Friday, July 03, 2009

My ‘No Slabs’ Motorcycle Journey, June 2009

Tom Anspach June 11 – June 23 2009

My plan for this journey: take in the Iowa BMW rally in Middle Amana IA, then up to son Bruce and Ruth’s in Bemidji MN. And to do it all without using the slab… i.e. the Interstate. I wanted to follow the ‘Blue Highways’.

And I made it, 1900 miles with no routes on the interstates. You can see my detailed route at the end of my story. My Motorcyle trip pictures are at: My Pictures at Bruce & Ruth’s are at :

As I left home my rubber band theory was in full swing. My nephew David, in Flordia, had just passed away. It was very devastating. But the more I thought about it the more I needed to complete this planned opportunity to visit my son Bruce, who I had not seen in 2 years. And I knew that riding my MC a long distance was a very good way to feel David’s spirit. Read ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ by Pirsig, the long distance motorcycle riders bible, to learn more. Then a few days later my niece’s father passed away. Lots of people and things to think about while riding.

I started off on 6/11/2009,Thursday morning in the rain, riding west to Iowa. Took my usual route to Kankakee. I use this route when going NW or W to bypass Chicago. I then followed IL17 as far west as it would go. As I got near the western side of IL it had stopped raining and the sun was out. I had not seen many MC’lsts on the road. But as I neared the Mississippi, ‘what is that up ahead?’. Playing catch-up, it was 2 BMW’s loaded with travel gear. I followed them to the end of the road at the Mississippi river to a small ‘park like’ area next to the BIG River. Several grain trucks were waiting in line for something. I learned from talking to one of the truck drivers, that this location was a grain barge loading dock and they were unloading grain to a barge which hauled it down the river. I rested a while, removed my rain gear and was ready to head out into IA. My fellow rally’rs had left sooner as they were headed for lunch.

After crossing the Big River I headed to Middle Amana and the town park where the Pure Stodge riders were having the rally. I missed a turn right after I crossed the river, but with my compass, map and 1 stop to ask for best way to get back on my road it didn’t take long to recover. The campground was a neat area with lots of grass and trees. And the beer kegs were flowing. The IA Rally is known for its beer. And the Leinenkugels Porter was good.

The Amana area (West, Middle, East, High, and just Amana) is a pretty neat historical area. Check it out at As I rode in, a restaurant I noticed was called “The Rose and Thorn Public House”. Of course that sounded pretty neat. Ate there twice. Lunch on Friday and Breakfast on Saturday with Dan (Racine WI) and Paul (from nearby).

Got my tent set up for 3 nights, had a few beers, cooked my dinner and had a good nights sleep. Friday I needed to get a new battery for my bike.

Late last week, I had finally taken time to figure out what was wrong with my bike electrical system. The trouble shooting zeroed in on my, just over a year old, out of warrantee, battery. I didn’t have time to get a new one as there were none locally. So I called, with a recommendation from an IA club member, Ned’s Guzzit BMW shop, in Riverside IA and they had one.

Rode over to Ned’s on Friday. About 50 miles on nice IA roads and got the battery. Installed it in their parking lot and rode the neat back roads back to Middle Amana. A different route. Still off the I State. Stopping, of course, at the Rose and Thorn Public House for lunch. On both Thursday and Friday I passed the previous IA rally site in Marengo. It was amazing to me how that whole area was flooded last year. Flooding out the rally and nearly everything else.

Friday I started meeting friends from previous gatherings and making new ones. From Canada, MN, WI, IA, IN etc. I was looking hard for my friend Jerry from Florida. Jerry is a retired fireman. He is from MN originally. Every year he goes to MN this time of year and always stops at the IA rally on his way back to FL. When I lived in FL, many years ago, he kept trying to get me to go to this rally. I have met him there several times in past years. So I knew he would be there. Although 2 years ago or so, during the fall and winter, he was very sick and nearly died. But he made the rally that spring anyway. He rides a big Harley and pulls a ‘Taj Maj Jal’ of a camping trailer (I call it). I could not find him. Then an area in the park clicked in my mind. There was a BIG motor home with a MC trailer, from Florida, with several neighbors from MN. And it seemed like I recalled from somewhere that Jerry was traveling in a motor home. So I waited until they came back and sure enough Jerry is now pulling his motorcycle with his HUGE camping accommodations rather than the other way around.

