Ben on the Radio!

by Ben N on September 30, 2015


I’m on the radio!

I got to appear in a ten-minute segment on Wisconsin Public Radio’s CENTRAL TIME – the afternoon news magazine show.

It’s a short segment, so it wasn’t a whole lot more than an introduction and a handful of questions, but it was still a great time talking to the radio hosts about my Loop the Lake Trip!

You can listen to the program by clicking this link! ctm150930l2


Back from Loop the Lake

by Ben N on September 12, 2015


Well, I just got back from my Loop the Lake trip around Lake Michigan.

All I can really say was that it was AMAZING!

I toured the the north shore and crossed a bridge that was 250 feet in the air and longer than the Golden Gate. I rode the “Tunnel of Trees”. I met up with others and formed an electric biker gang. I stumbled in on the oldest book store in Chicago (which is in Indiana!) I toured power plants and saw National Lakeshore sharing the same beach with steel plants, State Parks with Coal Plants. I stayed up all night with hackers working on software and electronics. I jammed with jazz musicians. I ATE a front yard while charging from solar panels. I met amazing people from all walks of life.

And I did it all without a single drop of gasoline.

The total trip ended up being 1276 miles. I averaged the equivalent of over 300 miles per gallon, and I never ran out of battery power (although I had to get creative more than once!)

While I’m back home, I’m getting ready to leave again already. I’m traveling to the Mother Earth News Fair at Seven Springs, PA this coming weekend, and then back to Milwaukee for the Milwaukee Maker Faire the following weekend. Plus, I still have to work in that time as well!

As soon as I get a chance, I’ll start going through my daily log and create individual entries on each day of my trip. Every day was an adventure and each day was better than the last.

If by chance you happen to be one of the people I met during my trip PLEASE contact me! You can just leave a message right here in the comments. It’s moderated and goes right to me, rather than being published instantly, so you can even include contact info without it going out to everyone on the internet.

It really was quite an adventure. I would do it again in a heart-beat.

Stay charged up. I know I am.


PS: Here’s a link to an article by the Kenosha News.

PPS: I’m retro-actively filling in my travel journal, placing the entries chronologically as they happened. Click here for the details of Day 1 of my Loop the Lake adventure.


Loop the Lake: Day 3, Crossing the U.P.

by Ben N on September 5, 2015


I woke up this morning to a pretty quiet RV park.

I made my instant oatmeal and also realized that I didn’t actually like Starbucks’ Via “Columbian” instant coffee. I’ve also found myself stuck a few times charging in a location nowhere near food. In town, I had seen a Super Walmart. After packing up camp, I headed there. The Walmart also had a McDonalds inside, so I got myself an Egg McMuffin and some real coffee. I also picked up a few provisions: some bread, fruit, and chocolate pudding cups. Even in the rain and the cold, I could be happy if I have chocolate pudding.

IMG_5291I headed north from Escanaba on Highway 2. In Gladstone, there was a neat little park right on the lake. I don’t know why it is, but people always seem to have strange taste in public art. There was an unusual sculpture, which I couldn’t figure out if it was art or playground equipment. After starting to climb on it, I realized it WAS in fact art. Mostly by the fact that it had sharp edges, rather than rounded one. On closer inspection, I could see the impression of seams and stitching cast in the concrete. Somehow, this sculpture had been made by SEWING a cloth shape, then pumping concrete in to it!
Gladstone also has one of the coolest old Police buildings I’ve seen in a long time – a stone and brick building that beams with civic pride.

Today, I would have to cross the entire Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and I wasn’t actually sure how I would do it. It’s about 140 miles from Escanaba to St. Ignace, and there’s NO public EV charging in between. Indian Lake State Park would be a good first stop for the day, but I could find a good second charging point. There’s only a few small towns on the way. Other campgrounds were all rustic. There was a KOA campground, but it would be a long detour out of the way. Oh well, I would decide when I got closer.

IMG_5295I followed Highway 2 north and then east, entering the Hiawatha National Forest. It didn’t take me that long to realize that Highway 2 was the main road in the area. I had planned to generally follow backroads as close to the lake as possible. This road WAS the one closest to the lake, but also a main road. Only a single lane in each direction, traffic was full speed. There was very limited passing zones, meaning I had to ride as fast as I could just to keep from backing up traffic, but also draining my battery considerably faster than it would otherwise. Going very fast in a straight line in heavy traffic was not my plan for the trip. When I stopped to get a photo of the National Forest sign, I parked my cycle on the side of the road, as far off as I could but still uncomfortably close to traffic. There just wasn’t a better place to pull off. When a semi-truck blew past, I could see the cycle wobble on the side kickstand, the rush of artificial wind twisting and pulling it. Side-winds weren’t a problem at all, while riding, but I might need to be careful if some wind kicked up while my bike was unattended.

IMG_5298I got off at a rest area – the only turn from the main road I had seen in miles.
I checked the map and got a drink. The morning haze was burning off and the sun was finally coming out. A couple of locals were hanging out, chatting.  Of course, they were interested in my unusual motorcycle, and we got to talking. The one was a Vietnam vet in the Navy, he was especially interesting in the technology of the cycle and compared it to the old submarines and other seafaring technology. They asked where I was going. After I mentioned the Mackinac Bridge, the horror stories started freely flowing.

“Oh ya, camper trailers blow over all they time, dontcha know!”

“I saw a semi-truck flip over in a wind-storm once der.”

“Their pavin’ the lane, so yull have to ride on the grate!”

“They shudder down for Labor Day, so yull want to make sure you cross before then!”

