Saturday, August 08, 2009

around the Georgian Bay - part 1

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Hessel, Michigan to Parry Sound, ON Canada

Up bright and early to get things packed and beat the lines at the border crossing.  There wasn’t even time for breakfast.

Though we made it out of bed early enough, we had a few distractions that delayed our departure.  First, I discovered that my awesome Ray-Bans were left on the dash of Mark’s (my father in law) boat this past evening.  The boat, and consequently sunglasses left the dock before sunrise.  Darn.

The next adventure for the morning was getting Erica’s slightly over-packed bag in the pannier.  After much huffing and puffing, and removing some not-so-necessary items, we were on our way!

First stop, Sault Ste Marie McDonalds…

We arrived at the SSM McDonalds to be utterly surrounded by gnats.  I’m not sure I’ve ever seen so many gnats.  They were everywhere, except inside the restaurant.

Erica had a coffee, Bacon and Cheese Biscuit with a hash brown Since they didn’t have my favorite Sausage Gravy and Biscuits, I settled for a Sausage Cheese Biscuit, hash brown, and coffee.

The truth is neither of us were really into our breakfast.  We both had our mind on getting across the border, and getting down the road.  The truth is, neither of us had done a land border crossing – despite the fact that we’ve both been out of the country.  We’ve flown every other time.

Heading across the Sault Ste Marie International Bridge, we were overwhelmed at how high it was.  Though not as high as the Mackinac Bridge that I had crossed days earlier, I believe this one felt taller.  This may be because there is much development under this bridge which allows one to better judge the height.

We were both fairly distracted while crossing the bridge.  Anyone who has crossed a toll bridge on a motorcycle should understand.  Going through our minds were thoughts such as, “Where is the toll booth?”, “How much is the toll?”, “Where are the passports?”, “Where is customs?”, “What will they want from us?”, etc.

On the far side of the bridge we discovered the tollbooth, and not far past it the Customs stop.  “Do you have any guns, pepper spray, or illegal weapons?" asks the border agent?  We replied, “No.”  “Welcome to Canada,” she says.  Really that’s it!?  You don’t even want my passport?  I would have liked to have the stamp, at least!  Oh well.

For what hassle the border crossing lacked, Sault Ste Marie, Ontario Canada made up for.  Between the stop-n-go traffic, construction, and my outdated GPS maps we really didn’t know when we would get out of there.  Not surprisingly, Garmin released the map updates shortly after we returned home.

Quickly on the open road, the only thing on our mind besides missing the opportunity to exchange currency was getting a move on to Perry Sound.  We had many miles to cover and it had begun to rain.

I’m not sure what we expected for Canadian scenery but we were disappointed to find that for miles and miles the scenery looked just like Michigan!  Rationally, we knew that we had only crossed an imaginary line; however, we expected to feel like we had crossed into another country.

Riding along the Trans-Canada highway, we passed through small towns such as Laird, Tarbutt (no joking), and Bruce Mines.  Many of these towns were, thankfully, not much more than a wide spot in the road.

Arriving in Blind River, we decided that it was time to take a break from the rain, and for Erica, warm up with a little hot chocolate.  We quickly decided on Tim Horton's.  We had them in the States, it was familiar, and most importantly quick.  We couldn’t have been more wrong about that last point.  Though the staff were serving very quickly, the wait was long due to the sheer volume of patrons.  We soon learned that Tim Horton's, or “Timmie’s” as some locals call it, is something of a religious trek for many hardy Cannuks.

After having been refreshed by our short break at “Timmie’s,” it was time to move on.

On we did move.  We passed through Spragge, Spanish,and Massey before arriving at the intersection of Canadian Route 6 and 17 (Trans-Canadian Highway).  It was time to stop for gas.  I will have to say that by this point Canada had made an impression on us.  We were shocked at how there was little to nothing between the little towns, and how busy the businesses were in these little towns.  The only way I can describe the traffic at this gas station is to ask you to imagine how the grocery stores are just before a huge snowstorm.  It was that busy!

