True North, Part II: Madeline Island

Weather: Hot, again, under clear blue skies. Rainy on the way home.
Road Conditions: Varied. Dry on Saturday, wet Sunday afternoon.

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Andy, Jason, and I stopped to skip rocks on this Wisconsin beach.
For a little while, we were all ten years old again…

Saturday morning dawned, with me still sleeping on the couch in the Fierst’s living room. It had been a late night, and we had planned accordingly. Jason and I were hoping to meet Andy at ten a.m., but that hadn’t been set in stone.

After a wonderful breakfast prepared by Michelle, (Homemade biscuits wrapped around bacon and eggs, yum!), I gave Andy a call, and he agreed to tag along as far as Bayfield, Wisconsin.

When he pulled up into the driveway, we finally got a good look at his globe-trotting steed in daylight. Every other time I have seen Andy’s BMW, it has been either dark, or raining, or both. It was cool to see it in the light of day, and to learn about all of its’ trick modifications.

“Here is a bike to cross continents with.”, I thought, and Andy has done exactly that. Years ago, he rode this bike across the USA and Canada to Alaska, crossed into Siberia, and rode on into Mongolia. That leg of the journey was 17,000 miles, and the return trip took them across China and Japan.

Andy Goldfine and his 1981 BMW R80GS: World Travellers.

While not technically a `Round the World ride, it certainly racked up the miles to qualify. But Andy doesn’t dwell on such details. He rode there because he wanted to. Not to prove a point, necessarily, but maybe as research and development for the kind of gear that Aerostich would eventually offer to the serious riders of the world.

Besides having an advanced lighting and electrical system, this Beemer sports a GPS, satellite radio, and radar detector amongst it’s various improvements. The exhaust system would rate an entire article in itself, but we don’t have room for that here. So yes, we were suitably impressed. But now it was time to Ride!

We headed east out of Duluth on Highway 53, but that is all the route info I can give you, because I didn’t take notes. You see, whenever I am riding with someone I trust in the lead, I don’t worry so much about the route, and concentrate more on the scenery.

I can look at lines on a map any time I want to, but I may never actually pass this way again. I want to record as much of the scenery and sensations as I can for future dreams and recollections. Does that make sense to you?

Jason led us over rolling hills and twisty dales, and into a rest-stop at the beach pictured at the top of the page. I didn’t need to stop for anything at that point, and was puzzled at the interruption of our ride. But after we dismounted and walked down the steep incline to the beach, I was very glad we stopped.

Driftwood, smooth stones, and miles of sand… I had forgotten how beautiful this part of the country could be. I stood there in awe, just gazing out at the surf, until Andy picked up the first stone. Then, suddenly we were all boys again, and the hunt was on for flat, skippable stones!

These were tossed with abandon, just like when we were kids, for a little while at least. Did we keep count? You bet we did! Andy won…

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Maggie’s in Bayfield, Wisconsin, was our lunch stop on Saturday.

Then it was on to Bayfield, Wisconsin, where the ferry boat to Madeline Island docks.

That ride, in my memory, is just a blur of perfect roads and brilliant sunshine. Rolling into town, the three of us looked around at this little fishing village gone mad with the tourist trade.

Sailboats were everywhere in the harbor, and many motorboats were towed behind trucks and SUVs. Parking was at a premium on the streets.

We stopped briefly to discuss our immediate future, and Andy came through for us again with his suggestion of Maggie’s for lunch. We rode over there, parked in the shade under the trees across the street, since the sun was so hot by then, and walked into the crowded little diner.

After giving my name to the hostess, we were directed to a sort of lean-to built on to the end of the building, without air-conditioning, to await our call to table. In order to accentuate our lowly status as walk-ins, she shut the door behind us soon after we had sat down.

But in the end, the little sweat-session was was worthwhile, because the food was absolutely marvelous.

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Maggie’s “Cochinita Pibil” – Mexican shredded pork… delicious.

Maggie’s has an extensive menu that is viewable on their website, including some incredible pizzas, so any of you who are seriously thinking of a visit can preview it beforehand. Isn’t the internet a wonderful thing?

Lunch was punctuated by more scintillating conversation…

Jason, Andy, and I seemed to have made some sort of intellectual connection that needed exploration and definition. But as always happens in our modern world, Andy had other things to attend to, and Jason and I had to decide whether we had time to explore Madeline Island after our extended luncheon with Andy.

In retrospect, being former military men, I realize that we never really had a choice. After Andy left, we decided to press on with the mission.

And a pleasant mission it was…

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Vehicles of all kinds crowded aboard the ferry. Jason enjoys the ride.

The cost for the ferry-boat ride was a bit steep, at $23 round-trip for a motorcycle and rider. But I had allowed for that beforehand, and these folks do have to make a living, after all.

There were all sorts of vehicles on the ferry, and many people who just walked aboard. It appears that Madeline Island isn’t just a tourist destination. I think the locals board the ferries to travel out there, just for a change of pace. That would be a cool option to have, living in such a northern climate.

Once we docked, and the other vehicles rolled off the boat, we found that there was a bit of congestion on the pier. So I couldn’t take the photograph I had envisioned, of Jason and I invading the island, MacArthur-style.

Instead, I took the photo below, which still illustrates us coming off the ferry, only on the Bayfield side of the water. Sorry about that, but sometimes Reality intrudes upon Art. Also, it might make a difference that Lt. Fierst was Army, and not Marines. But that would make the caption a bit too wordy, don’t you think?

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The Marines have landed, and the situation is well in hand!

