M.O.R.E. or less day 6: Sand Lake to Mackinaw City

Commentary by Chuck (green) and Steve (orange). Occasional replies by me in blue.

Previous: Day 5 - Scheck's Place State Forest Campground to Sand Lake

June 6, 2021

After a couple consecutive days of mid-afternoon physical meltdowns, I'd asked the guys what they thought of trying to leave at 7 a.m. instead of 8. The later time had been my idea originally, but the unexpected Michigan heat was kicking my butt and I was getting tired of being the weak link once 2:30 hit (yes, Jason, you called it). I hoped an extra hour of cooler ride temperatures would help, and thankfully both Chuck and Steve were agreeable with this new plan.

The heat was working on me too, I was very happy with the planned earlier time.

6:11 a.m.

Nearly a week in, the morning re-pack had become a smooth routine, so after my breakfast of Pop-Tart dust and a canned mocha I had plenty of time to (attempt to) repurpose a pair of socks that had developed a big hole. I'd spent the past two days dumping copious amounts of sand from my shoes at the end of the day (mine were much worse than the guys', probably because of the lace-up style, but they're such great shoes otherwise that I still wouldn't have traded them). 

I borrowed Chuck's knife to cut the bottoms out of the socks, then tried pulling them down over my shoes as makeshift gaiters. Alas, my initial design was flawed; the outer socks eventually just rolled up too far to do any good against the sand.  Luckily, though we didn't know it at the time, we were mostly finished with our beach-esque hike-a-bikes, and what my attempt lacked in success it made up for in entertainment value.

Work in progress

Once we got going it was only 9 miles to the town of Alba, and we enjoyed the early selection of singletrack, gravel, and pavement that led us to a small but well-stocked C-store. There we picked up ride snacks and ate second breakfast. Such stops often highlighted differences in our group's travel tendencies and paces. After years of adventure race experience together, Chuck and I practically have a graduate degree in turning garbage food into miles. We tended to shop more quickly and be ready at about the same time, while Steve both eats and, after some unpleasant encounters with his dermatologist, sunscreens more conscientiously than Chuck and me.

Three points here: 1) I've just put too much thought into my prep/ready routine. 2) My first sustained multi-day attempt at surviving "gluten free" on gas station gourmet was at times a real test. 3) After a few said encounters with my dermatologist, I realized that when we meet for our appointments, she's the only person in the room with a knife, so I learned to listen...funny but no joke. Long story short, I'm no match for Kate and Chuck in the C-store / packing transitions, and I'm OK with that.

Taking advantage of the shade outside of a C store in Alba
8:45 a.m.

We took advantage of good cell service to make our plan for the day. The course notes held some real gems:

MILE 453.5-479.5 Route leaves Alba on a paved road which quickly turns to gravel. Huge descent into the Jordan River Valley which is very scenic. Near the end of the valley the route turns onto a seasonal road which turns into trail near the lake. Precarious water crossing [ok, that actually sounded fun] followed by the NCT. The section of NCT after the road is rugged and hilly. Remainder of the section is seasonal and gravel roads. This section is quite hilly with some prolonged sand stretches near the end

MILE 479.5-498.5 NCT singletrack trail which is very hilly and can be rugged. Trail is somewhat used but may have downed trees or logging activity. Fairly slow going terrain with sustained climbs and descents

With the previous day's sandy hike-a-bike still fresh in our minds, the idea of "prolonged sand stretches" and terrain that even superhuman Matt Acker deemed "fairly slow going" seemed decidedly unappealing, especially in light of the fact that our families expected us home sometime before July.  We opted to temporarily leave the M.O.R.E. route behind and take the highway directly to Petoskey.

Taking the less scenic but much faster route
9:39 a.m.

We rode Highway 131/Mackinaw Trail 20 miles to Walloon Lake. The beginning of of our highway section was on a wide paved shoulder, but we entered Boyne Falls through lanes narrowed by road construction (Well, actually we rode on the in-progress new road since it was a Sunday and the job wasn't active). 

