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October 16, 2010

Postcards from Nowhere: Lake Michigan - Day 2 - The North Woods

Day 2 - The North Woods

In the morning, we're fresh as baby bunnies, ready to hit the road on our journey. We shoot some photos in the parking lot. Eat a casual breakfast. Refill the bikes across the street.

Refueling and then mounting the motorcycle is a didactic ritual. It has to be done just so every single time. There is an order to it. Nothing can be missed. Nothing can be skipped.

First, make sure the fuel tank is not set to reserve. If it is, set it back. Refill the tank.

Put earplugs in. Without them, I'll go deaf. My bike is too loud.
Put helmet on.
Fasten helmet strap.
Make sure all zippers are closed on backpack.
Make sure all pockets on the jacket and pants are snapped shut.
Take a photo of the gas pump so you'll have a record of the gas consumption.
Take a photo of the odometer so you'll know what gas mileage you're getting.
Put the gloves on.
Start the engine.

Any variation from this ritual is a failure. Put the gloves on too soon and you can't fasten the helmet strap. Put the helmet on without earplugs and you'll go deaf in a matter of minutes.

This is a ritual I practiced down in Mexico last year. It's just come back to me now.

So we gas up the bikes and we take off.

We didn't get away as soon as any of us would have liked.

Yesterday, I was on mostly interstate. But today, my understanding is that we won't be on interstate. I asked someone for directions to Macinac. They indicated that we'd go north on 41 out of the city and, when the road forked, the scenic route would be to keep right.

So, I was hoping that we'd take the scenic route and keep right at the fork. But I wasn't the leader. Just following along. And when we come to the fork, we go right and we stay on US 41 and I'm very pleased with this. Most of the way, it's a two lane road, which suits me much better than an interstate. We come to lots of little towns and I gas up frequently. I've calculated that I'm getting somewhere between 25 mpg and 35 mpg. Whenever I go 60 miles, I hit the reserve which is a little unnerving.

When you're running wide open and the engine shuts down unexpectedly, it can cause some consternation, of course. It can put you in a precarious situation in a hurry. So, always I reach down and switch the engine over to reserve just before my impending death.

The skies are broad and blue and clear and when we pass something someone wants to shoot, they'll stop and maybe I'll keep going. Or I stop and just wave them on. I take a few photos and catch up.

At one town, Raj decides to detour off of US 41 and the next thing I knew, we're at some marina. From the marina, he spies a light house and decides we need to go check it out. Chak and I both go down and determine that there's no public access to the light house. Then, we go back to the marina but we can't find Raj. Next thing I know, Raj and Chak are talking in Telgu on their helmet radios and somehow, Raj has figured out the road to get to the light house.

So, we drive down there and they park, preparing to walk out on the jetty that leads to the lighthouse. Of course, I just drive right past them and drive across the jetty out to the lighthouse. I mean, if you don't have a license plate, there's no real reason to follow the law, is there?

But I like this about Raj. He has a nose for adventure. He's the one that planned this trip. And I'd have driven right by the town, the marina, and the light house, and probably never realized they were there. But he took us off the beaten path down to check it all out. A very cool move.

As a group, we're not really tracking our progress well. We stop and shoot a lot and by 2:00 p.m., we've only about 90 miles when our goal is to drive 300 miles for the day.

So, at this point, we decide that we've going to have to make better progress, and basically we quit screwing around with our cameras and we open the bikes up and let them breathe.

Wide open, my bike will run about 90 to 95 mph. So, this is what we do. We open the throttles up and pretty much run wide open for two hours straight, stopping only for gas.

Now, for clarification, their bikes are faster than mine. Much faster. Why they're not going faster than 95 is anyone's guess. I mean, the speed limit up here is 55 mph. So, I'm not clear what their game is. I mean, if you're going 95 mph, why not go 130? What difference does it make at that point?

I dunno if it makes any sense or not, but this is what we did. We ran just under triple digits for hours through the North Woods of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. And it was just spectacular.

When I'm running wide open like that, I lean down over the handle bars so my cameras are resting on the gas tank. Occasionally, I adjust them some because I lost one of my lens caps yesterday, so I try to keep the lens off of the metal gas tank, essentially.

So, I'm driving down the road at about 95 mph, looking down and rearranging my cameras when Chak decides to pass me. Now, I don't have any idea how fast he was going when he passed me, but if felt like I was standing still, or possibly going backwards. I'd guess he was going about 150 mph.

