Maynard's Big Summer Trip
By Maynard Hershon
In August, I rode old roads, predating the interstates, to Indiana to visit friends and family and to watch the MotoGP at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. From there, I rode north on more old roads through Indiana and Michigan, further north than Iíd ever been. I rode across the Mackinac Bridge to Michiganís Upper Peninsula. I wandered generally west across the UP (on US Highway 2, the northernmost US highway, extending 2100 miles from St Ignace, Michigan, to Everett, Washington) and through northern Wisconsin and across the bridge into Duluth, Minnesota, the home of Aerostich and the 3rd Very Boring Rally.
After the rally I rode south on genuinely boring I-35 to
Ames, Iowa, to visit friends. I stopped at Clear Lake, Iowa, and stood in
front of the Surf Ballroom. The Surf, on the National Register of Historic
Places, was the site of the last Buddy Holly concert, the show before the
awful plane crash that killed Holly, the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens.
From Ames I rode west through Iowa and Nebraska on old Highway 30, the
Lincoln Highway, until Nebraska threatened to turn into Wyoming, when I
turned south to join I-76 into Denver. Then home.
Perhaps because I allowed myself lots of time to reach my
Indianapolis and Duluth weekends, I found I was not in the usual rush. If I
only rode a few hundred miles in a day, that was fine. Maybe Iím growing up,
becoming a mature motorcyclist. I donít know what Iíd do without the old
roads. I never meet riders on interstates. On the old highways this trip, I
saw (and rode with or chatted with) lots of other motorcyclists. If I never
met other riders on the endless roads we travel to reach our destinations,
itíd be far more daunting to take these trips.
The old roads pass right through countless small towns along
the way, so you have a chance to say hi to other riders at fuel stops and
cafes. Or you can adjust your pace up or down a bit and ride along with
other motorcyclists you encounter as you travel. Curiously, most of the
people I met on bikes rode Harleys. Maybe itís a Midwestern thing.
I rode 50 miles across northern Kansas with a local couple (on a Big Twin and a Sportster) after sharing a table with them in a McDonalds somewhere on Hwy 36. Heís a tall guy, six-two or three. Sheís a foot shorter and not especially lovely, but animated and fun. They were quick to inform me that they were not from Kansas. Sheíd lived in southern Cal and heíd been raised in the San Francisco East Bay. They moved to Kansas, to her motherís old place, to raise their kids away from all that California temptation.
He told me heíd been a troubled young man. Ran with a bad
crowd in those days, he said. Heíd only escaped serving time by the grace of
God and the kindness of a few cops. Now Iím a corrections officer, he told
me, a prison guard working for the State of Kansas, only a few years from
retirement. He still canít get over how it happened, a series of lucky
breaks. He was looking at me, shaking his head in disbelief when she spoke
in response to nothing at all. ďI really love this guy,Ē she said about her
husband of many years. ďI mean, Iím crazy about him.Ē As I watched, she
began to glow. I decided she was lovely after all.
In Bloomington, Indiana, my old college town, I asked
directions of a guy on a Yamaha cruiser. He started to explain how I might
want to go, then motioned me to pull in with him to a Walmart parking lot.
As he was giving me directions, his phone rang. He said the callerís name
when he answered the call, and I knew the guy. From 50 years ago. The Yamaha
rider took me to visit our mutual friend at his home. Heís 90 now, still
witty and a bit caustic. He was a champion enduro and woods rider in his day
and has more recently done a ride around the four corners of the US on a
Honda scooter, a 250 Helix.
The Yamaha rider also took me to see my old boss from the
mid-í60s, the long-ago owner of a Honda-Triumph-Greeves-Bultaco-Cotton-Ducati
store in Ellettsville, Indiana, near Bloomington. Neither man wanted me to
visit my other old boss Boyd Fox, still at the Yamaha shop, because theyíre
feuding over Boydís charging them what they call outrageous prices for
things like tires. Youíd think that as guys get older, this sorta squabbling
would stop, particularly among men whoíve known one another for half a
century. Evidently it does not.
