Aug 21, 2008

Getting Badgered

The vanishing summer and approaching time zone change bit me in the ass this morning. I’m used to sun and birds waking me up at 5:30, so I just let them do their work in starting my day. It’s still dark, I’m awake, and when I check my watch it’s 6:45. Crap! I have about 20 minutes to get to the ferry ticket office or I’m going back where I came from and, maybe, even around Chicago. My usual leisurely camp breakdown turns into organized chaos, but I’m pretty practiced at this and I think I made it out with everything I brought in. On the road in 15 minutes, I’m following the advice of my GPS like a robot.

Made it, with some hassle. With my ear plugs in, I get about a dozen instructions wrong and end up ping-ponging from security to the ticket office several times before they take pity on me and sell me a ticket. I’m on the boat, it’s heading west, it’s a beautiful cloudless, windless day and I’m back writing to you. The Badger has the coolest lounge chairs on the bow deck and I may fall asleep any minute.

Security has changed a lot since 1997. Then, I rode to the front of the boat, parked the bike, bought a ticket, talked to one of the ship’s owners about how cool he thought my SV’s Two Brothers pipe sounded (I thought it was an irritating racket, but he liked it), and rode on to the ship. Today, I pass by a gunpowder-sniffing dog and a collection of security questions, I screw up getting a second security check when I mistake the security guard’s weird arm waving as a direction to park with the other bikes (of which there are many), and I go through a collection of routines before finally being sold a ticket, parking the bike on the ship, getting the bike inspected, getting inspected myself, and climbing the stairs to the deck. It’s nothing like the bullshit of flying, but it’s a lot of pretend security.

We’re just not very good at managing anything complicated in this country. Like the Brits in 1920, our ruling class has inbred into total flaccid incompetence. G.W. is the best possible example of that breeding failure. I suppose there will never be a war that kills off the children of the rich and retarded ever again, but nature will probably find a way to weed their tiny brains and valueless lives out with disease or infertility. WWI and WWII did a job on Europe’s rich hillbillies, but those wars didn’t touch our richest and worst fit for survival. America has been specially good at protecting inherited wealth and its offspring since the Civil War. They have bought their way out of harm’s way so successfully that they look like the horse-faced British “royal family” or the chimps that we evolved fro. Every failed culture has been overbalanced by royalty and inherited wealth and power when forces against it tipped the scales toward defeat and obsolescence. Why would a boat ride make me think about that crap? Too much time on my hands, I suppose.

This probably isn’t the fastest way to get around Chicago, but it may be the most pleasant. You can sleep on the deck, watch a movie (when the satellite connection works, which wasn’t on this trip), sit in a comfortable interior lounge/museum/quiet room, eat, drink, or wander around enjoying all of those things.

I have decisions to make when the ship docks. The last time I landed in Manitowoc, it was hailing tennis balls, so my “plan” to explore Wisconsin turned into a roller derby/dodge ball contest between my, my sense of balance, and Mommy Nature’s worst tantrum in years. I rode past tornados, hail-decimated buildings and crops, wind-blown slick roads that were often flooded and the detours were worse than the roads they tried to avoid. I ended up riding all the way south to Iowa before I could turn west again. I was so wet and cold that for two days I could barely put in a 200 mile day without hypothermia. I quit, on the 2nd day less than 60 miles from home, finding a motel and standing in a shower to use up two charges of the hot water heater before I stopped shivering. I can’t imagine that this will be a repeat of that experience. Now that I write all of this, I can’t remember what made me thing taking the Badger across Lake Michigan would revive pleasant old memories. That was a miserable end to an otherwise fine trip.

