West Michigan Mountain Biking – Cannonsburg Ski Area

The Cannonsburg Ski Area is the second leg in our normal Wednesday Night Ride loop. As you might deduct from the name, the primary function of the privately operated property is a downhill ski resort. The trail has historically been closed during the ski season, however, with the recent introduction and radical growth in popularity of fat tire bikes, the trail was open to biking for the first time this past winter. Up until 2 years ago, the only access point to the trail head was through the lodge parking lot, but because of the considerable amount of traffic originating from the Cannonsburg State Game Area I wrote about the other day, an access trail was put in off Egypt Valley Road, which allows riders to avoid the very busy and fast moving Cannonsburg Road.

The trail is about 6 miles long and would be characterized (by me) as a fairly technical course with good elevation gain for West Michigan. We simply don’t have the elevation changes that other areas of the state have, but this trail has you climbing about 750 feet per lap, or 97 feet per trail mile. Considering the ski area boasts 250 feet of elevation, that’s climbing the ski hill 3 times per lap.

The trail has been host to the annual Meijer State Games of Michigan mountain bike race in June, the 2013 Farmer’s Fat Tire race, Kiss Cross Cyclo Cross, 8 hours of Cannonsburg, the inaugural Battle at the Burg, and I believe a late summer weekly Thursday night race series.  The trail is well loved, but for all that traffic, the single track has remained tight. The other day I mentioned my brother & I were able to get out and ride. Here’s the video from that ride:




West Michigan Mountain Bike Trails – Cannonsburg State Game Area

Cannonsburg State Game Area


One of the very first mountain bike trails I experienced once I purchased my own mountain bike was Cannonsburg State Game Area in Grand Rapids, MI. Many also refer to the trail as CSGA or Egypt Valley, which I’m not sure if that name originated because of the nearby Egypt Valley Golf Course or the nearest cross roads, Egypt Valley Road. Either way, it’s 7.5 miles of some fun, fast flowing single track that’s not too challenging, but not too easy, either. The CSGA crosses 3 gravel roads (one might actually be considered a well used 2 track). The re-entry points are very well marked, but the trail gets enough traffic during the week that all you’d need to do is follow the bike tracks.

As is typical with many of the mountain bike trails in West Michigan, the trails are open for cross country skiing in the winter and jogging/hiking all year round. That being said, you don’t see too many joggers during the summer, and those you do greet you with smiles as they run opposite of the riders. There is also a period of time in the fall that the trails are closed for hunting on the approximately 1347 acre game area.

During the summer months, the Wednesday night ride group that I ride with often start from this trail head as the Cannonsburg Ski Area trail, Luton Park trail, and now Merrell Trail are all within biking distance (though Merrell is ‘borderline’, especially if you’re not riding Luton Park in between). From this trail head we will often start a ride we affectionately call the ‘trifecta’ which requires about a 1.5 mile ride into the trail, popping out onto 5 Mile Road which takes you over to the Cannonsburg Ski Area for a lap, then heading up to Luton Park for a complete lap (there are multiple loops that can be completed in series to make up one contiguous loop), and then back down to CSGA where we popped out and continue on completing the rest of the loop. It’s about 40 miles in all.

This past Friday afternoon I had the opportunity to get out for a ride after work with my brother. Because of all of the rain we’ve received over the last few weeks there were some muddy spots that are not typical of this trail. I’m not proud of riding through the first one or two, but am happy that we decided to begin dismounting and walking around the couple of other spots so as to avoid damaging the trail. It should dry out completely over the next couple of days and be perfect, again. I took a video of the entire loop for my trail library and uploaded it to YouTube. Enjoy:

Olive Shores County Park

I’ve also been meaning to post something about a family hike we took a while back just north of Holland. The Lake Michigan shoreline is packed with great little day parks where you can park, hike a little, and hang out at the beach for the day and Olive Shores County Park is no exception.

The day we went wasn’t exactly what you’d consider a sunbathing day, so we decided to just hike the stairs and walk the beach. The park recently went through an overhaul that included a new parking lot, visitor’s center, and stairs down to the beach complete with several scenic look-out areas. The parking lot is actually lower than the peak of the dune, so you climb stairs before descending to the beach. So in other words, you walk up hill both ways…kinda like your grandparents did going to school when they were kids. There’s also modern restrooms here, so it is definitely kid friendly during the summer. Expect to see people making the rounds on the stairs as its also a great place to get your sweat on.

