Chris Hillier 2015-08-28 13:15:23
I have two serious passions in life: long distance hiking and Michigan craft beer. My passion for long distance hiking started in 2011 when I was about a week into hiking the entire 2,170 mile-long Appalachian Trail and I decided that, from now on, all I ever wanted to do was hike. I was 'ruined.' Next, I hiked the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada through California, Oregon and Washington, and, just last October, I finished the mighty Continental Divide Trail. Thirty one hundred miles from Mexico to Canada along the spine of the Rockies. In between those hikes, I sated my addiction by focusing on Michigan. I hiked the 230 mile Shore To Shore Trail from Empire across to Oscoda and the Great Lake to Lake Trail from South Haven to Port Huron. I was proud to be the first to hike the newly named Ironbelle Trail from Belle Isle to Ironwood. My next big hike will be the Israeli National Trail that runs 640 miles from the Red Sea to the border with Lebanon. My passion for Michigan craft beer began when I started brewing beer with my brothers in the basement on weekends. Like most amateurs, we graduated from extract to all grain and from bottles to kegs. We attended the Michigan Brewers Guild festivals in the summer, fall and winter. We traveled the breadth of the state, tasting all the fantastic Michigan craft beer that we could and marveled at how quickly the industry was growing. My two favorite things began slowly began to come together. Many times, while hiking across the state, I would seize the chance to visit a brew pub and sample the goodness. The day hikes my friends and I would go on always seemed to end at a brewery. It was at the end of a great day of hiking with these friends that we came up with idea of a trail that would cross the state of Michigan and hit a brewpub at or near the end of each day (or every other day).Immediately, we began calling out the names of our favorite breweries and estimating the distances between them. We tried to think of existing trails that would connect all of them.We would call it the Michigan Ale Trail. I realize that I may be the only one crazy enough to actually hike the entire thing, but I'm certain that there are plenty of people who would come out and join me for a day or two of hiking, or maybe just meet me at the pub to help me celebrate the hike. I, of course, would prefer to camp the whole way, but you could just as easily park a camper or get a hotel room nearby. That's the beauty of long distance hiking: there are no rules. You do as much or as little of it as you want. The next step in bringing this trail to fruition is to meet with my friends at the Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance (Michigantrails.org). I've worked with these good people in the past to build, connect and promote non-motorized trails all over the state.They have maps and descriptions of every trail in the state from beautiful, wide, paved multiuse trails right down to overgrown two-tracks.If I show them the general direction I want to head (we're thinking west to east across the Lower Peninsula) and what brewpubs I want to visit, they can surely connect them. Even if there's a little road walking involved, I'm okay with that. I'd also like to involve the Michigan Brewers Guild, my friends at Pure Michigan, and any of the actual breweries along the way that want to help me raise awareness for this trail and, thus, Michigan craft brewing and hiking opportunities in the state. The final and most important step is to hike the darn thing! A trail is not a trail until someone actually goes out and walks every step of it.That's my job. That's my specialty. Anyone who wants to come with me or contribute to this project in any way is welcome. Email me at CBHillier2@gmail.com or visit 'The Michigan Ale Trail' Facebook page. I have to thank the people who have helped me cultivate this notion and move it closer to becoming a reality: Marlyss Hollyer, Suzanne Hollyer, Drew Chinarian, Traci Rink and Ron Foon all hike, all appreciate good beer, and all of them helped me hatch this crazy idea. The brothers, Rob and Jim, who stir the mash and my nephew, Brian, who is studying in Chicago to become a cicerone and knows more about craft brewing than almost anyone. With them, I celebrate hiking in Michigan and Michigan craft brewed beer.
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