Unsung Motorcycle Heroes 3: Paul Pepe of Ride Lake Superior
It’s fair to say that those who work in the motorcycle industry do so out of their love for bikes and our two-wheeled sport/hobby. It doesn’t really matter if you’re a PR agent, a journalist or a factory representative, a person could earn more money if their job was instead in the automotive field. Meanwhile, there are thousands of moto-loving people who work tirelessly behind the scenes to promote and help enhance the world of motorcycling, routinely without any fanfare whatsoever.
That’s why we’ve decided to shine a little light on some of the people who have devoted significant portions of their lives to nurturing and advancing how we use and enjoy motorcycles in a multi-part series about those who help develop motorcycling and boost its exposure. —Kevin Duke, Editor-in-Chief
Paul Pepe has been a few things, including truck driver, landscaper and government official, but now his title is Manager of Tourism for the City of Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada – a city of 109,000 on the north shore of Lake Superior. In fact it’s the biggest city on the lake (the second biggest one being Duluth, Minnesota, on the western tip of the big lake they call Gichiegumee). It’s sort of all the same to Paul, who thinks of the whole lake as really having no border even though of course it does split its time between the U.S. and Canada.
Technically, it’s Paul’s job to get people to visit Thunder Bay, but the whole lake has always been his playground since he was a kid. When he was 40 years old, he discovered a whole new way to open it up to people: motorcycles.
“We started working on “Ride Lake Superior” as a tourism development project with my chums Carol Caputo, Chris Hughes and Terry Mattson,” explains Pepe, adding he got help building it out from a rider’s perspective from Harley Owner’s Group member John Trevisanutto and Larry Lasge, owner of Excalibur Motorcycle Works.
“Meeting these enthusiastic folks, and by extension other riders I met working bike shows, gave me the bug to just jump in. Everyone I met in the riding community were just all nice people, and that was was uplifting for me. I wrote my beginners license, bought myself a new KLR650 as a birthday gift, took a training course and the rest is history.
“Riding is my therapy,” Pepe continues. “I’m always happy on the bike, I always forget about the things that annoy or stress me out, and I love meeting people who want to talk and ride bikes. I spend a lot of time encouraging other 40-year-olds to take up riding and talking to their spouses about why it’s okay to let them.
“Since then, lots of people have told me they wish they’d taken up riding when they were younger, and I always tell them you can start anytime! I did! I always talk about breaking down the geopolitical boundaries, and motorcycles seem to be the ideal vehicles for doing that.
“One night we were sitting around and Thunder Bay was on a bar napkin. Somebody wrote Duluth on it, then Sault Ste. Marie, and the idea just sort of hit me that we need to do something to get people to come enjoy the whole Lake Superior experience, instead of each town pulling against the others, we need to form a collective, make the pie bigger for everybody: We need businesses, dealerships, provincial governments, working together to create a rider-centric experience… and that’s what Ride Lake Superior is all about; there’s a 1300-mile ribbon of asphalt that goes completely around the world’s biggest lake, filled with curves, elevation changes, non-stop views, secluded beaches – not to mention the thousands of miles of logging roads that make the area paradise for dual-sport and adventure riders, too. High-mileage guys do it in three or four days; cruisers take their time, and lots of people come back again and again.”
There’s an interactive map on the website with all the hotels, restaurants and bike shops along the route that are especially motorcycle friendly (though everybody in Canada is friendly, probably because of all the beer). Hotels, for instance, have to meet certain requirements to get the RLS stamp of approval, including providing things like cleaning towels and covered parking. Not to mention rider discounts and being within walking distance to food and drink…
Out-of-towners have several motorcycle-rental options in Chicago and Minneapolis. Many Brits ship their own bikes into New York, while plenty of Germans ship theirs to Nova Scotia or Halifax. There are all kinds of possibilities. June through September is the time to go, says Paul, when “the sun’s up at 6 and stays up till 11.”
Paul says there’s tons of bakeries and great fish-and-chips all the way around the lake, all of it in small towns with between 1000 and 15,000 inhabitants. Where do we sign up?