Perspective

Over the last few weeks I’ve driven across this great country of ours (spoiler alert, I’ll be doing a post on my adventure soon). I’ve spent several nights in hotels and at campgrounds. I’ve visited two national parks (two more off my list!). I’ve been out to eat meals with friends and family. I’ve had lunch with customers. I’ve attended the county fair, where I worked a display and demonstration booth with my amateur radio club. I attended church in person, and the first live music concert I’ve been to since the pandemic began.

I’m sure some will ask if I’m afraid of getting the Delta variant. If I’m afraid of spreading it. If I’m just afraid. What if there’s another mask mandate, or they start requiring a vaccine passport? What if? It seems so many of my friends are spending more time and energy questioning motives, deriding those they don’t agree with, and generally adding to the anxiety rather than just getting on with life. Too much of what’s being said and done with regards to Covid-19 is being driven by fear.

Well, I’m not afraid. Concerned? Prepared? Thoughtful? Am I learning? Paying attention? Of course. But afraid, no. Covid has (re)taught me one thing. We’re all going to leave this earth. This last Sunday I met two babies born in the shadow of the pandemic. They are beautiful and amazing. Life goes on. We’ve lost some people in this 18 months or so. I lost my father (not to Covid). This has been a dark season. But it’s over. Sure the Delta variant, and a parade of others will be trotted out in the news. There will be controversy. Because controversy drives ratings and fear sells. But I’m not buying. There’s a smile on my face in this picture (really!). I’m with my lovely lady. And we’re doing something…. normal.

Waiting for the show to start.

The Long Way UP MI v2.0 – the Western UP

This is the second of two installments on our 2020 ride to the upper peninsula of Michigan.

For the second half of our adventure we relocated to Houghton Michigan on the Keewenaw peninsula, which juts out into Lake Superior. The ride to Houghton took us via Munising and a visit to the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. All of the cliff formations along the shore of are stained with bright colors from the various minerals that wash out of the rock. The cliffs form dramatic shapes and are best seen from boat tours or kayaks offered for rent by local tourist shops. Sadly they were all closed due to Covid, so we hiked some scenic overlooks at the National Park.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore – Photo by Author
Pictured Rocks from the overlook – Photo by Author

After our visit we pressed on, winding as much as we could on lake-side roads near Marquette. I’ve driven the Marquette-to-Houghton road a few times on business trips visiting Michigan Technological University. Highway 41 cuts through the forested interior of the UP and then north to L’Anse and Baraga. The lakeshore is pretty and the road sweeps in big, gentle bends that encourage a rider to go a little faster than the posted signs would imply are legal. Not that gentlemen touring riders such as ourselves would be given to excessive speed…

From our new base of operation we rode north to Copper Harbor and then east on 41 until we found some off-the-beaten-track logging road in an attempt to get to the Copper Harbor light house. It wasn’t long before we realized the RT was out of it’s element, but Dave didn’t give up and followed the guys on adventure bikes until we were ready to turn around. I never correlated the GPS track, but we were clearly not on the roads we thought we would be on, but it was fun diversion nonetheless.

West out of Copper Harbor on 26 is a wonderful lakeshore road with challenging bends and even some sand blown over the road. When we doubled back to regain 41 to go to the hotel, we found Brockway Mountain Dr. Dave was originally concerned that it would be too rough for the RT (considering the logging road we’d taken him down, he decided we didn’t always help him make good choices). So Uly and I headed up and found a lovely paved road, a bit steep and narrow in a few places, but leading to a spectacular mountain top view of a lush valley on one side and the Lake Superior shoreline on the other. Rather than keep it to ourselves, we continued on the road until it rejoined 26 and collected Dave, leading him to the top to enjoy it for himself.

The view of the valley side of Brockway Mountain. – Photo by Author

The following day we rode farther west to the Porcupine Mountains State Park, another gem of Northern Michigan I knew nothing about. Mile after mile of winding forested roads, west on 64 out of Ontonagon. The high point (literally) of this leg of the ride was Lake In The Clouds. The ride to get there is half the joy, but the view is staggering. The pictures really don’t do it justice as the viewing area is SO high. We could see a ski jump over ten miles away on another hilltop. We spent an hour just taking in the view and had we been so inclined could have spent hours more hiking. Likely, on some other day, I will do just that.

The crew at Lake in the Clouds – Photo by author
Panorama of The Lake in the Clouds – Photo by author.