That’s all I needed – MORE encouragement to stay on schedule. The locals were friendly. Other than being far enough away from home that the accent was starting to sound funny, it was a pretty good time. I waved to the guys and hit the road again.

IMG_5300By the time I was close to Indian Lake State Park, I didn’t have much battery left at all. I was glad to be on a side road, just so my voltage wouldn’t be dropping so fast! In a few miles more miles, I made it to the entrance. The park has a great campground, picnic area, boat launch, and swimming. I said hi to the rangers at the entrance, and explained to the one that I would like to use the campground to charge. She said that was fine. Not too long ago they had an electric car come in to do the same thing. She gave me the name of the camp-host and asked me to check in with him, so I would know where to charge.

I pulled forward, away from the booth for a few minutes while I checked the park map and stowed my gear. Behind me, several motorcycles pulled up. I could hear the riders talking to the same ranger and bits of “Electric!? and “No way!” caught my ear.

IMG_5302As soon as they were done, the riders pulled up by me. They HAD to check out this electric motorcycle. The one guy was all decked out in black leather and chains, NRA and American Flag stickers on his windshield. His friend had a Hawaiian shirt and rode a Goldwing. Super-nice guys, they were out on a road-trip to have a good time, same as I was. In fact we had already met… sort of.

“You must have ridden through Escanaba three times last night!”, said the leader.

Me: “Um, not quite, I was going back and forth trying to find that campground on the south end of town.”
Him “We were at that motel. Saw you go past a few times. Actually heard you the last time, the bike sounds so different! And I don’t know of any campground on the south side. You should have kept going and stayed at the RV park on the north end of town.”

Hmmm. So that south-side campground really DIDN’T exist. I knew there was a reason I couldn’t find it! We chatted a few more minutes, snapped some photos, and then were on our way.

I headed down towards the campground. Not finding the camp-host, I simply went straight to an unoccupied site and plugged in using my 240V RV adapter. Next, I checked out the campground, first finding the bathroom. On the side of the building was a sign for Pizza Hut, including their phone number for delivery. FINALLY! I could charge AND get food at the same time! I pulled out my phone, made the call, and placed a delivery order for a pizza, going through the laborious process of selection of sauces, toppings, and crusts. Once I had ordered, the high-school girl on the other end of the phone said, “Wait. Hold on a minute.” Pause. Mumbled sound off the phone. “Sir, we don’t deliver until after 4:00.”
My dreams were dashed. No hot pizza lunch! Couldn’t she have stopped me at the VERY BEGINNING when I said it was for DELIVERY!?

IMG_5313Oh well, I pulled some of the gear out of my cycle and got to the Walmart bag. I sliced open a loaf of bread and topped it with Buddig beef in a pouch. It was actually surprisingly good and inexpensive. I was depressed enough from pizza disappointment that I also downed two of the four chocolate pudding cups. (What?! They’re small! I have a fast metabolism!)

It was a great day at the beach. While I usually think of Lake Michigan as extremely cold (especially this far north,) plenty of people were making the most of the last weekend of summer. Folks were boating, swimming, and playing volleyball in the lake. I also used a little bit of time to shoot some more video. I still had no idea where my next charging stop would be.


IMG_5316With a full battery, I headed back out. Eastbound, it wasn’t far until I was running through downtown Manistique, and stumbling right into the annual Manistique Merchants Car Show. At least one of the downtown streets was closed down. Classic cars lined it, likely every muscle car in the UP. To my left was a parking lot, being used to display snowmobiles. It was still open, so I pulled in to park. Heck, I parked right on the end and instantly became an unofficial entry in the show. I had JUST CHARGED, so I didn’t want to spend too much time here, but it was pretty neat looking at the snow machines. One was even a customized racing snowmobile. As I looked at the vehicles on display, other folks came over to check out my cycle. I spoke with one guy who was especially interested. When he found out that I didn’t even know where I was going to charge yet, he recommended a bar that his friend ran. “Just talk to Sherry. Tell her Emery sent you! She’ll let you plug right in. You can’t miss it.”

IMG_5319I got back on the bike and headed east out of town. There was a park there that I had to stop at quick to check out the boardwalk. Manistique has a nearly two-mile long riverwalk and boardwalk following the coast along the south side of town. I would have LOVED to have walked the whole thing, but my goal for the day was to get to the other end of the Upper Peninsula, instead of spending an hour enjoying a hike. I’d have to skip the water view. Almost as interesting was some of the signage. You know you are in the U.P. when there are more references to “Snow Machines” than to bicycles!

Continuing east on Highway 2, it was again back to fast traffic and no passing zones. I made a quick stop or two at rest areas on the way, more to get out of traffic and let my battery rest for a minute. Finally, there was something interesting on the side of the road.

IMG_5324You really can’t miss the sign for Honest Injun’s Tourist Trap. The building itself looks to be a ramshackle series of shed’s held together by brightly colored paint. It would have been almost as much at home in the Caribbean as in the U.P. This junk store has it all, from motorcycle helmets to old windows, telephone pole insulators to LPs. Inside, I asked the proprietor if there was someplace I could charge. The “Honest Injun” looked pretty caucasian to me, but he may have been able to claim a little bit of East Indian heritage. He told me of an extension cord under a coffee can outside. Sure enough, I went the long way around to find an extension cord, propped up on a wooden stake, protected from the rain by an upside down plastic Foldgers can. Two other extension cords came off this one. I plugged in, gritting my teeth, hoping not to blow a fuse for the entire establishment. This was definitely the jankiest charging I had done so far.

