Sunday, May 31, 2009

Midwest Roadtrip '09: Michigan to home

Monday morning I had a nice cooked-to-order breakfast in the hotel, then started heading south, meaning I was officially on my way home. After some nice riding through the Upper Peninsula, I got to the Mackinac Bridge in the afternoon. The bridge was under construction and all traffic was going over the northbound two lanes. It took a while just to get through the toll booth, then traffic practically crawled over the bridge. The bridge wasn't much different from any other bridge until I got to the center span. Normally, there would be an option of going over pavement or grating, but since there was only one lane I had no choice but to go over the grating. It was pretty unnerving, first because the tires wanted to follow the grate causing the bike to wander a bit, but also because when you look down, you can see straight down to the lake. I was tensed up the whole way until I got back on pavement and breathed a sigh of relief. Back on solid land, I took a detour to Bellaire to visit a brewpub a friend said I had to check out, but it was closed for Memorial Day. I continued on to Lansing to the Capitol, and decided to get some dinner. The brewpub I found on google was also closed, so I went to some roadhouse-type place I had passed. It was okay, but far from great. When I stopped for gas afterward a guy on a bike came over and started talking, asking about my road trip. I talked with him as I went about my business, and when I was done and ready to leave, he was still talking, so I had to politely say goodbye and get on my way. I finally stopped for the night just south of Toledo, Ohio.

My first destination Tuesday was Ohio's highpoint, which actually has a school built around it. Along the way I stopped for a couple of ABCs pics, and from there it was on to the Capitol in Columbus. I thought about stopping to at least look at the inside, but I just pushed on westward instead. I headed toward Indianapolis, but via Xenia for the elusive X. When I got to Indiana, it marked a major milestone, that I had ridden the Fat Boy in all the 48 contiguous states. Just inside Indiana I turned off the interstate to go to the highpoint. The road leading to it was closed six miles short of the highpoint, so I had to take town roads which were actually not far off course, just a little bit slower. The highpoint itself was nothing particularly special, just a spot in a small wooded area between farms. I had a snack while I was there and headed on to Indianapolis. I thought the city was pretty nice, at least the downtown area. That opinion changed some as my GPS routed me through surface streets out of town. Going along the interstate I realized my load had shifted. Concerned, I pulled over at a truck stop and adjust stuff to keep from losing everything. While I was there I took off and stowed my leather jacket and got some super glue to at least temporarily reattach the sole of my boot which had gotten loose enough to flap when walking. In Illinois, getting close to Springfield, it started to look like rain was imminent, so I put on my rain gear. I did get rain, but it wasn't too bad. It did, however, scuttle my thoughts of finding a campground for the night. After taking pictures of the Capitol, I decided I didn't really want to stay in Springfield at all, and continued south about 30 miles, and got a motel room in Litchfield at about 8. I had dinner at a little local place the clerk recommended. I had a steak which was huge but a little dry, nothing great.

Wednesday morning I had some great riding getting to the Missouri highpoint, and then to Jefferson City to the Capitol. The highpoint was down a gravel road, but then the path from the parking lot to the highpoint was concrete. I thought about riding the path, but figured there might be somebody who wouldn't like that. When I got to the Capitol, I decided to take a look around the interior this time. Security was almost nonexistent, I just walked in and started wandering around, taking pictures. The ride on from there was pretty nice until I got to Osage Beach. Not only was it raining the whole time I was going through the area (I did suit up beforehand), but it was an ugly tourist trap of a town, lined with motels and fast food restaurants, and lots of traffic. The riding was much nicer once I got away from there. I stopped for the night in Joplin, at a place where I took advantage of their hot tub and pool.

