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.

My Rock River Wind Therapy

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

 

Now In Their 4th Year: DuKane Santa Girls Promote Annual Toy & Food Run

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What began on a whim as a novel way to promote the DuKane Chapter of A.B.A.T.E. of Illinois’ annual Toy & Food Run has snowballed into an entity unto itself. The DuKane Santa Girls are now a staple of the motorcycling community in northern Illinois and points beyond. How did this come to be? We put this question to Sara Elliott, the group’s Coordinator and a founding member of the Santa Girls.
“It all started about four years ago,” reminisces Elliott. “Three of us had gone out together and were just kidding around, thinking of ways to promote the Toy & Food Run. Next thing you know, we went over to a local party supply store and picked up some female ‘Santa’s helper’ costumes.”
“We began showing up at events, handing out Toy & Food Run fliers. Before long people began asking if they could take pictures with us!” That’s when the Santa Girls began to take on a life of their own. “At first people weren’t sure whether the Santa Girls would be, you know, family-appropriate. But once people got to know us and what we’re about, we began to get requests for appearances.”
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The DuKane Santa Girls make appearances year-round, at a variety of events, most of which are motorcycle-oriented, but they have never lost sight of their original mission—to actively promote the annual Toy & Food Run, which always takes place on the second Sunday in October. There are currently ten Santa Girls who rotate in groups of two-to-four, depending on the size and duration of the event. They range in age from teenagers to forty-somethings. “We have no age restrictions,” assures Sara. “All we  require is a friendly demeanor, a positive attitude and a genuine desire to promote the Toy & Food Run. This is what we are all about.”
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The 30th Annual DuKane ABATE Toy & Food Run will take place Sunday, October 9 at the Batavia VFW in Batavia, Illinois. The DuKane Chapter also maintains a Facebook page, www.facebook.com/groups/DuKaneABATE, with several sub pages, where the most current information and event updates are provided.
Fans and followers of the DuKane Santa Girls  can stay up to date on their appearances and promotions via their Facebook page (see https://www.facebook.com/DuKane-Santa-Girls-701322956613714/).

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.

History, Memories and a Gastronomic Adventure

My friend Ann and I love riding together and cooking together. When we try to combine the two, unless the ride or the meal is particularly small, it makes for a long day—albeit a fantastic day. Well, you’ll see what I mean.

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As has often been the case lately, we were blessed with nearly perfect summer weather for our planned outing. Neither too warm, nor too cold, low humidity, and zero chance of precipitation from my little corner of the world to Ann’s. I was up and out early enough to pick up my favorite passenger/photographer during the eight-o’clock hour. She in turn favored me with freshly brewed coffee and a plate of fresh fruit, meats and cheeses (not a bad spread by any standards—and Ann is not even 1% Italian, so go figure). We sat out on her balcony, chaperoned by her feline bodyguards, Mona and Atlas, and planned our day. I probably ate more than I should have, but the food was really good.

Minutes later we were rolling across the heartland. I have no photos to offer from the ride itself, which was quite pleasant. Some of the greatest features Wisconsin has to offer lie not in her tourist attractions, which are in and of themselves formidable, but in her natural features, even along “ordinary” roads. Ann and I rode along Wisconsin Highways 83 and 60, plus a few lettered (i.e. county) roads in-between, and the scenery was beautiful. If you draw a rectangle around an area roughly from Oconomowoc to Cedarburg, you are capturing a portion of the Kettle Moraine region of Wisconsin. You don’t even have to be on the official Scenic Drive to appreciate the rolling hills and scenic views to be had on a ribbon of two-lane blacktop coursing through the area farmlands.

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Before we rolled into “downtown” Cedarburg, we headed north along Covered Bridge Road until we arrived at our first stop, Covered Bridge Park, home of the last covered bridge in Wisconsin. What a beautiful little spot! Ann and i spent some time walking the park, examining the bridge itself, and marveling at the fact that there were so relatively few people there on this beautiful Sunday. What I had expected to be nothing more than a token stop had turned out to be a joyful discovery. When in Cedarburg, make a point of checking this place out. You may wish to bring a picnic lunch along, as a number of tables dot the park, which runs along both sides of the creek there.

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From there we motored down Washington Avenue into downtown Cedarburg. I’ve been coming to this town since my college days (shortly after the earth cooled), when my then-girlfriend (now wife of 30+ years) introduced me to this historic town filled with shops and galleries. Because, as Ann likes to kid me, I always want our outings to be perfect, I had done a little research and found many good things said about The Stilt House, a gastro bar specializing in small plates, craft beers, and wine—it says so, right on their sign. It was a pleasant enough little place, with (are your ready?) stilted tables and stools. From our perch near one of the windows, Ann and I enjoyed a couple of craft beers and a relatively light lunch. The beers were good, the food was well-prepared, and the waitstaff went out of their way to make us feel at home. I would go back there.

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We walked a few more shops. Not counting the newly discovered Covered Bridge Park, my favorite place to visit in Cedarburg is still the old woolen mill, which houses the shops of the Cedar Creek Settlement. This includes the Cedar Creek Winery, now owned by Wollersheim (my favorite winery in all of Wisconsin). That was not the case when I first started visiting there. Of course Ann and I had to stop in and sample a few wines. We both liked the Marquette red (we both attended Marquette University), made with Wisconsin-grown grapes. If you enjoy a medium-bodied, dry red, check this one out. I appreciated the pleasant nose and good flavor.

