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.

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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. 

Coming Soon: The Rendezvous Run

Rendezvous

My wife took this photo one year ago, to mark the first day in the 2016 riding season that my son, John, and I had ridden together. John had recently flown home to Chicagoland from his temporary home in Portland, Oregon, where he had been a student of the Portland Actors Conservatory. Less than a month later, John and I rode our motorcycles to Portland, along with a good (and experienced) riding buddy of ours named Eddie. We also had a chase vehicle, aka my wife and eldest sister following along in the family minivan. After showing us around the surrounding region, my son and his bike stayed behind in Portland, while the rest of us returned home. That had been an awesome trip, my longest to date. In all, I had ridden roughly 4,800 miles and enjoyed nearly every one of them.

JEGD Head Shot

John and I have not yet ridden together this season, but that will soon change. You see, he has now graduated from the conservatory and although he plans to remain in Portland for a while, he has secured work—as in professional (read: paid) work—with the Mississippi Bend Players, a new theater group in the Quad Cities. The Mississippi Bend Players will be performing at the new Brunner Theatre Center at Augustana College in Rock Island.

A few interesting points are in order. First, John graduated from Augustana in 2015 with a double major in Asian Studies and Theater Arts. Second, there is a little-known story involving a chance acquaintance between my son and an individual who would become a benefactor of the Brunner Theater Center—so you could say that John was at least indirectly influential in bringing this new theatrical venue from a concept to a reality. Third, while working in the Quad Cities, my son will be directly involved in the technical aspects (sets, lighting, and sound) of three MBP productions, plus he will also be a featured performer in one of the three, a production titled Wait Until Dark. Finally, Jeffrey L. Coussens, who directed a number of stage productions in which John performed, worked tech support, or both as an Augustana College student, will also be the director of Wait Until Dark.

On a personal note, I had the extreme pleasure of meeting and speaking with Jeff Coussens during John’s years at Augustana. Jeff’s insights were always of interest to me and I do hope I get the opportunity to exchange thoughts and perspectives with him again this summer.

 

2016 Bonneville

John and I, along with our good friend Eddie, had ourselves a great time last year, during our epic journey to Oregon. When I first heard that John was planning to ride his bike from Portland to the Quad Cities this year, I suggested a similar escort, but the boy wasn’t too choked up about that idea. He was, however, fine with the notion of meeting at some halfway point—and thus the 2017 Rendezvous Run was born.

At the beginning of this month, at an annual Motorcycle Sunday event which I am known to attend, I mentioned the possibility of a midpoint rendezvous to my friend Eddie. His immediate response was, “If you want company, let me know; I’d love to join you guys again.” So naturally, I texted my son and let him know.

John’s response? “Cool, just like old times! You might want to ask Vern, Too.”

MGD + Vern 2016

My friend Vern, just like Eddie, is a friend from way back, and he just happened to be walking beside me at the Motorcycle Sunday event when John texted me. So I turned and told him what was up.

Vern stopped in his tracks, laid one arm across mine for emphasis. turned to me and said, “You just tell me when and where.”

I texted John, “He’s in.” John was working at the time, but it didn’t take him long to respond.

“Oh boy, now we have to plan. It’s a party of its own!”

2017 Rendezvous

And so our 2017 Rendezvous Run is on. One week from today, John Will depart from Portland Oregon, while Eddie, Vern, and I head west from a predetermined starting point In Morris, Illinois. John will attempt to make Twin Falls, Idaho that evening, while my party and I aim for Lincoln, Nebraska. We have the easier route, believe me.

On Wednesday, June 7, if all goes as planned, we will rendezvous in Cheyenne, Wyoming. The exact halfway point is somewhere west of Cheyenne, but after some investigation, John and I agreed that the exact halfway point was in the middle of nowhere and was therefore not a suitable target. So Cheyenne it is.

Once we are reunited, we will celebrate in Cheyenne and then all head east together the following morning. If all goes anywwhere near as planned, it will be epic.

Writer

Needless to say, I intend to chronicle the whole thing right here on my MGD Time blog site, with regular updates posted to my Facebook page. Please feel free to follow our journey via either channel.

I look forward to sharing our adventures with you. See you on the road!

 

A Nice Little Burger Run

Miss Scarlett and Me

This burger run was nearly called on account of rain. It had been an on again, off again thing all week long, as the weather forecast flipped from partly sunny to a 30% chance of rain to a 70% chance of rain and then back to a 30% chance before settling on “mostly cloudy with rain toward evening” by the time today actually arrived. That was good enough for my friend Ann and me, who had been itching to go riding together since last November. As circumstances had it, Saturday had been the far better day, weather-wise, but Sunday was our only mutually available day for riding. It isn’t always easy when riding companions live over 100 miles apart, but then I’ve never been intimidated by distances. And so we watched the weather forecast evolve daily until today, when our story begins.

