Great Lakes – Take 2
For 2010, Tim & I had the challenge of trying to fit a motorcycle trip into a shortened time frame (5 days) and budget. We have talked about perhaps traveling south, but even though it is late in the summer, the weather is likely to be hotter than we would prefer south of us. We decided to try a twist on a previous trip and head back to the Great Lakes, but this time with the purpose of visiting the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum (http://www.shipwreckmuseum.com/) in Whitefish Point, MI. We figured that it would meet our time schedules, and the northern trip should be more agreeable with regards to temperature.
Someone forgot to inform the weatherman, however. The forecast for the beginning of our trip was for temps in the 90’s. For two guys who prefer northern climes, anything over 75 is too damned hot. Not much we could do about it, so we saddled up and headed north.
Day 1 brought us to Sudbury, ONT from Ogdensburg, NY. In past trips, one of our key measurements was how many ferries we used during the course of the trip. In 1999, we rode 5 ferries throughout the Canadian Maritimes. This trip seemed to be more about the bridges. At the end of this trip, we would be able to tally 5 major bridges in 5 days. We discovered some great views and interesting construction.
Our first bridge was the Ogdensburg bridge over the St. Lawrence River. This is probably the sketchiest bridge from a motorcycling perspective. It is entirely a steel deck bridge and motorcycles can sometimes get a little squirrelly on them. I have had the misfortune of riding this bridge in the rain before and it has a pretty high pucker-factor. This trip wasn’t too bad though. Fair skies meant that traction on the steel deck was as good as it could get and we crossed into Canada without incident.
After passing through customs, we continued heading north to Ottawa, then east on CR 17 all the way to Sudbury. There were stretches that ran close to the Ottawa River, so we were anticipating a scenic ride. Unfortunately, while not bad, it wasn’t as scenic as we had hoped form – mostly just farm country. The temperature continued to climb throughout the day and sweat was dripping into my eyes in my helmet. When the temperature and humidity climbs as high as it was, there are few if any ways to get relief while riding and still keep the protection that the appropriate riding gear provides. As hot as it was to ride in a leather or armored textile jacket, it still isn’t worth risking losing your skin (literally) without it in a crash. We soldiered on.
We reached Sudbury, ONT after riding for about 340 miles after leaving Ogdensburg. We checked into a hotel for the evening and learned that it was a record setting day, temperature wise, in Sudbury. Well, hell, we could have told them THAT! A refreshing shower and a good meal later, and we were feeling much better. We were also blessed with a hotel with an AC that worked well. This allowed us to get a good night’s sleep and a refreshing start to the next day.
Day 2 came and we set our sights on at the goal of our trip – the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum. Along the way, though, we got to travel over the top of Lake Huron on our way to the Sault Ste. Marie International Bridge. We arrived at the Soo around lunch, and by dumb luck, stumbled on a restaurant that Tim had researched before the trip. “Dock’s Riverfront Grill” is right on the water and was the perfect rest stop before crossing back over into the states. I had a very tasty Rueben sandwich, but Tim was a little disappointed in his whitefish lunch special.
Lunch completed, we got back on the bikes for our ride over the bridge. It is a pretty impressive structure with a great view of the river and surrounding city. This bridge is a truss arch bridge with a suspended deck that was finished in 1962.
Once into Canada, we headed west and then north to Whitefish Point. In addition to being the home of the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum, it is also very near the site where the ill fated Edmund Fitzgerald sunk in 1975. She went down during a violent November storm with all hands lost about 17 miles from the safety of Whitefish Bay. We got to the museum just before 4 PM, but still had plenty of time to tour the museum and surrounding buildings. One of the highlights was seeing and photographing the bell from the Edmund Fitzgerald.
The bell was recovered in a diving expedition in 1995, twenty years after her sinking. The ships bell was replaced with a bell inscribed with the names of the men lost when she sunk. The great lakes in general, and Lake Superior in particular, have always been extremely challenging and often deadly. It was amazing to read about the many ships that have been lost or sunk in the Great Lakes. Thankfully, “Big Fitz” was the last big freighter to do so.
