The Great Lakes Escape is simply a motorcycle trip around the Great Lakes region of the United States and Canada with a group of close friends. It wasn't a big event, simply a fun trip that we decided to name. Initially we conceived of this trip at back in 2011 or 2012, just the thought of riding all the way around Lake Erie. We live just south of Cleveland on the south shore of Lake Erie, and joked around about the mysterious north shore in Canada and wanted to explore it. We had intentions of making this trip each of the last several years, but Spring and Summer months are so busy with motorcycle events, work, family and all the regular life stuff that happens during the months of really nice weather in the Midwest. Earlier this year Mikey suggested we just put it on our calendars and block out the days and just make it happen, which we did. Our friend Canadian Andy (in Canada we believe he is just called 'Andy') had some great feedback on the route, as parts of it are some of his normal stomping grounds. With his suggestions of riding up the Bruce Peninsula and taking a ferry over to Manitoulin Island, our route doubled in length and allowed us to circumnavigate Lake Erie as well as Lake Huron, and set eyes on all five of the Great Lakes! There was a mix of bikes, with a couple vintage motorcycles (my '59 H-D Panhead chopper and Andy's 1967 Norton Atlas cafe racer) and a mix of other custom and stock bikes alike, including a custom swingarm Evo, FXR with a Corsair inverted front end, rigid 2003 Sportster chopper, a stockish 2001 Sportster 883, and a 2016 Heritage Softail. We also had the Lowbrow van (my daily driver!) along as a chase vehicle, driven by Andy's ol' lady Lori and my pregnant wife Julia. Our friend Leland rode along in the van as well and did some filming for a little video showing some of the fun times had on our trip. The van proved very convenient for hauling a cooler, snacks, a ramp and some tools. Of course, having a van, ramp and tools, we never needed to use them and everyone made the 1,500 mile trip without a hiccup. Well, except that Mikey lost one battery cable bolt, but that was quickly rectified. Metric bolts are especially easy to find in Canada! Below the photos are broken down by day, and a map shows you our route each day. As usual on motorcycle trips, there was sunshine, rain, boredom, exuberance, sore backs, wet feet, big smiles, great talks, and in the words of Andy, 'pregnancy, archery, and pregnant archery.' I hope you all enjoy these photos even a fraction of the amount that we enjoyed this trip. This is a reminder to make time for the good stuff, life is short. There is nothing to it but to do it! - Tyler
We met up at Lowbrow Customs on the morning of June 13th, a Wednesday. Plan was kickstands up at 8am, but as plans often seem to go with motorcycle trips, we didn't leave until 8:30. No one was surprised at this development. We decided to jam east on the Turnpike for a little while to get to more unfamiliar territory and knock out some miles. We rode east until just before the Pennsylvania border, where we got off the highway and took 2-lane Route 62 through the hills of PA, along the Western edge of the Allegheny National Forest, and north through the rolling country hills of far Western New York state. The weather shifted throughout the day, with sunshine, gloom, cold and rain all in the mix. We crossed the border into Canada in Buffalo and headed up the QEW (Queen's Elizabeth Way) where we got buffeted by intense, exhausting winds until we reached Niagra Falls. Riding into town and along the river, seeing the falls, was an excellent way to end our ride for the day. We got to see Lake Erie and Lake Ontario this first day. We all checked in at the Cadillac Motel, an old motor court motel right off the main strip, and settled in.
On our second day we were headed northeast, with our destination being the town of Oliphant where our good friend and fellow rider (the guy on the Norton!) Andy grew up. Our first stop was the hometown to Andy and Lori (who was driving our chase van), Kitchener Waterloo, where they own and operate their bicycle shop, King Street Cycles. We got a tour of their shop, grabbed a long and relaxing, multi-hour lunch on the deck at favorite local spot, Ethel's, and hit the road again. Just down the shore from Oliphant, we rode into Sauble Beach and directly onto the sand. The beach there is natural and beautiful, a rare sand beach directly on Lake Huron. Riding the rest of the way to Andy and Lori's cabin was a beautiful and short jaunt along the coast road, where we had fun meandering through all the curves and stopping to watch an amazing, well-earned sunset. We capped off the day with a bonfire, burgers and drinks. Perfect.
