Outward Bound -- Day 2

Date: Saturday July 19, 1997
Route: Gaylord, MI to Houghton, MI


When I woke up this morning and looked out the front of my tent, I thought I'd died and gone to biker heaven. This does not mean that there were leather-bikini-clad babes lounging on custom Harley's waving free beers at me.

The weather was perfect for riding.

The sky was the deep Caribbean sea blue, contrasting the forest green of the surrounding trees. The temperature was in the low 70s; perfect for riding because you'll actually need your leathers to keep away the chill of moving at highway speeds. The only clouds in the sky could be counted on one hand. While walking to the bathrooms for my morning shower, I couldn't keep my eyes off that sky. I also couldn't believe my luck temperature-wise; yesterday in Ann Arbor it had been in the 90s.

I stopped for gas in Mackinaw City, at the last exit before the bridge. I had hoped to get a picture of the bridge as viewed over the dash of my bike, but this scene was ruined by an ugly construction zone on my side of the bridge. As I'm standing there contemplating how my deal with the gods was going sour, a voice said, "You probably already know this, but that is a beautiful bike."

It took me awhile to acknowledge. After all, this is one the three standard test phrases that non-bikers use when approaching a biker and their Harley. Each phrase is carefully selected to gauge the biker's social skills. If the biker grunts at you, you know to leave the biker alone. If the biker responds kindly, you know it is safe to carry on a conversation without the worry that the biker is eyeing your children for their current value on the black market. (By the way, the other two phrases are "What year is it?" and "What does something like that cost?")

In any case, I finally answered. The woman who posed the question was totally thrilled that I was receptive. After a few minutes of conversation the predictable request of "Can I sit on it?" arrived. This was soon followed by: "Is there any parts that are hot and I shouldn't touch?" "How do you get on this thing?" "How do you pick it up when it falls down?" This woman as so totally taken with the bike that I'm convinced that, had a dealership been close by, she would have immediately gone and bought a Harley. In the meantime, I learned that she was on her honeymoon with the gentleman pumping gas into the yachtmobile next to me. When introduced, I waved and he waved back with a "I really wish she were giving me this much attention" look. Poor bastard. Eventually, they dashed off and I was left to fuel my ride alone.

A few comments about crossing the Mackinaw Bridge on a motorcycle.

  1. You can't be afraid of heights. The railings on the bridge are open (i.e., you can see through them). In short, where the pavement ends, the drop to the lake begins.
  2. Avoid the grating. The inside lanes of the suspended spans are metal grating. This stuff insists on steering your bike all over God's creation. I had to (check this out, I had to) pass a couple of trucks and the grating definitely squeezed my adrenals both times.
  3. Cages (i.e., automobiles) must pay $1.50 to cross this miracle of the slide-rule age. Motorcycles only pay $1! Finally, a break from the road commission!

I was ravenous by the time I reached Munising, MI. A roadside billboard for the local A&W had demanded my attention, so, slave to media that I am, I stopped in for a chili-cheese-dog. The oldest manager-type girl running the place must have been a junior in high school. Naturally, they didn't know exactly what to make of the leather-clad ruffian with the shades (in fact, I doubt they know the meaning of the word ruffian). They seated me and then took turns avoiding me. They gave me looks that said "Do I give you a menu, or the contents of the cash register?" As usual, Newton to the rescue! All had seen computers in school and were amazed that the same computing power could be shrunk down to the Newton's size. Having successfully broken the ice, I received my dog, salad, and (yumm) mug of root beer. Having filled the body's fuel tank, I proceeded to look for a place to fill the fuel tank on the bike.

I think it must be on the job application: Help Wanted, Gas Station Attendant--Must love Harleys. I mean heck, all I want is some gas. Let the attendants tell the guy next to me what buttons to push to get the automated pump to put some gas in his tank. Instead, I helped the neighboring pumpmeister interface with a fuel pump, while the attendants gawked at the Cruiser. Sigh.

My next stop (quite a ways away) was the Hilltop Restaurant in L'Anse. No, I wasn't hungry already, but I knew that I would be hungry the next morning and a huge world-famous Hilltop Restaurant cinnamon roll would sure taste good. Mark your maps campers, in L'Anse cinnamon roll heaven can be had for a mere $1.50. Naturally, I bought two.

Eventually, I arrived in my old college town of Houghton, MI. I still can't get over the changes since I've been here. When I went to college here, the only national chains that existed were Burger King, McDonalds, and K-Mart. Now there's a Taco Bell, KFC, Wal Mart, Econo-Foods, Holiday-Inn, new gas stations, Hunan Garden, etc. The place has turned into a real city. Funny thing though, when I stopped at the Wal Mart for ear plugs (the bike is louder with those new slip-on mufflers) an an extension cord. The older folks walk around like zombies in this place. It reminds me of Robin Williams in "Moscow on the Hudson" when his Russian character first encounters the coffee aisle in an American super market. So many choices when no choices were available before. I've got to wonder how they really feel about all this progress.

I was able to get a spot in McClains State Park. I can throw a stone and hit Lake Superior. (Luckily, the lake can't throw it back.) My neighbors were happy to see a biker. They're from West Branch and the Michigan Roundevouz (big biker rally) is held right in their neighborhood. Newton broke the ice again, as they started a conversation with me wondering what I was plugging into the electrical outlet on my spot. By the time I explained that this was a battery charger for the Newton, they had to see the Newton. Next thing you know, were exchanging life stories. These were middle-aged folks, two couples in early retirement. No sooner had they discovered that I wasn't a homicidal maniac than they were showing me pictures of unmarried daughters and one unmarried grand-daughter. You must realize that the grand-daughter (20 years old) was absolutely gorgeous and had a body that really wants to be on the center spread of Playboy magazine. Alas, these were new friends and I didn't want to drool on the picture of their beloved grand-daughter.

The girls (not women, more summer-jobbing high school females) at the park office were willing to let me use their fax line to pick up some email and send off a message or two. This should surprise some of my riding buddies, who know I left home a few days ago and assume that I'm out of touch.

The clouds arriving around sunset serve as a reminder that tomorrow is supposed to be cloudy, rainy, and cool. I'm staying in he area for a day to see old haunts from my college days, so I'll be able to sleep in and relax. So far, biker heaven has lasted one whole day.