Two times a week the wheels of history turn backwards in Glen Arbor as Annie McFarlane leads a bike tour that combines the natural beauty of the area with the stories of its early settlers. Annie started her bike business, the Sleeping Bear Trekking Company, 4 years ago. The year after and the year that I met her, she sold her store and started historical bike tours, but I never got the chance to take a tour with her until last year.
I asked her how she had decided on historical bike tours as a business. I had a bike shop and was renting bikes--I loved to ride, to talk with people and to share the area, Annie explained:
What I didn't like was being in the shop all the time. I had to figure out a way to be with people, to ride my bike and to make some money. I also sold books on the area in the shop, and one day I picked one of them up and read it. It was fascinating and helped to give me an idea.
In the course of deciding to do this and reading everything I could find on the area made me see the area in a whole new light. Coming up here was something that had always helped me--my soul needed to rest, and wherever I'd moved I always kept a post office box or storage barn in Glen Arbor. What I had thought was beautiful as a visitor, I could now share with not only my generation, but generations past as well. I could tromple through the swamps with the first explorers and settlers and see the area as they had--for the first time.
The tour began at 10 AM at the Glen Arbor Bed and Breakfast. We were joined by Jack and Yvonne Parks who had left Michigan for a long while and recently returned and had fond memories from years ago in the area, and our two year old daughter, Kenyon Jane. Jack and Yvonne had spent the night at the B & B and had rented bicycles. I unloaded our bikes and hitched Kenyon's new bike cart to mine and we were off. Our first stop was the beach in Glen Arbor, site of the old dock. There Annie told of the very first white men to settle in Leelanau County, their reasons for coming and the cascade of settlers which followed them.
She gestured to the short dock and related how it was once far longer and a port of call for the mighty steamships which brought many vacationers to the area and lumber and other goods back to Chicago. Her arm swept across as she described the Manitou Passage and its importance as an early channel for commerce and the many ships which met their end there.
From there a 2 1/2 mile ride, moving at a leisurely pace, took us to Glen Haven, where she pointed out all that remains of the once booming lumber trade, a score of pilings reaching out into Sleeping Bear Bay. She also pulled out some home-made chocolate chip cookies, providing us with a welcome energy boost. Yvonne commented, The neat part about this is we get to eat all the good food we want and can ride it off!
Ride we did, to Day Forest Road, following it as it turned to dirt and wound up a small hill, the largest on the tour. We stopped again, at the edge of what once was Day Forest Estates, now the site of one of the many trailheads in the National Park. From there it was down the hill and over to Glen Craft Marina on the shore of Big Glen Lake where Annie expounded on the first resorts and early activity on and around Glen Lake. We rode down the scenic road to the Crystal River where Annie told of a favorite form of recreation in years past. There were seven stops in all on the tour and we returned to the B & B around 12:30. Both Jack and Yvonne agreed that they had enjoyed themselves over the two and a half hour ride. Yvonne said, The ride was really not that difficult and it's so much more than just stopping by and glancing about. I feel that I know more about the area now.
And that is the real beauty of riding with Annie and the Sleeping Bear Trekking Company. It provides a view of the area which towers like the Dunes over the landscape of history, bringing what we have today into sharper focus as we learn about how it came to be here.