Hey, you ride motorcycles, Cara? Me too. Motorcycles are awesome!
Just like that. The seed was planted. And from that moment on, as if we had nothing to do with it, the road trip was inevitable.
I love, love, love riding motorcycles. Always have. The feeling of freedom. The smells. The panoramic views not limited by a windshield. It's so much more of an experience than you get from driving in a car. In a car, it's easy to "check out"—I feel like I'm in a capsule, separated from the outside world. Cars have their purpose. But riding a motorcycle always feels like so much more to me. I'm out there. Really a part of the world. I feel like It's a gift I get to receive every time I hop on my bike.
There is a saying that goes, "you never see a motorcycle parked outside a psychiatrist office." Now, I don't know how true that is, but I get mental relief when I ride. I've discovered that riding is like meditation to me. I need to be focused. On traffic, the bike, hazards... all of it. There is no time for my mind to wander onto reviewing conversations I've had today over and over again or worrying about things I can't do anything about. It's honestly a relief to just focus on what's happening now only. I'm "in the flow." I love it so much.
So, after riding around the backcountry roads north of Toronto with Cara a few times, each of us sharing these thoughts about how riding makes us feel, we start talking about getting away on a little road trip for a few days.
"How long can you get away for? Maybe four days? Ok, I'll map something out, and we'll talk." That's all it takes to initiate the planning process for me. It's on!
After looking at a map for a bit, the rough itinerary for the four days becomes clear. After a few road trips, you know how many kilometres per day are comfortable for you. Factor in extra time for traffic and a border crossing into the US and the range per day becomes obvious. Then the cool names start to jump out at you on the map as you stare at it. I'm a planner. I like this part. Kalamazoo, that's a cool name, man! I've always wanted to stop in Kalamazoo. We're doing that for sure. It's that easy. Destination number one decided.
So, this was the plan:
Day 1—meet Cara close to London, Ontario. Cross the border at Sarnia and land in Kalamazoo for supper.
Day 2—ride to Chicago to look out the Sky Deck of the Sears Tower.
Day 3—ride to Milwaukee and check out the Harley Davidson Museum.
Day 4—take the Lake Express Ferry across Lake Michigan and blast all the way home in one day.
Easy, right? Practically a done deal.
Now, this is the first road trip on a motorcycle for Cara. She's a newer rider, and her bike is the perfect size for her to learn on but probably not a great choice for a road trip that includes interstate highways, so she wants to ride on the back of my bike. That works for me. I'm comfortable with a passenger.
I give Cara a suitcase that's made to strap on the back of my bike for her to use. My stuff goes in one saddlebag and the other saddlebag is for road trip gear.
Cara is excited! She's packed and you can see the anticipation vibrating her very being. And this is still a week before we leave.
The day finally comes. We plan to meet at a carpool lot off the 401 around London to leave Cara's car. Problem discovered is that the off ramps are under construction and the carpool lot doesn't exist anymore. Geeze, you never know what you're gonna find until you get there. And being able to adapt is a big part of the road trip mentality.
It's all good. After spending an hour finding a new carpool lot that works and a very nice conversation with Siri, we're on the road.
Every serious rider has no less than three weather apps on their cell phone, I promise you. If you don't like what you see on one app, try another one. If you still don't like the forecast, ride anyway. So, we rode anyway...
Looked like a fall sky. It was cloudy grey, and a misty rain on and off. Definitely not typical July weather in Canada.
After a few hours and our first quick gas stop, we reach the border to the US. For some reason, traffic is crawling up the bridge and stops at the top. I'm taking in the view for all it's worth. Gawking really. Cara starts to explain to me how she's afraid of heights. Not usually a consideration when it comes to a road trip, but there we sat, engine purring, Cara squeezing her arms around me like a boa constrictor inching closer and closer to ensure a meal.
Eventually, we idled down the other side of the bridge. Every foot in elevation we descended, the grip around my waist eased slightly. The border guard had the usual questions for us and we were off again.
I planned to take the Interstate 69 west to Kalamazoo but missed the turn off, I guess. My GPS recalculated a new route and we just went with it. We decided that the universe was guiding us and we wouldn't fight it. I prefer to take this approach when on the road. You never know what you'll find or avoid by just going with the flow. The new route took us close to the industrial landscape of Detroit. I hadn't seen that view before and found it quite beautiful in an almost post-apocalyptic way.
