Behind Any Grand Event

I never realized how much work it takes to pull off an event on the magnitude of the DuKane A.B.A.T.E. Toy and Food Run, the oldest and largest  toy run parade in suburban Chicagoland, until I became involved with it myself last year. As DuKane Chapter President Judy Kaenel so aptly put it, “This is not just a run; it’s an event.”

And what an event! An extremely well coordinated parade run brings all the motorcycles from a starting point in Elburn, Illinois to the event grounds in Batavia. Multiple bands, including at least one national/international act, perform on different stages through the day. A variety of food vendors tempt attendees with their wares, providing in effect a “Taste of DuKane” atmosphere. Product and service vendors also dot the grounds. A bike show with trophies and prizes takes place. All of these things come together in an effort to attract the attendees, bikers and non-bikers alike, who bring many toys and food donations, enough to benefit eighteen  different local charities!

But what does it take to put on an event such as this? A lot of people putting forth a great effort, beginning months in advance, that’s what. The DuKane A.B.A.T.E. Toy and Food Run takes place in October of each year. Planning for this year’s event began last December!

There are volunteer coordinators, site coordinators, entertainment coordinators, security coordinators, public relations and publicity coordinators (that’s where I play my modest part),  political coordinators, human and vehicular traffic coordinators, set-up and tear down teams, stage coordinators and technicians, electricians, carpenters, donation collectors and coordinators, medical and first response teams, a flag line, membership coordinators and promoters, all this and more. In most cases each coordinator has additional people assisting him/her. All are volunteers, gaining nothing more than the satisfaction of a job well done for the benefit of others in need and support of the motorcycling community and their rights. It is my pleasure and my honor to be associated with these people.

As I write this, the 30th Annual DuKane A.B.A.T.E. Toy and Food Run is less than twelve weeks away. As much as I do not look forward to summer passing by any faster than it already does, I must admit I am getting rather excited about this.

The Black Princess

The times in my life when I did not have a dog have been few and far between — and sometimes intentional. Whenever I have had to say goodbye to one of my pets, for example, I would always wait for an unspecified period of time before getting another. Maybe it’s part of my grieving process; I don’t know. Last time it was just a matter of months. In the May of 2015, we lost Rocky, our Border Collie/Beagle mix and my near-constant companion for 14 years. In September of the same year, we adopted young Madeline, a Labrador Shepherd (we think) mix, and gave her a forever home along with a new name, Leia.

From the first time I saw her photo online, while I had been perusing photos from the various area shelters, I knew she would become our next dog. But before she became our Leia, this pup led a very rough life and had more than one brush with death. She had been rescued from a kill shelter in Tennessee on the same day she was listed to be euthanized. While with her foster family, it was discovered that she had contracted canine parvovirus. The disease had already advanced and this pooch was not expected to survive—but she did. I figured any dog who’d been through all that deserves a shot at having a better life. So we set out to give her one.

We took her home and fed her, and she grew. And grew. And grew. Leia now weighs between 60 and 70 pounds. She has grown rather large, but remains svelte. I sometimes refer to Leia as “the black princess,” but I do so in a loving manner, despite any reasons she may give me to do otherwise. I’ve never had a dog quite like this one. She’s a chewer, a digger, a runner, and a jumper. Leia has a lot of energy and of we don’t make a point of getting her to use it in a non-destructive way, she will expend it in her own way, which can be destructive indeed.

I’ll never forget the first time I looked into our backyard to discover that somebody had been pulling our landscape timbers out of the ground and carrying them around like sticks. Leia has dug substantial holes in our back yard, some of which lead into other people’s yards. She has jumped fences, torn fences apart, and eaten fence boards. She sometimes picks up rocks bigger than my fist and carries them around.

In an effort to curtail this destructive energy, I began taking Leia on daily walks, usually between two and three miles each time. Okay, sometimes she takes me, but that’s not the point. The point is that these daily walks have been good for both of us. I have lost weight, gained energy, and otherwise feel better about myself, and Leah hasn’t eaten any structural materials in a while. See, everything works if you let it.

Thanks for hanging with me.

A Few Thoughts about the 2016 Chicagoland and Wisconsin Ride for Kids

The view from my hotel window at 6:00 on Sunday morning was not encouraging, nor was the radar image on my phone’s weather app. A rather large, albeit not severe, storm system was moving into the area from the northwest. With a few hours remaining until I would head for Lake Geneva for the combined Chicagoland and Wisconsin Ride for Kids, or not, I kept checking the radar and looking out my window as the system rolled in.

