I am fortunate that I am good friends with some motorcycle people. I’m fortunate that they’re friends with other motorcycle people. And I’m triple fortunate that those people are friendly enough that they invited me to join them on their annual ride.
In the past they’ve ridden from Madison through the Upper Penninsula and into Michigan and back. This time, they rode from Madison to Savanna, Illinois. From there we went through Iowa and back into Wisconsin up to La Crosse, Wisconsin. Finally, Sunday was our trip back home.
Leg 1 – Home base to Monroe, Wisconsin
My Harley has an issue with the trip meter switch. Very annoying. I took a picture of the odometer before I left because I knew I would want to know how far we went on the trip. 9,481 miles. Check.
Rain was predicted for the day. According to Weather Underground, we were looking at a 60% chance of rain all day. It had rained earlier in the morning, but the radar made it look like the storm had passed and we should be in good shape. I left the house and went to my friend’s place to gather with everyone else.
There was a little bit of talking about taking a car down to our first night stop because even though the storm looked like it had passed, you never can tell. We decided to be brave though and went for it.
Getting out of town and on the road was glorious. It was humid out, but when you’re moving, it’s much nicer.
I came to learn that this group of gentlemen is heavy into tradition. One of their traditions is going to a little sandwich shop in Monroe. There, we had a variety of tasty sandwiches. One of the guys in our group decided to start the party early and got a limburger cheese sandwich. Gross. I ate two bites of my quarter. That was a lifetime supply in my book.
After a quick stop for gas we were on the road again.
Leg 2 – Monroe to Galena, Illinois
Cruising through Wisconsin is amazing. Especially when you head west out of Madison. We didn’t even really get to any “fun” roads for a while and it was great. There’s something about cruising with a group of like minded people that really makes the ride enjoyable.
Sadly, that rain that passed us by earlier decided to come back around. We all saw it off in the distance. Our leader decided to make a quick stop so we could suit up. This is the first time I’ve ridden with my rain gear. I bought it the day *after* I needed it a few years ago and haven’t needed it since. I’m glad I had it though. I literally started to rain on us as we finished suiting up and were just getting back on the road.
A little rain video.
The rain actually wasn’t so bad. The bad part was *after* the rain. We stopped along the way again (those Triumphs don’t have big tanks) and checked the radar. While it was clear where we were, it looked like we might run into more rain as we headed south. We decided to keep our rain gear on. I took my jacket off, but left the pants on. Talk about SWAMPY! When you combine the hot temperatures with the humidity and complete lack of ventilation, my lower half was just dank.
Leg 3 – Galena to Savanna
We finally made it to Galena, IL. It’s a really cool old town that looks like it would have been right at home in the early 1800’s. Which is probably pretty much when the town was founded.
The reason Galena is of special note is that is where we picked up Blackjack Road. It is a really nifty country road with great elevation changes and some nice twisty bits. Unfortunately for me, the other guys are much better riders on bikes designed for such roads. I am more of a straight line highway guy. Nevertheless, it was fun.
We eventually reached Savanna.
Overnight in Savanna
When we rolled into Savanna, it was time for another tradition. They always stop for an icy cold beer at a place called “The Iron Horse Social Club”. The place is half bar, half museum. They have tons of cool old bikes there and the place has a really nice vibe. It’s a little touristy, but not overly so. After a cold beverage or two, we rolled out to the motel.
We reached our first night destination of the L&M Motel in Savanna, IL. It’s a very biker friendly place. After grabbing a couple of complimentary beers (I told you they’re biker friendly) and showering up it was time to hit the road for the evening’s festivities.
Sadly, due to one cause or another, Savanna was a ghost town. It was super dead. Very quiet. Not at all what we were expecting. We went to Poopy’s bar. Poopy’s is a big place. They have room for hundreds of people. There’s an indoor bar and at least three outdoor bars. The band that night was giving it their all, but due to the weather and the fact that a large portion of the people that would normally be there were out in Sturgis… well, there wasn’t much (any) of an audience.
