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Joe Frickin' Friday

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Joe Frickin' Friday






Day 1: Thursday, August 19

Route: Ann Arbor, MI to Madison, WI

Distance: 268 miles in the saddle plus 78 miles by ferry





It's been five years since I left on a moto-trip in the middle of a work day. Not coincidentally, that was the last time I did any riding in Wisconsin. But finally, a lunchtime departure directly from work is ideal for my destination this time, and it adds another level of anticipation to the whole experience. I almost never commute to work on my motorcycle, and so rolling into work on two wheels this morning has me wide awake and thinking of my departure just a few hours away. After an entire morning of barely suppressed giddiness, I gobble down my lunch, slip my knee armor back into my Draggin' Jeans, grab the rest of my gear and head out to the parking lot, where my ride awaits:





In short order I'm saddled up and motoring down the road, headed for my first waypoint, Muskegon. In a freaky coincidence, Eric S (host of last fall's West Michigan Tech Daze), who happens to be far from home, spots me on the highway after just a few miles. I didn't know it at the time; he later sent me a PM:


Was driving East on 196, westwardly side of brighton today. I saw someone on a blue R1200RT going West in a DAYGLO!! jacket. Was that you?


I guess the jacket does get you noticed. :grin:


Topping off the tank was something I had forgotten to do the night before, and I ended up leaving work with the computer showing about 70 miles remaining in the tank. As I round the southwest corner of Lansing, the display finally indicates zero miles remaining in the tank. I'm not worried: I know from experience that I can run the tank to at least 20 miles below zero before refilling, and there's a Pilot travel center just six miles ahead.


Three miles later, the engine stumbles and loses power while climbing an overpass. I pull in the clutch and look down at the tach just in time to see the RPM's drop to zero.


Uh-oh. :eek:


I'm rolling through a construction zone with virtually no shoulder room, not a good place to lose power. With the four-way flashers blinking away, I hug the edge of the lane as I roll over the top of the overpass. On the far side, I see an on-ramp with a generous shoulder on its right side. A quick glance over my shoulder confirms no one is coming down the ramp; coasting at maybe 30 MPH now, I swerve over to safety and come to a stop.


Now what? :confused:


I'm still in disbelief. I've run the tank way lower than this, several times, without a problem. Still, it's too big a coincidence to ignore: when the gauge says “E”, the computer says zero miles left in tank, and engine sputters and dies shortly thereafter, the smart money says you've run the damn thing out of gas. Although I've got a ferry to catch in Muskegon, I have plenty of time to sort this out. Nonetheless, I'm really not excited about walking back up that on-ramp to find a gas station – partly because I'm not interested in a long foot-trek in armored jeans and riding boots, and partly because walking to a gas station and walking back with a can full of gas would feel like a big public admission of galactic stupidity on my part.




There has to be some more gas somewhere in that tank; I know I've run it lower than this before, many times.. Convinced there are stealth hydrocarbons lingering just out of reach of the fuel pump, I lock up the front brake, and shake the hell out of the bike: left to right, up and down, lather, rinse, repeat. Drivers passing by must wonder what this crazy yellowjacket-dude is up to. :grin:


Ultimately, the stunt works. I hit the starter, and then cover the final three miles to the Pilot Travel Center, where I fill up with 6.5 gallons. This is not any more than usual, but I resolve to trust the on-board computer from now on: when it says zero miles remaining in the tank, I will no longer argue with it.


The rest of the journey to Muskegon is uneventful. It's a warm, sunny day – temp is near 90 – and I'm glad for the mesh jacket. My fuel starvation issue burned all of five minutes, and so I still manage to arrive at the ferry terminal very early: it's not even 3:00, and the ferry won't head out until 4:45. It's not even here yet. And so I sit and read, endeavoring to learn more about my boss's job:





After a few minutes, the terminal opens, and the staff begins checking vehicles into the secure holding area. I roll in and park, then wander into the air-conditioned terminal building to read some more. When I come back out an hour later, my bike has been joined by three Harleys.


A few minutes later, the Lake Express car ferry approaches its pier:









As the pics show, the Lake Express is a moderately sized vessel, able to carry 46 cars and 248 passengers across the lake to Milwaukee. She entered service in June 2004, and I first crossed in July 2004 on the way to the UnRally in Cody. She is made primarily of aluminum rather than steel, which significantly reduces weight and therefore drag in the water, part of what enables her top speed of 40 MPH. The pictures above reveal the second secret of her speed, the catamaran hull design: with two widely-spaced hulls, she can remain safely stable without any ballast, further reducing weight over a more traditional single-hull design. The Lake Express provides one quarter of the vehicle/passenger capacity of the SS Badger (her antiquated competitor) but only weighs 1/30 as much!


The third secret to speed? Brute strength: 4 diesel-powered water jets provide 12,000 horsepower, 60% more than the far larger SS Badger. The crossing to Milwaukee will take just 2.5 hours. In spite of its impressive speed, it still takes more time than simply riding through Chicago (assuming no traffic jams), and it's considerably more expensive. However, it's also much more pleasant, and dammit, I'm on vacation. :Cool:


Finally all of the vehicles from Milwaukee have rolled off of the Ferry, and the terminal staff gives us riders the command to come aboard before any of the cars. We oblige, and happily end up positioned at the stern of the vessel:





The ferry will dock stern-first in Milwaukee, so we will be among the first to disembark. :clap:


With the bike securely tied down for the crossing, I head upstairs to watch the departure activities. In short order all the vehicles and passengers are aboard; the ferry slowly backs away from the pier, and begins quietly gliding across Muskegon Lake, headed for Lake Michigan.


Along the way, there are great views of the surrounding shoreline, recreational boats, and other items like the Milwaukee Clipper, a ship that has performed a wide variety of duties over the past 100 years and now serves as a floating museum:





After a brief cruise across the lake, we've reached the strait through which the Muskegon River empties into Lake Michigan. It's half a mile long, but only a couple hundred feet wide; recreational boaters keep their distance as the much larger ferry passes by, but everyone still waves like long lost buddies.


