September 3, Labor Day in the US, started with a soak in the Holiday Inn hot tub in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, about 1,100 kms from home. Once I bid farewell to Allen, who was headed back to his home in Ottawa, I loaded up the bike and started making serious miles. The weather was cool and calm, ideal for riding, and I made it to Chippewa Falls in record time.
By mid-afternoon, the sun was beating as I hit Highway 53 heading north with Superior on my mind. The road was deserted because of the holiday, and there were stretches where I didn’t see another vehicle for at least 30 minutes at a time.
I made it to Lake Superior just in time to see a dude reeling in a massive northern pike, then headed north again on 53. Once out of the twin cities of Duluth-Superior, it got even more remote and much more scenic. The highway was as smooth as a billiard table, I had a full tank of gas, the tunes were blaring and the Red Bull was kicking in.
In the distance in my mirror, I spotted headlights and dialed back the throttle a bit in case it was Johnny Law. Those lights closed in on me real quick and a red late-model Ford Mustang with a lone male driver sped past like I was standing still. Always one for a challenge I dropped the visor on my helmet, dropped a gear on my Glide, muted the stereo and laid down the hammer.
He had me cold in the straights, but the few twists and turns on the highway as we roared through the Sturgeon River State Forest gave me a fighting chance. This game of cat and mouse played out for about an hour of the most exhilarating riding I’ve done in a long time. Of course, I was also mindful of the local laws, so I let the Mustang get away.
In these moments, the big Glide rolled like a freight train. Every iota of my concentration was focused on the road and my head was as clear as it has been in a very long time.
When I rolled into International Falls, I gassed up and grabbed some pepperoni and cheese sticks and another Red Bull and headed west on Highway 11, which follows the Rainy River to the border crossing in Warroad, Minnesota.
A few miles out of International Falls, on the edge of the Smokey Bear State Forest, is the tiny town of Loman. There’s a sweet little rest stop across the road from the fire hall, so I stopped there, ate a quick snack and geared up for what was supposed to be about a four-hour ride home.
The sun dropped out of sight at about 8 p.m. At about 8:12 pm, I realized I’d made a horrible mistake taking this route. The first sign was the massive deer that jumped in my path. The next 37 signs were a buffet of roadkill unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed. The highlight was the porcupine. A porcupine is way bigger than you think. Especially when dead and bloated. I got a real good look at him, because at this point I was doing about 30 km/h.
By the time I got to Warroad, I was so strung out I took a break at a gas station and laid on the picnic table out front to stretch out my back and thank the Good Lord for not ending my weekend with the same wrath as my furry friends.
The border officer was clearly bored and quite chatty, so after sharing my tales of travel he waved me through with a smile and a warning about wildlife. On the road. Yeah. Thanks.
For whatever reason, it seems our Canadian wildlife is a little more road-wise, and despite lightning flashing in the direction I was headed, the rest of the trip was a welcome reminder of how flat and straight Manitoba is. I rolled into my shop at about 2 a.m., about three minutes before a huge storm.
In 2018, I quit drinking hard liquor. On a shelf in my garage is an unopened bottle of Jack Daniels that reminds me of the drunkard I’d become. After that ride, I did indeed look twice at that bottle. Fear not, it remains unopened!