Father’s Day Bike Ride on the Southern Links Trailway in Central Michigan

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Ahhh, Father’s Day. Dad’s Day. A day for us guys, that have kids of our own; to remember what it truly means to be a father. A day to remember why we chose to be dads in the first place. A day to enjoy being a dad, spending precious time with our children, and seeing a bit of ourselves in our kids. I absolutely love being a dad, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I love my girls with all of my heart, and love being there to see them learn and grow more and more each and every day.

Now, I’m sure that a lot of fathers choose to do things such as hitting the greens for a hopefully relaxing day of golf, or head out to the lake hoping to catch the big one on a day of fishing or enjoy a few brewskis while barbecuing in the backyard. But not this dad right here. I want to get out in nature and spend some precious time with my wife and kids in the trees. I was thinking about going out for a hike, but I knew the day was going to be a hot one. So, my wife and daughter came up with a great idea of going for a bike ride. My wife had the baby seat already attached to the back of her bike, and we figured that the breeze of the bike ride would help us try and stay a little cooler.

After searching online for bike trails in southern Michigan, the majority that I came across were mountain bike trails. I knew this wouldn’t be the best idea since we do have a one and a half-year-old with us in a baby seat on the back of one of the bikes, and my 7-year-old is still on a smaller bike. However, she is just about tall enough to begin riding her mountain bike. I was looking for something a bit easier in difficulty. A bike trail that was paved with asphalt instead of the uneven and more difficult makeup of dirt or stones.

I found a website, www.traillink.com, by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, that has a great search tool to find your local rail-trail. What is a rail-trail you ask? Well, the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy is a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a nationwide network of trails from former rail lines.

I was able to find the perfect rail-trail, just what I was looking for. A ten-mile trail that was asphalt-paved, away from the city where we could enjoy some real fresh air. The Southern Links Trailway connects the beautiful small towns of Columbiaville, Otter Lake, and Millington in central Michigan, by the thumb. It was just over an hour drive to arrive at the southern trailhead in Columbiaville.

So, after a good breakfast, and slowly taking our good ol’ time packing the truck and backpacks, and getting the girls ready, we were finally able to get out the door and on the road around eleven a.m. Once we exited off the I-69 freeway, it really felt like up north. We drove by miles and miles of beautiful farmland, down two-lane roads with barely anyone else interfering with your drive. No one around to give you an inkling of road rage. Fenced in land with cows, horses, goats and the like. I even noticed a few vehicles being harvested in some fields that we passed.

When we arrived in the tiny little town of Columbiaville, we knew that we wanted to grab something to eat before we hit the trail. There wasn’t much to choose from, but luckily, right at the trailhead parking lot was a small family diner-type restaurant called Curly’s Lakehouse Grill. The menu wasn’t very expansive, but they really knew how to cook. After stuffing our faces and filling our bellies, we were ready for the trail. We went back to the truck, unloaded the bikes, filled the tires, loaded a couple of water bottles into the holsters of our bikes, and packed a backpack that I agreed to carry with more water bottles, a water bladder, a couple of diapers and wipes for Allie, and a few granola bars and individual bags of chips in case we got a little hungry and to keep up our strength.

The great thing about these rail-trails is they do not allow motorized vehicles on them, keeping it safe for bicyclists, hikers, roller-bladers and such. As we began our adventure, I began the trip log using the MapMyRide app. The trail almost immediately began with a bridge ride over a wide portion of the Flint River. It was beautiful. I was also pleasantly surprised as to how well they have kept up the bridges, the pavement on the trail, as well as the fences that lined it. There were concrete cylinders built at each entrance of the trail at the road crossings that kept vehicles from entering onto the trail.

As we enjoyed the ride and the peacefulness of our natural surroundings, the heat began to get to us quickly. We made it a point to stop every ten to fifteen minutes to keep hydrated and not to overexert our daughters. It was so hot outside that we had to use some of our water to pour over our heads and down the backs of our necks to keep somewhat cool. However, it was an absolute gorgeous-looking day. Many different species of plants and trees lined both sides of the trail. We saw a multitude of chipmunks crossing the pathway, along with butterflies and birds. We came across wetland areas where they built bridges for the trail, large wide-open fields, and farmland. It was beautiful.

After the first mile and a half, which we could easily tell due to the mile markers set every quarter mile, we arrived at a portion of the trail that went through a tunnel of trees. It was amazing. The shade gave us a perfect location to stop and rest, and they even provided a set of benches to sit down on.

After a quick little rest and water break, we continued our journey. It was a little rough for the first four miles or so, as we were actually riding on a gradual uphill incline. It was also at this point that we realized that we were going through more water than we expected to. It was a good thing that we arrived in the small town of Otter Lake, and the trail ran right along the back side of a gas station. We parked our bikes and went inside. The attendant was nice enough to allow us to use the sink faucet to fill up our water bottles and bladder, and away we continued toward Millington.

At this point on our adventure, we were happy to notice that the trail began to decline gradually, and we were mostly riding downhill after this point, which made it much easier on our legs. There were even long spurts of the ride where we didn’t even have to pedal for a quarter to a half mile at a time, as we picked up some speed, and enjoyed the breeze as we tried to catch every single section of shade that we could see on the paved pathway. We about doubled our average speed from the first half of the ride.

