Our Last Ride of Summer

36867579861_9a7ae99a3e_oWhen a motorcyclist and his pillion passenger of choice live over 100 miles apart in two different states, they tend not to take their outings for granted. Such is the case for my friend Ann and me. While we absolutely have gotten together on the spur of the moment, we usually put some thought into scheduling our rides based on mutual availability, weather outlook, etc. We had both been hoping to go riding together sometime over the 2017 Labor Day holiday weekend; we just weren’t sure which day it would be. After all, we went riding for three days during the 2016 Labor Day weekend. Surely we’d be able to get a simple day ride in this year, right? Well, it almost didn’t happen.

36737811802_a94173bea1_oMy current employment situation might have put any multi-day excursions on ice, had we planned any, but would not have stopped Ann and me from taking a day trip together. When my wife took an unplanned trip to the hospital the weekend prior, however, a visit that turned into an extended stay, everything else in my life became tentative—including my career search activities, scheduled meetings, and leisurely motorcycle excursions. Such has been my practice for decades, so no big surprise there. When I say family first, I mean family first.

Four days later, Karen was back at home with no physical restrictions, life was quickly returning to normal, and everything that had been put on hold was suddenly back in 21389322_10213547112773090_2064896616_oplay. The very next day, I resumed job search activities, had an awesome meeting with a former colleague of mine, and with a favorable weather forecast in place, I reached out to Ann and made firm plans to take her out riding.

The morning of Sunday, September 3 was a cool one in central Wisconsin. Foggy, too. Ann set out some breakfast goodies and two mugs of fresh, hot coffee. We took our sweet time sipping coffee, looking at potential routes on Ann’s map app, and watching out the window as the fog gave way to a beautiful sunny morning. Once that happened, Ann added her gear to mine on the bike and we set out together for what would surely become our last ride of the summer.

It may have been just a simple day trip, but wow, what a ride! We opted to run north and do a simple loop through the Northern Unit of Wisconsin’s Kettle Moraine State Forest. 21363237_10213547112653087_1549845227_oWe ran north on Wisconsin 67 and then took a few county roads—A to T to G, which rejoins 67 and then departs again—to make a loop within the Northern Unit.

We made three relatively quick stops while touring the Northern Unit that day. Our first stop was at the Ice Age Visitor Center, which we had visited last fall (Rides with Ann: the Autumn Runs, October 26).  As we pulled into 36819817166_b9c3a7fa8a_othe parking area, Ann spotted a small bicycle rack positioned on the sidewalk leading to the Visitor Center. Leaning forward, she murmured into my left ear, “I dare you to pull Miss Scarlett up to that bike rack so I can get a picture of you there.” Naturally, I did what any other red-blooded Italian American man would have done after having received such a dare from a beautiful woman sitting on the back of his motorcycle. I sighed audibly, gunned the bike’s big V-twin engine for emphasis, and then rode in a sweeping circle around the parking lot and up to the bike rack, much to the delight of my conspiring passenger, who hopped off and took the photo as promised.

The purpose of this stop was not so much to reminisce as to finalize our route, set up Ann’s video equipment, and take advantage of the restrooms that we knew were available at the center. We did also venture onto the viewing deck out back and managed to take the selfie that appears at the very beginning of this article. While that photo does display the beautiful blue sky above, it really doesn’t do justice to the beautiful scenery that lay behind us, from the deck rail all the way out to the horizon. Such is the natural beauty of the Kettle Moraine.

16593983853_1dd7937408_oOur next stop was a quick memory maker on our way back down a portion of WI 67 near the shores of Long Lake. On our way up, I had pointed out a place to Ann where a few years earlier—June 1, 2014, to be exact—my son and I had stopped on our way home from a weekend of watching AMA Superbike races at Road America to grab a selfie with the lake behind us. On our way back, as Long Lake came into view, Ann suggested stopping in the same spot FFEE5F27-896C-4B0B-B9D2-3F0382AF329Dto grab a quick photo that I could send to my son, who is currently living in Portland, Oregon, having recently completed his studies at the Portland Actors Conservatory. Having enjoyed Ann’s last suggestion so much, I pulled into the exact same spot and paused while she hopped off the bike, snapped her photos, and hopped back on. This is one of many things I love about my friend Ann. While I am astounded that more than three years later, I was able to stop in nearly the exact same spot that selfie was taken in 2014, I am equally astounded that Ann saw the value in doing so. Plus she set up that shot in seconds and quite frankly, but for the ugly gent in the saddle, I think she took an excellent photo.

