Sunday, July 25, 2010

Summary

Reflections
As I think of this ride, several things immediately come to mind:
• Taking an extended trip alone was good
• Mom and pop places are on the old roads
• MTN homes take some planning
• The RT is a great touring machine
• Weather happens
• Don’t count on technology

When I planned this trip, I had some concerns over being gone for an extended period of time alone. As it turned out, going alone was not bad at all. On the positive side, I made all the decisions, good and bad. Luckily, I had no problems (mechanical, health, or accident) where having someone else with me would have made a big difference. I guess you can’t count on never having a problem, though. I still like riding with Gary, my usual riding partner, but now I know I can do it alone when I want to.

I like going to mom and pop places—both for lodging and for meals. They are usually much more interesting, with stories and histories that can’t be found in the chain places. I especially like meals at these places. Sometimes they have something that they have specialized and for which they are “famous” (at least locally). Sometimes it’s the d├ęcor. Sometimes it’s the people there. While Gary will hunt for a place that sells beer, I’m fine without it; many mom and pops places do not sell beer.

On this particular trip, overall I was a little disappointed with the food I encountered. I did have several breakfasts that were terrific (especially the French toast the second morning), but lunches and dinners were not what I wanted them to be. Not sure why, but they weren’t GOOD. They were okay, and none were BAD, but they weren’t delicious like I wanted them to be.

The mom and pop places are usually located on the outskirts of towns, along the old “major” roads. They were built there because that’s where the traffic went. However, when the new roads were built, the chains built along them, and the mom and pop places lost the traffic. But they held on and some still operate. I like them.

Using the Motorcycle Travel Network is good. I’ve now stayed in 3 homes; one near home and two on this trip. Two were great, with hosts that enjoyed talking and sharing stories of rides and bikes. Both went to dinner with me, and both had great breakfasts. One shared no stories nor provided a breakfast—only providing a bed and bathroom. The up side of MTN homes, IMO, is meeting nice people and sharing the stories. The down side is that it takes some planning to line them up for stays, and there’s no “down” time. The sharing takes literally hours, so there’s no time for rest or blogging. I guess there’s no perfect situation.

For serious touring for a rider (only), the RT can’t be beat. Tons of power when wanted. Terrific brakes when needed. Great gas mileage (avg about 48mpg). Runs for hours and hours and just keeps on humming. Great weather protection. Cruise control. Great storage. While there are faster bikes, and while there are cheaper bikes, none compare to the BMW 1200 RT for serious touring.

Every extended trip brings weather issues. Plan on it. This one brought extreme heat on the second day, way up in Illinois! Probably best to always pack the Sahara Vest if it’s even warm, to help cool off. And it can be colder than you’d expect. Up in Canada, when it was cloudy, it got very cool, requiring me to use the heated grips to keep my hands warm. And it can get wet in a hurry. I think I have the best gear available to deal with the weather, but even so, sometimes it gets very uncomfortable. Such is the nature of touring…

Technology.. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t. Those who know me well know that I like and use technology a lot. Wireless signals come and go. Data services work and don’t work. Even the GPS that has been rock-solid acted up some times, particularly around the big lakes, showing me off course by big margins, for no reason at all. My point in this rambling is that sometimes technology works to help you do things better or more efficiently; sometimes it is a nuisance.

As I continue to ride the roads of America, I am constantly amazed at the beauty of our nation. We are blessed to have the oceans, the lakes, the mountains, the deserts, the great plains, and the rolling hills that appear as you ride from place to place. I think we take our surroundings for granted, not seeing the beauty of where we are at the moment. Having now ridden 49 states, only missing Hawaii, we have some absolutely fabulous scenery to enjoy.

On this trip, I rode through NC, VA, KY, IN, IL, WI, MN, MI, OH, and WV. And the Province of Ontario, CA. The trip mileage was 4,086, averaging just over 400 miles a day, which was my goal in planning. That’s enough mileage for a day’s ride, unless you’re really trying to make up some time. The bike’s fuel mileage ran from a low of 42.7 to a high of 50.8, and averaging 48.9 over the trip. The highest price for gas was $4.86 per gallon in Canada. Oh, by the way, the bike uses premium, so all the fuel cost more than usual. I spent much more on fuel than anything else. The GPS says I rode 77.5 hours and averaged 52.6 mph on the trip.

