Ups and Downs – Part 1 of 3

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Literally and figuratively speaking, the past few weeks have been filled with ups and downs for me. Life is like that sometimes. Take July 12, for instance. It was a Wednesday, a work day for many, but for me it was the start of a five-day vacation weekend—a major up. I was out early and on my way to La Crosse, Wisconsin for the 10th Anniversary Midwest Motorcycle Rally, an extended weekend of two-wheel recreation with some of the nicest people I have ever met—many of whom I only see once a year. Along the way that morning, I was to pick up my pillion companion and long-time friend, Ann, and I was quite anxious to do so, but Mother Nature had other plans.

Having seen that I would likely encounter rain before I got as far as Milwaukee, I had donned my rain gear and a full-face modular helmet before I even left home. A little rain is no big thing to an avid touring rider. If you travel by motorcycle long and far enough, sooner or later you will encounter weather. After I had passed O’Hare International Airport, I did indeed encounter rain, which started out light and got progressively heavier as I continued toward Wisconsin. By the time I got to Lake County, the skies had become quite dark, the wind had picked up, and elaborate lighting displays had begun to crisscross the skies around me. I opted to take shelter at the Lake Forest Oasis.

All things considered, I had made the prudent choice. Torrential rains, accompanied by copious amounts of wind and lightning, continued for some time. When it seemed like the weather had lightened up a bit, I texted a meteorologist friend of mine, just to make sure it was safe to continue. The news was not good. A second line of storms had been intensifying and was about to sweep in right behind the first. I would not be going anyplace soon. I had been messaging Ann all along and she was very supportive of my staying put, but I was not too choked up about my 90-minute layover.

Of course the rain finally cleared, never to be seen again during that trip. About 90 minutes later, I picked up Ann and after packing up the bike, we meandered on to La Crosse. Once there, after checking into our respective rooms and freshening up, we went for a swim and then caught up with some other early arrivers. Four years ago, I began going to the rally a day early on the advice of an experienced rally-goer. It was good advice because getting there a day early means having all day to get there and no scheduled activities to worry about immediately upon arriving. That suits me well.

Before the rally officially got underway on Thursday, July 13, Ann and I did a little riding of our own, mainly to test a little video cam that Ann had acquired. This device is capable of capturing tons of raw footage, making it an excellent addition to Ann’s existing photography/videography arsenal. Between that little gadget and our mobile smart phones, we were pretty much ready to capture our rally experiences that weekend.

Gary RudyAnd what a rally it was! We got to see plenty of old friends and made new ones as well. A number of us paid our annual visit to Rudy’s Drive-In, a La Crosse institution since 1933. I always enjoy kibbutzing with Rudy’s third-generation grand poo-bah Gary Rudy because he is just a great person to be around, but also because he rides a Victory Vision motorcycle, as do I. Rudy’s is a classic drive-in with roller skating carhops, top-shelf root beer floats, the whole nine yards. It’s where I go when I’m in La Crosse at the right time of year.

35811082052_a7ce08f3ee_oAfter hanging out at Rudy’s, we went back to our hotel and waited for sundown, so that we could partake in another MMR tradition, the Bug Run, a local jaunt to the top of Grandad Bluff, which overlooks the entire city and surrounding area. It’s a breathtaking view, especially at night. But that left me wondering, what does Grandad Bluff look like during the day? I had only ever been up there during the annual Bug Run, in the dark. Hmmm…

It turns out I hadn’t needed to wonder long at all because the following day we were scheduled to do the “Sweet Temptations” ride with my friend Dave Keene, author of Cruisin’ The Back Roads, a guide book to some of the best rides to be found in west central and southwestern Wisconsin. Dave is a very capable ride guide and even if I had known nothing else about the day he had planned, I could still be confident that we were in for a great day of riding. We started out with a fantastic ride along some picturesque Wisconsin back roads that led to Sweet Temptations, a positively delightful cafe and bakery in Whitehall. Their baked goods are their centerpiece, of course, but their menu items are also noteworthy. The Reuben sandwich I enjoyed there has got to be among the best I’ve ever had. Ann and I hadn’t really saved room for dessert, but we had some anyway. The place is that good.

