In my life, I have been blessed with many things. While it might not be the most important of those things, sharing the experience of riding motorcycles with my father and younger brother certainly ranks up there on the list.
Since 2004, we have taken several one, two, three, or four day trips together each year.
We don't generally seek out specific sights to see or historical landmarks to explore when we go on a motorcycle trip. If we happen upon one, or end up at a special spot for the night, that's a bonus. You see, for us it's all about the ride and being on the road together. The ride itself becomes the destination. Bonding as men and family and bikers becomes the attraction. Beautiful scenery and landmarks or sights to see of historical significance are just icing on the cake.
The following is a chronicle of one of those rides with my father and brother, a ride just for the sake of the ride (with some great roads and sites that we happened onto along the way).
The game plan was to travel from home (Rockford, Michigan) up to Traverse City, Michigan, one of our favorite spots. We planned to spend two nights there and do some riding around the area. We'd been through Traverse City several times and had ridden the nearby roads on the Leelanau Peninsula and the Mission Point Peninsula, but had never explored the areas to the east. So, naturally, we planned to ride the areas to the east in the three days we had planned for the trip.
We left on a Friday. This particular friday morning was unusually cool for the month of June, but that didn't bother me too much as I packed my gear onto my '03 Harley-Davidson FXD Super Glide. The old beast had been my faithful, rumbling companion for over a year and a half and I was quickly closing in on the 12,000 miles mark.
Our meeting point was a gas station at the corner of 10 Mile Road and US 131 West of Rockford. As I rolled up, I saw my dad, Bruce, standing next to his gleaming blue Harley-Davidson 2002 Electra Glide. It was good to see that Dad had actually washed his bike for the trip.
My brother, Jason, was also already at the gas station. Jason and Dad's bikes are identical Harley-Davidson Peace Officer Special Electra Glide Classics. Jason is a cop for the City of Grand Rapids and bought his first Harley which he sold to dad a couple of years ago after he bought his current one.
As we fueled the motorcycles up, we discussed the first leg of the trip which consisted of making a bee line for breakfast. We jumped on US 131 heading north and after a short round of jockeying with the light morning traffic, we exited and headed west on State Road M 46 heading for Muskegon. As always seems to happen, we found ourselves behind a convoy of County road maintenance trucks out for an apparent joy ride, spewing diesel fumes in our faces. We made quick work of passing them and motored on into the outskirts of Muskegon where we stopped and had a hearty breakfast at the good old stand-by Bob Evan's.
Stomachs full and anxious to get rolling, we set off through the town of Muskegon toward the State Park on the north side of Muskegon Lake. We followed Lakeshore Drive north through the woods, skirted around the south end of Whitehall Lake and into the town of Whitehall.
County road B 115 zig zags through a lot of uninteresting farm land on its way to some more inviting roads that wind through Stony Lake, Silver Lake and the famous sand dunes of the State Park there, and then on into Pentwater. The actual town of Pentwater is rather quaint and as you pass through there is a marina and then the requisite cutsie shops and restaurants.
As we arrived in Pentwater, we found that the one gas station on the main drag is small and only has "port-a-potty" facilities. It seems strange in this day and age that the sole gas station in a touristy town would have such primitive facilities. We decided to press on taking the scenic Bass Lake Road around, you guessed it, Bass Lake. The narrow road twists and turns tightly amongst the cottages and vacation homes nestled amongst the trees. I felt kind of bad disturbing the peaceful setting as we rumbled our motorcycles through, but it was a fun road to ride.
As the woods spit you out on the north side of Bass Lake, you find yourself looking at a massive power plant facility south of Luddington. The road seems to teeter in mid air as you pass between a towering mound of earth on the right and the wild blue waters of Lake Michigan on the left.
The exact mileage to the next probable gas stop was somewhat in question so I suggested that we stop at a station in Luddington where we topped off and took a few minutes to stretch and talk about the ride so far.
Soon it was time to saddle up and head out on the least favorite leg of the journey for all of us, following US 31 for the 30 odd miles into and through Manistee. Leading the pack I took the brunt of the flying loose gravel kicked up by the various RV drivers we encountered. The one thought that kept running through my mind was that whoever came up with the idea to lay down a thin layer of asphalt and then dump pea gravel over the top of it should be strung up by their privates and beaten severely. Obviously, no thought was given to the poor saps on motorcycles that have to travel over these roads.
