A Run for the Border

17 December, 2005 Temperature: 3 degrees F

“Can the Baron come out and play?” As the garage door slowly opened this morning, I thought about this scene from my childhood in the 1960s: I would ride my bicycle over to a friends’ house, knock on the door, and when his mother answered, I would ask the question. I don’t even think kids do that anymore. They probably arrange their rendezvous by text message on their cell phones, and then get driven to the playground by harried parents, for an adult-supervised recreational session call a “play date”. My, how the world has changed….

It’s Saturday, and the sun is shining. Sure, it’s kind of cold out there, but I dress for that. On many Saturdays during the normal riding season, I ride my KLR the 25 miles across the border to a coffee shop called “The Daily Grind” in Hudson, Wisconsin. There I meet my friend, Jud Jones, and an eclectic group of riders collectively called The Indianhead BMW Club. Yesterday I decided to continue that tradition on the Baron. All I had to do was figure out a way to get there on side streets.

Mapquest to the rescue again. (I should hit them up for a cash sponsorship; they sure get mentioned a lot in these pages.) I found that I could take the Robert Street bridge across the Mississippi River, turn right on 7th Street, and follow that to Minnehaha Avenue. That road runs east all the way to Stagecoach Trail. I could take Stagecoach trail south to Hudson Road, and ride that to St. Croix Trail, and enter Interstate 94 right at the Minnesota side of the bridge over the St. Croix River, and over the border into Wisconsin. Hudson lies on the other side of the bridge. This was a simple, scenic, and scooter-friendly route to go and visit my friends on a beautiful morning. The Baron and I took off just after 8:30 a.m.

The roads were in great shape, just after our week-long snowstorms. All the roads I selected are major thoroughfares, so they got a liberal dose of road salt to keep the ice at bay. There were frozen spots here and there, but they were clearly visible in the early morning sunshine. We rode at 50 miles-an-hour past snow-covered frozen lakes and fields in the rural countryside around Lake Elmo. It was a beautiful day to be on a scooter. Traffic was sparse, and the folks we encountered on the road were courteous and curious. We got a number of honks and thumbs-up from mostly younger drivers. You see, the youngsters get it. They can see that I am simply playing outside, having fun with two wheels and a motor.

People my age and older are a different kettle of fish. Middle-aged, debt-ridden and fearfully employed, they stare straight ahead out the windshields of their mini-vans (giving the SUV folks a break here…). They have serious business to attend to, and no time to acknowledge some irresponsible hooligan on a motorbike. It is the consumer season, after all, and they must make it to the mall before the sale is over, and all the good stuff is gone. Gawd help me if I get in their way. They are fully insured, and it is no doubt my fault for simply being out here on two wheels in such weather. No jury in the world would convict them if they punted us into the ditch. The Baron and I ride in the right side of the lane, and wave them by whenever possible. They do not wave back.

Arriving at the Daily Grind, I am greeted warmly by my friends. I order a hot cocoa and a couple of plain donuts, and sit down to watch Jud puzzle over the NYT crossword. This is an inviolable ritual for him, and we must wait patiently until it is complete before we can talk about anything else. My friends Steve, Andrew, and Craig are there, riders all, and we discuss winter scooter commuting for awhile. As far as I know, they don’t think I am crazy. At least they don’t say it out loud. But I can tell they are thinking, “Better you than me.”

Fair enough.

Someone else at the table asked, “Don’t you get cold out there?”

“Sure I do, but that is to be expected. Remember when you were a little kid? Your mom would bundle you up and send you outside to play in the snow with your friends. You would go sledding, build snow men and snow forts, have snowball fights. You would do this for hours! Your snow pants might get wet. The snow that had gotten down into your boots would melt, and your feet would get cold. Sometimes you would get so chilled that you would start shivering. But you wouldn’t go in unless you were forced to. You were having too much fun. Remember?”

A faraway look came into his eyes, and yes, he remembered. Memory turned to understanding, and then we started talking about the specifics of winter riding technique. I had made a connection, if not a conversion, and that felt good.

