5 days solo on the Michigan Cross-Country Cycle Trail (MCCCT)

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Day Trippin'' started by kainam00, Aug 26, 2020.

  1. kainam00

    kainam00 Been here awhile

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    The Michigan Cross Country Cycle Trail (MCCCT) is an absolutely unique experience. It has been on my bucket list ever since I read Cannonshots excellent ride report about it many years ago. It is largely responsible for me getting into motorcycling in the first place.

    With many of my other adventure plans having to be postponed due to the pandemic this year, I decided to take 5 days and go play in the woods by myself on my Suzuki DR650. Get on my bike at home ride to the start of the MCCCT and follow the route from there. Stop for gas/food as needed, and find camping once the sun started heading for the horizon. No further planning than that.

    The MCCCT is a route that connects many of the trails in the lower peninsula of Michigan and includes everything from paved highway to single track. I’ve lived in the state for 20 years and have ridden most of these trails, but I have not realized what an incredible experience it is to take 5 days and do a continuous ride of the route. Camping out along the way, swimming in lakes, then getting up to ride your bike through beautiful forests full of unknown adventures every morning.

    For anyone reading this ride report in preparation for their own MCCCT ride, I will mention a couple things which I think set one up for a good experience -
    • Don’t plan it out too much and approach this with Zen “here and now” outlook. The trail is just a long route, there is no real destination, and every day you will experience many good/bad/ok sections. The average speed on the route will vary from over 50mph to under 5mph, so if you try and plan mileages/stops for each day, you will probably get disappointed/surprised/stressed. Just get on your bike and ride, that’s what it’s all about.
    • The beauty of riding off-road (and outdoor recreation in general) in the lower peninsula of Michigan is that it’s very “user friendly”. The area basically lives off of recreation, so even if you feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere - there is a campground, gas station, and parts store around the corner. The ground is flat, climate in the summer is quite pleasant and there isn’t much in the woods that’s out to kill you. If you run into issues on the trail (or just get tired/bored), you can find a two track to bail out on every half mile or less. This will probably take you onto a major road within a mile or two.
    • The downside to riding off-road in Michigan is that there is a lot of deep sand and a lot of whoops. If you’re not good at riding these, you will be by the end of the MCCCT.

    (.... to be continued ....)


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  2. kainam00

    kainam00 Been here awhile

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    The route
    As mentioned in the intro, the MCCCT is a route that connects most of the ORV trails in the lower peninsula of Michigan, and includes sections of many of them. These sections can be tight single track, ATV trails, and ORV routes (think Jeep/Side-by-side). The connectors themselves can be overgrown tight single track, major paved highway, and everything in-between. I followed the route pretty much 100% for 5 days and got most of the way around the “A” and across the connector. You can ride as much or as little of the route as you want, in any direction, as there are a ton of roads to make your own options on the fly. It’s worth mentioning that this would be difficult to plan accurately ahead of time as the terrain difficulty varies a lot within the same class or road/trail. i.e. something that's technically a "road" can mean both - drive my minivan down or "is this a hard enduro?"

    The main terrain challenges are sand and whoops - these are everywhere. Aside from that there are typical off-roady bits - rocks, roots, small drop offs, ruts…etc.

    The whole route is well marked, and I’d say that 95% of the time you could just follow the signs. But since that other 5% will get you super lost, having a GPS is a good call.

    You can get maps of the trail from a bunch of places, but my preference is: vvmapping.com . They do a great job and update frequently.
    This is a nice overview map of the trails in Michigan, including the MCCCT: https://midnr.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=1710727ba3ec4c64928110fdb4f7799d

    More general info here: https://www.michigan.gov/orvinfo

    This is literally the extent of the planning I did for the trip -
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    The hardest major sections (in my opinion) are the Meadows cycle trail and the cycle only section between M-55 and 20th rd on the south west section of the route (locally known as Caberfae). Both are very tight single track that can be challenging on a loaded bike. There are many stumps to hit with your feet, tight trees to hit with your luggage, and sandy hills to get stuck on. There are dozens of individual tough spots, but those two are the main continuous ones in my opinion. I would not recommend taking anything larger than a dual sport bike on them unless you really know what you’re doing.

    The rider
    I’m in my mid-30’s, in decent physical shape and consider myself an intermediate level trail rider, C-class racer.