The ride home at the end of the trip was also a treat. We rode back along 41 to Marquette , stopping for lunch at a little taco place in Munising. The south, and a little east along over the bridge and then along a stretch of coastal road called the Tunnel of Trees. This close, narrow, winding road is well know to riders here in Michigan, but probably not to anyone from anywhere else. Not as long as the BRP or the Dragon’s tail, and not nearly as crowded most days. Just a tree-lined stretch of road with an amazing view and some challenging bends. The video linked below, recorded from the crash bar on my GS, gives a hint of what it’s like.

Video of Riding the Tunnel of Trees

Riding the Mackinaw Bridge

Over all, the trip was a resounding success. Like every touring adventure there were a few challenges. Our strategy of home-basing in a couple of locations and fanning out to explore the area we were in, seemed to really work well. So many rides it’s nomadic, packing unpacking for each overnight. And while I enjoy having a base camp, our next big adventure will us back to our nomadic ways as we take on the Mid-Atlantic Back Country Discovery Route. stay tuned for that!

Weekending

This is a post to celebrate getting away. After SO many weeks and months of cold winter and working from home, it seemed like the right time to get away. My wife and I have had a favorite weekend get-away place for many years now, and even though we left home late, we were settled into our room at the Lake Bluff Inn and Suites in South Haven, before our usual bed time. The pleasure was in knowing that we weren’t going to have to get up early and there were no expectations when we did.

Enjoying the sunset at a lakeside resort.

We learned the art of weekending years ago, when raising children and being busy with our jobs left little time to do more than one short vacation a year. That left us only weekends to do a get-away for ourselves. Eventually we realized that leaving the kids for one or two nights was achievable and if we didn’t go far, we could easily deal with issues if we were needed. For us, that meant being within a couple of hours of home. There are a few tourist towns a couple of hours away and we fell in love with South Haven.

At first this was about our anniversary or other special occasion, but in time we realized it was the perfect couple’s therapy. Getting outside our usual four walls and routine for a even a couple of days helped us reset. Perspective is valuable and sometimes seeing your challenges and frustrations from outside the sphere of your daily life can help provide it.

As a young couple with a houseful of kids, we couldn’t afford a lakeside suite with a jacuzzi every time we escaped for a weekend, but as soon as we could, we determined it was worth it. But even the bargain room at a Holiday Inn Express or local B’n’B works. The value is in breaking the routine and intentionally making space to remember what life was like before children and before the cares of work and a mortgage and the other pressures of life started to weigh on us.

So what do we do when we get away? Walk on the beach. Shop a little. Eat out. Let the housekeepers make the bed. Drink a little. Sometimes it’s almost nothing at all. Walking the grounds at the resort or getting ice cream in the heat of the summer is an escape. Sometimes the key is in simply not doing the things you normally do and letting everything come as it may. Whatever your style of relaxation is, park the lawn mower (or the snow shovel) and make a little time to weekend.

A Winter Morning

For some reason, my affection for winter has been lacking considerably this year. I think it’s part pandemic fatigue, part work stress and some other things that have been weighing on me. But Sunday morning I decided I was going to get out for a bit. I have some favorite stretches of back road that I enjoy riding/driving, so I fired up the Jeep and went out for a bit. I stopped in a couple of places for pictures, but was discouraged from doing much walking around by the single digit wind chills. I wanted a couple of new pictures for the site, so I used one of these for the banner. It was a beautiful (looking) morning, and judging by the fresh tracks in the snow, I wasn’t the only one who thought so.

I hope everyone gets out and enjoys the winter days, even if they are a bit cold. I know it’s tough sometimes, but it’s worth it. And if you live somewhere warm, I do slightly envy you.

The Long Way UP MI v2.0 – the Eastern UP

If you read the posts about my first trip to the UP it was with my longtime friend Ulysses, and at least part of our ride involved some of the scenic coast of the lower peninsula. This time we had a third rider and we decided to focus mostly on things in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. If you’re not familiar, Michigan is essentially two land-masses separated by the straits that join Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. There’s a bridge across the straits, and it is one of the longest suspension bridges in the country. But more on that later. Our third rider, David, grew up in the northern part of the lower peninsula and spent much of his formative years in the UP.

We rode straight up the upper peninsula stopping near Dave’s home town for lunch. After that we toured around the twisty back roads of his youth, enjoying the bikes and the day. In the northern part of our state there are a lot more hills and the back-country roads offered a lot of pleasant riding. Of course it was all narrated by Dave’s recollections of his youth. We even drove by the last home that he lived in, in the area.

