On May 17, more than 2,400 cyclists are expected for the bike tour, which heads north from Boyne Highlands and up the coast of Lake Michigan along US-119. The Tunnel of Trees route is draped with superlatives from travel writers the world over, not to mention carpets of trilliums and lilacs in bloom beneath its leafy bower. Riders continue on through the farmlands and forests of Wilderness State Park and finish with spectacular views of the Mackinac Bridge and a party in Mackinaw City.
But hold on, because the fun is just starting: the entry fee includes a round-trip ferry ride to Mackinac Island for more parties. In fact, the Zoo-De-Mack weekend is considered one of the biggest events of the season for the islands taverns, hotels and restaurants.
It all started more than 20 years ago when Greg Drawbaugh and some friends from the Detroit area were up skiing at Boyne. We decided to take a trip to the U.P. and we drove up US-119 to get there, he recalls. And I remember thinking, Boy, this is a beautiful road -- it would make a great bike trip. So a few years later, the first mountain bikes came out on the market and we decided to make the ride.
Drawbaugh, who lives in Grosse Pointe Park, was 25 when he, his brother Doug, and a few friends from the Detroit area completed the first tour in 1989.
There were eight of us riders the first year and we had a great time, he says. The next year, we made up a little flyer and I think we had 88 people show up. One of the riders was Steve Kircher, whose family owned Boyne, and he encouraged us to keep the tour going. So the next year we had 250 riders, then 450 the year after that and it grew from there.
Increasing numbers of cyclists and liability issues prompted the Drawbaughs to turn the tour into a business. Today, what started as a word-of-mouth event, has an elaborate website (www.zoo-de-mack.com) and has garnered a loyal following. Its possible that more than 2,500 riders will participate this year, despite the tough economic climate.
Its a very laid-back event and its non-competitive for all ages, says coordinator Sarah Gough. You dont have to be an avid cyclist -- just jump on your bike and do it.
She notes that the tour includes perks like rest stops, sag wagon support and luggage transportation to Mackinac Island. Cyclists also enjoy a pre-ride party at the Zoo Bar at Boyne Highland on Friday night, lunch at Legs Inn in Cross Village on Saturday, and post-ride parties with live music at The Gatehouse (formerly The French Outpost), Pink Pony, and Horns on Mackinac Island.
Riders are transported to and from the island on the Arnold Ferry line, with special extended hours from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. We take over the whole island and its the biggest night of the year at the bars, Gough says. The ferries run late because quite a few riders stay on the mainland where you can get a room for as little as $50.
The tour also includes bike shuttles each way between Mackinaw City and Boyne Highlands. Riders can either park their vehicles in town and catch a shuttle to Boyne Highlands on Friday night, or catch the shuttle back on Sunday. Some elect to cycle the route in reverse.
What about rain?
Weve been pretty lucky, so far, Drawbaugh says. One year, we passed out garbage bags for the riders to wear, but weve never been rained out. Sometimes there are a few sprinkles along the route, but never a wash-out.
He adds that cyclists may be cheered to learn that Zoo-De-Mackinac is bringing back the popular Biketoberfest this fall. The tour used to run out of Boyne Mountain, but was discontinued. Were going to relaunch it at Boyne Highlands in September.
Online registration is underway for the Zoo-De-Mackinac Bike Bash, which will be held Saturday, May 17, starting at Boyne Highlands ski resort outside Harbor Springs. The tour is $50 ($60 after May 3), with online registration closing on May 12.
The entry fee includes the pre-ride party Friday night at the Zoo Bar at Boyne Highlands, luggage transportation to Mackinaw City on Saturday, lunch at the Legs Inn on Saturday, round-trip ferry transportation to and from Mackinac Island on Arnold Ferry and post-ride parties on Saturday night. For details and to register, see www.zoo-de-mack.com.
A few other bike tours you wont want to miss this summer. Please note, affordable early entry fees in the $25 range rise steeply for those who dont register early...
The Michigander Bike Tour, which has options ranging from two-to-seven days along the coast of Lake Michigan from Muskegon to Traverse City, beginning July 12. See www.michigantrails.org for details.
The Ride Around Torch (RAT) on Sunday, July 20. The ride departs from Elk Rapids and runs 62 miles around Torch Lake, with alternative 25-mile and 100-mile routes. See www.cherrycapitalcyclingclub.org for details.
The Tour de TART on Aug. 8, is a one-way 18-mile ride to Suttons Bay from Traverse City along the Leelanau Trail, with a picnic party at the end of the ride. The entry fee of $25 benefits the TART Trail system. See www.traversetrails.com
The Leelanau Harvest Tour takes place Sept. 21 on a rolling course around Leelanau County. See www.cherrycapitalcyclingclub.org