While at the museum, we began the second ‘tradition’ of this trip – walking in the Great Lakes with our motorcycling boots on (yes, they are waterproof, and we proved it several times over). We walked out onto the beach at Whitefish Point and into the water. Pictures were taken and the locals were confused.
We closed the museum at 6 PM and headed 10 miles south back to Paradise, MI. The newly renovated hotel we stayed at was comfortable enough, but the older AC unit was challenged by the high heat and humidity and didn’t really get cool enough for our liking.
Morning came with a new meteorological problem – rain. A low pressure system was moving across the middle of the country and looked to spoil our travel plans. If we headed south into the “mitt” portion of Michigan, we were in for heavy rains all day, and possibly for the remainder of the trip as it looked to be tracking the same direction and speed we were likely to travel. What to do? As crazy as it sounds, we decided to head west. We followed the northern shore of Lake Michigan to Manistique, MI where we decided to stop for lunch at a lake front café / book store. This turned out to be one of the highlight meals of the trip. Everything was homemade, including the bread the sandwiches were made of and the Dutch apple pie we had for desert. Phenomenal!
It was also at this lunch break that we took a closer look at our travel options. We had succeeded on getting behind the storm front and into much cooler temperatures (ahhhhh!!!), but now we had to figure out how we were to get home. Putting the Crackberries to work, we looked up the schedule for the SS Badger – a car ferry that crosses from Manitowoc, WI. However, we wouldn’t be able to make it for that day’s departure at 2 PM, and waiting until tomorrow wouldn’t work either as we would lose another travel day. The other obstacle was the cost. I think it cost about $60 back in 1997, but now in 2010 it was going to cost around $110 each for us to ride this boat. A bit rich. Another thought was to continue traveling along the western shore of Lake Michigan to Chicago, and then head East. This added many more miles than we had originally planned, not to mention traveling through Chicago, a chore neither of us relished. While it is typically undesirable to retrace one’s steps on a motorcycle tour, we decided that it was the most prudent thing to do.
Before leaving, we had to keep with the tradition that we started at Lake Superior while here along the shores of Lake Michigan. We found a public boat launch and strolled through the waters of our second Great Lake with our motorcycle boots on.
So, east it was. We continued to follow the northern shore of Lake Michigan on our way to the next major bridge crossing – the Mackinac Bridge between St. Ignace and Mackinaw City, MI. This is a suspension bridge and the best looking of the bridges we crossed in our travels on this trip. We decided on following the eastern shore of Michigan along Lake Huron until we got knackered and decided to stop in Alpena. Looking at the hotels available, I suggested we use some of my Priority Club points and stay at the Holiday Inn. It turned out to be one of the more run down HI’s I have been in and I spent the next few days wrangling with the manager to get them to use my points rather than pay with my credit card for our stay. Not exactly the most accommodating of staff. Apparently the clerks that checked us in that evening didn’t process it correctly, and the morning clerk wasn’t going to do anything to sort it out. It got fixed eventually, but what a pain. The bright spot of our stay in Alpena was the dinner. On the advice of one of the evening clerks at the hotel, we tried a local Chinese restaurant. To our surprise, “Jimmy’s Hunan Chinese Restaurant” was an outstanding restaurant with fresh ingredients and mouth-wateringly prepared. A true gem in an out of the way place.
The next morning, we were greeted with blue skies, but a sketchy weather report. It looked like we might get into showers at any time and when we started heading east, we looked to be heading right back into that storm front. Undaunted, we hugged the shoreline all the way south through the state of Michigan and were treated to some of the best scenery of the trip. Lake Huron was beautiful, and we found the opportunity to dance in its waters once again with our motorcycle boots on.
We continued south all the way to Port Huron where we crossed the next big bridge - the Blue Water Bridge.
