Ramble Plan Hotel: A High-Spot in the Swamp

Weather: 58°F (14°C) when we left, under partly-cloudy skies.
Road Conditions: Getting better every day…

Meet “Spike”. He welcomes visitors and keeps the Evil Spirits away.
(Click on the image for another perspective.)

Existential Gravity weighs most heavily on Fridays, especially during early Springtime in Minnesota. Ramble Plan Hotel requires me to take Friday off, or at least half of Friday, because it involves a good bit of riding and an overnight stay. Still, it qualifies as a Ramble Plan, because I am technically riding home from work. I’m just taking a very roundabout way to get there.

Last Friday, I practically vibrated with anticipation as I sat there in my cubicle. I was finding it very hard to concentrate on the tasks at hand, while my faithful Frogwing waited for me out in the parking lot. The sun was shining, our saddlebags were packed, and the road was calling. What the hell was I waiting for?

Eleven o’clock.

That’s a half-day, and I had promised the boss I would stay until I had everything done for the week. The unchanging digits on the clock seemed to mock me, from the lower right corner of my computer screen. I took a piece of electrical tape out of my drawer, and covered them up so I wouldn’t lose my mind. Then I attacked my workload with a vengeance.

At 11:01 a.m., Frogwing and I were roaring out of the parking lot towards home. I had to write the last blog entry, announcing the Vespa deal, and run a few errands before we could head out on Highway 61 towards the North Country and McGregor, Minnesota.

Winter clings tenaciously to Minnesota waterways.

Longtime readers will recall that my father has a rustic retreat up there, a trailer situated on a high-spot in the swamp. This is where he spends the bulk of his retirement, away from the “The Jungle”, as he refers to our fair Twin Cities. Last year, finally, he had electricity run back into the property from the lines strung along the road. Now he has all the modern conveniences… and I suppose that’s a good thing, if he’s going to spend so much time up there.

Life down here moves too fast for his tastes nowadays, and I can’t say as I blame him. He’s gathering sap for maple syrup, this time of year, and it’s a lonely business. My visit is a good excuse for building a campfire, and breaking out the ceremonial whiskey. We always find plenty to talk about, and the fire (along with the firewater) keeps the cold night air at bay.

Following the route of Old Highway 61, we rode through many small towns that were bypassed by progress, when Interstate 35 was completed. These days, U.S. Route 61 officially ends at Wyoming, Minnesota. The northern section was decommissioned in 1991.

Still, you can follow the old highway by visual cues, through the dogleg around Hinckley, along Pine County Highway 61, and stay with the same stretch of two-lane all the way to Duluth if you want. It’s a beautiful ride, any time of year, and so much better than the Interstate.

During the “Golden Hour”, on Old Highway 61, near Willow River, MN.

Frogwing and I turned westward, just past Moose Lake, and headed over to Minnesota Highway 65 towards McGregor. We didn’t take the time to poke around the Automba area, like we did last year. Having only a half day to ramble, I wanted to get there before the sun went down.

Can somebody out there verify this phenomenon I’ve come to refer to as the “Minivan Commando”?

This will usually be a guy about my age who, upon seeing me happily riding along on one of my motorbikes, gets all pissed-off and aggressive, needing to pass me at all costs, and then cut me off. The Dodge Grand Caravan seems to be his weapon of choice, and some of those things have serious horsepower! I don’t know what kind of engine they use, but it’s kind of like a stealth hot-rod for the frustrated family man.

Anyway, at the intersection of 27 and 65, we were all set to turn right. Way down the road, I saw this minivan approaching. We had plenty of room, and Frogwing accelerates smartly, so we made the turn and I got on the gas. The speed limit here is 55 mph, and soon we were doing 60.

This just wasn’t enough for Mr. Minivan Commando. He roared up on our back tire, and pulled out to pass. My inner speed demon took over, and I whacked Frogwing’s throttle wide-open.

We stayed even up to 80, and the… I still can’t believe this… the freakin’ family truckster pulled away from us like we were dragging an anchor! Immediately the scene from a popular TV commercial popped into my head: “That thang gotta Hemi?”

Well, I threw him a half-assed salute with my left hand, and watched him dissappear over the horizon. Frogwing is not cut out for speed contests on the open road, and I have made a commitment to try and curb my enthusiasm for such antics this year. We throttled back to sixty, and rode on into town.

Dad had been waiting for us all afternoon. He has all the time in the world, these days, but when he heard I was coming up, he got a little impatient, waiting. That’s not supposed to happen when you are retired. He scolded me accordingly, when I finally showed up just before sundown.

