It's Tuesday, August 1, about 8:00am. I've met Rick Byer of SnowGroomers.net fame at his home and snow grooming manufacturing and test facility to rollerski on one of his routes in the northwest tip of Michigan's thumb.
One of his main routes - through the "Tunnel of Trees," M-119 between Harbor Springs and Cross Village - has just been chip sealed and isn't quite ready for rollerskiing. He decides to take us up to one of his alternative distance routes.
We drive north on M-119 a few miles past Legs Inn in Cross Village. We pull over and park just past Sturgeon Bay Road on the east side of North Lake Shore Drive, next to the drive of a small electric substation (hidden by the trees). We're on rollerskis by 8:30am. We head north on a relatively smooth section of road with a few little ups and downs.
Rick quickly takes the lead and I struggle to keep up. He's on Jenex V2 Aero 150's and I'm on my Pro-Ski S3's. His skis are much faster (always blame the equipment). Later he tells me that he always keeps his tires pumped up to a rock-hard 105 lbs.
At a T-intersection (with W. Sturgeon Bay Trail), Rick patiently waits for me before we head left toward Lake Michigan and Sturgeon Bay.
There's a small downhill to the sand dunes next to the bay. From here the road gets a bit rougher - not bad for S3's or other rollerskis with 100mm diameter wheels, but it's obvious that V2 Aero 125 and 150's would be a better choice.
The route, in yellow (Click on the map for a larger image). Cross Village is in the bottom left corner. We parked just past Sturgeon Bay Drive next to a drive into a electrical substation on the east side of North Lake Shore Drive.
After a mile and a half more or less along the shore, the road starts heading inland. There's a small climb then the road deceptively appears to level out - or so I thought. I struggle as we ski east along Lakeview Road. I have no legs and no upper body. It wasn't until we turned around and returned along the same route that I found out the road had gently climbed all the way to West Bliss Road.
When we reached West Bliss Road, we turn right and head up an obvious climb (see video of Rick - *.MOV format). At the top, there's a nice view of farm land with Lake Michigan in the background. We turn right and down the hill on West Gill Road. The road curves to the left at the bottom and turns back into West Bliss Road. Another half mile, we arrive at Strong Road, about 8 miles into our ski.
Rick has turned off Lakeview Road and is now climbing West Bliss Road.
Strong Road is the turnaround point. We could continue south on West Bliss to West Sturgeon Bay Trail and make a loop out of it, but Rick warns of several mean dogs and some rough road ahead and strongly recommends avoiding it.
The trip back seems faster - especially Lakeview road (it's all downhill!) - until we hit the dunes next to Sturgeon Bay. The winds blows in our face. "Some nice added resistance," is how Rick puts it.
Traffic is nearly non-existent. For the first eight miles, we see two cars and a small group of three motorcycles. On the return trip, we see two more cars and a bicycle. Rick says the roads remain pretty traffic free on weekdays until about 10:00am when the tourists start heading to the beach.
Rick after turning around at Strong Road. Nasty dogs and bad roads if we were to continue south on West Bliss Road.
Back at the car, we decide to add on an additional 3 miles by turning right on Sturgeon Bay Drive, a 1.5 miles long dead-end road that travels through the dunes. It's a scenic road with a number of cottages built along the shore to our left or in the dunes to our right. With the wind at our back, the gently rolling road is great skiing.
At the turn around, of course, it's back along the shore into the wind. I try to hold onto Rick by drafting behind him - which helps - but he gradually, them more quickly pulls away.
Back at the car, we're soaking with sweat. This is, after all, in the middle of the heat wave that Michigan has been experiencing and we've just rollerskied 19 miles in it!
If I were to do this section again (especially if I did it with Rick again!), I'd use my V2 Aero 150's. The ride would be more comfortable. I think V2 Aero 125's would be perfectly fine. You do not need speed reducers.
If you only have 100mm diameter wheels, you'll still have a good time - you'll just feel some of the rough pavement. Smaller wheeled rollerskis? I would not recommend this route. Instead, you may want to try the paved bike path that runs from Harbor Springs to Petoskey and on to Charlevoix.
Mike Muha standing next to Sturgeon Bay
Rick frequently does sections of the sections of M-119. Although much of M-119 is flat, there are a couple of fast, steep, longish hills with blind corners and gravel: SPEED REDUCERS ARE NECESSARY if you do these hills. Since the road has just been chip sealed, you'll need V2 Aero 125 or 150's to ski the road - anything else would be miserable or impossible. The recent heat wave has helped the surface greatly - there's no loose stone.