I'm lucky I'm not dead.....No, I'm lucky I'm alive.
I had been looking forward to this for a year and a half now. After all, this trip, taken a few years ago, was the beginning of all this madness, and I was so looking forward to getting back to that place where I first found the open road and the peace and solitude that it so often brings. I still have memories of the other times that we have gone around the lakes, but some of them were starting to blurr. I remember having the time of my life, and was curious as to whether or not those feelings would return.
I was also happy to have some different companions on this trip. Adam (VFR800), and Mr. Trank (ST1100) were to join Jeff (VFR750), Chad (VFR800), and I (1000F) for this adventure. Adam has taken many many bike trips in the past on everything ranging from old Interceptors to dual-sport bikes. A seasoned veteren, yes, but it had been a while for him. Mr. T., Chad's father, had recently bought an ST1100 to get back into riding. He had ridden GoldWings before, but it had been a number of years (about 15) since he'd been on two wheels, and never had he taken a trip like this before. I was curious to see not only how they would hold up, but also how they would react to the experience.
We all showed up at Woodfield Mall (our typical meeting spot) right on time at 4:00 AM. After a few jokes about needing coffee and comparing how little sleep everyone got, we were off. The ride around the city was non-eventful. A good thing. We reached St. Joseph, MI about 2 hours later, only to find that our breakfast place was no longer open. A local pointed us to another place a block away called "Stooges" in reference to Moe, Larry, and Curley. Pretty appropriate for this bunch. After everone laughed when I first said I was going to order the Curley Special (which was three of everything), four of us ended up ordering it. A good breakfast in our stomaches, and we were ready to move on.
We leave breakfast and start heading north on some county road. The road was not spectacular, but it's very scenic, and very green. Nice trees and meadows were all around, and it was a nice change from the slab around the city. At the next gas stop, I could see the look on Mr. T.'s face, and knew he was not sorry that he decided to join us. The fun was just beginning, and we were all already enjoying ourselves. We hit a little construction up the road, and I even saved a turtle from certain demise. The ride up through Michigan was nice, and we got to route 22 early in the afternoon. At this point, the road gets twisty. When we first found this road, we thought it was the best. While it's pretty nice, it doesn't compare to a lot of other places weve found. Something about being back here though put me in a state where I didn't care about it. I was enjoying the ride nonetheless. We spent the afternoon riding around Traverse Bay, stopping at a bunch of overlooks and parks, and even hammering some corners for a while when 22 got tight. It was a great afternoon of riding, and I could tell that everyone was enjoying themselves. Hell, I think Mr. T. went through about 2 rolls of film!!
When we reached Mackinaw City, we found our hotel, had a bite to eat at a local restaurant, and picked up some more beer at the Quickie-Mart. Chad and his Dad decided to turn in for the night, Adam wanted to just sit outside and relax, and for Jeff and I there was the hot-tub and beer. What a great way to end a really nice day of riding.
Pics from the day:
Jeff relaxing at a construction stop
A view down the coast in Michigan
A view of the Lake Michigan Shoreline
Pretty maids all in a row....
The bikes in the typical spot in Glen Haven, MI
The five riders with their bikes
The view approaching Glen Haven
Another great view of Glen Haven
The rocky shoreline in Northpoint, MI
The bikes stopped late in the afternoon along the shoreline
We were on the road early and headed up to Canada. We crossed the Mackinaw City bridge, and headed up the slab to Sault St. Marie. Everyone was riding at their own pace, and Jeff and I were a little ways ahead of everyone else. As we approached the border, we met back up, and uneventfully crossed into Canada. We stopped at the welcome center to exchange some money, and there just so happened to be a little hole-in-the-wall breakfast place right across the street. After breakfast and a fill-up, we were ready to continue on.
I was curious about this next leg. We explained to everyone at breakfast that "this is the part to do your own thing. Go your own speed, stop and take whatever pictures you want. We'll meet up at the Agawa Bay lookout." This is by far the most scenic part of the trip, and since not everyone wants to stop at the same time/place, splitting up ensured that everyone could see what they wanted to see. This ended up working out great. Jeff and I were able to stop at JT cove, our customary stopping place, and everyone else was able to see it all and try to take it all in. It was awesome to be back there. I was riding by myself for a while, completely lost in the experience, feeling so small and insignificant. The views are breathtaking, and around each corner is another view that seems as if it's saying "oh yeah, you liked that last view huh? How about this one?" It's a great couple of hours ride through there.
We all met up at the Agawa Bay lookout (where Chad took my parking spot damnit!!). It's now that Mr. T. was completely gone. He had an ear to ear grin, and couldn't complete a sentence to save his life. He had so much going through his head, and was so surprised by the scenery that he wasn't thinking straight. It was great to see him so into everything. It was also now time for me to ride ahead and get a picture of everyone as they rode by. Jeff thrilled me with a monster wheelie as he rode by, and it was great watching each bike come around the bend and head towards me with an awesome background in the distance.
