Keep it simple stupid....
I'll never get tired of taking this trip. After all, this was the very first trip that Jeff and I ever took, and I've got a lot of memories from the times we have taken this jaunt. Many different people have joined us from time to time for this trip, and this year was no different. It seemed that people were jumping in right up until the last minute, and a total of eight riders were to start the trip with us. Not only that, but the line-up of bikes sounds like a bastardized version of the 12 Days of Christmas....starting at the 7th day:
"BMW thumper, Harley Hertitage Softtail, 2....V-F-Rs, CBR 600, Kawasaki Concours, EX-500, and a G S seven-fifty...."
Yup, that's right. No mention of a CBR1000F or ST1100 in that verse.....my ride for this trip was the old 1977 Suzuki GS750. Why? Because I am a sick sick man.....well, not really, but kinda. Seriously, I wanted to do something a little different for this trip. I've ridden the CBR on this trip, as well as my old Seca. I saw this as an opportunity to take a short trip on the GS, as well as get back to the basics. What's the need for comfort, wind-protection, power, suspension, electrics, Aerostitch suits, and hard luggage? Why not just ride a plain old GS750, wearing an old leather jacket, with a duffel bag strapped to the back?? I decided follow the KISS theory to find out.
Joining us, in the same order as the bikes listed above, were: Jon (a friend of Adam), Carl (a guy that Jeff works with), Jeff a.k.a Otter, Adam "I'm glad I have electrics now" Machalek, Kurt "The Wheelie Master" Lewinski (who swore he'd never take this trip again), Mike Jordan (a friend from the Platinum Technology days), and Amy a.k.a. Tad's little sister.
Oh my god, what is that horrible sound?? Shut up alarm clock, I hate you. "Holy crap it's early," I thought as my head slammed back against the pillow. "I gotta get up." About 20 minutes later, I looked at the clock, and it read 3:50. "Who's idea of a sick joke is this?" I grumbled as I fell out of bed and attempted to get dressed. After 1/2 cup of coffee and some last minute packing, I rolled the GS into the street, and kick-started her. She fired right up, and before I really knew what was happening, I was out in the night air heading towards Woodfield. "This isn't even funny," I thought to myself as I flew down Schaumburg road. I pulled into the parking lot to see 5 bikes waiting for me and decided to put on a little show....so I headed right towards them, turned, and then locked up the rear wheel and left a nice skidmark while kicking out the rear wheel.....little did I know this would be a recurring theme for the trip. Ahh, that helped to wake me up a bit.
After a little grousing, and after a couple guys walked up, looked at the GS, laughed, and said "I can't believe your really riding that thing," we were off to meet Kurt and Amy at the oasis off I-294. We beat them there by a couple minutes, and initially I thought "oh great. Where are the Lewinski's?" knowing their tendency to be late to everything. Just a couple minutes later though, both Kurt and Amy showed up and we were back on the road for the ride around the south tip of Lake Michigan before our breakfast stop in St. Joe, Michigan. The ride was cold, not too bad, but I had wished that I had put on some long underwear that morning. After a quick warm-up stop at the Michigan welcome center, we finished the trip into St. Joe and headed to Stooges restaurant to enjoy breakfast. We almost had Curley specials all around, but some people were simply not up to the challenge.....rookies. :-)
After breakfast, and a quick gas-up, we started heading north. I didn't put long underwear on, figuring that the temps would rise. It was comfortable, but very windy. We decided to jump on the Interstate and get to Grand Rapids as quickly as possible. That way, we could spend more time enjoying the peninsula area around Traverse City. On the Interstate though, the wind really picked up, and I saw Amy falling behind. I was having a hard time keeping up 80 MPH speeds on the GS, so I slowed and rode with her for a while, trying to encourage her to give it a little more gas to help fight the wind. Approaching a rest stop, I figured I'd see a bike sitting at the entrance signaling to the slower riders that everyone had stopped there, but there wasn't. It was about the time I was saying "Hmmm, I wonder if they actually did st..." that I saw the frantic waving of arms from the rest stop parking lot. I jammed on the brakes, locked up the rear, and though "Nope. No way am I making that turn," so I continued on. Kurt, Amy, and I made it to the next exit, and I had them go ahead to the gas station while I parked roadside to signal to the others where we were. Eventually everyone caught back up, and Jeff took the lead into Grand Rapids.....hmmmm, Jeff taking the lead, not sure exactly where we're going.....this is gonna be fun. Hey - construction up ahead....this is getting good.
Believe it or not, with Jeff in the lead, we all managed to stay together through Grand Rapids, and through a detour, and we actually made it to route 37!! Stopped at a stoplight waiting to turn onto 37, a couple of us gave Jeff a round of applause for not blowing any turns....for once. Well done.