We had a bit of a schedule on the third day, as we had reservations on the Chi Cheemaun Ferry (translation: Big Canoe in native tongue of Ojibwa), which would take us from Tobermory on the tip of the Bruce Peninsula (which separates Lake Huron and the Georgian Bay) up to South Baymouth on Manitoulin Island. We had to check in an hour early for the ferry, so we got up and hit the road, enjoying some beautiful coastline, pine trees and warm sunshine on the hour ride north. We checked in at the ferry and got in line with a half dozen other motorcycles and a lot of cars. The ferry was gigantic. The nose of the ship opens up and you ride right into it's belly. Bikes are put on their side stands and tied down in place in case of rough seas. After securing our bikes we headed up to the aft deck to enjoy the beautiful scenery and sunshine. Upon landing at South Baymouth we set off to find Bridal Veil Falls, a picturesque waterfall just off the road that offered an excellent spot for a swim and some snacks. Moving on, we headed across a bridge to the mainland and headed west, towards the Mackinac Bridge where we could cross back into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, back in the USA. The ride headed west was gorgeous, with large, undulating hills and rocky outcroppings. No more deciduous trees, we were too far North and conifers rule the land here. We stopped for the evening at Serpent River Campground, our planned ending point, where we were given a large spot near the river with plenty of room to spread out. Leland, our intrepid videographer and friend, brought out his archery equipment and proceeded to teach several of us how to shoot properly. Greg and Longhair (Jason) went over to the dock and fished. I ran to the nearby train tracks when I heard the train coming and put coins on the track, successfully flattening them. In short, good times were had by all.
We woke up, broke camp, and continued westward, where we saw the tailing end of Lake Superior and crossed the St. Mary's River in Sault St. Marie back into the United States. We had a delicious late breakfast / early lunch at The Breakfast Pig before moving on. We headed South across the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and arrived at the north end of the Mackinac Bridge. For those who aren't familiar, the Mackinac Bridge is almost 5 miles long, and is the 5th longest bridge in the entire world. The view from the park at the north end gave us a great view of Lake Michigan to the West and Lake Huron to the East. Crossing the bridge was interesting. Half of the deck is steel grating, and while riding on it your motorcycle gives you the feeling of riding on the back of a large serpent. It is somewhat unsettling, and like riding in sand or dirt, just gas it and go along for the ride! Crossing the Mackinac was an experience to remember. Entering Northern Michigan, we rode West a short while to Wilderness State Park, where we had rented a cabin for the night. It was a proper Boy Scout style cabin with 12 bunk beds (24 beds), as well as a cast iron stove inside and fire pit outside. The entire cabin was only $80 for all of us, a heck of a deal. The park was right along the shore of Lake Michigan, and we enjoyed walking down the sand and looking out over the pristine lake. The evening was spent around the campfire telling stories, snacking and having some drinks. The drinks helped us all sleep on our rock hard mattresses, soothed to sleep with a cacophony of snores.
Packed up and with rain gear on, we left Wilderness State Park in the rain, headed for scenic Route 23 that hugs the Eastern coast of Michigan. We had less than an hour of rain and stopped for breakfast at a little hippy breakfast spot in Cheybogan. Headed south, Rt. 23 offered endless coastline and beauty that seemed to be sparsely populated. It seemed that the lake side of the road was full of getaway cottages and vacation homes, while most of the rest of the surrounding area was countryside. Funny enough, we ran into some friends from the Venturos who were headed the opposite direction. Small world! We stopped at a lakeside park for a while and enjoyed the beach, the view, snacks and cold drinks in the shade along the side of the road. We continued on down, past Bay City where we thought we might stop, to the Saginaw area where we grabbed some hotel rooms. The entire day had been extremely hot, over 90 degrees and very humid, which gets tiring quick. We had cold drinks, the hotel had a pool and there was a nearby Mexican restaurant, so we were all set. Air conditioning and soft beds treated everyone right.
Like most trips, the Great Lakes Escape seemed to be so long until all of a sudden it was almost over. The days blended together, each one sharing commonalities but each a completely different experience. We set our sights on getting back to where we started, Lowbrow headquarters in Brunswick, Ohio. It was another hot day, so we jammed south down 23 and picked up Route 20 headed East just outside of Toledo. We were back in Ohio. Route 20 is the old highway, before the big highway Route 80 was built. It is a two lane road with some traffic, but not as bad as a major interstate. We were able to make good time and knock some miles out, headed through the flat cornfields of Western Ohio. We pulled in at Lowbrow right around 5pm, all smiles. We had a few cold drinks while we went through our gear and some of our friends made plans to continue on, Andy & Lori back to Kitchener Waterloo, and Tim riding his FXR back to Rochester, NY. I felt slightly guilty that evening at home, relaxing, knowing my friends were still on the road, this time solo. Riding with a group of friends, on new roads, camping and exploring, can be some of the best things in life. It doesn't have to be complicated. You don't need a reason to hit the road, disconnect from the internet and have some fun. What we hope you get from this is that motorcycle trips such as this are amazing and completely attainable. Mark some days off on your calendar, grab some friends and hit the road! Get out there and ride... Adventure awaits.
Words by: Tyler Malinky
Photos by: Mikey Revolt
Video by: Leland James