We're having a remarkably mild early winter, and it's the perfect chance to squeeze in those rides you just couldn't fit in earlier in the year.
Spring is busy. Summer is even busier. Autumn is Iceman season, and with short days and long cold nights, finding the time to work in even some of your favorite routes isn't easy. This weekend, however, we lucked out with a 40 degree Sunday and dry skies, perfect conditions for one of my most revered and least ridden routes.
It's a winding and hilly route north to Bellaire, with a a mix of just about everything along the way. When Susan Vigland, our Hagerty pal, posted that she was hoping to lead a ride at Glacial Hills, it was a good enough excuse to change ride plans and head north. Our buddy Luke Tjosvold is always up for an adventure, and with him mounted on my Kona Private Jake, a pocket full of snacks, and a pretty lazily mapped route on my Wahoo Element, we headed north.
The sun had barely risen when we rolled out from Breakaway Cafe at 8am, giving us about three hours to make it to Glacial. The route I made took us over the last miles of the infamous There Will Be Blood route, plus some more gravel after crossing a surprisingly calm M-72. The gravel roads were soggy and slow after consistent rain in the past week. The peanut butter mud was a slog, but we made solid time as we crossed to Hill Road by Rapid City. That climb is a blast and, aside from a 50 yard section of really soft sand, it was in better shape than it was the last time I'd made the ride, which was over a year ago now.
The rest of the ride is rolling and largely winds through farmland. Northern Michigan's array of dairy farms, orchards, fields of soy and corn, keep the scenery fresh and interesting, and you're never far away from riding around a lake, or seeing one in the distance. We hit one snafu on my lazy route-planning; Strava was pretty sure we needed to take someone's driveway to get to a two track to get north to Alden, and we decided to double back and make up some lost time on the pavement.
It's actually a long, gradual descent to Alden, and with a slight tailwind, we quickly were back on track and on schedule to meet everyone. Alden was still very much asleep when we rolled through and started to tackle the stair-steps of elevation to Bellaire. The roads were quiet and the few drivers out largely respectful. We saw just a few cars and trucks the whole way north, most of them pick-ups ambling along, no hurry, no rush.
We made it to the Eckhardt Road trailhead with just as the first riders were showing up, giving us time to take a snack and fill up our water bottles before heading into the singletrack. 18 of us made the ride, and many had never ridden at Glacial before. It was my first time in nearly two years, and the trails were much more established, even covered in fallen leaves and pocketed with some seasonal mud. The wind storms had brought down a lot of older trees, and some active logging efforts had a short section of trail closed off, but we still were able to wind through and put together a great 14 mile ride and hit most of the trails.
Luke and I had rolled through the four hour mark, and we were glad to hear that Lowetz was just around the corner for a ride home. It was a big day, especially for this time of year, but well enjoyed.
Ride time: 4:18
Elevation: 3,216 feet