They say that you always remember your “first time”. I had talked about it, read books and magazines on the subject, even watched movies about it. But I never did it. What I desired was a “real” motorcycle trip. I’ve come close before when travelling to the Black Hills on my 2002 Victory and, most recently, with my 2004 1150 GS. But with my luggage, wife, and kids in tow in a chase vehicle I figured that didn’t count. Now I had the perfect motorcycle to travel with. So – where? I’ve wanted a pair of motorcycle pants from Aerostich for a while. Aerostich’s Rider Warehouse is located in Duluth, MN, where they make and repair their motorcycle suits. So, one stop would be Duluth. Since I would be in the area, a friend suggested I ride up the North Shore drive on State Route 61 along Lake Superior. Last year I took a fishing trip to the Boundary Waters with my Dad. The last stop before we headed to the trail head was Ely, MN. What impressed me about the trip (besides the fishing) were the roads in the area. I could reach Ely via State Route 1 off of North Shore Drive. So another stop would be Ely. Finally, I was due for some service on the bike. Moon Motorsports was in Monticello on the way to Duluth. With the blessing of my wife, I packed the GS up with clothes and camping gear for the trip.
The first day of my adventure began on July 5th. I headed east from Sioux Falls on I-90 and took highway 60 North through Mankato to Belle Plane Motorsports to look over some of the new Triumph motorcycles. I’m interested in many brands of bikes other than BMW. I liked many of the bikes there, but for me, the one model in their lineup that stands out is the Bonneville T100. I’ll probably need to demo a Bonneville some day. After buying a T-shirt, I continued on to the Minneapolis Northwest KOA in Maple Grove, MN, where I camped for the night.
The second day, I packed up and headed North on I-94 to Moon Motorsports. I had been experiencing a strange gas leak on my GS. It happened to me twice after filling the bike full while on its center stand and then parking it on the side stand. My solution had been to run a gallon of gas out of the tank after filling up before parking it for an extended session on the side stand. Consequently, I didn’t fill the bike that morning because I didn’t think they’d appreciate the resulting gas leak. In addition to diagnosing this quirk, I needed a full 30,000 mile check that included engine, transmission, and final drive oil as well as new brake fluid.
I arrived early for my 8:30 appointment and proceeded to wait. There were plenty of things to look over. In particular, I wanted to see the one-owner 1999 VFR800 Interceptor that was identical to the one I passed up in favor of a CBR600 F4 back in 1999 (a purchase that I later regretted). It was in excellent condition – just as I remembered, but I’ve moved on since then and it’s no longer my type of ride. Over the next few hours, I met a number of folks in the lounge area and received a few tips on rides around Duluth and places to camp in the area. In particular, it was recommended that I stay at Spirit Mountain Campground. On a side note, one guy mentioned Bob’s BMW in Baltimore, MD. Apparently, there was a vintage BMW there with over 600,000 miles on it. He also mentioned that there was a one-wheeled motorcycle there. He even showed me a picture of the bike on his phone. The story was that the inventor’s son crashed and was killed while riding it in a parade after a pretty girl caught his eye. I don’t know if there is any truth to this tale, but maybe some of you have heard it as well. I also learned something else that day, if the service manager suggests you demo a bike to head to lunch, take him up on the offer! Unfortunately, since they were going to be done “right after lunch” I didn’t. I waited patiently until my service was complete at around 3:35. Fortunately, they fixed the problem with the gas leak. You can ask me sometime what the issue was. All in all, I was satisfied with the service - I was just surprised it took so long.
Eager to continue to Duluth, and still hoping to make the Rider Warehouse before they closed at 8:00, I loaded up the bike and shot up State Highway 25 like a rocket to Big Lake where I picked up County Highway 5. My plan was to continue to State Highway 23 thereby avoiding I-169 entirely. My plans changed when the reserve light kicked in halfway on my way up 5 to 23. There weren’t a lot of gas stations on that stretch of road so I changed my route and headed due East on State Route 95 to Princeton for a fill up (4.784 gallons) and then up I-169 where I picked up 23 and I-35 to Duluth. I arrived at my destination with an hour to spare. Their new AD 1 pants in regular length worked for me without alteration. I made my purchase, thereby avoiding sales tax and netting 10% off the price of the pants through their factory discount program. I located Spirit Mountain Campground just before dark and found the field they suggested to me on the phone earlier in the day. The only flat spot open was at the bottom of a grassy hill. Riding down the hill “off road” was another first for me - I am happy to say I kept the shiny side up.
Scott at Spirit Mountain Campground.
After lunch, I took State Route 1 to Ely. The road was nice and curvy and traffic was light. I stopped at Ely to grab a bite at the Plum Bun Bakery which was recommended to me. They were out of the lemon bars, but the cookie I bought was good. In Ely, as well as other places, I was routinely approached by strangers that were interested in the bike and had a story to tell. I have read that when riding alone, people were more likely to talk to you or help you if necessary. With my limited knowledge, it appeared that was the case. It was something I might not have experienced if traveling in a larger group. After a brief rest, I continued South and West along I-169 to the Grand Rapids area where I bedded down at the KOM-ON-IN campground off State Highway 10 on Trout Lake. The sites were a little cramped for my taste, but the view of the lake at daybreak was nice.
Day four was my largest mileage day. I planned to leave Grand Rapids and arrive in Sioux Falls before 6:00 in time to pick up the kids from daycare. I discerned what I believe was the fastest route while having a beer and food at the El Potro Mexican Restaurant in Grand Rapids the night before. I left the campground at 7:00 and took I-2 northwest to McIntosh and South on I-59 to Detroit Lakes. After which, I went West on I-10 to Fargo where I picked up I-29 South for the remainder of my trip. I put on approximately 500 miles that day which was enough for me. I arrived as promised with over an hour to spare. All told, my first “real” trip was over 1300 miles in 4 days and I averaged around 42 miles/gallon. Hopefully, that was not too bad for a “first time”. At least I did it before I turned 40!