Day 3 – Tuesday, August 6, 2019 – Torch Lake to Petoskey
Following the previous two days of fairly hard riding, this day turned out to be the start of the best part of the tour. After the previous night’s rain, the weather turned cooler and less humid for the rest of the trip, becoming ideal cycling conditions. The day’s ride consisted of three segments of 18, 22, and 18 miles, and instead of doing the full 58 miles on offer, I decided to skip the middle segment and ride the more interesting first and last segments for 36 total miles.
Torch Lake is one of those long narrow lakes that are a feature of this part of the state, and is one of the largest and most popular of those for summer vacationing. We would ride along it twice on this tour, with this first time starting at the southern end in the town of Alden and going up the eastern side and then back out to the main highway for our first SAG stop of the day. We got an earlier start for once, checking out and shuttling from the Hotel Indigo to Alden and getting on the road just before 10AM.
The first part of the road along the lake had some traffic on it, but after going past a route junction the traffic became much more local and was very light. My Varia radar taillight was really proving itself useful, as it can detect a car before I can even really make it out in my mirror. A few people on the tour didn’t seem to have any mirrors at all and I’ve never understood how they can ride without them.
The unfortunate thing about Torch Lake is that you can ride all the way around it and hardly catch a glimpse of the lake itself. That’s because all of the lakefront property is taken up by summer homes and cottages that are hidden behind trees and other foliage, blocking views from the road. But it is still a pleasant ride, passing many properties that are just off the road on the side opposite the lake. Near the top of the lake is a settlement called Eastport, and there were several nice looking B&Bs along the road there.
At the top of Torch Lake we turned onto a road heading to the west out to the main highway — US-31 — that runs up along the Lake Michigan shoreline from Traverse City to Petoskey. The Tailwinds vans were parked in the large gas station and convenience store complex across the road, making it a nice spot to make our first stop of the day. A couple of others joined me in skipping the next segment of the route, so our bikes were loaded up and we rode with Anne to a beautiful little city park in Charlevoix, right on the edge of the lake, where we were to have a picnic lunch in one of the pavilions.
This was all familiar territory to me from numerous other trips to the region, and since it was going to be a while until lunch was set up and the others started arriving, I got on my bike and rode the few blocks into downtown Charlevoix just to look around and enjoy the hectic summer tourist scene there. I visited a local bookstore that I was familiar with and picked up a copy of a book by Ernest Hemingway that I had not previously seen. The northwestern shore of Michigan was first developed by people coming up from Chicago, and Hemingway’s family had a summer residence on nearby Walloon Lake. He spent several summers here as a boy, and it is generally where many of his early Nick Adams series of short stories were set. As a result, there are many “Hemingway was here” markers in the area and the bookstores always carry a good selection of his works.
When I got back to the park, the lunch was ready and being served, and everyone was particularly relaxed as they ate, chatted, and wandered about the shoreline in the warm but not too hot sun. This area definitely has some of the best scenery in the state, and the many new people to the area on the tour were really enjoying it. By this time also, the group had started to gel as everyone learned names and many started to group together based on age, pace, and so on. Certainly, nobody seemed in a hurry to leave since it was only 18 miles more to Petoskey and we had all afternoon to get there.
Since I had arrived at the park earlier than most, I left earlier than most for the final segment up to Petoskey; still, it was about 2PM when I set out. The route was simply to ride up the Little Traverse Wheelway — a paved trail the goes along the lake all the way from Charlevoix to Petoskey (and beyond). The Wheelway runs between the lake on one side and the US-31 highway on the other. There are some spots where it is right along the lakeshore, while in other stretches there is private property along the lake and the path is closer to the road. Nevertheless, on a day like this it was quite a pleasant ride, being flat, smooth, lightly traveled, and mostly quiet.
Riding into Petoskey at the end of the day’s route, I went straight to our accomodations for the next three nights, Stafford’s Perry Hotel. This is also the hotel where my wife and I stay whenever we travel to the area, and it is definitely one of my favorites. Unlike the new and modern Indigo, the Perry is a much older property with a long history in the area. It has a real old-time feel, while having most of the expected modern amenities through many upgrades and remodeling. The rooms are smaller than is now typical, but they are comfortable and cozy feeling. My favorite features are the old-time plush lobby where you can settle into a chair and read in the mornings, and the long front porch that is likewise a good place to relax with a good book and a drink.