From there we rode on (and up) to the Mindoro Cut, the largest remaining hand-hewn cut in the US, which also happens to be located at the highest point in the state of Wisconsin. Until then, I’d never heard of the place. But now I’ve been there, along with Ann and all of our riding companions of the day, thanks to Dave.

We enjoyed one more stop before concluding the day’s journey. You guessed it, we ran up to the top of Grandad Bluff, in broad daylight. Yes, the features above and the scenery below were both very different. Dare I say it? Separated only by about 18 hours, our two visits to the bluff were as different as day and night. Ha!

Meanwhile back at the host hotel, folks were gearing up for the Biker Games, an annual tradition sponsored by Mean Machine Cycle Parts of Elkhart, IA, followed by Movie Night, another annual tradition involving motorcycle-related movies shown outside in a laid-back-but-festive BYOB atmosphere. For the second year in a row, Ann and I did movie night in style, with meats, cheeses, assorted other snacks, and red wine shared between us.

On Saturday, July 15, we embarked on our second day-long guided ride, aptly entitled “Twisted Sister,” which was captained by another seasoned biker friend of mine, Greg Carson from Minnesota. You should have seen the smile erupting on my face as we crossed over the Mississippi and into Minnesota for a day of hills, sweepers, and twisties. Ann and I opted out of a last-minute add-on to the ride and returned to the host hotel just minutes ahead of the group, but we thoroughly enjoyed the ride Greg had put together.

Following the ride, we spent Saturday evening with other rally goers at or around the tiki bar at the AmericInn located across the road from our host hotel. We ate, drank, laughed, shared stories of our newly-made memories, and speculated on whether or not we were gathered at the future location of our beloved Midwest Motorcycle Rally. Time will tell.

Dave n Maggie

And then it was over. That next Sunday morning—my first at the rally, I’d always left on Saturday until this year—was all about saying goodbye and going home. By the time I’d gotten myself up and over to the La Crosse Family Restaurant to have breakfast with Ann and some hometown friends of mine, many familiar bikes had already disappeared from the host hotel parking lot. When you spend as much time looking forward to an event like this as I do, no matter how magical the event turns out to be (as this one certainly was). the ending is always bittersweet.

That’s a bit of a downer, right? Well imagine my pleasant surprise when I looked up in response to my name being called out and seeing two rallygoers that I’d not seen in two years waving at me from the booth directly across from my table. Just seeing Dave and Maggie for those few moments washed away any trace of blues I might have been feeling up until that point.

And so Ann and I motored out of La Crosse together that morning, yet alone, free to discuss and savor all the memories we’d gathered over the past four days. We traveled east across the Wisconsin countryside on scenic two-lane blacktop, occasionally losing our intended route but never regretting it because as motorcyclists, we never really become lost; we simply discover alternate routes to wherever we are heading.

The only other down I experienced was after I had to drop Ann off at her home, say goodbye, and head on to my own home some two-plus hours further, alone. But even that wasn’t so bad because I knew we’d be riding together again soon.

As I said at the beginning, the past few weeks have been filled with ups and downs. For the most part, the ups and downs associated with this part of my story were of the geophysical sort. Over the course of four days, my friends and I toured some of the most attractive hills, bluffs, and ridges to be found in the areas we had been touring. Of course you know, there is more to this story. Thanks for hanging with me. Please stick around.

Rendezvous Run Day 4: End of the Road


And then there were two. Last night after a long day on the road, while we were eating a very late supper and enjoying a few cold beers, our friend Eddie suggested that he might opt to get up early and head for home, leaving my son John and me to take our time and enjoy riding together. John and I were both fine with that suggestion and I was pretty sure the following morning would play out exactly that way. I was quite right. 

