Author Archives: cindysowden
When the Minnesota Twins can’t play because of a thunderstorm, they are “rained out.” When we can’t ride because of a thunderstorm, we’re “rained in”. That’s the situation this morning.
It’s been a long, hard work week. We thought we’d take a breakfast ride this morning. There’s nothing like a motorcycle ride to stimulate your appetite; I usually gain two or three pounds when we take a road trip and spend a month trying to lose them again.
We have ridden into thunderstorms. There was a hell of a one, complete with hail, as we climbed the highway to Mesa Verde, Colorado. The sound of those little balls of ice bouncing off my helmet was loud!
And there was the one we knew we’d get caught in as we entered Memphis, Tennessee. We saw the flat anvil top of the clouds a long time before we encountered the rain, thunder and lightning on the freeway exit. Thankfully, it was at the end of a day’s ride and we were able to get out of our wet leathers quickly.
Sometimes riding in the rain is unavoidable. That’s what rainsuits are for. Sometimes, like the Minnesota Twins, you just need to wait the storm out.
This past weekend, a motorcyclist in Oregon died when a bear ran out in front of him on the highway and they both crashed into an SUV in the opposite lane. The driver of the SUV was hospitalized in serious condition.
Last week, a biker in southeastern Minnesota, where there are lots of Amish folk, crashed into a horse that bolted from its pasture and suddenly appeared on the road before him. Horse and rider both died.
When you’re traveling on curvy country roads, be on the alert for wandering wildlife. That bump on the road might be a snapping turtle, or a skunk. Best to avoid either if you can.
Deer, as a rule, move around a lot during the earning morning hours and in the hours just before and after dusk. But they don’t always follow the rules. I’ve seen them come to the roadside at 10 a.m. and in the middle of the afternoon. Fortunately, they’re naturally timid and a “snort” from the motorcycle sent them back to safe cover. But that doesn’t always happen, either.
Buffalo are another matter. They trot or amble down the roads in Custer State Park in South Dakota and Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming like they own them. Bikers are well advised not to get too close and not to rev their engines. Bison love a challenge, and they’ll gladly take on that iron horse you’re sitting on.
From 2004 through 2013, the Oregon Department of Transportation recorded 431 crashes involving motorcycles versus wildlife. More than 61,000 vehicle-deer related crashes occurred in Michigan in 2009, with 10 fatalities. Those 10 killed were all on motorcycles.
The Skilled Motorcyclist Association makes the following recommendations for reducing wildlife/bike collisions:
- Slowing down
- Hand on the brakes to reduce reaction time
- Use your lights
- Stagger riders when in a group
And for God’s sake, wear a helmet!
I “stole” this from Facebook this morning because it prompted me to think about where I’d be if I hadn’t agreed to go with Ralph to the Grand Canyon on a motorcycle in 2010.
I’ve never been a daredevil. I never learned to ski or waterski and I can barely move around on ice or rollerskates. I was 57 then (go ahead, do the math), and I didn’t have much experience riding on the back of a motorcycle, much less riding one for days on end. The Grand Canyon is a long way from Minnesota. What if something happened to us on the road?
I started talking to myself. When I was 77, did I want to be able to look back and say, “I’m glad I did that”, or would I be saying, “I wish I had done that”? I decided to put my trust in Ralph (after all, he did get us through several canoe trips in the Boundary Waters during the early days of our marriage) and get on the bike.
The first week, we cruised along Route 66. Oklahoma has more of the original road than other states, but we had fun getting off I-40 to snake off to little towns along the way. Some of them have begun to promote their location along the old route, but others are ghost towns, with shells of gas stations and old motels slowly crumbling into dust.
There were a lot of “ifs” on this trip. If we hadn’t gone to Amarillo, Texas, we wouldn’t have known about Palo Duro Canyon, the second largest canyon in the U.S. Unlike the largest, you can ride your motorcycle into it. If all the rooms in the Holiday Inn at Kayenta, Arizona, hadn’t been taken, we wouldn’t have had the fun of staying in an old trailer with sagebrush growing over the windows and eating freshly-made Navajo fry bread. Nor would we have ended up on Colorado’s Million Dollar Highway. What splendor to see the clouds below us and the golden aspens beside us!
It ended up being one of the best, most restful vacations we have ever taken, despite putting more than 4,400 miles on our Victory.
