Sunday, November 6, 2011

Falling Leaf Rally, by Gary Conklin

I have Doug Schafer and Gordon Courbat to thank for my trip. Doug had to work and Gordon was kind enough to invite me to go with him in Doug’s place. Without his call I probably would have wimped out and missed this rally as I had missed the Bear Tooth using the work excuse.

We left Thursday morning about 8:30. It was in the 50s and the head wind from Sioux Falls to Omaha was very strong – perhaps 40 mph. (I took the R 90 because it was supposed to rain on Sunday and Monday on the way back. I could hide behind the Windjammer fairing.) I knew things were windy when Gordon passed me clutching his rear view mirror which had blown off. We stopped at Missouri Valley to get gas and coffee and just get off. I had packed my gear across the back of the seat and had little room to squirm around - so it was a tough trip. My gas mileage was about 35 and his was about 40. After this I shifted down and ran the next two days mostly in 4th gear and got in the low 40s for mileage. It felt like riding my old R69S but without the Georg Meier extra wide dual seat.

The day before we left I had learned that I-29 was open past Omaha but with a small detour in Iowa. Gordon and I turned off I-29 south of Omaha at Exit 35 and took highway 34 east. (I was wary of detours having been lost two times a month earlier on our trip to Arkansas using AAA maps on this same stretch.) However, this time I had the map and was certain I knew where we were going. Gordon sensed my confusion when I was stopping about every six miles to consult the map. He was certain he had just seen an I-29 detour sign so we headed south. We passed through several picturesque Iowa towns and the road kept getting smaller. Finally we were down to a chipped surfaced road. We stopped at the last cross road before it turned to gravel. A friendly farmer asked if we were lost. Of course. A slight turn to the east and we were in Shenandoah where I learned that Castrol now makes a Harley synthetic oil for a mere $16.95 a quart. We turned south, rode through Tarkio with its beautiful old mansions, and the weather warmed up to the 80s and we eventually emerged just north of St. Joseph on to I-29. We gassed up at St. Joe and headed east on highway 36.

I had recently heard of highway 36 across Missouri from a friend but had never used it. This has to be the dummies way across Missouri. It is great. It is a divided four lane and goes from St. Joe to Hannibal, Missouri. Occasional slowdowns through towns but not significant. I think it also goes into Illinois and connects to I-72. Light traffic and few trucks. One can drop down to I-70 to connect with Columbia if needed. We stopped for our first supper of the day about 3:30. We continued east and eventually stopped for gas at Macon, Missouri, about 6:00. This was just under 500 miles for us. A respectable day for two old guys, one who had not had a long run for several years and the other adjusting to a different bike. Gordon decided it was time to shut down and he led us to the nearest Super 8. Two Great Choices. The receptionist told us about AJ’s a small bar/ restaurant within walking distance. We took her advice. Gordon tested the pies and I sampled the supper menu. A great way to end a good riding day.

Friday we had our morning starting adventure. Gordon’s bike was a bit reluctant to start but finally coughed and made it. He was just getting used to a different bike. I had the same problem later. This was the last morning the R90 started right for me. We then headed east to highway 15 and worked our way south to highway 19. Gordon had been told that highway 19 was the scenic route. It was on his tank bag map so we gave it a go. (I think most roads south of I-70 in eastern Missouri are scenic - lots of them in the Mark Twain National Forest, including the area around Potosí - so it was great riding.) We crossed I-70 and stopped briefly for road construction. The flagman gave us directions to the wineries at Hermann. Our first effort was not promising. The parking lot sign said “winery parking.” After pulling off all our gear we strolled into the establishment which looked historical enough. When Gordon asked the waitress about wine he was told, “this is a coffee house.”

