Written by Chuck Bash
I have been asked to write about my summer vacation; no really about the multiple day bike rides I did this summer, 2015. Marilyn Bash and I did three multiple day bike rides of the League of Michigan Bicyclists this past summer, 2015.
You can see pictures of the ride at this link: https://www.flickr.com/photos/leagueofmichiganbicyclists/sets/72157656711892956
The third was early in August, Shoreline West. It is a seven day, one way tour, along the west shore of Michigan, east shore of Lake Michigan, camping each night. The route is almost entirely designated scenic roads, a very pretty bike ride. The League feeds the riders breakfasts each morning and dinners all but the lay over day and the last day; and the League has luggage trucks to transport gear from site to site. Because we have done it 4 of the past 5 years, and several other times over the past two decades, and likely will do it again in 2016, I will fluctuate between past and present tense.
Our first Michigan Shoreline tour was Shoreline East in 1995, along the Lake Huron shore. About 10 of us from Fort Wayne were on the tour, among about 250 riders. At the same time we were on Shoreline East the League of Michigan Bicyclists was also conducting Shoreline West on the other side of the state with about 500 riders. We started that year in Tawas City and took 4 days to ride to Mackinaw City, camping outside schools. The 5th day we rode to Petoskey on Lake Michigan to meet the Shoreline West group coming up the Lake Michigan shore. The 6th day both Shoreline groups rode together back to Mackinaw City, where we Easters had been. The final day both groups rode across the Mackinac Bridge; we did less than 13 miles that day, very slowly, across the bridge as a group, with police escort, finishing in St. Ignace. Marilyn & I were on our tandem (our group had about 4 tandems); she loved riding across the bridge; I hate riding on bridges. She was looking everywhere, up at the supports & sky, down at the bridge & water far below; I was tense the whole time, focused on the bridge floor in front of me. Usually bikes cannot ride the bridge, except the Labor Day Weekend, Labor Day is the annual walk across the bridge. If bikes or pedestrians arrive at the bridge other times and want across a bus or truck takes them. That was the last time the League of Michigan Bicyclists held Shoreline East, perhaps it was the only time. I think it probably was too tough on the volunteers for the League to host two week long camping bike rides at the same time.
Shoreline West has been held 29 years. Recently it has started mid-way up the coast, in Montague; taken three days to ride to Traverse City, where it spent two nights; then taken three days to ride to Mackinaw City. There is a 3 day option, to begin in Traverse City.
In 2011, the 25th Shoreline West, it started in New Buffalo, about 3 miles from the Indiana border, and took 9 days to ride to Mackinaw City, with no lay over days. So those doing the full 9 day version had the opportunity to do the entire Michigan/Lake Michigan coast. I was on that ride; Marilyn was driving as my private sag, setting up our tent, etc. It rained one morning and she refused to allow me to ride, although if I had waited it cleared by late morning; but I relented and let her drive me to the next town. I have done the section I missed that year many other years, so I have ridden essentially the entire coast. Someone asked one of the volunteers if they were going to do the entire coast again; she replied yea, in another 25 years. So I think a 9 day trip without a layover was tough on the volunteers.
I did hear some talk this year that next year, for the 30th, they might cross the bridge again. There was a cameraman filming the 2015 ride to create a video for the 30th. So they hope to make the 30th in 2016 special.
Some years Marilyn and I have done the entire route on our tandem, which requires driving to the finish; loading bikes, without pedals and with handlebars turned, onto trucks; and boarding buses to the start Saturday, the day before riding begins. They also have an option to take the bus after the ride, but we prefer to mess with the pedals and handlebars before the ride, when we have the option of getting assistance from a Fort Wayne bike shop.
This year we car pooled with another couple from Fort Wayne, four of us and our camping gear in my Volvo wagon with 4 bikes on the roof, pretty tight. We drove to Montague Saturday, and toured the town a bit, including viewing the World’s largest operating weather vane in downtown Montague.
We kept my car with us, some days Marilyn rode local bike paths instead of the route to the next town, then she drove to our next campsite; some days she rode part of the route, to where I had left the car, so we did the route as a tag team. Most days the 4 of us loaded most of our gear onto one of the luggage trucks, but kept what we might want quickly upon arrival in my car, for use before having to walk the luggage drop off area looking for our duffels.