As Robert Frost wrote:
I can’t tell you how many times we’ve been passed by dudes on crotch rockets who must have a crystal ball mounted to their windshields.
Why do “crotch rocket” riders have such a sense of entitlement and immortality? Their need for speed so often overrules common sense, it’s a wonder more of them aren’t scraped off the pavement each summer.
I edit a neighborhood newspaper. Last night was absolutely beautiful, the kind of evening Minnesotans store in their memory banks for cold winter nights. The air was balmy, and the sweet scent of apple blossoms and lilacs filled the air. I had a neighborhood meeting to cover for the paper. It was only six blocks from home, so I decided to walk.
There was one busy thoroughfare on my walk. It’s T-shaped. Normally, I hate to wait for the “walk” button to change the lights, but last night I pushed it. Good thing. Just as I stepped from the curb, three screeching crotch rockets came roaring down the long leg of the T. The light was red for them. One of them checked for oncoming traffic to his right, but no one checked for the pedestrian on the left. As they roared through the light, I jumped back onto the sidewalk and yelled, “Assholes!” One of them turned back toward me and flipped me off. I silently wished he’d lose control of his bike, but it didn’t happen.
The previous day, I was sitting in a meeting at the newspaper office, which has a big window overlooking a very busy street. Suddenly two sport bikes came up close behind a car in front of them. They veered, one to the left, the other to the right, and passed the car. My kingdom for a patrol car at that minute!
On more than one occasion, Ralph and I have ridden the Great River Road on the Wisconsin side. There are some blind curves, especially on the lower end near the southern Wisconsin border. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve been passed by dudes on crotch rockets who must have a crystal ball mounted to their windshields. They’re a menace!
Motorcyclists have enough to worry about with semis, people who change lanes without signaling and drivers who don’t “see” motorcycles, much less fellow bikers who don’t give a damn about anyone but themselves.
When I went to bed last night, I could hear the whiny, mosquito-like windup of a crotch rocket shifting gears on I-35. Stay safe.
I had one of the most exciting motorcyle rides of my life this past weekend — in a parking lot.
My husband had signed up for the Advanced Rider course with the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF).
Six of us gathered in the parking lot at North Hennepin Technical College on Sunday morning for an eight-hour course on the finer points of riding a bike. The weather had cooled off and a nice breeze blew over the parking lot, which was dotted with orange traffic cones laid out in various formations. I tagged along so Ralph could practice the maneuvers on his own and with a passenger on the back. It was a blast!
Our chief instructor was Rich Jackson, a Minneapolis motor
cycle cop who has the bearing and voice of a Marine drill instructor combined with effervescent enthusiasm and encouragement. He was assisted by Suzanne Greer, whose poise and posture on a bike is incredible. She, too, is a very encouraging individual.
The students included a retired engineer, a VW mechanic, an electrical engineer (Ralph), a retired actor, and a motorcycle safety instructor who wanted to improve her own skills. And me, the crash test dummy. These are the skills we learned:
Eye and body position.
The Intersection (Iron Cross).
J-turn and formation riding.
Slow and 30 mph offset weaves.
Tight and locked turns in confined spaces.
After doing a few slow exercises, the motorcylce engines were hot. That’s when Suzanne took us on a wild ride throughout the technical college campus to “breeze out” the bikes. We rode up wheelchair ramps and across sidewalks, made U-turns in tight spaces and, essentially, performed all the skills we’d just learned. We circled around and rode figure 8s in front of the Basic Rider class, who stopped to see what we were doing. The kicker was the final turn. (Suzanne said afterward, “I was thinking, should I go for it? Yeah, why not!”) Suzanne made a 90-degree turn onto a sidewalk right next to a parked, bright-yellow Camaro and a black Lamborghini, and proceeded to drive down the walk. Only one rider put a foot down, and no one missed the turn or hit the cars. I think my eyes were the size of dinner plates.
After lunch we worked on 30-mph offset weaves and emergency stops. After all the low-speed work, 30 felt like 60. Fun!
Riding a motorcycle is about more than going fast. There are a lot of little things that can make a big difference in your driving. As a passenger, I learned how I can help the driver.
A good thing to know as we prepare for our summer vacation.
Highway maintenance people must have a cruel streak in them. Have you ever noticed how the bumps in the road that they tell you about are always less of a challenge than the ones they don’t?
