Mercer WI to Grand Marais MI
Day 2 dawned beautifully, and we began with a sausage and egg breakfast prepared by our hosts. As such, we got a bit later start than originally intended, hopping on the bikes and rolling up the gravel road at around 10:00.
Tom, who had ridden in the area a few times, led to one of Wisconsin’s official ‘Rustic Roads’, Hwy H (#100) http://www.dot.wisconsin.gov/travel/scenic/docs/rustic-nw.pdf
, which proved to be a most excellent way to start the day: miles of twists and turns through the forest and amongst the lakes of northern Wisconsin.
Soon, we crossed the border into Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Our plan was to make it up to Copper Harbor, at the tip of a peninsula jutting out into Lake Superior. Not only does Copper Harbor offer interesting sites to see, but the road heading in and out came highly recommended.
By early afternoon we’d made it as far as Houghton, so we stopped for lunch at a Pizza Hut. My mouth was faster than my photo-finger.
At this point we pulled out the map and GPS and re-evaluated. It would still be another hour or so to Copper Harbor and another hour to get back to, roughly, where we were. Not to mention the time we’d spend checking out the sites. Our concern was that, by the end of the day, the farthest east we’d likely get was Marquette. This would leave us with a lot of ground to make up if we wanted to get around the lake in our allotted time. So we made the call to leave Copper Harbor for another trip and press on east from Houghton.
We stopped for a break and dinner in Munising, visiting the same restaurant I’d stopped at on my Lake Michigan trip. In penance for my unhealthy meals so far, I decided to be good and ordered a chef’s salad. What came can only be described as a serving bowl filled with lettuce and, apparently, whatever they could find in the kitchen. So much for a healthy meal.
The motorcycle gods were obviously speaking to me, and I gave up on the idea of eating healthy for the remainder of the trip.
After dinner, we were left with a decision – call the day early and find a camping spot in the Munising area, or press on to get some more miles under our belt. We chose the latter, thinking that we’d ride the less exciting half of Michigan’s Highway 58 to Pictured Rocks State Park and pitch our tents in one of their many campgrounds.
We arrived at Pictured Rocks around 7:00 p.m. and I led down the first campground road we encountered. This turned out to be 3 miles of gravel, down some pretty steep switchbacks. I was pretty white-knuckled by the time we arrived at the campground…only to find it full. Dang. Back up the same switchback route, another 3 miles.
The next campground road we came to seemed identical to the last, so we passed it by. At this point, I was getting concerned about riding these forest roads in the twilight, so we decided to press on to Grand Marais, where I was pretty confident we could find a nearby campground with better access. This had us riding the best part of twisting, winding Highway 58 near the end of the day, when the deer would likely be most active and we had been riding all day. Not my first choice for safe riding, but sometimes that’s just how things roll.
We arrived in Grand Marais alive and unharmed. We parked the bikes and I walked to a nearby gas station to get the skinny on local camping. The harbor at Grand Marais.
Luck was with us, and we learned of a large campground located just a few blocks away. It was pretty full, but we located an unoccupied tent-camping site. We had just enough fading light to set up our tents. On advantage to heading north in the summertime – more daylight. Not shown: Tom’s tent…we’re not THAT close.
The night that followed was possibly the worst I’ve ever slept while camping. First, it was the teenage girls at the next site yakking until 12:30 a.m. Then, at 1:34 a.m., some ass-hat on a loud ATV rolled into the campground and started yelling to his buddies. From then on, I woke up just about every hour until I gave up and crawled out of bed at 5:30. Ugh.
Grand Marais MI to Marathon ON
Tom was soon up too, having a night similar to mine. We took the opportunity of a still-quiet campground to walk around and visit the lakeshore.Sunrise over the Grand Marais lighthouse.
I made some coffee and we both had a granola bar for initial sustenance. Then we packed up camp and got on the road by 8:00. The intent for the day was miles; we wanted to be up near the northeastern corner of the lake by the end of the day. Plus, we had a border crossing along the way, with no idea how long that would take us.
We veered south from Grand Marais, away from the lake as there are no good roads – at least, not for sport-touring bikes – east of the village. This led us to sedate Highway 28 all the way to Sault Ste. Marie.
It was early Saturday morning. We were trying to put in some big miles. The road was wide, straight and flat. These were our excuses when we met a member of Michigan’s State Police.Super trooper.
After checking our licenses to make sure we weren’t wanted fugitives and giving us a stern lecture on our speed (72 in a 55), the trooper softened and started asking about our bikes. Turns out he’s a fellow rider (3 bikes) and we stood on the side of the road for 15 minutes or so just chatting. In the end, he gave a recommendation on a restaurant in Sault Ste. Marie for breakfast and suggested we visit the Soo Locks. After learning I was a fellow ‘boy in blue’, he even gave me his personal cell phone number in case we had any problems before crossing the border.