When Eddie’s text came in the early hours, confirming that he was indeed on his way, I rolled over and let John know. The kid looked so tired, as if he had still been riding all night, so I suggested we sleep a bit longer. John seemed to like that idea, so we killed our respective cell phone alarms and fell back asleep. I woke up a while later and began my morning ritual— shaving, etc.—periodically checking on my son, who continued to sleep. Only after I emerged from a long, hot shower did my son once again show signs of life. 

“Hey, Pop.”

“Yes, Son?”

“I guess I really needed that sleep!”

” I know.”

We didn’t even make it downstairs in time for the hotel’s complimentary breakfast, but we didn’t care. We ate granola bars and leftovers from the night before right in our room, while we talked and laughed about all manner of things. 

We picked up more sunblock and looked, unsuccessfully, for a set of headlamp bulbs for my bike. Then we hit the road heading east from Lincoln, knowing in advance that with such a late start, I might or might not be able to continue home after John stopped in Rock Island, his final destination for the day. 


Once again there were no touristy stops today, but we hit the jackpot once again when John chose The Corn Crib, in Shelby, Iowa as our lunch stop. Nothing fancy, just a mom-and-pop restaurant with home-style food and a convenience store inside and a BP fuel center outside. Try the hot beef sandwich. You will thank me. 


There is an unwritten (until now) rule of motorcycle touring that whenever two or more bikes are traveling together, the group must pace itself for the least experienced rider, the slowest bike/operator, and the smallest gas tank. My son has ridden more miles than a lot of people who have been riding for many more years, so while I would not call John an expert in proficient motorcycling, inexperience is not a concern. His 750cc motorcycle, however, is on the small side by today’s standards, especially for touring. I had to laugh the other night when John informed me that when fully loaded, his bike is not capable of speeding on the interstate highways of Wyoming. And while my ocean liner of a bike can run between 175 and 225 miles on a tank of gas, John’s gas tank is generally good for 100–130 miles. What does all this mean? We really didn’t exceed today’s 65–75 mph speed limits by very much and we stopped for gas every 100 miles or so. 

We picked up some rush hour congestion when we passed through Des Moines. Traffic was heavy, but moving. Then a little ways east of Des Moines, not the middle of nowhere, but definitely out of the city proper, everything came to a grinding halt. After spending miles and miles in stop-and-go traffic, mostly stopped, with the hot sun beating on us and substantial engine heat rising up from between our respective legs, we came upon an accident clean-up scene involving at least one well-smooshed car and some broken glass and bits of automotive debris strewn across one lane. After that it was smooth sailing, but time-wise, my chances of getting all the way home before dark had been reduced to zero.


And so the Rendezvous Run concluded in Rock Island this evening. I got myself a decent single room near the airport in Moline, sent John off to be with his best friends, who had been anticipating his arrival all week (and with whom he will be living while working for the Mississippi Bend Players this summer), picked up some food and drink to enjoy in my room, cleaned and covered my bike for the night, and settled in to share my day with you.

A few closing thoughts… Some road trips are about the destination(s), others about the journey. In the case of some road trips, the opportunity to travel a specific road can indeed be the destination. The Rendezvous Run wasn’t about destinations, although we truly enjoyed many of our stops along the way, nor was it about spectacular motorcycle roads, though we did manage to take in some very pleasant scenery and even a bit of wildlife. I set up the Rendezvous Run to do one thing. All I wanted to do was meet up (i.e. to rendezvous) with my son John as he rode across the western US from Portland and then ride with him to his destination, Rock Island, Illinois. Based on that sole objective, I’d say we were successful, even though I have not yet gotten home myself. 

It’s been a great run. Thanks for coming along!