The ride up 37 brought a nice change of scenery from the Interstate, and I was glad to be on a 2-lane again. Unfortunately, it was getting colder the further north we got, and it was evident that the sun would not help us out in the warmth department today. At a roadside stop before heading towards Route 22, I decided to finally put on the long-johns. It was a good call, 'cause it got really cold as we turned north on Route 22. So there we were, on route 22, one of the first twisty roads that Jeff and I ever hit, and I realize that I'm riding the GS. "No problem," I think to myself. "I can keep up through the twisties..." and I did, although speeds were generally not exceeding 80 MPH. I was right behind Jeff's VFR through the first set of curves. Unfortunately, there are these things called "straight-aways", and as we exited a corner, I saw Jeff's VFR creep (OK, easily pull) away from me. Just then, Adam's headlight, which had been in my rear-view mirror for a while, turned into Adam's taillight blowing past me. "Damnit!!" I thought as I stomped my feet into the pegs. Adam caught a glimpse of me and laughed.
Up ahead on the road, we pulled into a favorite roadside lookout. Kurt and Amy took a little rest on a parkbench, while the photographers of the group waited for the cars to leave so that we could get a good "Pretty Maid's all in a Row" shot of the bikes. We took quite an extended break there, which was fine with me, but traditionally is somewhat uncommon. We had made great time to that point, but the mood of the group dictated that we take a few more stops than usual. We certainly were having a good time, and every stop turned into story-fest, and we were joking around and laughing it up quite a bit. There was a great deal of camaraderie going on, and I knew that the rest of the trip was going to be a lot of fun.
After a stop in Glen Haven, which is still one of the most beautiful places I have seen, and after a number of us exited the sand/gravel parking lot with rear wheels-a-spinnin, we headed out towards Traverse City. I again hung back with Kurt and Amy, a little because it was evident that Amy didn't quite have her riding confidence back, but more so because it's much easier to ride the GS at sane cruising speeds. Traverse City is pretty cool, and I started looking out into the bay and the surrounding hills. I thought that this would be a great place to stay on a couple-day trip, and for the next 1/2 hour or so, I started thinking "Hmmmm, how could I alter this trip to get Penny up here on the ST and.....ooohh, man, it sure would be nice to be riding the ST right now instead of this thing.....well, at least my ass isn't hurting....yet."
After about 70 miles or so, and much to the surprise of Kurt and Amy, I pulled into a roadside park for a break. "Hey, this is a little unlike you, Tad," commented Kurt about my unscheduled rest stop and kindness. I made some comment on not wanting to hear him complain about how much his ass hurt, and we laughed a bit. Amy put on another layer, and I decided to break out the blue rain gear and use the pants as a windbreaker. About 15 minutes up the road, I see our group of bikes stopped and we got the "STOP!" signal from Adam. The BMW, which had been having a few oil related problems, had apparently begin spewing oil all over the place. Jeff had run into town to try to get a U-Haul, so I headed into town to try to catch him and see if he needed help. We met at a U-Haul place that was closed, and after a failed attempt on the phone to convince the owner to rent us a truck that night, Jeff headed back to the group with a couple quarts of oil, and I headed to a gas station to try some more truck rental places. Everyone was closed, and nobody would come in tonight to rent us a truck. I started to head back to the group, and at the edge of town, I saw them go the other direction and pull into a motel. The BMW wasn't going any further on this trip, and Adam graciously (well, actually after arguing with Jon that he in fact WAS staying) stayed there to help Jon get a truck in the morning. We unfortunately parted ways, and the remaining six of us headed back into the cold towards Mackinaw City.
The last 20 minutes or so got brutally cold, and the motivation of knowing that there was a hot-tub waiting at the hotel kept me going. I didn't even notice that a couple of the bikes had fallen way behind, but I knew that Jeff was back there and would take care of getting them all to the hotel. After checking in, and starting to discuss dinner, I said the two best words I could think of: "Pizza Delivery." So let it be done. After a quick beer run, three hot pizzas from Squealy's Pizza were delivered and quickly devoured, as well as more Sprite for Carl. I see a nickname generating here. Then it was hot tub time, and everyone indulged. After a few more beers, it was bedtime, and I'm pretty sure nobody had trouble falling asleep. Staying asleep was another story.
All 8 bikes parked along Lake Michigan
Kurt and Amy enjoying the afternoon sun
A nice view of Lake Michigan
The old grey mare just....