Friday afternoon it started raining, lasted all night, well into the morning, which killed the Friday night campfires. Later Saturday turned out to be an OK day… little moist but not bad. After the rally meals, drinking my share of Porter (not too much, just enough), collecting a prize of a nice pottery beer mug and waking up Sunday morning, a fogy Sunday morning, it was time to head out. . . North to Bemidji. With my map and compass and talking to some riders from MN I figured out a route to Bemidji following the blue highways. The roads led me west and north, some ‘riding with Abe’ bypassing well away from the Twin Cities.

I had wanted to stop at the state park in New Ulm MN and ‘clean up’ Dennis W’s campsite. Dennis, from Florida had stopped at our place for a couple days a few weeks before, on his trip to Utah. He had stopped at the state park in New Ulm. I figured he had probably left a mess so thought I would clean it up ;-). Just kidding Dennis. However it was only 3pm when I got there and I only had about 200+ some miles to get to Bemidji. So I decided I would rather spend the time with Bruce and Ruth. I headed north. Arrived about 7 PM. 12 hours 550 miles. Pretty much a record for me. I was glad I did. It was good to see my son and daughter in law.

I had an interesting, somewhat ‘puckering’ experience late in the trip to Bemidji. It seems every time I go to Bemidji I am riding west into the setting sun. And it is blinding on a clear day. I was riding MN200 westerly. I came to a town (don’t know the name) and was squinting into the sun, trying to figure out the mysterious road shape change ahead. All of a sudden the road is NO ROAD!!. It goes into a parking lot by a bar. I slam on the brakes. I can feel the wheels start to loose traction and I let up somewhat. And rode calmly (although I was not calm) into a dirt/gravel parking lot where a Harley rider is heading out, leaving the bar. He glanced at me kind of curious but seemed to have no idea what happened. It was obvious that I missed the left turn sign because of the sun and I was trying to figure out the change in road conditions ahead. Luck was with me… It could have easily been a problem.

I spent a week, helping Bruce and Ruth with their remodeling project, canoeing up the Mississippi, near the headwaters, riding Bruce’s bicycle, eating, a few beers, fathers day at Ruth’s parents and relatives near Bagley, working Sudoku puzzles, talking and generally having a good relaxing time. Then it came Monday and it was time to head home.

It had been raining, starting Sunday afternoon and most of the night. Monday morning was cool, over cast, foggy, and misty. A ‘perfect’ day to start out. I had mapped out (MOL) a route home. As I rode the 1st 50 miles or so, ‘My Rubber Band Theory’ came into effect Both directions, leaving a place that had a lot of meaning, and wanting to get home. The opportunity while riding, is there is time for continual thinking. Do I want to take the new blue highways route or do I want to take my known more direct, faster route… US2, US53, Interstates etc. and get home sooner and not have to study maps etc. I stayed on US2 longer than I had planned. Then in Grand Rapids I stopped, studied my maps… thought a lot…. Recited one of my favorite quotes several times, “It is good to have an END to a journey, but it is the JOURNEY that matters in the end’. Made the final decision and left US2 and headed back on my planned route. Once the decision was made, I was OK. I had snapped the rubber band. Even with the situation in the next paragraph, all was well.

As I was going merrily down MN65 through the beautiful MN countryside mixture of lakes and pine forests, I came to a sign ‘road construction ahead’. On a long journey you get to see lots of these signs. Usually they are no big deal. This one, though, when I reached the beginning of it was a ‘gripper’. The road had been stripped bare, down to the base. It was covered with a mixture of wet gravel and dirt. It was stop and go with flaggers and heavy equipment. Reminded me in some ways of a road in Montana many years ago. Although I was nervous, it was not too bad. As it was mostly hard packed with just a few soft spots and ridges. I made it though the 7 miles without mishap.

