SE Wisc to central Wisc, riding home

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Day Trippin'' started by Robb, Nov 14, 2020.

  1. Robb

    Robb Long timer Supporter

    Joined:
    Aug 4, 2005
    Oddometer:
    1,353
    Location:
    just west of Milwaukee WI
    I live in Sussex Wisconsin, a midsized town in Waukesha County, about 15 minutes west of Milwaukee. I was raised in a remote part of central Wisconsin, left home at the age of 18 searching for some excitement, and have been occasionally riding back home now for 36 years … from all different directions, on all sorts of bikes, and for all sorts of reasons.

    It’s an improbably warm Saturday in November, and I’m heading west on a loaded KLR650, riding home again. The KLR wasn’t my first choice for this ride. Really, is a KLR ever anyone's first choice? I’d picked up a big old maroon Kawasaki Voyager touring rig specifically for these rides, but a day earlier it had developed battery non gratis, and I’m not sure yet if there’s an alternator issue too. The new Indian in my garage has very little luggage capacity, so the KLR it will have to be.

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    Some history: my folks grew up in the heart of Milwaukee. Dad worked at Falk Corp, in the machine shop, the foundry, weld shop, anywhere he could get hours. They spent the rest of their time on a motorcycle, riding year round with the Milwaukee Pirates. They had 13 Harleys through the years, bought cheap or in baskets and refurbished in their apartment. The one in the pics was a favorite, sporting dual chromed tanks, and chromed shocks refitted from a Chrysler.

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    Leaving the city in 1962 was my Dad’s idea. He quit his job, leveraged their savings against a mortgage and spent a fortune ($5500) on a cabin and 39 acres of woods and marsh. Their friends told them they’d lost their minds and would be back to the city within the year.

    Instead, Dad learned to hunt, Mom learned to plan ahead … the nearest store wasn’t at the end of the block any more, it was 13 miles away. The house had running water, sort of, pouring from a bare pipe sticking out of the kitchen wall. Outhouse was 15 yards behind the house, wood stove for heating and cooking. The place needed work, I remember helping Dad replace the insulation. We pulled off the lath from the walls to find it had been “insulated” with crumpled newspaper, which over time had settled down to about waist height, leaving nothing between the inner & outer wall but air.

    I was the fourth of four kids, and by the time I came along my folks had refurbed the house quite extensively. Indoor plumbing even, not to brag. Primitive but warm and comfortable. When I was in high school, we got our first telephone. Over the years they latched on to adjoining land, eventually ending up with 160 acres. Dad added pole barns and a shop. We lived there with the deer and the turkeys and were very happy.

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    I’ve got terrific riding within minutes of Sussex. They call it “lake country”, the whole area around Pewaukee, Oconomowoc, and smaller supporting towns like Merton, and the area suits my riding needs perfectly. Most of my rides are just little hour-long jaunts, I’m not much of a long distance guy for the most part. These rides home to Adams County & back are about 300 miles round trip, the perfect overnighter distance for me.

    By the time I roll through Stone Bank (home to Boondocks BBQ, try the brisket tacos), maybe 10 miles from home, I can feel myself relaxing. I stop to snap a picture of the Alderley millpond, adjacent to Deertrak golf course. It’s already mid 70’s, extraordinary for November. It’s breezy too, heading north on “P” I pledge to keep to the tightest back roads I can find. Tree cover means wind cover, and I despise riding in wind. There’s a lot of wind today.

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    #1
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  2. Robb

    Robb Long timer Supporter

    Joined:
    Aug 4, 2005
    Oddometer:
    1,353
    Location:
    just west of Milwaukee WI
    We lost Dad a few years back, and Mom just this January. Going home now isn’t the celebration it once was. As the youngest of the four kids I always felt like a minor celebrity in my own home when I went to visit. Mom won’t be there with a big hug, Dad won’t be there to remind me that he hates me riding motorcycles … or to retell all the stories from his own riding days. Still, we’ve got memories and family members to keep those stories and warm memories alive.

    This wind, it’s awful. Hwy 33 is way too exposed, I find a smaller back road that runs adjacent and enjoy the tree cover. The pavement is rough in spots, the KLR cares not at all, floating over piles of spilled corn and dried mud clots from the tractors that shaved the fields. I’m passing under some of Wisconsin’s 400+ wind mills, which are spinning along merrily today. I resent how they seem to be enjoying themselves.

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    Stopped in Juneau for gas and a big, meaty Kwik Trip hot dog (slathered in melted cheese from the nacho bar). Close to Horicon, not as many geese flying as I’d hoped. Just past Beaver Dam something feels very odd, and I pull immediately to the shoulder, fearing the worst. The luggage rack is empty, my duffel bag is gone. It’s not gone far, I find it dangling behind the bike. Losing the contents of that bag, or locking my rear wheel, could have been bad. I’m always careful when lashing down luggage, obviously there’s still room for improvement.

