This trip happened several months ago, and, frankly, I can't remember whether Fish Lips was the "other" restaurant in Cornucopia, Wisconsin, or the name Ken and I gave the lady in the smoked fish shop at Two Harbors where we caught state Route 2 north to Ely, Minnesota. Perhaps it'll come to me as I recount this little tale.
It is deep winter as I write, a time when thoughts drift back to great bike trips of the past season, or of seasons past. In spite of the fact that there was a teensy little bike crash that technically "totaled" a Guzzi on this trip, I have nothing but the fondest memories of it.
It began at 6:30 A.M. on Thursday, August 29 to be exact. That's when I rolled the big Vintage Red 02 EV out of the garage into the late summer sunrise, with promise of anywhere from five to eight days on the road. (It ended up being a six day outing.) It was my usual "around Labor Day Weekend" trip, so it was going to be a way-north journey. However, this was a trip that had a number of odd features. We had women problems. We had a bike crash. We had a long, wild two-up ride in heavy rain. And the trip itself had a very premature ending. Still, it was a most excellent trip, to be sure.
I had a few hours of business in beautiful Petoskey, Michigan, on Thursday, beginning at 10:00 A.M. I arrived a few minutes early, so I checked in first at the Green Roof Inn on the hill coming into town, overlooking Little Traverse Bay. I threw my stuff into the room, freshened up, and rode the bike down the hill a mile to my destination for the day. At 3:30 P.M. I was all done with the work portion of this excursion. The sun was still blazing. The scene was gorgeous. And the temperature in northern Michigan was perfect. I went back to Room 314 to take a shower before meeting my older brother for dinner. Bill had just acquired his first serious road bike a few months earlier - a stunning black Quota with bags and tall windshield. I got to Bill's house on the north side of Petoskey at about 5:15 P.M., only to find my brother up the street helping a neighbor load something into a truck and my sister-in-law, Nancy, sitting on the Quota in the driveway waiting for me. They wanted to be sure I'd not miss the place! We talked for a bit, took some pictures, then Bill and I took off riding east through 30 miles or so of Michigan north woods to beautiful Indian River for dinner. The ride back to Petoskey at sunset was refreshing. I topped off the gas tank, then went back to Room 314 to wait for Ken Tarbell. Ken had to work his shift at the bike shop that afternoon, but at 6:30 P.M. quitting time he shot out of town headed for rendezvous with me in Petoskey, to begin our ride the following morning.
We left Petoskey in another blaze of morning sunshine, and were crossing the Mighty Mackinac Bridge by 9:30 A.M., headed into St. Ignace for breakfast at The Galley Restaurant. From there we headed west on U.S. Route 2 to Blaney Park where we took state Route 77 north to Route 28, then west again through Munising, Marquette, and Ishpeming. Shortly after Ishpeming I began looking for the Great Road House Restaurant I enjoy near the tiny towns of Michigamme and Three Lakes. The joint was still standing, but it was hopelessly empty and out of business. Another great travel stop gone away.
It was early afternoon and we were still looking for a lunch stop, which we found about 35 miles further west in Bruce Crossing in the form of a place called Grandma Grooters. This was the Friday of the Labor Day Weekend, so even up here in the far north hinterland of the Western Upper Peninsula of Michigan there was activity, some road bikes, but lots and lots of trail bikes and quad runners in the wooded areas, and families and campers in the lake areas.
Ken's SP III was running like a gazelle, and my EV bagger, complete with top trunk and a travel satchel over the passenger seat, was doing just fine too. We left Grandma's at 3:00 P.M. or so and crossed into Wisconsin at Ironwood 52 miles later. At Ashland, on the south shore of huge Lake Superior, we slowed down to enjoy Route 13 north around the very top of Wisconsin, overlooking the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. The towns of Washburn, Bayfield, and Red Cliff were pleasantly full of people on holiday. When the road turned west after Red Cliff, we couldn't help but wick it up through the final 10 mile blast to our destination for the night, the sleepy little South Shore Motel, a small ten room establishment just 200 yards from the absolutely outstanding Village Inn restaurant, where I first had a dinner of whitefish livers several years ago.