IMG_5327After plugging in, I explored the shop. There were plenty of treasures to be had, if one dug through the piles and the dust. By the electrical insulators (usually sold nowadays as curious paperweights,) I found one made by Pyrex. Recently, I’ve been on a Retro Pyrex Collectors Group on Facebook. Those folks love showing off rare and unusual patterns of 1950′s mixing bowls. I had no idea Pyrex also made glass for the utility market!

In another wing of the building, there were microwave ovens, boat parts, and snowmobile carburetors. In the main room, the “Injun’” himself was very quiet – perhaps in an eastern trance? There wasn’t even any music playing. He said that can’t get any radio stations out here. I looked around and saw all the old LPs and record players. Hmmm. Too bad there wasn’t some way he could’ve played back RECORDED music…
In another room, I did find some pretty cool post cards of the Upper Peninsula that looked to be from about 1960 – new old stock – “A souvenir Color Folder of HISTORIC HIAWATHA LAND”. I also picked up a small blue antique bottle for a few bucks. I thought the BROMO-SELTZER bottle would make a neat decoration my bathroom at home. Nothing like late 1800′s hang-over cures for use in decorating!

IMG_5323I had charged for about half an hour, but at only 1500 watts, that was maybe 7 miles of charge. Using only a single 15-amp circuit maybe fine for overnight charges, but for charging during the day on the road, it was nearly useless. I kept heading east. What was the name of that bar? Wolf Trap? Red Wolf?
I did eventually find a dive on the side of the road with the word Wolf in the title. While the neon sign claimed that the establishment was open, the dust and lack of visitors said otherwise. A sign listed that they also had campsites in the back. I rode around behind the building for find a few sites in poor condition. Small electric outlets on rusty conduit poked forth from the ground. I tested them, and they weren’t even powered up, not that I would have trusted that wiring. I checked my volt-meter, wishing it was higher, then continued on the main road again.

There simply was no place to charge on this road. I could make a turn, heading out of my way to the north to get to a KOA campground with RV power. But being 15 miles out of the way meant I would lose 30 miles round-trip, along with the charging time. The only other town of any type the whole rest of the day was a small place called Naubinway. I zoomed in on my GPS map. There was an odd little peninsula sticking out into Lake Michigan. I zoomed in even more, until the words PUBLIC MARINA appeared at the very tip of the peninsula. What are the odds that they would have power there? I made my bet, rolled my imaginary dice, and rode east towards Naubinway.

By the time I made it to Naubinway, I was coasting on electron fumes. The town was a single street. Lining it was a pasty shop, a bar, a coffee shop, Italian restaurant, and a bank. Two blocks of side streets held modest single-story houses. I was hungry for dinner and disappointed to see that the pasty shop may have already closed up for the season. Outside the bar, a couple was leaving on their Goldwing. I asked if they were local and knew anything about the marina. “Nope, just passing through.” Friendly though, they asked a few questions about my bike before they rode off. I looked and saw that there was an electric outlet on the outside of the bank. If I used that for charging, I may as well set up my tent right next to it and spend the night – I’d never make it to St. Ignace.

IMG_5332I turned down the side-road in the general direction of where the marina should have been. I found Marina Drive and followed it south. The road curved and then revealed a rather nice park area. A large group was barbecuing and drinking beer, camp chairs set up around a fire. Past them was a bathroom and changing house and finally the concrete dock-works extending out over the water. I rode right out onto the pier to see a could it be? Yes! Short white plastic posts stuck up on the edge of the piers. SHORE POWER!

I pulled up to one and flipped open the cover. Obviously not used often, thick spider webs clung inside. On the left of the compartment was a 30 amp twist-lock electrical connector. Aha! I was ready for this. I brought along several twist lock adapters with me. I pulled one out to plug in. It didn’t fit! I had a 240V 30A Twist-Lock! This was a 120V 30A Twist-Lock. I reached back into the cycle to see what other adapters I had. I DID have a 120V twist-lock, but this one was 20A. It also EXACTLY didn’t fit.

There was a plain 120V outlet as well, but that would take forever to charge. I was at my wits’ end, standing on the end of a pier, sticking in to the northern-most point of Lake Michigan, with no Public EV Charging within a day’s travel. Just about ready to completely give up, I realized that the BACK of the shore power post ALSO had a cover. Lifting it up, there was an additional two 20-amp electric outlets with standard connections. I could simply plug all three chargers into the outlets, on separate circuits, and have my full-speed 3500 watts of charging.

My spirits buoyed, I plugged the chargers in and set the stopwatch feature on my phone. At that point, I also realized that there were additional power posts, and that if I parked the bike right, I could have reached multiple outlets with my extension cords. Hunger and fatigue had robbed me of my basic creative problem-solving skills.

GOPR6701_trim_showingcordsatmarinaBy now, a family had come over to the pier. They were interested in the cycle and asked far more than the usual questions. As we talked, I asked if I could film a bit of them for my documentary. I pulled out the GoPro and let it record while we talked. Kathy and her family were just out to spend the Saturday having some fun, soaking up the sun, going swimming, and generally enjoying the holiday weekend. The younger members were all avid swimmers, doing flips and cannonballs into the Great Lake. Their black labs had a good time too.

IMG_5348They were getting ready to pack up about the same time I was, and offered me a ride in to town. It wasn’t far by car, but probably a 15-minute walk on foot. I gladly accepted the ride in the minivan, with enthusiatic labradors breathing over my shoulder. I thanked them for the ride as I was dropped off outside the two restaurants in town. FINALLY! I managed to be charging my motorcycle AND get some real food at the same time! On my right was a pizza place, and my left was a cafe sandwich shop. I love pizza, but after Pizza Hut had broken my heart at lunch, I took a left into THE ANCHOR cafe.