    The bike and gear
    I used a 2012 Suzuki DR650 for this trip. I bought and built it for running the KAT and TAT this year, both of which were postponed due to the pandemic. At ~450lb loaded and fueled it’s arguably too heavy for this terrain, but it makes up for it by it’s small physical size, low center of gravity, and very user friendly power. The bike impressed me on such difficult terrain and performed flawlessly for most of the trip. On day 4 it started giving me some carb problems, which has been an ongoing issue in general. On the way home one of the battery terminals broke off. Luckily I always carry a little jump pack with me.

    You can do this route on pretty much any dual sport or enduro type bike. If doing a ride similar to mine, I would recommend using something easy to ride, which you are comfortable riding for 8-10 hours per day. Soft suspension, comfy seat, low vibes, easy to use power, and so on. Proper maintenance and durability is key as well… you will be spending a lot of time in harsh off-road environments, so anything iffy will probably break and/or fall off.

    Relevant bike setup/modifications
    * MT-21 front and D606 rear tire. I ran 18psi front and 20psi rear and it was fine. A more aggressive knobby would be better for all the sand, and I would definitely not go less aggressive.
    * Standard DR650 mods to bars, levers, pegs to make it comfortable for off-road riding.
    * Standard protection bits - skid plate, bark busters, case savers. The big new dent in my thick aluminum skid plate says - worth doing.
    * 5 gallon Acerbis tank. Not really needed for this trip, but nice to have and be able to stop only when I felt like it.
    * Cogent DDCs in the forks and Cogent Mojave shock. I’m beyond impressed with how capable this made the bike off-road.
    * Kriega OS-Combo-36 rack-less pannier setup with an additional 25 liter dry bag on a top rack.
    * Garmin eTrex for navigation

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    Gear I used
    (This ride includes both pavement and single track, so I planned accordingly)
    * Gaerne SG-12 boots. A proper off-road boot is a MUST for this in my opinion, especially if you plan to ride Meadows, Hunt Creek, or Caberfae sections as you are almost 100% guaranteed to hit your feet on stumps/trees or get them jammed in ruts. Mine have saved me from a broken ankle multiple times.
    * Leatt Air-fit body protector with either a Klim Traverse jacket or a jersey on top depending on what I was riding.
    * Klim Badlands Pro pants.
    * Klim F5 helmet, 100% goggles, and Leatt neck brace.
    * Klim XC lite gloves for off-road and Racer Mickey’s for on.
    * Hydration pack, which also had my inReach, pretty extensive first kit, bear spray, and a few other items within reach considering I was riding solo.

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  3. kainam00

    kainam00 Been here awhile

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    Day 1 - Monday
    Start: Macomb, MI
    End: Ambrose Lake State Forest Campground
    Miles: 226

    Trail systems touched:
    Gladwin
    St. Helen
    Ogemaw
    Ambrose

    I left home around 8am and rode the ~140 miles over to the Gladwin ORV trailhead, which is where the south eastern portion of the MCCCT starts. The weather was nice, traffic light, so I had a pretty pleasant cruise over via some back roads. Nice little towns along the way.

    Got to Gladwin around noon, changed into more off-road oriented gear, dropped some air out of the tires and hit the trails. Gladwin is extremely sandy, so it gets you “warmed up” for the rest of the route pretty quickly. The trick is to keep moving, pick a rut and keep the throttle on. This works well except for when you fall into one of the zig-zag ruts from someone else struggling to make it through… then all of my 450lb bike zig zags as well. The deep sand mostly goes away after a few miles and there is some nice harder packed ATV trail that dumps onto the MCCCT route and you have a pleasant cruise over to the St. Helen trail system. Just sit back and enjoy the sunshine and smell of pine trees, I don’t think there’s a better way to spend a Monday!

    A little detour was needed to get around this washed away bridge. Wild stuff...
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    St. Helen is a very popular trail system, so many parts of it are very chewed up. The MCCCT seems to run through some lesser used ATV trail that’s probably too tight for most ATV riders, I was pleasantly surprised and had a blast riding through that. There is a spot with a really nice view along the way

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    St. Helen is a good place to stop for fuel, water, and fried chicken. At this point I figured I should pick a campground to stay at, and Ambrose Lake State Forest campground seemed a reasonable distance away. I jumped back onto the MCCCT and cruised through the rest of St. Helen onto the Ogemaw and it’s connector to Ambrose Lake. We ride these trails quite a bit, so I’m pretty familiar with them. They are typically very flowy, with a little sand here, some rocks, and there and not too many whoops. The DR really eats this sort of trail up, but you do get spoiled with all the grip on sand and bad things happen...
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    I got a little too aggressive and being almost 8 hours on the bike at this point carried a bit too much speed into a corner that had some mud at the entry. It put me down onto the ground in half a second, reminding me to slow down and take it easy to camp.

