Gone Riding – Boats, Bikes & a Bishop

RalphWhen I go on long distance motorcycle rides, I always start out with three rules:

1. Come home safe
2. Have fun
3. Complete whatever goals I have for the ride

It’s very important to always keep these in mind.

When I set out on this trip, my goal was to collect a number of the Whispering Giants and to complete the Iron Butt Association’s Great Lakes 100 ride. It didn’t quite work out that way.  But that’s ok, because so far I’ve had a safe ride and a great time.

I started out on the Great Lakes ride from South Bend, Indiana, then headed across through Toledo, Cleveland, and up to Erie.  It was at Erie I met up with my old friend Matthew Riegel, aka The Biker Priest From Hell, who is now the bishop-elect for the ELCA’s West Virginia-Western Maryland synod.  As the bishop-elect, he’s been working long hours on getting ready for his new job as well as his old job of being the Lutheran chaplain at West Virginia University.  With all that he had to do, we got a late start out of Erie, then headed up for the Finger Lakes country of New York.

WomenInWindOn our way through that beautiful country, we ran across a couple of charming women riding their GoldWing trike up to a Women of the Wind rally at Lake George, New York.  It’s always fun getting to talk to people, and motorcyclist in particular, whom you meet along the way.

Our target for the evening was Cape Vincent, New York, which is right on the St. Lawrence Seaway.  We needed to reach there Wednesday evening so we could catch the first ferry the next morning out to Wolfe Island where we would go through Canadian customs.

CapeVincentRestaurantWe thought we would get dinner at a likely looking bar and grill within walking distance of our rustic but clean little motel, but alas we got there a little after 10 p.m., and the kitchen had closed at 9.  We then rode to the nearby town of Clayton where we had heard there was another bar and grill.  Alas, that one too had a closed kitchen.  And being on motorcycles and needing to return 15 miles to our hotel, drinking our dinner was out of the question.  We ended up eating convenience store sandwiches sold to us minutes before the store closed.

The next morning I was fortunate in being able to get an excellent breakfast from Ann’s Fisherman’s Fare – homemade corned beef hash and eggs. The town might have been closed by 9 p.m, but it was back open for business at 6 a.m.

CapeVincentMattMatt and I went and got lined up for the ferry by 8 where we were joined by one car and a clutch of bicyclists headed over to the island to go riding for the day. We got on the boat and after a short ride, presented ourselves to Canadian customs officials.

Now I should tell you that you should never presume to debate theological issues with the Biker Priest.  You will lose because you simply will not have the depth of knowledge and understanding he does.  But that knowledge of theology does not extend to understanding of customs officials. Matt’s been having minor carbouator problems on his 1982 Honda, and so he chose to use the time while the officials were inspecting our passports to add carb cleaner to his gas tank.  Efficient use of down time was his thought.  Highly suspicious behavior is what customs thought…. But a quick explanation cleared things up – that and the fact that the customs official really couldn’t believe someone would really be silly enough to try to pour contraband into his gas tank right at a border crossing.

Following a pleasant ride across Wolfe Island, we found ourselves at the much busier ferry port going from Wolfe Island to Kingston, Ontario where we waited, and waited, and waited.  When our ferry finally arrived and got filled to capacity, we were running at least two hours behind schedule.  This would prove to be time we could ill afford to lose.

KingstonFerry KingstonFerryOnIt


We went on to ride to North Bay, where we decided there was no way we could reach Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario that evening. So we booked a room in Sudbury, a couple of ours further west. Once there, we discussed and decided to pull the plug on the Great Lakes circumnavigation attempt. There were several things I wanted to make sure I got done on this trip – I wanted to visit my brother in Minnesota, and I wanted time to stop with Matt at the Aerostich factory store in Duluth so that he could look for a new riding suit. So our decision was to skip the north shore of Lake Superior and instead head down into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan as a short cut to Duluth. That turned out to be a great decision.  We visited the locks between Lake Superior and Lake Huron – especially fun because my wife had lived in the area for several years while in school.


We ended our ride for the day at twilight crossing the bridge from Superior, Wisconsin into Duluth, Minnesota, on a roadway that I’m sure is very professionally designed and constructed but looks like it was put together using plans created out of leftover spaghetti after a three martini lunch.

Our big order of business on Saturday morning was to go to the Aerostich factory store.  Aerostich makes excellent waterproof(ish) motorcycle riding suits. Matt has never had good riding gear, and he used the visit to order a custom fit suit in the same hi viz and black that I wear.  The factory store isn’t much to look at from the outside, but it’s full of everything the touring and adventure rider could want inside. And the parking spots outside the shop is always filled with interesting bikes.


From there, bishop-elect Matt headed back east to work on arranging a monastery experience for young people headed to the ELCA’s upcoming youth gathering, and I headed south to spend an evening with siblings and cousins before heading to Iowa to visit my parents.

Matt thinks I have a tendency to over-plan my motorcycle trips.  And he would be right.  But deep down inside, I always remember the William Least Heat Moon quote that’s at the bottom of all my e-mails: “Proceed as the way opens.”  The way that opened on this trip was not the way I planned.  But it turned out just fine, nevertheless.

Next entry – the rest of my Whispering Giants.

This story starts here.

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One Response to Gone Riding – Boats, Bikes & a Bishop

  1. Pingback: Gone Riding – Return to the Giants | Living in a Media World

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