As I got about a 100 miles or so south of US2, the sky cleared, the temperature went up and it became HOT. And it kept climbing. Nearly 100 degrees as I got to the end of the day. I worked my way over to WI35 along the east side of the big River. The big River is a lot wider here than it was up by Bemidji. I had always wanted to take WI35 along the river, east side. I had been along WI35 south of La Crosse but not above La Crosse. The north section is not quite as nice as that distance just south of La Crosse. WI35 is called the ‘Great River Road’ along much of its length. It is a great road to ride. Unfortunately it took me up on the Interstate for a short distance. I did not count it.

I meandered along and got to my night destination, The Goose Island Campground, at 5 pm. Just as the lady was closing up. I managed to check in, pick up a couple cold beers to go with my camp cooked dinner and was ready to camp... This campground is a City (La Crosse) campground. I have stopped there several times going to and from Bemidji. It is reasonable cost, clean, shady, grassy and on the river. I took a couple showers to try to cool off and it worked pretty well. The campground was not crowded. One other MC there. A Goldwing, pulling a camper trailer. Talked to the man and wife a bit. They were from Ohio and on a long trip around the North Midwest. Mosquitoes were not too bad. A little spray helped. It started to cool down slightly. Enough to get a good nights sleep.

Tuesday morning I made my coffee, my breakfast porridge for eats, packed up and was on my way home. My 13th day. I followed WI35 a ways. It is a really nice road here, right along the big river. I pulled off of WI35 and headed SE on WI171. I had not been across this area of WI. I thought I was in NC or TN. Up and down, nice curves. A really good riding road. Kept heading S SE toward IL18. Even rode ‘US20 Rules’ a short distance in IL. On IL23 north of IL18 it, again, took me up on the interstate for a short distance. Again I did not count it.

I finally got to IL18 and headed east. About as near to a, MOL straight, direct line as you can find to home. IL18/IL17/IL114/IN10/IN110/IN231/IN14.

The tempeture was climbing. It had a higher starting point Tuesday compared to Monday. My bike thermometer was above 100 degrees. It was hot. It was wet scarves and T shirts time.

I made it home about 6 PM ET. About a 10 hour ride. I was tired but glad to be home. Fullfilling my goal a realtively long journey, IA BMW rally, son Bruce & daughter in law Ruth and No Interstate (I don’t count those 2 little anomalies).

Here are my route details:

Thursday 6/11:Local to, IN14 W, US231 N, IN110 W, IN10 W/\, IL114 W, IL17 W, CR14&Local N, IL92 W, IA22 W (I made a wrong turn getting to IA22, recovered after about 5 miles),IA149 N, Local V66 N (this took me through Marengo location of the flooded out 2008 rally), LocalF15 E, IA220 E, Town27th street N (to Rally campground).

Sunday 6/15: Town 27th St S, IA220W, Local F15 W, CR66 N, US30 W (Riding with Abe), US169 N, WI18 W, WI15 N, MN15 N (I decided at New Ulm to continue on to Bemidji), MN10N, US371 N,WI200 W, WI71 N, CR11 W, Bruce & Ruth.

Monday 6/22: CR11E, WI71 S, US2 E, US169 S, MN200 E, WI65 S (the WI65 road stripped bare at Lake Minnewawa), WI95 S, WI243 E, WI35 S (finally the Great River Road – to Goose Island Campground - a little piece up on the I state).

Tuesday 6/23: WI 35S, WI171 E (I thought I was in NC or TN, nice hilly curvey roads), US61 S, US18 E, WI39 S, WI23 S, WI11 E, WI78 S, US20 E (US 20 Rules), IL26 S, IL18E, IL17E, IL114E, IN10 E, IL110 E, Local E, IN143 E (I took these roads from IN110 as a short cut from IN14, saves about 5 miles or so, local county black tops, not too bad but probaby does not save any time due to limited speed), US421 S, IN14 E, local to home.

Some other statistics:

Average MPG-

Average cost of gas $/gal - $2.68

Highest gas- $2.86 Momence, IL

Lowest gas- $2.51 Taylor Falls, MN

Distance Home to Middle Amana- 380 miles

Distance Middle Amana to Bemidji- 550 miles

Distance Bemidji to Home- 864

Total Distance Rode- 1964



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