We soon found ourselves on State Road M 22. State Road M 22 is by far one of our favorite roads to ride and we were glad to come upon it at last. The road winds its way up and down forested hills and through valleys dotted with farms as it passes through a handful of small towns. Cresting some of the hills you are afforded a brief but magnificent glimpse of Lake Michigan shimmering in the distance. Another striking sight is Crystal Lake just north of the town of Frankfort. Just inland of Lake Michigan, the aqua colored water always seems to be angry and churned up even on the calmest of days. We missed our usual photo stop near the marina in Frankfort this trip so we made a quick stop near Empire to stretch the old legs.
Continuing north on 22 leads you through Glen Arbor and over the stunning but short causeway over Glen Lake. With sand dunes as tall as mountains on one side and rolling tree covered hills on the other, it is one of the prettiest areas in lower Michigan. Glen Arbor serves as the gateway to the Sleeping Bear Dunes as well as the Leelanau Peninsula. We opted to skip the dunes and continue on 22 enjoying the increasingly challenging roads winding their way through the hilly landscape.
Jason and I had come this way six months ago on a color tour and we had a great time pushing our big bikes and our skills to the limit. This time, we restrained ourselves a bit taking in the scenery at a slightly more relaxed pace.
North of Leland the road turns into a playground for motorcycles, and we couldn't hold back any longer. We raced through the curves doing our best to remove some chrome from our floorboards. The road takes a right turn at Northport and we finally all caught up with each other in quaint little Suttons Bay.
Later that afternoon we arrived in Traverse City, Michigan. We quickly checked into our motel and started to discuss dinner options. It was a short discussion. It was a short discussion because absolutly no trip to Traverse City would be complete without a dinner at Boones Long Lake Inn. Widely renowned for their Prime Rib, Boones is always a favorite. After stuffing ourselves with melt-in-your-mouth prime rib, we lazily rode back to our motel and decided we'd ridden enough for the day.
I had a pretty good route planned out for the day and we were anxious to get rolling. After a good nights sleep anda hearty breakfast at another Bob Evan's, we set out heading north on US 31. There were several options for us to choose from today: do we just ride? do we ride up to St. Ignace and check out the annual classic car show? Or, do we check out Wilderness State Park? Since I had studied the map at great length, the guys pretty much told me to lead the way and see where we end up.
North of Traverse City, we came to Elk Rapids where we turned right on county road 593 taking us around Elk Lake and then around the south end of Torch Lake. The county roads that I had hoped to follow were poorly marked and I soon realized that I was making educated guesses as far as where to turn.
We rode through some sleepy little towns and through the rolling countryside up to Bellaire. North of Bellaire, the hilly terrain turns almost mountainous as we wound our way up one side of a hill and then down the other side. Some of the road surfaces were less than ideal which necessitated greater care than normal on our big bikes.
Soon though, we found ourselves in East Jordan, home of the East Jordan Iron Works whose label you will see stamped in sewer grates or manhole covers worldwide. After a short break, we were off again toward Boyne City taking, oddly enough, the Boyne City - East Jordan Road. I had mapped out a road that looked like it might be a good route, but it turned out to be dirt, not the best choice for two dressers and a hot rod Harley. We continued on into Boyne City and made another brief stop at a park on the south end of Lake Charlevoix. I was really enjoying the fact that we were taking our time today and stopping frequently.
We followed Boyne City Road around the west side of Lake Charlevoix enjoying the bright sunshine and empty roads. In the Town of Charlevoix, it was time for another break, and this time a cup of coffee.
As we sat by the marina, looking out at Lake Charlevoix ("The Beautiful" in French or something) and nursing some good strong coffee, we started waxing philosophical. I've noticed that riding motorcycles for long periods of time sure can make the mind wander.
The road was calling to us again and soon we found ourselves motoring north along US 31 again toward Petoskey. Lake Michigan would be in our view for the rest of the afternoon glinting at us in the sun.
Petoskey is a great town with a lot of vacation activities nearby no matter what the season. The downside to this town is that its popularity, and the fact that two major highways, US 31 and US 131 intersect there make it a busy and congested area. We wound our way through the busy streets and turned left onto State Road M 119 just north of town. As we rolled up on the upscale little burg of Harbor Springs, I noticed that the skies had clouded up considerably and it seemed like it could rain any second. We made a quick stop to pull on our jackets and continued on our way.
Just up the way from Harbor springs, we saw a road sign that motorcyclists love to see, it read: "Narrow Winding Road Next 20 Miles." Grinning from ear to ear, we wound our way along single file not letting the occasional light drizzle spoil our fun. Nicknamed the "tunnel of trees" this section of M119 is just wide enough for two cars to pass and twists and turns its way along the shoreline of Lake Michigan. There are plenty of elevation changes and hairpin curves that will test your riding skill.
We were not the only bikers enjoying this unique road either. We passed a group of riders on cruisers who fell in behind us and then we were passed by a bunch of riders on sportier type bikes.
