We warned Lori Hauswirth that I wasn’t up to any technical trails, so she picked a short easy trail loop to introduce me to the NTN – Noquemanon Trail Network – Marquette’s extensive network of mountain biking trails. She’s the Executive Director of this trail system that surrounds the city, providing more than 50 miles of singletrack, with a goal of building 100 miles by 2020.
We started from the 550 Tourist Park trailhead. It didn’t take long for me to be in over my head. The trail quickly narrowed and dropped along the waters edge. The rocks and roots made me wish that I was on a full suspension bike because they nearly launched me off the bike seat.
My first crash came when my front tire stalled after hitting a large rock. The next fall came when I didn’t have enough speed and my rear tire got stuck between a root and rock. That was the one that scared me. Falling off the bike, luckily, I didn’t let go of the handlebar. That was a very good thing, as my feet had landed off the trail and on the steep downhill slope toward the water. The bike was enough of an anchor to keep me from sliding all the way down and into the water.
After this spill I decided that I wasn’t going to be able to take my usual photos while riding. Before this ride I had developed a system of leaving the point and shoot camera strapped to my wrist and flipping it into my hand to get some really good action shots. It wasn’t going to work today. I needed both hands firmly on the handlebar to hang on and attempt to stay In control. The camera would remain in my pocket until I was safely at a full stop and usually off the bike.
She may have taken me on the easy trail, but for a flatlander like me it was tough! Although I was able to keep up with her on some of the ascents, I knew when it was time to throw in the towel and push the bike up the path.
It wasn’t very far into the ride before I realized that I was going to be using the smallest front chain ring for the rest of the ride. Even with this “granny gear,” I still needed to walk up a few of the steeper slopes.
The trail went through many beautiful places, but I didn’t have much time to enjoy them. Pedaling as fast as I could going uphill, and holding on with both hands on the way down. As I darted through narrow openings between trees, my trekking bars only had inches to spare. The poor rear view mirror took several direct hits. It must be why you never see serious mountain bikers with mirrors mounted on their bikes!
Stopping below a concrete trestle, Lori pointed out a very large wooden pipe that it was supporting. It was built a long time ago to support mining operations, and it still has water running through it. I could see small streams of water shooting out of many nail sized holes.
As we rode through the trestle opening she said that come winter time, trail maintainers have to bring down chain saws to cut an opening so bikes can get through. Which tells me that riding fat tire bikes in the snow up here is serious business.
Reaching the dam and cascading waterfalls, we stopped for more photos and for me to catch my breath.
Just past the falls, the trail made a ninety degree turn at the end of a large downed tree. It continued through a couple inches of water and back uphill. Reaching the top, with my heart pounding and almost out of breath, I paused. Lori said, “Don’t worry, it’s all downhill from here.”
Oops, I forgot about this one. After one look, I jumped off my bike and started pushing. There was no reason for me to even try! For most of my cycling years I have always told my fellow riders “that I had never met a hill or mountain that I couldn’t push my bike up”. Today I almost had to eat my words. It might have been just been a “hill,” but it was the steepest one that I have ever pushed my bike over.
Thank goodness that Lori had chosen today’s route to end on a long downhill. I was able to catch my breath and have a huge smile when riding back into the trailhead.
After the ride, Sandy and I stopped in at Lakeshore Bike, since I’d snapped my second leather strap off my bike cages during the ride. The young man at the counter was puzzled by my request. Matt, the owner, knew exactly what I was looking for. “They come in nylon now,” he said.
After we talked about bikes in the good old days, he beckoned us to follow him to the far end of the store. Hanging up along the rafters were a series of vintage bikes, including one he’d put countless hours into restoring, a 1970s Schwinn Paramount.
Thanks to Lori for leading me safely through the toughest mountain bike ride that I have ever done. It was fun, and I’m wishing that I could stick around and spend more time riding on the trails of Marquette. Give me some more time and a fully suspended mountain bike, and I’ll fall in love with riding these trails.