Around the Lakes 2001


a.k.a. Call some place paradise...


OK, if you don't know the history of the Around the Lakes trip by now, we need to talk.

I still don't completely understand why anyone in their right mind would willingly follow Jeff or I in anything that we do.  In past years, we could always find a couple of idiots who would agree to go on this trip with us.  Many times, this involved heavy consumption of alcohol, and often a swift kick in the ass was in order to get someone to ante-up.  We've always had a good time, and the most we every rode with was 8 motorcycles.  It was easily manageable, and each year brought different stories and experiences from the people with whom we shared the road.

This year, by the time we closed the signups (never thought we'd have to do that) we had 23 bikes, and 27 people total.  As more and more people signed up, Jeff and I wondered more and more how the hell we'd pull this off, especially since we didn't know at least half the people who were going.  Well, after we sobered up, we decided to have a couple of pre-trip rides, and once we met the people who were stup..err, brave enough to join us for the trip this year, we both knew that everything would be fine.  As Jeff said, "we couldn't hand-pick a better group of people."  Not only that, but the diversity of motorcycles and rider experience hit each end of the spectrum. 

For more information about the details of the trip, the people and motorcycles that went, and the basic route that we took, plase check out the ATL2001 homepage at http://www.aroundthelakes.net/atl2001/ATL2001.htm

My expectations for this trip were a little higher than usual, and my level of excitement days before really surprised me.  There were so many new opportunities on this trip that weeks beforehand I was already really really really looking forward to the ride.  I wanted to show the new guys just what this is all about.  I wanted to share the road again with good friends like Jeff, Adam, and MJ, as well as the Lewinskis.   Finally, I wanted to get to know the new people who were joining us, watch their reactions as they experienced each new day, and find out what I could learn from them.   I knew that some people would be looking for some leadership, and that's fine - Jeff and I organized this, and we knew we'd at least have to get them started, but we both hoped that the groups would just settle into the ride and do their own thing. We each wanted to ride with the group, but also have some solo time to relax.  There were a lot of unknowns on this trip, and it was going to take five days and about 2200 miles to figure them out.

Finally, this was to be the final voyage for the Black Whale, at least in it's current state.  After 75,000 miles on her, it had finally come time to park her for a while.   Were it not for a recurring transmission bearing problem and the fact that she burns a quart of oil every 1500 miles, she'd be OK, but those issues were becoming a source of possible bigger problems and I was starting to question her reliability.   That's not a good thing for a bike that takes you to the middle of nowhere.  I found it fitting for this to be her last voyage, since this same trip was also her first back in 1997.  She has served me extremely well over the years, and has taken very good care of me.  While I had signed papers for a new bike before this trip, I did not even second guess which bike was going.  I owed it to the Black Whale to take her out one more time. 


Day 1:

Although I had no trouble crawling out of bed at 3:00 in the morning today, as usual, I had my own internal argument on whether this was really necessary.  I know the answer, but I really hate mornings.  As usual, after just a couple of minutes of thought, I climbed out of bed and was outside by 3:30 enjoying a cup of much needed coffee.  Ray showed up just a few minutes later and we wondered if John’s garage door would open anytime soon.  We walked down to his place and heard a little rustling in the garage before it opened. I could tell that both of them were really excited about this and all the time leading up to today’s departure was gladly and finally behind them.  I suited up and went around the block to Don’s house to make sure that the Schilling brothers were up and going.  After the rain suits were put on, Ray and John came around the corner, and eventually we were rolling.  It was a little later than I had hoped, but we did make it to Woodfield before the 4:30 departure time….but not by very much.  We were the last ones there, and pulling into the parking lot, I couldn’t believe how many bikes I saw.   I knew there would be 18 bikes there, but it hadn’t really sunk in.  Everyone was laughing and smiling and the excitement level was something to see.  I was also very glad to see Mr. Trank and SarahT there, as he was questioning his attendance until the last minute.

One by one, the groups of five headed out for the treacherous journey around the city of Chicago.  Into the pitch black I watched the red taillights disappear onto the highway, and as I assembled my group for our departure I began to realize how cool this really was.  We headed out in our group of four knowing that we had to stop at the Hinsdale Oasis to meet the last member of our group, Tyrone.  I was picking up the CB chatter from MJ’s group on channel 35 most of the way there, and we pulled into the oasis and found three of the four groups there.  Otter’s group, a.k.a. the limited range group, had stopped there to top off in order to make it all the way to St. Joe this morning.

 Back on the road and through the tollbooths we went.  Tyrone and I were helping each other out with the traffic, and despite the fact that it was 5:00 AM, there were still a number of cars out.  Luckily, we didn’t share a common destination with them, as we wouldn’t see work or the office for five days. 

 The ride through Indiana went really quickly, and before I knew it we were about 15 miles from the rest stop.  “14.2 miles,” Bob corrected. “That’s what my GPS says.”  We had caught up to and passed the other two groups, but we hadn’t seen Adam’s group all morning, and they were not in the Michigan welcome center when we pulled in to reassemble and warm up a bit.  I could tell quickly that this group of people was going to get along just fine as the jokes were flying this morning and we were all smiles.  After a quick conversation with Otter about the whereabouts of Adam, the last group, after making a gas stop, pulled into the parking lot.  I had feared that keeping this many bikes together would be difficult, but it was proving to be fairly simple.  As we were standing around admiring the plethora of motorcycles, my stomach started to growl and I suggested to our group that we get going.  I must not have been the only hungry one, because all the helmets were going on and the caravan to St. Joe ensued quickly.  As we approached town, the CB chatter increased again and we helped each other make the exit and correct turns to get to Stooges for breakfast.   As I rode through town approaching the restaurant, I saw my ST1100 and the yellowWing parked across the street.  The bikes pulled in, and the Lewinski’s appeared from their hotel and joined us for breakfast.   We took over an entire room at Stooges and everyone was laughing and carrying on like it wasn’t 6:00 AM.  I guess a nice 120 mile ride can wake just about everyone up, and it was obvious that nobody cared anymore about what time it happened to be.  Great, step one complete.

