Apr 29, 2014
The freakiest moment of our whole trip occurred at Woods, though. So freaky I’ve got to figure out how to include these characters in a book. I was on my way into the store to find Robbye when a tall, bearded, stoop-shouldered fairly young guy, probably in his 30’s, and a 4’ tall 3.5’ wide dwarf (in all of the classic senses of the word) blew out of the store. He was hunkered down, trying to become invisible while his semi-female “companion” shouted expletives and 1950’s quality racial slurs back at the store. Someone in the store had, apparently, said something nice about our President and she took hillbilly offense. The funniest part of her performance was that, while she was bellowing like a Georgia cracker she was strutting and punctuating her racist bullshit like a hip hop street bozo. She even had her pants down low on her butt cheeks with flowery guy’s underwear displayed in the traditional street hip manner. She kept up the stream of KKK dialog all the way to their pickup and was audible until the truck joined the traffic in front of the store.
When Robbye came out, she said, “Did you see that?” I described what I saw and she told me that the dwarf-freak had started in on one of the store’s customers and when two of the Woods employees asked her to leave, “We can’t have that kind of language in our store,” she blew up, way over the top, and put on the beginning of the performance I witnessed through the whole store before they finally herded her out the door. We pretty much relived that experience, laughing to the point of crying, all the way out of town.
Our last Missouri destination was a surprise. Like a few of the places I’ve found on the map and had no way to check out in advance, this park looked like a loser about 5 miles off of the main highway. Crowder State Park might be the worst advertised park in the Missouri system. From the state’s website, it looks like nothing. Because of that, there was nobody else at the campsite on a Friday that promised to lead into a perfect weekend. Granted, there isn’t a lot of traditional recreational stuff to see at Crowder. The “lake” is pretty much dried up. The park is too far from the Missouri to make it a fishing campground. The surrounding terrain is mildly hilly, marshy, and farm land. However, this place is a pre-historical paradise if you’re even a little into Native American history.
The trails out of Crowder take you to an “Indian fort,” which is a huge ditch dug around the top of a hillside. When the native people lived there, they kept the forest down by burning it occasionally so they had a long line of sight for enemies and . . . more enemies, I suppose. Nobody really knows the purpose of the ditch, but it was sure a hell of a lot of work. There is a cool ‘metal “boardwalk” that takes you out into the marsh where some of the tallest grasses I’ve ever seen live. Some were bamboo height and girth, easily 15’ tall. The information center is actually a wonderful native American history site, with some of the coolest spear and arrowheads I’ve ever seen. Eric, the only Missouri park ranger I spoke with in a total of two weeks staying in Missouri state parks (coming and going) was incredibly generous with his time and even opened the visitor center way early so we could look at it (and Robbye could buy a patch for her travel jacket) before we hit the road Saturday. We left that park with a whole new appreciation for Missouri state park rangers.
The weather report was looking shaky for northern Missouri for the next couple of days, our food supply was short (the Rialta has one seriously dinky refrigerator), and we were beginning to get anxious about going home. I had one more, for sure, campground picked out for Saturday night and Sunday, in Iowa, then we would decide on stopping a couple more times in northern Iowa or going home from just south of Des Moines.
Apr 28, 2014
A few weeks back I got into an argument with a lawyer about motorcycle rights and civil rights. Later, I'll get into who was right and who was wrong and which one of us was right or wrong. Not a few folks joined in the discussion to tell me that I was clearly wrong because we were arguing about law and lawyers, obviously, know more about the law than non-lawyers. In my usual diplomatic fashion, I reminded each of those folks that in every criminal case and every civil suit there is a smart lawyer (the winner) and a dumb one (the loser). At best, 50% of the lawyers "practicing law" should practice more and go to court a lot less. I'm not impressed by a legal credential because, in my almost-sixty-years, I've heard as many dumb arguments made by lawyers as I have heard uttered by senior corporate executives. The point in question either makes sense or it doesn't and the credential/license/pedigree of the person making the premise has nothing to do with the validity of the logic.
