Get Outdoors

If there’s anything we learned in 2020, it would be the power of the outdoors. As COVID-19 spread across the United States, it was our collective backyard—community trails, parks and fire pits—that salvaged our sanities. My backyard in Traverse City is full of outdoor hot spots. Still, none are as recreationally friendly and motivated to make you move as the Traverse Area Recreation and Transportation (TART) Trails. The TART Trails offer 10 versatile trail options for outdoor enthusiasts. Whether you’re jumping on the TART to ride your bike to work, or navigating the 25k Vasa Pathway on your cross-country skis, the trail system truly offers something for everyone. Learn more about the TART Trails at traversetrails.org.

Big Fat Deal

Once the snow arrived in Traverse City, the winter zealots of northern Michigan took to the trails for hiking, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing. I decided to try a relatively new winter activity that has exploded in popularity: fat tire biking. Fat bikes offer the gift of versatility. By giving the rider great traction and control in snow and sand, the fat bike allows you to explore more in all seasons of the year. Mechanically, a fat bike is like a mountain bike—only on steroids. The most distinctive difference is that the fat bike has tires that are up to five inches wide. Such bulky tires allow for incredibly low air pressures, resulting in a bike that can easily roll over snow, sand, mud, rocks, and other terrains that could be difficult on a traditional mountain bike. The five-mile Meadows Loop, a part of the TART Trails’ Vasa Pathway, is a perfect option for off-road fat biking. I decided to take another trek for my maiden voyage into the world of fat biking by sticking close to town and biking along the Boardman Lake Trail.

Try Before You Buy

I sought help from Brick Wheels, Traverse City’s #1 bike shop for mountain bikes, fat bikes, road bikes, and electric bikes. Tim Brick, the Brick Wheels owner, recommended the Trek Farley model for its simplicity and light frame, making it the perfect bike for riders of any skill level. After a tutorial, I strapped on my helmet and headed for the trail.

Boardman Lake Trail

It was a crisp January afternoon as I crossed the intersection of Boardman Avenue and 8th Street and headed to the trail. Traveling west, we passed the Traverse Area District Library, Hull Park, Traverse Area Community Sailing, and Oryana Food Co-op before stopping for an outdoor drink at Traverse City Whiskey Company. The Traverse City Whiskey Company was created after co-owner Chris Fredrickson discovered distilling patents that his great-grandfather had patented during prohibition. The result? Small batches of intensely smooth whiskey—a family recipe of sorts that lingered for generations before being shared with the world. I enjoyed an old fashioned around an outdoor table complete with umbrella heaters before saddling up to take to the trail again. Looping back around past Right Brain Brewery, we were back on the trail, reversing our course to the other side of the lake and riding along the shore until we came to Medalie Park.

The Return

Although the temperatures drifted into the low teens that afternoon, I was amazed at the workout I was getting. The fat bike made it feel relatively easy, but the snowy terrain and modest hills along the trail were great reminders of the built-in resistance and cardio workout I was getting with each rotation of the tire. In fact, even though the fat bikes weren’t meant for speed, studies have shown that fat bikers can burn more than 1,000 calories an hour. For me, though, the reward came when we circled the corner, stopping one last time at the Filling Station for a mouthwatering pizza to go. The Filling Station is located at the depot in Traverse City’s railroad neighborhood. The current depot, which opened on Jan. 6, 1927, is the second iteration of railroad stations in Traverse City.

Rewarded In Pizza

After a solid ride, I realized how lucky I was to be in my backyard—surrounded by nature, beauty, and one of the best pizza spots in the state. I returned to my car, and the aroma from the cannonball pizza (topped with marinara, kalamata olives, roasted red peppers, red onions, feta, fresh rosemary, spinach, and mozzarella) overwhelmed me.

“It all evens out,” I said, thinking about the calories I just burned on my ride and the sweet reward I would receive from the pizza beckoning to me from inside its box.

Coincidentally, that is my hope for 2021. Like my first ride on a fat bike, I hope that all the difficult work, uphill battles and fear of falling in 2020 might be rewarded with a year that feels like the first bite of a delicious piece of well-deserved pizza.

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