Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Cessna 408 SkyCourier Market Comparison

Earlier this morning, Cessna announced the launch of an entirely new, clean-sheet aircraft, the 408 SkyCourier:

A twin-engine, fixed-gear turboprop, the SkyCourier has already attracted an order of 50 aircraft and 50 options from FedEx. Although the aircraft is optimized for efficient cargo operations through the use of single-point refueling and a capacity of three LD3 shipping containers, it is also configurable for 19 passenger seats.

No price has been announced, but Cessna has released a limited number of performance specifications. I've compiled a comparison chart containing data from the Viking Twin Otter, the PZL/Sikorsky M-28, and the newly-launched PTDI N219:

All four aircraft above are either currently or will soon be in production. The initial data indicate that Cessna has chosen to sacrifice short-field runway capability in favor of increased range/payload numbers. This is logical, as FedEx places little value on pure STOL performance.

With such an established and widespread support network, the battle for this class of aircraft...in the US, at least...seems to be Cessna's to lose. Although PZL-Mielec was purchased by Sikorsky in 2007 and stands to benefit from their support network in the US, Cessna/Textron is certainly the leader in that respect.

Overall, the SkyCourier seems to fill a unique niche...that of a light turboprop emphasizing operating economy, range, and payload over STOL capability. Effectively amounting to a "Twin Caravan", this niche seems very legitimate and perhaps more importantly, unlikely to be directly challenged by competitors anytime soon.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

7-Day Lake Superior Motorcycle Route

Yes, this is a huge departure from my usual topics, but enough of my friends are interested in adventure motorcycling that I consider it a worthwhile post.

Having done the Lake Superior loop on my motorcycle twice now, I've learned several lessons that may prove to be useful for others embarking upon the ride.

The first lesson is a simple one; go clockwise. This offers two advantages. First, you'll be on the side of the road that's physically closer to the actual shoreline. This offers slightly better views.

Second, and more importantly, it's safer. Why? There are many scenic turnoffs along the way, and if you're riding clockwise, you can simply pull off the road and pull back on without ever having to cross oncoming traffic. You simply duck out of and back into your own lane of travel.

Here, then, is a route optimized to start and end in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Because that's where a buddy of mine will be riding from.

DAY 1: Ann Arbor, Michigan to Munising, Michigan

Overall, one of the most boring days of the trip, this day serves one purpose - to get up to Lake Superior. Probably the only truly interesting part of the ride is the ride over the Mackinac Bridge. In addition to the incredible views, motorcyclists will find the inside two lanes of the center span particularly interesting, as they are comprised of steel grates:

Source: https://bobistheoilguy.com/forums/ubbthreads.php/topics/3516471/Driving_on_a_metal_grate

The center lanes of the bridge stand approximately 200 feet above the water, and you can see straight through them when you look down at your feet. In addition, your motorcycle has the tendency to constantly squirm left and right as you ride along.

Source: https://greatlakesgazette.wordpress.com/2012/11/01/happy-birthday-mackinac-bridge/

Try not to think about the 1989 accident in which a woman was killed when the Yugo she was driving was blown off the side of the bridge:

Day 1 ends in Munising, where there are two available campgrounds. The nicer one appears to be the Bay Furnace Campground, on the shore of Lake Superior. I have yet to stay at either one, but both seem to be pretty solid places to stay on the first night.

DAY 2: Munising, Michigan to Copper Harbor, Michigan

Day 2 takes us from Munising up to Copper Harbor. The first 2/3 of this ride is fairly boring. After that's over with, however, it becomes very cool very quickly, with food stops like this in abundance:

Houghton, Michigan is a pretty cool town with good restaurants, nice views, and an impressive vertical lift bridge.

After passing through Houghton, you'll see some roadside firewood shacks where you can purchase cords of firewood and kindling. I recommend picking a couple up for a campfire later.

