Not many people drive across Michigan. It’s not on the way to anywhere. It’s the anti-Iowa in the way that I’ve driven through Iowa a dozen times to get to a destination but never had the pleasure of staying overnight. Michigan, like Florida and Maine, is a destination location, unless one is driving to Cuba, New Brunswick or Northern Ontario. So maybe Neil Young drives through Michigan. And that’s exactly what we did a couple of weeks back. We “drove” east to west through Michigan….on our fat and plus bikes!
Recently, Matt Acker (Michigan’s Gravel Guru) pieced together a mostly gravel/forest road route from Lake Huron (Michigan’s east side) to Lake Michigan (Michigan’s west side) for the inaugural Coast to Coast Gravel Grinder that took place in early May of this year. Unlike the freaks of nature that completed the 200+ mile route in 21 hours or less, our plan was to take our sweet time following the route and turn it in to a 3 day bikepacking trip.
So a rigid, steel Quiring 29+, a Cannondale Fat CAAD fat bike and a Scott Big Jon fatty slapped on bags and loaded them up for the trip from Au Gres to Manistee. Acker’s race course ended in Ludington but we took the liberty to adjust the route 30 miles north directly into our home town of Manistee, essentially equalling the same distance as the race ending at the same lake. This would be Erin and Dan’s first bikepacking trip so I assumed the role of Julie McCoy and was more than happy to play cruise director for the trip.
Our sherpa shuttler dropped us off on a grey, misty morning and we began to take Horace Greeley’s advice to head west. The eastern side of Michigan is mostly flat which gave us an opportunity to get some serious miles in. We wouldn’t describe it as boring but certainly not as entertaining as our route got deeper into the trip. The stoke was high and so were the extremely rare east winds that would stick with us for the entire trip. The 73 miles we peddled on day one were mostly moist which made the campsite that much more welcomed. We pulled into the Gladwin Field Trial Area ready for some food and a dry place to lay down our heads.
The rain stopped by the time the eyelids were completely shut but around 5am it started again.
The acoustics inside a tent are amazing, and I layed there for three hours listening to the potential of a shortened or at least modified trip. Being that we were on a gravel road/forest road trip, we knew that peanut butter paths would be waiting for us. Stoke gone. The weather turned for the better mid morning which allowed us and the roads time to dry out but delayed our 9am departure till noon.
So our three day trip immediately turned into a four day trip. We swung our legs over our rigs and were on the way to the next stop which would be a mini-mart 25 miles away. There we would meet the biggest piece of gas station pizza ever. Dan accepted the challenge and burned through the crust, sauce, cheese and toppings while on our way to Marion 20 miles later where would set up a dry camp for the night. The rain delay made for a shortened day. Smiles all around.
With the local carnival just leaving town, we all were granted a great night’s sleep in the perfect town park campground. Up and at ‘em for the hardest day, crossing over the middle of the state and on into the rolling hills of the Caberfae area near Cadillac. This is where the Manistee National Forest starts as well as where the highest points in the lower peninsula are located. In other words, the trip really started to get fun. Gone were the flatter square mile blocks of straightness. Day three was filled with curvy, vertical forest roads winding through lush national forest. It ended at Peterson Bridge campground on the mighty Pine River.
With most of the elevation out of the way and only 50 miles to Lake Michigan, we decided to call in the trail angels for our last night out. Our friends showed up at the campsite complete with chicken broccoli casserole, grapefruit IPA and Doritos, taco Doritos. Long forgotten was the day and a half of rain. Long forgotten were the 70 or so miles of grid-like roads. Long forgotten were vertical hills of Caberfae. Folks, our bellies were full with the third coast only a day away.
Breakfast hot dogs and Dublin General Store jerky topped off the previous night’s casserole to fuel the next day. We could smell the freshwater mere hours away. Our final day of riding took us through Big M and the Udell Hills. If you listen to the Fat Camp Podcast, you’ve probably heard us talk about this ride destination. Finishing our journey through extremely familiar territory made day four one of the best, if not the best, day of riding. Knowing every twist of the road, each uphill and how much effort was necessary to get our 50 lb steeds to our destination was a huge motivator.
What felt like a downhill run right to 5th Avenue beach in Manistee was more likely the east wind (still blowing) as well as the high level of accomplishment the three of us had. People don’t drive through Michigan. Any direction you go, you pretty much end up at a lake. We started at one and ended at another. Epic? Eh, not really. Fun to do? Definitely.