Author Archives: cindysowden
We said goodbye to our 2002 Victory Deluxe Touring Cruiser this past weekend. “Champ” (named for his champagne-and-cream paint job) had taken us 48,000 miles since we picked him up second-hand in 2007. He went to the Grand Canyon via Route 66, climbed Colorado’s “Million Dollar Highway”, visited all four corners of the state of Minnesota, drove around Lake Superior, followed the Mississippi River from its source in northern Minnesota to New Orleans, and took us safely through the Black Hills. He also served as a weekday mule, transporting my husband to and from work.
It was sad to see him go, but he was an orphan. Polaris made that particular style only one year. Parts were had to find. At 52,000 miles, he had given good service.
We went down to Harley-Davidson of Winona last Saturday to take part in a pre-Sturgis bash and promote my books. (The photo of Champ, by the way, is on the cover of my new book, Ride the Black Hills.) We took the opportunity to test-drive a couple of Harleys and wound up trading Champ for a 2016 Road King.
The ride home from Winona on Hwy. 61 was highly enjoyable. The weather was beautiful and the Road King handled the curves so smoothly! We’re heading out soon for Glacier National Park. It will be fun to discover how the “new kid” handles the mountains.
It’s what you get after spending seven to ten days riding a motorcycle. Similar to jet lag, it persists for a couple of days after you park the bike in the garage. The sound of an open throttle brings it all back — the wind, leaning into a curve, the hum of a well-tuned engine, the vibrations under the foot pegs.
Traveling by motorcycle is far better than going by plane. There are no TSA inspection lines. No two-hour waits at the airport. You just get on the bike and go.
We just returned from a trip to the Black Hills of South Dakota. It’s early; motorcyclists were few and far between. So were the other tourists, in fact. Compared to a sunny day in July, the viewing plaza at Mt. Rushmore was practically empty. And we had many roads all to ourselves. A great way to get away from meetings, deadlines and political debates. In a couple of months, Spearfish Canyon and the roads leading to Sturgis will be filled with the rumble of Harleys, Victories, Hondas BMWs.
By then, I’ll be well over my motorcycle lag and ready for more adventures. The motorcycle season is open! Get out and Ride Minnesota!
Throttle fever is a common malady among motorcyclists, particularly those who live in northern climes. It’s like cabin fever, but a lot more insidious. You can go outside and walk off cabin fever. But when the snow is on the ground, the streets are full of sand and salt, and the temperature threatens to dive below zero, a biker with throttle fever is stuck indoors.
I never thought I’d get throttle fever. In high school, I was the poster child for Goody Two Shoes. Then my husband started riding. And then I hopped on the back of his bike. Two weeks ago, I tried riding a Harley at the International Motorcycle Show in Minneapolis.
Omigod, omigod, omigod.
It always amazes me how much more you can feel speed in a car vs. a truck. You feel it more on a motorcycle. I didn’t think I’d feel it even more, though, when I moved from the back of the bike to the front. And I wasn’t going anywhere!
Harley-Davidson is smart. They know the best way to attract new riders is to get them to try it. They had a small motorcycle (like the ones they use for training) set up on a stand. After giving H-D all my info (including my driver’s license number), I was allowed to throw a leg over the bike and receive a driving lesson. The instructor showed me how to start the engine, rev the throttle, how to shift with my left toe, and how to apply the brakes. I couldn’t believe 30 mph felt so fast! I also learned that you can’t really back off on the throttle or you’ll quickly lose speed. I spent a majority of my five-minute session watching the speedometer.
I wonder how long it takes for shifting and driving to become second nature. Perhaps I’ll find out this spring. I’m really thinking about taking the motorcycle safety course so I can back up my husband on our long road trips.
The International Motorcycle Show is coming to Minneapolis next weekend. Can spring be far behind?
Last weekend, I had the opportunity to attend a concert in Lanesboro, Minnesota, and decided to book a stay at Iron Horse Inn and Outfitters. The Iron Horse is the newest place to stay in what is known as the “bed and breakfast capital of Minnesota”. A nod to Lanesboro’s railroading past, it’s specifically geared to motorcyclists.
Downstairs, Pat Shanahan has filled his old storefront on the corner of Coffee Street and Parkway Avenue with custom bikes and motorclothes. Upstairs, he’s built a beautiful four-bedroom inn. Each room has a comfy king-size bed, a shower, flat-screen TV, mini fridge and microwave. One room also features a loft. A large room facing the corner is the Gathering Place, where groups can chill out after a long ride. There’s a coffee maker and a big refrigerator where you can store your beer. Just down the hall, there’s a washer and dryer. Biker nirvana!
