Clare, MI to Luther, MI -50 Miles
US Bicycle Route 20 continues West on roads after the bike trail ends in Clare. Due to the location of our hotel, we chose to improvise a more direct route to reconnect with Route 20 to the West rather than backtracking to pick it up at the end of the trail in downtown Clare. Once we rejoined the route, we followed the signs all the way to Luther. Our route meandered through a lot of woodsy backroads which were pretty, but the scenery didn’t change much all day.
We felt lucky to even find a gas station for a first break. While we were standing there snacking, a man stopped to chat with us and ask us about our ride. When he heard we’d stayed in Clare the night before, he asked us if we’d gone to Cops & Doughnuts? He told us that when he moved to the area a few years ago he went there every single day and gained a lot of weight…so he had to restrict his visits to the doughnut shop. I think if I moved to Clare, I’d gain weight too!
Our lunch stop was here:
The Temple Party Store is what I would call a typical type of country convenience store in rural Michigan. They actually had a little kitchen in there and served a small menu. Evidently their claim to fame is pizza balls. How could I resist trying them? They were actually pretty good -especially since I am a big fan of bread in general. Review: More pizza dough than pizza, but still tasted like pizza.
The next picture I took was of downtown Luther.
We met Laura at a gas station on the edge of town. We had one of the longest shuttles of the trip to get to our hotel. The hotel was a logistical choice because that evening Laura and I had plans to drive Traverse City to meet her son for dinner. By shuttling a bit out of our way for a hotel, we shortened the drive to Traverse. If we’d kept to the original trip plans, we would have been bicycling through Traverse City at some point, but the car got us there faster!
Luther, MI to Pentwater, MI – 67 Miles (two days)
Originally, I’d planned for us to ride from Luther to Ludington (48 miles) and get a hotel there for the night. After reviewing the rest of the trip (last night) we decided to change things around. South of Ludington by about 15 miles is Pentwater. My family has a long history of spending time in Pentwater -starting when I was in high school. Mike and I owned a second home there for sixteen years, which we sold in 2016. I thought it would be nice to have Pentwater as a stop since we’d not been there in several years. To do that, I created two easy days of riding for us.
Laura shuttled us back to Luther to get today started.
By this time on the trip, we were “horses to the barn” if you know that old phrase. We were beginning to arrive in very familiar territory for us. Including today, there was only three days of riding left. We started to focus more on just getting to the finish line and less on scenery.
We had an easy 35.5 miles today -and we did it fairly fast. Again the route was off the beaten track, mostly through wooded areas. It was so “back off beyond” that I was getting worried that we wouldn’t find a rest stop for lunch. We were very happy when we saw the Wolf Lake Party Store. They had a small area on one side of the parking lot with a picnic table. We took a longer rest stop than normal because it was a bit warmer and we didn’t have far to go.
They had this sign on the fence between the road and the parking area. They put the wrong type of biker on it.
It was very hard to pinpoint a place for Laura to meet us today. We wanted her to pick us up roughly halfway between Luther and Pentwater. Once I found the general area on the maps, I wasn’t seeing any type of gas station, restaurant, or grocery store -or anyplace with a parking lot- for miles around the halfway mark. We needed a place where we could safely pull off the highway to load our bikes. After extensively “massaging the map”, I finally zoomed in on a roadside park in the right area. We relayed the location of the park to Laura by describing it because we didn’t have an address for it. Thankfully she found us!
It was twice as nice that we’d have two nights in Pentwater. Because we got to walk down memory lane in Pentwater and because we are always happy when the logistics of a trip work out for us to stay in the same hotel for more than one night. That means we get a day off from packing up our things and loading them in the car before we ride. Laura is kind enough to bring our things into the hotel on days she checks in at our next hotel while we’re still riding. (We don’t pay her enough!)
It was a given the we’d be eating at our favorite bar/restaurant in Pentwater: The Brown Bear. They have amazing burgers. It was something I was very much looking forward to! To our disappointment, it was too early in the season for them to be open every day yet. The days they were closed happened to match the days we were in town. DARN! We walked across the street to eat at the Antler Bar as a Plan B. My first adult trip to the Antler was 48 years ago!
