Wednesday, July 02, 2003

Day Five - Wisconsin, Minnesota


The next morning I was again up early and rode as far as Ashland, on lake Superior. The parking lot of a fishing supply store was a good place to stop for a picture. The proprietor was agreeable to my shooting from his back yard, then advised me on the weather. He had just been on the Internet, and despite general predictions for cloudy weather, he predicted a deluge within the next hour.

"There's a big storm coming. I've lived here a long time. When the radar shows a storm up in Arrowhead, we're going to get hit about 50 minutes later. It doesn't matter what the forecast says."

I asked about a place to get breakfast while the storm passed and he recommended Breakers, just a couple of blocks down the road.

Breakers turned out to be a great place for breakfast. Sure enough, while I ate it started raining and kept raining. People commented on how hard it was. "Yes," I agreed, "it's raining tubas and French horns."

Being already inside when the rain started, now, seemed like very good fortune. I took my time eating, reading local papers, and drinking coffee. The waitress, Deb, was busy but I learned that she had grown up there. I told her that I was on my way to the wedding of a friend who had grown up in another Ashland: Ashland, Oregon. After another 20 or 30 minutes, the rain subsided. I wished Deb good luck with her boy friend and was on my way.

You can see by the following pictures, the continuing threat of bad weather. Eventually, the bike was able to out run the storm. Still, there were many nervous minutes. It is not so much that I can't ride in the rain--I kind of enjoy it sometimes, but on a motorcycle there is less protection from lightening. It is said in the 59-rules of motorcycling that "the only place you want to see thunder clouds is in your rear-view mirror." As I rode, I watched the clouds, their height, how fast they were moving, and in what direction. With the help of the GPS I could gauge where I was going relative to them. I imagined that this was a bit like flying a small plane. One would be similarly concerned about the clouds. While I found it comforting to know that I was already on the ground and did not have to look for a break in the clouds and a place to "set down" like early aviators might have had to do in such a storm, on the other hand I had less control over my course. I had to go pretty much where the road would take me.

The country side remained interesting and at rest stops there were pleasant conversations with local residents. Many were interested in what I thought about various elected officials, since I lived in DC. I sometimes joked with them: "DC would be a pretty good place to live if it weren't for all the college ej-u-cated idiots you all keep electing to live there with us. You-all got to find more people like Senator Byrd, who plays the fiddle, and has more common sense than anyone else in either party." With such comments I didn't have to worry too much about the political affiliations of others. It left the door open for them to point out their favorite example of government foolishness. I never had to rely on my old standby for cocktail conversations with strangers; taxes. Even a foreigner will talk for at least 45 minutes if you ask them about their taxes. For fellow Americans, the topic of government foolishness will do even better.



In Duluth I was again impressed by the seafaring ships in the port. Here I was, in the middle of the country; seeing ocean-going ships loading and unloading. Even the very heart of our country is in touch with the power of the worlds oceans.

In Duluth, I planned to find a JC Pennys to buy some new jeans and underwear, then to have lunch at a nearby Wendy's. I had set waypoints in the GPS for both Pennys and Wendys. A route had been calculated for Pennys. After passing the waterfront, the GPS told me to take the 22nd St. Exit. The only choice, however, was the 21st St. Exit. Once off the freeway I discovered that both 21st and 22nd dead-ended in construction. While searching for a better route, I looked up to see that I was parked across from the Old Seafarers' Home. What stories some of the people inside might have told, and how perfect for some of them to retire so far from the sea.

"I have this tattoo of an anchor on my arm." an old seafarer once told me, "When I retire I'm going to start traveling inland, and when somebody asks me what that thing tattooed on my arm is, that's where I'm going to stay."

Looking at the maps in the GPS, I found a nearby cross street that would take me to the next turn onto Trinity Street. That would work to get me around the construction and back on track. Nevertheless, it was a bit confusing when I got to Trinity Street, since the street signs for it seemed to be missing from the intersection. Trusting the GPS, I followed the directions the it gave and soon found that the street I was traveling on was, indeed, Trinity Street. Soon, I was cruising up to a mall where I found Pennys.

