Cycling in Northern Michigan/The U.P.
This summer, we took a mini vacation up to Northern Michigan. It was a fantastic getaway, filled with cycling, kayaking, zip lining, and just overall enjoyment of nature.
We stayed in Mackinaw City, MI right by (not on) Lake Huron and the Mackinac Bridge. We were in the “downtown” area (but that always makes me laugh because I’m from Chicago, so my definition of downtown varies greatly). What was really nice about our hotel (Baymont Inn & Suites) was that it is steps away from a really nice bike path! Although we brought our bikes intending to ride around Mackinac Island, we didn’t even plan out having a hotel right on the path–what luck!
So when we first arrived, it was kind of a bummer–it was cold and rainy.
But we were determined to make the best of it. I unfortunately would have had more pictures of the scenery and such, but before we left we realized our camera battery charger was missing! So, photos were reserved for special occasions during this trip.
Mackinaw City: Bike Path
Onto the bike path. Right by the hotel it was nice and paved. But this only lasted about a mile before it turned into a crushed limestone path. In Michigan, they converted a lot of old railroad systems into bike paths by pouring crushed limestone on it, and this was one of those paths. And yes, we brought our road bikes.
We went on this path two times during our trip. On the first day (these pictures), we headed towards the Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park, which was about 4.5 miles each way on the path.
The path was beautiful. On the way to the Discovery Park (headed South) if you looked to your left you could see Lake Huron through the trees. I could smell the trees and the forest on my sides and the sun was shining high above us with big, juicy clouds scattered about the sky. Little forest critters and insects (grasshoppers, butterflies) scuttered about us, and we were nearly alone for most of the ride. It was the most relaxing experience I had had in over a year. It was truly remarkable. If I close my eyes even now, I can recall all those nature-y smells, the feel of the sun, and the sound of road bike tires crunching through the limestone.
Once we got to the Discovery Park, it was actually pretty annoying because their bike racks didn’t fit our big road tires and we had to lock them up on the edge. Also, before we even rode our bikes we called to find out if there places to lock up our bikes and the wan on the phone was EXTREMELY rude. But, we managed and went in for some fun zip lining!
Unfortunately, as you can see in these pictures, we used our backpacks to carry extra food and our heavy duty U-Locks. With all the bouncing around, I ended up hurting my middle-to lower-back pretty badly. I started feeling some pretty sharp pains when I went over relatively larger bumps. That was not pleasant.
The second time on this limestone path, we just went for a ride. We did a round trip of 20 miles that time. My whole body felt numb and I couldn’t feel my hands by the time we got back to the hotel. No backpacks this time, but I was still in some pain going over bigger bumps. But, the bonus was that my arms actually got a nice workout because I had to do more handling than normal! It was still worth it!
Lesson Learned from the Mackinaw City Limestone Path: Road Bikes Aren’t Ideal
It was a great experience and I would gladly do it again. But, I’m going to wait until I have something other than a road bike. Having a hybrid or mountain bike would surely decrease the amount of vibration I felt and would have made it much more bearable. Doing a round trip of 20 miles nearly did me in, but only because of the vibration. If I didn’t feel all that, I could have done a lot more!
Some other things to consider if this will be the first time you go:
- Reduce tire pressure: If you do have a road bike, though, try reducing the air pressure in your tires to add some cushioning. What reducing the pressure does is let’s your tires and tubes flex a little more than usual, particularly on rough terrain. Reduce it by about 5-10 PSI, especially if you run pressures close to the max.
- Bring sunscreen: There is no shade and sometimes there aren’t even any trees that cover you. You will have the sun bearing down on you.
- Dress appropriately: Wear some nice bike clothes or clothes that will get rid of your sweat quickly and easily. You’ll be glad you did.
- Bring extra water and snacks: You’re going to burn more energy, no matter what bike you’re on, than on a paved path. Bring more food and water than you normally do so you’re prepared.
- Wear gloves and a helmet: I did both, and I’m glad. First of all, I am in the camp of “always wear your helmet, no matter what” so that’s just a given. But also, my hands would have been torn up if I didn’t have gloves. So, definitely bring them!
- Take your time: Enjoy the scenery. It’s beautiful!
Mackinac Island is a National Park where no cars are allowed. We were thrilled at the idea–a cyclist’s paradise! Big roads, all for bikes! Okay not really, there are horse & buggies. But still, no cars to be aggressive, refusing to share the road. And it’s an island, so you can bike around an entire island? Amazing!!
