Bois Blanc Bikepacking Trip 2018
By Christian Janssens
I was definitely a bit nervous preparing for this trip. I had done a few multi day and overnight adventures both solo and with friends, always near enough to civilization to make a restaurant stop or two part of the meal plan. This 3-day, 2-night excursion to Bois Blanc Island was going to be my 12-year old son’s and my first fully self-supported endeavor and I really wanted to do a good job packing the right stuff. For two evenings prior to departure, we laid out our gear and rations, went to the store for missing items and pondered our upcoming needs. The final culling took place the night before our departure as we stuffed our packs and realized what we actually had space to bring.
My son had expressed interest in riding two tracks. Due to his previous bikepacking experiences, rail trails were no longer novel. Riding the singletrack that he conquered weekly seemed a bit daunting fully loaded. Two tracks sounded fun, and boy was he right! But where to find the right 3-day, 2-night bikepacking adventure? Two of my biking friends had ventured to Bois Blanc in the recent past and I recalled their stories of “sweet two track riding”. Decision made.
Day 1 we drove up to Cheboygan from Petoskey and went straight to Plaunt Transportation of the river to buy our ferry tickets. We parked in a nearby lot, loaded up our bikes and caught the 11:30a boat. Being that it was a Wednesday minoring, this car/passenger ferry was not full, but there were at least five vehicles and maybe a dozen people to ponder as we took the 40-minute ride across the Straits of Mackinac.
The two words that came to my mind as we entered the islands small harbor were “bare” and “essentials”. This way not going to be a Mackinac Island experience. The beautiful natural landscape dominated the scene with civilized dwellings peeking out here and there, and we were on the populated south side of the island. This was going to be fun.
After a quick stop at Hawk’s Landing, Bois Blanc’s main grocery/restaurant/real estate office where my son picked up a family sized pack of Nutter Butter cookies (His rationale was that he would need the extra energy. I bought it.), we were off riding on a main dirt road around the eastern side of the island.
The going was pretty easy and whenever a car seldom passed, they would always do it slowly with a friendly wave. We passed cottages and locally famous spots like the old Coast Guard quarters and the infamous Snake Island. I had read that Bois Blanc was famous for its concentration of rattle snakes and that long ago they had been confined to the small adjacent island, until the water levels had lowered, a land bridge was formed and the snake population moved over to Bois Blanc. Try as we might, we never saw anything but a garter snake.
The sun was getting high and the air hot when we turned towards the north side of the island. We were both pretty happy when the dusty gravel road suddenly morphed into tree covered two track and dove into the woods. So did we.
Given the low tree canopy over the 12+ miles of two track along the northern coast of the island, this section is really only accessible to ATV’s, low profile Jeeps and mountain bikes. It was by far our favorite part of the trip. Using the “hand drawn” map we had received from the ferry ticket office and asking the occasional locals that we came across, we navigated out way out to the northern tip of the island, a 4-mile-long point of land that housed the beautiful old lighthouse. Along the way we passed our first ATV, and like that car drivers, he was on the lookout for us, passed slowly and of course waved. It was around this meeting that we realized why the two track trails were so awesome – the ATV riders were keeping the path clear of fallen trees and dropping gravel in spots prone to erosion and flooding. This made for some great riding, especially along the coast.
A highlight of the trip occurred that first evening. Dusk was approaching as my son and I rode west on some tight two track that wound along through the wooded coastline. Coming around a slight bend, my son and I both noticed the large black bird with a yellow beak perched on a large fallen (but cut away, most likely by the ATVer’s) tree right next to the trail. We caught it off guard and when we were just 10 feet away, moving rapidly closer, it leapt its 3+ foot tall body off of the log, flared out its huge yellow talons and dove into the trail ahead of us, spreading its wings to a massive 7-foot span. It flew in front of us for another 15 yards, accelerating as it went, turned around the next bend and disappeared. We stopped and both looked at each other in awe. I will never forget that vista.
We camped along the shoreline that evening. Concerned about some predicted thunderstorms in the upcoming early morning hours and having just been taken through an impromptu lightning safety class by my recently WOLFER trained wife, I set my alarm to wake up and check (listen) every hour between 2 and 7 am. No there were no thunderstorms and yes this is not a good idea if you need to get a good night’s rest. As a result, we slept in late until 9:30am before enjoying a breakfast of loaded oatmeal (salted peanuts, raisins, pecans, walnuts, dried pineapple, peanut butter and of course, chocolate chips), slowly packing up our camp and heading out toward the west around midday.