On the way north in Indiana, I rode with a guy on a sweet
early Ď80s Suzuki shaft-drive four (with original fairing and bags) and a
husband and wife on a Triumph Speed Triple. They turned out to be the Suzuki
riderís son and daughter-in-law. They too had been in Indy for the MotoGP. I
noticed square black stickers on the Suzukiís luggage reading in white the
numbers of a couple of Michigan highways. I learned that they are
destination roads, fun rides that draw riders from farflung areas. When we
stopped for lunch, the three told me about two must-ride roads in western
and northwestern Michigan, only one of which I was able to ride: the Tunnel
of Trees north of Petoskey, a lovely two-lane meandering through heavily
forested countryside. There appeared to be lots of great riding in Michigan.
After a couple of warnings from riders I was nervous about
the Mackinac Bridge. There are two lanes in each direction. The outer one is
paved. The inner is steel grate. If you could simply ride the paved lane,
all would be well. But theyíre always working on (or from) the paved lane so
inevitably you have to ride the grating for the three or four miles across
the span. My bike wiggled on the grating just as youíd expect. And because
there was only one useable lane, traffic slowed dramatically, making my bike
squirm even worse at walking pace. I was happy to reach the north end and
Once on the UP, I met a guy from Duluth in the only cafe in the tiny Highway 2 town where Iíd spent the night. He was riding a 30,000-mile Victory with bags and a windshield. He said he loved it but had just seen the new Indians and been won over. Iím buying one in the spring, he said. Interestingly, people excited about the Indians tell you how the Polaris folks used a new sheet of paper to design the Indians. Nothing carried over. But the designers used the lessons of 15 years of building Victories to guide them as they worked. Donít you love marketing-speak? Iíll look for you at the rally, I said to my breakfast companion, but he shook his head. He was boycotting the Very Boring Rally even though heís a Duluth local and a loyal, happy Aerostich equipment user. He said the rally fee, $67, was the same if you spent all day Friday and Saturday plus Sunday morning for the farewell breakfastÖor if you just dropped in for a couple of hours during the weekend. Iím protesting, he said lightheartedly. But hey, you enjoy the rally! I did, and Iíll tell you about it
In August I set out to see friends and relatives in Indiana,
go to the MotoGP at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and to the Aerostich
Very Boring Rally in Duluth, Minnesota the next weekend. I got it all
done...and enjoyed almost all the travel, surprising myself a bit.
Before I left home, I emailed Andy Goldfine at Aerostich asking him how to ride enjoyably from Indy to Duluth. He suggested routes through Illinois and Wisconsin before telling me I could ride across Michiganís Upper Peninsula, where Iíd never been...and hardly anyone I know has been.
I let myself take four days for that ride, due north through
Indiana and mainland Michigan to the sparsely populated, heavily wooded
Upper Peninsula, and west across the UP to Duluth. When I go to the next
Very Boring Rally in five years, Iíll do it the same way. Maybe Iíll take
FIVE days. All my riding life Iíve allowed myself just enough time to get
there...or get home. This trip I gave myself an extra day or so. I relaxed
and enjoyed the journey. If you want to do three-day rides in two and a half
days, suit yourself. Itís way more fun doing three-day rides in four days. I
was able to get off the bike during the day, in prime riding time. I could
wander off that straight line connecting where I was and where I needed to
be. I could explore. It was liberating.
I woke up in a casino motel on Hwy 2 on the Upper Peninsula
of Michigan, a dayís ride to Duluth. I had no need to arrive two days early.
I decided to ride north to scenic Copper Harbor, way up there, for a pasty,
the national food of northern Michigan, introduced there by miners from
Cornwall. I then turned around and rode the scenic shore of Lake Superior
back to Hwy 2. Delightful. I couldíve done lovely side-trips like that one
dozens of times over the years, but for my need to cram big miles into
riding days. If youíre like me in that regard, try this: Leave a day early.
