Ups and Downs – Part 3 of 3

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Continued from Ups and Downs – Part 2 of 3

You may recall from reading my Rendezvous Run posts last June (Days One, Two, Three, and Four) that while the decline and fall of my day job as I knew it was unfolding—indeeed, weeks before I’d gone frolicking with my friends at the Midwest Motorcycle Rally in La Crosse—my son John had journeyed from his current home in Portland to the Quad Cities of Illinois in order to take his first professional theater gig with the newly formed Mississippi Bend Players in Rock Island. On Friday, July 21, which turned out to be our collective day of termination for my now-former colleagues and me, I was scheduled to lead a small group of friends on an overnight motorcycle ride to see my son’s professional debut at the premiere of Wait Until Dark. And that’s exactly what I did.

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By the close of business Thursday, July 20, I had dotted my i’s, crossed my t’s, bid my farewells, shed my tears, exchanged hugs, turned in my key, and walked away. Within hours, my friend Ann had come down from her Wisconsin home to prepare for the following day. On Friday morning, Ann and I packed up my bike and headed out to Yorkville, where we would rendezvous with two more friends, Eddie and Vern, who would be riding out with us on their respective Gold Wing touring bikes. My wife Karen, who does not ride, had gone to work that morning and would be meeting us in Moline later that day.

As long as it didn’t rain, our plan had been to meander, rather than travel via Interstate 80, the fastest, most direct route to our destination. It got plenty warm and humid, but it never rained during our ride, so we meandered. From Yorkville, we took Illinois 71 southwest through Ottawa, over the Illinois River and west along a brief but fun set of twisties past Starved Rock State Park. Just for fun, I took the group up Illinois 178 to North Utica, past the west entrance to Starved Rock, back over the river and east along Dee Bennett Road, along the north bank of the river, to the Army Corps of Engineers’ Illinois Waterway Visitor Center, overlooking the lock and dam directly across the river from Starved Rock. Everybody and their brother regularly goes to Satrved Rock, myself included. Far fewer check out the observation deck across the river. The Visitor Center provides some interesting information about the Illinois Waterway, past and present, and if you hang around long enough, you can observe commercial and recreational watercraft locking through.

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Our next stop was in Princeton for lunch and a visit to an historic covered bridge just outside of town. We decided to take a chance on Rodeo Tacos and did okay there. It wasn’t anything fancy or over-the-top, but the place was clean, the food was freshly prepared, and the lady who took care of us was pleasant, if a bit laid back. While walking there from where we had parked the bikes, we came upon Myrtle’s Pie, formerly Myrtle’s Cafe & Pie. We would have had lunch there, but there was a notice on the door proclaiming that Myrtle’s no longer serves lunch, “unless you are having pie for lunch.” While eating our Mexican food up the street, we all agreed to save room for pie. What an awesome decision that turned out to be! Eddie and Vern split a slice of banana cream while Ann and I split a slice of strawberry rhubarb, warmed and served with a scoop of ice cream. It was all I could do to not lick the plate clean. I raved about Myrtle’s for the rest of the weekend, even though Ann thought our pie had been a litttle too sweet for strawberry rhubarb.

The red covered bridge is just off Illinois 26 north of town. Originally built in 1863 and rehabbed in 1973, this bridge is still in use today. We pulled off the road to walk around and take a few pictures. Only two or three vehicles passed through while we were there, which made it easier for us to take our time and look at everything. Before we left, Eddie decided to take his Gold Wing across the bridge and back, just for grins. Being the shutterbug that she is, Ann immediately positioned herself to capture the crossing on video, so I captured her doing so. This was just one of several fun moments our little group had enjoyed throughout the day.