Anyway, I have a couple of possible things to do and see on my last leg of the 2008 Crazy Old Man’s Tour. I want to visit Green Bay, home of the Minnesota nemesis. It is such a tiny town to have a pro team that it has to be interesting and a fun place to pick up an irritating sticker for my gear. After that, I have two return plans: 1) down to Milwaukee to visit the new Harley Museum and, maybe, the Buell plant or 2) across country more directly toward home. It’s a tough call. Milwaukee isn’t a place I’ve ever found to be very interesting. It’s hard to imagine anything in the museum that I haven’t seen and Harley’s marketing always pisses me off. Buell, on the other hand, is fascinating. Eric is an engineering hero and his plant is making better products every year. If the Buell Ulysses had been available when I bought my V-Strom, I’d have considered the choice a long time. It’s the first American motorcycle I’ve ever liked, except for the XL750 Harley race bike. Either way, Green Bay is on the trip. I’ll decide about the rest when I’m leaving Green Bay. I have plotted two GPS routes home, so it’s a button push to re-route when I decide.

I hope I always remember leaving the Badger in 1997. The ship mostly avoided the storm, other than some wind. When it docked, the ground was pure white with hailstones. I waited as long as I could before leaving the protection of the boat. Eventually, the crew threatened to toss me overboard if I didn’t get going. Rolling down that ramp onto balls of ice in a pouring rain storm was one of my life’s greatest acts of resignation. I traveled about 2 blocks, until I found a bank drive-through awning to hide under. The bank opened and I had to move on. The security guy acted as if I was stealing something valuable from the bank, although there were no customers yet for me to have obstructed. I vowed to never start an account with Wisconsin something-or-other Savings and Loan. Eventually, I was on my way out of town and the sky looked threatening in every direction. I couldn’t have gone to Green Bay if I’d have wanted to, the road was closed and downed trees redirected traffic for at least 100 miles in every direction. A smart guy would have found a motel that morning and gone back to sleep for a day or two. I tried to find a way home.

Apparently, there is an adventure rider event going on in Wisconsin this week, near the Apostles. Several guys from Ohio trailered their bikes to Ludington, to avoid the boredom of Ohio and Michigan roads, and are riding the ferry across before they start their week in Wisconsin. I got lots of recommendations for a trip to Kentucky and West Virginia some later date. It’s possible, although my eastern drive is seriously tuned down after this trip. I need some Rocky Mountains to reset my appreciation for real mountains. The Rockies are sort of tame after Alaska, though. It’s a tough call, glad I get to make it.

I made it off of the ferry safely and on to the highway. I discovered a really cool two-lane that parallels the four-lane to Green Bay. I satisfied my rural ruins Jones several times. Green Bay is larger than I expected and a little nicer. I snagged a Packers sticker and a load of pictures. There are a ton of fans visiting Lambeau Field, even off season. Nobody looks at the Dome when there isn’t a game there. I listened to a pair of cashiers argue about the post-Farve Packers and realized how much difference a real city team makes. Only an idiot would care about the rest of the pro team world. The Lakers, Vikings, Jets, etc. don’t belong to the community any more than a McDonald’s franchise. They are just businesses that coincidentally ended up in a particular town. They’ll follow the money anywhere it takes them, like the players also do. The Packers belong to Green Bay, not some whacked out mess like the team organization that renamed the Cav’s stadium “Quicken Loans Stadium.” (“You can’t have popcorn or a hotdog, but you can get your home refinanced/repossessed.”) Cheering for these other corporations is as silly as wearing a Harley tattoo or jumping up and down and shrieking when you see the ENRON logo. The only pro team I care about is the Packers and I don’t particularly like football. I want the Packers to beat everyone, not just the NFL but everyone in pro sports. Actually, I want Green Bay to beat everyone; I don’t care about the Packers, either.

There was a small chance that I might get to tour the Buell factory, but that appears to be vanishing. My motivation to see the Harley museum is almost non-existent. After a heart-stopping meal at a Packer fans’ bar, I may diagonal across Wisconsin toward home. I didn’t give the Buell folks enough time. In my excitement over the idea and my focus on getting from one place to another, I didn’t allow the usual 4-5 days that it takes for business to react. Maybe another time.

I’m done with lunch, still nothing from HD’s marketing department. It’s settled, I’m taking the shorter way home. I have a $300 rat bike to find and fix. The route my GPS picked for the return home was based off of the “shorter route, faster route, etc.” options. I picked faster route, since I’d decided not to stay overnight between home and anywhere. Four and a half hours later, I was home.

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