The plan was rooted in the Gambler 500-Illinois. My buddy Bill (he now lurks Oppo, occasionally commenting under the name SpecsGTP) ran that two years ago with me in the RallyMetro. Last year we did it on scooters, and lapsed Opponaut Birddog joined us in his 300k+ mile GMT-800 Suburban and ran the crucial position of blocker behind our 50mph moving butts. This year we had all held the Gambler weekend open, but the Gambler moved to southern Illinois. This is out of range for Bill and I during the school year, as we teachers don’t have the option of tacking vacation days onto each side of a weekend. That’s not a complaint, as I’m well aware we get more time off than people who work normal jobs, but is a simple fact that we don’t get to choose when that time off happens.
We still had an open weekend, and a desire to go on an adventure. I had obtained a hall pass from Mrs. ShopTeacher. That hall pass was not free, and I damn sure wasn’t going to waste it. Birddog suggested we start in Galena, IL, ride up through Wisconsin, over the Mississippi River into Minnesota, back down through Iowa and around over to Galena. We’d stop overnight in or around Rochester, MN. It would be a round trip of about 400 miles. My wife christened it Idiot Fest 2019 on our family calendar.
My buddy Bait Boy had recently moved to the town of Shullsburg, WI, which is a scant 12 miles from Galena. So, I gave him a call to see if he wanted to join us on his 80’s Honda Rebel 250. His main concern was, “Are you going to go fast, because my Rebel doesn’t really like going fast.” “I’m a fat guy on a 125cc scooter,” I replied, “I assure you we will not be moving fast.” With that, he was in. We moved the starting point to his house in Shullsburg, which would be a lot better place to leave my truck overnight than the Galena Walmart.
Saturday morning we mustered in Shullsburg. I brought the same ‘09 Yamaha Zuma 125 I rode in last year’s Gambler. This year Bill took his ‘08 Chinesium 150cc scooter. Shane’s Rebel is an 80’s model, I forget exactly which year, which he has had for at least 13 years and has added 20k miles onto for a total of 25k miles. Birddog brought his recently purchased ‘78 Chevy C10, which had spent 15 years in a field before the previous owner saved it. He had spent the previous couple of weeks swapping the rear end and starter, but it was relatively untested. We had assembled a motley crew of unsuitable vehicles for the task we were about to lay upon them … so ... perfect.
We had a brief initiation for Bait Boy into the Born to be Mild Scooter Gang, which is to say we made him pick his dairy-based gang name. He chose Curd. In case you were wondering, I am Cottage Cheese, Bill is Skim Milk, and Birddog is Sour Cream. I shall refer to them only by these names from here on out. We set off at the crack of 10:45 am, and headed west towards the Mississippi. We found some fun little roads, including a twisty gravel road that only I and Sour Cream could enjoy. The Rebel and the Chinesium didn’t have the tires to appreciate such a surface. We promptly got lost, and had to do a brief stint on a main route that I can only describe as ALMOST an interstate in order to get back on track. Of course the Chinesium picked that time to have a problem. It doesn’t handle sustained full throttle very well, it starves for fuel and Skim Milk has to slow way down, or sometimes stop, in order for it to recover. Before Curd and I knew it, we’d lost Skim Milk behind us. Thankfully Sour Cream stayed behind to block for Skim Milk and his ailing scoot, but for a few miles that seemed like an eternity Curd and I were unguarded on a road we really had no business being on. We pulled off at the next exit, and the others caught up with us shortly. We then found a great windy little side road to bring us to Potosi, where we rewarded ourselves for 50 whole miles of riding with a nice long lunch and some carbonated beverages at the local brewery.
After lunch, we were aiming for Prairie du Chien, but Curd led us astray and we ended up in the town of Boscobel along the Wisconsin River. This ended up being a very happy accident. When we looked at the map to figure out how to get back to the river, a glorious assortment of very twisty roads laid out in front of us. This was gonna be good!
We found a glorious piece of asphalt that led us to State Route 35, which follows the Mississippi River. The good news was that the sun had come out, and the scenery was fantastic. The road ran between the river and the lush limestone cliffs above us. We stopped for gas in Ferryville (nope, there is no ferry there), and took a few moments to admire the view.
We then set off north again towards LaCrosse. The bad news was the river road itself wasn’t much fun. It was full throttle, no notable turns, and we were holding up traffic. Thankfully Skim Milk’s Chinesium decided that it would not starve for fuel on this run, so we had that going for us, which was nice.
By the time we rolled into LaCrosse, the sun was getting low in the sky. We were not going to be able to make it to Rochester, so we set about looking for a hotel/motel that would accept Sour Cream’s doggo Sadie. The couple of places in range in MN were sold out of pet friendly rooms, but we located a place in LaCrosse and decided to be smart and stay there, instead of pressing on. Nobody wanted to ride at night. We settled in for frozen pizza at the hotel bar, because lazy, and then watched the Blues Brothers. The weather reports for the next day were ugly in the morning, but were supposed to improve throughout the day.
We slept in until 8, and Sour Cream, Curd, and I stuffed our faces with hotel breakfast and discussed strategy. It was clear that Rochester was out. I still wanted to cross the river into Minnesota, as I had never been to that state and wanted to be able to say I rode my scooter there. So we planned to cross the river, and head immediately south towards Lansing, IA.
So that’s what we did. Once Skim Milk was able to start his Chinesium. He had been kick starting it to get it going as long as he had owned it, because the electric starter never worked. That morning, he began kicking … and kicking … and kicking. Out of desperation, he tried the starter button. It fired right up! It had fixed itself, and worked the rest of the trip.
