From Chicago, we pointed the Sprinter north, hugging the eastern shores of Lake Michigan. The goal of this journey was to chase IMBA Epic trails from the Pacific all the way to the Atlantic, but after spending well over 30 hours on the road staring at white lines disappear beneath the front bumper, a small detour to one of the best-kept secrets of the midwest seemed in order. We only had a few days to spare between Chicago and our next planned stop in Washington DC, so we’d have to make every minute count.
With one of our own hailing from Northern Michigan, this leg of the journey was particularly sweet. Often called “the Caribbean of the North,” the Traverse City area is best known for having some of the most pristine beaches in the United States. But less known to its many summer visitors, is the incredible singletrack found all over Grand Traverse and Leelanau Counties. These were the same mountain bike trails upon which some of us grew up, so returning to them with legs bursting with fresh riding experience was destined to be a special treat.
We timed the six hour trip from Chicago perfectly, arriving in Traverse City without a moment to spare. We quickly made a beeline to the Vasa Trailhead on the outskirts of Williamsburg to link up with the good lads of City Bike Shop for their weekly Monday night shop ride.
It’s important to note that the mountain bike trails in Northern Michigan are not technical like Downieville. They are fairly heavily wooded, but are nothing like the Endor-esque old-growth forests on ‘Tam or Tiger. There are no leg-breaking climbs like those in Oakridge. But what the TC trails lack in predictable dosages of adrenaline or the careful metering of sustained efforts, they more than make up for in the sheer purity of speed and flow, with clear trails that beg for constant input in the big ring. These are the smooth, meandering ribbons that fully rigid 29ers dream about. Even the 3″ tires on this bike make for a smart choice on these trails, as this rubber makes short work of the notorious sand found all over the Traverse City State Forest.
Every ounce of speed on these Mountain bike trails is dutifully earned. Granted, the topography is hardly flat, but without any major hills, there is as little coasting as there is climbing. The Vasa was almost just how we remember it — only the passing years have enabled our legs to pilot it much, much faster. The loose, loamy berms transition to thick sand patches which then give way to tantalizingly fast straight-aways with perfectly clear sightlines (thanks in part to the local deer population stripping much of the vegetation at eye-level and below). At many points on the trail, railing a tight corner whilst brushing against the bare branches of outstretched saplings at mach 2 starts to resemble the persistent tactile thrills of ski racing.
Many huge thanks to the CBS crew for showing us around all the “current locals-only” unmarked trail — the likes of which have seemingly grown exponentially since we were last in town.
We spent the next 48 hours absorbing some much-needed Vitamin D deep between the tanlines in our pale skin, finishing out each beach day with a road ride, enjoying the rolling contours of M-22 between Empire, Glen Arbor, and Maple City. When we were boys, the miles between these towns seemed so much longer, and the hills so much larger. We returned to the highway, marveling at how effective a tool the bicycle can be for measuring the passage of time.
Reassuring to know that long after everything in life has changed, some parts of home will never change. Take for example, the Glen Arbor locals, who are still as friendly as ever. [zp]
Now that we’re properly re-charged and re-connected, there’s still plenty of journey ahead, so make sure to stay abreast on where we’ll be sending the Sprinter next by following us on Twitter or liking our Facebook page. We’ll see you down the road.
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