Fire in the swamp! Another night at Dad’s rustic retreat.

He fixed a simple dinner while I built the campfire you see in the image above. Once the sun had set, and we were comfortably situated around the fire, at one point I gazed straight up into the Northern Minnesota sky. I marvelled at how bright the moon and stars are up here, beyond the haze of the city lights.

We talked long into the night, and I fell asleep instantly as soon as my head hit the pillow on the couch in his trailer.

I awoke, well-rested, just before dawn. Time passes at a normal pace up here, away from the grinding oppression of our Existential Gravity.

Soon the sky began to brighten on the southeastern horizon. I walked outside and watched the sun rise with a cup of Dad’s strong coffee warming my hands. Yes, with electricity comes the wonder of an automatic coffee maker.

The weather forecast predicted another beautiful day, until early evening. Then strong thunderstorms were supposed to invade the area. So I decided to ride home on Saturday, and spend Sunday writing and hanging out with my girls. Frogwing and I beat the storms home by half an hour, riding the hated Interstate part of the way.

We stopped to take a couple of photos, which I will share at a later date. But now it’s time for me to go downstairs and initiate our Family Movie and Pizza Night. I’m surely not the crazy cat I used to be, but you know what? Life is good anyway.

17 Responses to “Ramble Plan Hotel: A High-Spot in the Swamp”

  1. Steve Williams Says:

    That’s one cool rustic retreat! When I saw it I wanted to go out and build a fire in my backyard which I do in the summer. My dad has a little cabin at his farm and I used to visit in the same way save I wasn’t arriving on two wheels. I miss the talks and visits. Wish I had made more while I still could….

    Some of those minivans have big engines. You need to be able to rocket the kids around at 80+ MPH. Probably a good plan to ride at more moderate speeds. I find myself traveling faster now on the GTS simply because I can. And that’s not much of a reason.

    Steve Williams
    Scooter in the Sticks

  2. The Snark Says:

    Dang, you make me want to visit Minnesota. Good one on “Minivan Commando”. I’ve had my share of encounters with them here. Thankfully largest one you can get locally is a 3 liter supercharged Toyota.

  3. MatL Says:

    Glad you were able to enjoy this weekend — looks like a good visit. Hope the Vespa is a trick ‘red’ one.

    Here’s why you got spanked by that Caravan.

    Today’s minivans are in a HP war with the ’slow’ ones having around 200 HP. (Dodge Caravan included) Some companies are taking this a bit farther – Nissan Quest 235HP, Honda Odessy 244HP; Kia Sedona 250 HP, and finally the Toyota Sienna 266 HP. All this HP helps increase the amount of “satisfaction achieved due to high speed accellerating” — typical “Right Foot Response”

    It has taken me awhile to realize that Mini-van’s are a necessary evil and represent a relatively effienct way to move family and large amounts their accroutiments “to” and “from” Home. I chose one that was smaller and drove/handled better over a high HP one.

    The hardest part was swallowing my pride and accepting that you are driving a Mini-Van -being practical and still having a bit of fun. Most cannot do this. During the buying process, they attempt a change of course. Perhaps you have heard this line, “Let’s choose this SUV over hear instead of a mini-van.”* For quite a few this line works; thus we have 4WD SUV soccer mom/dad getting even worse gas mileage, never going offroad, and patting themselves on the back that they have a ‘Hemi in it’.

    *Those who have had their “Let’s choose the SUV” suggestion ‘overridden’ by their significant other — choose the mini-van that will give them the most “Right Foot Response” and another “Commando” is born.

    Unfortunately, just the sight of seeing you roaming free on 2 wheels is enough to make them recall that their suggestion was ‘overriden’, they wanted to be in the SUV — and the “Right Foot Response” mechanism is triggered to cover those feelings.


  4. Biker Betty Says:

    What a great ride and sounded like a very nice visit with your dad. My mom and dad will be moving to Colorado for the summer and my husband and I hope to visit them a few times on our motorcycles. They will be up in the hills near Denver and it’s an awesome ride. Just curious, what happened to the project with a dealership of trying different scooters this summer and reporting on them?

  5. Gary Charpentier Says:

    Steve: Whenever I don’t have definite plans for the weekend, I can always ride up there. Dirt roads and cool little towns are all over the place, and each visit is a new adventure. It truly is a special place.

    Snark: You would be welcome here anytime. C’mon over!

