Day 1: Thursday, August 19
Route: Ann Arbor, MI to Madison, WI
Distance: 268 miles in the saddle plus 78 miles by ferry
Itís been five years since I left on a moto-trip in the middle of a work day. Not coincidentally, that was the last time I did any riding in Wisconsin. But finally, a lunchtime departure directly from work is ideal for my destination this time, and it adds another level of anticipation to the whole experience. I almost never commute to work on my motorcycle, and so rolling into work on two wheels this morning has me wide awake and thinking of my departure just a few hours away. After an entire morning of barely suppressed giddiness, I gobble down my lunch, slip my knee armor back into my Dragginí Jeans, grab the rest of my gear and head out to the parking lot, where my ride awaits:
In short order Iím saddled up and motoring down the road, headed for my first waypoint, Muskegon. In a freaky coincidence, Eric S (host of last fallís West Michigan Tech Daze)
, who happens to be far from home, spots me on the highway after just a few miles. I didnít know it at the time; he later sent me a PM:
Was driving East on 196, westwardly side of brighton today. I saw someone on a blue R1200RT going West in a DAYGLO!! jacket. Was that you?
I guess the jacket does
get you noticed.
Topping off the tank was something I had forgotten to do the night before, and I ended up leaving work with the computer showing about 70 miles remaining in the tank. As I round the southwest corner of Lansing, the display finally indicates zero
miles remaining in the tank. Iím not worried: I know from experience that I can run the tank to at least 20 miles below zero before refilling, and thereís a Pilot travel center just six miles ahead.
Three miles later, the engine stumbles and loses power while climbing an overpass. I pull in the clutch and look down at the tach just in time to see the RPMís drop to zero. Uh-oh.
Iím rolling through a construction zone with virtually no shoulder room, not a good place to lose power. With the four-way flashers blinking away, I hug the edge of the lane as I roll over the top of the overpass. On the far side, I see an on-ramp with a generous shoulder on its right side. A quick glance over my shoulder confirms no one is coming down the ramp; coasting at maybe 30 MPH now, I swerve over to safety and come to a stop. Now what?
Iím still in disbelief. Iíve run the tank way
lower than this, several times,
without a problem. Still, itís too big a coincidence to ignore: when the gauge says ďEĒ, the computer says zero miles left in tank, and engine sputters and dies shortly thereafter, the smart money says youíve run the damn thing out of gas. Although Iíve got a ferry to catch in Muskegon, I have plenty of time to sort this out. Nonetheless, Iím really not excited about walking back up that on-ramp to find a gas station Ė partly because Iím not interested in a long foot-trek in armored jeans and riding boots, and partly because walking to a gas station and walking back with a can full of gas would feel like a big public admission of galactic stupidity on my part.
to be some more gas somewhere in that tank; I know
Iíve run it lower than this before, many times.
. Convinced there are stealth hydrocarbons lingering just out of reach of the fuel pump, I lock up the front brake, and shake the hell out of the bike: left to right, up and down, lather, rinse, repeat. Drivers passing by must wonder what this crazy yellowjacket-dude is up to.
Ultimately, the stunt works. I hit the starter, and then cover the final three miles to the Pilot Travel Center, where I fill up with 6.5 gallons. This is not any more than usual, but I resolve to trust the on-board computer from now on: when it says zero miles remaining in the tank, I will no longer argue with it.
The rest of the journey to Muskegon is uneventful. Itís a warm, sunny day Ė temp is near 90 Ė and Iím glad for the mesh jacket. My fuel starvation issue burned all of five minutes, and so I still manage to arrive at the ferry terminal very early: itís not even 3:00, and the ferry wonít head out until 4:45. Itís not even here yet. And so I sit and read, endeavoring to learn more about my bossís job:
After a few minutes, the terminal opens, and the staff begins checking vehicles into the secure holding area. I roll in and park, then wander into the air-conditioned terminal building to read some more. When I come back out an hour later, my bike has been joined by three Harleys.
A few minutes later, the Lake Express
car ferry approaches its pier:
As the pics show, the Lake Express is a moderately sized vessel, able to carry 46 cars and 248 passengers across the lake to Milwaukee. She entered service in June 2004
, and I first crossed in July 2004 on the way to the UnRally in Cody. She is made primarily of aluminum rather than steel, which significantly reduces weight and therefore drag in the water, part of what enables her top speed of 40 MPH. The pictures above reveal the second secret of her speed, the catamaran hull design: with two widely-spaced hulls, she can remain safely stable without any ballast, further reducing weight over a more traditional single-hull design. The Lake Express provides one quarter of the vehicle/passenger capacity of the SS Badger (her antiquated competitor) but only weighs 1/30 as much!
The third secret to speed? Brute strength: 4 diesel-powered water jets provide 12,000 horsepower, 60% more than the far larger SS Badger. The crossing to Milwaukee will take just 2.5 hours. In spite of its impressive speed, it still takes more time than simply riding through Chicago (assuming no traffic jams)
, and itís considerably more expensive. However, itís also much
more pleasant, and dammit, Iím on vacation.
Finally all of the vehicles from Milwaukee have rolled off of the Ferry, and the terminal staff gives us riders the command to come aboard before any of the cars. We oblige, and happily end up positioned at the stern of the vessel:
The ferry will dock stern-first in Milwaukee, so we will be among the first to disembark.
With the bike securely tied down for the crossing, I head upstairs to watch the departure activities. In short order all the vehicles and passengers are aboard; the ferry slowly backs away from the pier, and begins quietly gliding across Muskegon Lake, headed for Lake Michigan.
