Archive for June, 2006

Blind Lizard

Wednesday, June 21st, 2006

Weather: Ahhh… Summer in Minnesota

Blind Lizard and Frogwing
Frogwing bonds with Blind Lizard, aka Tom the Tailor. One of his own kind?

Of course, everybody knows that last Sunday was Father’s Day. Here in Minnesota, we were blessed with sunshine and warmth all day long, and it was a gorgeous day to ride.

That was a good thing, but it almost made me late for Blind Lizard!

Now, The Blind Lizard Motorcycle Club has asked me not to publicize the location of their annual gathering, because the place will not support the kind of huge crowds that show up for First Thursday, and to do so would only ruin it for all of those who have been coming here faithfully, lo these many years. `Nuff said about that.

What I can tell you is that this is a long tradition amongst our motorcycle hippies in and around the Twin Cities, going back to the Seventies. These are not your typical “bikers”, in that they tend to prefer the more exotic sporting machinery from Europe and Japan.

Brit-Bike Class
Some of the finest vintage machinery in the area shows up here.

Popular culture knows them as Cafe Racers, and I once rode proudly amongst their ranks. This is the kind of thing that lives in the blood like a virus, and I’m sure it will flare up in me again one day. I can only hope that my family obligations have been satisfied by then, because this madness comes on strong!

I first caught the Cafe Racer virus in Southern California, in 1988. That was when I first saw a Ducati, just like the one in the photo below, at European Cycle Specialties in Garden Grove.

I photographed it, and kept that picture in my wallet until I could afford my own Ducati 900 SS some years later.

Italian Sass
The original Mike Hailwood Replica… if there can be such a thing.

Take the paint job of the bike above, and apply it to the bike below, and you have a good approximation of Gogo, my 900SS from “Diary of a Cafe Racer”.

Just plain badass...
A modern Cafe Racer; Gogo in a little black dress perhaps?

But the Cafe Racer virus caused me to do Bad Things on public roads. Eventually, that always leads to trouble with The Law. Hello, my name is Gary, and I am an adrenaline junkie.

After that, I bought a KLR and tried to rehabilitate myself. With the help of my little family, I’ve been mostly successful. But oh, these damned things still sing that siren’s song of speed to me, every time I gaze upon them. Some day, I know, I will NEED one again…

Whew! Well, now that I’ve got that out of my system, let’s talk about how the day unfolded.

Early Sunday morning, I found myself wandering around the house in the dark. I was restless, and my mind just wouldn’t stop chattering about all manner of things that I can’t do anything about right now.

So, I did what I always do when I feel like that; I rode.

Frogwing and I found ourselves in Wisconsin as the sun came up. Nobody else was out yet, and we had the roads to ourselves. County Road This led to Rustic Road That, pavement to dirt to gravel and back.

We put in many miles before looping around to Hudson for refreshments.

At a place called Pudge’s, I met a fellow named Russ, and his friend John Weaver. John is a radio newscaster for Minnesota Public Radio. Russ wasn’t riding on Sunday, but John most definitely was. He had a second-hand Honda CBR 600, and he looked like he knew what to do with it.

We left Pudge’s together, and rode over to his house to ask his wife’s permission (ack!) for him to accompany me to Blind Lizard. When that was granted, we joined the high-speed traffic stream heading for… oh yeah, never mind. I can’t tell you…

By the time we arrived at Blind Lizard, all the T-shirts were sold out, and there was no more anything to eat or drink. It seems that the crowd is already getting too big for them to handle.

At least most of the really cool bikes were still there.

Take the Rickman Metisse in the photo below, for example. I can’t tell you much about it, because the owner was just leaving. I didn’t even get his name. But the fellow on the left is the aforementioned John Weaver, and the fellow on the right, so stylishly attired in his formal gowns of office, is the Dictator for Life of the Twin Cities Norton Owners Club, otherwise known as Greg Meyer. This is a Fairly Dangerous Man with a wrench, and best not left alone with your daughter.

Rickman Metisse
Rickman Metisse Cafe Racer… Wow!

My friend, known around here as “Buster Brown” showed up, as expected.

