Getting away is hard. Lots of rides cover lots of ground, but one foot always seems to still be in the everyday hustle. Phones, social media, every device has some HD camera ready to share every moment and a hi-res screen to peer into, so we can keep up with everyone else. As far as I can tell, we’re all guilty of it on some level. A quick check of the work emails, a peek at a news website, or even a text to friends back home to stay in the loop. It gets overwhelming. To paraphrase the philosopher and motorcycle mechanic Mathew Crawford—our attention is a limited resource, and we need to start treating it as such. It is in this vein that the Great Lakes Escape came to be. A group of friends that seemingly only get to spend time together while pursuing an end goal, and while the end goal may be fun, it’s easy to ignore the journey. It’s time to put away distraction and truly get away. It’s time to clear our heads and invigorate our friendships. No phones, no devices, no social media, no end goals. Just friends, motorcycles and the journey ahead. A journey for journey’s sake.
We come from different cities, different states, and different countries. There has been talk of such a ride for a long time. Years, even. Everyone always has something going on. A busy life that’s hard to squeeze a weekend free from, let alone a week. The more we see our schedules misalign, the more we realize the need to align them. After a couple of false starts, we finally re-organize priorities to make it happen.
The second week of June is chosen and a route is planned. At first, Lake Erie seems like a good choice—a safe getaway, never far from the hustle, but picturesque all the same. The potential of a week has us soon thinking just how far we can go though. Being Canadian, and raised on the Bruce Peninsula, I know what we can make of our time, so we look farther north. More than a lake. Two lakes. A ferry. An island. Before we know it, we have a journey planned. Set off from the Lowbrow Customs office in Brunswick, Ohio, where some of the crew work, touch all five Great Lakes; America to Canada, and back around into America again to end where we began.
It’s awesome. Seven bikes, ten friends and some wide-open roads to share. We hit highways, secondary roads and have a great time carving through the Allegheny forest from Ohio to Pennsylvania and on to New York state. We have glorious sun, torrential rain and everything in between, and it’s just the beginning. I’m stoked to cross the border to my home country and wind up in the tacky craziness that is the Niagara Falls Parkway and Clifton Hill. It’s always hard to imagine what it would be like to see these falls in nature, without all the infrastructure and wax museums.
It’s now time to start heading north. The backroads of south-central Ontario may not be the smoothest, but there is some excellent scenery. Just after lunch, the urban sprawl starts to fall away and the farmlands spread out on either side of us as we head for my little piece of the rugged Bruce Peninsula. Other than northern Ontario beer store hours, about the only real schedule we have to keep to this week is the Chi Cheemaun ferry check-in and loading times. So after some food, beers, a fire and bike maintenance, we rest up for an early departure.
Tobermory’s remote quaintness always makes the Chi-Cheemaun’s arrival an event. And the slow cruise through ancient island forests and craggy outcroppings is a reminder that these lands are older than most civilizations, and speak to the duress Indigenous leaders must have felt in signing so much of it over to the encroaching Europeans generations ago. On the other side of the channel, Manitoulin Island’s rocky and sparse landscapes provide a welcome change from the previous days’ traffic and population density. The names of the communities we pass through; Mindemoya, M’Chigeeng, Kagawong, are reminders that we are visitors here, as does the beauty of Bridal Veil Falls and the North Shore we’ve begun to catch glimpses of. Before long, the moose crossing signs along the Trans Canada highway let us know that wildlife makes its own boundaries up here and it’s best to make camp before dusk to avoid any surprise encounters.
Sault Ste. Marie is the gateway back to America, and with views of Lake Superior to our right and Lake Huron’s North Channel on our left, we cross onto Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, heading towards the formidable Mackinac Bridge. The steel grate surface creates a transparent effect that almost gives a feeling of flight, and combined with the squirmy grip our tires seem to have, makes for a memorable crossing.
Having grown up along the eastern shores of Lake Huron, I’m look forward to seeing what the western coastline has to offer. The US 23 winds us south along the water, and through a lake-effect chill to a staggering heat as we approach Saginaw. These temperature changes connect you to the environment on a bike more than any other mode of transportation. There is no hiding and it lets you know you’re moving through the world, not just watching it go by.
Rain has the same effect; there is no hiding. We awake in Wilderness State Park, on the south shore of Lake Michigan, to a light rain that soon becomes a downpour. It’s all over with quickly though, and we once again find ourselves in the sweltering heat. The Ohio border arrives by the mid-afternoon, and so does the traffic. Toledo comes and goes, and we head for Brunswick and the end of this adventure. Pulling into the Lowbrow Customs headquarters is nothing short of epic—with a sense of accomplishment, we realize the trip has gone as smoothly as one could dream of. With bikes ranging in age from Tyler Malinky’s 1959 Harley-Davidson Panhead to Kat Arnold’s 2016 Harley-Davidson Softail, there isn’t an issue among the group, apart from the routine maintenance a 2,500 kilometre trip requires.
Two thousand five hundred kilometres—no phones, no posts, no problems. It’s something we need to make more time for; spending time with each other and experiencing our current surroundings, without the digital utopias or the false online realities so prevalent in our everyday existence. Spending our attention on what is happening in front of us, rather than what’s happening through the filter of our devices. There is character built in being cold, being wet, being here, now.
Words by Andy Cox Photos by Mikey Revolt