By Ron Campbell
Detroit Free Press Special Writer
June 30, 2017
LANSING — Bicycling Magazine has called it one of the “Top 10 multi-day rides in America.”
ABC’s Good Morning America has called the highlight of its route this summer “The most beautiful place in America.”
In its inaugural year of 1992, Neal Shine, the legendary editor and publisher of the Free Press, simply called it “the Michigander.”
Ride Director Mary McGuire-Slevin has extended the registration deadline for the highly-anticipated 26th annual Michigander Bicycle Tour until midnight Monday, July 3. Nearly 1,000 riders from across the Great Lakes State and the U.S. have already signed up, she said, the majority of them from Southeast Michigan.
The event will feature two-day camping layovers in the classic Up North resort towns of Traverse City, Frankfort and Leland and roll on paved and crushed limestone trails and backroads by some of Michigan’s most spectacular scenery in Grand Traverse, Leelanau and Benzie counties, including the object of GMA’s affection, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
The family-and-casual-rider-friendly 2-Day option of the tour — which will average up to 25 miles each day and begin and end in Traverse City on the state-of-the-art TART (Traverse Area Recreational Trail) and Leelanau rail trails — will take place July 15-16. Riders who register for the 6-Day and 8-Day options will cross the always-festive finish line at Frankfort High School on July 22. For complete ride details and to sign up, please log on to http://www.michigander.bike.
“To me, it’s the best cycling vacation ever, and planning a tour in ‘Michigan, my Michigan’ is a thrill,” said McGuire-Slevin, a former executive director of the Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau and an award-winning musician now in her second year as the ride’s leader. “We have a great crew and we all love to show off what our state has to offer to fellow residents and those from around the country. Planning it is a ton of work, but worth every minute, as I am always amazed at the people who ride the Michigander. They are resilient, athletic and a joy to be around.”
Clawson resident Rob Litwin, like many tour veterans, considers Michigander week the best week of the year and is eager for July 15 to finally arrive.
“I’ve done plenty of other week-long rides, but the Michigander is my favorite,” said the 60-year-old field engineer for Kodak. “There is a different feel to it that other rides lack. A lot of it has to do with the people and camaraderie. There are always many repeat riders and I’ve made many good friends from it over the years. I’m really looking forward to this year’s route, since it is in such a scenic part of the state and we are staying in prime vacation destinations.”
Co-founded with the Michigan Chapter of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC), the tour became known as the Detroit Free Press Michigander under the Freep’s sponsorship from 1992-2001. It is now run by the Lansing-based Michigan Trails & Greenways Alliance (MTGA), an affiliate of the Michigan Fitness Foundation. McGuire-Slevin serves as the MTGA’s assistant director.
The Great Lakes State leads the nation with nearly 3,000 miles of trails, according to the Michigan DNR, primarily stretches of converted old railroad corridors known as rail trails or linear trails.
Roger Storm, who in ‘92 was a Michigan RTC official and the leader of that first Michigander, recalled that Shine, a former Free Press copy boy, reporter, managing editor and, finally, publisher, dubbed the ride “the Michigander” because that name “gave a different spin to a bike ride. Sounded solid, a ride for the whole family, and there was no doubt where it was taking place. I think it was also a personal thing with Neal.”
The beloved newspaperman of four decades passed away in 2007.
Other suggestions for the ride’s moniker were “The Free Press Express” and the unwieldy “ROAMBRAT”, an acronym for Ride Over and Across Michigan’s Back Roads and Rail Trails.
When asked if he would still sign up for the Michigander year after year if it had been named ROAMBRAT, Litwin became positively Shakespearean.
“Sure I would,” he said. “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
The virgin pines and wildflowers along the extraordinary route this summer should smell pretty good, too.
—For more information about multi-use recreational trails in Michigan and about the Michigan Trails & Greenways Alliance itself, please log on to http://www.michigantrails.org.
—Berkley-based freelance writer and Michigander veteran Ron Campbell can be reached at email@example.com.