Habits, Both Good and Bad


September 4, 2003  -
Sept 5
, 2003

Lake Saganaga, MN -
Grand Rapids, MN

310 miles

5:32 driving time




Hallelujah, we're back on the road again!  We had a great time visiting with the Jerks (and had some wonderful meals) but it feels good to be back on the road again with the bow pointed to the west and towards our homes and families in the cool Pacific Northwest. 

Angry Trout Cafe in Grand Marais ...

where we feasted on lake trout,
whitefish, and beer

Route briefing:  We have four moderate riding days in front of us to get back to Miles City, Montana where our truck and trailer is parked.  Today, we traveled through the lake country near Ely.  Tomorrow we'll cross over our outbound route and ride a more southerly tack back to Miles City via Fargo and Bismarck.  There is a direct interstate route from Fargo back to Miles City, but we avoid interstates like the plague, so we'll jog down and catch secondary country roads south of the interstate.  (Secondary roads paralleling an interstate are always good candidates for light traffic.)  The Weather Channel gals are warning us of high temperatures - tomorrow we're anticipating 90 degrees as we arrive in Fargo.

When you motorcycle tour the way we do (which means packing light, but still having all the things you need to be reasonably comfortable and to be able to build these reports) you have to develop good habits or you'd lose your mind.  The entire time spent at the Jerkfest felt like our critical stuff was scattered hither and yon.  We both tried to keep our bike stuff separate from our non-bike stuff, but some co-mingling always occurs and there is always a chance that some Jerk will pick something up and put it somewhere special, never to be found again.  Now that we've got everything packed back in its assigned place, all seems right with the world.

More odometer watching ...
30K enjoyable miles

Over the years, I've developed a systematic approach to where I put everything; this makes it much easier to find things and to be able to quickly notice when something is missing.  Today this paid off when I found myself unable to locate a doohickey for my electric vest when we stopped for breakfast in Ely.  I thought I had dropped it when putting the vest on this morning, but just in case, I looked around the bike.  Sure enough, there it was, laying under the rear wheel.  It had slipped out of its assigned place (my vest pocket) as I was folding the vest to put it away in a saddlebag.  If I hadn't been diligent about keeping the adapter in designated spot, I probably wouldn't have missed it until later. And some nimrod in Ely would be looking at my doohickey wondering, "What the heck is this weird-looking thing?"

And it's also a good idea to have habits that are fail-safe and idiot-motorcyclist-proof.  On our 1997 tour I almost broke a front wheel when I forgot I had locked my bike with a front brake disc lock.  Since then, I've given up on these locks - too much opportunity for expensive mental errors.  My mother of all non-fail-safe habits was my way of locking the forks on my Suzuki GT550.  Because of an aftermarket Windjammer fairing I had installed, the forks wouldn't lock in the normal full-left handlebar position, so I started locking them in the straight-ahead position.  What I didn't realize was that this position had just enough steering lock to actually ride the bike until you needed to make a sharp left turn.  My Jerk friend Lyle probably still remembers riding on the back of that Suzuki when I dumped it on the first left turn after leaving his house late one night.  No one was hurt, but I always seek fail-safe habits now.

The only issue with habits is that they are fuel for complacency.  Today, I realized how I have a tendency to focus too much on the photography when I'm taking photos from the bike; I don't scan ahead often enough.  We were approaching a junction and I was surprised to look up to see a car coming to a stop at a junction a few hundred feet ahead.  The problem was that the car had been visible approaching the junction at least ten or fifteen seconds earlier, which means I wasn't paying very much attention to what was happening in front of the bike for an awfully long time.  I need to redouble my efforts to keep a vigorous scan going, and pay less attention to the camera.

Every area of the country has a different riding flavor.  Minnesota's is unique - a combination of standard Midwest farm country, blended with a heavy fishing/hunting/trapping influence, with everything hosed down with an ample supply of fresh-water lakes.  You're constantly going around or over a lake or river, and often drive for five or ten minutes at a stretch through marshlands. 

It's all quite beautiful when you are riding, but when you stop you need to keep your radar up for incoming bugs.  Ely and the Boundary Waters area are famous for bugs (particularly mosquitoes) and several times today, I had to short-circuit a rest stop to keep from getting swarmed.  I imagine a klaxon must go off as we pull over to the side of the road.  The dive bombing assaults increase in frequency until you finally can't take it any more and you roar away hoping you don't have too many of the critters trapped inside your faceshield.  And September has many fewer bugs than earlier in the summer so it could be a lot worse.  I nearly got eaten alive on a June canoeing trip I took to the Ely area way back in the 1960's.  I imagine Johnson and Johnson has an Off! research center on the edge of Ely.

I have two random observations about Minnesota roads and drivers:  First, many of the secondary roads we ride are over-signed to the extreme.  Today, on MN-38 from Effie to Grand Rapids, the road engineers decided to mark every spot on the road where they judged there was a "bump."  Now, just how do they decide what is a significant enough bump to deserve a sign?  The engineer on this road was especially generous as there were probably twenty "Bump" signs in 10 miles.  The thing is that the places marked as bumpy usually aren't the bumpy parts at all.  You'll ride through five unmarked suspension-bottoming crunches that have you looking for a kidney belt, only to be followed by a bump sign marking the smoothest section of the road for miles.  I wonder if the bumps are caused by soil conditions that change from season to season.  They might as well be marking thunderstorms.

My second observation has to do with Minnesota pickup drivers.  No where on this earth have I seen more quick parking than I've seen in the past few days.  "Quick parking" is the art of parking and disembarking from your pickup truck in an absolute minimum of time, typically so you can get your beer and cigarettes and get back on the road.  Let me brief you on the technique:  About thirty feet from the parking slot, the driver begins the operation by unbuckling his seatbelt (if worn) and cracking his door a few inches.  (I use the male pronoun as I've only seen quick parking practiced by men, although perhaps some woman have also perfected the art.)  Once the truck's trajectory into the parking slot is assured, the left hand opens the door more fully, while the right hand preloads the column shifter so that Park can be engaged just as the vehicle skids to a stop.  The leg must be fully outside the door and dragging on the ground as the truck skids to a stop.  Park is then engaged and the key is withdrawn in one graceful motion.  If the driver is very experienced and adept, the stored momentum of the truck can be used to get a bit of a running start towards the front door of the store.  When performed well, it is truly a thing of beauty.

On to Fargo tomorrow.  Maybe we can rent the movie of the same name tonight and get in the proper frame of mind.  Okie-dokey?


Bunking with Jerks for nearly a week drained us of all of our creative juices, so we need another day on the road to prime the pump.  As well, our new email IDs seem to have landed in Spam hell so we need a day to sort through the 1900-odd messages we got over the past few days.  All this is our lame excuse for not starting a new contest.  But feel free to make an entry in our still-open Help Whizmo and Gizmo Make Ends Meet contest.