Life is an Open Road
R2S: Road to Somewhere

Upper Peninsula – Day 2

Upper Peninsula - Day 2

We departed Manistee after a quick bagel breakfast provided by the motel at which we were staying. We headed North on 31 a couple miles out of town to pick up the infamous M-22 that follows the Western shoreline of Lake Michigan. The road was getting a little more scenic with each passing mile. We turned off at Arcadia Bluffs overlook to catch a glimpse of Lake Michigan. I’m still amazed at the size of this lake. I think a lot of people take it for granted as to what an awesome resource this lake is to the area.

The water in this part of the lake is a marble blue color which is much different than what you see down towards the southern end of the lake. This undoubtedly has to do with all the crap that the City of Chicago and Northwestern Indiana industries dump into our precious Great Lake. It is true that at one point, the Chicago River was actually considered toxic. They’ve since cleaned it up a bit, but it is still a disgusting brownish-green color, just like the lake front. It’s too bad, really. I wish environmentalist would focus a little more on that part of the lake. We deserve better. At least the folks in the northern part of our Great Lake seem to give a damn, so that’s good.

Pointe Betsie Lighthouse

We passed through Frankfort, which is a bit of a tourist town. It was much too early to grab a beer, but we did see the Stormcloud Brewing Company. We continued north towards Crystal Lake. Crystal Lake is a popular recreational area. The road in this area hugs the Western shoreline of the lake. The speed limit drops because the houses and cottages are in such close proximity to the road. Having researched the lighthouses along our route ahead of time, I knew the Pointe Betsie lighthouse was nearby. I saw a sign for the lighthouse just ahead and signaled to turn left to the road. We wound our way up the road towards the Lake Michigan shoreline until we saw a bunch of cars lined up on either side of the street.

We parked the bikes and headed straight for the beach which offered a clear view of the lighthouse just to the north. The Pointe Betsie Lighthouse was erected in 1858. It is 37 feet tall and its range is 23.9 nautical miles. The lighthouse was one of the earliest “Life Saving Stations” that op

erated under the auspices of the U.S. Life-Saving Service, a predecessor of the U.S. Coast Guard. The U.S. Life-Saving Service was a federal government agency that began in 1848 out of private and local humanitarian efforts to save the lives of shipwrecked mariners and passengers. The agency ultimately merged with the Revenue Cutter Service to form the United States Coast Guard in 1915.

We eventually found our way up to the lighthouse, which was open but also charged admission to climb up the inside of it to the lantern room. We opted not to check out the lantern room. Instead, we opted to check out the outhouses. Incidentally, they do not charge for usages of the outhouses, so we felt it was a bargain. After waiting (again) on Pete, we saddled back up and continued northward.

M-22 – A Must Ride Road

Dragon Crossing

Dragon Crossing

Just north of Pointe Betsie and beyond Crystal Lake is where the southern-most part of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park begins. At this point, M-22 begins to get very scenic and the trees are thick. Just around one corner, I caught a glimpse of a small, yellow “Dragon Crossing” sign. Of course, this immediate made me think of Lauren, my youngest, who is absolutely nuts about dragons. About a ¼ mile up the road, I signaled to the boys that I wanted to pull off. I told them I just had to turn around and take a photo of that so I could show Lauren I was in Dragon territory. They obliged while I turned around to capture the moment.

Again, we have a pact where everyone is tolerant. If you see something of interest, just signal to the other riders. No one person should dictate the trip when you’re in a group. More times than not, it only adds to the adventure and there is something to be said for watching the enjoyment of your fellow riders.

A short while later, we came upon Platte Lake and the Riverside Canoe Trips outlet. It was a Friday and the area was packed full of people. There were people on canoe, kayaks and tubes everywhere. There were buses shuttling people to and from their destinations. You could tell it was a popular recreational area and I immediately thought about a family vacation in this area.

As we approached the town of Empire, we decided to grab lunch at a local pizzeria. It was good to stretch our legs and get some grub. I took the opportunity to text my wife a picture of the Dragon Crossing sign for Lauren to see. She, of course, asked if there were real dragons in the area. I replied with a resounding, “Yes!”

The Leelanau Peninsula

We didn’t stop at Sleeping Bear Dunes, but I knew I’d return there someday when I could dedicate more time for exploring the area. Just north of here, is a small town called “Glen Arbor.” As we passed through it, we noticed all the restaurants, cafes and gift shops lined along the main drag. It was obviously a popular tourist attraction. Since it hadn’t been that long since leaving the restaurant, we rode right through the area. Besides, when you’re on a motorcycle, cargo space is a premium so there wasn’t too much room to haul souvenirs and whatnot.

A few more miles north and we passed a sign that read the 45th parallel, which is the half-way point between the equator and the North Pole. This area is part of the Leelanau Peninsula, which can be thought of as the “little finger” within the mitten (referring to the shape of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula).

