Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Getting Loesst

The second to last day we rode through the Loess Hills, and once again, Iowa's scenery gave me a pleasant surprise.  I had heard that the scenery and riding out there was really cool, but after the previous days' rides, I knew that somewhere, sometime, I'd be let down.  I was once again wowed by what Iowa had to offer.

We spent the early part of the day on Loess Hills Scenic Byways, winding our way north through hills, valleys, woods, farmland and over rivers.  We went over 50 miles at a time without seeing a town large enough to have a gas station.  The ride was beautiful, relaxing, rustic and invigorating.

The Loess Hills portion of the ride ended in Sioux City, where we darted into South Dakota for a while. which completed our quest to hit every state surrounding Iowa during this journey.  Another cool thing about South Dakota is that they have an 80 MPH speed limit on their freeways.  This gave us an opportunity to (legally) open the throttle on our respective rides and see what they could do.  Interestingly enough, I saw a LOT of vehicles (including us) that tended to cruise at speeds between 70 and 80 MPH.  I didn't see much speeding.

We continued north until we hit US Highway 18, at which point we turned eastward, ending in Algona.  We were within 50 miles of our destination and saw rain on the horizon.  We geared up and headed into the rain.  In very short order, rain was falling so hard that we had a difficult time seeing the road, so we turned on the flashers and slowed down.  That's when the hail started.  In all fairness though, the hail stones were just large enough for me to say that we were caught in a hail storm.  Regardless, it continued raining harder, and we responded by slowing our pace.  Just about the time I wondered how I (we) could continue safely, we entered the next town.  The first building in town was a car wash, so I led us into bay of the car wash, where we waited out the storm, which passed in just a few more minutes.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

My Take on Father's Day

I jumped on Facebook this morning and saw a post from not one, but two of my male friends which essentially said Women, quit trying to steal our day... this isn't Mother's Day, it's Father's Day.  In one case, a female friend responded by saying If a mom is pulling double duty (by playing mother and father) then she should get both holidays.  I've got two thoughts on this, and basically I'm going to piss off everyone.  If you're easily offended, you may as well quit reading now.  Otherwise, read on...

To you single moms who want to claim Father's Day:  Nope.  Today is designed for dads.  You didn't have what you consider proper support (whether it's financial, physical, emotional or whatever) in raising your kid?  Bummer.  I'm proud of you for stepping up, but it's a little self-centered and conceited to expect that you deserve an extra day of credit.  Parenting isn't about credit.  It's about doing what's right for your kid(s).

To you dads who are pissed off that single moms want to horn in on Father's Day:  Man up and grow a pair!  It's a freaking Hallmark holiday.  The true measure of fatherhood is not how well your kids treat you once or twice a year.  Fatherhood is measured in the character of your children, and the effort that you personally contributed toward that outcome.

To both sides:  This is a First World problem.  We have mothers and fathers who can't feed their kids... who lost babies to preventable childhood illnesses... who saw their children maimed or killed by despots and terrorists.  Keep your shit in perspective, and quit getting your respective panties in a bunch over a fucking made up holiday!

Westward, Ho!

The next leg of our journey took us across the entire southern strip of Iowa.  It was also a four-state day.  Recall that Keokuk is in the southeastern most portion of Iowa.  We crossed the Mississippi into Illinois and turned around back into Iowa.  We then headed south into Missouri and turned west for a bit, popping back into Iowa as soon as circumstances allowed.

Once back in Iowa, we hit Iowa Highway 2, which took us across the southern-most part of the state.  The best way to explain this leg of the trip is "relaxing."  The roads were relatively straight, with the occasional gentle bend.  The pace was easy.  The landscape was relatively flat.  Lots of farmland and countryside.  I was once again pleasantly surprised.  I expected that this part of the trip would bore me, but it didn't.  I enjoyed cruising through the tiny towns that dotted the road.  I appreciated the sunshine and countryside.  It was a full day, but it didn't seem that way.

We hit the western-most point in Iowa before we knew it, and decided to continue into Nebraska, again, just so that we could say we hit four states in a single day.  I think we covered a bit over 300 miles that day, but again, it didn't seem like that big of a deal.

