Lake Superior Circle Tour
The Clean Machine Gang Rides Again
A mostly true story and editorial about motorcycle riding, sightseeing, and maintenance, without Zen.
By Steve Getz
The "Clean Machine" motorcycle gang from Chicago is on the road with our third annual extended Tour. The Lake Michigan Circle Tour was ridden in 2001, the Blue Ridge Parkway in 2002, and for 2003 it was the Lake Superior Circle Tour. Seven days and 2,304 miles of safe riding fun and adventure was had by all. The Clean Machine name was acquired in Thunder Bay, Ontario, near the northernmost part of our journey. More on that comes later.
This is the Tour where the seemingly fortunate job holders, Russ and Steve, will be jealous of the retired, semi-retired, and/or laid off bikers Tony, Dan, and Tom. How could we join the planned next year ride to Alaska with those pesky work schedules messing up our riding plans? The truly unfortunate recently re-employed members, Tom Hamby and Vince Tonnisen, would no doubt be unambiguous in their feelings about not being here for the 2003 ride.
Friday, June 20, 2003. South Barrington, IL to Lodi, WI, 167 miles
Dan Gerrish picked me up at 2:00, the roar of his 2000 Harley Sportster Custom 1200 audible from down the street. All of my emails and voice mails have been completed, with out-of-office messages set. Temptation is to pop a beer to celebrate our long awaited departure; but we resist, and hit the road. Candy takes some farewell pictures as we pull out.
The day is bright and clear, temperature 80, with high pressure centered over Lake Superior, and covering the entire Midwest. Ten miles into the Tour, my 2000 BMW R1100RS turns 10,000 miles. A week before departure, I had adjusted the valves (.152mm intake, .305mm exhaust), topped the oil, installed new spark plugs, cleaned and oiled the K&N air filter, and adjusted tire air pressure. How easy is it to service this engine? Just sit on the floor, sip a Beck's, and the cylinder jugs are right there! A pre-trip check revealed a small oil leak from the left valve cover, and that was easily corrected. Years of experience with shade tree maintenance and repair have taught me to never do maintenance the day before leaving on a trip. System Cases are packed, weighed for balance (23 pounds in left case, 24 in right), and installed. The BMW boxer twin is running sweetly, and is ready to run flawlessly throughout the trip.
We travel northwest on US 12, through Madison, Wisconsin and on to Dan's camper. We stop at the same bar as we did on the 2001 Lake Michigan Circle Tour, and recount how Tom Hamby's R1100R fell over as we returned, in slow motion, (but too fast for us to stop it) its kickstand sinking in the 95 degree blacktop. Dan and I have one Lienenkugel's each, then drive the last 3 miles to his camper. Dinner is a buffet at Lake Wisconsin Country Club. We return to the camper, sit on the deck, build a campfire in the fire box, smoke Dominican cigars, have more beers, and talk about Cummins Diesels with Tom, a neighbor at the campground. Tom is a strong advocate for the benefits of diesel engines. All I know is if diesels are as good as he believes, then they'd be in motorcycles. I once entered a sucker bet where my position was that a Wankel motorcycle had been made by a real motorcycle manufacturer, and know what? I won, I found the bike in the library, and collected. Actually found two, a Suzuki and a Hercules.
Our real trip will begin tomorrow.
Saturday, June 21, 2003. Lodi, WI to Sault Saint Marie, ON, 490 miles
Weather is bright and sunny, high pressure, 80 degrees, clear rural back roads, speeds are as fast as is reasonable and prudent. We pick up Russ Ewert in Green Bay, as he will start and end there, so he could attend a wedding the following weekend. Tom Lesch had driven his 2001 Harley-Davidson Road King from Elmhurst direct to the Soo, as he had no affection for Wisconsin, and might have believed MapQuest, which reported 700 miles and 17 hours for the Lodi to Soo segment. We would also meet Tony Lou at the Soo, as he had just finished a golf outing at Treetops in Gaylord, Michigan. Russ has recently completed the 1,000 mile break in and dealer service on his new 2003 Harley Davidson Heritage Softtail Classic 100th anniversary model, painted in Silver and Black. He had a nice 1998 Heritage Softtail, but rationalized the trade by stating that he won't be around for the 200th anniversary model, so why not? We pound through the fertile and smelly dairy farms of northern Wisconsin and enter the Upper Peninsula of Michigan at Menomonee. The BMW runs best at 3500 rpm and at 65 miles per hour, which is a perfect march for the two lane roads and conditions. Here, the farms of Wisconsin yield to the primordial wilderness of the UP. We stop at a health food restaurant and have a sandwich and salad lunch. On to Michigan Route 35, US 2 and a portion of the Lake Michigan Circle Tour. Route 35 out of Menomonee features great views of Lake Michigan, directly on the water all the way to Escanaba. It is lightly traveled, has many rest areas, and gentle sweeping curves. Near St. Ignace, we merge on to I-75 northbound, and briefly see the towers and spans of the Mackinac Bridge. Big Mac looks like the Golden Gate Bridge, which is beautiful, but is green and beige instead of Golden Gates' orange. As we near Sault Ste Marie, Michigan, road signs indicate we are on the Lake Huron Circle Tour. Further north, our first Lake Superior Circle Tour sign appears. Not bad, three Great Lakes Circle Tour segments in one day. Along with many day tripping Canadians, we gas up with American high test.