So, I’ll close this one out with gratitude that the ride was good and that I had no problems along the way.

Until the next adventure….

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Day Ten—HOME!

I’m home and safe as I write today’s blog. Part of today’s ride was fun; part was pure drudgery. But the good news is that I made the ride safely.

I woke up earlier than I wanted; it was 5:35am when I woke up. I tried to go back to sleep, but when I started thinking about the day’s ride, sleep went away. So, I got up, got dressed, and packed the bike. It was getting daylight, but there was a fair amount of fog in the air.

Went to the lobby to get some breakfast, but it was so meager that I decided to ride and find something along the way. It was 6:45 when I pulled out of the parking lot.

I had decided to have a little fun riding some of the roads in West Virginia before getting serous about going home. A few years ago on a trip through WV in the Civic, I discovered two fun roads off US 60 and 19. Saturday Road and Sunday road make a loop north of 60 that were great in the Civic. The roads total maybe 20 miles in length, and wind through the woods and fields in this area.

When I did the roads earlier in the Civic, they were relatively smooth (just paved?). The pavement is just over one lane wide, with rocky shoulders on both sides of the road, and when cars meet, both move over just a bit so that the outer wheels of both vehicles are on the gravely shoulders. The road surface is too narrow to hold two vehicles at the same time.

I believe I ran the Civic the hardest I’ve ever drove it on those roads. Most of the time I was in second gear, running up to the redline (8,000), and then slam the brakes just before the curve, and then punching the gas as soon as the apex of the curve had been realized. Man, it was fun!!

I imagined then how much fun it would be to do it on the RT. The RT has so much faster acceleration, and the brakes are tremendous; a road like this was made for a bike like the RT. I had looked forward to doing it with the RT since I first discovered them.

Well, today’s ride was a disappointment. The road surface has deteriorated greatly over much of the distance. Big potholes, broken pavement, gravel on the road made it a very poor riding surface. Also, it was raining and parts of the road were wet; parts dry, with no real pattern. In the Civic, I did a lot of the road at 60mph or so. Today I hit 50 once on the bike. The roads are crappy now.

While I was disappointed today, I do have wonderful memories of doing them with the Civic.

Leaving that area of US 60, I turned south on Hwy 19 towards Beckley. In a few miles, I crossed the huge New River Gorge Bridge. Billed as the longest arch bridge in the western hemisphere, it is something to see. I didn’t do any lookouts or stops; I’ve seen it twice now, so I didn’t need to see it again.

I rode south on Hwy 19 through Beckley and then south, mostly parallel to I-77. It’s a fun road, with lots of curves and elevation changes to make it interesting. The few vehicles that I came up on were quickly passed and left in the dust from my tires. I enjoyed the ride on 19.

After a while, I needed to make some time, so I jumped on I-77 and rode home on the big roads. Nothing much to report about the ride home except it got hot. Not horribly hot, but hot enough. I checked the tire temperatures along the way, and the hottest they got was 104 front, and120 rear. I don’t know how that compares, except that when I was in Canada, they were 95 and 103 respectiely.

Got home about 4:30pm, hot and tired. But I got home safely.

One more blog to write—a wrap-up for the trip.

Day Nine—Michigan-Ohio-West Virginia



It was a day of riding, working my way south and east. The day started warm and muggy, telling me that it was going to get hot before the day was over. I checked the weather at home, and it was predicted to be 95 with a heat index of 108. Even though I was not going to get home today, I knew it would be pretty warm in the afternoon. And it was.

In truth, the day was nothing but riding. I was off the Interstates most of the day. But I was on big US highways, in many places built just like Interstates, with 4 lanes and speed limits of 70 in many places. On and on, following the little pink line on the GPS. Through Ohio and into West Virginia.

The highlight of the day was finding food for brunch. Around 11am I pulled off the highway and found the Famous Milan Coney Island Restaurant in Milan, MI. I ordered the Hunter’s Breakfast. It was HUGE. Three eggs. Two sausage links. Two pieces of bacon. Two pieces of ham. Toast. American Fries. A plate FULL of fries. Man, they feed you there. I decided to use two slices of toast and put the bacon and ham in it and to eat that for dinner. And I did, and it was very good.

