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C2C Day 2-4: Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, and Spam July 5, 2009

Posted by dakotabiker in Rides.
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Been an adventurous couple of days…

Getting off the ferry in Milwaukee, I had no idea where I was going to go next. I knew I wanted to collect all the local ABC points for the Harley Museum, Factory, and Headquarters but had no idea where they were.  (You would think that my Harley Davidson Road Atlas would have these points well shown…  but no.)   The sun was starting to get low and the idea of randomly riding in the greater Milwaukee area was not appealing.  I went into the ferry visitors center and found a brochure for the Harley Museum with a cartoon map.  Figuring to find a hotel somewhere near the museum, I headed into Milwaukee.

After one false start and turnaround, I started seeing signs for the Museum and followed them into town.  Coming up 6th street, I saw the Iron Horse Hotel which was bustling with activity.  I pulled up to the front and walked in.  The hotel looked as though it was a restored factory building, very nicely decorated in an upscale, rustic manner.  Words do not do the place justice.  Check out their website, and yes, the place is as cool as it looks.

I walked up to front desk and inquired about a room for the night… the host was looking pretty doubtful if they had anything, but found they had exactly two rooms available.  It turns out I had arrived during Milwaukee’s Summerfest: a huge week-long music extravaganza on the shore of Lake Michigan.  So most of the hotels were booked at high-occupancy rates.  I ended up with a beautiful loft suite with the most comfortable king sized bed I’ve been in for many years.  The room was gorgeous: vaulted ceilings, exposed rafters, walk-in shower with a rain shower head, large hi-def television, great furniture, wall mural. 

iron-horse-room

I toyed around with the idea of taking the hotel shuttle to Summerfest (as long as I was in town).  I unpacked the bike and headed down to the outside bar for a quick refreshment.  Resting comfortably on outdoor sofas I enjoyed a gin and tonic and went back up to my room to shower.  But by the time I got all settled in, on-line, cleaned up, and dressed, I missed the last shuttle to Summerfest.  It was just as well; I was tired and the hotel had plenty of amenities.  I had dinner in their restaurant:  a Cesar salad with a nice Pinot Noir, and a perfectly prepared ribeye with a decent Zinfandel.  Finishing my wine back on the outdoor sofa, I was so disappointed that a food and wine induced fatigue set in so headed up to my room for a great night’s sleep, but missing out on the post-Summerfest fun.

The next morning I checked out (wishing I had the time to stay another night and not fall asleep right away).  I set out for the HD museum, arriving to see about 50 bikes parked out front.  While taking my ABCs picture, I was approached by another point collector.  She and her husband had matching Electraglides and were from northern Wisconsin, but they had tribal plates that she was quite proud of.  I chatted with them for a while about exotic point locations and got directions to the Harley headquarters for my next point. 

The museum was very cool and informative.  I saw the progression of Harleys from as early as 1903.  I was most interested in the bikes designed for WWII service.  The Engine Room finally taught me to identify pan heads, flat heads, shovel heads, knuckle heads, etc.  My next favorite display was the biker cultural exhibit near the end.  I saw “faithful reproductions” of the bikes from Easy Rider (a little disappointed they weren’t originals). 

easy-rider-chopper

Heading out I took a look at all the bikes parked out front.  Except for a couple of bikes from Georgia and one from Tennessee, I think I was the farthest traveled.  And when you consider that I just traveled in Georgia, Tennessee, and Florida, etc only days before starting this trip – I think I may have qualified as most miles to get there this time.  I saddled up and headed to the Harley HQ.  I am thinking Harley could be a little more ABC friendly by setting up a good identifiable sign at which to get the picture.  Am hoping the buildings and water tower are sufficiently identifiable to count as the point.  I moved on to the HD factory on Capitol street, got my pic and pressed on.

I found the interstate again and headed up through Madison en route toward Lacrosse.  I stopped for a moment in Sparta and had my first ever red bull in hopes of it “giving me wings” (don’t know if it did, but I sure noticed the crash later that night.)  I planned to stop in Lacrosse in the same cheap motel I stayed in going to Sturgis a couple years earlier, but decided instead to press on into Minnesota. 

I hopped off the interstate onto state route 16 as soon as I crossed the border.  My ride improved dramatically.  The road is part of the Bluff Country Scenic Byways, weaving gently along the Root River.  I was finally getting a break from the interstate’s 85 mph monotony.  Gliding along, I happened through Houston, MN where I saw a group of bikers outside the deck of JT’s Corner Bar and Grill.  I circled back and started conversation asking about good local camping. The bar was a nice local pub – clean with a rustic interior.  I sat out on the deck for a beer listening to their riding stories, mostly about one of their friends who seemed to be an idiot and who is lucky he is not dead.  On their advice, I got a bite to eat and headed up the road to Cushon’s Peak campground.

