Tuesday, June 24, 2008
The route down through the Michigan U.P. and across the Wisconsin border took us on some really nice roads and I spotted a wolf standing near the edge of the woods as we passed through some desolate, unsettled areas. Iron Mountain was a cool little town, sort of nestled in a crotch of some rugged hills. Things quickly got flat and more open, though, as we rode into Wisconsin.
We got off the highway to ride through Manitowoc, check it out, and pick up some AMA Grand Tour points. It was a fine town, with some beautiful homes and a vibrant downtown area.
After this pleasant diversion, we got down to the business of eating some miles. We went through Milwaukee, going over the Green Bay bridge and then headed west to make a wide berth around Chicago. We made excellent time covering those 640 miles - even with the excursion through Manitowoc - and found ourselves in Tuscola for the night, well before dark, and early enough to have dinner and relax a little.
Next day: More utilitarian miles to reach Memphis around 3:00 PM. We took Mike's mom out to Corky's for BBQ, and then crashed for the night, Mike in front of the evening news with his mom, me with a good book, something I'd not had time to do this entire trip.
Last day: Our last day on the road would cover just a little over 600 miles to Pearland TX and home. We chose to wait to leave Memphis until after 9:00 AM, to avoid Memphis morning traffic but, more importantly, to get into Houston well after the evening rush hour had died down. And this is exactly how it played out. One last gas stop in Livingston TX and Mike and I said our goodbyes, then rode together through Houston to the south side where Mike split off for his exit and we waved goodbye to each other. I pulled in to my garage just around 8:30 PM and was greeted by a very happy cat!
Miles ridden: 3900
Days on the road: 10 days
Number of smiles: Countless!
Saturday, June 21, 2008
The park rangers were wonderful to talk to. They made sure we knew how to get to Munising Falls, and gave us a lunch recommendation, as well! Great ladies! After I stamped my NP passport, we rode about 2 miles to the waterfall site, which had its own little visitor center and park stamp. Off the bikes, we had a short walk, maybe 1/2 mile, to the waterfall. I can only imagine what this waterfall looks like during snow melt. It was rather mild-mannered when we saw it. Next stop is the Miner's Castle overlook, down a 5 or 6 mile road to the coast.
We said our goodbyes to Ron as he pointed his bike south toward home. We then went off in search of the recommended lunch stop: Muldoons. It reportedly has the best pasties on the U.P. and it was close to 2:00 PM by this time, so we were more than ready to eat.
Friday, June 20, 2008
We headed north up M-26 to Lake Linden, then turned onto Gay Road headed east toward Gay, MI. To me this was just another tiny crossroads on an otherwise empty road. But the others knew better! This tiny town apparently has only one business: the Gay Bar. There were several other motorcycles sitting outside this two story white clapboard house, waiting for the restaurant/bar to open. The name of the establishment was not lost on the group, as Mike and Ron hammed it up for the camera. A few minutes later, a worker showed up, unlocked and, in a few minutes, called us all inside. After cold drinks were served all 'round, several in the group selected and purchased the coveted "Gay Bar" t-shirt. Don't ask! LOL!
We continued north along the eastern edge of the peninsula to Lac la Belle, where the road turned inland and connected with US-41 a few miles south of Copper Harbor. Here the road became hilly and heavily wooded. We rode through another tree tunnel for several miles before it opened up near Copper Harbor. At the intersection of 41 and 26 we found lunch! A wonderful Inn, with many BMW's parked in front and along the side, served us excellent pasties. We enjoyed our waitress, a delightful young lady from Colombia. She's a university student working here in Copper Harbor MI for the summer. She assured us she'd be returning to Colombia for classes in the fall and not staying in the U.P. to experience winter!
After lunch we rode on out to Ft. Wilkins State Park to have a look. I wanted to see it, so everyone forked over the entry fee and we rode into the park, got off the bikes and walked around the grounds of this fort, established in 1844 to protect the miners from Indian attacks. Hard to imagine what it must have been like here in the dead of winter. I needed gas so headed back into town while the others stopped at the lighthouse view.
One of the park rangers recommended that we take the Brockway Mountain Road south, rather than stay on M-26. The left turn onto this road was just a short way south on M-26. As soon as we made the turn, the road went straight up! We reached the top, where there is a pull-out and a fantastic view of Lake Superior to the west and south and peaks and valleys to the east. Photos taken, it was time to continue on this road where, 11 miles later, it reconnected with M-26. This road runs along the western coast of the peninsula and gave some beautiful views of Lake Superior at water level.
