Day 15 – Merrill, Wisconsin to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario

I woke up before the alarm went off and went ahead and turned it off. Hit the bathroom and started doing my morning stuff, and the next thing I know it’s 6:30AM and Kay still isn’t awake. I woke him up, and we were still on the road by 7:15. Which just goes to show – Kay can sleep in an extra half hour and it doesn’t make any difference in the time it takes to get on the road. Our baseline is an hour when we’re in a hotel. I feel like we ought to be able to improve that, but we don’t really dawdle…

By 8:15, I spotted gas and wanted to grab it opportunistically for the Ural, because I wasn’t sure where the next gas would be. Things are a bit more spread out in this part of Wisconsin. Gas stop was right next to a McDonalds, and I was FRIGGIN hungry, so I suggested to Kay that we grab breakfast even though we hadn’t been on the road too long. I wanted noms, and didn’t want gas station food. Discovered, to my dismay, that their credit card machine was down and I had no cash on me, so I had to wait for Kay to get back from acquiring water for our Camelbaks to ask him to use his cash to acquire breakfast for us. Dogs got some noms – we got them an Egg McMuffin, and Kay keeps forgetting how much he hates tearing apart the ham in those sandwiches. It seems to not tear as easily as sausage. Maybe next time he’ll remember.

Back on the road by 8:45, and by 10:15 it was time for another gas stop. I was feeling anxious about the number of miles we needed to cover, but Kay was really dragging, so we had to stop long enough for him to grab some caffeine. It couldn’t be helped. Safety is paramount.

Sometime just after this gas and caffeine stop, we hit the edge of Lake Michigan and drove along the Upper Peninsula along the lake. It kept flashing itself and then disappearing behind trees and buildings for quite a while. I’d heard from a lot of people how beautiful the Upper Peninsula is, but the part we were driving was just kinda… meh. But it was better than driving through the midwest again.

Lake Michigan

Dachary in Mirror

At around 11:30, we passed a sign saying that we were entering the Eastern Time Zone… and there went an hour, *poof* gone. It was 12:30, just like that. I really started feeling a time crunch after this.

Shortly after 1, we stopped for gas again and grabbed lunch at Wendy’s. Again, I could have waited, but I wasn’t sure what we’d see down the road, and I’ve gotten really tired of gas station sandwiches. Grabbed lunch and had our usual UDF, which slowed us down getting back on the road again, so it was around 2 by the time we got back out. I just felt like we weren’t getting *anywhere* today with all of these breaks, and how long each break takes… it felt like as soon as we got started, we were stopping again. I do miss that about being on *just* the F650s. We could run around 150 miles before we had to start thinking about gas, which meant far fewer gas stops and far fewer breaks/delays in our day.

Not too long after getting back on the road, we started driving toward a really black cloud. We’d been flirting with rain off and on all day, but had never gotten more than a few sprinkles. I felt confident that this was gonna pour, though. I called out to Kay, who was in the lead on the Ural, that I needed to pull over and stow my phone in a dry bag so it wouldn’t get wet. We both took the opportunity to put our rain covers on our tank bags, and we rolled down the outside of the cover on the sidecar but left the inside open so the dogs could still get some fresh air. We were already quite warm, so neither of us bothered to put on our rain gear – we were thinking it would be better to get a little wet from a refreshing summer shower than to get all hot and sweaty in our rain gear.

Searching

That turned out to be a mistake.

Within a few minutes of rolling out again, we hit the edge of the storm. And pretty quickly after that, the rain was coming down HARD. And then there was hail. The guy in front of Kay kept slowing down unexpectedly (I imagine due to poor visibility) but he didn’t have his headlights or taillights on, and wasn’t using his brakes, so Kay had to keep braking because suddenly he’d be on top of the guy in front of him.

Kay’s note: most of the time I wasn’t that hard on top of him, but the visibility was crap and he kept slowing down unexpectedly, and forcing me to do the same. It was quite helpful to be able to call back to Dachary that I was about to be slowing.

8 minute after rolling into the storm (I looked at the clock), I could feel water running down my shins into my boots. My glorious, wonderful waterproof boots. They’re only waterproof when the rest of you isn’t sopping wet. Because I didn’t bother to put my rain gear on, the water just ran right down my legs to pool in my boots. Literally. When I got off the bike later, my feet were “squish squish”ing every time I took a step, or shifted a gear. It was really unpleasant.

Meanwhile, Kay was complaining about the stinging from the rain and the hail. But his gear is heavier than mine. So every little pinprick of rain and hail sting he felt, I felt a lot more. And it really didn’t feel too bad to me. So I thought he was being a little whiny – I was enjoying the cooling rain, even if I was sopping wet. It reminded me of when I was younger and used to go walking in the rain just because I could. It’s kinda invigorating.

