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.

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 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

Epic Journey — Post-Trip Service and Safety Check

One might think that after taking a road trip of nearly 5,000 miles, I would be reluctant to get on my bike again. One would be wrong. This morning I rode Miss Scarlett 57 miles out to Randy’s Cycle in Marengo, known to be the best Victory dealer in all of Northern Illinois if not beyond, to have my slightly overdue 40K service done and also get my girl checked out from end to end, in preparation for my next trip, now less than two weeks away, to the Midwest Motorcycle Rally in La Crosse, Wisconsin. 

Randy’s is not the closest Victory dealership to my home, nor is his the fanciest. There are higher-end-looking boutique shops in the area, none of which has the word-of-mouth credentials of Randy’s Cycle. This is where I acquired Miss Scarlett, my 2012 Vision Tour, and this is where I have come for service and upgrades, ever since. Randy Weaver and company have earned my loyalty. If I ever go elsewhere for scheduled maintenance, it will be for reasons of practicality, not personal preference. 

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After nearly 5,000 miles of riding, much of it at 70–80 mph and a chunk of it on twisty mountain roads, I was ready to hear bad news about my tires, brakes, clutch, or any other wear part, but everything checked out okay. She was good at least until the 45,000 mile mark.

To all of you who have been following my epic road trip via my blog site, thank you for having come along. Please feel free to stick around. There are more journeys and stories to come. 

Epic Journey Day Thirteen — The Bittersweet Run Home

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Things are different in the Midwest. We don’t have majestic mountain ranges. We don’t have deserts. We do have natural beauty, though, and it’s different from what the other places have. And traveling to other places  has made me more cognizant of natural features in the Midwest. This is why we should travel. I read this somewhere… When we return, everything is still the same, but we have changed. 

I took almost no photos today because, unlike yesterday, this was not a day for doing touristy things. This was the run home. I estimated about 535 miles between our hotel in Worthington, Minnesota and my home in Plainfield, Illinois. My wife Karen had more like 610 miles to cover, because she needed to drop my sister off before coming home.  Our friend Eddie had already departed, in an effort to surprise his wife by getting home early. 

We stayed together, the two ladies in the minivan and me on my bike, for the first half of the day, so that we could have lunch together. So we spent the first half of this day within sight of each other as we crossed southern Minnesota. I noticed that, like in many of the western states we had crossed, the interstate highways of Minnesota are set up to be closed down when conditions warrant.  I’m thinking winter storms, but I don’t really know what criteria must be met in order to close an interstate highway. We don’t do that in Northern Illinois. We plow continuously and apply ponderous quantities of rock salt (NaCl) to burn off whatever the plows don’t get. Indeed, in my little corner of the world, political careers have been created  and destroyed based on ones ability to control snow and ice to the satisfaction of all. 

We were approaching La Crosse, Wisconsin around  lunchtime, so we went downtown and checked out Fayze’s Restaurant & Bakeryt. We opted not to try any of their fresh baked goods for dessert, but I must admit, I was tempted. A
After lunch, for the sake of time, we stopped trying to stay within site of each other. I took a few legal liberties with regard to speed laws, and after five hours or so, I found myself home again. 

In all we’d come 4,782.2 miles since we left the R Place truck stop on June 19. Miss Scarlett, my Victory Vision Tour, got me through all those miles without issue. 

I regret nothing. 

Epic Journey Day Eleven — Bozeman to Rapid City

I woke up in Bozeman this morning, walked over to my hotel room window, threw open the curtains, and beheld a mountain sunrise. In Montana this is not so unusual. I read recently that there are at least 100 named mountain ranges and subranges in the state of Montana. The very name Montana means “mountain” in Spanish. And believe me, the name fits!

Today was all about making miles. We stopped every 130–150 miles, despite all of us  having machines with ranges far beyond those numbers, to fuel up and trade places leading. 

Around lunchtime we found ourselves in Sheridan, Wyoming, where we had a fine lunch and took in the sights. 

