by Gary Charpentier
I never knew what hit me…
One moment I was droning along, a thousand feet above the landscape, enjoying another beautiful sunrise here on the Western Front. The next tick of the clock found me fighting the controls as my fragile craft, riddled with bullet holes, plunged towards the earth in flames! As I watched the shell-pocked battlefield rushing towards me, I realized that my final moment had arrived… and my only regret was that the last sound I would ever hear was the triumphant buzzing of my enemy’s engine.
I opened my eyes to darkness. I was lying on the ground, somewhere… That terrible buzzing was still in my ears! I turned my head and saw a red glow on the horizon. As my eyes struggled to focus, I slowly realized that it wasn’t the horizon at all, but the edge of my bed! The red glow resolved into numbers… 5:03. That annoying sound was not the engine of a Fokker Triplane, but rather the electronic buzzer of my battered LED alarm clock. Whew! Cheated death, yet again…
I reached over and swatted the evil little box until the torment ceased. What now? Knowing I would never get back to sleep with this jolt of adrenaline rushing through my system, I decided to add caffeine to the mix, and stumbled towards the kitchen to brew up some coffee. Somewhere in the back of my mind, a little voice was scolding me, saying I really shouldn’t be up so early on a Sunday. I acknowledged the point, but the aroma coming from Mr. Coffee provided all necessary rebuttal.
A glance out the window confirmed that the sun would rise yet again, as the few clouds loitering about showed a rosy glow on their bottoms. I poured my coffee, stepped into my boots, and headed for the garage.
A delicious anticipation overcame me as the garage door slowly opened. Just as a strip-tease artist peels away her garments oh-so-slowly for effect, the sight of my Café Scrambler gradually revealed from the bottom up definitely gets my heart racing. Stepping inside my gearhead sanctuary, I paused a moment to savor the familiar aromas of gas, oil, and rubber.
Switching on the light, I let my eyes roam over the bike in our pre-ride inspection ritual. Lots of chain-fling on the rear wheel. I would have to wipe that off. I checked the oil: just below full. Lights: check. Cables: tight enough. Tires: round. Pressure: not much, it IS the weekend, after all.
Hoisting the swingarm on a paddock stand, I sprayed a shop rag with some citrus degreaser. Then, holding the rag against the rim, I spun the wheel with my other hand, getting rid of the excess chain lube which had been deposited there after my last ride. A 30 second job, after which I returned to the house to retrieve my riding gear. The bike was ready and I was almost there.
At the kitchen table I pulled a map out of an old tank bag and contemplated my “flight plan”. The little nightmare that awakened me had left some residual anxiety so I opted not to take the speed-freak route for this morning’s ride. Instead, I settled on a nice leisurely run down to Red Wing, with a touch-and-go at Treasure Island for a bit of blackjack. Then, either Hwy 60 West to Zumbrota, or East into Wisconsin. I could make that decision when I left the casino.
I shrugged into my trusty leather and, helmet in hand, I returned to the garage. Rolling Quasi Moto out into the driveway, his chrome-sided gas tank reflected the rising sun, just now peeking over the horizon. I love starting a ride at dawn, especially on Sunday. Nearly everyone else is still asleep, so I have the road to myself, and the brisk morning air invigorates me.
After donning my helmet and gloves, I turned the key in the ignition (contact!), pulled out the choke, and pressed the starter button. The double overhead cam twin fired up immediately and I let it idle for a minute keeping the revs low so as not to wake the neighbors. Then we rolled out into the street. Take off time: 0558.
Highway 52 South was all but deserted. I rode along, glancing to the right from time-to-time at my absurdly elongated shadow. He stayed with me all the way to the Hastings exit, where I reluctantly left him behind.
Highway 55 Eastbound…The “enemy aerodrome” lies down that road: a huge complex comprising the police headquarters, courthouse, and jail all in one convenient location. With this in mind, I always obey the speed limit on this short stretch of tarmac. They do try to catch you out here, with several decreasing speed zones as you approach the Hastings city limits. At the stoplight on the main drag through town I turned left and then right on 10th Street to take the back way into Treasure Island. This bypasses the speed traps and traffic nonsense on 316, while offering better scenery and twistier roads. We began to have a bit of fun here, finally cracking the ton on some of the straights. Sweepers were taken in top gear, rolling on the throttle and scraping the pegs just a bit. There is only one stop sign on this route, until you get to the road that takes you onto the reservation. This part of the ride always goes by quickly and before I knew it we were pulling into Treasure Island’s Motorcycle Only parking area.
The tables were good to me, as they usually are. I was out of there, fifty bucks richer, before Quasi Moto could even cool down. My gambling ‘system’ follows the old addage: “Quit while you’re ahead.” I’ll never get rich, I’m not greedy enough, but I do manage to make most of my gas money this way.
Walking back out to the bike, I decided to take the western route. I ride Wisconsin all the time, but I had only been on this stretch of Hwy 60 once before, several years ago, on my beloved Ducati, “Gogo”. Destination confirmed, we left Treasure Island behind and headed for the western horizon.
The rest of the day was spent exploring backroads and little towns in Southeast Minnesota. This is a truly beautiful place to ride. I detoured south on Hwy 3 into Owatonna, then west on Hwy 14, north to Waseca on Hwy 13… my belly had been rumbling for some time and I was quite pleased when I saw the sign for the Busy Bee Café in the center of Waseca’s business district. There was a Busy Bee Café in London that was quite popular with the original Ton-Up Boys, so I figured this would be the perfect place to stop for breakfast. My hopes were dashed, however, when I found that they are closed on Sunday. Dejected, I continued north on 13 to the town of Waterville.
Once there, I found a delightful place called, oddly enough, The Waterville Café. There was a 1961 vintage two-stroke Yamaha displayed in one window. I later found out this was a Japanese domestic model smuggled over here by an American sailor many years ago. Several vintage bicycles filled two other windows along a lengthy storefront. The place was packed and apparently quite popular with the lycra/spandex pedal bike crowd. I was able to park right in front of the door and found a table where I could keep an eye on my scoot while I ate. Is it just me, or do all motorcyclists feel more comfortable with this arrangement? I never have to park my truck where I can see it, but there have been times when I actually decline to dine where I can’t watch my bike.
The cheese omelet with hash browns and toast was simply sublime. The menu was extensive, but hungry as I was, I knew I wouldn’t have the patience to sample and savor some of their more sophisticated dishes. “That’s OK,” I thought, as I donned my wrap-around shades in my best Terminator impression… “I’ll be baaack!”
I rode Hwy 60 back east to Faribault, where I picked up Hwy 3 headed north. This is another nice road for just cruising along, with lots of pastoral scenery and usually very little traffic. I stopped in at the Castle Rock Café for a cold one, because I always do when I’m on this road. I’ve never eaten there because I’m always either on my way to somewhere else or I’ve already eaten elsewhere. I’ll have to make a point of it someday.
By now it was approaching noon, and the temperature was heading for the nineties. I rode the rest of the way on Hwy 3 to Ton-Up Hill, and came in for a landing. I was ready for a nap, but wife Amy was home so I knew I was in for a ‘debriefing’. It seems my little dawn patrol was an Unauthorized Mission, punishable by a fine and extra duty. I surrendered the remains of my blackjack winnings and headed out to the shed to start up the lawnmower. War is Hell…