North to the Threshold of the Upper Peninsula
It was raining as Barley and I exited the hotel. Seven shiny Harleys were clustered under the covered parkway, their owners smoking cigarettes and staring at the clouds as if willing them to part. As they saw me loading up the rig, they pushed their bikes together to make a space for us under the shelter.
“Bring your rig up here, Brother,” one called out to me. “If you’re determined to ride in the rain you ought to at least start out dry.’
The sidecar rolled easily as I pushed it to the entrance and thanked them. Barley made friends while I retrieved the rest of our gear and lashed it all down securely. They noticed my Vermont plates and asked me where we were headed, looking surprised at my reply, “Minnesota.” They were all from a town about eighty miles to the west, and anticipated the return home would take all day. Noticing my puzzled look, one explained, “We stop for the smallest tank or the weakest bladder, whichever happens first.”
We all laughed, but it was clear we found each other’s riding style strange.
With a wave to our new friends, Barley and I headed north, the rain stopping as we crossed into Michigan. Southern Michigan looks a lot like northern Ohio: flat, carefully cultivated, dotted with farms. By mid-morning it was warm enough that I needed to take off my rain gear. I hadn’t eaten yet, and my tummy was rumbling. We followed a minivan into a small town, the woman driver showing an amazing ability to drive in a straight line while applying mascara and eye liner.
Barley has a keen nose, able to find a McDonald’s long before it’s visible. I could tell by his behavior that the scent of hash browns was on the breeze. Sure enough, a few minutes later I could see the golden arches ahead on the right. I signaled and pulled into the driveway just ahead of mascara woman, who had overshot and was backing up. She was behind us in the drive-thru, still applying makeup. I got my breakfast and an extra hash browns for Barley, then pulled into a parking spot next to a grassy area so Barley could stretch his legs while I shed the rain liner.
Mascara Woman pulled in next to us. The rear of the minivan was occupied by her four small sons, each utterly devoted to his meal. I found her fascinating. Never before had I met a woman who could carry on a conversation while simultaneously eating breakfast and applying makeup. She was truly a talented young woman!
We loaded up, mounted, and continued north. For a while we followed an old blue Harley that was making good time except at stops, where the rider seemed to have some trouble finding first gear. Pulling close for a better look, I noticed he had a suicide clutch, truly an impressive antique iron horse! Barley and I covered a lot of ground that day, but it was flat farmland for the most part with not much to talk about. Around noon we threaded the rural gap between Grand Rapids to the west and Lansing to the east, caught Highway 37 and rode north through Manistee National Forest. It was a pretty ride, but most notable for the hundreds of road kill, mostly woodchucks and young raccoons. Late in the afternoon we pulled into the Kesselwood campground near Cadillac, set up our tent, cooked some dinner and turned in for the night. As campgrounds go, Kesselwood was a good choice: clean, well laid-out, and quiet.
I’d chosen the Kesselwood Campground because it was located at the intersection of Highways 37 and the very scenic 55, a forested road that would take us to the shore of Lake Michigan at Manistee. It was a good starting point for an early morning ride, with the sun at our backs. Barley soon smelled water – and I noticed the expanse of blue on the GPS screen – miles away from the lake. But as we topped a rise where I expected our first look at the lake I saw not water, but an oil derrick. Just one. Solo.
We entered the town of Manistee a few minutes later, stopping at a dead end next to the lakeshore. Barley did his happy dance and made a beeline for the water the moment I raised the sidecar lid. Lake Michigan’s shoreline was as beautiful as the other Great Lakes, crystal clear water lapping a shore of soft, sun-warmed sand. I let Barley explore until a strolling couple drew near, then called him to me and returned to the rig. The couple followed us. They had a golden of their own and needed a dog fix!
North again, following the shore we rode through Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore up to Lake Leelanau, then east to Suttons Bay and back south to Traverse City. We rounded the south end of Grand Traverse Bay then angled north again with the magnificent lake always to our left. We stopped for lunch in the delightful town of Petosky, chatted with a friendly Triumph rider who looked – and sounded – just like Cheech Marin of Cheech and Chong fame, then continued north on 119 through the famous Tunnel of Trees.
The trouble with famous scenic routes is that once they achieve fame, they become clogged. The scenery was very nice, with some stretches nearly as pretty as the roads back home in Vermont, but the heavy traffic and distracted drivers took a lot of joy out of riding this one lane road.
Our next stop was Mackinaw City, situated on the south side of the strait where Lakes Michigan and Huron met. It was, literally, a crowded parking lot lined with souvenir shops and national chain stores. I grabbed a bite to eat, sat on a park bench to share it with Barley, then suited up and got ready to press on. It was then that a pair of teenaged girls, accompanied by a young boy, approached and politely asked if they could pet my dog. Watching the little boy hugging Barley, it was clear he wanted a dog of his own.
Mackinac Bridge, commonly called the Mighty Mac, a magnificent suspension bridge spanning the five miles between lower and upper Michigan, is one heck of a ride! I stood up on the pegs mid-span to glimpse a freighter passing two hundred feet below. Barley curled up on his bed, completely unimpressed by the crossing. He roused himself briefly at the toll booth, hoping for a treat, then sank back morosely when none was offered. A few miles west on US 2 we pulled over for the night.