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Our last stop was of sentimental value to me alone. There is this little State Forest Headquarters facility that I have stopped at from time to time on my way home from the bike races over the years. The first time was in 2005, traveling alone with my new 2005 Honda ST1300. I’m sure I stopped there with my silver 2007 ST1300 as well, but I have no photographic evidence. On more than one occasion, I have dragged my son to this nondescript place and he still wonders why I like to stop there. It’s hard to explain. There is nothing special about it, but this place is special to me. I wanted Ann to see it and while she understood John’s puzzlement about the place, she also understood how this rather nondescript parking lot in the middle of a state forest could hold meaning for me.

From there we stopped only once more. on our way back from the Northern Unit, we pulled up in front of the Don Ramon Mexican Restaurant in downtown Mayville. Ann had a build-your-own combination and I had tacos al pastor. Both were good and the service was not only warm and friendly, but also lightning fast.

From there we headed back to Ann’s place where, after an unscheduled (but apparently necessary) nap on her living room couch, I bid my dear friend and her son goodbye and headed home to Illinois. The holiday weekend traffic was understandably heavier than usual, especially south of the border, but it never really slowed down. Although I no longer had Ann sitting behind me, I had some terrific memories of our day together to keep me company during my journey home.

Our next trip will be the first of the autumn season. It may be another day trip or perhaps something more epic, depending on my employment situation, but wherever we end up going, I am pretty sure of two things: it will be awesome for us and you will likely be able to read about it here. Thanks for hanging with me.

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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

Sign

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.

June 5 2005

2005

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

2013

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.

2016

2016

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.

 

Land of Tee Shirts, Tattoos and Salt Water Taffy

It seemed like a mission of mercy. Despite being the same youthful age as me (stop laughing), and despite having been born and raised in Wisconsin, my longtime friend and pillion passenger of choice, Ann, had never been to the Wisconsin Dells. That’s right, never been there. Of course this meant we had to go there for a few hours of fun and adventure. So I bribed her with the promise of a genuine rubber tomahawk if she agreed to go there with me and on a beautiful Sunday morning, I motored up to her place on Miss Scarlett and we headed west on Wisconsin 16 to a place I have known since early childhood.

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For as far back as I can remember, folks could always gauge how close they were getting to the Dells by the quantity and frequency of billboard advertising along the road. Down in the Chicagoland metro, for example, you might see one such billboard as you head from point to point, nowhere near the Dells. If you follow Interstate 90 out of Illinois and into Wisconsin, you’ll see more. And more. And more, until you finally arrive in a touristic frenzy to go and experience different ways to spend your money.

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It’s like that along the state highways, too, only a lot less crowded and a lot more scenic. Also less stressful. Our fellow drivers/riders seemed happier and more courteous than did their Interstate-running counterparts. Even the billboard advertising seemed less aggressive, although they still increased in number and frequency as we got closer to our destination.

When we arrived, we weren’t exactly in a touristic frenzy, but I was anxious to show Ann around. We found an open parking space just off Broadway, which is the main drag in downtown Wisconsin Dells, shed our riding gear, and set out on foot. Ann had carried along a comfortable pair of walking sandals, which seemed like a really smart idea to me as I spent the day walking around in leather boots. In nothing flat we were assaulted by the sights, sounds and smells of downtown. Frenzied tourists scurried in every direction. There were many families, but also couples, young and old, and the occasional group of teenagers and twenty-somethings.

When I was quite young, I had an aunt who had never married and worked in a public school system. During the summers, she would regularly toss me and my sisters into her station wagon and take us places. Sometimes we would be gone for two or three weeks, but sometimes only for a day or two. Such were our trips to the Wisconsin Dells. We never went to the downtown shops or attractions, which my aunt collectively referred to as junk. Instead we always did three things: the Dells Boat Tours, the Tommy Bartlett Water Show (as I believe it was called then), and the Stand Rock Indian Ceremonial. Just about everything else was declared too dangerous (go carts, roller coasters, WWII Ducks, etc.) or fell into that junk category. The Indian Ceremonial was discontinued in 1997, but even if it hadn’t been, the show began at sundown, way too late for this Sunday outing.

I would really have loved to take Ann to the Tommy Bartlett Show, because even though she had never seen it, in a previous life Ann had known Tommy Bartlett. How cool is that! But alas, somewhere along the line, they stopped offering an early afternoon performance. The earliest show was at 4:30 PM, which after allowing for show duration, parking lot exit, travel back to Ann’s, eating something (one would hope), and traveling back to the other side of Chicagoland, would have had me getting home well after midnight. That wouldn’t have left me in very good shape for work a few hours later. So with that option gone, our agenda was fairly easy. We were there to eat, take a boat ride, and walk some of the downtown shops.

