New cyclists often have similar stories that spring from their experiences on bicycles. Recounting the details of fun, memorable rides often elicits eager, youthful smiles as adventurers describe the various joys associated with riding bikes. For me, one theme recurs more than others, especially with new cyclists, or those who’ve returned to it after years or decades of absence. That theme is the rediscovery of one’s own locale, where we live, our towns and countrysides.
I say rediscovery because for many of us our discoveries have been largely limited to what we see as it blurs by at 55 mph. From behind a sheet of glass, at the wheel of a climate-controlled car, on the road with all its myriad worries and distractions one can hardly discover anything.
Traveling the same roads, paths, and trails on a bicycle is like a revelation for some. Slower speeds and fewer distractions result in a more thorough and sensual local experience. Bicycles make that possible, and the people who ride them often find things that are relatively hidden from motorists – a clear-water stream flowing quietly here… a bank of fragrant blossoms there. Natural beauty lurks everywhere, but it’s difficult to access in a motor vehicle. Cyclists are never afraid to take an alternate route, especially if it means going off-road altogether.
Take the Little Traverse Wheelway, for example. Here’s a local treasure that may be taken for granted by some. The Wheelway, a paved path which skirts Little Traverse Bay, connects Charlevoix, Petoskey, and Harbor Springs. This paved trail offers cyclists enormous safety from cars and trucks, as well as astonishingly intimate access to some of Northern Michigan’s most beautiful scenery. The relatively flat path is easily accessible to cyclists, walkers, and runners at dozens of junctions, many of them near gorgeous parks and nature preserves.
While some of the Wheelway edges along the bay and offers undulating views of the crystal-clear water, other sections wind through pine forests and pristine nature preserves. South of Petoskey, banks of wild flowers riot trail-side, the crisp lake air redolent with their innumerable blossoms. Such natural wonders also serve as homes to a variety of local wildlife. Riders often see darting deer and rabbits, as well as birds, chipmunks and, yes, even skunks.
Indeed, the Wheelway offers some incredibly tactile experiences, even for those too jaded to appreciate a good ol’ Lake Michigan sunset. Plus, riding the trail offers low-cost, high-value experiences that combine sight-seeing with a safe, fun cardiovascular fitness activity.