Great Lakes Trip
We are safely back home from our 9 day 2,843 mile road trip on our motorcycle. We had a wonderful time! We were blessed with good weather, only minor problems, beautiful scenery and interesting people along the way. We left Mason City, Iowa on Saturday, July 21, 2007 on our journey to see all five of the Great Lakes. We had a sketchy idea of some of the things we wanted to see and a general direction that we would follow around the lakes. For once our vacation was about the journey and not the destination.
The first day we traveled across Iowa to Kankakee, Illinois. While traveling on the Avenue of the Saints we saw tons of RAGBRAI decorated buses, vans and cars loaded with bicycles and a lot of u-haul trailers heading west to the start of the annual RAGBRAI (Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa) race. We stopped at the Mississippi River for lunch and noticed that there were two signs indicating Handicap parking only. One sign said the fine was $100 and the other said the fine was $250, so I guess you could choose if you wanted to pay more or less for violating the law. We continued across Illinois and when we got to about 300 miles we decided it was time to find a place to camp. We saw a state park and decided we'd go just a bit farther....big mistake. We used the GPS listing of area campgrounds and it took us to three different campgrounds that were all private so we couldn't stay there. We found another state park down the road so we programmed the GPS and headed there. We found a very wooded nice campground and set up the tent. My husband went to pay and about had a fit when he found out it was $20 a night to pitch a tent. He decided he better just shut up and pay it because there was no way he was going to get me back on the bike after the 424 miles we traveled. We enjoyed a nice evening, had a choir of birds and bugs to sing us to sleep and woke up Sunday and took freezing cold showers before we hit the road again. I guess for $20 a night the park couldn't afford a hot water heater!
On Sunday we got to see the first of the Great Lakes. We went to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and saw Lake Michigan. The sand was so soft you just sunk into it. There were miles of sand beaches and sand dunes. It was really amazing. We changed into our swimsuits and played in the water. There were sand bars way out in the lake. You could walk out 20 yards from shore and go up on a big dune so that you were only ankle deep. You could see the big steel mills of Gary, Indiana and the skyscrapers of Chicago across the water. We played for a couple hours and decided we better hit the road. We spent most of the day traveling east on Hwy 6. We saw a John Deere tractor on top of a silo, a barn covered with hundreds of license plates, and the ditches were so small that the farm fields were planted within feet of the road. We found a great campground in Kendallville, Indiana and bought a wagon load of firewood to relax and enjoy the evening. The campground host told us that there was a very large Amish community in the area and that LaGrange County was 82% Amish. Many RV's are manufactured close by and the Amish do much of the cabinetry for them. We saw many Amish homes and sawmills but since it was Sunday we couldn't take advantage of any of the stands to buy produce or baked goods. We only traveled 220 miles.
Monday we traveled 335 miles from Kendallville, IN to Geneva State Park, Ohio. We were blessed with our third day of sunshine, no wind and 80 degree temperatures. Absolutely perfect for riding!! We traveled Hwy 6 most of the day today as well. There were so many different types of crops in the fields as we traveled today: popcorn, herbs, cabbages, peach trees, and beans that weren't soybeans. I know that someone has to grow all those crops, but I tend to forget that much of it is grown not far from home, not everyone raises corn and soybeans. We were in search of Lake Erie and saw it first at Port Clinton, Ohio. We took a side trip as I thought we were heading out on the peninsula to Marblehead, but we were going the wrong way. We pulled into a driveway to turn around and the poor guy that lived there had a dog that bit and was trying to keep the dog from getting us while we got headed in the right direction. On our side trip we saw the huge stacks of a nuclear power plant and went over a cool bridge. We finally headed for Marblehead and saw the lighthouse and I took off my boots and waded on the slippery rocks of Lake Erie. You could see the Cedar Point Amusement park across the bay, home to the largest roller coaster in the US. We followed Hwy 6 along Erie's shoreline until we got near Cleveland. Looking at the huge homes and admiring the lawns and architecture was fun for awhile, but the 35 mph and all the stop and go got tiring. We popped onto the Interstate near Cleveland and went in search of a place to camp. We found a state park that was just a few hundred yards from the shores of Lake Erie. We set up camp in the tent area which had no trees but was fine for a quick night's rest. The rest of the park was wooded and beautiful but we didn't want to pay $25 to