Ryan had been after me to make a trip up North with him for a while. So, we’d decided to leave the Monday following my fight as sort of a recovery-time trip. I generally made the best of having one and a half black eyes…
Our first stop Monday night was at his brother’s house in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. It was a quick stay-over before we continued north to his Mom’s (Gail) house in Marquette, MI.
It was cold and damp up there, and we ended up borrowing warmer clothes from his mom and finding a local shop where I could get a set of arm warmers. Tuesday night, we hit up a group ride that left from a friend’s house and went to the North Marquette trail system. I later found out that it was supposed to be a “guys only” ride, though I’d been fully accepted into the group via both my riding ability and my skill of opening a beer bottle using an SPD pedal.
Gail baked espresso cookies while we were out. No exaggeration- I probably ate a dozen of them within a two-day period.
The next morning, we set out on a loop of the larger/more climbey South Marquette trail system. There was a course used in a local cross country race that incorporated most of the trails within a 3-loop cloverleaf. The trails we found were mostly machine-built, flowy, and sometimes steep/kinda rocky. One part, near a golf course, had signs every mile or so saying to be quiet. Then, once you were past the course…
Near the end of our adventure, we climbed up a steep forest road to the Marquette Mountain overlook, then descended a trail called “Scary,” which was definitely one of several trip highlights, as it dropped from what was probably the highest point in town down to almost lake level… quickly.
With all of our navigational breaks, the 29-mile ride took close to 4 hours. Back at the house, we ate, napped, had more cookies, and packed our things to go to Ishpeming for another group ride on the Ishpeming/Negaunee trail system. We found a handful of local hammers (including the town “Antique Gun Show”) and hung on tight.
Every riding community has an Antique Gun Show (a.k.a. “silver fox” or “bald eagle”), and if you don’t know who/what I’m talking about, you should go ride with Todd Henne in Arkansas.
I’m not sure I could find my way around those trails without local assistance, so I’d suggest the Wednesday night @6:30 group ride from Jasper Ridge Brewery if you’re ever in the area (there are several groups, so all skill levels are covered). The trails are worth the visit- lots of steep, tech stuff that will challenge you in all sorts of ways. It’s a nice, hand-built complement to the machine-built smoothness of the South Marquette system. Highlight of the ride? Hearing locals’ discussion of where to go next- something along the lines of, “let’s take that two-track that crosses the luge” (thing you will never hear in Memphis #123). It was a pretty exhausting but highly rewarding two-a-day. Gail had made polenta lasagna and kale salad for dinner, which, along with more cookies, was another highlight of the trip.
In keeping with our “ride lots of trails in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan” theme, Thursday Morning, we drove to the Houghton/South Range area at the base of the Keweenaw Peninsula.
That afternoon, we rode the snowmobile route from South Range to Houghton to ride the Michigan Tech Trails. If you can tolerate riding in loose sand, those things will take you anywhere you want to go:
The ride out was fast, because it’s all downhill by about 1.5%. It’s worth not getting in to a half-wheel contest with your riding partner at that point since you’ll be climbing back up that same grade in tire-deep sand on the way home…
The tech trails are really cool. We rode the “red loop” first, which has some neat wood features that I only took pictures of.
It also includes the “Hairy Toad” trail, which, with all of its rocks, was another favorite for me. On a stroke of luck, we found a brand new downhill dirt jump/flow trail that was like an express train from the upper trail system to the lower one. No pictures of that one, only grinning and occasional whoo-hoos.
After a couple of hours there, we headed back up to South Range. The “uphill in the sand” ride back was as fun as I’d imagined it being. I get excited at the prospect of hike-a-bike followed by terrain that tries to be soul-crushing, no matter how simple it is.
Something that’s hard to get used to… it stays light really late up there. This photo was taken at 10:00pm:
Friday morning, we drove up to Copper Harbor. We started by riding the suggested “IMBA Epic” loop, which covered most of the trails in the system. Then, we rode up Brockway Mountain on the road to the Flow trail that meanders back to town.
From the Red Trail on the Loop:
From the Flow Trail (that wooden structure is part of the “Overflow” gravity trail that takes a much more direct route down the mountain):
The Copper Harbor trails are cool and lots of fun, but definitely don’t skip the other ones in the U.P. area, because they’re equally, if not more enjoyable. We also stopped by the Swedetown Trails in Calumet. I didn’t take photos, because the accumulation of leg hurt from all the other riding made the loop at Swedetown a bit of a mosquito-driven deathmarch. We toppped off the long day with a pasty from Toni’s.
…and a little Tour-watching back at the house
Saturday morning, we started the long trip home by driving back to Fond du Lac. As a little recovery, we tried to go ride some nearby trails. I say “tried” because all of the designated “bike only” trails in the park were way overgrown. So, we ended up just going on anything that wasn’t marked as a hiking-only trail.
Back at the house, we ate dinner and sat around watching the Tour with the kids and animals.
Sunday, we finished the drive. It’s a looooong day.
I’m pretty sure Indy was happy to have me back.
Observations from the trip:
#1- the Upper Peninsula dialect is equally as unique and endearing as a thick Southern accent.
#2- Don’t take a trip up to that part of Michigan without visiting all the trails. Lots of people just go to Copper Harbor. It’s great, but the others are too good to miss, and not far away.
#3- Take bug spray. The mosquitoes are the size of hummingbirds, and the flies have found their way into someone’s meth stash.
#4- Bring some fall clothes. It warmed up some from our first days there, but overnight lows in the 40s/50s in the middle of the summer are pretty normal.
#5- Hardtail or Full Suspension? You definitely won’t die on a hardtail, but there are lots of roots, rocks, and techy stuff that make a full suspension a good choice if you’ve got one.