In keeping with the “iron horse” theme, the walls are decorated with old railroad photos. The handles on the kitchen cupboards are made from old railroad spikes, and pressed tin ceiling tiles have been used to decorate the headboards.
Of course, “iron horse” also refers to motorcycles! In the store, you’ll find jackets, belts, gloves, head wraps and Iron Horse t-shirts. (And maybe even a copy of Ride Minnesota or Ride Lake Superior!)
If you’re out riding Minnesota this summer, visit Lanesboro. If you’d like to stay at the Iron Horse, book well in advance. Lanesboro, about 45 minutes south of Rochester, is one busy little town!
We finally received “plowable” snow in Minneapolis. It’s been a strange December, with temperatures lingering in the 30s and bouncing up to the 40s. When I did a book signing at the Harley-Davidson Shop of Winona on the 9th, folks were talking about mowing their lawns one more time. And there were more than just a couple of bikers who showed up for the open house on their motorcycles. It was that nice outside.
Now the snow has come and the winter ritual of piling up snowbanks has begun. The streets are driveable for cars and trucks, but too tricky for bikes. Most of them have been cleaned and polished and their batteries are stored for the winter. Time for indoor activities. Like re-arranging the patches on my husband’s motorcycle jacket.
He likes to collect patches from places we’ve visited and rides he’s participated in. Last spring he went on the Patriot Ride and noticed a number of veterans who had their military rank sewn onto their jackets. He wanted to add his.
Normally, I take his jacket down to a little Greek tailor in our neighborhood and he sews the patches on for $5 each. Trouble of it is, he’s frequently overbooked, and I knew he wouldn’t understand how important it is to get that Navy crow on the left shoulder. So, I dug up a curved upholstery needle and went to work.
Pushing a needle through leather is hard on arthritic hands! But now, the left arm proudly carries patches with Ralph’s rank and his ship, the USS Kitty Hawk (CV63), which, sadly, has been de-commissioned. The right arm will carry a US Navy logo and a patch for the Tonkin Gulf Yacht Club. When that job is complete, I’ll re-arrange the patches on the back of the jacket in a more pleasing configuration (after all, I have to look at them when we ride two-up!).
If you’re looking for something motorcycle-related to do this winter, get a copy of Ride Minnesota or Ride Lake Superior and settle in for a cozy read on the couch. That should keep you busy until the motorcycle shows start in February.
The wind wailed outside my office window. Leaves, rain and yes, snow, blew past in furious gusts. It was, as this morning’s paper called it, a “warning shot” from winter. Time to hang it up for the season.
I got out the leather cleaner (great stuff from Australia) and began rubbing it into my chaps, which were still muddy from our last ride. I thought about the places I’d seen this past motorcycle season: the Mississippi River headwaters, B.B. King’s in Memphis, New Orleans’ French Quarter. How I’d learned that Iowa isn’t always flat, and armadillos live in Missouri.
As I wiped smashed insects off of my jacket, I thought about how my leathers had kept me dry during a Tennessee thunderstorm and actually afforded some cooling in the humid Deep South.
As I reached into the closet for the hanger, I realized I had’t put the lining back in this fall. That was one hell of a riding season!
I’m beginning to think I’ll never get to ride the entire length of the Rushing Rivers Scenic Byway, also known as Minnesota Hwy. 210 from Jay Cooke State Park to Duluth.
The first time Ralph and I attempted to ride this scenic stretch of highway, an historic flood had just swept through Duluth and the surrounding area. The highway was washed out. The Thomson bridge was gone. The St. Louis River had completely wiped out the historic swinging bridge in the park.
A couple of weeks ago, we tried again, riding up MN-23. We got as far as Bruno when we ran into a detour warning. A long detour that included a gravel road. We pressed on, reaching Duquette, where we were finally forced to take the detour.
We took a left onto Co. Rd. 48 and headed west, away from our destination ride. It wasn’t long until we came up to the dirt part of the route. It was marked with the obligatory detour sign and an orange sign with a farmer driving a tractor. Having no desire to deal with slow-moving vehicles or spend Sunday washing the bike, we took another left. In a little while, we came to I-35. We rode the freeway until we hit Moose Lake, then got onto Old Hwy. 61.
On our way to Carlton, we had to detour several dirt roads. We stopped for gas at an intersection and to check our bearings after so many detours and found ourselves just outside of Carlton.
We stopped at the rebuilt Thomson bridge and admired the St. Louis River. Rainfall has been plentiful in Minnesota this year and the river was in fine form as its brown, ore-stained water roared over the dam. We continued on to the park, which was celebrating its 100th birthday that weekend. The leaves were beginning to turn color, and the park was full of families and their dogs. Every now and again, bikers would pull into the parking lot.