Rendezvous Run Day 3: Cheyenne to Lincoln (Again)

This was an odd day for the Rendezvous Run. My son John, coming east from Portland by way of Twin Falls, had pulled into our Cheyenne hotel parking lot rather late the night before. After hugs, greetings, debriefings and assorted conversations, we planned for a delayed start the next morning and then turned in for the night. By morning, though, two of our crew had woken up very early and headed out on their own. So then there were three. 


After gassing up, we headed east across Nebraska. No touristy stops per se today, but we did get off the interstate for a while and rode U.S. 30, also known as the Lincoln Highway, from  Sydney to Ogallala. In Sydney we found a Honda dealer who had been in business 50 years. We had been fueling our bikes when our friend Eddie noticed an interesting but dated Honda mural on the building across the street from us. That was the dealership. 


In Ogallala, we found the neatest place to stop for a late lunch, the Front Street Restaurant and Crystal Palace Saloon. But for the deep, loose gravel lot we had to park on, this is an excellent place, with great food, a museum, a stage for live entertainment, and more. The people were very friendly, too. We had a fun time there. 

After that, we got back onto I-80 and rode… and rode… and rode, stopping only for fuel and bathroom breaks. At one point, John noticed one of my headlights had gone dark. Less than an hour later, the other bulb went out, too. The high beams still work. No night driving until we get those replaced. 

Tomorrow, the final leg of our Rendezvous Run unfolds. More to come!

Rendezvous Run Day 2: To Cheyenne from Lincoln and Twin Falls

Today my group got up early, grabbed a bite of “free” breakfast at the hotel, packed up the bikes and headed west out of Lincoln. Meanwhile my son geared up and headed east from Twin Falls, Idaho. I had the better end of the deal with a little under 500 miles to cover; he had over 600. 


We made one touristy stop at The Archway in Kearney, Nebraska. This arch, which spans across I-80, is a neat museum/monument to the region’s role in the westward expansion. There are interesting exhibits inside and out, a gift shop, and an incredibly friendly and helpful staff. 


Meanwhile, my son John crossed the desert. Every so often, he would Update me on his progress, which always seemed slower than expected. This made me feel guilty about my own group’s progress, because everything seemed to be stacked in our favor. We had fewer miles to cover, we had large, powerful bikes on which to cover them, and there were four of us traveling together. Still, I suspect that John saw his journey as part of a grand adventure that he has been enjoying very much. 


We stopped for lunch at a down-home bar and restaurant called the Rusty Bucket in Chappell, Nebraska. Good food and friendly, outgoing staff are what this family-run establishment has going for it. It was a good lunch stop. 


We dodged some scattered rain/storm cells and pulled into our hotel in Cheyenne safe and dry. The most recent update from John still had him about four hours out. Fortunately it appeared that he would be crossing Wyoming behind the storms and not with them. Dusk came and went. Still we waited. 


Finally, between 9:30 and 9:45 Mountain Time, John pulled into the parking lot at the hotel. I headed toward him, having set up to go live on Facebook with our meet-up, only to see that John had his phone out as well and was doing the exact same thing. And so we had dueling live feeds for a minute or two. Then we went inside. The “rendezvous” part of the Rendezvous Run has now kicked in!

Rendezvous Run Day 1: Morris to Lincoln & Portland to Twin Falls


The Chicagoland contingency departed at 8:15 from the R Place truck stop in Morris, IL today. Two hours later, the Portland contingency, i.e. my son, shoved off at about the same time, but in Pacific Time. 

Our lone touristy stop of the day was the Iowa 80  World’s Largest Truck Stop. It’s a tourist stop unto itself, with many products and services available for truckers as well as non-truckers. 


Lunch was at Montana Mike’s in Newton, IA. As I was preparing to go in, a biker couple was walking out to their trike. I struck up a conversation and learned that the two are regular customers who enjoy the food. It’s a chain with locations in eight states. Good food, nice people, no complaints. 