The next morning, Laura shuttled us back to the roadside park. The route has us riding directly to our hotel in Pentwater. (33.5 miles). Laura was happy because her job for the day was over. All she had to do was go back to the hotel and wait for us to show up!
No, Mike isn’t confused about which way is up for a bike!! Our departure was slightly delayed after Mike noticed he had a flat tire after taking the bikes off the car. It was the first flat tire of the trip, which considering some of the trails we’d been on was amazing.
It didn’t take long to fix and we were ready to go.
The benefit of yesterday’s shuttle was that we were able to preview today’s route. The shoulder on the highway was good for quite a while, but eventually as it got closer to Ludington, it started to get narrow or non-existent. After dinner, I redesigned the route so that we could get off the highway and onto back roads at the point where we’d no longer have the safety of a shoulder to ride on.
The only thing that got me to stop for pictures on our way to Pentwater today was this old out-of-business restaurant on the side of the road.
I’m just going to leave that here and move on!
The “backroads” I’d mapped weren’t as smooth as the highway shoulder, but we were old pros at rough roads by now! To be fair, we did ride on many good roads along the way too.
That evening, after we’d had dinner in nearby Hart, we drove around Pentwater to see what had changed. Pentwater is a very small village. The shopping district is about six blocks long and even though the stores come and go over the years, there is usually an interesting mix of shops to visit. We drove past our old house and then to the state park beach -which is conveniently located within the village limits – to see our favorite view of Lake Michigan.
For the last several days, we’d been seeing a hazy sky over Michigan which was caused by smoke from the forest fires in Canada. This late in the day it made everything seem gray.
Pentwater, MI to Norton Shores, MI – 62 Miles
On the very first day of this d’aventure, we followed US Bicycle Route #35 between Saugatuck and South Haven. The Michigan part of US Bicycle Route 20 ends in Ludington. Route #35, is marked between the Upper Peninsula and the Indiana border with Michigan. It passes through Ludington following Lake Michigan’s shoreline. It also passes through Pentwater. We would follow Route 35 all the way back to Saugatuck.
Today would be a day of trails. Our hotel was three miles North of Pentwater, so we passed through the village again this morning. Pentwater is situated on Lake Michigan, but it also sits alongside of Pentwater Lake, which drains into Lake Michigan through the channel. The road between Pentwater and the nearby expressway twists and turns along Pentwater Lake’s shoreline. The lake is fed by the Pentwater River. At the point where the river and lake meet, there is a bridge -Longbridge- that gets people to the other side of the lake (unless they have a boat).
On the bridge we had our last view of Pentwater off in the distance.
We were headed to Hart, which is about 8 miles from Pentwater. Hart is the Northern trailhead for the Hart-Montague Bike Trail. This 22 mile long trail was paved in 1991. We have ridden it many times over the years. Once we even rollerbladed it -but we were much younger and more ambitious then!
When we saw that Route 35 utilizes the trail, we weren’t very excited about that. The last time we’d ridden the trail, it had been in dire condition, suffering from the usual “old age” issues on these trails: roots, cracks and potholes. And that was several years ago. We agreed to give it a try and if it was too awful, we’d switch to a nearby highway.
Imagine our absolute surprise and relief to see that the trail has been repaved and is in great condition. Whew! We enjoyed every mile we rode on it.
When we got to Montague, I had planned on stopping for a rest stop at the trail head/parking area that we’d always used in the past. Things have changed so much, I never did see it. The trail used to end there.
After our break, we entered new bike trail territory. First, the route had us on the White Lake Trail for a couple of miles. Montague and White Lake are less than one mile apart, sitting across White Lake from each other.
After crossing over the lake, the trail connects to the Berry Junction Trail, which was completed around 2019 -after we’d left Michigan. The Berry Junction Trail (12 miles) connects to a network of trails around Muskegon.