Donít let anyone know when you plan to arrive. Ride the old roads. Ride 65
or 70 mph instead of 75, even when you can get away with 75. Get that gotta-get-there
monkey off your back. Feel your shoulders relaxing.
The only dreadful miles I rode were the only interstate
highway miles: I-35 from Duluth to Ames, Iowa. Why would I do that? The
rally in Duluth ended late Sunday morning. The rally site was right off the
damn interstate. I should have taken time to find another way to go. Five
minutes with a Minnesota map wouldíve shown me old-road alternatives to
hours of tedious, sunbaked superslab.
Riding an agile, mid-sized motorcycle on nearly any
superhighway wastes that motorcycle and the riding day. Even if it seems
like an okay idea in the morning, riding the interstate that is, by evening
youíre hating it. Iím not telling you anything you donít know.
You may not know that attending a Big Event at the Motor
Speedway is nothing like going to other tracks of my experience. The
Speedway is right in Indianapolis. There are lots of ways in and out and
wide streets all around. Walking from your seat in the grandstand to your
ride may take 15 minutes. Thereís hardly a traffic hassle as you arrive or
leave. Itís SO easy. And youíre at the Brickyard. Thereís a sense of
motorsport history there, of the century of men, women and machines that
have competed there. Iíve been there many times, as a kid for Indy 500
qualifying and recently for motorcycle events. Iíve never lost the sense of
awe. Itís Indy. Hey.
When you visit Aerostich in Duluth, you feel you have entered
into another reality, one in which motorcycling is a serious yet enjoyable
endeavor, no matter the distances or geography covered. You can ride to work
(and Andy will be delighted when you do), you can ride around the world or
around a track or around the block. Youíll find the gear you need in his
store or in his catalog. I have three Aerostich outfits, two Roadcrafter
suits and a Darien jacket and pants. You would think that I would be
Aerostiched to my eyeballs and never covet another of Andyís garments. But
there are now Roadcrafter Light, Ultralight and Stealth models. Thereís a
new Carhartt-looking golden tan color that is far more appealing in the
Cordura than in the catalog. There is the waterproof, heat-shedding black
leather Transit suit for those of you with what is called disposable income,
an unfamiliar but attractive concept. Thereís just no end to it, nor should
there be. There are all kinds of motorcyclists, but thereís only the one
Aerostich here in the US, and Andy is there to make sure you can get what
I had fun at the rally with guys and women whoíd ridden there from all over the country. You looked around the campsite or the meeting rooms and you felt you were with your brethren. I learned a lot from the many presentations by accomplished riders, individuals who have done remarkable things on motorcycles. One young man had ridden a Ural around the perimeter of the US as an Iron Butt participant. He finished - on his third engine. Another gentleman rode across Siberia on a Honda. He had no motorcycle trouble but knew in his gut that if the slightest injury, maybe a small broken bone, rendered him unable to ride, he would die there.
Best of all was simply being in the presence of Andy Goldfine,
who has supported and outfitted real riders for decades. Andy is soft-spoken
and self-effacing, as I mentioned above. Heís bright and well informed about
many subjects, some youíd expect, others that would surprise you. Andy has a
lot on his plate, what with running Aerostich and promoting motorcycle
commuting. I learned while in Duluth that he has lots and lots of
adventurous touring in his history, but he will not mention it in casual or
even more intimate conversation. He seems to have mastered one of lifeís
great feats: Heís shed the need to impress people. He is visionary,
especially about trends in motorcycling, commuting in particular. He sees
promise in aspects of motorcycling growth that only make me (of little
faith) wonder if weíve lost our way. He doesnít preach. Thereís nothing of
the shepherd tending his flock about him.
But there is something messianic there. Iím not the only
person who thinks so. Thereís a feeling that heís thinking about
motorcycling with a clearer mind than many of us can bring to the subject.
Heís thinking about who is riding now and who will be riding in five, 10 or
I hope Iím riding in 10 years, let alone 20. I feel sure that if I am, Iíll be paying attention to what Andy is saying and doing...and selling in that store in Duluth and in his catalog.