Trip Log: ‘Round Lake Michigan

Long weekends are the perfect weekends to plan quick trips around. You get a free day off thanks to observed holidays, and even if you have to book time off work you don’t have to waste as much vacation hours. Canada Day weekend I decided to really test out my bike, the camping gear I purchased, and how well I would handle great distances alone on a motorcycle.

With the purchase of my new motorcycle (and the sale of the old) I’ve been working my way closer and closer to taking true trips by motorcycle. The new bike is much more suited to distance travel than the old one, with it’s upright seating position and more natural leg placement creating a much more natural overall posture. Adding to the already much more utilitarian approach that this bike has, I’ve further enhanced it’s usefulness by the addition of many farkles. Purchasing a Givi 52L “Trekker” top case the day I bought the motorcycle, as well as the SW-Motech skid plate and crash bars, and Suzuki OEM hand guards. Following those up with some Jesse Luggage side cases and GPS (w/ XM Radio! Thanks Dad!), I was pretty much set for most trips. However, I didn’t want to venture too far away from civilization on my first multi-day ride with the bike, so I opted to ride ’round Lake Michigan and visit a friend of mine along the way, whom I’d previously road tripped with before to Colorado.

Day 1

The first day and night were probably the most important of the trip. It was this day I was to test out how much effort it was going to be to ride an entire day and at the end of it, set up camp. I wasn’t sure how tired I was going to be, I’d previously setup the tent at the store, as well as at home, and it was super easy. But there’s no telling how you’ll feel after 11-12 hours of riding. To make matters worse, the heaviest rain I’ve ever ridden through happened to fall that day. Possibly the hardest rain I’ve ever been in a motor vehicle on the highway in as well. Most of my rain gear worked well, the jacket did it’s job wonderfully, quite possibly because it’s a cheap jacket and the rain liner is like wearing a thick plastic bag, the overpants did their job, the boots did their job… for an hour, then I had soaking wet feet, and the gloves… well, the black dye ran out of them and onto my hands. Lesson learned, buy proper gloves, buy better boots.

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Like many of my road trips to the United States, I chose to cross at the Sarnia/Port Huron bridge, as I dislike passing through Detroit. Each time I’ve done so the border officials have been extremely rude and searched my car for no reason. Every other border I’ve crossed has been polite, friendly, and quick. Especially this time ’round, the border official had a motorcycle of his own and took it on various trips. As the border booths are double stacked there, I had to wait for the car in front to pass inspection before I could go, even after being done mine already, so he and I just talked about our trips and the various challenges faced, mine being torrential rain, his being snow! This was a theme that would happen throughout my trip, other motorcyclists, or former motorcyclists stopping by for a chat, which was really quite nice. I’ve certainly not been part of any other community of people like that, full of five minute friends everywhere just because you happen to share a passion.

After crossing the border I followed Hwy-25 up the coast of Lake Huron, all the way to Bay City where I then had to pick up Hwy-13 which I took to Hwy-23. Had I planned a bit more I might have tried to keep closer to the lake, but this was simpler. This part of the trip of Michigan along Huron reminded me of a couple of places I’ve been in the past. Partly the east coast of Canada, some of the small villages/hamlets/towns just had that sort of vibe as I passed through, as well as some of the scenery and the seemingly endless lake. Other parts reminded me of Huron County in Ontario, just the vast areas of farmland I passed, being that they’re both at the same latitude and both next to Lake Huron this is probably to be expected. Mixed about this large peninsula were many many cottages, some small, some huge, some nice, some not so nice. Unfortunately, as it rained nearly the entire way around this peninsula I didn’t stop to take many photos, just this one below which showed the cloud cover lightening and the rain dissipating, for a while.