The river road in Minnesota was a much more interesting road, and the scenery was still gorgeous. After less than an hour in Minnesota, we rolled into Iowa. Upon getting to Lansing, we stopped at an old Standard Oil gas station turned ice cream shop. We passed a lot of delicious looking small town ice cream shops along our trip, but alas I was too cold for ice cream and so I ate none of it. Probably best for my girlish figure.
So yeah, the weather. It was chilly on day one, and cloudy a lot of the time. Day two was cooler, and we never saw the sun. Layers were key, and with the rain we were expecting to hit at some point that day, we had each donned our rain gear for our top layer. It did end up misting most of the afternoon, and we rolled through a bit of fog, but the actual rain stayed south all day, which was excellent.
Departing from Lansing, we headed back across the Mississippi on a very narrow steel decked truss bridge. The bikes all handled it just fine, but there was a bit of a pucker factor there. We then headed south on the Wisconsin side of the river for a small piece, before turning east from the river on more gloriously twisty roads with very little traffic. When we arrived at the town of Gays Mills, we found out that we were the Grand Marshals of the Apple Fest parade. Not really, but the main street was lined with people waiting for the parade, and the cops closed the road for it maybe a minute after we rode through.
We then headed south, crossed the Wisconsin River, and stopped to refuel. While stopped I looked for fun roads that would lead us in the general direction of Shullsburg. Ho-ly crap! One of the roads I picked was a revelation! The road surface was great, the elevation change was fantastic, and the curves were amazing. What made it even better, was unlike a lot of the other great roads we rode, on County M you could see all the way through many of the corners and so you could use ALL of the road. It was the best road I have ever ridden.
We stopped for a late lunch at Sheddy’s Bar and Grill in Monfort, all smiles and laughs from the fun we just hadl. It was just some random place we happened to stop at, but the meal there was freaking fantastic! The people there were super friendly, the place is really nice, and the prices are very reasonable. Should you find yourself in Montfort, do yourself a favor and get a meal there. I highly recommend the Eddie Burger. It’s a cheeseburger with a philly cheese steak on top of it, and a pile of french fries. It was so good!
When we went to leave, Curd noticed the right side exhaust pipe had come loose. Upon closer inspection, the flange had cracked off of the header pipe. “Eh, I already replaced the left side, I have the replacement for this one sitting in the shed.” Undeterred, we headed down a little country road into the town of Belmont. Sour Cream pulled off for gas, and the rest of us stopped at a pub a few blocks past it. Skim Milk and Curd went inside to use the facilities (and get a drink), and I waited outside. Pretty soon an old man and a middle aged woman came out in a tussle over the old man’s keys. The old guy who’s name was Harley, was pretty drunk and pretty pissed that she wouldn’t give him his keys. “You stole my keys, you f***** bitch!” Was croaked over and over again. Another guy followed out shortly. First they were trying to get Harley into the passenger seat of his own car. Wasn’t gonna happen. Then they tried to get him into the other guy’s truck. They got him towards his truck, but then he broke away as the woman had dropped Harley’s keys and was crouched down with her back to him. I stepped in between, as I didn’t want to see her eat the curb. The other guy came and grabbed him. Then another woman came out of the bar to try and talk him into getting into the truck. No joy. Finally yet another guy pulled up in his truck, they got his passenger door open and surrounded Harley. But Harley still would not get in the truck. All of the sudden the keys came flying out of the pile and landed on the ground next to Harley’s car. Nobody went for the keys, so I grabbed them and stuck them in my pocket.
Finally the guy who initially had tried to get him into the first truck picked Harley up like a baby, dropped him in the seat, slammed the door and locked it, and the driver of the other truck took off. He then came and thanked me, and I gave him Harley’s keys, and he took off in Harley’s car. All of the sudden it was over. The only one of them left was the original woman who “stole” Harley’s keys.
She came over to chat with us, smiling and rubbing the left side of her jaw. “Damn, that old man can hit!” We hadn’t seen her get hit in the scrum, but apparently Harley took a shot a clipped her. She asked me if I had called the cops (I had texted Skim Milk and Curd to tell them to get outside), and she was happy that I hadn’t. We chatted for a bit, and found out that she didn’t work there, that Harley was a regular, and that, “We may have fed Harley a few too many Bud Lights today, because it’s fun to watch him get wound up.” This woman had just gotten clocked by the old man she was trying to get home safely, who repeatedly called her a f****** bitch, and she wasn’t the least bit upset. She then asked what we were doing, and when we told her how many miles we’d ridden on these little bikes that weekend, she told us we were nuts. I mean, we are nuts, but we weren’t the only crazy ones in that conversation! In all honesty, I do think our society would be better off if we could all grow some skin, and put things in their context like that woman. In a lot of places, there would have been charges and lawsuits following that incident, and would anybody really be better off for it? I don’t think so.
Onward towards the end, with bit of winding around on some more back roads, we rolled back into Shullsburg. We stopped at a gas station on the edge of town to fill up. Curd’s exhaust pipe then broke off at the other end as well. We cruised the last mile or so back to Curd’s house, with the Rebel sounding like a pissed off dirt bike. We were tired, but all smiling ear to ear. It had been an adventure that none of us would ever forget. There will definitely be an Idiot Fest 2020. We’re going to do it earlier next year though. Now that we’re decoupled from the Gambler weekend, we have no reason to wait this late in the season. Hopefully the weather will be a bit better the next time around, but there will be no stopping the fun that The Born to be Mild Scooter Gang will have.