    Ambrose Lake was fairly empty and I was able to grab one of the sites right on the lake, go for a swim, and enjoy a nice view while I made dinner. In all the miles of trail I’ve ridden today I haven’t seen anyone else - perfect solitude.
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    Attached Files:

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  4. kainam00

    kainam00 Been here awhile

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    Day 2 - Tuesday
    Start: Ambrose Lake State Forest Campground
    End: Avery Lake State Forest Campground
    Miles: 92

    Trail systems touched:
    Ambrose
    Rose City
    Meadows
    Mio
    Hunt Creek

    My dog wakes me up at 6-6:30 every day, so I tend to get up for the sunset, which is amazing being right on the lake.
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    It was really nice to get up, pack up, and jump right onto some flowy ATV trail. It’s the kind that looks like a race track, with banked corners and all. It seemed like some of the connector and Rose City must have been groomed fairly recently because it was very smooth and I was able to ride a bunch of it sitting down. Great way to start the morning.
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    This pleasant “type 1 fun” riding didn’t last long, as I got into Meadows. This is 24 miles of punishingly tight, sandy, whooped single track. I don’t think it gets ridden very often because in many spots the trail is barely tire width. With the DR650 being wider and lower to the ground than a typical enduro bike, my feet were constantly hitting logs and stumps. There were a few spots where the deep rutted sand shot me into trees and I had to bounce off of them with the bars or my chest/shoulders to keep on the trail. One turn had me pinned under the bike for a few minutes while I dug out my stuck foot, thanking my proper footwear choice again and again. There is also a particularly nasty long sandy climb that I was glad I knew about and carried a lot of momentum up. Getting stuck on that hill would mean digging, dragging, and pushing the bike all the way back down. Hills like that one, with no room to turn around or go around, are what would make this a challenge on a larger bike.
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    Midway through the trail I managed to bend my shifter into a “U” shape. I was really thankful having decided not to replace the flexible stock steel unit with a fancy but brittle aluminum one. I took it off and bent it back into roughly the correct shape.
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    Once I was done body checking trees and grabbing a pretty excellent sandwich at Luzerne, the Mio trails were much more enjoyable. Similar to St. Helen, these are ATV width, but I don’t think anyone would ride an ATV on them due to all the rocks and roots. Felt like an enduro trail and it was fun pretending that the DR650 is a (quite fat) mountain goat, jumping up and down little ledges and bumping though steep climbs.


    The final challenge was Hunt Creek, also tight single track, but a lot wider than Meadows earlier that day. I was carrying some good speed and looking forward to a swim at the campground I picked out a little earlier… but the downed trees had different ideas. One particular deadfall also broke the tip off of my trail saw, which I’m still mad about.


    A few miles of gravel road had me at another beautiful lakeside camping spot overlooking Avery Lake. It was another beautiful evening for a swim, followed by my fancy dinner composed of things I found at a gas station earlier. I was getting into the rhythm of the trip, feeling pretty accomplished with the ride that day and being at another gorgeous campsite in excellent weather made for icing on the cake.
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    #4
  5. kainam00

    kainam00 Been here awhile

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    Day 3 - Wednesday
    Start: Avery Lake State Forest Campground
    End: Weber Lake State Forest Campground
    Miles: 125

    Trail systems touched:
    Atlanta
    Red Bridge
    Tomahawk

    Wednesday was going to be a much easier day, with less gnarly single track.

    A cool morning ride had me on the Atlanta connector and trail system. The former is short, but very excellent smooth single track. Better than a good coffee in the morning! There are also quite a few pavement miles on this section, but it’s a very pretty area, so it’s really nothing to complain about.

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    The Atlanta trails themselves are pretty flowy, but extremely sandy. I ran into a group of trail riders and rode with them for a bit, they were understandably impressed with the DR650’s ability to keep pace with their Husky and KTM enduro bikes. Don’t underestimate the little donkey!
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    The Red Bridge portion and connector to Tomahawk was pretty straightforward, a lot of two tracks and logging roads which would probably be quite muddy in worse weather.

