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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Cyclists can visit a place that they can call their island of dreams

Cyclists can visit a place that they can call their island of dreams
By:  Michael Lander
With its many stores, businesses, and restaurants, Main Street is often
one of the busiest and most congested areas on Mackinac Island.  During
the peak travel season of July and August, the sidewalks are usually full
of pedestrians and the street is often lined with bicycles and filled with
cyclists and horse-drawn carriages.


It might just be what almost every cyclist in the world ever dreams of..... A place that is filled with bicycles and where no cars are allowed on the roadways. 

For cyclists, a place like that might seem like the closest thing to nirvana or to heaven and for those who are willing and able to travel to northern Michigan, they will ultimately find what could very well be closest thing to paradise.   That little place of heaven-on-earth is called Mackinac Island.

Situated on Lake Huron, in between the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan, Mackinac has no motorized vehicles, (except for a few used that are only used for emergencies).  Instead of cars, it has hundreds of horses, dozens of horse-drawn carriages, and more bicycles than you could possibly count. 

With all that, the island might not only feel like the promised land for cyclists, but from the moment that you first arrive, it might feel like you have literally stepped back in time.  

Cyclists can ride by some great scenery and many beautiful historic
homes, buildings, and places including a state park when they ride
on Hwy M-185 around the island.

After arriving on the island, with most coming by ferry, you are greeted by the sights and sounds that are reminiscent of a bygone era.  From homes, buildings and storefronts that mostly look like they were built in the 1800's, to the sounds of horses hooves as they clip-clop along the streets that are filled with cyclists and horses and carriages and streets lined with bicycles, and sidewalks filled with people, you can't help but feel that you have been transported to another time. 

With no cars, trucks, or motorcycles in sight, you can't help but think you have truly entered a land that time has forgotten.

While some might think that the idea of not having any cars on the road was done purely as a way to entice tourists, but the truth is that it was done because of them.  In order to preserve the more simple and quiet way-of-life for those who lived on the island around the turn of the 20th Century, the island banned motor vehicles in 1898 and made it a law in 1923.  In a way, this could be seen as a gift from those in the past to us to now enjoy today.
The 8+ mile ride around Mackinac Island offers some incredibly scenic
views for cyclists and others to see and it is just one of many roads
and trails for cyclists to ride and to explore the island.

The beautiful and picturesque island has about 70 miles of roads that includes some mountain bike trails and a 8.004 mile state highway (M-185) that encircles the outside perimeter of the island.  Highway M-185 is a narrow paved road that is the only state highway in the entire U.S. where motor vehicles are banned.  With no vehicles on the roadways, cyclists, runners, and walkers can really enjoy the beautiful and picturesque island without having to worry about the dangers or to contend with all the noise and exhaust fumes. 

The peak travel season for visiting Mackinac Island is in July and August with an estimated 15,000 tourists, but if you don't mind a little cooler temperatures, you can come earlier in the spring and into the fall.  There are plenty of bike rental places to get a bike and you can bring your own bike on the ferry, but you will be charged about $6.50 for each bicycle that you take over to the island.

While visitors have the option to walk, ride horses, or to take horse-drawn carriages, bicycles may the best and fastest mode of transportation around Mackinac Island.  The speed limit is 20 mph and violators can be charged with reckless driving for exceeding that speed, which isn't all that difficult to do on some of the roads with a precipitous incline.
Even though there are no cars on the roads on Mackinac Island,
cyclists do share the road with horses, horse-drawn carriages,
and hundreds of other cyclists.  The roads are far less congested
the further away that you get from the town.

With hundreds or thousands of bicycles on the road at any given time, the roads can be a little congested, especially on Main Street.  For the most part, the roads are relatively flat around the rim of the island, but there are several steep climbs for cyclists who decide to venture toward the center of it.  The most challenging of these include Grand (Cadotte) Avenue to Hoban Avenue that is northwest from Market Street, Spring (Turkey Hill) Street off of Fort Street and north to Huron Road, West Bluff Road heading southwest past the Grand Hotel, and Truscott to Huron Road going northwest.

The island is 3,776 square miles, altogether, and the highest elevation is 890 feet with the fortified earthen redoubt of Fort Holmes being the highest point.


Aside from trying to conquer some of the roads leading to the center of the island, there are many places worth seeing and spending a little time at.  This includes Fort Mackinac, the Grand Hotel, Arch Rock, Mackinac State Park, the Biddle House, the Wings of Mackinac Butterfly Conservatory, Skull Cave, Trinity Episcopal Church, the Stone Church, St. Ann's Catholic Church, and the military, Mackinac, and St. Ann Cemeteries.

For cyclists, Mackinac Island is truly a wonderland and a dream vacation spot unlike any other.  There are no other places in the world where a cyclist can ride without having to share the roads with cars, buses, trains and other modern modes of transportation. 

It is, in many ways, like a cycling utopia that may be an idea that some more progressive-minded cities and towns might be willing to consider someday, if even just for a small area set aside for people instead of vehicles.  It can be much like an oasis is for those in a desert.  It is, at the very least, something that we could all hope and wish for more of in the future.

To learn more about Mackinac Island, visit http://www.triplepundit.com/2013/10/mackinac-island-biketown-usa/

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