MN 38 from Grand Rapids to Effie is a case in point. It’s a state-designated scenic byway, so you’d think they’d maintain the pavement a little better. But then, this is Minnesota, where the Democratic governor and the Republican legislature can’t agree on anything, including transportation funding (don’t get me started!).
We first rode the Edge of the Wilderness Scenic Byway five or six years ago as part of my research for Ride Minnesota. It’s a beautiful hilly, twisty road edged with lakes and the Chippewa National Forest. The pavement has deteriorated seriously since then. There are long, rough tire grooves in some places. Patched cracks in others. The designated bumps. And the one they don’t tell you about.
We were south of Marcell, heading north. Ralph saw the crater and knew he wouldn’t be able to miss it. He stood up to lessen the impact. I didn’t have time to react. In a half-second, I was airborne. My feet flew off the pegs and there was light between me and the seat. In the next half-second, I slammed down hard on the seat. I landed with a loud, “UNH!” Twin bolts of pain shot up from my butt, along my back and up both sides of my neck. It took me a couple of minutes to recover. I wondered if there was such a thing as vertical whiplash.
That unexpected carnival ride took some of the joy out of day, which was clear, sunny and in the 80s. Don’t get me wrong. Edge of the Wilderness Scenic Byway is still a beautiful ride. Just watch out for the bumps.
There’s nothing like a sunny June morning for a motorcycle ride, especially if you’re heading out for breakfast. Minnesota has many little small-town cafes where you can get a plateful of soul-satisfying goodness for a nominal amount of money. Hunting for breakfast can be a sport in itself!
Ralph must have been hungry, because he didn’t dawdle on a backroad leaving town, but headed straight up 35W. He fooled me when he took the Taylor’s Falls (US 8) exit. I thought maybe we were going to the Chisago House, where the great 19th century orator, Stephen Douglas (you know, the guy who debated Abe Lincoln), once visited. However, he turned north on Old US 61, and I knew were were going to Harris, Minnesota, about half-way between the Twin Cities and Duluth.
After an hour of riding, we were ready for breakfast. Church bells were ringing out old hymns as we dismounted and walked to the Kaffe Stuga, which mixes knotty pine paneling with traditional Swedish decor and generous portions of homestyle cooking. I ordered my favorite, the apple fritter French toast with ham. This isn’t a skinny little shaving of deli ham, it’s a slab. A meal in itself. I noticed a woman at the next table nibbling on the Stuga’s version of an egg McMuffin, and that looked mighty good, too.
The service was quick, but no one pushed us to leave. Ralph had a second cup of coffee, then we strolled out the door and back to the bike. The antique store next door was closed, as were most of the businesses in town. We continued north on 61 to Rush City and took a left on 4th St. We came upon the “world’s largest walleye” just before we crossed I 35. Supposedly caught by Paul Bunyan, its much smaller than the walleye statues in Isle and Garrison. We drove out into the country. I soon smelled water. The road wrapped itself, snake-like, around the curvy shores of Rush Lake.
There is a huge old farm house standing where Rush Lake Road/Rush Lake Trail/Greeley Road tees with MN 70. Its paint is weathered, cracked and peeling. A newer home stands nearby. I wondered why the farmer left the old house standing. It seemed like he didn’t love it enough to take care of it or pull it down.
We followed a zig-zag southwesterly course through Mora and Ogilvie until we hit MN 47, where we turned south for home. Our hunger and our wanderlust were satisfied for another day.
We haven’t decided where or when our next vacation will take place, but this past weekend was a fantastic chance to get our long-distance riding muscles in shape. With temps in the low 80s and clear blue skies, there was no reason to stay at home!
We rode MN 3 down to Faribault, one of the oldest cities in Minnesota. We latched onto the highway in Inver Grove Heights and had a ball riding the curves around little lakes and not-so-little houses. Farmers were out plowing their fields or moving equipment from one field to another. The air was filled with the fresh scents of newly-turned earth, apple blossoms and lilacs. Magnificent!
After passing through Northfield, we stopped for lunch at Bernie’s in downtown Faribault. I would have liked to have stayed longer and poked my nose into the antique shops, but the day was about the ride. After paying our bill, we saddled up again and headed east out of town on Hwy. 60.
