DFP 2013-1: Scenic “Up North” Michigander registration still open; spare cycling shorts advised


PHOTO ABOVE: Clawson residents Jackie and Rob Litwin celebrate at the  Michigander 2012 Finish Line in Mackinaw City. PHOTO BY RON CAMPBELL

Detroit Free Press Special Writer
June 27, 2013

CHARLEVOIX – For bicycling and outdoors enthusiasts who enjoy making adventurous new friends, Christmas – or at least its warmer two-wheeled equivalent – is coming early again this year, right through scenic Northern Michigan.

The 22nd annual Michigander Bicycle Tour will get underway at Charlevoix Middle School on July 13 and take its riders from 56 to 280 miles on rail trails – abandoned railroad corridors that have been converted into multi-use recreational trails – and back roads. It will conclude in Harbor Springs on July 19.

“We keep coming back ‘Up North’ because it is one of the most popular Michigander routes,” said Nancy Krupiarz, the executive director of the Michigan Trails & Greenways Alliance (MTGA), the nonprofit organization that runs the event. “In addition to our many veteran riders who return year after year, we are also attracting a lot of new out-of-state riders who want to experience Michigan’s beautiful north country.”

Michigander Director Barry Culham has extended the online registration deadline to 5 p.m. July 5. For more information or to register, log on to http://www.michigantrails.org/michigander-bicycle-tour.

Cyclists on the 56-mile 2-Day option, a good choice for families and beginners, will ride along Lake Michigan on the paved Little Traverse Wheelway (known to locals as simply “the Bike Path”) through Petoskey to Harbor Springs on Saturday, July 13, camp overnight at Harbor Springs Middle School and return to Charlevoix via the trail the next day.

Riders on the overlapping 252-mile 6-Day and 280-mile 7-Day routes will pedal on the Bike Path, country roads and the highly-acclaimed North Central State Trail, a 62-mile long ribbon of crushed limestone between Gaylord and Mackinaw City that runs through quaint tourist towns such as Topinabee and Cheboygan along the northernmost segment of the old Michigan Central Railroad, including an especially picturesque 15-mile stretch by Mullett Lake. The NCST officially opened in 2008.

The spirited cyclists will camp overnight in Harbor Springs, Bellaire, Gaylord, Indian River and Mackinaw City and, accompanied by heart-pumping music and rousing cheers from their fellow riders, roll triumphantly under the yellow “Michigander 2013 Finish Line” banner back in Harbor Springs on July 19.

The Free Press co-founded the Michigander with the Michigan Chapter of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy in 1992 and introduced it in a cover story in the old Free Press Sunday Magazine. The 200 or so cyclists who signed up that first year rode cross-state – with much of the mileage on rough, undeveloped trails – from South Haven to Rochester, finishing on the Paint Creek Trail.

With its ever-increasing and improving network of such greenways, the Great Lake State leads the U.S. with 2623 total miles of rail trails, and the Michigander is now the nation’s largest – with about 50 volunteers and 650 riders registered for its three routes as of June 25 – and longest rail trail-based bike tour, according to Krupiarz.

Former Free Press outdoors writer Eric Sharp, who rode and wrote about the tour from 1994-2001, had fond memories of the event.

“What was most notable was the incredible enthusiasm of the people who had ridden it before,” he said. “This was the highlight of the year for many, better than Christmas, and their enthusiasm was infectious.”

One year, Sharp noticed a group of riders who were perhaps a little too enthusiastic when it came to trailside swimming holes.

They “decided to go skinny dipping in a small lake we passed, only to find that riders who came along later had grabbed their clothes and strewn them along a quarter-mile of woods,” Sharp recalled. “When I passed, two of the guys were still riding naked, looking for their cycling pants.”

Bicycling Magazine featured the Michigander as one of its favorite events in its Multiday Ride Guide last year. You’ll get no argument from Rob Litwin, a 56-year-old Kodak field service engineer from Clawson, about the tour’s appeal.

“I enjoy seeing all the repeat riders every year,” said Litwin, who is returning for his 17th Michigander. “It feels like a family reunion. I also enjoy the trails because it gets you closer to nature. When you spend most of your time cooped up in buildings and cars you lose sight of the natural world, and when I get out and bike a trail I feel a connection that I find revitalizing. It never fails – I always feel better after a bike ride. And the Michigander always helps me find my smile.”

“I love the Michigander because I love my husband,” added his grateful wife Jackie Litwin, a 14-time Michigander participant who says she is not a ‘complete biker nut” like Rob and, due to scheduling conflicts, will have to miss the tour this year. “He rides into this brave new world each year, and always finds his way back to himself, and back to me. He comes home a better husband, a better dad, a better man.”

Here’s hoping the better man doesn’t go swimming au naturel in any of the numerous lakes along this year’s route. Otherwise he may need help finding his cycling shorts as well.

For more information about the Michigander, log on to: http://www.michigantrails.org/michigander-bicycle-tour

–Detroit-based freelance writer and Michigander veteran Ron Campbell can be reached at: roncamp22g@gmail.com.


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