M.O.R.E. or Less bikepack
Commentary by Chuck in green and Steve in yellow.
In the beginning, the plan was always Tour Divide in 2021. Ever since watching Ride the Divide during Team Virtus's 2013 Super Century I've been obsessed with the route. Early on my good friend and AR teammate Chuck signed on to join in, and then a year or so ago Steve got the bug. While my 2019 Arkansas High Country Race experience eliminated any desire to race the Divide route, it solidified my love for bikepacking. Our plans remained unchanged until 2020 changed practically everything.
Tour Divide really
was an eight is a nine year dream of ours. My obsession also began with the movie Ride The Divide, then was further cemented when I read Jill Homer's Be Brave, Be Strong: A Journey Across the Great Divide. We would talk about it now and then over the years. but in the past couple years the talks became a lot more real. We both built new bikes. Bits of new gear were being purchased and tested. I was quitting my day job. It was coming up so soon! Then COVID.
A few years ago, when I began riding and adventuring occasionally with Kate and Chuck, I began following their recurring references in conversations about "riding the Divide". Over time, I learned and read more about the Tour Divide and couldn't resist the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to join a pair of seasoned adventurers on this grand tour. Once Kate and Chuck's plan for Tour Divide 2021 solidified, I asked if they'd be open to me joining them for the first three weeks. Only having a handful of one- and two-night bikepacking trips to my credit I became engrossed with preparing myself for the adventure.
Of course COVID shut everything down. While our immediate families emerged unscathed, my fitness certainly didn't. Then I was diagnosed with bulging discs in January. A slow recovery put a huge question mark over my plans; I was nervous about committing to such a big ride without my normal confidence in my body.
Then there were the COVID travel concerns and more uncertainty about borders. Throughout 2020 states had different quarantine guidelines, some of the Native American reservations were closed, and of course the Canadian border was closed.
As life became more normal this year we discussed what to do about the Divide. In the end we chose to push it back a year rather than try to make plans with so many question marks. Both of us want to ride the full route, so we decided to wait until we could include Canada.
This was a big decision that we went back and forth over multiple times. But in the end, the deciding factor was: We wanted to ride the full route. Anything less would just be less.
That decision made, we needed an alternate adventure. I of course suggested Arkansas because I love that route; another shorter idea was the ride the North County Traverse route from bikepacking.com. I'd ridden a tiny portion of it the previous June and was eager to see more. It was Chuck who nominated Matt Acker's Michigan Off-Road Expedition (M.O.R.E.), "an 1050 mile off road bikepacking route through the great state of Michigan".
Matt's route is a point to point odyssey from the Michigan/Indiana border north through the lower peninsula and then across the UP to Lake of the Clouds in the Porcupine Mountains. We expected easier logistics than Tour Divide, but complications abounded. The drive to the start required a 12-hour round trip if a family member dropped us off, a train trip required at least one transfer as well as questions whether our mountain bike tires would even fit Amtrak's requirements. Renting a car big enough for us, three bikes, and gear was expensive and, as it turned out, nearly impossible with the current shortage of rentals. And then we still had to figure out how to get home at the end.
I have an acquaintance who lives near Grand Rapids and thought we might be able to leave a car at his house. Knowing the route ended not too far north of Wisconsin and remembering a ferry route across Lake Michigan, I proposed that we start our trip in Grand Rapids, ride north from there, then once we reached the end of the route we could ride south from the Porcupine Mountains to Manitowoc, WI, catch the ferry to Ludington, and then bike back to the car. This plan eliminated the first 175 miles of the route and added around 400 miles at the end, so it was both more and less than the original route.
Dropping the first 175 miles from the route sounded terrible at first, but there was just no practical way to make the logistics work. Kate's suggestion of creating the loop with the Badger ferry was the perfect compromise. More miles, more days, ferry ride. It was a win everyway we looked at it.
Parking at my friend's house didn't work out, but Steve had a Grand Rapids co-worker who came through for us. We set June 1 as our start date and were happily making plans when one more wrinkle appeared on May 24. Illinois announced that boys' volleyball teams would have state playoffs after all, starting on June 8.
At the time, my son Jacob's high school volleyball team was undefeated, eventually losing only one match in the regular season. They had potential to make a strong showing in the state tournament, which would run from June 8-19. With our family schedule, there was no way to push back our bikepacking start far enough for me to be at Jacob's matches and do the trip, so I had a decision to make.
Kate had told me ahead of time about the volleyball schedule conflicts and a sketchy work around plan to be in Wi-Fi range for all the games. Remembering well the sports schedules of my own now-grown kids, I committed to doing everything I could to make those dates and times work.
Thankfully I had friends at home willing to stream the matches to me on Facetime or Facebook live, a husband who would text me point by point updates, and riding partners who were willing to try to adjust our schedule and route on game days. It meant a lot to me that they were so supportive of this, though knowing the remote nature of some of our route I privately questioned how likely it was that I'd see much.
I too internalized my concern for actually finding WiFi, particularly once in the Upper Peninsula. Knowing the importance of Kate being able to stream and watch Jacob's games, I was completely committed to doing whatever it took, be it extra-long or short days in the saddle, to ensure we arrived at a WiFi destination before game time.
In the end, I chose to go to Michigan. I love watching my kids compete. Going to those volleyball games is a joy. But I couldn't see trading 2+ weeks of bikepacking for 5ish hours of volleyball, even though I lived a lifetime of mom guilt each time I watched one of his matches online instead of from the stands. Chasing your dreams has a cost.