Two Head Injuries and a Hangover

Published Sunday, October 23, 2011 by Bryan

“Ooh, biker chick!” was the elderly man's reaction to our appearance in the grocery aisle. We had reached the mid-point of our adventure and were gathering supplies at the nearby Martin's Supermarket. At home we'd go out of our way to walk for groceries, but we had decided that the wind and impending rain were enough of an obstacle to render moot discussion of the fifteen-mile roundtrip.

Thus, there we stood, searching for canned tomatoes (why are they never next to canned tomato sauce?) decked out in full gear. I lean toward the ATGATT (All The Gear All The Time) persuasion, so even for our quick trip we had donned boots, pants, and jackets (I was carrying the helmets and gloves so Amanda could manage the shopping). So the fact that we were in full safety attire made of modern ballistic fabric, combined with Amanda's … general lack of all qualities traditionally associated with “biker chicks” made us nearly have to leave the store to keep from making a scene laughing ourselves silly.

The journey leading us to this encounter was an awesome ride suggested by Amanda as a gift for my thirtieth birthday. She had watched me suffer an agonizing motorcycling summer as the bike spent day after day in the shop with uncertain timelines for repair. Knowing that I longed for more miles this season, she riffed on my birthday gift to her last year (a trip to Austria), and hatched a plan for a tour on my Triumph.

We sketched out several possible waypoints and destinations. Amanda's aunt, Mary, was kind enough to offer us her lakehouse for several days' relaxation. We had been mulling over a ride through the Addirondacks ever since enjoying the White Mountains last spring. And so, the final plan coagulated as a ride northwest, through Canada, to the shores of Lake Michigan. We'd take our time wandering windy backroads on the way out, rest up, and then zip back to make other commitments (and to squeeze a few days of home-project time into the same vacation).

Of course, plotting courses and reserving dates doesn't guarantee equipment will be ready. With just over a week to go, the bike returned to the shop. The carburetor was overflowing into the airbox, just as it had earlier in the summer. This time, though, the solution was straitforward: just clean the carburetor. The only item to wait on was a new air filter, and it was confirmed for delivery on Monday.

The rear luggage rack wasn't so lucky. Our experience during our springtime trip led us to believe we'd need a little more storage for this trip, so we ordered a small rack that we could tie a bag to. Three days before our departure, though, we were notified that the rack was on backorder from England. Luckily, wood scraps are plentiful in my shop, and hoseclamps and sheet rubber are readily available at Ace Hardware. At 5% the cost of the OEM rack and a small bit of tinkering, I had a working solution attached with hours to spare.

A wooden shelf projects out the rear end of a motorcycle.
Handcrafted Rear Luggage Rack

We set out Saturday morning westbound along Interstate 90. True, this was contrary to our “wandering out” plan on the surface, but it meant that we spent only one morning getting to the really beautiful part of the ride. Just before noon, we left the interstate at Schenectedy, NY and headed north into Addirondack State Park.

The weather was gorgeous: 75°F, sunny skies, trees just beginning to turn. In short, our waving arms tired from all the bikes passing us. Large groups, small groups, singles, all shapes, all amounts of gear, lone riders, and pillions – everyone was out cruising.

Each stop that day set the tone for the rest of the trip: everyone loves a Triumph. Some bike brands sell an image, convincing buyers that people will notice them by owning one of their models. It seems that if you actually want people to engage you in conversation about your bike, you ride a Triumph. I think we can count on one hand the number of stops we made where no one asked about our Bonneville. We heard many stories of old 650s, questions about alternate side shifting, jokes about great fuel economy (fifty miles per gallon and no more than three gallons per fill makes the combustables seem free), and just general well wishes.

We stopped for the night in Canton, NY on the north side of the park. Being Columbus Day weekend, all lodging within the park was either already closed for the season or otherwise filled with leaf peepers. The Comfort Suites served us well, though, despite being the cause of the first bloodshed of the trip (a cabinet corner, an imbalance during boot removal … it's really just embarassing).

Sunday morning, we were up early, refreshed and ready for more beautiful scenery. The weather was gorgeous again, as it would be for our entire outbound trip. I had scouted a few backroads on the map that proved to be mostly well-maintained two-laners, with plenty of bends and beautiful little one-lane bridges.

Late morning we reached the one site where we knew we'd have to stop for pictures: Wellesley Island. We know of no relation between the island and the college, but we couldn't resist the kitsch of a photo of our Wellesley woman next to the state park sign. (Look closely: the bike is in the background!)

A woman in motorcycle gear stands next to a large sign reading, 'Welcome to Wellesley Island State Park, Thousand Islands Region'.
Wellesley Woman Visits Wellesley Island

At the top edge of Wellesley Island is the border of Canada. As we crossed, Amanda hammered on my back and shouted, “Remember it's kilometers per hour!” In truth, remembering that measurements were metric was easier than either following navigational signs (road names, not numbers, despite what maps label them) or paying for things (chip & pin, different routing networks, etc.).

Our basic path followed the north shore of Lake Ontario, alternating between backroads and highway, as usual. We overnighted in Oshawa, just before reaching Toronto.