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The reminder of our journey was less than eventful. In fact, it was slightly miserable. By mid-afternoon, the temperature and humidity had both risen considerably. Because we were already north of Princeton, we opted to take Illinois 92 west to the Quad Cities. This turned out to be not the greatest idea I’d hatched that day. Highway 92 is extraordinarily straight, a characteristic that grows boring rather quickly when traveling by motorcycle. In effect I had condemned us to traveling on a road no more interesting than Interstate 80 would have been, only at a lower rate of speed with the hot sun beating down on us and our sweat glands working overtime. Under these conditions, it becomes all too easy to succumb to road hypnosis. We made it to the hotel alright, arriving almost immediatley after my wife had pulled in with her minivan, but we were all pretty beat and in dire need of freshening up.

Because foul weather had made its way into the forecast, we all opted to go over to the Brunner Theater Center together in the air conditioned comfort of Karen’s minivan. Once inside the center, we ran into Phil McKinley, the Broadway director and Augustana College graduate who played no small part in the founding of the Mississippi Bend Players (he was also a long-standing director the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus). Karen and I knew Mr. McKinley because he has directed our son John in a magnificent-yet-disturbing produciton of a play called A Green River, first in 2012 at Augustana College in Rock Island and again in 2013 at the historic Pabst Theater for the for the 47th annual Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival Region III in Milwaukee (see story here). We also got to reconnect with Jeff Coussens, who directed Wait Until Dark. A professor at Augustana, Mr Coussens also directed John in a number of collegiate theater performances.

What can I tell you about the experience of being able to witness my son’s first-ever professional theatrical performance? Everything else I’ve covered in this Ups and Downs sequence pales by comparison. That performance was the culmination of a process that had begun when the kid was in middle school. Then came the high school performances, followed by the college performances, each milestone dwarfing the last. A theater minor became a theater major—I could write a small book about that turning point alone. Then came his studies at the Portland Actors Conservatory, over two thousand miles from home, a two-year program during which I was not able to see even one of his performances, each of which was surely heads above his already impresssive college performances. So there I sat, watching this thriller unfold with my son playing the nastiest villain in the story—and quite well, I might add. It was a proud moment.

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After the show, we ran up the street to Legends Corner, a nice little bar and restaurant, for a late-night meal and drinks. John rode his motorcycle over to join us and was the center of attention, fielding everyones questions and savoring the glow. The boy made my night, though, when he announced that he would be free for a period of hours the following day, if we wanted to get together for a ride. I was all smiles at the very suggestion.

The next morning, Eddie and Vern took off early for home. Karen, Ann and I had breakfast, checked out, and waited for John to ride over to our hotel. Once he did, we headed for the river, to a small park I used to enjoy visiting while John was a student at Augie. Whenever I had time to kill by myself, I would end up there. It was cool to see it again because I hadn’t expected to. From there we headed west on U.S. Highway 6 for Geneseo and had lunch at Raelyn’s Pub & Eatery. It seemed like a popular place, the staff was very friendly and helpful, and the food was good as well as abundant. I had their Voodoo Burger and was very satisfied. My best advice is to go there hungry.

After lunch we said our goodbyes and headed our separate ways. John hopped on his Honda and headed back to Rock Island; Karen pointed her van east and took I-80 home the fast way; Ann and I meandered back aboard Miss Scarlett and were the last to arrive at our destination. In hindsight, that wasn’t the brightest idea, as Ann still had a long drive ahead of her to get back to her own home. Still, it had been an awesome weekend, a true high point among all the ups and downs.

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So, I did it again the following weekend, only with a different group of motorcyclists. I didn’t even have to lead this time. My friend John took us south of the Illinois River and out to LaSalle for lunch at the Uptown Grill. It was a good pick for “polished casual American cuisine” with a somewhat upscale atmosphere, digital tablet menus, friendly (if a bit sparse) waitstaff, and nicely prepared food. On my recommendation, we saved room for dessert and took an indirect route to Princeton for—you guessed it—pie at Myrtle’s. This time I had the Dutch apple, served warm with a scoop of ice cream. I do not recall what everyone else had, but there was a lot of eating going on. I am reasonably sure that was not my last trip to Myrtle’s.

