The Lake Michigan 1000

On October 9th, 2015 at 3:00am, three men set out early in the morning with the goal of riding counter-clockwise around Lake Michigan in less than 24 hours.Prior to this trip I had never done more than 650 miles in a day. What the hell was I doing?

I don’t remember how I stumbled on to the Iron Butt Association, but I was immediately hooked. Not only was this going to fill up my vest with patches, but the next time one of my “Harley is the only bike” friends said something I could just point to proof of my awesome endurance (both man and machine) to shut them up. Bragging rights. I liked the idea of belonging to a group calling themselves “The World’s Toughest Riders”.

I encourage you to go read about them on their site, but essentially you have to follow their rules and document your ride.The documenting mostly consists of:

  • Getting a start and end witness to sign a form saying they saw you there at that time
  • Keeping gas receipts and a log of your stops and odometer reading
  • Ideally, having a GPS record of the trip. I use Bubbler GPS on my phone and have a free Spotwalla account.
  • Some of the more extreme rides have additional witness requirements.

Spotwalla is also a great way to let your family keep tabs on you. My kids like to look at it to see where Dad is at, and I have a feeling my wife would want a lot more calls/TXTs without the map.

I didn’t have heated gear at the time and I knew it would be cold.Two pairs of socks, two pairs of thermal underwear, three long sleeve shirts, a leather jacket I almost never wear, and a full face helmet I almost never wear (I’m a half helmet guy), rain proof gloves, and a balaclava.

I was riding with two other guys: a Harley guy I ride with from time to time and a Wingnut. Word of advice to the Wingnuts: the Iron Butt website calls out the Goldwing specifically for not having accurate odometers. Plan ahead and don’t rely on it to make sure you’ve got enough miles.

With Lake Michigan right next door, Milwaukeeans don’t have a lot of options to get places that don’t involve a brush with Chicago. Chicago traffic is  nearly always a shitshow. If you ride through Chicago more than once a year it’s worth getting an iPass – no stopping and dicking around with money for tolls. While many of us enjoy country rides on two-lane roads, the freeway offers the best way maintain enough average speed to successfully complete a timed ride like this.

The sun came up as we started heading North. Around 10am as we left Grand Rapids, MI in the rear view, I couldn’t believe how beautiful Michigan can be in the fall. I’ve lived next door for 20 years and have never gone to Michigan on purpose. The Mackinac Bridge connects Michigan to the Upper Peninsula. We stopped in Mackinaw City for some food before going across. I was cold and tired: I hand’t slept much the night before because I was excited for this trip. A little food is what I needed and we crossed into the U.P. for what was to be the best part of the trip. Highway 2 is a great stretch of road: tree tunnels and glimpses of Lake Michigan on your left, what a sunset. I really wish I would have taken pictures, but at the time I hadn’t thought of writing about it.

Late at night in the U.P., it got colder. At one point my bike thermometer showed 40 degrees. I wound up throwing on my rain gear since it’s not permeable and would be a little more wind protection. We told so many “assless chaps” jokes back in the day I’ll probably never be able to own a pair of chaps.

So there I was with 4 pairs of pants on basically, riding South towards home and on the lookout for deer. South of Fond du Lac we started peeling off for our respective homes. My wife witnessed my return to the same gas station where I started, and I went home and had a beer.

Anyway, here’s the GPS record of the trip. Since the GPS drains the phone battery, I have taken to traveling with this extra battery to keep my phone charged. This is far from the fastest route, so if you just want to get it done, veer further East into Michigan and stay on the freeway.


Bike Camping

One of the things I absolutely love about riding bikes is bike camping.

When you ride, reality is in your face in a visceral way you forget about if you go from your house to your car to your job. If you don’t ride a bike, drive a convertible, or take a long walk from where you park to where you work, you get so isolated from reality you don’t recognize it. Think about it. In your cage do you smell someone’s smoker or burning leaves? Feel the humidity on your face? Hear the sounds of someone running a circle saw in their garage? Do you smell fresh cut grass in the summer? Can you smell when it’s going to rain or feel the pressure changing? 100 years ago everyone could, now we just know when Game of Thrones is coming.

I love all the gadgets in my house, but like Edward Norton said in Fight Club, the things we own end up owning us. There’s so much shit to worry about you can’t sleep at night. But on the motorcycle, a lot of that falls away. As long as I have my key and my saddlebags are latched, I’m good. Not much else to worry about. Sunscreen during the summer because I burn superfuckingeasy.

So on the bike you are:

  • Unencumbered
  • Experiencing nature with your sight and ears and nose
  • Making vitamin D through your sunburned skin
  • Loving life

Now, add camping to that. If you don’t like camping, you probably won’t like motorcycle camping. Go somewhere else, this post is not for you. If you do like camping, imagine the joys of camping but with even more minimalism, and the camping starts before you even get to the campsite.

In the summer of 2015 my brother and I decided to experiment with camping gear. We both settled on variants of the military sleep system. It’s a rain proof bivy with two bags inside it. Properly configured you can sleep comfortably in 90 degree weather or -30. Because we’re middle aged and cranky we also brought a tarp in case of torrential downpour and a self-inflating air-pad each. No tents or anything like that.

We headed up to Lake Wazee, Black River Falls WI.

Now as I’ve mentioned before and I’m sure I’ll mention again: I like food. I like to eat. There is no situation in which I can’t overdo it on food. So campfire cooking is a fun challenge for me. I have made fucking awesome meals for 12+ people with two cast iron pans, a pair of tongs, and an open fire. Even with my generous saddle bags, though, space is at a premium when bike camping. I settled on one folding-handle Coleman skillet and just a few supplies:

  • A handful of charcoal to help our firewood
  • A handful of wood chips because: wood smoke baby
  • A simple tongs
  • 1 simple chef’s knife
  • tiny jar of olive oil
  • tiny saly & pepper containers
  • a few feet of aluminum foil, folded

We found a corner grocery store with steaks, mushrooms, and some broccoli. By making a smoke-collecting hood out of foil I was able to get some wood smoke on a couple of bone-in ribeyes and use a tiny amount of olive oil to cook up some mushrooms and broccoli. We sat in the dirt and ate like kings.

Now, we came to the campsite and dropped off some of our gear before going grocery shopping. This meant I had room for beer. You may notice that my Victory saddlebags are a touch more generous than your standard Harley bags, but I believe they are both water tight. I’ll just say that while saddlebags are not meant to be insulating, they hold enough ice to keep a lot of beer cold for a long time.

If one were to pack towels one could enjoy a lot of ice cold beer and safely haul their gear the next day. If you’re in Wazee, like we were, you should have a towel anyway because the swimming in the lake is fantastic.

We had a great time eating, drinking suds, warming by the fire, and talking while the stars wheeled overhead. The only downside was we underestimated the mosquitoes. The mozzies were all over the place like white on a rice-filled paper-plate in a snowstorm. While they didn’t bite me through the bivy, they could smell that I was there, and the flying around an inch from my face kept me awake. Despite having polished off a respectable-even-for-Wisconsin amount of beer the night before, we were up and out of there at 6am to escape the torture.

Still, my brother and I talk about this as one of the best times we’ve had. We were only 150 miles from home, it was only one night, and we didn’t go to some amazing destination like Pike’s Peak or the Dragon’s Tail. But we rode. We smelled the countryside. We ate a simple meal cooked over hot coals, drank cold beer, and talked about whatever men talk about under the stars until we fell asleep. There was no 4G LTE there. I couldn’t live blog this on Facebook as it was happening. Someone in a nearby campground asked if we had iPhone chargers and we just laughed. This was a perfect reboot for the brain.

Bike camping is the best.