As you leave Faribault, you also leave the flat prairie behind. The countryside begins to roll more, and the road becomes curvier as you approach the Mississippi River and bluff country. Limestone outcroppings pop up here and there as you pass through Zumbrota, Mazeppa, and Zumbro Falls. As you approach Wabasha, the road climbs upward past the Coffee Mill Golf Course. Suddenly, you look out over the broad river valley below. After a brief stop at the pullout to take a better look, you get back on your bike and swoop into Wabasha.
We spent a good hour at the National Eagle Center learning about eagles and just enjoying the view of the Mississippi from the deck. Then we climbed aboard our Road King again and crossed the bridge into Wisconsin, where we turned up WI 35 toward home.
It was an absolutely perfect day. The only thing that would have made it better was if I’d put an SD chip in my GoPro camera. It would be so fun show those curves on this page!
I’ve been doing some traveling lately, and I’ve noticed some interesting differences between drivers in Minnesota, Texas and California. As much as I love my home state, I have to admit California has better drivers.
We were sitting in traffic on “The 5” about 40 miles north of San Diego. The morning fog was beginning to dissipate. I glanced into the rearview mirror and saw a motorcyclist coming up from behind us, riding quite confidently between the lanes.
The American Motorcycle Association (AMA) advocates lane-splitting as a way to promote motorcycle safety. A 2014 California study showed that riding the white line prevented motorcyclists from being rear-ended in heavy traffic. If you’ve ever been in southern California, you know that freeways are clogged morning, noon and night. The ribbons of headlights and taillights stretch for miles.
Lane-splitting is legal in California. It’s verboten in Texas and Minnesota. It’s easy to see why.
In California, car and truck drivers tend to stay in their lanes whether they’re moving at freeway speed or at a stand-still. Texans and Minnesotans, on the other hand, are enthusiastic lane-changers. They change lanes often and don’t bother to signal their intentions. In freeway backups, it’s not uncommon to see a Minnesotan wrench his steering wheel left or right and stick his nose into the next lane . . . right into the would-be path of a whitelining motorcyclist.
Texans and Minnesotans also like to “park” in the far left lane, which should be reserved for faster-moving traffic. This causes other drivers to pass them on the right. On our way south through San Antonio, we observed several “bats out of hell” come up behind us, cut across three lanes of traffic from the right and zig-zag back the other way at speeds far above the posted limit (which, I will admit, we were not observing, either, but these guys were smoking!). The crazy driving, in fact, began shortly after we crossed the Oklahoma-Texas border. There’s no hope for a lane-splitter there!
The AMA’s rationale for lane-splitting makes sense. But it can’t be done safely in the Lone Star or North Star states.
Keep the shiny side up!
News that Polaris Industries is shutting down the manufacture of its Victory motorcycles is roiling the small but loyal group of Victory owners across the U.S. Yet, in a way, it comes as no surprise. It’s hard to find a Victory dealer when you’re out on the road. Polaris never really made owning a Victory a cult thing.
I have spent many hours in motorcycle dealerships, selling and signing my books. What impressed me most was the way Harley-Davidson not only enforces its brand, but encourages it. Walk into a Victory dealer, and you may encounter a jacket or two, some motor oil and some T-shirts. The motorcycles may share space with ATVs, snowmobiles or other motorcycle brands. Walk into a Harley dealer, and it’s all Harley. H-D clothing, motor oil, bar stools, drinkware — that Harley-Davidson shield is on everything! If there is a competing bike brand on the showroom floor, it’s probably been traded in for a Harley.
Two summers ago, we attended the national rally of the Victory Motorcycle Club in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Our Victory, a 2002 Deluxe Touring Cruiser, was easily the oldest of the thousands of bikes parked at the hotel. There was a distinct “underdog” camaraderie among the riders. We all knew Victory motorcycles were good. But, like car-rental firm Avis used to say in its advertising, there was also a feeling of “We Try Harder.” We all wondered what Polaris’ acquisition of the Indian brand would mean.
And now we know. Indian will once again go head-to-head with Polaris, and Victory will be no more. Indian will still have long way to go to take market share from H-D. Even if the Victory dealerships are replaced with Indian dealerships, they will still be too few and far between. Which is why we traded our Victory last summer for a Harley Road King. Harley dealers are much easier to find when you’re a long way from home.