Bicycling & Kayaking in Northern Michigan

© Ed Noonan - June, 1997

Bicycle trip

As you may have noticed, I've been feeling a bit burned out after last year's Alaska to Florida grand adventure. It has taken me from November until now to get off my butt and back out on the road/river.

Just 3 hours north of Lansing is the great outdoors of Northern Michigan and some of the best recreational bicycling and kayaking anywhere. The lakes, rivers and hills are gorgeous.

Lake Charlevoix is one of the nicest lakes in the world. Michigan's third largest inland lake with 17,260 acres of clear fresh water, Lake Charlevoix connects through Round Lake in the city of Charlevoix to Lake Michigan. When I was in college, I would trailer my sailboat to Lake Charlevoix for occasional sailing weekends.

Ernest Hemingway used to live on Lake Charlevoix. Before moving to Alaska, I almost bought some lakefront land near Horton Bay on Lake Charlevoix that was purported to have been part of the Hemingway estate. I wish I had; it would have been worth about 100 times more than the asking price now.

I decided to head north to Lake Charlevoix for a training weekend. I couldn't decide whether I wanted to bicycle or kayak, so I loaded both my Old Town Otter kayak and Trek 2100 bike onto the Yakima rack on my van and drove to Lake Charlevoix. Rather than seeking lodging in Charlevoix, where it is quite expensive, I looked for a place to stay at the eastern end of the lake in Boyne City, but the only place I saw looked too expensive, so I drove southwest to East Jordan, where I found a nice motel for only $45 per night (Westbrook, 218 Elizabeth - 616-536-2674). I did eat dinner first in Boyne City at One Water Street, a Stafford restaurant (Petoskey, Charlevoix and Harbor Springs). The food was great, but very expensive (about $25-50 per person).

In the morning it was sunny and nice, so I rode my bike to breakfast at Darlene's in East Jordan (about 2 miles away). The french toast was good, service great and the ambiance offered by the locals was excellent.

I rode around East Jordan a bit, contemplating a ride up the infamous "wall," a steep hill that presents quite a challenge to riders, but decided not to push myself that hard yet. From East Jordan, I headed north past the East Jordan Iron Works, a major smokestack factory that makes most of the iron manholes you see in streets all over the U.S. I followed Peninsula road over rolling hills (enough to gear down to the middle of my middle chainring) along the east side of South Arm for about 12 miles, then took the ferry across the bay to Ironton -- only about 200 yards away. Bicycles are 50¢.

The Trek wasn't fully ready for riding. I'd forgotten that it had no mirror, and I'd forgotten that when I rode it on DALMAC I had hated the saddle.

Oh, note the quality of the pictures I took with my new Olympus D-300 digital camera.

From Ironton, I got onto M-66 for a 10 mile ride into Charlevoix. The shoulders were fantastic (3'-6'), so I enjoyed my ride immensely. I rode all the way to US-31, but should have turned to the north at Ferry Avenue instead, for a pleasant ride into town. US-31 is quite busy, but it was early on Sunday morning, so it was not too bad.

Charlevoix is a nice harbor town that is quite popular with tourists. The stores are upscale and there are several nice places to eat.

There is a draw bridge on US-31 in downtown Charlevoix which is raised at scheduled intervals. In addition to sailboats and huge motor yachts, the bridge raises for the Beaver Island ferry and a US Coast Guard cutter. One day last fall, with no other boat in sight, the bridge raised and traffic was forced to a stop as I paddled through to Lake Michigan in my little kayak. Several bystanders broke out laughing when they saw me.

Since this was my first ride in more than a month and my first ride on the Trek bicycle since last August, I decided not to do a full circumference of the lake. I rode through Charlevoix on Ferry Avenue to M-66 then rode directly back to East Jordan on M-66.

Parking the bike at breakfast, on the ferry, and at a phone booth in Charlevoix, I managed to reset my cyclocomputer to zero several times. Altogether, I rode about 40 miles for the day.

I drank only one bottle of Gatorade. When I got back to the motel, I couldn't find my van key, so I set my water bottles on the rear bumper. I recall thinking that the bumper was a dumb place to put them, but assured myself that I'd remember them. I didn't. I forgot them and rode off, squashing one and leaving the other for the motel manager to find in the parking lot and set by my door.

Sunday night I had 20 excellent u-peel shrimp and a couple of good draft beers (I drank only 1-1/4) at The Villager Pub in Charlevoix.

Kayak trip

On Monday morning, I checked out of the motel and parked my car at Jordan Valley Outfitters a canoe livery nearby, where for a mere $10, I arranged a ride to the Jordan River for me and my kayak.

My Old Town Otter is a play boat. Though only about half as long as a sea kayak, it is a lot more stable than a whitewater boat. I enjoy it because it is maneuverable and light enough to carry with one hand.

The Jordan River is a cold clear stream that runs north through the Jordan Valley into Lake Charlevoix at East Jordan. As in the past when I ran this river with a canoe, I put in at Graves Road and kayaked about 10.5 miles to the mouth of the river at Lake Charlevoix. This time, I paddled another 1.5 miles on the Lake back to the outfitter.

This was not a whitewater experience, but it rained all night and the water was quite fast.

The 12 miles took me about 3 hours including time for photos and portages.

Early in the summer, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources operates two electric sea lamprey weirs which must be portaged around. Sea lamprey are parasite fish that fasten themselves to lake trout. In the 1950's and 60's the populations of lake trout in the Great Lakes were decimated by lampreys, so Michigan and other lake states implemented eradication programs like this. The weirs are electrified grids through which lake trout swim and the lampreys attached to them are "zapped." I carried my kayak around the two weirs (one near Rogers Road; the other at the M-32 bridge at the end of the river in East Jordan). I didn't stop to watch the weirs because it was threatening to rain and I thought it best to avoid kayaking in a thunderstorm.

The river was swift and I couldn't photograph the rougher segments because I felt it necessary to place my $1,000 digital camera in a waterproof bag.

There was some wetland vegetation along the river.

As the river flattened out over the last couple of miles, it meandered through an area of marsh grass.

Then the river widened into a good sized pond and a city park (Sportsmen's Park), where I portaged my kayak across the street (M-32) to Lake Charelevoix.

By the time I got back to Lake Charlevoix, the thunderstorm was moving in and brisk northwest winds were creating whitecaps into which I paddled. The last 2 miles were the most difficult. Numerous waves washed over my bow and, since I'd left the spray skirt in my van, splashed over me and into the cockpit.

I had a great time. 40 miles of bicycling and 12 miles of kayaking made this a very enjoyable weekend. ---- Ed

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© Ed Noonan 1997