Finally, an hour behind schedule, we both see the sign: "Welcome to Kalamazoo." We pull over to take the obligatory welcome sign pictures with us still wearing helmets. Can't really see our smiles, but trust me, we were smiling. It's a milestone and you can't pass up celebrating a milestone.
Cara and I both absolutely fell in love with Kalamazoo. Later in the show, we'll hear from Renée Newman. She is a great voice of Kalamazoo.
For now, I'll just say this. The hidden gem place to eat that the locals cherish is called "Ray Rays." Hands down, the best pulled pork. Wow! And the craft brewing scene in Kalamazoo is unbelievable. We both plan to go back for Beer Week in January.
And that capped off Day 1. Just the way I like to do it. Go with the flow and you seem to find the special places. It's awesome!
Day 2 started with a walk around the downtown area to find a coffee shop. We took in the view of the street. Trying to capture it all.
So, I'm a bit of an architecture nerd, and they're really doing great things in Kalamazoo. They seem to take a lot of pride in repurposing older buildings. The whole place has a great old world feel that is very comforting to me. One of the craft breweries, Bell’s, that we were in the night before was an ammunition factory during World War 2. Now it's a restaurant and bar and event centre. They really embrace the history of these places. It's so great.
We decided to walk the few kilometres to the Heritage Guitar Factory, where we were schedule to have a tour. Ron Howard from Heritage Guitar Inc. will tell us more about how the artists create these instruments later in the show. I was in awe the whole time. No robots. No computer controlled machines. It's just artists and a wood shop. So great.
We didn't plan to be on the road till 2:00-ish. Not ideal for Chicago traffic, but away we went with the universe guiding us. Turns out we pretty much sailed into Chicago. I think what saved us was we weren't trying to fight our way past Chicago. We rode straight to the lake front and into downtown. Worked beauty.
The Chicago skyline is stunning. The mix of old and new buildings works well. The peaks and valleys reminded me of a western mountain range. Very picturesque.
We checked into the Loews Hotel and immediately went for a swim. I love a swim after a ride. Perfection! Now refreshed, we headed out to walk to the Sears Tower to reenact that scene from one of my favourite movies, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, where they go to the top floor of the Sky Deck and plant their foreheads on the glass to look down at the people like ants. You can see four states at the same time from that high. Too cool!
I have a great picture of me standing in a glass box that sticks out the side of the Sky Deck several feet. Felt like I was floating above the city. Cara made it to the Sky Deck but wasn't about to venture out of the building and into the glass box with me. It was pretty intense.
On our way to the tower we found our way to a speakeasy for some jazz and a drink. We saw a small sign on the street. Figured out what door to enter. Followed the stairs down to the basement and through a little hallway. Opened the door, and talk about a time machine—felt like it was prohibition and we had the secret password so we were welcomed in. And everyone was into it, too. Wicked cool.
Day 3 was a short leisurely ride north to Milwaukee. We checked in at the Ambassador Hotel. This place has been lovingly restored to its prime Art Deco magnificence. They have photos of people who were married in the hotel years ago, and the renovation has used these photos as reference to get the place perfect. Very chic. We both loved it.
A quick hotel shuttle ride gets us to the Harley Davidson Museum. We took it all in, but my favourite part had to be the special exhibit of a modern event held in Long Island, NY every year called The Race Of Gentlemen. These folks are keeping the racing spirit alive. As was done years ago, they are racing flathead bobbers and knuckleheads on the beach. They know where it's at. Ride your bikes. Have fun with 'em. Don't treat them like fragile objects. They were made to run. Now I need to go see this Race of Gentlemen for myself next year.
Added to my list.
It was an early night to bed. The Lake Express Ferry leaves at 6:30 a.m. We opted to pay the extra $20 for the premium seats with Wi-Fi and no kids. Beauty decision. Two hours of rest, some breakfast, and we arrived on the other side of Lake Michigan before 9:00 a.m.
A few gas stops and we were back in Canada. I love a road trip, but it's always nice coming home.