Sunday night, after our ride to Ludington, we got the tent set up in a heavy wind. The wind kept flattening our tent. Finally we became worried about rain so closed up the tent; to our surprise our tent handled the wind better when fully closed than it did with the windows open. Early evening all campers were requested to enter the school building for safety. After 90 minutes we were given clearance to return to our tents. The wind died down, and we got some rain, but not much.
Monday night in Frankfort we learned the area to the north of us had been hit badly by wind sheers &/or tornados the prior evening, Sunday. A former volunteer heard about the problems north of us and had driven up with a decade old map of a route used then to ride from Frankfort to Traverse City without going along the coast through the Sleeping Bear Dune area and Glen Arbor. The Glen Arbor Police contacted the League and requested we not ride through their town; actually all roads in or out of Glen Arbor were blocked by fallen trees; the multitude of tourists in Glen Arbor were crammed into over filled motels and houses, and a restaurant with a generator was feeding everyone in town since no one else had electricity. League volunteers had spent all day Monday checking out alternate routes to our next site, Traverse City, and painting new Dan Henries on the back roads selected. Tuesday we followed the newly painted Dan Henries, marks painted on the road to indicate turns. They had printed about 20 maps for 400 riders, but said the maps were not correct, just follow the Dan Henries, which I usually do anyway, I often do not bother to carry a map. The volunteers had done a great job, the Dan Henries were easy to follow, the route was shorter than the usual mapped route, but inland; we got to Traverse City, but missed the beautiful views of Lake Michigan and the Sleeping Bear Dune Park that Shoreline West riders expect. Traverse City had assured the League they would be ready for us. The town was a mess, down trees everywhere, but all had been removed from the streets & roads and stacked by the side. Even the bike paths were cleared of debris, although it was stacked high along the side. The effort by the people of Traverse City to clean their streets and bike paths must have been tremendous. We camped at the Howe Arena Recreational Area, our tent within 50 feet of the roots of two huge trees that had been blown over. We missed some great scenery, but felt well cared for by the League of Michigan Bicyclists staff and volunteers. There were no complaints, well almost, there was one complainer. Sunday night, after the wind storm hit our campsite in Ludington, before we heard about how devastated some towns north of us were, one camper was at the volunteer desk inside the school, demanding the League do something about his tent, which had been destroyed by the wind. They quietly listened, but reacted little. One volunteer and I tried a couple of times to suggest to him that he talk to Bubba; Bubba’s Pampered Pedalers accompanies Shoreline West, so Bubba was there with about 100 identical tents, a half dozen students working for him on their summer vacation putting up tents, air mattresses, camp chairs, cleaning towels, transporting gear. He charges about $400 for one person for 7 nights, and I do not know how many extra tents he might have with him; but he seemed like a likely source of refuge until we got to Traverse City and access to many stores with recreation gear. But the complainer was too busy yelling about how the League needed to do something about his damaged tent to hear suggestions of what action he might take, so I just walked away. I do not know what became of him; if I had been the tour director I would have offered to drive him to the nearest bus station.
In Traverse City we camped on the grounds of the Howe Arena; we put our tent about 50 feet away from two large trees next to the arena that had been blown over, the roots pulled out of the ground.
Because the alternate route to Traverse City the storm had forced us to use was shorter and with no sights of the coast or dunes we got to Traverse City early. On our drive to Michigan before the start we had discovered that Nancy is a big fan of Jimmy Johns; and right across the street from the Howe Arena is a Jimmy Johns, so I calculated when Nancy & Bob should arrive and had their lunch waiting for them, hoping they would want the same as they had ordered on our way up, they did.
We spent two nights in Traverse City, providing us a layover day to explore. The League fed us dinner our first night in Traverse City, and both breakfasts, but we were on our own for dinner on the lay over day.
For those who wish there is a 42 mile route shown in our map booklet that goes out one side of Old Mission Peninsula to the tip, and returns on the other side. Marilyn and I have not done it. To the immediate west of Old Mission Peninsula is the Leelanau Peninsula, just as close to our camp, much longer, wider, more heavily populated, more roads, more traffic. I think it was Bicycling Mag that picked the 50 best bike rides, one in each state. For Michigan it picked riding the Leelanau Peninsula as the best ride in the state; but the League of Michigan Bicyclists sends its Shoreline West riders out the less traveled Old Mission Peninsula. National groups that pick the best in an area are nice; but sometimes the locals have their own ideas.
