Going with Your Gut (literally)

It was the day that I was due to leave on this summer’s foray towards the west coast and I had yet to choose a route. I ended up letting my stomach decide for me.

I was already a day behind. I had planned to leave on Friday after work, but that plan was killed by my head; not reasoning but rather a nasty sinus headache that kept me in bed half the day. Now my last work obligations would stretch until past 5pm and I was going to feel fragile all day anyway. Thus the Saturday departure.

Agonizing over route decisions hinged on a simple choice, go around the south side of Lake Michigan and through Chicago or through northern Michigan, across the Mackinac Bridge, and cross the upper peninsula (UP) to pick up US2 and let that take me, well hell, all the way to I5 in Washington if I wanted it to.

The gut-based decision stemmed from my college days back at Michigan Tech in Houghton, MI, which is in the upper peninsula. I suddenly had the memory of breakfasts at the Suomi Bakery in downtown Houghton. Starting any day with pannukakku does not suck, and my sudden desire to taste said pfannekuchen again suddenly made the difficult choice a ridiculously easy one.

The northern route it was.

Yes, this would take me far north of the most direct route, and even further north in the UP than I needed to go, but (to paraphrase Pascal) the gut has its reasons, of which reason is unknown.

The Ride North

Having decided on the northern route. I took the liberty to reserve a camp site at McLain State Park for the night. Now I was committed.

The weather forecast was spotty; lots of scattered thunderstorms on and/or crossing my route. It looked like I could weave my way through them with a careful route selection, but I was getting a late start after sleeping in and needed to make a little time if I didn’t want to set up camp in the dark. So I75 became the route of choice.

On advantage to a Saturday departure is that all the weekend warriors headed north for the weekend left on Friday. Consequently, I had no traffic jams and the Nightowl’s inline six made it easy to weave my way around/through/between congestion when it formed. (God, I love this engine.)

I got gas in Indian River, MI and continued north over the Mackinac Bridge, taking a moment to indulge one of my quirky joys. You see, to make the Mackinac Bridge more aerodynamic, and not suffer the fate of the collapsed Tacoma Narrows bridge in Washington, the center two of the four lanes of roadway are thick steel grate. I get a kick out of riding on the grate on a motorcycle and looking straight down next to the Bike. At anything over 20mph (32 kph) and you don’t really see the grate, you see right through it to the bridge girders and the water far below. <shrug> It’s not something for those that don’t like heights, but I like it anyway.

Once in the UP, the rain continued, more of a mist or fog than actual rain. The downside is that the damp conditions mixed with the reduction in temperature into the 60sF (15sC) was chilling me down, especially when wearing perf gloves and only a short-sleeve t-shirt inside my jacket.

I eventually stopped in Munising, MI to add a layer and change gloves. I thought about the heated gear, but that seemed like overkill.

Score One for Karma

Between Munising and Marquette I had my one seriously humerous encounter of the day. It actually started back in Munising when I was about to get stopped by the only stoplight in town. As I was slowly advancing to the light in an effort to not have to put a foot down (admit it, you all do it), I left sufficient gap in front of me that a woman in a minivan decided that she could fit there. Yes, she waved, but it was a wave that asked for forgiveness rather than permission. It was only slightly obnoxious and didn’t force me to lower a boot to the ground, so I forgot it quickly.

Leaving Munising to the west is a long grade with a passing lane. I used this as an opportunity to clear the few cars that were ahead of me as I left down, in hopes that I would have a clear road ahead of my for the scenic stretch along Lake Superior. As is typical of human nature, nearly everybody sped up a bit in the passing lane. <roll-eyes> The minivan woman, however, gunned it as I approached. It was as if her very life depended on keeping that damn biker behind her.

She lost.

Now with a good four or five cars between me and minivan woman, I enjoyed my trip towards Marquette. The misty conditions and the slightly brighter blue of Lake Superior gave it a properly moody vibe. It made me glad that I wasn’t out boating on the lake that day.

About 30 miles later, I was approaching a pickup and glanced in my rear view mirror as a part of the preparation to pass;  there was minivan woman. She wasn’t tailgating, but she clearly wanted around me. I got the impression that she wanted to pass me before I closed the gap on the pickup such that she wouldn’t fit there anymore. Otherwise she’d have a more difficult pass to clear both me and the pickup. Consequently, she made a dangerous pass that sent the oncoming traffic to the shoulder and had me applying healthy handfuls of brake.

Enough of this shit.

At the next safe passing opportunity, and I mean safe for the thrust-to-weight ratio of a 160hp motorcycle, not a minivan, I passed both minivan woman and the pickup. I put a about a half-mile between me and the pickup, reset my cruise, and went back to enjoying the sights.

During a subsequent check of the rear view, I noticed that minivan woman had finally cleared the pickup. I didn’t think that she’d catch me before my next turn north on US41, so I didn’t give it much thought, until I noticed an oncoming black car pull off to the shoulder and shut down. Dodge chassis with wide tires and one of those slim roof light racks identified the black vehicle as a law enforcement officer. Since I was only going about 10mph over the limit, I elected to not paint a big guilty sign on the bike and slam on the brakes. I just rode by and he didn’t give me a second thought.

Minivan woman wasn’t so lucky.

She had been cruising at 70mph in a 55mph zone when she wasn’t stuck behind someone and Mr. Officer decided to put that to an end right now.

Ah, blessed schadenfreude at its best.

Camp, Deer, and Food

I made McLains State Park before sunset, albeit only by about 20 minutes. The DNR guy at the gate greeted me with “You’re making me totally jealous”. I thought that he wished he was out riding a motorcycle. He went on to explain that he has an older K1200LT and has been “seriously jonesing” for a K1600 like the Nightowl. I let him know that I was rather satisfied with the bike (so far), so his jealousy is probably justified. He reminded me to watch for deer on my trip back to town and we parted ways. I was able to set up camp pretty quickly and grab a few shots before heading back into town before dinner.

My site for the evening at McLain State Park
My site for the evening at McLain State Park
Gloomy Lake Superior from McLain State Park
Gloomy Lake Superior from McLain State Park

As if it felt obligated to make the DNR Guy’s words ring true, I missed a deer by about 10ft (3m) on my ride back to town. Yeesh.

The Library Bar isn’t anything like what it was back when I went to college in this town, but it’s still good food and has a view of the portage and the lift bridge over it.

My cute brunette waitress and fellow Tech student Kelsey (sorry Papaboop, I didn’t get a photo of her), served me up some Gorgenzola Steak Alfredo over Penne, a cup of Smoked Gouda soup, and two steaming mugs of hot chocolate. All of this did a good job of warming up a chilled body.

As I was finishing dinner, I saw three riders, helmets in hand, crossing the parking lot towards (I presume) their bikes. They stopped for at least two minutes to inspect the Nightowl. With my picture-window view of the scene, I was sorely tempted to bang on the window and invite them in if they had questions. Hell, maybe they would have bought me a drink.

Instead, I paid my bill, and proceeded back to camp. Being after 11pm already, it was already pretty quiet, so I went straight to bed, but not until after checking for a possible destination for tomorrow. It’s looking like either Grand Forks or Devil’s Lake, ND.

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