Today’s Office

Today's Office: 2000 Honda Valykrie 41,000+ colorful travel miles
(aka The Perfect Late Fall Ride)

So what happens when the planets align, your job gives you time, and the weather cooperates to its fullest?  Well, you get the perfect motorcycle weekend.  It doesn’t happen all the time and on every trip there are things that don’t quite seem to work out, and that’s normal, you just roll with it.  But when it’s perfect, it’s sublime.  Actually I was trying all weekend to come up with the right word- fantastic, great, gorgeous, and perfect were just not good enough.  The best I could do was “glorious”.  It was a glorious weekend.  I could almost hear the Heavenly choirs singing a Halleluiah chorus.

Ah Fall!
Even though I’m a desert and mountain rat by nature, Michigan has quite a bit to offer, lots of lakes and rivers for kayaking; some beautiful, out of the way, back roads with small towns attached; a fantastic northern part; and some fun places to visit.  Honestly, fall is the best part of Michigan- thousands of trees whose leaves turn beautiful colors, cherries, apples, and my personal favorite- apple cider.

We took our regular west and north route this year.  Normally we’ll head west and then go north around the top of the Michigan mitten, hang out in Mackinaw City and visit the island or do some other fun things there.  We haven’t been able to take this trip for about three years now.  We’ve also been known to head up and tour the UP (Upper Peninsula), or take the eastern version of our trip, up around the thumb, following back up to Mackinaw.  Last year we were out west and the two before that we miss timed the weather and the season – there was even snow one of the years.  This trip can be risky- it can be anything from perfect Indian summer (this year), to rain, sleet, snow, or so cold your fingers don’t work in your big, bulky maximum winter gloves and you pop your clutch and drop your cold bike (the last time we made the trip).  Ah, fall.

Fall in west MI on Lake
Author (Penny) & Dad

As I mentioned though, this was one of those perfect years, as a matter of fact I think it was our most perfect fall ride ever and you’d better believe that I made sure to use and enjoy every last bit of it.  Knowing that the odds of it  happening again this year were about million times less likely than hell freezing over this month (yes, Hell is in Michigan—Hell, Michigan is about an hour and a half away from our house.).

Bikes, Fall 2011 MI
The first trees had begun to change color the last week of August.  That is unusually early (& scary for those of us allergic to winter).  It was interesting to see how much color was out there, all across the state and how much it varied, even on stretches of road that you thought would have pretty much the same weather and coloring.  Heading gracefully north and west (we live just north of Detroit proper), it seemed that about 50-60% of the trees had already change or begun to change color.  As we headed more west (almost 2/3’s of the way north in the state), the color content rose to about 85% color with some leaves dropping or gone.  There was a stretch though, for about 60 miles in the middle that jumped up to 100% colored, 15-25, already dropped.  There was no wind to speak of, just a face caressing warm, late summer breeze.  In a couple of areas, as we passed through, the trees rained their leaves down upon as in a fall confetti-colored storm.  I just couldn’t wipe the grin from my face.

Lake MI Coast Fall
We parked it in Manistee, MI the first night.  A fun place to be to head north or south from and enjoy Lake Michigan’s coast- head south and you get lake views, dunes, and dune rides, head north and you get lots of lake shore, dunes, and the potential for dune rides.  We headed north and perfect continued to be our companion.  Great roads, gentle fun sweeping curves through small towns dressed up for fall festivals, dotted with fresh fruit, veggie, and cider stands.  Sometimes we were teased through the trees with fabulous views of blue water and sandy beaches, sometimes we were granted views of sunny blue skies with brushed streaks of clouds above in a canyon whose walls were a combination of tall thin “lodge pole” type pines and fall colored trees that ranged in color from bright green tinged yellows, to full rich golds, fiery golden-oranges to burnt oranges, and bright reds to stately burgundies.  The sun’s rays seemed to come down and light their tops on fire, setting the entire forest aglow. 

There were also my favorite stretches of secluded enclosure where the fall harvest trees overhung the road, closing out all but glittering glimpses of the sun and the sky, enveloping you in a tunnel of fall-colored perfection, where you sometimes came upon a curve and thought that maybe there would be fairy land on the other side.   Still we road on, warm breeze, cool shade, and a color pallet only mother nature could provide, and still I couldn’t calm or talk the smile down from my face.  I felt like I was on the road to heaven and if I was already dead, I was ok with it.
Looking South down Lake Michigan (MI)
Yeah, it's fall & they fit right in.
Did I mention the smell?  You would think that fall, in comparison to say spring, just wouldn’t be able to compete, but wow, you would be wrong.  In the warm afternoons, you could smell the warmed wood of the trees.  Anybody who works with or loves wood has smelled different woods as they’ve worked them or been around them, not quite sweet, or spicy, or flowery, just well, woody- with hints of all the other mentioned things.  Gently warmed woods are comforting in the way snuggling up with a quilt, a cup of hot cocoa, and your puppy are.  Then there were the mornings, when things were just a bit more damp.  In areas where there were more leaves (less piney types) and more undergrowth, you got your normal damp, fall smell, where you could smell the wet richness of it all.  Then there were the areas that had a nice mix of leafy and piney trees ( I love the smell of pine- oh and cedar & sagebrush too mixed with hot dust- desert love)… in those areas it was like a forest harvest smell, some of the woody smells, mixed with some sweet, really ripe smells, but very enjoyable to the nose.  Like a harvest buffet. I guess technically even leaves are the fruits of the trees and you could smell them and feel of their bounty.  It was again, glorious! 

