Press The Ham!!!
This is quite possibly the most difficult trip report I've ever wanted to write. I neither want to downplay how awesome most of this trip was, nor neglect the fact that the most horrific of things happened by speaking positively about the trip. Overall, the trip was an incredible high that was brought back to reality by some terrible and unbelievable news. I think the only way to tell the story is to start at the beginning and tell it chronologically as it happened.
From the beginning, interest in ATL2003 was spreading like wildfire. Along with the usual suspects, we had 17 first time riders joining us, with some of them being 6 degrees from Kevin Bacon...I mean from Otter and I. We did have a number of last minute drop outs, but at the beginning of the trip, we had 31 bikes and 37 people. This was the largest group of ATLers to date, which I personally enjoy. It's great to not only meet new people and learn from them, but also to give them the opportunity to take this trip. Your first ATL is always special, and most of all, I was glad to be able to experience their first ATL with them.
Not only that, but this was the first year that Penny, a.k.a. 1Cent, was able to tear herself away from that "w" word and join us for the adventure. We had thought about doing a mini-ATL a few years ago, but the weather was terrible, so we stayed in the lower part of Michigan instead. I was excited to show Penny what ATL was all about, and see what newfound experiences would be dropped in our laps.
As the days before ATL2003 approached, we were hit with the news that Penny's father had passed away. As happens with any unexpected news of this nature, the shock wave that it sent through us was immeasurable. Thankfully, I was able to be there for Penny and her family throughout this difficult time, and I didn't think that I needed the support of my friends until four of them showed up at the visitation in Iowa. The emotions that I had bottled up in order to be strong for everyone else exploded in an instant. Needless to say, it was a difficult couple weeks leading up to ATL2003, but the support and love that Penny and I received from our friends and family was incredible, and words cannot express how appreciative we are for all of you. We could not have made it through this without your help and support, and for that, we are eternally grateful.
When we finally got around to discussing ATL2003, both of us still wanted to go. At the time, there was nowhere else other than the farm that either one of us wanted to be, but ATL was going to give us the opportunity to take the first step forward after this incredibly difficult time. We decided that it would probably be the best thing for us, but understood that it would be difficult. Being around our close friends and having their support would certainly make taking the first step a little easier. I just hoped that we could find a little happiness together.
I hate being late. I thought that I woke her up early enough to get on the road on time, but as of 4:10AM, we hadn't pulled away yet. Yes, I was a little annoyed, but no, that doesn't mean I love her any less. After successfully avoiding capturing the record for the earliest ticket on the trip (currently held by Curly Boll, 2002) during my high-speed run down Schaumburg road, we pulled into the Woodfield parking lot at about 4:22. Most everyone was there, and after a few introductions, we split into small groups and headed out around the city. My group made a quick stop at Hinsdale to meet the Hardamans and Eric C. Oh, and before I forget, congrats to out to Larry for actually being on time this year and not having to meet up with us at Hinsdale. However, your rookie status shall remain for another year (for obvious reasons).
We made it to the Michigan welcome center without incident and waited for the other groups to re-assemble. As groups began arriving, we saw a yellow Goldwing with one of the groups, but no yellow Wing had started out at Woodfield with us. "Either that guy is really lost, or it's Tom Riedy." It was Tom. He was going to meet us at the welcome center, but as things work out sometimes, when he merged onto I-80/94 from the city, he found himself in perfect stagger formation with one of the groups. Who else is going to be on the road at 6:00 in the morning?
Breakfast at Stooges was a blast as usual, and you gotta love the pleasant and kind service that we received. The waitress was busting my balls for being 45 minutes later than I told her we'd arrive. What she didn't realize is that with the ATL group, any plans are completely up in the air, and it's amazing that we arrived that close to schedule. I tried playing the "well, we're 15 minutes early! Aren't you on central time here?" game, to no avail. So, the kitchen made up another 30+ Curly Specials (she said that the first batch was cold - she was kidding) and we enjoyed razzing the Cheaters (those who stayed in St. Joseph the night before) as they arrived, rested and ready to go.
"Hey - the road is open!" No detour back to the Interstate this year. After gassing up, we headed north on M63 out of St. Joseph for a quick taste of 2-lane travel before meeting back up with the Interstate. Heading towards Grand Rapids, the small groups of 5 had congregated into a large group of 20, with a few stragglers bringing up the rear, and Otter's group mysteriously A.W.O.L. We made a quick stop at the rest stop where I made sure everyone knew where they were going. "Do you know how to get through Grand Rapids?" "No, I'll follow you." OK, so it's going to be one of these trips huh? I'll get you through Grand Rapids, and plot my escape after that.
There was no detour through Grand Rapids either this year, and we made it without incident - all except for Mike who disappeared from behind me at some point, the CBers letting me know that he was OK, and looked to have just pulled over. The group stayed together for a while on M37 north, a few people making more aggressive passes than others. I waved a number of people by and set a nice pace at 65MPH. Penny and I were in no rush, and with the weather as great as it was, why should we be.
Sidebar: Adam was forced to back out of the trip last minute, and I always give him hell about the fact that it always rains whenever he's on a trip. He tries to push that off on something else, but all I have to say is that Day 1 of ATL2003 had incredible weather. 70 degrees and not a cloud in the sky. You may use your own judgement to determine which factors led to the good weather.