It had started to rain while we were eating, and before heading out I made sure that everyone knew where our next meeting point was.  Once we hit the interstate, my group took the lead and blazed a trail to the rest stop outside of Grand Rapids. Most everyone made it there soon after we did with the exception of the Johnson’s and Nikodens.  They had stopped at the previous rest stop and I was hoping that the weather wasn’t discouraging them.   After a little while, and after we realized that the rain was not going to let up, we got ready for the trip through Grand Rapids, and I wished good luck to those members of Otter’s group, knowing his ability and history of blowing turns.  Once again though, somehow, someway, Otter and his group made it through the city, and we all began heading up M37.

The rain really started coming down, and my Aerostich wet-crotch problem was in full force, but morale was still very high.   We stopped once for gas just outside of Grand Rapids and found Otter’s group there as well.  Most everyone seemed to be making the best of the day, and that was great to see.   We continued on into the monsoon rain, passing through small towns and kept noticing small groups of riders huddled under gas station or convenience store awnings.  I asked guys in the group if the wanted to stop, but everyone said keep going, hoping that we’d outrun this storm. After another hour or so, we made it to the intersection of M37 and M55 and we stopped there to grab some sandwiches and dry out.  Despite the rain, everyone seemed to be having fun, although some people were contemplating going directly to the hotel.  The day was turning into a wash, pun intended, but I was determined to make it to at least part of Route 22. I walked outside and saw a big black cloud approaching from the south, and encouraged the group to get moving again.  I told them that I was going to continue for a while, as I was already wet and a little more wasn’t going to make a big difference. The group was dumb enough to follow me.

The rain continued, but it wasn’t too bad…for now.  We made it to the Arcadia overlook and enjoyed about 5 minutes there before it started to downpour.   One by one, the bikes exited the parking lot with one thought only.  Get me the hell out of this rain.  As the numbers decreased, there was Otter and me (big surprise), and the “overly-excited” group – Tyrone, Ray, John, and Chris Boll.  The newbies had no intention of calling it a day and were looking to Otter and me for guidance.  We decided to head to Glen Haven, and hoped that the rain would go away at some point.  While it did slow down, it never went away.  Despite that, the beach at Glen Haven was as beautiful as ever.   We walked down to the water.  One of my traditions here is to skip rocks, and today that was made ever so difficult by the whitecaps crashing along the shoreline.  After some careful calculation, I skipped a rock twice in between waves, gave one last look at the shoreline and Penny Point, and headed back to the bikes.  The rain picked up a bit, and I joked, “OK, who’s up for Northpoint?”  Not even Otter bit on that one, and we decided to call it a day and head back to the hotel.

The ride across the peninsula to Traverse City was nice, and the rain did let up just a bit.  Despite all the rain and cold, all day long I was noticing John and Ray point out scenery to each other, and Tyrone was just having the time of his life.  I was enjoying watching them experience things for the first time, and was just hoping that the weather up in Canada would be nice tomorrow.  We made it to the hotel and checked in, finding out that we were the last to arrive.  Most everyone was going through the drying out process, and a few generous individuals had purchased some beer, of which I immediately indulged.  As we stood under the awnings exchanging stories from the day and watching the rain pour down upon the motorcycles, I was glad to see that everyone was having a good time and taking it in stride.  A day like this can make or break a trip for someone, and I’ve seen it happen both ways.  We ordered up a bunch of pizza and headed to the rec room in the main building of the hotel.  I couldn’t believe my eyes when I walked in.  There were a group of motorcyclists who had been drenched all day long having the time of their lives.   The Weather Channel had a permanent home on the TV and I just stood there for a minute looking at what Otter and I had done.  I couldn’t do anything but smile and just say, “This is awesome.”  I was so glad that people were still enjoying themselves rather than gathering the blindfolds and rifles.   After a couple hours of pizza, beer, billiards, and hot tubing, it was time to call it a night and hope for better weather tomorrow.

The bikes at the Michigan Welcome center

The wet riders at the Arcadia lookout

The Black Whale at Arcadia

Pretty (wet) Maids All in a Row

The remaining bikes at Glen Haven

Another shot of the bikes at Glen Haven

A shot of the beach...

Another shot of Glen Haven


Day 2:

“AAAHHH!!! What’s that bright thing in the sky?” I asked as I emerged from the room and started towards the coffee machine. Someone said, “I think it’s the sun” but I wasn’t ready to believe that yet.  A few people were having difficulty getting moving this morning.  They were up and the bikes were loaded up, but they just weren’t sure if they were ready to brave the elements and risk running into the weather of yesterday.  Eventually, we started out and planned on meeting up somewhere in Petoskey for breakfast that morning.  The ride up the coast was great this morning, and yes, the sun did come out for a few minutes offering incredible views of Traverse Bay.  I kept hearing the words “Wow,” over the CB radio and I knew that Tyrone had picked up right where he left off yesterday.  I spotted a pancake house in Petoskey and darted across traffic into the parking lot, and one by one, group by group, the others arrived and we shared a great breakfast together, again taking over the back room of the restaurant.

After breakfast, people were asking me where the next meeting up point was, and I kept saying, “We’re staying at the Best Western in Marathon.”  I kept getting confused looks when I’d say that, and I figured they needed/wanted a little more guidance than that. “OK, how about we meet up under the Mackinaw Bridge,” and after explaining that you just stay on this road and take the last exit before the bridge, people were satisfied with my answer, and we took off again in small groups.  Mind you, I have no problem pointing people in the right direction and making sure we stay together through towns, but I was hoping this wasn’t going to turn into a follow the leader session.  Otter and I wanted people to feel free to explore and experience things on their own.

We met up again under the bridge and out came the cameras.  This was the first nice stop that we had made when it wasn’t pouring rain.  I walked down to the beach and snapped a couple pictures of the bridge and a few minutes later Ray and John met me down there.  They were both definitely starting to understand what a trip like this was about, and when I commented to them that they got to this place on a motorcycle, they nodded their heads in unison as if to say, “Yes, I understand.”  I no longer had any worries about these two guys – they were hooked whether they knew it or not.

