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Bikes, a Boat & maybe a Goat – A Traveling Fat-Bike Side Show

A couple decades back, my friend Cale and I started a bike gang called the Bike Black Ribbon Society and over the years BBR established chapters all over the US. When we started to need help with testing bikes for fat-bike dot com, we established the BBR Test Pilots from BBR Chapters and their known associates. This year we created the Black Ribbon Bike Hour Podcast and encouraged BBR Chapters to hold bike rallies, derbies and events, to celebrate the seedy underbelly of greasy bike culture. As with every organization that holds rebellion in high esteem, the results of said encouragement were mixed. However, the Westallica BBR Chapter, under the sketchy guiding hand of Dave Lunz, stepped up and scheduled a bikepacking trip, to the beaches of Western Michigan, in an event called “Bikes, a Boat, and maybe a Goat” because on a previous visit to Michigan, Puck came across a goat tethered to the front of a beachfront tavern. The plan was to take the Lake Express high speed ferry from Milwaukee, across Lake Michigan, to Muskegon, Michigan and then head along the coast and camp for a weekend. The trip was originally scheduled for the beginning of August, but Puck crashed his bike and broke his Femur, which won him a brand new bio-mechanical hip joint, which delayed the trip to October.

The delay gave us a chance to expand upon our plan to carry our camping gear using our array of Fat Bob Trailer projects (that 3 of us had built) to include –  a Surly, Big Fat Dummy and a new Salsa, Blackborow. The addition of the fat cargo/adventure rigs meant that I could loan my Fatback Otis along with my Fat-BoB trailer to mi amigo, Destro. Puck was riding his Schlick Tatanka fat-bike hitched to his Bob-Zilla trailer that he welded together with the front half of a Walgoose Kid’s fat-bike and Chuck was pulling a tag-along trailer that he welded together with the back half of the Walgoose that was left over from Bob-Zilla. Chuck pulled his tag-a-trailer with his trusty Surly Moonlander.

The Rigs

Puck’s Schlick Cycles Tatanka pulling The Bob-Zilla Trailer

Chuck’s Surly Moonlander pulling his Tag-a-Trailer

(Destro’s) Otis hitched to our Fat-BoB conversion.

Jeff’s Surly Moonlander – (with Aero Bar front Rack)

Spinner’s Surly Big Fat Dummy

Salsa’s New Blackborow

The Ride

FRIDAY

On the Ferry

On our first ferry trip over to Michigan, back in 2012?, We headed south from the Ferry Dock, down to Grand Haven. So this trip, we decided to head in the opposite direction. The plan was to ride the beach north and eventually end up in Montague Michigan and camp at a private campground. Looking at the map, it looked to be somewhere between 20-25 miles.

Unruly Brewing

After we recombobulated our bikes we headed off to find Unruly Brewing. We were a little early, but they opened up and served up a couple rounds of their delicious beer, that set the tone for the day. Their Shovelhead, pre-prohibition style cream ale became the go-to pour on the trip.

Muskegon has a really nice bike path that took us around the bay for another few miles. We grabbed some pizza along the way and then, just as we were making good time we came across Thrasher’s Bear Lake Tavern. How can you pass up a bar called Thrasher’s Bear Lake Tavern? We piled up the bikes and sat outside, where a kind gentlemen bought us a round followed by a few more. Soon after that we found our way to the Lake Michigan shore, near Muskegon State Park.

We slipped from the road down a steep loose dune and started our journey north, towards Duck Lake State Park. Conditions were pretty challenging. We stopped and bled air and then forged onward. There were sections with old pier pilings that forced some hike-a-bike. The sand in this part of Michigan is called ‘singing sand’ because it sometimes, squeeks or groans as you walk or ride down the beach. I could hear it when I had to dismount and push the bike, up high on the beach in the deep soft sand, to maneuver around obstacles.

Obstacle Course = Hike-a-Bike

Everyone was grinding along. Jeff and Destro were getting chain suck and I couldn’t get the rear tire of the loaded Blackborow to float in the soft stuff. We plugged along and despite the tough sledding, the landscape was freak’n beautiful! We ran into some really soft wet shifting sand that sucked our feet and wheels a foot deep and that gave us plenty of opportunities to regroup and enjoy the day…while it lasted.

About a mile south of Duck Lake the beach petered out. There was no way forward, but (fortunately?) there was a public beach access, that came in the form of five or six flights of stairs. We talked to some locals and they confirmed that there was no way forward on the beach, but they shared that there was a nice tavern with good food, not too far from the top of the bluff. So we broke down some gear and we made a multiple trips up and down those stairs. We worked together to carry the two cargo bikes up and nobody bitched or complained. We were almost immediately rewarded with the Red Rooster Tavern, where we ate supper and refreshed our boundless thirst.

We recalculated the navigation and google maps said it was ten miles and that we should make it to the campground in about and hour. We had about an hour left, till sunset, so we gassed up the tires ad hit the road/goat-path/trail towards Whitehall/Montague. Google maps put us onto some pretty cool trails, but somewhere along the way, just about the time the sun was setting we lost Chuck. We called him on the cell (after we yelled for him and didn’t get a reply) and after a short delay, where everyone busted out their lights, we smashed out some miles that eventually took us into Whitehall for the final Beer Run before we rolled into camp.