    For those familiar with Tomahawk trails, you know there are three loops - A, B, and C, which all kind of meet in the middle. The MCCCT touches all of them briefly. The A portion is a bit annoying in sections since it’s either sandy/whooped ATV trail or sandy whooped tight single track, but none of it is very punishing. Once you get onto B, it gets really fun - it feels like you’re on a groomed mountain bike trail and I was having way more fun than I thought one should on a DR650 in that terrain.
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    I bailed off the route and rode about a mile to Weber Lake State Forest campground. Got there just in time to snag yet another lakefront campsite! It was a bit earlier in the day, so I had the chance to do some bike maintenance after my obligatory swim.
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  6. kainam00

    kainam00 Been here awhile

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    Day 4 - Thursday
    Start: Weber Lake State Forest Campground
    End: Silver Lake State Forest Campground
    Miles: 106

    Trail systems touched:
    Tomahawk
    Kalkaska
    Leetsville
    Grand Traverse

    That morning I woke up to wind picking up and rublings of thunder. I hate wet tents, so I jumped out of the the sleeping bag and started packing. Skipped coffee and it was still dawn when I hopped back onto Tomahawk and rode a good bit of single track in the light of my headlight. Pretty cool experience.

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    Blue skies in front, black behind me - I was trying to out run the storm.
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    Once you hop off of Tomahawk and onto the connector things get a bit gnarly, with a mix of overgrown single track and very rutted two tracks. With no breakfast this morning I ran out of energy an hour so into the ride. After stopping for a bit to snack on a granola bar, rain drops started pelting my helmet...

    I pushed right on into a deep valley so full of deadfall, some of the chainsawed through bunches of it were as high as me. It was wild, I’ve never seen anything like it. The trail itself was mostly clear, but eventually I did come across an 18” suspended log I had no choice but to saw across using my busted saw. IMG_2540.jpeg

    There wasn’t even room to turn around. As I was finishing up, the storm caught up to me, so I hauled ass up hill, not wanting to be stuck in this valley of doom as the wind and rain picked up. Finally the trail made it out and onto the top of the ridge.
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    I rode a bit further and hunkered down under a tree for about 15 minutes, covering my non-waterproof helmet, boots, and pack with my body and goretex pants. Thinking about how I should have put the jacket on earlier. Talk about taking a shower in the morning… and I still haven’t had coffee :(

    Eventually the rain stopped and the sunshine quickly dried me as I made my way south. Kalkaska and Leetsville are more super fun ATV trails, pretty similar to Atlanta, maybe a bit less sandy.
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    Coming down the connector to the single track in Grand Traverse, I started noticing a bit of a hesitation, which got worse quickly. I had a similar problem before the trip and though I fixed it with jetting, but it was rearing it’s head again. I let the bike cool and checked all the obvious things - to no avail.

    I’ve made a plan to camp with my buddy Charley that night, who was also on a week-long trip around Michigan on his BMW F850GS, and the campground we agreed on was just a few miles down the road. I bailed on the singletrack and popped and sputtered my way on the shoulder to the campground. The DR would misfire wildly at anything above 1/4 throttle under load, so I could only make the bike go about 50mph with a lot of clutch coaxing.

    Once at camp, I took the carb apart and cleaned everything thoroughly, providing Charley (who supplied the beer) with much entertainment as I complained about how stupid carburetors are the whole time. I didn’t find significant amount of dirt, but once back together, the bike ran fine again, because carburetors are awesome. I attributed the issue to an over-oiled filter installed the night before. Nothing to do at this point but hope that it works fine for the final day of the trip.

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    #6
  7. kainam00

    kainam00 Been here awhile

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    Day 5 - Friday
    Start: Silver Lake State Forest Campground
    End: Macomb, MI
    Miles: 257

    Trail systems touched:
    Grand Traverse
    North Missaukee West/Central

    Charley and I were greeted with another beautiful sunrise and another day of riding. We’d be going our different ways, while he’s not afraid of taking the GS off-road, the first thing on the menu for Friday is single track and I assume that BMW fairing is probably pretty expensive.
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    Grand Traverse is medium tightness single track which is well maintained and a pretty fun way to start the day. The DR was running great thus far, and aside from getting stuck on a log crossing for a bit things were uneventful. The MCCCT splits up just south of this - you can go down the rest of the main arch, or across the connector back east towards Gladwin. I did the latter, time to head towards home.
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    A bunch of two tracks and snowmobile trails later I hopped onto the ATV portion of North Missaukee and kept cruising my way east. Once again I had the trails to myself and aside from getting slapped by wet branches and needing to clean my goggles occasionally it was smooth cruising.

