Lake Superior can wait

Friday, 29th June 2018; 9:04 pm

To make it official: I will not be doing the Lake Superior ride next month. I’ve been having some problems with my neck, and sleeping in a tent on the ground for 9 nights isn’t a good idea until I get that resolved.

I had a similar problem 7 years ago, which was mostly resolved with surgery, and that may be an option again for this, if physical therapy or other treatments don’t take care of it. There’s no reason to think that I won’t recover enough to do the trip next year, so that’s what I’m tentatively planning for now.

So… reservations have been canceled – with penalties πŸ™ – time off from work has been un-requested, and… that’s about it.

Scouting for petrol

Thursday, 14th June 2018; 9:04 pm

When you have a fuel tank that holds barely more than a gallon, refueling is always a concern on a road trip. Even at 100mpg, that’s not much more than 100 miles. That can be a serious issue in the sparsely populated Upper Peninsula and western Ontario.

On one previous trip through the UP, the only way I could get from Point A to Point B without running out of fuel involved a 20 minute detour from the route I wanted to take, to get to a little shop with gas. On another trip, the gas station I was counting on turned out to be out of business, and I was narrowly saved by a mom-and-pop general store several miles away that had an old gas pump for snowmobiles and ATVs.

So I’m doing a little extra scouting for my ride around Superior. Not just checking for flags in Google Maps, but confirming that they have current gas prices and/or the shop’s web site is still up.

It looks like I’m going to be alright, as long as I remember to stop when needed. It helps that I’m mostly sticking to the shoreline, which is where most of the towns are located. And when I get to Ontario, I’ll be riding on the Trans-Canada Highway, which is the only road that goes through that area, so it gets all the traffic.

Passport acquired

Tuesday, 12th June 2018; 5:39 pm

I’ve received my fancy new passport card from the State Department! Complete with the disappointingly accurate photo of me, and the hidden transceiver that Obama* and the Mounties will be using to track me everywhere I go.

The fact that it’s wallet-size is handy… but a little too handy, if you ask me. It’ll be tempting to put it in my wallet, and if I lose my wallet, I’ll be trapped in a foreign country with no ID whatsoever!

You laugh, but that almost happened to me back in ’83, when my wallet was stolen from Adam’s and my tent in Edinburgh, Scotland. Fortunately I had my passport and traveler’s cheques with me, so all I lost was some cash, my driver’s license, rail card, and student ID. (I didn’t have a credit card yet… I was only 18 years and 3 months old.)

This card can’t be used for air travel, or outside North America, but I don’t see a need for that in the near future. If I find myself in a position to travel farther, I’ll spring for the full-priced passport book.

This was pretty much the last show-stopper for the ride around Superior. I need to bring the scooter in for some maintenance, but if that didn’t happen for some reason, I could still take the trip; it just wouldn’t be a good idea to risk my clutch or bearings failing in the wilds of the UP or West Ontario.

*I know what you’re thinking. That’s what they want you to think.

Superior Map

Thursday, 10th May 2018; 10:23 am

When I started doing this county-by-county map, I just grabbed a handy map of Michigan counties and started filling them in. I had no idea that I would eventually have to draw a bunch of counties in other states and provinces. And that not everyone is as fond of simple grids as Michigan’s founders were.

Another difference is that Michigan counties are all about the same physical size, regardless of how many people live there, which is how you get Wayne County which once had more than 2 million people, and Keweenaw County with barely more than 2 thousand. Ontario, on the other hand…. I can’t even fit their rural districts (they don’t call those “counties”) on my map. OK… I get it. It makes sense: you need people in every county/district to have a government. But you’re spoiling my map. I hate letting the map trail off like that – like “here be mooses” – but you leave me no choice.

Anyway, here’s the county map for this ride. The one county in the Lower Peninsula is the south end of the Mackinac Bridge, where I plan to be dropped off and picked up. The counties we drive through to get there don’t count.

The skinny pink county in the middle of the UP (including Munising) is Alger. I had to zoom in on a map to determine that I wouldn’t be wandering into Schoolcraft County to the south of it, but the road I’ll be taking misses it by about 100 feet. There’s a dirt road I could take to ride into Schoolcraft, but that’s cheating a bit more than I like to do. Besides, I’ve already been there.