Poopy’s has good food though. Nearly everything is “poop” related. The burgers are the “regular poop” and the “big poop”. I don’t recall any of the other menu items, but you probably get the idea. I ordered the chicken strip dinner. Before you think “is this guy 12 years old?” you gotta realize that each “strip” is actually a breaded chicken breast. They’re HUGE!
We had more beers at Poopy’s before taking advantage of another biker service of L&M… their shuttle. We asked the friendly driver where all the action was. He said there were six bars within stumbling distance in downtown so he dropped us off there.
The only bar we found that we were interested in was the aforementioned Iron Horse. We finished out the night there before heading back to the L&M.
Leg 4 – Savanna to Dubuque, Iowa
Saturday morning came earlier than expected. I had controlled myself pretty good on Friday night but I was still a little bleary eyed. We rallied the troops and walked two blocks to a little greasy spoon breakfast place. We told stories from the previous night and made fun of the guys that were in worse shape than me. After coffee and some delicious biscuits and gravy, we suited up and got back on the road.
Considering where we were and where we wanted to go, it made sense to cross the Mississippi River there. We rode through town and crossed into Iowa. My brain must not have been fully activated because I forgot to start the GPS flight recorded until we were well into Iowa. Worse than that though, I forgot to turn on the GoPro! Sorry everyone, but I don’t have hardly any pictures or video.
The roads we took were really fun though. Twisty and smooth with some gorgeous scenery to take in. We ended up having to take a break for gas and to try to contact two other people that we were to meet up with later in the day. That was in Bellevue, Iowa.
We continued to motor on until we got to Dubuque.
Leg 5 – Dubuque to Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin
In Dubuque, I had finally decided that this weird hum from the front end of the bike was something to mention and ask the others about. I have noticed a strange noise and vibration coming from the front wheel area. I wasn’t sure if it was the tire itself or something mechanical. I had heard that the tire might be cupped or that the bearings might be going bad. One of the guys on the trip did a quick inspection and said it probably was not the bearings because they felt cool. If the bearings were going bad, they’d be hot, and they weren’t. Whew! We also checked the tire for cupping and didn’t notice anything like that.
As mentioned in my previous post, I had recently installed a TPMS. It was this gent’s idea that the sensor was throwing the tire out of balance and that was the cause of my problem. I removed the front sensor and gave it a shot. It seemed better but didn’t go away altogether. I have a service appointment in a few days. I’ll relay this to them and get their opinion.
Today was the day we were supposed to meet the other two riders in our group. They were coming from Milwaukee. They had decided not to ride with us on Friday because of the terrible storms they would have had to ride through. Our meeting point was Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin.
Leg 6 – Prairie du Chien to La Crosse
The ride to Prairie du Chien (I really want to abbreviate that as PDC) was much like the other rides. After you’ve seen one beautiful, lush, green valley, you’ve seen them all. Hahah… not really. Each one was better than the last!
Our leader was the guy in contact with our two other riders. He said they had left Milwaukee super early in the morning and had been waiting for us in Prairie du Chien for a while. When we reached Cassville, Wisconsin, we pulled over to try and figure out if they were still waiting for us or if they had decided to quit wasting the perfect day and move on.
It turns out they had decided to move on. We would meet up with them in La Crosse. We got on the road again. This time it was Hwy 35 North.
Talk about SPECTACULAR! I have lived in Wisconsin nearly my whole life. I went to college in La Crosse. How could I have never even heard about this road?! Sadly, the GoPro had died by this point so I wasn’t able to get any pictures. I’ll relay a little bit about it though.
You’re riding along side the Mississippi river. It’s a twisty, bendy paradise, but not overly so. Guys like me on their big cruisers have no trouble managing the route. There are lots of little ‘burbs along the way each with their own biker bar. I truly wished we had more time to stop in and enjoy the time, but we had some guys to meet up with.