So there you have it, or there you don't.
What we were discussing was "motorcyclists' rights." I don't think motorcyclists exist as a special case. The lawyer does. Or at least he desperately wants to believe they should exist because he considers himself to be a motorcyclist. I, on the other hand, ride a motorcycle but I don't think of myself as a "motorcyclist." I do not think motorcyclists are a special species, race, or religious group deserving of special rights to public roads, to particular government services or protection, or any form of public subsidy beyond the vehicle's practical contribution to the flow of traffic. I don't think motorcyclists are any more deserving of special rights than, say, Ford Escort owners. I own a Ford Escort, too, but I don't consider myself an Escort-ist. Like my motorcycles, my Escort station wagon is a vehicle intended to provide individual transportation.
Unlike Ford Escort owners, motorcyclists have gangs of folks traveling to local, state, and federal government officials, attempting to gain special rights for our vehicle of choice. I'm unconvinced that these people have my best interests in mind. They lobby against helmet laws, motorcycle noise restrictions, motorcycle pollution legislation, and mandatory motorcycle skill or safety training. When things don't go their way behind closed doors, they take to the streets and remind the rest of the public of how irritating slow moving, noisy motorcycles can be.
As a clan, we become outraged when "one of us" is killed by an incompetent or homicidal cager and expect special consideration and prosecution of the idiot driver, when pedestrians, bicyclists, and people in wheelchairs see exactly the same lack of justice when they are the victim of "motor vehicle homicide." In fact, I think the ultimate hit man weapon is probably the SUV. Large motor vehicles are practically Weapons of Mass Destruction. They are accurate or indiscriminant, depending on your murderous purposes, and seems to be a specially protected weapon in criminal court. Kill a man with a knife or a gun, go to jail for a while. Kill him with an SUV, get six months probation and a pocket-change fine. Get drunk and kill someone and you'll receive sympathy cards from your local legislators.
I think, on average, it might be possible to argue that the Minnesota Department of Public Safety and the Department of Transportation may have more employees dedicated to motorcycling interests than there are actual motorcyclists on the road. If you discount the occasional parades of garage jewelry, hopping from bar to bar, jamming up traffic for miles on two lane country roads, and making more noise than a similar number of fighter jets, I doubt that on busy, summer days motorcycling is represented by more than two dozen bikers throughout the Metro area. Average that over a year, factoring in the usual Minnesota riders' 3 month riding season, and you are looking at an annual average of six riders a day. Maybe you could double or triple that, including the rest of the state, bringing the daily average rider-to-state-motorcycling-employee ratio to a fairly outrageous maximum of somewhere around 3:1. Even if you really got radical and optimistically generous and tripled that number again, you're still looking at a highly subsidized form of transportation. However, if you included the 200+ part-time state motorcycle safety trainers, that statistic might flip positions and you'd really have to wonder why motorcycles are worth the trouble.
My friend, Pat Hahn, works for MnDPS and he regularly reminds us that there are 180,000 licensed motorcycle riders in the state. Every day on my commute to work I wonder, "where the hell are they today?" I, occasionally, do a public access TV show (Motorcycling Minnesota) and for the last two years I've staked out a spot on I694 and I35E on Ride to Work Day, waiting for a few rush hours to get as many motorcycle-on-the-road shots as possible to commemorate the day. Both years yielded fewer than a dozen motorcycles and it hasn't been worth the effort to put the segment into the show.
That, as I see it, is the real problem facing motorcyclists and people who use a motorcycle for transportation. If motorcycles are grossly under-represented on public roads, if they're not used for daily transportation, what makes the vehicle worth spending all this time, money, and manpower? Bang-for-the-buck-wise, if you took all of the effort put into educating and training motorcycles and redirected it toward driver training and public transportation planning, the general public might be better served. We're approaching a use-it-or-lose-it junction in road-use planning and, right now, it might make more sense for traffic planners to eliminate motorcycles from the roads than to keep spending resources on a marginally-utilized vehicle.
