Take a Joy Ride on M119, the Tunnel of Trillium

Right now, the already glorious Tunnel of Trees offers an early-bird bonus—wild trillium. And the seat of a vintage car is the ideal throne to soak up warm rays on its scenic curves.

The journey begins in Harbor Springs. Our ride, a 1972 VW Super Beetle, couldn’t have been a better fit for the road trip ahead. First, we stroll Harbor Springs as it wakes from winter. Shopkeepers fill flower boxes with pansies, and forsythia spring boldly from the warming earth, a perfect complement to the Bug’s yellow paint job. Snow shovels on stoops and salt stains on the asphalt are humble reminders of the season we left behind. While grabbing coffee and pastries for the journey ahead, we see passersby approach our ride, giving each other the mandatory Love Bug Slug on the arm.

We unhook the clasps from the original horsehair-insulated convertible top and sink into the seats as the smell of the ’70s wafts from the upholstery into the air. The clutch squeaks as I find first gear—we’re off on the fragrant corridors of M119.

Small Batch of Harbor Springs has irrestible bakery treats—and quite possibly the best chocolate chip cookie you’ll ever taste. 

At 40-years-old, the Bug is in great shape. Yet it still bears the wear and tear of a car that was used for its original intent: to go places and explore. A notchy four-speed transmission mates the spunky air-cooled engine that won’t get you anywhere quickly, which is fine with us.

Over the whine of the little motor, our conversation ebbs and flows just like the black clouds of midges that move along the shoreline. Nothing serious—just laughs and smiles, because there’s not much to talk about anyway; we know what we were thinking and feeling after such a long winter. We can’t help but tilt our heads back to inhale the bouquet of spring; savoring the company of good friends, great places and German engineering.

M119—Michigan’s famed Tunnel of Trees—is barely wide enough for two cars. As it threads its way through the forested hills one feels transported to a different dimension; no center line, no shoulder and sweeping views of Lake Michigan. Oaks, maples, birch and cedar lend their outstretched limbs that give the road its name. They provide a sense of intimacy and a feeling that this moment, this road, is just for you.

A classic car demands attention; downshifts for hills, brake pumps for speed control and eyes constantly scanning the gauges. It’s this sense of immersion that guides the entire experience. Full participation isn’t an option, it’s a requirement, especially in a convertible—hairdos be damned. In a classic, each pothole, steep hill and cool breeze is felt.

We zip north, stopping for refreshments at Good Hart General Store. We grab an assortment of goodies for the road ahead while we chat with the store’s owner.

“Trilliums, you want trilliums? Well, this is where you have to go.”

And just like that our journey takes us down washed-out backroads from the advice of a new friend—thanks, Jim. Our Bug quickly becomes swallowed in the verdant greenery of spring and the sounds of a grateful forest and critters. Third gear becomes second, which becomes first as we lurch down a rutted backroad that still bears the scars of the spring thaw. The Bug happily bounces along.

Adventures Await! Go on a Tunnel of Trees Scavenger Hunt

Lunch is quick and simple: cheese, meat, a few nuts, a few sips of sparkling water. We wander to and from the spread on the hood to explore the surrounding area and admire how the sunlight dapples the forest floor before the canopy leafs out. Where the trilliums grow so thick you must watch your step and quietly apologize to each one you nudge aside to find footing as you explore the forest—scanning for morels.

This is the season we had been waiting for, as if our bones let out a sigh of relief, spring is here and we can feel it through each breath, step and moment. Spring is a gift.

Just like the car, it demands full participation. It claws for our approval in each blossom, fragrance and melting snow pile. Would spring be so delightful if we weren’t coming—pale and worn out—from winter’s enduring grasp?

I doubt it.

RENT A SPRING CLASSIC

DriveShare makes it easy to enjoy the sights and sounds of any season from the seat of a classic. Rentals are simple with an easy check-in/check-out process through the program’s app and website interface. Traverse City-based Hagerty, a world-renowned classic car insurer, facilitates the rental contract with the owner and full insurance coverage. You can select from quirky Bugs with personality, to sleek and fast Mustangs. To rent a classic or learn more about the DriveShare program, visit driveshare.com. Want to list your own classic on DriveShare? Visit the website to learn more.

Writer Sam Brown and his wife Laura live in Leelanau County. Keep up with their adventures on Instagram at @wildly_yours // Mae Stier is a lake-lover, writer and photographer living in Empire. You can find her on Instagram at @maestier or at letterstolakemichigan.com.