The ride into LaCrosse was really pretty as well. All of western Wisconsin is what is known as the “driftless area”. I’m not sure exactly why, but I think it is because the glaciers from the ice age didn’t flatten this area. As a matter of fact, much of the hilly nature of the place is owed to the earth being pushed here. It’s a true wonder.
Arrival in and overnight in La Crosse
We finally arrived in LaCrosse. Another tradition would have to hold off. First, the crew wanted to check into the hotel. Unlike the L&M in Savanna, we checked into a very nice and modern Hampton Inn and Suites. When we rolled in, the parking lot attendant told us that kickstands were sinking into the asphalt due to the hot sun. He recommended that we park our bikes under the canopy by the entrance. BOOM. The next thing you know there was little motorcycle showroom there. We had eight bikes (now that we’d met up with the other guys) so it was a neat sight. It didn’t take long for other riders to notice and come park by us as well.
I have to give many thanks to the Hampton in La Crosse for taking such good care of us and our bikes.
After we had a chance to shower up and get some fresh clothes on, it was time to hit the road. We drove from the hotel past one of my college residences. This place was referred to as “the bat cave” because the basement (when I lived there) was full of bats. Ew.
But where we were going was to satisfy the tradition. We were headed up Grand Dad’s Bluff to go to the Alpine Inn.
After a long day ride and with the anticipation that there would be several libations served to us, half of us decided to leave the bikes at the hotel and ride in the truck. We arrived at the Alpine and I was instantly flooded with memories from college. What a great time I had. After the aforementioned beers and bloody marys, we headed up to the bluff to take in the Mississippi River valley. What incredible views from up there!!
After soaking in that natural majesty, we headed back into town. Many towns like to claim titles in regards to drinking and bars and such. I’m not going to say that in a field of amatures La Crosse is a professional… no. But La Crosse is well known for having a strong and vibrant alcohol culture. As such, we headed to Third street… the hub of the downtown scene.
We started at the Starlight Lounge. It’s a cool, kitchy retro bar. There was live jazz being played and the cocktails were delicious.
I gotta be honest here. Much of the rest of the night is a blur. Not only because of the drinks, but also because at the time I’m writing this, the trip was several days ago. I am able to piece together somethings based on the pictures from my phone though.
Leg 7 – La Crosse back to Home base…er, the bar
Sunday morning seemed to come awfully early. My phone chimed with a text message. The group (or what was left of it) was going to assemble in the lobby of the hotel so we could head out to breakfast.
I took care of my necessary business and gathered up my stuff. After a short elevator ride, I met up with three of the guys who were deep into reliving stories from the previous night. That’s when I had learned that three of the other guys had left earlier that morning. They were the two guys from Milwaukee and one other guy. Another one of us was conspicuously missing as well. After a phone call to his room he said he was going to skip breakfast and ride home by himself.
We hopped on our bikes and went to a really cool 80’s Tribute restaurant called “The Breakfast Club & Pub”. Everything in there was 80’s cultural themed with special love shown to John Hughes.
I had a terrific breakfast with my new friends. They started talking about the route they were going to ride on the way home. And that’s when it hit me.
I had to get back. My local little bar has a drawing that you have to be at to win. Sunday was the day. I had to get back for that and if I went with my new friends, I would miss it.
But more than that… I needed some alone time. I had been part of this pack of guys that were really riding quickly. They were enjoying the road. The turns, the twists, the hills… they were loving the technical aspect of the riding. I was too. But it was time for me to get into my own place in my head and enjoy “the ride”.
We shook hands and said our goodbyes. They were already planning next year’s trip. I hope they include me.
The trip home took me back through some familiar roads but all in the country. I could really tell when I left the driftless area though. The scenery changed, the terrain changed, heck… even the smells changed.
I finally arrived at my local bar. I won a door prize, but not “the big kahoona”. It was a wonderful weekend. I’m really fortunate.
At the end of it all, it took me 472 miles to get to the bar which is actually only 6 miles from my house.