Years ago two of my sisters and I decided to ride from Grand Rapids to Pentwater over two days, with a third sister acting as the sag driver. Mike took up the challenge too, but rode it on his own in one day. (When he was younger and more ambitious). We started on a bike trail that runs between Grand Rapids and Muskegon. At the time there was about a 20 mile section between Muskegon and the Hart-Montague trail where we had to deal with traffic and roads. That was the least enjoyable part of that trip. The Berry Junction Trail makes all of that a piece of cake now. It was not very scenic, but it was in great condition and we appreciated the convenience of using it for the area we were passing through.
We were still following Route 35. At North Muskegon, it directed us onto a network of trails that mostly hug the South shoreline of Muskegon Lake heading toward Lake Michigan. We were not excited about riding bikes through Muskegon -even driving through Muskegon can feel daunting in places. We ended up pleasantly surprised that Route 35 managed to minimize city riding and get us along the Lake Michigan shoreline where it felt a bit less “big city”.
Mike and I voted today as our best day of riding since the trip started. It seemed like no time at all before we were rolling into the parking lot of a golf course located about halfway between Muskegon and the next down South -Grand Haven. Our hotel was about 5 miles away, but off of our route, so we had Laura meet us. As we headed to the hotel, Laura mentioned that we’d be passing an ice cream shop on the way… How could we say no???
Norton Shores, MI to Saugatuck, MI -42 Miles
Last day! Over the previous couple of days, I could tell that I was coming down with something, but it hadn’t quite hit -until today. I woke up knowing it was here, so I was very happy that we had an easy 42 miles to the finish line.
Our final departure photo:
The route continued along the lakeshore, so the roads weren’t busy and the scenery was mostly woodsy again. We had to ride through Grand Haven and then Holland before the day would be done.
At Grand Haven, there was some construction around the area of the draw bridge over the Grand River. We lost track of the signs/route there and somehow ended up riding onto a busy highway to go up and over the the draw bridge. I was trying to tell Mike that I thought there was some sort of pedestrian bridge we should have used, but he couldn’t hear me over the road traffic…so we just rolled with it. On the other side, we stopped and checked and got back on track. I’m pretty sure we missed a turn -but by now that shouldn’t surprise anyone, right?
Another 22 miles down the road we had to navigate through Holland. The route did a good job, but we still had more city riding than we preferred. Downtown Holland is actually very nice, but there was construction and we had to create our own detour around it. A fun fact about Holland is that the city has one of the most expansive snowmelt system in the USA. Underground, they’ve installed about 120 miles of tubing which creates about 5 surface miles of heated sidewalks and roads.
Laura thought she had time to run across the street to Burger King before we got there -so she missed getting a picture of us crossing the finish line. HAH.
She took a quick picture of me holding up my traditional end of trip T-shirt. It says “Shut Up Legs” which is a quote from a famous Tour de France rider. It was too cold to actually strip down to put it on!
We loaded up and drove about an hour away to another sister’s house where we’d be staying for a few days. I spent most of them in bed fighting whatever it was that I’d picked up along the way.
Even though this trip was a Plan B and through a state that we grew up in, we did enjoy it. We challenged ourselves to ride more miles daily than we ever have. We pushed through the wind, cold weather and even the forest fire smoke.
We got to see areas of Michigan we’d never been to before. I’d expected the towns on the Lake Huron side to be as touristy as the Lake Michigan side, but instead they had a whole different vibe to them. Even though we didn’t enjoy all the bike trails we used, we were impressed by the growing number of them in Michigan. We liked the mapping provided by the US Bicycle Routes, trusting them to guide us to roads less traveled, but with safety in mind.
A big shout out to Michigan drivers. They were overwhelmingly courteous, giving us plenty of room -even when we had a reasonably wide shoulder. They really did “share the road”.
Along the way, Mike was regularly checking his weather app so we’d know how to dress and it created a map of our route:
******Final total miles: 722 in 15 days of riding.******