Detroit. The name alone conjures up images of cars rolling off assembly lines, factories belching smoke, Henry Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler. In a word, industry.
First settled in 1701, Detroit (aka: Motor City) is one of the oldest metropolitan areas in the Midwest. Along with holding responsibility for the mass production of automobiles, Motown is also the birthplace of personalities as diverse as Soupy Sales, Eminem, Francis Ford Coppola, and Casey Kasem. Lying along the aptly named Detroit River, it’s a busy thoroughfare for commercial freighters passing through the Great Lakes. Lake Erie is just downstream. It’s undeniable that Detroit has had its share of ups and downs over the years, and while it may be the punch line in some unflattering jokes, the metropolis survives.
Let the Adventure Begin
As my 2010 Harley-Davidson 883R rolls through downtown on this early Sunday afternoon in July, the streets are mostly vacant. Crossing Woodward Avenue reminds me that, in three short weeks, a million or more car enthusiasts from around the globe will gather for the Woodward Dream Cruise, the world’s largest one-day automotive event. Detroit and the surrounding area certainly exude “car culture,” but for me, it marks the beginning of my two-wheeled circumnavigation of Lake Erie.
Heading out of town on I-75, I go by several large factories as well as the Enrico Fermi Atomic Power Plant, which sits on the shore of the lake. I make a stop in Monroe, where I pay a visit to the Vietnam Veterans Museum and Memorial. Unfortunately, the building is closed, but I am able to walk the outside area where commemorative plaques and two Huey helicopters are on display. Monroe bills itself as the “Home of General George Custer.”
Back on two wheels, I cross into Ohio and ride through the port city of Toledo. Positioned at the western end of Lake Erie, the municipality has in some ways mirrored Detroit. I move through quickly in little traffic, and just outside of Toledo, I join up with Route 2. With the sun on my back, I parallel the southern end of Lake Erie, the fourth largest of the Great Lakes. Beyond the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, the shore comes into view as I notice small marinas scattered by the roadside. Before long, I enter Port Clinton, a little town on the slope of a peninsula that jets into the lake. At the tip of that peninsula, Miller Ferry offers service to the unique village of Put-in-Bay. Located on South Bass Island, it is a popular tourist spot. Judging by the traffic in the area, it’s a great day for visitors.
There are no official road maps of the Lake Erie Circle Tour route, and most websites state: “just follow the signs.” I was skeptical of this at first, but I have to admit, there is no shortage of signage directing me. Departing Port Clinton I notice that the Lake Erie Circle Tour sign is accompanied by a second sign that reads “Coastal Ohio Trail.” On occasion, the two signs diverge; farther on, they are once again conjoined.
Motorcycle & Gear
2010 Harley-Davidson 883R
Just across the Sandusky Bay Bridge lies Sandusky. Slightly larger than Port Clinton, but no less quaint, the city is mostly asleep, and I rumble through the small lakeside towns of Huron and Vermillion before arriving in Sheffield Lake and the Lake Breeze Inn. After 171 miles, the inn will be my home away from home for tonight.
Shuffle off to Buffalo
After a great night’s rest, I pack the little gear I have, bid “adieu” to my hosts, and hit the streets. I’m excited to be back on the Harley and looking to reach Buffalo before nightfall. I do have a couple planned stops along the way, however. Lake Road leads me directly into downtown Cleveland and on to some villages where large Victorian and contemporary houses line the water. Home not only to the Indians and the Browns, Cleveland is also the home of rock ‘n’ roll. I stop for a photo op, and I can’t help but feel that Cleveland should give hope to other Rust Belt cities still trying to recover from an early ‘80s recession. Cleveland today appears as a clean, modern metropolis that beckons travelers near and far with plenty to see and do. It’s 10 a.m. on a Monday and the streets, while not exactly “bustling,” are alive. Construction abounds; a sure sign of even more to come.
Leaving the city behind, I again travel through several townships. Most notable are Geneva-on-the Lake and Ashtabula; the latter for its revitalized downtown area where I stop for lunch at the River’s Edge Diner and enjoy a great burger. Once back in the saddle with a full belly, I continue on as the pavement develops a little more character. I glide the (mostly) smooth blacktop through to Pennsylvania where the Coastal Ohio Trail signs are replaced by Great Lakes Seaway Trail signs. My time in the Keystone State is short, and once in Erie, I am reminded of the trials and tribulations of cities left behind following the deindustrialization in the last quarter of the 20th century.
Once across the New York state line, Hwy 5 gives me the good stuff. I open the throttle a little and dive into miles of wide, smooth, sweeping tree-lined blacktop as it traces the shoreline. Traffic has melted away and gone now are the tar snakes. Thank you, New York!