November 15, 2010
Just before Aaron Teasdale left his position in the Adventure Cycling publications department, he and I had a discussion that revealed we both perceive a need for more off-pavement bikepacking routes like the Great Divide. He and I quizzed one another: What would be a good location for such a route? Western Washington and/or Oregon? Maybe. The Great Basin of southern Idaho and northern Nevada? Possibly. Paralleling the Appalachian Trail on the Eastern Seaboard? Perhaps.
Or how about the upper Midwest? Yes! We both agreed that Michigan, Minnesota (where Aaron was raised), Wisconsin, and even hilly northeast Iowa (the state I grew up in) could be the place. The upper Midwest offers tons of rural gravel roads in farm country and if you go far enough north, plenty of logging roads and snowmobile trails that web through state and national forest lands. Add in a huge regional population base and relatively manageable terrain, and this could be a real winner.
So was it coincidental or serendipitous that not long after my discussion with Aaron, I got an email from a fellow named Rob Pulcipher asking if I’d like to receive a review copy of his new book Dirt Road Washtenaw: Biking the Back Roads.
Yes, I would like a copy, I told him in my return email.
Book now in hand, I see that Rob lines out 17 routes for mountain and cyclocross bikers, most of them totally or nearly devoid of pavement, and carrying very little vehicular traffic. They range in length from 14 to 46 miles. In the introduction, Rob writes: “I once wondered why southern Michigan, and Washtenaw County in particular, had so many dirt roads. I even thought of them, condescendingly, as routes to be avoided. My opinion has changed. Wandering these roads has brought me hours of joy. The beauty along many of them is as good as you’ll find anywhere in the state. And they’re relatively quiet. Development, on the whole, is minimal, which yields a unique window into our past.”
Now consider that the seat of Washtenaw County is Ann Arbor, the sixth-largest city in the Wolverine State, home to the University of Michigan, and situated only 35 miles west of Detroit. If the riding is beautiful and relatively free of development there, think how untamed certain areas of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula must be and likewise, places in the northwoods of Wisconsin and Minnesota.
So the idea has been put forth. Let us know what you think of it and feel free to pitch in if you know of any particularly good bikepacking routes in the upper Midwest — or anywhere else, for that matter.
By the way, Adventure Cycling does offer at least one additional great bikepacking loop in the form of the 287-mile Utah Cliffs Loop. I wrote about that route here at the blog in May 2010.
Photo by Michael McCoy
BIKING WITHOUT BORDERS was posted by Michael McCoy, Adventure Cycling’s field editor, highlighting a little bit of this or a little bit of that — just about anything, as long as it related to traveling by bicycle. Mac also compiles the organization's twice-monthly e-newsletter Bike Bits, which goes free-of-charge to over 45,000 readers worldwide.