Category Archives: Minnesota tourism

Ride to Lanesboro

The "iron" theme is carried out throughout the inn.

The “iron” theme is carried out throughout the inn.

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!)

ih room

The Gathering Place at Iron Horse Inn & Outfitters, Lanesboro, MN.

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!

Detouring the Detours

This detour was not an option.

This detour was not an option.

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.


Time for Fall Rambles

Everything's homemade at the Homemade Cafe, Pepin, Wisconsin.

Everything’s homemade at the Homemade Cafe, Pepin, Wisconsin.

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!

Summer Time, and the Riding is Good!

Aitkin Co. 19, part of the Great River Road.

Aitkin Co. 19, part of the Great River Road.

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.

Springtime Rides and Summertime Plans

Bikers on their way to the Flood Run in Red Wing

Bikers on their way to the Flood Run in Red Wing

Spring is always a struggle in Minnesota. Last week we had daytime temps in the 60s and 70s, this week we saw snowflakes and rain. Makes you really appreciate good motorcycle weather.

That’s the kind of weather we had last Saturday when Ralph and I took our first two-up ride of the season. There were hundreds of bikers out, too, many of them headed for the annual Flood Run along the Mississippi. We’ve ridden the Flood Run before. It’s exciting, with 30,000 bikers roaring up and down the Minnesota and Wisconsin sides of the river. Some of them never get beyond the bars in Prescott, Wisconsin, at the beginning of the route, I’m sure.

We decided to take our own route, making a loop from Red Wing to Zumbrota and back. We tried to follow a route mentioned to me by Jay Kalsbeck at Red Wing Motor Sports. We missed a couple of turns, but had a good ride nonetheless.  We put almost 200 miles on the bike, which is not bad for the first ride of spring.

Farmers were taking advantage of the fine weather to get a jump on their spring planting. We had to wait for them while their tractors and planters lumbered off of the highway and into their fields. But it was a beautiful day and we were on a motorcycle, not a deadline. Other fields waited silently for the bite of the plow.

After our first jaunt, we’re making plans to attend the Victory Owners Club Meet in Tennessee this August. We’re both interested in the Civil War (my great-grandfather was captured at Murfreesboro, where the rally will be held, and Ralph’s great-grandfather fought under Sherman), so it should be an interesting ride. We’re talking about following the river all the way to Vicksburg.

In the meantime, I’ll be at Wild Prairie Harley-Davidson next Saturday, signing copes of Ride Minnesota. It’s the kickoff for Women Riders Month.


“It was a beautiful day and we were on a motorcycle, not a deadline.”

The Call of the Wild

wolfIt was well past sunset, about 8:30 p.m., and the temperature hovered around 30 degrees. But that didn’t stop one adventurous biker from riding his motorcycle past our house Saturday night. If there’s a “call of the wild” for bikers, it’s the distinctive rumble of a motorcycle engine. I expect we’ll hear many more “calls” this week as winter releases its icy hold on the land and on our psyches. I’m looking forward to it.

I had the chance to run down to Lanesboro, Minnesota, last week and deliver copies of Ride Minnesota to Pat Shanahan, who will open his new motorcycle shop/hotel in May. Iron Horse Outfitters & Inn will be a place to buy and sell used motorcycle gear, purchase new stuff, and even some very special one-off motorcycles. A four-room inn is under construction above the store, and it will cater to bikers. Pat’s operation will be a great addition to Lanesboro, and a wonderful place to kick back after a day of riding. If you haven’t traveled the hills and curves of Fillmore and Houston Counties, you’re in for a treat. Southeastern Minnesota has some of the best motorcycle routes in the state. I describe some of them in Ride Minnesota, and I hope to ride a few more this year.

Another area worthy of attention is up around Ely. Folks in the Iron Range are working hard to promote motorcycle tourism in their area. The Minnesota Arrowhead Association has produced a map called “Ride the Arrowhead” that shows paved scenic motorcycle routes in Northeastern Minnesota. Ralph and I are going to try to ride some of these routes this year. You can download the map at Explore Minnesota. If you do ride to Ely, be sure to check out the International Wolf Center on the north side of town. It’s a great way to get in touch with your “wild” side, and your visit helps fund the study and preservation of wolves.

Get out and RIDE Minnesota!



Revving up for the Motorcycle Life Expo

RIDE-MN-Cover_WEBI’m checking my supplies, making signs and getting ready for the Motorcycle Life Expo this coming weekend in Shakopee, Minnesota. I’ve been  working closely with Audrey Johnson, the show’s organizer, to get the speakers lined up and press releases sent. I have my own booth and will be selling signed copies of Ride Minnesota.  The two-day EXPO showcases vendors who cater to the motorcycle lifestyle. Tourism destinations will be emphasized, as well as aftermarket accessories, motorcycle touring apparel and home décor. In addition to the exhibitors, here’s what’s happening:

Bill Shaffer, state program administrator principal for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, will be the headline speaker. Shaffer will address an estimated crowd of 5,000 motorcyclists about Minnesota’s new Road Guard Certification program, which trains riders how to stop and control traffic for motorcycle groups. He will speak at 11:00 am. Sat.

Owen Riess, author of “La Ropa Sucia”, will speak at 1:00 p.m. Sat. and 11:00 a.m. Sun. about the “Do’s and Don’ts” of riding in Mexico.

Tim Hyma, Executive Director of the Sparta Area Chamber of Commerce/Driftless Destinations, will talk about riding in Wisconsin’s Driftless Area at 2:00 p.m. Sat.

