Michigan Lakes Weekend

And here's how it all started...

As I rode through Traverse City on this year's "Around the Lakes" trip I remember thinking that I wanted to get Penny up here on the bike....and no, it wasn't because I happened to be riding the old GS 750 at the time.   The area around Traverse City, especially the peninsula just to the west holds very fond memories for me.  I've been through here many times, and I have a lot of places in the area that I will stop at every time through, simply because of the memories.   When Jeff and I took our first multi-day motorcycle trip, it was this part of the trip where it hit me for the first time, and I'll never forget the feeling I got the first time I walked on the beach at Glen Haven. What better place to bring Penny on a late season trip.  From what I've seen of her on trips, she can certainly appreciate a place like this. 

Everything was in place for a short 2-up trip where we could take our time, not ride too many miles, have lots of time to stop, see things, and go exploring, and just get back out on the road and enjoy the freedom that motorcycling so often brings.  We weren't sure where we were going, had no planned routes other than to head towards Traverse City, and figured we'd watch the weather, and ride to where it was nice.  A perfect mentality for a trip, I think.

Day 1:

"Yes, we have to leave this early," I told Penny as the clock read 4:30AM.   I hate having to get on the road this early to start a trip, but in order to get around the city on I-294, and especially I-80/94 before gridlock, you have to be on the road by 5:00 at the latest.  As I loaded up my last minute packing on the ST and began the morning pre-flight check, I thought "damn, I don't have any maps."   I returned up to the office and began ransacking through the pile of pre-used road atlas maps that clutter the floor.  Having found Michigan and Wisconsin, I figured, "ehh, that's good."  About that time, Penny was ready to head out into the darkness.  We pulled away from the house, and like every trip, my mind started to wander, and I began to wonder what the trip had in store.

Initially, it had c-c-c-cold weather.  The ride around the city was uneventful, but temps weren't much more than 50 degrees.  My main concern for this day was to keep Penny warm and happy.  OK, one out of two would be just fine, and this morning despite the cold, she did very well.  After a warm up at the Michigan welcome center, we sat down to a Fine breakfast (and of course a Curly special for me) at our usual stop in St. Joseph, Michigan.  After a gas stop, and failing to convince Penny to wear the heated vest, we continued on with the vest still sitting in the topcase.  After about an hour, we stopped at a rest stop just outside Grand Rapids to warm up, with the assistance of hot cocoa and cappuccino.  The cold was starting to get to both of us a bit, me mostly because I really wanted the weather to warm up so that Penny would enjoy the ride a little more.  The skies were gray and overcast, despite the clear and 65 degree forecast from the Weather Channel the night before.  At this point, I made Penny put the vest on, assuring her that she would not regret it.  I think she wanted to show me that she was a "tough girl" and could handle it.  I already knew that, but I also knew that she could enjoy it a whole lot more with a little electric heat.  On went the vest, and off we went through Grand Rapids.  About 10 miles down the road, I got a "I'm sorry for being stubborn.  This vest is great."   I was glad to hear that, and I was able to relax a little more, knowing that she was not so cold.

We rode through the Michigan countryside, and Penny, in her usual style, was pointing out anything and everything.  I could tell that she was enjoying the ride, even though I was getting a little bummed out at the weather.  I really wanted the clouds to break.  Every so often there would be a break in the clouds, and the incredible blue sky would be visible, but alas the sun could not break on through.  We stopped a couple times, and I like the fact that Michigan has a lot of waysides to stop at.  I continually asked if she was OK, and she assured me that she was, even though I knew damn well that she was cold.  I could tell though that despite the cold, she was enjoying being on the open road again, so I felt OK continuing on.  After a lunch stop at a Big Boy restaurant (but without any Dr. Evil sightings) in Manistee, we headed towards route 22.  I explained over lunch that this was the route that Jeff and I first found, and that this part of the ride would be a lot nicer, but could get colder since we were closer to the lake.  Penny was ready and willing, so we continued on.