Top speed within the park is 30 mph, and there are many beautiful vistas of the tumbling river. Unfortunately, we did not get to see them all. Maybe half-way through the park, the road was closed. Minnesota Power was working on electrical lines from the park to MN-23. There were no detours this time. We turned around and headed for home.
We took a ride down Wisconsin 35 this past Labor Day weekend (yes, I know it’s not in Minnesota, but you can see the state from the other side of the Mississippi River). The sun shone brightly in Minneapolis when we left. By the time we crossed over to Prescott, it had disappeared. Fall colors have begun to appear along the river. They added some bright notes to the muted gray atmosphere.
What a change from a week and a half ago, when Ralph and I drove up 35 after a trip following the Mississippi to New Orleans! The air that day was cool and clear, and the bluffs stood out prominently against a blazing blue sky. Summer’s heat was still on, but minus the stifling humidity and high temps that had accompanied us downriver.
Our trip yesterday brought us to Pepin, where author Laura Ingalls Wilder was born (the town celebrates “Laura Days” this coming weekend, September 12-13). We stopped for breakfast at the Homemade Cafe, where everything is made from scratch. It’s a popular stop for bikers and folks who like pie. If you go there, be sure to bring cash. The restaurant does not accept credit cards. We managed to scrape up just enough money between the two of us to pay for our breakfast and leave a very modest tip.
We rode south to Nelson, then re-crossed the Mississippi into Wabasha, Minnesota, where folks are gearing up for a month-long (or is it two?) celebration of Septoberfest. Pumpkins and fall decorations are scattered all over town, including a gauzy Cinderella pumpkin coach near the AmericInn.
Up Hwy. 61 at the entrance to Lake City, we stopped at Pepin Heights Orchards and bought a bag of SweeTango apples and a loaf of their apple fritter bread. The place was packed with apple lovers, and ours was not the only motorcycle in the parking lot. We negotiated the road construction in downtown Red Wing, then went down the road to Welch, just for the ride. The village was crowded as folks scrambled to get one more inner-tube ride down the Cannon River.
There’s a lot of good riding weather ahead. Ride Minnesota, before the snow flies!
If you’re a motorcycle owner who lives in Minnesota and you haven’t been out riding your bike these past two weeks, you might as well put it up for sale. The weather just. doesn’t. get. any. better.
We’ve spent the past two weekends riding and doing research for an upcoming book and trying out my new GoPro camera. It’s a little more complicated than it should be (I’m going to suggest some software tweaks to GoPro), but the pictures have been incredibly sharp and clear — just like the weather!
Traveling by motorcycle sharpens your senses, too. You can ride a road you’ve driven in your car a hundred times and discover something new. There’s an intimacy with the landscape that you can’t get behind the wheel of an automobile. You feel changes in temperature and topography that you’d never notice with the AC blasting. And, despite the rumble of the motorcycle’s engine, you can still hear bird calls.
Our Victory is in the shop this week, getting outfitted with new tires and undergoing a thorough maintenance check before we take off for a big trip next month. I can’t wait.
Because I don’t have a motorcycle endorsement on my driver’s license, going along for the ride is mostly what I do. I sit on the back of our Victory and delight in the scenery around me. I smell the fresh air, lift my face to the sun and sing. Such was the case a week ago Saturday, when Ralph and I joined riders from Hosanna! Lutheran Church in Lakeville. The occasion was the annual Blessing of the Bikes. (We figure you can never have too much insurance when you’re riding a motorcycle.) This time, both of us were along for the ride, which began at the church in Lakeville. The Lakeville police escorted our group of 75 bikes out of town. It was kind of nice to have them go ahead and change all the traffic lights as we approached. It kept the group together. From Lakeville we rode to Hastings, where we stopped to take a look at Vermillion Falls. We’ve had ample rain in Minnesota this spring, so the falls were cascading in full force. From Hastings, we followed the Ravenna Trail to the outskirts of Red Wing. On the way, we passed the Prairie Island Indian Community, where the Mdewakantan Dakota have built their homes in circles. We passed Treasure Island Casino, then turned right onto U.S. 61 for a short ride to the Welch Road. I was so busy looking at horses grazing in pastures sprinkled with daisies, Holstein cattle that turned their heads to watch us ride by and woods filled with bright purple phlox that I forgot to keep track of the roads we were riding on (that’s true relaxation!). When we came into Cannon Falls, the group headed north out of town. Soon we came to a one-lane bridge that neither Ralph nor I knew existed. It was the highlight of the ride. This weekend, Ralph will join hundreds of riders for the Patriot Ride at Anoka County Airport. I won’t be along for this ride, however. I’m staying behind to sell copies of Ride Minnesota.