loose sand, making pedaling tough sometimes, but not quite to the point that we had to dismount and push.
We called out “Mukluk!” on these sandy stretches, continuing the tradition that we started on the trails at Fort Custer State Recreation Area the day before. We continued for a few miles, until, after not seeing any of the blue blazes for the Pathway, and presented with an unmarked fork in the road, we realized we must not be on the right track. We consulted the map, and after discussion, determined to take the right fork. This turned out to be the correct choice. It turns out, we had been riding on Duby Lake Road, and we crossed a junction with the Pathway shortly thereafter. A short time after re-joining the Pathway, we crossed the intersection for the trail spurs to Duby Lake and McLavey Lake, confirming that were were once again on the right track.
The Pathway continued much as I’ve already described–some wide-open trail, much more overgrown trail, gently rolling terrain interspersed with some short, steep climbs, and more of the narrow wooden bridges. There were a couple of areas where the Pathway crossed an open field. One in particular looked very surreal, with tall, strange-looking weeds with groups of bulbous green seeds on top; we dubbed it the “Land That Time Forgot” because of its prehistoric-looking nature. Sorry; I didn’t think to stop for a picture here.
We planned to stop for another snack break at the Canada Creek Shelter, which would have put us at the 33-mile mark for the day, out of an expected 40 miles to the Tomahawk Creek Campground. The Pathway crossed County Road 634, where we saw a sign that there was a bridge out where the Pathway crosses over the actual Canada Creek, and it advised to follow the posted detour south on 634 (a dirt and gravel road). We were getting pretty tired and hungry again, and in hindsight, we probably should have stopped here or even sooner for another break, but we decided to press on to finish the day’s ride as soon as possible.
The detour along County Road 634 dead-ended on Canada Creek Highway, another dirt and gravel road, where we turned left (east). The Pathway markers indicated that we could have picked up the trail again somewhere just before State Route 33, but we checked out the map and decided to take the most direct route to the campground. We turned right (south) onto Route 33, and less than a half-mile down the road, turned left onto the dirt and gravel Tomahawk Lake Highway, which led to the campground. We had logged a total of 37 miles for the day, but it had felt like double that.
We did the usual self-check-in at the camp site. There were only two other sites occupied that we could see, and the sites were quite spacious, which afforded the quiet and solitude that most bike-campers would hope for. I took my socks off, and clicked the liner out of my shorts and changed into the boxers; with the outer shorts and the jersey, that’s what I ate and slept in for the night.
We ate our dinners at the campsite picnic table. My MRE turned out to be surprisingly good; an added bonus that I wasn’t aware of until I opened it up was the self-contained chemical heating unit. I saved the instant coffee for the morning. Brent had an instant backpacker’s meal of beef chili, plus some of the tortillas and sausage that he had brought.
I heard a few mosquitoes buzzing around my ears throughout the evening, but they weren’t nearly as bad as we had expected from our pre-trip research. We never felt like we needed our head nets. Horse flies were attacking my ankles, so I applied a little more Natrapel to that area (formerly protected by my socks), and that did the trick. I’m sure that the bug population varies with the time of year and the weather, and the very dry summer that we’ve been having here in the Midwest probably helped with that.
We turned into our tents while it was still light out, and had no trouble falling asleep. We heard a storm rolling through during the night, but we weren’t sure how long it lasted. Our tents held up well and we stayed dry, and I was comfortable temperature-wise the whole evening.
My friend Brent and I were headed up to Northern Michigan to ride the High Country Pathway, and thought we’d take a side trip to check out some local singletrack along the way. We chose Fort Custer State Recreation Area just outside of Battle Creek.
We arrived at the park around noon, and stopped by the ranger’s office to purchase our recreation pass. We decided to buy an annual non-resident pass rather than a daily pass, since we could use it for this whole trip, as well as when we return to the state in November for the Iceman Cometh Challenge race. The ranger supplied us with a trail map, and gave us the lowdown on the three loop trails.
The mountain bike trails are split into three loops, identified by color on the map and on-trail markers. The Blue trail is the easiest, the Green trail is intermediate, and the Red trail is the most difficult.
We proceeded to the trail parking area, where you’ll find a changing shack, restroom, and water source. After we got into our cycling clothes and got our bikes ready, we decided to skip the Blue trail and head straight for the Green. We found the trail system to be extremely well-marked.
The only thing that confused us at first were a couple of spots along the Green trail where the trail forks into two trails, but we soon realized that these just provide alternate routes around short, more technical trail features. It’s not marked which fork is the easier or harder of the two options, but we never found either one very difficult, and the two trails merged back together very soon after.
As soon as we finished the Green trail, we hit the Red trail. The Red trail had a little more variety, climbing, and other challenges compared to the Green, but neither had any lung-busting monster climbs or any un-rideable features. The whole ride provided just enough challenge to be fun and interesting, but easy enough to provide the mindless stress-relieving ride that we came for.
My Salsa Fargo proved to as capable on this singletrack as I’ve grown to love it for. The rigid frame and fork didn’t slow me down at all on the smooth, buff trail. There were a couple of minor steps or drop-offs (maybe 6 inches tall at most) where some suspension would have helped, but these were few and far between.
Brent was on his singlespeed Salsa El Mariachi. He considered bringing his Salsa Mukluk snow bike instead, thinking that it would be ideal for handling the notoriously sandy Michigan soil. But, he decided it wasn’t worth the extra 10 pounds of bike weight. There were a few sandy patches along the trails; nothing too treacherous, though. Whenever we came across one, we’d call out “Sand!” to warn each other. Eventually, we started calling “Mukluk!” instead, both of us thinking that those were the spots where the Mukluk would be in its element.
If you’re in the Western Michigan area with a mountain bike, I’d highly recommend the trails at Fort Custer State Recreation Area. It would be worth a 2-or-3-day road trip on its own, to hit some of the other fantastic trails that Michigan has to offer. After your ride, you can refuel at Bell’s Brewery in nearby Kalamazoo, and if you’re headed further north as we were, you can also stop by Founder’s Brewing, about an hour north in Grand Rapids.