Ride Lake Superior: Day 2 Thunder Bay to Nipigon

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Thunder Bay

Today started with a lazy pace. The gloom cleared and the sun came out. Our wet gear had finally finished drying on the fan unit in the room, so we grabbed a bite from the breakfast counter in the lobby and loaded up. The Thunder Bay H-D shop had JUST opened as we cruised by, so we stopped in to see what they had. Small, nice, and a friendly staff. They were able to recommend Rollies, a stogie stop for hubby to stock up on for the trip. The hunt for cigars was on! And, this is where a lovely morning goes a little wonky.

You see, it appears Garmin has an American version, which doesn’t work so well outside of America. To be more specific, Canada was a big black screen! As we ‘wandered’ thinking would would just stumble upon the shop, we ended up down by the industrial loading docks on the side of the road, trying to figure out where we were. This is the ‘adventure’ part of the trip, right? Some man and his dog, just happened to be parked in their car by the side of the road, and seeing us, proceeded to wave us down. A bit leery, we stopped, and he asked us if we were lost. Ummm, yeah. I don’t know what he was doing there, sitting by the side of the road, in the middle of no-where, but he generously (and insistently) volunteered to led us right to the front door of the cigar shop, of whom he knew the owner. Seriously, I am still beyond curious about him! Does he just sit there waiting for lost tourists on Sunday? All I know is that he prevented a healthy ‘debate’ between me and my frustrated hubby, for which I was extremely grateful. The shop was open, but the owner was no where to be found. Our escort said he probably stepped out and would be back ‘soon’. Our combined intuition said ‘soon’ was rather relative to this sleepy little town. So, while we bided our time until he ‘returned’,  we set off to find an electronics store and correct the navigational dilemma.

Tip #1: Check to make sure your devices work in the country/region you are going to travel in. Yes, this may be a newbie mistake, but I’m giving you a heads up so you don’t make it!

After finding ourselves with a Garmin that worked, we went back to the cigar store (hey, there are priorities you know), then set about tooling around the city, in search of some recommended park with a view. Which we never found. Before heading out to Nipigon, we grabbed a late lunch at Montanas, which was another recommendation from the locals. Good Lord, you must try the Poutine there! This was my first go-round with authentic Canadian poutine, and it lived up to its reputation for gut-bombing deliciousness. Sorry, no food photos. I was so discombobulated from our morning of disorientation, I really didn’t get my act together till later.

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Riding out of Thunder Bay was lovely. The sun was shining, it wasn’t warm, but it wasn’t feeling like winter either. Our next stop was Nipigon, which was only a 2 hour ride away, allowing us time to ride through Sleeping Giant Provincial Park. And then the weather started to change.

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Trestle Bridge at Sleeping Giant Park

I really wish the weather had cooperated, but alas, ’twas not to be. The storm we rode through the night before was moving with us, from west to east. We were just ahead of it, but as you can see, it was a wee bit foggy. Beautiful. But foggy.

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Tip of Sleeping Giant Park: Grocery Closed on Sunday

When you hit this blue house, you’ve reached the tip of the park where it dead ends. And…..this is where we figured we better get a move on, or we were gonna hit another storm rolling through. We made it back to the highway before the lightening and drizzle started, then it was a race against nature, up to Nipigon.

Tip #2: Reach Nipigon before 5pm. Most everything closes on a Sunday, and if it’s open, it closes early.

We stayed at one of the RideLakeSuperior.com recommended motels, Birchville Motel, which was older, but clean and under newer management. If this is your overnight stop, be sure to make reservations in advance. There are only a handful of motels in this area, and there are a LOT of riders traveling around the lake.

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Birchville Motel: Nipigon, Canada

Since we zipped straight from Sleeping Giant to Nipigon, we managed to get ahead of the storms.  After checking in, unpacking our bags and re-orienting ourselves, we hopped back on the bike, and took a spin to see what this tiny little community offered. Not. A lot.

We tried to see the little downtown area, but was caught on the other side of a train that never ended:

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What it did have was a cute little diner called Audrey’s Place, right on the Hwy. (Gus was the name on the signage, but we learned it was called Audrey’s Place, and under new ownership). The dinner menu was simple, but food good. The chicken soup was homemade and delicious, and the salad fresh.