I'm not arguing that motorcycles should be banned from the roads because they're under-used. I'm arguing that motorcycles are under-used and that we should fix that before we are classified as a recreation-only oddity, like snowmobiles and ATVs. Use it or lose it, put up or shut up, and quit making the lame excuse that "it's the weather" that keeps you off of the bike. Buy a helmet, get some all weather riding gear, and put the bike on the road. If your bike is too theft-inspiring, too loaded with delicate and expensive chrome crap, to risk parking in a public space, buy a real motorcycle for day-to-day use and save the garage jewelry for Shriner parades. Ride often enough that your employer and your hometown government feel the need to install dedicated motorcycle parking. Become so visible that drivers start to notice how mobile and traffic-friendly motorcycles can be. Put lots of weekday miles on your bike and be polite about being on the road with other folks. Save the noise and the maneuvering gyrations for the track, where real riders ride fast and loud. Lots of transportation systems have moved from commonly-used to historical oddities in the last 125 years. If you want to be a "motorcyclist," you'd better ride the damn thing or you may soon be relegated to "motorcycle only" recreational trails.
MMM May 2006
Apr 27, 2014
Like Stockton, Harry Truman was abandoned. Like Stockton, no services except electricity. No showers, no WiFi, no bathrooms except for one outhouse at one very remote campground. I know I’m weird, but I have no motivation to handle human waste of any sort; not even my own. So, if I can avoid shitting in my RV I will. We pretty much managed to stick to that level of pickiness the whole trip and I was not interested in making a big change in procedure at this late date. So, we headed to the end of the park for the one campground with an outhouse. Turns out, that was a brilliant decision. Again, we owned the park. Two days from opening and nobody was anywhere near Harry Truman State Park. We did see a camp host who was just in the area checking out his camper setup, but wouldn’t be on-site for at least two more days. A ranger drove past our campground a couple of times, apparently providing security. Otherwise, we owned this massive lakeside campground.
We hiked the hell out of our giant private playground. Gypsy and I played Frisbee for a couple of hours. She went swimming. Robbye and I took several long walks that day and evening. The next morning, I awoke to the most amazing sunrise of the trip. The sun looked like the moon it was so dim and small. As it rose above the lake, it grew until a few minutes later it was normal-sized. But I got a picture of that incredibly colorful, weird first moment and it will be my computer background for a while.
We had about 150 backroad miles to cover that day, so we had breakfast and packed up fairly early.
Apr 24, 2014
After leaving Oklahoma, I really wanted to slow the pace down. Our house-sitter was still in our Minnesota home, supposedly finishing up the projects he’d promised to complete and cleaning up the place. Robbye and he are not particularly compatible, so I had no interest in being the middle man in that situation. Plus, we’d blown through Oklahoma exactly three times as fast as I’d hoped. So, I was looking for a place to camp early.
There were a couple of possibilities at Neosho, but they were losers. The next possibility was Stockton Lake State Park. On the way to Stockton, we passed a place called “Humansville” and I forced Robbye to exit the freeway for a picture. Come on, could you resist visiting the birthplace of all of humanity? I couldn’t. She, on the other hand, was less impressed.
Anyway, back on the road we made good time to Stockton, grabbing some groceries and dog food on the way. Like the way into Missouri, we owned the parks on way out. I have no idea how many campers this park can accommodate, but we were the only people in the park that night. Of course, the WiFi was shut down, the showers were locked, and the only services were electricity and an outhouse. We didn’t see a soul while were were at Stockton; not a ranger, not a visitor, not anyone. I did manage to scrounge up a couple of local television stations, so we had a weather report and Robbye could watch Family Guy reruns that night.
There were tornado and “severe thunderstorm” warnings on the tube. Since no one else was in the campground, we left the windows uncovered all night. The wind howled and we were entertained by a spectacular lightning show all night, a rare pleasure since RV’ing can be a fairly non-private experience under more normal circumstances.