THE ANCHOR is part coffee shop, part cafe, part gift store, and likely serves as the unofficial town hall. The girl behind the counter was all smiles as I asked what was good here. Of course “Everything” was the answer I was glad to hear. I did see pasties listed on the menu and didn’t want to miss my chance at this classic “Up-North” food. I also ordered a cup of soup and some real coffee. On the far side of the restaurant, a local musician was strumming a guitar, playing what I would consider good folk music – Sting, Bob Dylan, and Jimmy Buffett. Most of the small crowd looked to be relatives.

IMG_5351I grabbed a seat, and gulped down my potato soup, glad to have hot food and be sitting somewhere other than a tent. The coffee was good and it didn’t take long until I had my pasty with a side of gravy. MMMMMM. So good. In case you’ve never had one, a pasty is a savory pie, filled with meat, potatoes, and onion. Everyone makes them a little different, but they are all good. I think the secret ingredient in this one was rutabaga.

After I finished eating, I sat and listened to the music. Tom Evearitt was the local musician playing that night. It was an informal affair, with him cracking jokes when somebody would go use the rest-room, which happened to be DIRECTLY next to where he was playing. At one point, somebody else who had brought his guitar began strumming along.

Only an hour or so ago, I was panicking on my gamble of finding some usable electricity. Instead of being stuck on the side of the road in the cold and the dark, I had just finished a fine hot supper, still had some coffee left, and was singing along to Wagon Wheel (Rock me mama like a south-bound train….) the lyrics of travel hitting me emotionally.

Where ever you go, there you are. I think that’s the best part of travel. You never know until you get there.

I walked back from town, towards the marina, still glowing with music chords and caffeine. It was now dusk and I could feel the temperature drop and the bugs started coming out. As I got closer to the marina, I had a realization, and my chest tightened in panic. When I pulled out on to the pier to find shore power, I never turned the bike around. It was leaning TOWARD the water on just the side stand. With one good gust of wind, MY MOTORCYCLE COULD HAVE BLOWN RIGHT INTO LAKE MICHIGAN!
I tried quelling my fear – “Nope, it’s not that windy out….” But I walked faster anyways. I was already imagining having to call my brother and get him and his pickup truck out, with a municipal winch pulling a dripping motorcycle out of the lake.
When I finally got back to the marina, I almost couldn’t look, but sure enough, the motorcycle was right there, still on the pier, and just fine. The water was actually so still that someone was fishing standing up in a canoe. I knew my fear was completely unfounded, but I was still glad nothing happened. Looking where the power post was, it likely would have kept the bike on land even it it did tip. Or would it? I’m really not sure how strong those things are!

IMG_5355I zipped the winter liner into my riding jacket, put on my rain pants (as an extra layer for warmth and wind-protection) and again headed east, for my last leg of travel across the Upper Peninsula. It got dark fast. Then cold. This time, at least I was wearing the right clothes. Then the fog came. Then mist, obscuring my view through my helmet’s visor.
I did find that if I flipped up my visor and hunched over so that I was looking right over the top of the windshield, I had a clear view and didn’t get go wind-blind. All I had to do was keep following the road. At least there was starting to be less traffic, but what there was was oncoming, with high-beams blasting me.

IMG_5356Eventually, I made it to St. Ignace. In the far distance, I could see the Mackinac Bridge, lit up at night. I pulled in to a gas station to get my bearings, use the bathroom, and figure out how to get to the Straits State Park. When I asked the clerk there, he knew right where it was. “My daddy worked his entire career there. I practically grew up in the place.”

The park was just down the road, with only a turn or two to get there. I easily navigated my way there. Unlike most of the U.P., the city had streetlights and reflective signs!

At the park entrance, there were several cars ahead of me in line. That seemed pretty strange for almost ten at night. As I got closer, I saw the sign “CAMPGROUND FULL”. What was I thinking!? A popular camp-ground on a Saturday night on Labor Day Weekend!?

I had come this far, and I wasn’t going to stop now. I pulled around the line of cars, pointed at my park sticker as I passed the ranger station, and zipped in to the park. I had a pretty small vehicle and I’m sure there would be SOMEBODY not using their electric outlet. The campground was in full party mode. Michiganders were drinking, setting up lights, burning fires, and in an otherwise festive mood. This was NOT a park to get away from it all in. It was packed. Not a single parking space or camp-site stood empty. I continued to circle.

At one point, I found a site with a car parked at it, but that’s it! No tent. No other signs of the use at all. I hopped off my cycle to look closer. There was power there too, but no people to talk to. There were people at the site next to it. I took a few steps over to see several people around campfire. I was greeted by one of them, along with a Burmese Mountain Dog. The man told me that he though the campers from that site were actually at the NEXT site over. I kept walking to the next site. There, I found three couples of retirees around a fire, sipping wine. I explained my situation (Travel, Electric Motorcycle, Camping, Need…. Outlet….. ) They were very friendly. It turns out that at many campgrounds, you may only park two cars at a site. These folks were meeting as a group of six at one camp-site, but were traveling separately. They pretty much reserved the second camp-site as just a place to park their car. “Sure you can plug in there. You can put up your tent too, if you want!”

Wow. I just went from “Sorry, the park is full” to “Hey, why don’t you use our camp-site and electricity for free!”
I plugged in the bike, unloaded my gear and set up my tent. The whole time I was doing that, I was sort of also unintentionally eavesdropping on the next site over (the guys with the big dog.) We got to chatting, and they invited me over. The man’s name was Jason. He was there with his wife, some friends, and it was actually an extended family tradition to come to this park every Labor Day Weekend. In total, they had about 40 people with them. They handed me a Labatt Blue Light (Imported from CANADA!) and we were up until WAY TOO LATE. When I realized what time it was, I also noticed we were being way too LOUD!