However, this time it was extraordinary because he had crashed his dirtbike on Saturday, which knocked him out cold for about five minutes and resulted in many contusions, abrasions, and a lacerated kidney.

Apparently, they kept him in hospital all night Saturday, and he showed up at Blind Lizard on Sunday wearing a morphine halo, accompanied by his long-suffering lady, Shelly.

Tres formidable, my friend.

The sounds of exotic engines firing up signalled the end of Blind Lizard for another year. Saying goodbye to all my friends, old and new, I mounted Frogwing and we thumped on out of there.

When traffic backed up at the entrance to… the main road out, Frogwing and I did our signature Off-Road On-Ramp maneuver, and left them all behind with a roostertail of municipal dirt and grass.

Consider it our salute to the Blind Lizard, and all his desciples. See you again next year.

Losing the Plot

Friday, June 16th, 2006

Weather: Nice enough that I don’t even notice.

Out of the office...
“I will be out of the office for the next couple days. Please leave a message…”

“Losing the plot” is a term my British friends use when they want to describe someone who is coming unhinged. It certainly applies to my mental state, lately, as work has sucked all the energy and life out of me for the past week.

My commutes take place on the freeway, where riding becomes a simple exercise in avoidance and survival. I derive no pleasure from it, and the time it saves me is wasted in activities for which I have very little enthusiasm. It’s all wrong, and I’m not going to do it anymore, unless it is absolutely necessary.

Next week, the workload is not going to ease any. But I am going to change my habits. I’m going to get up earlier, and ride my sidestreets once again. I am going to bring the camera with me, and take the time to make a photograph whenever I see something worth sharing. By the time I get to work, I will be energized and my enthusiasm will be renewed. That’s the theory, anyway…

For this, I need to get back on a scooter, at least for part of the week. That will require a visit to Baron HQ, and maybe some creative engineering on one of the prototype mules. I’ve got to get back into slow riding, enjoying every mile, living in the moment… It seems that scooters have gotten under my skin, and I do miss riding them.

Don’t get me wrong; Frogwing is a brilliant mount, and he is quite adequate for every kind of street-legal riding that I do. He is even better for the occasional off-road, on-ramp situation that we have to create around modern road destruction and traffic.

But on the freeway, I find myself riding him faster than I want to, taking chances I’d rather not take, and just generally pushing our luck to the limit for no good reason at all.

Riding a scooter, on the other hand, would require me to pretty much obey the laws and accept my little space in traffic, as we all move along the commuter conveyor belt.

I’ve got to admit that there is something mentally relaxing about not having that tactical capability, challenging me to find an alternate route around the mild congestion of our urban surface streets. The warrior recedes, and the herd animal emerges, for a little while. That is a peaceful place to be, as long as one remains vigilant against threatening predators.

When the congestion becomes severe, however, the scooter still has the same advantages here that it has always had in Europe and Asia. Exercising them may not be strictly legal, but nobody can argue that doing so makes perfect sense. The law in this country has always lagged behind our social reality.

If you get a ticket for advancing through traffic in an unauthorized manner, fight it in court. That is how the laws get changed, and really, that is your duty as a responsible citizen.

Our government was supposedly designed to respond to the needs of The People, right? When The People submit unquestioning to the whims of government, where does that leave us?

Precisely where we are now.

But I digress…

Tomorrow it is supposed to rain. Here, that is.

My solution to that has always been to go elsewhere, to a place where the storm will pass by.

I look at the radar, look at a map, find an interesting destination, and plot a course. I will wear my Aerostich Darien suit to get us through the rain, and pack some lighter gear in case it gets really hot where the sun is shining.

Tomorrow is going to be a beautiful day, somewhere. That’s where Frogwing and I are going. Stories and pictures to follow…

Ramble `Round the Lakes

Tuesday, June 13th, 2006

Weather: Sunny, warm, and windy.

The Lady of the Lake?
Lady Liberty beckons anglers back to shore at Liberty Beach Resort, Lake Mille Lacs, Minnesota.

After a long week riding the frantic freeways of the Twin Cities, Frogwing and I were both ready for a breather.

