Archive for April, 2007

Ramble Plan Juliet: Out of the Loop

Friday, April 20th, 2007

Weather: 61°F (16°C) Under partly cloudy skies.
Road Conditions: Mostly clean, with scattered clumps of farm debris.

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Frogwing communes with cattle at a dairy farm off of Old Highway 169.

For over a decade now, I have laughingly referred to my home in West Saint Paul as “Ton-Up Manor”. This comes from my cafe racer background, where “ton-up” means over one-hundred miles per hour. It was a fitting name for a place which housed, at various times, a Ducati 900SS, a Honda CBR 1000 “Hurricane”, and a few homebuilt specials which all fit the cafe racer criteria.

It was a rare ride, on many of those bikes, where I didn’t crack the ton at some point before returning it to the garage. Kind of like the old Samurai tradition of never pulling out your katana without drawing blood, even if it has to be your own…

These days, thankfully, things have calmed down somewhat.

Ton-Up Manor lies twenty-six and a half miles, almost due east from work. Both places are located inside the congested Interstate 494-694 loop. For Ramble Plan Juliet on Thursday night, I elected to head straight west from work, directly away from home, in order to bust out of that loop as quickly as possible. The goal was to get out on the country two-lanes and backroads which have become our favored habitat. I’m really getting sick and tired of city traffic…

I realized that this would make for a much longer ride, but the sun stays out later these days, so I figured we could too.

Once Frogwing and I cleared the loop, we had to endure the first ring of affluent suburbia; with their obscene McMansions and upscale condos, stoplights, SUVs, and cul-de-sacs. But then we were out in the hobby farm country, which is quite a bit more scenic.

Take the place pictured below, for instance. What you see in the photo is an old homestead, slowly falling into disrepair, but tastefully decorated with the decaying odds and ends of agriculture. What you don’t see is the brand new house out-of-frame left, which is where the owners actually live and enjoy all the modern conveniences. Well, now I guess I know what hobby farm really means.

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Scenes like this are common, once you get out of The Loop.

Ranging farther west, Frogwing and I came upon the thriving community of Watertown. Not to be confused with towns by the same name in both Wisconsin and South Dakota, Watertown is about twenty miles west of the aforementioned loop. Situated on the banks of the Crow River, it is a very neat and picturesque little town which fairly reeks of history. So I decided to do a little research…

Originally settled in the 1850’s, Watertown’s initial growth was stalled by the Civil War, and the fact that all early provisions had to be transported by river, which could only happen during the summer.

Later, the railroad came to town in the guise of the Luce Line out of Minneapolis, and the town began to flourish. Today they show all the signs of a budding bedroom community, with new developments springing up in all directions. Progress, again… but we’ve beaten that horse to death already, and this is a blog entry, not a history lesson.

What do I like to do on a Ramble Plan when I reach a destination?

Why, EAT, of course! Watertown has a few interesting options for that purpose. Happily, the one thing I didn’t see was a plague of fast-food joints at all the entrances to town. The first place I stopped at was D’Vinci’s.

This was a dark and classy Italian restaurant, and I was tempted. But the staff acted as though they weren’t ready to begin serving guests at around 4 pm, so they directed me across the street to the Luce Line Lodge. Maybe it was the Aerostich Darien jacket that scared them. Aerostich riders are known to be Road Warriors, and they just didn’t want any trouble…

“The Lodge”, as it is called, had their grand opening on Superbowl Sunday this year. I normally don’t care to review a place without any tangible history, but I was quite impressed when I went inside. Built on two levels, the place is enormous, with big screen sporting events everywhere and lots of seating. But what really got my attention was the extensive menu, and it took me awhile to finally settle on the French Dip as my dinner choice.

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The French Dip at the Luce Line Lodge, in Watertown, Minnesota.

As you can see, the portion size was reasonable, as was the price. Having gotten used to oversize portions and prices in the past, this was somewhat of a surprise. But I had a nice meal, and didn’t feel like I needed a nap immediately afterward. This was a good thing, because I had many miles to go, before I slept. (Apologies to Robert Frost.)

But those miles were going to be entertaining, for the most part. We were out in the real farm country now. Tractor tires left tracks made of soil and manure across the road in many places, and the pungent smell of that organic fertilizer permeated the air.

