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 nortoriously 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 Artic 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 downpayment.

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 Artic 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 hime 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 miss 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 thought it worth the pain. The sanctuary was packed with ducks, geese, egrets, coots (not just me), and we saw a half-dozen or more Artic Swans. We were there about an hour before the rest of the pack arrived, pipes blasting, engines rev-ing, and birds scattering. We snuck out as the middle of the pack arrived. The birders were already 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 me GPS the instrucion to get us home the shortest way, prefereably 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.


  1. I quite like the "repeated shotgun blasts" description. And "farm implement".


  2. I wondered what happened to you. I thought I saw you behind us on County O and was looking for you in Ellsworth but never saw the bike or the attached cage. I figured your social paranoia might have grabbed ahold of you or Elvey was having problems keeping up. I think if this becomes your M.O. for bike trips you'll need to get her a little sports car like a Miata or Mini Cooper convertable.

    I rode with my cousin on a 1998 VFR800 and his friend that just got a 1983 GL1100 and had fixed it up enough for this run. After Ellsworth the group got stretched out some and I didn't feel crowded at all. Usually this time of year you're freezing your ass off not noticing the roads. You're more worried about hypothermia than getting a good line through the next corner. This time with the novelty of the new (old) bike and the moderate temps this was one of the most enjoyable days riding in quite a while. I had been on most of these roads before as I've been on several other rides with Bassett but they're always challenging and senic, a great combo.

    I filled up in Durand and spoke briefly to a guy riding a mostly original 1976 Triumph Bonneville. Original in the sense it could have used a little more maitainence than what it was getting. Most of the group took off before us so this Triumph guy rode just ahead of us. The route out of Durand is really nice with some challenging roads. I was glad to be with some of the group this time because in all the previous rides I have missed a turn someplace and missed the best part of the trip.

    As we were coming into Modena the Triumph which is just ahead of us belches out 2 or 3 puffs of smoke and dies on him just as we turn onto another road. Of course as I had just talked to him I felt an obligation to stop and offer some assistance along with my cousin and his friend. Anyway he gets off the bike and immediately starts trying to figure out what's wrong. He'd like to take out the plugs but doesn't have a wrench and none of us have one either seeing it's a 13/16" plug. We manage to get 1 out and it looks OK. 2 other guys on newer Triumphs stop and help too. We end up draining the float bowls and replaceing a fuse to his ignition. It starts up and we continue the trip. It quits again on him once we're on Hwy 37 where we drain the bowls again. It starts up and we head to Wabasha. We're late and don't stop at the park. They're still serving lunch though we're at the tail end of it. The Triumph guy eats with us. He's from South Minneapolis and has about 6 other British bikes. If I was him I would have rode his Norton today. I talk to about 5 people I know through various means and we leave with the Triumph guy with us. We took 60 to Hwy 4 north to Lake City and took Cty 5 to Red Wing. The Bonnie was working well now, he must have doing 90mph on the way to Red Wing. The Kawasaki ran perfectly though the seat was really wearing on me at the end of the day. I took some pictures of it when I got home and put it on Craig's List.



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