It was probably good we got our speed in check early in the trip, with a ‘friendly’. Without it, we may have been traveling at similar speeds in Ontario, and very well may have come into personal contact with one of the many Ontario Provincial Police units we saw. Word was, they were less forgiving.
We rode off – at a more civilized pace – and rolled into SSM a short time later. Taking the trooper’s dining recommendation; we stopped at the Maple Creek Restaurant for brunch.Healthy eating be damned…I’m on vacation!
Then we rode a few miles into downtown SSM and parked the bikes near what turned out to be a nice park situated alongside the Soo Locks. These locks serve as the sole access from Lake Superior out to the Atlantic Ocean (via Lake Huron and eventually the St. Lawrence Seaway).
The Locks provide a nice multi-level viewing area where you can get a good overview of the facility and, if your timing is right, watch the Locks in action. Ours was.
From the viewing platform we could also get a good view of our next destination – the International Bridge leading into Canada.You are now leaving Sault St. Marie, MI. Welcome to Sault Ste. Marie, ON.
As can be seen from the photo, traffic was backed up on the bridge. So we ambled around the Locks park area a bit. Once back at the bikes we prepped for the border crossing by making sure our passports were readily available.
The line was certainly shorter by the time we reached the bridge, but we still ended up sitting in the hot sun on the bridge for 10-15 minutes. The border crossing went smoothly and, once across, we pulled over into a shady parking lot to hydrate, check our directions and cool off.
Then it was off, heading north out of SSM ON on Highway 17. This road not only hugs the Lake Superior shoreline all the way to Thunder Bay, but is also part of the Trans-Canada Highway that runs all the way from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
Our first stop was at a big tourist store in Agawa. Water in, water out, as they say, but we also wandered around the various stores offering everything from pottery to rocks to local delicacies. There were a lot of bikes parked in the lot, but the one that caught my attention was a fully kitted-out Honda Africa Twin. Not a model that’s often seen in the U.S.
Walking back to my bike, I overheard the rider saying he was from Buenos Aires, Argentina, and was on his way to Alaska.Adiós y buen caballo, mi amigo.
By the time we got to Wawa ON we were ready for another break. Plus, our poor night’s rest was catching up with us. We pulled over at a tourist stop, sat at a picnic table, and both of us took a short nap. We may have looked like a couple of vagabonds, but the snooze helped a lot and we both felt better getting back on the road.
Wawa is also where I discovered my only major problem on the trip. Before departing I’d called my cell phone company (Verizon) to inquire about cell service in Canada. They put me on an international calling plan -- $15 for 1000 minutes of calling and unlimited texting. Well, Wawa is where I discovered it wasn’t working. And it was kind of hard to call customer service without a working cell phone. Tom, who hadn’t bothered with international calling, had a useless phone as well. For the rest of my time in Canada, my only contact home was with email when I could get wi-fi.
[Upon my return, I called Verizon to find out what happened. Apparently the person that set me up was new, because she never entered my phone’s sim card number into the system, nor did she send me the International Calling Instructions that I was supposed to get. They took the $15 off my bill, but I was still a bit miffed they wouldn’t do anything else to make up for my inconvenience.]
There’s not a lot in-between town in this area, so when we reached the wide-spot-in-the-road known as White River, we stopped for dinner. Sitting in the restaurant, a woman approached us to ask about the bikes. She introduced herself as Marg Lang and she was on her way back to Calgary from the big BMW MOA rally in Minnesota. Turns out she’s something of a mini-celebrity in BMW circles, known as ‘BMW Marg’. She was currently on her F650, which she would be trading out at home for her sidecar rig that she would take to a hack event in British Columbia. After that, she planned to ride down to Arizona to pick up a new BMW. Back home, I looked her up and found a short mention of our meeting on her blog: http://bmwmarg.blogspot.com/2014/08/visit-with-family.html
. I could tell it would have been fun to hang out with BMW Marg longer, but we had more miles to put on.
Eventually we made it to Marathon ON. The next town of any size was another hour or so away, so we decided we’d bed down in Marathon for the night. We found the Penn Lake Campground located in a nice park just outside of town and set up camp.See, two tents.Marathon ON’s Penn Lake.
Looking at the map, I noticed that Marathon was almost directly north from Grand Marais. Little did I realize, that morning standing on the beach at Grand Marais, I was staring across the water to our evening’s destination.