Kenosha, Wisconsin has proven to be roughly equidistant between Ann’s home and my own. When the days are shorter, as is the case in early spring and late fall, we sometimes arrange to meet and begin our riding from there. Today we met up at 11:00 AM in a large parking lot just off Interstate 94, beneath an endless canopy of steel gray clouds. The ambient temperature was 52 degrees and climbing. We would have felt much warmer at that temperature had the sun been shining, but as is the case with most things in life, one must play the hand that has been dealt. We had been dealt a cold start to our morning and the promise of rain before suppertime, so we planned a short run centered around lunch and a walk. Not being strangers to riding, Ann and I both arrived dressed in layers for warmth and adjustability. Within minutes, we were on the bike—my full dresser Victory Vision Tour, affectionately named Miss Scarlett—and headed for the unlikely destination of Burlington, Wisconsin, home of one Fred’s World’s Best Burgers, also known as Fred’s Parkview.

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I have to admit, having married a girl from Kenosha, I’ve been visiting and traveling this region for decades. Over the course of all those years, I’d always known where Burlington was, but never knew much about this community, nor had I ever felt compelled to go there. Until now. Boasting the “World’s Best Burgers,” this establishment known as Fred’s sits on the northeast corner of Milwaukee Avenue and North Pine Street in downtown Burlington. The founder and owner of Fred’s is a woodworker by the name of Fred Mabson, who used his craft to create a unique atmosphere in which to enjoy this family-friendly eating and drinking establishment. As soon as we stepped through the doors, Ann and I were surrounded by tastefully finished knotty pine and a lot of smiling faces. Their corner location is rather large on the inside, with a fair number of dining tables filling two rooms. We had arrived shortly after noon and, in addition to some seats at the bar, there was exactly one table open, which we immediately grabbed for our own.

As Ann and I approached from the outside, and having never been there before, I had assumed Fred’s was a corner bar that served a pretty good burger. But once inside, I saw a higher percentage of tables filled than of bar stools. I also saw families—you know, the kind with kids—as well as friends, all eating, drinking, talking, laughing and otherwise having themselves quite a time on an early Sunday afternoon. In short, Fred’s is the kind of place where one can feel good just by stepping inside. And then there’s the food.

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As you might expect, Fred’s menu focuses on their burgers, but looking beyond that for a moment, this little place has got a pretty extensive menu! We opted to keep it simple, with a couple of cheeseburgers. Ann got the quarter-pound version, while I opted for the half-pound burger. Our toppings differed, but our experiences were quite similar. What comes to the table is a fresh, hand-made burger, cooked to your liking, served on a fresh, buttered and grilled bun and topped with equally fresh ingredients. The homemade fries are curly cut; the homemade chips are ribbon cut. It’s all very tasty and it would take a number of visits in order for me to try everything that I’d like to try off of that menu. So you see, there’s an awful lot going on inside that corner establishment in downtown Burlington.

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As is usually the case, Ann and I wanted to take a walk after we had finished our lunch. In many instances, this has involved riding to another location, usually a park or state forest destination, where we could walk off our meal and enjoy the scenery. On this particular trip, all we had to do was cross the street a few times in order to visit three riverfront parks. First, we walked through Echo Veterans Memorial Park on Echo Lake. Then we crossed over to Riverside Park, which runs along the Fox River for quite a while. Before we had gone too far, we crossed a footbridge into Wehmhoff Jucker Park, on the opposite bank of the Fox, before heading back to the parking lot where we had left Miss Scarlett.

At that point, I began to notice that the cloud cover had gradually grown darker toward the west. That suppertime rain threat should still have been hours away, but something told me it was time to carry Ann back to her car, and quickly. After all, I had promised her a day free from rain or snow. Although it never rained on us as we sped back toward Kenosha, the sky did spit on us a few times. So once I had gotten Ann back to her car, we quickly said our goodbyes before she headed north and I high-tailed it back to Illinois.

It had been a glass-half-full kind of day. Sure, I could have moaned about how short our burger run had been, or about how Mother Nature had robbed Ann and me of another hour or two of walking/riding time. Nah. Given that it was only April 2, we were lucky to have gotten the bike out at al. Besides that, we had discovered a really neat lunch stop that I’m sure we will revisit someday. And so rather than moan or complain, Ann and I will enjoy the memories of another great little run, all while planning our next one.

Life is good. Thanks for hanging with me.