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Hwy-23 was the last road for the day, it would take me from Standish all the way to my destination for the night, a campground named “Tee Pee Campground” just outside of Makinaw City. This was not the ideal campground for yours truly. I’d originally intended to stay at a state park, however did not have any cash on hand. I rode into the nearest town to hit up an ATM and along the way saw one of the campgrounds that had come up on Google searches the week prior, so I stopped in and decided to stay there instead. This also proved useful because I needed to charge the bluetooth in my helmet as well as my phone, the GPS being wired into the bike didn’t need any such charging. The big issue however was the screaming out of control children, everywhere, throwing basketballs at my tent, making crazy noise everywhere I went, not that they followed me, they weren’t that cruel, just that they were everywhere. Additionally I saw one of the more absurd things to be camping with, a satellite dish, not just one either, many of the RVs and trailers there had them. Why even leave home?

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Day 2

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I woke up early that morning having not really received the quality of sleep I’d intended and hoped for and noticed that it was before sunrise. I quickly grabbed up my camera bag and my trusty Horo figure and took some photos from the beach at the end of the campground. Just as I finished setting up the tripod and camera the lights on the Mackinac bridge turned off, ruining the chance of a great photo of it, but I took one anyway for a friend who insisted I had to. Of course, I took a pretty decent photo of Horo on a rock as well, I think anyway.

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I ate breakfast at a restaurant along the main street in Makinaw where the waitress there had never heard of chocolate milk or a waffle before, though I received those very things just fine despite it. From there I crossed the bridge to St Ignace, a rather large bridge, which I always find a little bit scary on a motorcycle due to potential cross winds, but there was no wind that morning. Not really having decided where to go at this point either. During breakfast I’d used their WiFi to talk with a friend and he recommended I visit a friend of his south of Woodruff, WI, and another friend had left a message on IRC saying I should visit Marquette.  Eventually I punched both into the GPS and remembered that I ‘gain’ an hour due to time zone changes and might actually be able to hit up both places. So I made haste towards Marquette.

I followed Hwy-2 from St Ignace all the way to Hwy-77, screwing up my directions a little bit. I’d hastily planned this while riding and forgot that I intended to follow Hwy-2 all the way till just north of Gladstone and missed out on some great lake side scenery. The ride up Hwy-77 to Hwy-28 wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t very amazing either and can kind of be forgotten. It does however border Seney National Wildlife Refuge. If my GPS had more resolution, I might have opted to take Thunder Lake Rd through to Buckhorn Rd, then Hwy-94 to Munising, but I didn’t see those either. So, Hwy-28 was what I took to Munising. Continued on Hwy-28 all the way to Marquette. Along this ride I realized I’d never actually been next to Lake Superior before and quite enjoyed the cool air off the lake. Admittedly, it does look like just about any other large body of water such as Lake Huron or Lake Michigan, never the less I’ve now seen Superior.

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While in Marquette I came across something I’d never seen before, an ore dock, or more specifically an decommissioned ore dock. Having no clue whatsoever as to what it was I stared at it pondering to myself. Eventually a couple walked up and asked me if I knew what it was to which I replied I haven’t a clue. We mused for a while about various ideas but none seemed to stick and we carried on our ways. I decided I wanted to get a better shot of it so I started to walk up a private dock that just happened to have it’s gate unlocked when I came across a man working on his boat. He didn’t question why I was there, but I just had to have my curiosity answered so I asked him, just what on earth was this object I was looking at. He happily answered my question and told me that there was another one still in use up the road a couple miles. Instead of taking the photo I intended to take I rushed back to the couple who had pondered the same question and provided them the answer and then headed out to find the other ore dock, so the above image is taken from Flickr and is by istolethetv with a little post-processing of my own.