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So as not to repeat my mistake of the prior weekend, we took U.S. 6 from Princeton all the way to our hotel this time. Highway 6 is simply a more pleasant road than IL 92, but it also didn’t hurt that the temps were cooler and the air less humid, too. We arrived at the hotel with plenty of time to freshen up before heading over to the Augustana campus. This time we went to Legends before going to the theater. It was nice to kick back with friends and enjoy a couple of drinks together. Meanwhile, my wife Karen drove in from Kenosha, where she had gone that morning to take her mom to a funeral. My eldest sister also came in with our nephew and his ladyfriend. Another friend of the family, who had attended Augie with John, had also driven in for the show. We all met in the lobby before going in. Yes, John had a pretty decent group of fans in the audience that night.

The play was even better the second time around. I enjoyed it thouroughly. Some of us stuck around for the “show after the show,” an extra bit of fun held in the black box theater upstairs that night. John did a little song and dance there, quite a departure from the dark character he had played in Wait Until Dark.

The only downside of that second weekend was that I didn’t get to spend nearly as much time with my son as I had the first time around. But life is that way. Ups and downs.

The story doesn’t end here—John still has more tech work to complete before his gig is over, my search for the next big thing is still gaining momentum, and this magical summer is far from over—but this is where I choose to to conclude my three-part perspective on the recent ups and downs of my life. As I look back on these recent events, I realize two things about these figurative hills and valleys. First, despite outward appearances, these circumstances that have come to pass are not really ups and downs in and of themselves. Life, death, taxes, heat, cold, and so on are in essence neutral. We attach certain values that make otherwise flat terrain seem to ride and fall beneath our feet. That’s how ups and downs come into being.

The other, perhaps more important thing is that these ups and downs are neither detours nor detractions from the journey that is life. Rather, these ups and downs are the journey that is life. What a shame it would be to realize this only after we have drawn near the end of that wonderous journey.

Here’s to the ups and downs. To life! Thanks for hanging with me.

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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.

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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.

Ann and Michael’s Great Labor Day Weekend Adventure (Version 2016)

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This adventure began in the wee hours on the Friday leading into Labor Day weekend. I was up sometime between 3:30 and 4:00 AM, getting myself ready and loading Miss Scarlett, my motorcycle, and I was rolling out of Plainfield shortly after 5:30, hoping to miss at least some of the dreaded Chicagoland morning rush hour traffic, which incidentally lasts about four hours. Despite the relatively early hour, I was stoked. My friend Ann and I were taking a three-day road trip to Dubuque, where we would rendezvous with an unknown number of motorcyclists who attend the Midwest Motorcycle Rally, which occurs in July of each year. This Dubuque meet-up was not a formal event like the rally, but more of a “gathering by invitation” for those rally goers who would rather not wait until next July to get together again. As soon as I received the invite, I had begun pestering Ann about going with me. After all, she had enjoyed the La Crosse rally so much and besides, as I’ve said so often, I am not a good alone person.

By sheer coincidence, before we had even discussed taking this weekend trip, Ann and I  had individually arranged to have that Friday off. So even though the first gathering of our group wasn’t scheduled until 6:30-ish that evening, we were able to take full advantage of what turned out to be a picture perfect day, weather-wise. Which is why this adventure began so early on Friday.

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I rode up to the Oconomowoc area, encountering a few pockets of traffic, one near O’Hare International Airport and the rest in the greater Milwaukee metro, which has been hobbled by road construction for some time. All in all it wasn’t so bad, though. The air was on the cool side for early September, but the sun was shining and the skies were beautiful. Before long I arrived at Ann’s place and began removing my riding gear as my dear friend came out to greet me, as she usually does. We were both grinning from ear to ear, like a couple of kids on Christmas Eve, but as eager as we were to set out, our coffee-drinking adult sides won out and we went in for some hot java first. We sat out on Ann’s balcony, sipping our coffees, updating each other on our respective family lives, and discussing the day’s loose itinerary. I even got a poppy seed muffin out of the deal. When time and weather allow, breakfast on that balcony has become our favorite way to start days like this one. But just because we had all day didn’t mean we wanted to spend it there.