The bikes (and riders) at Glen Haven, MI
The bikes at Glen Haven
The classic Glen Haven bikes shot
a view of the old dock at Glen Haven
My restaurant....somewhere in northern Michigan
During the night, something that felt like an earthquake kept waking me up. I thought nothing of it, and immediately fell back to sleep. A little while later, out of nowhere, I hear a voice clearly and distinctly yell "SHUT-UP!!" I sat there for about 30 seconds, contemplating the direction of that order. "Was that intended for me," I feebly asked, fearing that my snoring had gotton the best of her. "YES!" Amy answered without hesitation. "Sorry," I replied, and rolled over onto my side to try and keep from snoring.
A little while later, I heard movement next door, and decided to get up, much to the delight of Kurt and Amy. I got dressed and packed up the bike (man, I love just having one bag to pack and unpack), and then made a b-line for the coffee. I noticed Kurt and Amy starting to wake up, so I brought back a cup of coffee as a peace offering for my snoring. "Aren't you glad you're turning around today?" I joked. A little while later, everyone was packed up, we said our good-byes to Kurt and Amy, and started firing up the bikes. "Vroom..." went the Connie and the EX. "VRROOoommm, VRROOoommm.." went the VFR and the CBR. "RRRRRIIIINNNNNNN!!!" coughed the GS, which is OK, because I'm used to having a loud bike. "BLLLAAATTTT!!!! BLAATTT!!! B-B-B-BLAATTT!!!!!!" roared the Harley with a drum-set like beat, much to the delight of the young kid looking out the window. "Wow, I'm glad I'm not the loudest one!!" I thought. I handed Mike a $5 to pay for the Mackinaw Bridge toll, and we were off.
The Mackinaw Bridge and views from it were easily the most beautiful I had ever seen them. The morning air was crisp, the sun was out, and the water was an incredibly deep shade of blue. A barge floated waaay out in the distance, and out of nowhere, I saw a piece of paper fly up and stick against my rear view mirror. "Hmmm, that's strange," I thought as I reached my hand over to bat it off. Just then, I noticed a 5 on the piece of paper, and then realized it was a 5 dollar bill....the five that I had given to Mike. The odds of the 5 blowing out of Mike's tankbag and sticking to my rear view mirror are staggering, but I swear to god, that's what happened. I carefully grabbed the 5, pulled along-side of Mike, and offered it back to him - much to his surprise. I think it took him a second to realize what was going on, but I handed it back to him, and we continued on. Hey, here's the fun part. One lane of the bridge is paved, and the other is a grate. We told everyone in the morning that you have to ride on the grate and look down to the water below....a pretty scary view, yes, but everyone gave it a try before returning to the safety of the paved lane. After crossing the bridge, I waved a final good-bye to Kurt and Amy, and we continued on to Sault St. Marie.
We crossed the border without a problem, and stopped at the welcome center, which is right across from the West Side Cafe, a nice little breakfast place. After a good breakfast, and yes, Sprite for Carl (that he had to ask for a second time), we started to get saddled up when two yellow BMW R1100GSes pulled into the lot, both riders wearing Blue Aerostitch suits. The similarities didn't end there however. They had the same saddlebags, helmets, and after they removed them, we quickly realized that not only were they brothers, they were twins. We talked with them for a while, and Jeff commented "You know, you guys look pretty similar, what with the same bike, suit and all...." They just laughed and joked with one another. You could tell that they were having the time of their lives out on the road together.
Eventually, we continued north. We had explained to everyone that we are staying on Trans-Canada 17, and we'll meet up at the Agawa Bay lookout. This is the part of the trip where it's nice to go at your own pace, see what you want to see, and stop and take pictures as often as you like. The ride up towards Agawa Bay and the city of Wawa is still one of the most picturesque that I have ever seen. A part of that might have to do with the fact that this is the first place that I ever really got "out there" and lost myself in the riding experience, but that takes nothing away from the sheer beauty of this area. Jeff and I made our customary stop at JT Cove, where I had to snap a picture of the GS in the same spot as the CBR and old Seca had sat once before. After a quick Lake Superior water baptismal, Jeff took off, and I just kinda cruised along for a while, stopping here and there for pictures. I was really enjoying this ride, and even though it was really really cold, I was still glad I was riding the GS....and my ass didn't even hurt....yet.
