Biscuits and gravy.
Yes, this is going to start out as one of those "what I had for breakfast" blog entries. I'll get back to philosophy and humor and politics and stuff soon, I promise, but first you gotta look at my vacation photos.
The tripmeter read 14 miles. It was 75 degrees. It was 5:45 in the morning. "Well, what do you think," asked biker buddy SoSoo Andy. "We've got about 70 more miles before we meet the others. Shall we put our rainsuits on? I've been hit with a few drops..."
"Nah," I answered. "It hasn't rained in five weeks. I felt a few drops, too, but it's nothing. Just heavy dew."
Twenty minutes and twenty miles later we found ourselves and our two big motorcycles huddled in an empty car wash bay, struggling to get our rainsuits on over our wet clothes. "I could have sworn the weatherman said it was gonna be hot and dry today," I said. "This sucks." I peeked out at the steady rain. Wet pants at six in the morning. A good start to a trip.
"You know what sucks," replied SoSoo Andy, zipping his coat up, "my key is in my pants pocket." I laughed. We were both dressed about the same - jeans covered by leather chaps covered by rain pants, T-shirt covered by a work shirt covered by a leather coat covered by a rain coat, helmet, gloves, goggles and boots. The only way to get to your front pants pocket is to take half of your rainy raiment off and start over. By the time he had his key out I'd figured out how to get on my motorcycle (not an easy thing when you can't bend your knees more than three degrees) and we were ready to head back into the rain.
A brisk seventy miles or so later, we found ourselves at a gas station in Hartley, Iowa, waiting for the rest of our group to arrive. Bartman pulled in first, followed by Mag, then Rock a few minutes later. SoSoo Andy and I each had a cuppa coffee whilst waiting and were ready to hit the road again by the time Rock had topped off his tank.
I have to admit, it was a slow, fairly crappy ride at first. I don't mind slow at all, in fact I rather prefer slow to be honest, but the crappy part kinda bothered me a bit. About the time I had decided that this was truly miserable and that I was having no fun whatsoever, we pulled in to a diner for breakfast. As I shut my engine off, I could hear Mag whistling. Whistling! I've got cold rain in my ears and my bottom is soggy and I can't see a blessed thing 'cause my goggles have mud on 'em, and Mag is WHISTLING! "Man," he said, a big smile on his face, "am I sure glad I'm not at work. This is great!" Mag, Rock and Bartman had made this trip several times before. They may possibly be just a tad bit unbalanced.
As I stepped off my bike, my boots squished. But, you know, I wasn't sitting in front of a computer. In fact, there wasn't a computer in sight. Methinks Mag was right, dammit! This really IS great!
We made our way into the diner, where I proceeded to have a big plate full of biscuits and gravy. Everyone else had eggs and bacon and toast and stuff. I didn't want that. I wanted biscuits and gravy. In the past year I'd had biscuits and gravy exactly once - the day before at a little diner in Sioux City. I like biscuits and gravy. To have biscuits and gravy twice in one week is close to nirvana, I tell you.
Once everyone was properly fed, we buckled and zipped ourselves back up and headed for the bikes. Eastward ho. We stopped several times - once at the Little Brown Chapel (where I took a picture - not of the church, but of my once-clean bike), and at several assorted gas stations. Bit by bit we all started to shed various layers of gear as the rain let up and the sun started peeking through. By the time we hit eastern Iowa we were much more comfortably attired in jeans, T-shirts and helmets.
"If you guys don't mind," said Rock at one point, "I'd like to take a bit of a detour once we get to the Mississippi River. It's just five or ten miles out of the way... There's a park with an unbelievable view of the river." We all nodded amiably. I like looking at pretty things.
Not too much further down the road, we abruptly left farm country and headed in a nice gentle set of swoops down into the river valley. For about 320 miles we'd been riding in a straight line, staring vacantly at alternating corn and bean fields. Now we were suddenly confronted with trees. And hills. How odd! Rock led us through the swoops down to the bottom of the valley, then around some more swoops, then up and over and around and whoosh! we were in a park. The view was, as advertised, way cool! We were standing on a fair-sized bluff overlooking the junction of the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers - there were quite a few marshy-looking little islands hanging around clogging up the river; the river itself snaked off into the hazy distance. Little did I know that Rock and Bartman knew of about five more spots like this - I was a bit dazzled. Trees. Hills. We don't have much of that sort of thing in my neighborhood...
Back on the bikes, down the valley, and across the bridge we went. Through Prairie du Chien and on to Boscobel, our ultimate goal, went we. Once in Boscobel, a pretty little town in Wisconsin found at the end of a pretty little road winding along a pretty little river, Rock and Bartman gave SoSoo Andy and I a quick tour of the town and left us to sign in at our hotel. "We're staying at the Sands just down the road," Rock told us. "We'll meet you at Snick's in a little bit."
We'd been informed of Snick's. That's where the "Meet 'n Greet" is held on Thursday night. (It should be said at this point, if not earlier, that we were at Boscobel to attend the VROC rally held there every year. VROC stands for Vulcan Riders and Owners Club. A Vulcan is the Kawasaki line of big cruisers. Got it? There will be a test later. Take notes.)
As SoSoo Andy and I pulled into the parking lot of Snicks a bit later, we were treated to the sight of many Vulcans lined up in a row, all sparkling and pretty. 'Twas a beautiful sight.
Once inside the bar, we were introduced around. "...And this is Fly," Rock said, indicating a sly elfin man of indeterminate age. Though I knew better, I had to ask. "How did he get named 'Fly'?" Rock chuckled, Bartman grimaced, and Mag's perpetual grin got a bit wider. "Well," said Rock, "this gentleman is the only person we know who actually got a fully-loaded Nomad completely airborne." (I have a 1500 Vulcan Classic, as do Rock and Mag [though Mag may have a 1600 now that I think of it]. Andy has a 1600. Bartman has a Nomad - a Classic with a lot of extras.) A bit later in the evening, I was led to a corner of the bar where there was a skidmark on the floor. Evidently Fly managed to get his bike through the back door one night...
