Friday, May 30, 2014

Conquer the Village Mountain Bike Race at the GT Commons

WOW. What a beautiful Memorial Day weekend we had up here! Sunny and seventies and plenty of great things going on.

The event Sam and I chose to attend this weekend was the Conquer the Village mountain bike race at the GT Commons. Hundreds of bikers of all ages (young kids included) and ability levels came out to race on the trails at the OldState Hospital Grounds. I’m totally foreign to the world of mountain biking, as I’m more of a road cyclist / hardcore commuter, but I tell you what…these people are MACHINES.

For one, mountain bike races are awesome events. There’s always a lot of music, beer, and beautiful bikes of all varieties. This race was no exception! Fresh brats and hot dogs were grilling, music was pumping, Bells beer was on tap, and the bikes were nothing short of gorgeous. I was in bike heaven, even though I’m somewhat terrified to attempt mountain biking…especially this course.

The trails cover some rolling hills (and some realllly big hills) all throughout the Commons area, and these bikers tackled them with amazing agility, power, and control. Dirt, gravel, mud, little wooden bridges—like the one they’ve affectionately dubbed “handlebar bridge,” because if a rider’s handlebars are too big they’ll catch on the railing—and plenty of sharp turns made for a fast-paced race.

We hiked up to watch the riders along the trail, and with such a gorgeous day we stuck around for the entire expert/pro race. One of our favorite places was along the handlebar bridge: I mean, who wouldn’t want to watch incredible bikers traverse over an obstacle like that? The views from the top of the mountain are always one of my favorite things about the Commons trails, but I have a whole new appreciation for people who choose to bike up those hills five to six times in a row.

Conquer the Village put on its second annual race this year. If you need motivation to check it out next year, all the proceeds from the race go to helping out our beautiful Hickory Hills. The ski facility is a public park, but it’s hit some tough economic times and is still searching for sustainable revenue sources so they can stay open year-round and provide a great ski experience for people of all ages during the winter (plus hiking trails and disc golfing in the non-snow months). I’m all for supporting anything that helps out Hickory Hills (which is where I used to ski race as a kid), but I’m not sure if I’ll be getting on a bike next year to race…

For more information about Conquer the Village, you can check it out online here; or, click here to read more about Hickory Hills. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Brunch at the Centre Street Cafe

Greetings! We're coming off a fantastic weekend here in Traverse City, and to celebrate, I thought I'd share some inside knowledge about one of my absolute favorite eateries in our town: Centre Street Cafe. 

It's pretty easy to find a good restaurant in downtown TC, but finding one off-the-beaten path can be a bigger challenge. I had no idea I stumbled across such a gold mine the first time I discovered Centre Street a few years ago, but that's precisely what I found. When we have guests in town and want to splurge on a fantastic lunch that highlights unique but delicious eats in our town, this is the first place we go.

Last time we went to enjoy brunch at Centre Street, we arrived after the lunch crowd cleared out. The café is only open for brunch and lunch, so hurry up to get it while you can because it gets slammin' in there some days. You can always order carry-out, too, which is perfect if you're looking for a satisfying meal to take on the road or back to the office.

Local art decorates the walls, and the kitchen staff works right there behind the bar. It's a homey, cosy vibe that I really love, because I never feel like I am under-dressed even though I'm eating top-notch food.

And, umm, can we talk desserts here for a second? Because they always have a way of tempting me before I even sit down to order. I mean, the cookies are the size of my face! What's not to love?

If you ever eat at the Centre Street Cafe, I have two words for you: SWAMP. SOUP. I have tried to duplicate this soup on more than ten occasions, and I just can't do it right. It seems like such a simple soup--essentially it's just tomato and spinach topped with swiss cheese--but it is complicated to replicate. I find it so hard to resist this soup any time of year.