About 30 minutes outside of Copper Harbor, my preferred route diverts up to M-26, through Eagle River and Eagle Harbor. This stretch of M-26 is absolutely stunning. The pavement is in great shape (although one must watch out for sand scattered everywhere) and you're treated to constantly rolling curves along the lakeshore.

That's a giant Olympic-sized ski-jump way off on the horizon:

Upon approaching Copper Harbor, my route snakes up Brockway Mountain Drive, a small road that progresses along a high ridge before descending down into town:

Lodging in Copper Harbor may be dependent on the weather. If the weather is good and the ground isn't too waterlogged, you'll want to progress all the way out to the very tip of the Keweenaw peninsula to camp. Doing this necessitates a 7-8 mile drive along a rather challenging logging road, all the way past the very end (or beginning) of US-41.  The majority of this section can be nearly impassible on a motorcycle that lacks ground clearance and knobby tires:

The photos above show a more tame section of the road. While the road can be negotiated by any four-wheeled vehicle with sufficient ground clearance, it can be quite sketchy on two wheels after a rain. Large sections of the road can be completely submerged, hiding rocks and large potholes. And the mud can make things very slick.

Along the way, there's a turnoff to a place known as the Keweenaw Rocket Range. There's nothing there, really, other than some concrete pads and this monument:

Source: http://www.panoramio.com/photo/34568235

The reward for reaching the very tip of the peninsula is significant. Upon reaching High Rock Bay, you will be rewarded with stunning views and some well-established campsites with good fire pits:

The last time I was here, the wind was rather extreme and it took a bit of effort to set up my tent by myself. The wind also nearly prevented me from getting a campfire going. Although I had a blast sitting out on the beach at 2am and watching the northern lights for over an hour, I would consider setting up camp in a more sheltered location if high winds are a factor.

The place to do so is on the southeastern shore of Schlatter Lake. The tiny road to get there isn't marked, but you should be able to find it. Protip: I've found that Bing Maps provides more detail in this area than Google Maps.

There, you'll find a big area completely sheltered by tall pine trees with a nice lake view. Former campers were even thoughtful enough to set up several big sections of tree trunks to use as tables and ottomans:

If you've conquered the road out to High Rock Bay, your machine will likely be adorned with several layers of cool looking, iron rich red mud:

So those are the options if you're willing and able to tackle challenging, muddy terrain on your motorcycle. If you're less keen on the idea, or are unable to do so, I strongly recommend renting a small cabin at the Bella Vista Motel back in Copper Harbor. I've stayed here twice, and really enjoyed it each time:

There are some good restaurants in town. My favorite place to go isn't a restaurant exactly, but rather a coffee shop/bakery/smoked fish shop just a few blocks from the cabin called Jamsen's Fish Market. Protip: jot down their wifi password so you can stroll over and enjoy quick internet even after they close for the night.

This other motel in town looks like it's straight out of a Stephen King novel:

DAY 3: Copper Harbor, Michigan to Herbster, Wisconsin

Day three will involve about five hours on the road. You'll want to get an early start because your lunch/dinner venue often closes at 4pm. The first half hour and last hour will be great. Most of the rest will be rather boring.

Take 41 out of Copper Harbor and enjoy 20-30 minutes of great sweeping curves through tunnels of trees. Swing back through Houghton, and pass by old reminders of the once-bustling copper and taconite mining industry:

Then sit back and watch the miles tick by as you approach the absolutely legendary Delta Diner

The Delta Diner is incredible. The people are amazing and so is the food. I had salmon and eggs for breakfast and loved it. They don't accept tips. Instead, their food is priced a bit higher than, say, Denny's, and they pay their employees a minimum of $15/hour with benefits. Accordingly, the employees all seem really happy working there and obviously take a lot more pride in their work than you might expect.

There's a coffee shop adjacent to the diner, too, so you can fuel up with some dark-roast octane before getting back on the road. Be sure to check the hours of both the restaurant and coffee shop before heading in, as they often close at 4pm...and one day a week, their closing time varies.