After this, we headed north to the Mackinaw bridge, with the goal of staying in Sault St. Marie for the first part of our trip. The ride across the bridge is always interesting, as it’s quite high above the water and often quite windy. But today it was clear and relatively calm. In fact the day was warm and that played a part in the minor misadventure we would experience.

Photo from Wikipedia by Justin Billau

Wikipedia article for the The Mackinaw Bridge

As we descended from the main span of the bridge it quickly became apparent that there was a long wait for the toll booths on the far side of the bridge. Uly and I ride BMW R1200 GS Adventure motorcycles, and they are liquid-cooled. Dave’s R1200 RT however is air/oil cooled and after idling for about 30 minutes in the heat it started act up. There’s a light to alert the rider to high engine temperature and it stayed lit even when he shut it down briefly to cool. By the time we reached the approach lanes for the toll booth (they are at the top of a considerable incline) the bike quit and would not restart. We pushed it to the side and waited for it to cool, which it eventually did.

Once Dave’s bike was back online, we cleared the toll booths and made great time getting to Sault St. Marie. For this leg of the trip, we stayed at the LockView motel, which true to it’s name, has a view of the shipping locks that raise and lower ships between Lake Superior and Lake Huron. We found a local pub for dinner and finished the evening walking around down and the park where you can watch the ships transiting the locks. We rounded out the evening talking about our plans for the eastern part of the peninsula.

The following day found us at breakfast at the diner next to our hotel. After that we made our way to the ferry for Drummond Island. Drummond Island is just across a narrow passage from De Tour, Michigan, and has quite a bit of curvy paved roads that themselves make in an enjoyable ride. The bit that interested Uly and I more, was the unpaved gravel roads and trails. We found ourselves on one rough two-track trail fairly quickly. Dave rode around on the paved roads and waited for us to come out the other end of the trail. Ulysses went down some pretty demanding trail during a ride in the Badlands, but he’s still not fully comfortable off-road riding. To his credit, he engaged eagerly and we set off down the trail. All went well until the last few hundred yards and Uly’s bike went down. He wasn’t hurt and was able to self-recover and join Dave and I in short order. And of course after that, we had to go to lunch. You’ll note so many of the things we do end in a meal.

Waiting for a ferry can be exhausting.

Video: Trail on Drummond Island

The next day we were up and on our way to Tahquamenon Falls. This is one of the most famous and noted attractions in the UP. The ride between the Sault and the state park was scenic enough to be pleasant, and the bikes stretch their legs pretty easily. The winding road that leads to the park is called 123 and it is a very happy series of bends and Northern Michigan scenery. And when we got the falls, there’s also a really pleasant micro-brewery where we (of course) had lunch. After a pleasant meal, we hiked to the upper falls. The temperature was quite warm and we were all in riding gear, so we were all a bit toasty. There were also a lot of bugs. But we still enjoyed the view and we even managed to take a few pictures.

After wrapping up at the falls we headed to the lighthouse at Whitefish Point. This historic site is famous for it’s museum buildings dedicated to the shipwrecks that have occurred down through the years in the approaches to the Sault locks. The Great Lakes have an amazing coastline and this part is no exception.

The ride back to the hotel was equally pleasant over much of the same road and of course another group dinner. If I recall correctly, this was also the evening we indulged in ice cream after dinner, and then a nice stroll through town to walk it off. A fine way to round out the day, and this leg of our trip.

The Long Way Up MI v2.0

During the over-winter months of 2019-2020, my riding buddies and I sat around and contemplated an adventure for the 2020 summer riding season.  Usually we were attending a seminar or workshop at our local cycle shop, enjoying free beverages and spurred by discussions of rides planned and enjoyed by others.  We put our heads together and settled on a ride around Lake Superior.  Earlier in 2019, Ulysses and I rode through some of the high points of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, so we figured the ride around the northernmost of the Great Lakes would be a bigger treat.  It meant riding part of the trip in Canada, but we were all comfortable with that.   Everyone we talked to said it would be a  beautiful ride and not normally overly busy or crowded.   We even did a run to the Mackinaw Bridge in February to shake off the winter-induced cabin fever.