We were passed many times by groups of other BMW riders as we rode along this beautiful road skirting the shore and beaches of Lake Superior. Such a shame they were missing these gorgeous views! Many of these riders were passing us on double yellow lines in curves and I thought they were taking great risks. At one point along this stretch we were passed by 4 BMW's and within a mile a very large deer stepped out into the road right in front of us. Mike was in the lead, carrying a leisurely pace (about 5 mph under the posted speed limit) and he braked as the deer gracefully walked across the road and disappeared into the woods on the right shoulder. We slowed down to ensure there were no other deer following her, before we rolled on again. Those guys who sped past us have no idea how close they came to having a really bad day.On our way toward Houghton we went through Calumet. I saw a sign that pointed toward the historic district so I turned right so that we could get a look at the town. We rode through the main street, its dark red brick buildings vibrant with businesses, shops, cafes, and ice cream parlors. If I hadn't still been full from the giant pasty I ate earlier, I'd have stopped for ice cream. But we also had tickets to see Da Yoopers! so we wanted to keep moving. We didn't want to miss it.
They were hilarious! And a good crowd there, as well! Afterward Mike and I rode up to the rally site to get something to eat and immediately met up with a former Houston club member who's now moved to Chicago. That was a surprise! After brats and ice cream, a little socializing, we headed back to the hotel.
Tomorrow: Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and #1 Pasties on the U.P.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Tomorrow: Swedish pancakes and RA rally time
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
We met at a Steak n' Shake on the west side of town, where Don from MTF was waiting for us. My sister planned to be shopping in the area to await my call that we'd arrive. So she got to the restaurant just a few minutes later. We don't have Steak n' Shakes in Houston, so it was nice to eat at a different restaurant for a change.
I had a couple of AMA "big things" on my route but over lunch decided that we wouldn't have time to catch these and still make it to Sleeping Bear Dunes and then get to Traverse City before 7:00 PM. So we re-routed ourselves up US-131. Once we got to Cadillac, it was apparent we weren't going to have time for Sleeping Bear Dunes, either. I was disappointed, but will just have to go back some day. So we continued on to Traverse City, got checked in, then headed over to Ron's friend Sandy's house for dinner.
In spite of the rain, it was easy to find and we joined the group of riders that were already there for food and talk of motorcycles, the ride to the rally, and the rally itself. Sandy had cooked pork tenderloins in a crock pot, and his wife Judy made scalloped potatoes and cole slaw to go with it.
My brother-in-law Ron has been an on-again-off-again rider over the years, and has borrowed his brother's Honda for this trip. He's a little apprehensive about the trip, the distance, and particularly about riding across the Mackinac Bridge. M;y only concern was the pace that his friend Sandy would be setting for the group the next day. I wanted to enjoy the ride, savor the scenery and the views and not ride like my hair was on fire. He had some last-minute bike packing to do, and we wanted to get back to the hotel before dark, so we agreed to meet up in the morning at the hotel parking lot and to get breakfast somewhere on the road.
Tomorrow: riding M-119, crossing the Mackinac Bridge, and continuing to Escanaba.
Monday, June 16, 2008
I signed up for two AMA Grand Tours this year, after having an absolute blast doing one last year. For this year I'm doing AMA's Italy in America tour as well as the World's Largest tour. I've had less than a stellar performance so far this year on either of these. So it is with renewed effort that I have waypointed a few Italian-sounding towns and some "big things" into my GPS route for this trip. The first one we got to is the town of Parma MO, just a few miles west, off the interstate. The road takes us about 10 miles through corn fields and small farms then north for another 8 or 10 miles through the same landscape.
We arrived in Parma, a small, mostly boarded-up town pretty much in the middle of nowhere. I had entered the post office as a waypoint in my GPS. When I arrived at the location, I couldn't immediately see the post office, off down a side street on the left, but once I got my bearings, I headed in that direction. Right next door was the combined community center/town hall. Even better! As I positioned my bike for the photo, a woman at the post office asked Mike if we were lost. I'd guess that two people on BMW motorcycles wearing full riding gear head-to-toe would look a little out of place in this town. I got my photo, but then Mike beckoned me to follow him inside. By golly, if he was going to visit the town of Parma, he was going to meet the mayor! He barged in to the office and I followed, a little mortified. The clerk out front said he was in, and to go on in to his office. A tall, middle-aged, mild-mannered man sat at his desk as we entered, and seemed a little startled to see this oddly dressed couple walking in. He seemed a little on guard at first, but relaxed once Mike started talking to him. We introduced ourselves, I showed him my AMA Grand Tour flag, and explained what the Italy in America Grand Tour was all about. He relaxed some, then, and told us that they'd been contacted in the past by people from Parma, Italy. He'd even had a group of visitors from Italy come to this little town.