About 4:30, I decided to stop for the day in Parkersburg. I was too tired to work on finding a mom and pop, so I found a cheap Econolodge and stayed there.

Tomorrow—Playing on the roads in West Virginia and Home

Day Eight—Tunnel of Trees

Not much to record for today’s blog. For the most part, it was a fairly boring, long day heading south towards home.

But there was one highlight that was spectacular. Close your eyes and imagine riding down a road where the trees obliterate the skies; where the road is narrow and winding with good elevation changes, where on one side of the road contains homes ranging from shacks to mansions and the other side overlooks Lake Michigan, and where there are almost no other vehicles. That would describe Hwy 119 in northwestern Michigan. It is truly a do-over road.

I considered riding it again, in reverse, just to see it from a different perspective. While the speed limit was 45, I rode it at 30 or less, wanting to savor its twists and turns and scenery just as you would chew thoroughly a delicious steak rather than gobble it down. I could have ridden it all day!

I stayed off the Interstates all day, working south on Hwy 31, designated as a scenic byway. It was a nice road, but it was busier than I wanted, and it had very little in “scenery” as compared with Hwy 119 to the north. Of course, it would take a lot to compare with that road.

The day actually started with a very good breakfast at the 3 Seasons Family Restaurant near the motel. Omelette, American Fries, and toast. Very good. In case you don’t know what “American Fries” are, they are the potatoes that were cut into slices and fried with onions. At home, we call them “Home Fries”.

From there, the ride to the Mackinac Bridge was easy. US Hwy 2 is the road Gary and I rode from Duluth to Glacier National Park on the way to Alaska. It is one of the great American highways, IMO.

Got to the big bridge. Some 5 miles long, and one of the largest suspension bridges in the USA, it is magnificent. High above the water, with no wind, it was good to ride over it. The only problem was that one of the lanes in each direction was closed for maintenance, and I had to ride on the metal grating deck of the bridge for probably a mile or so. I don’t like riding on these surfaces, even when dry. The bike’s tires want to follow the ridges, making it dart left and right as I ride. It went okay, but I didn’t like that part of the ride.

Just south and west of the bridge, I found another lighthouse, the McGulpin Point Lighthouse. It was closed, so I just took a few pics and moved on to find Hwy 119.


Towards the end of the day, I started thinking of lodging for the night. I had decided that somewhere around Muskegon would be a good place to stop for the night. Just north of town, I got on the smaller road to find a mom and pop place. The first place I stopped was actually a few miles north of Muskegon. I stopped in a place in town, a nice looking motel in a residential neighborhood. They had rooms, but at $98 for a room, I declined and rode towards Muskegon.

I noticed that a lot of motels were posted with “No” Vacancy, making me a little uneasy. The first place that had a vacancy sign ended up with them not posting the “No” before I got there. It was full. The next few were also full. The next one I came to that probably had a room, I rode into the parking lot and decided that it was just too rough a neighborhood. The next place was closed. I was getting pretty concerned.

Then I found the Bel Aire Motel on the south side of town. They had space, and it turned out to be a nice place.

I walked to a nearby restaurant for dinner. They had rave reviews, but it was average. However, they had a glassed-in room full of animal trophys the owner had taken from all over the world. A Polar Bear, two Grizzleys, and lots of other animals, some of which I could not identify. I hope the killer ate the meat instead of taking the magnificent animals just for sport.

Tomorrow—South towards Home

Monday, July 19, 2010

Day Seven—Upper Peninsula and Lighthouses

Today was a good ride. No rain! No heat! No traffic! Cool! All of these things are good, particularly on a bike. It was a good day.

The day started with a big surprise. I got up, showered, and had breakfast. Then started loading the bike. On my first run to the bike, as I was going out a door, a guy that looked familiar was coming in. But He lives near Denver, CO, and I decided that the guy just looked like Johnny. I didn’t think any more about it.