“Don’t worry, we bribe the rangers. Tomorrow, we are doing a pot-luck, just like we do every year. We’ll have so much left-over of good food, we take it to the rangers. They always OVERLOOK if we are a little unruly!”

By then, there was quite a few people gathered around the fire, including Jason’s Dad, who regaled us with drinking stories, including how HIS father would sit and drink a 12-pack of beer out of a special wooden bench designed for just such a purpose – the one that man happened to be sitting on right then. Another family member was shocked when I didn’t know of a certain brand name of liquor – some sort of flavored brandy that was a local favorite.

By then, the day had finally caught up with me. Tomorrow, I would cross the Mackinac Bridge, travel the lower peninsula of Michigan, and meet up with another electric motorcyclist.
But that’s tomorrow.
I curled into my sleeping bag and let the wind and the rain rock me to sleep, like a south-bound train.


Loop the Lake: Day 2, Part 2

by Ben N on September 4, 2015


Loop the Lake: Day 2 – From Green Bay to Escanaba, Part 2

Getting from Two Rivers to Green Bay was pretty uneventful. The weather had cleared up and skies were a beautiful blue. The main trick to Green Bay was that it had the LAST public EV charging station in about 250 miles. In fact, it actually had a NUMBER of public EV chargers.

I haven’t spent much time in Green Bay, so before the trip I looked up to see what there was to do in town. Of some of the more interesting and unusual places there, Green Bay is home to the National Railroad Museum. The city itself is a bit spread-out. Once in town, I headed south towards the museum, using Plugshare to locate the nearest public charger. The closest one was a ways south, at a Wisconsin Public Service building. That’s the power company in the area. Makes sense for them to have electric vehicle charging.

As I got closer to the charger, I realized I was headed AWAY from the Railroad museum. Just ahead was a Chevy dealership. I pulled into Broadway Chevrolet, hoping that I might be able to use a charger there. Many Chevy dealers have an EV charger for the VOLT. Of course, not all Chevy dealers sell Volts, but this was a large place. I was pretty sure they would have a charger, and they were closer to the Railroad Museum than Wisconsin Public Service. As I pulled up to the curb, a salesman happened to stepping outside. I talked to him and inquired about the charger. He said he would check, and then disappeared for a few minutes. When he got back, the story was “Sorry, it’s being used right now. It’s only 120V anyways.”
Interesting that such a large dealership wouldn’t even invest in a real 240V charging station, and instead just use a 120V outlet.

DCIM150GOPROOh well, I continued south and found the Public Service building. One nice thing was that it was a Chargepoint Charger. Chargepoints have a great mobile app for locating their stations, and even showing if they are in use or not. While charging, you can even check on the status of your vehicle over the internet. That means you can see if it is done charging, or even if it came unplugged. This charger had both level 1 and level 2 charging. Some of their other stations have dual Level 2 cables.

I plugged in. Although it took a minute to figure out how to specifically activate the Level 2 instead of Level 1 connection, I was soon getting some juice. At this point, the only problem was that I was sort of in the middle of nowhere. I checked the map. Although I knew roughly where the Railroad Museum was, I didn’t know EXACTLY where it was. Doing a GPS search for “Train Museum” didn’t help. Later, I realized I needed to search for “National Railroad Museum”. Instead, I flipped my GPS map to satellite image mode and found where a whole bunch of train tracks came together. Bingo. There it was.

I headed north on foot. I was next to a big road. There was no sidewalk. This was an area designed for cars, period. No thought had been put in to pedestrians at all. It was also 2 in the afternoon, and I hadn’t eaten since that instant oatmeal for breakfast. Every step I took, I was hungrier than the last. In my haste to find the EV charging station, I had neglected to instead find a restaurant FIRST, get my meal to go, and then find a place to charge. That would allow me to spend time eating WHILE charging. Instead, I was on foot and hungry with no quick way to food. I checked on my map and found an area with restaurants… in the OPPOSITE direction of the Museum. I could tour a museum hungry, or I could skip it and eat. I couldn’t do both. My stomach won.

IMG_5234Half an hour later, I had made it up to the next major intersection. I crossed Holmgren Way, dropped off the lighthouse postcard at a post-office, and found my way to a bacon double deluxe cheeseburger. While at Culvers, I used the wifi to check in on how my bike was charging. On the way out, I stopped at an office supply store and bought a pack of silver Sharpie brand markers. These are permanent markers that write silver ink on black material. I had wanted to log my travels right on the side of the bike, and the marker I intended to do that with wasn’t working well.

It was still a long walk back to the cycle, but at least I wasn’t starving any more. The bike was charged up. It was past 3 o’clock, and I was still supposed to make it to Escanaba, MI today. That was still a LONG way away.

IMG_5237I headed north out of town, criss-crossing Holmgren Way and McCarthy Way. Was any road in this town NOT named after a Packer’s Coach? I especially liked the unusual parking restrictions in the area; “No Parking Day of Lambeau Event.”

IMG_5243On the north side of town, I had to pull over to take a phone call, so I rode into Vendervest Harley-Davidson. Although I was parked there for a while, there was ZERO interest in my cycle from the leather-clad bikers. Go figure. There was, however, a VERY cool sculpture there – an iron horse made completely from motorcycle parts.

