Mar 12, 2009

Lake Superior Saddlesore 1000 Ride

The following is my own ride report on a ride I took in April, 1999. IBA Saddlesore 1000 attempt around Gitche Gumi.

Total miles on the odometer (just for the circle around the lake itself, not including ride to and from start)
1626 km. (1010 mi.)
time 20 hours, 45 min.
low temp below freezing
high temp 12C (54F or so)
sleep 30 minutes. (near Duluth, MN)

I saw dozens upon dozens of deer, some on the road, some running right in front of me! I hit none. No performance awards, no tip-overs or accidents whatsoever.

Total riding miles were well over 3000 kilometers as I had to ride over 6 hours just to get to the starting point of Sault St. Marie Michigan.

Left London Saturday morning at 10PM, got witness forms signed by Michigan State Patrol in S S Marie at 4:30. End witness form signed at 1:45 on Sunday afternoon. Also, got another 30 minutes sleep on the way back home Sunday afternoon under the bright sun on a comfortable cement picnic table.

Some interesting information on Lake Superior can be seen on the Lake Superior Magazine Web Site.

Information on the Iron Butt Association can be obtained on their web site.

Ride Report for Lake Superior Saddlesore 1000 April 24, 1999.

I left London city limits at approximately 10AM Saturday morning. Weather was sunny but cold. Had on the full Gerbing electric suit set at a low setting. The summer construction season was in full swing in south western Ontario, and the 402 from London to Sarnia was down to one lane in each direction. Consequently, it was fairly slow going.

I successfully crossed the border without incident into Port Huron.

The ride up through Michigan on I-75 was pure interstate: long, straight, and boring. As I rode north, I was anticipating riding over the Mackinac Bridge. After reading of Ron Ayres' passage over the bridge in his book on the 1997 Iron Butt Rally, and others' talk of it locally, I developed a healthy interest and respect for the bridge before even seeing it for myself. I was expecting a long and high bridge.

But the main point of interest about the bridge is the metal grating center lanes, separated by a slight raised section in the grating which separates opposing lanes of traffic. The openness of the bridge's location spanning the border of Lakes Huron and Michigan allows wicked winds to rip across it, blowing those exposed along it's unprotected surface toward either the guardrail or the center section of questionable traction.

My passage over it for the first time was totally uneventful. I rode on the center grated section all the way across. I noted how the weaving of the bike on it's widely spaced and rusty metal grates made the bike feel like it is skimming on the water itself! And looking down, way down to the water only amplified the effect.

For those of you who enjoy the sight of looking down below your motorcycle to the churning waters below, it is also available at the Prescott, ON/Ogdensburg, NY border crossing southwest of Montreal. I took this bridge while returning from NESTOC in June of 1998.

While on the Mackinac, I removed one of my Gerbing gloves and allowed it to dangle free by the electrical connection. This is an unexpected benefit of electric gloves: you no longer have to search for a secure place to stow a glove while underway, just let the thing go. I removed my camera from the spot I had stored it just prior to entering the bridge, and proceeded to snap a few pictures. I figured the camera would focus on the metal grating but was pleasantly surprised when the water below showed up perfectly in the developed pictures.

When riding down off the bridge, I wondered what all the hoopla was about. More interstate brought me to my intended destination, Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. I stowed my headset AM/FM radio, no such pleasures on the trip to come, this was serious business. Went into the Burger King and ordered a Chicken sandwich combo, jeez I like those things.

I asked the attendant who served me, a very fresh-faced and inexperienced looking youth, where the nearest police station was. He proceeded to give me a series of convoluted directions to the police station, then said "oops I think that's the back door and you can't park there." WHATEVER.

I continued eating and made a few calls on the cell at the same time. On the video screen, I learned that snow had forced the investigators in Littleton inside after the previous Tuesday's shooting. Horrible scene it was out there in Colorado. I got on the bike not looking forward to heading into the downtown core and the inevitable traffic which accompanies it. Who says downtowns are dying???

My sharp rallyist's eye then spotted the Michigan State Police station just a few hundred feet from the Burger King! I shook my head at the thought of buddy in the restaurant telling me to go downtown to the nearest police. This was perfect, about a hundred yards from the Interstate onramp and located right next to an Amoco, Mobil and Shell stations. For one on a Saddlesore, it doesn't get much better than that!

Inside, I was greeted by Sergeant Hopper and rattle off my standard spiel when groveling for a witness signature. I carry printed copies of one of the pages from the Iron Butt website and always hand one to my witness to keep. I wrote my name on it and told him to search the web site. It just so happens they had web access right in the station.