Since it's was brunch for us, my husband Sam went all-out and ordered their Greek Eggs Benedict. HOLY WOW. This is the second time he's ordered this off their weekend brunch menu and it knocked us both off our feet again. They make a lamb chorizo patty that tempted me to side-step my vegetarianism for a few bites, and I have positively zero regrets about that. It's not always on their weekend brunch menu, but if you see it on there sometime, I can't recommend it enough if you're a fan of gyros and eggs benedict. Home run, my friends.

Personally, though, I'm all about the sandwiches. Day in and day out, I could eat a Centre Street sandwich every day. One of my favorite go-tos is the Whole Earth sandwich. Avocado, gouda, cucumbers, sunflower seeds...a true vegetarian masterpiece. They also have plenty of vegan and gluten-free options, so if you're struggling to find a place that satisfies everyone, I can't recommend Centre Street enough.

Keep updated about the daily soups and specials on the Centre Street Facebook page, or preview their menu. Remember, even though it's a little outside of the central hub of TC, there's a reason it's a local favorite...and definitely one to keep in mind when the tourists start filling in downtown! Hope everyone is enjoying this sunshine!

Monday, May 5, 2014

YP Volunteer Event: Habitat for Humanity Demolition!

WOW! What a weekend! It might've been cold and rainy out on Saturday morning, but while the rest of the town was moping about the weather, an active group of YP and Habitat for Humanity volunteers were up early and ready to work.

A group of us helped a team of Habitat folks take apart a home out on the Old Mission Peninsula that will be town down and rebuilt. All the things we took apart--trim, cabinets, sinks, doors--and everything left in the house that we hauled out ended up in a garage ready for an estate sale. Some of our team spent the day pulling of aluminum siding to scrap, and given the constant downpour outside, let's just say I was totally content to stay inside and pull trim off of walls and remove nails.

The garage was STUFFED with stuff four or five hours later. There were some real gems hidden in that house if you've got the eye for that kind of thing. I all but went ballistic when we came across an original Sega Genesis (complete with Mortal Kombat and Sonic the Hedgehog games)! I'm not sure when the estate sale is, but I may consider driving back up the peninsula specifically to own that Genesis...

I had a great time working with my fellow YPs. We had a lot of hours together this past Saturday morning, and I learned more about all the people there that I don't get to see in passing at the meetings. It's amazing how close I feel to people when I work with them on a great cause, like Habitat for Humanity. There's nothing like sitting on the floor pulling out nails with someone to bring you together, right? And I'm pretty sure we all felt bonded after removing a shelf from an upstairs closet and saw a really old and nasty bagel (with peanut butter) slide off the shelf onto the floor. I mean, those are the things that build friendships, people.

The homeowner graciously cooked everyone up some brats and hot dogs for lunch, complete with potato chips and chocolate chip cookies. How could we not have a good time?! The sun came out for a brief few moments, as did a beautiful Leonberger dog named Bella, who pretty much stole all of our hearts. I may or may not have given her potato chips to show my affection, but I'm pretty sure all she really wanted was a hot dog. Maybe next time, Bella.

There are more YP volunteer opportunities coming up in the next few weeks, so if you're interested in doing good with good folks, keep your eyes and ears open for announcements about upcoming opportunities on our Facebook page. Thanks to everyone who braved the crappy weather to join us, and a big thanks for the Habitat crew for showing us the ins and outs of demolition! (Some of these photos came from the Habitat GTR Facebook page...check 'em out!)

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Battle of the VASA: Skiing or Fat Tire Biking?

During many of our TCYP meetings, we talk about taking an active role in our communities and participating in conversations about issues, ideas, or events that are important to us an individuals. As a group, we don't hone in everyone's personal political preferences, but we always advocate for being at the table and getting your voice heard, no matter what stance you take on an issue. 

I've made a strong effort to take this preaching and make it my practice. I keep my ears open for opportunities that would allow me to voice my concerns or praise on a certain topic, and I seek out chances to understand larger pieces of our community. Decisions are made every day that impact our town and region, and whether those decisions are made at a local, state, or national level, I am doing my best to make sure my opinion is expressed on issues I care about.

All that said...I've never attended a public meeting. Like, ever. That's pretty embarrassing at my age. So, I decided to do something about that, and earlier this week I attended my first-ever public meeting!