Packing for the trip, I tried to minimize the amount of clothing I took. At this point, it was easier to buy a new pair of jeans and new underwear than to wash what I had been wearing. For the wedding I was going to in Bend, Oregon, I had UPS'ed a gym bag full of additional clothing to the hotel I would be staying in. I figured I could catch up on any washing either in Bend, or at my brother's in Vancouver, Washington. Everything I was taking fit in the BMW R1200 CLC's saddlebags and box. The rear seat was empty except for the bag containing a cover for the bike. If I needed, I would be able to strap a bag on the rear seat on the return trip. With the packing and unpacking so far on the trip, I knew I had room for another pair of jeans. One of the tricks that I quickly learned was saving a clean pair of pants and a knit shirt for evening wear after the riding. I could get two evening-wearing's out of one set of clean clothes then wear them the following morning for a day of riding.

I look for Wendy's and Taco Bells when I'm traveling because they offer good salads. Wendy's has a salad bar, and Taco Bell has a Taco Salad that is pretty good. If I stop at either of these places, I feel like I'm getting a more balanced diet.

Exiting Penny's, I could not see the Wendy's, but I knew it was nearby. A woman parking her car had an idea that it was hidden in an adjoining strip mall, and sure enough, she was right. It turned out to be a very busy place, full of local parents. I watched one blue-collar father, in his boots and work clothes, joining his family for a family lunch. The frustrations of the work day were still fresh on his face, and he tended to be a bit stern with the kids, but they would have a meal together as a family.

One must say prayers for such people when one meets them. Some struggle more than others to live well.

Across from Wendy's was a Best Buy. I had one more problem to nail down and I considered spending some money to do it. As if the GPS weren't enough to challenge me, the digital camera was also giving me a hard time. I had bought a Canon S100 on Ebay, replacing another one that had been stolen. Quickly I learned that it would not hold a charge for more than ten-or-so pictures, and to get that many I would have to remove the batteries between shots. A new battery did not improve the situation.

In the course of this trip, there had already been many pictures I wished to take that I could not because the batteries had already gone dead. In the end, I had to admit that these were opportunities that I would never have again. The price of a new camera was merited. Best Buy got the business, and I left with a newer model of my camera.

Leaving Duluth, the bike hummed along in sixth gear. It wasn't too hard to drive a little faster than posted speeds. Traffic moved at 80 or 85. At such speeds, things happen pretty fast. I made a decision to take frequent breaks to help keep myself alert. I learned that I could, if I felt sleepy, pull into a rest stop, set my watch alarm to go off in 20 minutes, put my head down on my tank bag, and catch a nice nap while sitting on the bike with the kickstand down. Earplugs helped. After such a nap I would feel full of energy and good for hours of more alert driving.

At one historic marker, where I stopped and stretched my legs, I met a couple from Haymarket, Maryland who were traveling to Hackensack. ...Hackensack, New Mexico. We wished each other safe journeys.

Passing through Floodwood, I decided to take a break and find some dessert. A local restaurant, Embers, served a rhubarb pie that was incredibly good.

"Who makes your pies?" I asked.

"Cookie," the waitress answered.

"Here?" I asked, "The crust is great."

"Yes, she made up a batch. She uses lard for the crust."

As I gathered put on my jacket to go, others in the restaurant urged me to watch out for deer. I thanked them, making a note to heed their advice before saying goodbye.

The intended destination for the day was Grand Forks. Somehow, when I got to Grand Rapids, I fooled myself into thinking it was the end of the days journey. This small error resulted in a large blessing--the discovery of Brewed Awakenings, a local coffee shop that was playing a key part in maintaining and building a downtown business community.

An old motorcycling adage says, "You'll never reach your destination if you stop at every tavern." In my motorcycling, coffee shops have replaced taverns. Even those I know who drive Harley Davidsons, like my riding buddy at home, Walter, do not drink and drive. When Walter and I travel to taverns, we order cokes. Being still a new rider, it continues to impress me; the extent to which this is accepted behavior in even the toughest biker bars. In traveling, coffee shops offer a sane alternative to booze, the chance to meet fellow customers who have their wits about them, and usually a healthier choice of food.