Within an hour, my friend Ann had messaged me her regrets. It was already pouring rain and thundering by her, so she opted out of joining me for the ride. I agreed with Ann’s decision 100%, though I’d by lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed.

A little while after that,the rain arrived in Kenosha, too. I decided to go downstairs, load a few things onto the bike, grab some breakfast and see what the weather was going to do. And what it did was get very, very wet in short order.

But then a funny thing happened. By the time I walked out of the breakfast room, it had stopped raining. I walked outside, just to make sure my eyes hadn’t been playing tricks on me. The pavement was still quite wet, but there was not a drop of rain falling any more. I checked the time. It was just after 9:00, still plenty of time to pack up, check out, and head for Lake Geneva. So that’s exactly what I did.

I had donned my rain gear as a precaution. The rain was gone and the sun was beginning to peek out from behind the dissipating cloud cover, but there was still plenty of spray being kicked up from the wet road surface—at least until the road dried out, which happened surprisingly quickly, thanks in part to the plentiful gusting wind.

As I pulled into the Grand Geneva Resort, I couldn’t wait to get out of that rain suit and put on some sunscreen. The wind was still whipping, but the day had become sunny and dry. Unfortunately the damage had already been done with regard to attendance. I have been participating in the Chicagoland event since 2003 and this was by far the least attended of any to which I have been—and the donations collected reflected this as well. But those of us who were there managed to have a good time and came away with the satisfaction of knowing that we helped the kids. In the end, that’s what matters most.

As always, thanks for hanging with me.

Our Early Departure from the Midwest Motorcycle Rally

Due to my longstanding commitment to the Chicagoland Ride for Kids, I have never been able to stay for the entire Midwest Motorcycle Rally—I’ve always had to leave Saturday morning. I will not likely ever stop my fundraising efforts to cure the kids, but I may revise my strategy, at least once, so that I can attend the MMR from start to finish. More to come on that.

After enjoying one more breakfast at the La Crosse Family Restaurant, Ann and I checked out of our respective rooms, said our goodbyes to the few people we saw on our way out, and headed for home. Not wanting to return home via the exact same route we had taken to get to the rally, we opted to cross over to the western bank and run south along the Mississippi River on that side, first through Minnesota and then Iowa. But for one unexpected detour, everything went as planned.

Here is some footage taken during that leg:

    • Near Brownsville, MN:
    • Near Lansing Iowa:

We crossed back into Wisconsin at Prairie du Chien and picked up U.S. Highway 18, which we followed all the way back to Sullivan, where we gave in to hunger and stopped in at the Sullivan Saloon for pizza and beer. Whether because it would be our last meal together for a while or not, I can’t say, but Ann and I thoroughly enjoyed our supper.

It was time to take Ann home, say our goodbyes, and head on to Kenosha, where I would be staying for the night. After spending four truly fun-filled days together, I didn’t want to say goodbye. But rather than drag it out, we did exactly that and before long, I was Kenosha bound.

My hotel in Kenosha was nice enough. I even had privileged parking, beneath the front canopy. But I was alone and as I’ve said many times before, I am not a good alone person. I went straight to my room, checked the weather forecast for the next day, wrote for a while, and went to sleep thinking of all the great times Ann and I had enjoyed at the rally.

I can’t wait until next year. Thanks for hanging with me.

Friday with the Midwest Motorcycle Rally

This day started out wet, but the rain had all but stopped by the time Ann and I headed out. We had chosen to go on a guided ride called “Bikes, Bluffs, Burgers.” This was the most popular ride offered Friday, with 20 bikes in all. We had a little trouble keeping everyone together during the first portion of the ride, mainly due to stop lights, construction, and traffic coming out of La Crosse. From Alma on, though, we had no trouble at all. 

After a magnificent run that included many sweeping curves and elevation changes, we stopped at Hansen’s Hold-Up Grill & Bar, located near Arcadia, Wisconsin. This was my second time there. The decor is unique, the food is pretty good, Mr. Hansen is an excellent host, and the view from their deck is phenomenal. It’s just a fun place, very popular with the motorcycling community, and I would absolutely go there again. 