The campground is run by a couple of teachers who augment their income in the summer months with this little vacation stop.  The place was small and friendly with a lot of regulars.  Each of the tent sites is mown into little tree surrounded alcoves; a nice touch affording a degree of privacy.  My spot was next to that of a married couple of bikers, Fred and Cathy.  As I was getting eaten alive by mosquitos setting up my tent, I realized I needed to head back into town for some repellent and supplies.  I checked in on my neighbors to see if they needed anything since I was heading in, opening our dialog. 

cushon-peak

Back in town I gassed up, got my repellent, chips, Gatorade, beer — and at last minute, a handmade pizza from the gas station.  (Gotta love the small town general store concept).  Of course the pizza was a mess after the return trip to the campground.  So I enjoyed my “cup-o-pizza” (ala Steve Martin’s “The Jerk”) as the sun started to settle and the air cooled into comfort.  In the distance I heard a flute, presumably being played by a student in training, slowing eking out “Red River Valley” and “Puff the Magic Dragon”. 

After that little evening concert, Fred came over and invited me to join him and his wife at their campfire.  We sat talking for a while about rides and NASA.  I got a few travel tips, and as the fire turned to embers and the night grew black I expressed my gratitude for their hospitality and walked back to my tent. 

The older I get, the harder it is to get a good night sleep lying on the ground.  I tossed and turned a lot, but managed a few winks.  I was amused at the change from the night before.  From a $280 loft to an $18 campsite.  From a $70 steak dinner to a $7 gas station pizza.  From comfortable outdoor sofas to wooden picnic benches.  From the most comfortable downy king-sized bed to a ground cover and sleeping bag. But averaging it out… the price was reasonable.  And tonight, the company much better.

I woke very early with the sun just rising.  The sound of rain gently dropping on the tent.  I unzipped the tent and peered out into the cornfield behind my site… dense fog.  Oh joy — rain with balding tire and fog with no tail light.  I rolled over and hoped things would change, and yearned for a cup of coffee. 

When I finally rousted myself from the tent, I was pleasantly surprised to see that there was no rain, only very, very dewy trees.  As the sun rose the fog slowly dissipated.  I looked at the map, and while I was farther than Lacrosse, I wasn’t that far and I was eager to make it to South Dakota to see family.  So I forewent a shower, packed the bike, and teetered my way through the slick, dewy grass to the road. 

bowlwinklesSR-16 continued to be a great ride, though as I made it farther west the sylvan bluffs began to give way to rolling farmland.  I collected a few ABC points along the way, and stopped in Preston, MN at the Bowl-Winkles Cantina for a cup of coffee, chatting with a fellow out front reading the morning paper with his faithful collie/border collie mix at his side.  He updated me on what was happening in the world the past few days and checked the weather forecast for me, and with clear skies ahead, I rode off.

I cut north to pick up my “O” county and met back up with I-90.  The events of the night before spawned a brain-worm of the Red River Valley song from National Lampoon’s Vacation – the one that sounds like it is played on a Casio keyboard.  With that song running through my head on an endless loop, I headed to Austin, MN stopping to fulfill a 20 year “dream” of going to the Spam Museum, an attraction I have passed many times driving back to visit family in South Dakota.  Pulling off the exit, I was surprised to see the Hormel Medical Research institute (Who knew? But apparently they were the main suppliers of thyroid supplements made from hog thyroids, before the invention of Synthroid – the obviously synthetic drug).

spam-museum

I arrived at the museum and was met by a security guard with the seriousness of John Candy in National Lampoons Vacation.  And much like Vacation’s Wally World… the museum was closed!  Fortunately, only for the next 45 minutes 😉  I headed across the road to “Jerry’s Other Place” cafe for breakfast.  Enjoying a plate of spam and eggs, and the super-friendly service, I started this blog entry to bide my time for the museum. 

30s-Spam-adThe museum was excellent.  I highly recommend it.  Hormel was (is?) the life-blood of Austin, MN and the folks there have a sincere gratitude and exuberance of that fact.  The museum delved into a very personable history of the Hormel company, from its start in an abandoned dairy making sausage.  The staff was knowledgeable and very excited about the museum.  It is funny that I went to the Mecca of Harley enthusiasts just the day before, yet had so much more fun at the Spam museum.  Between the sincerity of the staff and the kitsch of the concept – it was easy to really appreciate the Spam culture.  And I learned a lot (turns out Hawaii is one of the biggest consumers of Spam in the US).  The museum had a really good grasp of multimedia messaging.  Exhibits ranged from a small Radio “studio” where one could play old Hormel sponsored radio shows like George and Gracie, to an automated Spam puppet show, to a life sized projection of a WWII GI talking about Spam and life-sized talking diorama simulating the first transfer of Hormel leadership.  The museum tour concluded with a viewing of Monty Pythons infamous Spam skit.  I left with cans of Garlic Spam, Bacon Spam, and Spam & Cheese, a T-shirt, and a sincere admiration of Spam culture.