Half way through the passage, we cruise past the USS Silversides:





This is a submarine that sent a large number of Japanese vessels to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean during WWII. Like the Milwaukee Clipper, the Silversides now serves as a floating Museum.


The whole time across Muskegon Lake and through the strait, the ferry has been in ‘No Wake' mode, cruising at a modest 10 MPH or so:





Finally we pass the breakwater at the mouth of river, and the captain calls on the full fury of the engines. In the space of about a minute, the water jets accelerate us to warp speed, and we begin our rapid progress toward Milwaukee:





I bide my time seated at the stern, reading for about a half hour, occasionally glancing up to see the Michigan coastline receding further and further into the distance. A little while later we pass by a “tall ship,” a three-masted sailing vessel that's either an antique or a faithful replica. Regretfully, by the time I look up to see it, it's already too far away for decent photos. :(


I wander around on the boat, pausing to spend some time in the stiff breeze flowing across the top deck:


(click on image to open full-size panoramic in a new browser window)




The photo doesn't capture the sensation of speed I enjoy as I stand there. With the wind hitting me in the face and the water rapidly passing by two stories below, I can't help but thinking to myself: man, this thing kicks ass. :Cool:


About ten miles from Milwaukee, I happen to come up onto the observation deck just as we are approaching another tall ship. This time I'm ready for it, and I snap a pretty good photo:





I resolve to search the web later and find out the story behind these two old-style sailing vessels, but then learn that there are a surprisingly large number of tall ships prowling about Lake Michigan, making it all but impossible to identify these two particular ones.


Five miles from Milwaukee, the city skyline comes into view through a heavy layer of haze; the effect is a bit like heading for Denver on I-76, and spotting the Rocky Mountains as you come over a rise. As we near the breakwater, the captain dials the power back, and the boat quickly decelerates back to no-wake speed. Drivers and riders are sent to the vehicle deck to make their cars and bikes ready for departure. This is when I discover that being parked at the stern of the boat isn't all that good a deal: the exhaust from the big diesels lingers in this area as the vessel is backing up to the pier, and I inhale rather a lot more of it than I would like. Moreover, it takes a fair amount of time to remove the tie-downs from my bike, hang them back up on the wall, and get all my riding gear on. Working as quickly as I can, I finish just in time to start the engine and roll off the boat without holding up anyone behind me. Whew.


Thirty seconds later I'm on the highway headed north along the lakeshore, and then west toward Madison. As I move away from the lake the temperature steadily climbs from 75 to 85 degrees, but with the sun mostly out of sight behind the trees, it's a nice, cozy feeling, not at all too hot. Within four miles I pass by Miller Park, home of the Milwaukee Brewers. Even when viewed from the highway, it's an impressive structure. Not only was it one of Wisconsin's biggest construction projects, it was also the site of a spectactular and tragic accident during its construction.


About 30 miles from Madison, I cruise past Aztalan Cycle Club, a motocross track. Good memories here: I was a grad student in Madison in the 1990s, and I spent some time here in ‘94 watching a friend compete in motocross races. Here's a shot of my buddy Phil as he follows the ILS beam down for a perfect landing on the stripes:





I came back again a couple of times in 1996, helping another friend lay out observed-trials courses, and then watching the competition. I was pretty handy with a mountain bike, but I never was able to do anything very graceful on a trials motorcycle. My buddy Dave, OTOH, became a frickin' mountain goat when he climbed aboard:





After leaving the ghosts of Aztalan behind, I cruise the remaining miles to the outskirts of Madison. I'm glad to be back. Not only did I spend six years here as a grad student, I also spent four years here as a little kid; this is the city where I rode my purple Schwinn Sting Ray through the rain to West Towne Cinema to watch Star Wars in 1977. Having spent formative years here as a child and as a young adult, there will always be a special place in my heart for this city.


I cruise the length of Goreham Street into the heart of downtown, perfectly timed to catch a stunning sunset through the clearing of James Madison Park. After finally reaching State Street, I park the bike and walk the last couple of blocks to one of my favorite restaurants:





These guys have been cranking out gyros for nearly as long as I've been alive. My sister and her husband ate here when they attended UW in the 80s – so did my brother – and I ate here (a lot) in the 90s, too. One semester my class schedule set me up to come here twice a week; it was paradise. The staff got to know me, and before the end of that semester, they would start prepping my dish as soon as I walked in the door, the same thing each time – and I order the same thing yet again tonight:





It's not a true gyro, it's a “chic-n-bob.” Same flatbread, onions, tomatoes and incredible tatziki, but with herbed, char-grilled chicken instead of the usual gyro meat. A slice of heaven. Every. Single. Time.





I take my tray and head for one of the sidewalk tables. The weather tonight is great for eating outside and doing some people-watching; the sidewalks of State Street are always crowded with an interesting blend of people, and it's invariably entertaining to watch and listen to them as they stroll by.


With my appetite properly sated, I saddle up and cruise a few miles to my hotel on the west edge of town, strategically chosen for a quick egress into the countryside early tomorrow morning. It's been a long, hot day, and I'm pretty whipped:





After a shower and a shave, I'm feeling much better:





The weather for tomorrow's ride is questionable – a 30% chance of rain – but my only option is to get up early and ride as far as I can before the rain hits.






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Mitch, a great ride story.

The pictures and vivid description of "Lake Express" almost brings tears into my eyes, I love vessels like that. There's nothing like a big diesel at "all-ahead flank".

The sound, the sensation of speed, the smell of diesel...


Thanks for posting.






This one though, looks like h-BONE's next avatar. :grin:





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Great ride tale Mitch. Hope you'll include us in the continuation. Lots of questions.


Do you think the climb up the overpass led to the gas starvation? Would the fuel pick-up be forward and in the tank and so above the gas as your climbed up hill or would the duration of the climb be so short as to not matter? And, how big is the 1200's tank?


I don't see tie downs on the Harley beside your moto but I presume tie down is mandatory for all bikes?


Do you know if the sub museum includes inside the vessel tours? Kath's a sub nut and we're always watchful for sub tours.