The coloring of this map makes it look like I’ll be riding all the way up the Keweenaw Peninsula, but I’ll actually be bypassing it entirely. The reason that county is colored is because it includes Isle Royale, where I’ll be hiking for about four hours. That counts.

I’ll be spending an entire day all within Thunder Bay District, the big yellow one along the top. (It keeps going another couple hundred miles to the north.) It’ll probably be about 48 hours elapsed. Then I’ll spend another 24 hours or so in Algoma District, the green one. By contrast, back in 2010 I took a day-trip into Ontario to get to Lake Erie, and ticked off two of their more densely packed southern counties in less than an hour. For the U.S. portion of the ride, I’ll be in 3 or 4 counties every day.

Ships of Superior

Wednesday, 9th May 2018; 9:48 am

In addition to reserving campsites, I’ve also bought tickets for two boat rides. The first is a short tour in the Apostle Islands of Wisconsin, the second is a day trip to Isle Royale out of Grand Portage, Minnesota.

For the Apostles – so named because there are (about) 12 of them – I’ll be taking the Sea Caves & Lighthouses tour offered by Apostle Islands Cruises. It’s a three-hour afternoon tour of a couple of the inner islands and their lighthouses, and the caves in the cliffs of the mainland. I would’ve preferred to take their “Grand Tour” of the islands, but that’s a morning tour and I wouldn’t be able to get there early enough. (I’ve learned my lesson.) This is similar to the boat tour I took at Pictured Rocks, which is the only perspective to fully appreciate the place.

I’ll be going to Isle Royale on the Sea Hunter III. The idea of visiting the island as a day trip is a little heartbreaking, especially knowing that there are people for whom that will be their only visit. But I couldn’t ride through Grand Portage and Thunder Bay – literally close enough to see it – without stopping by. After begin dropped off at Windigo, I’ll have four hours on the west end, which I’ve only been to once (compared to Rock Harbor, the where all three of my previous visits started and ended). That should be enough time to hike some new-to-me trail, at least.

The side trips add $50 and $75 to the cost of the trip (yes, that’s a hint) but I think they’ll be worth it. This isn’t just about drawing a line around a body of water, and it certainly isn’t about how many miles I can spend in the saddle every day. In fact, I’m disappointed that I won’t have time to do another tour of Pictured Rocks or rent a kayak for an afternoon on the way through (for example).

Leeloo Dallas Multi-Pass

Tuesday, 10th April 2018; 11:12 am

Discovering that your passport expired without you noticing it is one of those middle-class first-world disappointments.

I last used it in 2010, for 1) a day trip into Ontario on my scooter ride along the Lake Huron shore, so I could reach Lake Erie without having to go through Detroit, and 2) a cruise with my extended family that stopped in the Bahamas, Aruba, and CuraΓ§ao (where I rented a scooter to explore the island for the day). I intended to use it in 2012 for a quick visit to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, but the long line on the International Bridge dissuaded me. I also looked into going to Bermuda a few years ago, but that’s money I don’t want to spend for now.

Getting into Canada without a passport wouldn’t be that difficult, but if I swam across the Pigeon River instead of going through Customs & Immigration, I wouldn’t be able to bring my scooter, so I guess I’ll do it legitimately. πŸ™‚

In olden days, you could cross the border between the States and the Provinces with just a driver licence, but in the Era of Botched Foreign Policy (aka “the 21st century”), the requirements are more rigorous. To address this, a few border states issue “enhanced” licences with citizenship verification, but Michigan won’t accept an expired passport for that, and I haven’t seen my embossed birth certificate since the Reagan administration.

However, the nations of North America have agreed to the use of passport cards that are valid for travel withing the hemisemisphere, and the State Dept. will accept my expired passport book for that. It’s $80 cheaper than a proper passport book, and it’s also $15 cheaper than the Michigan ID and good for 10 years rather than 4.

The only catch is that it isn’t valid for international air travel, even within North America. (So no flights to Bermuda.) But for riding into and out of Canada (or for another cruise, if my family wants to do that), it’ll be fine. I’ve got my application all filled out… it just needs a current photo and a check attached.