Friday, 29 July 2016

Around Huron

It's just past 8am on day one of the ride.  Even this early in the morning it's already in the mid-twenties and the sun is relentless.  The padding I thought I'd try in my helmet was a bad idea, and by the time I reach Creemore I'm working on a full scale headache.  Thirty seconds after we stop the Roof lid is back to normal and it works like a champ for the rest of the trip.  Motorcycle gear is an ongoing process of fine tuning, especially when you mess around with something that already works.

This trip grew out of a friend's cross country anniversary ride with his wife on his new-to-him Goldwing.  We were originally going to drop down to the ferry on Manitoulin Island for the ride home after day one, but the ferry is booked solid during the day so I started looking at another way home.  Having never been to Northern Michigan, it seemed like a good idea to wrap around Lake Huron.  It's just over 1500kms of wilderness riding with few people in between.

The goodbye in Creemore went long as we'd been accompanied by friends out that far, so we got back on the road just as the sun was going fully nuclear.  Day One was the longest of our trip, five hundred kilometres around Georgian Bay up to the small town of Massey, Ontario.  A gas and lunch stop in Perry Sound followed by a couple of road side stops along the way made the heat bearable with lots of consuming of liquids at each stop.  You know it's hot when you're sweating freely at highway speeds.

Mohawk Motel: clean, cheap & odd!
We rolled into the Mohawk Motel in Massey just past 4pm.  The grass was brown and crisp, just like us.  The motel was basic but clean with air conditioning.  Everyone cold showered and relaxed for a while before we wandered out into town only to discover that the only restaurant was closed early due to it being hot.  We were told to walk down the street to a variety store that also doubled as the local fast food joint.  Forty five minutes of waiting in forty degree heat later I'd paid forty bucks for a cheeseburger, fries and a couple of slices of pizza.  We staggered back to the hotel and called it a day.

The next morning Massey totally redeemed itself with a fantastic breakfast at the Back Home Bistro.  As we finished up the eggs and bacon, rain moved in.  It was still in the mid-twenties, but humid and wet.  We rode into heavier and heavier rain as we traveled west over the top of Georgian Bay.  A brief stop in Blind River to check on my stoic pillion had us bump into a couple doing a similar route to our Huron circumnavigation; it wasn't the last time we'd meet them.

The rain came and went before finally relenting as we rode into Sault Ste. Marie.  We parted ways after a surprisingly excellent and cost effective lunch at Pino's Supermarket where you can get a brick oven baked pizza and amazing sausage on a bun for next to nothing.

Jeff & MA were on their way to Wawa up on Lake Superior, while Max and I were headed over to the border crossing into Northern Michigan.  After a day and half together we'd made good time, covered a lot of ground in all sorts of weather and everyone still had smiles on their faces (a good Italian lunch helped there).

After a quick goodbye we saddled up and headed over to the bridge only to bump into the couple from Blind River again.  We followed them up onto the bridge to discover a massive line up.  Inching a fully loaded two-up bike five feet at a time up the side of a suspension bridge is about as much fun as it gets.  Fortunately we had a great view of the river beneath us.

Sault Ste Marie is one of those places that reminds you just how big the great lakes are.  In the hour plus we were inching our way over that bridge I tried to imagine the tons and tons of water that rushed beneath us out of Superior and into Huron, it feels very powerful and boggles the mind.

A highlight of the interminable wait was getting to the peak of the bridge.  From that point up until the customs gates we were going downhill, so the bikes stayed off and in neutral as we glided forward, inches at a time.  As I said to our doppelgangers, 'at least it isn't yesterday!'  That bridge on a forty degree sunny day would be unhealthy.  My magic power kicked in at the split into lines for each gate.  Which ever one I pick will immediately stop, and of course it did.  The couple ahead of us were down the interstate a good fifteen minutes ahead of us while we sat there pondering karma, or just plain old bad luck.

Once finally freed into Michigan we headed south into the tail end of some very violent

thunderstorms. The mist became rain, and then strong winds came up out of west. It was an hour of tacking against the wind down i75 to St. Ignace and The Breaker's Resort. We got in about 4pm drenched and weary after a long day in the rain broken up by the better part of two hours crossing the border in five foot increments. Java Joes provided a first class milkshake and coffee before we headed over to check in. They weren't ready for us, but housekeeping did back flips to get us into the room ASAP.

 We enjoyed the hot tub and pool, but Breakers is a family resort, kind of like Disney World but with a great lake instead of mice.  If you like screaming, unmanaged children and drunk, indifferent parents on smartphones, this place is for you.  Max and I vacated the pool in a flurry of OCD after a kid pretended to be vomiting water out over and over again.

Dinner was takeout pizza from Java Joes, and it was exceptional.  With everything scattered around the room in a vain attempt to dry it out, we crashed on the beds and watched Seth Macfarlane cartoons as the fog rolled in outside.  After two days and the better part of a thousand kilometres on the road, we were both pretty knackered.

We woke up early in backwards world to blue skies and the sun rising out of Lake Huron (the sun goes to sleep in Huron where we're from).  A savoury breakfast of heavily processed meat pucks and bad coffee with large Americans eating all they could while watching Trump speeches on FoxTV (we are far from home my son), had us ready to hit the road.

I wiped down the trusty Tiger and we loaded up for a day that was more about exploring than making distance (though it eventually turned into both - you're always making distance if you're trying to get around a great lake).  After a quick fill up and a slow ride around St. Ignace's lovely harbour, we got onto the interstate and headed for the Mackinac Bridge, it was spectacular:

The Mackinac Bridge is worth the ride!