Mr. Trank joined my group for the ride up to Sault St. Marie and I led the convoy across the Mackinaw Bridge into the fog.   I couldn’t see 50 feet ahead of me and it looked like the bridge just disappeared into the clouds.  I made sure that we were in the left hand lane so that we’d be forced to ride on the metal grate.  The wind was blowing hard and the metal grate is pretty unnerving on a motorcycle, and I saw the group of bikes peel off into the right hand lane one-by-one.  It was a little scary for some of them, but we all made it across just fine and continued up to Sault St. Marie.  As part of my “I’m not leading you for the rest of the trip” I encouraged all the riders to pass me so that I could bring up the rear. “Where do I go,” asked Tyrone. “Sault St. Marie,” I answered.  I could tell he was a little leery about leading the group, but once he got up to the front I asked him “how’s the view up there??”  “This is incredible,” he said, and I knew he was enjoying the view of the open road ahead rather than the taillights of the other motorcycles.   As we approached the border, I took the lead again, and we all made it through customs and to the welcome center where we met Brenda and her husband.  She’s an ST1100 rider that Tyrone and I know from the ST list and was there to welcome us and ride up to Wawa with us.  It seems that she doesn’t get much opportunity to ride with others being the only ST1100 rider for miles.  She led us through town and I stopped us at the last gas station in town and made sure that everyone filled up.  We started to hang out in the parking lot, and I saw my window of opportunity and I took it.  “Where are you going,” Chris asked.  “Guys,” I replied, “you see that sign that says 17 to Thunder Bay?  Well, we’re following that all the way to the hotel.  I’ll see you up the road.”  There was still a little confusion so I added my typical Tad bullshit speech titled “this is the first road that I found out what motorcycling had to offer and now it’s your turn.   Take it at your own pace, enjoy it your way, and I’ll see you up the road.”  With that, I was off and running, and they were left to fend for themselves.  I knew this was the right time and place for that.

So there I was; me, the Black Whale, and miles of Transcanada-17 waiting.  Every year the same thing happens in this area, and this year was no exception.  I know this is an incredible ride, but I always forget just how beautiful it is.  Just a few miles out of town I caught my first glimpse of Lake Superior as I crested a hill, and as usual, my jaw dropped and I was transported into that place that I so often find.  A few miles down the road, I hear a “breaker 3-5 to the northbound motorcyclist” come across the CB radio.  It was Brenda’s husband in the white blazer letting me know that Brenda was trying to catch up to me.  “No problem,” I answered, and I decided to put my tranquil ride on hold for a few minutes and share the road with her.  We made it to JT Cove and I pulled over for the ceremonial pictures.  One by one, bikes came around the corner and started pulling in, but Otter was nowhere in sight.  Mind you, this cove is no different than any of the countless other coves, but before I knew it, there were 12 motorcycles there with me.  That was a little weird, and it was totally fine with me.  I didn’t exactly tell them the story of Otter and my first trip through here and how we found this place.  I decided to let them have their own memories.  I said goodbye to Brenda and the group and took off.  I really wanted to have some time to ride alone and find a nice quiet place to sit for a while, and I knew that wasn’t going to happen here.  About 2 miles down the road, I hit the binders (yes, Otter, the front end chattered), turned around, and headed back.  I just couldn’t leave that place without waiting for Otter to arrive.  I pulled back in, and simply said, “I just can’t leave here until Otter shows up,” and somehow, they understood.  A few minutes later, Otter pulled in and I motioned to him to come over for a second.  Through my helmet, I yelled, “This place is just getting so touristy,” joking about how many people were there.  Without even thinking (which isn’t too difficult for Otter) or hesitating, he simply said “You know what they say: Call someplace paradise…” and with that, he turned out of the gravel area and continued up the road.  I sat there laughing my ass off for a minute, and then realized that just like every other time through here while stopping at JT Cove, this time now had it’s own memory that would never be forgotten.

Otter and I rode the next few miles to Agawa (which Brenda told us we had been mis-pronouncing for 5 years) Bay together, a ride that we had shared many times before.  As with life, the more things change, the more they stay the same.  Here we were again, my on the CBR for it’s last trip, and Otter on the Magna that he had worked so hard to get going for this trip, and it was once again perfect.  I rode up next to him, and he patted the tank of the Magna and I shook my head in acknowledgement.  I patted the tank of the CBR, and he did the same.  Nothing else mattered in the world for those few miles, and that’s the way it should be.  A few minutes later, Kurt and Amy appeared and they joined us for the last few miles before Agawa Bay.   I had a feeling that Agawa Bay would be another place where lots of bikes would assemble, and as I pulled into the gravel parking lot, I saw a bike in my parking spot, and it wasn’t Chad’s VFR, for once.  There was a solo rider that we had seen a couple of times and we chatted briefly before he took off and I was able to roll the CBR into her parking spot one last time.  Everyone was enjoying the view, and I’ll never forget the look on Mr. Gary’s face.  This road and this area was definitely his pace - beautiful scenery, a road that gently winds along the shoreline.  I asked him how he liked the area, and he simply said “nice.”  The look on his face said more than words ever could.

As we stood there, we watched the storm cloud heading across the bay towards us and decided that we’d better get moving to stay ahead of the rain.  I was a little concerned about the MJ group, as they were a ways behind us, and was disappointed that they wouldn’t get to see this lookout with us during decent weather.  I headed out behind most of the group hoping again to have some time with just the CBR and I.  As I started to catch up to a couple of bikes, I spotted a beautiful lake and pulled the CBR onto the shoulder.  I had plenty of time to get to the hotel before dark, and decided to spend a few minutes sitting on the shoreline of Red Rock Lake and enjoy the peace and quiet that this area so often brings.   I was also happy to have time to stop and see some of the places that I hadn’t had time to see in the past.  I sat along the shoreline for a little while watching and listening to the gentle waves hit the rocky shoreline.  The water was incredibly clean and the hundreds of shades of green pine trees were the perfect backdrop for a quiet moment.  As I sat there, the rain caught up with me again, so I said my good-byes, and was thankful that I had the time to stop and enjoy this place.

Back on the road, I was the only motorcycle in sight and I was really enjoying my time by myself today.  I pulled into another place that I hadn’t stopped before, Old Woman Bay, and parked my bike behind some trees so that others wouldn’t see me.   I wasn’t quite ready for my quiet time to end, and I knew I’d meet up with everyone at the hotel later.  Old Woman Bay was beautiful and as I stood on the beach, I watched a couple groups of motorcycles fly by and disappear around the corner.  I continued on and met up with them in the next town, Wawa, where they were filling up with gas.  They had formed their own little group and were obviously doing fine, so I let them get ahead of me again before I took off.  I also had a chance to talk with Brenda and thank her for the great welcoming committee.  She was just glad to have been able to share the road with some other motorcycles and especially to see another ST1100 in the area.  As we were talking, Kurt and Amy came by and then proceeded to pull a nice two-foot wheelie out of the parking lot.  “That’s my bike,” I joked to Brenda.  Little did I know that there was much more of that to come.