If our shower drain worked, I would have been tempted to stay at Stockton for a few days. It’s a beautiful park. Robbye accidentally tripped the shower pump switch early in the trip and it was on for a long day of driving before I noticed the noise that evening and turned it off. It hadn’t worked since and that meant our shower was unusable. So, in hopes of more services somewhere, we headed out the next morning.
Apr 22, 2014
The last six days of our trip home went undocumented because we were traveling through states either with minimal services at state campgrounds (Oklahoma) or were there pre-season and the campgrounds were at minimal services (Missouri and Iowa). I took a bunch of pictures of this portion of the trip, but there was never a moment on the return route where I could do anything with them. After getting through the income tax maze, beginning to sort out what goes where as we move from 64 square feet back into our 1800’s Minnesota “mansion,” and spending a few days wrestling with yard work and office remodeling (it’s not going to be an office any more), I decided to look back at our six days of undocumented travel at the end of March.
April 1 is some sort of religious moment in many states’ public services. They take half of the year for a paid vacation and slowly ramp back up to whatever level they call “working” on April 1st. To minimize the strain on the VW and maximize our enjoyment of our travel experience, we decided to diagonal across eastern Oklahoma from Lake Texoma to a little south of Joplin, Missouri then hit some of the Ozarks and Missouri parks somewhat straight north from Joplin to Des Moines. At the time, I had no idea that all of the Missouri parks would be in suspended animation, since they don’t shut down at the same time.
Once we left Pelican Bay on the south side of Lake Texoma (the Texas side), we were in an old world where most modern forms of communication vanish. Oklahoma is a weird dead zone of the country where WiFi appears to be only available in private homes and businesses. Our T-Mobile phones didn’t work for most of the state, mostly because we travelled some pretty obscure roads. We’d planned to stop more than once in Oklahoma, but most of the parks were closed and the private “campgrounds” looked about as inviting as Snuffy Smith’s backyard. We hooked up to US Highway 69 and kept going for a lot longer than I’d hoped and expected until Prior, where we turned east in hopes of finding something resembling a decent campground. Our first hope, Springdale State Park, was closed with no explanation. It was supposed to be open, but the entrance to the park was chained. The next destination, Salina State Park was also chained. Good thing I’d snagged fuel earlier. I decided to explore OK State Highway 12 on the way out of the state. No reason, other than it looked less boring than 69 had been. It turned out to be a fairly poorly maintained, scrawny farm-to-market road that literally meandered through the northeastern corner of the state providing us with some really cool moments with that section of the Ozarks. It is almost mountainous.
Robbye was driving when we sailed past Spavinaw State Park. “Slow down” is not an instruction she totally comprehends. If she’s been at 55mph for a while, she thinks 50mph is complying with that instruction. The first entrance to the park was barely marked and about as obvious as a rural driveway. The second entrance was chained. I wasn’t sure, but it looked like the south entrance was, at least, open. I wasn’t sure it was even a park with a campground, either. She circled back and we dove down the narrow path that serves as cliff-drop into the park. Not only was Spavinaw State Park a campground, but there was a camp host working the park. And I mean “working.” He directed us to find a spot we liked and he’d be by in a bit to collect the state’s $17. We backed into a spot with a great Spavinaw River view and hooked up to the electrical grid. The weather report had predicted a 28F night, so it was nice to have a little extra power for the room heater we’d used most of the winter.
It was hard to believe the evening would turn that cold, since the day was a beautiful, balmy 55F and sunny. Gypsy and I went for a long walk to the reservoir and into “town.” Spavinaw appears to be a ghost town. There is only one surviving “business,” the local American Legion bar and the school appears to be closed. Mickey Mantle was born in Spavinaw and a short section of the road into the “town” is labeled “Mickey Mantle Memorial Highway.” Mantle was one of the most famous sports figures in the world in the 1960’s and it’s sobering to see how quickly that sort of notoriety is forgotten. A cheesy painting, a rundown road, and a hand-painted “plaque” are all that’s left of this part of Oklahoma’s memorial to “The Mick.” Of course, there isn’t much left of this part of Oklahoma either.
