Saturday, July 02, 2005

Big Falls, Minnesota

Chicago, IL to Big Falls, MN - 705 miles

So I get this idea to do a ride. 4th of July being on a Monday this year leaves me with three days off in a row. In July I definitely want to go North where it's cooler and the days are longer. There are still a few places I have not been to on a bike up north, so I grab a map and start looking.

Northwest Minnesota looks exciting. I realize that there probably aren’t that many twisty roads up there, but still I want to go just to see what it looks like. I get on and instantly I'm intrigued by a road called Waters of the Dancing Sky Scenic Byway and within minutes I'm planning a trip up there and figuring my route. It’s a holiday weekend and many of the people I ride with already have plans, but I manage to find a couple of people with no plans that want to do the trip.

It was still dark outside when my alarm went of at 4:30AM this morning. And I still need to finish packing; I want to be out the door by 5AM. I'm meeting up with a couple of riders from the sport-touring network. I'm meeting Jim in Taylors Falls, MN for lunch at 12:30PM and hopefully running in to Tony on the road somewhere between Illinois and Minnesota. Packing my stuff on the bike took a bit longer than anticipated (it always does).

By 5:50AM I'm on the road ready to make up the 50 minutes I lost by 'slightly' speeding. The sun had been up now for about half an hour but its still a chilly 57 degrees. Even this early in the morning, I-90 heading West is already packed. Passing is difficult with slow cars traveling in both lanes. Even after entering Wisconsin, looking at the license plates on the cars around me, the majority are from Illinois. My first gas and bathroom stop is Stoughton, WI, my second gas stop is in River Falls, WI. After 360 miles of slab I finally take an exit at 63 North just south of Baldwin and stop for gas again. My stops were very short, just under 10 minutes each, I have no time to waste. The town of Baldwin has a real cool windmill, but I didn’t want to waste precious time on pictures this early in the day.

At the junction of 63 and 46 there is a stop sign and cars are back up for about a half a mile. Even on these back roads there is still a lot of traffic. I continue on 46 North and turn West on 8 arriving in Taylors Falls, MN at exactly 12:30PM. Jim is already there but I never did run in to Tony. I check my voice mail and he did leave a message saying that he left late and might not make it to lunch on time. Jim and I go to grab some lunch at the Chisago House on the corner of 8 and 95. It’s one of those places that serves breakfast all day. I have a chicken salad on a croissant and I have to say it was the best I’ve ever had, I don’t usually like fries, but these are good, or maybe I'm just very hungry since I only had a cup of coffee at 4:30AM this morning. I leave Tony a voice mail updating him on our current status and he calls me back saying that he is still an hour away from Taylors Falls. He is planning to catch up to us and meet up with us on the road. After lunch we take off on 95 heading Northwest.

It's in the upper 70’s now, no wind, what I'd call a perfect riding day. There isn't a lot of traffic on this road, and other than me looking away for a few seconds glancing at my directions and almost running over 3 birds that are crossing the road, all is going well. We turn North on 169, which is a two lane highway. After getting gas we continue until we run in to extremely slow stop and go traffic. At first I though there might have been an accident, but I think it was just all the holiday traffic. We pass the Mille Lacs Lake on our right, it's huge. After taking about 20 minutes to travel just about 2-3 miles we arrive in Garrison, MN. While getting ready to turn on 18 West, I notice a big fish statue to my right.

Mille Lacs lake in Garrison, MN

The Garrison Walleye statue sits right next to the Mille Lacs lake, I decided to take some pictures of the 15-ft. long fiberglass Walleye Pike. The Walleye is a favorite catch for sportsmen angling in America's north-central lake regions. Walleye worship became official in Minnesota after it was designated as the state fish in 1965 by the MN legislature.

Walleye Pike in Garrison, MN

That's a big mouth you got there

From 18 we turn on 6 North and after a while turned on 11 West, finally some curves started to appear in the road. 11 had really nice sweepers and I caught a glimpse of a deer running in to the woods. A reminder that they were everywhere, it’s all forest up here. The next road which is 3 North, has even more curves. 3 was supposed to turn in to 6 then 66, but in reality 3 turned right, so I stayed straight but I soon realized something was fishy. The roads were not the way they appeared on the map. We stop for gas and after checking the map and still being confused, I asked the gas station attendant. We take 16 West to Jenkins and turn North on 371. Since my GPS broke over Memorial Day Weekend, I have to go back to the old style of touring, reading maps and following road signs. I miss my Garmin.

In Pine River I found 84, a supposedly twisty road. The road had very little traffic and nice scenery, with turns posted at 30-35MPH, a few even tighter. The only thing is, there are long straights between the turns, only a few sections have two or three turns right after one another or a nice “S” turns. It is still a great road with good pavement, I just like to have the curves closer together. Once you pass 200, 84 turns to 8 and becomes kind of straight. The Federal Dam is a very small dam, wasn’t worth pulling over at. There are a few more curves in the road before reaching Bena, that's where we turn and headed East to Deer River.

I was a bit tired now, I have ridden already 636 miles today. We pull over at a gas station in town and I grabbed a Twix ice cream bar, it is really good and exactly what I needed, cool and refreshing. I start getting a headache so I take some Excedrin. The temperatures are still pleasant but we still haven’t seen Tony anywhere. I called and left him a message on his cell phone to meet us in Big Falls outside the liquor store and bar on 6. Lee, another rider on the sport-touring network is letting us stay in his bunkhouse but we have to find him in town when we get there.

We leave the gas station in Deer River at 8:30PM and ride the last 64 miles to Big Falls. 6 is a pretty straight road with a sweeper here and there, no towns on the way, just miles and miles of forests. I was hoping that I would make it to Big Falls before it got completely dark, which according to the internet is 9:30PM in these parts this time of year. I'm actually refreshed now, the long break we took and the ice cream gave me plenty energy to go at least another 100 miles if I need to. With dwindling sunlight, I increase my traveling speed. There is no one on the road but us. But then the road narrowes and the trees close in on us, so I decide to slow it down a bit. There are a lot of deer in these forests, I don't want to meet any of them personally.

The sun slowly slides behind the tree line and by the time we pull in to Big Falls, it is pretty dark, especially for me since I still have on my dark tinted helmet shield. I’ve never met Lee but I know what bike he rides and I spot his blue FJR parked in town. The minute we pulled the bikes over, the mosquitoes were on us, I don't even take my helmet off since I don't want them to bite my face, the only exposed skin. A few get in from the bottom though. I go to a few establishments and ask for Lee. After some looking around and asking some people, we find him. Still no Tony.

Lee, Jim and I ride over to the bunkhouse, which is located next to Lee’s family’s weekend house. After unpacking the bike, the first thing I have to do is coat myself in a thick layer of insect replant. I have never seen so many mosquitoes before. Tony calles me as my phone battery dies. I never get the the opportunity to ask where he's at. He does say that his phone is not working up here, he called using a phone card. I guess we'll have to meet up with him tomorrow.

Since we didn’t eat dinner Lee took out all the fixings to make some sandwiches along with some baked beans. Lee and his family were super nice people, taking in some strangers for the night and feeding them. You met the nicest people on motorcycles. The food hit the spot. After some motorcycle stories, it was time for bed.

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