Thinking back, giving a MSP officer access to the rally schedule and a list of names was not such a good idea. In fact, he may actually read these words one day if this gets posted to the IBA web site! But he was a really nice guy so I guess it's OK! Besides, I am comforted by the emphasis the IBA places on safety, And this shows on their web site.

He followed me out to the waiting ST. I showed him my license plate (it's on the form) and my odometer reading (it's on the form also) and he readily signed and shook my hand in a good luck gesture. From my preparations, I told him to expect me back at about 2PM Sunday. Present time was 4:30 PM.

I headed to the gas station and of course forget to ask for a printed receipt. I realized this after I was rolling down the road to the interstate and stopped at the next gas station which was right on the way and topped up with a big .10 in gas for the receipt. It had been much too long since I've collected receipts, I told myself to quickly get back into the habit. After verifying location, date and time, I wrote my mileage on the back and stowed it in the tankbag.

I saddled up and headed south on I-75 the short distance to Rt. 28. This road would be my friend for a long run as I headed west for the start of my clockwise circle of Superior. I had never seen Lake Superior before, and I got my first glimpse of this magnificent lake at Munising. I felt the temps drop noticeably as I approached town and the water. The view of the open waters of the lake however, was blocked by the presence of Grand Island.

A short while later, I saw the open water with a faint hint of land on the other side. I sat there, awed by the sight of it. There it was, Gitche Gumi. Strains of Gordon Lightfoot's Wreck Of the Edmund Fitzgerald rose to the vocal cords. This song followed me around the lake, echoing in my mind at particularly breathtaking overlooks. It was noticeably colder and I dialed in a bit more juice on my Gerbing heated suit.

Sundown near the lake.

I left the water behind at Marquette and the air warmed again despite the setting sun. I soon encountered every motorcylist's nighttime waking nightmare: The Deer. It wasn't long before I began noticing them everywhere. Maintaining a speed of 80kph (50mph) was all I dared, for they were in the woods, in the ditches, on the shoulders and indeed right on the road.

At one point after I crossed into Wisconsin, there were two on the shoulder on my side as I approached. I let off the throttle and slowed quickly. One decided he didn't like it there and bolted. Of course he ran not to easy refuge adjacent to him but right across the road in my path. I was still 150 ft away or so and in no danger. But his friend stayed a while until he too decided this was no place to be and joined his partner on the wrong side of the road.

I was much closer to them but also slower and a single finger on the brake handle slowed me to a crawl. He passed within 20 feet in front of me. This would turn out to be my closest encounter with deer. My 100W driving lights and the ST's snarling decelerating engine were usually enough to scare them into running away.

Nothing stopping those trucks, however. They blasted by at well over the limit, safe in their cage and the knowledge of what that big slab of a bumper would do to any animal unlucky enough to cross their path. Made me wish I had brought my CB with me. Alas, my forthcoming audio work was awaiting the arrival of my new Nolan N100.

I pulled into Duluth, MN feeling very awake and alert and 12 Midnight local time. I tried the Amoco and not one pump seemed to work, I went inside and inquired whether they were pre-pay. Nope. Just my bad luck. She said they should work but I couldn't get them to. It was Saturday night and the pedestrian traffic into this store slowed my progress as I waited in line to talk to the attendant.

After a fruitless third try at a pump, I gave up and headed down the street. Way too much time lost there. I got to the next station just before he closed and got that all-important Duluth receipt. Yup, there it was in black and white. I took the opportunity to make another call and ingest some of my trusted travel nutrients. As I was ready to mount my steed, I noticed the receipt on the ground underneath. Oh my god, I left it on top of the tank bag when I went in to use the bathroom. If it had been a windy day, I would have been in search of another gas station. Whew, almost pulled an Ayres there. Ron Ayres, author of the book "Against The Wind," wrote in that book of losing important paperwork during the Iron Butt Rally.

I safely stowed it and resumed my quest for more of Superior. This leg was interesting. To my left, the lights of various towns and resorts were visible. To my right the inky blackness of the lake. It was there that I obtained my only sleep during the Saddlesore, 30 minutes of slumber at Tettegouche State Park/Baptism River Rest Area. Remembering waking up to chattering teeth on some previous cold weather rides, I had brought along a 7Ah gel cell battery with a Gerbing two-prong plug attached. I dug this out of my tank bag and plugged in my suit. I set it on about 1/3 and laid down on the ground for a snooze. I woke up very warm and rested, feeling invigorated.

Hours later as I approached the Canadian border, I worked on my next border-guard story. This one would be more tricky, how many motorcycles cross through into Canada on the northern shores of Superior on a Sunday morning in early April? I was probably his first this year. Weeks earlier, I was told by a toll operator that I was the first motorcycle over Cobiquid Pass in the interior of Nova Scotia.

