Baggers' 3,000-Mile Hell Ride Part 6
Welcome to the sixth installment of the Hell Ride Series. The Hell Ride started out in L.A., then through Vegas, Utah, Colorado, Nebraska, Sturgis, and North Dakota. The first five installments of my journey are hopefully framed above your mantel or lining birdcages all over America by now. If you've enjoyed reading about the good times and the hellish parts that happened before, please read on.
My schedule was lagging way behind after experiencing the pure hell of a downed rider and friend back in Colorado. I had to get the Ultra Classic loner back to Harley-Davidson in Milwaukee ASAP before the suits reported it stolen. So, of course, to get to Milwaukee I took the most direct route (adding an extra 500 miles) from Sturgis: up through North Dakota, diagonally across the land of umpteen lakes, through the northern edge of Cheesehead country and then up into the land of the "Yoopers"-on Michigan's Upper Peninsula (UP).
Even after all that had happened on this damn trip-go fight with your parakeet for the old issues-I still wanted more time in the saddle. I should have had enough by now, but there's just something about having a threesome with the road and Mother Nature.
I left Fargo, North Dakota, into Moorehead, Minnesota, on US-10 past the open plains, still wondering what the hell "uff-dah" meant. I'm guessing the word means something along the lines of "wow," because the waitress at a truck stop said it both in awe of the tales from my trip and I think in repulsion from the way I smelled. I hadn't showered for this whole stinkin' journey and wasn't going to until I got home and could soil my very own bathtub. Thinking about my bathtub made me really miss my girlfriend, Dacia, so I bought her a ticket to Duluth and told her I would meet her there, 240 miles away.
I'd use some wet wipes to clean up before I got there and slather on some gas station soap as makeshift deodorant. Stopping to shower would just take too much time out of my adventure. But first, I had some important man business to attend to. I had to figure out this Paul Bunyan thing once and for all.
On the way to Bemidji, Minnesota, to see one of the purported birthplaces of the legend and his famous blue ox, Babe, I stopped at the start of the Mighty Miss. The waters of the Mississippi River travel 2,329 miles to meet the now oil-soaked Gulf of Mexico. The very narrow headwaters are south of US-2. I felt like Paul as I easily walked over the river, which is a feat he could apparently accomplish at Lake Pepin in Wisconsin, where the river is a whopping 2 miles wide.
Finding Paul and Babe was easy. The last time I was in Bemidji, my flight was cancelled. A local cop started up a conversation with me in the tiny terminal. She gave me a tour of the town and took me to see the duo of tall-tale fame. He is right down the street from the airport. She had lots of guns. Sitting in a rack between us in her car was a riot shotgun and a massive-what looked like a fully auto-rifle. The only time I have seen weapons like that is on TV with the Special Forces guys. She told me that she needed such firepower because there are lots of hunters with guns way up north in these parts. She needs to be able to protect herself against some nut blasting at her from a mile away.
Continuing east on US-2, I rode through the beautiful Chippewa National Forest. There are three Scenic Byways that go over the river and through the woods through the park, the Lady Slipper, Edge of the Wilderness, and Avenue of the Pines (fs.fed.us). The roads are like concrete rivers that unnaturally cut through the dense trees. The refreshing air is soaked with the scent of crisp pine that danced around inside my large nose. Suddenly, I could feel everything tenfold: the vibration of the motor, the slight ache in my back, the G-forces pushing me into the seat while I cranked a sporty left-hand curve. This is life!
Unfortunately, much of Minnesota's northern forest has actually been logged. Damn Paul! Goddamn lumberjack! Legend has it that he is the one who cleared all the land to the west all the way to California to make room for farms and cities. In this modern day of tree huggers and the trend of being "green," Paul would have gotten his ass kicked and then ground up in the wood chipper for more fertilizer.
You should stop at the halfway point in the National Forest at Big Fish Restaurant in Bena, Minnesota. The once snack joint shaped like a fish gained fame when it appeared in the opening credits of the 1983 classic National Lampoon's Vacation with Chevy Chase. In bad need of preservation for years, the muskie finally got a facelift and is now a full-service restaurant with cabins (218-665-2299 for reservations).
Duluth was my next stop and soon Dacia was hugging me tightly as we crossed the border into Wisconsin. I was excited to be part of a team again, but at the same time I now had to take into consideration her needs. I was no longer a free bird as they say. I had to consult with someone on when to eat, when to sleep, and when to pee. Bringing Dacia onboard changed the whole dichotomy of the trip. Regardless, feeling her little fingers wrapped around me on my rib cage made me smile into the wind.
Crossing the border, we had the rare opportunity to ride along the shortest Interstate Highway connecting Minnesota and Wisconsin. I-535 is 2.8 miles long and crosses the Blatnik Bridge, aka the "High Bridge." Just south is the Richard I. Bong Bridge, or simply the "Bong Bridge" for short, which also connects Duluth, Minnesota, with Superior, Wisconsin. Hmmm, I wonder what these northerners have been up to, eh?
The further we got into Wisconsin, the bumpier the earth got. The roads started to twist and wind. It was like getting on the children's roller coaster before you try the real one-the roads of the UP, which you will learn a lot more about if you pay a little coin for the next issue.
I have to back up for a second, though, and tell you one more thing about this part of the journey. I make it a habit to stop at tourist information centers whenever I enter a new state. It's a great place to meet other travelers, get info on road conditions and find out must-see places. I've always, and I repeat always, been surprised by something I find, whether it's a roadside attraction I didn't know about, a great place to stop and eat, or just a friendly face willing to chat me up for a while.