I parted ways with Brenda, and decided to get some EST to the hotel.  This stretch of the road gets away from the lake a bit, which was fine since the temperatures were starting to drop a bit.  I put the throttle lock on and just cruised along admiring the scenery for about an hour.  As I passed through White River, I saw the group of bikes there, honked and waved, and kept on going. It was neat to pass through small towns and see groups of motorcycles there, and according to Brenda, the locals all knew we were coming and were looking forward to it.  Anyway, I continued on, wanting to get to Marathon before it got too dark, knowing that this area has a lot of moose.  Just a few miles down the road, I got my first sighting as a cow was sitting along the treeline, and her calf was just a little ways down the road from her.  BTW – moose calves are about the size of horses!!  I continued on, enjoying the solitude and the occasional moose sighting.  Up the road on the shoulder, I saw what I thought had to be a rock or a boulder.  As I approached, and passed it by, I realized it was a gray timber wolf.  He stared me down as I rode by, and I could imagine him thinking “hmmm, no.  This guy’s going a little too fast.  I’ll wait for the next one.”  A little further down the road, I saw a five-0 come around the corner and instinctually grabbed the brakes, even though I was only doing about 10KPH over the limit.  Chris Boll was sitting at the side of the road, and he and Nyquist had apparently been given warnings for speeding.  I’ll leave out the details, but from the Chris, Ray, and John were telling me, they were all lucky to just get a warning, and they all received the top speed awards for the trip.

We arrived at the hotel and checked in, finding out that the MJ group had called ahead and decided to stay in Wawa that night since it was getting dark and the moose were really coming out.  We were all a little concerned, and I was hoping that they were not going to turn around and call it a trip.  They had probably been in the rain all day, whereas we stayed just ahead of it, and I feared that their morale was sinking quickly.  We invaded the hotel restaurant and enjoyed some pretty bad Italian food and pretty good Canadian beer before calling it a night.

A foggy Mackinaw Bridge

John and Ray at the Mackinaw Bridge

Tyrone, Chris, Mr T, Ray, and John heading up to Sault St. Marie

A picture of Mr T. taking a picture of me taking a picture of Mr T.

Another shot heading up to Sault St. Marie

Brenda, Tyrone, Mr T., and Tad at the first annual WawaSTOC

The Black Whale at JT Cove

Tad and the CBR at JT Cove

The Lewinskis cruising through Canada

Ray and John flyin' through Canada....c'mon, they weren't cruising...

Sprite on the Harley in Canada, eh?

The Magna headin' down Route 17

Another shot of Otter ridin' the Magna

A view of the road with Otter and Kurt & Amy up ahead

Jeff Nyquist on the ol' Goldwing

Kurt & Amy riding (on both wheels) the ST through Canada

Mr. Gary at the Agawa Bay lookout

The group hanging out at the lookout

Kurt & Amy and Tyrone with their ST1100s

The Magna and Whale at Agawa Bay

The storm heading across the bay towards us

Tad and the Whale at Agawa Bay

The Whale enjoying a moment

Red Rock Lake, along Route 17 in Canada

The CBR at Red Rock Lake, with the green trees behind her

A shot of the bluffs at Old Woman Bay


Day 3:

The early birds were already on the road by the time the MJ group pulled up.  We were all very happy to see them, and it ended up working out well for them to stay in Wawa the night before.  After talking to the hotel clerk, she told us of a nice breakfast place or two in the next town up the road, so we planned to meet there and enjoy breakfast as a group.  I headed out with the “overly-excited” group and after one stop on a very picturesque bridge, we made it to town and joined the Otter group for breakfast.   As we ate, we watched the rest of the bikes show up, and once again, we pretty much took over the restaurant as we enjoyed another fantastic breakfast.

We made the Nipigon overlook the next meeting up point, and started out in small groups after breakfast.  I once again found myself riding solo and took full advantage of it, enjoying the ride through the huge bluffs before reaching the town of Nipigon where I met back up with the group.  Every stop continued to be a laugh fest, and everyone was having a great time.  We filled up with gas and rode as a large group towards Thunder Bay.   At one point, Adam, who was riding in the middle of the pack, took off around me and ended up about mile ahead.  I know Adam prefers to be in smaller groups, and that’s just another example of how to make the best of the ride for you.  Unfortunately for Adam, I saw a long straightaway appear, and gently pulled back on the throttle.  I glanced in my rear view and saw a bike or two come out of formation and wick up the pace with me….big surprise that it was Ray, John, and Chris.  I caught up to Adam and played a little peek-a-boo in his mirror before falling back again and letting him enjoy the road by himself for a while.  As we approached Thunder Bay, we pulled into the Terry Fox Courage lookout, where Adam and I enjoyed the corners leading up to the overlook. “That’s bad when the best corners you hit are at an overlook,” Adam commented.

We played our game of cat and mouse with the other groups, passing them only to be re-passed while stopped, as we made our way to the US border.  A few miles before the border, I saw the Harley up the road and with perfect timing, the road turned to three-lanes.  I took the outside lane around a corner at a pretty good clip and waved to Sprite as the line of sportbikes passed him by.  We met up with Otter just a few miles before the border, and I was afraid that they wouldn’t let any of us back into the country if Otter was the lead bike.  Luckily, we all made it through and we pulled into an overlook just across the border.  Carl eventually caught up and told us of his border crossing.  The guy told him “you know, you’re friends are way ahead of you.”   Carl replied, “Well, they’re faster than me,” and the guy waved him right through.  We enjoyed the overlook for a while and I continued to try to talk with everyone and get a feeling on how they’re doing.  It was quite cold today, but everyone was simply having the time of their lives.   Mr. Trank, who sometimes can get too caught up in little things, gave me a sincere thank you before he split off from the group to visit family and make it home on Sunday instead of Monday. I was glad that he decided to go with us on this trip, and I could tell that he made the right decision in his mind.

