On Friday morning, I pack up my Harley -- with a tent on the back, and a toiletry kit packed so judiciously I wish you could have seen it -- for my 17th straight annual motorcycle trip.
I had planned to head south, along the Mississippi. I’d spent weeks planning my itinerary. A minor league baseball game in Davenport, Iowa! A one-man Mark Twain show in Hannibal, Mo.! A ride to Branson to see the Platters--and this seems mathematically impossible, considering how old they must be -- in concert!
Friday morning, the weather forecast shows temps in Iowa and Missouri touching 100 degrees. Which sounds miserable for days on a motorcycle and nights in a tent.
I decide to head north. Why, that’s life on the Harley! Making split-second decisions based on nothing more than a hunch and a feel. Going wherever Old Man Wind blows.
Also, changing plans because of the sweating.
My dad and I started taking our annual motorcycle trips in 2005. Over the next 15 years, we rode 32,000 miles, saw the wild horses of Corolla (above us, standing on sand dunes), a humpback and her calf (alongside us, 50 feet from our whale-watching tour boat), and mountain goats (below us, as we rode that highest paved road in North America). We saw- - and this seems mathematically impossible, considering how old they must have been -- the Platters in concert.
My dad, now 86, couldn't make the trip last year, because of COVID-19. So I took the tent and followed the Lewis and Clark Trail though Nebraska and North and South Dakota. This year, back surgery has kept him off his bike.
So it was, again, just me.
Day One: Just as I am getting on the motorcycle, friend Mike calls. “I’m going sailing on Lake Pepin in an hour,” he says. “Short notice. Do you want to go?”
Why, I’m heading north! Right now! Sure thing, Old Man Wind!
After a beautiful three-hour sail on Lake Pepin, I finally head north and ride along the Mississippi and St. Croix rivers. I set up the tent in the dark — I can do it in five minutes — at Banning State Park.
Day Two: Ride north into Duluth, then east along Lake Superior to Wisconsin’s Apostle Islands. Take the ferry to Madeline Island. Stop at Tom’s Burned Down Cafe, which burned down in 1992, and, from the looks of it, was not rebuilt in any meaningful way. It may be one of the coolest bars I’ve ever been to. Ride east and camp in Michigan’s Porcupine Mountains.
Day Three: Ride south along the Chippewa River. Eat at the Trempealeau Hotel. Then, after two nights of tenting, decide to rent one of the $50-a-night rooms above the Trempealeau Hotel. It's a shared bathroom, but I'm the only one there. The bathroom is mine! I text my dad photos along the way. Of the dark campsite. Of the ferry. Of the hotel room.
Day Four: I head back up the Mississippi. Stop, guilt free, at all of the kitschy spots I usually drag my family to see. Like Prairie Moon Sculpture Garden. The Alma Dam just to stand there and watch the boats lock through. And Rock in the House (where, in 1995, a 55-ton boulder broke free from a bluff and crashed into the home of Dwight and Maxine Anderson. No one was hurt, but the Andersons had just remodeled the kitchen. They moved out soon after and the house has pretty much stayed like it was when they left back in '95. Except, when you open the back bedroom door, you see a 16-foot high, wheel-shaped rock.)
Then it’s one last night in the tent. One last night of perfect, 60-degree sleeping weather.
Then, with a full day by myself, I head north, toward Darwin, Minn., to visit the Largest Twine Ball Wrapped By One Man.
Steve Lange is the editor of Rochester Magazine. His column appears every Tuesday.