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    Decades spent riding this area, yet every ride includes some surprises … like finding Karen’s Hip Hop Diner exiting downtown Fox Lake. There’s a life sized Jake & Elwood outside, so you know it’s authentic hip hop. Or something like that. The town itself, like most small towns in the state, has more of a John Cougar sort of vibe, with an appropriately historic looking downtown and a pond nestled up to it on one side. Big ugly buildings (fast food joints, WalMart, FleetFarm) will be on the outskirts of town, close to the nearest major road.

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    #2
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  3. Robb

    Robb Long timer Supporter

    Joined:
    Aug 4, 2005
    Oddometer:
    1,353
    Location:
    just west of Milwaukee WI
    Too soon I’m in Montello, a town that isn’t built next to a river, it seems to be built on top of one. A few locals are fishing the channel that runs through town. Up the road are some nice waterfalls, right in the center of town. None of my pictures turn out very well, so I snagged one from Google Earth.

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    I leave Montello and find county road “B”, a stretch I’ve never been on before, and I take this through the woods and farm fields up into Coloma. I stop along the way to snap a photo outside a little country bar. When the UTV-to-pickup ratio in the parking lot reaches 3:1, you know you’re officially Up North. Many of the townships here decided to allow ATV’s to operate on the roadways, for much the same reason many states decides to allow people to smoke pot; a lot of people were doing it, and it didn’t seem to be causing much of a problem.

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    The little town of Coloma is the last stop for gas and supplies, it’s just 13 more miles to the house. I spent ten long weekends up here over the summer, and Coloma or Wautoma were my usual base of operations. Coloma boasts two gas stations, a clean and well stocked Dollar General for cleaning supplies, and since I refuse to own a cell phone, I can stop out front of the library (open every day, unless the book is checked out!) and use their free WiFi.
    #3
  4. Robb

    Robb Long timer Supporter

    Joined:
    Aug 4, 2005
    Oddometer:
    1,353
    Location:
    just west of Milwaukee WI
    Those were not pleasant trips. A couple years ago a family member was allowed to move into the house, supposedly to take care of my elderly mother. While I handled the medical bills and paid the utilities from three hours away, he moved in friends and blew through tens of thousands of dollars using the 'for emergencies only' credit card. Six or eight people can do a lot of damage in two years. Over the coming months everything of value (two boats, two cars, the tractor, the UTV, tools, appliances, snowmobiles, appliances, every tangible asset) was broken or sold. A dozen cats and five dogs, utilities through the roof, junked cars, garbage, filth. Neighbors and the police contacted me regularly, complaints about gunfire in the middle of the night, trucks being raced through the woods until crashed into trees, then left there. Wildlife disappeared. Evicting “tenants”, even those who don’t pay rent, is never pleasant but finally they were gone.

    What they left behind was overwhelming. I grieved, and then dug in, bought a Polaris Ace and a trailer with which to haul garbage. Two local fellows came by with car haulers, and I gave them everything they could pull out of there. I rented a skid steer, hired a hard working young man to help me fill some 30-yard dumpsters .. eight of them in total, according to the recycling center’s scale we hauled 36,000 pound out of there, not counting the vehicles or 100+ junk tires. Slowly the filth dissipated and the natural beauty of the place returned. I started seeing deer and turkeys again. Family members stopped over to help, visit, offer encouragement. Neighbors stopped to say “thank you for fixing this”, and I apologized for what they’d gone through. Fences mended.

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    The closer I get, the slower I ride, just savoring each mile and each memory. Deer are in abundance around here all times of the day, I hit one with my first bike back in 1983. A Honda 450 Nighthawk traveling 60mph will kill a deer instantly, but it will take a nurse a solid hour to scrub the asphalt out of your leg wounds. It’s not something I need to experience twice. Deer have the right of way, always.

    The last half mile is gravel, then onto a long dirt road and home. When I got here early this year and found what had been done, it felt like I’d lost my folks all over again. The work was hard but rewarding, but even as things got cleaned up, the frustration and resentment built. I was in a funk most of the summer, it’s still not fully gone. I knew we’d need to sell off most of the land, but I made the decision to keep a parcel in the family. A 12’x24’ cabin was ordered, a place for our family to come and make some new, pleasant memories again, away from the main house and all the emotional issues linked to it. This was my first ride to the new homestead and hopefully some sort of closure about Mom and Dad's passing, about the ugly situation still being resolved, and maybe about some other things that were festering in me too. The cabin, then, was the plan, starting over just like my folks did 50 years earlier, looking at the place from a fresh perspective. The KLR idled through the woods and to the back end of a rolling field, grateful to feel dirt under the tires, and I parked next to the new cabin and unpacked, feeling more at home than I had in months.