The talk was that people were going to grab lunch in Grand Marais, so I took the opportunity to switch rides with Sprite and try the Electra-Glide for a while.  Last year, I rode his Heritage Classic for about 30 minutes and it promptly put my legs to sleep with the vibration.  Sprite had also recently purchased a 1000F, so this would be a good time for him to ride a different ride.   I warned him that he wasn’t allowed to shift if the RPMs were below 6,000, and I took off on the rumbling Harley.  It was quite a nice ride actually, besides the fact that I was freezing my ass off.  He told me later that he did have a heated throttle grip, but the fact was my legs got really cold compared to the 1000F.  At any rate, I did enjoy the ride down to Grand Marais on the Harley.  It was very smooth, and a much different ride than the Heritage.  Most people were filling up at the gas station, and I did the same, as well as grabbed a couple of sandwiches.  It was time for another trip tradition for me – a quiet lunch.  Again, I was enjoying the camaraderie of the large group, but I also prefer not to sit down for lunch.  I get in an on the road mood, and sitting down for lunch in a restaurant does too much to bring be back to the normal way of life – and motorcycling for me is anything but normal.   I instead headed down the coast for a while, and eventually saw a “coastal access” sign in a small town.  I turned down a little road and found a quiet rocky shoreline along which I would enjoy a few quiet minutes.  I walked out onto the rocks and ate my lunch as the cold mist off Lake Superior wet my face.   Some things just make perfect sense to me.

Further down the road, I pulled into Split Rock Lighthouse State park and found Otter and Pop-Otter there, as well as Adam and John.  They hadn’t seen anyone in a while and I told them that most people stopped for lunch in Grand Marais.   They had already been inside the park, so I grabbed my camera and headed in.  I have a big picture of the bluffs and shoreline in Split Rock hanging in my living room.  It’s a great shot, and I can sometimes remember how beautiful the area looks, but it had been two years since I stood in that spot.  Last year, I was too damn cold from being on the Suzuki, and found shelter from the wind rather than go take a look.  As I walked through the trees to the view, I saw a glimpse of the bluffs and for a second I thought “Yep, that’s what they look like.”  I then emerged from the trees and stopped dead in my tracks.   There are few sights in the world that can make me completely speechless, and this is one of them.  I can’t believe how beautiful this place is, and though I’m reminded of it daily as I walk through my living room, nothing compares to the feeling I get when I stand in this spot.  I also completely forgot about the sound that the waves make as they crash against the shoreline, and I stood there for a while, speechless, peaceful, and free.  Since this was the trip of doing different things, I walked out to the point that I had been looking at.  As most things in life go, if you look at them in only one light, you’re missing half the story. 

Upon returning to the parking lot, I found Otter and Pop-Otter getting ready to head out.  The ride down route 61 was very bumpy and the road conditions had really deteriorated over the years, causing part of the CB750s fairing to crack, and causing the saddlebag mount to break.  They had fabricated fixes for both of them, and were ready to head out.  The CB750 fired up, he brought it off the centerstand, and it died.  He pulled the fuse cover, and the main fuse had blown.  No problem, put in a new one, and the bike fired right up.   Off the centerstand, and the fuse blew again.   Rut row…time for the unfortunate tradition of roadside CB750 fixes.  Before Mr. Gary really knew what was going on, Otter and I were going through our troubleshooting steps like only we can.  OK, check that, ok, try this, fine, now pull that, Pop!  Fuse goes.  The CB takes older glass fuses and we only had one main fuse left, so out came the spade fuses, and luckily we could hold them across the fuse block as we continued to test.  The brake light was causing the fuse to blow and after inspecting it closely, they had pinched a wire while fixing the saddlebag mount.  The wire was fixed, the bike was buttoned back up, and they were off.

I headed down the road towards Gooseberry Falls, knowing that I was supposed to meet the Schillings, Ray, John, and Chris either there or at Split Rock.  Since they never showed at Split Rock, I headed to Gooseberry and found their bikes in the parking lot.   They were returning from the falls when I was heading there, and after a quick “Clark Griswold at the Grand Canyon” look at the falls, I headed back to the bikes, and led the group to Duluth.  Heading through the downtown area, we hopped on the Interstate through town, which goes through a lot of underpasses and tunnels.  Behind me, I heard horns honking and engines revving as the tunnel works well as an echo-machine.  I nonchalantly hit my kill switch, counted to three, and Boom!!  A nice backfire caused John to jump a little on the F3.  He pulled up next to me and was wondering what I did, so I did it again, conducting the sound of the backfire like a Maestro.  After our fun, we headed across the bridge to Superior, Wisconsin in search of the hotel….after we searched for the bridge.  The fog was worse today than it was when we crossed the Mackinaw Bridge, and I had to concentrate to see the bridge ahead of me.  As we were descending from the bridge into town, and I was wondering where the hell the hotel was, it appeared right in front of me.  We pulled into the lot, and Tim already had the beers and was distributing them to people as they pulled in.  What a great guy.

Most everyone was in the hot tub or pool by the time we got there, so I took a quick dip in the hot tub before heading to the steakhouse across the street.  The Nikodens and the Johnson’s joined Chris Boll and me for dinner, as we had a number of tables in the restaurant but not one big table.  We enjoyed a great meal, although Jan didn’t quite finish her tub-o-pasta. Connie was happy because she and Bob had finally beaten the “fast guys” to one of the meeting points.  We were all pretty full after that meal, and tired as well.  I’m pretty sure that after three days of riding, most people were asleep before their head hit the pillow that night.

The bikes outside Rosie & Josie's Cafe

What Tad saw riding through Canada

The Whale parked roadside on day 3

A few bikes and riders at the Nipigon outlook

In Minnesota, The Schillings and Tyrone

Mr. Gary and Mr. T. at the overlook in Minnesota

A foggy view of the shoreline

A shot of the bikes lined up at the overlook

Tad's quiet lunch stop along the shoreline

The view at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park

Another view from Split Rock

I hope you're not afraid of heights...

