Alas, there are no bear sightings today, but tomorrow you spot a porcupine waddling along the new Gaylord-to-Mackinaw Rail Trail, which is a dream come true for Michigan cyclists.
The 62-mile trail opened in the fall of 2007, wending its way through deep forests and along the Sturgeon River and Mullett Lake, all the way from Gaylord to Mackinaw City. Paved with crushed limestone and about eight feet wide, the sparkling white trail is smooth and fast -- ideal for mountain bikes or hybrid cycles (no skinny tire bikes need apply, unless youre up for a wobbly, white-knuckle ride). In the winter, the trail becomes a pathway for snowmobiles.
The Top of Michigan Trails Council reports that the route has already become one of the premier cycling trails in the Midwest, and any weekend rider is sure to become a swift believer.
Running along an old rail corridor, the trail was made possible through a $2 million federal trail enhancement grant obtained by the Michigan Department of Transportation, in addition to many local contributions.
A TWO-DAY RIDE
The trailhead is located a mile north of Gaylord at the soccer field on Fairview Road, just off Old M-27. You park overnight at the field alongside the cars of other riders.
The seven-mile ride to Vanderbilt is surprisingly fast. And before you know it, youre in Wolverine, another 10 miles or so farther on. Here, you spot kayakers paddling down the Sturgeon River, which runs for several miles along the trail.
The stretch to Indian River is one of the most scenic in terms of wild country. But whats this? Signs of civilization: a Burger King greets you as you roll out of the forest at Indian River, and just across the way lies a McDonalds. Oh well, a little coffee and a sandwich cant hurt a weary rider...
Farther on lie the tony cabins of Topinabee and then 15 miles of Mullett Lakes shoreline. Hmm... should you take a splash at the park in your cycling shorts? No, pedal on, pedal on...
Hard to believe, but with a full load of camping gear on your poorly-fitting mountain bike, you start to tire outside of Cheboygan, with Mackinaw City still 12 of the longest miles youve ever ridden in the distance. You feel out of place in Mackinaw City, walking around in your sweaty cycle clothes amid scads of tourists and their kids. Fortunately, a spaghetti dinner is regenerative, as is a camping berth at Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping about three miles from town.
After a refreshing dip in Lake Huron, you find yourself riding through dreamland as the sun goes down outside your tent. (Memo to self: be sure to stay at one of Mackinaw Citys budget hotels next time, instead of dragging along all this danged heavy camping gear...)
Those who plan to ride the trail are advised to be prepared for any situation. The consequences of poor planning sink in the next morning as you roll into Cheboygan with air hissing out the side of your tire.
Theres nothing worse than a sidewall flat, since it cant be fixed with duct tape, and replacing the tube will simply result in another blow-out in a matter of minutes. Unfortunately, you learn that there are no bike shops in Cheboygan -- the nearest store is 30 miles away. Fortunately, there is a humongous K-Mart, and they sell bike tires reinforced with Kevlar. You buy two and are soon back on your way.
But whats this? For some reason its tougher going back, and you have to ride in an easier gear. Reason? Mackinaw City is at 590 feet above sea level, but Gaylord is at 1,349 feet elevation. That means you climb 759 feet on the way back, with most of that elevation being the last stretch between Wolverine and Gaylord.
But somehow you make it, waving to fellow cyclists on the way back. Youve rolled through half a dozen towns and some of Northern Michigans most scenic forests -- a fine weekend adventure, and all free, one might add. This is one trail you dont want to miss if you love cycling.
For information on the trail, check out the Top of Michigan Trails Council website at www.trailscouncil.org. The site includes a map and notes on each stretch of the trail along the route.