Thursday, August 9

Curly Rides

Like the waters yesterday, this is rough...

Wednesday was a great riding day! Perfect weather, azure skies and just enough wind to keep things interesting.

Those bug-eyed gaukers who populated the restaurant Tuesday night had to be tourists and not representative of the residents in Paradise. On Wednesday morn, while mailing some items home, I met the friendliest people in Paradise, many of them in the Post Office and some who happen to be walking along the road as I was fiddling with the straps anchoring my gear. I’ll remember the woman who appeared in her late 80s, barely able to walk with her cane, who said—with an unmistakable twinkle in her eyes, “Now that looks like fun…are you going far?” We chatted for a bit. When we finished our conversation, another woman pulled up in her truck along side the road (it’s so clear that I’m from out of town) and said, “How are you?” She wanted to know where I was headed. She went on to say, “What a great way to have an adventure…you’ll remember this for the rest of your life. Good for you.” She sounded as if she too longed for an adventure of her own. Others wanted to know how was my stay in Paradise. I left Paradise feeling refreshed, welcomed and lighter—I mailed the camping gear home—it’s not happening on this trip; I have no regrets about that. Have none for me.

The roads from Paradise to Whitefish Point require a detour to the Upper and Lower Tahquamenon Falls in the State Park by the same name. This is a gorgeous park of 38,500 acres that stretch over 13 miles of unspoiled woodland. The red water from the falls is the result of tannin from the various trees in the park (e.g., hemlock, spruce and cedar). Wonderful stop, breath-taking scenery and lots of hiking, exploring, and enjoying nature’s beauty.

An hour or so away is Whitefish Point, a place I’ve long to go. It is a beautiful ride. One can travel for a few miles without following another vehicle or having one follow you. I’m accustomed to the road isolation now. Admittedly, there were a couple of times I wondered where was the rest of the world. I can’t help thinking about the crotch-rocket bikers in the big city—they would tear up these roads! The twisties are abundant; the challenges to one’s skills are omnipresent.

At Whitefish Point, (please get out a map and find the area—it is directly north of Paradise. Its tip juts out into Whitefish Bay. Although this is a beautiful, scenic area, it is also the sight of many shipwrecks. There, I visited the Shipwreck Museum, which is tasteful—not tacky- tourist and replete with the amazing history of the ships that have wrecked in this area. The 80-mile stretch of road from Picture Rocks to Whitefish Point is called, “Lake Superior’s Shipwreck Coast.” Reading the history of ships lost was emotional as in the background one could hear among the music played, the voice of Gordon Lightfoot singing is heart-wrenching ballad, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” which I’m listening to on my Ipod as I draft this entry. The lives of these men as well as the lives of the lighthouse keepers and their families were moving tributes to the harsh realities of transporting heavy metal along the lake. Lake Superior is unpredictable, able to change disposition on a dime. The gales of November are particularly brutal and the legend goes that the lake does most of its murderous work then.

One of the most moving experiences at this museum was the video of the retrieval of the Edmund Fitzgerald’s bell. I don’t want to give the impression that the museum is all about the Edmund Fitzgerald because it is not. It is a history of this region’s ship history--the ships lost at and near Whitefish Point. It is also a history of living on this Point. My fascination (probably not the best word) with the E. Fitzgerald is a result of remembering this happening in 1975 as well as the Lightfoot song, which led me to do my own research on the ship and watch every public television show I could on the ship and its crew. Back to the moving experience… In a 15 minute video one witnesses the retrieving of the bell, which brought emotional closure to many of the families whose loved one were never found. Now they have the bell to symbolize this tragic voyage and it is at the museum. Another, duplicate bell was then laid submerged where the ship sank to stand as a permanent headstone for the crew. The video brought together the families of the crew and it’s a good thing the video ended when it did because I think the whole place was ready to cry—at least I was.

I spent a lot of time at the Shipwreck Museum and the grounds surrounding it, which are devoted to living on this land, so near the lake and so far from any life outside of surviving the lake effects. I departed with a deep sense of how the families of the lighthouse keepers lived. Yet, I left Whitefish Point way too early. I missed spending any time at the Whitefish Bird Observatory, which I really wanted to do. Before pulling out, I met a 19 month old little girl—possibly a future motorcycle rider—she and her Dad were checking out the bikes. She patiently watched me prepare to leave, did not flinch when the engine started—in fact, she smiled and gave me an enthusiastic motorcycle wave!

I wanted to get to the Bay Mills Indian Reservation near Brimley.

Any road with the name Curly Lewis has to be great. And the Curly Lewis Memorial Highway did not disappoint. Rather than take M123 south back to M28 and head east to Brimley, I wondered about a little gray line on the map. I asked one of the museum workers about the road, which I’ve heard conflicting information. Some said it was paved, others said it used to be paved and now wasn’t, and the map shows it as paved. This woman told me emphatically that it is not only paved, but if I was planning to go to Brimley, it is THE way to go because it is a wonderful, lightly used route. Oh my goodness! It is all that and a slice of sweet potato pie!

As I said, I’m accustomed to the isolation on the roads. This takes being alone out there up several notches. Curly Lewis is serene, twisty-squiggly, tight in spots and sweeping in others. The trees along each side of the road provide a gentle breeze and the rustling keeps you on the alert for wildlife—this vigilance doesn’t detract one from just sitting back and enjoying the ride. I admit to seeing how fast Queenie wanted to go. We tested 85 mph in a few spots but settled in at 60 but when the signs warned of curves ahead and recommended a drop to 45mph or slower, we obeyed—most of the time. I can only imagine what this must feel like with a naked bike.

Finally reached the Bay Mills Indian Reservation. Didn’t have time to check out the place thoroughly but I’m glad I paused. Some new housing structures, a community college, a headstart program and an elder center. One also can’t miss the large Casino not too far from the Reservation. I also saw an Old Indian Burial Ground but didn’t want to go inside or take pictures to avoid potentially disrespecting another’s sacred symbols. Before leaving Bay Mills, I met a teacher at the community college. He “loves” the people and the town. He’s an “outsider” who lives three hours away but says the commute is wonderful because it is not daily and it allows him to camp out and play tourist too.

From Bay Mills I hopped on M221 south to get on M28, which carried me east to I-75. This was an extremely windy ride that even with a fully loaded bike, I felt as if I were riding on the left edges of the tires the whole way! The ride to Sault Ste Marie, Ontario ended at Sault Ste Marie, MI and a visit to the Soo Locks there. I’m talking three miles that separates the two Ste. Maries but the same chain hotel was twice the price in Canada, so guess where I rested my head last night?

I’m off now to our friends to the North. However, I can’t close this entry without thanking all the motorcyclists I met yesterday, especially the couple from Chicago who are touring parts of Lake Superior and told me to expect long lines getting into Canada because of construction. I thank also the “aging” motorcyclist who dug out his reading glasses to show me a rode on his map. He’s a serious Harley rider who may be crossing over. He’s wants to get a Suzuki V-Strom. I was impressed. I also thank the many women riders I encountered today. Not one solo rider in the bunch, however.

Until next time…