Great Lakes Gold – 2009

I hadn’t really planned on doing a Great Lakes Gold ride this year, since I had several other rides I wanted to do, but when I changed jobs back in May, and consequently lost a week’s vacation time, I had to change some of my plans. Griff had talked to me in the past about attempting this ride, and with the route for it only being a few miles from my house, it once again entered into my thoughts as a route I could do on short notice, and with little time off. The real tipping point is when I was reading about all you peeps that went out to CFR. It was as I was reading about those rides that I decided I NEEDED to get on the road for a few days.

I got the go ahead from both my wife and boss at the new job to take a few days for the ride, but they seemed in total agreement that I was totally nuts. While a few people outside of the riding community thought the idea sounded cool, everyone agreed that I was crazy for wanting to do the ride. When asked “Why” I answered that it was for the same reason I use to mountain climb; because it is there, and I like the challenge of it.

The first item I needed to take care of was getting a new passport. I was a bit worried about getting it in time, but as it turned out it only took about 3 weeks. I did not pay the extra money to have it expedited.

Planning the route was pretty easy, since there are several reports online from people who have done the ride in the past, and with the points you are required to get receipts from there isn’t a ton of room for flexibility. I am having problems getting my route to print, but here is what my route looked like more or less, but I started in Rockford IL:

The two decisions I had to make was if I wanted to do the route clockwise or counterclockwise, and if I wanted to take the northern route while in Canada, or stay closer to the lake. I decided to go counterclockwise, since that way I would be going around Chicago during the very early hours of the morning, and at the beginning of the ride. Being tired and not knowing for sure what time I might hit the Chicago area as I was trying to finish the ride did not seem like a good idea to me. I decided to take the northern route while in Canada because I wanted to avoid as much traffic as possible and the fuel stops were close enough together to be doable.

As the time for the ride got closer, a few other forum members were talking about going with me, but in the end work got in the way for them, and I went on my own. There are pro’s and con’s to with others or by yourself, and I was fine with either way.

I have to admit that I did this ride with as little planning and preparation as I think I have done just about any trip in my life. I did borrow a SPOT from another forum member, but at the request of my wife I had it in the “OK” mode for the ride. This way I could send her a text message every few hours to let her know I was OK, since she doesn’t have access to the internet while at work, but could keep her cell phone with her. The day before the ride I was going past an REI store, and decided to pick up a few MSR fuel bottles just in case. I ended up not needing them, but it was very nice to know I had them just in case. I also had the tires on the bike changed the day before I left, and I was darn glad I did with the amount of rain I hit. Other than that, it was pretty much just get on the bike, tell the GPS to “GO”, and then ride, ride, and ride. I didn’t make any hotel reservations, I didn’t do anything to “Get in shape” for the ride, and I only took a few very brief minutes to look over the bike before hitting the road.

After short night sleep of about 5 hours, I hit the road at 3:19 Thursday morning. I had checked with the gas station I wanted to use for my starting receipt the day before to make sure I could get the receipt I would need, and there appeared to be no issues. However, when I went and filled up before getting on the actual route, the printer at the pump failed. OK, into the store to get a copy. SHIT, the copy doesn’t have half the information I need. Back out to the pumps, back up to another pump for a splash, and then the correct receipt. I lost about 10 minutes right off the bat.

The ride around Chicago was completely uneventful. I ride in the area a lot for work, so I am familiar with the roads, traffic patterns, and tolls.

That brings up my first point of advice. DO NOT even think of trying this ride without an I-Pass or EZ-Pass for the tolls. As it was I still had to manually pay a toll in OH, and for the bridge right before the border, but otherwise I only had to slow down, and I didn’t have to fumble for any money.

I made really good time going across Indiana, and Ohio, and the roads were pretty much just mile after boring mile of slab. There were a few things to see here and there, but still, slab is slab.

My real first bit of excitement started as I was entering Pennsylvania, and then my first gas stop in New York. As I was entering into PA, the sky’s got dark, and the temp dropped like a rock. I still had my heavier clothes under my Stich from the beginning of the ride, so the temps actually felt good for awhile, and in the end the rain was light and brief. My planned gas stop turned out to be completely closed, and the next stop for gas that was right on the highway was 32 miles away. I wasn’t as far into my reserve as I feared I might be when I pulled in, but the 50+ cars waiting in line to get gas once again cost me a bunch of time. The sky as I entered PA:

One downside to starting a little earlier than I did was that I hit the border right at rush hour. It still may have been a good thing tough, since I think it would have been even worse later into the night, with people going north for a three day weekend. It only took about 15-20 minutes, and I consoled myself during the wait by looking at the SMOKING HOT Canadian border agent. Sorry, the camera had been packed away due to the fear of rain, so no pictures. I was surprised that she didn’t even ask me to take off my full-face helmet, but maybe she had seen enough of my ugliness to decide she had seen enough of my ugliness.