On the other side of town the shoulder turned from gravel to pavement, and the traffic was heavy enough that riding on the road felt uncomfortable.  Our maps offered no efficient less-busy route, so we continued on the road, hopping onto the shoulder whenever cars approached behind us. With his roadie experience, Steve settled into the role of rear guard, calling out whenever we needed to move over. 

6 days in it was a little disorienting how much faster those highway miles passed by than the trail ones.
10:08 a.m.

After miles of traffic dodging we were thankful to reach Walloon Lake, where we turned onto River Road for the final 10 less trafficked miles to Petoskey. We stopped for lunch at Beard Brewery. It had a great location and name but was not particularly welcoming. For a place with a really nice bike path very nearby, they weren't very bike friendly. Or maybe they just aren't nomad-friendly. Anyway, the food was good but the reception left a bad taste in my mouth.

As the beard-wearing beer-drinking member of our group, I was excited to make a stop at Beard Brewery.  Unfortunately it was exactly as Kate described and will not be added to my 'approved' list.

After lunch we made our way through downtown so Steve could replace his lost sunscreen (the second bottle we had to replace as mine had disappeared earlier in the trip). The crowded streets felt oppressive, and I was happy to escape to the Little Traverse Wheelway and head out of town.

Little Traverse Bay as we left Petoskey
1:30 p.m.

The Wheelway led us out of town through neighborhoods. Its many street crossings made me appreciate the number of tunnels and bridges found on the MCT trails where I live. Google Maps made it look like we would again be on the highway after exiting the Wheelway, but instead we found ourselves on the crushed rock surface of the North Western State Trail. 

Google Maps considers a wide variety of surfaces bikeable, so we were thankful to find that this trail bore more resemblance to the Katy Trail than the loose sand of the snowmobile trails. Travel may have been slower than on the pavement, but we had fewer cross streets to interrupt our pace and a significantly lower chance of being run over by a car.

North Western State Trail
2:42 p.m.
We'd left Sand Lake and then the Alba C-store without a clear idea of how far we'd get that day, but by the time we hit the North Western State Trail it was clear that we could make it to Mackinaw City for the evening. We stopped along the trail to get a campground reservation, and after a few phone calls we ended up at the KOA, largely to avoid riding out of our way. Because of KOA's one tent per site policy it was almost the same price to get a cabin, 

Once there, thanks to Covid we'd have to figure out how to cross to the Upper Peninsula. The Mackinac Bridge spans the distance between Upper and Lower Peninsulas, but bikes are not permitted to cross it. During normal times cyclists can arrange for the Mackinac Bridge Authority to transport them across for a fee, but at the time of our trip (and I'm not sure whether this has changed yet or not), this service was suspended. We were hopeful that we might be able to snag a ride across the bridge from a friendly motorist or somehow hire a shuttle.

The KOA'a office closed at 6, so we needed to get there sooner if we wanted to check in on the shuttle possibility. Also, as we rode I was suddenly afraid I'd made a reservation at a different KOA than the closest one. The guys had to stop for something, and I sprinted ahead to get there in time. Thankfully there was no registration SNAFU, but the clerk didn't have any helpful suggestions as to our shuttle dilemma. Instead of spending further time on securing a ride we opted for plan B, which was traveling to the UP via the Mackinac Island ferry.

5:47 p.m.

That problem solved, we settled into our little cabin. The one outlet wasn't nearly enough to charge all of our devices and backup batteries, so we spread our electronics out among the nearby electric hookups. Chuck and I headed directly to the pool, which felt amazing after the hot, sweaty day. Steve did some laundry before joining us, then we rode into town to grab a pretty mediocre dinner at The Old Depot.

The pool felt sooo good I immediately forgave the Beard Brewery, the one-outlet KOA cabin, and the Mackinaw Bridge Authority and was ready to take on Mackinac Island the next day!

Anticipating low mileage the next day due to the ferry situation -- if we were spending $40 a ticket to take the ferry we might as well spend some time on Mackinac Island -- we didn't worry about setting early alarms. 361 miles in, I was pretty happy about the prospect of an easy day and thrilled that we'd already reached the end of the Lower Peninsula. 



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