Upon returning to our hotel, Ann and I found ourselves with a few hours to kill before the next MMR event we planned to atte, movie night, so we went for a quick dip in the pool and then suited up and rode into downtown La Crosse for supper. As is the case in many downtown areas, you can find many food options available within walking distance of your parking spot. We opted to check out Buzzard Billy’s Flying Carp Cafe, and we were not disappointed. 

We opted to split an appetizer of fried crawfish tails and their Cajun Combo Platter, which included a blackened catfish fillet, a half order of jambalaya, a cup of seafood gumbo and three hushpuppies. The catfish fillet was as tender as any I have ever had, and tasty too. That turned out to be Ann’s favorite and mine as well. The hushpuppies were more like cornbread doughnut holes—not quite what I expected. But still the meal was quite enjoyable. 

After taking a stroll around the downtown area, Ann and I returned to the Settle Inn to prepare for movie night, which takes place in an area of the hotel’s parking lot reserved exclusively for use by the MMR. The movie is projected onto an outer wall of the hotel and rally goers set up chairs, etc. for viewing. Ann and I ended up borrowing a couple of metal rocking chairs and a small plastic table, upon which we placed our wine, cheese, chips and smoked turkey sausage links. Our somewhat classy set-up invited attention in the form of questions, remarks and photo bombings. 

Another awesome day! Thanks for hanging with me. 

Our First Full Day in Western Wisc

What a fantastic day! We started off with breakfast at the La Crosse Family Restaurant, which is located just across the parking lot from our hotel. I can’t say enough good things about that place. The food is good, the people are friendly, and the prices are more than reasonable. It’s just a great place to start the day.

The Midwest Motorcycle Rally officially opened late this afternoon, so Ann and I had more than half a day to ourselves before then. After gassing up the bike, we headed out of La Crosse on Highway 14.

We eventually switched to Highway 82 and a few secondary roads, until we arrived in La Farge. This is an area where part of Ann’s family (on her mom’s side) settled many years ago. I got to see several points of interest, but the crown jewel was touring Bear Creek Cemetery, where a significant number of Ann’s relatives and ancestors are buried. We also stopped to see a farm that has been in her family for many years. It was a great experience for me, because even though Ann and I have known each other for over 35 years, there is so much we don’t know about each other—and I get the biggest kick out of discovering new things about her and showing/telling her things she never knew about me.

And the roads! There were no harsh twisties on this route, but not much in the way of straight roads, either. Instead we were treated to a seemingly endless string of sweeping curves and elevation changes. It was great fun.

We got back to La Crosse in the early afternoon and stopped downtown for lunch. We just parked the bike and started walking around until we found a place that appealed to both of us. That place turned out to be The Old Crow, a gastropub featuring a variety of craft beers and some pretty interesting food dishes, too. I’ll be back.

Once we got back to our hotel, we didn’t have much time before the MMR kicked off with a quick ride to the Dahl Auto Museum, for a private after-hours tour. Dahl has been in business for many years, first as a dry goods store and then as a seller of automobiles. The museum’s collection is noteworthy and our visit there was a fun one.

From there we went directly to a Bike Night event that was going on at Rudy’s Drive-In, a favorite stop of mine in La Crosse. I got to see some cool bikes, reconnected with owner Gary Rudy, and thoroughly enjoyed introducing Ann to Gary and his 50’s style drive-in experience.

After a quick stop at the hotel, we were off again, this time on a “Bug Run” to Grandad’s Bluff, overlooking the city of La Crosse. The view from up there is beautiful and the ride up the bluff, especially at night, can be an attention getter, too.

We finished our day with some classic MMR socializing in the parking lot of our hotel. I only mention this because I had the pleasure of being introduced to three gentlemen who were attending the rally for the first time and had learned of this event by reading the article I wrote about it for Thunder Roads magazine two years ago. On top of a fantastic day that was already over the top, that made me very happy.

If all days were half as good as this one was, I would have no bad days. Thanks for hanging with me.

Here is a video excerpt of our ride today…

The Run to La Crosse

In my little corner of the world, Chicagoland, starting a road trip on a weekday often means dealing with traffic. In this particular instance, I had to get through Chicagoland traffic and then see what the greater Milwaukee metro had to offer. This added variety to the mix, since my Illinois route only offered gridlock, while the Milwaukee metro offered extensive construction, too.

But after a little more than three hours, I had managed to get through the vehicular sea of humanity and arrived to pick up my friend Ann.