A minor roadside repair in the parking lot of Split Rock

Gooseberry Falls, Minnesota


Day 4:

The Nikodens were gone this morning by the time I emerged from the hotel room.  We were trying to decide where to meet for breakfast, and eventually decided to make it to Bayview and find whatever we happen to find.  That had been working out well so far, and this morning would follow suit.  After pointing John, Ray, and Chris to the road out of town, I headed out with Adam and Jon.  The fog was really thick this morning, and I’m pretty sure we took Route 13 across Wisconsin, but it was difficult to tell.  We made a quick coffee stop in Port Wing.  A few miles later, the fog broke and the sun came out, and this was one of the first times during the trip that we had bright sunshine and clear blue skies.  The road through this area can also be a lot of fun as we found out.  I followed Adam through the sweepers until we arrived in Bayview and saw the three bikes of Ray, John, and Chris parked in town.  John pointed us to the restaurant they had found, and for a couple of newbies, they did a fantastic job.  Our group again took over the restaurant for a few minutes, and we all enjoyed a great breakfast.  Good call guys.

By this point of the trip, everyone had really figured out what was going on.  What Otter and I had talked about as “non-plans” was becoming clear to everyone, and people were going their own way and doing their own thing.  I continued riding with Adam and Jon, and we were enjoying the ride through Wisconsin and the U.P.  There’s not a whole lot out there, and even riding in a small group it’s very easy to sit back and relax.

There was one turn heading into Porcupine Mountain State Park that Otter and I had been talking about, but neither of us knew exactly what the road number was, but Otter knew exactly where it was.  A few miles before the turnoff for this road, I saw Otter stopped and relaying information on the location of the road to the group.  That was a switch for Otter to be telling people where to turn, since it’s usually me telling him where he was supposed to have turned a few miles back and after having caught up with him at somewhat illegal speeds.  Yet, I digress.  Adam, Jon, and I headed to the road, and this year they had added a sign and it was easy to find.  The road through the park is incredible, as virgin forest surrounds this two-lane paradise.  Near the end of the road are some waterfalls that I’d never had a chance to see, so we went there first.  I was going to abort mission once I saw that it was a little hike to get there, but luckily Adam made me go see it.  The walk through the forest alone made the short hike worthwhile, and the falls were tremendous.   As we made it back to the parking lot, the other bikes were beginning to file in and we told them about the falls.  The three of us decided to ride the next section of road spaced apart and decided to meet at Lake in the Clouds.  I enjoyed every mile of road between the falls and where the road meets back up with Lake Superior.  To say it was peaceful is an understatement.

I reached the end of the road and parked the CBR next to Lake Superior for a minute.  Jon and Adam didn’t show up and I figured they were really taking their time.   As I was getting ready to head to Lake in the Clouds, Ray, John, and Chris showed up having come from there a few minutes ago.  The smiles were visible in each of their helmets and it was blatantly obvious that they were having a great day.  I pointed them towards Copper Harbor and told them I’d see them at the hotel.   Heading up to Lake in the Clouds, I spotted a red Connie heading down the mountain, and simply raised my fist in satisfaction.   For a minute, I thought Janet was going to jump off the back of the Connie.  Both of them were pumping their fists in the air, and we exchanged a cool moment as we passed each other on the road.  I made it to the parking lot and decided to wait for Adam and Jon before going to the overlook, so I dug through my tankbag for a bag of snacks that always tends to find it’s way in there.   They arrived a couple minutes later and we walked to the top.  There wasn’t much to be said – this is just an incredible view.  Adam sat on the rocks, John did a little exploring, and I removed the stich and sat with Adam for a while.  Again, we didn’t really need or want to talk.  There wasn’t much to say.  Eventually, Otter and Pop-Otter showed up, and this was what I was waiting for.  Otter and I both wanted to see Dad stand at Lake in the Clouds.  He was trying his best to be nonchalant about it, pointing out things like, “yeah, that wasn’t here,” and “this used to be here” but then he saw his spot and told the story of his friend John and him sitting there feeding a chipmunk 20 years ago. I could tell by his face that all of his fuzzy memories were becoming clearer, and it was good to see him back there.  I’m glad that I had a small something to do with it.  Adam, John, and I left the Gary’s up there for a few minutes and headed back to the bikes.  I guess after we left, Mr. Gary let a few more emotions out, as well he should.

As we were getting ready to leave, the rest of the group was pulling up, and the line of bikes suddenly tripled in size.  Adam, John, and I headed towards Houghton, wanting to have some daylight left to explore the roads up to Copper Harbor.  We passed through Houghton and Hancock, and continued north on 41.  As we got further and further north, the scenery continued to get nicer, and we turned off onto M26, which would take us along the coast.  After a quick stop at an old bridge built in the 1800s, we continued North with me in the lead.  M26 immediately turned into a great road and I found the pace increasing.  There were a lot of elevation changes and the road twisted along the endless shoreline giving us an opportunity to enjoy the sport side of things for a bit.   At one point, and luckily through a straightaway where we slowed down, we passed a smokey bear, and about a mile down the road I turned off into a gravel parking lot along the shoreline for a rest.  As we were resting there, he drove by again, and we realized we needed to be careful.  Wick it up in the turns, but slow it down in the straights.  We continued on this way, and the road kept on throwing corners at us.  I saw a beautiful right-left downhill-uphill combo coming up and I threw the CBR into the corner only to have the suspension bounce and result in a nice spark show for Adam who was behind me.  We were having a dandy ol’ time when out of nowhere I go into a tight right-hander and I slide both tires.  The whole incident took about 1 second, but I thought for sure I was going down, and even had time to think, “well, at least it’s the bike’s last trip, and at least it’s on the same side as before.”  I’d like to say that I did something to save it, but in this case, like many times before, the bike took care of me.  I stayed on the gas and she got her traction back, and I promptly thanked her by patting the tank and then pulling over the next place I could.  Adam and Jon both had done the same thing through that corner after me, and Adam broke the sole of his boot when it hit the ground.  We decided to slow it down, and put John in the lead.  About 8 corners later, I watch Adam’s rear wheel slide out about 10 inches, and then saw the classic head shake – not the handlebars, but the helmet.  We slowed down after that as the sand in certain corners was not visible and it just wasn’t worth pushing it at all.  We eventually made it to Copper Harbor and filled up with gas.  I see a bike approaching and here someone yelling, and knew immediately it was Otter. “Man, I was spinning the rear wheel of the Magna on that road!” he said.  “No shit,” I replied.  “All the corners were full of sand.” I knew also that John, Ray, and Chris had been up here, and I said something like “I’ll be you the first words out of their mouths are ‘Did you hit M26??’”

