Saturday, October 18, 2008

Got a Bike? Make Your Own Adventure

biker on 88th Ave
a biker heads south on 88th Avenue in Oceana County

by Joan H. Young

All the hiking this summer was great, but it left me yearning for some time on my bicycle. So one warm morning this fall a friend and I explored a road loop in Oceana County. I cheated a little bit on the exploration part; I'd already seen some of the route from a car and knew that it would make a great bike ride.

Let me assure you that this adventure was not designed to test our technical biking skills or thrill someone under 30. We just wanted some exercise in an interesting setting, and we were not disappointed.

We parked on the edge of the road just into Oceana County on 88th Avenue, the continuation of Stiles Road south of Mason County. It's a dirt road here, and becomes increasingly primitive as you approach the North Branch of the Pentwater River, meandering from the straight survey lines of the square miles. The pines encroached from the edges and we dropped slightly to the river. My friend and I stopped to watch the water flow under the partially shrub-hidden truss bridge, and wondered if we might be able to float a kayak in this stretch.

The hill away from the river was sandy and moderately steep. I was used to riding in dirt and pedaled up, but my friend walked. One nice thing about being over 50 is you don't care quite so much about being macho as you used to. In another mile we crossed Cedar Creek, similar in appearance to the river, just a little smaller.

Riding south to Jackson Road we were awed by the vertical, spired beauty of St. Joseph's Catholic Church, rising unexpectedly at the former Weare corner. Only the church, cemetery, and some store fronts remain.

We continued to Lever Road and turned east, then north again in a mile on 96th Avenue. Some portions of these miles are paved. We enjoyed the variety in road surfaces. Reaching Jackson Road once more we turned around and took in the panorama to the south, a long view of the Pentwater River Valley. Not spectacular by mountain country standards, but not too shabby for west Michigan. (If we had chosen to ride east, downhill on Jackson Road, there is an even better view in a mile at the corner of 104th Avenue. But we were feeling lazy and didn't want to ride back up the hill.)

Our next treat was a flock of sandhill cranes, waffling a low pathway across the sky. If you've never heard them calling they sound a bit like drunken turkeys on steroids.

104th Avenue has a few rolling hills, some picturesque farms and more views off to the east. For the tree lovers, there are a number of really large maples and one beech still standing near the road . All were perhaps 30 inches in diameter.

We re-crossed the creek and the river, and completed the loop to the car. Total distance– fifteen miles. Time? We don't even know. We were just out to have some fun and never looked at a watch. That's unusual for me, but no intense anxiety has resulted from being unable to report this statistic. On our whole ride we were passed by four vehicles, one of which was the farmer moving a big bale of hay with a small Bobcat.

The variety of experiences was better than we had anticipated on a rectangle of back roads. Got a bike? Our area has lots of backways to explore that don't require you to be superman or wonderwoman to ride. Take a few hours, get off the couch and find your own adventure!

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