The ride up route 22 was as nice as I remember it, and I was glad that I was riding the ST1100 and not the GS750, although either would have been fine with me.  The road traces Lake Michigan and goes through some really picturesque harbor towns along the way.   I was really starting to enjoy the ride, and Penny was as well as she continued to point out things, and give the occasional hug.  We were entertaining each other, as always, with humor.  In between scenic views, funny road signs would pass, and I'd make a joke - i.e. I gave my best Ben Stein impression as we passed the sign pointing towards the town of Beulah.  Penny was more into show-tunes, and any town name or sign that could replace a word in a Rogers & Hammerstein work would result in a quick rendition of a bastardized song.....I just shake my head at that point.  We were enjoying the ride very much when we came upon the first of the "I always stop here" places - the Arcadia, Michigan overlook.  We pulled into an empty parking lot as the sun was trying to break through the clouds over the lake.  Only a few rays were reaching the water like sunlight through partially opened window blinds.  I took this trip's version of the "Pretty Maids All in a Row" picture before we ascended the lookout tower.  A place like this will help you forget the cold weather and the long ride. Penny was really enjoying this view that I had seen so many times before, especially when I explained to her that I first saw this place over 4 years ago, and that I return every chance I get (although I rarely climb all the way to the top of the tower).  After walking back down, I caught Penny sitting on the park table looking out into the lake, and all I could do was smile....and take a picture.  I was glad that she could sit and enjoy such a view, and I was looking forward to the rest of the day.

As we rode through the coastal towns, the hug frequency increased once again, and I knew that Penny was really enjoying the ride.  We turned off onto route 109 and headed up towards Glen Haven - my favorite stop along this route.  The view approaching the shoreline is absolutely jaw-dropping, and today was no different.   After riding through hours and hours of gray skies, magically, the sky cleared about 2 miles from the point.  The timing couldn't be more perfect, and as I heard Penny comment on how it suddenly cleared up, I told her "Here's the view you've been waiting for."  We crested the hill, and I slowed down, all I heard from the back seat was "wow."  The ride up 22 and 109 is great, but there's nothing like that first elevated view of the shoreline near Sleeping Bear.  We rode down to Glen Haven and parked in the usual spot, but this was the first time that I had only seen one bike parked here.  As usual, we were the only people there. The shoreline was as beautiful as I have ever seen it, and I still couldn't quite believe that the clouds had magically dissipated right before we got here - talk about put me on a highway, and show me a sign.  We took our time walking along the beach, skipping rocks, talking about the times I'd been here before, and just enjoying the incredible afternoon. After my usual baptismal, I sat down for a bit.  The water was an incredible shade of deep blue, and I just sat there, like I always do, looking around and taking it all in.  Every time I visit this place, my mind is racing with thoughts, memories, and I'm always very thankful to be there.  It's hard to imagine that some people never get the chance to stand in a place like this, take a step back from life, and just live for the moment.   As I sat there holding Penny's hand, I again was glad that she could be here and see it for herself.

Reluctantly, we left Glen Haven, but decided to take the 7 mile scenic drive just a few miles back on the road.  I had never had a chance to take the scenic loop before, despite coming through here on many occasions - we're usually on our way up to Mackinaw, and don't have time.  Since we were only planning to get to Traverse City tonight, we had time to explore, and I was curious as to what we would find.  It's a shame that we had never stopped here before, but on the other hand, I was glad that a place like this could be discovered with Penny by my side.  The drive, from the get-go, offered unbelievable views (just like those view when approaching Glen Haven) and a very peaceful setting.  We stopped at almost every overlook and took our time through the loop.   We saw incredible views of the dunes, Glen Haven, and a great view of Lake Michigan from about 500 feet above the water just as the sun was started to depart behind some clouds.  This would have been a spectacular place to watch the sunset, but it was getting colder as the sun went down, and I wanted to get us to a hotel.

After passing a number of "rustic" motels, and pretending like I was going to pull in there, I pulled into the Best Western and got us set up.  We were happy to find that they had a hot tub, and after some pizza delivery, we found our way to the Jacuzzi.  Despite the cold weather earlier, we had shared an incredible day of riding together.  We were able to see some familiar places for me, and do some exploring.   Penny held up great, and I knew that no matter what the rest of the trip had to offer, she'd be a great companion.  We were both looking forward to what the next couple days of riding had to offer.