I passed Mike Jordan before making it to the Agawa Bay lookout. Jeff was there, but there was no sign of Carl. "I'll bet you a thousand bucks he's back at the Agawa Bay campground," I said to Jeff. With that, Jeff saddled back up and ran back there to get him. That left me and the GS sitting at probably my favorite lookout anywhere. Not only that, but this was the clearest (but not warmest) and most beautiful I had ever seen this area. I sat there, looking out at the bay with the old GS parked in the spot where many other bikes had been parked before. The GS looked a little different to me now, and the whole simplicity theme made perfect sense to me at that moment. It really doesn't matter what you ride, it matters that you ride. "Thanks for getting me here," I said to it. "Now if you can get me home, that would be great too." I sat there a couple more minutes until Jeff arrived back with Carl. Yep, he was sittin at the campground alright. Still no sign of Mike though. We stood there enjoying the view, wondering where Mike was, and both Jeff and Carl commented that they saw him stopped taking pictures. I had seen him stopped as well, and we figured he was just enjoying himself. There's a reason why we wait at the Agawa Bay lookout. I don't mind sitting there all day waiting for people to catch up. The view is just that nice.
After a couple more minutes, we see a purple Connie heading up the hill and the rider obviously doesn't see us. Without hesitation, we all yelled "HEEEEYYYYY!!!!!!!!" Mike jumped and looked to the right, grabbed for the brakes, and pulled in, while we laughed our asses off. "Hey Mike, how many pictures did you take during that stretch?" "Oh about a roll and a half" he replied as he continued to snap pictures of everything. He really was having the time of his life, and it was great to see. I took off first out of the outlook and after a few miles, pulled over to snap some rideby pictures. Unfortunately, just as Carl and Mike were going by, there was an overabundance of cars, which is unusual for this area, so the pictures didn't turn out.
We pulled into a gas station right outside of Wawa, which is a good thing, since I had hit my reserve about 10 miles ago.....I was just happy the reserve tank worked, since I had never tested it. As I was removing my helmet, I heard a noise, and looked over to see the Connie going over. Mike had sacrificed his body to save the bike from too much damage, but it did go all the way over. I ran over and helped get it upright again, and being a new bike, expected a little bit of a downer for him. It did not happen. Mike had a great attitude about the incident, and basically said "Oh well, it had to happen eventually" and made light of it. Jeff came over to inspect the damage, and only found a couple scratches on the mirror. "Hey, this isn't fair!! There's no damage," Jeff said, to which I replied, "Damnit Mike, tip that thing over again, and let's see some scratches!!" I was impressed by how Mike handled the situation and how he didn't let it put any sort of a damper on the trip for him. He simply laughed it off and chalked it up to experience. He's certainly got the right attitude.
A little further down the road, we stopped for gas again, somewhere right outside of Marathon. Mike and I saddled up and started back onto the road. "Meet you at the Nipigon lookout?" I asked Jeff. "What are you worried about, I'm gonna beat you there anyway," He replied. "Wanna bet?" VROOOMMM!!!!! Off I went. After calculating the Kilometers read off the sign into miles, I figured it was about 112 miles to the outlook. Mike and I set a pretty good pace, and aside from the construction zones, we made good time. I don't remember the ride between Marathon and Nipigon being so nice, probably because it's usually cold and rainy during this stretch. Although it was cold out, it was clear and really sunny. The road consists of pretty constant long sweepers for about 40 miles or so, and there was no way I was going to keep up with the Connie through them. Just then, I round a corner and see a nice downhill stretch of road ahead of me....it's now or never. I pull back gently on the throttle so not to flood her, and start the downhill run. 85, 90 and 95 MPH went by quickly as the GS struggled towards the triple-digit mark. 97.....98......98.5.....99....c'mon baby!! Alas, triple-digits she would not see. The road flattened out, and my speed dropped back into the 85 range, and I caught back up to Mike. We stopped roadside for a bit during a nice stretch right along the lake. Again, the water was a deeper blue than I had ever seen it, and we snapped a couple pictures before continuing on to the overlook. I thought for sure that the quick picture stop would allow Jeff to catch and pass me. The miles rolled by, and I was switching between "holy cow is that beautiful" mode, and "Damnit, I gotta beat him there" mode. We passed the 105 mile mark, and I kept checking my rear view mirror, hoping not to catch a glimpse of a VFR headlight. I let out a resounding "WH-HOO!!!" as I pulled into the Nipigon outlook, and not more than three minutes later, Jeff pulled in. He was in a little disbelief that he didn't beat me there, especially with the speeds he was keeping up. We were enjoying the lookout when Carl pulled up. After he turned off the Harley, I remembered that I wanted to tell him that when he passed me during the roadside picture attempt, I could feel the exhaust pulses from the Harley hitting me in the chest. We stood there for a while before gassing up for the final stretch to Thunder Bay.