As we approach Customs, I become anxious. Living in Detroit in the 70's and 80's, we routinely enjoyed Canada's hospitality, favorable exchange rate, and great beer in frequent visits to Windsor. Visiting was easy, a few questions were asked by Customs about citizenship and destination, and on we would go. When I worked in Downtown Detroit, we would often go to Windsor for lunch. I know the terrorist threat has changed the climate at border crossings, and am prepared with driver's license, passport, birth certificate, special Canada proof of insurance, and vehicle registration. "Destination," asks the agent. I shut down the engine, remove my helmet and gloves, preparing for a thorough grilling and possible inspection. "Around Lake Superior," I answer. "Are you bringing any firearms into Canada?" "No, sir," I answer. Detroiters know to leave their firearms at home when visiting Canada, I think to myself, and not to bring any Cuban cigars back. "You may proceed."
Crossing the St. Mary's River from Michigan to Ontario, I notice the drop in water level from Lake Superior to the river and later Lake Huron. The Soo locks help the lake freighters to drop to the level of Lake Huron without having to run any rapids. The locks are visible from the bridge. I wonder what the rapids might have looked like in pre-lock days. The falling of water into Lake Superior would be a constant phenomenon as we circled the lake. We easily find the Sleep Inn and check in. Tony's and Tom's bikes are in the parking lot.
Insert Russ 1036 here
Tony rides to the store and picks up a case of Labatt's Blue ($37 Canadian, including deposit, GST, PST). We have an excellent Canadian Whitefish dinner at Docks Riverfront Grill, and enjoy the moose statue outside the restaurant, on the edge of the river. Be sure to stop at Docks to enjoy the excellent fish, view, and hospitality. A moose theme also was to emerge in the next few days. We discuss the location of Whitefish Bay, and find it is nearby-
The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down of the big lake they call "Gitche Gumee." Superior, they said, never gives up her dead when the gales of November come early ÔÇô Gordon Lightfoot, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald
Insert my moose here
Sunday, June 22, 2003. Sault Saint Marie, ON to Marathon, ON, 226 miles
Leaving the parking lot of the Sleep Inn, directions to the cigar store firmly in mind, a friendly gent asks our destination. Upon learning our route, he asks that we be sure to stop often and enjoy the many beautiful sights. I thank him and we proceed. We stop and picked up Cuban cigars, which are considered a rare treat for embargoed Americans. It is clear and sunny, high pressure, 80 degrees. We travel Route 17, the Trans Canada Highway. Northern Lake Superior is beautiful, mountainous and rocky. Views of the lake never yield a vast lake stretching to the horizon; the coast is dotted with islands, coves, bays, and peninsulas. Tributary rivers to the lake are numerous, and often cascade down in dramatic waterfalls. We stop at Pancake Bay Provincial Park, and find many empty campsites. This is great; it is mid-June, we have beautiful weather and locale, and hardly anyone is here. There are 350 campsites, right on the lake, and only about 50 are occupied. That's why we are here. We encounter a lone rider on a 4 cylinder Honda, who is exiting the campground. His tankbag is 18 inches high, his passenger seat and rack are piled so high with gear that they top his helmet. Side bags complete the load. He stops to say hello, says he's headed for BC. We marvel at the amount of camping gear, wonder about the safety of such a large load, and begin discussing doing our own camping trip. The hot showers and whirlpool Jacuzzi of the Sleep Inn were awful niceÔÇª