The Hart - Montague trail is a misnomer. The trail still starts in Hart, but it goes well past Montague now. Instead, it ends somewhere between Whitehall and Muskegon, at a parking lot on McMillan Road, which is dirt. So you have a paved parking lot and a paved trail with only about twenty feet of hard-paved soil to contend with. Not so bad.
The southern part of the trail is beautifully paved. It is a smooth ride through fields and forests, by a dog camp (yes, they apparently have those) and Michigan's Adventure. On this quiet Monday ride, I rarely saw anyone south of Whitehall, and my Rubaix flew like the wind (or some equally catchy metaphor). At this section of the trail, there are long stretches with no cross streets, and you can get a nice consistent pace going and not worrying about getting mowed down by cars too much.
Entering Whitehall, the trail winds through parks and neighborhoods before it ducks behind some light industry, under a footbridge and over a road, crossing streets (watch for traffic, kids) to the Whitehall Visitors Center, previously a train depot, on the edge of White Lake. The wind whipped through my thick, luscious hair (that's sarcasm - I'm bald). It must have been what the Leonardo di Caprio's character felt on the bow of the Titanic. Before it sank, of course. After that, he would have felt wet and cold. And dead, let's not forget dead.
As you cross the wooden foot bridge into Montague, you have left the smooth area of the trail. From here on out, you will often encounter stretches of trail-width cracks and tree roots pushing up the pavement. This can make for an unpleasant trail riding experience if your seat (bike or otherwise) is not well padded. And neither of my seats are well padded, which may be too much information, but there you have it.
But don't let that deter you. The scenery is still beautiful in many places, and if you're on the trail, that means you're not in a cubicle. You'll pass by farms and fields, and there are long stretches away from towns where you can pedal and pedal and not have to stop, all without the danger of being hit by texting teenagers or eaten by lions.
My route took me to Skeels Road south of Rothbury before it was time, sadly, to turn around. But on the un-sad side, it was time for lunch, and I love eating. I had my sights on Dog N Suds in Montague, just off the trail. And as I cruised it to the parking lot, there was no waiting. Because they are closed on Mondays. That's a Hart - Montague Trail pro-tip.
This was a bitter blow - I really wanted a hot dog. Lost and confused, I roamed the streets of Montague looking for something to ease my pain. And I decided on Lipka's, a soda fountain / sandwich shop on the corner of Water and Dowling. This seemed like a decent consolation prize, so in I went, ensuring my bike was secured from all the hooligans wandering through western Michigan towns.
It's like a time warp entering the building. A soda fountain, classic table and chairs, and historical plaques - all nice, but I really liked the old stickers of Justin Bieber for sale, ones before JB became a drunken lout. Oh, the simpler times. And though the selection was small, the pulled pork sandwich was excellent, and I give it a thumbs up. I'd give it two, but one was holding the sandwich.
As I write this in October, the time for a nice bike ride on the trail is fading quickly. But there is still time, and if you're reading this during one of Michigan's three months of decent weather, then grab that bike and head over. Now. It's too nice to be inside reading blogs.