After great food and strong coffee, head north via 236 through the Moquah Barrens State Natural Area. 236 is an odd little road, and much of it feels like you're on a private driveway. It's a fun stretch.

After about an hour, you'll arrive at one of the Lake Superior Circle Tour's best-kept secrets....the Herbster Campground. This place is great. You can camp right on the shore of the lake and enjoy an awesome sunset. The beach is great for swimming. There's a really nice, helpful couple in charge of the place who live on site. They sell cords of firewood and keep the place really clean.

The campground has wifi, believe it or not. And last year, they added a small trailer with men's and women's showers. Protip: bring a 5-10 pound item and a carabiner so you can hang the item onto the shower pull chain and enjoy a steady stream of water. 

If it's rainy when you're there, no worries. They have a covered pavilion. You can't camp in it, but you can sit at a picnic table out of the rain, enjoy a meal, and use one of the power outlets to charge your things up.

If you're not in the mood to cook your own food, there's a restaurant about 1/2 mile down the road that people seem to love.

DAY 4: Herbster, Wisconsin to Sleeping Giant Provincial Park, Ontario

Finally, a border crossing! Sure hope you remembered to bring your passport and leave your guns at home. One would think that Canadians, of all people, would appreciate the value of having personal protection at your side when traveling through remote wilderness. But no.

Get an early start in Herbster, because today's route has a way of eating up a lot of time with roadside distractions. The first such distraction is the city of Duluth in general, and the Aerostich headquarters in particular.

If you're unfamiliar, Aerostich is a manufacturer of world-renowned armored, weatherproof motorcycle suits. In addition, they're a very well-respected outfitter of adventure motorcycle gear. I particularly like the area shown in the photo above, where adventurers can spread out across many tables to relax and plan their route. It's a great place to chat with other riders and trade intel on your routes over a cup of coffee.

I have an Aerostich Transit leather jacket and pants that I love. They are 100% waterproof, courtesy of Gore-Tex....yet, so breathable you can see right through the perforated leather:

Unfortunately, they stopped offering leather gear due to the cost of the material.

Downtown Duluth is cool. It's got an old iron-belt feel with nice restaurants and a museum ship you can explore:

From Duluth, it's just under three hours to the Canadian border. It's a nice ride along the shoreline, with several nice scenic turnoffs. Here, you'll begin to appreciate the clockwise nature of the route, as you'll be able to effortlessly peel off and merge back into your lane of travel without having to cross oncoming traffic.

Even the pizza shops begin to take on a distinctly Northern feel as you approach Canada:

Just outside of Two Harbors, MN, there's a cool hotel that's built into and around train cars, the Northern Rail Traincar Inn. I stayed there once and really enjoyed it. 

The timing/schedule of this particular route doesn't lend itself to using this place as an overnight stop, but I thought it was worth mentioning.

One of the many scenic turnoffs along the Minnesota shoreline:

The border crossing will likely be pretty uneventful, provided you aren't carrying any weapons or pepper spray. I make a point of removing my helmet and sunglasses whenever talking with the customs agents, mostly out of respect. Nobody likes talking to someone they can't see, after all.

Speaking of law enforcement, you'd be wise to avoid committing burglary in Canada, as it can result in imprisonment for LIFE:

From the border crossing, you'll have just over an hour of highway travel through Thunder Bay before the 30-40 minute trek into Sleeping Giant Provincial Park. This is a great little road that's plenty of fun. Watch out for deer and other wildlife, though, and keep your speed down so you'll be able to brake in time if needed.

The park itself is quite nice, as are all of Ontario's Provincial Parks. The campsites are all fairly private, cords of firewood are available for purchase at the park's entrance, and they offer fantastic hot showers that are kept very clean. 

A note about Ontario's Provincial Parks - their website is great, and you'll want to use it to book your campsites as early as possible. You'll be able to view photos of specific individual campsites and book whichever you prefer. I recommend booking all of your Canadian campsites in one go. You'll then be able to simply show up and be directed to your reserved site.