On Madeline Island, we found Tom’s Burned Down Cafe… and you know what? We really didn’t need to go any further. At least not for this trip.

Once Jason and I had parked our KLRs in front of this temporary structure, we looked at each other with a grin of recognition…

All of the best places we have ever been to have had this very same feeling of impermanency: War-zone brothels, prohibition speak-easies, and bootleg bars across the planet have always exuded this atmosphere of rebellion and good-fellowship amongst the rogue element.

We immediately felt right at home.

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Chavez, left, and Frogwing, parked next to Tom’s Burned-Down Cafe.
This is why I call the place “Key West – North”…

What more is there to say? On the way home Sunday, I detoured to visit my father, at his trailer in the swamp. Due to that little delay, Frogwing and I encountered heavy rain and hail on the way home.

Because of the severe conditions, we did what we had to do to get where we were going. Some of our actions infuriated rich folks, driving SUVs and towing large boats. Oh, how they honked… and their horns are LOUD! Ya know what?


I’ll do the same damned thing next time.

You may own the world, but you will never own the road… at least, not until you learn to ride a motorbike.

11 Responses to “True North, Part II: Madeline Island”

  1. Steve Williams Says:

    When I read the words about skipping stones across water I was instantly transported to my growing up on Neville Island. I must have thrown thousands of stones into the water. And then I thought of my sore shoulder…

    Andy’s BMW is one of those bikes I have filed in my head under “magic”. There are a number of them and the BMW R80GS is near the top of the list. In the picture it just looks like it is ready for anything.

    A pink eating establishment. I guess riding a Baron and Vespa has hardened you enough to patronize the place. It looks like something from a dream. Food looks good too. The whole ride sounds like a generator of memories.

    Glad you made it home and that none of the upper class dispatched you on the their roadways….

    Great post Gary.

    Steve Williams
    Scooter in the Sticks

  2. Bob Kunkel Says:

    Seeing that 81 BMW R80GS of Andy Goldfine’s reminds me of a book I read by Jim Rogers entitled “Investment Biker”, a chronicle of international travel. That bike is not a flashy machine meant to impress, it’s purpose-built transportation intended to leap continents in spite of local conditions. Hey, kind of like Frogwing.

    Gary, you really should write a book. With photos by Steve Williams (except the food. You shoot the food.)

    Awesome post.

    Thanks for sharing.

  3. conchscooter Says:

    More great stuff, though I’m glad you passed on the whitefish livers. Madeline Island:The Key West of the North, indeed. That must be why I failed entirely to noticed the oddity of eating in a pepto-bismol colored building. Hell, the police station I work in is pink…and I eat here all the time while chained to my desk. Living large both north and south, we have the bumble bees of the center surrounded. Apologies to the Scooter in the Sticks.

  4. Gary Charpentier Says:

    Steve: I’m thinking maybe Bob is on to something. Should we talk?

    Bob: That’s actually a very good idea. I think Classic Motorbooks is still in business, and they love this sort of thing. Time to hit the phones again…

    Conch: I was thinking about you the whole time I was up there. “Changes in latitude, changes in attitude…”, that sort of thing. It really is a Jimmy B. kind of place.

    Ride well,

  5. irondad Says:

    Steve can take pictures for the book. Gary can write and take the food pictures. I volunteer to eat the food! Hey, a guy’s got to make himself useful in the service of others, doesn’t he?

  6. allen madding Says:

    did someone say Changes in Latitude? :) I’m thinking a well documented ride to the Conch Republic is required….

  7. Samit Malkani Says:

    hi gary…

    just love your blog. am a non-biker who just learnt to ride. and i’m slowly falling in love with the idea of two wheels under me.

    wanted to know something…just to better understand how a bike enthusiast feels. does the mileage your bike give really matter when you’re on the road?

    looking forward to some more ramble stories.



  8. Gary Charpentier Says:

    irondad: I’ll have my people talk to your people…

    allen: Well, you’re closer than I am. That WOULD be a nice ride though, if I had unlimited time and money.

    Samit: Mileage didn’t matter so much before, but today it most certainly does. I filled up my scooter at $3.42/gallon this morning, which is probably a bargain in some parts of the world, but it really cuts into my budget here. 70 miles-per-gallon for the scooter, 60 for the KLR, 25 for the car or small pickup truck… yeah, it makes a difference.

    Tonight – The Bearded Lady Motorcycle (freak-) Show!

    Ride well,

  9. Buster Brown Says:

    The theme I see developing is pink cafes. Maggie’s in Bayfield, Kathy’s in Terlingua… The Royal in Berkeley (Albany, really) is kind of a pale green, but when you leave, you feel like you have been in a pink cafe. Finding the rest is up to you.

  10. Gary Charpentier Says:

    Buster: I don’t really care what the place looks like on the outside, as long as the food is good. Some of my favorite places have grilled outdoors under a thatched-roof or a tarp.

    Did you make it to The Bearded Lady on Saturday? It was a Good Time, and I did not see you there.

    Remember what you told me at Blind Lizard, vis-a-vis the younger generation? I’m going to quote you in the next piece…

    Unfortunately, I left my notebook at work, so I won’t be writing that up tonight, as intended.

    Sorry folks… tomorrow night, I promise.

    Ride well,

  11. Buster Brown Says:

    No Bearded Lady for me. I was at the BMW national in West Bend (on my KLR, of course). Caught some salmon and trout on Lake Michigan, something I have always wanted to do, even though I am no fisherman. I also re-learned the old lesson about heading for the lee rail when it’s time to chum the water with the morning’s McGriddles.