The shore of the northernmost lake is made famous in poetry and song, from Longfellow's tribute to the shores of Gitche Gumee, to the inspiration for Gordon Lightfoot's "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald." Tragic shipwrecks, 350 to date. Lonely lighthouses. Gaping mine shafts. Waterfalls. Three states, two countries. Lake Superior, all.
We start the Lake Superior Circle Tour on the US side of Sault Ste. Marie, a city of two countries. Sault Ste. Marie is best known for its locks - or ship canals - with one on the Canadian side and four in the US. The canals enable recreational and shipping traffic passage between Lake Superior and Lakes Michigan and Huron - a necessity due to the 21-foot drop in elevation between them. This area is quite touristy with souvenir shops aplenty and the odor of fried foods thick in the air. The parkland and visitor center that borders the locks feature photos and film of the area's history, as well as a board listing arrival times of incoming ships - a sight not to be missed.
Go West Young Man (Then North, East, and South)
The official tour route follows very closely Highways 28, 41, and 2 from Sault Ste. Marie, MI, to Duluth, MN. We connect to Hwy 61 North, through Minnesota, and to the Canadian border into Thunder Bay, Ontario, where the Canadian section of the Circle Tour begins. The only problem is that I don't always follow official routes, preferring detours into less trafficked areas instead. Our group consists of John, our photographer, on his Harley FLR, Jim on his newly purchased bright-blue Gold Wing 1500, and me on a 2010 ruby-red Harley-Davidson Street Glide, aka, trike.
Motorcycle & Gear
2010 Harley-Davidson FLHXXX Street Glide
Helmet: HD Ultra Jet
Boots: HD FXRG-3
Jacket: HD Classic Cruiser
Luggage: HD Expandable Duffel Bag
Lighthouses, Waterfalls, and Museums
South of Sault Ste. Marie we make our first deviation and take H-3150 West, with a stop at Point Iroquois Light, the picture-perfect lighthouse with white walls and tower, topped by a bright red roof. It overlooks the locks and offers great views from the tower and the beach.
From here we catch Hwy 123 North, a paved two-laner that hugs the north shore of Whitefish Bay until it ends at Whitefish Point. Located at the very end of the road is Whitefish Point Light, the oldest active lighthouse on Lake Superior and the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum, with artifacts and exhibits on the many ships and crews that lost their battle against Superior's fury.
Just south and west of Whitefish Point, is Tahquamenon Falls, the second largest falls east of the Mississippi. There are two things we can count on during this tour: lots of waterfalls and names we're not likely able to pronounce! From Whitefish Point, we backtrack south to the town of Paradise, where we catch Hwy 123 West for a few miles, then onto H-58 with a dog leg into Deer Park. We hug the shore of Superior into Grand Marais, MI (not to be confused with Grand Marais, MN, or a very nice brandy with a similar-sounding name).
You Can't Get There From Here
Dotted lines on my map mean scenic route, and there are dotted lines all the way from Sault Ste. Marie to Munising, MI. One such route is H-58 from Grand Marais to Munising, which is unquestionably one of the greatest motorcycling roads in the Midwest - maybe even the entire country! The roadway is new, smooth, with wide sweepers, S and double S curves, slight undulations, and just enough banking to delight, without over-challenging. All this through a canopy of deep forest green and within the confines of the State Forest, so there's very few intrusion roads. And as of now, just enough off the beaten track, that it's as if the road were made just for us, that is, until it suddenly becomes dirt! Hard packed dirt is no problem, of course, but when the shoulder is higher than the road, when there are uprooted trees smoldering away among piles of branches and stacks of logs, and on top of that, sugar sand, that's when the real challenge sets in. The trike handles it easily enough, but John and Jim dig themselves in and are in real danger of going down.
I plow ahead hoping to find some kind of sign indicating where we are and whether we can continue or need to turn around. As I cut through a cloud of dust I spot two surveyors, who, in answer to my question where the road comes out, tell me, "Nowhere, yet." I later discover that "yet" will be October of 2010. Returning up the dusty trail, I find Jim and John looking like two powdered sugar donuts, axel deep in sand, and smoldering even more than the brush piles. Able to stay just ahead of their desire for revenge, I head back to Grand Marais with them in hot pursuit; 77 South and then 28 West take me to Munising, MI, and our hotel for the night.