Day 5 – Thursday, August 8, 2019 – Tunnel of Trees
This was one of the days I had been looking forward to the most since it involved riding on M-119: the famous Tunnel of Trees route that runs for 20 miles along the lake between Harbor Springs and Cross Village. I had done this twice before as part of the Shoreline West ride, but those times involved very early starts on the last day of the tour when I was just looking forward to getting to the end. Also, at that early hour none of the businesses along the road were open and nobody really felt like stopping if it wasn’t absolutely necessary.
The full route called for getting an early start and riding from the hotel to Harbor Springs to Cross Village and back for a total of 60 miles. That was certainly doable on a day of such ideal weather (again) but I had ridden to Harbor Springs and back the day before, and with the nature of the route and construction along the way, I saw no need to go over it again. So I opted to shuttle to Harbor Springs and ride straight up M-119 from there. It was a good choice.
A few others opted for the shuttle and we arrived in Harbor Springs before those who were riding from the hotel arrived. There was no need to wait, so after unloading I started out on the familiar road out of town. There was one variation that they threw in on the day’s route. Just north of town, there is a cutoff to a parallel road called Lower Shore Drive that is actually closer to the lake than the main route and is generally quieter and more scenic; this is the way that the Shoreline tour always takes. Tailwinds, on the other hand, had us take the main route on the out lap, which was new to me and also noticeably hillier than what I had experienced previously.
After coming downhill a few miles farther on, the road merged with the Lower Shore road and continued on into the more tunnel-like part of the ride. I do have to say that the tunnel-of-trees effect was not as dramatic as what I remembered from previous rides. I’m not sure if the trees are being trimmed more closely or if some have been lost to storms or aging, but a few other people with experience up here have said the same thing. Still, it’s a wonderfully peaceful ride along a narrow asphalt road that doesn’t have a painted centerline, making it resemble nothing so much as a large bike path!
About 3/4 of the way up the road is the tiny hamlet of Good Hart. It’s not clear if there is an actual town — perhaps back off the main road — but it’s noted for being the home of the Good Hart General Store, which is the only place around for groceries and deli items. When I got there, Lark was waiting with the support van. It was a good place to take a break and I planned to stop again for lunch on the way back.
After a short break, I continued to the end of the tunnel route in the small town of Cross Village. The town is mostly noted as the home of Leg’s Inn: a popular destination restaurant featuring Polish cuisine. Lots of people drive over from Mackinaw City for a meal, and as it was just before noon when I got there, there was a line at the door waiting for them to open. This had been suggested as a potential place to have lunch, but it would obviously have had to be a long, formal meal situation that I wasn’t at all interested in. So after taking a break for some photos and conversation with others of our group who were arriving, I headed back the way I had come.
Arriving back in Good Hart, the market was quite busy with lunchtime traffic. In the back is a deli counter where I ordered a hand-made sandwich and had them add some potato salad to the plate. They have picnic tables outside under the trees, making it the perfect setting in perfect conditions to have lunch while chatting with other riders who were doing the same thing.
After lunch I retraced my route toward Harbor Springs, but this time took the recommended Lower Shore Drive for a scenic and peaceful last few miles to Harbor Springs. I arrived at the parking lot where Greg had disembarked us in the morning only to discover that he was no longer there. It turns out that he had been called away earlier for an assistance run and when he returned there was no place to park.
At this point I had 40 miles under my belt, but the riding had been so pleasant that I considered that riding the additional 10 miles back to the hotel wouldn’t be so bad. But then I was notified that Greg was at another lot about a half mile away and would be leaving for the hotel in a few minutes. So I took the easy option, rode to where he was parked, had my bike loaded up, and was back at the hotel in mid-afternoon for a couple of free hours to enjoy the hotel and environs one last time.
That evening, for our last dinner as a group, we walked a couple blocks to Chandler’s — a high-end restaurant that my wife and I had never tried in our travels there. It was a nice setting down in the wine cellar and the food was superb, right through from the salad to the dessert. We were all comfortable together as a group and the conversation flowed as well as the drinks. As I packed later in my room, I found myself feeling that it was all ending too soon, as all good trips make you feel.
Day 6 – Friday, August 9, 2019 – Torch Lake and Traverse City
On our last day, instead of having breakfast at the hotel, we were to shuttle back south of Charlevoix to a place that would have a special breakfast for us before we left on our last ride back to where we started in Traverse City. The place we went is a garden center with a cafe called the Garden Cafe. We were there well before their normal opening time and had a breakfast that was made especially for us with scones, quiche, and other treats. It was a break from the usual. While at breakfast, I was talking with Jan and Cliff, who are from Tucson, about a friend of mine who moved to Tucson a few years ago. When I told them her name, it turns out that they know her and they have ridden together! Small world — I guess cyclists really are all like members of a big extended family.
Afterwards, we gathered out front for a group photo and then headed out for a short stint along the shoulder of US-31 before turning onto a road that took us to the road along the western shore of Torch Lake, across the lake from the one that we had ridden northward on Tuesday. As expected, the road was quiet early on a weekday morning, so we had a few miles to enjoy it before we turned west at the bottom of the lake and started the climb (the first of several) back up toward US-31. All of this day’s route was vaguely familiar to me since it was basically the exact inverse direction of the route that the Shoreline West tour takes out of Traverse City to Charlevoix, except that someone seemed to have added some new hills into the mix!
At the top, we crossed US-31 — not without some difficulty due to the traffic — and rode into the picturesque little tourist town of Elk Rapids. We met the support van here for our initial stop of the day. Afterwards, we had to re-cross US-31 to get onto the back roads that would take us into the city. This crossing was more difficult than the first time. Getting toward the busy time on Friday, there is a lot of traffic on the main roads into and out of town, and with four lanes of it, finding a safe break took a lot of waiting.
Once onto the back roads, things settled down and there were few other vehicles. These roads go past farms and orchards. There were hills, but at this point nothing that was much of a challenge for most of us. There wasn’t really much to look forward to at the destination and the miles clicked by slowly.
The final major road crossing was M-72, which is an east-west road that carries most of the traffic that comes up the highways along the middle of the state, such as I-75. It is always busy, but approaching mid-day on a Friday in high season even moreso. Apparently there had been a traffic light about a half mile to the west that used to at least create some breaks in the eastbound traffic, but it has since been replaced by a roundabout, making for a potential steady flow of traffic in both directions. At this point I really wanted to get across because just on the other side of the road was our support van and the start of the T.A.R.T. trail system that we would take most of the rest of the way, and I had to be careful not to be tempted to take a chance in getting across the road.
When I eventually crossed it was quite a relief and I knew that it was easy riding from there on in. Anne was there with the van for a final opportunity for a break before getting onto the last leg of the journey. Riding on the T.A.R.T. was what I had expected, being quiet and car-free. At some points, it runs right behind some of the businesses along the main road into town, and I could see the chaos and congestion that I was bypassing. It also goes along an active rail line for a while, but I think that trains are pretty rare up there these days.
When I got onto the final side-street route into town, instead of going to the hotel I went straight to the parking garage, loaded up my bike, and then proceeded to the hotel where a boxed lunch was waiting for everyone along with our luggage that Greg had previously unloaded. With everyone on differing schedules, it was difficult to make many final goodbyes and I eventually left for the drive to Mount Pleasant where I had a hotel reservation. After six days of cumulative riding effort, I was glad that I hadn’t planned on driving all the way home on the same day, which I have learned from previous years is not a good idea.
It was another great tour completed, and I’m looking forward to traveling with Carolina Tailwinds in the future.