Today I attempt a “travelogue,” an effort to treat you with my exploits in travel. This is not to be confused with a “pecan log” which is a treat you purchase while you travel past your local Stuckey’s. (Ha! Just kidding; there’s no such thing as a “local Stuckey’s.” All Stuckey’s are somewhere else. “Local Stuckey’s” is an oxymoron–like saying “jumbo shrimp” or “distinguished senator.”)
This past week was spent with my father and three older brothers riding motorcycles across the country on a GOAT (Great Ozark Adventure Trip). Starting from Holland, MI, we five middle-aged-and-above men rode our Hogs and Hog-wannabes to the hills of southern Missouri, carving a Sherman-like swath through small-town America on our iron horses, hell-bent for eggs over-medium and tropical fruit-flavored Rolaids. Our bikes happen to all be red so in a spasm of creative genius we dubbed ourselves “The Red Bike Gang.” This is the story of our GOAT.
Day one for me began contorted on the worlds smallest airplane, flying from Minneapolis (Scandinavian for “very small apolis”) to Grand Rapids, MI, the region from which our adventure was to commence. There I was tearfully reunited with my Yamaha V-Star after an extended hiatus of repair, winter storage, and obsessive pining.
That afternoon I took a warm-up ride through the west Michigan construction zones, stopped to get a terrible haircut, then returned that evening to gain a quick 12 pounds on my mom’s cooking, a combination that resulted in my head resembling a bloated tennis ball. And there was evening, and there was morning, and there was 43 miles on the V-Star–the first day.
The next morning was a brisk, extremity-freezing 41 degrees and so our garb consisted of more layers than a good tiramisu. We rode south along the scenic Lake Michigan shoreline and at the time thought it was enjoyable but later realized it was the hypothermia talking. After greasing our colons at a truck stop in Sawyer, MI, we rode into the region known as Michiana, which got me conTIMplating why other border regions didn’t combine their state names until I realized the Wisconsin-Minnesota region where I lived would sound remarkably like whiskey-soda.
Dwarfed under the majestic nuclear power plant in Michigan City, we continued southward toward Illinois, which, we found out, is entirely uninteresting due to its being flatter than The Fray’s rendition of the national anthem at this year’s NCAA championship. In late afternoon we giddily pulled up to the Wye Motel in Clinton, a chartreuse monument to immigrant-owned passé lodging establishments.
From the Wye we walked to the historic Clinton town square where Lincoln gave his famous “You can fool some of the people” quote, the last line of which today’s politicians can’t seem to remember. Clinton Square is where the Lincoln-Douglas rivalry distended and where, to quote Adele, “rumor has it” the debates were hatched over margaritas on the patio at Snapper’s Bar and Grille. We blissfully strolled the square taking in the rich history and the multiple-tattooed pant-sagging young men lobbing F-bombs at each other as they wondered why they couldn’t find work. And there was evening, and there was morning, and there was 310 miles–the second day.
Much of the next day was spent cruising southward through idyllic Midwestern Americana towns with their majestic multi-colored Victorian homes, flag-lined main streets ready to welcome home our victorious boys from WWI, and churches with real steeples and cutsie marquees that say things like “Eternal forecast: Sonshine & Reign.”
Right about the time we forgot that roads could have curves, we crossed the Mississippi at Chester, IL, home of the famed Popeye Museum and Spinach Can Collectibles Antique Shop, and entered Missouri where our diner names suddenly and inexplicably became “Honey,” “Darlin’,” “Sweetie,” “Sugar,” and “Babycakes.”
Accidentally venturing off the main drag, we took some of Missouri’s supplemental roads which are designated by letters instead of numbers. This did not present a major problem for navigation though it did make us giggle every time we came across a sign for PP. Here the riding suddenly became interesting as the Ozarkian hills and dales, curves and swells forced us to regularly save our own lives.
Traveling these lesser roads (but being careful to avoid the K-Y intersection, as it is notoriously slippery), we made tourist stops at Elephant Rocks State Park where the rocks resemble–you guessed it–elephants, and also at Johnson’s Shut Ins State Park which, much to our dismay, has nothing to do with nursing homes or old people in wheelchairs.
Our last leg of the day was exciting in that I had a wasp fly up the sleeve of my jacket and set to work challenging my venom-free existence. After a couple of stings, I pulled over and stripped off my clothes in a roadside boogie that earned me about $40 in tips. Before it was over I had been stung four times and scored a 23 on Dancing With the Stars.
The evening was spent in a cabin in Eminence, MO that overlooked mosquitoes. We had dinner at The Ozark Orchard where the food was excellent, but where it was very noisy as they were hosting Eminence high-school’s 20-year reunion and all 17 of them showed. And there was evening, and there was morning, and there was 355 miles–the third day.
In the night my forearm had swollen up like a California state budget, but I did not let that stop me from having a mystical riding experience up highway 19 the next morning. Somehow there was a perfect combination of curves, scenery, sunlight, acceleration, and Benadryl that made that morning one of the greatest motorcycling experiences of my life.
It continued right up to our stop at Onondaga Cave, named for the local native American word for “$12” After a 45-minute wait we took the cave tour, which was 40 minutes of sight-seeing and information crammed into an hour and a half. That being said, Onondaga is the most impressive cave I have ever seen–and that includes one in Kentucky that was absolutely mammoth, though the name of it escapes me.
Finding it nearing 1 p.m. and barely 100 miles under our toughened keesters, we rode hard to the north trying to make up time, crossing the Mississippi from Missouri to Illinois at Louisiana, which doesn’t make any sense. We pulled into the Canton, IL Harvester Inn a little before eight and, after the required chocolate-caramel waffle sundae, collapsed onto its convivial king-sized Sertas. And there was evening, and there was morning, and there was 357 miles–the fourth day.
From Canton we rode together until breakfast, partook in a variety of center-of-gravity altering gut bombs, then split up. I headed to the Great White North while the others shipped back east to west Michigan. Out of curiosity my first stop found me in Tampico, IL, birthplace of Ronald Reagan, who was either one of our greatest or one of our worst presidents depending upon which side of the truth you are on. His downtown birth apartment and his boyhood home are both within a block of the Casey’s General Store and are on the US Registry of Historical Places You Won‘t Find Any Democrats.
My next stop was Galena, IL, perhaps the most picturesque American town I have ever seen. It is constructed on a hillside entirely of orange brick and a river runs through it, which is a great idea for a Brad Pitt movie. It was also the home of U.S. Grant, our 18th president who gave his namesake to an icon of government waste.
Continuing up highway 84 I crossed into Wisconsin where it instantly became highway 80, presumably due to the Scott Walker budget cuts. There I joined the Great River Road, aptly named as it is a road that runs along the great river. Upon reaching La Crosse, my motivation to continue squeezing my giant Popeye arm in and out of my leathers abated, and I spent the night. And there was evening, and there was morning, and there was 360 miles–the fifth day.
My ride home the next morning culminated with lunch in downtown St. Paul with The Queen Mother, who was moved to tears at the sight of her husband’s ridiculous haircut. And there was evening, and there was morning, and there was 167 miles–the sixth day.
Today I am resting. After six days on a Yamaha my insides are vibrating like a Bumble Ball with Parkinson’s. But I heart the GOAT. And I can’t wait ‘til next year.