As we get closer to Macinac, they stop to take photos and I pass them. Like a genius, I drive down onto the beach in a "Protected Area". I get some nice shots, but I see them drive by and they don't see me down on the beach, of course. I'm out of their field of view and I can only see the tops of their helmets as they pass.

So I take off after them, hell bent for leather, but of course I can't catch them. And I can't call them on the cell phone because you can't hear it ringing at triple digits. So, I just follow behind them, hoping they'll stop.

Eventually, they do stop to shoot photos of the Macinac bridge, and I catch up to them finally, laughing like a jackal.

We cross the Macinac bridge, and a gust of wind nearly blows me off the bridge. Once we get off of the Upper Peninsula, we promptly get lost. We drive around the general vicinity loosely following County Road 81. We hit a few dead ends and get turned around fairly good.

We have a GPS, and iPhone, and a map, but somehow we're fairly well lost and we're racing through the woods which finally have some decent color somehow. And we're lost as hell and we keep running down the dead ends and finally I decide to follow County Road 81 more religiously. It's possibly not the only route, but it's a guaranteed route. It's a known thing.

So, we're burning daylight...the sun is setting fast...and we're racing through the most spectacular countryside you could ever imagine and I can't help but think....'what a beautiful place to get lost."

Finally, I see a sign for Cross Village and we head there like a bat out of hell. I'm running balls out through the fading sunset. I dunno how, but one minute we were on the shore and the next we were 10 miles inland. So I'm heading due west as fast as I can go. Low on gas.

Finally roll up to a gas station in Cross Village and I walk inside and ask the woman behind the counter:

Can you tell us how to get to Puh-TOW-skee?

You mean Puh-TAU-skee?


Well, you can go to the stop sign, turn left. Left again. Left again.

"Is that the scenic route?" I caution her.

"You want to take the Tunnel of Trees?"

And I'm like...do you have to ask? I mean seriously? Of course I want to take the "Tunnel of Trees" you moron.

"There's lots of deer out there this time of night.

And I'm like...look...we're all going to die one day. At least I'm not going to die working behind the counter of a gas station in Cross Village.

So we take the Tunnel of Trees of course and it's just spectacular. The light is fading, so I don't have good photos of it, but the trees grow over the road and it's all hardwoods in peak foliage. Lots of yellow and gold and orange and red and it's a one lane black top road with no center line and speed limit of something crazy like 45 mph.

So, we're going through the Tunnel of Trees as the sun sets over Lake Michigan and it's spectacular. Just spectacular.

And we're heading south, following the coast. Eventually, the road changes some and it now has a double yellow line and there's a vehicle in front of me. It might be a cop. It's hard to say. But I go ahead and blow by him. I pass him in a blind curve on a double yellow line, speeding, with no license plate. And it was a cop. And he didn't even pull me over. I have two witnesses that will swear that they saw this happen.

Why did he not pull me over? I dunno. I personally don't think it's possible to get pulled over in Michigan or Wisconsin.

By the time we roll into Petoskey, it's dark thirty and I'm cold and exhausted. We've driven 350 miles and the first hotel we stop at tells us that not only do they not have any rooms, but they don't know any hotels that have rooms. The whole town is booked up due to the fall foliage pilgrims, apparently.

And this sucks. It's dark. Cold. We're exhausted. And we can't find a room.

On a motorcycle journey, you always wake up fresh and excited and ready to hit the open road. But at the end of the day, you always feel like you've been run over by a steam roller and wonder if you can go on.
Somehow, Chak finds two rooms at the Days Inn for $100 a night and I'm like "Oh dear God yes. Get them both." And we race down there and check in and get a warm shower and order pizza and plan our trip for tomorrow.

Posted by Rob Kiser on October 16, 2010 at 9:04 PM


Hey Rob, Nice pics as usual. You're up in my home state. Riding a dirt bike a few hundred miles a day huh? I guess it beats sitting in a bar. Good thing you were riding a motorcycle and not a Yugo across the Mackinac bridge or you might have gotten blown off.


Oh, you might have trouble getting a ticket in Michigan, but in Wisconsin you shouldn't have any problems.

Posted by: Craig Y on October 19, 2010 at 9:23 PM

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