On the next trip, as I was loading some stuff, another familiar face walked by. I was so astounded that I let him pass and walked inside to the lobby. He was talking to a woman—one that I knew. It was Johnny, Bev, and Dennis, all of whom rode with me last year when I organized the Lighthouse Ride. Johnny and Bev are a couple, and Dennis is a friend of theirs who lives in Wyoming. What are the chances of meeting them a year later in the same motel in Sault Ste Marie? Wild!

We talked a bit, catching up with our riding. They were on the same ride as I was doing, but in reverse. They asked me to join them, but I didn’t want to repeat the same ride as I had just done, so I declined. I just can’t imagine the odds of us running into each other like that.

Our mutual friend, Sheila, knew they were doing a ride in that area (but not exactly where) and that I was doing a ride in that general area, but she thought we’d be on different routes, so she did not mention it to either of us.

After talking a bit and looking at their bikes (Dennis and Johnny have new bikes since last year’s ride), I left as they were packing their bikes.

I rode downtown, to see some of it. I had actually been to Sault Ste Marie 10 years earlier, doing a presentation for the Michigan Environmental Health Association on the flooding from Hurricane Floyd. But I flew in and out, so I didn’t see much of town. Town looked better than I thought it would. They have a nice park down by the locks. Glad I rode downtown.

Then headed west into the Upper Peninsula area, in search of lighthouses. I didn’t have to go far to find the first one, the Point Iroqouis Light on Whitefish Bay. It is in a picturesque location and was very nice. I climbed it (as I always do when possible) and took some pics and left to find another one. I’ll post a pic of this light.

Continued driving west on the Whitefish Bay Scenic Road (or something similar). It was a beautiful ride through the trees along the southern shore of Lake Superior. At times the road was within 100 feet or so from the lake; sometimes miles away as the shore undulated and the road weaved through the forest. I saw another animal of note—a fox darted across the road a couple hundred feet in front of the bike. Better than no animals at all!

After a while, I noticed that the gas guage was getting low. So, I started looking for fuel, finding it in Paradise, some 18 or so miles away. The main road went there, so I didn’t have to go way out of the way to get it. Expensive--$319.9 for premium! But that’s what money is for.

About 13 miles west of Paradise was Whitefish Point Lighthouse, a lighthouse still in service. This one was not open to the public. While neat, it looked much more industrial, being made of metal instead brick and mortar. There were several buildings scattered on the premises housing a museum, lighthouse keeper, and gift shop. They also had a raised walkway to a sandy beach on the lake. I walked out to the water, waded in it for a few minutes, dipped my hands into the water, and walked back to the bike.

Since the road ended at the lighthouse, I had to backtrack down the same road to Paradise. Since it was lunchtime, I stopped at the Berry Patch Restaurant and had a chicken sandwich. Got an apple Danish for a dessert later (which became part of dinner tonight). The sandwich was very good. The Danish was a disappointment—it tasted like one you get in a convenience store; nothing special.

With my tummy full, I got back on the bike and took another road that headed south and then west. The ride was easy; very little traffic, but straight for miles at a time. The scenery was trees. And the road was flat, so it was not an exciting ride.

I decided to ride to Munising and just a little further, to Christmas, MI. Since I had seen it on the map, I had to see what it looked like. I got there, rode through it, took a couple of pics to document my presence, and turned around. I noted that it was getting very dark in the skies to the west, I decided to head back south and east to Manistique, on the north shore of Lake Michigan. That ride was uneventful.

I had reserved a mom and pop motel for the night, the Star Motel. It is a 50/60s motel located right on the shores of the lake on US 2, the same road Gary and I rode two years ago from Duluth to Glacier National Park on our way to Alaska. It feels real good to have the windows open and feel a cool breeze coming off Lake Michigan. I’m satisfied with the room.

Checked in, washed some clothes (hope they dry overnight), and did some emails and now blogging. Gotta post some pics for yesterday’s ride. So, if you’ve read last night and it had no pics, look again.

Over 2,700 miles so far. Will be about 4,000 when I get home.

