Work-to-Ride Special: Surfing the Flood Run

Weather: Cloudy this morning, clearing as the day wore on.

Leader of the Pack?
It’s early morning on the Flood Run, but the Harley dudes are already getting blurry.

I woke up Saturday morning after twelve straight hours of much-needed sleep. Some kind of intestinal bug had attacked me on Thursday, and sent me home from work and straight to bed. Body aches, chills, and cold sweat ruled my world for the next forty-some hours.

Fever temperature reached 104°F (40°C), and at one point my wife Amy says I sat up suddenly in bed, eyes wide out of a sound sleep, and began jabbering at her about Scooterati hit-squads and military surplus biological weapons. Everyone knows you can buy them on eBay these days. The bastards are out to get me, I tell you!

What? Oh, never mind… the fever’s broke, but the nightmare remains. We all have our crosses to bear.

Now, where was I? The Flood Run! Yes. These are the events that I like to ride around twice a year.

Essentially, they are the Minne-sconsin version of Sturgis or Daytona, and they make up for the brevity by holding them once in the Spring, and then again in the Fall. For many, these are the one-day rides that mark the beginning and end of their riding season.

But, what did I mean by “ride around”?

Well, if you put yourself in the middle of this thing, you get caught-up in an endless, slow parade of clowns on big, shiny bikes with very loud pipes.

They roll down the main streets of picturesque little towns, duck-walking and blipping their throttles to the delight of the citizens gathered by the curbside. If you are mounted on anything but an open-piped chopper, you cannot hear your own bike running. It is loud, slow, and quite boring if you aren’t playing the “Look at ME!” game.

Every once in awhile, a particularly needy Power Clown will stop and let some space open up ahead of him. Then he uncorks the nitrous bottle on his 500 horsepower, Chevy V-8 Boss Hoss, and does a burnout that clouds the air with tire smoke and dead mosquitos.

All of this is done for charity, of course. I imagine the tire companies make out pretty well, too.

Knowing all this, I decided to do things differently this year. Since I wasn’t feeling well, I knew that the usual backroad loops would be out of the question. I just didn’t have the energy for it. Instead, I decided to take my sweaty, shaky self and head out early to Prescott, where the first major stop of the rally was located. There, I would shoot some photos and assess my ability to continue on.

So, you must be wondering how one goes about “surfing” the Flood Run. Well, I’ll tell you…

The key is to get out there early, ahead of the big wave of riders coming out of the Twin Cities. If you time it just right, you get this effortless ride, where you arrive at each stop just after they open, to a welcome from eager bartenders and waitresses who are pumped up for the big day ahead, and at the peak of their customer-friendliness. The food is fresh, and the beverages cold. I found this immediately at a bratwurst stand, in front of the No-Name Saloon in Prescott.

Oh, don't they look scrumptious?
Can’t you just SMELL that? Are you drooling yet? Yum!

Now, this was about nine in the morning, and while my nose and tastebuds were saying “Yes, Yes!”, my virus-ravaged digestive tract was shouting “NO!NO!NO!”.

I reluctantly passed on the bratwurst, and headed inside the No-Name Saloon for a ginger ale instead. I hung around long enough to meet Rick Gevay, rider of the venerable 1946 Harley Davidson UL pictured below.

My Dream Bike...
1946 Harley-Davidson UL: 74 cubic inches of perfectly adequate motorbike.

Rick was too busy to have his photo taken, and I respected that. I made sure to get out of his way as quickly as possible. He told me that the organizers of the Flood Run have conveyed upon him the official title: “Boss of Prescott”, and that honor carried heavy responsibilities.

Trust me when I say that he might well be as old as his wonderful Harley-Davidson. His abundant grey hair and beard, along with his well-weathered riding gear, speak of many decades on the road aboard one of the coolest motorcycles I have ever seen. This is a man I want to interview in-depth, someday.

Well, since most of us can’t afford or support such exquisite ancient machinery, sometimes we have to accept what the factories offer as “retro” models; modern motorbikes with styling connections to the past. They offer the style of the classics with modern reliability and performance. It is a potent commercial formula which has seen success in both the motorcycle and automotive markets.

A glimpse into my future...?
The Yamaha Venture… a modern classic?

One of the bikes that has sucked me in recently is the Yamaha Venture you see here. I don’t know what year this bike was made, but I do know that it has all the styling cues needed to nudge me in the direction of a Lazy-Boy on two wheels.

My wife Amy has told me that all I need to get her to ride with me on long cross-country journeys is a modern Gold Wing. But when I showed her these photos, she said “Yeah, I could go with that.”

I mean, the last time I saw a dashboard like this was on a `59 Ford.

How can you resist a dashboard like that?
“Goodnight sweetheart, well, it’s time to go-oh…”

Oh Baby… But could I have this for my only motorcycle? Alas, no. Unlike the Harley UL, the Yamaha Venture would be ill-suited for exploring dirt roads. I mean, I could do it, but the strain and the risk of breaking expensive bodywork would make it prohibitively risky. Not much fun there. So this one will have to wait until I can afford to have a comfy touring bike sitting around for the occasional vacation ride. Maybe this will be my retirement bike? Huh… assuming I ever get to retire.