In no time we had Ann’s things stowed away with mine in Miss Scarlett’s hard luggage and were heading out toward Dubuque, Iowa by way of Galena, Illinois. I take no small amount of pleasure in taking Ann places to which she has never been before. In that regard this whole weekend promised to be a virtual jackpot for me, because as far as I could ascertain, my favorite pillion hadn’t been to any of the places we were scheduled to visit, unless you want to count passing through Prairie du Chien on our way home from La Crosse as a visit.

In any case, I have been making trips to historic Galena, Illinois ever since I was seven years old.My eldest sister attended a small liberal arts college in Mt. Carroll and when we went to visit, we would sometimes go to Galena. Since that time, I’ve managed to go back at least every few years, either by auto or motorcycle. (Side note: Shimer College moved out of Mt. Carroll years ago, but the former campus is still there, now home to the Illinois Preservation Studies Center. It’s kind of a neat place to see, so perhaps Ann and I will stop there, briefly, on some future ride.)

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Galena is a great destination in itself, for people of all ages and walks of life. Bikers love this area because Jo Daviess County features some great riding roads, with plenty of hills and scenery that most of Illinois is not know for. They don’t call us flatlanders for nothing, but in this, the northwest corner of the state, they don’t call us flatlanders at all. Ha!

There is enough here to keep history buffs occupied for a while, too, including the home of Ulysses S. Grant, our country’s 18th president  (see granthome.com and www.galenahistory.org). Shoppers and antiquers alike will love all that the downtown area has to offer. Do you like to eat? The restaurants and food shops will keep you busy for some time. Romantic getaway? It’s here. Stuff for seniors? It’s here. Got kids? Galena has toy stores, candy, popcorn and ice cream shops, too.

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The first thing Ann and I did was head over to Durty Gurt’s Burger Joynt for lunch. Some eating establishments come and go in places like Galena, and some places stick around for a while. Durty Gurt’s has been offering decent food,  generous portions, and atmosphere in spades since 2007. I had been there a couple of times and thought Ann might enjoy eating there. She did, although we walked out full almost to the point of being uncomfortable. The portions here are very generous, but the food itself is rather tasty, which makes it easy to just keep right on eating, even when you know you ought to stop. We needed to walk it off, so we spent some time perusing downtown Galena.

We went into a yarn shop Called FiberWild that had a sign by the door proclaiming “You Need Yarn” (Ann is a knitter/crocheter and loves yarn). I applauded Ann for not being shy about going into any store she wanted to see, but much to my amazement, she did not buy anything. Whether this was because the bike was already almost packed to bursting or because of my friend’s iron willpower, I can only speculate. By comparison, at my urging, we stopped in at the Galena Cellars winery shop, tasted a variety of their goods, and walked out with two bottles of wine to enjoy during our stay in Dubuque. Hey, there is always room on board Miss Scarlett for wine.

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Get this: I’ve been going to that town for almost 50 years now, and in all those years, I have never taken the time to check out the Galena River that flows through it, or this picturesque little place called Grant Park, which lies just across the river from downtown Galena. Until now. Besides motorcycle touring, Ann and I both enjoy taking long walks—not rugged hiking, but nice walks of say one to five miles—so on that Friday, both of us walked across the foot bridge at the end of Green Street and checked out Grant Park for the first time. What a lovely municipal park this is, with many benches, old-fashioned street lamps, a gazebo, a pavilion, a really old-looking fountain, and people. Real people, like school kids, running about hooting and hollering, and couples young and old, strolling the park or sitting together watching the river flow. In the middle of this park is a statue of Grant. At Ann’s urging, I did my best to imitate his stance, but I don’t know how well I did.

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After a decent amount of walking, and with our wine selection safely stowed, we headed off to Dubuque, a mere 20–25 minute ride via US Highway 20, which becomes Dodge Street after you cross the mighty Mississippi and come into town. That’s where our group’s hotel, Days Inn Dubuque, is located. And unfortunately this is where the only dark cloud cast its shadow over our otherwise bright and cheerful weekend.