Pretty Maids all in a row...or maid in this case...at an overlook along Lake Michigan

The view south of the shoreline and the ST

Tad and Penny at the lookout

Penny enjoying the moment at the overlook along Lake Michigan

The lone ST parked at Glen Haven

Penny at Glen Haven with Point Oneida (a.k.a. Penny Point) in the background

I think I've taken this picture four times...

A view of Glen Haven from the Sleeping Bear Dunes Scenic Drive

Another view from the drive looking inland

A view south of Lake Michigan from the scenic drive

A view north of South Manitou Island from the Sleeping Bear Scenic Drive

Day 2:

After the long day of riding, we decided to sleep in just a bit this morning, which was great.  We didn't have any timeframe or schedule, and after having watched the weather last night, we ruled out heading into Canada for fear of freezing our asses off.   So, we got a late start, and decided to head to another place I hadn't been.   We took route 37 north out of Traverse City to see the peninsula.  The ride up was very scenic, and we could see the water on both sides of the peninsula.  We rode through farmland, wineries, and eventually made it up to The Old Mission Lighthouse.   It was low tide, and we were able to walk out into Lake Michigan.  People there before us had created rock arrangements of flowers or to spell words.  It was a little overcast this morning, but that didn't take away from the stop.  We admired the view of the lighthouse and shoreline before heading back down to Traverse City.   Even though it was the same road, the views were completely different heading south. 

After stopping for breakfast, and enduring the stares from the people who were obviously thinking we were crazy for being on a motorcycle, we continued north, not sure exactly where we were heading.  I was worried a bit that Penny was going to get too cold, and I kept pulling over every so often to make sure she was OK, and to make sure she still wanted to head north.  She was holding up really well (gee, I wonder if that had to do with the fact that she had a heated vest on) and wanted to keep going north.   We passed through Charlevoix, and made a quick stop at my restaurant to take a few pictures.  We again had overcast skies, but just being on the road again, and being away from the city, was enough to keep our spirits up today.  Along the way, I would point out places and tell Penny stories of previous times through here - like earlier this year when I almost froze to death.  OK, maybe that wasn't the best story to tell.

As Route 31 merged back with the Interstate just south of Mackinaw, I pointed north and said "There's the bridge!!"  Much hugging ensued as we rode the last miles up to Mackinaw.  I exited the last exit before the bridge, and we made our way to the shoreline.  I never realized that there was a park here, or a lighthouse, or a great view of the Mackinaw Bridge.  We enjoyed the shoreline for a while, walked along, skipped rocks, and just enjoyed the moment.  As we were walking, it started to drizzle just a bit, so we made our way to some gift shops to have a look around and escape the weather.  After Penny had made her purchases for the trip, we were ready to continue on along Lake Huron.

Leaving Mackinaw, the rain picked up a bit, but so did the colors.  As we rode along the shoreline, something that I've written about before happened.  Rain seems to have a cleansing affect on fall colors, and they were out today.  The rain was pretty scattered for a while, and we stopped a number of times along the shoreline to enjoy the view.  The best part about it was, as I put it to Penny, "Nobody else in the world knows where we are right now."  There isn't much around this area except the road and a few houses, and very little traffic. It was easy this afternoon to get lost in our adventure and forget about everything except the now.  We spent the afternoon putting along, stopping here and there.  I'd see a sign for a lighthouse, so we'd go see it - that's about it.  It was incredibly relaxing and very laid back. We weren't in a hurry to get anywhere, and I was enjoying this type of ride very much, like I usually do.

Eventually though, the rain started to come down a little harder, and as we approached Alepna, it was coming down pretty good.  We eventually found our way to a Best Western and were thrilled to see a steakhouse right across the parking lot from the hotel - and they had a hot tub.  Man, it doesn't get much better than this.

