I have just returned from the best mountain biking experience to date, out on the trails of western Michigan, near Freesoil.
A delayed weekend jaunt to the North Country trail and the Big M trail in Manistee National Forest turned out to be just lovely... Beautiful sunny weather. Long, winding, undulating trails. Brightly colored leaves fluttering down as the breeze blew. Wild turkeys roaming across our path. A campsite on public land, away from civilization, but on a two track that met up with the dirt road, that met up with the trail head -- a perfect bikey commute. A river to wash off in and potable water just down the road a mile or two. And an eager, adventurous, and well supplied companion.
The widget registered 21 miles on Sunday and 34 miles on Monday. I've never ridden so much dirt in two days. I'm loving on the new bike, feeling decent about my pedals/shoes, and enjoying my new-found ability to go over log piles. Okay, none of these obstacles (or should I say "features") was very hard/huge -- these are well-tended trails -- but there was still a mental hesitation to be overcome. Cranking up the speed to go through a difficult bit is counterintuitive but necessary. With some well-placed encouragement, I did it and I feel good about it. Unlike the rocky and rooty trails I've been on over the last few weeks, these trails are good for long distances without any need to get off the bike for hazards or extreme hills. I needed that. I had time to settle into the bike. I could look about and enjoy. I could ride fast in some bits. I enjoyed the gentle rises -- both going up and down them. Certainly there were the challenging bits (climbs and sand), but my overall impression was of zipping along pretty trails for miles and miles and miles.
The bike has quite the advantage over hiking. As we rolled along the trail, it was easier to see how the forest changed -- and how small the various sections really were. There might be a quarter mile of pine -- and pines only, a stunning sight -- before the landscape changed to hard woods. A drop into a low spot and trees would give way to brush and the smell would become more peaty. Then the trail would rise and there would be open spots with sun and (unfortunately) sand. At some points, red leaves covered the trail, but then it would be yellow only, then just brown, or pine needles. We rode about as late as we could into the evening, which meant we were treated to lovely shifts in the light in the final hour of the sun. There was one shade of yellow in particular that just popped -- almost glowed -- in the woods with the last bit of sun. Some of the areas with small pine looked hazy as we passed through. The tall pines looked eerie. Very cool.
The inevitable crunchy bits of driving, camping, biking, and sustained physical exertion were few and came and went without spoiling what was a truly damn fine experience. This trip was exactly what I wanted -- I just wanted to be out in the woods.