Without dwelling on the negative, let me summarize it thusly. About a month prior to our stay, I made one reservation for two king rooms at this inn via Booking.com. I added a request that the rooms be close together and corresponded directly with the hotel (I still have the emails) regarding this request. When we arrived,  the desk help claimed they received reservations from Booking.com for one king room and one room with two double beds. That’s one count of bullshit.

With regard to my (documented) request that the rooms be together,  the desk help would not even acknowledge receiving my request and said our rooms were nowhere near each other. They were at opposite ends of a three-building complex. Neither Ann nor I was okay with that arrangement, if only for safety reasons. So in order to get two rooms anywhere near each other, we had to agree to two rooms with two double beds each. Not the end of the world, but not what I reserved over a month prior. That’s two counts of bullshit.

The only available rooms were smoking rooms—that’s not the hotel’s fault because such was the case when I made my reservation—but my room was so bad, it smelled like someone had just put out their cigarette, and that odor never got better, for three days and two nights.

I’d like to say that’s the end of it, but the bullshit went on. The outdoor pool was cold and full of insects—mostly dead, but not all of them—and there was this odd little spot in the pool where mini/micro bubbles continuously rose to the surface for no apparent reason. We swam once; that was enough. I can’t comment for Ann, but in my room, both of my mattresses were worn out. Meanwhile in Ann’s room, one corner up by the ceiling had substantial mold growing on it. Presumably because this was Labor Day weekend, the hotel was booked solid; and it had been too late in the day when we arrived to cancel anything, which meant our essential choices were two: take it or leave it. Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit.

But Ann and I are both resilient types and made the best of a bad situation, essentially laughing it off, saying nothing of consequence to the others in our group, and making the most of an otherwise fantastic weekend. Besides, it sounds worse than it was. On a bright note, one day after I returned home, I received the usual survey invitation from my friends at Booking.com, asking me to rate my recent stay at the Days Inn Dubuque. I gave a very thorough review, with a chaser email sent directly to my friends at Booking.com, and I’m sure as soon as the appropriate party’s computer quits smouldering, I’ll hear something back. But I digress.

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On the evening of Friday, September 2, our merry band of travelers convened in the hotel bar and made plans to go out for supper. There being no substitute for local knowledge, we took the advice of some locals and went downtown to the Mason Dixon Saloon, which is reputed to have good barbecue. I am pleased to report that their reputation is duly earned. I ordered a half rack of ribs, while Ann ordered grilled shrimp. We shared and for the second time in one day, ate more than our fill. The ribs were served dry-rubbed, with a sweet sauce on the side. They had the right texture and decent flavor, too. The shrimp rested in a seasoned garlicky buttery coating, were cooked correctly and were also very flavorful. This proved to be a good start to our weekend.

After supper, some of the group returned to the hotel bar, some turned in, and some opted to open a bottle of Galena Cellars wine and toast the weekend before saying goodnight. You know, thirty-some years ago, I’d have stayed out until the last person had had enough and then laughed as I walked away, still vertical. Today I possess neither the stamina nor the need to prove my drinking prowess. I’m either becoming old or becoming more careful; maybe a little of both.

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Saturday was to be a full day of  motorcycle touring for our group and it did not disappoint. After a free continental (read: no meat) breakfast at the hotel, we readied up and gathered in front of the lobby for a day of fun and adventure that would take us to destinations in Iowa and Illinois. Our first stop would be the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa. I enjoy visiting this museum, which features quite a collection of interesting, unusual, and/or historically significant pieces, in addition to changing exhibits that give visitors a reason to return.