The Victory Vision is not endowed with spacious side bags, so we had to jockey things around a bit in order to make everything fit. No problem!

Before long we were on our way… and into more construction, this time in the Madison area. It was nasty, but fortunately short lived. A construction truck driver engaged us in some conversation while we were stopped. I have come to appreciate people like that.

The weather threatened us with rain, but never made good on that threat. This suited Ann and me just fine.

And so we rolled, stopping only on occasion, until we reached La Crosse. Met up with a few of the usual Midwest Motorcycle Rally attendees, and ate with a couple of them, too. Tomorrow evening the rally officially opens, but we’ll talk about that tomorrow.

Thanks for hanging with me.

The Waiting

As you can see, Miss Scarlett is all cleaned up for our next adventure, which begins for me in a matter of hours, so this post will be short and sweet. Tomorrow morning I will be up bright and early and head north for the Midwest Motorcycle Rally in La Crosse, Wisconsin. But first I’m picking up my on-board photographer, trusty sidekick, and passenger of choice, also known as my dear friend Ann.

Last winter I deftly executed my tried and true strategy of begging and pleading with her to attend the rally. Ann ultimately succumbed to this strategy and agreed to go, if only to shut me up. But in any case, I am all too happy to have her along. And you should be, too, because I’m sure the photography you will see here over the next few days will be better than what you might have gotten from me alone. So for the next three to four days, I will chronicle our road trip and our experiences at the rally. This should be fun!

Some of you may recall that back when I was writing for the Wisconsin and Northern Illinois edition of Thunder Roads magazine, I wrote a piece about the first MMR I attended. Sadly, the “TRWINOIL” edition ceased operations a while back, but I saved that article and have included a photo image of it below. If you click the image and zoom in, you should be able to read the original article.

As always, thanks for hanging with me.

Midwest Motorcycle Rally

Jasmin’s Great Escape

No animals were harmed in the telling of this story. I may have gotten my shoes wet, though.

The family cat was named Jasmin—with no “e”—by my daughter Teresa, who was nine years old at the time. That was about fifteen years ago. My then-seven-year-old son had the privilege of naming the family dog, whom we acquired only days later. He chose the name Rocky for the dog. Before long we were calling the cat Jazzy. We’re a musical family, so the whole thing seemed to fit. We lost Rocky a year ago, but Jazzy has carried on bravely without her baby brother. I’ll swear they never realized they weren’t the same type of animal.

Earlier this year we acquired Leia, a black Labrador/German Shepherd mix, and there was no question in Jasmin’s mind that they were not the same type of animal. She was quite indignant over having to share the same household with this mischievous bundle of energy, who quickly grew to become many times the cat’s size. They get along better now, after months of close supervision and counseling, but I think the cat still carries a grudge.

Jasmin is an older cat now. She doesn’t run quite as fast or jump quite as high as she used to. Believe me, I can relate. But every so often, she still likes to show everyone who’s boss by zipping down into the basement the instant somebody opens the door at the top of the stairs or, as she did today, by shooting out of the house when somebody opens the sliding door to let Leia in or out. It must seem like great sport to her, lurking in the shadows until the door slides open and then waiting until nobody is looking in her direction. Then suddenly this black and white blur passes from somewhere within the kitchen through the door and across the back deck, without ever actually touching the floor beneath her paws.

I had just left work and had intended to run a few errands on my way home, when I got the news from Karen, my wife.

“Jasmin got out and I can’t find her. I think she’s under the deck.”

Now bear in mind, Jazzy has always been an indoor cat, who usually goes outside under supervision, and on those occasions when she does sneak out, she doesn’t stay out long. But I could tell by Karen’s tone, this was different.

“Please keep me posted. I’ll come straight home if I don’t hear from you by the time I get down there.” So who was I to make plans. The ride home would take almost an hour. Every so often I would get an update.

“No cat.”

“I might have heard her meow but no sighting yet.”

“Too hot out. Can’t breathe. Am inside.”

“Just come home.”

I hadn’t known it at the time, but the cat had already been outside for over two hours in the 90+ degree heat. My wife, who herself could not tolerate being out in the sun on such a warm day, called to the cat from just inside the air conditioned house. Jasmin was not reappearing as usual, and Karen was growing worried, something she does neither often nor well.