Done with my phone call, I was FINALLY back on the road, this time for real. I turned right on Lakeview Dr. and headed north, hugging the lake as best I could. I continued right through Oconto – Plugshare didn’t show any charging there.
After a turn in the road, a small sign pointed ahead, indicating some sort of a park. It was about then that I could really use a charge, and it was the best bet I had seen so far. I followed the curve of the road and discovered the North Bay Shore Recreation Area, complete with a self-register campground! Not only that, but it was an RV campground with  electricity at every camp site.

By now, it was 5PM, going into Labor Day Weekend. While the park was hopping, I still found an empty space easily enough. I started charging, plugging in all three chargers to the 20 and 30 amp connections. Next, I wanted to explore the area. I let the guy at the next space over know that my cell phone number was listed right there on my cycle, and I would be happy to move it if somebody pulled up in their RV.

IMG_5261I walked over to the Lake. Finally, without darkness or fog, I had my first real view since leaving Milwaukee. The sky and water were both true blue, with waves rippling north, east, and west. The sun was getting low in the sky. It was beautiful.

At the boat launch, people were still coming in and out of the water. On the breakwater people were fishing. Some folks just walked out to enjoy the view. The holiday weekend was getting into full swing, and people were there to enjoy themselves.

Near the south end of the park was a pavillion that could be reserved and rented. An extended group of family and friends had it boxed in with four giant RVs, radios blaring rock and roll music, bubba-kegs of beer in hand. I checked the electrical there and saw it included 240V power. I snapped a few still images and uploaded them to Plugshare.

I took a few minutes to shoot some video, documenting the trip. This park was the perfect place for me to stop on the way, but I still had many miles to go! Once I had a full charge it was time to ride off into the sunset. Er, well, north, and it was getting towards dark.

IMG_5267I wish I would have had more time and light. I would have stopped in Peshtigo. That town has a long and interesting history, but it’s probably best known as being the center of the largest recorded forest fire in North American history. In October, 1871, a tremendous fire destroyed a million and a half acres and killed somewhere around 2,000 people. And chances are, you have never heard of it. Why? Because the Great Chicago Fire happened on the same night.

Continuing down the road, I saw a… wait. What was that? I’m pretty sure I just saw an ostrich. I doubled back. Sure enough. Fenced in at a small farm were ostriches. Wisconsin keeps getting weirder all the time. Somehow I should expect this sort of thing, but just by turning down the side roads, you never know what you will see.

Enough fooling around with exotic birds. I had to make it to Escanaba tonight! I travelled through Marinette, over the river and in to Menomonee. A “Welcome to Pure Michigan” sign greeted me. I had made it to the second state of my trip. Again, Plugshare didn’t show any public charging in town, but it was still too far to make it to Escanaba without charging at least once more. I continued through town.

As it grew dark, I realized two things. 1) There’s no street lights out here. 2) Upper Michigan does not believe in reflective materials on street signs.

DCIM151GOPROI kept traveling north, but in the dark, and with all signs painted BROWN, even when there WAS a sign, I couldn’t read it. There was a county park or two on the way, (which I only realized AFTER passing them,) but they looked like poor prospects for electricity. Finally, I spotted a reflective sign for a State Park! I pulled in.

It was 8:30 at night. No, I had crossed a time-zone, that made it 9:30 at night. At the entrance to the park, they were just getting ready to close up. I saw a sign saying that they did have a campground there. Would they have electricity too? I talked to the ranger and purchased a season pass Michigan State Parks vehicle sticker. I needed to make a decision – would I just camp here for the night, or would I charge and keep riding? I explained to the ranger how I wanted to at least charge, and then maybe or maybe NOT camp that night. She had no problem with me doing either. (The fact that I just spent a bunch of money on the park sticker probably didn’t hurt either!) There was only one empty camp-site, and the ranger pointed out on the map where it was, then closed up for the night.

I rode in to the camp-ground. If the people at the last campground were having fun, the folks at this one were having an all-out party. Music was cranked. Most RVs had some sort of festive lights hanging from them. I’m pretty sure I saw at least one disco ball. I pulled out my RV-50 adapter and let the bike soak up 240V power. A ten-year old girl stepped out of the RV next to me, screamed “STRANGER DANGER!!!!”, and ran off into the darkness…

IMG_5276It was a little late for dinner now, but I finally had an opportunity to eat while charging. I plugged in the water heater loop, boiled a pint of water in my coffee cup, then poured it over ramen noodles in my Thermos. Not fancy, but it was hot food. I ate with chopsticks in the dark while sitting on the picnic table. “STRANGER DANGER!!! STRANGER DANGER!!!,” as the girl had returned, this time with several friends. This was getting old fast…

I talked with some other campers there. They were fascinated by my cycle and my trip. “Where do you sleep?” a girl asked. I was getting ready to pull out the tent, but I instead told her that it’s an RV, “I just fold down this hatch and sleep inside!” I think I had her going for about 5 seconds before she realized I was joking. I’ll have to add “Do you sleep in there?!” to my list of frequently asked questions.

I looked at the map. I really wanted to still make it to Escanaba. If I didn’t it would just mean that I would have to go that much further tomorrow. Also, I had started hearing rumors of the Mackinac Bridge being closed on Labor Day. If I was delayed and had anything else happen, I might be stuck not being able to cross the bridge and end up an ENTIRE DAY behind schedule! I was supposed to meet up with my friends, Kraig and Tony, and Tony only had the one day off work to go riding together. I packed everything up to trudge on, riding in the dark.

IMG_5279It was really dark out here. At least all I had to do was just keep following the only road. In the dark, I hoped that my reflectors worked well, as speeding traffic would fly past me. I started looking around for the RV park that I originally intended to stay at, somewhere on the south side of Escanaba. I didn’t see it. I did see a motel, motorcycles parked out front with their riders relaxing  on the front porch. I kept riding, and made it to town.