The next morning, we got up early enough to wander through the parking lot, gawking at the other bikes, and take a leisurely ride through the town before breakfast. We ate the majority of our breakfasts at the Unique Cafe, where we met such notables as Brillo, Big Ugly, Cargo, What's His Face and quite a few more. After a quick repast (I had eggs - everyone else had biscuits and gravy) and lots of coffee we headed for the hills, minus Mag. He had grabbed a few hours sleep and went home so he could get back to work. He drove 350 miles just to have a beer at Snick's.
We went through four or five sleepy little towns nestled in the woods that morning, following Bartman's capable lead, noticing the landscape getting wilder and the roads getting curvier. After a while we were crawling along at twenty miles per hour, winding our way up and up. Bartman signaled for a left-hand turn and disappeared into the woods - I don't know how he saw the entrance to the park, but he did.
Now we were on a little one-lane blacktop, more reminiscent of a trail than a road. After about a half-mile we came out at the top of Wildcat Mountain. Absolutely beautiful! We parked the bikes and wandered around, taking pictures of the panorama.
While we were there, a group of about twenty Harleys came roaring up the road. They parked 'em and twenty or thirty people trooped our direction, squawking back and forth rather loudly. They all looked angry and constipated for some reason. One man commented very sarcastically that "this is special" when he saw the view. I was kind of miffed - I really did think it was special. We saw three wild turkeys as we got back on our bikes.
Once off the mountain, we headed north - again following Bartman's lead. After a few hours of pretty roads, we again found ourselves picking our way delicately around tight corners - I was going about twenty miles per hour and felt that was way too fast. Up we went, then through a gap cut in solid rock, then back down, curving and twisting the whole way. It was beautiful, but I was white-knuckling it, to be honest.
I found out later that Fly had once ridden that road - the Mindoro Cut - at an average speed of 80 miles per hour. The man amazes (and frightens) me.
Back at the hotel that night I found out that I had a funny-looking reverse-raccoon sunburn. I enjoyed every bit of it, too.
The next day (Saturday) we four again wandered off on our own after a feast of biscuits and gravy at the Unique. We saw Frank Lloyd Wright's House on the Rocks from the outside (it cost like eleven bucks to take the tour and we were hot, sweaty and not fit for polite company, so we declined the opportunity to go inside) and lots more pretty scenery. Eventually we found ourselves alongside the Mississippi River, so we stopped at one of the lock and dam installations for a bit and watched the water. If you click on the photo on the right, you can see that they opened the big lock just to let that little boat in... It made me laugh a little. When the gates majestically swung open I was kind of expecting to see a big barge or something.
We cut across the river to Lansing, Iowa to go to an overlook Rock knew about. To get there we got to go over this neat metal bridge. We're thinking they're probably gonna tear it down soon - there was evidence of new construction going on right beside the old bridge.
Andy and I both noticed that there was remarkably little traffic on the river. The Missouri has a constant stream of motorboats chugging one direction or another, usually dragging some poor schmuck behind 'em on skis. But we only saw three boats on the Mississippi... And this on a warm Saturday, too.
The difference between the parks in Wisconsin and the parks in Iowa was striking. In Wisconsin I didn't see a single piece of trash, the roads were well kept, and the grass was trimmed. Just across the river in Iowa I saw graffiti and cigarette butts everywhere.
Back to Boscobel we went. We wanted to get there in time to clean up a bit before the picnic. Along the way I saw two things that shook my confidence in humanity. The first was a sign in front of a McDonalds saying that they now serve biscuits and gravy for a buck ninety-five. The second was a sign a block later in front of a Dairy Queen saying that you can get a free ice cream cone if you buy a bucket of chicken. Chicken? At a Diary Queen? You gotta be kiddin' me!
"Hey," I said when we pulled into Boscobel. "I want a root beer float! They don't have them in Sioux City any more..." So we sent to the A&W for a root beer float before the gathering. There's something about a root beer float that makes me feel like a kid.
SoSoo Andy posed by the bear for me.
I like hanging out with bikers that will stop for a root beer float and will pose by the bear for a photo. Them's my kind of people!
Saturday night we had the fundraiser picnic (VROC always donates money to the town of Boscobel - one year the money went to the Boy Scouts, one year to the park department, etc.) About nine or so we headed back to the hotel. "What the heck is this?" asked Andy. "The hotel gave all our parking spaces away!" Sure enough, a wedding party had rented the "party room" at the hotel and the wedding guests had taken all the parking spots in front of the rooms that we bikers had been using all week. We waited for an hour and a half for someone to leave so we could park. If I go to Boscobel again, I shall NOT stay at the River Inn - I'll be staying at the Sands. The Sands really seemed to appreciate the bikers (or their money at least) while the River Inn seemed to want to ignore us best they could.
I heard that Beercan rode naked around the Sands a few times. I also figured out how Streak got his name... I imagine beer was involved. I hope.
We woke early Sunday morning to tackle the 380 mile trip home, only to find that we needed our rain gear again. Riding in the rain sucks.
Luckily we didn't get much rain at all - once we left Boscobel the rain let up and didn't hit again until Andy and I hit Sioux City.
"Oh my, you look relaxed," said my wife when I walked in the door. "It's so good to see you smile. You've been so tense lately..." Oddly enough, by Monday afternoon she was saying over the phone, "Work must be stressful - I can hear the tension in your voice. You need to take a vacation."