Another mile or so up the road and we passed through yet another touristy town called Leland. M-22 is a pretty special road which explains why there is a business named M-22 that sells nothing but M-22 souvenirs. If you’re a motorcyclist in the Midwest area – or if you’re passing through the Midwest from another area – I highly recommend this ride (as well as the Tunnel of Trees road which would ride the following day). Once again, we decided to roll right through the town.

This part of Michigan is where you start to see vineyards along the road. Although far from the largest, Michigan has over 15,000 acres of vineyards making it the fourth largest grape-growing state and the twelfth highest producing wine region in the United States.

We pressed on towards Northport Bay located towards the top of the Grand Traverse Bay. I knew there was another lighthouse, the Grand Traverse Lighthouse, within the Leelanau State Park. It was a good 5 mile ride up to the state park, but we agreed that we’d at least check it out. When we pulled up to the gate, we discovered that they charged an entrance fee to the park and lighthouse, so we pulled a U-turn and headed back to Northport where we found the Garage Bar & Grill. The front of the establishment looks like an old filling station with doors that they open up during the summer months.

We went in and ordered a local brew. This is really one part of traveling that I enjoy. I love the fact that the micro-brewing industry has boomed in this country! If you don’t stop at a microbrewery itself, you can at least order local microbrews from within local establishments like this.

Grand Traverse Bay

As we rode down M-22 towards Traverse City, the road offered a nice view of “The Bay.” The Grand Traverse Bay is 32 miles long, 10 miles wide, with depths up to 620 feet in places. The bay region is lined with cherry orchards giving rise to Traverse City’s claim of “Cherry Capital of the World.”

We entered the town of Suttons Bay another 10 miles or so down M-22. Dave had to make a phone call home, so we pulled off into a parking lot. I took the opportunity to visit the local Radio Shack so that I could pick up a replacement USB charger. As I came back out, Dave was still on the phone and Pete was still sitting there next to my bike. A lady walked past me and remarked about what an awesome looking bike I had. I just smirked and Pete. He rolled his eyes and said, “This is ridiculous, I need to start riding my Honda again.”

It’s amazing to me how many people remark about my Triumph Thunderbird Storm. I think the obvious reason is that it doesn’t have that “dime-a-dozen” look to it. Additionally, Harley really isn’t into the “sport-cruiser” business. The Storm is all decked out in black, so if I can brag just a little bit here, the bike is a bit bad-ass! I just love it when the guy who spent less money gets the recognition. For this reason, part of me hopes Triumph isn’t too successful. Triumph sales have been increasing in recent years because – I’ve been told by a Triumph dealer – that more and more riders realize that they are simply overpaying for a brand name (think Apple products here). One ought not to confuse brand loyalty for the superior product. A lot of times, the runners up try harder and actually make the better products. Of course, this is true in many industries.

About 10 miles from Traverse City, we stopped to grab some grub at the Village Inn in Suttons Bay. We tried to find a room for the night, but there was nothing between Suttons Bay and Petosky. We decided to keep the tires on the tarmac and figure it out as we go. We knew it’d work out eventually.

We didn’t stop in Traverse City, but the road hugged the shoreline of the Bay. As I peered out into the bay, I saw a lot of activities. There were parasailers, cigar boats, and people out everywhere. Traverse City, I knew, was yet another place I’d like to return to with the family. I think this is another thing I like about motorcycle trips, you can efficiently move through areas to check them out. When you’re in a car, you just miss a lot of the sights, sounds and smells of areas. This, of course, can sometimes be a good thing as well as a bad thing.

Petoskey, Michigan

M-22 was completed. On the East side of Traverse City, we headed North on 31 again towards Charlevoix. I’m not sure what that town name means, but it is a pretty cool name. It sounds French to me, so I feel some sort of connection. The stretch of road leading up to Charlevoix is really unremarkable, kind of boring. Charlevoix itself is an artist town and, again, one of these towns with lots of people out and about.

We pressed on towards Petoskey, a coastal resort town that sits on Little Traverse Bay. The city was named after Chief Ignatius Petosega (1787–1885), who founded the community. The name “Petoskey” means “where the light shines through the clouds” in the language of the original area inhabitants, the Odawa Indians.

As we were riding into town, we kept catching great glimpses of Lake Michigan, this time towards the North side of the road. It was hard to fathom that we were looking at the very same lake that I swim in back home. It’s simply mind boggling how big this lake really is. I love the Great Lakes Region.