IMG_5278Almost 11 at night, I actually did make it to Escanaba in the moonlight. I pulled in to a gas station to check my map again and wash all the bugs off my helmet visor. At the next pump, a young man was filling his pickup truck. “Hey, I passed you on the road back there!” he said. I noticed that I was now far enough away from home that people talked different. The kid definitely had a “Yooper” accent.

“Yeah? Could you see me OK? I wasn’t sure how well the lights and reflectors would work at night.”

He replied, “Yeah I could see ya! No idea what you were, but I could see ya!”

If the motorcycle looks weird, but it gets people to slow down and pay attention to their driving, I think the design works.

After that I decided I must have missed the RV park, I checked the map one last time, and doubled back. Nope. Still couldn’t find it. Either this RV park didn’t exist, or it was so poorly marked that nobody could find it. I did see another RV park listed on the far opposite side of town. It was still that much farther to go, but at least it was the right direction for my entire trip.

Riding through town, I got to a bridge crossing the Escanaba river. It was all metal grate, the type that really messes with a motorcycle’s steering. It was also pretty short though. Oh well, good practice for going over the Mackinac Bridge. Just on the other side, I found the the turn for the RV Park. The Pioneer Trail Park office was closed for the evening. Not surprising at 11:30 at night. I rode into the circle and took the first empty site I could find, set up camp, and called it a night.

End of day 2.
183 Miles, 2 nuclear reactors, a football stadium, and an ostrich.
Can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings.

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Loop the Lake: Day 2, Part 1

by Ben N on September 4, 2015


Loop the Lake: Day 2 – From Green Bay to Escanaba, Part 1

I woke up to the sound of rain.

Not what I wanted to hear first thing in the morning when I would be traveling all day on an electric motorcycle. I didn’t even know where I was exactly. I had pulled in last night in fog in the dark. All I really knew was that I was right next to the camp host site. I peaked out the tent window. It was gray and cold. I sighed to myself, but eventually unzipped the tent to head out. The dirt and gravel of the camp-site actually looked rather dry. The cool morning breeze was making the tree branches sway, and the night’s dew would shake off down onto the tent. Combined with the fog still sticking around, it was nature’s perfect imitation of rain, without actually raining at all.

Maybe it wasn’t such a bad start to the day after all.

One problem with State Parks is that they tend to be AWAY from restaurants. That’s great for being in nature and away from the hubbub of civilization, but not so good when I’m hungry. Normally, when I would go camping, I would bring a portable Coleman camp stove. It has two burners and can boil up some coffee while frying eggs at the same time. Unfortunately, it’s also pretty big and bulky – not a piece of gear I would drag along on this trip.
IMG_5188On the other hand, I knew I would always be by electricity. So, I had purchased a small water heating element. These are popular for heating a single cup of water for tea. A metal loop comes off the end of an electric cord, with a small clip to hook to the rim of the cup.
I brought with my stainless steel insulated coffee mug and a short Thermos, one really designed for soup. It is short and has an extra-wide mouth.
With my electric heater, I could boil a pint of water in my coffee cup in just a few minutes, then pour it into the Thermos over some instant oatmeal. I also had with some freeze-dried strawberries. I sprinkled those over the top, and screwed the cover back on. With no where else for the heat to go, the Thermos becomes a miniature pressure cooker, cooking the instant oatmeal even faster than what the package directions say.

IMG_5195After breakfast, I checked out where I was, finding the bathroom and other necessitites. The camp hosts were clearly University of Wisconsin Badgers fans. They were even electric vehicle users too – the park vehicle being a Columbia ParCar – an electric utility vehicle made in Wisconsin. It makes sense. EVs are quiet and practical, and there was even the main power post right at the camp host site for easy DIY refueling.

As I was packing up, other campers were stirring and setting about on foot. One woman who stopped over to check out the bike was an author, on a retreat of sorts, using the quiet of the campground to get some righting done. She had a VERY German-sounding last name (too long and difficult for me to remember!) and we chatted about everything from electric vehicles to my adventures in Austria, of course with the Wisconsin/German beer and bratwurst connection.

Two other couples also came to see the motorcycle. Unlike yesterday, when I had only a very small amount of attention because of the vehicle, today I couldn’t get away from it! In fact, when I checked my watch, it was already far later that I thought. I had woken up early, but between packing up the tent, loading everything in the motorcycle, and talking to folks, I was already leaving camp later than I had planned!

IMG_5187I zipped across the street to get a view of the Lake. Of course, there was none. The fog still clung to the water, with only a glowing gray purgatory extending forever to the east. I headed to the park office to pay for my campsite. The park ranger must not have been a morning person. She was grouchy and exceptionally slow. I simply wanted to pay for my use of the campsite. Instead, I had to do a complete registration, including my ridiculously long and hard to spell home address, motorcycle license plate number (which I don’t have memorized), and all sorts of personal information. It wouldn’t have been bad except for the EXCEPTIONAL sloth-like speed of the registration. All I was trying to do was be a good guy and actually PAY for the site.

I would have been better off dropping cash in the box outside and running away.

IMG_5200Right on the edge of the State Forest was a lighthouse. This was my first lighthouse of the tour. Lake Michigan is surrounded by lighthouses, each with its own unique history. The Rawley Point Lighthouse is interesting in that it’s been rebuilt and upgraded several times, changing from a brick house to a steel tower, converted with materials from Chicago, replaced because of the 1893 World’s Fair. The residence is still used by Coast Guard personnel, and at 2 million candle-power, it’s the brightest light on Lake Michigan. Still, the weather prevented me from getting a good photo, so I picked up a post card of it at the park office.