Following a few bikes on M37, they all turned in to fill up with gas. The ST1100 was still registering more than 1/2 a tank, so we sped by and made our escape. We were enjoying the weather, the road, and the ride, and found a quiet spot to pull over for a few minutes and get a drink of water. MJ passed by on the Aprilla (slow down!!!) but that we saw nobody else until the intersection of M37 and M55. Otter's group was at the gas station, and with a quick honk of the horn, we turned left and headed towards the lake. Linc was probably already at the Arcadia lookout at this point, and Penny and I ended up arriving there about an hour later than I thought we might be there. Hey - in central time, we're perfect again!
One by one, the bikes pulled into Arcadia, it was obvious that everyone was enjoying the weather, and enjoying telling the newbies the horror story of two years ago when it was a downpour at this spot. Pop Otter mentioned to me that it looks a lot different when it's not raining cats and dogs, the smile on his face bigger than ever. There was a lot of picture taking, and one by one, people headed out and up the road, MJ (slow down!!) attempting and succeeding at a small wheelie. With Linc on my wing, we too headed out towards Glen Haven. Just up the road in the town of Frankfort, I saw MJ filling up with gas. As he looked over, I lofted the front wheel of the ST, much to the dismay of Penny who was waving to him at the time and grabbed on for dear life. I still have bruises on my right arm, but MJ laughing and describing the event later that night at the hotel made it well worth the pain.
Glen Haven is one of those spots that's beautiful no matter what, rain or shine. As we crested the hill before the beach, the water was as blue as I'd ever seen it, and just that view alone is enough to give me chills. We stopped at the beach for a while, snapped a bunch of pictures, and watched the bikes come and go. Penny collected a few more rocks for her jar, and Linc and I talked for a while, and mentioned how this ride was much better than the last two times we rode together - when it was 40 degrees and pissing rain.
Heading up towards North Point, with Linc, MJ (slow down!!), and Eric C following, I started to push up the pace just a bit, but just as I was getting comfortable, the road deteriorated. Man, I wish they'd repave this section, because it would be a blast. I decided to re-focus on the scenery and great weather. Passing through the town of North Point, we spotted the Devine's grabbing a bite to eat at a local cafe, and I remember thinking "perfect!" I was glad that they were doing their own thing, as that it what this whole trip is about. We made it up to the lighthouse, paid our entrance fee (I never mind giving a few dollars to a park), and enjoyed a walk along the rocky shoreline. The sun was glistening off the water, and MJ (who had slowed down....he wasn't on the bike) was goofing around a bit (see pic below). The goofiness continued when the Lewinski's showed up. Them arriving is enough to sway the mood towards goofiness, but we were well on our way already. The "insert your head here" pictures are classic. What a nice couple.
It was getting late, and as much as I wanted to head back to the Pierce Stocking Drive, I thought better of it and decided to head to the hotel. Penny and I had been there before, and it had been a long day...and there was beer to be consumed. A number of people were already at the hotel, and the (movie reference) "beer was flowing like wine." As per usual, we ordered up a number of pizzas and invaded the rec room and hot tub. Then the inevitable happened, and I'm so proud to say that I instigated it again. Penny would obviously disagree with the level of pride that she felt...but someone had to do it. The ham was pressed against the window, much to the dismay of Otter and the other people still finishing their dinner. "Press the Ham!!" was yelled at everyone who walked into the pool area, regardless of whether we knew them or not. There were a lot of takers, some more willing than others, and it was just plain fun. That's what it's all about.
Pictures from Day 1:
The bikes at Woodfield
Another shot of the bikes at Woodfield
Side view of the bikes at the Michigan Welcome Center
I had to stand way back to get all of them in the shot
The bikes at the next rest stop
Penny and Diane at the rest stop before Grand Rapids
Stopped roadside, an Aprilla made a flyby
Let's get a zoomed in pic of that awesome looking Aprilla- Slow Down MJ!!!
Pretty Maids all in a row
and some more not in a row...we gotta work on this guys!!
The bikes from above
MJ getting action shots as people arrive
Part of the group enjoying the unusual weather at Arcadia
A view north from Arcadia
A view south from the top of the stairs
Let's get a closeup of that one
Another south view, with the bikes and Eric
Moe (or is that Forrest Gump) and Larry
The Hardamans and Michael Jordan
Wanna see my big lens??
My yearly shot of the shoreline at Glen Haven
Penny, with Penny Point in the background, at Glen Haven
Gathering rocks along the shoreline
A bunch of Gulls using the old pier
Tad and Penny at Glen Haven
Driftwood and the pier
Grand Traverse Lighthouse, Northpoint, MI
Tad at Northpoint
Eric, Linc, and MJ walking along the rocky shoreline
A small group walking the shoreline
MJ doing his Karate Kid impression
The lighthouse as seen from the shoreline
A view of the shoreline at Northpoint
Drivers license and proof of insurance please
Kurt and Amy looking dignified
The happy couple....MJ and Eric
The other side of the lighthouse
Day 2:I got Penny up a little earlier this morning, and while we were a little closer to the time I wanted to leave, we didn't quite make it. This doesn't make me love her any less. We headed out by ourselves towards Petosky, waving at my restaurant as we passed, and met up with Linc and Eric Blattert at the Pancake House. We grabbed a table together, and started discussing the events of the day. I think Eric asked "where's the next meeting point?" to which I replied, "We're staying in Marathon tonight." Eric was not the only person who asked me that question today, yesterday, or at some point...and I always love giving that answer with a big-ass grin on my face. See ya at the hotel, or maybe up the road where. Jane and Chris were sitting at another table, and I took the opportunity to see how they were doing. Eventually, and as we were finishing our meals, lots of us started arriving and we did the breakfast "hi-bye" as usually happens on ATL.