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As it was already approaching noontime, we opted to start with lunch. I had heard good things about a place called Monk’s Bar & Grill. Well let me tell  you, those good things were well founded. The service is prompt, the staff is as helpful and friendly as any you will find, and the food is quite tasty. Ann and I both ordered the bacon cheeseburger. Hers was medium rare and mine medium well, but both were as juicy as all get-out, and flavorful, too. It’s nothing fancy, mind you—it is, as the name implies, a bar and grill—but I wouldn’t hesitate to go back or to recommend this place to friends.

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With full tummies we headed out and began walking toward the west end of downtown, toward the Dells Boat Tours docks. We passed many tee shirt shops, candy stores making and selling fudge and taffy, arcades, tattoo parlors (I don’t recall seeing those when I was young), fun houses, haunted houses, and more. Most of the people we passed on the street seemed happy to be there. Some of the parents looked a little tired. I’m sure there was also an angry tourist or two somewhere in that sea of humanity. There always is.

The angry tourist hadn’t expected to spend so much money, didn’t think it would be so crowded at a major tourist attraction in the middle of summer, doesn’t know why they had to sit in traffic just to spend more money, and on and on and on. And it isn’t enough that they are miserable. They want everybody to share in their misery, too, especially the people who are working their tails off at all the establishments. I once watched a father with two small children in tow give a restaurant cashier the riot act as she rang up his bill—the food wasn’t worth the money; the rolls were stale;the service was slow—all at the top of his lungs, as his two very small children looked on and an entire restaurant full of people did their level best to pretend not to notice. Just go home, angry tourist. Thank God they are so few and far between.

We soon reached the west end of downtown, we bought tickets for the Upper Dells Boat Tour, descended a long stairway to the docks, and after a brief wait, we boarded our boat, the Red Cloud, for a two-hour tour of what had originally brought people to this area, the natural beauty of its land and water.

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It seems to be the same at beautiful vacation destinations across North America. Wherever people flock to see Mother Nature’s greatest hits, somebody will be there to sell them tee shirts and a vast assortment of genuine souvenirs, many of which are probably made in China.Then come the fun houses, fudge shops, wax museums, water parks and so forth. Not that those things aren’t fun, but aren’t they the wholly fabricated polar opposite of why people began going to places like Wisconsin Dells, Niagara Falls, Gatlinburg, and Myrtle Beach in the first place?

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We made our first shore landing at Witches Gulch. We walked through the cool air of the narrow canyon. Whirlpools and rushing water could be seen and heard beneath the walkway. There is a particularly narrow point that used to be called Fat Man’s Misery. The narrow place is still there, but the sign is gone. I can’t help but wonder if some fat person, or maybe an organized fat people’s rights group of some sort, got offended and embarked upon a crusade to have the sign removed and the name banished.

At the end of Witches Gulch lies a snack bar, souvenir stand and restrooms. People were lining up at each of them. When I came out of the men’s room, I spotted Ann leaning on a rail, looking across the way at a flowing stream and a sign that read “STAY out of the WATER!” She was smiling fiendishly and suggested that we needed a photo. I laughed nervously and offered to take the picture. For the record, her foot never actually touched the water.


Our second shore landing was at Stand Rock, a towering sandstone formation several feet away from a ledge. For years, tourists have come here to see a trained dog leap from the ledge to Stand Rock and back again. The photographer H.H.Bennett, whose photography of the Dells area first drew tourists—to whom he then sold postcard souvenirs—photographed his son making that leap, in order to promote his new shutter technology. As I understand it, that image is now in the public domain, and I share it here (below Ann’s video clip) with that understanding.

This photograph taken and published in 1886 by Henry Hamilton Bennett.

After seeing the dog leap, we followed a different and very beautiful path that led us back to the boat, but not before leading everybody to a snack bar, walk-in gift shop, and restrooms. By now you may be wondering whether or not I made good on my bribe and got Ann a rubber tomahawk. Truth be told, we never saw one. We saw plenty of rubber-tipped spears, but she showed absolutely no interest in those, so we just continued on.


All shenanigans aside, we enjoyed the Upper Dells Boat Tour immensely. Both Witches Gulch and Stand Rock are very beautiful places. I enjoyed seeing it all again, but even more so, I enjoyed bringing Ann to see it for the first time in her life. She saw things that made her smile and that smile just made my day.

By the time we returned to the downtown area, it was time for me to take Ann home, so that we could enjoy a quick bite together before I continued another 150 miles to my own home (for a round trip total of 461 miles for the day). In case you’re wondering, those miles mean nothing to me compared to what our friendship means to me. Besides, nobody shoots better photos and videos for me than Ann does.

