The White Pine Trail is a converted Rail-to-Trail that runs over 90 miles north and south through Western Michigan - from Grand Rapids to Cadillac. Though the majority of the trail is paved, there are sections of it that are dirt and gravel, and a little bit of a challenge on skinny road tires. Riders were encouraged to choose their bikes and tires accordingly. The route was chosen so that we'd get a full metric century - 62 miles - though in the end, most of us finished up with around 64 miles.
Having about a 5-hour drive from Akron to Western Michigan, Jim was kind enough to let me stay at his home for the weekend. The hospitality was excellent. I left right from work on Friday and arrived around 8 pm, where I found his wife, Maureen, had a bowl of spicy chili and a beer waiting for me. That was a great welcome.
Although Thursday and Friday had seen a lot of rain and strong winds, Saturday morning we got up to find ideal riding weather. Whoever had suggested moving the ride from April to the first weekend of May made a good call. We had brilliant sunshine throughout the day, with temperatures starting out around 60 in the morning, and ending up in the high 70s by the afternoon.
Our group gathered and headed out from Jim's house, which is just a few miles of road riding from the trail. The ride took us through the quaint and picturesque little town of Rockford, which has numerous shops, restaurants, and watering holes. It was a bustling place, and we saw a lot of groups such as wedding parties taking pictures by the riverside and its waterfall. We also passed through a few sleepy little villages, including Howard City where we stopped for lunch.
|That looks like Gordy V. (on the right) and Marc I. on one of the paved stretches of the path. There's somebody behind Marc, but I can't tell who it is (unless Marc has a third arm I hadn't noticed before).|
|Tim, Steve, and Jason P. (from front to back)|
|Nice picture of the group on the trail. Tim Potter is apparently way better at taking pictures while riding than I am. (thanks, Tim)|
|Sand Lake is a sleepy little town. I understand they have a pretty nice 4th of July festival, though.|
|Howard City is dead quiet on a Saturday afternoon. I was standing in the middle of the main intersection when I took this. I didn't have to hurry.|
|That's Skip M., Tim, and Mark A. (from left to right) on the gravel.|
|And Marc on his Hunqapillar, and ride organizer Jim on his green Colnago.|
|Skip had this '60s vintage Peugeot PX-10 in the classic white/black (photo from Tim Potter).|
|Gordy brought this P G Wells - a framebuilder I'm not familiar with, but I believe he was a custom builder in Michigan (photo from Tim Potter).|
|Jason had this '80s vintage Miyata. Its red paint absolutely gleamed in the sun. He had some cool drillium chainrings on it, too.|
|Steve brought this great old Pogliaghi. We were all admiring the metallic orange paint with yellow accents.|
|Marc (of the Simply Cycle blog) brought his Rivendell Hunqapillar. With those tires, Marc was probably thinking "Gravel? What gravel"?|
|Somehow, this was the only picture I got of my own bike.|
|Can't get any tighter fitting than that.|
|We encountered this little guy towards the end of our ride. He'd been riding with his parents, then when our group approached, he took off like a solo breakaway. His little bike probably only had 12" wheels, but he was making the most of them.|
The White Pine trail is quite flat for most of its length, but I think Jim knows that I come from an area known for more hills (I've said repeatedly that it isn't a proper ride without a good hill climb) - so I think it was at least partly on my account that he worked at least one solid hill into the ride. In the last few miles of the route, there was a pretty steep road that crossed the trail. Some opted to skip the hill, but about half gave it a shot. We rode down to the bottom, then turned around to take it to the top. I'm guessing it was at least 15% grade in the steeper sections. Made me feel right at home.
We got back to Jim's late that afternoon where a big pot of sloppy joes, potato salad, watermelon, and beer were waiting for us - once again, courtesy of Maureen. It was a great way to end the ride. The gang hung out for a while afterwards with most of the conversation being bike related, with occasional dips into the serious (like solemn rides of silence) and occasionally to the absurd (like unconventional wart removal methods).
Although 5 hours is a long way to drive for a bike ride, it was great to get together with friends and make some new ones. All told, it was an excellent weekend visit. Jim's already giving thought to hosting a ride for next year with another route. If I have a suggestion, it might be to explore some of the (many) dirt and gravel roads that seem to abound in the mitten state.