I got on the road at about 8 Thursday, and got to Rogers, Arkansas around 9. I stopped there because that's where the state HOG rally was taking place that weekend. When I got there, they were just setting up and things didn't start until much later. I got the picture I needed for the ABCs of Touring, and continued on my way. I hadn't planned on going to the Arkansas highpoint, since I went last year, but when I realized I would be going really close to it, I figured I had to stop. It wasn't too much of a detour (certainly less than some other detours I took on this trip), and it took me over some nice roads. I continued on to Little Rock to the Capitol. I decided to take a look around the inside, which required going through a security checkpoint. It didn't feel nearly as secure as an airport, but I did have to go through a metal detector. I walked around the place a little bit and took a few pictures, then started toward home for real. While I was still in Arkansas, the Fat Boy rolled over 100,000 miles, another big milestone. I hit some nasty construction traffic in Texarkana around 5. I decided to have dinner at Hooters and hope it would die down some by the time I was done. When I got back on the interstate closer to 6, it was just as bad, so I had to just deal with it. I was already feeling pretty tired when I got to Dallas, but at that point I was completely determined to make it home, even if it was after midnight. My last stop was in West, where I ate a couple of kolaches to give me the last bit of energy I needed. At that point it was late enough and I was tired enough that I was actually going the speed limit. I finally got home at 1am, having ridden 850 miles, more than I'd ever ridden in one day. I was totally spent, and I still don't feel like I've recovered yet.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Midwest Roadtrip '09: Minnesota to Michigan

Friday I got off to something of a late start, not leaving the motel until after 8. Then my GPS was acting up and couldn't route me to MN's highpoint. I was 20 miles off course before I was sure I had missed a turn. I stopped in at a small store and they gave me a map. It turns out that the turn I missed was only a couple of miles outside of Grand Marais, so I just went into town and got gas before I took the correct roads to the trailhead. As I knew it would, the road turned to gravel a couple of miles from the trailhead. It started alright, but worsened some on the way. I was riding along at a decent pace when all of a sudden I saw several potholes full of water. It was too late to really slow down or swerve, so I clenched up and went straight through, splashing water everywhere. I made it to the trailhead, stripped my leathers and started the three mile hike. It wasn't a particularly difficult hike, the first two miles were pretty flat to Whale Lake, and the last mile wasn't especially strenuous, but enough to break a sweat. The highpoint itself wasn't particularly impressive, but there was a really nice overlook just beforehand. I think my favorite part was a really nice beaver dam about a half mile in, and Wale Lake was also quite beautiful. I had been concerned about my knees, but they held up just fine. I took a different road back, and as much as I thought such a thing didn't exist, it was a good gravel road, very well graded, and much better than the road I'd taken in. It was almost 2 o'clock when I got back into town and since I was really hungry, I had lunch at the restaurant I'd had a beer in the night before, which was quite tasty. I then headed back along the lake shore toward Duluth. I turned off toward Ely, which was a really great road, nice long turns like I love. It also warmed up quite noticeably as I got away from Lake Superior, but not so much that I had to remove any layers. When I got near Voyageurs NP, the weather was looking threatening. I went to a visitors center, which full to overflowing with boat trailers, but not only was the place closed for the day (it was 7pm), it hadn't even opened for the season. Since I didn't have a boat and didn't have enough time to do some sort of commercial boat ride, there wasn't much I could have done in the park, so when it started raining I decided to head back south toward Duluth. I rode until late and finally stopped for the night just across the Wisconsin line from Duluth. The place didn't seem to be in the best location, but it turned out fine.

It was still quite cool Saturday morning, being on the lake, and I headed to the WI highpoint. Fortunately the problem of my GPS not being able to read its maps was fixed by pulling out and reinserting the memory card, so I had no problems navigating. I was dodging raindrops as I neared the highpoint, but didn't really hit rain. The highpoint was in a nice county park and had a wooden observation tower that gave a nice view. I talked to mom while I was there, while being swarmed by mosquitoes. I felt kind of silly at first, since the sun had come out, but it wasn't long before I was glad I switched from chaps to rain pants when I hit about 60 miles of rain on the way to Madison. The ride from the highpoint to Milwaukee was kind of a whirlwind of POIs, the Tomahawk plastics factory, the Capitol, the Buell factory, the Capitol Drive powertrain factory, the headquarters and finally the Harley museum. At the museum I sat down and had a beer at the bar and chatted with some people. I went to get some dinner at a brewpub nearby, but it was really loud and noisy, plus neither the food nor the beer were very good, so it turned me off to staying the night in Milwaukee. For whatever reason, I decided I wanted to camp for the night. There was supposed to be a campground not too far away, but I couldn't find it, so I went on to a KOA in Fond du Lac, 45 minutes away. I got there at 11, and not surprisingly the office was closed. I went to the tent area to crash, and figure it out in the light of day. I was unpacking and starting to set up when two guys came over to run me off. I tried to explain that I was only looking to stay the night, since their concern seemed to be more related to the holiday weekend, since there wasn't anything set up in that area. The guys went back to their camp, then it must have sunk in that I was alone and just wanted to stay until morning, and they said it would be alright. They came back a little later and invited me to join them for a beer, to be friendly and apologize for any confusion, I suppose. After I set up my tent and used the restroom, I sat down for that beer with the whole group, which included the two guys and three women (the older guy's girlfriend and two daughters, the other guy was one girl's boyfriend). I still felt a bit uncomfortable about the whole situation, but we talked about motorcycles and my road trip, among other things. It was about 12:30 before I broke away and went to bed.