My son and I both had a high level of energy; the weather was beautiful and the explorers in us were out in full force. We continued riding along some amazing two track that continued to hug the northern shoreline seeing nothing but nature. Eventually we began to see more campsites with firepits, the road widened a bit and civilization slowly returned. Here and there we started to see people camping and the occasional cottage as it was obvious that cars could access that area. We stopped for a picture in front of two large swans floating in Lake Huron as well as Mackinac Island off to the west. Once we reached the Point Catosh and saw the old wooden cross, we decided that we had had enough of civilization and turned around to head back east towards the wilderness.Once back on more remote two tracks we stopped for a quick lunch of ramen noodles. We both wanted to explore the center of the island, so as soon as we came to the next mysterious, unmapped two track heading south, we turned right and proceeded into the forest. We were met with a few short steep climbs up away from the water and many downed trees. With our fully loaded bikes crossing these seemed a bit challenging, but also very adventurous. The rattle snake issue returned to mind and every fallen tree looked like a nest. We rode on winding through the woods and the mosquito concentration thickened. After about an hour of exploration, we chose to start heading back out because of the bugs.
Hitting that amazing two track once again by the shore, a smile came across my son’s face and mine as well. Having reviewed most of the camping options along the north shore, we opted to head back to our previous night’s spot. We re-set up camp and decided that we wanted to ride more before dinner.
We left out gear and started pedaling with our “lightened” bikes toward Lake Mary. The hand drawn map proved to be fairly accurate for the most part, but a bit out of date as well. We found the lake, but we also found a brand-new road complete with lots of “For Sale” real estate signs. Bois Blac appeared to be populating, but ever so slowly.
We were delighted to find more sweet two track and proceeded to “hot lap” a particular fun section twice. Thank back to camp for another quick magical dip in Lake Huron as weather appeared to be approaching. The storm hit before our food was done cooking so we quickly transferred our work into the vestibule of the tent and eventually dined inside the protection of waterproof nylon. That Backpacker Panty Louisiana Beans and Rice tasted divine.
Once the rain had passed, we ventured out for a nice walk along the beach and some phenomenal sunset photos. Skipping rocks in the lake and watching the duck family swimming off to the left, it was the perfect finish to a great day of riding. With no thunderstorms in the forecast, I did not set my alarm and ended up getting a great night of restful sleep.
We woke up earlier the next morning and with rain showers predicted on and off all day, we decided to eat a quick breakfast of loaded oatmeal, pack up our gear and set out while it was dry. Riding east on our last section of the rad two track, we eventually turned south on to the main road that zig zags though the center of the island and hits the coastline just east of Hawk’s Landing. Our plan was to explore some two tracks shown on the map that were adjacent to the main road further south and then possibly ride along the more populated south shore of the island.
The main road was fast and wide and it was a good thing because we could literally se the clouds of mosquitos that were chasing us. When we cam to the areas where the two tracks were supposed to be we were met with “Private Road” and “No Trespassing” signs. Slightly disappointed as we stood there contemplating the loss of public lands, we quickly got over it as the mosquito storm caught up and descended upon us. We pressed on, itching as we rode, until we hit the coast and subsequently Hawk’s Landing. With food on the brain, the decision of whether to ride on along the south short or visit the restaurant was easily made. Sitting in the grocery/real estate office/restaurant eating French fries and salad, all while staring out over Lake Huron at the mainland, we chatted about our adventure so far and what we had like the most. The consensus seemed to be riding the sweet two track on the remote northern coast of the island.
“So do you want to ride further?” I asked.
Before my son could reply a large boat appeared coming towards the harbor out of a dark rain squall.
“It’s the 12:30 ferry.” I said as we both looked at each other.
“We need to get on the boat.” said my son.
I knew what he was thinking – let’s end this trip on a high note. Logic beyond his years.
As we rode along the gravel road toward the ferry, my son looked back and said, “This was a great trip dad. Thanks for going with me.” “Mission accomplished,” I thought. In my mind there is not much better than getting out with one of your kids on a safe camping excursion and moving everywhere, with everything, all by bicycle. Bois Blanc Island was the perfect setting for this bikepacking adventure.