Last year, the Northern Michigan Mountain Bike Association joined our team as our go-to resource for course design and preparation. For twelve years, NMMBA has served our local mountain biking community as a dedicated, passionate steward of the trails, and for the third time, they’re bringing that experience and know-how to their very own event, the Traverse City Trails Festival.
Now in enjoying its third edition, the TCTF offers up one of the most unique trail experiences of the season. That’s because each of the forty, twenty-five, and fifteen-mile course take place almost entirely on trail that isn’t marked 364 other days of the year. Absent on a map and on any trailhead kiosk these trails exist as the notorious ‘unmarked’, with even the total mileage of these trails a somewhat vague and oscillating number in the sixty to seventy-mile range.
That’s why locals are just as eager as visitors to hop in this race or to simply tour it. Both options are available, and both use the only lightly-traveled trails marked so briefly to offer an incredibly fun day in the woods. The unique race also helps create more trail; new shortcuts, bypasses, and re-routes are often later incorporated into trail proposals submitted to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. The changes and additions allow NMMBA to retire old, unsustainable bandit trails and replace them with improved routes keep vital sections connected and rideable.
The Traverse City Trails Festival takes place at Ranch Rudolf, a rustic resort and campground that serves as start, finish, and party zone throughout race day. With the Boardman River passing just yards away from the finish banner, it’s become a tradition in this neck of the woods to finish off your race or ride with a chilly dip in the river before enjoying some barbecue food, beer, and the pleasure of friendly company.
For those really looking for a race, this one is as about as challenging as it gets. After some fast miles to spread things out, the forty-mile course offers relentless mile after mile of singletrack, punctuated only at length by a few dirt roads to gulp down some water, choke down a bar, and then dive back into the high ferns of late July. The forty-mile race is certainly a test of endurance, while the twenty-five mile serves as a more traditional cross country distance on par with Mud, Sweat and Beers, another local landmark.
Newer riders often elect to round up their pals and ride the twenty-five or fifteen-mile routes as a group, stopping for snacks, snapping photos, and hurrying only to make sure they get back to Ranch Rudolf in time to grab a beer for the bar shuts down.
All proceeds from the race go to support Northern Michigan Mountain Bike Association and their efforts to build and maintain world class trails like Glacial Hills, the Cadillac Pathway, and the new Palmer Woods Trail in Leelanau County. For more on the race, and to get yourself signed up, head over to the race site.
November will be here before you know it, and with a few race days circled between now and then, you’ll not only build fitness but build an appreciation for the people and trails that make northern Michigan such an incredible place to be a mountain biker.