Minnesota Highway 25 took us through the rural landscape, and a few more small towns, all the way to Belle Plain. There they were doing road destruction, with detours everywhere, and we ended up on US 169 North, out of town without even stopping. Well, maybe next time, Belle Plain…

We followed US 169 to Minnesota Highway 13, our old friend from a weekend ramble, last year around this time. As the sun sank lower towards the southwest horizon, I decided not to stop anymore, and just press on towards home.

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Almost looks European, doesn’t it?

We rode just over one-hundred and thirty miles on this loop-outside-the-loop. It was thoroughly enjoyable, because most of it was out on the rural backroads, unimpeded by urban gridlock and road-raging drivers.

Everyone I met, even this close to the `Cities, was pleasant and polite, without projecting any kind of ridiculous attitude. It makes me wonder whether it is the person, or the location which provokes bad behavior. Maybe these same people react like cornered animals when confronted with today’s traffic dilemmas, who knows? Maybe they were so nice and relaxed because they were Home.

That’s certainly something to think about.

Stop? Check. Time to Go!

Thursday, April 19th, 2007

Weather: 44°F (7°C) Under clear skies.
Road Conditions: Getting better every day.

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Frogwing enjoys priveledged parking at the supermarket.

The image above illustrates one big reason why I love dual-sport motorbikes so much. With all that wonderful ground clearance and suspension travel, there are very few urban obstacles that can stand in our way. One word of caution, however: Never park on one of these islands if it has a fireplug on it. That tends to cross the line between mere irritation and downright outrage, for the non-riders amongst us. That’s when The Man gets involved…

(Not so) Spee Dee Delivery finally came through with my brake pads yesterday. They had some kind of glitch at the warehouse or whatever, and it seems that my package had to make a little trip up to Saint Cloud before coming back down here to West Saint Paul. I would have been better off, and seven dollars richer, had I just braved the heavy traffic over to the the brick-and-mortar store. But the internet is just so darned convenient… Well, lesson learned.

The pads went on easily, no drama at all, so obviously I rode to work today. The stop at the supermarket was necessary because I ran out of hot sauce yesterday. Gotta have my hot sauce.

Frogwing and I are going to do another Ramble Plan tonight, so I can write about it tomorrow. Then we have the Flood Run over in Wisconsin on Saturday, which I will write up on Sunday.

Things are hopping here in the midwest as the riding season gets underway in earnest. This means I will be updating more often. We will be changing the look of the site next week, just because I felt like it, so don’t be alarmed when you click on RHR and find something that looks a bit different. The content will remain the same, but I wanted a more refined visual presentation. Feedback will be welcomed.

That’s all I have for now. Tonight, we ride Ramble Plan Juliet.

So, What’s Stopping You?

Tuesday, April 17th, 2007

Weather: 60°F (16°C) Too damned nice not to ride.
Road Conditions: Perfect… that figures.

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This is what happens when you’re not paying attention…

Last year, I wrote a piece here called “The Unstoppable Mr. Frogwing“. Yesterday, I experienced this concept in a completely different context…

In the photo above, you can see a very thin layer of sintered brake pad material on one side of the rear brake caliper. What you can’t see, and what I couldn’t capture with my camera, is the other side, which had almost no sintered material whatsoever. The sound of metal-on-metal was my first clue that I hadn’t been diligent enough in my pre-ride walk-around inspections.

I had reached such a comfort level with Frogwing, knowing that I could always depend on him to take me wherever I wanted to go, that I had forgotten about such simple things as a brake check. The weird thing was, even as I heard the metal-on-metal sound, the rear brakes were still working, still slowing us down. Sort of…

Well, in the interest of safety, I parked Frogwing and ordered my brake pads from Bob’s Cycle Supply, my old sponser from “The Baron in Winter” days. Since they are local, I expected next-day delivery. No such luck. They must be really busy this time of year.

So, here I sit, waiting, while the best weather of the year so far passes me by. My own fault, of course, for not inspecting the important things and planning ahead.

And that’s where I’ll leave it, for now. No sense blaming anyone else but myself. If I don’t have my new brake pads by tomorrow, then maybe I’ll start rattling some cages.