The lake is a reservoir for Tulsa, a fact that is stamped all over the dam in classic 1930’s construction style. Considering how depleted Lake Texoma was, the amount of water eastern Oklahoma is storing is impressive. The spillway was flowing strong and we slept to the sound of a waterfall.
We were up and out fairly early the next morning. Nothing to see in Spavinaw and we took the direct, backroads route out of Oklahoma into Missouri.
Apr 21, 2014
Late one Friday morning a year or so back, I set out to prove that we Cities urbanites have some of the coolest territory to ride within 30 minutes of almost any part of the city. Because I live in north St. Paul, I headed northeast to prove my point. Fifteen minutes from my house and I’m cruising the countryside, heading toward Wisconsin and isolated two lanes with a view.
I must have known I had an ulterior motive because I packed my ancient Roadcrafter (in case I ended up close enough to Duluth to drop it by for repairs) and some camping gear (in case I found myself stuck in an idyllic camping site with nothing to do but read and loaf). I know I didn’t really intend to turn the ride into an excursion because I didn’t bring a change of clothes, money, or cold weather riding gear outside of the stuff I normally wear and pack in my soft luggage.
Nearly 300 miles later, I was at the RiderWearhouse getting new zipper pulls installed and having a previous do-it-to-yourself repair patched. An hour later, I’m all fixed up with no place to go. Except north. I still had 4 hours of daylight left and no urge to quit riding. In fact, I was motivated to keep going because I’d picked up a couple pair of Aerostich riding shorts and wanted to “test” their Iron Butt enhancing powers. Besides, my wife wasn’t going to get home from work until sometime around 11PM and I knew she’d want me to be enjoying myself, harmlessly, instead of moping around the house cleaning and cooking dinner. I take my responsibilities as a husband seriously, so I headed north toward Two Harbors and beyond.
As the evening came to an end, I discovered Minnesotans and Minnesota visitors are not as spontaneous and me. Every dumpy little motel, campsite, and bed-and-a-donut between Duluth and Canada was filled up and the most popular phrase pained on Highway 61 billboards was “NO Vacancy.” I’m not an Iron Butter. I don’t ride at night unless it’s an absolute necessity. I’m blind in one eye and use the other as a bug trap. My distance vision stops at my faceshield at night. Now my trip had developed a little focus, I needed a place to stop for the night and I needed it quickly.
Fortunately, I’d packed a hammock and a bedroll. I found a pair of trees, just off of the highway, and fell asleep amazed at how many stars you can see through a forest canopy. The next morning, I was on the road, still going north, with the intention of crossing the boarder, checking out my hometown’s sister city, Thunder Bay, and checking out a Canadian motorcycle shop to see if they had any cool bikes that we can’t buy in the States.
I discovered that Thunder Bay is even more infected with urban sprawl than the south end of the Cities and I was instantly bored. The traffic was heavy, slow moving, and stuffed with vans and SUVs, just like home. I stuck with the highway and passed Thunder Bay without slowing down. Fifty miles down the road, I fueled up and considered my options; turn back and get home by evening or keep going and see some new flora and fauna. Being a tree hugging kind of guy, I kept moving northeast. So far, I’d done all of my international traveling without a map, so I was pretty clueless about where I’d end up, how far it would be between coffee and fuel, and if I’d be able to make it back home in time for work on Monday. But I’m pretty sure I remember Sev and Victor talking about doing this exact same trip, from the Cities around Superior and back home in one non-stop ride. So, I figured I could do it in two stops and two and a half days.
