Doug Grosjean's
Alaska Trip Report

June 1999

 
Day 25; Tuesday, June 22nd, 1999
Start: Hudson, Wisconsin
End: Manitowoc, Wisconsin
365 Miles



In the morning I get up early, anxious to go, since once the business meeting is over I can head home. I'm in the final stretch now - only about 750 miles from home.

I shower, load the bike, take it off the centerstand and - it doesn't feel right. Odd, somehow. I check the air pressure in the rear tire, and instead of 42 psi it's about 30 psi. Uh-oh. The rear tire has a leak. Damn!

I wonder about what to do, I hate like heck to miss the meeting or to be late. I finally decide to limp the bike to the nearby gas station, air up the tire to the proper pressure, go to my meeting, and then re-check the tire and reconsider my options.

The people I'm meeting with are not motorcyclists, and are somewhat surprised that I'm picking up this meeting on my way home from Alaska. I'm taken to breakfast, and mostly asked about the trip. I end up showing the pictures from the trip, and answering a lot of questions. We also discuss business, but business ends up almost being a sideshow to my trip.

The meeting over, I ask if I can borrow a computer for net access to check my e-mail. I send some e-mails out, including one to my wife and one to my bosses in Toledo; letting everybody know that I should be home by Thursday.

Then I plan my route home. I did the north shore of Lake Superior earlier in the year, plus it's much longer, so it's out. Not enthused about zipping through Chicago traffic, not fun, so it's out. What would really be cool is to cut east across Wisconsin on Rt. 10 to Manitowoc, spend the night there, and ride the Lake Michigan car ferry across the lake on Thursday to Ludington, Michigan; then home, it's easy riding and a rather straight shot. It's a plan!

One of the guys from the business meeting prints out a map and directions for me, and once I check the air pressure to get a feel for how fast the rear tire's leaking, I'll be off.

The tire is down a couple pounds in the couple hours that the meeting takes. I figure I'll take it easy, and check the pressure periodically through the day, and if it gets worse I'll do something about it. I know, maybe not the best plan, but I've had flats before on this bike and there's never any drama to them, simply pull over when it feels a bit funny in the back.

Then I'm eastbound on I-94, picking up Rt. 10 eastbound at Osseo.

Crossing Wisconsin is a bit of a blur for me, not due to speed (I'm being extremely cautious) but due to everything being so tightly packed compared to where I've been, so civilized and tame. The small towns on Rt. 10 seem to come in rapid succession, then 5-10 miles of rural scenery, another small town, country, town, country..... it all just scrolls by.

I'm checking the tire about every hour, airing it up as needed; it's steadily losing air. Doing the math in my head, I doubt it will hold air overnight if I camp, maybe not for the 4 hour ferry ride across Lake Michigan, either. Plus the worry, even with my caution, is driving me half crazy.

So at a gas stop in central Wisconsin, about 180 miles into my day, checking first to be sure that the station has an air hose, I fix the tire. Quick and dirty, definitely not recommended. Thinking about it, the leak is likely to be at one of the two plugs installed over 4,000 miles ago on the Dempster. I verify which one is leaking with a bit of spit, then taking the tire plug tool (and a deep breath), I poke the plug into the tire - it works, the plug doesn't come apart but simply ends up inside the tire itself. Whooooosh!!!! There. Now I have a nice clean hole. I ream it out with the BMW tire reaming tool, and insert a new plug. Let the glue dry before airing it up, hang out for a bit to be sure all's well, do another "spit test" on the new plug, and I'm on my way.

I figure on camping out near the ferry and boarding the first thing in the morning. So after eating supper at a Subway store in one of the towns along Rt. 10, and checking the air in the back tire, I call the Lake Michigan car ferry's toll free number, and everything changes.

From the Wisconsin side, they have sailings around noon and around midnight. It's 300+ miles home after the ferry ride. So if I camp and sail Wednesday afternoon, I'll be home extremely late Wednesday night.