Having acquired a cheap pair of sunglasses and a tank of gasoline on my trusty credit card, it was time to get moving again.  The funny thing about that gasoline is that I wouldn’t know how much I paid for it until I was back home.  Converting liters to gallons and Canadian to US dollars, I learned that we paid – a lot!  Oh well, its vacation.

Continuing through the now less than spotty rain we arrived in Parry Sound.  Thanks to the trusty GPS, we had no problem finding our home for the night – Parry Sound Bayside Inn.  Like Erica, I thought to myself, “Really?  This is it?”  Well actually, Erica said it out loud.  I had the advantage of seeing photos of the inside, so deep down I knew we were fine but Erica had to wait.

We were well received by Jeff in the nicely decorated lobby of the Inn.  Since we had arrived relatively early (around 4:00 PM) we had to wait on the porch a few minutes for the room to be finished up.  I don’t think that either of us minded though since the rain had ceased, we were at our destination, and we were setting in some other position than upon the motorcycle.

We were taken into our third floor suite after not too long of a wait.  The room was stylish and clean.  We learned from our host, Jeff, that we were amongst the first few quests to stay in this room as it had just been completed.

Upon changing our clothes into something a little more appropriate for dinner, we headed off to the Bay Street Cafe.  Employing the “We’re on vacation” strategy, we had a little of everything including drinks, appetizers, entree, and desert.  Though nothing was spectacular, the food was good and fairly reasonably priced.

headin' north


date: 7/24 to 7/25/09

distance: 773 miles

total elapsed time: 36:15 (including overnight stay)

moving time: 15:30


Friday July, 24th

Finally!  Vacation has come.
Up early for a “healthy” breakfast, final check of the bike, and some last minute packing.  Erica and I sat down for breakfast together since it would be a couple days before I see her again.  She will be driving her car to Michigan where we will meet up and do some touring together.  It is a workday so I prefer to get onto the road before all of the commuters.
My goal is to get out of Ohio as quickly as possible, cut through Indiana and get into the “scenic coastal stuff” as quickly as possible.  I don’t dislike Ohio scenery, it is just that I’ve seen much of it.  This trip is about seeing something different.
On the super-slab getting to out of Columbus, I make good time and discover that 33 has been “improved” most of the way.  Four lanes of freely flowing traffic.
My first stop was at the Magic Wand Restaurant in Churubusco, Indiana.  The “Magic Wand” must have been broken since neither my hot dog or milk shake were magical.  I guess this is what I get for ordering a hot dog at a hamburger place.  The other reason I chose this place was for the convenience of the gas station across the parking lot.  Little did I know they were out of premium gasoline.  Thank goodness for the R12’s massive fuel tank.  Moving on…
When planning the route, my goal was to move in the most direct way to the left coast of Michigan while avoiding most population centers.  In doing so, I routed myself right through Shipshewana, In which turned out to be the epicenter of Indiana Amish Country.
Thankfully, Shipshewana was not as commercialized or crowded as Ohio’s dreaded Holmes County.  Looking back, I wish I had stopped and snapped a photograph of one of the neatly groomed farms and farmhouses.
Crossing the border into Michigan, I continue North to Holland, MI where I pick up US-31.  I am a little disappointed to learn that US-31 is heavily trafficked, quite developed, and rarely in sight of the water.  “C'est la vie” as they say in France.  At least I am riding.
By the time I reach Montague, MI I’m feeling like I am nearing my destination for the evening.  I stopped at the Visitor’s center located along an old rail bed (now jogging path).  The center was in the town’s old train depot.  After finding that the visitor’s center was really only a place to pick up those finely printed tourist pamphlets, I stepped outside to have some water, homemade Zucchini Bread, and a stretch.
While sitting there I met a nice couple from California who encouraged me to take a look at the old caboose there in the parking lot.  They were right, it was one of the most complete caboose I have ever seen.  Inside the caboose, there were bunks, storage cabinets, a pot-belly stove, and a wash sink.  I never knew what was originally in these things.  Now I know.
As for the couple from California…  Their son attended The Ohio State University and landed his first (and current) job in Montague.  They liked the town so much they sold their house in California and moved to Michigan(!).  I guess I get it.  Depending where you are in California, it can be crowded and hot.
After my snack break and chat with the California transplants, I decided that I had at least another hour in me.  The couple told me that Ludington and Manistee were about an hour ahead and that I should be able to find somewhere to stay in either of those towns.
It wasn’t very far to Ludington so I decided to continue on to Manistee.  On my way into town, I saw a sign for a “historic Inn.”  I followed the its directions in an attempt to find the Inn but never did.  Somehow, I ended up traversing the entire length of the town on back streets and came out just around the corner from the Motel 8.
By this time, Motel 8 sounded as good as anything.  I was beat.  I pulled up outside and started removing my gear when I met a nice British gentleman named Roger.  Roger and I chatted for a few moments when I politely excused myself so that I could secure a room.  Pricey smoking room secured, the conversation resumed.  I really would have preferred a cheap non-smoking room, but what can one do when he is traveling without reservations.
Over the course of our conversation, I learned that Roger was from Spokane, Washington, had just come from the BMW MOA rally in Tennessee, had been on the road for a couple weeks, was headed to northern Michigan to meet some buddies at the Suttons Bay Blues Festival, and then headed back home.  I envy the freedom that he has gained through retirement.
Roger and I talked about bikes, where we had been, and most importantly dinner.  Having ridden all day, I was so tired that I didn’t even want to think about dinner.  Roger directed me to a Chinese buffet just up the street from the Motel.  He was right.  It was clean, tasty, and relatively inexpensive.  Mission accomplished.

