There’s Magic in a Trip Like This

My son and I completed a circle all the way around Gitche Gumee on a 4-day motorcycle ride. The following little narration was written by me for my son and meant only for him, at that time. Others have now seen it and some have liked it. We have gone back to the Big Lake this past summer, also in August, and rode into a few of the southern shore peninsulas, also on motorcycles, only this time I had me a brand new Suzuki vStrom 650. Very nice bike. We had wanted to spend some time in Calumet, Michigan, as we vacation on an Island in the St. Lawrence River also called Calumet. This first little prose/poem below is actually an edited quote from a Hemingway-written poster about fighter aircraft: which explains why I said, “Thanks Ernie” –

Lake Superior 2011, August 2nd
You love a lot of things if you live around them
But there isn’t any woman nor any horse and none before and none after that is as great as a good motorcycle: and man is faithful to them
Even though he may leave them for others.
Man has one virginity to lose in motorcycles and if it is a
Lovely Bike he loses it to, there is where his
Heart will forever be… (thanks Ernest)


Do this trip: Go all the way around the biggest lake in the world. Take a buddy, Or take yourself. Ride your motorbike. What a marvelous part of North America, and there is almost no one there. How about that, no one there. The road at the top of Lake Superior is part of the Trans Canada Highway. Route 17. Two lanes in perfect condition. Meet some trucks coming and going, but not too many. Just you. Now lock that throttle at 72 mph, fold your arms and lean it around some great sweeping turns.

There are a few choices, too. Road choices. Some interesting detours and history to look at. But straight around will take you 3 nights and 4 days of riding with about 1,350 miles on the clock. If you take some side trips, see some stuff, then it is a wee bit over 1,500 miles. Worth it.

It is a good trip. We are going back.

Okay now, our trip. My son and I. (And this is the personal stuff, somewhat gushy: you can skip to the DETAILS at the end, at the bottom.)

I’m the geezer, 76, and my son is the Younger (same name), 44. He rides a 2009 650 vStrom which I thought a sissy riceburner. Me? I am up on a pretty well worn-in 800-pound Gold Wing 1981 model at 1100 cc’s. Size and weight as a good bike should be. Great cruising bike. I mean you can sit there at 72 mph and drink your 7 UP, fuss with the camera, talk on the blue-tooth thingy and just let the Big Lake roll on past your left side.
Left side. As in unwinding the Lake. Next time we will go clockwise and wind it up. All bike riders know that you see new stuff going the other way.

We started at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. You have to cross this great 2-mile – well they SAY 2-mile-bridge, but it may be half that. We had been told to watch out for that road bed on the bridge as it is that skinny steel grate plating that throws you one way and back: wiggle your way across. One rider said that in 12,000 miles of riding, that bridge was the very worst part of the whole deal. Wrong. It is a paved, concrete floor to that bridge so have at it. Noooo problemo. That rider was actually referring to the Mackinaw Bridge, where the middle two lanes are that metal grate. But the Soo bridge is not. Ride it. The bridge is way high. Cool looking down on part of a city.

You ride over the Soo Locks at the beginning of the St. Marys River. And down to the Canadian Customs and Immigration gate. Their new deal is a computer random selection process they say, not sure, anyway we went right through. Keep to the right in town, pass the Wendy’s, keep it to the left and at the end of the business section on the right is the Bush Plane Museum. Hard to miss as there is this big twin engine airplane on a stick out front. You have to stop and check this out. Watch the movie. It’s only about 12 minutes long and pretty good. The museum is full of old Bush Planes and you can go aboard them. And check out what your reporter here (that’s me) flew back in his youth. Long time ago.

We had planned our first stop to be on the north side of town. The north side of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. Feeling good, feeling great, we just motored on. A guy in a pickup at a light warned us about the OPP (Ontario Provincial Police). Damn little tolerance and their radar guns can read bikes. Oh well.

So, we kept on going and soon got to what was to have been our next day lunch stop. Wawa is the name, really, of the first town northward on Route 17. And there is where you begin to get the first taste of rural Canada. And this is a good thing. Our motel had one room left. And we got it. There were Harleys all over that parking lot and some weathered Biker folks too. A couple of the old Harley bikes had trailers attached. And some of the boyz were sitting outside smoking and joking. Friendly.

It was fog city when we got up: wet and thick. I wanted to see the dock where an old 1927 tug had left me some 20 years ago. Now, that is a long story best left for another time. But we had to see it, see that old dock. The road down to the Wawa River quickly turned to gravel and then wet dirt. Okay, and the Wing did better, I think, than the vStrom. Great old wooden bridge in the middle there. Good spot for a digital shot with a waterfall, a silver waterfall.

