Wednesday, May 16

Ride Report: WI--Rustic Roads Tour

Left Saturday morning for Wisconsin. I took the Lake Michigan Circle Tour route and because I departed later than I wanted, I immediately encountered heavy traffic, which I could have avoided had I gone to bed earlier the night before. Had I left three hours prior, these roads would have been my own! I traveled up US Hwy 41 north, better known in Chicago as Lake Shore Drive (LSD). Even though the heaviest traffic is always right after you exit LSD on Hollywood, until reaching Evanston, IL, this is one of my favorite routes out of the city. Leave before 10:00 a.m. and it will become your favorite too. Guaranteed.
The weather forecast predicted unseasonably warm weather. The 70s temperature made two wheeling it sheer sweetness. I wore the silver TourMaster Transition jacket to see how it would fare for the weekend. At highway speeds of 65mph, one flaw was the neck area. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get the neck flap tight enough to prevent chilly air from sending occasional shivers down my neck. Too late to dig out the neck scarf I toss into the luggage.

I hugged the lakeshore as much as I could to reach Racine WI. I stayed on Sheridan Road until forced to detour near Highland Park. Back on Sheridan, I rode it to State Highway 137, where the two split somewhere beyond North Chicago. Highway 137, which is closer to the shoreline, carried me across the state line to WI where I met highway 32 (Sheridan Road) again. First WI town is Pleasant Prairie, where I stopped at the WI visitor’s center. Before leaving, I studied the map. One man came up to me and asked, “What kind of bike is that—it’s cute, never seen one look like that.” I love a man who loves my bike. I paused to considering explaining the aftermarket accessories but just said, “Thank you—she is cute.” Before mounting the bike, another man came up. He looked serious and I braced myself for something strange. Without a smile on his face, he said, “Now if you are a real biker chick, you’re supposed to be riding a Harley.” He stretched out the word “Harley.” Then he smiled. In my friendliest, fake voice I said, “Well, I guess I’m not a biker chick since I don’t ride a Harley.” He insisted, however, that I was a biker chick (just riding the wrong bike). I resisted the temptation to get into a conversation about bikes and ride preferences. I needed to get to Racine and he was trying to make a connection.
At 4:30ish, I pulled into the Comfort Inn on Prairie Street, right off Washington Street aka US Highway 20. The ride was exceedingly windy and for the first time, I felt the weight of exhaustion in my arms from rigorous countersteering. What I appreciate about Comfort Inns is that I can usually park my bike outside my window. In addition, it is always a plus to have in-room wireless Internet. I rested a few hours and hunger led me to ask about places to eat. The Main Moon 2 is where the locals consume “excellent” Chinese food. “Excellent,” it was! Even though it was well after 9pm when I arrived, the little storefront was hopping with a robust carryout clientele and a few eat-in customers. The Szechwan Shrimp, fried rice and shrimp egg roll I ordered (which I should have photographed before eating part of it!) are worth another trip to Racine! Best shrimp egg roll I’ve had. Period.

Sunday morning. An overcast, gray sky and temperatures in the upper 50s did not look encouraging. A hint of rain was in the forecast and in spite of an unfriendly chill, I enthusiastically prepared for the Rustic Road Tour (RR). I had re-read the state booklet and had brought with me Barbara Barber’s Sunday Rides on Two Wheels: Motorcycling in Southern Wisconsin, which has detailed maps of many wonderful WI tours, including a 143 miles Rustic Road Tour that will make one easily eligible for the 10 Rustic Roads needed to qualify for a motorcycle patch from the WI motorcycle award program.

Patch or no patch, these are roads a motorcyclist will want to ride for the sheer challenge and charm. The topography is amazing. WI played a huge part in the Ice Age and evidence of remarkable glaciations is ubiquitous, particularly in the southern region. In Racine County, the effects of glacial action are captured most dramatically. The hotel was less than 10 miles from the first Rustic Road. The state has done a great signage job. The brown and yellow signs were easy to spot “up a ways,” giving me plenty of time to change lanes and turn off. The most difficult part was getting a picture of the sign with the bike and/or me in it. For the most part, road shoulders were nonexistent, mostly there was gravel mixed with grassy patches. Natural dips at the edges of the road also made stopping attention-grabbing. One time I stopped at the road's edge and put my right foot down in a deep slope. My foot slipped on the gravel and Queenie began to dip too far to the right. Thank you adrenalin! I caught myself –and Queenie—in time. Still, it was a shaky moment.
RR scenery is amazing. To become a RR, a road needs to be country/rural, possess interesting topography, beautiful scenery, historical significance, wildflowers, and vast farmlands. By definition, the roads are “less traveled.” One can ride and not see another moving vehicle for long stretches of time. Although, isolated, I rarely felt lonely. Lots of farm animals and little critters darting across the road kept me company. I stopped to photograph two horses and they immediately looked up at me. It seemed as if they were talking about the bike or me. The brown horse stood perpendicular to the white horse bobbing its head. They occasionally looked at each other and then back in my direction. Finally, the white horse came near the fence as if to check me out. I think they wanted to know what kind of horse I was riding. Lots of horse power out that Sunday.
RR road speeds tend to be slower than on other roads nearby. On some of the roads, however, the speeds reached tummy-tickling levels, particular when traveling over moraines and drumlins (I think that’s what they were). I loved the many twisty, curvy roads that demanded my full attention. Reduce your speed where indicated. Not only because some of these roads have sand and pebbles at the edges, but also because the banking and angles of the roads can come upon you swiftly. I will admit that on some roads, I was able to take the twisties at faster speeds than posted. However, some of the RR required a second pass through and it was then that I upped my speed but only curves that were gravel and sand-free. All the RR roads I followed were paved; some, however, are unpaved. If only I had a Suzuki V-Strom or a BMW F650GS on this trip.

Barber’s book notes the road challenges and I agreed with her often. However, one section that she said was particularly “challenging,” I didn’t experience that—perhaps my skills are improving? Yes, I had to pay close attention as the twists and turns were consecutive and often tight. A speed fanatic would need to be careful but I did not feel the difficulty, only my own squealing joy and a sweet sensation of floating. Looking up at the trees, the leaves provided a cover that felt like embracing arms. The temperatures reached the mid 70sF and all was well.

I’ve heard many people say the Midwest is flat and boring. Come to WI to see the effects of glaciations. Kettle moraines, drumlins, eskers, lakes—lots of evolutionary miracles that make this an attractive and geographic wonder. I agree with Barber when she warns to be careful of the hilly areas as one can become airborne. Riding these roads, particularly around RR-11 and RR-36 are fun, tricky and potentially problematic if riders do not control their speed. The roads climb high and the descent is dramatic, sometimes abrupt and always fast. The experience reminded me of Riverview, a theme park in Chicago in the 60s.of my childhood. These hilly roads made my stomach get that elevator-drop feeling, which is both good and bad—in a good way!

Did I mention the scenery? The farmlands, animals, wildflowers, old weathered and dilapidated barns and modern day farms glistening in the sun--and the unmistakable wealth of some of the homes I crossed, made the whole area diverse and rich with history and modern change. For the most part, the ride carries you on quiet, remote lands where history and geography celebrate a long marriage. I finished the required roads to apply for the motorcycle patch. As goal-oriented as I am, I now know that I would have done this tour without an award incentive. Definitely worth a long day ride or weekend trip.

The ride home seemed long. I made it longer by avoiding the toll way.

Day total: 254 miles
Weekend total: approx. 357 miles
RusticRoad Tour pics