I woke up at 5 on Sunday and didn't feel like sticking around, despite the lack of sleep. I got off at 6, headed north. At 7 I stopped and had breakfast at Denny's and felt better than I had beforehand. I got to L'Anse, Michigan around 11, got some water and snacks and headed to the highpoint. It started out paved, then good gravel, then it degraded from there. The waypoint I had in my GPS was way off, so I had to consult my book to get to the trailhead. I made it to within about a half mile of the trail, which was better than I thought might be the case. Honestly, I'm not sure I would have gotten much further in my car. While walking, my right foot started bothering me, a result of my ingrown toenail. It was a major pain, but I kept on and made it to the highpoint, which was swarmed by gnats. I spent a while at the top, resting my feet. When I got back to the trailhead, a carload of people had just pulled up, and another car pulled up as I was heading back to my bike. Of course they couldn't have come just a little sooner to give me a ride. When I got back to L'Anse I was pretty much exhausted, and rather than try to head toward my next destination, I headed up the peninsula to Houghton. On the way up I saw what I'm pretty sure was three bears run across the road. I checked into a hotel about 5, and laid down and took an hour nap. I woke up and went to a brewpub called The Library, which had good beer and good food. I stayed until 9:30, then went to check out the other brewpub in town, but it was closed.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Midwest Roadtrip '09: Minnesota

Tuesday it was pretty warm when I left the motel, probably about 75 degrees at 7am, but once I headed north and got into St. Paul proper, the temperature had dropped about 10 degrees. I stopped at the capitol, still expecting the day to eventually warm up. However, after about a half hour and starting to get cold, I stopped and put on my chaps. It kept getting colder as I headed north, to the point where I saw a sign reading 40 degrees in Duluth. I finally stopped again just outside of town for gas and drank a hot chocolate to try to warm up. I continued north, but it didn't get any warmer, and I was feeling pretty whiny and miserable until I finally stopped at a restaurant along the shore of Lake Superior for some lunch and hot tea. It was pretty tough getting back on the bike and going another hour to Grand Portage, where my original plan was to camp for the night. To add insult to being freezing cold, it started raining on the way. I quickly ditched the plan to camp and decided to stay at the casino hotel instead. When I got there around 3, I was still thinking I would make a run across the Canadian border, but it was still raining and that was the deal-breaker. I warmed up a bit by taking the stairs to my room, but that backfired when I tripped and banged my knee. I changed into my swim trunks and went to really warm up in the sauna. There was a Canadian guy in there, and we talked some. As is customary, I was super heated after a while and jumped in the pool to swim for a bit. I took a shower and changed and went for dinner at the restaurant, which was okay but nothing great. After dinner, I went to check out the casino (Grand Portage is an Indian reservation), which is all electronic games. I never figured out how to use my "free" $5, but my $1 lasted a while. It got to where I was almost hypnotized, and my brain shut off. I was hoping to either get to $5 and cash out or go bust and go to bed. When my luck turned and it seemed like I wasn't going up, I started betting a quarter at a time and before too long I busted and went to bed.