We rolled through Omaha during rush hour, which wasn’t fun, but wasn’t horrible, either and arrived at our hotel in Lincoln during the five o’clock hour. After freshening up, we walked over to Lucky’s Lounge & Grill for supper, drinks, and philosophizing. Then we walked back to the hotel, put our bikes to bed, kibitzed for a bit and then called it a night. 


When I began writing this, my son was still riding, still hours from his destination for the night, Twin Falls, Idaho. Just before midnight, I got the text I was waiting for: “Landed. Twin Falls, Idaho.” Now we wait to see how day two plays out. 

A Little Piece of 66

Signs

I had the bike out again today, alone, and decided to revisit a few of my favorite stops along the Illinois portion of historic Route 66. I wasn’t out nearly as long today as I had been yesterday, only 130 miles versus 216, but I still had fun. On the one hand, I did not get rained on, but on the other, it was much warmer today.

I picked up the Mother Road in Wilmington, a little ways south of Joliet. In so doing, I passed up the pretty cool Joliet Area Historical Museum and Route 66 Welcome Center in Downtown Joliet. I did this primarily because I was out to put miles on Miss Scarlett before her 50K service tomorrow, but also because I was alone and prefer to visit museums and such with others. If you haven’t been to the welcome center, do check it out—it’s worth it.

I did make a point, however, of pulling off at the site of the former Launching Pad Drive-In, which has been shuttered since 2010. An attempt to sell the property at auction did not go well and the facility continues to deteriorate. This does not stop visitors from stopping to take photos with the Gemini Giant, one of several fiberglass muffler man statues that can be found along Route 66 and elsewhere. Once, several years ago, my son and I stopped to visit the Gemini Giant and found a sizable group of touring motorcyclists, all on Harley-Davidson bikes. When we got closer to the group, we realized they were all speaking German. I invited my son, who had taken four years of German in high school and even toured Germany in his senior year, to strike up a conversation with some of them, but he declined.

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Continuing south on Illinois 53, I passed the Polk-A-Dot Drive-In, a genuine Route 66 establishment in Braidwood, Illinois. I had just been there for lunch less than a week earlier, so I did not stop today, but I highly recommend the Polk-A-Dot as a place for photo opportunities, classic drive-in fare,  and ice cream treats.

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My next stop was in Dwight, first at an historic Texaco gas station which doubles as a visitors center and then at a real gas station just up the road, because Miss Scarlett had gotten quite low on fuel. The Texaco station is a neat little place to stop. Make a point of talking to the volunteer staff. They tend to be friendly and knowledgeable, as well as helpful.

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From Dwight I rolled on to Odell, where one can find a remarkably well-preserved Standard Station. On the way, I stopped twice, once to shoot a photo of an old barn with a Meramec Caverns ad painted on it and once to shoot some video showing a segment of the original roadway that was once U.S. 66, which shows up between the frontage road, which traces Route 66 and Interstate 55, which essentially replaced it. I apologize for the horrid audio quality of the video. The wind had really picked up during that part of the afternoon.

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I opted to turn around after I got to Pontiac, home to the Route 66 Association Hall of Fame & Museum. I have visited this museum several times and will gladly do so in the future. I did not stop today because time was running short and, well, I was alone. But do make a point of stopping here. Don’t forget to look behind the building as well.

The last photo I snapped today was while I was stopped for a freight train on my way out of Pontiac. There I saw a sign that I had been seeing at railroad crossings all along my trip southward on old Route 66. “TRAINS MAY EXCEED 80 MPH,” the sign cautioned. Indeed, the train for which I had stopped was hauling at a high rate of speed. I didn’t know they could move that quickly, nor have I any clue when they began doing so.

Once I got back out to I-55, I pretty much high-tailed it home, where I drank copious amounts of cold water and promptly fell asleep. It had been a good day.

In all probablility, the next post I write will be from the road. My Rendezvous Run is just around the corner. Thank you, as always, for hanging with me.