What's the significance of XKCD on your filler cap?


Thanks again for including us in your ride.

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Great write-up and excellent pics.


It's somewhat of a sad reflection on my part that my favorite shot is the "chic-n-bob". I may have to head out to the local Greek restaurant later today.

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Awesome ride tale as usual Mitch! Glad to see you are enjoying your time on the bike. Next time turn that bike this way. :grin:


I look forward to reading more! :lurk:

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Joe Frickin' Friday
Do you think the climb up the overpass led to the gas starvation? Would the fuel pick-up be forward and in the tank and so above the gas as your climbed up hill or would the duration of the climb be so short as to not matter? And, how big is the 1200's tank?


Not sure what happened. Haven't had the tank apart (yet), so I don't know what's where in there. It was a short climb up the overpass, and not very steep. Possibly the gauge isn't as accurate as I had hoped? I was under the impression that the tank capacity was 7+ gallons (though with a usable quantity that's smaller).


I don't see tie downs on the Harley beside your moto but I presume tie down is mandatory for all bikes?


Yep, tie-downs are mandatory, and when the boat gets to really rocking (wait for Day 4...), you hope and pray that you made them SNUG. They provide them free of charge, so you don't need to bring your own - but you do need to tie it down yourself, they won't help you.


Do you know if the sub museum includes inside the vessel tours? Kath's a sub nut and we're always watchful for sub tours.


Don't know much about it. If you follow the link in the story to the WIkipedia page, there's probably a link at the bottom to the museum website for more info.


What's the significance of XKCD on your filler cap?


www.xkcd.com :grin: (stickers came from here)


Day 2 will likely be posted tomorrow. Stay tuned...

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Do you think the climb up the overpass led to the gas starvation? Would the fuel pick-up be forward and in the tank and so above the gas as your climbed up hill or would the duration of the climb be so short as to not matter? And, how big is the 1200's tank?


Not sure what happened. Haven't had the tank apart (yet), so I don't know what's where in there. It was a short climb up the overpass, and not very steep. Possibly the gauge isn't as accurate as I had hoped? I was under the impression that the tank capacity was 7+ gallons (though with a usable quantity that's smaller).


Supposed to be 7.1 g usable and 1.4 g reserve. Therefore you are supposed to hit 0 miles remaining when you actually have 1.4 g available. A refill at 0 should take 5.7 g. Our two bikes are routinely within 0.1 g of this, and we think nothing of running past 0. Sounds like a fuel strip issue.


Edit: Oh, and BTW, nice tale... IN

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I had to say this, but the shave and shower didn't do anything for your bloodshot eyes... no kidding you needed sleep.


Totally fun ride report - thanks for sharing :)

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I appreciate the ride tale - alas my longer trips are over for the summer of 2010 but am happy to enjoy yours through you reports. Excellent read - thanks

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Joe Frickin' Friday

Day 2: Friday, August 20

Route: Madison, WI to Rochester, MN

Distance: 189 miles





Um, OK hang on a sec. That ain't right, let's try again.


Let's see...scrap the interstate...screw US highways...stay away from state highways...ooh, check out all these little county roads. It's like alphabet soup! Hey, WOW! Now we're talking!!!! Here we go:


Day 2: Friday, August 20

Route: Madison, WI to Rochester, MN

Distance: 378 miles





That's better. :clap: :clap: :clap:


The alarm starts nagging me at 6:30. I was half awake anyway, since my body is still on Michigan time. First things first: assess the weather. I pull back the curtains to reveal heavy cloud cover outside, but no rain (yet), and the Women of Weather are saying pretty much the same thing they said last night: 30% chance of severe thunderstorms throughout the area where I'm headed.


Breakfast? What else, but a continental breakfast. The offerings aren't that impressive; I make my selections and head back to my room to munch on a toasted bagel w/cream cheese and a single bite of a truly awful blueberry muffin. After slurping down a cup of coffee, I finish packing the bike, check the tires and oil, and hit the road at 7:30.


The first order of business is a sedate-but-brief cruise up US14 to Cross Plains (AKA “Crotch Pains” :rofl: ). Decades ago when Madison was much smaller, this was an independent town, but in recent years it's become a bedroom community for people who commute to work in Madison; housing developments are springing up in the area, albeit surrounded by farm fields and grain silos.


After reaching the far side of Cross Plains I turn off onto county road KP, the first of dozens of obscure, lightly-traveled, and intensely fun back roads I will be hitting today. And so it begins: cows, barns, corn, curves, hills and cows. (”You said cows twice.” ”I like cows.”)


After 17 miles I've reached US12 at Sauk Center. When I was in grad school and needed to go home to Minneapolis for a weekend, US12 was my preferred route from Madison up to I-94 at Wisconsin Dells. It was a nice scenic 60-mile cruise, and although the speed was lower that it would have been on the interstate, it ended up taking about as much time as it would have taken to snake through downtown Madison to the far east side where I-94 went by. When I started grad school in ‘93, US12 was a two-lane country road, but there was movement afoot to turn it into a four-lane expressway all the way from Madison to where it joined I-94 in the Dells. A new casino there (along with more tourism development in the Dells) was drawing a lot of traffic, and the accident rate was increasing. Nonetheless, property owners (mostly farmers) along US12 were firmly against it, and a drive down that road in those days would take you past numerous large yard signs voicing their angry opposition. The whole issue didn't really mean much to me until around 2005, when Masako and I drove from Madison up to Devil's Lake, and discovered that they had finally done it: they had obliterated this wonderful two-lane country road with its sharp corners and blind hills and farm equipment and occasional cowshit stain, and built a sterile, four-lane divided highway with mild grades, long sight lines and gently sweeping curves.


They took away my chewy bratwurst-bun and replaced it with goddam Wonderbread.


I wanted to cry the first time I saw it; it was like finding out that your favorite historical building, one you've admired for years and years, had been unceremoniously demolished to make room for a strip mall. It was gone, and there was no getting it back.


