Lake Superior Circle Tour 2.0
The ride so nice, it had to be done twice
Faithful readers of Motorcycle.com may recall reading how much I enjoyed completing the Lake Superior Circle Tour last summer aboard the BMW K1600GTL. After deciding to take a much needed vacation and ride rather than fly to Harley-Davidson’s recent 110th birthday celebrations in Milwaukee, I figured there would be no better way to decompress than to revisit the greatest of the Great Lakes – this time on a 2013 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Limited.
Following the filth and the fury of partying for five days and nights straight with over 100,000 fellow bikers at the Harley-Davidson Homecoming, I was relieved that the rest of my trip would be done solo so that I could finally get some rest and relaxation. The fact that I was doing the Big Lake aboard a Harley this time immediately proved to differentiate itself from my excursion on the big BMW last summer. The K1600GTL is a velvety smooth, quiet, aerodynamic, highly engineered sport tourer that can be configured for fuel economy, comfort or performance, while the full decker Hog is, well, basically the exact opposite of all those things. That isn’t a bad thing. Not even a little bit.
With the introduction of the Rushmore project for the 2014 lineup of Harley-Davidson touring lineup, this 2013 Electra Glide is among the last of the exclusively air-cooled tourers. Unlike the new models, it doesn’t feature GPS, Bluetooth capabilities or an infotainment system that can either be voice activated or operated via the touchscreen. As much as I enjoy the convenience and simplicity that technology brings to my life, I also occasionally enjoy unplugging and kicking it old school so I had no complaints about circumnavigating Superior on a bike that is ultimately ageless and full of character.
I left Milwaukee on Interstate 43 North towards Green Bay before jogging up to Highway 41 to Marquette where I spent the first of many relaxing nights on this excursion. The next morning I continued on up 41 to the town of Calumet, Also known as Red Jacket, the area was once the booming epicenter of the copper industry but once the resources dried up, so too did the economy and everyone left. It would have become just another ghost town but it has been named a National Historic Landmark District and now houses gift shops, restaurants and a small but fascinating museum that chronicles the steep boom and bust the area experienced.
Not only was I eager to visit Calumet to use it as a stark backdrop for pictures of the Harley, but I couldn’t wait to revisit the roads that lie just beyond the dilapidated hamlet. Free of stop signs, side streets and traffic, Highway 41 winds its way up to Copper Harbor in a more entertaining fashion than I’ve experienced on some racetracks. Once at the Northern tip of the Upper Peninsula, I traversed Highway 26 west over to Eagle Harbor where the roads become slightly rougher but no less entertaining and with better scenery. Massive waves crashing against the rocky shores of the Upper Peninsula allude to the fierce nature and overwhelmingly dangerous power that the vast expanse of fresh water holds. Remote and virtually uninhabited, the area is a source of nearly unfathomable beauty but is also unforgiving and unpredictable. The weather can turn quickly and often does, as I experienced. The wind kicked up and brought with it cooler temperatures and thick black clouds that began to release their precipitation with unbridled ferocity within what seemed like minutes.
Cold, wet and tired, I pulled into Houghton for dinner at Quincy’s Restaurant and sweet slumber at the Magnuson Franklin Square Inn, who thankfully have covered bike parking since there was actually frost overnight. Houghton is a quaint little college town with lots of coffee shops and no shortage of night life options.
The next day was one of encouragement and fascination as I continued on Highway 26 towards Duluth, MN. Pulling over to once again put on my rain gear, each and every vehicle that passed me stopped to ask if I was alright and offer assistance if I needed it. Being a jaded city dweller accustomed to blocking out the plights of others, it was reassuring that people were willing to help. That touching moment quickly turned to amusement when I arrived at the next town to top up the tank with fuel and found that half of the vehicles parked at the local bar were tractors. Welcome to small town America.
After battling rain, wind and single digit temperatures most of the day, the sun appeared and the mercury rose dramatically as I approached Canal Park Lodge in Duluth where I would be spending the evening. Any given night in the summer months is like a classic car show of exceptional quality on the revitalized and reinvigorated strip. On this September night I saw a handful of vintage Corvettes, a Chevelle SS, a Gran Torino, several Mustangs, a chopped and stripped rat rod and plenty of motorcycles of all kinds.