After crossing into Canada, I got my first appreciation for how SLOW their speed limits are set. The first few miles after the crossing were bad, but then people started to ignore the limit more and more as we drove towards Ottawa. My first gas stop in Canada was also a bit of a surprise for me. I now remember reading something about the gas stations up there not having “Pay at the Pump” but when I first rolled in, and couldn’t see a place to insert my credit card, I was perplexed. Then when a guy came out and wanted to fill the bike for me, I was stunned. I haven’t seen a full service gas station in probably 20 years. There were several full service stations along the way, but they were all OK with my “I’ll fill it, and you can keep me company” statement. If they thought I was going to let them overfill the tank, and get gas everywhere, or under fill it so I run out on one of the longer legs, they were very mistaken. As I was paying for the gas a few ladies commented that I was going to get rained on. Sure as hell about 15 minutes of driving West, and the sky started to open up. It rained HARD and HEAVY for the rest of the way to North Bay, and there was a lightning show that made me seriously think about trying to find some place to hold up, but every time I thought about it there was nothing in sight, and when there was a place to stop it seemed to be letting up. The up side of the rain was that I knew the chances of encountering any wildlife on the road went way down.

When I got into North Bay I was feeling pretty good, but decided I had had enough for the day, and didn’t want to ride in the rain any longer. I topped off with gas, spoke briefly to a guy working at a local air force base about the FJR and how much he liked it, and then went to the Super 8 to get a room. I got the last room they had, a “Suite” and got a good 4 hours of sleep. I must have been more tired than I realized, since I was sound asleep within 5 minutes of lying down. I think the rain over the last 3 hours of the ride really took its toll, and in retrospect stopping and getting those few hours sleep was one of the best decisions I made during the ride.

I awoke to my “Screaming Meanie,” and since this was the first time I have ever used it I had a hell of a time figuring out, while still half asleep, how to turn the thing off. I was smart enough to jamb the thing under the pillow and then press buttons, instead of waking the entire hotel up. I was also smart enough to have it set on the lower level, since I am a light sleeper normally. I quickly took a shower, and basically got back to feeling human again. I hit the road to head north into the woods at around 3:45 am.

The rain that made my life so much fun the night before must have been on the edge of a cold front that made the first few hours of Friday a real joy. From North Bay up to Cochrane the temp never got above 40 degrees, and went as low as 35 degrees. I was SO GLAD I had packed my electric heated gear with me. Who would have ever though I would be freezing my ass off on a ride at the beginning of August? The other thing that came with the cold temps was fog. All of the rivers and lakes in the area were giving off really thick fog, which made visibility go down to a few yards in some places. There are few things that are more fun than freezing your ass off, while riding through thick fog, and trying to keep an eye out for the odd Moose that might be on the road.

I wasn’t entirely sure that I was even going to make it into Cochrane, since do to filling up the night before, and then going to the hotel, I had added about 20 miles onto my route. In the end, I was 48 miles into the reserve when I made it to the Husky Gas station in Cochrane. This is a 24 hour station for anyone who is wondering, and there were actually a few newer stations along the way, but they were all closer to North Bay. After filling up, I ended up talking with the cashier, who just couldn’t understand why I would want to ride a sport touring bike and not one of the new Yamaha V-Star cruisers. I guess you either get it, or you don’t.

Pretty much all of the roads I was on while in Canada had a speed limit of 90 KPH. That is something like 56-57 miles per hour. As I was riding the roads after fueling up in Cochrane, I thought that there was just no way anyone could be expected to ride roads this straight, and this empty at that speed. As it turns out, the local authorities really do expect you to stay near that speed limit.

I won’t ever thank an officer for giving me a ticket, but I am thinking about writing a letter to this officer’s superiors to let them know that this officer set the standard for being polite and courteous. In the end he gave me a pretty good break off of my 27 KPH over the limit, and I have to pay a small fine. It is funny how the officer being nice about things, and treating me like an adult instead of a kid who got caught with a his hand in the cookie jar, made a huge difference in my attitude about getting a ticket. Thanks Officer J. Kingsley. I tried to keep it within the 20 KPH grace area the officer said he normally allowed people from then on, but I may have gone a little over that once or twice. Here is my only souvenir I brought back from Canada.

Things were going fine until I was pulling into Thunder Bay. While sitting at a light just before my next gas stop I noticed my reflection in the tailgate of the pickup in front of me that one of my headlights was out. I decided not to take the chance of the other one burning out while in Northern Wisconsin later that night, and having to try and change it out in a dark parking lot, or worse yet on the side of the road. I spent a good 15 to 20 minutes getting the headlight changed out in the parking lot, and overheard the usual comments about my bike and Stich from a group of “The Tribe” that had pulled into the gas station.

