May 092015

The European settlers did a fine job developing the lands of Illinois. If you’re lucky enough to live in the Chicago area, urbanization starts on the shore of Lake Michigan and continues 35 miles in all directions (except east of course). All other parts of the state were mostly surrendered to the farm and plow, the end result being a north-south, east-west grid of roads through table-flat fields. Recreation activities with regards to the outdoors and nature are practically nil. As a result, each weekend during the summer months, two states (Wisconsin and Michigan) enjoy the lion’s share of hundreds of millions of recreation dollars spent by Chicagoans fleeing the joyless landscape Illinois’ leaders bestowed upon them. And of those two, Wisconsin is favored over Michigan. Why? Because getting past Chicago and then through Indiana is usually a snarled river of steel over I-94, the only major highway connecting the dots. But our traffic experience would be pleasant this trip as the hordes don’t normally clog the arteries until Memorial Day weekend.

Setting off under cloudy skies, I rode about 65 miles to the Lincoln Oasis on Interstate 80, just six miles west of the Indiana line. An “oasis” in Illinois is basically a bridge built over the toll road that provides convenient services (fuel, food and restrooms) to commuters. There I met with three fellow Nomads: Mick on a Can-Am Spyder, Crevan on a Honda ST-1300 and Milo on his brand new Triumph Trophy. Besides my friends’ bikes, there were 25 additional motorcycles in the parking lot. As I removed my helmet, Calvin Jordan, Senior Road Captain of the American Veterans Motorcycle Riders Association, introduced himself. He and his daughter were leading a group down into Indiana for the day. Cal owns a Honda Goldwing and is an avid rider, logging over 20,000 miles each year. He was looking forward to his ride to Rolling Thunder in Washington, D.C. later this month and I told him of our trip to Michigan. He wished me luck and I thanked him for his service.

We set off under a cloudy sky and within six miles had crossed into Indiana. Hugging the south shore of Lake Michigan, Indiana is no stranger to numerous lake effect snows each winter. Today, a brisk north wind was being chilled from the 300 mile expanse of frigid waters and the temperature soon dropped from 65 to 45. Rapid temperature fluctuations and fog super-chilled the visor and mirrors, saturating the surfaces with condensation. Limited visibility turned to no visibility in a split second. Imagine riding your bike down the expressway with your eyes closed…

We exited the divided four lane at Sawyer, Michigan to purchase a Recreation Passport at Warren Dunes State Park. The passport is a sticker that’s affixed to your windshield and allows access to Michigan state parks, campgrounds, boat launches, etc. Price is $31 for a non resident. We all donned our rain pants, more for the chill than the rain, and rode north. Turning east near Holland, we moved inland where the temperature soon climbed to the mid-70s.

Arriving in the plain town of Big Rapids we soon find ourselves sitting at the bar of Cranker’s Brewery to enjoy a late lunch and early pint. Cranker’s was voted one of Michigan’s top 10 breweries and I tend to agree, producing tasty traditional styles like IPA alongside bold experiments like coconut porter. Food is also good and diverse with offerings from fried fish to pizza to smoked brisket.

Campsite #8 at Sunrise Lake

Thirty miles further north is Sunrise Lake Campround, a state forest property with 17 non-electric sites with vault toilets and a hand pump. The campground is south of Sunrise Lake Road, so no sites have shore access or even views of the lake for that matter. A well groomed gravel drive dead ends at at cul-de-sac where we drop disks under our kickstands and assemble our structures. Firewood is scavenged and a decent pile is building around the fire ring but the recent snowmelt and rains prove difficult to gain a good coal base for a self-sustained blaze. After a full 90 minutes of fanning, feeding and nurturing a reddish blue base had formed but by then it was late and everyone nestled into their bags on a cool cloudy night.