Did she like it? Yes, Ann liked it, but she also said that she didn’t feel deprived for not having gone there as a kid, because the places she did go to in the summertime were (and still are) golden to her. But what about all that neat touristy stuff? I think Ann said it best.

“You know I loved Witch’s Gulch and Stand Rock, along with the boat ride. That boat ride is so much more than a tourist thing. It really brings nature to the masses.”

And she is exactly right. People originally came here to see the area’s natural beauty. The tourist trap components came later and have evolved over time. For many, many years now, the Dells Boat Tours have taken people to see why Mother Nature has drawn people there since the beginning.

It had been another awesome day of fun and adventure. Thanks for hanging with me.

Travel: My Therapy, My Drug

Playground

The map you see above, encompassing parts of Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin, represents my intended playground for the next couple of months, based on the road trips that I have planned. Some are day trips; some are overnighters. Most, but not all, involve my motorcycle. This has gotten me to thinking, once again, about my love affair with traveling and the open road.

Whether I look forward or back, I spend a lot of time thinking about my travels. Over the years, I have been on some fantastic journeys—some of them alone, but most of them with other people, and nearly always with people who matter to me. There is a relationship at work there, between me and one of the things I love to do most, and between me and those who matter most to me. Is it so surprising that I endeavor to weave these together?

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Family… Friends… Loved ones, all… I strive to share with them the things that matter to me most, just as they themselves matter to me. Both of my kids have had a taste of my wanderlust and each now develops their own in their respective ways. My wife, she had it at least as bad as me before we even met. So in some ways, our kids never had a chance. Ha!

Yes, there is an element to this that is all my own, even when I have others with me. I’ve said many times that I do not consider myself to be a good “alone” person. Sure, it’s beneficial at times, even necessary, but I just don’t care for it. I love sharing experiences. So even shen I take the ocassional solo trip, I inevitably find myself looking for things to share on future journeys.

I have made new friends in the course of my travels, and I have also drawn old friends into my wanderlust experience. Surely some folks look at all this and wonder whether I’ve gone off the reservation, taken leave of my senses, etc. And my answer to them will always be, emphatically, yes! This is who I am. This is what I do. And if you want to get a taste of something really neat, follow me just once.

The open road is my therapy; the journey is my drug. Those I take along for the ride are the ones who matter most to me. Thanks for hanging with me.

Ann & Me: Kenosha to Delavan 4/17/16

RoadIt was destined to be a bad hair day, first by virtue of helmet hair and then by the wind-in-the hair effect. But I knew this day would be magical just the same. My friend (and favorite pillion) Ann and I had been talking about going riding again ever since our last time out on the bike together, which was last November. Even a relatively mild winter in the Midwest doesn’t hold a lot of riding opportunities for two people who live 150 mile apart. So we bided our time, even getting together a few times to attend non-riding events, cook some awesome dishes together, watching the winter crawl by and talking about places we might visit when riding season came around again. On Sunday, April 17, the day we’d been waiting for came.

TrolleyWe met that morning in Pleasant Prairie, on the Wisconsin/Illinois state line, sort of a halfway point for both of us. From there we secured Ann’s car and took the bike over to Kenosha’s Simmons Island Park (http://www.visitkenosha.com/attractions/parks-nature/simmons-island-beach) on the shore of Lake Michigan. As we got closer to the lake, the air got downright crisp, but not uncomfortably so, because we had geared up in anticipation of riding in a fairly broad temperature range that day. When you travel by motorcycle, by virtue of being on the outside of the vehicle, you experience whatever is going on around you firsthand. Wind, rain, beating sun, odors, steep temperature gradients, you name it, you’re not just passing through—you’re in it.

BoardwalkBack when I was a boater, I used to “put in” at Kenosha Harbor, right behind Simmons Island, which was home to the Simmons Mattress factory long before it was repurposed as a recreation area, but that was years ago. Much of it still looked the same, but there’s a nice boardwalk along the beach now. Ann and I strolled the boardwalk in order to get to the Kenosha North Pier Lighthouse, also known as Kenosha Light. I hadn’t realized it at the time, but the Coast Guard auctioned off Kenosha Light as “excess property” in 2011 and it is now under private ownership (see http://kenoshalighthousestudio.com/).

Ann at K LightWe walked out to the end of the pier. A rather historic-looking electric trolley was trundling along the opposite side of the harbor channel at the time. We also saw a number of people fishing off the southern side of the harbor mouth. The pier itself was almost deserted, save for one or two people who came and went as we looked out across Lake Michigan. Despite it still being April, we saw a couple of boats out there, too. One was a cabin cruiser, passing just beyond breakwater. The other was a twin screw sport boat, its hull barely touching the glass-like lake surface as it flew by. Gulls flew overhead. Ann and I just stood there, breathing the crisp air and taking it all in, occasionally offering a few words about some aspect or another of the area that we respectively recalled.