Needless to say, on today's ride I would not be on The New and Improved US12 for any longer than it took to get through Sauk Center. I am gratified to find that at least the residents there still know how to have a good time:





A couple of miles later, I leave US12 behind as I head back to those obscure county roads. There's a bit of sun coming through from the east, but ominously heavy cloud cover to the west; I still hope the odds will play out in my favor. Although the skies are questionable, the roads continue to deliver without fail. Twists, turns, slithering runs up and out of blind valleys and along bluffs, on and on. The topography here is amazing. I used to think it was glaciers that did this, until Eebie set me straight. I stop for a break in White Mound County Park, a short distance away from my planned route. Across the street, a barn and machine shed serve to remind me that I am truly in the middle of nowhere:





20 miles later I'm in Sextonville, and the computer is showing just 20 miles left in tank. Gun-shy about running on empty after yesterday's fiasco, I sneak up on a lone pedestrian out for a morning power-walk and ask her where the nearest gas station is; she says Richland Center, a mere five miles away. I start down the (boring) main road toward Richland Center, then decide to return to my original circuitous route; I will definitely enough fuel to make it there. And I do, though I can only tank up with mid-grade fuel – for some reason, premium is hard to come by in many of these small towns. I opt to put in just a couple of gallons, enough to get me to a bigger town that is more likely to have what I want.


Onward I press, through Viola, Viroqua, Coon Valley, Barre. The roads are virtually deserted, and the scenery is sublime. I am utterly immersed in the visceral and mental pleasure of the ride, eager to power out of each curve and lean into the next one, and it's extremely difficult to make myself stop and take pictures. It's...like making out with someone and having to stop to let the dog outside or start the dishwasher or something; I don't want to do anything to interrupt the flow of pavement, wind, and scenery, especially when the best photo locations seem to be where a particularly sporting stretch of road comes into view. Still, I force myself to halt here and there, knowing that the pictures will be a welcome souvenir:


(click on image to open full-size panoramic in a new browser window)




During my panoramic photo work, the cows have become very interested. The more distant cows approach for a closer look, but the nearest ones are more wary:





Further on, the scenery and roads continue to engage:




(click on image to open full-size panoramic in a new browser window)




I've had the 1200RT for about a year and a half now, and although the styling will never move my soul the way my old opal-blue 1100RT did, the increased performance is most welcome. Passes are completed quickly and safely, and when accelerating out of corners, there never seems to be a shortage of power, even with fully loaded sidecases. In a place where the curves cover a tremendous range from long sweepers to tight hairpins, the 1200RT is shining; I like it.


On US33 a few miles east of La Crosse, I find a roadside historical marker:




That explains the awesome terrain. :grin: It's hard to perceive the nature of the terrain from the ground, but thanks to modern technology, you can survey it from your desktop:


  • Fire up Google Earth. If you don't have it, go get it and install it; it's free. If you've never used it before, this is a program that provides you with an amazing model of the entire planet: satellite photos of the entire surface are overlaid on a 3-dimensional model of the terrain. You can use your mouse and keyboard to ‘fly' to any part of the globe and examine any feature from any angle, often in astonishing detail.
  • The top of the dolomite capstone and the bottom of the valleys are separated by only 500 feet of elevation. To better see the difference, find the preferences in the Google Earth menu, and set “altitude exaggeration” to its maximum of 3.
  • In the search window (top left), search for “Coon Valley, WI”; Google Earth will then fly you there. Once there, it may take several seconds for the program to download fully detailed elevation and photo data for this region; be patient.
  • While you're waiting, use the navigation controls (top right corner of screen) to position your perspective just a couple thousand feet above the ground (altitude shown at bottom-center of screen), and select an angled view direction.

If you do all of this, you'll end up with a view that looks something like this:


(click on image to open a full-size view in another window)




A single static screenshot doesn't present the same effect as flying around in Google Earth does, but you can kind of see that the tops of all the hills are at a common elevation. The flat capstone tops and valley floors are cultivated farmland, while the rugged slopes are left as wild forest. The topography prohibits straight roadways of any substantial length: the road either hugs a wavy hillside to move between valley and capstone, or it winds back and forth to stay at its current elevation.


A few miles after leaving Barre I arrive in West Salem, just east of La Crosse. This is a bigger town right next to I-90, and the gas stations have premium fuel, so the bike gets a complete fill-up this time. I need a fill-up too: it's time for lunch, and this town probably has a fair selection of restaurants, or at least more than I'm likely to find in the next couple hundred miles. On the GPS I find a Mexican restaurant just five miles away from my route. It's nothing I've ever heard of, so I'm hopeful it's just a local place, rather than a chain. The GPS guides me there, only to find that it's closed. :( OK, try again: this time I opt for a chain restaurant, but at least it's one that we don't have in Ann Arbor: Culver's.


They're closed too. :confused: :dopeslap: :confused: :dopeslap:


And that's when I surrender. I've wasted enough time searching for phantom restaurants; I can see a Wendy's just down the road, so I home in, park, and march inside for a spicy chicken sandwich. Ten minutes later, I'm back in the saddle, headed for the Mindoro Cut. This is a narrow passage through a hard rock ridge, carved a century ago with hand tools. Despite being cut through the ridge (rather than passing over it), the road on either side still rises, twists and turns to meet it; if this stretch was a little longer, it might be as popular as Deals Gap.


North of Mindoro:





Somewhere near Galesville:





(click on image to open full-size panoramic in a new browser window)



(click on image to open full-size panoramic in a new browser window)




In Gilmanton I stop for a break in a city park. Along my route there have been a number of waysides and county parks that provide a pleasant place for a break, and most of them have bathrooms as well; even the city parks in these tiny towns and villages are well-equipped. It beats having to stop at a gas station or convenience store every time you need a break.


Passing through Modena a few miles later, the sheriff is parked in the middle of the street with his lights flashing, and there are a bunch of numbered joggers running along the side of the road. I've stumbled onto the Ragnar Great River Relay: this is a 24-hour event in which teams of 12 runners convey a baton from Winona (MN) to Minneapolis, taking a roundabout route through Wisconsin. With so many runners in the road, I putter through town at parking-lot speeds until I'm back onto deserted country roads again.


