Lake Michigan Lighthouse Loop: Day 4 — August 19, 2014

Traverse City, Mich. to Newberry, Mich.

I still can’t believe it … after three whole days of riding, I woke up ready to rock and roll. I might even say I was excited, surprising since Day 4 posed the biggest hurdle of the entire trip (in my mind, at least): crossing the Mackinac Bridge, but we’ll talk about that later.

Unfortunately, there was some confusion about when the hotel started serving breakfast, so we opted to head out early and grab something on the road. The radar, something I had become quite familiar with over the past several days, showed a break the rain that we wanted to take advantage of to start our day. We packed the bike pretty quickly — thanks to the West Bay Beach Resort and their offer of the covered, front-door parking — and were on our way.

The ride out of Traverse City and around the south side of the East Arm of Grand Traverse Bay was fascinating. The area really is a tourist destination with countless lodging and entertainment options along U.S. 31. They ranged from large family friendly, amusement-type resorts to small, budget motels.

The run up the east shore of the East Arm kept me busy looking at the amazing scenery. Water was on the left, and water was on the right (there are several small lakes off the bay). Just outside Charlevoix, we decided it was time for some breakfast. We pulled off to grab a quick bite at McDonald’s with the thought that we’d get something more substantial after the day’s first destination.

As we finished our sandwiches and coffee, I did a quick weather check. Of course, rain was in our future, so we walked out to the bike and pulled on our rain gear. (Thank you, once again, Frogg Togg.) We took a bit longer than we probably should have, but the local football team was practicing in a field just behind the restaurant, so we felt compelled to critique their early-season skills. (Yes, we like to think of ourselves as Statler and Waldorf.)

A mere half hour later, we had a pretty serious talk about our next move. The rain had set in for the duration, and we could either continue on our original path or take a shortcut straight to Mackinaw City. To me, the decision was easy.

Wally had been looking forward to riding the Tunnel of Trees for months. I can’t remember how many different websites and YouTube videos he showed me to get me as ready for it as he was. So when he posed the question, I asked, “When are you ever going to be here on the bike again?” And on we went.

Consisting of about 25 miles of M-119, the scenic road follows the lake, although at times you are quite a few feet above water level — like, a three-story house above water level. I was impressed by how the trees really did form a tunnel over the road. In fact, with the light rain, the thick canopy did a great job of keeping us somewhat dry. The road was a bit rough in places and at times was closer to a lane and a half as opposed to two, but it wasn’t too concerning with the bike. Wally just hugged the right side, and we were all good.

Up as early as we were, there really weren’t many vehicles on the road, which made it easy for us to take our time and really soak it all in. (OK, maybe pun was intended.) The view was surreal. I had been looking at photos and videos for so long, it was hard to believe we were finally experiencing it ourselves — in real life.

The houses along the route were quite varied. The roofs of traditional log cabins peeked out from foliage-covered lots below the road, and grand estate houses with massive circle driveways were above it. Mixed in were average homes, trailer homes and lots of other kinds of homes, but they all worked with their environment.

Thankfully, it was August, so we knew the leaves would be staying put on the trees. If you ride the road in the fall, you definitely would want to use extra caution because I’m sure parts of the road become not just covered but blanketed in layers of leaves. As it was, sections of the road were washed out leaving loose dirt and gravel at the ends of peoples’ drives and lanes. Wally spotted that hazard pretty early on, so we were ready for those surprises when we happened upon them.

As we climbed up out of the tree cover, we saw the sign indicating we were entering Cross Village, where we originally had planned to eat. However, with our early start, the historic Leggs Inn would not open for some time. We still stopped for a photo op and to really stretch our legs after the beautiful but long, slow ride through the Tunnel of Trees.

Leggs Inn

Leggs Inn at the end (or beginning) of the Tunnel of Trees.

The building was gorgeous, with a stone facade and interesting historical facts on signage in the main parking lot. It appeared some part of the place was open because a few locals spotted us walking around and decided to keep an eye on us (at least, that’s what it felt like). Once we were good and ready, we saddled back up and made our way toward Wilderness State Park.

We weren’t actually going to the park but would be driving through it to get to Mackinaw City. Since we were in the middle of nowhere, we kept our eyes peeled for signs pointing to each of our turns, which were pretty easy to find. We also spotted quite a bit of wildlife, including a dog-sized animal that ran into the brush before we could identify it. Maybe a coyote, but I’m guessing it was a fox by the way it moved. Of course, that’s just a guess.

Our directions once again proved wonderful, taking us the back way into Mackinaw City. We found the Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse quickly and easily.

Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse

Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse on the shore of Lake Huron.

The lighthouse compound was quite extensive with a bathroom/vending area conveniently located outside the main site just off the parking lot. Refreshed after our pit stop, we snapped a couple photos of the lighthouse and then walked down by the water — Lake Huron. That’s when I got my first real good look at it, where Interstate 75 crosses the Straits of Mackinac.