This is a twin span bridge crossing back over into Ontario. The first portion of the bridge is a cantilever truss while the second portion is a continuous tied-arch bridge.
By this time, we had caught back up with the weather front that we had successfully evaded earlier in the day. We were riding right into its back side and we could feel the temperature increase with each mile that passed. My original goal was to make it to London for the evening. Shortly after crossing the bridge, Tim mentioned that we should probably try to make as many miles as possible before bunking down for the night to make the next day a little easier and perhaps allow some time for a side trip around Belleville. However, just as we hit London, the skies opened up on us. Tim and I have both ridden many miles in the rain and it is usually not a show stopper for us, but when the rain is coming down so hard that it hurts through the rain AND leather jacket, it might be wise to stop for the night, and that’s what we chose to do. We got to the hotel and realize we were more tired from the experience than we originally thought. We decided to eat in the hotel restaurant which had just been re-opened as a … get this… southern BBQ restaurant! Kinda like the canuck version of the deep south! And the kicker was that it was REALLY good! Even the pulled pork poutine! Delicious!
Day 5 – the home stretch. This was shaping up to be a tough pull, mostly on the 401 – superslab, and it is raining… and warm. We got the raingear on, chatted with the construction crew working at the hotel, then headed to the highway. We knew we were going to be in trouble in Toronto, but we had no idea what we were in for. We made it to Mississauga on the west side of Toronto when the traffic came to a stop-n-go exercise. With the raingear on, this SUCKS. We decided to get off the 401 and try to pick our way east through the city and see if we could get around the traffic. We drove about 15 miles on Dixon Rd., got back on the 401, and it looked like we might be out of the woods. On the other side of Toronto, we decided to duck off the highway to grab some lunch at a Canadian Embassy (a.k.a. Tim Horton’s). This gave us the chance to peel off the rain gear, and while we were glad to get it off, we now had to walk into the restaurant with our clothes completely soaked with sweat. We were uncomfortable, but we just didn’t care. The skies were clear and our spirits were lifting. We grabbed a quick lunch and in the 20 – 30 minutes that we were there, the storm caught back up with us. The few drops that fell as I walked out of the restaurant turned into a deluge when I reached my bike and started pulling my rain jacket on. I ran back into the restaurant but was already completely soaked. After a couple minutes deliberating, we decided to just suck it up, knowing that we were going to have to ride through it to get to the sunny weather in front of the weather front. A young mother and her son sitting in the car parked next to us was in shock watching us don our rain gear in the pouring rain. She finally worked up the courage to roll down the window and chat with us briefly. We assured her that we weren’t *really* crazy. I don’t think she bought it.
Back on the road, we pressed through the rain and eventually did find the clear weather on the other side of the front. We had gotten about 15 minutes ahead of the storm and the temperature had risen 15 degrees. We had to pull over and strip off the raingear again. As we did, we watched the storm clouds that we had just worked though bearing down on us with ferocious speed. We stowed our gear as quickly as we could and got out just before the rain hit again. We were able to stay ahead of it and even gain some ground all the rest of the way.
It was mid afternoon when we started getting close to the end of our trip. We decided to see if Tim’s wife, Amy, was able to take a few minutes from her work in Clayton, NY to meet with us. She could, so we crossed over our last bridge, the 1000 Islands bridge, into NY. I was treated to a tour of the Clayton Opera House and we enjoyed a quick ice cream before getting back on the bikes for the home stretch trying to stay in front of the storm that we out ran.
We made it – no more rain, and no incidents all the way to Tim’s house. Well, almost. After backing my bike into Tim’s garage, I began to dismount when I realized I hadn’t put the side stand down all the way. I was able to save it from going all the way over, and with Tim’s help, we got it upright. Close call. I guess we were tired.
Tired but pleased. It had been a short trip by our standards, but a good one. Many memorable moments and stories to tell. You can also tell that you have had a great trip when you start talking immediately about the next one…. Hmmm….. Newfoundland again maybe?