For a while now I’ve had a romantic daydream of a long distance solo motorcycle trip; just me, an infinite horizon, ice blue skies, two wheels and the open road. “Just jump on the bike and let the winds of fate guide me,” I thought. Well, after this trip driving across the American Upper Midwest, the romance is dead and the winds of fate can go to hell!
The trip came about when my wife Amy mentioned she’d like to take an autumn trip home to La Crosse, Wisconsin. This got my wanderlust wheels rolling and not long after, I decided I would drive my motorcycle to La Crosse to meet her. And while I was in the Midwest, I might as well stop in Minneapolis to see my childhood friends and my brother and his family. Then I might as well stop in and visit a college friend in Stillwater, MN and then head up to Duluth, MN on Lake Superior to visit my sister and her family. And then to round out the trip, why not cruise up to the border with Canada and follow that back to Glacier National Park and down through Yellowstone National Park and back home to Colorado? Well, as it turned out, Mother Nature had her own ideas about that.
Read More About The Trip
Everything started out fine with great weather the first day up to Hot Springs South Dakota. Even the second day, as I explored the Black Hills and cruised through the Needles Highway in Custer State Park, the weather was perfect. I continued east weaving through Badlands National Park leaving the east end of the park and getting on t I-90 at around 2:00 with 280 miles to Sioux Falls, my destination for the day. That’s when the crosswind hit out of the south. After about a half hour of what felt like numerous near death experiences, I had to get off the interstate highway. I cut up north about 30 miles where I found Highway 34 that paralleled I-90. But even after dropping my speed down to 60 mph (from 80 on the interstate), I was still white-knuckling it. So after a couple hours I decided to stop in Mitchell, the home of the world-famous Corn Palace. I again got a hotel which turned out to be fortunate because there were storms and tornado warnings all night. I fell asleep that night to the sound of pounding rain and whipping winds.
When I awoke, it was calm, cool and clear. I decided to head back up north of the interstate and zigzagged up to Minneapolis. I arrived just in time to head to happy hour and dinner with a group of childhood friends, Dean, Dave, Scott, Scot and Jeff. The next day I had lunch with Dave and dinner with my brother Rick and two nieces, Ashley and Emily. In the morning I took off southeast and followed the mighty Mississippi down to La Crosse where I met Amy and her family: Barb, Loren, Mandy, Nick, Levi, Holly and little Dean. We had a great weekend catching up but on Monday when I had planned to head north to my sister Jill’s, the weather didn’t cooperate. It was raining and cold in Duluth so I asked Amy’s sister Mandy and brother-in-law Nick if they would mind if I hung out for a day or two. They graciously agreed so I spent two wonderful days relaxing in their beautiful log home in the woods on a bluff overlooking a valley.
On Wednesday despite the dark clouds, I trusted the forecast of clearing and took off north towards Duluth. On the way I stopped and had lunch with my college friend Aimee that has a knitting shop in Stillwater, MN called Darn Knit Anyway (clever name). After getting caught up on our lives, I pushed on to Jill’s. I got there in time for dinner and Jill, her daughter Sara and I chatted for a while before I excused myself to warm up with a hot shower after the cold ride of the day. The next day Jill and I spent a beautiful sunny day exploring the town and taking a short hike along Park Point on the shores of Lake Superior. We ended the night with a dinner and tasty beers at Canal Park Brewing Company.
In the morning I realized today would be the furthest east I would be from home on this trip before I started heading back west. I headed northeast up along the north shore of Lake Superior to Highway 1 which cuts up through the deep dark forests of northern Minnesota. This highway is as far north as could go without having to go into Canada in order to cut back west. I contemplated this but the weather forecasts for at least the next 10 days were spotty to say the least and I was getting a little anxious to head back home. It began to cloud over almost immediately after leaving the lake shore heading northwest and started raining shortly thereafter. I worked my way up north to International Falls, MN which claims to be the icebox of the nation. The battle with Embarrass, MN for this title of the coldest city in the lower 48 states. That should tell you a little bit about the state where I was born an raised. From International Falls I hugged the border all the way to Roseau, MN where I spent the night.
The next day I headed towards North Dakota where I planned on having lunch in my dad’s home town, Rock Lake, Population 103 (up three from 2010). We used to come here every couple years around the fourth of July when we were kids. I loved it because fireworks were legal and Dad’s brother Adrian had a 3-wheeler we could ride as much as we wanted. After texting Dad some pictures from the diner I headed south to try an beat another crosswind that was beating me up. That didn’t help as the wind was out of the southeast so it hit me on the side it I was driving west or south. Cruel! I had hoped to get to Rapid City, SD, but after being beat up by that wind all day, it was all I could do to get to Bismarck, ND. After dinner, drinks, and a soak in the hot tub I sacked out hard.
On the penultimate day of my Midwest Motorcycle Road Trip I was too far to get home in one day, so I decided to split the distance and stop in Rapid City. It was another long cold windy day on the road with periods of rain. So when I checked into my hotel around 2:00 on Sunday I ordered a pizza, crawled under the covers to get warm and turned on the football games. The next morning as I planned my route home I was considering cruising around the west side of the Black Hills which would bring me down through Cheyenne, WY to Denver. But when I checked the weather, it was supposed to be a high of 32 with a 100% chance of snow. That didn’t sound like fun so I checked Alliance, NE and they were forecast to have a balmy 38 degrees with rain. So for another day I put on my electric heated vest and my rain coat and started rolling south.
I ended up getting home around 4:00 after running out of gas about 4 miles short of my house. My good friend Steve came to my rescue with gas and then joined me for beers when I was locked out of my house and couldn’t get in until Amy got home from work. All in all I’m glad I took the trip, but I’ve changed my perspective on long distance solo motorcycle touring. It sucks! Granted I was unfortunate to have bad fall weather, but if you ride in the middle of summer, it’s hot as balls. And even with the best of weather, you’re still stuck in your motorcycle seat all day. For instance, on this trip I spent over 70 hours of saddle time in 9 days. That’s a lot. And you have to stop to do anything. Eat, drink, go to the toilet, make a call. Plus, you can’t cover much ground, and if you do hit bad weather you’re screwed. So I put this trip down as a success, but now I can check it off my list and move on. I’ll keep riding but it will be in the fine state of Colorado where I’m never more than a couple days ride from home. Anyone want to buy a 2014 Yamaha Super Tenere with low miles?
Hours in the Saddle
Days and Distances
- Denver to Hot Springs, SD – 380 miles
- Hot Springs to Mitchell, SD – 490 miles
- Mitchell, SD to Minneapolis, MN – 350 miles
- Day with friends and family in Minneapolis
- Minneapolis, MN to La Crosse, WI – 150 miles
- Day with family in La Crosse
- Day with family in La Crosse
- Waiting out rain with family in La Crosse
- Waiting out rain with family in La Crosse
- La Crosse, WI to Stillwater, MN to Duluth, MN – 286 miles
- Day with family in Duluth
- Duluth to Roseau, MN – 368 miles
- Roseau, MN to Bismarck, ND – 390 miles
- Bismarck, ND to Rapid City, SD – 338 miles
- Rapid City, SD to Denver, CO – 398 miles