Lake Superior Circle Tour
Superior, Wisconsin, to Houghton, Michigan
Woke up to a chilly, gloomy, but exciting day. This Motorcycle Touring Forum’s Lake Superior Circle Tour and the thought of riding into Canada on two wheels has totally, completely captured my imagination. Not sure why that is, but I’m not about to analyze it!
There were about 35 people on the tour, and we broke into small groups so each group could ride their own ride. My new French-Canadian friend, Raymond, and I paired up, and it didn’t take long to figure out that we’re like-minded in riding styles and habits. Always the gentleman, he patiently endured many picture-taking stops.
Here is my first real view of Lake Superior, close up and away from civilization. The day was gray, but the lake was magnificent.
Our first scheduled stop was the quaint little south-shore town of Cornucopia.
It was fun wandering through Ehlers Store, opened in 1915. You can’t believe how much merchandise was crammed in here — everything from organic produce to dry goods to farm-machinery hardware. Nuthin’ like walking on a creeky wooden floor under a tin ceiling to transport you to another time and place.
Back on the road to Bayfield, claimed to be the “greenest community in Wisconsin” and the place “where the water meets the soul.” I can’t vouche for all that, but will say it sure is beautiful!
Our group met Lori Schneider, sister of Bill, our group leader, for brunch at The Egg Toss at 10:30. Lori is a teacher, world traveler, and inspirational speaker. Oh, by the way, she also happens to be the first person in the world with Multiple Sclerosis to reach the summit of Mount Everest and conquer the “Seven Summits”! It was truly an honor to meet this remarkable woman.
Bill and Lori making the rounds at The Egg Toss.
After brunch we rode over to Apostle Islands National Lakeshore headquarters, located in the old Bayfield County Courthouse. Some of us stamped our passports and watched an excellent park video. Discovered that John and Sue, a couple from Houston, and I share many interests.
You’ll see in the next photo that John and I even became honorary rangers!
The Apostle Islands Archipelago consists of a network of 22 islands that were formed by glaciers. Wind and water created sea caves, sandstone cliffs, ledges, sandscapes and beaches over thousands of years. Next time I’ll be sure to take a ferry ride out to the islands to see this unique wilderness from the lakeside point of view.
The following picture shows an old lighthouse lamp on display at the Lakeshore Headquarters. Beautiful design, isn’t it? The glass in this particular Fresnel lens is shaped to redirect vertical light rays into a horizontal plane so the light can be seen up to 12 miles away. It’s estimated to weigh five to six hundred pounds.
Raymond took the next picture soon after we left Bayfield. We had joined John and Sue for the rest of the day’s ride. (Sue rides her own Goldwing!) Encouraging to see a little sunshine.
I enjoyed crossing into Michigan, where I’ve never been. I’ll enjoy filling in that big blank on my Visited States map even more!
Late in the afternoon we left the main highway to ride up to Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, located on the water’s edge. This area contains the largest tract of old-growth hardwood forests west of the Adirondacks. We made a quick Clark-Griswold stop at the park headquarters, but it was long enough for me to appreciate what I was seeing. What an amazing contrast between pristine old-growth-forest habitats with soft, broadleaf undergrowth and new-growth-forest habitats with thick, tangled undergrowth.
There isn’t much civilization up here, and the area has black bears, deer, wolves, and moose. As the sun sank lower and lower, each of us became increasingly nervous, thinking about wildlife coming out onto the highway. You can imagine how relieved we were to safely reach the hotel just as it was getting dark. Whew!
Add up new friends, two wheels, stunning scenery, and it equals a great day! That’s what I’m talkin’ about!
Peace on the Road!
Houghton, Michigan, to Newberry, Michigan
This morning we woke up to blue skies and a full agenda. Perfect day to enjoy da Yoop. (The term “da Yoop” is slang for the U.P. or the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.)
Raymond and I left early and rode tree-lined roads north to Copper Harbor and Eagle Harbor. I had some pre-conceived ideas about what I hoped the Lake Superior shore would be like, and this morning captured it all: little traffic, quaint buildings, extraordinary scenery, and a whole lotta blue and green.
By the way, I keep making the mistake of wanting to talk about the seashore, but up here it’s called the lakeshore. While the lakeshore does look somewhat like the seashore, it thankfully does not have the seashore’s pungent salty smell!
These two photos were taken in the Copper Harbor area. See what I mean about the scenery?
From Copper Harbor it was up Brockway Mountain Scenic Drive to a spectacular overlook 726 feet above Lake Superior. Our drive up was winding, sometimes steep, with many cliffs and dropoffs — and definitely scenic.
The next picture shows Raymond at the overlook with the camera pointed towards Lake Superior.
Turned around 180 degrees and took the next picture facing inland.
The first video clip in my Lake Superior video (embedded at the end of this journal) shows Raymond and I coming back down the mountain to Eagle Harbor , which is shown in the next picture.