This past weekend found us cruising leisurely up old U.S. Highway 61, into the vacationland of Northern Minnesota. My Dad has a trailer up there, on a high spot in the swamp near McGregor. To get there, we usually follow old 61 on it’s many modern alignments: 361, 23, County 61, and so on, in a relatively straight line to Moose Lake. There, we turn left and head west on various roads until we get to Highway 65, which takes us north to McGregor. But it’s that vague section between Moose Lake and Highway 65 that we explored in detail this time.

While planning the trip, I used Google Earth and flew over my intended route. I wanted to see which roads were still unpaved, and draw up a detailed set of turn-by-turn directions that I could follow when I got up there. In practice, it couldn’t have worked more smoothly.

While flying in virtual space over this lush countryside, I found a little town called “Automba”. It didn’t look like much from the old satellite image, but you can miss a lot from that perspective. Further research revealed this description of the area from a rather strange, spiritualist website:

Summer Solstice Celebration 2006 Retreat will take place on Dee’s land, which is located in Automba, MN. 100 acres of open land and woodlands filled with animals, birds, fairies, and other enchanted beings. Together we create a sacred space to explore, share, grow and heal together.

Allll-righty then! That sounds like fun. I’ve never had a fairie splatter itself on my visor before. Are they larger and messier than normal bugs?

Wiki-pedia says the township itself boasted a population of 137 at the 2000 census, but when Frogwing and I rolled down the gravel road into “town”, we found this:

Automba, Minnesota
No roadhouse, no gas station, and no fairies, that I could find…

That’s quite a discrepancy. I wonder which count is more accurate? Did they count fairies in the census?

Then it was on to Lawler, which is only a few dirt-road miles away. Lawler is famous for only one thing, and it’s called “Jackson’s Hole”. I couldn’t get a decent photo of the place this time, because it was high noon, and the light was all wrong. Besides that, there were so many pickup-trucks towing boats parked around the place that Frogwing and I had a hard time finding a place to park.

I really need to get a good shot of Lawler, one of these days. The rest of the town is in tumble-down decay, but Jackson’s Hole stands proud as the only roadhouse of it’s type for miles around. Famous for wonderful burgers, it has a reputation as a rowdy place during certain sporting seasons. The crowd of fishermen I found inside were typical, slightly loud, and hungry enough to keep the little lady in the kitchen hopping. She made several burger runs while I was there, and they really did look tasty.

Unfortunately, I had stopped earlier for homemade enchiladas at another place, and couldn’t eat another bite. I guess that just gives me a reason to go back someday.

When Frogwing and I arrived at the trailer, Dad was waiting. We talked for quite awhile, and soon it was time for dinner. Rather than fire up the grill, we decided to go into town for the wonderful prime-rib special at The Fireside. This was consumed with gusto, as we both got caught up on family happenings. Then it was time to go back to the swamp and start our customary Saturday-night campfire.

We spent the evening sipping whiskey and telling lies… It was wonderful. Way out there, away from the crowds and traffic of what my Dad calls “The Jungle”, we could relax and get to know each other again. The fire turned to embers about the same time as the light faded from the sky, and we went to bed, happy campers.

That picture up top was actually taken during our ride home, at a resort called Liberty Beach, on the shore of Lake Mille Lacs. I decided to take the Highway 47 route home, and investigate the fishing resorts for some friends of mine who write me occasionally from England. They have been talking about vacationing here for years, and maybe what I found on Lake Mille Lacs will be enough to finally get them to cross the pond.

During the ride home, we passed this old gas station, which now seems to have become somebody’s house…

Old station in the boonies
Mobil? Standard Oil? Philips 66? I guess we’ll never know…

Nobody was home outside, and I didn’t feel like bothering anyone inside. The “Closed” sign in the window was enough to send me on my way. My guess is that the old fuel pumps were sold at auction, or maybe even on eBay, and they don’t really want or need any strange visitors asking history questions.

The rest of our ride home was… interesting. I found lots of other places to explore, and you can be sure that I will make this trip again in the near future. But my time tonight is almost up. The girls are clamoring for my attention, and Amy is making burgers for dinner.

I wonder if they will be as good as the ones I missed at Jackson’s Hole…