Those points in the bag, we continued north to where this little road intersected with US 60. This would take us right into I-57. I had the Boomland gas plaza stop in my sights, so pushed on to Charleston MO. I love this gas stop! It is one of the most bizarre, tackiest and wonderful tourist traps out there! I wanted Mike to see it. As it turned out, he'd stopped here once before, and agreed that it's a really cool place.
I had made plans to meet up with another MTF member for a late lunch as we passed near where he lived in Charleston IL. So I called him on my cellphone to give him an idea of when we'd arrive at the pre-planned meeting spot. When he took my call, he said, "Were we meeting today?" Uh oh! No problem. He told us we should expect to get there around 3:00 PM based on where we were, and he'd meet us there as planned. So we had a great lunch at Coles County Airport, so that Mike could have his first elephant ear sandwich. We visited for a bit, then had to get going if we wanted to make it to Lansing IL before dark.
We rode through a stiff cross wind as we headed north on I-57. I began to notice that my windscreen was starting to shake and wobble a little bit, something it never did before. I made a mental note to check it once we got to the hotel. Maybe just a loose bolt holding one of the brackets. When I-57 joined I-80, we got separated at the toll booths, since I have an EZ-Pass. But we knew that might happen so we agreed to just meet at the hotel. Mike caught up with me, however, at the top of the exit ramp at a red light, but then I led him on a series of U-turns as I tried to figure out how to get to the hotel from the main road. It's right there, but how do you get there from here??? Even the GPS was no help!
Once we checked in and unloaded the bikes, I took a closer look at the windscreen problem. The bolt seemed loose, so I pulled out a Torx to tighten it, but it wouldn't tighten. Mike gave it a try, but then pulled the bolt out to discover that the hole was stripped. Steel bolt in an aluminum hole. Mike jumped on his bike in search of some JB Weld to fix this problem. I pulled the bike up under the canopy at the front door since it was starting to get dark and we'd need the light. Well, we thought we had it fixed, but, overnight, gravity took over and the JB Weld along with the bolt slipped out so that the bolt was now nicely welded to the bracket but not to the bolt hole. Duct tape? Nah. How about a zip-tie? I always carry a few, so we zip-tied the bracket up snug against the steering head. Problem fixed. Possibly forever, given the age and high miles on this bike.
Next day: lunch with my sister Robin in Grand Rapids then on to Traverse City to meet up with my brother-in-law and his group.
Saturday, June 14, 2008
Geared up, bike backed out of the garage, I was sitting in my driveway waiting for Mike to show up at 7:00 AM. At 7:10, Mike whipped into my driveway, tore off his helmet and declared that he had a flat rear tire. He popped his bike up onto the centerstand and we quickly saw the problem: a large screw dead center in the tread. The only real viable option was to air the tire up with my compressor and head over to On The Border discount motorcycle tire store in Pasadena. I went into the house to confirm what time they opened (9:00 AM) and we headed over there, thinking he could get the rear wheel off the bike while we waited, and maybe catch breakfast somewhere nearby, as well. We were thinking he'd need to buy a rear tire, and were hoping they'd have something in stock that would fit his BMW GS Adventure, but on the way over there I remembered that I'd had them patch a nearly new tire for me so when we got there I reminded him that this was an option.
They got his tire taken care of very quickly and we were on the road by 10:00 AM, three hours later than we'd hoped, but we should still get to Memphis before dark. By this time the sun was high in the sky and I was sweltering in my riding gear until we could get moving at highway speed to get out of town. We ran into a little rain as we headed north and this cooled things down quite nicely. In fact, the temps stayed very comfortable all the way to Memphis.
The ride up US 59 was uneventful and, after a late lunch and gas stop in Texarkana, we got onto I-30 and headed northeast toward Little Rock. The traffic was noticeably light on the interstate, and remained so, even after we got onto the usually busy I-40. But I did break the $4.00 per gallon barrier somewhere along I-40 and I also dropped my bike backing out of a parking spot at one of the gas stations when my left foot went down into a dip in the tarmac while I had the wheel turned full lock to the right. Full gas tank. The perfect formula for a drop. When these kinds of drops happen I usually stay on my feet while the bike goes down beneath me. When I feel it go, I don't wrestle with it, I just step off to my left, lifting my right leg over it as it goes down. The tankbag hit the horn button on the handlebar which got everyone's attention (nothing like drawing attention to oneself!!). Sheesh!
It was our plan to get to Mike's mom's house in time for dinner. Mike called her to let her know it would be closer to 8:00 PM before we got there, so go ahead and eat. She had oven-fried chicken waiting for us when we got there, and homemade cake for dessert.
We spent the next day, which was Father's Day, in Memphis with Mike's mom, brother and his family and had a great cookout at his brother's house. After eating ourselves silly we sat outside and watched the fireflies...how long has it been since anyone has seen those around??
Tomorrow we head north through Missouri and Illinois.