In August of this year, my wife Bonnie was planning to attend her family reunion near the Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul in Minnesota. As it happened the Minnesota Moto Guzzi Rally was being held the previous weekend. I was able to ride from Seattle and combine both events. The following is an observational journal of things I jotted down at the end of a day's ride. No great details, just some things I saw and thought about. Several days are not accounted for. I never pushed it, traveling just three or four hundred miles a day with a few 500 milers on the return trip. I consciously avoided as much Interstate highway travel as I could. Although I planned on camping most of the nights, I found myself in a bed surrounded by four walls more often than not. The reunion highlights I've omitted to save for a different audience. Also, I decided to sum up the return trip in a paragraph or two in the interest of keeping the audience I have!
I totaled 5535 miles through eight states and four Canadian provinces in 19 days, one oil change, and DANG that Guzzi reliability! Had to change a taillight!
It was raining in Seattle one day last March when I received my monthly newsletter from the Moto Guzzi National Owners Club (MGNOC). Leafing through the pages, while my mind was really on the garage which housed the Cali, I saw an ad that caught my eye: "Announcing the First Minnesota Moto Guzzi Motorcycle Rally." "Hmmm", I thought, "Minnesota. That's where Bonnie's family reunion is to be held in late August. I wonder when this rally is?"
We planned to fly, of course, but maybe if it wasn't too far away...HOLD IT! August 21st!? My mind shifted into high gear meshing with the precision of 3rd, 4th and then 5th gear out to the final drive. Could this actually work? How would Bonnie react? Could I get that much time off in the middle of summer? I have almost always taken an annual summer ride, usually for a week or so, but nothing like the distance involved here. Bonnie has always been supportive of these endeavors. ("I married a motorcyclist," she likes to say.) This one proved to be no different - I got the green light, things fell into place at work, and I started planning.
I decided to make a big loop, going up into British Columbia from the Idaho panhandle, making my way east through Alberta, Saskatchewan and into Manitoba before dropping down into North Dakota, then into Minnesota. My return route would be by way of South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana. The Canadian leg, I reasoned, would be a bit more interesting for me, what with different people, territory and money, not to mention the great exchange rate at the time. I was right on all counts. (I'm hoping to explore the Canadian Rockies a bit more in depth on next year's ride.) All in all I guesstimated about a 4000 mile trip.
Sunday, August 15th, 7:30 A.M: Slight drizzle in Seattle, reminding me of the day back in March when all I could do was look wistfully at the water dripping steadily from the roof of the garage. However today, packed up and riding out of it, I didn't let a little drizzle dampen my sprits. I knew as soon as I crossed the Cascades, things would be different.
After going over the mountains, my first stop was Ellensburg, about 100 miles east. Our local MGNOC chapter's "roving" breakfast was being held there this morning. I got a great send-off by winning the 50/50 drawing. Hey! Breakfast and a tank of gas. What more could you ask for? Continuing east, alone now, I officially started my journey.
Eastern Washington: I see many old classic cars - a '56 2-door Belair, a '48 Ford Coupe and what looked like a Lincoln from the 1930s. There was a car show in Spokane, I learn later. Also, lots of Harley guys returning from Sturgis, held that weekend, looking like they need some sleep. Other people, of course, towing their hobbies: jet skis, motor boats and smaller cars for when the RV gets tucked in for the night. It's summer vacation in America!
I crossed into B.C. from Eastport, Idaho in the extreme northeast corner of the panhandle. The roads here are beautiful, taking me through the Kaniksu National Forest. Continuing northeast, heading towards Alberta, I quickly leave behind some nuisance clouds and thick mist I encountered while crossing the Continental Divide.
Crossing the plains in eastern Alberta and into Saskatchewan, I feel very alone. Alone, yet experiencing a sort of cohesiveness with other travelers out there. We're all in the same boat; all in the middle of nowhere - together.
Guzzi running like a top. Sometimes on Highway 3 east of Lethbridge, I have to slow down when I'm surprised to see I'm traveling 85-90 mph. I pasted 1000-acre wheat farms between towns with names like Seven Persons and Purple Springs. Dozens of these little towns, visible from miles out, look like island oases of trees floating in the distance - the trees, both bordering the burg and performing sentry duty as tall blockers of the wind. As I approach each town, dominating the skyline as well as the lifestyle, were its silos, different shapes, sizes and conditions, status symbol like, they tell of their relative successes or failures. Back out on the plain the sky was black, white and blue all at once - the resultant mixture of clouds and clear sky as far as the eye could see.
