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Written By: Chad Gillen
There is a great place to ride that is less than a day away, but it’s not out west in the Black Hills. Instead head east to Southeast Minnesota, Northeast Iowa, and Western Wisconsin. I’ve been there many times on my BMW, and now I was eastbound and down on my Honda ST1300. It was August 10th, and I was going the opposite way of the Harley crowd. Everyone was waving at me, thinking I was going home from Sturgis. Sorry to disappoint, but this was an anti-Sturgis trip. Don’t get me wrong; the Black Hills is one of the greatest places to ride in our country, but not during “Look at me brother, I’m a rebel” week.
Since I got my Honda, I’d been wanting to go to one of the many ST-Owners.com rallies that are held during the year. I picked the “MnSTOC” in Lanesboro, MN at the Eagle Cliff Campground on MN Hwy 16. I knew it was a good weekend trip, and I wanted to see how the ST handled on these roads compared to my old BMW R1150R. Plus it’s always a good time to meet new people and try out the tent I got for Christmas. (By the way, when you get a tent for Christmas from your wife, does the idea run through your head, “Am I sleeping outside tonight, and is my next present going to be divorce papers?” Luckily, the papers never came.)
During the pre-trip planning, I needed to figure out how I was going to carry my gear on the bike, because my last two trips on the Honda I (cough) trailered it. Trailered, that’s right. It happens to everyone at some point in time. Don’t judge me.
So I packed my dry bags with pillows and blankets to bulk them up and went to the garage to see how I could attach them with my ROK straps. The ST is a beautiful, clean bike with gorgeous flowing curves and lines. And because of this there are no (censored) places to attach anything! My BMW had an exposed rear sub-frame with lots of attachment points. What was I going to do? Wait a minute. Go to the forum. Buy George a beer; if you pull off the seat, there are two metal loops to attach the ROK strap loops to and then put the seat back on. Wait, these are for locking your helmets to the bike? I always wondered why there wasn’t a helmet lock on this bike. Functionally it is a pain in the keister to lock your helmets to the bike that way, but I still learned something new. Thanks again, www.ST-Owners.com. The rest of the packing went as usual. Riding gear, snacks and water in the saddlebags, one dry bag full of tent and camping gear, and another dry bag on top of that with my clothing.
I took I-90 out of town until I got to the Dexter, MN exit where I jumped on MN Hwy 16. Before Dexter, I almost stopped in Austin, MN to get some SPAM at the SPAM museum, but I changed my mind and kept riding. The last thing I need is pork shoulder meat adding to my belly.
This is a great motorcycle road with much of it repaved, and it goes all the way to the Mississippi River at La Crescent, MN. It is called the Historic Bluff Country Scenic Byway.
Once past Preston, MN, it is no longer a rolling farming country highway. It is now technical riding with great curves and sweepers and a great tight double loop around Inspiration Point Wayside Park. Before Lanesboro, I was a happy camper. With the Beemer I had to press to initiate the lean and keep pressing because it wouldn’t want to hold in the curve. This Honda is a point-and-shoot bike. It goes where you look and it needs very little input. Slow, look, press, roll, and it shoots like a rocket out of the apex. It loves the curves just as much as I do.
Four hours from Sioux Falls, I arrived at the campground check-in. The teenage girl at the counter says, “Oh, you with the Honda biker gang?” I ask if such a thing even exists, and she doesn’t get the sarcasm. I bet if I made a meme about it she would’ve got it. I got to the group camping area and saw about 20 bikes in the lot, mostly Honda STs, CTX1300s, Gold Wings, a VFR1200X, and a few Beemers. I took off my helmet and was instantly greeted and welcomed. The friendliness was overpowering. This isn’t a biker gang rally. This is a family gathering, a reunion, but minus the drama and fights that a family reunion brings. The old advertising slogan holds true, “You meet the nicest people on a Honda.”
From Thursday night to Sunday we all enjoyed perfect camping and riding weather. The only rain we saw was Thursday night while eating supper in town. It was one of those rains where you find your bike all wet and wonder, “It rained? Really?” I looked up and down to the street to confirm it was rain and not some local walking away and zipping up their fly. Daytime rides were sometimes solo excursions, small group rides, or large group riding using the drop and sweep technique. Evening meals were provided by the host member/family and the hat is passed around for you to contribute. Nighttime has everybody on their travel chair in a big circle around the campfire, passing snacks and libations around the circle. The host family brought their smoker and passed around bacon candy every night. (Smoked bacon that had been dry rubbed and soaked in maple syrup prior to smoking.) Now I know why I had the premonition not to buy some SPAM.
The Great River Road is a must for riding out here. Twice I took it south on the Minnesota and Iowa side and stopped at Pikes Peak State Park. It has an outstanding overlook of the Wisconsin River and Mississippi River. Each day I took a different route away from the park. The first day I was by myself and traveled MN-76 back to camp. The next day I was part of a group of three and we crossed over to Wisconsin and rode WI-35 north. Somewhere near Genoa we took a loop east, then north and then back to La Crosse, WI. I found this Wisconsin county road to be not only curvy but very hilly. The type that if I had eaten clam chowder for lunch, I would need to buy a new helmet. Tip, on his Yamaha FJR1300, leads most of the day and he’s got great knowledge of little scenic county road loops. He’s also a very “sporting” rider, so he shaves 21 minutes off of our GPS arrival time back to camp. Those scenic loops must have been shortcuts.
Sunday came, and it was time to pack up and head home. I had the benefit of time on my side. A lot of guys left before daybreak because they are many states away from home and really had to pour the miles on. I pulled my tent out in the sun to dry off the morning dew. I slowly folded and cleaned it now rather than unpack, clean it, and dry it out at home. Once packed and rigged up, I finished saying goodbye to my new friends, and I notice the most meticulous ST1300 I’ve ever seen. It’s owned by a retiree from Minnesota who brings it in his house every winter and does a full detail. You could look in all the nook and crannies and see that it is cleaner than when it came out of the packing crate from Honda. And I thought I was obsessed with keeping things clean!
The ride home was uneventful until I saw HD riders coming back from Sturgis wearing rain gear. The darkness of a rain storm lurked in front of me. The lightning worried me, and I considered jogging south. I only needed to stop to change my gloves because my normal riding gear is already rain-proof. I checked the radar while I changed gloves and risked it by going straight through at a slower speed to avoid the wind and lightning. Soon, I saw a guy eastbound on a new KTM Super Duke GT only wearing sunglasses, blue jeans, and a billowing aviator-style leather jacket. He was soaked through and through. Luckily, only rain greeted me for that last hour leg of the ride. I got home as planned, on time and all dry. As I unpacked I reminisced about the last time I came home from this area when the Mrs. and I had to dodge a funnel cloud near the Sioux Falls airport! But that’s a story for another time…