Saturday, August 04, 2007

West coast of Lake Michigan to Harrison, MI

Today we were riding up to Harrison, MI to watch one of Mike’s friends from Louisiana race in the national enduro tomorrow morning. We wanted to leave much earlier but ended up leaving around 8:30AM.

Heading east from Chicago’s western suburbs is a very painful process. It involves tolls, heavy traffic and construction, no matter the time or day of departure; it’s hardly ever a nice experience. It doesn’t even matter which interstate you choose, and we do have a few choices, the result is always the same.

Since we were heading up to Michigan, I wanted to try the I-90 Chicago Skyway again, known as the “shortcut to Indiana”. I took it twice the last two times heading out to Pennsylvania, and it’s a lot shorter route than taking I-249/I-80. But this time, with the construction on the expressway, I was wishing that I was going the long way around.

We started the day by heading in to Chicago, which wasn’t too bad, but the traffic on I-94 south of city was backed up and we spent almost 20-30 minutes creeping and crawling to get to the ramp for the Chicago Skyway. By the time I made it to the ramp, my clutch hand was totally killing me. The hydraulic clutch on the ST3 is one of the toughest to pull in. If it wasn’t for all the construction and the traffic, it would be great ride, especially since I really like the views from the Chicago Skyway. You can see the city of Chicago to the north and the Little Calumet River and Calumet Harbor below, and Lake Michigan to the east. At night, the bridge is nicely lit up.

It is a toll way though. The Chicago Skyway toll bridge costs $2.50 to cross, but it’s pretty unique. It’s a 7.8 mile road that features a 1/2-mile long steel truss bridge, known as the "High Bridge", which is the highest road in Chicago. After approximately four years of construction, the Skyway was rebuilt and completed in 2004. My first time riding it was in 2006, I’m still not very familiar with Chicago’s south side.

Welcome to Michigan

Once we got on I-94 north the traffic was moving nicely. We stopped at the Welcome to Michigan sign, all those trips to Michigan and I’ve never taken a picture of it. There were actually three welcome signs here, the big one over the interstate, a smaller one further down the road and a really nice wooden one at the Michigan welcome center. We stopped there for the bathroom and the place was packed. I grabbed a free map of Michigan, many welcome to centers have free state maps.

Michigan Welcome Center

This welcome center also had free booze today. There was a table set up with free wine samples from one of Michigan’s wineries. Free booze at the rest stop? I’ve never seen that before.

Free wine samples at the rest stop

A first for Michigan

We turned on I-196 and took an exit for 31, then in Holland where we stopped to gas up.
Once we got past the town, 31 looked very much like an interstate. We were flying and making really good time, but all that stopped in Grand Haven.

Here are the headlines from the Grand Haven Tribune website. That first paragraph just says it all, doesn’t it?

Well, let me paint the picture for you. Saturday was the Grand Haven Coast Guard Festival and parade, the biggest event in town. 90,000 to 100,000 people lined the streets of the parade route. (That’s the number that was given in the article). Right after the parade is done, the water main breaks under US 31, floods the southbound lanes while at the same time we are coming up in the northbound lanes.

We didn’t know why there was a huge traffic jam at first. While I was inching along with the ST3’s fans on full blast trying to cool the engine down from it’s 213 degrees, I started to notice the banners for the festival and tons of people walking with lawn chairs, so I’m thinking that’s it, there is some festival in town. Once we get past the next couple of blocks it’s smooth sailing.

Then as we creep and crawl some more, I realize the road ahead is underwater. The water was all muddy and at first I couldn’t tell how deep it was. The cars that went ahead of me didn’t look too submerged so I proceeded, at this point realizing there was only about a foot of water on the road, no big deal, until my front tire hit some debris underwater, and I realized that this wasn’t as fun as I though since I couldn’t see the road, there could be some big pot hole or a rock in the way. We were very lucky that the break didn't undermine the two northbound driving lanes, only the southbound lanes were closed and detoured.

We were now behind schedule so we skipped the first scenic leg of the trip and rode north of Muskegon to make up some time. We took an exit at Winston Road and took that to B15, which is the South Scenic Drive. We never did see the Lake Michigan from the road but we felt the coolness of it in the air. Since it was overcast all day, it was almost chilly now and only in the low 80’s or high 70’s. The Scenic Drive was a nice break from the interstate, it is a narrow road, and somewhat bumpy and patched pavement in places. It winds though fields and trees.