World adventurer Phil Freeman, MotoQuest, will discuss motorcycle travel in “Alaska and Beyond” at 3:00 p.m. Sat. and 2:00 p.m. Sun.

Mary Pagel, Damsel in Defense, will talk about self-defense techniques for women riders at 1:00 p.m. Sun.

Local celebrities will also make an appearance at the EXPO. Brian Zepp, KQRS-Radio, will broadcast live from the EXPO from 3:00-5:00 p.m. Sat. Dave Dahl, KSTP Chief Meteorologist, will be on hand Sunday to meet and greet bikers from noon-2:00 p.m. Sun. He will also kick off Sunday’s noon fashion show. The 93X Girls will also make an appearance.

A fashion show will be held at noon each day, and live bands will perform both days. Bad Girlfriends will play from 4:00-7:00 p.m. Sat. Johntourage will perform both days from 1:00-3:00 p.m. 23rd Hour will play from 10:00 a.m. until noon on Sat. and 11:00-a.m.-1:00 p.m. Sun.

The Motorcycle Life Expo begins at 9:00 a.m. each day. Tickets are $10 if purchased online at, or $13 at the door. Children under 12 are admitted free. See you there!


Ride Minnesota Earns Praise From Writer’s Digest

RIDE-MN-Cover_WEBAlthough Ride Minnesota didn’t capture any prizes in the 22nd Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book competition, it did receive praise from the judge. The book received a grade of “Outstanding” for its voice and writing style. It was also recognized for its structure, organization and pacing.

“I like the idea of this book very much,” the judge wrote,  “partly because I’ve always been fond of Minnesota. Also, this seems like a very good way to see the country. Finally, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of guides on the market that are specifically marketed to motorcycle riders. So the concept for the book is quite good.”

Writer’s Digest hosts the annual self-published competition, which is co-sponsored by Book Marketing Works, LLC and Meryl L. Moss Media Relations, Inc.. It spotlights today’s self-published works and honors self-published authors.

So, I didn’t win the $8,000 grand prize or the trip to New York (been there, done that). But I did get some valuable advice. And that makes it worth it.


Flood Running

Maiden Rock pullout

Maiden Rock pullout

It was a perfect last weekend of summer. The sun was bright and warm, the sky blue, the trees just beginning to show some color along the Mississippi River. A great day for a motorcycle ride! Saturday was also the annual Flood Run, which stretches down the Wisconsin side of the river from Prescott to Alma and back up the Minnesota side. We had to be back in town for a wedding later in the afternoon, so we skipped the official run and rode ahead of the pack.

Our kickstand went up at 9 a.m. and we headed east toward Wisconsin. A couple of sport bikes whined past us as we approached the I 94/Hwy. 61 split. I looked at the passengers riding on the back and was glad I wouldn’t have to spend my day hunched over like a certain resident of the Cathedral of Notre Dame. We encountered several bikers en route to the run, and lots of lone wolves like us who just wanted to get out and ride.

The wind was cool on my neck when we started out, but the sun soon penetrated my leather jacket. I found a smile fixing itself to my face. Not a toothy, Teddy Roosevelt grin, but a pair of upward curves tugging at the corners of my mouth.

Motorcyclists were lined up wall-to-wall in Prescott, waiting for the ride to begin. I saw several of them checking out our Victory with its modified pipes as we rumbled up Main Street.

The Wisconsin side of the river offers spectacular views of Lake Pepin. With tall bluffs on one side, the river below and curves ahead, it’s a motorcyclist’s dream road. We pulled over to stretch our legs at the historical marker south of Maiden Rock, where legend has it that a Dakota woman leapt to her death the river below rather than marry a man she didn’t love. My great-grandmother painted a picture of Maiden Rock about 100 years ago. It hangs in my office.

Traffic remained light as we cruised through Pepin, where a local youth event was taking place. We continued on to Nelson, where the Chippewa River meets Old Man River. We made a right turn and crossed several bridges through the backwaters of the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife Refuge and returned to Minnesota via Wabasha.

Septoberfest is on for the next few weekends, and Wabasha is all decked out in candy corn colors. There were all kinds of activities going on under the bridge, but we preferred to enjoy coffee and chocolate at Big Jo Espresso, where we sat out on the back deck and watched a bald eagle swoop in off the river.

We followed the river back home. Sailboats  ran ahead of the wind on Lake Pepin, and large pleasure boats began to appear on the water. We met a large contingent of motorcycle riders on the curves between Lake City and Red Wing and gave them all a friendly greeting. It’s good to be alive!

On the Road Again

Ralph and I took our first long ride of the season on Wednesday. We followed MN 47 north to the family cabin near Aitkin. It was a beautiful, picture-perfect Minnesota day, the kind we live for all winter. The sun shone down benevolently from a deep blue sky. The temperature was a motorcycle-friendly 65 degrees when we left Minneapolis in the morning and in the mid-70s when we returned that evening.

One of the things I like about riding a motorcycle is that you become part of the landscape. The corn, which has started to tassel out, seems much closer than it does when you’re riding in a car. You can see lakes and small ponds that aren’t visible from the cab of  a truck. As the day heats up, you can smell the water, new-mown hay, the spicy-woody scent of birch trees and the heady aroma of pine.

You see more wildlife, too. As we neared Isle, I spied a deer happily chowing down on some woman’s flowers. I bet she was thrilled. On the way home I counted one deer, three Canadian geese and two herons.

I describe Minnesota Hwy. 47 in full in my book, Ride Minnesota. We have at least three months of good riding weather ahead of us yet. Get a copy and explore!Hwy 47 sign