I woke up early Wednesday and repacked the bike. Since the kitchen didn't open until 7, I picked up some snacks at a gas station on the way to the marina. There were a bunch of people already there waiting to board. I had to rearrange some things on the bike, then went down to get my stuff and myself onboard. The two hour ride to Isle Royale was a bit boring. I did talk with one couple a bit, but half the people were asleep. I started reading some park information that was on the boat, but because it was pitching and rolling in the rough water, it wasn't long before I started feeling motion sick. I wanted to get to the back of the boat to get air and to see the horizon, but a guy had started talking to me about his trip. I felt better eventually, and then a short time later we entered the harbor that was our destination. I registered, then went to find a shelter to stay in. I selected the most secluded one on the end, not that there were many people there to make much difference. While it had been cold on the mainland and the ride over, it was beautiful and about 65 degrees, feeling pretty warm. I went for a pretty easy hike to an overlook, 3 miles away. The hike was nice, and I took my sweet time, stopping almost any time I started getting sweaty or winded to read my book. On the way back my right knee started hurting pretty bad, kind of ironic considering I had banged my left knee. It sucked and took forever, but I made my way back to camp. Ibuprofen and a nap helped my knees, at least until I stood up again.

Thursday morning, I didn't do much. I slept late (at least by this trip's standards), but it was raining in the morning, after an overnight thunderstorm. I cooked my breakfast inside the shelter, sitting on my little camp stool. After packing up I had a bunch of time to kill, so I did some reading and walked along the short nature walk around the visitors center. At 11:30, a ranger gave a talk on moose ticks until the boat came to pick us up. We got an earlier start than expected and made it back at 2. It took me a while to repack my bike and get away. I crossed into Canada and went to the Harley shop in Thunder Bay. Afterward I got some dinner at some place called Montana's. Whereas the Canadian border guard only wanted to know my plans and didn't even look at my ID, the American guard must not have liked my answers, because she waved me aside and I had to sit for a while while they did whatever, then asked me some more questions and let me go. I went south and found a motel for the night in Grand Marais.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Midwest Roadtrip '09: Texas to Minnesota

Saturday, the 16th, I woke up at 5, which was no surprise since I'd been waking up about that time all week in anticipation for this trip. I got off around 7, dressed lightly expecting typical Texas weather. South of Waco the clouds got dark and the temperature dropped. I was hoping that the rain I hit would be light and isolated, but it picked up and started looking like it was going to stick around. Unfortunately, once I realized this I was just past and exit and a few miles from the next. I was already wet and cold when I pulled over, got gas and put on my rain gear, which is never ideal. I kept on going, only barely slowing down (unlike many other people on the road) despite lessened visibility. It rained the whole way to varying degrees to my next stop in Denton. I was feeling pretty whiny and miserable at that point, but still determined to make good time. Once the rain let up shortly thereafter, it stayed pretty cool and I was feeling better, but still uncomfortable. At the subsequent stop, I changed to my leather jacket and chaps, as well as putting on a dry t-shirt. I felt like a new person after that, and had no problem making it to my designated stopping point for the night, Salina KS. I did, however, run into a triathlon in downtown Oklahoma City which made it difficult to get to the capitol to take a picture. I got to Salina around 6, had dinner and through the power of the Internet found a decent cheap motel for the night. I picked up some beer and sat in the hot tub for a while drinking beer and reading the newspaper I'd brought with me.

I woke up at 5 again Sunday. Since I was ready to leave at 6 and the continental breakfast didn't start until 6:30, I ate at McDonald's down the street. I rode north into Nebraska, then east along the interstate to Lincoln to get the capitol. I headed south back into Kansas to get the capitol in Topeka, then to Kansas City. The day had started pretty cool, but by the time I got to KC around 3, it was pretty warm, and I would have liked to take off my jacket, but it would have been a pain trying to stow it away again. It wasn't actually that bad as long as I was moving. I stopped at the Harley factory, which was closed, but I got a nice picture of my bike out front. I went to a brewpub nearby, which I would describe as a "typical" chain brewpub- nice place, but very mainstream beers. I got an inexpensive motel room nearby, then headed in search of some BBQ for dinner. I went to a location of a local chain I'd visited on a roadtrip many years ago (but not the same location). I got ribs and slaw, but I didn't really love either of them, and definitely didn't think the meal was worth the 16 dollars they charged me for it. I thought the ribs had way too much sauce on them, even after scraping a lot off. I went to try a brewpub called McCoy's, which had some good beer. I was almost going to call it quits around 8, but went along a nice road lined with beautiful homes to a place called 75th Street something-or-other. It was a nice place with a decent band playing, but I thought their beer was pretty weak.