The Eagle Harbor Light Station sits at the entrance to the harbor and still guides ships safely past the rocky lakeshore. The original lighthouse was built in 1851, but was replaced by this red brick lighthouse in 1871.
By the way, a lighthouse is the tower supporting the room where the light operates. A light station is made up of the lighthouse tower and adjacent buildings, such as living quarters, storage buildings, etc.
The time for picture-taking stops adds up quickly, and we suddenly realized we had to high-tail it down the road. Took some time to stop at Da Yoopers Tourist Trap, one of the seven wonders of Yooperland. It’s the most elaborate tourist trap I’ve ever seen and had an endless supply of cheesy souveniers and crazy stuff everywhere.
Here is a lawn mower from the Yooperland Grass Company, which went out of business after selling only two machines. Believe that?
Next stop was Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, located within the Hiawatha National Forest. I can’t decide which was more spectacular, the drive to get there or the lakeshore itself. Pictured Rocks was the first national lakeshore designated by Congress and was created in 1966.
The Pictured Rocks are sandstone cliffs rising as much as 200 feet directly up from Lake Superior. Mineral seepage creates the “pictures” in the cliffs. Iron turns red and orange, copper turns green and blue, manganese turns black, and lime turns white. Next time I want to see it by boat.
The following two pictures were taken from an overlook along the lakeshore. You can see how clear the water is in Lake Superior — the cleanest, coldest, and deepest of all the Great Lakes.
After a long day of riding and sightseeing, we were greeted at the hotel by Raymond’s friend, Michel, who is a paramedic from Quebec. Michel was supposed to join us in Houghton yesterday, but heavy rain in Sault Ste. Marie grounded him for a day. Turns out that during breakfast, a man had a heart attack right in front of him, and Michel saved his life! All in a day’s work.
Raymond let me hitch a ride on his Goldwing for the ride to dinner at Timber Charlie’s Food and Spirit. Nice! Now, that’s the way to carry a passenger. Another fantastic day!
Peace on the Road!
Newberry, Michigan, to Wawa, Ontario
Woke up at the crack of dawn, which comes early in the north, and loaded Lizzie before anyone else ventured out to the parking lot. This would be my first time to visit Canada, and I was especially excited to be doing it on two wheels. John and Sue joined us today, and it would also be John’s first time to cross the line.
Michel led us on a lovely ride up to Whitefish Point, also known as the Graveyard of Ships. Hundreds of ships, including the Edmund Fitzgerald, have gone down here — more than in any other part of Lake Superior. In fact, the Whitefish Point Light Tower marks the end of an 80-mile stretch of shoreline known as Shipwreck Coast.
Here are John, Raymond, Michel, and me at a rest stop along the bay. With a policeman, engineer, paramedic, and nurse practitioner taking the picture, I was among our finest! Yeah, well. . . if there had been a typing emergency, I would’ve so saved the day!
This picture of the Whitefish Point Light Tower and beach was taken by Raymond. It’s the oldest active light on Lake Superior and has been in continuous use since 1861.
Here I am at the point, where I just had to walk out and stand in a few inches of water. With the water temperature being only 40 degrees, you should’ve seen everyone yelling and scrambling to stop me before they knew my boots are totally waterproof!
One of my favorite memories of the whole Circle Tour was watching a bare-footed young boy on a too-big bicycle “race” us as we were leaving Whitefish Point. His smiling face radiated pure joy as he struggled to keep pace, pumping the pedals with all his might! You know, I loved exploring the history and majesty of Lake Superior, but that’s one of the moments I’ll remember best!
We turned onto Whitefish Bay Scenic Byway, which runs through Hiawatha National Forest, to Point Iroquois Light Station. For over 100 years this light station guided ships through the channel between Point Iroquois and Canada. It was deactivated in 1962, and the light station is now a museum and gift shop. You can explore the beach and grounds on wooden walkways and climb to the top of the light tower.
This next picture shows the Point Iroquois light station and grounds.
Here is the view from the top of the lighthouse. That’s Canada across the channel.
This next picture looks down the steep, narrow staircase. There are 72 steps in all. Glad my feet aren’t big!
Raymond did an excellent job of leading us to Sault Ste. Marie and through a complicated detour to reach the Soo Locks. In fact, we even found parking right in front of the entrance to the locks. Not only that, the three Texans all fit into a space with over two hours left on the meter. That’s a good ride leader!
This is a local character who worked at the Locks for 23 years. He was proud of his town and gave excellent advice about the best restaurant in the area.
After lunch we walked over to the Soo Locks Visitor Center, operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Ships pass through these locks to make the 21-foot drop between Lake Superior and St. Mary’s River, which connects to Lake Huron.
By the way, the Soo Locks are the busiest locks in the world and contain the largest lock in the Western Hemisphere.
