Hilly Rides Mid-Mitten Cycling

A Scenic Hill Ride, or a Hilly Scenic Ride?

42nd Street north of Augusta
42nd Street north of Augusta

This recreation-rich area west of Battle Creek doesn’t have the biggest hills, but the setting is undeniably pretty, with rolling farmland, MSU’s Kellogg Experimental Forest and Gull Lake as a backdrop. It’s also one of the few areas where you can put several climbs together in a loop, rather than doing hill repeats. Thus the conundrum: is this a good hill climbing route that happens to have some nice scenery, or is it a scenic route with some decent hills? I’ll leave that up to you, providing several options for your ride.

The route described here begins in the village of Augusta and heads into the hills just north of town. A double loop of 20 miles will give you about 800 feet of climbing (contrary to the gain reported by MapMyRide, which seems unusually suspect in this part of Michigan). If you want more climbing, you could do another loop. Or you could do up-and-downs on E F Ave. or on one of the steep streets right in town. On the other hand, if you prefer a longer scenic ride with more gently rolling hills, you could throw in a loop of about 12 miles around Gull Lake for a total of 32 miles.

Augusta Creek from E F Ave.
Augusta Creek from E F Ave.

A parking lot on Michigan Ave. labeled “Augusta Commons” makes a good spot to start your trip. North of here, a hill rises up steeply to Augusta Cemetery. You’ll probably want to save that hill for later and start with a gentle warmup. To do so, head east on Michigan for five blocks to the intersection of N. Webster/N. 42nd St. and take a left. In two more blocks you’ll pass a stately house on the right and begin a 30-foot climb, a little taste of what’s to come. Descending the other side, you’ll cruise along on level terrain through the valley of Augusta Creek.

At just under a mile and a half, on a left-hand bend, look for signs warning of “E F Ave” (short for East F Ave.) coming up on the right. The intersection itself isn’t marked, but it’s the next road on the right after the sign. Turn right here and immediately cross small Augusta Creek. I had the good fortune to witness two mink crossing the road, no doubt disturbed by my stopping to photograph the creek from the little bridge.

Two minks scurrying away from the photographer
Two mink scurrying away from the photographer

It won’t take you long to cross the narrow Augusta Creek valley, passing scenic farms with purple martins flitting about. As the climbing begins, the asphalt deteriorates to a potholed mess, but it’s acceptable at low climbing speeds. Traffic was nonexistent on the Thursday morning I was here, giving me my choice of lines through the craters. If you decide to do hill repeats here, use extreme caution in descending. Perhaps the road commission in this area will decide that the local residents, not to mention cyclists, deserve something better than pavement crumbling to a state worse than plain gravel. As the saying goes, we can only live in hope. The alternative is that society, or what currently passes for it, will further devolve to a state like that in Edan Lepucki’s new bestseller, California. Meanwhile, we should keep calm and ride our bikes like there’s no tomorrow.

North Country Trail sign along E F Ave.
North Country Trail sign along E F Ave.

E F Ave. will give you 140 feet of climbing with a couple of steep pitches and one shallow descent in the middle. To get the full 140 feet, you’ll need to turn right at the T-intersection with N. 44th St., taking care on the gravelly potholes, and climb to the point where the crumbling pavement gives way to actual gravel. Make a U-turn and continue north on 44th St. The pavement is somewhat better here as the road crosses several low hills before arriving at Highway 89/E D Ave.

The big hill on Hwy. 89
The big hill on Hwy. 89

As you make a careful left onto high-speed Hwy. 89, you’ll make the common tradeoff of better, wider pavement for more and faster traffic. The shoulder varies from a couple of feet to a more than a car width, making this one of Michigan’s more comfortable state highways for bicycling. Plus, the hills up ahead are too good to miss. You’ll descend to the south shores of Stony Lake before beginning a fifty foot climb followed by another steep descent. Now for the steepest hill in the area. Beyond 42nd St., the road begins a 5% climb of 85 feet in just a third of a mile. It’s a good grind at a steady gradient, if somewhat short.

At the top, you might be tempted to make a U-turn to do hill repeats, but with the high-speed traffic on this highway, I wouldn’t recommend it. Neither would I recommend a left turn on 41st. This road would offer a rolling return back to the intersection of 42nd and E F Ave., but it’s in even worse condition than the latter road, making it dangerous at downhill speeds.