The issue discussed was the VASA trial, located just east of Traverse City near Acme. For 25 years, the VASA trail has been designated as a classic and skate-style cross-country ski course. It is nationally-renowned and one the most fantastic places to XC ski in all of Michigan. In fact, this trail alone (ranging from 5K to 25K distances) is one of the main reasons I found a whole new love and appreciation for winters up north; we visit it quite often when there's snow on the ground.

But, because it is such a fantastic trail (groomed regularly by diehard volunteers and the TART Trails, with some additional funding from the Michigan DNR), it was opened up to fat tire biking every Friday if conditions were right. This past winter was the first experimental year of allowing the fat tire bikes on the trailhead, and over the course of the season, concerns about allowing the fat tire bikers on the VASA emerged from skiers. 

So, the DNR hosted a public meeting this past Monday at the Civic Center, asking people to come and share their thoughts about allowing fat tire bikers on the trail in the winter. I went to the meeting, but I didn't speak out at all because, honestly, I don't have a strong opinion on the matter either way. I think fat tire bikes are awesome and I love XC-skiing, and while I would love to endorse a multi-use trail...the VASA is such a pristine course designed specifically for XC-skiing that it seems somehow sacrilegious to allow it for anything other than skiing when there's snow on the ground. Still, the fat tire biking community needs a place to explore and call their own (and it needs to be groomed), and it would be best if everyone could have the chance to do the sport they love regardless of what it is. Like I said, I'm pretty conflicted.

The DNR was looking for public comment on the issue, but they were also looking for solutions. During the course of two hours, people brought up a whole range of ideas: designating the trail as XC-ski only, allowing the bikers on the trail on a certain day or under certain weather restrictions, developing a new fat tire bike trail in the same area as the VASA, or somehow finding a way to allow the skiers and bikers to co-exist on the trail (though that wasn't a popular opinion). 

I was amazed to see the turnout for this meeting. There must've been close to 200 people at the meeting, and many were avid cross-country skiers and fat tire bikers; it was a very active and engaged group, to say the least! As the DNR meeting facilitator said, "I feel bad for the people sitting at home on their couches!" Folks came from Cadillac and even as far as Ann Arbor specifically to speak at this meeting and have their stance heard by the DNR. Talk about integrity!
Everyone was courteous, and they were certainly engaged. Many VASA founders were present--the folks who cut and hauled trees out and leveled the trail to make it a solid XC-ski course--as well as the president of the Michigan Mountain Biking Association. I was humbled by the emotion from both sides on this issue, and how each side respected the other during the course of the evening. 

The two things both sides agreed on were the willingness to help build a new fat tire bike trail in the same woods as the VASA and the necessity for the DNR to expedite a land use contract should a new trail for biking be determined a necessity. Mark Esper, the president of the North American Vasa ski race, and Glenn Ruczynski, past president of the Northern Michigan Mountain Biking Association, took the podium together and asked the DNR to approve the building of a new trail. With this collaborative announcement--they were part of a committee formed informally of both fat tire bikers and cross-country skiers to discuss solutions for both sides--the entire room erupted in applause and people gave a standing ovation that lasted nearly two minutes. There was great energy and support in the room for this committee, who took matters into their own hands, and the DNR agreed to work with the committee to find a solution that works for everyone.

All in all, I was so glad I went to the meeting and experienced the passion of all these people for an issue they care deeply about in our community. I left the meeting feeling both informed about an important decision in our community and also empowered as a citizen for exercising my right to participate in these conversations...even though, like I said, I didn't say anything. Making an appearance can be just as powerful, though, because my presence made it clear that this was something I care about and I want to be part of the solution, not someone who sits on the sidelines while decisions are made and I'm not paying attention. No doubt this is the first of many public meetings I'll attend!

I encourage you to keep your eyes and ears open for meetings and opportunities to take a stand on something you care about. It is always better to be heard than to shy away and miss the chance to make a difference in your city or community!