It's good to take stock of the season just ended. In a month or so, most of us will turn to the fun of thinking about, maybe even planning for, the season to come. But, before the one just ended fades from memory, there's still a mental trip or two to be had from it and always some lessons to be learned or relearned.
All nine months of the 2005 Michigan riding season were fabulous, a time made for motorcycling. Things were tough in other places this year, beginning with the Tsunami a few continents away and not winding down until we in the states suffered record havoc from a boatload of hurricanes which wiped out whole cities. And, finally, several continents away a huge earthquake ruined whole countries. But, here in Michigan, the temps were moderate, rainfall amounts were reasonable, and the number of sunny days here on the peninsula was the greatest in years.
I didn't log my usual 15,000 miles this season. Working at the motorcycle shop has consumed the bulk of my free time. Still, I was immersed in motorcycle things all summer long, though only riding my bike about half as far as usual not counting the commute between home and shop. That's fine. A change of pace can be good.
Yesterday was the so-called unofficial first day of the Christmas Shopping Season. A trampled shopper right here in Grand Rapids, Michigan, made national news and even one of the late night comedy shows. Business partner, Ken Tarbell, wondered this Saturday morning as we opened the shop, "Why doesn't that ever happen at a Moto Guzzi dealership?" Ken is a funny guy.
As November becomes December in Michigan, with a foot of snow and a week of bitter cold already in the weather bank, I think back to the top of the year. After the usual cool-weather riding a Michigan person does in March just to be out on his bike, there came a wonderful spring. In the first week of April, already I did a three state ride - the one I chronicled in the June News about taking delivery of my new LeMans in Northern Minnesota. High daytime temperatures got to 60 degrees and nighttime lows moderated at just 40, so I tore up the back roads for a few days in early April before there was a single leaf on a single tree in this part of the country.
A guy walked into Grand Rapids Guzzi yesterday afternoon and spoke of how much he liked his LeMans, an exact copy of my own latest model, legendary Guzzi, sport bike. He sang its praises alright, but had never owned a Guzzi before this one. In my case, a LeMans only happened after 200,000 miles of training and preparation on a string of the floor board model Guzzis. For me, this was a bike I had to grow into. From parking lot speed to warp speed, this bike is nimble and quick, smooth and powerful, fast from town to town like nothing I've ever ridden. It's not a scoot that I could imagine riding as a first or second bike. I needed those 200,000 miles on other Guzzis, and 100,000 miles before that on other brands, in order to understand what I had in this Stealth Black LeMans.
I'm looking at bikes differently these days. Instead of the stylin' good looks of my tricked-out Harleys or the classic Euro looks of the immensely competent California Guzzi line, I am these days seeing things more functionally, more mechanically. What turns me on about this six-speed fuel-injected 9.8:1 LeMans is its utilitarian good looks, its raw functionality. Sorta like the blues of Robert Johnson or Son House or Rory Block maybe. Seen from one side of the prism, the bike is raw and purposeful. But seen from another angle, it is harmonic and symphonic, beautiful and sophisticated. Perhaps such mixing of the virtues owes to the unique marriage of an old and basic design to the latest in technological improvements. Whatever this bike really is - I am still learning it - it is something I had to grow into. It's a bike of which I am only now becoming worthy. It's like MGNOC Detroit guy Greg Locke says, "What most people call comfort is usually just a lack of sensation." Not so with a LeMans. The entire riding experience, from starting that amazing motor to winding it out through the curves, is pure sensation.
The Reverend Dale Cooper admonished me a decade ago to not be a wanderer, but a pilgrim in this life. That was helpful. If my travels are wanderings in any sense, they at least have lots of purpose. I definitely am trying to get somewhere, preferably fast and with all due haste. As the years pass, I need the haste afforded me by a LeMans.
In late August, I got that ole Travelin' Jones again. My few summer trips had not been rugged or lonely enough to suit me. However, I'd just taken on a huge new assignment at my main job and couldn't possibly consider indulging a week off to go riding as I usually do at this time of year. But that's exactly the plan I set out to hatch, new project or not.
To better equip me for this new assignment, I came up with the notion that it would be good to visit a city and program in our system which was already doing well in this particular arena. Sort of a field trip for me, if you will, to see how the experts did things. That city would be Minneapolis, in keeping with my September habit of spending solo riding time up in the high latitudes of my own state and the two to the west of here, Wisconsin and Minnesota. Not just a plan, but a plan which contained its own reason to take the motorbike. Since I wasn't going to be doing anything in public on that business visit, or running a meeting for which I had to appear competent, I could dress like a student and just be the empty-head-full-of-mush that I am. Well, okay, a biker type of student in full-face, flat-black Shoei, racing boots, and AeroStich.
Then, ten days before I was to embark on the twin agenda of bettering my professional self and taking a fast paced motorcycle vacation - whichever came first - a strange new request spun me around and pointed me in the opposite direction. Our top local executive whispered that he'd like me to accompany him to a private and special high-level session with our corporate big wigs in Chicago. Oh, oh. There went the northerly part of my plan - I'd have to ride southwest instead of north. And there went the riding apparel section of the plan. But, maybe not.
Since this invitation, top secret as it was, came up so suddenly, I was able to whine, "Hey, I've already got plans to do a motorcycle vacation and I've hardly taken any time off all summer!" That worked. They conceded that it was enough to have me alter my carefully laid vacation itinerary a bit so that I could join them at this important meeting in Chicago. They didn't complain about my attire and even paid my travel expenses for this first portion of my bike trip vacation. Whoa. That's nice. And, as far as direction of trajectory went. . . well, I'd just get to Minneapolis 'around the bottom' instead of 'over the top' [of Lake Michigan].