20 miles later I arrive in Durand, where I spot this fine vehicle:





The GPS has been guiding me into town toward the bridge across the Chippewa River, but suddenly I find that the road (and bridge) no longer exist.



Turns out the old bridge was demolished and replaced just last year with a new one a few hundred yards upriver. I make my way back through town to the new bridge, which routes traffic around the town instead of through it; the new bridge is stable, wide, safe – and like the modernization of US12 far to the south, it's completely mundane and devoid of character.


43 miles later, the sporting portion of my day concludes in Ellsworth. I refuel the bike and call my host in Rochester to let them know I'm just an hour out. Miraculously, I have managed to dodge any rain. Over the past few hours the clouds have completely ceded control of the skies; the sun is out in full force, and my clear visor has been cooking my face. I swap it out for the tinted visor and head out to cover the last 60 miles straight south to Rochester.


An hour later I arrive and receive a warm welcome from my hosts, a retired couple whom I have not seen in six years. Wayne was one of the adult leaders in my Boy Scout troop 25 years ago; their son Chad was in the troop with me back then, and I haven't seen him in over 20 years. Chad soon arrives to spend the evening with us, and Wayne's wife Susan serves up a fantastic meal from the grill. We pass the time with conversation about things old and new before adjourning to the front yard for some entertainment.


Back in the old days, Chad was an expert unicyclist, able to perform a wide variety of tricks. Back then I had picked up enough skill with the unicycle to be able to ride in a parade with him and his club, but as of tonight, I hadn't touched one in a couple of decades. That's about to change: Chad pops open the trunk of his car and withdraws a unicycle. Paradoxically, this simple thing – a wheel, some pedals, and a seat – is more intimidating than my large, heavy, powerful motorcycle parked just up the driveway. It may be that once you've ridden a bicycle you never forget, but the same ain't true for a uni: I find I'm unable to mount it without assistance, and my best ride takes me out just thirty feet before turning around and coming halfway back. Chad, OTOH, is still capable of a crazy repertoire of tricks, and he's recently developed his skill with juggling. While riding his unicycle. :eek:





After some neat demonstrations of his newly developed skill, Chad takes a shot at teaching me the rudiments of juggling. Apart from his own physical talents, Chad has a knack for coaching; as I was struggling with the unicycle, he was able to quickly spot shortcomings in my technique and offer corrective advice, and now as I fumble the juggling balls repeatedly, he offers wise counsel on where to look, how to move my hands, when to toss a ball, when to catch it. Before long I find I'm able to juggle three balls for a good ten or fifteen seconds before falling apart:





Yeah, I know, there aren't actually any balls in the air in this photo, but trust me...I can juggle now. :grin:


A short time later Chad heads home, and I spend a couple more hours chatting with Wayne and Susan before calling it a night.


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I was wondering what you were thinking with the I90/94 route. :eek:


Just like going home.


I spent many years in this part of the country. It is truly a lovely place (except for the long winters).


Here is an old one-room school house just outside of Mindoro.



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Joe Frickin' Friday
Wow, your MILKing this for all it's worth.......

More please :lurk:


Hope it's not too cheesy. :rofl:


I was wondering what you were thinking with the I90/94 route.


It's funny, I've always enjoyed afternoon rides on backroads, but it took me a few years of bike ownership before I grasped the idea of deliberately avoiding the highway when traveling from point A to point B. I think it was around 2001 when I decided to skip I-94 from Minneapolis to Madison, and instead took US61 down the Mississippi to La Crosse, and then found some of those fantastic county roads from there to Madison. US61 was meh, but the county roads were such fun that I dug out a map and picked an all-backroads route from MSN to MSP; I've run that route a few times now, and it's pretty much the same as what I rode on this trip (apart from the 60-mile jog south to Rochester). It takes all day instead of just a few hours, but man, what a treat.

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Mitch - part II was udderly enjoyable. :thumbsup:


Thanks for taking the time to answer all my questions. Yes, the tours of the USS Silversides includes a self tour of the main deck. It's now on our "to do" list. Having grown up on the shores of the St. Lawrence River the Silversides may have been one of the subs I saw being towed up river back in the 50's & 60's.


Our riding style is much like yours. A cage trip of abt. 2 hrs. for us turns into a full day (if not overnighter) of meandering to the same destination on the motos. I identify with you being torn to stop to take pictures tho.


One more question if I might. Would you be kind enough to identify the camera you are using.




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Joe Frickin' Friday
One more question if I might. Would you be kind enough to identify the camera you are using.


Camera is a Sony DSC-P92. Case style is similar in shape/size to this DSC-P9:




except our DSC-P92 has 5 megapixels instead of 4.


You may have noticed that infuriating dark blurry spot in the bottom-left corner of landscape shots. That started last year at the Un; I thought I had gotten rid of it, but at this point I suspect it's something that's gotten inside the camera, as the outermost lens appears to be clean. I will have to inspect more closely, maybe take it apart...

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Joe Frickin' Friday
Mitch, a great ride story.

The pictures and vivid description of "Lake Express" almost brings tears into my eyes, I love vessels like that. There's nothing like a big diesel at "all-ahead flank".

The sound, the sensation of speed, the smell of diesel...


Thanks for posting.


Glad you enjoyed it.

(not mine) of the departure from Muskegon, showing the transition from "no-wake" to "cruise." There's a surprising amount of soot until the turbos catch up with the fueling . In fact, there wasn't nearly as much soot on my trip as you see in the video; my guess is that nowadays they're adding power more slowly so the turbos are better able to keep up wih the transient.


To really get a feel for the speed, watch a few seconds at the beginning and then click forward to watch a few seconds at the end.

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Joe Frickin' Friday

Day 3: Saturday, August 21

Route: Rochester, MN to Madison, WI

Distance: 378 miles





Up bright and early, I pack the bike up for departure. When I come back inside, Susan has breakfast almost ready. She confesses that it's an experiment; I chide her about the wisdom of experimenting on guests, but the result – tortillas filled with fresh fruit and some sort of honey sauce, served with sausage on the side – is fantastic.