On the other hand, if I sail on the midnight run, I can rack up miles in my sleep, and the ride home Wednesday will be an easy one - plus no camping fee as I can bed down somewhere aboard the ship, probably. I decide to go for the midnight run.

I arrive at the dock in plenty of time. It's a very nice night, just cool enough that the 'íStich over my jeans and T-shirt is perfect. A little overcast, and calm - Lake Michigan looks like a big pond. A wide mix of people are waiting for the ferry, from RV'ers to young people in beat-up VW busses, to couples on bicycles just visiting the other side of the lake for the day.

At the ticket counter, I get a pleasant surprise - a 20% discount on the midnight sailing! The fare ends up being slightly more than $50 after the discount. I ask about sleeping aboard the hip, and am told that I can sleep anywhere - no need for a stateroom. I pay my money and walk out of the ticket office smiling.

The ferry arrives, all lit up as it sails into port, docks, and passengers disembark. Meanwhile, crew members are driving the vehicles off the ship, temporarily parking them in front of the ticket office for their owners to pick up, then jogging back into the belly of the ship to get another vehicle, and another, and another. The passengers, both coming and going, are elbow to elbow in front of the office.

Out of the ferry comes a Buell, the sport-touring model, apparently being ridden by it's owner as the rider looks at ease with the bike, I don't think it's a deckhand riding it.

The Buell rider goes into the ticket office, comes back out, and seeing me in my 'Stich asks about good roads in Wisconsin. Gosh, I don't know, I'm on my way home from Alaska, I'm just passing through. I tell him that the north shore of Lake Superior is great, but possibly too far for the two free days he's got. Other than that, I don't know.

We talk further, I show and explain my electric vest, disassembling it before his eyes, he asks when it will be available, and we exchange business cards. His name's Don Clingan, and he's part owner of the ferry. Cool! I wish him well on his days off, tooling around Wisconsin.

Then one of the crew signals to me to come aboard. I ride the bike aboard, and itís obvious that one of the owners rides. The motorcycle area is perfect for securing a bike. There's a steel grating attached to the floor where the bikes go, giving plenty of points to tie down to. Hanging on the wall behind are plenty of tie-down straps, all appear to be nearly new.

I'm the only bike on this run. I remove my dry bags and grab about a half-dozen tie downs, as they are much quicker than ropes. In two minutes, my bike is absolutely secure no matter what. I imagine we could go upside down, and my bike would be fine.

While the crew continues to load the ship, I wander around a bit on board, buying a soft drink and a cookie. Then I head out to the bow of the ship with a single drybag from my bike, the one that contains my sleeping bag and Thermarest pad.

Good memories of the days and nights spent camping on the Alaska ferry suddenly come to mind, and I realize that this is the perfect last night on the road, the perfect way to end my trip.

The bow is empty, lit by flood lights from above the ship's bridge, the lounge chairs put away neatly in a couple stacks. I take a lounge chair off one of the stacks, take it to the bow of the ferry, nearly at the very point of the bow, and am making my bed as we pull away from the dock. I watch the lights on the shore recede as we slowly gain speed and head out into Lake Michigan.

Another passenger appears, takes a second lounge chair, finds his own space far from me, and makes his bed without saying a word or looking at me.

I climb into my sleeping bag, and once I'm comfortable I look up at the bridge of the ship, and the floodlights on top. Just when I think that it'd sure be nice if those damned floodlights were turned off, they go out, and all that's visible of the bridge above is a dim glow from the windows.

There's a mild vibration thrumming through the ship, like a pulse, not unlike my BMW twin. The temperature is perfect for sleeping, ie, slightly cool, the lake is smooth, there's a light breeze from the movement of the ship. I can hear the bow of the ship cutting through the water, it's a very soothing sound.

Suddenly, I'm fast asleep.


Doug Grosjean
Pemberville, Ohio