That evening I tipped a couple pints at the Canal Park Brewing Company with Dennis Kachelmyer, president of the Harley-Davidson Sports Center who personally came to welcome me to the area. “Welcome to the big lake,” said Kachelmyer when I explained the fast and furious weather fluctuation I’d experienced, “Things can change quickly so you’ve got to be prepared for it.” The second generation owner of the store now in its 62nd year of business, Kachelmyer showed me around his world class facility the next morning. The purpose-built dealership serves as a monument to the rich legacy of motorcycling in his family along with the colourful cast of characters they have met along the way, including regular visitor Larry Bartlett, who I was fortunate enough to meet in person. Recovering from bladder cancer for the second time and in his seventies, he generally logs between 80,000 and 90,000 miles a year and was out riding the day after surgery. “I was at the 100th and 105th birthday celebrations and was so upset I couldn’t make the 110th but it conflicted with my surgery and I couldn’t reschedule,” said the near octogenarian as he gingerly swung a leg over his Heritage Softail that was impeccably maintained but had clearly been put through its paces. I suggested that perhaps I’d see him at the 115th celebration to which he responded with a sly grin, “You sure will!”
Kachelmyer and his lovely wife Suzanne took time out of their busy schedules to show me some of their favourite roads in the area, of which there are many. Touring up to the top of the mountain on sweeping curves, the roads provide views of spectacular vistas, particularly from the Enger Observation Tower which has stood valiantly atop the hill overlooking Duluth since 1939.
Parting ways, I continued along the North Shore on Highway 61, stopping at the Split Rock Lighthouse which began construction shortly after a particularly treacherous storm was responsible for the loss of 29 ships. When it opened in 1910 it was the most remote lighthouse on the Great Lakes and wasn’t accessible by road so materials had to be raised up the 130 foot cliff. I stopped a little further up the road for lunch at the Lutsen Resort as it happens to reside roughly halfway between Duluth and Thunder Bay in addition to coming highly recommended. HOG chapters from the aforementioned cities have congregated there for a gathering they coined, “Meet in the Middle” for this reason, but also because the scenery is beautiful and the food is delicious.
Crossing over the border into Ontario, I was met with a plethora of roads which were more entertaining and less inhabited so I had to be particularly vigilant of monitoring my speed as I returned to civilization and made my way to Bight Restaurant for dinner with friends who live in Thunder Bay. Located within the Winter Garden Pavilion on Prince Arthur’s Landing, the restaurant offers incredible food on the waterfront which has been the prime focus of a multi-million dollar rejuvenation project to reconnect the city with the working harbour.
I circled the block several times before managing to find the McVicar Manor B&B where I would be spending the night as it is truly a hidden diamond in the rough. Residing on a full acre of beautiful property that takes up an entire city block in downtown Thunder Bay, most locals don’t even know the century-old mansion exists and I’m glad they don’t. Proprietors Tom and Dorothy are friendly, accommodating and incredibly hospitable, the accommodations were five stars and the food was as good if not better than you would experience in most restaurants.
I always make a point of stopping by the Terry Fox memorial that overlooks the city of Thunder Bay for a moment of reflection and to put life into perspective. Terry ran for 143 days and 3,339 miles across Canada in his Marathon of Hope to raise money for Cancer research on one leg after having it amputated because of the disease. His memory continues to inspire hope, philanthropy and donations.
That day had me riding the Trans-Canada Highway to Wawa where I once again experienced a full day of spectacular roads free of traffic, street lights and thankfully wildlife. Every rider knows the hassle of having to unpack your bike in the evening after a long day on the road or pack up in the morning when your hotel room is an inconvenient proximity away. The Wawa Motor Inn hosts bikers in the summer and snowmobilers in the winter so they are familiar with this plight. Their main rooms have dual access into the hotel and the parking lot and their cabins overlooking the golf course all allow you to park your pride and joy right outside your door. They even provide extra towels intended specifically for cleaning your machine, presumably because they’re tired of patrons ruining their good ones, but it is a valuable service nonetheless. Young’s General Store is directly across the street which combines everything from grocery store, gas station, bait and gift shop, which also happens to feature the best summer sausage I’ve ever had in my life; my mouth is watering even just thinking about it now. And yes, I saw the goose.
On most road trips, the rest stops you encounter along the may merely offer picnic tables or perhaps bathroom facilities that you can take or leave, but on the stretch of road between Thunder Bay and Sault Ste. Marie you don’t want to miss stopping at a single one as they each offer a unique, spectacular and inspiring view. Witnessing the majestic splendor of the Aguasabon Falls requires a short walk but is well worth it.
Sault Ste. Marie makes for a great home base to take numerous day trips and explore some incredible roads that rival the best you’ll find anywhere. Coming from a long line of pilots, I always make a point of visiting the Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre, which has some impressive hardware and interactive displays.
Returning home after two weeks on two wheels for me felt like what most people experience from a weekend at the spa, a feeling of balance and pure relaxation. Vivid scenery and magnificent landscapes replay in my head to the soundtrack of a throaty V-Twin, along with memorable moments like crossing the epic Mackinaw Bridge, watching the sunset over the Great Lake or conversations with interesting people I shared a moment in time with but will likely never see again. I may have embarked on a similar voyage two summers in a row but they were absolutely nothing alike. Every ride is different, every experience unique.
For more information, visit: http://www.ridelakesuperior.com/