Saturday, July 8, 9:00 am - (I think...) Time has ceased to be important by now and other than setting the alarm to wake up in the morning, we stopped paying attention to it.
After taking full advantage of the free breakfast at the motel, we set off in the bright warm sunshine, heading North West on US-141.
After riding through what was decidedly more hilly country, we stopped in crystal falls for fuel and pulled up in front of the town courthouse, a beautiful old stone structure on a hill.
We continued on following the tree lined highway for another forty five minutes without a whole lot of excitement. Soon we saw the reflections of Lake Superior in the distance as we rolled through the towns of L'Anse and Baraga. Now that was scenic!
We made a quick pit stop at a gas station that was right at the waters edge and marveled at the scenery. We even considered having our bikes washed as a group of bikini clad cheerleaders from the local high school were getting their buckets and hoses out for a fund raising car wash. A little slap to the face to get the thoughts back on riding and we were back on the road.
Resisting the bike wash turned out to be a good idea as we noticed that the skies had darkened considerably to the north and we felt the occasional drop or two of rain. We were enjoying the curves of the road as it hugged the shoreline fairly closely and before we knew it, we were coming up to the town of Chassell. As we rounded a bend, we were greeted with the flashing lights of a bunch of emergency vehicles and stopped traffic. Fearing the worst, we approached slowly but found that we were only being routed around the local Strawberry Festival parade.
We cut north in hopes of meeting up with 41 again but the random rain drops had now turned into a steady shower. We sought shelter under the canopy of a gas station. Thinking we were still in the middle of nowhere with miles to go, we figured we'd wait out the rain a bit and mill around the station. I spotted a map hanging on the wall and upon further inspection, found that we were right on the outskirts of Houghton, our destination for the day.
Houghton and Hancock are twin cities that sit on opposite sides of the Portage River, about halfway up the Keweenaw Peninsula. This area was a major hub for the Copper mining industry in years past. Despite the fact that the copper has pretty much dried up, you can still see evidence of the once booming industry. The steel structure of the Quincy mine stands towering over the valley and can be seen for miles. This was to be our stopping point for the day.
We decided that we would venture on in the rain and see if we could locate a spot to dry off and have some lunch so we rode down the steep streets into downtown Houghton. Jason and I both spotted a covered bank drive through and since it was a Saturday and the bank was closed, we made use of the protection for our bikes and set off on foot. We found a little diner right on the main street and went in to sample "Keweenaw's Best Pasty's." Pasty's, if you've never been to the U.P., are basically meat, potatoes and vegetables folded into a pastry. Kind of like a meat calzone without the pizza sauce. It wasn't too bad, but I wished I'd have had a BLT.
Since riding in the rain wasn't our idea of fun, we decided to find a hotel, check in, and see what happened. As luck would have it, there was a recently refurbished Best Western nearby and they had a pool.
By mid afternoon, the rain had stopped so we left following M-26 out of Hancock. We rode with the woods to our left and stunning views of Portage Lake to our right. Deserted factories and copper processing plants dotted the landscape everywhere. As we re-joined US-41 and continued north, the evidence of a once booming industry that is no more could be seen everywhere.
Nearing Phoenix, the landscape turned mountainous and we found ourselves winding our way along with mountains on either side. We rumbled into Eagle River. The canopy of trees seemed to close in even more and the road twisted and turned through the forest. The speed limit was posted at 55 but the road was so postcard like in its beauty, we had a hard time even getting above 45.
Soon, I saw a group of cars stopped on the side of the road so I slowed down to see what folks were gawking at. It turned out to be a small but spectacular waterfall. Jacob's Falls looks like it is coming right out of the rocks about 25 feet up and spills down into a stream that runs under the road and out into Lake Superior.
Continuing on, I had read on the internet that the Brockway Mountain Road was one of the best roads in the north for bikers. We found the road, and less than a mile in, I figured they must have been talking about mountain bikers. The winding narrow path, was so uneven and bumpy, it was next to impossible to get above 40 miles and hour.
The beauty of the surroundings more than made up for the road conditions. We stopped a few times along the way just to drink it in. At the top we found a lookout park where we got off the motorcycles to marvel at the view.
We headed back down the road and then struck out heading south on US41 after a quick pit stop in Copper Harbor. Being the northern most town in the state of Michigan, I wasn't surprised that we paid the highest gas prices of the trip there.
For about 20 miles or so going south from Copper Harbor, US-41 is another motorcyclist's dream road. It is smooth and wide and it undulates like a good roller coaster through the woods. The fun gradually came to an end and we were tempted to turn around and ride back the other way, but the Pasty from lunch was wearing off quickly.
So, we made a right turn in Calumet and followed county road 203 down the west side of the peninsula and made our way back into Hancock and Houghton. In downtown Houghton we parked the bikes, took advantage of a few more photo ops, and assessed our dinner options.
Being surrounded by water, seafood seemed like a natural choice, so Joe's Crab Shack got the nod. I'm pretty sure that they don't get any shrimp or crab from Lake Superior, but we had a good meal none the less.
Weary from a long day of riding, we made our way back to the hotel. The day would not have been complete without a swim in the pool and a soak in the hot tub, so we donned our suits again and did just that before officially calling it a night.
Wow, went to Mackinaw and didn't ride the tunnel of trees????
Fri Jul 19, 2013 at 11:18 AM
Next time you go to the UP make sure you take the road from newberry to paradise and Taquuamenom falls,then head to Christmas and Grand Marais. beautiful
Tue Jun 7, 2011 at 6:35 PM
I have done the circle superior trip also really a great ride, an excellent contrast in riding from the U.P. to the North Shore of Superior. 9 days from Toronto return. Would recommend this ride to anyone. Watch out for the Deer on the roads in the U.P. place is crawling with them. Gladly other drivers are aware of the hazard they pose to bikers and will give you fair warnings with their headlamps.
Spent a few hours in Mackinaw was nice to be able to leave our jackets and lids on the bikes on main street. I give the "Yoopers" two thumbs up.
Wed Feb 10, 2010 at 3:49 PM
Thank you for the article. My father and I have done Lake Superior a couple times, so I have done the UP also. I can't believe you skipped Gay Michigan, You had your chance for the Gay Bar t-shirt. Gross bar, but a huge location for riders. It is a beautiful area. I am not sure if you have had a chance yet, but i would suggest doing the Lake Superior Circle the Lake tour. Great riding.
Tue Jan 6, 2009 at 6:17 PM
Hello. Just finished reading your article, brought back memories of my trip that I made with my brother and sister last summer. We made a lot of the same ride although we rode in from Iron River. Agree with you about Brockway Pass. Nice views though. Also stayed at the Super8 in Iron Mt. and ate at the same restaurant. I thought the trip was pretty good, app. 1000 miles for us. Miss out on the pastrys though. Thanks for bring back some good memories. P.S. We are from Wisconsin.
Thu Dec 25, 2008 at 11:30 AM