However, I was talking about surfing the Flood Run wave, right? The key is to watch the road, and see when the really dense packs start rolling into town. That’s your cue to head out to the next waypoint. You get there, and you find the bar-folks ready and jumping to your every request, all over again.

If you do this all the way, ahead of the main wave of Flood Runners, you are guaranteed a wonderful ride, without the hassle that comes from a crowd of drunk bikers. Nobody likes to stand three-deep at the bar when they are only ordering a ginger ale… right?

Also, when you are early, the line to the bathroom starts and ends with you. Believe me, that can be priceless when you have just eaten a bratwurst against your better judgement. Look, I’m only human… but I’m getting ahead of myself here.

Frogwing and I rode all the way to Maiden Rock, and Ole’s Bar. Down by the waterfront, there is a park where many Flood Runners gather, and some spend most of the day there. A railroad track runs through it, and every once in awhile, a freight train comes thundering through. These bad boys drown out even the loudest power clowns.

Thunder in the Valley
Ooh, look at all that shiny, brand-new leather!

After soaking in the scene down in Maiden Rock for awhile, I realized that I was really getting tired. I wasn’t fully recovered from the flu yet, and I didn’t want to push it so far that I would have dizzy spells on the ride home. So I mounted up on Frogwing, and we began to retrace our route, northward.

Now, the nice thing about this, is that the northbound lane was relatively empty of other traffic. The run was heading south, and most of the locals stayed off of the road. As I passed the first cop staked out in a speed trap, I realized that I could render a valuable public service to my fellow riders.

As the next pack of bikes approached, I gave them the low, up-and-down wave that means “Slow Down!”. I got a lot of appreciative nods and waves in return. There have been a few times in my life when I wished somebody had warned me in similar fashion.

Rolling north into Prescott, I stopped at that bratwurst stand again. I just couldn’t resist the second time around. I ordered mine with lots of kraut, and a bright yellow racing stripe of mustard down the middle. This, my friends, was Heaven on a Bun.

Heaven on a Bun
Haute cuisine, Wisconsin style.

Of course, it didn’t take long for the rebellion to start down in the engine room, if you know what I mean. First, my stomach went into shock that I would dare send something so volatile down the hatch. This gave me time to make some miles towards home. Soon, however, Baron von Bratwurst was dancing a polka all over my gizzard. Delirium gripped me, and I couldn’t stop the accordians from playing inside my helmet, all the way home.

Rolling into my driveway, I parked Frogwing on the sidewalk, jumped off, and ran into the house. I was still wearing my helmet when I slammed the bathroom door.

15 Responses to “Work-to-Ride Special: Surfing the Flood Run”

  1. Rob Tsou Says:

    HAHAHAHAHA! POWER CLOWN! HAHAHAHAHAHA! I LOVE IT! Now that I have that out of the way, I too have played the “can’ttalknowemergencybowelsituation” game more often than I care to admit since having a portion of my colon removed and it’s no fun. Finding just the right riding position. Asking yourself, “5 more lights, you feel lucky punk?”. Walking and stripping out of a Roadcrafter simultaneously (yes you can get out of those in less than 10 seconds, thank you very much Mr. Golfine). Glad you’re feeling better Gary!


  2. Steve Williams Says:

    Wow, what a day you had! Power Clown…. there’s a T-shirt there I think. With “Look at Me, look at me, look at me” on the back.

    Cages, Power Clowns, Scooterati….. what’s next?

    Glad you’re feeling better too.


  3. Eric Says:

    Hey Gary, one of my favorite t-shirts that I HAVEN’T bought yet shows a lonely guy on a sportbike right in the middle of a pack old-school harley riding fellas – ala the wild bunch. The caption says “Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right. Here I am, stuck in the middle…” I love it! Someday I might even find the balls to order it and wear it in public.

    Aside from my lame attempts at humor, I have to say that sounded like one heck of a good ride. I’ve always been a big fan of Wisconsin. They’ve got some beautiful riding area – most of the state, actually. And they really know how to make the kind of food that just makes ya feel good.

    Unless you’re recovering from a particularly nasty gastro-intestinal bug, that is…



  4. Gary Charpentier Says:

    From the top:

    Rob, I wasn’t sure if I was giving out too much information there. Some people get squeamish when you tell it like it is…

    Steve asks: “Cages, Power Clowns, Scooterati….. what’s next?” Well, if they weren’t out to get me, I’d have to make something up. Gotta keep it interesting, as you well know.

    Eric, I want you to know that I’m not disparaging the real Harley riders out there. After all, I used to be one of them. I know where they are coming from. But the guys who go out and buy an expensive, chrome-laden monster as a lifestyle accessory, just because they can, and then only show up at places where they can perform in front of an audience, well, those aren’t bikers. Those are poseurs. I’ll diss them all day long.