My story ended up something like: "Just finishing up some touring of the great lakes region and I am on my way back to London." This worked like a charm and I was wished well on my return.

I pulled into an Esso in Thunder Bay as the dawn approached. I gassed up and headed in to pay and pick up a snack. The gas attendant, surprised to see a motorcycle out at this early hour, asked me if I was cold. A question I get asked quite often. I lapsed into the old "nope, I'm packin' heat" explanation. I avoid this terminology while talking to my police witnesses for obvious reasons.

He asked me where I was going and I explained it to him while looking over the candy bar rack. As I placed a Crispy Crunch on the counter, he said that the bar was on him, because he just couldn't believe anyone would do what I was doing! Well thank you very much! I asked him how far it was to Sault Ste. Marie. His response of 12 hours was WAAAAY off the mark. NEVER ask a kid at a restaurant or gas bar for directions or any sort of critical information.

I knew from my constant map consultations that SSM was only about 8 hours away. At 12 hours, I would be over the 24 hour mark. I thanked him again for the bar, left and stowed the receipt. Mounted up again, I moved on.

The next 8 hours were filled with some of the most incredible scenery I had ever laid eyes upon. The region on the northern shores of Superior is mountainous and utterly beautiful. The roads are pure motorcycling ecstasy. Twisty, turny, rising, falling, you get the picture. Very entertaining.

Somewhere north of Superior.

I stopped in Marathon, a fitting stop I figured, and gassed up. And again, realized I had forgotten to ask for a receipt when about 3 kilometers down the road. I contemplated turning around and risking wasting all that time only to discover they couldn't print me a receipt, so I again stopped at the next station a few kilometers hence. I topped up my tank and got a receipt. I made a log entry about the whole ugly incident and carried on. The fine scenery soon made me forget about that and my mood was quite positive.

I pulled into Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario at about 1PM and followed a convoluted path of signs to the bridge to the US. My next border story: Just visiting a friend is SSM and heading home to London. The border guard asked me if I was making any stops in the US on the way, and I uttered an outright lie and said NO. What would he say if I told him I was going to the Michigan State Police Station in SSM, MI? Probably something like "please pull over into the inspection station" no doubt. No thanks, I think I'll pass.

I gassed up and headed to the aforementioned police station. Time was 1:30, a half hour ahead of schedule! Witness form signed and pictures taken, we shook hands and I was again on my way. I grabbed more grub this time at Wendy's (man, this exit had it all!) and got back on the road south.

At that point, I found out why motorcyclists are stressed about a crossing of the Mackinac Bridge. The wind was blowing from the west at a very brisk pace, forcing a steady lean angle just to stay pointed directly ahead. I rode in the high traction paved lane on the outside, continually envisioning the scene should I stray onto the grated center lanes. The thought of me and my mount scraping our way across the surface of the bridge, metal clawing away at plastic panels and cordura nylon was not pleasant. The occasional gust upset my path , sending my heart into my throat as I inched towards the grates and certain doom. Crazily, I snapped a few pictures with the camera just for good measure, which don't turn out anyway. I came off that bridge in one piece, wiser, and with a healthier respect for the structure.

North of Saginaw, I obtained another 30 minutes of needed sleep on a comfortable cement picnic table at a busy rest stop. The picnic table and my parking spot were away from the main body of traffic, ideal for a stay in the Iron Butt Motel.

It continually amazed me how many billboards were visible on the side of Interstate 75. Approaching Saginaw, I knew the location of every Honda dealer, antique dealer, and motel in the city. I think they fit the entire Yellow Pages onto all the signs on the side of the road. South of Saginaw, I saw a chilling advertisement on a billboard. Mere days after Denver shooting, reading "Guns, Guns Guns" on a billboard made the hair stand up on the back of my neck, and it wasn't caused by the warming air. Then I saw this HUGE gun the same length as the tractor trailer it sat on the side of the road.

My last border story of the day: Just returning from seeing a friend in SSM, Ontario, and I was once again in Canada. It was evening and I was looking forward to bed.

I pulled in at around 10PM and fell into bed. It would be an early bell in the morning: 5:30AM.

My wrist and my (Iron) butt were a bit sore at the end. It had been a while since packing on that kind of serious miles all at once. Butt it sure felt good to be back in the saddle!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for taking the time to write up this report. I'm going to be doing my first SS in a few weeks and I've enjoyed reading story that I've been able to find on the web. This is the second time I've read yours and it was just as delightful as the first time.