While a local Starbucks serves as a social hub, at home in Gaithersburg, when I travel I like to keep my eyes open for independently owned coffee shops. I've met some of my best friends in coffee shops through the years. When I travel to Denver, I sometimes even run into old friends like the artist Susie Rember whose work was featured on my first web site, or former co-worker at Evergreen Computing, Dick Hess, in them. Brewed Awakenings looked like just what I wanted. I circled the block and found a place to park in front of an art gallery around the corner. I soon learned that the gallery was connected to the coffee shop and served for overflow seating.

For quite a while, I was the lone customer. The young girl running the place let me plug my various electrical devices into the wall to charge, including the batteries for the new camera. Once I had the new camera working, I asked her if she wanted the old one and explained its shortcomings.

As others came and went I got wind of an evening performance.

"It's sold out," I heard her telling others.

Before long, the band showed up and began to set up for the evening performance. I learned that the string bass player taught music in the junior high school, and enjoyed visiting with him a bit as they set up. My dad taught music and played string bass, so I had at least one good story to relate.

When others came, I needed to get out of the way and moved to a table that wasn't on what was going to be their stage.

John, the owner of Brewed Awakenings, showed up. It was one of those fascinating coincidences of the trip that he was also a BMW rider. We spent quite a bit of time talking about experiences. He suggested my spending an extra day, returning to Duluth to get an Aerostitch rain suit from the factory, and enjoying a local ride that would take me up to Canada on back roads while a local wash and fold, King Koin, did my laundry. I planned to do this, but awoke with an urgency to move on, the next morning. So the route remains in my computer for the next trip.

As we were taking, a pretty young lady sat down at the next table. John introduced us and she asked whether I was staying to hear the band.

"I would like to, but I hear they're sold out," I replied

John clued me in that I would be able to enjoy the music from a table in the adjoining Art Gallery, but he did not reveal that the young lady, Sarah Davis, was the lead singer for Mr. Pumpkin Head. What a surprise she turned out to be. I felt like I was in the movie "Back to the Future," when the musician calls James Brown and says "Hey, remember that sound you were talking about? Listen..." and holds the phone. There was no doubt in my mind that this young lady would be going places and selling lots of CD's some day. The thought that I was getting to hear her play in a coffee shop, in Grand Rapids, a block from the Judy Garland museum gave me goose bumps--it still does when I think of it.

Mr. Pumpkin Head, with Sarah Davis, plays at Brewed Awakenings.

Here's one more bit of synchronicity for the trip. Do you see the guy in the beret in the above picture? He's Dan Wydrow from Idaho City, Idaho. When I learned this, I was delighted to mention that I grew up in Weiser, Idaho. Then it occurred to me. I asked him if he knew Neal Vallette, and he did. Neal was my cohort in crime, growing up. He, me, and Ed Lomas along with Ed's older sister, Lucinda, and her friend Anna Derig pulled off the covert watermelon operation, freeing countless watermelons that were growing in a field from under the armed guard of renown gunman. People who tried to copy what we did, on later nights got well peppered with rock salt as he must have found our trail of mud pretty obvious the next day. Until then it probably had not occurred to him that someone could launch an amphibious invasion by swimming up the irrigation canal and crawling into his field. An added benefit to this approach was that the canal did the job of carrying the watermelons downstream to a bridge where they could be quickly loaded into the trunk of the judge's daughter's car.

I had found a place to sleep in the Itascan Hotel. He had one room which had a broken air conditioner. After camping, what did I care about a broken air conditioner? A 24-hour Country Kitchen restaurant across the street provided a reasonable late dinner and early breakfast, but I made a note to start looking for McDonald's to save money.

There are a couple of short clips of Mr. Pumpkinhead. Please do not judge them by the poor audio quality of a digital camera.

Mr. Pumpkinhead's Route

Sara Davis

All Material Copyrighted by © J B. Fields 2004 unless credited otherwise


bv said...

This is a great blog. I have been and still do, dream of taking a super long trip on my BMW. Keep up the great stories, and I love the pictures.

Brenna said...

So this is random, I was the girl working at Brewed Awakenings when you came in. The band sort of broke up because Cerra (Sarah) got married. The boys still do their thing though. Just thought you might like to know.

JB said...


Thanks for the comment. I keep hoping that I will have an opportunity for a another trip like that. It's kind of amazing how much fun it is connecting with people in other places and how pleasant it can be to just visit in the ordinary passing of time.

All the best!