At the bottom of the stairs on the beach, you’re greeted by a large sitting deck with a placard describing how the park came to be, and the really unique story about how the cottage that sat on the deck’s foundation was used in Tom Hanks’ movie “Road to Perdition”. The cottage was used near the end of the film when Tom’s character took his son to Michigan while he returned to ‘take care of some business’. The beach itself is very spacious because the water levels of Lake Michigan have been so low for the past few years. If walking the beach is your thing, you have both North and South options with a southern walk bringing you by the Consumer’s Power coal powered electric plant and to the mouth of the Pigeon Lake channel just a few steps further.

If you make it over to my neck of the woods to hit the beach, just be mindful that this park is a county park not covered by the State of Michigan passport sticker so you’ll have to pay a nominal day fee to check this park out. Outside of that, it’s one of the jewels of Lake Michigan and worth checking out.


Yankee Springs Time Trial 2013

Sunday’s temperature was predicted to be high 30’s at my 10am start time and warm up to the low 50’s by mid-afternoon. Brrrrr. I ended up dressing in my Under Armour coldgear mock turtleneck thermal with team jacket on top, full length cycling pants under my team shorts, and my summer weight full fingered cycling gloves. It’s what I call my upper-40’s set-up but it was perfect.

Being my first race in the Expert class, I was nervous/anxious all day Saturday and up to the moment I launched out of the starting gate. And it showed as I shoved off squirrely and nearly took out the timing clock. After the shaky start, I quickly settled in and set a pace that was slightly uncomfortable, but something I felt was sustainable.

My brother and brother-in-law shot out to some spectator spots on the trail for my first lap to cheer me on and encourage me which was really great. Great, that is, until my brother-in-law races me down the last straightaway yelling “GO! GO! GO! ONLY ONE LAP TO GO!!!” Yeah, that meant I was only half way. I gave him a hard time about that comment on the way home. I actually chuckled once I dove back into the trail for my second lap and had a second to digest what he had just said.

I ended up finishing 12th out of 26 in my age group picking up 20 points towards the Championship Points Series (CPS). My lap times were 51:54 and 53:39 which are both slower than my one lap from last year, but it appears as though the course may have ran slightly slower even though the conditions seemed perfect. It could be the overall average conditioning of everyone due to the harsh winter as well. Only time will tell.

A teammate of mine took a bunch of pictures. You can see I wasn’t really too worried about my poor start from the smile on my face. Or was that just slight embarrassment 🙂 I love this sport.

Planning for Another 100

This 100th post was much harder to write than I originally thought. I wanted to get it just right. This is why it has taken this long to complete.

About a month ago, I was sitting on the trainer thinking to myself (as I often do) about how my training regimen would translate into race performance. I had been working particularly hard compared to years past and was hopeful that the strategy would pay off. After my ride I hopped on the scale, as I do about once a week, and discouragingly reviewed my equivalent of the magic eight ball’s response. 240. ERRGGGHH! If only I had the discipline to manage my food intake I’d be able to drop weight with the amount of riding I was doing.

And then, as if I were the Wiley Coyotte screeching to a halt over the middle of a gulley, I stopped and said “Wait. What?!” “If only I had the DISCIPLINE!?” That was humbling. I realized right then and there that something owned me. It explained the shame after eating my box of Triscuits and half block of sharp cheddar cheese. But it wasn’t a comfortable realization.

Discipline, I realized, was more than convincing myself at every test not to give in to an option counter to my goal. Discipline wasn’t trying to push myself into the positive action castle, but that I was defending the castle from an intruder. It’s my house. But…seconds tick, minutes slip away, hours pass, days go by and the disappointment of that realization fades. I concede small battle areas. “Avery won’t eat an entire ¼ pounder; I’ll just add that little bit to my burger.” Before you can blink, I’m numb to the frustration I initially felt.

But this is more than just about food. And at the same time it’s not really about anything important at all, either. It’s just the minor battles I encounter while trying to accomplish my competitive goals. They’re not life or death issues so I need to keep that in perspective. But it did point out that there’s more that I can do in my training.

This past Sunday was the Yankee Springs Time Trial; the first true mountain bike race of my season. I took the entire week off two weeks ago, the week I was supposed to really hit it pretty good before a taper week last week. But I just needed the mental reset. I did fine on Sunday. Not as well as I maybe could have if I hadn’t skipped that week, but just fine.

I’m hoping that these are fairly common struggles of weekend warrior athletes. This week is a good hard week and then next week is another taper week leading up to the Fort Custer Stampede. I’m looking forward to the physical and mental challenges of this season. I’ve spent a considerable amount of time training physically over the winter. I’m planning on a few ‘mental taper’ weeks to help out with the mental strengthening . I’m planning them now so that I can hopefully avoid taking them out of necessity in inopportune times. My new plan is to research and add some mental, sport specific, training. I’m thinking this could lead to some new and different posts over my next 100.