Saturday, August 08, 2009

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?”

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