In 2012 we rode with a member of the Traverse City local bike club; she took about 10 of us on a tour to see about half of the Barn Quilts on Old Mission Peninsula. Many of the barn owners on the peninsula have put large wooden squares painted with designs that look like quilt designs on the side of their barn. In 2012 it was her first time leading a tour of the Quilts, but it has become a regular feature. We thought the two friends from Fort Wayne with us this year should do it since they love to take pictures, and what better chance to take pictures than a bicycle tour of Barn Quilts on Old Mission Peninsula? But they wanted to stay in town; I think the hills the couple of prior days had been tough. So we took them on the bike path, part of TART, which stands for Traverse Area Recreational Trails not the multitude of cherries in the region, out a short ways on the Leelanau Peninsula, viewing lots of downed trees piled along the path, testimony to how quickly the locals worked to clear their town. After that to a restaurant we like, a mini soupery, 8 different daily soups, you can try tiny bowls of each before deciding which to order for lunch. Next to the soupery is a mini brewery; since our friends are fans of interesting beer we thought they would go there while we ate lunch. They surprised me again, and did not go into the brewery. After we finished lunch I realized why, Bob had mapped out the short route from the soupery to the Traverse City Whiskey Co. We rode with them most of the way there, and then we went sightseeing along other potions of TART.
Our next overnight was at the school outside of Charlevoix. Because the school is not within walking distance of town, and we arrive at the school before getting to town, the locals had school buses to take people to and from town, to view the Mushroom Houses, or shop. We camped next to the back of the school, with a beautiful view from our tent of the hills to the east. I think that the low area between us and the hills was Lake Charlevoix, but we could not see it, just the low hills near us and the higher hills in the distance, not what was between.
The next day, from Charlevoix to Harbor Springs, there were several bicycle options mapped. The basic route went inland, usually with an option of taking a cable pulled ferry across a narrow spot in the South Arm Lake Charlevoix to save 9 miles, but I believe I was told the ferry was not operating this year. For those seeking a challenge there was another alternate to the basic route to go up “The Wall.” I have taken the ferry in a previous year, but not yet done “The Wall.” There was also the option to avoid the basic route, reduce the mileage from 55 to 31, and use the Little Traverse Wheelway. The Wheelway is a rails to trails conversion of an old railroad that goes along the Lake Michigan shore, very pretty and totally flat. Bob, Nancy, & Marilyn did the Little Traverse Wheelway. Since someone had to drive the car I did not ride that day’s route; I drove to Harbor Springs and parked the car at our preferred camp site, using some gear bags to save a couple of tent sites. Then I rode by myself out the following day’s route, through the Tunnel of Trees, to Cross Village, 20 miles, and returned by the same route for 40 miles total. The Tunnel of Trees is quite pretty.
The last day, Saturday, since I had done the Tunnel of Trees the prior day, I drove to Cross Village and waited for Marilyn, Bob, & Nancy. The League of Michigan Bicyclists does not want cyclists to eat at Legs Inn in Cross Village, a well-known Polish/American restaurant, since it is the last day of the tour and they need riders taking the bus back to the start to finish and load bikes, gear, and themselves for the return trip; and the others to finish, load their cars and vacate the area. But since we had my car with us, and had made the effort to put everything in my car that morning rather than putting anything in the luggage trucks, we had no time constraint. So we toured the beautiful grounds of Legs Inn until they opened for lunch. Bob & Nancy Leszczynski picked some Polish appetizers for us and helped Marilyn order a Polish meal. Silly me, I ordered White fish cooked Cajun style, it was good, and I like fish; but ordering Cajun style fish in northern Michigan at a famous Polish restaurant with two Polish Americans sitting there, comparing the Polish dishes on the menu to what Nancy’s mother and grandmothers, and Bob’s grandmother made, was quite silly; I should have gotten a Polish meal. It was a very good lunch; Marilyn, Bob & Nancy were all content to finish the ride in Cross Village, 23 miles short of Mackinaw City; and I was content to not ride, but rather to begin the drive home.
On the way home we stopped at the Phillips Orchards & Cider Mill – Gatehouse Market, about the mid-point and a refreshing stop.