Then came Covid-19.  As luck would have it, I heard about the soon-to-be pandemic during a company meeting in Las Vegas, NV.  A big Chinese New Year celebration hosted by the hotel/casino I was staying at, was wrapping up the day I was checking in.  Of course, at that time it wasn’t fully understood how serious it was, or how quickly it was spreading.  There was hand sanitizer available, but otherwise, nothing.  In the coming weeks we would all find out how much stranger 2020 was going to get.   It quickly became clear, as the state of emergency was declared and executive orders unfolded, that no one was going anywhere and that we’d all be sitting at home for an as yet undetermined amount of time.

Using Bluejeans for web conferencing and corresponding by email, we decided that three of us would organize a ride that would feel like a long trip, but not really leave our home state of Michigan.  It sort of seemed redundant to the trip we’d taken in 2019, but the third member of our team pointed out a number of scenic areas and riding opportunities  we didn’t have time to make the previous year, or simply didn’t know about.   By the time we started hearing that some hotels and restaurants would be opening in the coming weeks, we had started to lay out a plan.

We decided to adopt the strategy of using two cities in the Upper Peninsula as  hubs for day trips in the area.  That way our bikes aren’t always loaded with all of our luggage, and we could concentrate on a particular thing we wanted to visit or do.  It also meant we didn’t have to pack every morning and unpack every evening.  It also meant we had an idea of where we could eat a morning and evening meal.   By the end of the trip we agreed that the strategy worked and that for adventures like this, where we are exploring a region or area.  In upcoming posts, I’ll go over the journey, the places we visited and what we learned along the way.  Needless to say it was an amazing opportunity to get out and enjoy the beauty that our home state of Michigan has to offer, as well as the hospitality of hotels and restaurants that are recovering in these challenging economic times.

Watching The Long Way Up

Just started watching this. It’s not as good as the first one. But it’s a more realistic depiction of what it would be like to take electric vehicles on an adventure, than I expected. Can’t say I’d try what they’re doing (I wouldn’t have the support in place anyways), but it’s kinda fun to watch. They could have called the series ‘Range Anxiety’, but I know that wouldn’t have been catchy enough.

Initially I was disappointed this series would be on electric motorcycles. I think of electric bikes more along the lines of scooters. I’m kind of wondering how they’ll hold up. I was mildly entertained to see the flatbed truck with the diesel generator and charging station. Not exactly eco-friendly, but this is the reality of electrification. Clean/Renewable energy can’t provide the vast amounts of power needed to make electric vehicles genuinely green (yet). I hope we get there someday. But maybe not too soon, as I adore the rumble of my R1200 GS’s boxer engine. The whine of electric motors seems like it would somehow sterilize the experience.

As a note to those new to my blog (probably anyone reading this!) I started referring to my Upper Michigan adventure rides as The Long Way Up (MI) in homage to the original ‘Long Way Around’ and ‘Long Way Down’ series, before I knew there was going to be a ‘Long Way Up’. from our friends Ewan and Charlie. Look for the posts regarding The LongWay UP MI v2.0 shortly. I have the first few in draft and will post them soon.

#LongWayUPMi

My riding buddy and I have started a tradition of going on a motorcycle road trip each year.  The inaugural journey was a seven-day, 2700 mile road trip from Ann Arbor to the Skyline in Virginia, down to Mississippi and Louisiana, an overnight in New Orleans and then the long ride home.  The pace was pretty stout, over 500 miles per day.  We decided that’s more than either of us wanted to repeat, so this year’s ride was around our home state of Michigan.

WholeTrip

The trip was originally planned as a ride around Lake Michigan.  But Uly had ridden through Chicago on his way back from a long solo trip out west and didn’t want to ride through the city again.  I’m not a fan riding urban environs either, so we modified the plan so we could take the S.S. Badger back across lake Michigan from Manitowoc to Ludington.  I’m really glad we did.  The ride on the Badger was a treat.

We rode some of the most scenic coastal roads in the state, and over the Mackinaw bridge (the first either of us had ridden a motorcycle over the Mack).  An unexpected treat was the M26 along the coast of the UP on Lake Superior.  Riding from Copper Harbor to Eagle river was excellent, even in the waning light.  The video is on Youtube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y6WQ2u9Aefc&t=186s

I’ll be uploading a few of the videos from the trip, so you can check back in the next couple of days to catch the rest of them.

One of the best things about the ride was spending time with a good friend.  I’m not a big solo rider, even though I understand the desire to get out and get away and spend some quality time getting perspective.  It’s what I often do on the short jaunts, on the bike or in the Jeep, on a quiet country ride.  We all need to unplug.  But adventures are best enjoyed with friends.  Talking on the intercom breaks up the long stretches of road where the scenery isn’t engaging and helps keep the focus on the road.  There were plenty of potholes and gnarly sections of road that challenged us, not to mention traffic and the occasional wildlife.

