I added a few comments on our ride here: Things I learned on my first bikepacking trip Then decided to add a full trip report...
Finally getting around to adding more detail to this thread... Here is a full trip report.
The hair-brained idea started after I first watched Ride the Divide... It raised the question - Why not me? I could do something like that... That got the gears (in the head) turning. I looked at a map of MI and thought "what might be an interesting ride?" I noticed a ton of green color (forest land) through the middle of the state. Research showed there was no defined "route" so I asked the community at large... I posted this initial planning thread a year ago: MMBA ? View topic - Cross lower peninsula dirt ride route?. Feedback on the thread ranged from "Awesome" to "you're crazy". I tended to focus on the "awesome" replies, roped in two friends and set out on planning.
I contacted the National Forest ranger station and they sent me a couple of maps that provided a good overview of the forest land. We ended up planning on riding from Luddington to Oscoda (Lake Michigan to Lake Huron). Not knowing anything about bikepacking, we started buying gear that we needed via the classified section of this forum. We did get a few things and found some people who helped with general background. The planning process and watching the ride come closer on the calendar was almost as fun as the ride.
We never really made a detailed route in advance. We just sort of defined a general path, and made sure we had maps that included seasonal roads. It proved to be a good decision as it provided flexibility.
The three of us live near Detroit so one of the big questions was sorting out how we would get across state with our bikes, so we could ride back across the state. It turns out there really is no good way to get from Oscoda to Luddington with three guys and three bikes - no trains, buses or even rental cars available. We ended up renting a U-Haul truck loading our gear, driving across the state and returning it in Luddington. It actually worked very well.
A few things about our general setup:
1. We decided on camping hammocks rather than tents. It allows for a quick setup that worked over uneven ground. It turned out to be a great choice.
2. For food we carried dehydrated meals. They were easy to cook and actually very good.
3. We carried a water filter rather than water. Worked perfectly. Quick clean water, and it was always cold.
4. It’s funny how quickly you can make a "toilet seat" of out a couple of logs... enough said.
After having driven from Rochester Hills to Oscoda, renting and loading a truck, driving across the state... We arrived in Luddington around 5pm on a Monday night.
That first night we rode about 20 miles and knocked off early to figure out how to setup our camp. The ride started on paved roads, transitioned to dirt roads, then two tracks in the forest. For one half mile stretch we rode through deep sand... I twisted my knee a bit trying to pedal when I clearly should have been walking. Generally, the ride was very cool.
The thing about the National Forest is that you can camp anywhere you want on forest land, and it's free. We pulled off near a river and setup camp. We found a beautiful area of tightly planted pines for our first night. BEAUTIFUL!
We woke up rather late at 9am. The temp dropped down in the high 40s over night so it was actually pretty cold. We didn't have any under-quilts so we felt it. One buddy was very cold and got up many times during the night to warm up, and put on more clothes. We loaded up and started pounding out the day. We road a mix of two track, dirt roads and paved roads. We stopped a little cross-roads store and had some snacks and drinks mid-morning. Talked to some interesting people... funny how when you see people on an adventure it always seems very interesting. We this time, we WERE those people. We ended up cruising into Cadillac early evening. We had a great meal at some little dimly lit bar. I am not sure if the food really was good, or we were just famished... Maybe a little of both.
For several miles we were on some state land that was VERY remote and very cool... and at times, also very sandy.
We stopped in Cadillac and bought a couple of beach air mattresses for added insulation. After that, we road several miles out of Cadillac and camped in a state forest in some pines.
Total daily mileage was in the 50s. The previous night we had very few bugs and we figured that the bed of pine needles prevented water and mosquitoes. We tried to stick with pines where possible. It was a good choice. While camping we never gave much thought to bears. It turned out that where we camped this night was 5 miles from where a jogging girl would be victim of a bear attack on a week later... :shock:
The goal for this day was to get past Houghton Lake. This day was outside the forest land so we'd be riding on mostly roads. The issue was that there really weren't any roads (besides hwy) that went the way we wanted. We plotted a route that weaved back and forth a bit, but went in our general direction. It was actually a pretty nice ride through farmland and country side. We saw very little traffic on a mix of dirt and paved road.
The most interesting part of the day came when we decided to follow a road that had a "bridge out" sign. We figured it was likely still passable, or at least a small stream / river. We were wrong. We ended up wading across a 100' river carrying our bikes.
We got to Houghton Lake early evening and had a party story pizza dinner... which was wonderful. We pounded out another 10 miles on full bellies and camped near St. Helen.
Back in the day, we used to ride ATVs in St. Helen. When we did we always ate at a local restaurant called the "Peach Pit. We made a point to stop in for breakfast. It was wonderful... as likely any food would have been at that point.
The thing about the St. Helens area is that there is tons of sand, TONS. We started out on some seasonal roads and quickly discovered we'd be pushing a lot. We suffered through several miles of this, eventually learning some techniques to find firm sand by riding the edge of the trail. It was still tough but at least we got intermittent saddle time.
We got through this tough part and hit some more firm dirt roads. The highlight of this day was finding a remote river to bathe in. There is nothing like stripping naked and washing in the wild. It was the only bath for the week... and yes we filled the water filters when we were not washing up.
We had a great dinner at "Ma Deeters" in Luzerne. A good meal was the perfect way to wrap up hard riding day. Mileage for the day was light (high 40s) but effort was high with all the sand. We again pulled out into some forest land and found a nice place to setup camp.
The goal for this day was to make it to the Huron National Forest. We set a route that would take us on dirt roads mostly, stopping at a small lake (Mack Lake) , then following the scenic Ausable Valley River Road. Out path was dirt roads for the first part of the day, then it evolved into seasonal roads / trails. The season roads were hard packed sand that we decent riding, and scenic.
Eventually we hit the point where we had to join the Ausable Valley Road, which looked like a HWY on the map. It turned out to be a paved road that was very scenic, with NO TRAFFIC at all. It was awesome. At one point we had coasted for a mile or so down hill (only stopping to check out a dead badger on the road). Check out those claws!
After a bit, it became clear that we were barely staying in front of a storm (dark clouds with lightning behind us). We did get caught and pretty wet before we stopped in Glennie. We ate a little dive bar that had awesome homemade nacho chips and great burgers. This time I am pretty sure the food really was good.
When we came out of the bar, it was sunny and cloudless… perfect riding weather. We headed south toward the Huron Forest and what was the most beautiful part of the trip. We knew we were getting into a different area when we crossed a very high and scenic bridge over the Ausable River.
Riding wise, from here out we were almost exclusively on paved roads. The Ausable River Valley is very cool. There are many natural springs that feed the river, and the view was awe inspiring.
We ended the day at the Lumberman’s Monument. We found a great place to hang our hammocks overlooking the river valley. For me it was the highlight of the trip.
The next day we had a short 15 miles to wrap up the trip. It had been a perfect trip so far, with no mechanical issues… until 2 miles from the end…
One of us got a flat tire and the pump we brought was new (never tested). It turned out the pump didn’t work! We struggled through and with the help of some locals managed to get up and running – though we did lose a couple of hours.
It was pretty darn cool to actually finish the trip. I had to laugh the whole time, that three middle aged weekend bikers really had no business attempting (let alone completing) such a trip… Yet we did. We made our own adventure and it was fantastic!
Mtbr's 2016 Winter Biking GearReviews and Roundups
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