Another thing I noticed on that day... people in Southern Iowa have accents that are distinct from those in Northern Iowa.  Those in Northern Iowa have an accent similar to those in Minnesota or Wisconsin... a bit of a Norse accent.  Those in Southern Iowa are starting to pick up a bit of a southern twang.  And these accents are both more pronounced in the Eastern part of Iowa than they are to the west.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Turning South

After spending two glorious days in Northeast Iowa, it was time to say goodbye to Decorah.  We packed up our gear and headed south, following Iowa's Great River Road.  I'd heard many good things about Great River Road, but after my Driftless time, I expected that our run along the Mississippi would be a bit of a letdown.  The ride was as good as everyone said it would be, though it was a bit different.  I had expected that we'd hug the river throughout the entire ride, and that's not what happened.

We followed Great River Road until we hit Guttenberg, a charming little town right on the river.  From there we moved inland a bit and followed Highway 52 South to Dubuque.  This section of road has a lot of fun twists and turns, with plenty of varying scenery along the way.  As I hugged the corners, I kept asking myself "How did I not know about this road before?!?"

We stayed on highway 52 past Dubuque until we stopped in Bellevue, where we had lunch at Flatted Fifth.  Bellevue is another spot that reminds me of Greg.  Greg, Bill and I did a daylong motorcycle ride in the fall of 2015, just a couple of weeks before he died.  My last photos of Greg were taken on that run, and my last fond memories of Greg center around that day.  Also, I coordinated a small memorial ride last summer, and Bellevue was one of the stops on that trip.  With that said though, the decision to stop in Bellevue didn't really have anything to do with Greg.  It was all about the restaurant.

Flatted Fifth is more than a restaurant.  It's also a music venue and a bed and breakfast.  The building is an old grist mill, and the owners have done a tremendous job with the place.  The menu is relatively limited, but they have mastered everything they offer, and the wait staff is warm and friendly.  In my opinion, Flatted Fifth is such a cool place that it's worth a special trip.  As a side note, I also have a loose connection to the owner of the restaurant.  I graduated high school with the owner's sister.

After our hearty lunch, we continued south; the goal was to be in Keokuk, the southeastern most city in Iowa, by the end of the day.  We still had a lot of ground to cover if we were going to make our goal, so we chose a more direct route instead of the scenic path.  I've got to say that going through Clinton sucked.  We managed to hit every red light, and spent far too long stuck in a construction zone.  Other than that though, it was smooth sailing.  We arrived in Keokuk late in the afternoon, where we once again set up camp, and then zipped into town for a fast food meal.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Northeast Iowa

The second day of our bike trip took us to Northeast Iowa.  We stayed at Pulpit Rock Campground in Decorah.  In the past, my family has camped with Greg's family at Pulpit Rock, and it's located along the Upper Iowa River, which is the river that we ran on our very first boys trip.  It's also the river where we scattered Greg's ashes.  This information had nothing to do with the decision to stay at Pulpit Rock, but it was another instance where the past met the present.  We chose to stay at Pulpit Rock because it's a great campground, and it's very close to some wonderful motorcycle roads.

This was a relatively short day's ride, so we were able to set up camp and prepare for the evening meal with plenty of daylight to spare.  Part of our overall plan was that we had very few preconceived notions.  None of us had done a trip like this before, so we wanted to start things off easy.  The overarching goals of this ride was that we wanted to have fun.  This meant that if the weather was crappy, we were prepared to not ride.  If our butts were sore from riding, we would stop short. Another primary goal was that we would not plan heavily, based on the first goal.  After setting up camp, we decided to cook over an open fire, and we chose hobo stew.... basically ground beef, vegetables and cream of whatever soup, cooked in foil, over an open fire.  We had to go to the grocery store to get the meal. Thanks to an idea from Randy's wife, we cooked the meal in a couple of disposable foil lasagna pans, covered with foil, instead of a bunch of individual foil packs.  Awesome meal!  Awesome idea.

After the meal, we sat around the fire as the sun went down, listening to the sound of the nearby bubbling creek, drinking a couple of beers.  The evening's entertainment was brought by our neighbors... a group of gay men, who by the look of things had never camped before.  It was funny!  Picture the "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" hosts trying to camp, and you've got the idea.  Huge Tent?  Check.  Tiki torches?  Check.  Overdressed?  Check.  Gay men bickering over how to set up the tent?  Check.  Complaining about bugs?  Check.  This was the closest we came to having a Wild Hogs moment.