After breakfast, Wayne shows me an invention he's been working on. He has a patent pending on it; I won't disclose much about it, except to say that it's a simple, ingenious solution to a serious fire safety problem, and when it becomes widely implemented, it will undoubtedly save lives.


A little after 9:00, it's time to hit the road. I say my goodbyes and hit the highway under cool, sunny skies. 20 miles later, I roll under a thick layer of clouds. The ceiling gets lower and lower, until the fog almost reaches down to the road:





Thankfully, there is still no rain. The forecast is good, so in spite of the current conditions, I still hope to complete the trip without getting wet.


Just before reaching Ellsworth, I turn in behind a group of maybe 10 riders, a mix of Goldwings and touring Harleys. In town, they stop at the same gas station I was at yesterday. I need gas too, but I don't need delays, so I turn in to the station across the street from them, knowing that they're probably grumbling to each other about the antisocial bastard across the street on the Beemer.




After fueling up and switching to the clear visor on my helmet, I head north out of town. This seems odd, since Madison is well south of here, but then it is not my intention to reach Madison before about 5:00. :grin:


Ten miles down the road I putter through El Paso, a strange name for a town in a state with Germanic and Scandinavian roots. :grin: People and vendors are congregating, some folks are unloading horses on a field and fitting them with saddles, and some folks are starting to grill food; for a town of just a few hundred, they sure know how to party.


A further ten miles down the road I find myself in Elmwood. At the edge of town is Sailer's Meats, a meat cutter/vendor that's been around for nearly a hundred years. As I roll by I spot an interesting display in the parking lot, and a few blocks later I decide to turn around and come back for a photo:





The display makes me laugh. The whole thing is comical, but there's actually some quality workmanship in those UFOs. I don't understand the significance of the display until after I'm home, when an internet search reveals that Elmwood is the UFO sighting capitol of Wisconsin. It's such a big part of the town's identity that they actually have an annual “UFO Days” festival.


Thankfully the fog seems to be lifting a bit, and after leaving Elmwood, the full-on twisty rollercoaster ride continues:





Herd animals:





Clearly very wary of Mr. Yellowjacket, but they also don't seem terribly interested in re-moo-ving themselves to a safer distance.




100 miles later (with a short break again in Gilmanton) I stop for lunch at Beedle's Bar & Restaurant in Galesville. The cheeseburger is...OK. Not the best in the universe, but the venue (and even the not-awesome cheeseburger) is a welcome change from the usual fast food chain. Somebody's heart and soul is invested in this family-owned business, and they've worked hard to establish a personable relationship with the locals.



Afternoon delight:


(click on image to open full-size panoramic in a new browser window)




75 miles later I stop in Viola for gas. Soon after, I come to a stop in the middle of a valley that affords a clear view for a half a mile in either direction:





I pause here for a few minutes, taking in the scenery and solitude. A car passes by, but it's the only one in several minutes' time. It's pretty nice out here.



It's August, and so the corn is just about at its full height. When miles-wide fields of it butt up tightly against roads, they can block your view to either side, lending the impression of riding down a narrow chute:





It's been a long day, but all too soon, it's over: I roll through Crotch Pains (sorry, Cross Plains :rofl: ) and click off the last few miles of US14 to my west-side hotel. After checking in and resting/cooling off for a bit, I head for downtown Madison to take in the sights.


Just a few blocks from the engineering campus, I pass by a group of buildings dedicated to agricultural science. For well over a hundred years, UW-Madison has been a venerable name in the field of dairy research, and they do in fact keep a herd of dairy cows here on campus; in most cities it would be an exceptionally odd thing to smell cows in the heart of downtown, but around here, it just smells like home.


On the engineering campus, I find my former place of employment:





I spent six years working in this building. Our department occupied one side of the basement, and the nuclear engineering department performed mysterious fusion experiments on the other side of the basement, apparently doing something with scary-strong magnetic fields. A few times a week you'd hear a muffled ‘whump', and all of the screens on our old tube-style monitors would undergo a most peculiar distortion. :eek:


Immediately after snapping the above photo, a biker 30 yards away waves and begins walking toward me. He tells me about a great photo op at the top of a nearby parking ramp, which is open/free on Saturdays. We chat for a bit; he's a Ph.D. student in the mechanical engineering department, studying friction welding. His qualifier is coming up, so he's been studying his ass off. I wish him luck as I head off to check out the top of the parking ramp.


The ramp itself is a hoot. It's Saturday afternoon, so it's virtually empty, allowing a more spirited ascent than would be possible if it were packed with cars. The ramp wasn't here when I was a student; it's been built within the past ten years, concurrent with some modifications to Camp Randall Stadium right behind it. The result is indeed a fine spot to take a photo:





If only I'd knelt instead of parking my big stupid head in front of the sign! :dopeslap:


I scoot down to the bottom of the ramp again, where the Ph.D. student is still readying his bike for departure; I give him a thumbs-up and a thanks on the way out.


I wander through town, gradually making my way toward the Capitol building. It's a grand structure, only a few feet shorter than the nation's Capitol building:





In addition to being the seat of state government, it's also a cultural focal point for the city. During the summer the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra holds weekly Concerts On The Square, during which the Capitol lawn becomes crowded with picnic blankets as listeners enjoy wine, cheese, and live classical music. On Saturdays, the street around the Capitol is closed off for a truly massive farmer's market, providing a mind-boggling variety of locally produced foods.


After looping around the Capitol, I head west again to relax on Observatory Hill. The view out over Lake Mendota is stunning:





This is a great spot to watch the sun go down, but it's still far too early. A quick check of the celestial data in the GPS tells me exactly when the sun will set here. I make a note of it and then head back toward State Street for dinner.


