Michigan and Across the Prairie Peninsular


23-26 July, 1602 Miles

Our next stop was Michigan, not far from Niagara, to visit Brenda and Tom. Our tyres were probably OK for another thousand miles or so but this was the last place we knew we’d be stopping at for more than overnight and if we changed them now they should last until we finish our trip. Tom quickly ascertained BMW Grand Rapids not only had some Anakee 3s in stock but could fit us in for a tyre change on Wednesday morning which was excellent.

The ride down to Michigan was uneventful. As usual we started early and decided to stop en-route for breakfast. I spotted this sign for a restaurant which appears to have been designed for fussy eaters like Kevin!

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On the other hand, we did consider stopping here as they probably have magical sandwiches!

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Kevin and I have both spent time in Michigan with our old jobs and we soon started to see familiar sights.

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I love these old barns

As we got closer to Brenda and Tom’s we started to see lots of signs for Kellogs which is a major consumer of the corn grown round here.

This part of Michigan is very rural and green; lots of fields and water. Many of the ponds have what appears to be lilies growing in them. I bet they look lovely when the flowers come out.

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We got to Brenda and Tom’s late afternoon and had a nice relaxing evening looking round their garden and admiring Tom’s Boy’s Toys. They had just taken delivery of a brand new bike – a Victory Cross Country – and were looking forward to riding it. Tom also has a large 4×4 vehicle which Kevin admired – more mutterings of “We need a larger truck” were heard. We also discussed what we would do over the next couple of days. We were lucky as Brenda and Tom were on holiday and had no fixed plans so were able to join us on our visits.

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This huge grain depot had its own train

The guys at BMW Grand Rapids proved to be very helpful and friendly and after having the new tyres fitted we picked up another National Park stamp on our way back. Outside the Visitor Centre we noticed the trees had woolly sweaters!

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When we had been chatting to Brenda and Tom about our ride in we mentioned we’d seen a really big farm just round the corner which turned out to be the Gilmore Car Museum; this was to be our afternoon entertainment. Tom said it would take at least half a day to go round, a claim our later experience certainly upheld – we only scratched the surface. I’m sure we could have been there all day and still had things to see.

The museum is set out like a car showroom and all the vehicles are in immaculate condition. You can get really close up and stick your head in the windows to get a proper look and smell. The only thing you can’t do is touch or sit in the vehicles. Most of the cars have been restored but there was one car there from the 30’s which was in ‘original condition’. I have to say it was difficult to tell the difference between ‘original’ and ‘restored’.

The collection is eclectic, mostly American brands we’ve never heard of, and includes really old first experimentation cars that were not much more than motorised carriages, cars from all decades (mostly luxury vehicles) and a collection of hot rods. There are also miscellaneous items such as an old tyre remover machine (looking very similar to modern equipment), a selection of tyres showing how they have developed and garage equipment such as petrol pumps.

Between two of the halls was a very interesting exhibition showing photos taken in the 1930’s when drought and poor farming technique caused a number of severe dust storms resulting in a mass exodus to the West. It was very sad to see the faces of people struggling to get to California, especially when you know that conditions there were not much better because of The Depression and it was difficult to find work as many of the farms were owned by large corporations and highly mechanised.

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This was Kevin’s favourite car

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This sorry looking bike, part of a garage exhibit, was the only one we saw as the motorcycles were in another part of the museum.

We only made it through part of one of the exhibition areas before we were told the museum was closing which was quite a disappointment…until we got outside. Wednesday night is ‘Cruiser Night’ (no, not that type of cruising!). We didn’t know what to expect and Tom told us that people just turned up with their cars and went round chatting etc. As we walked out to the grass there were about 20 cars already parked there and more and more kept arriving. It was an amazing experience. Everyone was so friendly and laid back, showing off their pride and joy, chatting to friends, walking round admiring other people’s cars. The atmosphere was terrific. Tom used to build engines and seemed to know lots of people.

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The Diner was open for ice cream…

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This was Brenda’s dream car when she was at school

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There was a matching pair of these old cars next to each other and the owners appeared to be swapping stories

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Want to see some more old car photos? Enjoy the album.

Back at Brenda and Tom’s we realised how tall Tom is (or how small I am!)

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Our plan for Thursday was to go for a ride, see Lake Michigan, have lunch and get some ice cream. I think we succeeded.

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Brenda and Tom on their new bike

We stopped in Grand Haven, the self-styled Coastguard Capital of the US. One of their other claims to fame is that they have the world’s largest musical fountain.

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The World’s Largest Musical Fountain was not playing, much to Kevin’s disappointment

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It’s hard for us to comprehend but this is a lake shore not a seaside resort

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Most American towns are built on a grid system which looks odd to our European eyes

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One of the highlights of the day was getting our daily fix of ice cream

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It’s a corn field Jim but not as we know it

We were all so tired after our day out that we forgot to go to ‘bikers night’ at the local eatery. Never mind, next time. Big thanks to Brenda and Tom for your hospitality and company on our days out. We had a great time and hope we didn’t wreck your week’s R&R.

We left Brenda and Tom’s at about 7 am on Friday. We’d reluctantly concluded we didn’t have time to go back to the Air Museum in Dayton, Ohio, that we’d briefly visited during the IBR so our next stop was Dan and Vicky’s in Colorado, about 1300 miles away. Lots of people had told us our journey would be boring so we decided to hit the interstates to get some miles done.

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Skirting round Chicago, where the weather forecast had predicted the tail end of a storm from the previous day, we got a bit wet but nothing too drastic. We broke up the monotony of the interstate roads by collecting a few more National Park stamps. Our first one was the Indiana Dunes where a very kind man helped us to find the new visitor centre, even driving right into the car park to ensure we found it.

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Sitting on the back I have a lot of time to look around and have been astounded at some of the activities people are doing whilst driving. Mobile phone use over here is endemic – a very high percent of drivers have a phone glued to their ears. I saw this girl driving along the interstate (at about 70 mph) using both hands to text.

The three I’s (Indiana, Illinois and Iowa) passed through in a haze of green. These are very rural states but there are subtle differences between them – one is flatter, one is more rolling hills etc. (at the time of writing this was a couple of weeks ago so don’t ask me which now!). To be honest we found the scenery quite interesting as it just goes on forever, something we’re not used to in the UK. I’m not sure we’d like to do the journey regularly though.

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Undulating and windy

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Beautiful and green with pathways left (presumably for the harvesting equipment)

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More like England with smaller fields with different crops

During the late afternoon we were scheduled to go to a visitor centre for the California Historic Trail that we thought was in Nebraska. It turned out to be just inside the Iowa border but fortunately Dan had sent us a text containing the address of a visitor centre in Nebraska that was ten miles down the road so we got our Nebraskan park stamp.

The following photo is of some bridge art – there were four different sculptures on the bridge.

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Variation on a theme – as we went westwards the barns appeared to grow the extra little sheds on the top.

As often happens on our long days we were treated to yet another fantastic sunset.

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We were both tired by now so stopped at a McD’s for a quick bite. This was on the Pony Express trail and had Pony Express memorabilia on the walls, as if we needed any more reminding. We managed to take the wrong turning for the motel we were going to stay at and found ourselves back on the Interstate again. Thirty miles later, 905 miles after we left Brenda and Tom’s, we checked into a Super 8 for the night.

Tomorrow we’d visit the Rocky Mountain National Park before heading to Dan and Vicky’s.

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