We exchanged some war stories and examined Adam’s boot before heading south on 41 towards the hotel.  Initially, the road out of Copper Harbor was great, and we wicked it up a bit through the corners before the road straightened out a little.  As we were heading town the road, a cop passes us going the other direction, and 10 seconds later we see all three Schilling brothers flying around a corner.  We all frantically gave them the “Slow Down!!” hand signal and I wondered what ticket they would be issued for rear-ending someone at 60 MPH.  Luckily, we found out later that they did slow down and then saw the cop.  Anyway, we made it back to the hotel just as it was getting dark and went straight to the restaurant for dinner and beer.  I walked in and started to talk to people, and then went over to the table that Ray, Chris, and John were sitting at.  “Dude,” Chris exclaimed, “did you hit M26???”  They were all very excited to say the least, as was I when I saw that they had a 1-pound hamburger on the menu, which I ordered.  The damn thing came on a submarine sandwich roll, and although I didn’t quite finish it, I gave it my best effort.  Besides the good meal, the conversations were flowing around the restaurant, and I was glad to see so many people exchanging stories and carrying on.

As Otter, Adam, and I were enjoying a few beers, Paul came up behind Otter and gave him a big hug, which put a look of fear on Otter’s face.  After all, just a few days earlier we were joking of Paul wearing a Speedo in the hot tub.  But anyway, Paul simply said “I have to thank you for the best motorcycling experience I’ve ever had.”  It seems that Paul and Janet had taken the road that Otter suggested and had an incredible time, which explains their reaction when I passed them on the road.  Paul told the story of them finding a beautiful secluded river where they – and then Otter interrupted as only Otter can do, and said “You guys made out there, didn’t cha.”  Paul, not used to Otter’s ability to do that sort of thing, hesitated for a minute, both he and Jan turned red, and then he continued. He told of them riding along, looking up and seeing a Bald Eagle soaring just above the treeline and following the road.  Paul was getting a little emotional as he told the story of them riding the Connie along and following the bald eagle, and we both knew and understood what an event like that can mean.  It was a very cool story to hear, and after the first day and only making it to Wawa the second day, I was glad to see that Paul and Janet had finally found their place and had an incredible memory to take with them.  So too did I.

John and Adam at a wayside in Wisconsin

The thick forest in Porcupine Mtn. State Park

What Tad saw riding through Porcupine

The Whale parked along the shore of Lake Superior

A view of the Lake in the Clouds

A view of the other direction at Lake in the Clouds

The Garys at the Lake in the Clouds

The bikes lined up at Lake in the Clouds

A roadside stop on the way up to Copper Harbor

A view of the shoreline along Route M26

A barge off in the distance

A view of the town of Houghton


Day 5:

It was a little sad packing up this morning.  A few people had taken off early, and others were having to head out and go directly home in order to make it.  The trip hadn’t really come to an end, but the end was approaching quickly.  We said our goodbyes to the people who were heading out, and the remaining bikes headed towards Breakfast at Grandma’s.  The second time that we took this trip, my brother-in-law Kurt joined us, and we stopped at his grandparent’s house for an incredible home cooked breakfast.  She caught word that we were going again this year and insisted that the group stop by, even though there would probably be close to 20 of us.

With the yellowWing in the lead, we gassed up and headed to grandma’s house.  Initially, I brought up the rear and the view of 18-some bikes heading along the shore of Lake Superior that morning was incredibly cool.  MJ had the video camera going, and many others were snapping pictures of the caravan of bikes.  We made one other gas stop before continuing on, and looking at my fuel gauge, I figured I’d make it to Grandma’s without a problem.  We got rolling, and I was glancing at a map and realizing that it was going to be close.   We turned down a side road and I was coaxing the CBR to stretch her legs just a little bit.  If she made it just a few more miles before reserve, I’d be fine.  I was still bringing up the rear of the group when I heard Bob key in on the CB and say “Hey Tad – you better pick up Jeff’s gas can,” and with that I saw a black rectangular object bouncing down the highway.  I grabbed the binders and gladly dismounted, grabbed Otter’s super-reserve 1-gallon gas container, and bungeed it down to the back seat of the CBR.   Perfect – now I don’t have to worry about gas.  It’s funny how those things always happen, although I didn’t end up needing the gas.

We made the final turn down Grandma L’s road, and then I heard people keying in on the radio. “How cool!!”   “Welcome ATL Riders.  This is so great.”  I had known that there was going to be a banner welcoming us but had kept it a secret and knew that the surprise would be a perfect exclamation point on a great trip.   Breakfast at Grandma L’s was a huge success.  Although the trip was ending, it really couldn’t get much better than this, and it was nice to share one final breakfast with this group of people – and what a great breakfast it was.  Then it was showtime.  The other day, Kurt and his brother Chris were arguing about whether Chris’s Kawi Vulcan 1500 could be wheelied.  Kurt insisted, “Any bike can be wheelied” but failed to loft the front wheel of the beast, although the rear wheel was doing some nice rolling burnouts.  Kurt felt it necessary to redeem himself this morning on the ST1100.  The Wheelie-Master performed three very nice wheelies, but that wasn’t enough.  He really goosed it on the last one, and for a second, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who thought the ST was going over backwards.  He recovered though and slammed the front wheel back to the ground before ending the show.

While nobody really wanted to leave, it was getting to be that time.  We were all standing around the bikes, and the bullshit was flying pretty well.  Everyone thanked Otter and I for organizing and planning this, even though we both kept insisting that there really wasn’t much to be planned.    After a short and totally unrehearsed speech reiterating that fact and thanking everyone for joining us on the trip, we started packing up and I headed out with Don and Otter. 

We stopped for gas in the town of Spaulding, WI – “Spaulding!! How many times have I spoken to you about your language?!?”  I decided to check the oil level on the CBR and found her to be down a quart.  “C’mon, you gotta get me home just one more time” I pleaded with her. 

Don took the lead for a while on the interstate, and we made really good time despite the fact that this was Memorial Day weekend and the Wisconsin “go-fast tax” collectors were out in full force.  Somehow we avoided them pretty well, and the miles went by pretty effortlessly, and were made easier with a little game of touch the Givi – not mine, but Don’s.  We decided to avoid the city altogether and too I-43 towards Beloit and then got off at Route 14.  It turned out to be an easy way to go, and before I knew it, Otter and I were flipping off the “The People of Illinois Welcome You” sign.  Sorry Don, we forgot to warn you about that one ahead of time.