In most well-developed cities, space is precious, especially parking space. Madison has an extra problem, as it's centered on a narrow isthmus between two lakes, like this:





Since the city can't expand past either lakeshore, space – especially parking space – is all the more precious. Even tiny slivers of space get used, if only to make room for a motorcycle so as to free up some other space that a car can use:





Now that I've parked the bike, there's only one thing I want:





Did you really think I was going to get anything else? :rofl:


After another round of people-watching on State Street, it's time to head back to Observatory Hill for the sunset. I arrive just in time to settle in on a prime spot on the grassy slope, and after a brief wait, the sun touches the horizon.












I'm still not ready to retreat to my hotel room. As the twilight fades, I head back to Capitol square for one last photo opportunity. And that's when I realize it's hard to find a truly unobstructed shot of the Capitol building for a night photo. My little point-and-shoot camera isn't sensitive enough for a quick hand-held shot; it needs a steady tripod platform for a timed exposure, so I can't exactly stand in the middle of the street like I did earlier. After checking out a few locations, I finally park the bike and strap my tiny Ultrapod to the handlebar of the bike. If I sit still with the engine off and the bike leaning on its side stand, the inertia of the entire chassis should provide a stable platform for an exposure lasting a couple of seconds.


And indeed, although I still can't get a clear view of the entire building, the photo still comes out sort of OK:





Finally, I'm done; it's time to degrease and get some rest, so I head back to the hotel to turn in for the night.


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Joe Frickin' Friday

Day 4: Sunday, August 19

Route: Madison, WI to Ann Arbor, MI

Distance: 268 miles in the saddle plus 78 miles by ferry





What's the weather like? After the alarm wakes me from my slumber, I open the curtains for a look:


Foggy. Ground level is clear, but the ceiling is somewhere less than 100 feet. The forecast called for sun, and I hope that's where things are headed.


Breakfast? Better than last time. This is a different hotel, and they serve a hot breakfast here, either from the menu or the buffet. I opt for the buffet, but stay away from the eggs; a big salmonella scare (with a staggering half-billion eggs under recall) is still developing.


I head out to the bike to pack up and depart. As soon as I'm outside, I can smell cow, and it makes me smile. After a few minutes stuffing things into the sidecases, checking the oil and tires, I hit the road. The GPS wants me to take the beltline highway to get around Madison, but I have plenty of time, so I opt for a thru-city route, one last chance to see the sights.


I moved away from here in ‘99. The basic layout of the city is of course the same as it was back then, but in the intervening 11+ years, many of the details have changed: renovation, modernization, increased density, the replacement of unique local restaurants with national chains (‘the Rise of the McChains' :P ).


Near the engineering campus, the old Union South is gone, with construction on its modern replacement nearly complete:







It needed to be replaced alright, but at the same time, the loss of a familiar landmark makes the place just a tiny bit more alien to me. I'm not the only one feeling a twinge of nostalgia. :grin:


Closer to downtown, University Square used to be a modest, single-story open-air shopping mall. It has since been replaced by a 2-story mall topped by 10-12 floors of apartment and office space:





In supplanting a single-story building with a 12-story skyscraper, some of the small-town feel has been eliminated; it's looking more and more like a metropolis around here.


Good grief, I'm starting to sound like a grumpy old stuck-in-the-past curmudgeon. :eek::dopeslap:


Despite some minor ambivalence about the changes in Madison's skyline, overall it's been a fantastic three days. At the east edge of town I merge onto the highway with no regrets, happy to have spent some time in my old stomping grounds and out in the countryside.


By the time I reach Milwaukee 80 miles later, the clouds have disappeared completely, and the sun sits alone in a pure blue sky. I roll up to the ferry terminal and take my place at the end of the line of bikes. When I crossed on Thursday, I was accompanied by three Harleys. Today, the ratio has increased somewhat:





Surprise: the rider parked in front of me is one of the three that crossed with me on Thursday. He asks about my weekend, and tells me about his. He lives in Muskegon, and came across on the ferry to attend some gathering in Milwaukee. He didn't do much riding this weekend, but bringing a bike on the ferry is cheaper than bringing a car on it.


Just like on Thursday, the ferry ties up and unloads, and then the bikes roll on first. This time I'm positioned right in the middle of the vehicle deck:





I won't be first off the boat, but the good news is I won't get smoked by the ship's big diesels, either.


Ten minutes later the ship unties from the pier, and then displays its extraordinary maneuverability:


  • 50 feet straight forward from the end of the pier;
  • 50 feet straight sideways;
  • pivot 180 degrees on the spot;
  • head for the harbor entrance.

A time-lapse video of the whole departure sequence is provided by the Lake Express folks here:


(click on image to open YouTube video in a new window)



Outside the breakwater, the big diesels do their thing, and we steam toward Muskegon with all haste. Milwaukee recedes into the distance:





After some time I become aware of a faint tan/brown cloud behind the boat, apparently the exhaust plume from the ferry itself:





The emissions standards for marine diesel engines are considerably more relaxed than those for over-the-road trucks; it makes me wonder how bad the stuff was that I was breathing last Thursday. :eek:


The exhaust plume in the above photo is just to the left of the ship's wake. Prior to departure the terminal staff had warned passengers about strong quartering winds and waves (3-5 feet) from the northeast. Indeed, the deck is moving around more than usual. It's an oddly chaotic, fast motion, far different from the slow, rhythmic bobbing one might expect from a ship this big; my guess is it's related to the wide stance of the catamaran hull design, and the relatively light weight. Fortunately I'm blessed with a cast-iron stomach, and so this is little more than an entertaining roller coaster ride for me. I don't have any sunblock with me, and there's not a cloud in the sky (dammit, just when I NEED one :grin: ), but I still want to stand on the top deck and take it all in. Ultimately I end up dividing my time between the top deck and a shaded outdoor spot on the port side of the vessel. I know I'm going to get a sunburn out of this voyage; as long as it's a mild one, it's a price I'm willing to pay.


