Archive for April, 2009


Tuesday, 14th April 2009; 6:11 pm - Location:

I’ve passed an important milestone in the preparation for my trip: I now have an actual scooter to ride. Picked out, picked up, and paid for.

FlashIt’s a Buddy 50, made by (or for, I should say) Genuine Scooter Company of Chicago. The manufacturer is PGO of Taiwan, who make some of the better scooters coming out of capitalist China. I supposed you might label Genuine as just the “importer” of these scooters, since essentially the same scooter is sold by PGO themselves overseas, but Genuine has input into the design, they’re modified for Genuine (e.g. MPH speedos, DOT-compliant turn signals) for the US market, and Genuine distributes, services, and warranties them, so it isn’t that different from buying a Ford made in Korea by Kia, like I did years ago. Much like buying a fuel-efficient auto in the 1990s, this was the closest I could come to buying “domestic”.

The Buddy comes in both 50cc and 125cc models. The 50cc model exists in part to meet the legal limits in most states to be considered a “moped” rather than a “motorcycle”. This means that you don’t need special training and licencing to drive one, registration costs are lower, mandatory vehicle insurance requirements are waived, and you aren’t required to wear a helmet. Well, I’m not an idiot, so I’m still going to wear a helmet, but the rest of those legal loopholes are welcome. So is the better gas mileage (over 100mpg rather than 90mpg). And besides, I don’t want a scooter with an engine big enough to go 60-70mph and ride on the expressway. If I need to go that fast, I want a cage (i.e. a car) with seatbelts and air bags around me, please.

The 50cc model comes off the boat with an artificial speed restriction to limit it to 30mph; that’s what most states require for the “moped” designation. That restriction is pretty easily removed, which lets them go their natural speed of 40mph or so, which is the max speed I’d actually want.

I’m the kind of buyer who does all his “shopping” before he sets foot in a store, so I didn’t rely much on the guidance of a dealer. But I want to give credit where due to “Stew” and Holland Vespa. This dealership is about 40 miles from where I live, and Stew saved me from having to get there to pick up my scoot – which also would’ve make my very first ride an hour-long intercity journey – by delivering it to their just-opened store in Grand Rapids.

Even so, riding the scoot home from the dealer was a bit of a white-knuckle adventure. For one thing, the best way home from there included a road that drivers like to run at near-highway speeds. I don’t have a proper motorcycle helmet yet, just my bicycle helmet. I figured that, if the helmet isn’t even legally required, the bike helmet would be OK until I saved up another paycheck and picked out a scooter helmet. The thing is, bike helmets are designed to catch lots of wind to cool you off… not a big deal at 15mph, but a pretty noticeable drag at 30mph. Plus, I’ll admit it: I just don’t have much experience on two wheels with a motor. It’s going to take some time for me to get a feel for how fast and wide to take corners, for example.

But I have thousands of miles on a bicycle behind me, much of that in traffic, and that gives me some pretty good skills. A lot of new scooterists haven’t ridden a bicycle in years, and riding a scooter is very different from their experience driving a car. For one thing, most of your steering isn’t done with the steering column, but by leaning, using a trick of physics know as “countersteering”. Most cyclists know how this works, even if not consciously. And tricks like how to safely and easily swerve around a pothole are practically reflexes to a cyclist.

Fortunately I have that, plus a few months of commuting ahead of me, which should prepare me for my road trip. Heck, I’ll probably be safer scooting the back roads of the north country than I will be fighting traffic on the streets of Grand Rapids.

Reservations, with reservations

Tuesday, 7th April 2009; 5:57 pm - Location: , ,

I’ve made my first concrete commitment to making this trip: I made some campsite reservations. I only made a couple, since I want to keep my options open as much as I can for a while, but circumstances forced my hand on a couple.

Ludington State Park is already nearly full for the weekend I’m going. In fact, the only spots left in the road-accessible campsites are “auxilliary” sites that aren’t on the park map, and don’t have electrical service. Which is fine with me, because I won’t have any use for the electricity. What’s annoying is that the state park (like most of the popular ones in the state) doesn’t allow reservations for only Saturday night, so I had to reserve – and pay for – the Friday night before as well. My donation to the state government’s solvency, I guess. I don’t plan to use it, but if I decide to ride up after work on Friday, I have that option.

I considered the other location option, which is Ludington’s “hike-in” campsite. It’s an appealing alternative to the the big “parking lot” site, just off the beach, but it’s a couple miles from the road. The hike wouldn’t be a problem if I had a backpack, but it’d be a definite hassle since my “pack” will be a 200-pound motorbike. Instead I’d have to leave the scoot alone at the road overnight (which would make me a little nervous), and carry all my gear to the site somehow. I have to keep in mind that this isn’t a wilderness trip; its a road trip… so better to stick to the road.

I’ve also made a reservation at Leelanau State Park the following night. Leelanau is less than half full at this point, but it’s a small park at the very tip of the peninsula, so that doesn’t leave a lot to choose from. And there was one site that caught my eye as I was reading the descriptions and looking the park map. It doesn’t have another site immediately adjacent to it, which I always appreciate. In fact it’s the only site actually on the lakeshore, and it’s next to the foundation of the original lighthouse. That sounds cool, so I reserved it.

I’m holding off on reservations for later in the trip, mostly because I can. There are still plenty of open sites at the other parks (getting progressively farther from the big cities), so I have time. I’ll keep an eye on them and maybe I’ll be able to get away without making reservations at some of them altogether, which would save me $8 at each one. Either way, at $12-26 per night (plus reservation fees at each) it adds up, and cash’ll be a little tight after buying a new scooter, so I’ll put that off until I have a few more paychecks in the credit union.


Thursday, 2nd April 2009; 4:21 pm - Location:

With the Michigan economy being in such dire straits, one of the things in the back of my mind lately has been spending my money locally. I couldn’t buy a US-made scooter; there is no such thing. But I bought one made for a US company (Genuine Scooters of Chicago), and I bought it from a West Michigan dealer. Although there are places I want to see in other states and other countries, right now I want to spend my vacation and my vacation dollars in Michigan. I don’t have a lot to spend during this trip, but I’ll be spending it in places where any economic activity is badly needed.

I’ve pretty much settled on an itinerary, as follows:

Day 1: Grand Rapids to Ludington. Pretty familiar territory, but I’ll hug the lakeshore to make the most of it.

Day 2: Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and the Leelanau Peninsula. I’ve been to Sleeping Bear a couple times in recent years, so rather than stop and camp there; I’ll go on to Leelanau State Park.

Day 3: Grand Traverse Bay to Charlevoix, sleeping at Fisherman’s Island State Park. It’s only about 15 miles as the crow flies, but taking in the entire Grand Traverse Bay shoreline will be a day well spent.

Day 4: Mackinac City, Bridge, and Island. It’s a fairly short ride the rest of the way to Mackinac, which will give me time to make camp at Straits State Park in St Ignace, then spend the afternoon on the Island.

Day 5: West across the UP to Manistique, where I’ll stay at Indian Lake State Park.

Day 6: A detour away from Lake Michigan, up to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, which I’ve neglected to see in any of my previous drives through the UP. I’ll be camping on federal land rather than state land here.

Day 7: Through Munising then south through Escanaba, and along Green Bay (the body of water, not the city), staying at J. W. Wells State Park on the bay.

Day 8: Through Green Bay (the city) and on to Manitowoc, where I’ll catch the midnight ferry to Ludington, hopefully getting a few hours of sleep.

Day 9: Ludington to Grand Rapids via the less scenic route, then a nap.