Saturday July, 25th

As expected, It rained through the night.  Thankfully it fell only overnight.  The bike was happily under its new waterproof cover.  I stepped out in the damp crisp morning to chamois as much water off as possible to give it a chance to dry.

After a shower and some preliminary packing, I went down to the lounge to partake in the free (as in included in the room rate) continental breakfast.

The night before I arranged to meet Roger to finish our chat.  The conversation was much better than the onion bagel and bowl of cereal.  We talked motorcycles until almost everyone had finished their breakfast and left.  We could have probably talked bikes all day.

One of the most interesting tidbits I learned about Roger was that his name full is Roger Slater.  He came to the United States From the UK to import Laverda Motorcycles.  Laverda motorcycles were made until 1985 then had a rebirth in the 1990s.  In 2000 Aprilia purchased the brand who then was ultimately purchased by the Piaggio group (Moto Guzzi, Vespa, etc.).  The net result of all the acquisitions was that Aprilia tried to ruin the brand by importing cheap Asian scooters under the name then Piaggio retired it. (At least according to Wikipedia.)  Considering my age and relative late entry into the motorcycle world, I no longer feel guilty about not having heard of the brand.  From what I have read though, these machines were truly something.

I am really fortunate to have met Roger.  We have exchanged e-mail regularly since returning to our respective homes.  After convincing me that it was a good idea to take on the BMW R1200 maintenance myself, Roger “coached” me through valve adjustment and rear transaxle lube change by e-mail alone.  “She” runs like a champ now too!  Thanks Roger!

Out of the Motel parking lot I headed north on Michigan 110.  I was hoping to follow coastal roads most of the way until I passed a car spiritedly and immediately was alerted the need for gasoline.  Gotta love the idiot lights.

Thinking back to when came into Manistee on the day before, my three priorities were lodging, food, and fuel (in this exact order).  It seems after I finished with food, I forgot the last one.  The problem was that I thought that I gassed the bike up – but obviously didn’t.