Tomorrow—ride the east shore of Lake Michigan, headed south.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Day Six—Back to the Good Ole USA



Today brought me back to my country, the USA. While I liked being in Canada, for something slightly different, it’s good to be in the USA. Contact in other countries is more difficult. No texting with certainty (works sometimes, sometimes not), no phone email, and phone calls that are roaming (had 5 calls from Greg Fishel, warning me of severe thunderstorm warnings on Saturday!—as if I could do anything about it.

But tonight I’m in Sault Ste Marie, Michigan. When my wheels touched Michigan, I reached one of my goals; I have now ridden in 49 of the 50 states. All this in 8 years of riding is a big accomplishment. I never set it as a “goal” until I got close to doing it, but it’s an accomplishment now. I think I have ridden 135,000 miles on a bile in the eight years I’ve been riding. Have been in several countires (Canada, Italy, France, Switzerland, Germany, Austria and a couple countries that won’t come to mind now). I ride a lot!

The day started nicely. Pretty sunrise, cool temperatures (50 degrees), and very minimal traffic were present when I left Thunder Bay this morning. It was a good morning to ride.

The terrain changed from yesterday’s ride to today. Much more hilly, with a lot of ups and downs as the road wound around Lake Superior. I had thought I would see a lot of the big lake, but the road got near the water only a few times. And the biggest surprise is that there are huge coves all along the way. Somehow I had pictured it as being one big lake, like an ocean. Instead, it’s riddled with coves and has lots of islands lining it’s shores.

There were several places where there was a sandy beach, but most of it is rocky where the water meets land. Sometimes big boulders, sometimes fist-sized rocks. Quite a variety.

As I rode east, the sun began hiding behind clouds more and more, with the last five hours being sunless. Clouds thickened and darkened, finally with drops falling on the bike and me. The last 60 miles or so were in the rain. Some fairly heavy, and some light, but pretty constant over the miles. And it stayed cool, with temperatures ranging from 60 in the beginning to almost 70 at its warmest to 58degrees when I arrived in Michigan. But with the bumblebee and long sleeved shirt, I stayed warm.

The last mile was the toughest; crossing the bridge from Sault Ste Marie, ON, CA to Sault Ste Marie, MI, USA. It is a two-span bridge over several bodies of water leading to the USA. At the base of the bridge is the checkpoint to arrive into Michigan. As I said earlier, it was raining. And, traffic was backed up about a half-mile, waiting to go through the checkpoint. So, there I sat on the bike, waiting in traffic, with it pouring down rain!

The bumblebee is very effective in keeping me dry. I felt two damp places in almost two hours exposure in the rain. When the rain began in earnest, I stopped to put on my three-finger gloves. They fit over regular gloves, and are almost waterproof. While they look funny, they do a good job of keeping hands dry in a pouring rain in cool temperatures.

Finally I got to the checkpoint. All went well, except the guard wanted to know the license plate number, and I don’t keep up with that. At the checkpoint going into Canada, the guard let me roll forward so he could see it and then I rolled back to his “office”. Today, he ordered me to get off the bike and call it out to him. Not wanting to have a problem, I did. But it wasn’t easy because I had pulled over pretty close to the window, leaving little space for me to get off and back on. Also, I was afraid the bike would tip over. The sidestand is too long now since I had the bike lowered, so parking it is tricky. It was almost vertical when I got off; it should be leaning against the stand to keep it up. It didn’t fall, so all was well.

The motel was a mile or so south of the border crossing.

The ride today was good, but the rain kept it from being very good. Most of the day was excellent.

Tomorrow—explore they Upper Penninsula of Michigan.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Day Five—Long, Lonely Road



Cool. It was very cool this morning when I went outside. 50 degrees; it felt wonderful. I’ve been so hot that having weather this cool is excellent.

Had Breakfast at the little place next door; it was very good. Eggs, potatoes, and ham. Lots of all of that stuff. More than I could eat, which is unusual. I almost always eat all of my food, but this morning’s breakfast was just too much.

Got the bike packed, checked out of the Tee Pee Motel, and got on the bike to ride around the town a little before going to Voyagers National Park. It felt good to ride.