Michigan's B15

As we got closer to Silver Lake state park, the area became congested. We pulled over at the Whippy Dip for some food, it was way past lunch already. The food took a while to be ready, as we waited we enjoyed our raspberry smoothie and the vanilla malt. After Mike finished his foot long chili dog and I finished my chicken strips, we realized that we didn’t have enough time to continue north to Ludington. We were going to have to head east at the first opportunity and get on 31 and head east to Harrison, MI so we could be there by dinnertime. Michigan is on the eastern time zone so we were already an hour behind.

Whippy Dip near Silver Lake State Park

Mike's chili dog and my chicken strips

Outside dinning at the Whippy Dip

Lunch stop

Silver Lake along B15

Highlighted in yellow is the portion of B15 we did today

There was a lot of cops on 31 heading east, at least the speed limit is a respectable 70MPH. Near Ludington we turned east on 10. The sun finally came out now and it warmed up right away. Two hours later, including one gas stop, we arrived in Harrison. For anyone that wanted, free camping was available at the Heber Ranch, where the enduro race was starting tomorrow.

At 6:30 PM eastern time we turned on to the road to Heber Ranch. And then I realized that the road was dirt. Not just dirt, that soft sandy dirt. I was tired at this point and wasn’t looking to challenge myself so late in the day. I examined the surface of the road and decided that I, at 115 lbs., and the fact that I don’t flat foot my ST3 and the fact that my ST3 weights 500+ lbs., that together wasn’t a good combination on a dirt-sand road after riding all day. And since we didn’t know how long the road was and how far to the camp sites, we decided for Mike to go alone and get more details, if it wasn’t too far, then I could walk and he could get a ride to my bike from his friend and ride my bike there. That would surely be better then me dumping my bike in the sand.

After a few minutes of waiting I decided to go for it. I just had this feeling that the road went for a while and it would be a big pain to get my bike there with out me riding it. So I collected myself mentally, started up the bike and went. It wasn’t too bad at first, I was riding in the middle of the road where the dirt was packed down harder, then all the sudden I was heading downhill and speeding up, all the sudden I realized that I had to make a right. I got on the brakes and as I descended from the hill I realized that the sand was much deeper here, my back tire started to slide out from under me, I was pretty sure that at some point the bike was going to fall, but it didn’t, I held it up.

The last road of the day is a dirt road, this is the smooth section

Once I was stopped I realized that I overshot the entrance by a couple of feet the turn in to the ranch. The entryway was down in to sand and up on grass, I wouldn’t have even stopped to think about it on my XT225, but on the heavy ST3 it was very scary looking. I didn’t want to make a sharp turn right in to sand, I was so sure I was going to dump the bike now since I didn’t before, but I had no choice as vehicles and bikes were coming in and out of the entry way and now I was in the way.

I turned the handlebars all the way, got on the gas and made the turn almost disbelieving that I was still upright. I rode the grass for a long while until I saw the tents and campers but there were hundreds of them and I had no idea where the camp site was so I called Mike. A few minutes later he and his friend Chris’s came to get me. Their camp was set up on the other side, but I couldn’t ride all the way there. The grass was all matted down on the main drag, but the field where everyone was camping had longer grass, that was just cut and the dry loose ends were still all over the place, also there was a bit of a hill to climb. At this point after my dirt excursion, I was done riding, so Mike rode my bike the rest of the way to the camp site.

After the dirt came the grass

After Mike and I finished setting up our tent, we changed our clothes, then along with Chris and his buddy, the 4 of us pilled in to the van and drove in to town for some dinner. We found a local place called Monte's, the food was pretty good and inexpensive, although this place didn’t serve any liquor.

Our camp site at the national enduro

Dinner at Monte's, my manicotti

Mike's Ribs

The entertainment for the night was the sky. It was a clear night and the stars were out. It’s amazing how many stars you can see away form civilization. First we saw something very bright move cross the sky and we were told that it was the international space station; we later saw two more satellites go by, but not as bright as the first one. I’ve never seen so many in one night. Then, right before going to bed, we saw a meteor.

The temps dropped in to the mid/low 50’s. I had on a long sleeve t-shirt, a micro-fleece shirt and the quilted liner from my Fieldsheer jacket, and my 40 degree sleeping bag and I was very comfortable and didn’t even have to zip myself up all the way.

We did 370 miles today, with all the delays and traffic, felt more like 500 miles :)

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