Weather: 58Â°F (14Â°C) when we left, under partly-cloudy skies.
Road Conditions: Getting better every day…
Meet “Spike”. He welcomes visitors and keeps the Evil Spirits away.
(Click on the image for another perspective.)
Existential Gravity weighs most heavily on Fridays, especially during early Springtime in Minnesota. Ramble Plan Hotel requires me to take Friday off, or at least half of Friday, because it involves a good bit of riding and an overnight stay. Still, it qualifies as a Ramble Plan, because I am technically riding home from work. I’m just taking a very roundabout way to get there.
Last Friday, I practically vibrated with anticipation as I sat there in my cubicle. I was finding it very hard to concentrate on the tasks at hand, while my faithful Frogwing waited for me out in the parking lot. The sun was shining, our saddlebags were packed, and the road was calling. What the hell was I waiting for?
That’s a half-day, and I had promised the boss I would stay until I had everything done for the week. The unchanging digits on the clock seemed to mock me, from the lower right corner of my computer screen. I took a piece of electrical tape out of my drawer, and covered them up so I wouldn’t lose my mind. Then I attacked my workload with a vengeance.
At 11:01 a.m., Frogwing and I were roaring out of the parking lot towards home. I had to write the last blog entry, announcing the Vespa deal, and run a few errands before we could head out on Highway 61 towards the North Country and McGregor, Minnesota.
Winter clings tenaciously to Minnesota waterways.
Longtime readers will recall that my father has a rustic retreat up there, a trailer situated on a high-spot in the swamp. This is where he spends the bulk of his retirement, away from the “The Jungle”, as he refers to our fair Twin Cities. Last year, finally, he had electricity run back into the property from the lines strung along the road. Now he has all the modern conveniences… and I suppose that’s a good thing, if he’s going to spend so much time up there.
Life down here moves too fast for his tastes nowadays, and I can’t say as I blame him. He’s gathering sap for maple syrup, this time of year, and it’s a lonely business. My visit is a good excuse for building a campfire, and breaking out the ceremonial whiskey. We always find plenty to talk about, and the fire (along with the firewater) keeps the cold night air at bay.
Following the route of Old Highway 61, we rode through many small towns that were bypassed by progress, when Interstate 35 was completed. These days, U.S. Route 61 officially ends at Wyoming, Minnesota. The northern section was decommissioned in 1991.
Still, you can follow the old highway by visual cues, through the dogleg around Hinckley, along Pine County Highway 61, and stay with the same stretch of two-lane all the way to Duluth if you want. It’s a beautiful ride, any time of year, and so much better than the Interstate.
During the “Golden Hour”, on Old Highway 61, near Willow River, MN.
Frogwing and I turned westward, just past Moose Lake, and headed over to Minnesota Highway 65 towards McGregor. We didn’t take the time to poke around the Automba area, like we did last year. Having only a half day to ramble, I wanted to get there before the sun went down.
Can somebody out there verify this phenomenon I’ve come to refer to as the “Minivan Commando”?
This will usually be a guy about my age who, upon seeing me happily riding along on one of my motorbikes, gets all pissed-off and aggressive, needing to pass me at all costs, and then cut me off. The Dodge Grand Caravan seems to be his weapon of choice, and some of those things have serious horsepower! I don’t know what kind of engine they use, but it’s kind of like a stealth hot-rod for the frustrated family man.
Anyway, at the intersection of 27 and 65, we were all set to turn right. Way down the road, I saw this minivan approaching. We had plenty of room, and Frogwing accelerates smartly, so we made the turn and I got on the gas. The speed limit here is 55 mph, and soon we were doing 60.
This just wasn’t enough for Mr. Minivan Commando. He roared up on our back tire, and pulled out to pass. My inner speed demon took over, and I whacked Frogwing’s throttle wide-open.
We stayed even up to 80, and the… I still can’t believe this… the freakin’ family truckster pulled away from us like we were dragging an anchor! Immediately the scene from a popular TV commercial popped into my head: “That thang gotta Hemi?”
Well, I threw him a half-assed salute with my left hand, and watched him dissappear over the horizon. Frogwing is not cut out for speed contests on the open road, and I have made a commitment to try and curb my enthusiasm for such antics this year. We throttled back to sixty, and rode on into town.
Dad had been waiting for us all afternoon. He has all the time in the world, these days, but when he heard I was coming up, he got a little impatient, waiting. That’s not supposed to happen when you are retired. He scolded me accordingly, when I finally showed up just before sundown.
Fire in the swamp! Another night at Dad’s rustic retreat.
He fixed a simple dinner while I built the campfire you see in the image above. Once the sun had set, and we were comfortably situated around the fire, at one point I gazed straight up into the Northern Minnesota sky. I marvelled at how bright the moon and stars are up here, beyond the haze of the city lights.
We talked long into the night, and I fell asleep instantly as soon as my head hit the pillow on the couch in his trailer.
I awoke, well-rested, just before dawn. Time passes at a normal pace up here, away from the grinding oppression of our Existential Gravity.
Soon the sky began to brighten on the southeastern horizon. I walked outside and watched the sun rise with a cup of Dad’s strong coffee warming my hands. Yes, with electricity comes the wonder of an automatic coffee maker.
The weather forecast predicted another beautiful day, until early evening. Then strong thunderstorms were supposed to invade the area. So I decided to ride home on Saturday, and spend Sunday writing and hanging out with my girls. Frogwing and I beat the storms home by half an hour, riding the hated Interstate part of the way.
We stopped to take a couple of photos, which I will share at a later date. But now it’s time for me to go downstairs and initiate our Family Movie and Pizza Night. I’m surely not the crazy cat I used to be, but you know what? Life is good anyway.