About 30 miles into the 70 mile trip, the sun went down, and the temperatures, which were already in the low 50s, dropped into the mid-40s. It had been cold the past two days, and I can handle the cold really well, but the last 40 miles here broke me. I have never been so f-ing cold on a bike in my life. I couldn't turn my head or keep from shivering, yet I didn't want to stop as that would delay the arrival into Thunder Bay, and the sooner we got there the better. We came up over a rise, and I saw the lights of the town. That view alone gave me about 5 minutes of stamina....but the hotel was about 15 minutes away. We made it into town, and it seemed like an eternity before we saw the sign for the Best Western. I pulled into the left-turn lane, and Jeff pulled beside me and just started laughing. I couldn't move let alone retaliate. I zoomed into the parking lot, hit the kill switch, and just sat there for a minute, trying to ignore the incessant laughter from the other riders. Eventually, I went to check in. "Do you have a hot tub here?" "No." (Insert very loud Homer Simpson "D'OH!" here)
The West Side Cafe, Sault St. Marie, Ontario, Canada....mmmmm, breammaffast
The GS at JT Cove
Who says I'm not a religious man....
The VFR at JT Cove
A nice view heading north on Transcanada-17
A view of Agawa Bay, Ontario
Another view of the blue water of Agawa Bay
The GS and the VFR at the Agawa Bay lookout
The GS750 as I saw it at Agawa
Papa Smurf....err, I mean, Me at the Agawa Bay lookout
Otter flyin past on the VFR
The GS parked along route 17
A late afternoon view of Superior
The GS with the blue water of Superior in the background
After a night of sleeping in long underwear and about 3 layers on top, I woke and did the zombie walk to the hotel coffee machine. Thankfully the coffee hit quickly, and after a second cup, I was ready to head out and cross back into the USA. Thankfully also, the temperatures were tolerable again, and it was about 50 degrees. A nice change from the ride last night. I turned the petcock to prime, and kick-started the GS to life.
The morning ride was cold, but nice, and before I knew it, we were crossing the border into Minnesota. Even though we hadn't been riding too long, I turned into a nice scenic overlook for a quick break. After Ansel (Mike) snapped another dozen pictures or so, we mounted back up, and I tried kick-starting the GS. "Hmmm, I smell gas." A quick check of the petcock found that I forgot to turn it from prime to on, and now the engine was flooded. "I'm not pushing you," Jeff yelled. "Don't need it!!" I replied, and I headed for the overlook exit, and the downhill road. I built up some speed, popped the clutch, and the GS coughed and spit a bit before dying again. "No problem, I've got about 2 miles of downhill road from here" I thought as I gathered speed again, and popped the clutch. The GS roared to life, and I turned around, revving the engine the whole time so that she wouldn't die, and continued on up the road. The ride down to Grand Marais is pretty straight, but it follows the shore of Lake Superior, and the views are absolutely spectacular. Huge bluffs line the right side of the road and crystal clear blue water runs down the left. The nicest part is that there is little sign of humanity in that area. It's just water, trees, the occasional moose, bluffs, and clear skies. At the end of this ride is the town of Grand Marais, home of the Blue Water Cafe - arguably the best breakfast place I've ever eaten at while on the road (The Riverside Cafe in Pegosa Springs, CO is it's only true competition). We sat and enjoyed a delicious meal, and took in the scenery that the town had to offer - and believe me, it was nice. Mike snapped more pictures of the bikes, and of the scenery before heading down to the shoreline to throw rocks into the bay. What a perfect way to spend a morning. I think everyone, especially Carl, really enjoyed the quaint atmosphere of this little town. I know I sure enjoy it every time I pass through.
Gassed up and back on the bikes, we continued south in to the c-c-c-cold. Jeff and I had been mentioning that "it's always warm in Duluth" and that was the motivation we needed. It was probably around 50 degrees, which isn't too bad, but after two days of riding in these temps, it starts to get to you a little. The temps dropped a bit as we pulled into Split Rock Lighthouse state park. In the past, it was possible to just walk in through the exit, snap a couple pictures, and leave. With the updated security, there was no way to get in, even though I just wanted to walk in for about 5 minutes, look at the view, and leave. Ansel paid his $5 entrance fee and went exploring, and I returned to the parking lot where Carl, Jeff, and I took up shelter from the wind behind a group of trees. After a while (he must have run out of film again) Mike returned and we headed towards the warmth of Duluth. The ride down continued to be nice, but the cold didn't let up. There are a couple of really nice sections of roads however, with a number of tunnels cut through the bluffs.
Entering Duluth, the temperatures rose and I thought of shedding layers - not. Usually, it's about 55 degrees up in Grand Marais, and we sweat through the 90 degree heat while passing through Duluth. The temperatures today rose to a balmy 55 degrees as we rode through the tunnels and underpasses of the city. While passing through one of the underpasses, right on cue, Carl pulls in the clutch and revs the Harley - something that I always to when riding the CBR. I respond with the GS, and then Carl really lets it go. Damn is that thing loud!! After enduring the incredible wind gusts on the bridge to Wisconsin, we stopped for gas before continuing on.