We made a brief pit stop near Cross Village and noted that this was definitely a popular destination for motorcyclists.
Continuing north, we enjoyed more twisty roads and entered the south end of Wilderness State Park. From there, getting to the other end of the park requires zig zagging inland through some very desolate areas with miles of flat straight roads that seem to have been forgotten by county road crews.
Arriving in Mackinaw City, we were all running on fumes and made a quick stop at the first gas station we came to. At that point it was getting late in the afternoon and we felt that going over the bridge into St Ignace would have us running short on time, so we decided to walk around the touristy little town to stretch and have some ice cream.
Our dinner plans for the evening involved meeting my mother in law and her husband down the road, back in Petoskey, so we set out heading south on US 31. Leaving the parking lot, I felt something wasn't right with my bike but I figured it was just the uneven road surface. Once we got up to speed, I knew something wasn't right and a glance down at my rear tire confirmed it. My brand new Avon tire was flat. We pulled in to the parking lot of a motel and assessed the situation. Where was I going to find someone to fix a motorcycle tire at 4:45 on a Saturday afternoon in Mackinaw City? Long story short, Northwoods Harley Davidson in Gaylord, Michigan sent a truck with a trailer to pick me up.
After an hour of waiting, we were back on the road, this time with me riding in a Ford pickup, headed south on I75 for Gaylord. Our dinner plans obviously had to be scrapped so Dad and Jason went on ahead to meet us at the dealership. The hope was that the mechanic would wait for us and get my motorcycle back on the road so we could make it back to Traverse City. But, being a Saturday night, by the time we arrived, he had left. And who could blame him really? He promised that he would come in early the next morning and have the bike ready when they opened at 11.
We had no choice but to get a motel room down the road and wait it out. Thankfully, the nearest motel was next door to a great restaurant, the Big Buck Brewery, and we had a great meal. Premium cuts of beef two nights in a row, this was living! All things considered, we had a great day of riding and covered a lot of miles and saw some great scenery that we hadn't seen before. We went to bed satisfied.
The next morning we picked up my bike and got ready to head back to Traverse City to collect our things. I was pretty sore about the fact that my new tire had been ruined by a small nail and had to be replaced completely. It took me a while to cool off, but I was thankful that we were able to get it fixed so easily, albeit not inexpensively.
Since Gaylord, Michigan had not been in our original plans, we had to rethink our route for the day. We set out heading west on M 32 and wound our way back to East Jordan. The road was quite enjoyable as it curved and carved its way back into hill country.
After stopping for a brief caffeine break in East Jordan, we kept our westerly direction taking county road C 48. I noticed that the skies had darkened considerably. I made a mental note to send nasty emails to the weather forecasters who had called for sunny weather all weekend long.
Passing through the little town of Ellsworth, we paused to don our jackets again which was a wise choice because soon the clouds delivered what they were advertising.
Turning south, we found ourselves once again on US 31 riding in and out of light rain showers. By the time we got back to Traverse City it looked like the sun was going to win out and we made quick work of collecting our stuff from our original motel room.
After fueling up our thirsty Harley's one last time, we continued our way south on 31 as the busy strip malls and definitely not quaint part of Traverse City, Michigan shrunk in our rear view mirrors. It was early afternoon by then and we decided that for all intents and purposes, the trip was over. We were all anxious to get home to our respective families, so we had a quick bite to eat under the old golden arches of McDonalds and pressed on toward what now seemed eminent, more rain.
Sure enough, as we made the left turn onto M 113, the gray skies let go of what they were holding on to. It actually started outharmlessly enough, just a light shower. As we proceeded though, the intensity picked up and soon it was a regular downpour.
We turned south on US 131 for our final leg of the journey and continued on in the rain as the two lane highway turned into interstate about 20 miles north of Cadillac. Normally this is an enjoyable stretch of road as it is fairly new and rolls and winds its way through some lovely countryside. Today though, all concentration was on riding safely through the rain.
I had just gotten my mind used to the fact that we would be navigating the wet stuff for the remaining 90 or so miles when it suddenly stopped, and just as if it hadn't rained at all, we found ourselves on clear, dry pavement. We picked up our speed and had an uneventful ride the rest of the way.
Overall, this had been a great trip. We explored some new roads, had some great meals, and saw some new scenery in an area we love to ride.
There is just something about taking a trip on a motorcycle and being on the open road that caters to our natural desire to seek out adventure and find freedom. Discovering new roads, enjoying some of our old favorites, and experiencing the countless little things that happen along the way are all part of that adventure. When you can share them with other people, they develop meaning. And when those you share them with are family, the meaning is even more significant. That blessing is something not everyone has. It is a blessing I'll never take for granted.