Day 4: Sunday, August 19
Route: Madison, WI to Ann Arbor, MI
Distance: 268 miles in the saddle plus 78 miles by ferry
What’s the weather like? After the alarm wakes me from my slumber, I open the curtains for a look:
Foggy. Ground level is clear, but the ceiling is somewhere less than 100 feet. The forecast called for sun, and I hope that’s where things are headed.
Breakfast? Better than last time. This is a different hotel, and they serve a hot breakfast here, either from the menu or the buffet. I opt for the buffet, but stay away from the eggs; a big salmonella scare (with a staggering half-billion eggs under recall) is still developing.
I head out to the bike to pack up and depart. As soon as I’m outside, I can smell cow, and it makes me smile. After a few minutes stuffing things into the sidecases, checking the oil and tires, I hit the road. The GPS wants me to take the beltline highway to get around Madison, but I have plenty of time, so I opt for a thru-city route, one last chance to see the sights.
I moved away from here in ‘99. The basic layout of the city is of course the same as it was back then, but in the intervening 11+ years, many of the details have changed: renovation, modernization, increased density, the replacement of unique local restaurants with national chains (‘the Rise of the McChains’
Near the engineering campus, the old Union South
is gone, with construction on its modern replacement nearly complete:
It needed to be replaced alright, but at the same time, the loss of a familiar landmark makes the place just a tiny bit more alien to me. I’m not the only one feeling a twinge of nostalgia
Closer to downtown, University Square
used to be a modest, single-story open-air shopping mall. It has since been replaced by a 2-story mall topped by 10-12 floors of apartment and office space:
In supplanting a single-story building with a 12-story skyscraper, some of the small-town feel has been eliminated; it’s looking more and more like a metropolis around here.
Good grief, I’m starting to sound like a grumpy old stuck-in-the-past curmudgeon.
Despite some minor
ambivalence about the changes in Madison’s skyline, overall it’s been a fantastic three days. At the east edge of town I merge onto the highway with no regrets, happy to have spent some time in my old stomping grounds and out in the countryside.
By the time I reach Milwaukee 80 miles later, the clouds have disappeared completely, and the sun sits alone in a pure blue sky. I roll up to the ferry terminal and take my place at the end of the line of bikes. When I crossed on Thursday, I was accompanied by three Harleys. Today, the ratio has increased somewhat:
Surprise: the rider parked in front of me is one of the three that crossed with me on Thursday. He asks about my weekend, and tells me about his. He lives in Muskegon, and came across on the ferry to attend some gathering in Milwaukee. He didn’t do much riding this weekend, but bringing a bike on the ferry is cheaper than bringing a car on it.
Just like on Thursday, the ferry ties up and unloads, and then the bikes roll on first. This time I’m positioned right in the middle of the vehicle deck:
I won’t be first off the boat, but the good news is I won’t get smoked by the ship’s big diesels, either.
Ten minutes later the ship unties from the pier, and then displays its extraordinary maneuverability:
- 50 feet straight forward from the end of the pier;
- 50 feet straight sideways;
- pivot 180 degrees on the spot;
- head for the harbor entrance.
A time-lapse video of the whole departure sequence is provided by the Lake Express folks here:(click on image to open YouTube video in a new window)
Outside the breakwater, the big diesels do their thing, and we steam toward Muskegon with all haste. Milwaukee recedes into the distance:
After some time I become aware of a faint tan/brown cloud behind the boat, apparently the exhaust plume from the ferry itself:
The emissions standards for marine diesel engines are considerably more relaxed than those for over-the-road trucks; it makes me wonder how bad the stuff was that I was breathing last Thursday.
The exhaust plume in the above photo is just to the left of the ship’s wake. Prior to departure the terminal staff had warned passengers about strong quartering winds and waves (3-5 feet) from the northeast. Indeed, the deck is moving around more than usual. It’s an oddly chaotic, fast motion, far different from the slow, rhythmic bobbing one might expect from a ship this big; my guess is it’s related to the wide stance of the catamaran hull design, and the relatively light weight. Fortunately I’m blessed with a cast-iron stomach, and so this is little more than an entertaining roller coaster ride for me. I don’t have any sunblock with me, and there’s not a cloud in the sky (dammit, just when I NEED one )
, but I still want to stand on the top deck and take it all in. Ultimately I end up dividing my time between the top deck and a shaded outdoor spot on the port side of the vessel. I know I’m going to get a sunburn out of this voyage; as long as it’s a mild one, it’s a price I’m willing to pay.
Somewhere in the middle of the lake, the wind and waves shift a bit until they’re both approaching straight out of the north. White-capped waves are now hitting the boat broadside, and the boat is getting really
squirrelly. Up on the top deck, the gale-force wind combined with the chaotic mix of up-and-down, side-to-side, and tilting motion of the boat itself demands a firm grip on the handrail. I strap the camera to the railing and capture a short video:(click on image to open YouTube video in a new window)
This is my first video production ever. The original audio was basically the deafening sound of a 50-MPH windblast, so I replaced it with some ridiculously overdramatic music.
Regardless, the motion of the deck is pretty impressive, especially toward the end of the video (especially when viewed in full-screen mode)
. The violent wind, the rocking of the deck and the occasional spray of water (two stories above the surf!)
take me back yet again to grad school, where I enjoyed several summers piloting sailboats around Lake Mendota
. Back then we prayed for the strongest winds we could get; there was a visceral thrill in using all of your muscles to hold onto the mainsheet and tiller while hanging your body far out beyond the side of the boat to keep from capsizing, all while the hull pounded through the waves and the wind drove cool spray into your face. Today, with stronger winds and even higher speeds (but minus the mainsheet and tiller)
, the Lake Express gives me an echo of that experience. Here at the front railing on the top deck, I’m not the king of the world, I’m just a dog with his head sticking out of the car window.
As before, when we arrive at the Muskegon breakwater the captain reins in the engines. The waves continue to batter the ship until we get inside the breakwater, and then it’s like throwing a switch: suddenly we’re standing on what feels like a stationary platform. We’re still moving, but you wouldn’t know it if you closed your eyes; our progress is glassy smooth.
Up ahead, the strait is, uh, crowded:
Thankfully all of the recreational boaters clear a path for the ferry – all except one. A single bass boat, whose skipper is either unaware or unconcerned about the approaching behemoth, leaves a distressingly narrow margin between his vessel and ours. As the ferry squeaks by, one of her crew members marches out of the wheelhouse and stands at the railing to snap a series of photos of the offending vessel. I’m guessing these are not souvenir photos, and that the skipper of the bass boat will shortly be hearing from the authorities on matters of maritime law.
Eventually the ferry ties up at the pier, and I loose the bike from the deck and make my escape. 40 miles later I detour from the interstate to head for Burt’s house in Grand Rapids. Although Burt and I have traveled to and from the Smoky Mountains a few times, he has finally had his fill of road riding and sold his RT. After a little rest and conversation, Burt generously presents me with his Haynes service manual; this will be handy for future maintenance and repairs on my RT.
Before long it’s time to finish the trip home, where a delicious dinner awaits. The rest of the trip home is mostly uneventful, although Eric S did spot me on the highway a second time:
What'r the odds...
Saw you coming BACK on Sunday also!
A mile from home, I stop at the grocery store to make a quick purchase:
If you go away on a overnight moto trip and leave a wife or girlfriend waiting for you to come safely home, flowers are mandatory.
Thanks for reading.