On Tuesday, September 7, I lit outta Grand Rapids for Chicago at LeMans speed. Got to headquarters in the Northwest Suburbs early so I could wolf down some lunch, shed the AeroStich, and put myself together for this high-level meeting - which I certainly wasn't going to be paying much attention to since I had the better part of a week of riding staring me straight in the kisser the moment that meeting ended, which it did, to my delight, at about 3p. Nothing to do but race out of Chicago continuing a northwest trajectory to land in one of my favorite American Swiss towns for the first night, New Glarus, Wisconsin. After settling into a room at the Swissaire Motel, I lingered over dinner at the excellent Glarner Stube, a joint I try to never miss if I'm anywhere near it. Next day temps were still balmy - almost too warm for September - but, that was soon to change.
As I motored through the rolling landscape of the Wisconsin Uplands westward to River Road 35 on the Mississippi River, then up to LaCrosse and on to the destination of my second evening - somewhere, anywhere, just outside of Minneapolis - a major cold front blew in. The temperature reading on my handy Moto Fizz bike thermometer dropped 30 full degrees in 90 minutes! At 9:30a, stopping for late breakfast at Grandma's Kitchen in little Highland, Wisconsin - before the River Road - I was still struggling with humid, high 80s. Not long after that, I was almost blown off the bike as the front roared through and I hammered, head down, into it. The rain was steady and then cold and continual for several of those midday hours. I stopped to warm up and rest a bit in Pepin, Wisconsin, still on the River Road, at a place called The Third Base Bar. As I strode out of the joint, rested and ready to ride again, the last of the clouds blew east over my head and I eventually emerged into clear and more seasonably appropriate air.
Fifty miles southeast of St. Paul, I cut off the River Road at Diamond Bluff and headed due north to River Falls, Wisconsin, where I took another layover, this time to wash and putz with the LeMans. Then, it was up to big burly Interstate 94 and due west into The Cities. Immediately after crossing the big St. Croix, I grabbed a road on the west side of that river and wiggled up above The Cities through Bayport, Oak Park Heights, and Stillwater to State Road 96 and then west into White Bear Lake, a major resort area northeast of Minneapolis. What a beautiful place this was. I found a high-end version of my preferred Best Western Motel and had a great evening in the restaurant there; then, off to bed. The pitter patter of rain that greeted me the next morning was hardly a discouragement since I was looking forward to the fast, Thursday morning, rush-hour traffic of this major metropolis as I made my way to the training destination in the east suburb of Roseville.
By noon, I said goodbye to the nice folk who had been graciously trying to teach me things and did some fast and serious roadwork to shoot myself into The Real North. Safely 80 miles above The Cities I grabbed Route 70 back east into Wisconsin and ambled along that scenic rural way for the rest of the day, finally taking a tiny cabin at a place called Winter Nights Cottages in the town of Winter, Wisconsin, just as bear hunting season opened in them there parts. Even had a harried bruin cross Route 70 right in front of me the next morning, with dogs and GPS -equipped hunters in hot pursuit.
Dinner that evening in Winter, at Dixie's Supper Club, two miles east of where the town lights abruptly ended and the rugged forests resumed, was excellent. Then, back to my tiny cabin for a quiet remainder of the evening. The next night, back in my beloved Michigan in the Upper Peninsula at one of my favorite places, The Dreamland Motel and Restaurant, I was stunned to learn that proprietor Ray Troxler had died while I'd been away. I'd stopped there exactly a year ago and found then that Ray had taken ill. He looked a little pale, but otherwise seemed fine, still serving up those wonderful pork chops, bread, and homemade pie. Ray's wife, Bernie, is still running the place, but she's devastated at losing her husband and partner to a fast moving cancer; she's not sure what she's going to do with it after this season. So sad. I did my best to be kind and friendly with Bernie, but there's not much a person can do in situations like these. Ray was a great, great guy, and a biker, too, so I have many fond memories of this place in its glory days.
Finally, on Saturday, I made it back into Michigan's Lower Peninsula to hook up with Moto Guzzi National Owners Club guys Tom Canute and Ron Kurylo as they put on the annual Michigan MGNOC Rally that weekend southwest of Traverse City at Cycle Moore Campground in the little burg of Interlochen. What gorgeous country this is - just perfect for biking. If you've not attended this rally yet, make it a point to do so next year. You will not be disappointed.
Finally, back home in Grand Rapids late Saturday night, refreshed and ready to tackle the regular world again after having tackled the irregular world my way on my motorcycle. . . battling raging heat, Chicago traffic, raging wind and rain, Minneapolis traffic, bears and those who pursue bears, and the tragedy of learning belatedly of a friend's death. . . I was once again on top of life, the master of at least a little portion of my own destiny via skills honed and perfected aboard a fast Italian motorcycle. I'm sure I've said this many times before in these pages, but. . . life is grand. The Travelin' Jones is just what I had needed to get me up and out there on the road. Works every time.
When I start to doubt myself or wonder if I've really had all the fun in life I think I had, I need only reflect back to a single riding season to understand that I've been immensely blessed and there is joy around every comer if we'll just get out there and look for it. If this life is not a test, it is at least a time of training and equipping for the art of life and the journey ahead. Keep a sharp eye out, Pilgrim, and don't hold back. That which you seek lies just ahead of you, perhaps over that very next hill, the one that you are charging toward in top gear, motor roaring, wind blasting and your mind racing toward the destiny ahead.