Monday, November 11, 2019

Michigan Off-Road Expedition (MORE) Route


The idea is simple enough; traverse the great state of Michigan from the southern border to the Mackinac Bridge (and eventually the Upper Peninsula) on as much dirt as possible. It's not an original one either, and i must give credit where credit is due. The spark that started the flame for me was stumbling across the "Split the Mitt" page on Facebook. Split the Mitt was posed as a Strava segment challenge riding from Ohio to the Bridge on the NCT. I followed the group for sometime but eventually postings ceased and the last post was in November 2015. Still the idea lingered in the back of my mind, and like most things in life got pushed aside for other adventures, races and plans. When it comes to epic rides i like to have unique goals and a route that inspires me. Point to point routes are great because you have a destination to reach as opposed to riding in a giant loop. The past few years i have been riding bigger and bigger routes all over the place and find the journey and challenge equally enjoyable. It seems as though every big "outdoor state" like Colorado, Arizona, Oregon, etc... has their own epic dirt cycling route that people dream of and i kept wondering why don't we have that?

Photos by Garrett Hein

Creation of the route

Yes, it's true that we do have the NCT but it is primarily a hiking route and many sections are off-limits to bikes. One thing that left me a bit uninspired with the idea of following the NCT all the way was that it would required riding roads nearly half-way across the state until White Cloud. Many of the roads one would use to follow the NCT are paved and not exactly the most scenic. I wanted to create a route specifically with cycling in mind and make use of trail systems wherever possible to maximize dirt and singletrack. This required starting from scratch at the southern border. I began by using one of my favorite dirt resources; Gravelmap! I had to do a lot of filling in by using both satellite imagery and limited knowledge of the area just to see the general gravel grid. Once i had an idea of where the concentrations of good gravel is i began roughing in the route by combining the gravel with trail systems such as Forst Custer, Yankee Springs, Cannonsburg, etc... I also looked at the satellite view trying to stay in forested areas knowing they're more scenic and hospitable than open farmland. In an effort to maximize adventure i also utilized State Game Area seasonal roads where singletrack is lacking. 

The route

Once the route was roughly designed i went back through and made adjustments to make re-supply, camping, and other long ride requirements easier. Sometimes it's just better all around to forgo a few miles of dirt in favor of a clean route through a re-supply zone. There was really no set distance for the route ahead of time, and just getting from the border to the bridge in a straight shot takes over 300 miles so i knew it would easily exceed 400. In the end the route came out to over 550 miles by the time it wandered from trail to trail. The Northern stretch was much more straightforward as the NCT is predominantly singletrack and much of it is open to bikes. I'll be honest that some of the stretches of NCT to the north are not great riding, but i felt that it would be best to leave them in, make note of the quality of riding, and let the rider make the decision. Trails change over time whether by nature, re-routes, trail work or otherwise so i'd hate to completely bypass a section of dirt when it could be a great trail to ride in the future (sometimes more use brings more attention which can bring improvements!). I also view this route as a living entity and not at all set in stone. Every year new trails are being built and i plan to take that into account and edit the route if it makes sense.

Views of varied terrain along the route

Riding the route

At over 550 miles the MORE route is definitely a challenging ride. While none of the singletrack is overly technical in nature it can be very rustic is spots and makes progress slow going at times. The southern portion of the route has a lot of gravel and two-tracks which makes for quicker travel while the northern section is heavily singletrack with hilly terrain. The routes passes through notable trail systems and you could easily add days and miles along the route by riding each trail system in its entirety. It's totally up to the individual how they'd like to approach the route, but my recommendation would be to plan on roughly one week to complete the ride. There are ample camping opportunities making this an excellent bikepacking route. I have created a simple riders guide to help with planning purposes and will continue to refine the detail over time. Re-supply is straightforward as well with the route passing very near many 24 hour stores and larger towns. While you could certainly take a crack at riding the whole route in one long ride i would recommend taking at least a few nights to camp and rest. The route travels through so much beautiful country that it is a bit of a shame to ride in the dark and not enjoy the scenery!
While being more logistically challenging the route could certainly be ridden in sections for those who don't have the time or desire to do the whole route in one go. I have ridden the route in one long push without sleep and have to say that it's epic for sure! It took me 61 hours to get from the border to the bridge with a handful of re-routes to avoid seasonal closures and logging. If you want to see my ride you can check it out here: Matt's MORE ride

Future of the route

As this is a side project and not my full time job, i plan to continue refining the riders guide, route descriptions, and mileage charts. My goal is to create a Facebook page and group where folks can interact to discuss plans and potentially find other like minded people to ride the route with. I have thoughts about organizing a grand depart in the summer of 2020 and plan to put some effort into finding a date over the winter months. I don't have any plans to make a race out of the route and feel like it is best ridden over several days in good company but you can certainly enjoy it however you like!
I have a route designed for the Upper Peninsula that is roughly 450 miles. My plan is to get up there in the Spring of 2020 to do some recon and hopefully ride some or all of the route. This would bring the total MORE route to 1,000 miles!


I have the route uploaded in both Strava and RidewithGPS. After closer inspection at the Strava route i found an inconsistency with the mileage/elevation chart overlap. I believe that sheer amount of manually plotted points is the root of the issue, but it did work just fine on my Garmin Edge 1030 when i rode the route.


  1. I've been dreaming of creating/riding a route like this for a few years now, but it hadn't gone beyond that. Thanks for doing all the hard work! As a resident of northern Indiana, the prospect of riding from my front door to the Mackinac Bridge on mostly dirt is too good to pass up. I'm hoping to give it a go sometime in the next few years. Looks incredible!

  2. Thank you so much for this! Can't wait to ride it!

  3. Wow!, what great work. Summer 2020 i completed my shoreline route of the lower peninsula from Toledo Ohio to Michigan City Indiana the long way, via the Mackinaw Bridge. I am very interested in your thoughts on the UP route. I am thinking West to East full length and bike packing. Please keep posting.

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  5. The nature you have explored is very amazing.