Northern Wilds Magazine
Author Holly Watson gets ready to depart from the Bohemian Hostel in Michigan.

Solo Riding Around Lake Superior

I have been moving to the beat of my own drum since I turned 14. Being alone and having to take care of everything is second nature. Sometimes you can’t wait around for your schedule to sync up with someone else’s. My schedule rarely does and I rarely wait.

At 24, I moved to British Columbia and got my motorcycle license to continue a dream a close friend had embedded in my head about restoring an old Honda and learning to ride. I never restored a Honda, but I owned a Shadow for a few years. I now have a BMW F650GS that I cheekishly named Lobo; Spanish for wolf. For me, riding a motorcycle is partly for the adventure, but I also enjoy the emotional spectrum I go through while riding. From total happiness, freedom, anger and calm. When I get heated about something I hop on the bike, hit the highway and open the throttle. Immediately my worries fade and I usually take a break outside somewhere, where it always seems beautiful. All the world’s problems seem to wane and I am where I love to be the most; alone in the outdoors. Unless there is a mechanical problem with my motorcycle, which is rare, the end result is always the same: pure adrenaline and smiles.

Getting firewood at Pukaskwa National Park.

I have since moved back to Thunder Bay, my hometown outdoor mecca where Lake Superior beckons you every morning and you never know what mood it is going to be in. This lake is our god and is the local espresso shot to the brain should you jump in at the beginning of summer. I never thought to ride my motorcycle around the lake before I moved away since I didn’t own a bike and had different goals at the time. But the second I got back, six years later, the obvious trip to take with the beams, my motorcycle, was a tour around the greatest lake in the world—the Lake Superior Circle Tour.

Having no close friends equipped to take the trip with, naturally, this was a ride to be done alone. I learned a lot about the ride from Ride Lake Superior; a conglomerate of tourism organizations promoting motorcycle riding around the lake that has a plethora of information for the ride. However, like all trips, I only planned a few sections since I know when I get somewhere spectacular or meet someone intriguing I always end up on a different and unexpected path.

My first camping destination was Pukaskwa National Park, east of Thunder Bay. I had my big baby Lobo with me so I wasn’t wilderness camping, but I did find the one and only campsite that is hidden by wooden stairs and a nice dirt path that opens up to total seclusion on one of the small inland lakes.

Hiking around the nearby trails, not even remotely penetrating the boundaries of this massive park, blew my mind. It was fiercely windy and the lake was in beast mode. With the high cliff hikes and the Canadian Shield exposed with only the toughest of plants wedged in the crevices, I was in heaven. Rocky outcrops and cliffs are my favorite landscapes. Hiking trails here are endless and the odd hiker you do meet is on the same stoke. I had a few great conversations along the way as the scenery was breathtaking; it was nice to share in the awe with each passerby.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, located in Michigan.

The wind allowed for no insects, and the seclusion of my campsite made for beautiful fires and relaxing evenings. I left Pukaskwa wondering if my stay had set the bar almost too high.

Briefly, for one night, it did.

The next evening I stayed outside of Sault Ste. Marie and got rained out in a storm like I haven’t experienced in a decade. The rain was so hard that mud covered my tent. Packing in the rain the next morning, spirits were shot. However, the second I got geared up with all of my layers, the Buff, the Motor Fists, and a GoPro…all my problems seemed to go away, as they always do.

The wind was relentless for the next few days, from Sault Ste. Marie, into Michigan and up through Tahquamenon Falls and back around. The 4:1 body bike ratio was being tested and my knuckles were white. Aside from the stress, there was no slowing down for a ride down the H-58, a section of highway numerous people told me not to miss. They were right. From Grand Marais to Munising, Michigan, the narrow H-58 winds in and out of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Lush, mixed-wood forests envelope the road. I drove slowly with my jaw open, trying not to be distracted and wind up in the ditch.

Adventuring in the area the next day, I was already planning a hiking trip for the following year. The cliff faces here are made of sandstone that bleed with mineral deposits being flushed out by groundwater. The pine forests directly above are embedded by sand, and descending to the beaches you would think you were in Cuba. Who knew just south of my hometown the face of Superior could be so drastic and a completely different kind of beautiful. This trail system is definitely something that cannot be missed in a lifetime. Biking was enough for now, as the road was all encompassing and my little beach jaunts were peaceful and warm, but I have a bone to pick in 2018 with this lakeshore and you bet I will be back.

My journal kept me sane during the trip.

Next stop was the Keeweenaw Peninsula in the northernmost portion of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. I blew through all the towns and cities everyone told me to stop and explore. I was hell-bent on getting to the peninsula and all the calm and scenery I had heard about. My only two nights in a bed were spent at the Mount Bohemia Ski Resort near Lac La Belle. I stayed in the hostel portion that was completely vacant except for one woman, Angie, who I met at my last camp spot as she, too, was camping alone. She decided to switch up her trip and meet me here. Having the whole place to ourselves, including the bar and hottub, we were in heaven. Go here, eat pizza, hike. You must.

The Keeweenaw has stunning hiking trails and waterfalls to be chased, and the weather was perfect. I breathed in a whole different kind of mixed-wood forest and winding road. The peninsula felt fresher and the lake felt smaller and significantly calmer here. The bays had an invisible hand over the emotion of the lake. I took charge for the Porcupine Mountains after this stay, feeling just as calm as my surroundings.

The Porcupine Mountains, nestled between Bayfield and the Keeweenaw, is where I felt like I had finished my trip and reached a climactic point, although there are still many campfire tales to be told about Bayfield and the North Shore. I had no idea what to expect in The Porkies, but I found my spot on Lake Superior. It rained the entire three days I was there, but this time my camp was bullet proof; my firewood was dry and the well was a stone’s throw away. It was perfect. The weather kept the lake calm and the hiking fresh. In this park, the cascades and waterfalls are around every corner and the trails were kept vacant from the daunting weather. It was rare to bump into someone else but when you did, just like Pukaskwa, the smiles were wide and the chat was excellent. The scenery here is stunning: rolling hills, the escarpment, numerous rivers where the fish are said to be excellent, the mud! Coming back to camp every night and doing the song and dance of hanging up my clothes, drying my socks and riding gloves, stoking the fire, reading and journaling, couldn’t have made me happier.

I may have abused my motorcycle slightly by dropping it on the trail that I shouldn’t have rode onto as it lead to my “walk-in” site, but Lobo and I both came out of this trip unscathed and with a greater bond with each other and the lake. Lake Superior is a force to be reckon with and I strongly suggest you travel it with no expectations. Take your time and be open-minded and maybe you will find what you are looking for, or even something that you weren’t.

Story & Photos by Holly Watson

Cascades in the Porcupine Mountains. The Porkies are nestled between Bayfield and the Keeweenaw.

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