I had been looking forward to the stretch of the ride from Thunder Bay down to Duluth, since I had heard the views of the lake were pretty good, but to be honest I wasn’t all that impressed. Here is one of two photo’s I took:

I think the views might be better if you are going in the opposite direction, but I don’t know. Unfortunately, I also was riding this section late in the afternoon Friday, which meant there was all kinds of weekend traffic. Luckily, I hit the border crossing just right, and was able to get through in a total of about 5 minutes, and was actually a little happy that the US border agents asked me to take off my helmet and asked a few more questions. I am OK with it being slightly harder to get into the US. There are several tunnels as you are about to get into Duluth, and I found those kind of cool.

I made the mistake of planning for a gas station right in downtown Duluth, which was off route, even though it looked like it was very close. There are several gas stations a little further south of where I stopped that are right on the route, and would have saved me probably around 10-15 minutes. I also had the joy of once again having to go into the gas station to get a receipt, since the receipt at the pump refused to print. I am usually very fast at getting in and out of gas stops, but on this ride I ran into more problems with the automated pump receipts than I ever have in my life.

It was amazing how the temps began to rise as soon as I was headed south and away from Lake Superior. From North Bay down to Duluth the temps never got above 65, and Duluth was downright chilly at 60 degrees, but within minutes of heading south it was in the mid 70’s. And that was when the rain started again. It rained a light steady rain for just about the entire state of Wisconsin, which while not a lot of fun, once again had the benefit of lowering the chances of having a close encounter with a forrest rat. Overall Wisconsin was uneventful, and despite the traffic being pretty heavy I made good time.

I pulled off at the same exit I had started the route at, and went to get my final gas receipt, from the same station I had stated at. You would think that with over 16 pumps to choose from my chances of getting one that wouldn’t give me a receipt would be very slim, but sure as hell, the receipt gods once again decided they didn’t like me. So I pulled over to another pump to do a splash and get the oh-so valuable paper receipt. Once again, I had no luck, as the pump read “See clerk for receipt” and from my experience at the start of the ride, I knew that wasn’t going to do me any good. So I decided to dash across the street to a Mobil to try again. Again I put in about $0.12 worth of gas, and again I got the dreaded “See clerk for receipt” message. I went in and after a few minutes of trying to print something the clerk said “Sorry my printer is freaking out.” At this point I am about ready to lose it. I stomp back out to the bike, and head towards the last gas station that I can think of in the area. Luckily, on this my 4th try, I finally got a good receipt with all the information required by the IBA. I could have asked any of the maybe 16 year old clerks for a hand written receipt, but I wanted a computer one that in my mind seemed more official.

I finally pulled into my garage at 11:32 Friday night, after 2483 miles according to the ODO on the bike. The GPS gave the total mileage as 2437.5 miles, which sounded to be about the right amount I know my ODO is off. My overall average speed was 62.2 MPH, and my moving average was 67.4 MPH. Max speed was …..OK it was 111 MPH at one point. My stopped time was 2:59 minutes, but keep in mind that ALL of these numbers do not include my 5 hour rest stop in North Bay. That is probably when some punk kids took my bike out and ran it up to 111 MPH. Fooking deviants.

During the entire ride I consumed about a half to ¾ of a gallon of lemonade, which is my preferred drink for LD rides. Tart enough to wake me up, no caffeine, and still hydrates. I had a small bowl of oatmeal before I started the ride early Thursday morning, and then only had 3 Snickers bars while at gas stops. I didn’t even think about being hungry until I was almost home.

As far as my gear, my Sidi “On Road” boots were 100% waterproof throughout all the rain. They get an A++ in my book. My Aerostich also was completely waterproof during the ride. My Stich has been great ever since I started doing the wash in waterproofing at the beginning of the season, started paying very close attention to the inner flaps and how they line up when I know I am going to be riding in the rain, and I seam sealed the entire suite. I chose to wear my Shoei X-11 instead of my Multitech for the ride, since I figured I wouldn’t be talking to a lot of people, wouldn’t be eating much, and the X-11 is far more comfortable for me. I took several pairs of gloves, but only used my Icon medium weight ones, and the North Face rain over gloves during the entire ride. I had used the North Face gloves in the past and had problems, but I once again used the wash in water proof on them, and they were perfect throughout this ride. I like them since they are a glove, and not a mitten.

I used my pair of LD tights for the first time on this ride, and they are great. I think that because of them, the Russell seat, and the cooler temps I had literally ZERO monkey butt at the end of the ride. The bike ran perfect, and other than the light bulb, I had no problems. I added PHID’s this last winter, and they were fantastic in the very dark areas.

I am glad I did this ride, but to be honest I am not in any hurry to do it again. While not quite as bad as riding across the Great Plains, I found it to be fairly boring overall. It was a good challenge, and time on the bike is always better than time in the office, but for the next ride I want to have something better to look at. I think the BBG I did on the way out to NAFO last year was harder than this ride, but that was probably due to the heat for that ride more than anything else.

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