Beer Run

One of my old buddies from team QQQQ had made arrangements to meet us at the campground and he had a fire going and we discovered that there was a covered picnic pavilion adjacent to our fire ring, which really came in handy, because within minutes of our arrival it started to steadily rain. Everybody got set up and enjoyed the fire from the covered pavilion. You never know, when you’ve never been somewhere before, when choosing a spot to camp, what to expect. In this case we totally lucked out! The Trailway Campground wasn’t our first choice. But all of the County Parks had closed for the season, so we were left with Trailway. The place is right next to a grocery store and just across the bridge from Fetch Brewing. We found out later, it’s also a few blocks from Bardic Wells Meadery. We basically hit the offseason jackpot.

SATURDAY

It rained all night and there were a few lingering sprinkles in the morning. Once we got a good breakfast into our bellies we geared down and went for a ride!

Breakfast of Champions

Spinner got up early and jetted over to the grocery store to grab some breakfast provisions. Pork Chops, Stuffed Mushrooms and Breakfast Sausages all grilled to perfection.

We didn’t have any set plans for Saturday. We just wanted to get out and do some exploring. We knew that we wanted to check out the brewery and we thought we might check out the shoreline north of the White River. We ended up finding some pretty fun trails and we took turns trading bikes. We derbied and blood was spilled. I think Puck won the Derby.

So just a couple of months after Puck broke his hip and had surgery to replace the hip socket, he put this trip together, rode the whole thing (fully loaded) and won the Derby. He also sucked his chain behind his cassette as badly as I’ve ever seen, some time during our Saturday excursion. Puck also forgot to pack his clothes for the trip, so our first stop was to Waterdog Outfitters to buy some basics. Waterdog Outfitters sells everything from paddle gear to fat-bikes and is a block from where we camped. The owner shot this picture of us all together.

(L-R) Robb, Destro, Chuck, Spinner, Puck, Gomez, Jeff

We hit the bike path out of town and acted like kids out riding bikes. We made it to Fetch Brewing and had a great time! I got to put some time in on Spinner’s Big Fat Dummy (back to back) with the Blackborow, which we’ll talk about more, in the upcoming review. It was another beautiful day (just like Friday) but there was rain in the forecast overnight (just like Friday). We decided that we’d have dinner and drinks, just up the hill, with a plan to visit the Meadery after. Soon after we rolled up on Jimmy’s Pub, the rain came down in buckets.

Bike Pile outside of Jimmy’s Pub

So in a steady pissing rain, we rolled down the street a couple of blocks for post dinner mead and music at the Bardic Wells Meadery. Once the mead started to flow, I noticed a couple of people in our party, began to have difficulty speaking their native tongue. Some of us retreated back to camp and some stayed longer to sing mead drinking songs and god knows what else. The rain had sort of stopped, but the wind had really whipped up, which made getting a fire going a bit of a challenge.

After a while, our advanced mead drinking team, returned to camp and the party started in earnest. I could see the writing on the wall, so about twenty minutes after quiet hour, I snuck off to bed. There were stories about people falling in the creek and the camp host threatening to boot us all out, but that’s all hearsay. I can tell you one thing for certain…The winds during the middle of the night, collapsed a few tents and woke me up a few times. I hoped that things would calm down for Sunday’s return trip to the Ferry.

SUNDAY

Well I’d like to be able to tell you all that we all knew about the bike path that basically goes from Montague to Muskegon, but I’d be lying. We found out about the trail on Saturday and after our lengthy extended route (from Friday) that took much longer than we ever imagined, we decided that a more direct route, might be a better idea, since we had a boat to catch back to Milwaukee.

We broke camp and headed to Gary’s Restaurant for Breakfast. After that, we made short work of the trip back to Muskegon. The direct route was just under 20 miles and we covered that in about 2 hours, which left us plenty of time to revisit Unruly Brewing and to take a side trip to Pigeon Hill Brewery, before boarding the Lake Express High Speed Ferry back to the fertile bosom of Wisconsin’s Dairy Air.

Some Conclusions

When the time came to pack up and get mobile, the guys that pulled trailers, were sitting around waiting for the rest of us, because of the simple one big dry bag, vs many different dry bags utilized by the rest of us. On Saturday, when we went out to play bikes, the kids with trailers, could just leave the trailer back at camp, while the cargo bikes didn’t have that option. I think it was easier to carry a bike and a trailer up six flights of stairs than it was to carry a cargo bike up the same stairs. Cargo bikes can carry more, but that means that you bring more. Riding Bikes is FUN! A traveling Fat-Bike Freak Show is even more FUN!

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2 Responses to Bikes, a Boat & maybe a Goat – A Traveling Fat-Bike Side Show

  1. puck October 21, 2017 at 10:34 am #

    That was an awesome weekend! Can’t wait to do it for a week next year!!!

  2. Erv Spanks October 23, 2017 at 9:27 am #

    Great read, sorry I missed it! Bike Adventure/Brewery Touring – There’s an idea!