A Memorable Memorial
by Tim Leary
Aah yes, Memorial Day weekend. That’s when we Minnesotans pretend that the weather’s actually going to be nice enough to plan some outdoor activities for the first time. For motorcyclists, this affliction is compounded by a chemical reaction involving common elements of the sport. Elevated levels of stored adrenaline resulting from the short riding season combine with the odors of chrome cleaner and carnuba wax. Primal urges overtake common sense forcing you to ride. Then again, maybe we just spend too much time revving our engines with the garage doors closed.
Whatever the reason, Kris and I heartily accepted an invitation to join our friend Bill’s annual “Most Excellent Memorial Weekend Ride”. We hopped on the Wing and sped through the glorious spring sun to meet up with the others. We even brought sunscreen !
Pulling into the meeting spot at Metropolitan Honda, a thick bank of clouds swallowed our sun. May turned into October. But this seemingly major setback was soon rendered inconsequential by the friendliness of the 20 other riders. Sincere handshakes and questions of interest forged instant friendships. We knew at that exact moment that the weekend was going to be a fun one. Weather be damned.
In our pre-ride meeting we were given route sheets containing directions and regrouping spots. With more lefts and rights than a flyweight title fight, our route sheets pointed us through some of Minnesota’s most scenic lands.
In its most basic form, the trip plan was to head south to Red Wing and Lake City with the first night’s stop in the Root River valley town of Lanesboro, MN. There, a seven course meal awaited our group at the historic Mrs. B’s bed and breakfast. Sunday’s leg included tours of Niagara Cave near Harmony, MN and an old grist mill near Canton, MN. Then we’d hit Mount Hosmer in Lansing, IA and Effigy Mounds National Monument near Marquette, IA. After crossing the river into Prairie du Chien, WI, we would ride to our base for the night, La Crosse, WI. On Monday we planned to ride to the top of La Crosse’s Grand Dad bluff and then wind our way along Wisconsin’s best twisties back to Minneapolis.
Just before leaving, Bill, the ride organizer, issued a strong warning to ride at our own pace. Accidents had occurred in prior years, and he wanted a safe trip this time. We nodded in complete agreement. Then all 17 bikes screamed out of the parking lot and stuck together like a child’s fingers at Halloween. Kris and I were the first to drop out of the group as excessive speed kept blowing the sidecover off my Wing.
When we hit the serpentine roads, the bikes became separated by riding style. Those who relished frying the lines off the road got to Red Wing long before the rest of us who enjoyed seeing the cows smile back at us. The plan was to regroup at the bluff-top park. A dose of serious road construction cut us off from our usual route to the park’s entrance. With the majority of the group watching us from the bluff above, we felt like mice in a maze. After a bit of embarrassing exploration, we made the rendezvous for the next leg.
The further south we rode; the more gray the sky became. By the time we reached Lake City, the wind had picked up and the temp dropped. Most riders stopped to grab some quick eats at the drive-in and put on another layer or two. Soon thereafter it began raining lightly and continued off and on for the rest of Saturday’s ride.
I knew I needed a new back tire, so the rain made me a tad skittish in the corners. I let the speed mongers with their gooey tires peel off while we putt-putted along within our comfort zone.
We caught up to the group surprisingly quickly, however. One of our route’s back roads was under construction and required us to resurrect our enduro skills to pass through. We waited in line as each bike attempted to cross a 15 foot stretch of six inch deep muck. Once safely across, we rode about 40 yards on gravel only to discover another 300 feet of muck waiting for us. When the valiant first attempt at crossing it resulted in a mud bath, the rest of us looked for an alternative.
With no regard for sanctity, we wedged our big bikes between cars and curbs in a church parking lot and rode across the front lawn. God must have been OK with that, because none of us crashed all weekend.
By the time we got to Lanesboro it had stopped raining. The cool air’s high humidity allowed Kris and I to stick to our original camping agenda. The others headed for their seven course meal at Mrs. B’s. We heard nothing but rave reviews.
The next morning started out a bit gray, but by the time we got on the road the sun was beaming. We made the short hop to Niagara Cave in Harmony, MN just in time for the 10 a.m. tour. If you’re into stuff like this, Niagara will absolutely amaze you with its wildly different underground formations.
The following stop was the old grist mill near Canton, MN. Although some of us didn’t get there in time for a tour, we did get to experience the beautifully serene setting of the mill. Bill’s loose-ballooned, circuitous route truly gave me a new appreciation for southeastern Minnesota.
Onward we rolled. With the peek-a-boo sun reappearing after lunch, everyone was in the mood to fly on the wide, winding two-laners. We reached Mount Hosmer in Lansing, IA in record time (whatever that might be) despite having to slow way down for a seven mile stretch of gravel. The view of the Mississippi from the top of that high hill is unparalleled.
From Lansing we scooted in a southerly direction to Effigy Mounds National Monument near Marquette, IA. Photos taken from the air reveal that the ceremonial and burial mounds built by Native Americans are shaped as enormous bears, circles and triangles.
By now the sun was beginning to fall, so we crossed the river into Prairie du Chien, WI and headed straight to La Crosse for the night. There, our cinder-block mini-storage hotel welcomed us with its early ’70’s decor. The marketing person who put together the hotel’s brochure is either a genius or a criminal. There’s a fine line there.
The next morning, Monday, we discovered that our roommate, Mike, had an interesting experience that night. With an Arizona drivers’ license, Mike was stopped for speeding in Wisconsin on a bike registered in Minnesota to the friend of a friend whose name Mike didn’t even know. Ooops. They say it’s the trips with the most adversity that you remember best.
After breakfast in the hotel’s broom closet restaurant, we were on the bikes and rolling. Some of our group broke off early and headed for home while the rest of us rode to the top of La Crosse’s Granddad Bluff Park for yet another gorgeous scenic vista.
The remainder of the morning had us twisting and climbing through western Wisconsin. Some of the roads, like highway 95 and county road G near Arcadia, WI would make you believe that you’re in the foothills of the Rockies.
A bit pressed for time, two other riders, Kris and I said our good-byes after lunch and split from the group. We headed north on Wisconsin’s ever-pleasing highway 35 along the river and were home by five.
Memorial weekend weather tricks us every year, but I discovered that a successful Memorial weekend actually has very little do with the temperature. What matters more is whom you spend it with. And this group of riders made our Memorial weekend memorable.