Call it the 185, or the 8.2. Or better yet, Michigan’s most scenic state highway. You may have heard: it’s a cyclist’s dream. Mostly flat, great views, and only a mile of congestion.
Most importantly, there isn’t a single car on M-185. Never was, never will be. Welcome to the time warp that is Mackinac Island. Here, dodging road apples is an important skill. Dodging cars, not so much. Thank goodness.
This is my fourth trip to this fabled island in the Mackinac Straits, the busy waters between Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. Because I lived in Horse Country, aka Ocala, my previous visits were focused on the horses. Not this time.
Marrying a lifelong cyclist meant a bit of compromise. If he’d hike, I’d bike. I never was much of a cyclist and still have a lot to learn.
The one thing I insist on is not riding with traffic. Drivers are too distracted these days, and I’ve lost friends who were run over by motorists. So our focus this trip has been dedicated bike paths.
Circling Mackinac Island on the M-185 is the ultimate easygoing bike ride. You spend most of your ride inside Mackinac Island State Park, which protects 80% of the island. Forests and beaches are your constant companions.
I learned quite a few things on our circuit of the island, all of them worth a heads-up to you if you’re planning to ride it too. While many of these apply to any bike trip, some are strictly a Mackinac thing.
Watch out for newbies. I consider myself a relatively inexperienced rider but here, anyone can and will rent a bike, even those who haven’t ridden one before. We found families stopped in the middle of the road, blocking the lane, and some riders misjudging how much space they had for passing. John has a rule of thumb of leaving at least a bicycle length between you and the next rider, so you have time to react. Leave as much room as you can.
Pay attention. To everything. Kids dart into the road. Dogs run in front of you. Big wagons pulled by horses pull out in front of you. I was cut off after signaling a turn. A young lady who couldn’t have been ten almost hit me head-on because she was in the wrong lane, looking down at her phone while pedaling. John yelled at her just as I was about to. When we checked in at Mission Point Resort, Shaquira at the front desk showed us her scars from a bad bike accident and said she’s reluctant to ride now. Understandable.
BYOH. Most riders here had no helmets. We brought our bikes over on the ferry, so we‘d worn ours. Other folks who cycle regularly had theirs on too. It’s just smart cycling, especially where pavement, trees, and rocks are part of the landscape.
Beware of the ferry docks. We came over on the Star Line, and our crew explicitly told passengers that the road is for riding and the sidewalks are for walking. Yet at the very next dock we passed, people poured out across the road and ignored us coming. I kept saying “ding ding” as I don’t have a bell, but I had to slow down and weave between them. I almost fell over. Pro tip: take Market Street instead of Main Street through downtown.
Avoid the horse poop. They do a great job of sweeping it up on Main Street, but the rental carriages go further out along M-185 and, um, drop their loads where no one cleans it up. Same throughout the state park. Steer clear.
Take it easy. It isn’t a race. You could ride the M-185 in an hour or less, but why?
We stopped and talked with people, watched the world go by, and exchanged photo opportunities like in the good old days before selfies.
It was truly an enjoyable ride. It didn’t hurt that the sun was shining although the air was crisp. We stopped at the halfway point, British Landing, and grabbed a light lunch from the Cannonball Drive Inn after visiting the Nature Center.
Along the route, there are nature trails to explore – three I’d never seen before – and many miles of shoreline to enjoy.
On my first rocky beach, I spotted one agate. Then another. I found more agates along this ride than I had this past month, without even trying hard.
There are also geological features worth stopping for. I’d seen Dwightwood Spring and Arch Rock on hikes before, but other fascinating features like Chimney Rock and Devil’s Kitchen were new to me.
As we learned from our friend Kath’s book on Mackinac Island, we sent away for bike licenses in advance. Every bike on the island must have one – no cars, remember, so bikes are transportation – so the rental bikes were obvious from their hangtags. You can get them from the ferryboat operators for an extra fee if you’re bringing your own bike.
Being backpackers – and John having bikepacking experience – we packed small to come across on the Star Line Ferry from St. Ignace. John knew just how to balance our luggage bag for the brief ride to Mission Point.
Once here, we unstrapped our luggage and bike bags and headed in. It felt weird to be parking bikes in a big parking area but that’s how we’re rolling on Mackinac Island!
Of course, I insisted John partake in the obligatory fudge purchase because, this is Mackinac. But we did it his way: by bike.