EmpireParking

I hope you find occasion to go on an adventure with a friend.  You don’t need any special equipment or gear.  Any bike will do.  Take a camera (phones work too) and notepad and scratch down some notes so we can hear about it when you get back!

Day Five – #LongWayUpMI

The highlight of day five is the crossing on the steamship Badger. We’ve both had a lot of saddle time and we planned on taking the opportunity to rest a bit more during our four hour journey.

The trip on the S.S. Badger is a much anticipated part of this adventure. I’ve only been on one other car ferry and that one took our party across the English Channel from Portsmouth to Cherbourg. The Badger is special as it’s the last operating coal-fired steam ferry.

Originally designed and built in the 1950s to haul automobiles and rail cars, today it carries passengers and vehicles between Manitowoc,Wisconsin and Ludington, Michigan. Motorcyclists ride aboard and tie their machines down to a steel grate before heading up to the passenger decks.

I did spend more time than expected wandering the decks and looking through the various exhibits on what amounts to a floating museum.

The landing in Ludington was ceremonious, with tourists and locals waving as we pulled into the harbor. Unloading was surprisingly efficient and soon we were on our way.

Most of the three hour ride home was in the dark. We made a fuel stop and a took a break to stretch our legs, but otherwise rode straight home. I’ll write up a summary of the trip in a few days, but suffice to say we succeeded in visiting parts of Michigan we’ve never been too, and rode some of the most pleasant winding roads we’ve ever seen. A worthy adventure indeed!

DayFive

Day Four – #LongWayUpMI

This episode could just as easily be called the ‘Long Way Back’.  We left Houghton this morning with plans to ride down to Escanaba and skirt the shoreline of Lake Michigan on our way into Wisconsin.  But at our first break we realized that the rear tire on my riding buddy’s GS was starting to come apart.  One of the tread blocks was bulged out noticeably and there were bubbles in the tread all the way around on the left side.  He sent a picture of the deranged part of the tire to another friend who confirmed it looked like the tread was starting to separate from the carcass.  The day before, Uly had run across a section of road where there was a gap between concrete sections of about 18-24 inches.  We suspect his rear wheel dropped into the gap as he crossed it, and probably sustained at least part of the damage when it hit the edge of the slab.  He had alerted me in time to slow down enough that I didn’t hit it with any energy.  Luckily he was checking the tire pretty frequently thereafter and found the issue.

bumtireroad

 

Compromised rear tire on Uly’s R1200GS Adventure.  

Unfortunately this meant that he would need a new tire, and soon.  The nearest cycle shop was a powersports store that deals mostly in ATVs and personal water craft.  The nearest BWM dealer was in Green Bay, over 200 miles away.  At least it was on our way to Manitowoc, where we were planning to meet the ferry anyways.  But would it be Ok to ride it all the way there in the 85F temperatures?  The alternative was to summon BMWs roadside assistance and have it towed-carried to Green Bay, or rent a U-Haul in a nearby town and take it by truck ourselves.  After much consideration and debate we reasoned it could go another 200 miles or so to the dealer.  Although we skipped the shoreline part of the ride, northern Michigan rewarded us with grand vistas of lush green forests and rolling hills to keep us focused on the ride.  And once in Wisconsin we stopped for ice cream at nice shop along a rural road.  When we walked up to the window, we were greeted by this sign.

 

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Apparently this ice cream shop has seen quite enough sweaty currency.

Given the continuous anticipation of potential issues with the wonky tire, it was the longest 200 miles of any ride I’ve ever been on.  Uly babied the bike and we stopped a couple of times to make sure things weren’t getting (much) worse.  The good news is that the tire held, and the great folks at BMW Motorcycles of Green Bay got his bike on a hoist and a new tire installed in reasonably short order.

DayFour

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Uly’s R1200GS Adventure at BMW Motorcycles of Green Bay, waiting for it’s new tire.

The rest of the ride to Manitowoc was uneventful and light-hearted.  The hotel is Ok and dinner was very pleasant.  So we covered 250 miles today and we’ll be on the ferry back across the lake tomorrow afternoon.  Tonight we’re getting some much needed rest and we’ll have a casual start to the day tomorrow!

 

Catch some of Uly’s videos on his Youtube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCVEXFYWFdUVOAkE0fAgEswA