Category Archives: Ride Minnesota
Bumps in the Road
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.
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!
Goodbye, Champ. Hello, Harley.
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!
Winter Remodeling Project
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
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.
Going Along for the Ride
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.
Springtime Rides and Summertime Plans
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
It 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
I’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 www.motorcyclelifeexpo.com, or $13 at the door. Children under 12 are admitted free. See you there!