The Canadian roads were flawless, smooth as a recently paved US interstate. Traffic was light to non-existent. In fact, pretty much everything except the highway and nature was non-existent for most of the loop around the north side of Lake Superior. My fingers would have out-numbered the cars I passed every hundred miles and there were nearly as many bikes on the highway. The scenery is spectacular, with plenty of scenic pull-offs to rest your butt and check out the view. Most impressively, I hadn’t seen a cop since a bit north of Two Harbors. So the view was unobstructed by politics and other irritations.
For an emergency backup, I carried a cell phone, but I got used to seeing the “no service” flag every place I stopped and started turning the thing on only to be able to say, “Can’t you hear me now?” every fifty miles. I’m easily entertained.
Unlike north Minnesota, Canada is a great place for spontaneous travelers. In the dinky towns along the highways I traveled, every motel had vacancies. A fair number of nice looking facilities were boarded up and abandoned. Apparently, Minnesota’s booming tourist economy hasn’t crossed the boarder. But I needed to keep moving until I could figure out where I was going. Mile after mile of spectacular scenery, incredibly lake views, and beautiful roads and my butt was beginning to ache. For the last two hundred miles around the lake, I stopped every 50-75 miles, to work some feeling back into my cheeks and I made far worse time than I had during the first part of the trip. But I was still enjoying myself and the SV was running pretty well, if not efficiently. For some reason, my mileage has dropped about 30miles per tank since the fuel sensor died and I get a little nervous anytime the trip odometer passes 100 miles. For the last half of the trip I averaged about 39mpg, which is pitiful for a 650 twin.
Finally, I made it to the Canada-US crossing at Saux Saint Marie. The boarder crossing was blocked by a mile-long line of cars reaching over the bridge and a bit into Canada. I pushed the bike up one side of the bride, coasted down the other, and pushed across the boarder line. A symbolic gesture of fuel efficiency.
After getting gouged for two bucks at a Michigan tollbooth, I stopped at a rest area and stocked up on Michigan roadmaps, to get something for my two bucks. Then, I bounced fifteen miles over the crappiest “freeway” I’ve seen since the last time I was in Chicago and turned west toward Wisconsin and civilization. I could tell I was in “civilization” because there were cops everywhere; flashing lights, obstructing traffic, and generating revenue for corrupt politicians all across northern Michigan. I crawled through that leg of the trip, spending more time looking around billboards, checking my mirrors, and worrying that my speedo might be miscalibrated by a couple of miles per hour. I made it about half way to Wisconsin, in the dark, discovered that, once again, I’d passed up all of the available motels, and rolled into the first clearing in the trees where I could hang my hammock.
Michigan is, obviously, a very conservative state. They don’t waste a lot of money on unnecessary items; like highway markers. Even though, for the first time in 600 miles, I had a road map, I didn’t have a clue where I was. The few signs they do bother to post are conveniently positioned behind immobile road construction vehicles and other, less useful, signs. Speed limits are equally obscure, something made painfully obvious by the number of state-patrol-harpooned motorists I passed on my way through the last hundred miles of Michigan. When I came to ??, Henry Ford’s wacky attempt at a fundamentalist’s Epcot Center, I knew I’d been a victim of Michigan’s version of tourism promotion and, along with a half-dozen cagers, I turned back toward the unmarked highway known as US 22.
Finally, I crossed into Wisconsin and cut across the state, following a collection of my favorite two-lane backroads home. I made it back in time to fix dinner for my wife, who arrived about an hour after I’d unpacked and scattered gear and filthy clothes all over the living room. As usual, she thanked me for being the thoughtful husband that I’ve been for almost 40 years and threw all my crap into the garage for me to sort out in the morning. We ate while she told tales of ungrateful customers and mindless mismanagement and I kept my mouth shut, nodded my head, said “uh huh” regularly., After a while I closed my eyes. Visions of dark green forests, “moose crossing” signs, huge lake vistas, monstrous rock walls, perfect highways, miles of curving roads, and “NO Vacancy” signs flashed across my mind’s far-from-disabled eye.
MMM April 2006
Apr 20, 2014
This ain’t over. We’re doing this again soon.