Editor’s Note: What appears below is a guest blog post from AirHawk’s own Craig Johnson and his journey to get to this year’s J&P’s Open House Rally. For those who reside in the Midwest, the Great River Road is a fantastic and scenic option for a nice motorcycle ride. Johnson notes what you can see on that route in Eastern Iowa/Western Wisconsin.
The day started around 6:15 with the push of the garage door opener, and the good mood began. Another push of a button and the office thundered to life rumbling with anticipation. The work day was about to begin.
Like any day in the office, my desk started clean. Today though, my office is a bit more appealing than the usual wood slab with a keyboard and a couple of monitors. Today it’s black with a chrome center strip that houses a speedometer and is partially covered with a map pouch. The office window? A Klock Werks Flare framed by a well-polished set of KST Kustoms 16″ apes with a view of a huge chrome headlight housing. This will be a perfect day in the office.
It’s my third annual ride to the J&P Cycles Open House Rally in Anamosa, IA. Each year I take a different route; doing my best to avoid highways and freeways. For this year’s trip, I decided to take the Great River Road from Brainerd, Minn. to the border of Iowa. After I cross the border, I will let the GPS take over and choose the shortest route to Cedar Rapids – my home for the next three nights.
When I take these rides, I have an unusual set of rules for myself:
1. I refuel at the next gas station after the gauge hits ¼ tank.
2. I stop to eat breakfast at 9 a.m., lunch at 1 p.m., and dinner at 5 p.m. Once I see those three times, I have to stop at the next place food is served (unless it’s a fast food place, because no one needs that!).
3. Once the clock hits 8 p.m., I stay at the next hotel or motel I see. I already had a reservation this time around, so this one didn’t really apply.
These rules may seem a bit odd, but they fuel the journey! I have found some great little dives to eat at, and not-so-great dumps to spend the night in! It’s like an adventure on every trip.
The first half hour of my ride was over roads I had previously traveled. They were quite uneventful – which was good since the coffee had just begun to kick in. The route brought me through Little Falls and for the next several hours, I was on roads I had never ridden on. Just South of Little Falls, I passed through Lindberg State Park. What’s interesting is – driving through state parks by car sucks, but on a bike, the slower speed limits force you to look around and take in the beauty of your surroundings.
This led me through a dozen back country “drag strips” en route to St. Cloud, where signage became non-existent, and it was nearly impossible to follow the route. After backtracking and looking at every post that should have a sign for what seemed like an eternity, I finally decided it was best to stop, get out the iPad, and do a little research. NO I WASN’T LOST!!
Headed south I was led into a short little six mile construction zone. ‘Tis the season I guess, but six miles of gravel was how I avoided the freeway. It was no big deal – just another part of the adventure. This led me through Monticello, and would be my last sighting of the freeway and the only roads I’ve ever known for the next couple hours. I was pleasantly surprised as I followed the river through what was essentially “The Cities,” but felt more like I was in the middle of the country. The only difference I could see was that the road seemed considerably wider and the surface was in great condition. I really had no idea where I was, and that made this section of the route very interesting.
I usually wouldn’t admit this, but going through the Twin Cities was probably one of the highlights of the day! Living two and a half hours northwest of here, activities that made the news were the only sightings I have seen of Riverside Park, but getting to ride through it was quite eye opening. This is an area hit hard by the storms that blew through in the previous days. As I looked to the right, I saw streets filled with fallen trees and cleanup crews, but looking to the left life was normal. This is a park that goes on for miles along the shore of the Mississippi – holding a lock and dam, green grass, people playing with their pets, and some just laying in the sun reading books. It hits me here that only 700 feet of elevation and this thing dumps into the Gulf of Mexico.
Shortly after the park, the river actually makes a bend and heads North. This confused me because I actually was thinking I had gotten on the wrong side of the river and was going the wrong way! Once I remembered that the river actually flows north for a while the confusion subsided, and I was again amazed by all of the industry in this section of river. I actually have an interest in heading back that way when I have time to see what all goes on in an area that seems so far from home.
On the south side of Minneapolis, I met up with Steve Kroyer, a distributor sales rep in the area joining me for the remainder of the trip. Hastings, Minn. was the lunch and gas stop where we would say our final words to each other in Minnesota. Highway 61 was the main road for the leg through the entire southeast Minnesota section of The Great River Road. Cruising along railroad tracks, you would skirt Lake Pepin and the hilly southeast – one of the few parts on Minnesota where there is notable elevation.
Once in Iowa, we followed the GPS’ shortest route, and Lansing, Iowa was the point where we were actually sent across the river to hook up with highway 35 in Wisconsin. According to the gas gauge and the clock, it was time to make a couple of stops! We refueled in Ferryville, Wis. and grabbed a bite to eat at Jake’s Sportsmans Bar and Grille. While parking the bikes on the side of the road and snapping a couple pictures, we met Neil and LaNette Sirucek (bikers always strike up conversation right?). The cool part is that I rode 12 hours to meet this couple whom lives in Staples, Minn., a little railroad town that is just 20 minutes from my house. What a neat coincidence!
From Jake’s we headed south to only have the route detoured because of a landslide as we would hear later. Most of the time you are frustrated by a detour, but on a bike, they aren’t always bad and in this case, it was FANTASTIC! We were sent up on the top of the ridge where we rode over a half hour overlooking the river valley on our way into Prairie Du Chien, where we would cross the river for the final time and head southwest.
If you haven’t ridden through the northwest corner of Iowa, I would highly recommend it. The view in every direction is that of those picture perfect American farmlands you’ve only seen on post cards and in commercials on TV. This describes the view for the nearly two hours it took to finish off the trip. We arrived to the hotel at 9:50 p.m., and yes, we rode into the sunset to finish off a perfect day in the office! And yes, this was the first hotel!