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After travelling down the road a couple miles I did indeed find a still in use ore dock and it was even bigger than the one above, which I sadly failed to capture in my dSLR photos but did kind of capture on my smartphone. That is to say, I didn’t use a wide angle lens on the dSLR, only 105mm for some reason. This ore dock looked big enough to accept four large ships over the decommissioneds two, or two really big ships I suppose. Only had one ship that was half the length of the dock though, and it was a pretty large ship still. The way the ore dock works is trains run on top of the dock and dump their ore loads into containers beneath the tracks but still above the boat. The chutes on the side are lowered and the ore from the containers is fed by gravity down into the ship below. For more on ore docks and some history of Marquette and ore in the Michigan Upper Peninsula Wikipedia has a pretty good article with more photos, including a photo of the now decommissioned ore dock from 1931 when it was still in use.

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From Marquette I headed towards Woodruff, WI and decided to set the GPS to “Shortest Route” instead of “Fastest Route”, hoping for some interesting scenery and I certainly got it. But man, did it take me down some strange ass roads. Took me off Hwy-95 through a small hamlet called Republic, told me there was a road when it was a gravel pit/dead end, and then steered me on to some “Rustic Roads” which were really just terrible dirt roads with lots of loose gravel and tight turns. But worst was the quality of the paved sections, patches on top of patches on top of patches, it was so bumpy and so bad, pretty shortly after taking this excursion and the time I had to make to get to Madison, WI for the night and a reservation for dinner, I couldn’t ride slowly and had to set the GPS back to “Fastest Route” to keep off that kind of pavement. I did miss seeing the scenery though.

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From Marquette on it was all inland roads, but they went through various national and state forests and had lots of wonderful scenery. I haven’t quite figured out how to take a good shot of such scenery, I definitely need more time that I gave myself to do it. Eventually I ended up in Woodruff and punched in the information for the friend of a friend who I’d be stopping in to meet some ways south of there in Hazelhurst. Ken was his name and he works at a shop called Cycle X, he specializes in older Honda engines, but man did he have an assortment of bikes in there. Harleys, BMW, a custom made trike, even a Suzuki SV650 that he stripped down and made sort of into a bobber. He showed me around the shop and we chatted for a bit, but I still had that dinner to attend and had to get a move on so it was a short stay and I was on my way. From here I booked it all the way to Madison, hit rain a little bit but not much interesting.

Once in Madison, I met up with my friend, dumped a bunch of crap on his couch, quickly grabbed a shower, and then him, his girlfriend and myself headed out for dinner at Samba’s, a Brazilian BBQ restaurant constructed in an old theatre. I hadn’t brought my camera so I didn’t capture any photos, but the atmosphere is quite nice, dark, but I enjoyed it. And the meat was wonderful. The best part of the night though was going across the street to the Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream store and getting their Zanzibar flavour of ice cream. It’d been a long time since I had some, since coming back from Colorado the first time. They really do make the best ice cream there, I also tried two new flavours while I was there, a Salted Caramel which was quite good, as well as Carrot Mango which sounded rather terrible to me but was actually quite fantastic.

Day 3

The final day of the trip I would really have to make some good time, not only would I ‘lose’ an hour due to the time zones, but it was ~1,100 km and I also wanted to stop some places still. In reality, I probably should have broke this day up into two, but I wanted a rest day before going back to work so I rushed. I motored to Chicago and stopped in at Mitsuwa, a Japanese grocery store on the outskirts of Chicago near O’Hare airport. It was rather weird to park in a parking lot that was suddenly full of Japanese folks all headed to get their groceries, manga, magazines and various other things, along with the occasional weaboo. I think I looked the most out of place with my entire biker getup on while I walked through the entire place. I grabbed a Gabutto burger of some kind, as the other places either didn’t seem too have much English on their menu or had line ups. I don’t know what was on my burger but it was actually pretty fantastic, if only I knew what it was. I wandered through the Japanese bookstore and it was kind of strange not being able to read much of anything at all.