Oh, and then there is one of my all time favorite smells- ‘O de Hydrocarbons mixed with air, gas, tarmac, and warm tire rubber.  Have you ever noticed when you come in from a ride and you can smell the outdoors and your bike on you and your jacket like a motorized perfume.  Yeah, I love that smell.  It’s even better on a 68-72*(F) fall day.

The Mighty Mac (Mackinaw) suspension bridge connects upper and lower Michigan
Mackinaw City is always fun and I’ve found this great little, non-fancy motel directly across the street from the Mackinaw Bridge, the Mackinaw Lighthouse, and historic Fort Michimillimacinac.  The view is great.  It is just around the corner from the city’s center street with fine shopping and fun, and a 20 minute boat ride away from Mackinaw Island.  Also around the corner, in the other direction, we’ve taken to this little bit more expensive restaurant, where you get fresh bread and cheese, and some fun daily specials- dad and I treated ourselves to some prime rib the first night- Yummm!

Mackinaw City Lighthouse at sunset.
JoAnn's Fudge- 1lb will never do!

It's fun to watch them make it, but smelling it adds at least 3 lbs per visit.
Now, we’ve been to the island many times over the years (I’ll have to post some pictures for you from our last motorcycle trip up here a couple of years ago), so dad wanted to check out the Fort on the mainland (they have on the island as well).  It was the last weekend all of the attractions and parks up here were going to be open for the 2011 season, after that, the town even pretty much closes down over the next week.  The upside I found out was great weather, lack of uncomfortably too many tourists, and some excellent shopping opportunities at great discounts.  I must remember this for future trips.  As you can tell, I went for a bit of shopping (not one of my usual favorite things to do), while dad went to enjoy some quality break time.  I didn’t leave downtown until I chatted with several other bikers, acquired about 6 lbs of fudge, a pound of cashew brittle, some new winter gear, a fabulous leather-tooled looking watch & pocketbook combo, and some treats for my mini schnauzer (who was not happy about being left at home).

Trip Historic Visit Insert- with Pictures
Ft. Michimillimacinac started as a native Indian settlement that had moved from the north side (St.Ignace) of the Mackinaw straight (the other side of the bridge into the UP-Upper Peninsula) to the lower (Mackinaw City) side.  It was an important trading location and became more so over time. Later French traders moved in, built a fort and a home with the natives, only to be taken over and annoyed by the British later.  The natives and the French almost got it back during Chief Pontiac's uprising, but failed by a critical 2 forts to retake the entire northeast United States (we could all be speaking French here).  Later when the British were being annoyed by the American's and got worried they moved this Fort piece by piece over to Mackinaw Island, which they had determined to be more defensible and burned anything left behind.  The current fort is a recreation that is ever growing, based on archaeology and historic records. You will see a current dig in one of the pictures that has been covered up for the winter.
Laundry at the Fort

Dad at camp outside the Fort.

In the Fort, on the wall, looking across the parade grounds.

1700s French outdoor oven- reminds me of an outdoor version of a Mormon "Bustle" fireplace oven.
Final harvest of the year.

Harvest is just as important is planting as it is the first step to prepping for next year, via seed gathering.

Morning cannon call. They clam that the 6 lb balls, with a full powder load, will cross at least the half-way point of the straight.
Meanwhile, back to our Office article
Coming home on a Sunday, from such a weekend, would have frankly been a nightmare of traffic on the main artery heading south, I-75 (not just Mackinaw, the UP, and hunting round and about, but everyone heading back from a final weekend at their cabins and such).  So we had another great dinner at our little, expensive haunt, relaxed and headed back on Monday morning instead.  It turned out to be a wise choice too, as we passed sections of road construction that would have made an ordinary nightmare one of enduring torment.

It was a wet morning.  We couldn’t get the bike seats dry enough to sit on… and then as we got going the temperature dropped from mid-50’s to the low 40’s, which, as you know on a bike, can actually feel like hell is freezing you over and into a motorsicle.  I must have stored a lot of warmth over the previous 3 days, because I was just fine in my Joe Rocket jacket, without even sealing it up and putting on an extra shirt, but my fingers have some arthritis and didn’t enjoy the brisk breeze flowing over them.  It was that odd cold just between F’ing freezing, bring on the really big winter gloves that you can’t always work the controls well with, and almost ok with liners.  One of the uses of my big flat-six engine is its great proximity to my lower extremities in cold weather- it kept my feet, legs, and knees warm, and I was also able to keep my fingers happy by dangling them in the engine’s warm air stream.  Even with the true fall chill in the air – I still couldn’t be swayed from smiling and thinking – what a glorious office this is…. I love my day job today!

So, what has been your best or favorite ride this year?

I love an office with a view! (author Penny/aka Chaco_Kid)

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