Scenic Gull Lake may tempt you away from the hills for a scenic loop
Scenic Gull Lake may tempt you away from the hills for a rolling loop with lake views

For a safer and more scenic option, continue along the flat on Hwy. 89 for half a mile before descending to 38th St., where you’ll turn right. The road drops steeply to another intersection near the south shore of Gull Lake, where you’ll face another choice: to continue the hilly loop or to take a scenic trip around this lake. To do the latter, see my Gull Lake post.

Assuming you opt to finish this hilly lap, turn right onto 39th, heading up a short hill. Over the top and down the other side, turn right onto E D Ave. (It’s confusing, I know – you were just on E D Ave when you were on Hwy 89 and here you are again. Also, what kind of names are “E D Ave.” and “E F Ave.”? I suppose we should count ourselves lucky that there’s no “E E Ave.” Come on, Michigan road departments, give us better pavement and better road names. Is that too much to ask?)

After a short, steep climb on E D Ave. you’ll cruise through a forest canopying over the road, then turn right on 40th, then immediately, and carefully, left on Hwy. 89. Now you’re returning the way you came, rising gradually before making the steep descent to 42nd.

MSU's Kellogg Forest headquarters offers restrooms, a picnic area, and parking.
MSU’s Kellogg Forest headquarters offers restrooms, a picnic area, and parking.

Make a right on 42nd, braking sharply for the turn, to return to your first big climb of the day. Along the way, you’ll pass two spots of interest, the first being the offices of MSU’s Kellogg Experimental Forest. The offices may not be so interesting, but there are restrooms and a picnic area here, as well as parking if you want to make this the base for your biking adventure. This spot also serves as a trailhead for the North Country Trail.

Sign for the mothballed Brook Lodge
Sign for the mothballed Brook Lodge

A half mile beyond the Kellogg Forest lot, you’ll come to Brook Lodge on the right. Peering over its low wall, you’ll notice that the place appears abandoned, with the shrubs overgrown around its many cottages, weeds growing up through the parking lots, and chains and padlocks on its wrought iron gates. Originally the summer residence of the Upjohn family beginning at the turn of the 20th century, the place became a corporate retreat center for Upjohn Pharmaceuticals in the 1950s, and later for Pharmacia. The company donated it to Michigan State University in 2000. After losing $10 million running the property as a hotel and retreat center over the next nine years, the University ceased operating it in 2009 but still owns it. Now it seems just an eerie shell of its former existence. Genevieve Upjohn’s memories of the place make a poignant read in contrast to the property’s current condition.

Brook Lodge
Picturesque squared: when buildings inspired by ancient ruins become ruins themselves.

If you want to get a better look at the property, and get a short hill in as well, turn right (west) on E F Ave., climbing along a picturesque rock wall that rings the property. The wall is low enough that you can look over into the side and back of the property to see more overgrown shrubs, a murky pond, and the paint peeling on the columns of a Greek Revival structure. Rumored to be haunted, the place is ripe to become a location for the next Blair Witch Project, or maybe Vince Gilligan’s new show, Battle Creek. More photos are here.

When you’re finished with the ruin porn, head back down to 42nd St., taking a right, and then a left to stay on E F Ave. for your second trip up the big hill of the day. Continue following the directions above as many times as you wish (gaining over 300 feet in each eight-mile loop).

When you’re ready to head back to Augusta, simply continue south on 42nd into town. If you want even more hill climbing, take a right on Jefferson at the top of the hill going into town. Jefferson is seriously steep, with grades of eight to ten percent and a rise of 80 feet from Webster/42nd. Gluttons for punishment (and a high tolerance for boredom) could do laps here, looping Jefferson-Lincoln-Van Buren-Webster/42nd (for 105 feet of climbing in each scant-mile lap). Or, if you’re ready to call it a day, a left turn on Lincoln will bring you steeply downhill to Augusta Dr., just half a block from your car.

A great post-ride refueling spot is Nina’s Taqueria on Augusta Dr. just east of Webster/42nd. They serve excellent tacos al pastor but, alas, no cerveza.


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