We decided earlier that day to cut out route 13, which would save us some time, as well as keep us a little ways away from the lake. For a little while along route 2, the temps rose again to the mid or high 50s, and I was about to declare a heat-wave. Luckily, we hit the shoreline of Superior, and the temps dropped back down to around 50. Phew! That was close. I almost got warm there for a second. We crossed the state line into the Upper Peninsula, and again the temperatures rose, but this time into the 60s!! For the first time in days, I was warm and it felt great. I wasn't kidding myself that it was going to last however. We did encounter a good deal of traffic, and one car in particular sticks out in my mind. There were some sections that had a third lane, or passing lane. Riding as a staggered group, the lead bike would signal and the rest would merge. Well, there was this Honda sport-ute that would hang back, and once the lanes opened up, would go racing at about 90 mph, and always end up separating the group, even when we tried to signal and secure the lane. This happened twice, which isn't too big of a deal, and we'd always end up passing the 2 women again. We get to a town, and are following a car through the marked 35 mph speed limit, and thanks to Chad's example, we always slow down for towns. It's four lanes, and there's a merge sign. These two women decide then to get around us, and go into the lane that's about to end.....you see where this is going. Mike's head turns and he swerves as to not get plowed into as they kick gravel from the shoulder into him. They're in Jeff's blind spot, so he doesn't see them until their headlight is nearly touching him, so he wisely gives them the space they need. I had had enough, and about a mile down the road, there was another passing lane in which they zoomed up to 90 and started recklessly passing people. I got a running start on the GS, gave everyone the "hang on" sign, and hoped to catch them before the passing lane ended. Somehow, the GS must have known, because she sustained 95 MPH through this section, and I caught up to the 2 women in the Honda. They looked over at me, and I promptly gave them the bird. They had the audacity to look surprised and question this. I re-corrected my steering, gave them the bird again, and nodded my head as if to say "(Bleeeep) You!" I hate people.
At any rate, we stopped for our last gas stop of the day in Wakefield, MI, and ran into a guy riding an old KZ1000. I walked over to talk to him for a while, and this guy had the thickest northern accent I have ever heard. It was so thick, that I had to try not to laugh. We all picked up on it, and we were talking that way for the rest of the night. "ahh cry-eye!! Thaaat's a guud one."
It was time again for Otter to lead, this time through an accidental road discovery from last year. We took off with Otter in the lead, and made a right onto a county road, and after about 5 minutes of residential area, we were immersed in a thick birchwood and evergreen forest. We made a right turn to continue on the road, and immediately the smell of fresh forest found it's way through my helmet and to my nose. The road offered about 10 feet of runoff on either side before turning into virgin forest, and it was quite spectacular. I dropped way behind everyone, and just cruised at about 45 mph. It was getting colder, but as Jeff said "the road is so nice, you won't care how long you've been riding or how cold you are." He certainly hit that one on the head. We met up again at the end of the road, and decided not to head up to the Lake in the Clouds. It was very overcast and cold, and I think we were all ready to just make it to the hotel for the night, so we continued on. It was official at this point. My ass was actually starting to hurt. This was not bad at all though - I thought I'd be in pain the first day, so making it to the end of the third before feeling any pain was a good sign.
We made it to Houghton without incident, and along the way saw a sign for the Super-8 that had the most wonderful word on it: Spa. After a nice rear-wheel lockup at a red-light, I led us to the downtown area hoping to see the Super-8. I asked a local where the Super-8 was, and he pointed to a little road, and I though "yeah, right. He's just f-ing with us" but low 'n' behold, there was the Super-8, right along the water. We checked in, and made a b-line for the hot tub. After a good soak, and a little disappointment (don't ask), we headed back to the rooms and I lied down on the bed for a while. I really felt like crap, and I think the heat of the hot-tub after the cold all day messed up my system. I attempted to eat a few pieces of pizza, and downed a couple Sprites, as did Carl, before turning in early.
The bikes parked outside the Blue Water Cafe
Otter, Carl, and Ansel along the shoreline in Grand Marais, MI
What the rider sees riding towards Porcupine
What the tire sees....
The bikes at Porcupine State Park, MI
I woke up feeling much better this morning, although I remember some light incident from the night before. As we were out packing up the bikes, and talking about how the hot tub messed everyone up, Mike proclaimed that he had found a new way to stop me from snoring. Turn on the light for a second. OK, that explains that.
