Looking for a reason to head north for some fitness and fun in late summer? Look no farther than Grayling’s crown jewel Hanson Hills, as they play host to the Michigan Bike Festival. This year’s Festival was on September 16-18.
Hanson Hills, long known for great XC Skiing, has been host to two Michigan Bike Festivals offering something for everyone and everything cycling. Having checked out the Saturday eve events at the inaugural 2004 event I loaded up my road bike, mountain bike, tent, and kayak and headed north from Milford before 7am to get in a couple of full days at this years festival.
Due to construction on both US 23 & I 75 I arrived too late for the pancake breakfast and the start of the 29 mile group road ride through Hartwick Pines. I quickly registered, chatted a bit with MMBA Northern Chapter President and XC racer Jamie Green, then hit the pavement. After 8 miles I ran into the returning group lead by Dick Fultz and Bill Kaltz. A 180 degree turn for some small talk for a couple of miles then I headed back out on the Grayling paved trail for a trip out on the Hartwick Pines loop. What incredible conditions; 74 degrees, deep blue sky, no wind, and a picturesque setting of virgin white pines to wind down my road riding season.
Back at Hanson Hills, I quickly set up my tent to take advantage of the events free camping. The campground is right on site, off the main path, but central to all the events. I meet my new campground neighbor who came up from Waterford Friday afternoon. He explains that he had no idea such an excellent single track existed here at Hanson Hills. We talk about trail flow, intelligent trail design, and commitment to continuous improvement of Hanson’s bike and ski trails under the direction Justin Andre.
With the tent good to go, I headed out to the headwaters of the Manistee River for my annual paddle down the Manistee River. For change this year I decided to drop a bike at the finish and drive the kayak to the start. After locking the bike in the woods near the 612 bridge, I drove up through the Deward Management area where I was able to find suitable parking and an 800 ft hike to the crystal clear head waters of the Manistee River. After a 2 hour paddle down my favorite river, I dig the bike out of the woods and head out for a short 6mile ride back to get the car. The ride down the dirt road through the wilderness is nice but the discussion at the campground about the trails at Hanson is haunting me. I get to the car, drive back to pick up the kayak, take a much needed bath in the river to freshen up and head back to Hanson with thoughts of maybe sneaking in a little single track yet today.
Back at the campground I rearrange the gear, grab the mountain bike and head out to check out band stage where Don Camp’s band “Blues Burner” is getting ready to play. After catching a quick set, I head out on the single track in the dusk. The 1st half of the trail is great but as the darkness falls I find my single track night riding skills need some work as I continue to drift off the trail into bush, trees, etc. I peck my way around the entire loop as the Harvest Moon rises like a giant orange spotlight through the trees. Finishing the loop at the campsite, I clean up, change clothes and take the 4 minute walk over to catch the end of the Blues Burners and the first set of Yankee Station. After catching up with ski and bike buddies at the group bonfire, I realize how exhausted I am from the bike-paddle-bike-bike days events. Ready for sleep I walk back to the tent under the brilliant night moon contemplating the many times I finished a ski racing on this very spot. Back at the tent I decide to leave off the tent fly and enjoy the open sky and clean northern Michigan night air. I lay completely fulfilled and exhausted, falling into a dream state gazing at the Harvest Moon and listening to the band off into the distance as nod off.
It’s 8:30 Sunday morning and time to join a group that has signed up for the 50 mile road ride looping around scenic Higgins lake. A family with small kids is heading out for a guided trip down the Ausable River. Out on the road the route is well marked by both signage and painted arrows on the pavement. Dick Fultz has been permanently marking this route using a color coded arrows. There is a Blue (50mile), White (27mile), and Red (22mile) loop to choose from. We stick on the Blue, average a casual & social 19mph, make one grocery stop, get some great views of the Lake and return to Hanson Hills in less than three hours. Things are winding down as everyone is packing up. I can’t stop thinking about how much better the single track would have been in the light of day. After packing up the tent I head out on the single track for one last ride. Feeling pretty slow, I stop to study the trail map where a woman from Mio is thinking of getting into mountain biking. After some conversation about the latest technology has to offer and the benefits of clipless pedals, full suspensions, etc… this novice rides off on the $3,000 demo bike provided by one of the local bike shops. I finish my loop and am ready to crawl back into my car and begin the journey back to SE Michigan for the upcoming work week.
Next year I plan to get there Friday afternoon so I can take advantage of the road and mountain bike demos, partake in some of the Saturday afternoon events; slow rider down the mountain, Hill Climb, Tube pump-off , Tricycle race , Track stand competition, Tractor pull, Bicycle fire drill race, Tug-O-War, Sawdust dig just maybe attend a clinic put on by Bob Smith from the BiCycle Shop of Grayling.
As this event grows, and sure hope it does, I wonder if it will loose it’s laid back casual family atmosphere to give way to some hard core racing to get the attendance numbers up. Whichever direction it takes, I will continue to support the hard working team from the northern chapter of the MMBA and Hanson Hills committed to making this a first rate festival to celebrate all things Biking.
Registration cost a mere $30. For this fee you get to camp 2 nights, see 3 bands under the stars, enjoy a group bonfire, ride Hanson Hills single track, check out demo bikes from major reps, join group rides, etc. It’s hard to image a better value for the money or a better way to wind down the bike season. Additional details may be found at michiganbikefestival.com.