By the fourth day I was well into Manitoba, and it appeared I was emerging from the plains. Glimpses of a hill or two and sometimes even a curve in the road! Once I pulled off for a stretch, map check, and a drink of water. The road was eerily quiet except for the ticking of the Guzzi pipes cooling down. Suddenly I heard what sounded frighteningly like the hiss of something escaping under pressure. Upon closer inspection I realized the field I had parked next to was literally overflowing with grasshoppers! The sound of their hitting the bike, then echoing off onto the ground, gave quite an odd sensation out on that empty road. Another stop was beside a sunflower farm so large my eyes couldn't see it all at once. It was even harder to explain it when I shared the picture I brought home. Later, in North Dakota I found myself going past them quite frequently -becoming almost commonplace although no less impressive.
When I crossed back into the U.S. it was one of the smallest border stations I could find. I entered North Dakota on State Route #20, about ten miles from the tiny town of Calvin. It seemed I was the only customer the old fellow there had had in at least a day or two. About all he could say, kind of enviously, I felt, was how he certainly had never seen one of "these here Moto Guzzys" (rhyming with fuzzy). In my rear view mirror, I saw him watch me pull away and disappear over the horizon, perhaps imagining himself there in the saddle, watching me, in his mirror, disappear on an unfolding adventure.
I left Fargo Friday morning. Immediately crossing the Red River of the North, I was in Minnesota. Although the rally site was still most of a day's ride away, up near Duluth, this day had a sort of easiness about it. The roads were wooded and curvy. I was finally able to lean in and throttle out of corners. I remembered again what this machine was truly made for. I thought of the other riders I would meet and share riding experiences with.
What a sight, pulling into the campground! I hadn't seen any other Moto Guzzis on the road coming out to the rally, yet here on this little lake, named Big Lake, were dozens: Eldorados, Ambassadors, Californias. T-3s Milles and LeMans models. Frank Wedge and his EV with the eight-gallon tank. I saw two cylinder heads distinctively angling out of each bike, framing behind each of them its owner's tent, the lake, or yet another tier of Mandello's finest.
I'd like to report an extremely enjoyable and, from what I understand, successful rally at Big Lake. It was a pleasure to meet and mingle with such a great bunch of folks, including Minnesota MGNOC Rep George Dalin and his wife June, Earl and Diane Cleven, who had to miss the ride and tour of the AeroStich factory on account of all the rally related work they put so much of their time into. The tour was arranged by Sheldon Aubut, who threw in a very interesting talk about the history of old Duluth while he was standing atop a picnic bench!
Two days and two nights of sharing common interests and learning about new ones. Staying up way too late by the campfire, but not caring because, hey, we've got another log to put on the fire!
I had four glorious days of freedom after leaving Big Lake Sunday before I was scheduled to meet with Bonnie and her mom in the Twin Cities. I went up and down Highway 61, which follows Lake Superior into Ontario. I rode into Wisconsin and ate some of their famous cheese. My Guzzi and I enjoyed their moto friendly roads, crisscrossing the western side of the state from Superior to Sparta. Traveling back over the Mississippi, I indulged in some more of Minnesota's scenic rides with a water view.
After leaving the reunion I headed southwest toward Sioux Falls, South Dakota. As I headed toward the border, the wind began to pick up. The closer I got, the blacker the sky became. When I crossed, into South Dakota it began to pour. Nice night for a motel! I elected I-90 across South Dakota and wasn't particularly looking forward to the 350 miles of straight blacktop to Rapid City, however, the (what seemed like) hundreds of billboards lining the road, constantly reminding you of "Wall Drugs!" and "Petrified Snakes!" made for great entertainment. Visited the four lads in granite the next day, then onto Wyoming and Yellowstone. Very disappointed in this National Park. Fifty bucks to get in and have the pleasure of joining an endless train of cars going 45 mph for a hundred miles to the west entrance - exit for me! Couldn't stomach the Disneyland atmosphere of the Old Faithful parking lot so I and left immediately after gassing up, even though I wanted to get a picture in front of the geyser and call it "Old Faithful Guzzi."
Into Montana, where I traveled wonderful smaller roads following the Clark Fork River and finally back through the panhandle. I met the great North Cascades Highway at the Washington border and gave it a run for its money. This was the beginning of the three-day Labor Day weekend for lots of folks and everyone was heading east. I practically had the road to myself going west. It was truly spectacular!
Towns and county names now sounding familiar, as I wound my way closer to home ...