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After Mitsuwa I headed for the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore parks east of Chicago near Michigan City. Again having to rush I couldn’t spend too much time, additionally it was getting quite hot out and I was waltzing through a desert with all my gear on, not smart but in a hurry. Also being cheap I didn’t go to the park that cost money, I went to the free ones and got a little lost. But it was the good kind of lost, I rode through Ogden Dunes, lots of expensive places there seemingly built on top of the dunes, which I don’t think is the most stable of ground, but I’m no geologist… Never the less, lots of awesome places. But, I have no photos of those, just the dunes. I look at this photo above and there’s no sense of scale at all to it, either they could be enormous or I could be damn near in a sand box. But I’ll tell you, in the lower portion of the photo I’m on top of a dune, but then it drops away and you can’t tell because the sand gives no depth. However, if you look far into it, you’ll see some little dots on the further dune, those are people. That may or may not give you scale but that’s all I’ve got. Took a photo of Horo there as well, but scale is hard.

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At this point it was getting pretty late in the day already and I was no where near the border, in fact I was still 4.5 hours away, assuming I didn’t need gas, didn’t encounter traffic, didn’t hit rain, and didn’t need to eat, all of which I did encounter, plus a line at the border. A Google predicted 6.5 hours became 9 hours and I arrived home just after midnight, having left Madison, WI at 9am their time. T’was a long day and that rest day I wanted at the end was much needed, not because I was sore, but because I was tired. In fact, that was one of the most surprising things about the ride overall, I wasn’t sore at any point of it, ok sure, my ass did get tired of sitting on that seat, but I really truly thought I’d be aching after each day and that simply wasn’t the case at all. Which tells me that I can go further quite easily on this bike.

Conclusion

The biggest take away from this trip is that despite this bike being comfortable and rideable for long long days, limiting myself to a maximum of 6-8 hours a day would certainly make things better overall. This would give me the time to stop and relax more, take photos of things I’d like to take photos of, and just generally enjoy it more. There was a number of times I felt rushed, and because of it experienced less of what I wanted to. That’s super useful information to have for future trips, I can now plan my trips with destinations at or around the 6-8 hour marks for each day and really understand how many days a trip will take now. Perhaps pushing further through sections I know I wont care about or have covered previously.

All in all however, it was a great experience, and I’d do it again at the drop of a hat. Though maybe a little bit slower next time.

-Aka

Comments

  1. Rajura says:

    I always envy your trips. Such good photos and memories it seems… one day I will make such a trip… I hope. Work, loans, and family always seem to find a way to hinder me.

  2. 龙龙FRED says:

    I was there in June.
    Nice trip.

  3. Tian says:

    Ooh you passed through my neighborhood! I was also in northern Wisconsin recently. Coincidences!

    Your spiel about Detroit was pretty spot-on in terms of what I expect from Detroit. Robocop gave a pretty accurate portrayal of the city, except the film had less crime than the real Detroit.

    • Aka says:

      Oh, where abouts do you live? Did I come close?

      • Tian says:

        On the map where you passed through Illinois, I’m about halfway in between I-294 and downtown Chicago (just off I-290). In fact that stretch you took through I-90 is the same stretch I take to work. I like to stop by Mitsuwa every once in a while to hit up their ramen stand!

        Also on the map where you went from Michigan’s UP to Wisconsin, my friends and I were staying just southwest of where you crossed the border. We were up there for the Fourth of July weekend so we wouldn’t have crossed paths, but we very likely saw the same sights!

        • Aka says:

          Nice! I was up there for Canada Day weekend, you were up there a week later for the American equivalent. THE place to go?! 😉

          I was told to hit up the ramen stand at Mitsuwas, but there was a line up and I was pressed for time.

          • Tian says:

            For sure, northern Wisconsin’s great because the population is so sparse. “Socially acceptable” isn’t a concern up there.

  4. whilden says:

    Great read …. just bad timing on your vacation as I was down south -however- I might be coming your way next summer.

    • Aka says:

      It’s too bad that the timing just didn’t work out.

      The however sounds nice, though, as mentioned previously I wont babysit your kids 😉