Michigan: Riding 'round the Mitten

Text: Wayne Peterson • Photography: Wayne Peterson

Once again, the “Lost Squadron” of Norb on his H-D Ultra, Jim on his Gold Wing, and I on a borrowed 2011 H-D Tri Glide (in the new “Cool Blue Pearl” color) are hitting the road. This time it’s a circle tour of Michigan’s shoreline, from Muskegon north to Mackinac Island, then south along Lake Huron to Port Sanilac, and west across the state and back to Muskegon.

We roll into Muskegon at twilight and point north to our first overnight stop in Leland, MI, a distance of approximately 160 miles. Time is of the essence, otherwise I would not be on the road at this time. It’s not the four-wheeled dangers, but rather the four-footed ones—deer. I count five, one of which darts in front of me, thankfully far ahead. This is campground and cabin country, the smell of wood smoke and s’mores heavy in the air.

The pace is slow and predictable, with a strong sense of déjà vu. The road rolls and curves, with an average speed of 45 mph. The woods on both sides are dense and come up to the shoulders, making it necessary to be on watch for critters and campers. In the cooler woods, our headlights catch a flurry of bugs, tons of them! I’m thankful for a windshield. The bigger ones, I hear, taste like chicken. Michigan has sand dunes all along this shoreline; one of the largest is Sleeping Bear Dunes, north of Empire, where you can take escorted tours or rent Jeeps, Sand Rails, or ATVs. Maybe next time.

We reach Leland at 11 p.m. and discover that they really do “roll up the streets.” A young fellow sets us on the right track to our motel, the Falling Waters Lodge overlooking the river. We get settled and seek food at the only place open, the Bluebird Restaurant & Tavern. The kitchen is closed, but the bartender scrounges through the refrigerator and makes us pulled pork sandwiches with potato salad. He says he is not a very friendly person, but if he were in our shoes he’d want someone to do the same for him. Not friendly? Yeah, right.

The Gold Coast

The next morning we see Leland is a quaint, tidy town. Beside their dock is a row of original fishing shanties called Fish Town. After a quick exploration, we go north towards Michigan’s Gold Coast. The area around Grand Bay and Little Travis Bay is where CEOs have built summer homes since the early 1900s. Within these members-only gated communities are the finest Victorian and Arts & Crafts homes you’ll ever see (from a distance, of course). You’ll also see other vintage objects: classic American and European cars from the fifties and sixties, all spotless and driven by original owners—summer cars for summer homes.

From Leland, we head up the peninsula on Highway 22 to its end at Grand Traverse Lighthouse. On our loop back we hit torrential rain, catching us out of our rain suits. We pull into a small stone gazebo just as the rain mixes with marble-sized hail. Already wet as drowned rats, we duck into the gazebo to throw rain suits over soaked clothing. Then the wind picks up, and I am glad this is a stone structure. When the squall passes, we find trees and limbs scattered across the highway, making this sanctuary all the more fortuitous.

We move on to Traverse City via 22. On and off goes the rain gear, until by the time we reach Traverse City we just leave it on no matter how humid it is. North of the city is a narrow peninsula jutting 15 miles out into Grand Traverse Bay, accessible by Highway 37. Along here are some of the area’s grandest homes (and another lighthouse), but we see nothing but long driveways. On the way back, lightning storms on both sides make these hilltops a little too high for comfort. Fortunately, we outrace the fireworks and catch Highway 31 north to Charlevoix, a picture-perfect town nestled between Lake Michigan and Lake Charlevoix. It offers an excellent marina, first-class accommodations, and a bustling downtown area. We like it enough to stay here at the Pointes North Inn across from the local drawbridge. Every time it goes up, it stops traffic and draws tourists.

Outside Charlevoix on Highway M-66 is Castle Farms, the town’s crown jewel. Built in 1918 by Albert Loeb, then president of Sears, Roebuck and Co., the site served as a model farm where Loeb raised prize-winning livestock and tested products found in the Sears catalog. Designed to resemble farms in Normandy, France, it went through several owners until 2001, when Linda and Richard Mueller rescued the roofless shell. They restored it to “better than original” grandeur, transforming it into a destination for weddings, community events, and tours.

From the castle we travel north toward Bay Harbor, Petoskey, and Harbor Springs via Highway 31 to Highway 119. This was Hemingway’s summer hometown and still has his favorite watering hole, the City Park Grill on East Lake Street.

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the May/June 2012 back issue.