Mackinac Bridge

The Mackinac Bridge connecting mainland Michigan to the Upper Peninsula over Lake Michigan.

From the moment Wally first mentioned this trip to me, I had one question: How do we get from mainland Michigan to the Upper Peninsula? The short answer: Over the longest suspension bridge in the western hemisphere (fifth longest in the world).

If you’ve read my blog for very long, you know how I feel about bridges. You also would understand why my name for the Mackinac Bridge is “the Big, Bad, Super Scary.” Yep, that’s what I call it because that’s what it was, is and always will be.

Lake Huron

Sticking my hand in the water on the shore of Lake Huron with the Big, Bad, Super Scary in the background.

So, there we were standing on the shore, me with just a little water in my boot, looking at the impressive, unnerving, 5-mile basis of my nightmares. Deciding between touring the lighthouse or tackling the bridge, I checked the radar. You guessed it: Rain was coming. Well, stronger rain because it already was misting in addition to a bit of fog and some wind. Yeah, I was not in my happy place, and it was about to get worse.

We figured out that we had just enough time to cross the bridge before the worst of what was headed our way would arrive. Choice made: Let’s get across!

As we merged onto I-75 from the on-ramp, I very calmly told Wally I love him. Of course, he said everything was going to be fine to which I replied I was just making sure.

Not far from where I grew up is a former toll bridge over the Missouri River with a grated surface. No pavement, just heavy metal grates that you can see through to the water. I absolutely hate driving a car over that bridge. Guess what part of the Mackinac Bridge is like? You betcha!

So, on top of the rain, fog and wind, I had grating to deal with. Oh, and construction that required we ride in that lane for quite a while. Trust me, the nanosecond Wally could get into the right lane, I was all over that option.

The good news: The ride was beautiful. Honestly, I am so glad we did it. The view is amazing; I dare say it is exhilarating. Check out this video for an idea of the experience from my perspective. (I actually watched the video a few times while preparing for our trip to try to desensitize myself to the big, bad, super-scariness of it all — with no luck.)

An important item of note is that the bridge requires a toll, so be sure you are ready for it. I had a couple loose dollars, so I could hand Wally whatever he needed as soon as we got to the booth. There is a sign detailing the different vehicle fees that gives you quite a bit of time to prepare your payment. Of course, not easy if you’re driving the bike. Just be ready with some cash.

What felt like an eternity later, we were in the U.P. and ascending out of the lowland lakeshore. The rain was significantly stronger, the air was colder and I was really hungry. We had planned to stop for something on the north side of the bridge. What we didn’t know is that town ends quickly and abruptly on that side of the bridge, so we continued on in search of lunch.

Exit 352 took us to our final road for the day, M-123, which cuts north right through the middle of the Sault Sainte Marie Forest Area. We were in awe of our surroundings. The entire landscape changed in the U.P. The trees were different, the grass was different, heck, even the air was different.

Just as I settled in for a bit of a ride, we spotted one of the most glorious sights of my life: a sign for King’s Fish Market and Restaurant. Wally had been saying he wanted to hold out for some local whitefish. Two birds. One restaurant.

King's Whitefish

King’s Whitefish in Michigan’s U.P.

A mix of a fish market and and a casual diner, you could easily miss the place thinking it was only retail. I wasn’t willing to not give it a try.

Stepping in that front door was life changing, and all my senses jumped into action. The wave of warm air that enveloped me was so very welcome by my chilled-to-the-bone body. (Seriously, it was August!) The smell of fried food and smoked fish filled my nose and made me even hungrier.

We selected a table along the wall and waited for our hostess to finish up with her other customers. The warmth of the room felt unbelievably good, and we quickly found ourselves shedding our many layers to let them dry a bit during our meal.

The menu was pretty simple but exactly what you’d expect: homemade soup (whitefish chowder) and a variety of baskets (served with house-made fries and coleslaw). For the less adventurous, there were chicken tenders and fried shrimp, but we weren’t there for that. We both went for the Great Lakes Whitefish Basket, which comes with “3 pieces of fresh and locally caught, lightly battered whitefish” that’s deep-fried.

What you should know about me and fish is that my father’s nickname was “Catfish,” due to his renowned talent for catching and cooking it among many other types of fish. So when I say the whitefish was really good, that’s saying something.

Whitefish Basket

The Great Lakes Whitefish Basket at King’s Whitefish.

The batter was light and just thick enough to create a crunchy texture but not overpower the delicate meat. If you’re someone who doesn’t generally like fish, you should give whitefish a try. It’s rather mild, without that “muddy” taste so many people dislike. Ours was cooked to perfection, readily flaking at the touch of a fork.

The accompanying fries were much like you get with fish and chips at our local English pub — skin on and cooked through but not super crispy. Normally, I prefer that type of fry with malt vinegar, but I figured that wasn’t an option and happily munched them bare.