Somewhere in the middle of the lake, the wind and waves shift a bit until they're both approaching straight out of the north. White-capped waves are now hitting the boat broadside, and the boat is getting really squirrelly. Up on the top deck, the gale-force wind combined with the chaotic mix of up-and-down, side-to-side, and tilting motion of the boat itself demands a firm grip on the handrail. I strap the camera to the railing and capture a short video:


(click on image to open YouTube video in a new window)



This is my first video production ever. The original audio was basically the deafening sound of a 50-MPH windblast, so I replaced it with some ridiculously overdramatic music. :rofl: Regardless, the motion of the deck is pretty impressive, especially toward the end of the video (especially when viewed in full-screen mode). The violent wind, the rocking of the deck and the occasional spray of water (two stories above the surf!) take me back yet again to grad school, where I enjoyed several summers piloting sailboats around Lake Mendota. Back then we prayed for the strongest winds we could get; there was a visceral thrill in using all of your muscles to hold onto the mainsheet and tiller while hanging your body far out beyond the side of the boat to keep from capsizing, all while the hull pounded through the waves and the wind drove cool spray into your face. Today, with stronger winds and even higher speeds (but minus the mainsheet and tiller), the Lake Express gives me an echo of that experience. Here at the front railing on the top deck, I'm not the king of the world, I'm just a dog with his head sticking out of the car window.


As before, when we arrive at the Muskegon breakwater the captain reins in the engines. The waves continue to batter the ship until we get inside the breakwater, and then it's like throwing a switch: suddenly we're standing on what feels like a stationary platform. We're still moving, but you wouldn't know it if you closed your eyes; our progress is glassy smooth.


Up ahead, the strait is, uh, crowded:





Thankfully all of the recreational boaters clear a path for the ferry – all except one. A single bass boat, whose skipper is either unaware or unconcerned about the approaching behemoth, leaves a distressingly narrow margin between his vessel and ours. As the ferry squeaks by, one of her crew members marches out of the wheelhouse and stands at the railing to snap a series of photos of the offending vessel. I'm guessing these are not souvenir photos, and that the skipper of the bass boat will shortly be hearing from the authorities on matters of maritime law. :eek:


Eventually the ferry ties up at the pier, and I loose the bike from the deck and make my escape. 40 miles later I detour from the interstate to head for Burt's house in Grand Rapids. Although Burt and I have traveled to and from the Smoky Mountains a few times, he has finally had his fill of road riding and sold his RT. After a little rest and conversation, Burt generously presents me with his Haynes service manual; this will be handy for future maintenance and repairs on my RT.


Before long it's time to finish the trip home, where a delicious dinner awaits. The rest of the trip home is mostly uneventful, although Eric S did spot me on the highway a second time:


What'r the odds...


Saw you coming BACK on Sunday also!




A mile from home, I stop at the grocery store to make a quick purchase:




If you go away on a overnight moto trip and leave a wife or girlfriend waiting for you to come safely home, flowers are mandatory. ;)


Thanks for reading. :wave:




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If you go away on a overnight moto trip and leave a wife or girlfriend waiting for you to come safely home, flowers are mandatory. ;)



I always knew you were smart. Now, I know you're also wise.

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You may have noticed that infuriating dark blurry spot in the bottom-left corner of landscape shots. That started last year at the Un; I thought I had gotten rid of it, but at this point I suspect it's something that's gotten inside the camera, as the outermost lens appears to be clean. I will have to inspect more closely, maybe take it apart...


Yes, that is sensor dust. Eclipse Sensor Swabs and Sol'n work well on dSLRs. If you can get a swab the right size, and get in to access to your sensor it should do well for you.


I put about 3 drops of solution on the swab, even though the swab comes moist.


You can also remove it in most post-processing software if you want to take the time.

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Where's the beef? :)


Great introduction to a part of the country I'm unfamiliar with. If we've had a ride tale from there before, it's been some time. Are there enough of those nice roads for an UN?



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Thanks for taking us along; obviously a lot of time and effort on your part in the production of the tale. I now have a true sense of that part of the country that I never had before, at least in the summer. Sure looks like a lot of fun.

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Where's the beef? :)


Great introduction to a part of the country I'm unfamiliar with. If we've had a ride tale from there before, it's been some time. Are there enough of those nice roads for an UN?




Wisconsin has some terrific areas to ride, along the Mississippi, the Kettle Moraine, Door County, into Upper Michigan, and the HD Museum in Milwaukee :grin:

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Joe Frickin' Friday
Are there enough of those nice roads for an UN?


It's not out of the question. I think the entire area of SW Wisconsin (everything circled in blue on the map below) is pretty much like what I was describing: valleys, bluffs, and tons of scenic, twisty roads with good pavement. Do like I did - stay off the main highways, stick to the lettered county roads - and you're just about guaranteed a good time.


There are also various non-riding distractions:


-entertaining artifice? see House on the Rock.


-natural wonders? See Devil's Lake State Park, or Cave of the Mounds.


-Architecture? See Taliesin.


I'm not in a position to organize an Un there, but if someone else does, I'd definitely attend.


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Candace Barron

I grew up in Madison and attended UW there, and I loooooved your photos, especially the capitol at night. Great shot!! Every time I visit I walk on the Capitol Square, then down State St, up Bascom Hill to the top, and end up sitting on the Union Terrace watching the sailboats. Thank you for the wonderful, nostalgic journey through Wisconsin!



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Where's the beef? :)


Great introduction to a part of the country I'm unfamiliar with. If we've had a ride tale from there before, it's been some time. Are there enough of those nice roads for an UN?





The number of options for roads in the southwest of Wisconsin and southeast of Minnesota is almost endless, though I never thought of this as an area for really spirited riding. Part of that is the beauty of the area, and part of it is knowing that there are many potential hazards:


-Lots of small farms means lots of drives entering the road (from driveways, hay fields, county/town roads)Lots of farm-related traffic (hay wagons, manure spreaders, haybines)-


-In certain locations, Amish buggies


-Limited site lines due to terrain and vegetation


But even with these things in mind, I feel it would make a very nice location for an Un. There is a reason it is called God’s Country.


And one more thing…


When you are ready to trade your gasoline-powered two wheels for some human powered two-wheel adventure, you are in the heart of some of the country’s best bike trails.


Sparta-Elroy Bike Trail


Minnesota bike trails








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