Kay’s note: she’s right. I was being whiny. ;)

Of course, it stops feeling that way after about 15 to 20 minutes. Then you just start getting cold. Especially when you’re driving along at 60MPH and you’ve got wind and cool air rushing over your sopping wet self. By the time we stopped for gas again, both of us were goose-pimpley and unhappy.

How did the dogs fare with the inside of the sidecar cover rolled up? We’d been through a light rain before like that and it wasn’t a problem. The dogs didn’t even get wet. But in this epic storm? Kay said afterward that it looked like “the side of Ben’s leg is wet.” When we stopped for gas, I noticed water dripping from what looked like the sidecar. It was clearly time to investigate. We pulled over to the side of the parking lot and coaxed the dogs from the sidecar to discover a wet, sopping mess. The top of the cushion had a small puddle of water on it. When Kay pulled the cushion and the stuff out of the nose, we found a lot of standing water in the bottom of the tub. It was trying to drain out the hole where the people seat metal thinger attaches, and we’ve also discovered that the weld in the underside of the nose is not complete as there were a couple of spots where water was dripping from the weld.

In other words, it was pretty wet.

Ben was pretty wet, but Bandido, who had been in the nose, was mostly dry. Luckily, it was in the mid to high 80s, so being wet wasn’t a problem for the dogs, and he dried pretty quickly.

Kay’s note: This was one of the reasons we were willing to try leaving it up. We had to know what the real-world-effect would be but we also believed that if they did get wet it would be for a short time and they’d be able to dry out, and warm up, quickly afterwards.

I ran into the gas station to grab some paper towels to begin to sop up the mess before putting things back together, and Kay tried pushing the water toward the hole in the bottom of the tub to get some of it to drain. A few minutes and a few sopping paper towels later, the sidecar was dry again (and some of the dead bugs, dog fur and accumulated dirt of two weeks of dog travel had been cleared out) and we were ready to hit the road again. Kay and I were still pretty wet and not looking forward to riding that way, but I still maintained that I’d rather be wet than hot.

The rest of the day’s riding was pretty uneventful. We didn’t run into any more rain. Eventually we did run into a bit of a headwind, which slowed us down to 50-55MPH, but we were nearing the Canadian border and we weren’t going too far after we crossed.

The GPS directed us flawlessly to the border crossing at Sault Ste. Marie, but even if it hadn’t, there were plenty of huge signs. There was a moment of confusion as the woman at the toll booth (the bridge from the US to Canada is a toll bridge) thought the sidecar axle was in the middle of the vehicle instead of aligned with the back motorcycle wheel and thus was going to throw her sensor off, but we sorted it out and got through. Right as my headset died. We’d been on the road for almost 12 hours at that point, and apparently my battery was unhappy.

Got to the border with Kay in front on the Ural with the dogs, and the border guy asked a few perfunctory questions. “Where do you live? Where are you going? How long are you going to be in Canada?” Kay asked if he needed to see the dog’s paperwork, but he didn’t care at all – he just waved him through. My questions were even more perfunctory. It was nothing like the Canadian border crossing I remember when I went up in 2005. It seemed like at this border, anyway, they just wanted to pass people through as quickly as possible.

Looking back at the USA and Dachary

Welcome to Canada

On the other side, our first order of business was finding Canadian cash. We’ve learned the hard way on our Americas trip how many fees you have to pay for international transactions, so our strategy was just to pull out the cash we’d need in one lump sum and then use cash for everything while we were in Canada. The welcome center didn’t have an ATM, but the helpful lady inside directed Kay to the casino next door, where he grabbed some cash and then we headed out to our campground for the night.

I had found us Glenwood Cottages, just 8 miles from the border, where we secured a tent spot and Kay worked on setting up camp while I literally dumped water from my boots and lamented my poor pruney feet. As soon as Kay had the tent set up, I was inside – too many mosquitos. I had taken for granted not having to really deal with bugs in Colorado, and the mosquitos hadn’t been too bad the couple of other times we’ve camped on this trip, so it sorta caught me off guard but I DEETed the heck out of myself and then dived in the tent because the Canadian mosquitos didn’t seem to care about the DEET too much. I left poor Kay to deal with cooking us dinner on the camp stove while I set up our bed, the dog bed and organized the piles of gear in the tent.

It was kinda nice to be camping in Canada and not have Internet access to distract us. I talked Kay into putting off writing the post for the day, as we wouldn’t be able to post it till we got back to the US anyway, so we just chilled and watched an episode of World’s Toughest Fixes on the iPad. It’s only the second time we’ve watched 45 minutes of TV on this entire trip. But we’d gotten into camp so late, and finished dealing with food so late, that it was around 10:30 by the time we finished. That’s a bit late for the 5-6AM wake up calls we’ve been doing lately, so we set the alarm for 7.

The campground itself was decent, but it was close to a major road which meant a ton of traffic noise. Unfortunately, this was to be a harbinger for the night to come.

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