The coleslaw was an excellent complement to the meal. Its creaminess countered the heavier flavor of the fried items perfectly. I really enjoyed the diced, rather than shred, texture of the carrots and celery, which made their flavors easier to pick up on next to the cabbage.

At just under $8 per basket, our meal was a very affordable $25 with sodas and tip. And when I remember how desperate I was for warmth that day, I would say the price was way more than fair!

King’s is located at 4035 N. M-123 in Moran, Michigan. When open for the season, lunch and dinner are served daily from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., except for Fridays when they have an all-you-can-eat fish fry and are open until 7 p.m.

Warmed up and well fed, it was kickstand up and off to finish the day’s adventure. First stop, Lake Superior.

The ride through the forest was fascinating. The landscape was so very different than anything I’d seen before. As we rolled along the smooth black ribbon of pavement, I scoured the trees looking for signs of wildlife. I was looking even harder after he reminded me about moose. Just imagine the damage a moose could do to a motorcycle!

Lake Superior

Experiencing Lake Superior up close.

Just south of Paradise, our northernmost point of the trip, we spotted a little roadside park along the shore. We pulled over and walked to the water’s edge, where the water’s edge introduced itself to my foot as I was reaching down to touch my third Great Lake. Yowzers — that water was cold.

Another 15 minutes or so down the road, we arrived at Tahquamenon Falls State Park, home to two major falls. After paying a small fee to get into the park, we explored the Lower Falls first, which is a series of smaller falls that require a short walk to see. However, if you really want to see them, you can take a park shuttle ride down to the shore or go as far as rent a canoe to cross the river for an up-close inspection.

We opted for the short excursion to simply view the falls then rode the short distance to the entrance for the Upper Falls. The slightly longer walk to see this sight was way worth it. According to the Michigan DNR, the Upper Falls, “one of the largest waterfalls east of the Mississippi, has a drop of nearly 50 feet, more than 200 feet across and a water flow of more than 50,000 gallons per second.” Yeah, it was cool.

Tahquamenon Falls State Park

The Upper Falls at Tahquamenon Falls State Park.

With only 30 miles to our hotel, the sun finally made an appearance, enhancing an already awesome day of riding. As we rolled into Newberry, I spotted a Shell gas station, so we took advantage of the chance to fuel up before parking for the night.

Just a couple short blocks later, we spotted the Newberry Comfort Inn. To be honest, I was thrilled to see it. It had been a long day with a pure adrenaline rush right in the middle of it.

We knew we made a good choice as soon as I went to check in. The woman at the front desk noticed my helmet and suggested we park right outside the front doors, across the driveway but still under the entrance’s roof — for more security and to stay out of the weather. She also motioned to a bucket by the door with rags in it and explained that they provide the rags for bikers to wipe down/dry their bikes with. How awesome, especially on this rather wet trip! Just keep in mind that their website says the hotel will become a Quality Inn & Suites in April.

Bags placed in the room, we ventured out across the highway to the Sunoco station that doubled as a liquor store. We were planning a night in, so we wanted to buy a few provisions for our mini fridge. The store was next door to a place we had considered eating dinner at called Timber Charlie’s. It looked enjoyable, but we really were wanting something a bit more laid back.

Back at the hotel with cold drinks in hand, we started our chores: the laundry. We knew during planning that we would need a good cleaning by the halfway point in the trip, so we planned ahead to make sure this night’s lodging would have laundry facilities. Once the washer was humming along, we checked out what the website claims to be the “largest indoor hot tub in the U.P.”

It was not disappointing! In fact, calling it a hot tub seems less correct than small hot pool. The best way to describe it would be to think of those swim-in-place exercise pools that are advertised on TV but about 50 percent wider and twice as long. It was perfect for the post-ride stretching that had become a beneficial habit for us. That’s right, We were toe touching, side bending, knee lifting and lunging in that gloriously warm water. If you’ve never tried it, I highly recommend it to keep your muscles from tightening up or becoming sore.

Fully stretched, we returned to our room to finish the laundry, shower and repack everything to be ready to roll in the morning. It had been such a great day, but we were both tired and wanted something quick, easy and comforting. Thankfully, there was a familiar face just next door: Pizza Hut.

It was an easy choice with its cheesy goodness, consistent product and tendency to have a liquor license for serving beer. We put on our shoes one last time for the day and walked across the parking lot. After ordering a supreme (no olives) and a pitcher of beer, we settled back in our booth and reflected on the day’s adventure. It was hard to believe we’d seen so much in one day — again. It was hard not to grin as we people watched our way through dinner and back to the hotel, where we happily settled into the sheets to watch TV and drift off to sleep.

About cmiles

Motorcycle passenger who loves the wind and wants to share great ride experiences with others. View all posts by cmiles

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