stay there, it was $18 to camp in the tent area. The only problem was that the bathroom was about 4 blocks away. We walked around the campground and met some people who were cleaning the fish they had caught on the Lake. They had walleyes that they caught in 70 feet of water. The walleyes were from 15-28 inches long. The boats are huge with downriggers, huge locators, and tons of equipment. We watched the sunset over Lake Erie and then crawled in the tent to sleep. We seemed to be really tired and turned in pretty early every night. It started raining shortly after we went to bed; fortunately we had covered the motorcycle and had put everything away in the trailer before we turned in. It rained all night. The tent held up well and we didn't get wet at all. We kept waiting for the rain to stop so that we could get up, but it didn't seem like it would ever quit. We finally had to concede and get up because we had to go the bathroom (remember I said the bathroom was 4 blocks away). We put on our rain suits, hiked to the bathrooms, took down the soaking wet tent and hit the road; it was 6:00 am. We traveled in the rain for about an hour until we were past Erie, Pennsylvania. The rain quit so we stopped at a restaurant, took our gear off, laid some things out to dry in the parking lot and went in for breakfast. I got to drink real coffee...mmmmmmm...yummy! Tuesday was spent traveling through Pennsylvania and into New York. It was absolutely beautiful. There were so many hills and trees and great curvy roads to follow. It would be amazing to see in the fall when the trees turn. Our destination today was Niagara Falls which was awesome. We viewed the falls from the American side and then went on the Maid of the Mist boat ride to see the falls from below. The power and beauty of the falls escapes words. As we stood in the spray gawking at the falls my husband said, "Well this ruins every other waterfall from now on." We decided to hit the road and were in the parking lot when some other bikers came over to talk to us. The other guy noticed that there was a bolt in the front tire of our bike. The tire wasn't flat, but we knew we had to get it fixed. We turned on our handy GPS, told it to take us to the nearest Honda dealer and were on our way. The dealer was about 40 miles away, we arrived safely and after $234 and about an hour we were off to Canada. We crossed the toll bridge at Grand Island for the third time and crossed over the US/Canada border at Niagara Falls. My husband's first thought once we crossed the Canadian border when he saw the speed limit signs that said 100 was to pull back the throttle. I explained that the 100 was KMH and he had to use the small numbers on his speedometer and go only about 60 mph. There were lots of vineyards and tree nurseries as we came into Canada. We followed Lake Ontario for awhile and found a place to camp at Bronte Provincial Park for $32 a night. Ouch! We ended our 355 mile day by sharing a can of Spaghettios and a couple of Miller Lites.
We wandered around Canada on Wednesday. We traveled 332 miles to Chutes Provincial Park in Massey, Ontario. On our journey we had to drive through Toronto which has a population of over 2 million people and there were 16 lanes of traffic. It was crazy but we did very well. As we traveled north through Canada the roads looked like canyons that were blasted through rock. There were huge rock walls on each side of us. The scenery on the drive was wonderful with the rock walls, hills and trees. We didn't see any wildlife though which was a bit surprising. Gas was $.98-$1.09 a liter, over $20 to fill the tank (it was about $15 in the US) and we bought two small DQ ice cream cones for $5. We learned about loonies and toonies which are the $1 and $2 Canadian coins. The signage in Canada is all in pictures and if it is in words it is in both English and French. Once we settled at the campground I went to use the restroom and misread the picture clues, my husband came and rescued me from the men's restroom. OOPS! After we set up camp we decided to go to Espanola for pizza and then drive down to the Manitoulin Islands. We visited with the locals, eh, at the gas station and they advised us not to drive to the islands because we would be coming back after 8:00 and the deer were terrible on that road at that time of night. We asked about the road back to the campground and he said that road was notorious for moose! We decided to eat pizza and go back to the tent, no use getting up close and personal with the wildlife. The pizza was good and was worth the extra 40 miles and I learned that poutin was a Canadian appetizer of french fries with gravy and cheese. We met some interesting people from Kingston at the campground and visited with them for quite awhile. We decided to skip the islands as they said there wasn't much to see there and head towards Sault Ste Marie. however, our new friends had taken the ferry from Tobermory to the Islands and said that the waters at Tobermory were absoultely beautiful. We had considered that route and had small regrets that we had chosen to drive along the Georgian Bay rather than take the ferry across Lake Huron.
