Category Archives: Minnesota

Crash Test Dummy

Waiting your turn is part of the course.

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:

  • 40-mph brake-and-escape.

  • Brake control.

  •  Eye and body position.

  • Instantaneous stops.

  • The Intersection (Iron Cross).

  • J-turn and formation riding.

  • Low-speed clutch.

  • Slow and 30 mph offset weaves.

  • Throttle.

  • Tight and locked turns in confined spaces.

Prepping the bike for the Advanced Rider course means removing the saddlebags and covering anything that might get scratched or dinged!

 

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.

Bumps in the Road

Edge of the Wilderness Scenic Byway (MN 38)

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.

Breakfast Ride

Kaffe Stuga, Harris, Minnesota

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.

Shakedown Cruise

This pullout on Hwy. 60 above Wabasha is a popular stop for bikers.

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

Winter Remodeling Project

Adding Ralph's Navy crow to his motorcycle jacket.

Adding Ralph’s Navy crow to his motorcycle jacket.

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.

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.”