by Teresa Lasher, photography by Steve Lasher
[Michigan Motorcycle Rides: The Upper Peninsula was originally published as a Favorite Ride in the February 2008 issue of Rider magazine]
For those of you who always pilot a motorcycle, you may think you know all there is to know about motorcycle riding. You may also feel you enjoy all the perks. Not so! Riding (and writing) on the backseat of our red touring Honda Gold Wing, I’ve learned a few lessons I’d like to share.
The more I ride behind Steve, my husband, the more I appreciate the back-seat perspective. My mind can wander, allowing opportunity for personal reflection. My eyes delight in an unexpected burst of golden fields. On either side of a country road, acres of proud sunflowers beg to be noticed. As co-riders, our fingers are not clenched cautiously over the brake lever. Our legs can vary locations depending on our mood. And a co-rider’s feet can relax without being prepared to shift or brake at any given moment. Let’s face it, co-riders, we have it made.
At first, we rode with friends or larger groups. Some trips were short; others a bit longer. This past summer, Steve and I ventured out alone on a 2,500 mile, two-week motorcycle tour beginning in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and traveled east to visit cousins in Port Huron. From there, we rode the Blue Water Bridge to Canada, up through Bruce Peninsula in Lake Huron to Tobermory, Manitoulin Island and the North Channel. We continued on through Canada, Sault Ste. Marie customs in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Wisconsin, Minnesota and back home again.
Decisions need to be made regarding overnight lodging: motel, campsite or a cabin? It took some coaxing, but I convinced Steve to consider tenting to save expenses and experience the true outdoors. By journey’s end, we both agreed camping allowed us closer access to picturesque locations by the water and woods, and dividing the time between camping and motels had proved a good combination for us.
After researching our options, we purchased a used trailer, which turned out to be a godsend. Now we could pack more stuff and buy additional souvenirs. Packing is a process and I’m still learning to pack wisely. I’d recommend choosing a few comfortable articles of clothing. Laundromats are usually available at some point. If desperate for space along the way, you have the option of using a local post office or shipping facility. We mailed home two boxes of maps, brochures, dirty clothes and souvenirs.
Don’t be shy to ask a stranger to take a picture of you and your bike in front of an awesome mountain you just tackled. According to my husband, you can never take too many pictures, and there are no strangers as far as I’m concerned–just some people I haven’t had the opportunity to meet yet. Small talk flows naturally and before long, riders and non-riders alike share destination goals, the area highlights and favorite local eateries.
We learned of local products such as Thimbleberry Jam (sold by The Jam Lady in Eagle River, Michigan), books from hometown authors, and open-air concerts in the park. Tourist shop owners and locals are more than willing to divulge “must-see” spots in their hometown.
My unofficial title became part-time Navigator/ Tour Guide. I became rather savvy at navigating with a map inside a self-sealing plastic bag. Extra pairs of eyes and ears are valuable in construction zones, too, especially when paved roads turn rocky without warning. Notifying your pilot of potential road hazards, deer or moose should score big points.
Camp Croker Indian Park, nestled on Lake Huron Bay, proved to be our favorite campsite. It was a basic non-hydro site, which meant no electricity. From there we rode into town and purchased ingredients at the local market for hobo stew: meat, potatoes and vegetables such as carrots and onions. Just toss it all together, wrap securely in tin foil, and cook over hot coals in a fire pit. For dessert, after toasting marshmallows on a stick, we sandwiched them between delectable chocolate and graham crackers. Try and beat that, Martha!
Next, we boarded the Chi-Cheemaun Ferry (or Big Canoe) bound for Manitoulin Island in the Canadian North Channel. We chose Providence Bay Trailer & Tent Park on Lake Huron to pitch our tent. Uninvited furry guests visited us during the night, consuming an entire loaf of bread and leaving only scraps of plastic behind!
From there we headed to Gore Bay, a popular marina boasting large vessels in the North Channel. We savored butternut squash and roast beef sandwiches at the Rocky Raccoon Cafe overlooking the bay. Traveling in the open, we were directly tuned in to the details of our glorious creation. Fresh lake breezes provided a welcome respite from intense afternoon heat rays.
If you’re feeling adventurous, I’d recommend a portion of the Cup & Saucer Trail located on Manitoulin Island. The trails are a part of the Niagara Escarpment. A tornado blew through the week before causing downed trees to block progress on the less aggressive path. We ended up on the adventure trail marked with these words of caution: “Use at your risk.” Birds soared high above the trees below us from our steep vantage point. Despite my fear of climbing and better judgment, the view of Lake Huron and rock formations were spectacular and well worth the effort. After finishing our tour through Canada, we waited our turn in line to clear U.S. customs at Sault Ste. Marie into Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Crossing the Upper Peninsula, we investigated numerous waterfalls and scenic vistas. While resting and snacking in a roadside park, we discovered Canyon Falls in the western Upper Peninsula. Feeling refreshed and needing physical exercise, we chose to walk a trail adjacent to the park that led to a clearing and a series of waterfalls. Inspired by their beauty, Steve snapped photos while I sat content to absorb the peaceful setting surrounding us.
As our journey continued, we crossed through Wisconsin westward into Minnesota. Last stop: Clearwater (outside of Minneapolis) to visit our son and daughter-in-law and our precious new grandbaby. After visiting family, we set the GPS for Milwaukee and there boarded the Lake Express ferry bound for Muskegon, Michigan. Be sure to tie your bike down solidly because the vessel reaches high speeds and the high wind and waves can get bumpy. Sturdy, wide tie-downs are provided.
Looking back on our journey, I realize the many blessings we enjoyed. I remember anticipating nightfall as we watched the sun paint the sky with shades of pink, red and orange, its last traces of light reflected upon the water. Together we experienced that very first raindrop on our helmets and windscreen signaling an oncoming storm. After the storm, our reward came in the form of a full rainbow stretched across the entire horizon. Uninterrupted time with each other is a rare privilege. I’d have to say that the most valuable items we packed were positive attitudes and a spirit of flexibility. Remembering to keep it simple allowed us to experience joy and peace.