Penny and I decided to take route 119 this morning, which is a road that I hadn't been on before. Tim, Eric, and MJ (Slow down) had been on it last year and mentioned that it was nice, but very narrow. We started up the road and a few minutes later, I see the headlights of an ST1300 and ST1100 behind me...it was Linc and Eric. We rode together at a mild pace on this really tight 1.5 lane wide road. The trip was worth it, not only for the ride and the views, but for the white flowers. They were everywhere. The forest floor was filled with beautiful white flowers and we made a stop at one point to get a closer look, and as usual, I wouldn't let Penny pick the flowers, so I took some pictures instead.
The next stop was at the Mackinaw bridge where we met up with a couple more ST1100s, The Hardamans and Chris Gates. After taking some pictures (some more humorous than others) and enjoying the shoreline and view of the bridge and lighthouse, we started to head out. Unfortunately, we had to leave the Hardamans behind, as they had a funeral to attend to, but Tyrone was hoping that they'd meet back up with us in Superior. Leading three other ST1x00s, I headed out across the Mackinaw Bridge, making sure that I was in the left lane....a.k.a. the metal grate lane. "Look down!" I kept yelling to Penny, who has a fear of, well, most everything. She didn't like riding over the grates very much, nor did she like me looking down. That's OK - the view was awesome today. There weren't any barges out in the water, but the water itself was again as blue as I had ever seen it. I'm glad that Penny got a chance to see the view on a day that was this clear, however, I'm not sure for how long her eyes were open.
After the short run up to the Soo, where I took a few pictures of the STs heading up the highway, we crossed the border without issue, exchanged a bit of cash, and headed through the Soo. I couldn't remember the shortcut that Brenda told me about, at least not until after I had passed it, but no worries. We met up with Otter, Pop Otter, and a few others at the last gas station on the way out of town. We all filled up, and Otter mentioned to me about Mr. and Mrs. Curly's lowside on 119 this morning, and that they were OK, and so was the bike. I knew right away which corner they went down in, as I slid the ass-end of the ST1100 through there enough for me to have a minor pucker moment. As Michel would say "Eyes get big..."
Penny and I tried to make our escape from the gas station, but Chris, Eric, and Linc followed us towards TC-17. No problem, once we got around the first bits of traffic, my pace was too slow for them, so I waved them past and didn't see them again. Not that I didn't want to see them, but again, ride your own ride, and Penny and I felt like putzing along and stopping a lot. We did. The first stop was at the waterfall, and Penny didn't understand why we were stopping until after we walked onto the bridge and saw the falls. As we were there, Pop Otter pulled in and a couple of the Stooges went by. It was obvious that everyone was enjoying the day, including Penny and me.
The day was absolutely unbelievable. Here we were, Memorial Day weekend, on the north side of Lake Superior, and the temperature was flirting with 60 degrees. When we pulled into JT Cove, I had to explain that the first time ATL, Otter and I had to stop here and put rain gear on because it was so cold. In the absence of the chilling wind whipping off the water, the story just didn't sound right. Sweating at JT Cove? Unheard of. Anyway, I parked the ST1100 in "the spot" and thought, "Well, that's 5." I'll never forget parking the Seca 600 in this spot the first time through, and I always park whatever bike I'm riding here, but I never remember exactly which guardrail post I parked next to the first time. Not that it matters. Penny and I spent a few minutes walking along the water, and I was telling stories about the other times we've been through here, and the fact that there's a key to my Seca somewhere out in the cove. While we were there, Otter showed up, and I think it was the first time in 3 years that he and I had both been at JT Cove at the same time. It was a good thing, and the stories and bullshit were flying faster than MJ (slow down) rides that Aprilla. This named-by-us place is special, and it was great to be there with the two people in this world that matter to me most.
I warned Penny about the JT Cove wheelie before I did it, as my arm was still healing from yesterday and wouldn't tolerate any more slugs. I write this every year, but TC-17 is a great ride. I don't know how else to describe it - desolate, beautiful, incredible, clean, peaceful. Pick your adjective. Throw in the best weather we've ever had on ATL, and how can you not have a good time? I remember MJ (slow down) saying that there was a dam somewhere near Agawa Bay, and after a failed attempt to find it, but a successful venture down to the campgrounds at Agawa Bay (man, that would be a cold night of camping), we made our way to the Agawa Overlook where we took the traditional pictures, and ate our lunch overlooking the bay. The water wasn't as blue as I had seen it before, and those damn bugs were still swarming about (pronounced ah-boot), but that need not matter.
