Reader Ride: Michigan

Text: Bruce Currie • Photography: Kathleen Currie

Thirty years ago, in an attempt to replace a native herd hunted to extinction in the 1920s, the state of Michigan re-introduced elk to the Pigeon River State Forest. A great success, a large herd of the impressive beasts now call the northeast corner of the lower peninsula home.

One of the best ways to catch a glimpse of the elusive herd is by dual sport, which easily covers the dirt roads and two-tracks throughout the forest. The elk typically come out of the deep forest to graze in the early morning and late evening, so it pays to get an early start. The promise of a delicious breakfast is a great motivator for early rising, and the Old Depot restaurant at the corner of State Highway 32 and Heatherton Road in Johannesburg, MI, dishes up exactly what’s needed: Sweet Potato Pancakes (the house specialty), Eggs Blackstone, and Cinnamon-swirl French Toast.

Ready to start our adventure, we backtrack and then head north on Gingell Road, which quickly turns from asphalt to gravel. Approximately three miles after the pavement ends, we cut east into the Pigeon River State Forest where we immediately encounter a seasonal two-track road that isn’t marked on official maps. Up for the challenge, we decide to see where it ends. Without any wasted time the knobby-shod bikes in the group are put to the test. After four miles of dodging water-filled potholes, this winding two-track suddenly delivers us to our original destination, Meridian Line Rd. A left turn north takes us deeper into the forest, where again, the road turns to gravel. We turn east and follow County Road 622 as it takes us on a northeast tangent, and eventually leads to Roth Road, which promises an even greater challenge for the knobby-shod Husky 450 TE, BMW GS 450X, and Suzuki DRZ 400.

As we head south, the going gets rougher and deeper with sand sections that force the Triumph 900 Scrambler pilot, who is on OEM dual sport tires, to cut back the pace considerably. When we finally pass De Cheau Lake, we pick up the gravel Kellyville Road, which takes us to State Highway 33 where we plan for a splash of gas and a bit of lunch at the rest stop.

Atlanta, the county seat of Montmorency County, is known as “the Elk Capital of Michigan,” so it’s no surprise that while we are getting gas and custom sub sandwiches at the Thunderbay Deli, we encounter our first elk of the day. This one, however, is stuffed and mounted in a glass case in front of the post office.

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the January/February 2011 back issue.