Certain enthusiasts will spend hours here, going over every detail of a particular genre or brand or even a single machine, while others take a more casual approach and simply peruse the exhibits, spending a little more time on items of particular interest. Ann and I both fall into the latter category. I would occasionally stop and tell her what I knew about a particular item and she would do likewise, often pointing out things that I would have otherwise missed. I particularly enjoyed the small Evel Knievel exhibit, which included one of his Harley-Davidson XR750 motorcycles, a couple of his leather jumpsuits, and a rather nasty-looking set of his x-rays that I had never noticed before. And then of course there is the Roadog, a unique custom motorcycle built by the late William “Wild Bill” Gelbke, an engineer from Wisconsin. This machine, like its designer, is the stuff of legends, utilizing a Chevy engine and a Powerglide transmission, among other things. It’s big, really big.

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Next we went down the road to J&P Cycles, a large mail order/internet retailer of motorcycle parts, accessories, apparel and novelties. The company was founded by John and Jill Parham in 1979. John is also one of the founders of the museum from which we had just come. I don’t know that either of us was expecting to buy anything—we had merely intended to browse the huge retail center—but we both walked out with some new headwear. Ann found a headband that she really liked and also bought me this really neat “COOLMAX” skullcap-like thing that is easy to don and remove, but manages to stay put, even at highway speeds. I was skeptical when she first pointed it out in the store and I remarked, “it looks like underwear for my head,” but she persisted and bought the cap for me. I was grateful for the gift and within minutes was loving the thing, which can also be worn as a cooling liner inside of a helmet.

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From Anamosa, Iowa we headed east on Iowa 64 toward the Mississippi River, where about 70 miles later, we crossed over into Savanna, Illinois. Sometimes it seems as though every weekend in the river town of Savanna, during riding season, is like a mini rally of sorts, with a constant parade of motorcycles coming, going, and of course, stopping. There are several bars in downtown Savanna that cater to the two-wheel crowd, including one called the Iron Horse Social Club, which is an arch rival to the establishment we were about to visit. I have never been there, but we rode past it and there were a lot of bikes parked in the vicinity of that place.

Just on the other side of town, on Illinois 84, we arrived at Poopy’s, which bills itself as Illinois’ biggest biker destination. This place is impressive. Besides the Pub n’ Grub, where the bar stools are made with padded toilet seats and references to excrement run wild on the menu, there is a souvenir and apparel shop (where you will find more crude references), multiple bars indoors and out, live entertainment outside, cabin rentals, and new this year, the Squirrel’s Nest, a covered bar up on their catwalk outside. Poopy’s used to have a tattoo parlor on the premises, but that had moved up the road since my last visit. I’m not sure why. In any case, it’s quite a biker destination and I had the privilege of taking Ann there for her very first time—but maybe not the last. Ha!

Poopy’s was to have been our lunch stop, and it was, but it was mid afternoon by the time we arrived, so this became our late lunch stop. And since Poopy’s serves up good food in generous portions, like most popular biker stops, we effectively did away with the need to go out for supper that night, too.

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A live band began performing while we waited for our food and the place began to take on a more festive atmosphere as people continued to arrive and the rumbling thunder of bike engines never died down. This is the Poopy’s experience.

After we had eaten our fill and bought our souvenirs, we found our way to US Highway 20 and followed it north and west, past Galena, over the Mississippi and back into Dubuque. But rather than return to our hotel, we made our way into the city and up the bluff upon which is built, to check out the Fenelon Place Elevator, a fairly short and very steep scenic railway of sorts.

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As I understand it this elevator was put in by a banker who worked in town and lived up on the bluff above, so that he would have a quicker way to go home at noontime for dinner and a nap. The only other time I had been there, we started our tour at the bottom, but this time we started at the top of the bluff. From there you can see parts of Wisconsin, Illinois, and Iowa. On a picture perfect day like ours, the view was breathtaking.

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The cars are pretty small, so we had to descend in two groups. Ann and I were in the second group. The ride is relatively slow and smooth, but the stop at the bottom is somewhat abrupt, so riders are warned to remain seated until they hit bottom—literally. Once at the bottom, we got out, walked around, took more photos of the elevator, and found a shop that sold ice cream, candy, popcorn, and toys. Ann and I were still pretty full from our feast at Poopy’s, but we managed to share a cup of peanut-butter-and-chocolate-laced ice cream. Hey, it’s not like we were the only ones.