Hours later, we were near the Black Hills of Wyoming, still over 100 miles from our destination in Rapid City. Storms were developing in the distance. In other words, it was time to launch. 

We ended up “threading the needle” between the two cells as we came across on 90. Storms above and below us, wet road as we came into the SD Black Hills, but the storms never hit us. 

We arrived safely in Rapid City, SD, where I had booked us three “Superior King” rooms at a bargain rate using Bargains can be found. 

After checking in and freshening up a bit, we went into town for supper. And so another day ends. Only two more to go. 

Epic Journey Day Ten — Spokane Valley to Bozeman


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From our hotel in Spokane Valley,  we could see the next set of mountains waiting for us. Within minutes we had crossed the border into Idaho, which reminds me… Who’s the Idaho genius that decided to put a visitor information center in a weigh station? I saw the line of semis on the exit ramp and rode right past it, seeing the visitor information  sign only after it was too late. Eh, their loss. Besides, we weren’t in Idaho for long. 

The above video and photo were taken at a rest area right by the Idaho/Montana border. I wanted to share some mountains with you because I can’t photograph the mountain scenery I’ve been enjoying from the seat of my motorcycle, while soaring down the highway. 

We stopped in Missoula for gas and lunch. I know nothing of the town except that there are two people living there whom I very much admire. Eric Ristau and Geneva Liimatta produce independent documentaries, including Sit Stay Ride: The Story of America’s Sidecar Dogs, a delightful film the making of which Karen and I gladly supported during their crowdfunding project. In fact there is a sequel in the making now, which we have also supported. Finally, Eric and his brother Damon co-produced and directed an indie film called The Best Bar in America. Good stuff. 

After lunch we continued our way across Montana, which means mountain in Spanish. And from what I’ve seen so far, the moniker fits. 

We pulled off again in Butte, the birthplace and final resting place of one Robert Craig Knievel. To say that Evel was a childhood hero of mine would be an understatement. I never got to see him in life, so I wanted to stop and pay my respects.

At last we stopped for the night in Bozeman. There are mountains visible from my motel room. There is a little bar and grill that serves Bozone, a locally made amber. 

Next up, South Dakota. Wish me luck. 

Epic Journey Day Nine — Farewell to Portland

This was our day of departure from Portland, but we still had one more touristy thing to do with John before we said our goodbyes and headed toward home. Multnomah Falls is an incredibly popular 611-foot waterfall, one of several found along the Columbia River Gorge. A paved hiking trail leads up to a picturesque bridge from which visitors enjoy taking photos of the falls and of one another. That same trail also leads to the top of the falls, but we didn’t go that far up. 

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​The views are well worth the climb, to say nothing of the long wait for parking, which is limited relative to demand. 

After viewing the falls, we got a table inside the Multnomah Falls Lodge Restaurant. I had it on good authority that their Fish ‘n Chips are awesome. That turned out to be completely true. They use wild-caught Alaskan cod and it is quite delicious. But then so is the Flatiron Steak Salad. 

Once lunch was over with, we spent some time in the gift shop, took a few final photos, and then followed John out to Interstate 84 and to a gas station where everyone fueled up or topped off before saying goodbye. Then two motorcycles and the chase van went east on 84. One motorcycle went west, back to Portland proper. It was three in the afternoon. 

I could not get over how quickly green gave way to brown as we followed 84 along the Hood River, but that’s exactly what happened. The temps went up, too. My bike’s onboard thermometer read 102 at the warmest point, but I attributed a couple or three degrees to engine heat. 

We rolled on, mile after mile, down I-84, up I-82 into Washington, onto US 395, which took us northeast through some of the brownest agricultural land I’ve seen on this trip, and also tied into Interstate 90, which brought us to Spokane Valley, where we stopped for the night. 

It felt awkward having only two motorcycles in our group. It felt awkward asking for a table for four instead of five. We’ll quickly get used to it, of course, but this day was a little bittersweet for me. While I am truly anxious to get home and see my daughter, spend some quality time with our family pets, and go hang out with my friends again, there is no use denying how I knew darned well I would feel when this day came. 

I miss my son.