Again, at this point, we all split up and took our own pace. At one point, Jeff caught up to me as I was putzing along enjoying the view. Damnit, I want to be alone - so let it be done. I wound the 1000F up, passed Adam a few minutes later and kept going until I saw nobody in my rear view mirror. Later, Jeff told the story of catching up to a bike that he thought was me, realized it was Adam, and with a big ol' grin on his face, continued to chase me down. It was a great afternoon of riding, and we all met up at the Nipigon overlook before our final refueling and stop at the hotel for the night.
Of course, the sports-bar across the street from the hotel had closed since we last stayed there (I don't know how - with as many Coronas as we drank last time through), so we ate at a little steakhouse across the street, and later wandered into a bar called Coyotes. Yeeee-haaaa!!!! Holy Women Bat-Man!! Adam and I shot pool for a while, Jeff, Adam, and I played a head-head racing game, and we drank many pitchers of beer. A good time was had by all.
Approaching the Mackinaw City bridge
The bikes crossing the bridge - taken upside down of course....or right-side up
Trans-Canada 17.....what a nice road
Jeff walking on water.....JT cove
My CBR (without RED) at JT Cove - here it is with the RED
Man, I love this ride through Canada
Three bikes at the Agawa Bay lookout
A view of Agawa Bay, Ontario
Another view of the bay
Get your damn bike out of my spot Boy!!!
The bikes at Agawa Bay
Chad riding the VFR in Canada
Adam riding the VFR in Canada
Jeff riding the VFR in Canada
Man, I feel like a wheelie..dah dah da-dah dah da-da
RCT riding the ST1100 in Canada
The view of Nipigon, Ontario
Once again, an early start and we're heading back across the border into Minnesota. With the memories of the day before fresh in my head, I began to remember what was in store for the day today. Split Rock, breakfast at the Blue Water Cafe, the run across on Wisconsin 13, and the Houghton lookout that night. As we crossed back into the US, we stopped at an overlook that I had wanted to stop at the last couple times through. It was a great view, and a nice moment as we all (with the exception of RCT) sat on the cliff's edge, dangling our feet, looking at this great view. Back on the bikes, Adam takes off and I pull ahead of everyone else. As I'm riding along, I spot something in a roadside lake - a big ol' Moose. I had seen two moose the day before, and when I mentioned it to Chad and his Dad they were disappointed that they didn't see them. Well, I slam on my brakes, and turn my bike around. Just then, the whole group begins to arrive, and I signal them to stop (and stop downshifting Chad!!! SHHHHHH!!!!!). There was the moose - oblivious to us, standing in the lake for a morning drink. I remember the first moose I ever saw up in Maine, and I"m sure that Chad and RCT will remember this one.
Further on down the road, we stop in Grand Marais for breakfast, and wouldn't you know it, the Blue Water Cafe IS open!! Thank goodness, 'cause this is one of the best breakfast places I've ever eaten. It's a great atmosphere sitting in this little town along the lake, everybody is nice, it's quiet. Very nice. After a great breakfast, we continue on to Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, where Jeff takes off and continues on without us. I knew we'd meet up later in the day, and we all understood that he needed and wanted to ride alone for a while. The views today from Split Rock were awesome. Clear blue skies, clear water, and a nice breeze. I think everyone was a little awestruck from the view, and I was even a little emotional when I first saw it. It had been a long time, and I was glad that I had returned there to see it.
After a HOT (about 95 on the VFR thermometers) ride through downtown Duluth, we crossed into Wisconsin and started heading east towards the UP of Michigan. It was neat passing by all the spots that we'd stopped at before and thinking "Oh yeah, remember when..." "Hey, there's where we called Chiuppi from...", etc. We stopped lakeside to cool down, splash some water on our faces, and headed to the next town for gas and eats. We hadn't seen Jeff yet. At that point, Mr. T. told us that he was going to split off and head home. He had seen everything and more than he thought he would, and I think he was missing his family. His mind was made up. We ate a quick lunch along the waterfront before he split off from us, and Chad, Adam, and I continued on, this time towards Porcupine State Park, MI.
After convincing the gatekeeper at the park that I just wanted to go see if our buddy was in there, I headed up towards the Lake in the Clouds lookout. There was Jeff, getting ready to mount back up. I asked him if we should all pay our money, and he gave a resounding, yes. Jeff's not too much into the sitting and looking at scenery thing, but I could tell by his glassed over expression and mannerisms, that this place was something special. We all paid our money, walked up to the overlook, and were awestruck. What a great view.
We ended up at the hotel in Houghton, MI before sundown, and went to have a bite to eat in the bar. I had an idea of riding up later in the evening to the lookout, and also to see the stars, however, too many beers were consumed and we soon became stuck to the bar stools. We did walk out onto the pier out back to admire the full moon and view of the Houghton-Hancock bridge. It was quite a site, and equally as nice as the overlook. After all, it's nice to re-live things, but equally nice to find new memories.