    Now, I see you have Gypsy up and running. Does this mean we can add you to the Ride to Work blogroll? Let me know, and I’ll make it happen.

    Ride well,

  5. Eric Says:

    Yeah Gary, it’s time to set it up I think. I’ve ridden her to work every day this week, and as much as I try to I just can’t find enough time to ride it seems. Between the gym, softball practice, work, and the internet the ramblings are few and far between. But even when time is short I make time to ride around the lake here in town as well as short jaunts here and there to get some wind in my face (behind the full-face helmet of course).

    Take care,


    Oh, and e-mail when you get a chance regarding the ride up this direction you were planning.

  6. Seagullplayer Says:

    I have not posted in awhile, still stopping by and catching up. Hope you are feeling better.
    It’s just about lunch time here, think I’ll go find a sausage someplace…

    Great report.

    BTW: Me and the wife plan to spend much of our “later life” on a wing, as yet unpurchased. Maybe we will pass somewhere down the road.

    Rubber down

  7. Gary Charpentier Says:

    Eric, check your email. The Duluth ride is still up in the air. I’ll let you know as soon as I firm it up.

    Mark, I’ve never much cared for the big full-dressers, but then I never much cared for scooters, either. People change, and tastes evolve. The fact is, now that I have ridden every kind of motorbike I can think of, I find that there is something to like about each and every one of them. This is how collectors are born, I’m afraid.

    Well, it’s probably a good thing I have neither the space, nor the money to become a collector. This means that my motorbike(s) will get ridden, often, and that any new purchase will require a lot of thoughtful research.

    Maybe, instead of the Venture or a `Wing, the wife and I will spend our twilight years touring on scooters. Stranger things have happened…

    Ride well,

  8. irondad Says:

    Speaking of “stranger things happening” I saw a Honda 650 Silver Wing scooter with a sidecar. You know, it just struck me. A person could probably sit in the sidecar and pilot the scooter with this arrangement!


  9. Mad Says:

    Hahaha! I just noticed there are people in the last picture wearing leather chaps. Man that cracks me up.

  10. Gary Charpentier Says:

    Irondad, yes, I believe you’re right. Front brake and throttle should be on the right handlebar, so why not? Wouldn’t that make for some interesting reactions from other motorists?

    Mad, yeah, that IS funny, when you think about it. But that’s the American Biker culture over here. I really don’t know if chaps were used by early motorcyclists, or if that was an affectation of later years. They say it shields their legs from the wind, but wouldn’t a regular pair of riding pants do that?

    Ride well, (old chaps) ;^)

  11. irondad Says:

    And when you ride in the rain, where does the rain collect? Right where the chaps don’t cover!

  12. Keith Says:

    Gary, I owned an 1999 Yamaha Venture for 3 years and put over 15,000 miles per year on it for each of the 3 years. It was mainly miles commuting to and from work, but there were a few 400 mile a day trips in there. I bought the bike slighty used from a Yamaha rep in Philly and rode it back to Chicago in 24 hours. That was about 825 miles. I should have made it a bit further and done an Iron Butt. The bike was absolutely the most comfortable bike I have ever ridden. It was a great bike for traveling and was completly reliable. I traded it because it got the hankering for a slightly smaller bike that I could remove the fairing from when I wanted to, a 2002 Kaw Nomad. The Nomad is not nearly as comfortable as the Venture was, but for knocking around town is a bit more fun. If my wife and I were to go traveling more in the future I would definately get a Venture.

  13. Keith Says:

    Of course they year after I traded my Venture Yamaha had to go and come out with the Royal Star Tour Deluxe. If that had been available I would have either traded for it, or bought the parts to remove the fairing and convert my Venture into a Tour Deluxe. Funny how those things work that way!

  14. Brian Says:

    Flood Run has been a carity since it began in 1965. Hope you kicked your$10.00 in. I have been on it for over 30 years and we have said for decades if you don’t buy a Flood Run wristband your not on the flood run just the same highway that day. Love that Wi, food! Gring your pepto!

  15. Doug Says:

    Hey, Don’t diss the Harley riders. I happen to own a 2003 Goldwing and a 2002 Heritage Softail Classic. I have 44000 miles on the Goldwing and 28000 on the Harley. I will admit that the Harley is not my choice for touring, but it does have it’s place, and yes it is VERY LOUD. Of course people want to show thier bikes off. Someone puts alot of work into thier ride and they want people to appreciate it. I am NOT talking about the yuppies that only ride in fair weather, and wear chaps ( Been riding 37 years and never wore them ) even when it’s 90 degrees out, but the guy that has to earn a buck and sticks it into his ride. I personally enjoy the Floodrun for the ride and to people watch. Like has been said there is alot of new leather out there. Some of the wannabe bad asses with thier new Harleys just quite simpley make me sick..Keep the shiny side up and enjoy EVERY RIDE!!!!! Doug