The Old Mission Lighthouse, Traverse Bay, MI

A stop at my restaurant

A view of the Mackinaw City Bridge

The old lighthouse in Mackinaw City

The ST along Lake Huron

A view of the shoreline along Lake Huron

A view of the ST in some nice colors along Lake Huron

Day 3:

Glancing at a map this morning, I noticed a good number of bays, inlets, and points along the shoreline this morning.  I had no idea where we were going to end up today, but I really wanted to continue on with the stop early, stop often way of riding that we had enjoyed over the past couple of days.  The sun wanted to peek through the clouds this morning, but it just couldn't quite make it.  Regardless, we continued south along the Lake Huron shoreline.  The rain had gone away, and the fall colors lined the road.  We enjoyed the chilly morning ride and the detour through the Michigan countryside.  The ST plowed up and down the rolling hills as we made our way towards Harrisville, where we stopped for a bite to eat.

It was still early in the day, and we decided to keep on doing what we had been doing.   Along the shoreline we rode, and anytime there looked to be a coastal access road, I'd turn down it to see what we could find.  It didn't really matter what we saw, and what we didn't.  What mattered and what was great about the day, was that neither one of us had a care in the world.  That's the way to ride.  As we followed the coast, out on a the horizon a lone barge was floating along.  I wondered what it would be like to be out there in the water.  Is it any different than the feeling of isolation that one often gets from motorcycling?

After a quick bathroom break in the town of Tawas, we headed to Tawas Point State Park.   After a couple miles of backroads, we arrived to find a nice lighthouse and shoreline.  We walked around the lighthouse and keepers quarters, and then made our way to a boardwalk.  Both of us got hit my a tired spell, so we sat there for a while looking out into the water and watching the barge head south.  It wasn't the nicest of days weather-wise, but that didn't matter.  It was a great day to be exploring, and there was no place I'd rather be.  After a nice rest, we continued the exploration.   Further on down the road, and after catching up and passing the barge again, I again turned down a side road, and we ended up at Point Lookout.   There wasn't much there - a few houses, a small marina, and a long boardwalk out into the cattails.  We took a lazy walk to the end before going back to the bike and continuing on.

As the road tracing Saginaw Bay got closer to the town of Bay City, we began seeing more and more signs of life, and I figured that our peace and solitude for the day had long since left us.  As we rode into town, I spotted a sign for a state park and decided to give it a shot.  I wasn't expecting much, being this close to a town, but we had been riding for a while and it seemed like a good stop.  Again, we found a nice boardwalk, but didn't see the barge anymore.  We walked along for a while, and I saw a path into the bushes.  While Penny was gazing out at the lake, I took a few steps off the boardwalk and to my amazement was a beautiful calm lake with a lone swan gliding along the water.  This is exactly what I always talk about - finding that little hidden gem of a moment where you least expect it.  I called Penny over and we just stood there looking out at the natural, and untouched beauty.  "Thank you," she said "for showing me this."  After a great day of riding along the lake and seeing those unexpected things, this was a perfect way to end up the day.

I waved good-bye to Lake Huron, and thanked her for the memories before jumping back on the ST and heading for the Interstate.  We ended up stopping just short of Flint, MI that night, which I thought would give us a nice easy ride home the next day....and they had a hot-tub too!!

Tawas Point Lighthouse, along Lake Huron

Another view of the lighthouse and quarters

Penny taking a picture at Point Lookout along Lake Huron

A nice lake, in Bay City State Park

Day 4:

I got a call-back from Linc the night before, and we planned to meet for breakfast at 9:00.  I hadn't seen Linc for a couple years, since I stayed with him on my way to New England.  This would be a good opportunity to see each other again, and meet his fiancée as well.  As I packed up the bike in the cold morning air, I remember thinking "Is Linc actually going to show up on the XX, or will he pull a TMan?"  As I pulled the ST around to the front of the hotel, in pulled an XX, and I got to meet Kim....kinda.  I've seen some cold people before (temperature-wise) but I have never seen anyone as cold as I saw Kim that morning.  I think I heard her swear off riding the bike ever again, but I'm not sure.  Luckily, the breakfast place was only 1/2 mile down the road.  As she thawed, and blood began flowing throughout her body again, Kim's spirits improved.  We enjoyed a huge breakfast, and talked for about an hour afterwards - partially because we were all having a great conversation, and partially because nobody wanted to venture out into the cold.  Eventually, we got suited back up and went our separate ways again.  It was great to see Linc again, and really nice meeting Kim.  Penny and I enjoyed the short time we spent together very much, and next time, we'll get together when it's warm.