As we turned onto route 20 from route 47, I pulled over into a parking lot for the final paragraph of an incredible trip.   The three of us stood there for a while, we’d think about going home, and then we’d start another conversation.  It wasn’t that we didn’t want to go home, it was just that we didn’t want the trip to end.  Eventually, Don almost left, but then we started talking again.  We were having a good time just like we had done for the past five days.   Don eventually realized what time it was and saddled up.  We said our so longs, and Don fired up the VFR.  Otter held onto the handle of the Givi case, and it took Don a few tries to figure out why the VFR wasn’t creeping forward when he let out the clutch.  Despite our encouragement, we couldn’t get Don to wheelie out of the parking lot and we watched the VFR disappear into the distance.

What do we do now?  We stood there for another 45 minutes or so, talking, reliving a few of the moments during the trip in our head, and commenting on how we couldn’t believe we pulled this off.  As the sun disappeared over the horizon, so too did the trip.  The memories, unlike the setting sun, never disappear.

The bikes heading down the road to Grandma L's

The Lewinskis taking a picture of me taking a picture of them

The bikes riding along the shore of Lake Superior

The riders at Breakfast at Grandma L's

The riders with Grandma

The troublemakers....I told you, we appologize in advance

Coming to a close, the bikes watching the sunset


Conslusion:

Wow - where do I start.  The riders who joined us really made this trip what it was, and to them, all I can say is thanks.  We truly could not have hand-picked a better group of people to join us.  It was an honor and privilege to share the roads and create some great memories with all of you.  I joked in the a.k.a. line of this trip report about this trip getting too touristy or ruined by the number of people, but in fact, nothing could be further from the truth.  I'd gladly throw a leg over the bike and do this same trip again with the same people.

A special thank you goes out to Grandma L for a great breakfast and incredible hospitality.

To MJ, Paul and Janet, the Johnsons, Tim, and Eric, I'm glad you guys stuck it out and made it, and I'm sorry you were grouped with MJ...just kidding.  I think you all made the best out of this trip, although at times it may have seemed hopeless.  I hope you found that those hopeless times are just part of it, and they inevitably lead to memories that you will never forget.  Thanks MJ for bringing along a great group of riders.

Adam and John, I had a great ride with you guys on day 4.  Just watch those sandy corners on M28.  I'm not sure I ever saw the Schilling brothers when they were not smiling....or speeding.  :-)  I'm glad you guys had a chance to spend time with each other on the road, even if oldest brother had to pay for everything.

To my group, John, Ray, Chris, and Tyrone, well now you know.  I watched each of you guys "get it" in your own way during this trip, and I'm glad that John will no longer call me a lunatic when he sees me prepping the bike for a trip.  All of you green guys took to this like a fish to water (no pun intended), Ray and John were waaaaay out there, Chris looked like he could have kept riding for days, and Tyrone....well, if his CB chatter is any indication of how his trip went, then the words "Oh wow, that's incredible" should about sum it up.

To Mr. T and Mr. Gary, thanks for having the guts to join us, and I hope that this trip sparked some deep down memories for each of you.  Sprite, I still wanna know who the hell invited you.  Just kidding, it wouldn't be a trip without your antics, and I'm glad that Nyquist was along so that he could distract you from the rest of the group for a while.  Just kidding again.  You two were great to watch together, and I'm glad the oldWing got you home safely Jeff.

Mr. & Mrs. L, Kurt & Amy, and Chris, I knew just by the looks on your faces that you were really enjoying yourselves.  I'm glad that Mr. and Mrs. got a chance to ride with a group of people, as I know that is something you don't get much opportunity to do.  Chris, that Vulcan is sweet, even if it won't wheelie, and I'm glad you had a chance to get back out on the road for a while.  Kurt, I'm glad that you didn't backflip the ST, and I'm also glad your ass didn't hurt this time.  Amy, when are you convincing Kurt to get the new Goldwing?

Otter, well, you did it.  That Magna was gonna make it one way or the other, even if I had to tie a rope to the back of the Whale and tow your ass home.  I'm glad you could do it different and enjoy the other side.

For me personally, this trip had a lot to offer, and I saw things on this my fifth time Around the Lakes that I had not seen on any of the previous four.  Part of that had to do with extending the trip by one day.  In the past, we didn't always have time to stop and see everything we wanted to, and while I couldn't stop and see every single place this year, I certainly saw more than usual.  I enjoyed the more relaxed pace, and I'm glad I got a chance to stop and see a couple of new places.  The fifteen minutes that I sat on the banks of Red Rock Lake will not soon be forgotten.  If I had been able to spend my quiet time at JT Cove, I probably never would have stopped here.  I always notice this lake as I ride by, and this year I finally stopped and I'm glad I did.   To sit in a peaceful and serene place like this is to find yourself disappear for just a moment.  Had it not been for the trip being exactly the way it was, I never would have stopped there and experienced that feeling.  I may have found it somewhere else, but this just goes back to what we've been saying for a long time.  Everything has a purpose, ride your own ride, and make the best out of every day.  When you do that, and when you stop looking for the same old things and just let go, you'll be amazed at what you find.

The thing is, it's impossible to stop and see everything on one trip Around the Lakes, and that's what makes this trip so great.  There are those favorite places that I always hit, and those unexpected finds that I happen across.  This year was no different, and I know that for years to come I will find new and undiscovered territory on this annual journey.  No trip is every a repeat of the year before, as each year has it's own special meaning and memories. 

I walk away from this trip taking with me more than I put in...and that's the truth.   Motorcycling has given me so much, and this was just another opportunity to give something back.  I think Sprite summed it up in the rec room the first night when he looked at me, saw the smile on my face, and said "You're just lovin' this, aren't you?"  He was absolutely right. Seeing everyone together, riding, laughing, and just having fun made everything worthwhile for me.  It's a great feeling to have something to do with bringing happiness to a group of people and letting them see the world in a different light. Although I still stand by the fact that we did very little to plan this trip, what each of you showed me more than made up for the little time and energy that I put into this.  For that, I say thanks, and I hope to see you on the road once again. 

I know that Otter shares my sentiments in the above paragraph, but we're in a constant battle to prove that we have independent thoughts and ideas, and using the pronoun "we" instead of "I" in the previous paragraph would have had negative repercussions on this quest.