This afternoon the motelier was actually there - sometimes he's not there, so we have to putt around town to find him. We paid the fifty bucks and got our room right away. After cigars and some relaxation time in front of the motel, looking out over the calm south shore of Lake Superior - and a bit of cleaning on the bikes in preparation for our big evening at the fancy restaurant - we fired up and rode helmetless the entire 200 yards through the woods to the Inn. Ken had even thought to get us reservations shortly after we blew into town, so we arrived at this white table cloth joint promptly at 7:30 P.M. However, instead of being escorted to our fancy table, we had to sit briefly in a small waiting area, whereupon I took up conversation with some of the locals, in particular a threesome that actually seemed interested in Ken and me. Imagine that. Perhaps it was because these three were locals, or because the hostess liked them better, but they, who had arrived after us, were taken right past us to the only open table left - our table, or so one would have thought. A minute later the hostess came up to Ken and I to announce that this threesome wanted Ken and me to join them for dinner. We took them up on the kind offer, but the evening got real strange shortly before dessert time when the single fellow in the group, who was by now quite in his cups, decided that Ken and I were after his women. I know, it's hard to believe that anyone would think such a thing of Ken and me, but I'm telling ya, it happened. Rather than get surly in return, once Ken and I realized what was happening we both tucked our chins, moved straight into nothing but small talk, then politely excused ourselves before dessert was served - or flung at us.
Whew! That was weird. Back out in the coolness of this northern night our spirits immediately perked up as we spotted our two gorgeous Guzzis under the northern moonlight. We fired up, traveled the entire 200 yards back to the luxury ten room motel by the side of the road, and turned in for the night.
The next morning dawned perfect again. We rode west along the cool south shore into Superior, Wisconsin, for breakfast. We then crossed the bridge into Duluth, Minnesota, and rode with familiarity to the AeroStich factory where we proceeded to do a little shopping for [more] motorcycle wear. Ken and I have both worn Roadcrafter suits for years, so we like to stop at the factory when we're in the area. The effervescent Judi McNeally, one of Andy Goldfine's right hand staffers, took it upon herself to give us a complete - I mean, from very top to very bottom - tour of the factory. We not only saw every phase of how our suits are made, we got to meet some of the dedicated staff who were putting in overtime hours that day doing the good work that makes this shop famous. When we finally left the building after Judi's excellent hospitality, perhaps around noon, there were another 20 bikes parked outside, probably all doing just what we did with this major biker destination point.
The ride through the downtown of Duluth was nice, then up state Route 61 along the west shore of Lake Superior to catch Route 2 straight north to Route 1 - a curvy blaster of exquisite proportions - and on into Ely, Minnesota, and the area up by Canada known as the International Boundary Waters, a canoeist's paradise as well as a motorcyclist's dream. Somewhere before Route 2 and the town of Two Harbors we stopped for a snack of smoked fish and Swiss Cheese.
This particular shop seemed like most others along this shore road. It sold fish and cheese and beverages. However, this shop was run by one of the oddest father/daughter teams that I've ever come upon. Daughter was in her early forties, perhaps, and extremely friendly. I mean, way too friendly. After all, there were not only other customers all over the place, the woman's own father was standing right there, for goodness sakes. Can't remember her name, but she made it perfectly clear that she was keenly interested in Ken, or in me, or in the both of us. Father even seemed to be helping, as he offered us a couple of beers in the mostly shuttered bar that jutted off the east side of the fish shop, which aspect of the establishment we hadn't noticed earlier. There in the cool darkness of that odd barroom we engaged Father. But Father only wanted to talk about Daughter, and specifically about Daughter's trouble with men. Whereupon, Daughter broke away from her work at the fish counter and came and plopped herself down with us. Father left the room, and the conversation hit high gear. Ken and I hung on as long as we could, but eventually the centrifugal force of the whole thing threw us both off. Ken dove for the door first, with me following soon after. And, Daughter following us both. Talking a mile a minute, her final angle was a plea for a ride on one of the bikes. Believe me, this was a time when you prayed that your starter button would work. As my EV jumped to life, Ken was already half way down the road. This would not be a visit we would soon forget, but neither did we want to stop and talk about it. We needed to try to forget the whole thing, and these northern Minnesota roads offered the perfect antidote, which medication we proceeded to take liberal doses of, at high rates of speed, just to ease our addled minds.
By the time we got to Ely, and our nice room at the Paddle Inn (remember this is canoe country), ole Fish Lips was a distant memory, and neither of us had the slightest interest in reviving said memory! But, our woman troubles were not quite over yet.