DAY 5: Sleeping Giant Provincial Park, Ontario to Neys Provincial Park, Ontario

Day 5 is a one of the shortest days of the week, mileage-wise. There are a few reasons for this. There are some great waterfalls along the way outside of Ouimet, and although I have yet to visit them, people seem to rave about them. Not far away is a canyon offering zipline tours which I also have yet to try.

But before getting to that area, it's worth cruising through the tiny hamlet of Silver Islet, a former mining town. Turn right out of the campground, ride for about 5-10 minutes, and bear LEFT when given the option. This will take you clockwise along the one-way road through "town", which is an eclectic collection of houses, all powered by wind or solar power.

After cruising through this former mining town, head back north to exit the park and get back onto the Trans-Canadian Highway. When you've ridden for about two hours, you'll approach the tiny town of Rossport. There, you'll find a pleasant little restaurant called Serendipity Gardens. It has a very European feel and fantastic fish.

You'll have a nice view of Lake Superior as you devour your lunch:

The last hour or so will provide you with sweeping views of the lake as you carve through roads cut through cliffs and hillsides. Fortunately, you'll only have to suffer an hour of riding with a stomach filled with fresh fish.

Neys Provincial Park is another clean and enjoyable Canadian campground. Pick up a cord or two of firewood and head on in to your campsite.

After setting up camp, you'll be able to walk about 100 feet to the lake and enjoy a refreshing swim.

DAY 6: Neys Provincial Park, Ontario to Agawa Bay Campground, Ontario 

Day 5 is another relatively short ride, which will allow you to relax and spend time enjoying what is perhaps the nicest campground on the Canadian side of the lake, Agawa Bay.

The ride itself is nice, however, and offers plenty of scenic turnoffs.

Along the way, about 30 minutes west of Wawa, there's a place called the Normandy Lodge with A-frame cabins and a motel. AVOID THIS PLACE:

It looks all nice and quaint, but there's a problem. After dark, when you turn the lights on, you'll discover that the window screens are not effective. At all. So all the mosquitos within a 30-mile radius become attracted to your lit-up cabin and infiltrate in vast, vast numbers.

You then find you're relaxing in what amounts to a giant bug zapper...except, instead of attracting the mosquitos and then zapping them, you're attracting them and then rewarding them with gallons of your sweet, sweet blood.

The cabin quickly fills with an ever-increasing amount of buzzing, winged death until, in a panic, you throw on your motorcycle helmet to avoid breathing them in and run to the main office in a blind panic. There, the admittedly friendly staff kindly relocates you to one of their motel rooms that lacks drinkable water.

So yeah...avoid the Normandy Lodge and proceed onward to the comparatively idyllic Agawa Bay Campground.

I stayed at campsite #235 and highly recommend it, as it is positioned right on the beach but also has great shade and a fresh water tap nearby.

 Be sure to bring food, however, as there are no stores anywhere near this campground.

DAY 7: Agawa Bay Campground to Ann Arbor, Michigan

The final day is always the worst. It's 6.5 hours long and lacks any of the excitement and anticipation of embarking upon the first day of an adventure.

The last bit of Canadian shoreline has some great sights, however:

Be sure to pick up some Canadian-specific goodies to smuggle back into the States:

I definitely recommend stopping off on the US side of the Soo locks in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. There, you can relax for a bit and watch giant, 1000 foot long iron ore freighters proceed through the locks. There's a nice park right next to the southernmost lock with an elevated observation platform. This allows you to observe these giant ships glide by about twenty feet away. Definitely worth seeing if you've never experienced it.

Notice the difference in the water level of Lake Superior....

....versus that of Lake Huron:

Parks and campgrounds down the street offer additional views of ship traffic:

Finally, (if you're headed back to Michigan), you'll get to enjoy another bridge crossing:

From there, queue up some podcasts and think about sleeping in your own bed. You'll be looking forward to it on the way home!

If you've enjoyed this review and decide to give it a go, please return and share your photos and recommendations. And have a great trip.