We spent the third day riding around Northeast Iowa, focusing on the Driftless Area Scenic Byway and the northern section of Iowa's Great River Road.  There is some incredible scenery and many miles of winding roads with virtually no traffic.  During this time, we darted into Minnesota and Wisconsin, allowing us to hit three states within the span of a couple of hours.  There's also a really cool grate bridge from Lansing, IA into Wisconsin.  That evening we hit the Old Armory BBQ, a delightful smokehouse BBQ, for dinner.  After supper, we went back to camp and spent another evening around the fire, listening to the sound of the water next to our camp site and talking about nothing in particular.

The Past Met the Future

Picking up on yesterday's post... The trip officially started for me on Friday night.  After work, my friend Randy, my daughter's boyfriend Josh and I rode a couple of hours from where I live now to my boyhood home, a couple of hours northwest of here.  We had arranged ahead of time to stay with Greg's parents.  Greg's parents and I obviously share the loss of Greg, but we also share a similar outlook on life, and they know me about as well as my own parents know me.  This means that we have a lot more to talk about than Greg.  Naturally, we spent some time reminiscing about times with Greg, but that was not all we talked about.  This is a good thing, because I suspect that if we'd spent the evening focusing on the ghost in the room, Randy and Josh would have felt a bit awkward; I didn't sense any awkwardness coming from them.  Gary and Sue (Greg's parents) were awesome hosts, offering us food, beer and control of the TV remote.  We stayed up until relatively late in the evening watching Full Metal Jacket on Netflix and talking about I-don't-know-what.

We were up early the next morning, and we all sat around the table drinking coffee and eating breakfast.  After breakfast, Randy, Josh and I met up with Bill and Darin for the day's ride.  Bill is a very close friend of mine (our friendship goes back to high school), and Darin is the friend I mentioned in my last post.  The day's ride was a poker run fundraiser for suicide awareness... a ride that Bill had told me about as the trip was being organized.  Choosing that as the first day's run was a no-brainer.  Even better, the trip allowed -- nay, encouraged -- cars, so Gary, Sue, and Greg's brother Doug (who has become my friend in his own right), attended as well.  Darin's daughter Alissha also participated, riding on the back of my bike and taking video of the goings-on.

It was a warm, sunny day.  Almost perfect, except for the wind that started whipping up around halfway through the trip.  We put just shy of 175 miles on our bikes that first day.  I spent a LOT of time enjoying the day and living in the moment, sometimes forgetting the somber purpose of the ride, and always enjoying the company of those with and around me.  Every now and then, I remembered what the ride was about.  Sometimes I felt a twinge of sadness.  Most times I thought, "Greg, you dumbass!  Why did you have to do that?"

The end of the poker run brought all of the riders/drivers together at a local bar and grill, where a raffle was held and various prizes were awarded.  The organizer opened up the microphone.  That actually scared the crap out of me.  I was worried that people would tell the sad stories of their own loved ones' suicide.  Fortunately that didn't happen.

After the poker run ended, we all went back to Gary and Sue's house, had dinner and watched Blazing Saddles, which is one of my all-time favorite movies.  We all laughed at the stupidity of the show and drifted off to bed relatively early.

The next morning, we were all up around sunrise.  We enjoyed another breakfast and coffee together, and then hit the road for our journey around the state.  The poker run, and staying with Greg's family was an incredible way to bridge past boys' trips with the journey that was about to occur.  The past met the future.  This is not the end of honoring Greg's memory though, nor is it the end of the adventure.  Stay tuned for the next installment.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

(Boys) Trip of a Lifetime

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, I spent last week on a motorcycle trip around the state with some friends.  Doing a long bike trip is something I've wanted to do since my pilgrimage to Sturgis a couple of years ago... heck, since I started seriously riding a bit over a decade ago... and this was the year that it happened.

Those of you who have known me for a long time realize that I've been doing annual Boys Trip vacations for roughly 25 years.  These trips started when I had a conversation with Darin and Greg, two friends I've known since sixth grade, where we reminisced about how much fun we used to have camping and canoeing as Boy Scouts.  Greg said that we should spend a long weekend canoeing down a river in the area.  We all agreed, and Greg made the arrangements.  We had so much fun that we decided to do it again the next year, and before we knew it we had an annual tradition.