It was almost 10:30 in the morning by the time I actually hit the road again. I headed north, again hugging the coast but with really no view. As the road curved, I saw an interesting private road (barricaded off) and a sign warning of live ammo firing. This was the back entrance to the Point Beach Nuclear Power Plant. Clearly this was a warning – “Hey you, Terrorist, KEEP OUT!” I checked the map and I was now on “Nuclear Rd.”
Continuing along, I found the main front entrance, which did NOT look inviting, but the guard house was empty and the turnpike was up. A sign listed the days and hours of a visitor center. In fact, it would be open today, although not until later.

Curiosity got the best of me. I decided to ride back to the power plant. I would see how far I could get before I would have to turn around or get kicked out. Several side parking lots had signs of “Authorized Users Only!” and “KEEP OUT!” There were plenty of extremely large signs declaring the merits of safety – obviously intended for the workers there. IMG_5206It was a strange combination of Welcome/Unwelcome/Lets all be safe!
IMG_5225I continued up the road, and sure enough, right there was visitor parking and a modern building clearly marked POINT BEACH ENERGY CENTER. It was separate and away from the actual power plant itself. I pulled up to take a look. Although it was still too early, the door was unlocked and a pleasant woman behind the reception desk welcomed me!

Ruth Ann told me how she always opens a little early. “If I’m here and ready, I unlock the doors.”

I told her about my cycle and my trip and asked if there was somewhere I could charge. She pointed to the electric outlet on the side of the building. “If that one doesn’t work, you could just come up on the sidewalk and run an extension cord inside.”
Sure enough, the one outlet didn’t work, but the one on the opposite side of the door worked fine. I pulled up there and plugged in. I hung up my coat and helmet inside at the coat-room and looked around.

The building had large windows out the back for a view of the lake (although still obscured by the overcast weather.) There was a large classroom and lecture area. In the middle area were tables with all sorts of fun and educational games – 3D jigsaw puzzles, motion puzzles with ball-bearings, shoots and ramps for marbles. It was the ideal place for a grade-school field trip!

IMG_5218The best part was the “Energy Experience”, a hand’s-on energy exhibit museum. The entry way itself represents the size of the pipes that feed water from the lake to the nuclear reactors. Just inside was an eight-foot-tall Jacobs Ladder, arcing towards the ceiling as visitors approach it. The museum wasn’t just about nuclear energy either, it had a great display of all the pioneers of early electricity – everything from a video tour by an actor portraying Benjamin Franklin to the early Italians to some great information on Nikola Tesla. Of course, I had to get a selfie with the Father of Alternating Current.

IMG_5222The museum had plenty of information about where and how electricity is produced. With the noticeable exception of “Hmmm, how do we deal with nuclear waste in the long run?…” There was a wealth of learning to be had. I spoke with another man who was coming the exhibit who noted, “I didn’t know HALF this stuff!” Indeed. We do tend to take electricity for granted. As long as the lights come on when we flip the switch, who needs to know how it works! It may as well be magic. Getting a chance to “look behind the curtain” is as exciting as it is enlightening.

As I was getting ready to leave, a power-plant employee was inspecting my cycle.
Stan, one of the engineers there, couldn’t help but smile as I told him about my trip, especially when I mentioned that the batteries are from a Leaf. “I drive a LEAF! I even charge while I’m here at work!” Stan loves the lack of emissions from electric vehicles, as well as the quiet and instant torque. Since he only lived about 10 miles from the job, even on a regular 120V outlet he was always at a full charge!

IMG_5227Before leaving, I got a pair of complimentary bumper stickers from Ruth Ann, and slapped them on opposing sides of the bike. The people at the nuclear power plant were great! They were friendly, inquisitive, and positive. While mentioning nuclear power is usually a great way to get an argument going among environmentalists, I think this visit actually changed my mind a bit about nuclear. No, we STILL do not have really good long-term ways to deal with nuclear waste, BUT the plant also produces ZERO CO2 – something we REALLY need to be working on right now. The actual power plant looked more like an office building than like a factory.
Overall, stopping at the Point Beach Energy Center was really an unexpected treat, and I was so glad I stopped.

DCIM150GOPROI waved goodbye and headed north-west towards Green Bay and home of the Green Bay Packers. I was at full charge, but the power plant was only ten miles from the campground. Although I breezed through the museum, it was also time that I wasn’t on the road. I really needed to make sure that I was taking advantage of charging the whole time I was stopped. Stopping when I have basically a full battery pack didn’t help me!

I followed the country roads that paralleled the main road to Green Bay. At one point, I stopped to check the map, using the GPS on my smart phone. I didn’t have a destination set it the GPS, I just wanted to make sure I was headed the right direction. I had pulled over into a gravel driveway of what looked like a part-time car repair shop on a farm property. Nobody was there, but as I was stopped, a pickup truck pulled up. A gray-haired but vibrant man stepped out. “Are you lost?” he inquired.

I wish I could remember the exact words I responded with, because they were poetry or philosophy, depending on how you look at it. I said something like “I’m not lost, I’m just not sure how I’m getting to where I’m going.” The exact words were somehow more elegant than that. Suddenly, I wasn’t talking about just getting to Green Bay anymore. Here I was, in the middle of nowhere, talking to a farmer, and suddenly I’m a Zen Buddhist from the top of a mountain. But the words were dead-on. I truly had a sense of where I was going. The exact where and how wasn’t important, and I knew I’d get there just fine.

Not all who wander are lost.

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