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2012 Shoreline West Bicycle Tour Wrap Up

  • Written by Rich Moeller

100 1030Thanks to Brenda Carlton from Peachtree City, GA for letting us use parts of her journal about the 2012 Shoreline West Bicycle Tour.

My choice for a week-long group road bike tour for 2012 was the highly recommended tour of the western side of northern Michigan along the shoreline of Lake Michigan. For seven days, 400+ riders rode through the scenic rural roads often paralleling the shore of the 2nd largest Great Lake. Looking out over the lake, I often felt I was at an ocean based on its immense size and many sandy beaches and picturesque harbors. At its max, Lake Michigan is 118 miles wide, 307 miles long and 980’ deep. On the windy days, waves pound the shoreline.

The bike tour began with a three hour bus ride to Montague, MI. The over-night towns and daily mileage is as follows.

From:

To:

Miles

Montague

Ludington

70

Ludington

Frankfort

70

Frankfort

Traverse City

70

Mission Point Ride

 

50

Traverse City

Charlevoix

65

Charlevoix

Harbor Springs

52

Harbor Springs

Mackinaw City

45

 

 Total:

422


Each night we camped at on a local school ground with access to the facilities for showers and breakfast/dinner. We spent two nights in Traverse City, camped on the grounds of their Civic Center. We were very fortunate weather-wise with only two rains which occurred at night while in the tents. But a lucky few of us also had “rain” in the version of a sprinkler system that went off at the Civic Center causing us a bit of delay getting out of the tent for breakfast. Riding temps during the day ranged from 60 – 80. A couple of days had 20 – 30 mph headwinds so it felt cooler causing me to wear my leg and arm warmers all day – in August.

 0504Flowers seem to grow on steroids in this cooler climate with a shorter growing season. Some popular varieties were Black-Eyed Susans, Hydrangeas, Hosta and Lavender. Growing wild in the fields was Sweet Pea, Queen Anne’s Lace and Purple Loosestrife. Near Elk Rapids was fields of Sunflowers planted like you see in France during the Tour De France race. Often seen as part of the formal landscaping or, just growing wild, was birch trees, those beautiful trees with the white bark which settlers used the bark 200 years ago as paper.

In the 1800’s this section of Michigan was thick with White Pine. After 40 years of harvesting the pine and transporting them down the lake to railcars, the resource was depleted. Harbors built for the logging industry are now used for recreational boating. During this same period was the introduction of the “car ferry” only “car” meant for the railcar.

Industry has now turned to orchards, vineyards and farming. We passed so many fields of corn that I felt I could be in Iowa. For the beer-lovers, have you ever seen Hops growing in the field? Hops grow on vines trained on poles and twine extending 20’ tall. Your next question might be “Is Hops a grain or seed”? Neither. Hops is classified as a berry which looks like a small pine cone. Orchards are prolific primarily growing cherries and apples. While we missed the cherry harvest, we were often treated to dried cherries or chocolate covered cherries. My favorite way to sample cherries was the local Moomers ice cream flavor of Cherry Moo-lata which is ice cream with cherries and dark chocolate. Speaking of food, another common sighting was smoked fish which I partook of several meals of either smoked salmon or white-fish.

0217While mostly rolling hills, we did encounter some significant climbs. On day two near Frankfort we climbed the Three Sisters which the most strenuous being Arcadia Hill (12% grade for ½ mile) a.k.a Watermelon Hill since our SAG stop provides us watermelon at the top. To get even higher, we climbed the steps to the top for the most panoramic view of Lake Michigan. We were blessed with a clear sunny day and spotted a bald eagle flying below us seeking his prey from the water. On this hill we also met two very inspirational young women on their 4th week of a cross-country tour going east-to-west (into the winds) from NYC to Seattle. With limited funds, they were riding heavy bikes with wide tires and limited “technical” gear. They just loved riding and adventure knowing they had left a bit late in the season and will most likely encounter snow in the Rocky Mountains before arriving at their destination in three months. Ah, the spunk of youth! Speaking of age, the average age on the tour of 400+ riders was 55 with the oldest being 83. Looking at the masses each day, the average age looked older which if you pull out the kids on the trip, the average age would be closer to 60. That’s inspirational in itself, that many active adults capable of riding 400+ miles in a week.

 Another significant climb was on the 7-mile scenic loop to the Sleeping Bear Dunes Park. The dunes peak at 480’. The road takes us to the top where tourists can take the boardwalk for viewing. The adventurous tourists make the steep roll/walk to the lakeshore. Coming back up the dunes literally requires walking on hands and knees for the slog back to the top.

 While on the topic of age, the best music we saw this week was two very different bands on the opposite ends of the age spectrum. On a street corner in the tiny town of Pentwater we saw a 7-piece string band playing old-time tunes like “5’2, Eyes of Blue….Has Anybody Seen My Gal”? The musicians must have been 80+ including the woman on the Hammer Dulcimer that reminded us of Eleanor Roosevelt with her narrow brimmed fabric hat. They were raising money for the local fire department. In the wealthy harbor town of Charlevoix, was a Caribbean steel drum concert rocking out to the masses. What was unique? All members were white, aged 12 – 18 and no dreadlocks. It was the 30-piece band from a nearby school in Petoskey. The band was formed 18 years ago with a few drums and has grown to 30 members via funding from their summer concert series and sale of CDs. They perform at 21 concerts during the summer, receive no school credit and must have an adult drive them to each concert. They receive $300 each ($15/concert) which would cover gas money. That’s commitment and passion. It was such fun watching them rock out in their beach shirts and flip-flops.

 0599Charlevoix is home to the fanciful Mushroom Houses. Built by local architect Earl Young during 1918 – 1975, the eight houses left a lasting legacy of strange and adorable houses. Built mainly of stone and shingles, the houses are cute and cuddly, some with fireplaces which appear to have icing dripping down the sides. One was even for sale and could be yours!

 Our final day returned us to Mackinaw City as we rode our bikes under the five mile long Mackinaw Bridge. It was great fun to explore a new section of the U.S. While the summers there are beautiful, the weather can be a bit nippy for this southern gal. It must take a sturdy person to endure the winters of northern Michigan. One shop owner commented they only got 90’ of snow last winter, way down from the typical 300’. Yes, it’s time for this Georgia Peach to head south. Winter will soon be in this “neck of the woods”.


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