Over the next couple of decades, we did a lot of trips... downriver canoe runs... a few years of whitewater kayaking... a couple of island-hopping lake excursions... a journey to the Boundary Waters in Northern Minnesota... even a long weekend in Vegas.

The tradition came very close to dying last year.  Greg, who was really the founder of these trips, committed suicide in October 2015.  In 2016 we made one last canoe trip to scatter his ashes.  That trip was incredibly sad... sad beyond words.  It took place on the river where it all started.  His parents, wife, daughters and many, many close friends gathered around as we scattered some of his ashes in the river next to the cabin where we stayed for the weekend, and those who were able spread the remainder as we paddled down the river.  It was cathartic and gut-wrenching.

Throughout the rest of the fall and winter, Darin and I discussed our options for this year's boys trip.  We both knew that we wouldn't be doing another canoe trip in 2017, partially because of the memories of Greg, and partially because Darin has health issues that prevent him from spending a lot of time stuffed into a canoe.  We considered scrapping the tradition... letting it die with the founder.  Instead, we decided to try something completely different, and we agreed to do a motorcycle trip.

After Darin and I decided to keep the tradition going, I talked to a few other close friends.  By the time the date rolled around, there was a core group of three going for the week, and a few who joined us for part of the trip based on their available vacation.  Over the next few blog posts, I will tell you about the trip.  I hope you stay tuned, and I hope that I can adequately relay the fun and adventure that we experienced on this boys trip of a lifetime.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

A Connundrum

Last week, I went on the trip of a lifetime.  Several of my friends and I took a week-long motorcycle trip around the state.  My original plan was to spend the next several days blogging about the trip and filling you in on the fun that we had.  Unfortunately, I need to digress and ask for some advice.

I have a friend who wanted to surprise me on the last leg of the journey.  He called me on the evening before we returned home, and we talked about the trip.  He decided to join us that evening and then ride home with us.  He's been a friend of the family for roughly 20 years.  After talking to me, he called my older daughter and asked to borrow her bike so that he could surprise me by showing up at the hotel on the last night.  Knowing that I'd be delighted at seeing him, my daughter lent him her bike.

Unfortunately, he got pulled over for speeding on the way to see me.  Once the cops pulled him over, they discovered that he was riding with a suspended license, among other infractions that won't be mentioned here.  My daughter's bike was impounded, and he was thrown into a county jail, roughly 125 miles from here.

After this occurred, our local police department knocked on my kid's door around midnight, waking her up and quite frankly scaring the crap out of her.  They asked if my friend had permission to ride her bike, but no other details were provided.  The next morning, she contacted me, trying to figure out what to do.  We were both understandably worried that my friend had been hurt or worse.  My daughter finally found out that he was busted, and that her bike was impounded.

My daughter and I both tried to reach out to him, but he has not responded.  I have called.  We both left voicemail messages.  I sent him text messages.  I sent him a PM via Facebook.  I know for a FACT that he's seen the Facebook message. My early messages said that I was worried.  My later messages said that I know he didn't intend to get busted, but he should call.

In order to get my daughter's bike out of impound, I had to zip home, cutting my trip a few hours short.  My daughter had to take unscheduled time off from work.  She had to pay over $300 to get her bike out of impound, and we had to travel four hours round trip to retrieve the bike.  An inconvenience, yes, but in the grand scheme of things, the inconvenience is minor compared to the fact that I KNOW my friend has seen at least one communication from us, and am confident that he's seen or heard all of them, yet he refuses to reach out to us.

Here's what I want to know from you:  What would you do if you were in my situation?  I get that he's probably embarrassed about the situation.  I understand that he may not have the financial resources to pay my kid back, especially considering that he's probably going to have to pay for an attorney to deal with these charges.  This isn't about the money.  This isn't about the fact that he worried us.  This isn't about the fact that he made a poor decision.  What matters is that I've reached out to him, I KNOW that he's received at least SOME of our communications, and he's not stepping up to talk to us.  From my perspective, it seems that he's prepared to trash a twenty year friendship over something stupid, because he's not responding.  How long should I wait before I say enough is enough and allow this longstanding relationship to end?