When our amigo, Nate, of Central District Cyclery and the Winter Rush Race Series whispered in my ear that he was working on getting permission to run a beach race out of Grand Haven, I was delighted! I immediately offered to help in any way possible. So last weekend, I found myself headed around the tip if Lake Michigan to man a checkpoint at the 1st Chilly Blues Challenge.
The weather leading up to the race had been pretty challenging. Snow squalls and torrential rain plagued the forecast for the two weeks before the event. Beach racing is more immune to wet conditions, than perhaps, any other kind of off-road cycling, but Mother Nature is a cruel mistress, no matter how you slice it. The day of the race dawned on the back side of 3 days of record setting thunderstorms that swelled every local river past their banks. On top of that….the race day forecast featured a blustery Canadian cold front with a steady 15 mph northwest wind, gusting to 25 mph.
When I pulled up to the race venue, I found Nate huddled in his car hugging a cup of coffee for warmth. During registration we enjoyed snow flurries under cloud dappled sunlight and a hawk of a NW wind. By the time the race started, it had warmed just a bit and fifteen intrepid racers ran to their bikes in a classic LeMans start and headed down the beach. Debris from the previous week’s storms was piled up along the surf line. The riders were forced to ride in softer sand because of all the flotsam and jetsam that was a jumbled mess of God knows what, along the waterline.
After the start, my assignment was to drive down to Kirk Park and man the checkpoint at the turn-around, where the racers would head back to the start, directly into the wind. Each rider was supposed to check in and get an item from me, to prove that they made it to the end of the course. We had agreed to move the checkpoint to Kirk County Park, because of the harsh conditions. A legitimate point of concern was the creek crossing about seven miles down the beach. Normally the creek is about six inches deep, but with the storm flooding, we really didn’t know how deep it could be. It turned out that my check point would be about a half a mile past the swollen creek. The only racer brave or fool-hardy enough to cross the creek, which was four feet deep (at the deepest) was the Unicorn. Charlie Deppe rolled up and told me that everyone else had turned around at the creek slash river. Apparently he had used his unicorn magic rainbow to traverse the creek and keep his feet bone dry. Actually, he told me that he merely scouted the crossing and found the shallowest spot and got across dry, thanks to his 45NRTH Wolvhammer Boots (and some unicorn magic). So Charlie turned out to be, both DFL and Grand Champion, all at the same time! I think everyone walked away with a big smile and a little somethin’ for their efforts.
We enjoyed post race, shorties out of the back of the farmer’s truck and then moved over to a brew pub within a stones throw of Grand Haven’s Chilly Blues Fest. Sandy Beach, Raw Weather, Great Beer & Live Blues! – This event had everything fat-bikers love! It was great meeting everyone and I’d like to express our sincere gratitude to Nate for hosting such a great, fun, grassroots event and letting us be a part of it!
The day after the race, I plotted a course directly to Fort Custer Recreation Area, near Augusta, MI. My plan was to ride singletrack and stay in one of the Park’s Mini-Cabins. Things worked out, just how I had planned. I was able to rent a mini cabin in the campground next to the mountain bike trails. The weather cooperated and by the time I arrived at the trail head, it was almost warm enough for shorts! Riding this amusement park of Michigan singletrack has become sort of a ‘right of spring’ over the last couple of decades for me. These trails routinely open a month before our local trails, due to the sandy soil providing such great drainage. The Fort Custer Trails are one of my favorite places to ride. It’s a fun and flowy set of color coded loops, that feature really interesting chutes, trenches and log-overs. They recently revamped the trails at Custer, but most of my favorite sections still remain intact.
I chugged Thparkle around the red loop, stopping now and then to shoot photos. The trails were in great conditions and for the first time this season, it felt like SPRING! The thing that I really like about staying over-night at Custer is that it allows for fun evening loops through the Trenches. It’s just so much of a fun section, that is literally, a five minute ride from the campground. I hit them over and over again, till we ran out of light….and then once more! I rode Thparkle all over Fort Custer last May – Check out the story and pictures here.
Mini Cabin & Thparkle
It pained me to leave Fort Custer, but I wanted to hit a new and unexplored (to me) portion of beach, near one of my favorite Michigan resort towns. I have scads of happy memories from summer weekends in South Haven from back in the 1980’s! I pulled into town on M-43 and parked the truck near downtown. I cruised around town a bit, to see if anything had changed and then headed downhill towards the south beach access. I rode out the causeway to the lighthouse and made some pretty pictures for y’all. I proceeded south along the beach for just a little way before the way was blocked by a rocky point. I turned around and headed back to the truck with a plan to head south to Van Buren State Park, just down the lake shore. The best season for beach riding is “off-season”. When I pulled into the mall sized beach parking area at Van Buren, there were only two cars there. The sand was in a nicely compacted state well up the beach and the debris that was all over the beach in Grand Haven, was nowhere to be found at Van Buren.
I rode north to, what looked like, the other side of the rocky point that stymied my progress earlier in South Haven and then back south to a nuclear power plant that had the usual warning signs about ‘deadly force’, but didn’t have a fence, completely blocking off beach access. I decided to not take a chance on getting plugged and rode back to my truck.
Michigan is a fat-bikers paradise. Every trip back is an opportunity to explore new sections of beach and perfectly lovely sand trails. I’ll be back soon, with another travelogue, to share.