"Bill, your mission—should you choose to accept it—is in Michigan. Your weapon will be a Harley-Davidson.” To an adventure rider, these words are akin to telling a Cordon Bleu chef they just won a free gift card to McDonald’s. Michigan, especially around the Detroit area, was not exactly my top choice of places to test the new Harley-Davidson Pan America, the Motor Company’s first modern foray off the cruiser path. I was, however, curious about the bike, so I accepted the call. My impressions of both would soon drastically change.
Sales manager Kirk Schubert greeted me at MotorCity Harley-Davidson in Farmington Hills on the north side of Detroit. Kirk was eager to roll out H-D’s new pride and joy and I was soon on my way to the Kensington Hotel in nearby Ann Arbor, my base camp for the next four days.
Antiques, Lakes, and Airplanes
Day One found me heading south on State St, and then west on Hwy 12, away from the city and into an array of townships among corn and soybeans. Well-paved county roads displayed sweeping curves and surprisingly sparse traffic as I made my way toward Tecumseh on the Macon Hwy. An airport that looked like it belonged in an early 20th century movie about barnstormers popped up on my right. It turns out the Meyers Aircraft Company was once based there.
My route took me on a detour along the shore of Killarney Lake, through a quaint community sprinkled with modest homes and fishing boats, before returning me to Hwy 12, the Heritage Trail. The Pan America’s 150 horses made zipping up to speed and railing the curves an absolute blast. H-D has created a machine that handles like a sweet dream, making every turn effortless at any speed. I stopped for lunch at the Irish Hills Dairy Bar and tried their famous pizza puff and smiley fries. A couple at the Dairy Bar suggested I backtrack a bit to check out St. Joseph Church in Brooklyn, MI, originally built by Irish pioneers in the 1850s. It was indeed a sight to behold, with a beautiful graveyard and a walk with statues depicting the 12 Stations of the Cross.
I continued, hoping to find an off-road park set in a gravel pit on the highest hill in Michigan. Unfortunately it was closed, so my itch to test the Pan America in the rough would have to wait. Along the way, I passed Michigan International Speedway, an official NASCAR racetrack. Its presence, even among the historical settings, reminded me that I was exploring a state known for automobiles.
Antiques are a hobby of mine and Bob’s Antiques was just the kind of junky old shop I like. Bob Brooks himself was there minding the store, along with his daughter, Michelle. Bob is 94 and still sharp as a tack. He has owned the business for some 45 years and knew pretty much everything about the area around Somerset Center. Bob explained that Hwy 12 has had a dozen names in its lifetime and was once the main artery between Detroit and Chicago.