The Michigami Way
Twenty-six years ago I received my first mountain bike. I rode the hell out of that Porsche Red, Rockhopper. My brother in law, Al, and I rode along the power lines and by the orchards surrounding Scott Lake in SW Michigan. That’s about the time we explored Fort Custer Recreation Area for the first time. Back then, there was no single track. We rode loose sand double-track till we were lost….and loved every minute of it. Fort Custer has developed a great singletrack trail system since back then. Back in the 90’s the local trail group used to run a mountain bike festival called Dirtstock at Custer. I brought the whole family to Dirtstock and we had the time of our lives. Custer brings back great memories of Team QQQQ spring training trips and more. So it’s no surprise that I chose to start my Michigan road trip at Fort Custer. I felt the need to ride something really familiar before embarking on some beach-splorations later in the trip.
I don’t get to ride in Michigan as much now that I live in Wisconsin, but every other year or so, we run the gauntlet of Chicago traffic jams to get to the laid-back sandy shores of the Wolverine State. My dog, Cecil, and I set out on this particular trip to tap into the abundant beach riding opportunities along the west coast of Michigan, almost directly across from us in Milwaukee. Sven and I had hatched a plan to organize a Fat-Bike Gathering and thought Michigan might offer some epic beach riding coupled with sweet sandy singletrack for the event.
On a sunny Friday morning we made the drive around the industrial south end of Lake Michigan and found our way to Fort Custer. Cecil and I set up camp on one of our favorite sites, right by the mtb trail access. The first thing I like to do, after camp is set, is to jump on the bike and take a little spin. I hopped on my fatty and rode up past the first two trail intersections on a service road to get to the top of a section of trail called ‘the trenches’. It’s maybe a mile? or so, but 100% FUN, swoopy trail, banked and carved, in and around trenches used for “ARMY” training. It turns out that trench warfare makes for really sweet mtb trail. I’ve ridden the trenches, over and over, on multiple trips to Fort Custer. My moonlander made them feel new again! This got me thinking about how a new twist (like fat-bikes) keeps our love of cycling fresh and vibrant. Riding my fatty through the super-fun and flowy trenches made me love Fort Custer, all the more! Same Trail – Fresh Perspective! After a couple of laps through the trenches, I shot back to camp and grabbed Cecil and took him along for a tour of the trenches. We returned to camp and grinned the fat-bike grin.
Our next day was a total rain out. I hit up the Battle Creek, Barnes and Nobel to look for reference materials for beach research (beachsearch). I bagged seventy bucks worth of printed guidance that I spent the afternoon digesting. I stopped in at Custer Cyclery to take the pulse of the local fat-biking scene and found that the owner rides his moonlander at Custer all winter long! Custer is a good shop. They’ve saved my bacon on previous trips to Michigan.
Our last day at Custer was Mudder’s Day……and like most Mothers Days go, the weather was freak’n beautiful. Custer drains so well, that the trails were open and in great shape by noon. There have been some recent changes to the trails at Custer, but the best of the red loop still remains. I brought both my 29r and fatty along with me for the trip, with the theory that I’d ride the 29r on trails and the moonlander on the beach. When it came time to hit the trail, I grabbed the fat-bike so I could experience all of Custer’s gems on a fatty. I jumped in at Red#2 and never looked back. I stopped to take a turtle’s portrait and the only two riders that I would see that day zoomed past as I was laying down on my belly, shooting Mrs. T. They both thought I had crashed…..and both loved the moonlander. I think she’s a female map turtle looking for a place to lay her eggs – but I’m no turtle whisperer.
The rest of the ride was splendid. Many of the names like ‘granny’s garden’ and ‘cardiac hill’ are gone from the new trail maps, but they still remain part of the trail system. I was glad that I chose to ride my fatty and returned to camp for an ice cold barley pop.
Sundays evenings at most campgrounds are the best! Ninety percent of the campers head home around noon, leaving Cecil and I free to play in the trenches as we please. After reading up on potential beach destinations I focused in on two spots where commercial ferry service is available between Wisconsin and Michigan. In our next episode, we visit Ludington on the shores of Lake Michigan to ride some gorgeous beach!