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.