Looking at a map the night before, I located the town of Hell, Michigan and we made that our destination this morning.  After a little Interstate, we were on the backroads again enjoying the rolling countryside.  We passed through a couple towns, and followed the well marked signs towards the town of Hell.  "Look, up there we're going right to Hell," I said.  One more right turn, and we were heading into the errr, town of Hell...if that's what you wanna call it.  There were three buildings, and one was abandoned.  We stopped at the country story/gift shop and laughed at all the junk that the sell there.  After purchasing some of that same junk (well, postcards) and sending a couple to family and friends, we got out of Hell, and I was a little scared, because it was not warm there.....think about it.  OK, nevermind.

I was glad we went a little out of the way, because it was going to take us at least an hour to get back to the Interstate near Jackson, and the day had taken a turn for the better, coincidentally, immediately after we left Hell.  The sun was now out, and the temperatures had finally broken the 60 degree mark, but not by much.  The ride across the countryside was very relaxing.  Eventually though, we made it back to the Interstate and started the trek home.  As we approached St. Joseph, the place where the trip to Michigan usually starts, I exited and headed for the coast one last time.   We pulled into a roadside stop and looked out at Lake Michigan for a while before enduring the inevitable - the ride through Indiana and back into Chicagoland.  Yuck - neither of us were looking forward to this, and I was hoping that culture shock wouldn't set in.  After all, the most traffic we'd seen in days was a couple of stoplights in Traverse City. 

Luckily, the trip back home through beautiful Gary, Indiana was uneventful, and I even got my ceremonial double-flip off of the Welcome to Illinois sign, despite pleads from the back seat - she didn't want anyone in that area to mistake the gesture as directed towards them.  After one last warm up stop at an Oasis, we made it home unscathed by the traffic, and minds still very relaxed from the days on the road.

Kim, Linc, and Penny suiting up after breakfast

"Hey boy, you goin my way??"


Like postcards on a peg board, memories from this trip get added to the list - some overlapping others, some expanding to new areas.  I had been to a lot of these places before, but it seems that no matter how many times I visit them, each time is important and special in it's own way.  Obviously, having Penny there with me added to the experience, and I love sharing things like this with her.  Seeing her expression as we walk along a beach or crest a hill to see an incredible view reminds me of why I keep doing this.  Memories.

I'll take a lot with me from this trip.  I'll remember how the weather miraculously cleared up just as we approached Glen Haven, the incredible views from the Sleeping Bear Scenic Drive, and the miles and miles of shoreline that we traced to name a few.  What caught me off guard on this trip was the fact that many of the places that I hold the greatest memories of are those places that I hadn't stopped at before.   Don't get me wrong, Glen Haven is Glen Haven, and that place will be special to be forever.  It's more special to me now that Penny knows what it is and why it is so special to me.  I can take a place, like a roadside stop, in the rain, along Lake Huron where we just walked along the beach and skipped rocks and go back there anytime I want.  I guess that's no different from a lot of my great memories, but I didn't really expect to find such memories here.  Imagine that...just when I stopped looking...

I gotta take just a moment to compliment Penny on her demeanor on the trip.  We hit some really crappy weather, with only a few hours of sunshine over four days, and not once did I hear a complaint.  She held up incredibly well.  More importantly, I saw her get to a place that she really only got to once on the Appalachia Tour this year.   Many a time would I look over at her and see her just lost in the moment.  It was incredible to see Penny standing in a place like Arcadia outlook and see her just lose all sense of reality and only comprehend the now.  Of everything else, this was the most important thing to me on this trip, and the strongest memories that I will take with me.