We headed down the road, and after about 40 miles stopped for gas. I asked the attendant if there was a good breakfast place, and he pointed to a sign a couple streets over and up the hill, JJ's Cafe. We found our way up there but couldn't find JJ's cafe, but did see another cafe, so we decided to try it out. We got our menus, and Carl pointed out that the name on the menu had a piece of paper taped over it. Next thing I know, we're all holding our menus up to the light, trying to read what was underneath it. OK, this is JJ's cafe, but someone bought it and renamed it. The group of young females at the next table over were amused by our "you're not from around here" antics. Regardless, the breakfast was pretty good, and the Sprite was plentiful. We looked at a map, and decided to head inland from Covington and head through the Land o' Lakes area in northern Wisconsin.
We rode along the last stretch of Lake Superior, and I gave her the customary salute and promise to return again. As we got inland, the temperatures rose just a bit, but it was not warm in any sense of the word. Besides that, my ass gave out, and I initially thought that the foam on the seat had just deteriorated. Nope. It was my ass, and I had to fidget a lot more for the next hour or so to remain comfortable. Along the way, Jeff points something out in the road, and I realize right away that it's a turtle. I lock up the rear, turn around, and run out into the road to rescue him. Unfortunately, I was about 5 minutes too late as a car head already run him over and cracked his shell. Sadly, I moved him to the side of the road, and caught up with the group.
After crossing into Wisconsin, we pulled into a wayside so that we could figure out what was going on. Mike had friends in the area, and decided to go visit them, so we said our so-longs to him there. Carl, Jeff, and I plotted a route towards Stevens Point and decided to just jump on the Interstate from there and make it home. Heading into Reinlander, Carl jumps ahead of us and pulls a Jeff (i.e. he went right past the road we were going to take). Jeff chases him, and I pull over and wait.....and wait.....and wait.....Finally, I kick-start the GS, turn around, and go after them figuring that maybe Jeff didn't see me turn and wait. About 1/2 mile down the road, they pass me going the other way, and I give them the "keep going, I'll catch up" hand signal and turn around. I get back to the road, and while passing an RV, I see them parked on the side of the road. D'OH! It was no big deal, but it really was a snafu. :-)
Eventually, we hit the Interstate and everyone caught up. My ass was really starting to hurt, and I was glad to see the rest stop sign ahead, and immediately activated my turn signal. Carl had been offering rides on the Harley, and he asked again. After explaining the idiosyncrasies of the GS and it's bad jetting, I threw a leg over the Harley and fired her up. Attitude spewed from the v-twin powerplant and there was a little grunting involved. We headed back onto the Interstate, and I settled in at about 70 MPH on the Harley. Initially, I thought "Hey, this isn't too bad." I also figured out why Carl wasn't cold in Canada - huge windshield. About 20 minutes later, my legs started to itch like crazy, and when I went to scratch my left leg, I realized that the vibration had caused my legs to fall asleep. Also, Carl had dropped back on the GS a bit, and I feared that he might be having trouble getting it to sustain speed, so I pulled over to switch bikes again. Jeff got on the Harley, and Carl on the VFR. I revved the GS up and got her up to speed and realized now the complete lack of wind protection....and why I had been so cold in Canada. Luckily, I think the Harley had put my ass to sleep too, because it stopped hurting. It was interesting though riding down the interstate with a VFR and a Harley.....passing cars had to notice that the sportbike rider was wearing a Harley jacket and chaps, and the Harley rider was wearing a 1-piece Aerostitch. We stopped for gas about 45 minutes later and started exchanging stories. "I can see now why women like Harleys," Jeff commented about it's vibration. "I was starting to like it myself." Carl was obviously amazed by the smooth power of the VFR and with a huge smile said "man, I've never taken an on-ramp like that...."
The rest of the ride along the Interstate was somewhat uneventful, with the exception of the "Touch the Luggage" game that Jeff was playing. He had been doing it all trip - ride up next to someone, and touch their saddlebags or duffel bag. I had gotten him in Canada, as well as Mike Jordan, but he hadn't gotten me yet. Of course, our competitive nature caused a small battle to ensue. Unfortunately, I didn't have the power of the CBR with me, so I had to rely on traffic, braking, and swerving into other lanes to avoid his wrath. Then it happened. I was in the middle lane, swerved into the right lane to avoid Jeff, but couldn't get around the car in the middle lane before catching up to the car in the right lane. I was trapped, and as my feet pounded against the footpegs, Jeff used the cars to block me in and snap the bungee net. Well, at least I held him off for a couple days.