Then it happened. Helmet itch. I'm not talking about that minor "move your helmet around a bit and it goes away" helmet itch - this was industrial strength helmet itch. It was horrible, and eventually I pulled over and put on my balaclava just to survive. Not sure what caused it - probably a combination of a little sunburn from being on the farm last week, combined with the overly-chlorinated pool, combined with some bug bites, all brought together by the fact that I was wearing my old helmet, which stinks, but has the helmet speakers installed inside...not that the CB was working anymore. It had stopped functioning this morning. Anyway, with the balaclava on, I was able to continue. Penny and I went on, stopping here and there, keeping the speed at around 65MPH and just enjoyed the day. We made a few other stops, like Old Woman Bay, and a roadside stop to take a picture that I've wanted to take for a number of years now. I've been listening to that song a lot more these days, and when the sign appeared in front of me, this was the year to stop.
We made it to the hotel at a very decent hour, having seen 1/2 dozen moose during the last 50 miles or so, which was great. I'm glad that Penny got to see a moose - she actually saw more than I did. Once at the hotel, someone needed to make a beer run, and since I was still suited up, I gladly went. I asked Eric C to head there with me in the event that I couldn't carry it all. Out of the parking lot, I coax a small wheelie out of the ST, and think nothing of it. At the Beer Store, I ordered two cases of "tall boys", one Blue one Canadian, and strapped them to the back of the ST. Eric grabbed a few more beers and I crept home, hoping that the beer would make it. Upon returning, I saw the O.P.P. in the parking lot, and thought I was dead from the wheelie....the station is right across the street, which I didn't notice until the wheel was up in the air. Seems the Officer was just curious as to why 30 motorcycles were parked in his town, but he was fine with us being there. The beers started going down way too easy, and before I knew it, I was a bit sloppy. After a failed attempt at a burrito run ("Sorry, we sent the cook home") we made our way to Mr. Submarine where we ordered up the largest subs with the most meat on them possible, and proceeded to inhale them before refocusing our efforts on the remaining beer. We had a great day, and an even better night.
Pictures from Day 2:
After breakfast, a trip down route 119
The bikes parked along 119
Penny near some white flowers along 119
The white flowers
A close up of the white flowers that surrounded us
The Mackinaw Bridge
The Mackinaw Lighthouse
The Mackinaw Bridge...and the anchor
Penny, the Hardamans, and Linc
No, no, no...this is how it's done
Penny and the Mackinaw Bridge
35MM: Heading towards the Soo, Chris Gates
35MM: Eric Blattert
35MM: Linc on the ST1300
35MM: The three STs on the highway
35MM: "Oh Canada!!!"
The first waterfall along Trans-Canada 17
Another shot of the waterfall
A few bikes heading down Trans-Canada 17
Pop Otter...where's the "make it look like it really looks" setting
Penny at the waterfall
35MM: While riding, Trans-Canada 17
35MM: Further down the road
The ST1100 at JT Cove...this makes 5
Penny at JT Cove
Panoramic view of JT Cove - Pan 1 Pan 2 Pan 3
Otter arriving at JT Cove
The KLR at JT Cove
The ST1100 parked roadside from the cove
Otter and 1Cent enjoying a peaceful view..she was probably talking his ear off :-)
The ST in my traditional parking spot
The ST1100 enjoying the great view
The view from the Agawa Bay overlook
Tad with the ST1100
Tad and Penny with the ST1100
The Bolls at the Agawa Bay overlook
Late in the day, a quick roadside stop for a picture
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
Two classic pictures, courtesy of Eric Blattert, from the hotel Saturday night:
Hey, Beer Man!!
You're like under arrest, eh?
Day 3:Wow - hangover. That's cool. Nah, just kidding...but we didn't get such an early start, this time due to my lack of desire to wake up. When I emerged from the hotel, step one was to figure out where those morons hid my bike. OK, there it is, behind the handicapped parking sign. A few minutes later, Chris and Jane arrived, having spent the night just up the road after some locals told them that the moose were out and they were very far away from Marathon. Seems they were only about 20 miles away, but they didn't realize that until just now. Anyway, after a couple cups of coffee, Penny and I headed out by ourselves this morning, and we didn't even have to ditch anyone. Again, just kidding. It just worked out that we rode solo this morning, and we took the opportunity to stop a few times. It was still somewhat early, and with no wind, the roadside lakes were like glass. We stopped at one of them but we could have stopped 10 times - incredible. Heading through Terrace Bay, Penny spotted a sign for a scenic overlook, so we pulled in there for a stop, and yet another place that I hadn't yet been to on ATL. I think this means there's only 3,732 places left. I'm glad she saw the sign, because the Aguasabon River Gorge was really cool. The waterfall came off the mountain from the left, and at the bottom, made a left hand 90 degree turn, and the water exited through the bluffs and disappeared into Lake Superior. I hiked down to a ledge overlooking the falls (Penny wouldn't have made it due to her fear of everything....I mean heights) and the mist was rising at least 100 feet into the air, hitting me in the face. What a cool stop....both not literally and literally.
At breakfast, we met back up with a number of people - the Bolls, Chris and Jane, and The Three musketeers who were just leaving, with MJ (slow down) in the lead. Breakfast at Rosie & Josie's was awesome, as usual, and after breakfast, Penny and I rode the next few miles with The Lewinskis and the Lewinskis. Somehow, I got in the lead, which is good....trying to keep up with those Goldwings when they are in the lead can be a chore and a half. The weather and views again this morning were incredible, and I kept telling Penny to turn around to enjoy the view which I was admiring in the rear view mirror. At one point, I got a little bit ahead of the two Wings and pulled over to get a couple pictures of them. About 100 yards up the road, Kurt and Amy pulled over and I could see why. There was an incredible view as the road crested the next hill and we found ourselves stopping there as well for more pictures. The day was going really well with nothing at all to complain about.
