Get Out: Bear With Me
Written by Allison Kay Bannister. Photo: Wheels on Rails.


I feel like I’m starting to notice a pattern with these stories… like, something happens that is kind of unexpected, or possibly a little worrisome, but by the end everything works out just fine.

Maybe that’s the difference between a true adventure and an ordinary day out and about.

I’ll start by stating that no humans or bears were harmed during this event, and by virtue of that, it was a good day.

Any time you get further away from the city and further up north, you’re bound to encounter something that you probably wouldn’t in your own back yard—and that’s what makes things interesting. My group happened to be checking out Wheels on Rails in Grawn, just outside of Traverse City, when we got our slice of excitement.

What this company offers is bike tours that take place on defunct rail lines that run through scenic, wooded areas. The vehicles themselves are custom-made, four-person bike carts that have more of a recumbent style to them. They have adjustable seats, seatbelts, and a brake on each cart—which eventually would come in handy for us. There are trained guides that accompany the groups; one at the front to inspect the tracks and one in the caboose as an additional assistant.

We chose the six-mile Hoosier Valley Hotshot trip, which was a little over an hour and a half. Once we got checked in and seated, we had help getting our seats properly positioned and were given instructions on how and when to use the brake—and how to alert other carts when we were using it. We were also primed with the knowledge that the return trip was mostly on a slight incline and to be sure reserve some leg power for that. Can confirm!

Once we got rolling, we passed over a side road with the help of an on-staff crossing guard and received lots of friendly honks from cars driving by on US-31. We stopped once when the conductor needed to examine the tracks, and then we stopped again a little later when a small, dark figure on the side of the tracks revealed itself to be a black bear cub. Maybe it was our distance from it or just the thrill of seeing something you don’t see every day, but no one seemed particularly worried.

Sure, we all thought there was probably a mama bear around and it wouldn’t be very cool if she suddenly came out of the woods, but she didn’t—and the cub ambled along the tracks for a minute, seemed curious about what we were doing, and then ran back toward the trees and disappeared. In terms of real-life bear sightings, this was about as benign as it gets from a risk perspective, yet just dramatic enough to text home about.

Onward! We pedaled a bit more before reaching our turnaround, where we stopped, disembarked, and gathered for a history lesson from the conductor. The staff then used a rotary-type contraption on the tracks to spin the carts so we could head back. While the incline wasn’t really visible, it could be felt, and, at times it was as though someone was riding the brake—but they weren’t. When the trip was complete, many of us were equally glad we were done while also wishing it had been longer. Some of us went for ice cream across the road at Little Reds, while others chose to drag our weary bodies home. (Oh, hey, that was me.)

I will say that I would make this part of a weekend trip rather than a day trip, as the time on the road from Grand Rapids is longer than the time on the tracks. Several people, myself included,  did opt to do that, staying in Kalkaska at All Seasons Resort either overnight or for a couple days to hike and explore the area.

Beyond that, I recommend bringing water and a snack, doubling up on sunscreen and bug repellent, and carrying your phone with you, in case you happen to get a once-in-a-lifetime photo op! Book your trip at