At the Paddle Inn, we took some time to relax and enjoy the gorgeous weather and the sites and sounds of this great and unusual northern town. It was only about 4:00 P.M., so Ken rode off in search of a cigar shop while I showered and changed clothes. After dressing, I went outside to begin debugging the EV. I had no sooner stepped out of my room than I heard a woman's voice saying something like, "That sure is a nice bike."
Well, I know it's a nice bike. In fact, it's a stunning bike. I'm never surprised when people are as taken with it as I am. But something about this voice sounded all wrong. The statement really didn't demand a response, so I just glanced her way, and kept walking to the bike, to my task of cleaning it. I had my infamous wet rag and towel in hand now and began my cleaning ritual. But the voice came again, from somewhere under the motel canopy just a few doors down from ours, "You know, red is my absolute favorite color." Now, the voice was getting nearer, "My last boyfriend had a bike." I knew I'd have to look sooner or later, so while kneeling on the bike's right side, wiping a bug from the front of the valve cover, I mustered my courage and looked up. Here was a siren straight out of the movies, walking right toward me and the bike. In fact, she didn't break stride as she came up to the bike. In a single, fluid move she slipped onto the bike and sat there, continuing to purr the kinds of things one just doesn't often hear in polite company.
Just about this time, Ken roared back into the motel parking lot. I'm not sure what went through Ken's mind when he saw this young woman draped over my bike, but all of you who know my business partner Ken know that he's the most cordial, kind and well-mannered fellow on the planet. Ken greeted the woman as best he could - probably offered her a cigar, if I could only remember. Then I made an attempt to introduce her, and to explain myself at the same time. But before I could do that properly I had to ask her her name. Our young twenties-something provocateur, complete with leather biker jacket, low cut black lace blouse and tight blue jeans, turned out to be "Amy."
Not knowing quite what to do with this oddness, I continued to clean the bike. After all, nothing diverts me from my beloved Moto. At several points I had to ask Amy to literally move this or that part of herself - she showed no sign of planning to get off my bike any time soon - so that I could get at this or that bug or blemish with my wet rag and towel. This went on for way too long, then Ken and I managed to excuse ourselves and slip into our room to plan our self-respecting getaway. When it looked like the coast was clear, we shot outta there, helmetless, and rode off to dinner somewhere - anywhere - in the town. During the whole 45 minute episode by the bikes, we never saw anyone else from the motel room that Amy said that she and her mother (my age, I'll bet) were supposedly staying in. Our efforts to avoid crossing paths again paid off, and we seemed to be out of this particular woods. But the evening was not quite over yet. Some kind of bad omen had been cast, and we were about to come face to face with a real bummer.
After riding around the town of Ely a bit, checking things out, and then having a leisurely dinner at Vertin's Restaurant, we finally got back to the motel around 10:30 P.M., at which time I promptly nodded off to dreamland. Since Ken is more of a night owl than I, he got a hair to go for a moonlight ride out into the wild north country. The slow putt around town hadn't been enough for him, so he decided to put his fast SP through the paces, no matter the hour.
My snooze didn't last long. A commotion at about 11:30 P.M. woke me. I glanced out the open screen door of our room and saw a pick-up truck with a few people in it saying goodbye to Ken. Seems my speedster partner had managed to high side a curve on the dark country road east of Ely over toward Winton. He was fortunate in that he flew off the road into an open field, but the bike was not so fortunate. This was no time to grill my poor pal, so I told him to get some sleep and we'd figure something out in the morning. "And, Ken, you're tracking mud all over the room!"
Sunday morning dawned cloudy, with promise of serious rain later in the day. The gloomy weather matched our mood. We holed up in our room until most of the motel guests left, then we took the bike cover off Ken's formerly beautiful custom painted red SP III and tried to figure out if we could make it road worthy again. Ken had managed to limp it back to Ely after the crash, so maybe we could make it ridable. One thing was certain, though: we could not ride it across three states back to Grand Rapids. At best, we'd ride the bike the 150 miles downstate to Caswell Cycles in Mora, Minnesota. We covered the bike back up, then rode off two-up on my bike to get late breakfast in town, and to fine tune our plan. After breakfast at Vertins Ken went to the police department to report the accident. We got back to the Paddle Inn and tore off some fairing parts, taped up some other parts, and bungeed up a few more parts, then decided that the bike could indeed be ridden. The ergonomics were terrible in that the RH handlebar was bent to a nearly vertical position, making for extremely odd throttle action, but Kenny figured he could do the ride, so off we went.
