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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Today was our longest day of so far. About 340 miles. We rode from Mackinaw City to Copper Harbor and back down to Houghton where we’re spending the night. We were on the road by 10:00am and didn’t get back to our hotel until after 10:00pm. It was a haul and worth every minute of it. By the time I opened my laptop to download video and type this entry, I was ready to tuck in. But I wanted to get all of this down.
Big disappointment of the day: My helmet mounted camera didn’t start when I pressed the button as I started over the Mackinaw bridge. Only the handlebar mounted camera facing me was running. Uly said he got pictures and video from his cameras, so I’ll be asking to use that! This was my first time riding a motorcycle over the bridge and I wanted to capture it.
Best part of the day: Making it to Copper Harbor, the most northerly part of Michigan, and the reason I called this the Long Way Up. I really felt like we ‘got there’ and did what we were planning to do. A sense of accomplishment is important in an adventure and this was one of the key goals for me.
Bonus of the day: Taking M26 along the north shore of the UP on Lake Superior. The best, windy, curvy, scenic road we’ve been on so far the whole trip. And because it was going to get us back to hotel later (and we’d be on the road back to Houghton at dusk – prime time for deer running out in front of motorcycles) we almost didn’t do it. The road less travelled… and it made all the difference.
As Uly put it in his Facebook post ‘We seized the <expletive> out of the day.’ No exaggeration. We left nothing on the table (except at dinner, I was stuffed). We will lay our heads down happy that we did what we came to do and got every last bit we could. Tomorrow will be pretty laid back, running down to Escanaba and then Green bay. More coast roads on the shores of Lake Michigan, so I’m expecting more great scenery. The camera batteries are charging…
Probably one of the best days I’ve had riding in Michigan, possibly one of the best ever, full stop. We started out day two at the Dunewood Resort in Empire, and ended up at the foot of the Mackinaw Bridge, in Mackinaw City. We took the road less traveled to be sure, M22 up around the Leelenau peninsula through Traverse City and Charlevoix and the road to Grand Traverse Lighthouse as well. Then M22, to 119 (the Tunnel of Trees road.)
This some of the prettiest scenery in Michigan. The roads wind through orchards and pastures, and the coastal towns along Lake Michigan here in the northern part of the state. The tunnel road is lined with dense woods and homes, and you get to enjoy miles of dappled sunlight and pleasant (even challenging) curves. It’s hard to know what to look at, if not the amazing blue waters of the lake, it’s the equally amazing coastal homes and communities. But the one thing you HAVE to pay attention too is the traffic. At some point I’ll post some of the ride videos, and it’s clear that there are a lot of tourists (of course we were among them!) and not everyone has their head in the game.
There is of course one thing that makes the adventure work, and it’s not the bike or the route or the destination (though they are important). It’s the people you ride with. My long-time friend and motorcycling adventure partner is Ulysses. He blames me for his affliction when it comes to this particular bike, though he’s been a rider as long as I have been. We’re both on the R1200GS Adventure from BMW. It’s a great machine. But having someone to ride with, that’s as agreeable and flexible (and as capable a rider) as my friend makes all the difference.
We like to plan the ride, but we realize that when it comes down to doing it, the plans sometimes don’t work out. We both agreed not to push a lot of mileage each day and we’ll wind up where we wind up. On our last ride we did 500+ mile days to keep the schedule and at the end of it we decided that we needed a more sane schedule. I’m not up to par on this trip and I’m running out of steam fairly early in the evening. So today we ended up in Mackinaw City. We had a great dinner of fish and chips, and topped it off with ice cream. The hotel is right across the street from the park at the foot of the bridge, so we got some good pictures there. Tomorrow we’re over the bridge and to points north in the UP.
My long-time friend and I started a tradition last year. Week-long motorcycle adventures; two riders, an interesting destination, and everything that comes in between. Last year it was the Skyline, Shenandoah National Park, and New Orleans, Louisiana. This year we are riding up the length of our home state, to it’s northernmost point, Copper Harbor. We both live in the southern part of the lower peninsula of Michigan, and neither of us have been all the way to top of the upper (the UP!). As a bonus, we’re going to ride down the shore of Lake Michigan on the Wisconsin side and take the car ferry back across to Michigan.
Day one saw us prepping gear, meeting up and taking US127 north and cutting across west to the town of Manistee to pick up the scenic M22 and ride the ‘Tunnel of Trees’. This is a winding road that runs along the west coast of Michigan and is a popular destination in the fall. If you time your trip just right, the trees are brilliant with reds, yellows and oranges, and it’s pretty spectacular. They are all green and lush now, and the effect is pretty amazing as you wind through the curves, up and down the hills.
Mounting up after dinner at Joes Friendly Tavern
Our goal was to make it all the way through the M22 stretch and up around the Leelenau peninsula to Traverse City. We got a little later start than planned and took more breaks. I’ve been a tad under the weather and my riding partner Ulysses was fatigued from rider coaching (insert plug for the Motorcycle Safety Foundation Basic Rider training course for new riders!) so we were done by the time we got to Empire, the little town next to Sleeping Bear Dunes, about 90 minutes shy of our destination. We had excellent tavern burgers at Joe’s Friendly Tavern (highly recommended –try the Dip Burger if you’re really hungry) and layed up for the night at the Duneswood Resort. So far the weather has been perfect (mid-70s) and the ride sublime.
Wrapping up the day at the Duneswood Resort.