As we rode into town, we noticed this guy on a tall bicycle. His feet were about 3-4 feet off the ground, putting his head about 10 feet high. When he was riding in front of Pete, who was leading at the time, it kind of dwarfed Pete’s bike. We parked the bikes, stretched our legs and looked for a place to grab a beer. We located the Beards Brewery close by. They had quite the selection of beers on tap, so we each ordered one and strategized our next move. The bartender/brew master suggested we check out the Tunnel of Trees to Legs Inn. I knew from previous research that the Tunnel of Trees was a top road on motorcycleroads.com, but I didn’t know about Legs Inn. So, we headed out before the sun went down any further.

The Tunnel of Trees

The Tunnel of Trees is a stretch of road on M-119 that follows the coastline from Little Traverse Bay north to Legs Inn located in Harbor Springs, Michigan. M-119 was by far the best stretch of road that we had been on to date, and as I would later realize, probably the best road of the trip….if not ever! Wow, what a spectacular road. The users of Trip Advisor rank it #3 of 17 Attractions in Emmet County, Michigan for good reason.

It truly is a tunnel of trees with unparalleled views of Lake Michigan looking westward. It probably helped that the sun was setting at the time we were riding through the area, so our enjoyment was only enhanced. I recall how blue the water looked and how beautiful the sun appeared.

Before the sun was about to disappear for the evening, I pulled off the road to the side of the road to catch a glimpse of the shoreline and setting sun. I offered a toast from my flask of rum to Dave and Pete for our buddy Phil “Hejhog” Hedgepath who had taken his own life just a few months earlier. That event caught us all by surprise. No one saw that coming. It was a shame because Phil was a reliable rider who would almost always join us on various adventures. And when he did join us, he was fit right in. He was a clown like the rest of us, yet had a serious side where you could get to some conversational depth. We had planned this ride at Phil’s house in his basement, so that was extra painful for us. Phil should have been along for the ride, but instead he was there in spirit. We each took a sip of rum in memory of Phil, then continued to take in the scenery which was absolutely spectacular.

Legs Inn

We continued M-119 to Legs Inn, parked our bike and walked into the establishment. It was notable how many people were frequenting the establishment seemingly in the middle of nowhere. It was obvious it was a major attraction for the area in terms of dining. Legs Inn is somewhat of an odd name for a restaurant. The name, Legs Inn, is supposedly derived from the row of inverted cast iron stove legs Stanley used to fashion the decorative railing on the roof of the building. Regardless, it was a pretty quaint establishment.

I wanted to get a “taste” of the Great Lakes, so I ordered a smoked salmon appetizer. It was served chilled and unbelievably good. We devoured that fillet of fish in minutes. We sat in the rear porch which was screened in with heavy plastic to block the wind and elements. The back yard of the Inn was beautifully filled with gardens and an overlook to Lake Michigan. There was a guy playing acoustic guitar on a crisp Northern Michigan summer night and there were cats roaming about. They likely make a habit of frequenting the grounds due to the amount of fish they serve there. Seeing the cats reminded me of my daughters, so I snapped a few photos on my phone to send home.

Mackinac City, Michigan

I watched the sun finally disappear over Lake Michigan and then returned to the table. After dinner, it was completely dark outside. We decided to continue on the stretch of road that followed the shoreline – even though we couldn’t see it – called North Lake Shore Drive. We then headed East on W. Lakeview Road towards Mackinac City. Riding on that stretch of road was a bit freakish as it was so damn dark and so damn cold. I’m not exactly sure how much the temperature dropped, but it was a significant amount. I kept thinking of that lyric in Elton John’s song Rocket Man where he’s describing how cold Mars is: “In fact, it’s cold as Hell.”

We finally rolled into Mackinac City and attempted to find a hotel room. At this point, we just wanted to secure a place to sleep for the night. It took a while, but we finally found a room with two double beds and a cot. We checked in, unloaded our bikes and claimed our room. We decided to head over to Dixie Saloon that we saw as we came into town on E. Central Avenue. It looked like it was a happening place and it was. Actually, it was a little too happening for me because we were at that point in the evening where they were moving tables to clear the dance floor and the music was cranked up to about 110 Decibels. I just wanted a beer and a quiet environment. This was totally not my scene.

We left there after a beer or two and headed towards a lookout where we could catch an evening glimpse of the Mackinac Bridge. There wasn’t much to see, honestly, but it helped build the anticipation of the continued journey tomorrow. Day 3 was merely hours away from being reality.

States Covered:

  • Michigan – Lower Peninsula

Key Attractions:

  • Manistee, MI
  • Pointe Betsie Lighthouse
  • The Leelanau Peninsula
  • Traverse City, MI
  • Petoskey, MI
  • The Tunnel of Trees
  • Legs Inn
  • Mackinac City, MI

Mileage:

  • Miles Covered: 273
  • Tripometer: 148 through 421

Road to Somewhere

Road to Somewhere motorcycle blog is the personal journal of Christopher J. Vezeau. I am a writer and a rider.