Rest stops always remind me to push my comfort zones and introduce myself to people I would normally ignore back home in Chicago: bums, addicts, Latin King gangsters, large groups of tough looking black guys, or any culture that I am not used to. When I do, I find out that pretty much everyone in the world is nice. I realize that life can be magical without owning anything. I learn humility. I was once offered heroin from a junkie after he invited me to sleep in his tent for the night because he saw me crying under a tree in the rain. Addicts will do anything to get their fix. Yet here was this guy on the streets offering me his very life to help cheer me up. He made me dinner and shared his smoke with me, as well. Yep, the road does that to you. Not only are you crossing state and country borders, you're pushing your own rigid boundaries, too.
At a rest/info stop we met some gutter punks hitching for a ride. One of the girls named Sparrow shared some grapes with us. I'm always amazed at the generosity of others. Here we were cruising through on a $25,000 Harley, yet this group of kids offered what little they had to us. Sparrow is just one of the many teenage runaways I have met during my travels. A long while back, I lived on the streets and hopped freights for a year. I don't know what Sparrow's story was, and we couldn't get much info from her since we were strangers. Oddly, I felt insecure around her, since I wasn't wearing the same "uniform." I no longer had on my worn camo shorts with the entire ass covered in duct tape. I didn't feel cool enough in her scene. But I was still welcomed. It's the same as how sometimes I feel when I meet up with other bikers. Some are like me, wearing full gear on a long haul. Others are wearing their vest with colors on them and no helmet. I fear they see me as some kind of kook and that the sporties (sport bikers) see me as some old man on a big bike. Yet, this is all wrong. Once out on the road, everyone waves at you-scooters, sporties, baggers, etc. Screw cities. They close people's minds and force them to only hang out with their fellow tribesmen. Dacia and I enjoyed hanging out with Sparrow and her crew. She reminded me of a couple different girls I'd met on my previous travels.
One girl had run away because her step-dad had raped her, and yet another girl took off because she didn't get a Corvette for her sweet 16. You might think the second girl is a spoiled rotten turd. I did, at first. But I have learned through the years that pain is pain. Her pain probably wasn't that she didn't get her Corvette; that just pushed her away. It's a bold statement to say that their pain is the same, but both of them suffered, felt the urge to run away, and were out on the street. I've been in that place. Yes, I've been out on the street, but I've been in the place of making that choice. You're so distraught that it seems your only options are to run away and start over or to kill yourself. When you get out there on the street and start meeting others who have faced that same terrible decision and they share their only belongings, only food, only comforts with you, you realize there is still good in humanity. Sparrow's group reminded me of that.
Instead of living homeless now and not telling my loved ones where I am, I hop on a bike and take a trip. Out on the road, driving through the north woods, getting drunk on pine-scented air, I'm able to forget about my mom's cancer, bills I have to pay, and the crap I have to take care of. For a while, I am free and in a better place-both mentally and physically.
So there you have it, I've taken a nice story about traveling the highways and byways of our beautiful nation and turned it into a depressing commentary about teenage runaways, cancer, and bills. Go ahead, rip out the pages. It's probably time for your hamster to defecate.
Don't worry if you forgot to bring your pet turtle to the Turtle Race Capitol of the World. You can rent one for the turtle races every Wednesday during the summer. Longville is about 30 miles south of US-2, but come on man. Turtle racing! longville.com/turtleraces.html.
Grand Rapids, MN
Some asshole stole Dorothy's ruby slippers a few years back from the Judy Garland Childhood Home and Museum (judygarlandmuseum.com). You can still check out the gallery showcasing the carriage used in the Wizard of Oz and once owned by Abraham Lincoln.
The Super 8 Motel of Duluth has a gull they call "Steven Seagull" that has returned for the ninth straight year that knocks on the glass front door for doughnuts.
Lake Nebagamon, WI
Who has the biggest balls in the world? In 1975 God told James Kotera to stop drinking, and he did, and replaced his old pastime with making the World's Largest Twine Ball. This site is 10 miles south of US-2.
The World of Accordions Museum has a collection of more than 1,000 accordions. (715) 395-2787.
Words to the wise:
Bring insect repellent; mosquitoes and other pests thrive in these woods. The only kind of bug spray that I have found actually works contains DEET. The stuff is pretty toxic, but it works.
Morehead on I-10
US-10 is a straight line, four-lane divided highway that passes through flat farmland and open plains. The glaciers flattened most of the state. The Land of 10,000 Lakes is no exaggeration; there are 11,842 lakes over 10 acres in size.
North on MN-9
This is a two-lane highway; the first half is an old, out of shape road that turns into fairly new blacktop. Lots of prairie grasslands.
East on MN-200
This is a two-lane backroad towards US-2. The further east I headed, the farms were replaced with the scent of fresh pines. Peaceful. Quiet. Not many other people in sight.
US-2 Towards Mississippi Headwaters
Stay on US-2 all the way through Superior, MN, then cruise by the shoreline of Lake Superior and stay on US-2 through Wisconsin until you hit Michigan.
Total Map of Route.
http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&hl=en&msa=0&msid=111790532575838513548.00047e065c4a0e29c7f48&ll=40.913513,-97.734375&spn = 41.612695,52.734375&t =h&z=4