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    #4
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  5. Awful Knawful

    Awful Knawful Motorcycle Hoarder

    Joined:
    Nov 13, 2016
    Oddometer:
    44
    Location:
    Oregon,Wi
    Nice story Robb. I spent a lot of time in Adams county as a kid . My Grandparents lived in Adams/Friendship.
    Nice to see you have a place to start new memories and be able to retain some of the old.
    #5
  6. Robb

    Robb Long timer Supporter

    Joined:
    Aug 4, 2005
    Oddometer:
    1,353
    Location:
    just west of Milwaukee WI
    Sitting on the porch watching the sunlight fade away, watching deer slipping between the trees, I did feel some of the calm I’d been looking for. The longer I sat counting blessings, the better I felt about the decision to keep some of the land in the family. I'm at peace with selling the rest too, hopefully we'll find someone who appreciates the quiet beauty of the place. So much to be grateful for in my life these days, five years of relative serenity, a wonderful wife and brilliantly beautiful daughter, great network of friends and relatives. Our daughter had some great times up here, got to experience life in the country, and hunting, and the beauty of nature. She hadn't been here in a while due to all the issues, but came back a couple weeks ago to look around once more. I remember her as a kid running around chasing my folks' dog, laughing like only children can laugh. She graduated college last year with a degree in chemistry, works in a lab now. Amazing person. I slipped on some headphones and sat in the dark, listened to some Hugo Kant, and then when the stars were almost too bright to look at I played “Planet Caravan”, twice, crawled onto the cot, blew out the candles and slept, ten miles from the nearest alarm clock.

    I woke up just before sunrise, and sprang out of bed two hours later. No sense rushing the day. Made coffee on a little propane stove, and headed up to the main house to check things over, then down to the pond. Cleared some trails, picked up a little, anxious to get on the road again but not wanting to leave.

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    I packed up and left a little after noon, and hit traffic a half mile later .. two sandhill cranes in no hurry to get across the road. It's about the spot where I snapped this picture of my Dad just a couple years before he passed, out for one last ride on a sidecar rig I'd found for him. He'd been after me for a while to find him a nice Harley trike for, you know, around $2k. This was the closest I could find. At 88, he was figuring on taking to the open road. Realistically, I figured he'd putt around the yard with it a couple times, which is about what he did, showing off for us all. The smile said it all.

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    The morning before leaving I always give careful consideration to the general route I'm taking home, and then completely disregard the decision within a mile. I'd decided to run south down hwy 13 and follow that through the Dells, but for no real reason I change my mind and head back through Coloma again, a slightly different set of roads today. More traffic around here .. this is Amish country, and I pass a buggy now and then. I always wave or nod, sometimes I see a little arm poking out of the shadow of the cab, waving. Stopping at a wayside, I watch a proud horse clopping down the pavement and I snap a picture, discreetly. Then I look over at the KLR, and the technology gap doesn't seem so wide between the two.

    Most times I came up this Summer, there was an Amish lady selling baked goods from a folding table in front of the library/liquor store. I bought packs of the most amazing glazed apple fritters, and sometimes a $3 loaf of bread, certainly the best deal in the state. She brings with her a boy of maybe seven, a perfect half scale replica of his Pa, dressed properly and wearing a very serious expression. Elder in training. These are hard working folks, the bread was probably cooling on a rack two hours before I dragged my lazy ass out of bed.

    From Coloma it's west to Wautoma, the biggest town I'll pass through today, and home to Klingers BBQ, closed for the season but stop in some time, just look for the semi truck converted to a smoker out front, can't miss it. Best BBQ you'll ever eat and I'l fight anyone who disagrees. South from Wautoma along 73 is a favorite stretch, Neshkoro (another town on the edge of a millpond), Princeton and beyond. I find a new road containing half the farms in Wisconsin, I've never seen so many barns. Some of the fields are flooded, it's been wet.

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    By the time I'm close to Hartford the sun's getting low behind me, and it gives the effect of riding slowly into an oil painting. It's gorgeous, I don't want the trip to end but don't much care for riding in the dark, so it's south past the Holy Hill area, down 83 through the hidden mansions of Chenequa. One more photo stop (they went through all the trouble of mounting that helicopter there, the least I can do is take a picture of it). Fifteen minutes later I'm home with a cat on me, hoping a late winter will allow another trip home. Ride safe.

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    #6
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  7. Robb

    Robb Long timer Supporter

    Joined:
    Aug 4, 2005
    Oddometer:
    1,353
    Location:
    just west of Milwaukee WI
    (my first ride report, I knew I'd screw it up .. forgot to post these two pics)

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  8. Suncoaster

    Suncoaster Long timer Supporter

    Joined:
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    Location:
    Where the girls are green and the grass is pretty.
    Fabulous.
    Thanks.
    #8