We split off from the Lewinskis and rode the next hour or so to Thunder Bay where we stopped for gas. We bumped into a couple guys going the other way, one of them on a Triumph Trophy 1200 with D&D Pipes, running Dunlop D207s that were approaching the wear bars. It was their first trip, and I didn't have the heart to tell the guy that his tires weren't going to make it...actually, he wouldn't listen to me about it. Hey - they'll figure it out, just like we did.
We grabbed lunch at that gas station, threw it in the trunk, and headed for the border through the farmland just south of Thunder Bay. My mind immediately wandered back to the Emke farm, and my thoughts were with Penny's family. I was hoping that they were doing OK while we were out on our trip. As we approached the border, I noticed Otter and a couple bikes ahead of us, and thought "Here we go. They're not going to let us back in." The border patrol made each of them open their bags, asked for IDs, and asked them a bunch of questions. 3 minutes later, Penny and I pulled up, they asked me 3 questions and sent us on our way. Man, that was easy! Thanks Otter.
Penny and I stopped at the first overlook in Minnesota to enjoy our lunch and the view, which we did as we watched a number of bikes ride past us. We were really enjoying our relaxed pace, and had plenty of time to stop and see things. When we got to Grand Marais, I pointed out the Blue Water Cafe, so we parked and went in to get some (big surprise) pie. The Lewinskis were there and we sat at the next table over from them and shared some of the experiences from the day. I hadn't been to the Blue Water in years, ever since we changed the trip to 5 days. We used to eat breakfast here the third morning of the trip, and it was nice to be back and drink some coffee out of an all too familiar mug.
The rest of the day was more of the same. We made many stops, some new, some old, all beautiful. Tettegouchee State Park was a nice little surprise, as we found an incredible overlook of Lake Superior. Just a little further down the road, we stopped at Split Rock, which is one of my favorite stops of the trip. We couldn't have asked for a better day, and we spent some time touring the lighthouse and grounds of the park. They have done a lot of work there restoring buildings and such, and I'm proud that my entrance fee to the park has gone to a good cause. Last stop in the park was the view hanging on my wall. I look at the view a lot at home, but I always forget the awesome sound of the waves hitting the rocks and the feel of the wind smacking me in the face as it blows off the water. I really like this place, and I never regret stopping here, even when Carl and I are hiding under a tree to escape the rain and cold like we were in 2000. The weather this year was much better to say the least, and this is one of the places that I've wanted to show to Penny for a long time. I'm glad that we got a chance to stand there together. Immediately past the State Park itself is an awesome turnout with an incredible view of the lighthouse perched atop a bluff overlooking the water of Lake Superior. I can't explain how beautiful this site is, but anyone who has stopped there already knows.
As we approached Duluth, rather than get on the expressway, I made a violent maneuver (i.e. I almost blew the turn) and took us down scenic 61 instead. What a good call that was. This was the second road that I hadn't been on that we hit this trip, and the second time I was impressed and happy with the choice. Scenic 61 traced the shoreline through a couple of small towns, and I was able to keep my eye on the barge off in the distance that we had been following since Tettegouchee state park. We stopped roadside for a bit to admire the view of Superior one last time for the day, the barge floating off in the distance the entire time.
Ah, the final stretch of the day - Duluth...and the tunnels. A quick flip of the kill switch (c'mon, it's tradition) and Boom! Penny wasn't very excited when I pointed out the bridge to Superior. "We have to go over that?!?!" she exclaimed, a bit of unmistakable fear in her voice. "Don't worry, there's no grating on this one," I assured her. Descending from the bridge, I saw the now all too familiar site of the bikes parked outside the hotel, and gave them a few toots of the horn to signal our arrival. The beer was already flowing, and the hotel clerk called the steakhouse for a reservation....after the pre-dinner dip in the hot tub of course. While the words "Press the Ham!" were heard often, there were none in sight. We instead took turns doing cannonballs...but I'm not sure that Kurt's version could be called a cannonball....it was more of an "oh shitballs!!" as he ran towards the pool, slipped, and gracefully (hmm, maybe that's not the right word) fell into the pool. The beer was going down easily again, and we were getting a little rowdy (I was about to break the trigger finger of that little kid with the water gun), but it was all in good fun. Did I mention that we had a lot of beer?
Pictures from Day 3:
Early morning, one of the many mirror lakes heading towards breakfast
Another picture of the calm lake
Penny and the ST1100
Another pre-breakfast stop at Aguasabon River Gorge
A shot of the gorge disappearing towards Lake Superior
A shot of the falls...