So it goes, one day at a time, one person at a time. People are starting to see that this is not crazy, that it’s not anti-social, that it’s just one guy who decided not to stop having fun just because winter showed up. Yes, I’m saving lots of fossil fuels and polluting a lot less than my box-driving contemporaries. I’m not endangering my fellow motorists with my size, weight, and inertia. That stuff is important, really, but it’s not my primary motivation. You see, I’m just a kid at heart. I have not lost my capacity for joy just because I have to work in industry and support a family. I like to think that my playful nature makes me a better father, husband, and coworker. Some people really light up around me, and we have wonderful conversations. When I was driving my truck to work, and doing the same old routine, this never happened. It’s something to think about.

8 Responses to “A Run for the Border”

  1. Steve Williams Says:

    Your description of what it was like to be outside in the snow as a kid was a strong reminder to me that I don’t have to march in lock-step to the adult expectations of winter behavior. After reading your post I had that faraway look for a moment and wondered why I don’t go out and play in the snow….

    The Vespa is in the garage ready to go. And now I am too! So after a bowl of cereal and putting on my riding clothes I think I will head out to buy some new jeans. The Ford Ranger can stay in the driveway.

    steve

  2. Mad Says:

    It’s the riders at work who say things like “Rather you than me” and “you’re a braver man than I” when they see me climb off my bike in bad weather, which I find odd; I’d expect bikers to understand.

  3. mnscooter Says:

    Welcome aboard, Steve.

    It’s gratifying when you can reach someone like this, and have it acknowledged.

    I took some time to check out your own blog. Magnificent photography!

    Folks, Steve has a neat blog here:

    http://vespalx150.blogspot.com/

    I’ve wanted to post some photos to this site, but I have been so busy just developing my winter riding skills and gear selection that I haven’t been able to focus much on that. I think I will make it a priority starting this week.

    Thanks for writing! Keep in touch.

    Mad, once again, we agree. This is getting tedious… ;^)

    Ride well,
    =gc=

  4. Steve Williams Says:

    Most other motorcycle or scooter riders don’t warm to the idea of riding in the cold let alone snow and slush. My feeling is most of them cringe at the thought of getting salt and much on their machines. They don’t bat an eye at running a new car or truck out in the elements but god forbid should their bike get dirty.

    Since I’m a relatively new rider and pretty indiferent to machinery I never feel into the mindset that my Vespa was to be anything but ridden and when it wears out get a new one. I treat my Leica camera the same way—I use it. A “photographer” friend nearly had a stroke when I told him I was using it on the seashore. “The salt air is bad for your camera!”, I was sort of so what, I wanted to make some pictures.

    I’ve washed my truck once since I had it and our car goes for years between wax jobs.

    Anyways, it is supposed to snow during the night and into the morning so I will see if I want to ride in that. I can detour around back roads to work—just a matter of willingness on my part.

    steve

  5. Marty Laplant Says:

    I just have a question about tire pressure and your experience so far.
    Do you find that you have much better traction for acceleration and braking or is the tracking and lack of deflection a larger benifit of running lower pressures?
    I ride bicycle in the snow and ice and find tracking in the car ruts to be a much bigger problem than braking etc…
    I tried to ride high pressure road tires in the snow, hoping to have less rolling resistance but found them deflecting constantly. Fat MTB tires with low pressure just roll over the bumps.
    Just wondered what you thought.
    Thanks

  6. mnscooter Says:

    Hey Marty, you know this. Large, knobby tires at lower pressure are going to flex enough to take advantage of whatever traction is there. The wheels still deflect in ruts, but not as sharply. Of course, you pay a penalty on dry pavement with more rolling resistance. I think you have reasoned this out, and I can only confirm that I agree.

    Steve, I love the fact that you are getting into this, but please be careful. I have years of roadracing, street, and dirtbike experience behind me. My reactions to emergency situations have become reflex. You have said that you are a “relatively new rider”. We don’t want to read about your first crash.

    But yeah, it IS fun, isn’t it?

    Ride well,
    =gc=

  7. Steve Williams Says:

    I think I have reached my comfort level as far as snow on the road goes. Temperture is another matter. I used to spend a lot of time backpacking in near zero tempertures so I am OK with that. But I think I will stick to more or less dry roads.

    I used to ride a lot of dirt bikes back in the 1970s. When I took the MSF course this past summer I realized what an awful rider I was. No wonder I was dumping my bike all the time in the strip mines…..

    And yes, geeZ it is fun riding these things. It is the only reason I do it!

    steve

  8. Mad Says:

    Ok, I’ll try to be more controversial!

Leave a Reply