Extend your summer mountain biking this fall in Northern Michigan with a trip along a forested Bellaire pathway.

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There were seven of us, all members of a loosely organized group named “Singletrack Moms.” Every year, we take a road trip from Traverse City over to Bellaire to ride Glacial Hills Pathway and Natural Area.

And Glacial is memorable—with more than 31.5 miles of bike trails and countless intersections, you’re bound to miss a few turns, lose a few riders off the back and second guess which route to take next. In summary, you either come out of Glacial bonded for life—or enemies. There’s not much in between.

After meeting at the Vandermark Road lot, the first order of business was tackling the map. The trail system is well marked, but daunting in choice. There’s something for every level, but where to go first?

We decided to ride the “outer loop” until we hit post 49, and then hang a left onto the interior trails. Off we went, and within a few miles, our group blew past post 49, piled up in a stop, back-tracked, then took off again. And in doing so, promptly lost two members.

Photo by Kandace Chapple

This is where mountain biking gets real, people—two women lost in the wilds of Northern Michigan. Finally, a couple of cell phone calls later, we located them, but headed in the opposite direction. We all turned back to ride toward each other, our second backtrack in the white pine and sugar maple forest.

Next, we ended up in “The Wall” area. I think that’s what it’s called. I know I climbed a wall on my bike, regardless of the name. The entire trail system winds and flows, like a superhighway through the woods, up and over the hills with switchbacks and back down again. The trails have been professionally designed to give breaks and carry speed, but this section had a definite march … uphill.

We kept pedaling, to almost 400 feet above the parking area. And just when we saw the end in sight, we hit a few short, punchy climbs. And by punchy, I mean good places to bust a lung or lose your pride.

But with one final push, we conquered that section (some on foot, some on bike), and had the reward of sailing down the other side with lots of flow and fast everything. Brakes played into the ride as much as the “granny gear” climbing on our bikes.

Photo by Kandace Chapple

Photo by Kandace Chapple

We rode for about an hour and a half, clocking 12 miles, and then headed back to the trailhead. But, the verdict was still out: Friends or enemies? There was no way to tell yet, not after that map showdown at post 49. It would have to be settled at Short’s Brewing Company.

Driving just a couple miles up the road to Bellaire, we snagged a table and ordered lunch. With everyone changed out of their spandex, we began returning to our former selves, with the added bonus of being covered in sand and sweat. And, with each toast and retelling of the day’s adventures, it didn’t take long to decide: Friends.

IF YOU GO: There are three trailheads: S. Eckhardt Road, Vandermark Road and Orchard Hill Road. They’re all within a mile or two of Bellaire. (Tip: Eckhardt Road has a newly added water pump for refilling water bottles.) For maps, visit the Glacial Hills website.

Photo by Kandace Chapple

Kandace Chapple is a freelance writer and owns Michigan Girl, a company that hosts outdoor events and trips for women in the Grand Traverse region.

Photo(s) by Kandace Chapple