...and the mist that was hitting me in the face
1Cent stayed safely on the observation deck
1Cent with the gorge in the background
A few bikes at Rosie & Josie's restaurant
A few more bikes show up for breakfast
35MM: The Lewinskis and the Lewinskis
After breakfast, a picture roadside stop
35MM: The two Goldwings (see, I didn't call it purple)
Kurt and Amy stopped right after us
We just couldn't pass this view without stopping
The first overlook in Minnesota...lunch stop
Penny enjoying the view
The ST1100 at the overlook
Tettegouchee State Park, view of Superior
Another view of Superior from Tettegouchee
Split Rock Lighthouse
View north from the lighthouse
1Cent in Split Rock Lighthouse looking out the window
Penny near the lighthouse
A barge...and awesome blue water
Same barge and another one heading south that we'd seen earlier
My view at Split Rock...looks better here than on my living room wall
Exit the park, pull into Scenic Overlook, see this awesome sight
A stop along Scenic 61 approaching Duluth, MN
A view north along the shoreline
a barge off in the distance that we had been following all day
Penny, the ST, and the barge in the distance
Today started out like all the others...we didn't get an early start, but who cares. We left about the same time as everyone else, but I passed through town without stopping for gas, knowing that Port Wing was just a few miles up the road. The ride across route 13 was nice, as usual, but I still can't figure out how we ever thought this was a twisty road....except for the one downhill 15MPH turn, it's pretty straight. Nonetheless, it's a nice ride, and better than droning across route 2 all morning. Plus, the town of Bayfield is a great breakfast stop, and upon arriving there, we met up with a number of people at the restaurant. Breakfast was great, and I especially liked the blueberry pancakes.
After breakfast, a number of us walked down to the harbor and took some pictures. Penny and I headed back to the bike and saw Brian and Elaine getting ready to head out. We hadn't had much opportunity to ride with them, and when I asked, they were all for it. "We'll follow you" Brian told me, and with that, we were off. The ride between Bayfield and Wakefield, MI isn't fantastic - pretty straight, not a whole lot to see. Once we got past Wakefield and turned into Porcupine State Park, wow. The trees were pretty full and the forest was thick this year, likely due to the nicer weather we had been enjoying. We made it past a couple of slow cars, and cruised along through the forest until we got to the waterfalls. Penny and I had stopped here last year, but I wasn't sure if Brian and Elaine had been here before. It didn't matter to me - I like the falls, and we walked down there together, chatting about this and that, and enjoying the fresh, clean smell of the forest. I was glad that we had a chance to talk with Brian and Elaine, and I was glad that they were obviously having a great time - as were most everyone. The falls were very nice, as usual, and afterwards we saddled back up and headed to Lake in the Clouds, the same spot at which I had proposed to Penny some 7 months prior. I'm not ashamed, nor am I going to lose too many "guy points" by admitting that I was excited to go back there and re-live the experience with her. I took the lead on South Boundary road and wicked it up just a hair where I could, but this road tends to deteriorate quickly - just like that 10 foot gravel patch approaching. Yikes....OK, that's enough. We made it to the end, where Brian and Elaine were wondering where the nearest gas station might be. Luckily it just a stone's throw up the road, and we decided to meet back up at the lake.
Penny and I stopped at a gift shop for a few minutes, and then continued up to Lake in the Clouds, where Brian and Elaine met us just a few minutes later. We had told them the story of me proposing here, and when we got to the top, they left us alone as we walked outside the brick fence area....I'm not sure if that was out of romantic feelings, or our of fear - Elaine is apparently more afraid of heights than Penny. Penny and I went, and argued of course, about where we had sat 7 months earlier. We got all mushy, and yadda yadda yadda....you get the point. A few more people showed up and after a couple minutes, the Devines and we headed towards the hotel. It was mid-afternoon, and this would work out great. I figured we would have at least 3 hours of sunlight to explore the Copper Harbor area and peninsula. We set a good pace to the hotel, and I really wicked it up in the couple of corners along M26 approaching Houghton...but why is it that every single year I get caught behind a row of cars right at this point? Oh well, what can you do.
We made it to the hotel and decided to check in and splash some water on our faces before heading out again. While Brian and I were at the hotel desk checking in, Brian overheard the clerk speaking with someone on the phone, and he mentioned the name "Lewinski." Brian told them that we were part of their group, and did they need something. The clerk handed me the phone and told me that it was some sort of emergency. Even right now writing these words, the same lump in my stomach has reappeared. I had no idea what to expect when I picked up the phone, and I wish with everything that I have that I never would have received this call.
Arturo was on the other end of the line and it took him a few seconds to get any words out. He was eventually able to say "Jane hit a deer." I remember thinking that this had to be a horrible nightmare and was wondering when I would wake up. I knew the answer to the next question before I even asked it, but I asked anyway if she was OK. He told me that she was not OK, and that she was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital. My mind started racing, and I thought, that's impossible - I just saw her a few hours ago in Wakefield. I still didn't really comprehend what had happened, and the only good news was that everyone else was OK and they were together. I asked if they needed anything, should we come down there, where are you at - I was a mess, he was a mess, everything was just plain wrong, and there wasn't a damned thing that anyone could do about it. They told me that they had been contacting family and that they would be making their way home from there tomorrow. I hung up the phone, wishing that there was something that I could do, but knowing that there wasn't.