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Not long after that, we headed back to Ann’s home, where we had planned on making ourselves a little supper before I headed on to my own home. In preparation for this part of our day, I had brought up a sizeable bag of fresh tomatoes, some fresh basil that I had picked from my yard that morning, some fresh mozzarella cheese from Caputo’s, a loaf of ciabatta bread, and a box of angel hair pasta. Ann supplied everything else we needed.

Ann and I were cracking jokes, trading barbs and laughing ourselves silly as we prepared our meal. She and I cut up many tomatoes and chopped a fair amount of garlic as well, in preparation for the two dishes we had set out to make—a Caprese variation on traditional garlic bread and our own interpretation of Shrimp Fra Diavolo.

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Without getting into the entire play-by-play (that’s what my upcoming book is for), suffice it to say that Ann’s entire home was smelling quite fabulous almost as soon as we got started. Caprese garlic bread starts out much like any other garlic bread—with bread, butter and garlic—but then add slices of fresh mozzarella and tuck that under a broiler until the cheese melts and the edges begin to brown. To that we added slices of fresh tomato, shredded fresh basil, and a reduction of balsamic vinegar. Neither of us had created such a reduction before, but we were very pleased with the results.

Our version of Shrimp Fra Diavolo involved a fresco sauce, made from all the tomatoes Ann and I had chopped into little pieces. From this we created an arrabiata sauce, which relies heavily on the use of garlic, onion and cayenne pepper to produce the desired result. Ours was not so spicy up front, but produced a pleasant flavor and a nice after-burn. The shrimp itself was sautéed in olive oil with garlic, pepper and salt added. Right before removing the shrimp, we deglazed the pan with some Pinot Grigio.

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The appetizer could very well have been a meal in itself (thanks, Ma, you trained me well), and the main dish was to die for. We ate and drank our fill in earnest, congratulating each other on how well this meal had turned out.

When it was all over, I helped Ann clean things up and then prepared for my run home. She seemed concerned—no, she WAS concerned—because I had already begun showing signs of fatigue. She had been clearly worried when I took off, and remained worried until I had arrived home safe. Me, I was touched by the concern she had shown for me as I motored home that night. As soon as I had arrived home safely, I messaged Ann to that effect.

After that, I slept. And soon after I had slept, I began planning our next outing. Why? Because I live to do exactly that, and I believe Ann also looks forward to our next outiing. Until next time… Thanks for hanging with me.

Moments Captured

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My first time was June 5, 2005. It was a Sunday. I had recently purchased a Honda ST1300 sport touring rig—my second-ever bike and the first one I’d bought new—and had taken it up to Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin to see the AMA Superbike races. My wife and two then-small children had come up in the family minivan for the weekend. We had a great time together, but when Sunday came, I had in mind to linger a bit while they took the fast way home.

After having eaten a terrific breakfast at Schreiner’s Restaurant, which is somewhat of an institution in Fond du Lac, I kissed my family goodbye and they headed west to the Interstate as I headed east, to a county road that would take me through the Northern Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest.

Despite having been on a new motorcycle, bought less than a month earlier, with which I was less than 100% at ease, I had so much fun running the Scenic roads of the Northern Unit, I came very close to turning around and running the exact same roads a second time.

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At some point during my ride, I’d noticed a turn-off to some sort of local office/station. There wasn’t much there, as the office itself was closed Sundays and there were precious few, if any, people at this particular time and place. The quiet solitude was rather soothing. After walking around a bit, I pulled my motorcycle around to this spot in front of a sign intended to guide folks to a local trail head and some restrooms.I took a photo and moved on.

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In the years that followed, I stopped a few more times, occasionally retaking the same photo, just for fun. Apparently i did not take one there with my ’07 silver ST1300, but I’ll never forget stopping there with it on a cool, gloomy, drizzly Sunday. My son was riding along on his first motorcycle, a ’94 Kawasaki Vulcan 500. It had been his first overnighter on his own bike and having been just a little ill-prepared for what Mother Nature dished out to us that weekend, he was freezing. Another friend and frequent riding companion, himself a seasoned motorcycle traveler, was with us.

Leading our little group along a scenic stretch of Highway 67, I turned off at the same spot and once we had come to a stop in the little parking lot, my son glanced around and inquired, “Why the heck are we stopping here?”

“I’ve been here before,” was the only explanation I could come up with. My shivering son looked at me as if he suddenly realized that his father had just lost the last of his marbles. I looked back at him and smiled. “Someday you’ll get it.” Then I added, “Now put your rain gear on. It’ll block the cold air and keep you warmer for the rest of our ride.” He did so and discovered that his old man could be right about some things.

June 2013

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Our trips to the AMA races became a regular thing for John and me, and every so often, we would take that same road and stop in that same little clearing.The only thing different was that after that, my son got it. He never questioned that stop again. He even took the photo a couple of times, so that I could be in it with my bike.

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This past June we attended the AMA races again, just John and me, and on our way home,via the scenic route, we pulled into that place once again. John was grinning from ear to ear as I positioned my bike in front of the wooden sign and inquired, “Would you do the honors, please?” He was only too happy to oblige because he gets it now. This photo moment has become a thing of mine, just as these annual trips to Fond du Lac and Road America have become our thing.

As I look at these photos, I see that the trail head sign has changed colors over the years, as has my hair. Thanks for hanging with me.