I arrived at home and parked in the street. No sign of the cat. I went inside to find Karen siting near the sliding glass door and calling to the cat. Her face and neck were still glowing pink, from having tried to stay outside in the heat, and she seemed to be growing more agitated by the minute.

I walked around the house—no cat. I walked around the block—no cat. Returning to our back yard, I brought Leia out with me and inquired, “Where’s Jazzy?” After a brief pause, the dog proceeded to show me everywhere the cat had been—beneath the pine tree, over by the hole in the fence leading to Mickey the Bull Terrier’s yard, etc. No cat.

At that point, I suspected that, as Karen had suggested, Jasmin was nearby, probably beneath our deck. I went and drew out a substantial length of garden hose, attached my watering wand, set it to “mist” and began watering the surface of the deck, such that water would begin dripping down between the planks. Again at Karen’s suggestion, I watered from the house forward. Within minutes, Jasmin stepped out from beneath the opposite end of the deck, still quite dry, but not moving very quickly or looking very sure of herself. At that point Karen scooped Jazzy up and, while I opened the sliding door, carried her into the air conditioned comfort of our home.

Whether out of indignation, fatigue, heat exhaustion, or some combination of the above, Jazzy did not want a treat, nor did she wish to be held, cuddled or fussed over. She did take rather quickly to a bowl of fresh cold water I had drawn—and over the course of several visits to the bowl, drank a fair amount of cool water. Eventually she became more like her old self. She even invited herself to help Karen eat a tuna sandwich.

And so ends the incident known as Jasmin’s Great Escape. Thanks for hanging with me.

I’m Not Handy

Listen up, I am not handy. I break things. I have a lot of respect for those who are mechanically inclined, because I readily admit that I am not one of them. You can take my word on that.

Just this afternoon I wanted to take care of an issue I’ve been having with the stereo on Miss Scarlett, my Victory Vision Tour motorcycle. After first removing a few parts so as to gain access to the speakers inside the front fairing, I reached inside in order to gauge how much room I had to work with. In a fraction of the time it takes to yell, “Don’t do that,” I had impaled my left index finger on a sharp, pointy screw that quickly found its way into the space between my finger and the side of my fingernail, separating the two just enough to draw blood and cause so much pain that the torrent of words spewing forth from my mouth made even me blush. I eventually got the job done, but it easily took four times longer than it would have taken somebody who is handy and knows what they’re doing. That’s just how it is when one is mechanically challenged.

I bought my first house in 1986, at the height of a new do-it-yourself movement. After closing, our realtor gave us a ceiling fan in a box. I wanted so badly to say, “I don’t suppose some little guy is going to jump out of that box and install the fan for us.” but all I could manage was, “Thank you.” A few days later, I was installing our new ceiling fan.

After reading and rereading the instructions, which had apparently been written by somebody whose first language was not English, I was ready to begin. Step one involved turning off the electricity to the ceiling lamp that was about to be replaced with our new fan/lamp combination. I went into the basement and began removing fuses until my wife announced that the appropriate room upstairs had gone dark. Easy!

Then I disassembled the existing ceiling lamp and prepared to make my new connections. One of the first things I connected was my right hand with a bit of exposed wiring that happened to still be live. “AAAAAAAAIIIIII!” I yelped as I withdrew my hand and waited for my hair to lay down again.

My wife came around the corner and inquired, “Something wrong?”

“There’s still electricity in that box.”

“I thought you turned it off.”

“Me, too.”

Without prolonging the conversation, I went back into the basement and pulled the main, effectively shutting off the juice to the entire house. Then I went back upstairs, where the interrogation continued.

“The TV went off.”

“I know. I pulled the main. I’ll turn the juice back on as soon as I finish making these connections.” You have no idea how gingerly I reached back into that junction box.

“Maybe you should wait until morning. It’s gonna’ start getting dark soon.”

“Nah, this’ll only take a few minutes.”

“But what about the food in the refrigerator?”

“Just don’t open it! This won’t take long.”

Karen had begun setting out candles shortly before sunset, as I positioned our camping lantern on the stepladder beneath my work space. Neither of us said a word.

After another hour or so, I had everything back together and returned power to the house. Miracle of miracles, the fan and light worked exactly as expected. I gathered up my tools and ladder and put them all away as Karen went about extinguishing her candles.

There is a bright side to the story, though. Nobody ever asked me to install a ceiling fan again.