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.

Hanging it Up for the Season

20151028_155207The 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!

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.

Going Along for the Ride

One-lane bridge in Cannon Falls

One-lane bridge in Cannon Falls

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.

Waco Paints Us All With a Bad Brush

“Ever since Marlon Brando appeared in “The Wild One”, people in leather jackets scare the hell out of the rest of the populace.”

What is it about Waco, Texas, anyway? First there was the standoff between the feds and the Branch Davidians in 1993. Now it’s the standoff between “outlaw” motorcycle clubs. That town sure seems to attract more than its share of trouble.

Senseless loss of life is saddening. But the perpetuation of the biker “bad guy” image is also disheartening. The actions of the testosterone-and-alcohol fueled few make trouble for the rest of us who just want to ride our motorcycles, feel the wind in our faces and enjoy all the great rides and scenery America has to offer.

Ever since Marlon Brando appeared in “The Wild One” back in 1953, people in leather jackets seem to scare the hell out of the rest of the populace. People stand aside when my husband walks by in his patch-adorned leather jacket. I was refused service Durango, Colorado because of mine. If we’re traveling without hotel reservations (which we often do), we’ve learned to remove our biker gear before going inside to inquire about a room. Somehow, a gray-haired couple in T-shirts is less threatening than the same gray-haired couple in black leather jackets.

Unfortunately, the shootout at Waco just reinforces the bad biker stereotype. I’m going to keep on wearing my leathers, however. They’re the only thing between me and the hard, rough road.

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 www.motorcyclelifeexpo.com, or $13 at the door. Children under 12 are admitted free. See you there!