By the time I got there, Greg had already arrived with Big Rig and was ready to store my bike in one of the outbuildings that the hotel provided for our use. I quickly checked in and found my luggage already in my room, which was a nice touch that I was starting to expect from the Tailwinds operation. In short order I was sitting on that porch with the aforementioned book and drink, enjoying the pleasant temperature and the view of the adjacent downtown district. I later took a stroll through the familiar streets of the town before returning to the hotel to get ready for dinner.
We walked as a group to the nearby City Park restaurant — a property that my wife and I have eaten at in the past — for another nice group dinner. I was really liking the open policy that Tailwinds has at restaurants. Rather than having a set meal or a choice of a few alternatives, we could order anything on the menu consisting of a first course (appetizer, salad, etc.), a main course, and dessert. Of course, this wasn’t a “gift” since we paid a lot for the tour, but it still made me feel a lot more like a guest than a customer, if that makes any sense.
Later that evening, I accompanied a group that walked down to the waterfront to watch the sun set over the lake, which is pretty much an obligatory experience for anyone visiting the area, and really enjoyed hearing the nice comments about my “home state” from the visitors from other areas. I ended up the day feeling 100% more comfortable and relaxed than the previous days and was ready to keep the feeling going for the second half of the tour.
Day 4 – Wednesday August 7, 2019 – Alanson and Harbor Springs
This was the day for the group tour of Mackinac Island: an early day with a long drive to Mackinaw City, boat to the island, riding on the island, and then back in the late afternoon. It was also an optional ride, and I had decided from the start that I’ve been to the island a number of times in the past and had no desire to go back again.
Tailwinds is accommodating enough that they also offer a supported ride for those who opt out of going to Mackinac. There were three or four others besides myself who decided not to go, and I thought for a while about going with them on the loop ride that would go back through Charlevoix and around to the pretty town of Boyne City. But since I was very familiar with this area, what I really wanted most at this point was a totally unscheduled day to take my time and visit some sites of particular interest to me.
So I got up early to get a coffee from the downstairs station and took it out onto the porch to read the papers on my tablet and greet the day. I went to the dining room to cash in a voucher on one of their truly excellent full breakfasts, then changed into my biking kit, retrieved my bike from storage — all the others had gone — and set out by taking the closest path down to the waterfront.
The first place I checked out was the pathway along Bear Creek, which flows down from the hills above Petoskey and empties out into the lake. It looked like there was a pathway on either side of the creek leading upstream, but what started out as a decent path turned out to be more of a hiking than biking trail and became a bit narrow and twisty toward the top. I managed to cross over to the more bike-friendly path on the other side and continued up to the top and a little beyond before heading back down to the waterfront. At least it was something new to see.
From there I headed on up the Little Traverse Wheelway with my ultimate destination being a favorite restaurant in Harbor Springs. As nice as the Wheelway is between Charlevoix and Petoskey, it really loses its charms north of town once it leaves the waterfront. Mainly, it utilizes the sidewalk that runs right along busy US-31, crossing a number of business and strip mall driveways. Plus, there was construction along US-31 and part of the pathway itself had been torn up and was difficult to get through.
The settlement of Bayfield is one interesting sight along this route. It was originally a Methodist Chataqua summer resort and still has the look and feel of an old-time development that is still tightly controlled by the homeowners association. It reminded me of the resort on Lake Erie that my family went to a few times when I was growing up, and that I revisited on the Erie Shores and Islands tour in 2014.
When I reached the point where the route to Harbor Springs splits from US-31, it was still early for lunch so I left the Wheelway and proceeded up the Northwest State Trail: a rail-trail that runs parallel to US-31 all the way to Mackinaw City. It is paved up to a town named Alanson, so that was as far as I intended to go. It was a nice ride, being back from the highway in most places, and was very quiet with very few others along it. One favorite spot along the way is a good place to refill water bottles: an artesian well that has been flowing continuously since the late 1800s!
On the way back, I found a shortcut that took me over to the Harbor Springs road, then turned off that within a mile or two to take the scenic route into town. Harbor Springs is one of those places that reeks of money and is a favorite spot for yachts coming up from the Chicago area. In its early days, people came here on passenger ships and later on trains. The road into town along the lake passes neighborhoods of classic Victorian-architecture homes that still pass down among family members.
My destination for lunch was Stafford’s Pier restaurant, located — as its name would suggest — right on the harbor. I had a leisurely lunch sitting at an outside table, just enjoying the views of the harbor and the lake beyond.
I headed back and returned to the hotel by mid-afternoon. Since we were on our own for dinner, I spent some time relaxing on the porch and taking another stroll around the downtown area. I ended up having an excellent dinner of whitefish in the Noggin Room right at the hotel. In the evening I spent time browsing at our favorite bookstore and enjoying another cool, comfortable night.