Duly chastened and somewhat embarrassed we looked across the street and saw several wineries. The first one was closed. The second one was open. While I checked out the sandwich area Gordon was down to business. The next time I saw him he was behind a massive glass of white wine. I soon joined him. Touring is tough stuff and makes one thirsty. The local wine festival was that weekend but we were a day early. Something to return for. I remember when the rally was in Bland we used to ride over to buy wine and eat lunch.

We each had a tasty German sandwich. We struck up a conversation with another rider who had a Shoei helmet with a really crazy paint job which he described as very rare because it had a Christian Cross painted on it, although I would have missed it (the Cross) if it had not been pointed out. This fellow had had a tremendous bike crash, landed face down on his helmet (Shoei) spread eagle and miraculously survived. Afterward his wife had ordered him a new bike and a new helmet. I guess she felt he needed all the help he could get for the next crash.

Driving south from Hermann we marveled at the vineyards. In the years past I had often driven through at night and had forgotten that there were indeed vineyards nearby.

After winding around for several hours we arrived at the Rally along with about 800 other attendees. We were happy to see fellow club members who were already sampling the various vintage rally brews. We set up our tents and took it easy. About supper time Jerry Zeeb and Lloyd Lunde came in after a one day run from Sioux Falls starting about 5 am. Friday night’s hot dog supper was very good. Without sounding too pretentious, I wonder why at this rally green stuff like lettuce or even coleslaw seems too difficult to find. The showers worked fine.

On Saturday morning others had decided to go to the boyscout breakfast which was a short distance away. I had not practiced my starting drill on the R90 (too much easy starting on the K had spoiled me) so I promptly killed the battery. I borrowed Gordon’s bike to go to breakfast. I lost the crowd and after driving 30 miles gave up and came back to eat rally pancakes.

We spent the day and afternoon enjoying the sunshine. We made a club run to the VFW (or Am. Legion?) for steaks before returning to the awards ceremony. I enjoyed and marveled at the ringing of the anvil. I think due to a wind problem the anvils didn’t connect this time. Club members didn’t win much. But, we spent a relaxing evening enjoying the campfire.

On Sunday morning Jerry Zeeb, Lloyd Lunde and Izzy Szkok decided to make the one day run home. They left at five twenty but only after helping the rest of us sort of wake up to start back, too. Most of us were en route within two hours.

I had starting problems again but Larry Hawes gave me a boost. As I learned the day before, this is a tough group to follow for breakfast, they darn near lost me again. They stopped at Steelville but like others I was lulled into thinking I could get home in one day, too. (I was also worried about restarting the R90 if I shut it down overnight.) So I kept going. Dave McBride had given me all sorts of good advice. I went north to I-70, stayed on 19 and eventually hit Hi-way 161, then highway 61 which runs into 218 in Iowa and then bumps into I-35 and later I-90 at Albert Lea. Once I hit highway 61 I knew the day was going to be a good one. Four lanes of pure cycling pleasure all the way home and a strong tailwind for the next 430 miles. Gas mileage was 47 or 48 most of the day. 200 miles a tank was easy. Somewhere south of Iowa City my thermarest escaped, a sacrifice to comfort and poor packing.

I arrived in Sioux Falls about 9:00. Despite the crosswinds from Albert Lea I was still getting about 41-42 mpg running an honest 70-75. No oil consumption for the trip - thanks for synthetic oil and Dennis Erikson’s June valve settings! A 735 mile day for me. I didn’t know if I could still do the one day ride home. (I had done this in1998 on the K bike. Same distance, including a stop in St. Louis for an hour, across Missouri on I-70 and back to Sioux Falls by 10:30.) All in all it was a great Rally. Although windy, the weather was fantastic - 80s in the daytime and upper 50s - low 60s at night. DRY. No deer accidents. It is hard to imagine more perfect rally weather. I had hoped to stop at Midway Truck Stop near Columbia and also maybe check out Sedalia. However, this just gives me something to anticipate another time, probably at the National or next year on the way down. In the future I think I will try to spend more time, stop more often and eat more. Gordon was right about how to do this.

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