The dark clouds got thicker as we ran south in early afternoon. Gradually our confidence in the broken bike grew so we increased our speeds. By the time we got to U.S. Route 53 south of Virginia we were getting close to riding fast again. Ken had no headlight, and was missing three of his four turn signals, but we were on a mission. We didn't much care how bad we looked right then. We were bound and determined to get that bike down to Les Caswell and be rid of it, for the time being. It was quickly proving to be a serious impediment to our otherwise cool and happenin' image.
We stopped in Cloquet to use our cell phones to line up a rental car for the return trip. A car finally located out at the Duluth International Airport could be picked up at 6:00 P.M. on our return. As we rolled out of Cloquet for the final 50 miles to Mora, the rain hit, and hit hard. By the time we pulled up to Caswell Cycles we were in the middle of a heavy downpour, but somehow it only seemed appropriate, considering our mission and our general condition in life. We didn't care. Les and his wife and some friends were just finishing up from a Sunday afternoon feast. They welcomed us in, gave us refreshments, heard our sad tale, and promised to take good care of Ken's bike until we figured out what to do next. Ken climbed on the back of my EV and the two of us roared off in the rainstorm, running fast back out Route 23 to I-35, then up to Duluth International Airport to make our appointment with the car rental place. We got the car with only about a half hour of daylight remaining, and still 75 miles of serious roadwork left to do to get back to the Paddle Inn. Kenny kicked back in the nice Buick, turned the heat and the radio on, and off we went. I was pretty damp by this time, even in my AeroStich, and pretty whipped, but I still was happy to not be sitting in that rental car!
Up at the Hibbing exit on 53 (birthplace of Bob Dylan) we stopped for late dinner at a place called Brantz Restaurant. The food was good and the rest was needed. We traversed the final 35 or so miles in the dark, getting back to the Paddle Inn at about 10:00 P.M. The trip to Mora and back had taken us 10 hours, but it was the best plan we could come up with on a holiday weekend in a tiny town in the northern outback.
Labor Day dawned cool, but dry. Our plan was to travel across Wisconsin and two thirds of the way across Michigan's Upper Peninsula to Blaney Park to take a room with Ray and Bernadine Troxler at the Dreamland Motel, one of our favorites. Since Ken was in a car, we did not try to stay together on the road, yet we still managed to run into each other often at stops. We had breakfast at Judy's in Two Harbors, Minnesota, and late lunch at the Jasper Canyon Brewing Company in Ishpeming, Michigan. A very nice server named Vicki Rae started asking about our trip, but by now we'd learned our lesson. Dinner at the Dreamland another 80 miles east just before closing time was nice, but we had to relive the entire crash story with the Troxlers since they noticed we were one bike short of our usual handsome two bike entourage. Ray and Bernie both ride, so they felt our pain.
On Tuesday we had just 375 miles to do on the run home. I rolled in at 2:00 P.M., still with mixed feelings about this adventure. But as the months have passed and I've thought about this trip, I have come to view it as a good one. No one wants to crash, or have a good running buddy crash, but stuff happens. It's the adventure that counts, and Ken and I certainly had one more big adventure for the record books.
The highlights for me during these six days of riding included the following: Thursday night riding to Indian River with my brother Bill, sharing in his great excitement over the new Quota. The stay in Cornucopia, the most northern town in the entire state of Wisconsin, is always a good time, and dinner at the Village Inn is the best. The fast run from Two Harbors on Route 2 and then Route 1 into beautiful Ely is motorcycling at its best. The fast run on my bike after Mora back up to Duluth, two-up no less, in the rain, was a hoot. Putting the EV through the paces like that is always fun. And, believe it or not, the creation and execution of a workable Plan B following the bike crash was also a highlight. Life itself is an adventure, and certainly motorcycling is some of the best theater in that adventure.
Come to think of it, Fish Lips was actually the name of that other eatery in the two-restaurant town of Cornucopia, Wisconsin - the place we always notice, but never go to. Can't figure out why I confused that poor woman in the smoked fish joint with the name of a restaurant in another state.