We took our border-buddies' advice and headed over to the Tunnel of Trees.  This put us on the shore of yet another Great Lake (Lake Michigan).  The micro-climate on the west shore of Michigan's northern peninsula produces fast growth.  As you ride onto that side of the peninsula everything is super green and the trees get Pandora big.

The M-119 is a twisty little blacktop that runs through those forests along the shore.  It's barely two lanes wide with no curbs or runoff.  You need to keep your eyes on the narrow lane, but you're never moving that quickly.  Surrounded by a sea of green, you quickly get into a meditative mood.  The Tiger can be whisper quiet when it wants to be, and we purred through that green cathedral in near silence.

You can't help but get that look on your face on the M-119.

We ended up getting redirected off the tunnel road due to construction and never found our way back.  We eventually got to Petoskey, which I was interested in seeing because it was where Earnest Hemingway used to spend his summers as a child.  It's box stores and hotels bent under the weight of lots of tourists nowadays.  If Hemingway were to return, I'm not sure much of it would ring a bell.

Out of the heat in a McDonalds at lunch we ran into our doppelgangers again.  They suggested an alternate route out of Petoskey and we wished each other a safe trip once again.  A short time later one of the retirees working there walked up to chat about bikes, he had a big old Harley in the lot and couldn't identify the Tiger.  When I told him it was a Triumph he got the same happy, nostalgic expression that a lot of people did when I told them what we were riding.  There is a lot of good will and nostalgia around the marquee in the States.

On the road again we struck east across the peninsula aiming for Alpena on the Huron coast, but between the heat, increasing traffic and the strong westerly winds, we were both losing the will to get there.  We turned south on 65 and wound our way through Huron National Forest, stopping for an ice cream in Glennie.  The lovely young lady who served us told of her hours spent horseback riding the day before, then three local farmers came in for a cone and were curious about the Triumph.  It was all very nice.  When we left she came out to her car that had a big 'Vote Trump' bumper sticker on it.  I found it hard to reconcile how nice Americans were with the insane politics they practice.

Old Detroit charm - built back in
the day when the motor city was
a world traveller destination,
the Bay Valley Resort reminds
of the golden years.
When we finally turned onto 23 heading back out to the interstate I gave a barbaric yawp in my helmet, as it felt like we'd never get there.  The final blast down the interstate in 60km/hr cross winds was performed using shear will power.  We staggered in to the Bay Valley Resort after nine hours and over 450kms on the road in strong winds and relentless heat.

Bay Valley Resort was a real treat.  Cheaper than Breakers, but better in every way.  If you like modern hotels, this isn't for you, but if you like character, Bay Valley has oodles.  The doors are made out of wood (!), and the entire resort is situated in the middle of a golf course.  It's much more adult orientated, but it had all the accoutrements my son loves.  The pool is an indoor/outdoor design with a river between them, and the spa was a hard hitting jet affair with strong bubbles perfect for loosening up sore muscles after a long day in the wind.  The whole thing was set into patterned concrete.  The on-site restaurant was swathed in dark wood and was both classy and dated, I loved it!  The food was chef prepared but priced very reasonably.  We fell asleep feeling well cared for in the silence of a golf course at night - no sounds of screaming children anywhere.

We woke up the next morning and hit the pool one last time.  Max wasn't keen to mount up for yet another day on the road.  Day one had been a high mileage sweat box, day 2 a rainy, windy ride with an interminable border wait, and day 3 was a high mileage meander across the peninsula in heat and high winds.  We were both tired, and having to get my pillion in motion made it even heavier.  After a late breakfast we finally got on the road just before 11am and I made a command decision to take the Interstate rather than head over to the coast on another back road ride.  No wind and less heat made our interstate jaunt through poor, old Flint, Michigan a relatively painless affair.  Flint feels like a ghost town at the best of times, but this year it felt abandoned.  We stopped at a rest stop on the i69 on the way to the Canadian border when Max got a leg cramp, but otherwise high-tailed it home.

Distracted Stratford drivers put that look on my face.
It took all of five minutes to line up and cross the border back into Sarnia.  Heading into The States was misery, coming home was a dream.  We stopped in Sarnia for lunch and then hit the bricks for the final ride home.  We thundered up the 402 on the long legged Tiger before angling off toward Stratford on back roads.  After over sixteen hundred kilometres of riding, much of it through wilderness, it was the ride through Stratford and its dithering, well dressed theatre patrons that was the most dangerous.  We were cut off and almost run over by people less worried about killing us than they were making their curtain call.  It was the only moment on the trip that I was tempted to chase someone down in order to thump them.

Back in the stable after a flawless
1600+kms ride, what a champ!
We finally pulled into the driveway just before 6pm, sore but elated.  The ride had its challenges, but the memories made were keepers.  The road into Sault Ste. Marie is lovely and surprisingly mountainous.  The Mackinac Bridge is a must-do experience, and riding down the tunnel of trees is like attending the best church ever.  Java Joes makes a good food stop and Bay Valley Resort is a forgotten gem worth staying at if you're in the area.

All in all it was a great adventure, albeit a trying one.  Sometimes, usually when it's least comfortable, I wonder why I'm doing this to myself, but the memories sort out the discomfort from the awesome, and the awesome always wins.

Riding the Tunnel of Trees road in northern Michigan - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

Rainbow connection sung by Alanna