Completely in shock and disbelief, I walked into the parking lot and broke the news to the ten or so people that were there at the time. While I knew that nobody would take the news lightly, I was worried about two people - Penny and Vern. I knew that this would bring Penny right back to reality, having lost her father just two weeks ago. She had experienced enough hardship to last a lifetime, and I knew this would be incredibly difficult. Needless to say, she was upset, but she took the opportunity to help me cope. I was a mess - just a blank look on my face. I was so happy that she was there with me, but I wish she hadn't have had to be strong at that moment. She helped me a lot with this, even though I didn't want to be helped. Worst yet, Vern, a good friend of Jane's, just pulled into the parking lot and was still all smiles from the great day of riding. He immediately noticed that something was wrong, and I pulled him aside and mustered up what few words I could to let him know what had happened. I remember his words..."Oh god, I shouldn't have left them." He had been riding with them, but broke away from them to do his own thing. I told him that he can't blame himself any more than I can blame myself for organizing the trip. This was an unbelievable, horrible tragedy. Not being able to do anything about it is the worst part of all.
As more and more people arrived from the day of riding, I felt horrible not only spreading the word, but having to spread the word and watch them go through the same range of emotions that I had already gone through. Even as I write this, my mind continually goes blank and I end up staring at the screen, not a clue in my head as to what I should write. This is the part of motorcycling that I (and everyone) tries to avoid at all costs, but simply by riding a motorcycle, it cannot be completely avoided. My thoughts went out and continue to go out to Jane's family and friends that they might find an ounce of peace in the fact that she died doing that which she loved, surrounded by people who cared for and loved her. I know that really doesn't make it any easier, but the fact remains that there is nothing else that can be done or said to make things better. I wish more than anything that this weren't the case.
Pictures from Day 4:
The bikes outside the breakfast place in Bayfield
The Bayfield Harbor with some sailboats out in the water
Tad and Penny sitting in the gazebo in Bayfield
...and along the waterfront
The Bolls along the waterfront
A waterfall in the Porcupine Mountains
Penny at the falls
The Devines and Penny at the falls
Tad and Penny at the falls
A view of the Lake in the Clouds
Another view of the lake
A view in the other direction
Don't look down!!!
Penny sitting in "the spot" at Lake in the Clouds
Some more people showed up while we were there
...and more people
Here's the small group with the lake in the background
After a somber night of dinner and a dip in the incredibly hot (too hot) hot tub, we all woke up early for a 7:00 departure. This is really the only time during the trip that we ride as one big group - heading down to Breakfast at Grandma's. The thoughts of yesterday's news were still fresh in our minds, and I had passed along what little news I had (I spoke with Vern late Sunday night) to the group. Any news that could be passed along seemed to be helping people cope and come to terms with it. At times this morning, I was able to temporarily put the thoughts of Jane out of my head, but as soon as we got rolling, I could think of nothing else.
I do enjoy the ride to Grandma's and I always bring up the rear of the group, watching the parade of motorcycles disappear over the hills and around the corners. All of a sudden, Kevin pulled over, motioning that he was OK. I stopped to see what was wrong and he pointed to his faceshield...his contact lens was stuck to the inside of his faceshield!! Phew! I caught up with the rest of the group, gave them the thumbs up, and we continued on, stopping at the halfway point where Kevin caught back up. I remember wishing that I could see Jane and friends riding along with us. It just didn't seem complete without them, and the thoughts in the back of my head continually reminded me not only of the loss, but of the fact that things like this can happen at any time - whether we like it or not. The only positive that I could take from that is that we were all taking advantage of every minute that we had. Riding through this part of the U.P. is very peaceful, and I was glad to be with so many friends, knowing that we were all doing just that.
Approaching Grandma's, the familiar signs came into view that they always post along the road to her house. The all too familiar banner hung across her driveway as we parked the bikes, and I was thrilled to see that the mystery merchandise for the trip had arrived. I went inside, grabbed a cup of coffee in an ATL mug, and walked outside, wondering how long it would take people to notice. The mugs were a nice touch for the trip, and again, for a few moments at a time, I was able to temporarily forget about what had happened yesterday. We were talking about it a lot though, and many people were coming to terms with it. Obviously, nobody was happy, but we were accepting it and trying to move on. My thoughts continued to go out to Chris, Vern, Roderick, Arturo, and Ed, who were going to have to start their ride home today, having just lost a dear friend. I hoped that they were hanging onto each other and helping each other as much as they could. I wished that I could be there with them, but knew that there was nothing that I could do to help.
Breakfast was incredible, as usual. Grandma's property is very beautiful, and we all sat around for a while, chatting and enjoying the cool breeze and blue skies. We had the usual rounds of picture taking, and then saw the chair event for the year. Last year, Larry got a chair stuck to the back of him. This year, Kurt was the one who had the chair incident, and I wish that this small event would have been the only "bad" thing to happen this morning, but unfortunately, it wasn't. The traditional wheelie display (not really a contest) started slowly, but ended quickly. MJ (slow down) coaxed a small wheelie out of the Aprilla, and I jumped on the ST1100 to see if I could have just a little fun before we headed home. I did a nice practice wheelie up the hill, just to make sure that I could "get it up" and not embarrass myself, and then u-turned the ST for my first run. It was at this time that I saw the ugly sight of a red Sprint ST sliding on it's left side towards me. By the time I could park the bike, Brian was standing up, and I was relieved that he appeared to be OK. Unfortunately, as the next few minutes went on, it seemed he did not just get the wind knocked out of him like we had hoped. The paramedics were called and about half of the town showed up, including the first response paramedic who was wearing a "whoop ass" t-shirt. Elaine commented later that her confidence wasn't sky high after seeing this guy, but the real paramedics took good care of Brian and brought him to the hospital. It was a really unfortunate event, and coupled with what had happened yesterday, I think that everyone was pretty much "done" at that point. Most everyone started heading out, their heads probably spinning as much as mine was.
