Weather: Warm and partly cloudy… threatening rain.
Road Conditions: Dry and smooth.
Old Highway 61 is one of my favorite stretches of road. After a long week at work, there’s nothing better than getting out on that two-lane asphalt, and riding through the countryside on our way to Dad’s little trailer near McGregor, Minnesota.
But this trip was going to be different. This time, I wasn’t astride my big old KLR “Frogwing”. He was sitting this trip out in the garage, while I tested Vespa Rose on the long haul. We had just completed her 3,000-mile service, and I wanted to see how she handled the long, open roads heading north.
Old 61 is posted at 55 mph for most of its length. That drops to 30 through the little towns along the way. Most of this venerable highway is in great shape, even though it is not the thoroughfare it once was. I35 has supplanted it as the main route heading north, and we no longer get federal funds to maintain Highway 61. Counties have taken it over, but they all seem to be doing well by the old road.
That’s important on a scooter, because a bad pothole can cause some real damage, or even put you into the ditch.
Then we have volunteers who participate in the “Adopt a Highway” program. These nice folks pick up trash alongside the road and keep the shoulders clear of debris. I enjoy the sometimes clever and creative names people come up with for their groups. After I photographed the sign above, we passed another one that said “Biker Buddies of Booger”. I didn’t stop for that one, since I already had this one in the can.
I wondered briefly who this “Booger” was. I’m thinking he is probably deceased, although he has found a strange brand of immortality as long as his friends continue to take care of their stretch of Highway 61.
The weather forecast for the day included a large storm system which was moving across the state in our direction of travel. As we approached North Branch, I could see the dark clouds and streaks of rain on the horizon ahead.
Turning left on Highway 95, we left our old friend 61 for lighter skies to the west, and another nice road: Highway 47. That one goes past Mille Lacs lake, and I have had many a good ride along that stretch of pavement.
We stopped to visit my friend Jack, of “Jack’s on Mille Lacs” fame. I even let him take Rose for a little ride.
Jack is a hard-core rock-n-roller, with his long greying locks cut in a classic mullet. He rides without a helmet, and without apologies, eyes bared to the wind at 70 miles per hour.
I was a little nervous… but a man has to learn to trust his friends.
From Highway 47 we picked up 210 and rode the back way into Dad’s place, west of McGregor. He was waiting for us, and had a nice pile of firewood ready so I could build one of my pyrotechnic masterpieces.
He made dinner, while I stacked the logs. Then followed one of our traditional council fire sessions, where we dissected exactly what is wrong with the world, and figured out how to fix it, if only everyone else would listen to us.
We stayed up late, but still woke up with the sun. The clean air and silence of the swamp make for good sleeping. Dad had the coffee ready by the time I came in from taking the photo above. Then he made blueberry pancakes, with sausage on the side, but I didn’t eat my usual tall stack.
This is because I was going to eat another breakfast only a few miles down the road.
You see, last time I was up to visit, I stopped by a place near McGregor called “Jack’s Shack”. Not to be confused with that other Jack’s, this place has been a local institution since at least the 1930s. It has had mixed fortunes, over the years, including a decade or so when it was closed and beginning to fall apart.
The place has changed hands a number of times, but now it belongs to a wonderful couple named Brian and Traci Neigum.
Last time I stopped by, they had just opened. Brian was mopping the floor, and both of them were bursting with pride in their new enterprise. I had promised them that I would review the place, next time I came up. When I arrived on Sunday morning, they greeted me like an old friend.
Business has been good, Brian tells me. I’m sure the locals are happy to have Jack’s back up and running, and the tourist trade at that location should be pretty brisk.
As you can see from the photo, Traci is an incredible cook. Her choice of ingredients, combination of flavors and textures, and even the presentation are top-shelf. It pains me to tell you that I couldn’t finish this platter. Believe me, I tried.
How does a guy eat food like that, and stay as skinny as Brian? Just another one of life’s little mysteries, I guess…
Back on the road, Rose and I headed all the way home on Highway 61. We stopped here and there to poke around, taking photos and visiting some of the friends I’ve made over the years on this route.
It was a beautiful day, and Rose found a sweet spot at about 60 miles per hour. She turns just over 6,000 rpms at that speed, which may sound like a lot. But that little Italian powerplant just purrs right along, and the ride is Cadillac-smooth.
After my double breakfast, I didn’t eat another thing all day. By the time we arrived home, I was ready for bed. We put on just over 360 miles for the weekend, which isn’t exactly Iron Butt stuff. Racking up big miles for bragging rights has never been my thing, anyway.
Next time I go north to visit Dad, I’m going to have a dilemma on my hands. Rose handled this trip magnificently, and it is going to be hard to choose between her and Frogwing for future road trips. I guess it will all depend on whether I want to get dirty or not.