At one point, I was lagging behind the group just a bit and had noticed that they had stopped not far up ahead of me. I began to slow my pace and noticed a break in the trees to my left. I wanted to adventure in and check it out myself, as you probably know how much I enjoy exploring and hiking. I called ahead to my family that I would be right there, kicked down the kickstand, and began wandering into the woods. It was a beautiful little hiking trail off the rail-trail that was almost completely canopied by the towering trees all around. The trail was foot-trodden, creating a brown dirt path curving slightly back and forth from side to side, yet consistently keeping its eastern bearing. A ways in from the main trail, I tripped over some tree roots popping up out of the ground, and my glasses were thrown from my face just a bit ahead of me, as I fall forward to my knees.

If you know me, you would know that I am blind as a bat without my glasses. I can’t see, let alone do anything without them. On all fours, I slowly crawled forward, cautiously swiping my hands across the ground in front of me, hoping to find my glasses to be able to see anything more than a big blur of green with bits of brown here and there. All of sudden, I was frozen from any movement as I heard a rustling in the woods that couldn’t have been more than 20 yards up ahead. But I still couldn’t find my glasses to get a good peek. I heard more rustling, and it sounded big. It sounded heavy. Since I couldn’t see it, I decided to pull my phone out of my pocket and snap a quick photo, aiming to hopefully catch a glimpse of what it was. As soon as I snapped the shot, I heard it run. It sounded fast and large, as I could almost feel the ground shake with each heavy step. I remained frozen for a good minute, hoping that it wouldn’t return to find me helpless and not being able to see.

After I was satisfied that whatever it was had left the vicinity, I continued reaching forward again as I crawled, and thankfully found my glasses. I hoisted myself up and brushed off the dirt and leaves from my knees and the sweat from my face. I decided to turn back around and meet up with Jackie and the girls. So I got back on my bike, kicked up the kickstand and rode up to meet them. When I arrived, Jackie asked me where I had gone. I told her about the fantasy-like, beautiful hiking trail I had found, and how I had tripped and lost my glasses, scrambling to find them. I also mentioned the noises I heard. When she asked me what it was, I advised her that I wasn’t able to see what it was, but I told her that whatever it was, it was something big. Then I remembered the quick photo I took.

We sat down on the bench off the side of the trail and pulled open my photo gallery. When the photo loaded, my heart began to pound very quickly and so heavily that it felt like it was about to pound right through my chest. The photo doesn’t lie. It had to be him. Just look at the photo below and have a look for yourself. It can’t be. It’s gotta be. It’s impossible. But…it’s…I’m pretty sure…it was…Bigfoot.

A little over eight miles in, realizing that we only had about two miles to go to get to the northernmost point of the Southern Links Trailway, we agreed that we would cut out four miles of the full length and turn around to head back. We were sweating profusely, and were just about halfway through our re-upped water supply, and knew that this would get us back to the gas station in Otter Lake. Even though I would have loved to have made it all the way, I was happy with what we had accomplished and well both of my daughters were holding up. Little Allie still had a smile on her face as she enjoyed the ride in the seat behind my wife, smiling as I would ride alongside her, and playing a little game with herself as she would hide her head under the back of my wife’s shirt. Abby was doing amazing riding her bike, with not even one complaint from her about how hot it was or how tired she was. She was just basking in the enjoyment of one of her favorite activities with her family, and absolutely loving it. I didn’t want to push the envelope on any of them, so we happily agreed to turn around at this point.

Again, we were now headed uphill but knew that once we reached the gas station, we could again re-up on the H2O and then it would be all downhill from there, back to the truck at the southern trailhead. The ride back was just as fun as the ride north. We reveled in some great conversations, saw even more chipmunks than before, and even stopped at a point where Abby got spooked; almost throwing herself off of her bike, as she almost ran over a toad hopping across the trail. The perfect opportunity for a little rest, a couple of photos, and to rehydrate the fam. It almost even felt like a different part of the trail as our view was in the opposite direction. We stopped again at the gas station to refill, enjoyed the downhill ride from there, and even stopped to rest again within the tunnel of trees at the benches.

By the time we arrived at the bridge that took us back over the Flint River, we were absolutely drenched with sweat and relieved that we were back at the truck. We parked the bikes, started the truck to get the AC going, unloaded our backpack and packed the bikes back into the bed of the truck. It was at this time that Abby realized the outside temperature as the truck displayed; an even one hundred degrees. I ended the trip log on the MapMyRide app. We had just completed a distance of 16.58 miles in just under 2 hours. We kept an average speed during the adventure of 8.8 miles per hour with an elevation gain of 489 feet. During our quickest mile that was tracked, we averaged 11.5 miles per hour, which we actually hit twice.

What a day! What a Father’s Day! We were completely wiped out by the time we got back home, but what an adventure! I can’t wait to attempt another rail-trail…most likely on a much cooler day. I’ve read that the Pere Marquette Rail Trail has even won an award. Definitely going to try that one out, and hopefully soon. For now, I want to wish all you other fathers out there a very Happy Father’s Day. Also, don’t forget…take your soul outdoors. It’ll thank you.