You have to get to the island via boat. The main hub area (“downtown” I guess) was a complete nightmare. Picture the worst pedestrians you’ve ever encountered on a multi-use path, add their entire family, and add shopping right in the middle. No one looked around, people stopped without warning, and just zipped back and forth on the road.
We got outta there ASAP. The island is about 9 miles around and you can see the water, on your right, along with beaches and rocky areas. On your left, it ranges from rocky hills, homes, trees, and I think even a cave. This was my favorite part of the entire trip. I was overwhelmed with emotions: joy, peace, love. Love for the Earth, love for J, and even for myself.
St Ignace (The U.P)
We did not cycle around St Ignace because it did not look very safe. We prefer the roads, rather than the sidewalks, and the roads were just too narrow and full of drivers who weren’t paying enough attention.
But, the views were at least very pretty here.
This now concludes my reflections about our cycling adventure. If anyone is interested, though, below is more about the food and atmosphere.
(Note: I tried to make the gallery only include pictures from Mackinac Island, but it included everything…if anyone has tips about how to remove some pictures from a gallery, I’d much appreciate it!)
We are both vegetarians, trying to be as vegan as much as possible. This was pretty hard to do in the Mackinaw city and Mackinac Island, and the Upper Peninsula area (surprise, surprise). If anyone else is interested, these are the options we found worked best for us:
- Pancake Chef in “downtown” Mackinaw City, MI.They have a really nice skillet that is potatoes, tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, and mushrooms. It also comes with eggs and cheese, but I always got it without the cheese and only sometimes with the eggs. Our waitresses were always friendly and nice with our special requests and we really liked it there. When you order coffee, you also get a free cup to take with you! BONUS! Oh, and we were on a very limited budget, so the price of everything was VERY reasonable!
- They also have a buffet, which people seemed to like. We did not try the buffet because I, personally, find people to be rude and disgusting at buffets–sneezing all over the place, getting germs on the utensils, breathing on the food, and contaminating it. So…I never do buffets.
Lunch and Dinner
- Jose’s Cantina in Saint Ignace, MI (In the Upper Peninsula). If you’re vegetarian or vegan, you already know that Mexican restaurants are usually a good bet. But, this place was even better! They actually had specific vegetarian options like sweet potato burritos and a veggie fajita platter. Their food was delicious–it tasted fresh and well-prepared. The owner was walking around talking to people and, as it turns out, he recently took over the place and revamped it (it also came out that he’s from Chicago!). And, the price fit our budget.
- Pizza Palace in “downtown” Mackinaw City, MI. This place was a good back up for us. We didn’t get pizza–we got spaghetti one night and it was a HUGE serving (almost made us sick just opening the box!). But, it was good. The best food, though, for us was their salads and breadsticks. And, they delivered right to our hotel! So, when it was late night and we were tired–this was the place to go!
Although places like the upper peninsula in Michigan tend to have a reputation of people being really friendly, we did not have that experience. At all. The population–even the vacationers–was nearly 100% white people. So, as an interracial couple (me, white and him, Hispanic) we apparently stuck out like a sore thumb and offended a bunch of white folks. Michigan, in general, can be a pretty racist area to live in. But it was remarkably pronounced up there. We couldn’t walk around without someone having a reaction to us. At best, we were stared at–like a zoo exhibit. At worst, people would stop or slow down and then actually glare at us in a hostile way. He would sometimes just be looking around, taking in the scenery, and then a white person would take it as threat and glare him down until he looked away. The first few times something like this happens, one can usually just brush it off and assume they’re just being weird. But when it happened every day and everywhere we went…it was pretty clear that white people up there just didn’t like to see people of color and/or interracial couples.
So, I say that as both a warning to people of color headed up there and as a call to white people who live up there to perhaps do what they can to change the environment they live in. To those kids who were with their parents or grandparents staring at us–call them out on it. Didn’t they ever tell YOU it’s rude to stare–why are THEY doing it? But it wasn’t just the older folks–young teens and kids did, too. So, catch yourself doing it and stop.
We want to go back out there and ride around with our bikes, and enjoy the nature there. It’s a beautiful place and everyone should be able to enjoy it equally.
It was a wonderful vacation and we crammed in a lot of activities in our short time there. We cycled, kayaked, zip lined, and relaxed. We found places to eat, and made the best with a less-than-tolerant atmosphere. What I loved most about being there was that it reminded me of my childhood (lots of time spent up in Northern Wisconsin) and I was reminded of how much I absolutely LOVE nature. And that I love cycling because it brings me closer to nature. I look forward to more adventures!