The old dock and the little store that had been there were gone and replaced by a poster board and warning signs about not falling in the water and don’t litter. Back to the highway. You notice neat stacks of firewood along side some of the houses.

Winnie the Pooh. What? Well, that’s next up Highway 17. White River, Ontario, is the home of Winnie. And there is a statue of that bear, a concrete bear in a concrete tree, in the city park. Take a couple of shots. A poster glassed-in tells the story of A.A. Milne, who wrote that marvelous story, and how the real bear, named Winnie, got around during World War 1. Good stop if only for the photo. It was a bit of a disappointment as I expected more out of ole Winnie. A bigger statue perhaps, I don’t know. But go and take the picture anyway. Makes a good story.

Our weather had turned beautiful. Bright and August clear. Locked our right grips at 72 and motored on.
There are several side roads down to the Lake and we took a couple. Next time we will do more of them. But the Lake surprises as great sweeping turns of the highway take you curving on down to a deserted shore, a deserted beach, with the immensity of the Lake right there. It gives a silent moment.

Night two was in Nipigon, Ontario. A nice place. Careful now: our motel did not have air conditioning. It was hot. And the room, of course, had been closed all day. So if August is your time and the weather is hot check around for a motel with air. We sent post cards from here and read some of the history. And sat on a park bench next to the railroad that runs right through town. This was, and partly still is, a mining area. There is a Lake Nipigon north some 30 miles which is now on our next trip list.

Fair truck stop breakfast out on route 17 at Nipigon, with pleasant and friendly staff. Filled the bikes with liters, obeying that biker rural route rule: never pass a gas station without filling up. Good rule.
Off around the corner of the Lake to Thunder Bay, Ontario, heading south now. A major shipping port: copper and taconite (taconite is dried little balls of iron ore) and some wheat. They also import salt there. Salt? Yes for the roads, hello, this is the NORTH country. Thunder Bay shows Wal-Mart decay. The downtown is old and what merchants are there are on the rundown cheap side. Many vacant stores.

Canada has these great highway coffee shops called Tim Hortons. Marvelous. Check them out.
We motored on down the west side of the Lake. Large storm cloud off to our right “noooo problem.” “There’s Hail!” “What hail?” I said into the blue tooth to the son behind me as plenty of hail was ricocheting off the Wing’s headlight. No bridge, no barn, no place to hide. Well, we had seen that storm off to the west there and as we passed the last bridge, way behind us now, I said not to worry we’re way ahead of it. The lesson is not to predict things like that. We stopped on the side of the two lane and quick enough the storm passed and off we went.

We crossed the border about halfway down the western edge of the Lake. One customs and immigration booth for entering the states. A check of our passports and Duluth, U.S.A., next.

Our domestic side, home in Jersey, was pressed into service by cell phone and she got us a reservation at a very nice hotel with a reasonable rate in Duluth. The Younger got his own room and we both luxuriated in the really good showers. This was after about 5 minutes in the hotel’s hot tub. We couldn’t stay there as the under 10 little urchins were charging around yelling and carrying on and the sweet little voices of theirs were caroming off the tile walls and floor to a decibel level that could’ve set off dynamite. Fleeting thoughts of appropriate punishments charged through my brain, but, alas, discarded.

Last lap. The road from Duluth will motor you through parts of 3 states: Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan, and all share some of the Big Lake’s shore. The road is almost all the way due east. Near the end, near to Sault Ste. Marie, there is 35-mile stretch that is rifle shot straight. And I do mean straight. It disappears to the eye.

We had put 1,351 miles on the meter in 4 days and 3 nights. There is magic in a trip like this. You motor on on good bikes enjoying the sound and speed. And you have your son with you. You can’t make it any better.

Some details:

Your cell phone will work pretty much all the way around. There are some blank spots at the top of the lake but not too many.

There are enough gas stations selling by the liter around, too, and we didn’t find this a problem at all. Most of the filling stations are part of some sort of store where you can get a Coke or even a sandwich. Everyone we encountered accepted MasterCard. Caution dictates that you fill up all the time.

If August is your time to go, then phoning ahead to motels is a good idea. The two we stayed at were each sold out the nights we were there, but we lucked out and got the last room at each. Next time for sure we will call ahead.

Skip Rawson, Rocky Hill, New Jersey
John Rawson III, Rocky Hill, New Jersey