My Rock River Wind Therapy

With my Rendezvous Run coming up in just a few days, I felt compelled to spend this weekend doing more than just riding to the store and back. Besides that, my motorcycle goes in for her 50,000 mile service interval first thing Monday morning and I want her to have as close to 50,000 miles on the clock as possible (we were at only 48K and change this morning). And if those two reasons weren’t enough, I just needed to get out in the wind, alone, and take stock of myself. So I rolled Miss Scarlett, my 2012 Victory Vision Tour, out of the garage, picked a direction, and started riding.

Radar

What a great day to be alive! The sky was reasonably blue and clear, with just a few white, fluffy clouds up there as I set out during the noon hour. The warm sun felt fantastic as I motored west on U.S. Highway 52 toward Mendota, Illinois. Traffic was quite light, my bike was running beautifully, my tunes were blasting on the stereo… and then I felt a drop.

At first I thought it might have just been a juicy insect meeting it’s demise on my face as I rolled on down the highway. But then I felt another drop, and another. Yes, despite there having been only a 20% chance of rain this day, I had apparently found myself motoring under part of that 20%. So I hunkered down and motored on. There was no need to pull over and don my rain gear because I could see clear skies just beyond the perimeter of the dark rain cell under which I was passing. By the time I reached Mendota, the sun was shining on me again.

Mendota

As I stopped for gas and a quick bottle of tea, to rehydrate myself, I couldn’t help but notice another juicy-looking cloud mass developing in the distance. I used my phone to check the weather radar and surmised that as long as I didn’t gulp my tea too quickly, that pesky cell would have moved on to the east as I continued north and west on 52, toward Amboy. And that’s exactly what happened.

Amboy

The warm sun was shining once again as I rolled into downtown Amboy, Illinois and pulled up in front of the historic Amboy Pharmacy… or what used to be the Amboy Pharmacy. My heart fell as I saw the empty storefront windows, adorned only with some real estate signs. This place used to be the real deal, with a working ice cream and soda fountain inside and some interesting old-time pharmacy items on display. I had entertained hopes of grabbing a hot fudge sundae there. Instead I took a photo of the empty store, got back on my bike, and motored on out of town.

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The next part was my favorite of the entire day. I ran out to Dixon and picked up Illinois Highway 2, a neat, curvy little road that roughly follows the Rock River into Rockford. I stopped in Grand Detour and again in Oregon to take a few photos of the river. I wish I could have captured a few shots of the road itself, but the best parts of this route have no place to pull off and dismount. Perhaps another time. Oregon, Illinois is where you will find the Black Hawk Statue on a bluff overlooking the river. As I understand it, this statue was intended as a tribute to all Native Americans, but over time came to be associated with the Sauk leader, Chief Black Hawk.


I had intended to ride up to Rockford before heading home, but Mother Nature had a different idea in mind. As I coninued north along Highway 2, dark clouds once again began to form ahead of me. I took this as an indication that perhaps I should be heading for home, so when I arrived in Byron, I turned east on Illinois Highway 72.

Hightail

At that point, it became a bit of a race. As I headed east on 72, I left dark clouds to my north/northwest. When I reached Interstate Highway 39, I got on and headed south. Long before I reached Interstate Highway 88, I could see a larger, darker cloud mass developing just west/southwest of me—and this baby was definitely dropping substantial rain in places.  When I reached 88, I took the exit and began to head east in earnest, stopping at the DeKalb Oasis only long enough to rehydrate myself (I had begun feeling the effects of dehydration about 30 minutes earlier) and to snap a photo of what appeared to be chasing me home.

As luck would have it, Miss Scarlett was more than capable of staying ahead of that isolated cell. About an hour later, I was home safe, sound, and dry. According to my trip odometer, I had covered 216 miles, not bad for an afternoon run.

Tomorrow, weather permitting, I’ll make another run in preparation for my longer trip, which begins Tuesday, June 6. Needless to say, I’ll let you know how it goes. Until then, thanks for hanging with me.