After a gas-stop, and another stop to put on the rain gear, we continued towards the Illinois state line where the clouds looked increasingly threatening and I feared rain would be in our future. As we approached the state line, I engaged the throttle lock, and started to shake out my hands, preparing for the next tradition. Jeff did the same, cracked his knuckles, and as we hit the state line and the "The People of Illinois Welcome You..." sign appeared, so did a duet of double-birds. I looked in my rear-view and saw Carl's helmet bobbing up and down in laughter. After a couple of tolls (welcome to Illinois) we hit the Belvedere Oasis as our final stop. We stood there for a while, exchanging final stories and laughing it up before parting ways. Usually at the end of a trip, I am disappointed to get home. Today, I was actually looking forward to getting home and being warm.
The open road is an incredible thing, and the fact that I wasn't disappointed upon returning home this time has nothing to do with any sort of letdown on this trip.
I loved everything about this trip. I've got so many memories from the other times that we've taken this trip, yet each time I take it, it's different. This time, the water up at Agawa Bay was a deeper shade of blue than I have ever seen. I remember the first time riding north on 17 and the feeling I got on my old Seca. The CBR has been through there a couple of times, and this time the GS was completely different. I got a little bit of that "lost on the open road" feeling the first day while heading up towards Agawa, but the 10 minutes I spent at the lookout by myself while Jeff was gone were really special. Despite the cold and discomfort of the GS, I am glad I decided to take her up there. There's something about spending a couple days on a bike, especially in an area like that. You'll never look at that bike quite the same way again. I'm glad I've got some different memories once again.
I especially liked riding with new people. Mike, a.k.a Ansel, was a blast to hang out with, and his northern accent and sense of humor had us rolling a number of times. He took some great pictures too, and you can see Ansel's pictures here. Carl, a.k.a. Sprite, really came out of his shell on the second day, and I had a great time talking and joking with him, as well as playing with his key-chain. It was great to have Kurt and Amy join us for the first part of the trip, if for no other reason than to have someone to make fun of. Just kidding Kurt. I could tell they enjoyed the ride, but one day was plenty for them this time with the wind and cold weather. It sucked big time that the BMW crapped out and that Jon and Adam couldn't continue. I'm sure we all would have had a blast, but it just wasn't meant to be this time. We'll definitely get out again with Jon, and Adam is joining us in a couple weeks when we head to Colorado. Jeff....well, his riding style and antics can keep any trip interesting. Plus, it's always nice stopping at JT Cove and the Agawa Bay lookout with him and remembering our first time through here.
Jeff and I do a lot of B.S-ing during the winter months, well actually all the time, and one of the things that we continue to preach to others is, it doesn't matter what you ride, it matters that you ride. Part of this trip for me was to prove that point, mostly to myself, and that's one of the reasons I took the GS. I've taken a lot of trips on the CBR, and I've modded that bike quite a bit to make it just right to tour on. The GS is plain and simple, and other than a throttle lock, I haven't done a damn thing to it. It's the exact opposite of what the CBR is technically, but functionally, it's the same thing. It took me to the same places and gave me that same feeling of freedom, exhilaration, and spirituality that I often get when riding. I definitely proved my point to myself.
This was a tough trip physically though. The GS beat me up quite a bit, and it was really really cold at times, but those are things that can be countered mentally. It's amazing what the body can do if the mind is strong. Sure, there were times that my mental motivation to keep going was "there's a hot tub in the hotel just x number of miles ahead" but most of the time it was "you're doing this just like you wanted to." A quick glance down at the blue tank of the GS750 and then gazing at the surroundings was more than enough to make me remember why I did the trip like this.
I think the thing I came away with on this trip is that simplicity can be a good thing. It certainly helps you to appreciate those things that you value, not only in motorcycling, but in life itself. Do I look forward to the next time that my hands get cold and I reach for that little switch and click on the Hot Grips? Hell yeah, but something tells me that I'll appreciate them a whole lot more. I mentioned that I wasn't sad when I got home, and sure, a lot of that has to do with being in the cold for 4 days. That alone will make you long for the warmth and comfort of home, but that's not completely why I was happy to return. I've mysteriously fallen into a really comfortable place in my life where I feel really complete and genuinely happy.
Being on the road is an experience like no other, and nothing in life, no matter how great, can replace what one learns and experiences on a trip. However, life requires balance, and that's something I learned a long time ago. Through these trips, I have found out things about myself, and I've tried to change things in my life to achieve a balance between being happy to be on the road, and being happy the other 48 weeks of the year. Taking trips like this used to be the only good part of my life which is why returning from them was such a letdown. I can't say that I enjoyed the trips more back then, because there was such an upset in the balance of my life, and being on the road was the only place I was truly me, before I knew who I was. Motorcycling is a part of me, not the whole me. It felt strange to be glad to arrive home from this trip, as opposed to the feelings of letdown of the past. Maybe that's a part of good balance. Trips like this have become the cherry on top of the hot fudge sundae, not the ice cream. For that, I am truly lucky.