In 2009, the Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance began a project called the “Great Lake To Lake Trails.” This would be a series of five trails that cut across the state, created from and connecting existing rails-to-trails conversions. Route 1 of the Great Lake To Lake Trail runs 250 miles from South Haven (Lake Michigan) to Port Huron (Lake Huron).
On September 13th, 2013, Chris Hillier set out to be the first to hike this entire trail while Chris Bowman, starting September 21st, wanted to be the first to ride this trail. It took the hiker two full weeks of 20+ miles per day and the biker one week of 40 mile days but they arrived, together, in Port Huron on September 28th. And together, they want to express what they most enjoyed most about traveling across the great state of Michigan.
1) The People We’re not sure if happy people go out on trails or if going out on a trail makes you happy but everyone we met out there was kind, generous and interested in our journey. Sometimes they just offered a kind word or helped with directions but sometimes they opened their homes to us and let us stay overnight. Generosity like that can renew your faith in the human race. These 250 miles really were the best of nature and the best of mankind.
2) The Variety This trail will take you through thick woods and downtown streets. You’ll travel across open farmland and suburban neighborhoods. Your surroundings are constantly changing and that kind of variety keeps things interesting and fresh. On the second day of the hike, I went from the remote forests of the Kal-Haven Trail to busy downtown Kalamazoo on the Kalamazoo River Valley Trail and I loved it.
3) The Water Each of us started a week apart but from the same beautiful beach on Lake Michigan. I could have stayed right there for two weeks and been happy but the trail has more in store from the gently flowing Black River to busy Sylvan Lake and everything in between. Swamps full of turtles and nameless creeks that attract deer, geese swimming in farm ponds and giant freighters on the St. Clair River can all be seen. The Falling Waters Trail actually bisects Lime Lake and was covered with morning mist as I hiked across it.
4) The Towns You’ll pass through places you would never see if you just drove across the state. Stop for a cup of coffee in tiny Kendall, MI or spend some time checking out Battle Creek. Enjoy the youthful nightlife of a Saturday night in Kalamazoo or a picnic style lunch in the city park of Bloomingdale. You’ll discover new places and promise yourself that you’ll come back to visit. It’s fun to come out of the woods to the edges of civilization, then see some neighborhoods, then right through the downtown areas and back out through townships, farms and back into the woods. That’s the way to see a city.
5) The Birds There’s lots of wildlife to see on this trail but the myriad species of birds is the best part. Fields full of sandhill cranes, ponds full of ducks and swans, trees full of angry blue jays and a flock of turkeys running down the trail were all present. Skip the headphones and you’ll hear eastern bluebirds, cedar waxwings and barred owls. Keep your camera handy and you’ll get pictures of belted kingfishers, sharp shinned hawks and the stately great blue heron.
6) The Courtesy It’s especially refreshing and, frankly, unusual for people to be so polite to each other but that is what we encountered. People said “Good morning!”, they gently called out “Passing on the left!” or rang a bell to let us know they were coming. Even busy traffic gave us a break in the cross walks. All this proved to us that a little courtesy goes a long way and that a multi-use trail can be a great experience for everyone.
7) The MTGA We took on this challenge to raise awareness for the Great Lake To Lake Trail and to help the Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance raise money to complete it. These are folks who are trying to get the word out that trails in Michigan are good for the economy, for society, for health and fitness and environmental preservation and enhancement. Their website, Michigantrails.org, is the place to go to find more information about this trail or to find a trail near your home. We are grateful to them for all that they do.
Chris Hillier has hiked more than 8,000 miles since 2011 included thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail. He is proud to have been the first to hike the Governor’s proposed trail from Belle Isle to Ironwood. Next, he plans to attempt a thru-hike of the Continental Divide Trail. Read more about Chris on his website.
Chris Bowman is a right lower-leg amputee but nothing slows him down. He is proud to be the first to ride the 250 mile Great Lake To Lake Trail. When he’s not riding across the state, he spends time with his daughter, Gracie and his dog, Olivia. Chris lives in Rose City, MI. Read more about Chris on his blog.