The town looks pretty industrial to me. The housing looks like 50s and 60s with a few newer ones scattered around. Most are ranch-style, but a few are two story or story and a half. There were a few nice ones, but most were pretty nondescript. Sorta depressing. Recalling what the owner had told me when I checked in, the town is shrinking in population. Boise, the big papermaker, is the big employer, and other industries are leaving, and, along with them, the youth are going to places they favor. Sad, but true for many small communities in Canada and the USA.

Having seen enough of the town, I rode the 10 miles to Voyagers National Park. Boy was I disappointed. Basically, it consists of a boat ramp. A nice one, yes, but there was nothing there but the boat ramp and a visitor’s center. There’s more stuff at Falls Lake near Raleigh than there was in this park. I guess if you’re into fishing, it’s a great place to be. Rainey Lake apparently has some great fishing.

Turned around and went to the road into Canada. What a MESS! I’ve crossed a number of borders, but none were like this one.

First, you have to pay to cross a bridge to get to the border checkpoint. Only $2, so no big deal. Only, I dropped a glove where you pay. Had to get off the bike to pick it up. Cars and trucks behind me did not appreciate that at all. Got back on the bike and discovered that I could not find the other glove. Got off the bike again, looked back, and it was on the ground about 15 feet before the pay station. Walked back and got it.

Rode 100 yards or so to the border crossing. Waited my turn, and when the light turned green, pulled forward. The officer asked the usual questions about where I was from, what I was doing there, where I was going, etc. No problem. I seemed to pass. But wait, he then told me to pull forward off to the left under the shed. I did, not quite sure why.

Got under the shed with a few other vehicles and waited, wondering what this was about. In about 5 minutes, an officer came to the bike and asked the same questions as asked before. He then asked me to open all the cases on the bike. I did. He then opened each thing to see what was in it. Dirty clothes, Clean clothes. Overnight bag. Gadget bag. Topcase had to be emptied. When all this was done, he simply said, “You may repack and go”.

I guess I somehow looked like a terrorist or something. Never had to do any of this on the bike before, but he got to see everything I had on the bike. Glad I had nothing to hide! But it left me a little unnerved.

From that point on, the only thing I did the rest of the day was ride. The road, Hwy 11, is called the “Trans-Canada Highway” and goes a long way. The speed limit is almost always 90kph, but sometimes drops when going by a community.

I rode for about300 miles on this road, and did not see the first wildlife worth mentioning. Crows and birds. And one field mouse running across the road. Saw a beaver lodge, but no beaver. No Moose. No deer. No rabbits. No eagles. Nothing! And I looked a lot. I don’t understand…

Got to Thunder Bay about 4pm, checked into the motel and unloaded the bike. Got dressed again and got back on the bike. I wanted to see Lake Superior. I had not traveled almost 2,000 miles to not see the big lake. It wasn’t as easy as I hoped it would be. It took 3 different attempts to find the water. I rode mile after mile in huge industrial areas close to the water, but could get only a glimpse every now and then.

Finally, I went down a road that looked promising. It ended in a park on the lake. I got off the bike, took off my riding gear and took a few pics of the water and the bike. Then as I always do when I’m in new waters, I walked down to the water and took a few steps in it and diped my hands in it. Warmer than I thought it would be. So, I’ve now been in Lake Erie (years ago) and Superior.

On the way back to the motel, I noticed that I had been over 280 miles and the fuel light was not on yet. So, I rode around some to see how far I could go before the light came on; maybe a new record?? I came to a weird bridge. It had 3 sets of traffic--one each way for cars and a train in the middle. The car lanes were 3 meters wide, and the place where car wheels rode was metal. Not corrugated, but slick plates of steel! Sorta like the old covered bridges, but metal plates instead of wood. I stopped before going on it, screwed up my courage, and rode across it with no problems. The wild card was that there were speed bumps in several places, so you had to slow down to cross them. After crossing it, I had to do it again because there was no other way back into the city.

Then back to the motel to put the bike up for the night. Came inside with the rest of the bike things, put on my tennis shoes and walked to a nearby restaurant for dinner of nachos and cheese. Only fair; nothing special. I wanted something different, but their choices didn’t look good, and I was too tired to walk somewhere.

Then back to the room to get a shower and blog.

Tomorrow—Back to the USA