A nice morning view, crossing back into Minnesota
My favorite view, Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, Minnesota
Another view at Split Rock
The Houghton, MI bridge at night during a full moon
At dinner the night prior, we all decided that we would go our seperate ways today. We all had ideas of where we wanted to go - Chad had a route planned back through Wisconsin, Adam wanted to get home, and Jeff had no idea - as usual - as to what he was going to do. I wanted to do a little exploring in the U.P. We all fueled up in the morning, said our fare-wells, and I took off first. I stopped to help a damsel in distress who was stranded roadside with a dead pickup truck. Chad pulled over to help, but his phone didn't work. Jeff pulled over, let her use his phone, and then took off. I continued on, and thought for sure that since everyone was ahead of me, I wouldn't see any of them until the party tomorrow. I was wrong.
Lake Michigamme is another one of those places that I always like to stop. As I pull into the overlook, I see Jeff standing there. Dumbfounded (since Jeff rarely stops for lookouts) I asked him what the hell he was doing there. "Long story" he told me. We chatted for a few minutes, and he told me that he was going to just boogie home today. But, he had a change of heart, and after the Supertramp song "Take the Long Way Home" got into his head, he decided that he's finish the trip with me. It was very cool - after all, this is OUR trip, and it was appropriate that we finish it together. At least we'd have witnesses to the stupidity......
We continue on, and pass through Marquette. It was a nice ride down the lake today, and I have to admit that a lot of it had to do with nostalgia. I was now remembering our first trip together, and it was great seeing him riding along with me. I think the words "you understand now why you came this way" sum it up pretty well. Then we come to the town of Munising. Ahhhh, the breakfast place. There is a little Australian motif breakfast buffet restaurant in this town that we stopped at the first time we took this trip - and it was open still!! Wh-hoo!!! The day was shaping up to be really great. We looked over a map at breakfast, and decided on this county road to get us up to Applostle National Lakeshore. The road on the map looked different, and I said "I don't think they put dirt roads on maps....." Yeah, you know what's coming.
We're enjoying the backroads in the U.P. when all of a sudden the pavement ends and it's a gravel road. OK, no big deal. I can handle a few miles of gravel road. Ten miles later we see a sign that reads "Snow Plowed Pavement Ends." Hmmmm, I wonder what that means......well, I guess that means that someone didn't want to put down more gravel on this part of the road, because it turned to a surface of sand, dirt, and rocks. D'Oh!!! There wasn't a question in either of our minds whether we'd turn back or keep going. "So, they don't put dirt roads on maps huh??" "Sorry dude, you know I'm an idiot. It's your fault for listening to me." BTW - yes, we did continue on and road the final 12 miles on a dirt road with some pretty hairy deep sand sections. Hey, it's all part of the experience.
Finally, we made it up to Appostile National Lakeshore. A nice place, but more intended for cars and hiking. We had a last look at Lake Superior, gave her the salute and a promise to return again, and started the ride back home. The ride down through the UP was uninteresting, but once we hit Lake Michigan, it was very nice. We rode through a number of small towns, each with their own little wharf, some with lighthouses. I was enjoying the ride a lot at this point, and we rode down the coast of Lake Michigan for about 2 hours. After a gas stop (and the throwing of the hat incident - another story for another time), we picked out a route to get us back into Wisconsin so that we could eventually hop on the expressway and make some time. I pointed out a route that looked like it would get us to where we wanted to go, so we took it. Well, the damn map was wrong this time, and I think I almost broke my footpegs off when I saw the sign that read "Pavement Ends 500 feet." Damnit!! This time we did turn around, and found another way across the river into Wisconsin.
The rest of the ride home was uneventful, with the exception of looking out for the cops. Memorial Day weekend had every Kojak with a Kodak out trying to increase revenue for their local towns. What a scam. We stopped for fireworks somewhere along the way, and had to re-pack to fit in everything. We crossed back into Illinois, both of us flipped the "Welcome to Illinois" sign the bird, and we stopped at the Oasis off I-94. This was kinda like the "Last-Horrah" stop before we made it home, and a place we stopped the first time we took this trip. After a little Dewage (Mountain Dew for those who don't understand that lingo), we rode the final few miles home.
Lake Michigamme, MI
The road less travelled
What can I say about this trip except that it was everything and more than I hoped it would be. Riding through that area brought back so many memories, and made quite a few new memories as well. The trip worked out perfectly - we all rode at our own pace, we stopped when we wanted to, the weather was wonderful, and the comradery was great. I hope to ride with this same bunch again sometime. Everyone fit together really well, and it was great to get RCT back on the road. I could also tell that this trip was great for Adam, as he explained zoning out and forgetting about reality to me at one point. Yep - I know exactly what you mean.
Even though we had taken this trip before, we saw many new things, stopped at new places, but also stopped at those special places that we will always stop at - even 20 years from now when we go. I am so very happy that we were able to go back on this trip again, and I will do whatever I can to make this an annual event. This trip means an awful lot to me.
After returning from this trip, I remember again how this all got started, and I feel damn lucky to be able to do this. Riding through Canada, the sub-title of this report went through my head as I was thinking about all this.
I'm lucky I'm not dead......no, I'm lucky I'm alive.
Here is a link to RCT's Around the Lakes Trip Report
Here is a link to Chad's Around the Lakes Trip Report
Here are trip reports from the other two times we've taken this trip:
Around the Lakes - June 1997
Around the Lakes - August 1997