Old LightBefore heading back to the bike, we walked farther south, to the historic Kenosha “Southport” Lighthouse, which stands in remarkably good condition, thanks no doubt to some benefactors who cared enough to want it kept that way. It’s a well-preserved bit of this city’s history that deserves a visit, if you are ever in that area. For a glimpse at the history of Kenosha’s lighthouses, check out http://www.lighthousefriends.com/light.asp?ID=240.

Fat TuesdayOnce we got back to my 2012 Victory Vision Tour, affectionately named Miss Scarlett, it was time to head toward Delavan, home of Fat Tuesdays Kitchen (http://fattuesdayskitchen.com/), a delightful little Cajun/barbecue/soul food restaurant that I had fallen in love with when I stopped there last July. My biker friends and I must have made a Foodpositive impression, because the people there—good people, I might add—still remember me. What a great little place to visit, especially if you are hungry. Ann enjoyed the red beans and rice. I tried their signature Fat Tuesday’s Sandwich, an awesome combination of sweet and spicy that still makes my mouth smile when I think of it. When in Delavan, please stop in for a bite and tell them “MGD” or “that biker Mike” sent you. You will not be sorry, believe me.

We bade our goodbyes and got back on the road, this time hopping Interstate 43 to Highways 11 and 142, respectively, which brought us to the Richard Bong State Recreation Area (http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/name/richardbong/), where we paid our $11 out-of-state entry fee and went walking. Technically we were 50/50 (Ann is a Wisconsin native; I’m the flatlander), but the nice girl at the guard hut went by the vehicle on which we were mounted, which is registered in Illinois. Ah, well…

In contrast to thAnn at Bonge cool air along the lakefront, it was quite warm out near Brighton, at the Bong SRA, a 4,515-acre parcel that was once designated to become an air base, but was abandoned before it was built. There is plenty to do here for the outdoor enthusiast, including hiking trails, horse trails, fishing, hunting, dirt bike and OHV trails, camping and even a small beach. Ann and I had no horse. It was too cold to swim and besides, we had no swimsuits. We had neither fishing tackle nor camping gear. It was not hunting season. And believe me, Miss Scarlett is not a dirt bike by any definition. So we checked out a trail map and went for a short hike.

There is a fair amount of wetland to be found here, so we did encounter a few muddy parts along the course of our walk together. But it was nice to just walk for a while. And despite the beating sun and somewhat humid conditions, we enjoyed ourselves out there. We also saw some wildlife, including ducks, geese, a beaver, a crane (I think) and two small, rambunctious kids (under adult supervision) on the sandy beach. Again we often just stopped to breathe, enjoying each others company as we took it all in.

PetrifyingWe had just a little bit of time left together, but what to do with it? We headed for Petrifying Springs Park (http://www.visitkenosha.com/attractions/parks-nature/petrifying-springs-park), a lovely area just off Green Bay Road in Kenosha County, just north of the city of Kenosha. But alas, I had forgotten the park was on Green Bay Road and headed for Sheridan Road, by the lake, again. Woah! We both commented on the steep drop in temperature, which was substantial, as we rumbled into town on 142.  Ann had a good chuckle when we realized that I had put us on the wrong road—but she remains my favorite pillion and besides, you’re never really lost when you’re on a motorcycle.

Bad HairPetrifying Springs Park, or “Pets” for short, turned out to be a real find. We didn’t have a lot of time to spend here, but we soon found ourselves wishing we had come here earlier. Relative to the other places we had visited that day, there were a lot of people here, and for good reason. This place is beautiful and many area families obviously enjoy going there. Ann and I strolled along the flowing waterway, presumably fed by the artesian well for which this park is named. Several foot bridges cross the stream as trails continue on either side. We had no time to follow the trails, but we couldn’t help but stop for a quick selfie on one of the bridges. It was at that moment that Ann and I both realized how unkempt our hair had become after a day of walking and riding. We may not have looked all that well-groomed at the moment, but the shared laughter sure felt good.

Ann n MGD 04172016The time to part ways and head for home had come all too soon. Ann and I said our goodbyes and exchanged hugs, both quite happy to have shared some time together and pretty darned sure there would be a next time. Roughly 90 minutes later, we were 150 miles apart again, but I have no doubt we were both still grinning ear to ear. Good friendships are like that.

Until next time…

 

Photos by Ann M. Fischler and Michael G. D’Aversa