Along the way, there are great views of the surrounding shoreline, recreational boats, and other items like the Milwaukee Clipper
, a ship that has performed a wide variety of duties over the past 100 years and now serves as a floating museum:
After a brief cruise across the lake, weíve reached the strait through which the Muskegon River empties into Lake Michigan. Itís half a mile long, but only a couple hundred feet wide; recreational boaters keep their distance as the much larger ferry passes by, but everyone still waves like long lost buddies.
Half way through the passage, we cruise past the USS Silversides
This is a submarine that sent a large number of Japanese vessels to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean during WWII. Like the Milwaukee Clipper, the Silversides now serves as a floating Museum.
The whole time across Muskegon Lake and through the strait, the ferry has been in ďNo WakeĒ mode, cruising at a modest 10 MPH or so:
Finally we pass the breakwater
at the mouth of river, and the captain calls on the full fury of the engines. In the space of about a minute, the water jets accelerate us to warp speed, and we begin our rapid progress toward Milwaukee:
I bide my time seated at the stern, reading for about a half hour, occasionally glancing up to see the Michigan coastline receding further and further into the distance. A little while later we pass by a ďtall ship,Ē a three-masted sailing vessel thatís either an antique or a faithful replica. Regretfully, by the time I look up to see it, itís already too far away for decent photos.
I wander around on the boat, pausing to spend some time in the stiff breeze flowing across the top deck:(click on image to open full-size panoramic in a new browser window)
The photo doesnít capture the sensation of speed I enjoy as I stand there. With the wind hitting me in the face and the water rapidly passing by two stories below, I canít help but thinking to myself: man, this thing kicks ass.
About ten miles from Milwaukee, I happen to come up onto the observation deck just as we are approaching another
tall ship. This time Iím ready for it, and I snap a pretty good photo:
I resolve to search the web later and find out the story behind these two old-style sailing vessels, but then learn that there are a surprisingly large number of tall ships prowling about Lake Michigan, making it all but impossible to identify these two particular ones.
Five miles from Milwaukee, the city skyline comes into view through a heavy layer of haze; the effect is a bit like heading for Denver on I-76, and spotting the Rocky Mountains as you come over a rise. As we near the breakwater, the captain dials the power back, and the boat quickly decelerates back to no-wake speed. Drivers and riders are sent to the vehicle deck to make their cars and bikes ready for departure. This is when I discover that being parked at the stern of the boat isnít all that good a deal: the exhaust from the big diesels lingers in this area as the vessel is backing up to the pier, and I inhale rather a lot more of it than I would like. Moreover, it takes a fair amount of time to remove the tie-downs from my bike, hang them back up on the wall, and get all my riding gear on. Working as quickly as I can, I finish just in time to start the engine and roll off the boat without holding up anyone behind me. Whew.
Thirty seconds later Iím on the highway headed north along the lakeshore, and then west toward Madison. As I move away from the lake the temperature steadily climbs from 75 to 85 degrees, but with the sun mostly out of sight behind the trees, itís a nice, cozy feeling, not at all too hot. Within four miles I pass by Miller Park
, home of the Milwaukee Brewers. Even when viewed from the highway, itís an impressive structure. Not only was it one of Wisconsinís biggest construction projects, it was also the site of a spectactular and tragic accident
during its construction.
About 30 miles from Madison, I cruise past Aztalan Cycle Club,
a motocross track. Good memories here: I was a grad student in Madison in the 1990ís, and I spent some time here in Ď94 watching a friend compete in motocross races. Hereís a shot of my buddy Phil as he follows the ILS beam down for a perfect landing on the stripes:
I came back again a couple of times in 1996, helping another friend lay out observed-trials courses, and then watching the competition. I was pretty handy with a mountain bike, but I never was able to do anything very graceful on a trials motorcycle. My buddy Dave, OTOH, became a frickiní mountain goat when he climbed aboard:
After leaving the ghosts of Aztalan behind, I cruise the remaining miles to the outskirts of Madison. Iím glad to be back. Not only did I spend six years here as a grad student, I also spent four years here as a little kid; this is the city where I rode my purple Schwinn Sting Ray through the rain to West Towne Cinema to watch Star Wars in 1977. Having spent formative years here as a child and as a young adult, there will always be a special place in my heart for this city.
I cruise the length of Goreham Street into the heart of downtown, perfectly timed to catch a stunning
sunset through the clearing of James Madison Park. After finally reaching State Street, I park the bike and walk the last couple of blocks to one of my favorite restaurants:
These guys have been cranking out gyros for nearly as long as Iíve been alive. My sister and her husband ate here when they attended UW in the 80ís Ė so did my brother - and I ate here (a lot)
in the 90ís, too. One semester my class schedule set me up to come here twice a week; it was paradise. The staff got to know me, and before the end of that semester, they would start prepping my dish as soon as I walked in the door, the same thing each time Ė and I order the same thing yet again tonight:
Itís not a true gyro, itís a ďchic-n-bob.Ē Same flatbread, onions, tomatoes and incredible tatziki
, but with herbed, char-grilled chicken instead of the usual gyro meat. A slice of heaven. Every. Single. Time.
I take my tray and head for one of the sidewalk tables. The weather tonight is great for eating outside and doing some people-watching; the sidewalks of State Street are always crowded with an interesting blend of people, and itís invariably entertaining to watch and listen to them as they stroll by.
With my appetite properly sated, I saddle up and cruise a few miles to my hotel on the west edge of town, strategically chosen for a quick egress into the countryside early tomorrow morning. Itís been a long, hot day, and Iím pretty whipped:
After a shower and a shave, Iím feeling much better:
The weather for tomorrowís ride is questionable Ė a 30% chance of rain Ė but my only option is to get up early and ride as far as I can before the rain hits.