We waited around a while to watch a large ship that was scheduled to pass through, but it never showed up. We did get to watch what looked like a small fishing boat go through. A little underwhelming, but interesting to watch the process.
In the next picture you can see that the water level in Lake Superior is much higher than the lock and water is pouring into the lock. Once the lock reaches the same level as Lake Superior, the gates open and the ship passes into the lock. Next, all gates are closed, the lock is lowered to the level of St. Mary’s River, gates are opened, boat continues on its way. The design is amazingly simple.
Raymond and Michel are old hands at crossing the border, and at lunch they took charge of the three excited Texans and patiently explained exactly what to expect. I was wound up and somewhat giddy at the thought of riding into Canada and definitely appreciated their guidance.
By the way, every once in a while Raymond and Michel lapsed into speaking French. You should’ve seen Sue’s and my eyes glaze over at the melodic sound of their words! Truly, French has to be the most exquisite of the romance languages.
Here is a picture taken while waiting in line at the border. By the time it was my turn to speak to the border guards, they had talked to so many other riders from our Circle Tour group that they pretty much just glanced at my documents, asked a few perfunctory questions, and waved me through.
It was nice having Raymond lead, giving the Texans a chance to become accustomed to the kilometers-per-hour speed limits and the way the passing and turning lanes are marked in Canada. To me, the Canadian lane markings seem a little more efficient than how it’s done in the USA.
We drove through mile after mile of old-growth forests with massive pine, maple and birch trees, and it was more magnificent than I’d imagined. The fall season must be spectacular here. The temperature fluctuated a good 15 degrees, depending on whether the highway ran close to or away from the Lake.
This next picture was taken at a roadside park, where we stopped to layer up. I’ll never, ever get tired of that blue and green. That’s what I’m talkin’ about!
Bought some cheesy Canadian souveniers at a gas stop, and I plan to display them proudly. Yay, MasterCard!
As we entered the Township of Wawa, we visited the “largest Canadian goose in Canada,” overlooking the Trans-Canada highway. “Wawa” is an Ojibway Native-American word meaning “wild goose.”
There were so many things to do and see on the tour today, and our group only made about half the suggested stops. In fact, most of the other groups also pulled in late, and I don’t think anyone made it to our 6:00 p.m. supper on time. Another great day!
Peace on the Road!
Wawa, Ontario, to Thunder Bay, Ontario
There’s something about the name of Thunder Bay that makes me want to get out and ride — and what a day for a ride! The cool temperature was just right for staying comfortable in all our protective gear. Totally clear blue sky and lake. Sweet!
There weren’t many stops on today’s ride, so we had plenty of time to reach our destination. It was actually kind of nice to relax and take it all in. With the bright, sunny skies, there was lots of light for the GoPro video cameras, so I pulled them out of the saddlebags to record some of the extraordinary Canadian scenery.
We had quite a few stops and slow-downs because of construction. The next picture shows an all-too-common scene on the Trans-Canada Highway: traffic at a complete standstill for several minutes. You can see John on his silver Goldwing with trailer. Sue’s burgundy Goldwing is to the right of John. That’s Sue walking to her bike and Michel walking to the back. Nice backdrop, huh?
Here are a few pictures for your viewing pleasure. This was pretty much the scenery for hundreds of miles. Thank you, Mother Nature!
One of the highlights for today was our stop at the Aguasabon River Gorge. The Aguasabon River makes a 100-foot drop here, and you can see that it continues on to drain into Lake Superior.
Not long after we left the falls, we saw a black bear along the side of the road. Our group never did see a moose, but some of the others did. The only other wildlife our group saw on this trip was some very large and healthy deer, which are most impressive when you’re used to the small whitetails in the South.
There are plenty of scenic overlooks along the highway, and here are a few pics from one of our stops.
We ran into major highway construction as we came into Thunder Bay; and, once again, Raymond saved the day by leading us away from the gridlock. As we left the main road, the intoxicating scent and sight of freshly blooming lilacs permeated the air. Without a doubt, that was the most pleasant smelling detour I’ve ever taken!
Each evening everyone in the Circle Tour came together at 6:00 p.m. for dinner at a designated restaurant, where we discussed the day’s ride and told stories. It was always a lot of fun and brought the group close together. I’ll mention the dinner on this particular evening for two reasons. Not only did Naxos Grill and Bar have the best food (Mediterranean) of the entire tour, but two very special Motorcycle Touring Forum members, Alan and Tim, met us there.
Before I go any further, I have to say that there are epic rides — and then there are EPIC RIDES! These two guys were in the process of finishing up a ride where they circumnavigated — yes, that’s right — CIRCUMNAVIGATED North America! (In fact, they finished up a few weeks later, having ridden close to 25,000 miles!)
