Coffee with the Lighthouse Ladies

Bob bike overnights on Michigan’s beautiful Leelanau Peninsula, preparing gear and body for his upcoming coast-to-coast ride.

Adventurer: Bob "ManTrip" MacCord

Bike overnight trip: A thirty mile ride from the north edge of Taverse City, Michigan carries this solo rider through forests, meadows, and along Grand Traverse Bay to Leelanau State Park on Lake Michigan.

When: September, 2012

Accomodations: The rustic Leelanau State Park Campground lacks showers, but Lake Michigan provides plenty of bath water, if you don't mind cold temperatures.

Distance: Approximate distance from the Leelanau Trail's  trailhead on Cherry Bend Road north of Traverse City, MI to the state park is 36 miles.

Bonus tip for this adventure: Quaint villages, wineries, forests, and vast expanses of water provide great scenery. The highway portion of this ride can be busy during the tourist season's fall colors, but is generally quiet after Labor Day.

Day One:

I parked at the trailhead on Cherry Bend Road, off scenic Michigan state highway M-22, just north of Traverse City. The Leelanau Trail is a former railroad bed and until this year was only partially paved. However, it's now a smooth, solid surface for 16 miles from the beginning, north to Suttons Bay, MI.

Suttons Bay brims with good restaurants, tourist shops, and a marina, making it a main stopping point on the Leelanau Peninsula of northwest Michigan. I should note that its tourist shops offer more than rubber hatchets and cupie dolls and thankfully, my bicycle pannier doesn't leave much room for expensive items!

The Leelanau Trail ends at Suttons Bay and I began following M-22 north along Grand Traverse Bay. While the Leelanau Trail has low gradients, the highway has a few rolling hills in the 2% to 3% range, which you'll definitely feel in the legs, if you're not a regular rider. Also, if you're considering this trip, be aware that sometimes there's a decent shoulder to ride on and sometimes none at all, so a rearview mirror and a good open ear to your rear is a necessity.

Thankfully, drivers passed respectfully and I never felt in danger, although, I was miffed that I was being passed by a large group of Ford Model T vintage cars. It doesn't seem right that my modern bicycle ought to be slower than something from the 1910s. Ha!

The next stop would be in the village of Omena on the shores of the west side of Grand Traverse Bay. It's one of those quaint villages, not really meant to be a tourist trap of any sort, but nonetheless, with it's old post office and general store, a nice place to stop for a break and watch the boats out on the water. 

My final push to Northport, about 6 miles along, rewarded me with an ice cream break, since I felt I'd burned enough calories to indulge myself a little. Northport is also a small picturesque village on the shore of Grand Traverse Bay and marks the turnoff of M-22, where it veers south at its northernmost point on the peninsula. If one heads north out of Northport on M-201, then eventually county road 629, you'll find Leelanau State Park and the Grand Traverse Lighthouse.

My day ended with a beautiful sunset over Lake Michigan, a cold beer, and the laughter of some pretty nice young men around their campfire. Sleep came easy to the sounds of the waves falling on the shore.

Day Two:

Once I had the bike loaded for the day, I rode up to the lighthouse to get a picture or two before leaving. As I approached the lighthouse, a very nice lady, that turned out to be one of the volunteer keepers, saw my bike and began asking questions about my ride and my future coast-to-coast trip. She had a couple of other lady friends inside and asked me in for coffee. We had great time talking about bikes, the lighthouse keeping experience, politics, and teaching. Like me, one of the gals was a retired teacher from a different part of the state, but we understood each other completely when it came to the ugliness of politics and education. We talked for a good hour and after three or four cups of coffee, it was now 8:30 a.m. and time for me to get on the road. 

The nicest thing about early Saturday morning riding is the lack of traffic. I felt much safer on the road and it was wonderfully quiet.

After a couple miles, I found the Woolsey Airport, complete with it's fieldstone terminal. It's a great little airport, with a grass field, no services, and just a couple of hangers. It's one of those great little airstrips that small plane pilots love to find. Land your plane, have a picnic in the shade of the wings, explore on foot, then continue on your winged journey. Onward, hooooo!! 

As the morning warmed, I passed a winery and then one of the oldest churches on the peninsula, a Presbyterian Church.

Upon returning to Suttons Bay, I re-entered the Leelanau Trail and found myself quite relieved at not having to listen for road traffic anymore. However, that being said, I did find traffic of another sort. I'd forgotten, but there was a fund raising ride going on by the TART Trail people and now I was in danger of colliding with another bike. Fun stuff, though. Here are all these people out for a simple ride, and here I am loaded with panniers. I think I detected a couple of looks of envy and that's okay. It's good for the ego! 

It was noon when I reached my trusty motored steed. I loaded the bike on the rack, made a quick call home to let my wonderful wife know I was safe and sound and had survived. It was a great overnight ride and one to be taken again next spring as a warm up for even bigger and better tours.

HOW ABOUT YOU? Inspire others by submitting your bike overnight adventure!

 

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