    MatL: That’s an interesting analysis of the Minivan Commando, and probably right on the mark. I almost feel sorry for them. Almost…

    Betty: The Rush Hour Road Tests will commence as soon as the roads are free of salt and sand. When you say “scooters”, I assume you mean what I call “motorbikes”, right? I will be testing everything they let me throw a leg over, including a Chinese Chopper. Stay tuned…

    Ride well,

  6. Biker Betty Says:

    I actually thought it was scooters, but I look forward to the reports on whatever they have you ride. Anything on two wheels sounds great to me :)

  7. Buster Brown Says:

    Those Caravans go like stink, but the Soccer Bitch, my ‘98 Chevy Astro, has style (if your idea of style is a Mexican flag on the bumper, and Our Lady of Guadalupe on the rear quarter-window). It may not keep pace with a Caravan, but the truck chassis makes it a much better tow vehicle. I may drive a mini-van, but as long as I know that its true purpose is to haul dogs and dirt bikes, and not kids, I can hold my head high. However, I will never race a Caravan, and neither should you, at least as long as you are on Frog Wing, and unless you can entice Mr. Caravan onto some rutted-up 2-track.

  8. jim Says:

    Glad you got to see your dad. I wish mine were still alive. Anyhow I sure didn’t know those vans were that fast till I read all the comments.

  9. Bill Sommers Says:

    We have a Caravan, but I didn’t know that it would go that fast.

    I think that retired Dad’s have the same thing in common when it comes to anticipating their son’s arrival. If I tell my folks that I’m coming by, then I’d better have left ten minutes ago, because he’s already wondering why I’m not there. I should surprise him by calling from my cell phone while standing on their front porch.

    Nice write up on your ramble to your Pop’s place. A destination worthy of the journey.

    Have fun,

  10. Eric Says:

    Great ramble Gary!

    It’s been quite a few years since I was at your dad’s cabin there. Looks like he’s got it shaped up pretty well! That was one first class campfire there, and the photo(s) of spike were very cool. I see Uncle Gary has got his winter beard going full strength too, believe me I can relate.

    As far as the minivan commando goes, I can tell you that I was really surprised recently. Myself and five of my friends took a short trip to Alaska and rented a 6 passenger Mercury minivan. Maybe it was just because we had six lard-asses in there, but every stab of the throttle got the front tires spinning. Sadly, it was a lot of fun. I’m so ashamed of myself… Although I have to tell ya, no minivan would embarass Gypsy (which I actually got to ride about 50 miles this weekend). We’re BACK!

    Anyway, sorry I rambled there… that’s your job.



  11. Harvey Binder Says:

    Gary, what a great tale. What a great destination! I don’t think most of us could ask for more in a weekend ride than what you wrote and showed us here.
    Great stuff :)


  12. Gary Charpentier Says:

    Betty: Indeed…

    Buster: Personally, I don’t judge anyone driving a mini-van. More often than not, this is a vehicle choice driven by need, not vanity. It’s just their reaction to seeing me out there on my bike that makes me laugh. Jealousy, resentment, or whatever it is, causes some of them to act like fools and drive like idiots. Under the wrong conditions, they can be quite dangerous.

    jim: So you understand why I ride up there every chance I get, right?

    Bill: I’m tempted to research what the engine options were on those vans through the years. For all I know, they might have started putting hemis in them recently. But I seem to recall something about a turbocharged Mitsubishi engine, or maybe a dohc six? Time to hit Google…

    Eric: I told him he was starting to look like an Afghani village elder, but that didn’t go over too well. As for the campfire, that has always been a specialty of mine. That old Boy Scout training stays with you…

    Harv: I hope to fill this season with similar experiences. All the pieces are coming together…

    Ride well,

  13. Bro Shagg Says:

    The only thing that you guys are missing in the “Minivan Maniac” dissertation is that, not only was he overruled on the SUV, but his wife probably made him sell his bike to come up with the down-payment on the Caravan too! That’s what’s really eating him up!


  14. Sidewalk Dan Says:

    “I’m back in the saddle again.” Aerosmith, c. 1976.

    My girl is up an about and ready to roll.

    I’m up for a ramble plan – and hoping it’s a food variety type!

    See you then.

    Sidewalk Dan out.

  15. Gary Charpentier Says:

    Bro Shagg: I wouldn’t doubt it.

    Sidewalk Dan: Let’s watch the weather with an eye towards next week sometime. I’ve heard nasty rumors of snow and freezing rain in the next few days.

    Ride well,

  16. jim Says:

    Yes, I understand.

  17. Sidewalk Dan Says:

    Roger that.

    I look forward to our ride.


    Sidwalk Dan out.