Thursday we drove through Canada enjoying the trees, rocks and great scenery. We arrived at the border and watched a huge barge come through the Soo Locks while we were waiting on the bridge to pass through customs. We headed for the Mackinaw Bridge area of Michigan and were disappointed that the State parks charged $26 to pitch a tent plus $8 daily park fee so we punched in the address of another campground in our GPS and found a nice privately owned place on the shore of Lake Michigan that was $25 to pitch a tent. (See how our attitude changed about the price of camping, at first $20 was ridiculous, but now $25 sounds like a bargain!) We walked down to the lakeshore and you could see the Mackinaw Bridge a couple miles away across the lakes. We decided to drive down the Lake Michigan side of lower Michigan so we drove over the Mighty Mac which was pretty cool. The 5 mile suspension bridge is an amazing architectural feat. The locals were celebrating the bridge's 50th anniversary on Friday and Saturday. We were driving along the highway when we saw a big black bear crossing the road. We found a road called the Tunnel of Trees which was a narrow winding road (M119) with trees arched overhead. It was gorgeous. We saw some cool homes, one which was about 4 stories high built near the lake shore with the top story at road level. There was a bridge that went from the road to a door on the top story of the house. We came through a marina town called Harbor Springs that had these amazing bronze statues. We stopped at the casino at Petoskey where my $5 was turned into $30. We headed home avoiding bears, deer, moose and turkeys and crossed the Mackinaw Bridge after dark, it was really cool all lit up. Thursday added 339 miles onto our journey.
Friday morning brought grey skies and the potential for some rain so we packed up the tent and all of our stuff into the trailer and went into St. Ignace to buy tickets for the ferry to go to Mackinac Island on Lake Huron. We smartly took our rain coats as shortly after we arrived at the island it started to rain and rained most of the morning. No automobiles are allowed on the island. Everything comes to the island via boats and is moved around the island with horses or bicycles. You can rent bikes, horses or horse drawn carriages or you can walk. We chose to walk. It was fun to watch senior citizens who hadn't been on bikes in 50 years to try and pedal down the street. Since the rain didn't seem to want to let up we ducked into the Horn Bar to get dry and then wandered the shops for awhile. Once the rain quit we walked past the Grand Hotel and were told that we would have to pay $12 per person to walk in front of the hotel or we would have to cross the street. We watched the little guys with their wheelbarrows picking up horse poop out of the streets and walked to the National Park to see the arched rock. We got on the wrong trail back to the Fort and got lost. We probably walked 5 miles before we found our way back to town. The island is so pretty with the beautiful homes and gardens. We enjoyed watching the carriages and the people. We saw the Fed Ex guy with his horse and buggy and then we say a huge wagon full of boxes which turned out to be the UPS delivery guy. He had on his brown uniform and was scanning packages just like they do at home, but all of his load was on a wagon behind two draft horses. We took the ferry back to the mainland and put our rain gear on to head to Whitefish point. It rained for a short while and we decided we were going to stay at a hotel instead of setting up the tent in the rain. Once we made the decision and headed towards the hotel in Paradise, MI the skies cleared and it was a beautiful afternoon. However, a good night's rest on a bed and watching some Canadian TV was pretty nice. Today we only traveled 75 miles.
Saturday my husband found the complimentary coffee and donuts at the hotel and after a dozen donuts or so we headed out to Whitefish Point to see the Shipwreck Museum and Lake Superior. The museum was great, we learned about the Edmund Fitzgerald and many other shipwrecks in the area and about the Lifesaving teams that worked prior to the coast guard. We walked along the lakeshore picking up rocks that were rubbed smooth by the water. The shore was deep, soft sand strewn with rocks. We left the museum and had lunch at the bay in Grand Marais. The bay was gorgeous. The water was different shades of blue and aqua that can't be captured on film. We went to the Grand Sable Dunes at the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. We hiked down to the bottom of the Aux Sable Falls and hiked up one of the dunes. Walking in the deep sand is so difficult that we didn't go any farther. The sand dunes go on for miles along the lakeshore. We were going to follow the road 40 miles to the other end of the National Lakeshore but the staff at the visitor's center told us it was washboard gravel for 20 miles. We decided to call it a trip and set the GPS to take us home. We stopped in Michigan to have a pastie, which is local fare of meat and potatoes baked inside a pie shell folded over like a calzone. We followed Superior's shoreline to Green Bay and found a place to camp at Oconto, Wisconsin, 327 miles today. We met an English gentleman who was touring the US on his Harley and was planning on traveling 15,000 miles "anti-clockwise" around the US. We realized he had been at Whitefish Point when we were there. He was off to Milwaukee to pay homage to Harley Davidson and then to Iowa to the Bridges of Madison County and to Sturgis South Dakota the next week.
After a horrible night's sleep because of barking dogs and trains we got up and headed for home. We had to take a side trip to Green Bay Packer's Lambeau Field so that I could have my picture taken there on my birthday. Training camp was going on so we saw a few of the players and lots of fans wandering around. We had a peaceful and safe ride home. We saw massive potato and tomato fields as well as cranberry bogs on our way back to Iowa. It was a great sunny day so we were a little sunburned by the time we arrived home. We ended up traveling 396 miles on our last leg of the journey. Our ending odometer was 2843 which was ironic because it was my 43rd birthday. What a great trip!!