I woke up far earlier than necessary for a 9am tour one mile away Monday, so I had a bunch of time to kill. Fortunately, after breakfast I laid down and dozed off for about a half hour until 8, then pretty much gave up waiting and went to the factory. While I was hoping the visitor center opened before they started tours, I didn't think it would mean it opened at 9 and the first tour was 9:15. The first tour was almost all people who had ridden in, some from WV and one from TN, not sure about anyone else. The tour was really cool and I guess I'd either forgotten or not realized they started making Dynas there in 2002. After the tour I bought a t-shirt and got my bike resituated. Before I'd even started what promised to be a hard day of riding, I felt like I could use a nap. The next problem was that an intermittent problem of my satellite receiver cutting out every once in a while had become nearly constant, so I had to shut it off and ride on silence until the next stop. I stopped at the Iowa Capitol and in addition to the usual pic right out front, I got what I thought was a cool pic of my bike in front of the cornerstone. I headed from there to the state highpoint, in the NW corner of the state. It was a rather unassuming mound off of a dirt road with a tall water tower next to it. On the way onward toward Minnesota I found that instead of my GPS's route over 5 miles of dirt roads, I could have come a much easier route with half a mile of dirt, and I would have seen the entrance to the proper highpoint parking lot. I went up to the interstate in MN and headed east. Since it was getting toward dusk, I had to override the GPS's almost certainly flawed route via state roads and stick with the interstate. As the light was fading, I stopped for dinner at Applebee's about 100 miles from St. Paul. After dinner I pushed onward, finally stopping just outside of St. Paul at 11. I got a cheap motel room, which was clean and adequate and all, but it had a weird smell and it was designed for the handicapped. Nevertheless, I managed to get a decent night's sleep, waking up at 5:45, but going back to sleep until 6:45.

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Mythical Nap

After a week off for a cold, I got back into training this past week, running up and down the stairs Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. After finishing and cooling off for a few minutes Friday, I went home, took a shower, and rode the Night Train over to Jimmy's to enjoy the evening air and a beer on the deck, then went to dinner at TX Roadhouse. After a tasty steak dinner I went home and watched TV until I fell asleep.

I went back over to Jimmy's Saturday morning, ostensibly to help him pick up some furniture from a warehouse. It turned out I wasn't all that necessary as the handyman doing work on his house came with his truck, so the three of us went down to pick it up. The first problem was that the truck only has two seats, so I sat on a camp stool between them. It definitely didn't feel safe, but at least we weren't in an accident, so I came out okay. The second problem was that all of the furniture wouldn't fit in the back of the truck, so we wound up strapping one piece to the back. Fortunately, it also survived the trip. The handyman left after we got everything into the house, so I helped to get it set up where it was supposed to go. That was when we encountered the problem we didn't manage to solve: the shelving unit wouldn't fit through the door of the room. We tried several times, but only managed to gouge the door frame and chip the finish on the shelves.

After puttering about for a while after waking up at 6:45, I went for a bicycle ride at 10. I rode to the veloway, took a five minute break, did two easy laps, rested again, and then rode to lunch. I had an unhurried lunch while reading the paper, then rode home. After a shower, I was playing on the computer when I started to get tired. I laid down on my bed around two and pretended to read for five seconds before I fell asleep. I woke up at 3, looked at the clock, rolled over, and went back to sleep for another half hour. It was definitely the best nap I've had in ages, and after shaking off the sleep I felt pretty refreshed. I drove to REI to take advantage of their big annual sale. I spent well more than I probably should have, but at least I got a few things I've been needing/wanting. I went and had dinner at Bone Daddy's, then around 7 I drove back home and picked weeds until it got dark. I was pretty miserable once I was done, sweaty, dirty, covered in mosquito bites, and itchy from the weeds. I watched TV until I was about to fall asleep, just before the end of the drag race.