I think this is the first time in 14 years I haven't brought skate skis with me to Michigan. There is no snow anywhere, other than a light dusting last night that the sun quickly burned off this morning, and the lakes and ponds have no ice on them yet. I also normally bring my winter beater bike with studs, but with October riding conditions, I'd be crazy to not bring a nicer bike. I brought my Dean Ti hardtail.
Fort Custer is the "Kingdom Trails" of southwest Michigan. It boast only 25 miles or so of singletrack, but this is twice what any other contiguous trail system in the area has. A number of new, surprisingly challenging features have been incorporated into the trail network since my last visit. Riding in W. Michigan is like taking a breather. Compared to my 45+ mile ride I did last weekend in Groton, Mass, riding here is wicked easy. Even a beginner should be able to average over 10mph on the trails. Fast and flowy is the name of the game.
Rare: No ice and clear skies
I got out early on Christmas Eve morning for a 25 miler, basically riding everything at Fort Custer. A planned ride was accumulating in the parking lot. I was invited to join. But... I know how these large group rides go, I had finite bucket of time, and really just wanted to be away from people for a couple hours.
A bit like Sidewinder at NEK. Frosty off-chamber logs forced you
to carry the just-right amount of speed down this gully.
The light dusting of snow was not an issue at all. It was cold and the frozen crust on the trail actually enhanced speed, as some parts of this trail network can be a bit sandy and others a bit juicy. I laid first tracks almost everywhere I went. W. Michigan rarely sees bluebird skies in December, so it was a double bonus to have primo riding conditions on a brilliant day.
On my way home, I had to stop and take a picture of this sad sight below. These places were a staple of Fat Doug's diet. One day, not long after moving to New Hampshire, they all abruptly closed. They have sat idle like this for what, 10+ years now? Trees are growing in the parking lot. There was a Hot n' Now near where I worked in Holland. I'd order five $0.49 cheeseburgers, a large fry and a 44oz Mountain Dew. My resting heartrate was 80bpm and I bet I never exerted myself hard enough to raise it above 120. I'd probably be dead by now if I hadn't started riding in 1996.