I nervously watched the “miles remaining” count down mile after mile.  Thankfully, I never ran out of gas.  This is the exact reason I keep the Garmin Zumo GPS with me.  Its good for directions but even better for finding gas, food, etc.  The Zumo guided me to the nearest gas station which was, unfortunately, nowhere near where I wanted to be.  I headed for a filling station in Onekama then began trekking back to the coast.

It wasn’t long after returning to the coast that I received my first treat.  Off to my right after passing row after row of vacation homes stacked up like cordwood, was an unforgettable view of Chrystal Lake.  Views like this are what I came here for!

Moving on, I come across the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.  Out of nowhere appears this massive sand-dune.  I’ve seen mention of this before in other travel blogs, but soon learn that it is a pay to enter attraction.  Since I wasn’t interested in climbing the thing, and only wanted to snap a photo and move on I proceeded to turn around.  The only good turn-around was the ticket gate.  There I learned you could ride the dunes.  This sounded interesting enough to hand over the compulsory $ 8.00 motorcycle fare.

I have to admit that the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive was pretty neat.  As you can tell by the attached tracks, the roadway (1 lane, 1 way) wandered around all over the hills and allowed for some unbelievable views of the dunes and Lake Michigan.  I’ve kept this and most of my posts light on photos so that you too have a reason to go see it for yourself.

Out of the dunes, I headed  north to the very tip of the Leelanau Peninsula – but not before stopping to get a bite to eat.  Just south of Northport I ran across Fischer’s Happy Hour Tavern.  Sign me up!  I had an tasty Reuben and a glass of iced tea.  Although I was very much the passing tourist, Fischer’s felt like the local hang-out.  Would recommend it to anyone.

It was a gorgeous ride to the tip of the peninsula.  I was concerned that Northport would be a tourist town.  It turned out to be a tiny little burgh with probably less than 1000 residents.  I didn’t know it at the time, but I was in for an unfortunate surprise just up the road.

Several hundred yards before arriving at the highly anticipated lighthouse, I was stopped by a Michigan State Park Ranger demanding ransom.  She wanted $ 8.00 dollars for me to park my motorcycle and walk around the outside of the lighthouse.  After explaining to her that I only desire to photograph the outside, she responded that this was the cost of an “vehicle pass which would grant me access to all 98 Michigan Parks.”  She forgot to mention that this was only a DAY PASS!  For your entertainment, I have attached a photo of the “tax booth” to the interactive map.

Though I, no doubt, could have afforded the $ 8.00 fee to see the lighthouse, I was a bit irked that the State of Michigan overlooked the fuel taxes, bed taxes, and sales taxes I had spent (and would spend) while vacationing in their state.  After all of this, they want me to pay a fee to simply snap a photograph of the outside of a lighthouse?  Not a chance.

In hindsight, I wish that I had been thinking a bit more clearly.  With a cooler head, I would have parked the motorcycle along the road and walked in to snap my photograph.  Maybe next time.

I had planned to run US-31 up through Petoskey, then cut around Harbor Springs on US-119 to the tunnel of trees.  The route so far was more developed and crowded than I had hoped.  I had previously heard that the Tunnel of Trees tended to be crowded and slow during peak season.  I decided to skip all of this and join my (lovely) wife, Erica, in the UP.

The only touristy city I really had to suffer through was Traverse City.  Traffic-light after traffic-light following disturbingly loud Harleys and packs of idling cars wore at me.  Once through this area, it was smooth sailing all the way to Mackinac City.

I’ve crossed the Mackinac bridge by car several times.  Nothing compares to crossing it on a motorcycle.  If feels so much longer, taller, and higher off of the water when hanging out on two wheels.  I loved it!

Shortly after crossing the bridge, I arrived in the very quiet, un-developed, open, and not-so-crowded, heaven called Hessel.  After coming through the resort towns I’ve left long behind, this is exactly what the doctor ordered.

“Now, where’s the beer?”