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Audrey’s Place: Nipigon, Canada.

Tip #3. If you stay at the Birchville, they have gas grills. When we returned from eating, the motorcycle travelers in the unit next to us were grilling their dinner. It appears that the gas station down the road sold ready-to-grill meals we could have cooked on the grill outside our unit. The units are stocked with a small kitchenette so we could have eaten in our unit. Which, in hindsight, would have been nice since that storm had finally caught up to us, and we road home from dinner in a drizzle.

That about wraps up Day 2. Hubby huddled under the eves, on a plastic chair, and puffed on well earned cigar. These first two days were rough on the driver. It was nice for him to be able to chill out, and chat with the travelers next to us, riding a Victory Motorcycle, doing the same loop around as us. It was a satisfying conclusion to an interesting day, sharing the challenges of the road with other fellow travelers, and watching hubby enjoy a nice cigar!

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Next: Day 3 – Nipigon to Wawa.


Ride Lake Superior: Day 1- MSP to Thunder Bay

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Last summer, these empty nesters decided to test run long haul riding, by living life on the HOG for a week riding around Lake Superior. While not our first overnight trip (we rode out to HD anniversary event in Milwaukee the previous august), it was our maiden voyage for an extended ride, this one eight days.

Harley Davidson’s motto, (or one of them) is ‘Live Free, Ride Hard’. Well, I kinda/sorta didn’t dream this was the ‘ride hard’ part!:

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As you can see in photo #1, when we left the Twin Cities the temps were running in the high 80’s. The ride up to Duluth was wonderful and being in the open air, I could smell the wildflowers in bloom. Oh…it would have been so wonderful (and let’s face it – boring) if that was what we encountered the whole trip around Lake Superior! Instead, as we hit Grand Marais the deluge arrived as the heavens opened up the floodgates. As you can see in photo #2, there was rain, but what you cannot see is the lightening. Lots of it. And then the temperature dropped. Thank flippin goodness we have good rain gear! (And may I highly recommend you invest in good rain gear? We ended up using it…a lot!) The rain started just before Grand Marais, and we were able to stop at the gas station in town (along with other riders who had the same idea) and really gear up.

Tip #1: Keep your rain gear easily accessible. And keep an extra sweatshirt right on the top of your bags. That way, when inclement weather rears its nasty head, you can easily get to it. And you will want to get to it quickly!

Tip #2: Take your chaps if you have the room. It was warm when we left, the bike was FULL, and I foolishly didn’t think I’d need them with the rain gear pants. While rain gear keeps the wind off, its not particularly insulating against the cold.

We hit the Canadian border late afternoon/early evening. In the rain. Thankfully the border guard was nice and hurried us through. Our destination for the first leg was Thunder Bay. It was a tough haul, but we made it. There really aren’t any pictures for this leg, because of the rain. The torrential, hovering above 35, rain. I pretty much hunkered down behind my hubby, and felt bad as he battled reduced visibility and the freezing rain.

Tip #3: Make sure your gloves are waterproof, or have a pair handy! Wet black leather gloves result in dye-black fingers. Which is rather hard to get off, and results in odd looks from your waitress.

To plan our ride, I used the website ‘RideLakeSuperior.com‘. It was extremely helpful and easy to use. It helped plan out the stages of our ride, suggested biker friendly accommodations and places to eat, along with points of interest to stop at along the way.

So back to our first stop, Thunder Bay, where we arrived dripping, cold, and quite ready to be done for the day. The Days Inn I selected was a 2 thumbs up. It was right off of Hwy 61, so easy to find as dusk neared. Not only were the rooms clean, quiet and easy to get to (hauling our bags off the bike), but right next door was a fantastic restaurant called 5 Forks. After being on the bike for hours, it was nice to clean up, warm up and stretch our legs by walking next door to grab a cocktail and some really good grub. No food photos, sorry! We were just glad to be at our destination, having ridden through rough weather. It was definitely baptism by fire, (or rain) but from here on out, we knew we could manage just about anything!

That wraps up Day 1.

Next: Day 2.