Nov 25, 2008

Winter Blues

The V-Strom is put away for a while. The little Kawasaki is still in front of the garage, waiting for a 30 degree day when it will start and I feel brave enough to start it. I've brought some projects into the house to work on for the winter, the Kawasaki may follow.

Every year, when I put away the bikes it feels more like the last time. Due to an excessive number of household projects I feel a lot older this season than in the past. Of course, I am 60 and that IS a lot older than I was a while back.

The magazine and contributors put the Cheap Bike Challenge to print and that period of my life is behind me. I may tell more of that story here, but my editor wants me to wait until the reaction to the article lets him know if readers want to hear more about it. The MMM winter issue is always a bigger deal than the rest of the year, since it is the last of the paper until March.

I get way ahead of the magazine with my column, so I have a lot of ideas sitting unread at the end of each year. This year, because of this blog, I have an outlet for those unaccepted rants. Beware!

Nov 3, 2008

The 15th Annual Swan Ride

I did a weird thing this weekend. A friend invited me to a group ride (thanks Michael) and I accepted. If you've followed my column or this blog, you know that I'm notoriously uncivilized, antisocial, and a motorcycle hermit. I don't know why I decided to check out this ride, but I did.

As a backup plan, I invited a friend who planned to catch the group 20 miles or so after the start. Also, my wife decided to tag along, in our family cage, since the destination of the ride was a bird refuge in Wisconsin where Arctic Swans stop on their way from Alaska to the east coast winter feeding grounds. She's a birder. I'm a rider. It seemed like a reasonable plan.

As soon as I arrived at Fury Motorcycles, I felt out of place. There were dozens of bikes parked in the lot and more arrived every minute. Many of the bikes were my "favorite" kind of vehicle, bikes with defective exhaust systems that sounded like repeated shotgun blasts or a badly maintained farm implement. Fury Motorcycles specializes in high-buck poser bikes, all sporting price tags that would amount to a good sized house down-payment.

To be fair, the majority of riders were on real motorcycles; lots of BMWs, Goldwings, and an assortment of cruisers and touring bikes with a sprinkling of sport bikers. I knew many of the folks going on the ride and I had a good time talking to folks who teach MSF classes or have read my column in MMM. Still, the idea of being in some kind of mile-long 100-mile motorcycle parade rubbed several nerves and made me want to get on the road as soon as possible. Since we didn't know where the Arctic Swans were, my wife and I waited for a route sheet so we could get going. The route wasn't the thing, the destination was. I should have just asked someone who'd been on the ride before.

When the sheets finally appeared, I tried to find the destination on my GPS; "Reik's Lake Park." No luck. The best I could do was to program in Washaba, MN as a possible destination. With that target in our sights, we set out to escape before the crowd. I called my friend, gave him a spot where we might meet up (using a borrowed cell phone). Getting my wife in motion is an exercise in frustration and, add the dog to that, I was thwarted before I even got started. She hadn't even begun to look for her keys before half of the group was on the road. Adding to the fun, my friend convinced me that the planned route would be more "scenic" than my escape route. I turned sheeple and followed the glowing tail lights the "scenic route."

It wasn't; scenic, that is. Lots of farm land, too many plodding bikes in front of me, too many pissed off cagers behind. We either missed our friend, or he wisely decided to skip the event. About 30 miles into the route, my wife's knee really started bothering her. I looked at the route sheet, decided to make a direct run for Alma, WI, and off we went on our own toward the bird sanctuary. Ten minutes later, we were there.

It was worth the trip. My wife even thought it was worth the pain. The sanctuary was packed with ducks, geese, egrets, coots (not just me), and we saw a half-dozen or more Arctic Swans. We were there about two hours before the rest of the pack arrived, pipes blasting, engines rev-ing, and birds scattering. We snuck out as the middle of the pack were pulling into the park. The birders were getting testy and the birds were evacuating for the far end of the park.

We crossed the Mississippi and turned north toward home, stopping in Pepin for some incredible apples. The ride home was uneventful and scenic. I gave my GPS the instruction to get us home the shortest way, preferably by dirt road, and it found an incredible route from Red Wing to the Cities. In all, a pretty amazing day for November in Minnesota.

Turns out, "Rieck's Lake Park" is the real name of the park. Once we found it, I made it a waypoint in my GPS and it's there for real, now. Next year, we're going to ride there alone and camp out for an evening in the park.