A short while later, we ascended the bluff, got back on our bikes and rode back down to our hotel, where an overwhelming majority of the group voted “no” on going out to eat again and instead we opted to hang out in the hotel bar, where a folk music duet was performing and the drink prices were on par with those of any normal bar, as opposed to a hotel lounge. As we all sat there, talking, laughing, and sipping our various libations, I looked around at the bar, the adjacent breakfast eating area, which had surely been a full service restaurant at one time, the patio and circular outdoor fireplace, and the decent-sized outdoor swimming pool. I imagine this was once a pretty cool place to stay, perhaps back in the late 1970’s or early 80’s. That wasn’t too hard to visualize, because I was certain we were looking at some of the original furnishings.

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Despite my opinions about the hotel, it still felt like Sunday morning had come all too soon. I didn’t want to leave yet; we were having too much fun! Part of the group was staying through Monday morning, but Ann and I had decided in advance to go home Sunday. We both had things to do before returning to (ugh) work on Tuesday and besides, we each had our respective families and pets waiting for us at home.

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Before heading for home, though, we followed our group over the river and up into Wisconsin, where we had planned to stop for lunch in Prairie du Chien. From that point, several of us would be peeling off and heading our separate ways. The weather was beautiful, again, and the ride to Prairie du Chien was fabulous. Besides, I was only too glad to have a few more hours of “we’re not going home yet” time with this awesome group of people.

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Unfortunately every other biker for miles around, and quite a few non-bikers as well, had the same lunch idea in mind. We walked to four different places and they all had long waiting lists. Ann even tried smooth-talking a cigar store Indian posted outside of one such establishment, to no avail. So while the rest of the group toyed with the idea of crossing back into Iowa and looking for a lunch stop in that direction, Ann and I decided it was time to head east. So we bid our goodbyes and peeled off from the group.

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We found our way to Wisconsin 60, a most excellent road, and then onto Wisconsin 19 by way of US 12. Whenever we would enter a town and slow down enough to hear each other easily, Ann and I would talk about things, clarify our route, or just share a laugh together. After a quick snack and caffeine stop in Boscobel, we had decided to enjoy a late lunch in Watertown, at  a place Ann had wanted me to try, before getting her home. But as luck would have it, that establishment was closed when we got there. So we continued on to an alternate restaurant and found it to be closed as well. Ann suggested one more place to try before we headed out of our way in search of decent food—the Ixonia Pub. Lo and behold, the place was open! And so we went inside to share one last meal before I dropped Ann off.

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You know what? It wasn’t bad at all. The place was clean, the staff was friendly, the beer was cold and the food was quite good. Ann ordered a Pub Wrap with a side of fried curds and I ordered the Boss Hog, a burger topped with ham, bacon, cheddar cheese and barbecue sauce, with a side of crinkle cut fries. We shared our sides along with each others company and had a nice meal together.

We got to Ann’s place and unloaded her things. I lingered for a short while, trying to rest a bit before taking my long, lonely ride home. I don’t like goodbyes. I don’t like long, lonely rides, either. I usually counteract my post-road-trip letdown by looking ahead to the next time—and that’s pretty much what I did, all the way home to Plainfield. My Sunday night ride home was blissfully uneventful, mainly because the big going home traffic jams were still 24 hours off. I no longer recall exactly when I pulled in, but it was late.

Time and again Ann and I found ourselves thanking each other for the fantastic weekend we’d shared. It really had been great. Less than 24 hours after I got home, I was sending Facebook friend requests out to the folks in the group who were on Facebook but with whom I had not yet connected, while Ann uploaded many photos and a few awesome videos that she had shot, and began producing the most lovely slide show video as a permanent reminder of the wonderful time we’d shared. Ann is a decent photographer in her own right, with a creative eye for doing things like this video. She is also my most excellent riding companion and a very dear friend. I look forward to our next outing.

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