    Somewhere mid-way through the North Missaukee system I started feeling a bit of a hesitation again, because carbs are dumb. It didn’t seem to get much better or worse after a few miles. Since it was past noon and a couple hundred miles to get home, I decided it’s wisest to jump on the road and leave repairs for the comfort and easy beer access of my own garage. It was another pretty sunny day, so even on paved roads the riding was more than excellent.
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    Unfortunately the “little donkey” DR650 decided that it didn’t have enough adventure. Only 50 miles from home, I shut the bike off to take a break, and was surprised to see all the lights on the “dashboard” go dark. Tried to start it gain - nothing. Silence. Uh oh. No garage and no easily accessible bike-fixing-beer around either!
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    I pushed it into the shade and after some tinkering discovered that the terminals have detached themselves from the battery. Luckily I had a jump pack with me and, since carbs are awesome, it doesn’t need a battery once it’s running. Since it’s such a pain to get to the terminals, I planned ahead in case I needed to restart the bike - pulled them off the battery and stuck them out the sides of the bike. Strapped the side covers to the top of my luggage and off I went.

 Made it the rest of the way home without further adventures.
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    To sum it all up - this was an absolutely incredible trip. I had a great time doing it solo, setting my own pace, and spending time in the peace and quiet of nature. It really fed my soul and I would not hesitate to do it again tomorrow - or whenever the new battery comes in.
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  8. nunzo

    nunzo Been here awhile Supporter

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    Central OH
    Nice report. I've been eyeing the MCCT. For an out of state rider, what permits are required for a plated street legal dual sport?
    #8
  9. kainam00

    kainam00 Been here awhile

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    All you need are a couple ORV stickers, which you can get online or at any Walmart/Meijer at the gun/fishing counter. They don’t care what you stick them on, so the legality of your bike is up to you. You can find more info here - https://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,4570,7-350-79119_79148_80650-424059--,00.html

    If you plan on camping in State Forest campgrounds or State Parks you’ll also need a state park pass, which you can pay for at the first such location you stop at. Keep cash or checks handy, since most of those are self-pay kiosks.
    #9
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  10. polarpc

    polarpc Adventurer

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    Metro Detroit
    Thanks for sharing, great report and pictures. Looks like you had pretty good conditions and minimal traffic to deal with. MCCCT is on my list of rides to do. The DR is a great bike for this too, especially with some setup on the suspension. Had one years ago and used it for the UPAT little bike route. Lots of fun!
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  11. mr2autoxr

    mr2autoxr Been here awhile

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    Great write-up. As you know, I've done a lot of it on our Tour in 2016, but I want to go back and do some more!
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  12. kainam00

    kainam00 Been here awhile

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    Yep, I'd do it again tomorrow. There are still a few trails I haven't ridden (like Beaver Creek where you guys are going this weekend), and the ones I have don't get old since they always change. Even Ambrose/Ogemaw, that I think I've been on at least a dozen times now, are always a blast.
    #12
  13. popscycle

    popscycle Fahren Away Super Supporter

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    Great RR. Thanks for posting it!
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  14. Cannonshot

    Cannonshot Having a Nice Time Administrator Super Moderator

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    I don't know how I missed this until now. Great ride! Great report!
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  15. header

    header Chris

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    I don’t look through the ride reports section much anymore because it’s so rare to find a short, less than round the world, report that I can finish shorter than watching a tv series but I’m really glad I found this one.

    I really enjoy riding in Michigan, the singletrack doesn’t get talked about much down here in Indiana but it’s a lot of fun. Thanks for writing it up, nice pictures too.
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  16. cedric

    cedric Been here awhile

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    Hope to someday ride the MCCCT, thanks for sharing. Do you think the battery was the cause of your "carb problems" all along?
    #16
  17. kainam00

    kainam00 Been here awhile

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    I think my carb problem was a combination of an over-oiled filter and wrongly sized main jet. The battery probably just fell apart due to the beating it got from the whoops :D
    #17
  18. N-Id-Jim

    N-Id-Jim Long timer

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    Brilliant trip! Thanks for posting !

    Cheers!
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  19. sprink

    sprink Adventurer

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    Glad I stumbled on this. Going to give it a whirl next summer. Riding during the week probably helps a lot with "traffic" I expect. Perhaps I'll plan that way too.
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  20. kainam00

    kainam00 Been here awhile

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    This year has been pretty insane. Aside from the more popular areas like St. Helen and Kalkasa, on a normal year I would not expect to see much traffic on the trails regadless of day of the week. Campground availability might be another story if this madness continues.
    #20