Monday was Thanksgiving Day in Cananda, so Toronto was filled with families seeing sights. Having never visited the city before, we elected to drive straight through on Lake Shore Boulevard. The view is pretty on the way in, but ugly in the middle while sitting underneath the Gardiner Expressway. Souvlaki-filled crepes by the water for brunch lifted our spirits, though, and we made our way on through the rest of Ontario.

We finally reached Port Huron just as the sun was setting. We crossed the border, and turned north. Browsing the map over dinner, we had noticed that just a few miles up the Lake Huron coast was a town called Lexington. Unable to pass up another bit of kitcsh (visiting a town sharing the name of our home), we decided we had to visit. This became one of our better choices of the day, since the country club on the edge of town was the only lodging open for miles.

In daylight, it was more obvious that Lexington, Michigan was just barely more than a one-horse town. After a mug of hotel room coffee, and bit of Cliff bar, we rolled back onto the road and followed the coast up to the tip of the peninsula at Port Austin, and then back down to Bay City. Yes, the Bay City that the Rollers were named for, though no one there has heard of them. The city also held a tasty brunch spot, and a funky chocolate and pastry shop. As we strolled the streets, we even found a little reminder of home: someone else had quilted the same table runner Amanda's mom had made us years ago, and was selling it in the local craft shop.

A quilt with a flower pattern is seen through a window.
We've seen this quilt somewhere before.

From Bay City, it was on to Lansing, where we stayed overnight near the college campus. Spartan pride was out in force, as was the worst two-wheeled vehicle safety we encountered on the trip. Students everwhere riding scooters, but not a single helmet, everyone in shorts, mostly flip flops for footwear, and even one texting in the middle of the road. The texter was rather freaked out to have two full-gear riders pull up next to him to warn him he had left his turn signal on.

Wednesday morning, we opted for a similar plan of hotel coffee with brunch later on. We were to be at the lakehouse later in the day to get the keys, but Kalamazoo looked like a good halfway point for the morning. As we pulled into town, wondering where brunch might happen, we knew we were correct: Bell's Brewery and the Eccentric Cafe lay right across the stoplight. We ate the best grilled cheese sandwiches ever, on brewers' bread with asparagus, onions, and two types of cheese. Sadly, the most beer we could handle was a small taste of their Cream Stout. T-shirts from the gift store will remind us to try again another time.

To make our lakehouse rendevous, we buzzed down the interstate to Bridgman, and then had lots of fun on a mile and a half of hilly, curvy, medium-packed gravel. Nothing too dangerous, but very different from the fast, straight concrete we had left a few minutes before. All of the clutch control practice from last year's motorcycling class was put to good use, as were the few tips I had read about dirt safety.

At the lakehouse for four days, we just rested. The weather turned to high winds and rain, so we mostly read books, and shot pool. Occasional runs on the beach or walks down the dirt road got us outside. And, of course, we practiced one of our other favorite activities: cooking, the cause of both the aforementioned grocery trip, and the second head injury (an unseen rotisseree spit to the sideburn while reaching for something in the back of a cupboard).

Amanda's aunt visited on Saturday and showed us around Bridgman: local artists, the Round Barn Brewery, and two wineries (got a lead on the last bit of this story's title now?). Saturday was also the best weather of our stay, so it was great to be out and about.

On Monday we began our trip back. We had decided to stay as long as we could at the lakehouse by saving return time zipping back directly on the interstate. I-94 to Detroit, then Canada's 401 and QEW back to I-90 through New York and Massachusetts. It was a completely different kind of riding, focused much more on staying aware of other drivers and attempting to maintain a constant speed to keep from irritating them more than necessary. Not really the usual kind of fun on two wheels (banking, accelerating, etc.), but an interesting technical challenge.

Two fun events happened along the “slab” in any case. The first was the Triumph's odometer rolling over 10,000 miles. Despite being ten years old, I've ridden most of the bike's miles myself, since the first owner stored it in a barn after its first, short season. Despite the summer's shop troubles, it has been a great bike to learn on, and a pleasure to own.

The second was fun event on the slab was dining at the Old Erie Restaurant in Weedsport, NY. We stopped for lunch at that point for no reason other than hunger, but found ourselves presented with the best traditional German food we've ever had at a restaurant in the U.S. Schnitzel and Rouladen stuffed with pickles, onions, and breading, served with German potato salad, red cabage, and spätzle were all delicious. When we bit into a dessert of Linzer torte, we thought maybe we had been transported back to last year's trip to Austria. Weedsport may just make it on to the list of places to stop on cross-country travel from now on.

The weather held out for us, sunny but cold. We had planned for the chill, though, and wore long underwear and sweaters. Amanda also appreciated the heated gloves I'd purchased for commuting on March's 35°F mornings. When we heard of the impending rain on Wednesday, though, we decided to skip a stay in Albany Tuesday night and just push on home.

We clicked off the engine in the driveway about 8pm on Tuesday, with the odometer advanced 2264 miles from when we had set out. The bike and I had reconnected, and made up for the lost hours earlier in the summer. Amanda even found the trip so enjoyable she said she'd do it again. The question will be whether she puts her training to use and rides her own bike next time.

A map centered on Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. A blue line traces a path from Boston to Lake Michigan and back.

Categories: Motorcycle Travel