Before we left, Chick, Kurt & Amy, and Penny and I headed to the hospital to make sure that Brian was OK, and to see if he or Elaine needed anything. I'm glad that we were able to stop by and see him, but it was eerie seeing him on the stretcher in the emergency room. Thank god he was going to be OK, and luckily the Lewinski's had the flexibility to make arrangements to take care of Brian and Elaine. Diane stayed behind and drove the two of them home a couple days later, and Chick returned a few weeks later for the motorcycles. It should have been no surprise that they did something like this. We, the ATL group, really are a family, and we take care of our own. It hurts when we lose someone, and we'll go out of our way to help each other. That sounds like a family to me.
The ride home from the hospital was actually pretty nice. Kurt and Amy took the lead for the first part, and we eventually got off on some backroads and made our way down to Route 67 south, stopping at a Culvers along the way. We did have a beautiful day through which to ride home, and as nightfall approached, we waved good-bye to Kurt and Amy and rode the last few miles to our home. I was relieved to get home, as was Penny. My mind was still spinning, and my heart was still filled with sadness, and would stay this way for some time.
Pictures from Day 5:
The bikes warming up for the ride "over the river and through the woods"
The Houghton-Hancock bridge in the morning
Yes, I am Tim and this is my bike. Chris is already hungry
Otter and Donna chatting in the morning
Pop Otter and the ST1300
1Cent and Diane getting ready to head out
Hey!! Look who decided to join us!
MJ...a.k.a. the Fast Guy
35MM: The parade of bikes on the road
35MM: Another shot of the bikes - I take this pic every year
Some of the bikes at Breakfast at Grandma's
Let's see....what looks good this morning
Enjoying the awesome breakfast
After breakfast..."I can't eat any more food!!"
The group at Breakfast at Grandma's
Grandma and the cooks...no they are not a Motown recording group
Sir - please step off of the motorcycle and put your hands on the wall
There has to be one in every crowd...
When the news arrived Sunday night, I had no idea what was going on in my head and could not express what I was feeling about the loss of Jane or what all of this means. I still don't think I can get the words out perfectly, but I need to give it a try, so please bear with me.
I only knew Jane for four days, but that doesn't minimize the loss that I feel and the sorrow and sympathy that goes out to her family, Chris, and her close friends. This event was just fate, and looking for an explanation or reason for it will lead nowhere. It's the part of motorcycling that anyone who rides does their best to ignore, and just when you think you've got it beat, something like this happens. It's tragic, it's horrific, and I wish more than anything that it hadn't happened. We all make our own choices in life, and for all of us, including Jane, the joy of riding a motorcycle, and the places (mentally and physically) that riding brings us, far outweighs the inherent dangers associated with riding. I, for one, will not give up riding, or anything else that I enjoy for that matter, simply because of the possibility exists that something bad might happen to me. That's no way to go through life. After attending the memorial service for Jane, listening to her friends and family speak about her, and seeing the pictures of her through the years, it is obvious that Jane felt the same way.
The only thing that I can take from this are the words that I heard Chris, Roderick, Ed, and Arturo say to me about Jane, her attitude towards life, and the happiness she felt on this ATL trip. She loved motorcycling, she loved her friends, and she loved this trip. I can find about 1% peace in the fact that Jane died doing that which she loved, but the remaining 99% is still filled with deep sorrow.
So how do I wrap this up without diminishing the sorrow surrounding Jane's loss? I guess I have to take it in stride. Despite Jane's loss, we had a wonderful trip, and I'm glad that Penny and I had a chance to do this together. I had hoped that this trip would give Penny a partial escape from the recent passing of her father. At times, I know she was able to temporarily find some peace, as was I. There was no way that ATL was going to make everything all better, but what I had hoped for did happen. Penny and I, together, found a few moments of peace and togetherness. It was a way for us to start the process of moving on, and moving on together. That's all I could ever ask for.
To the rest of the ATL family, thank you. As usual, it was a honor to share the road with all of you, and I couldn't have asked for a greater group of people. Through the good times and bad, we stuck together and helped each other out. I will look back on the good memories of ATL2003 and smile, knowing that what we shared together, as a family, really is what it's all about.
I'm so glad that Jane was a part of ATL2003. I was fortunate enough to spend a few minutes each day speaking with Jane, usually as we met up at breakfast or in the parking lot at the end of the day. I wish I would have spoken to her more, by I will cherish the few memories that I have. I will never forget how her smile brightened any room into which she walked. I'm very sorry that I won't get a chance to get to know Jane better, as I know that there is a lot that I could have learned from her. My only desire is to hold onto her memory, her smile, her attitude of living life to it's fullest, and incorporate these memories into my everyday thoughts. I am also fortunate enough to know some of Jane's closer friends, and I hope that over the years we can continue to talk about Jane so that I might find out more about this wonderful life of which I only caught a passing glimpse.
Rest in peace Jane. Rest in peace Dennis. You shall never be forgotten..