Alan and Tim held court at either end of the table, and I was closest to Tim. While I’ve heard some good storytelling in my lifetime, Tim tells a story like no one else, and I’m confident he could make an excellent living as a stand-up comedian.
We could have listened to them all night, but they were anxious to squeeze out the last bit of daylight and put in some more miles. In fact, they took off before we finished our dinners.
Like Judge Thurman used to say, it’s all your point of view. My version of an epic ride wouldn’t even register as a blip on the screen with Tim and Alan. Still, I do enjoy my “epic” rides just fine!
After dinner I said goodbye to my new friend, Michel, who was going to depart very early in the morning. We’ll miss his calm presence and that French accent.
Each day of the tour is better than the one before!
Peace on the Road!
Thunder Bay, Ontario, to Superior, Wisconsin
Final day. Some of us said our goodbyes at breakfast before splitting into our separate ride groups. During the day several people would eventually peel away from the route and head elsewhere. Most, though, would officially close the circle by returning to the Super 8 in Superior.
I’d managed to dodge being ride leader since the first day, but my laziness finally caught up to me. By unanimous vote, today would be my turn.
Before leaving the Thunder Bay area, we headed west about 20 miles to visit Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park. The Kakabeka Falls, nicknamed Niagra of the North, drop 130 feet over sheer cliffs that contain some of the oldest known fossils in the world.
I’d left my camera in a saddlebag and the lighting was lousy for an iPhone camera, so here is a picture taken off Google Images. Impressive, to say the least!
Raymond and Michel’s first rule about riding in Canada is that you should never, ever speed, because speed limits are strictly enforced and carry high penalties. For example, speeding 30 miles over the limit carries a fine of $10,000 (yes, those zeroes are correct) and six months in jail.
While my speedometer shows kilometers per hour in small, faint numbers, I can’t read them without cheater glasses so had to do the math each time we encountered a speed-limit change. That turned out to be the “hardest” thing about leading our laid-back group.
I was feeling surprisingly sad about leaving Canada, but had to laugh as we pulled up to the border crossing. Just as we were about to reach the point of exit, a flock of about 20 Canadian geese were milling around, as if to say goodbye and send us on our way. For me, that was the perfect ending to a wonderful visit. My short time in Canada was even better than anticipated, and I hope to return one of these days!
By the way, I did not do a monetary exchange, but used my credit card for everything. I let my credit card company know about my plans in advance, and everything went without a hitch.
I felt a strong sense of security when I crossed back into the USA. It was the same way I feel each time I return to Texas, only bigger — if you get what I mean. As an American, I’m so lucky to have the freedom to do the things I do, and I intend to always remember and be grateful for it!
We stopped at the Grand Portage State Park headquarters, which also serves as a state-of-the-art welcome center to the US and Minnesota. From the welcome center, you can easily walk back to the 120-foot waterfalls on the Pidgeon River, which forms the border between Minnesota and Canada. These falls created a major obstacle to river travel, so a “portage” was necessary. Native Americans created the trail from Lake Superior to bypass the falls, and this became known as “The Grand Portage.”
In spite of the fact that the sky was blue, radar showed a huge green glob moving inland from Lake Superior. We unanimously agreed that we’d better get going and skip the scenic walk to the falls. Next time. . . .
When the front hit us down the road, the temperature plummeted and we had to angle our bikes into the ferocious cross-wind. By Lake Superior standards, it probably wasn’t much, and I can’t imagine what it’s like when a real storm blows in!
We stopped at Tettegouche State Park to pull out winter gloves and layer up, and the park rangers advised us to take a detour around a torn-up, muddy section of road. Reluctantly said our goodbyes to Sue and John, who would not be spending the night in Superior. Something tells me I’ll be seeing more of them down the line!
After a long, but scenic detour, made it to Betty’s Pies in Two Harbors as the rain began falling. Soon after, a few more MTFers rolled in. Had a great hamburger with apple pie to go. When we realized we couldn’t will away that green on the radar, we ventured out to the only real rain of the entire trip.
What’s the saying? Pride comes before a fall? As we arrived in Duluth, I was feeling quite pleased with myself for leading us across the border, through a long detour and rain without a hitch. Then a few miles from the hotel, I received a message from the GPS to take an incorrect exit and ended up getting us totally turned around on narrow one-way streets — and in the rain. My Zumo screen looked like a bowl of magenta spaghetti! Aargh! Once again, Raymond figured it out and got us back on course and to the hotel.
Dinner in Superior was bittersweet as we talked about the tour and exchanged e-mail addresses. I was sad to say goodbye to everyone, especially my good friend Raymond, but look forward to meeting them again for another MTF Flower-Sniffin’ Tour!
Now that you’ve read all about my Circle Tour, here is a short video that captures some of the highlights. Hopefully you’ll get a small glimpse of what it’s like to share the comradery and experience of motorcycle riding!
Long live long rides!
Peace on the Road!