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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.