Unlike most Shamrock tours, this one has a prequel. Instead of flying into the closest Wisconsin airport, I flew into Utah and then inaugurated the new 2012 Victory Cross Country Tour for a three day trip to Sturgis. There, I met up with Ken Engelman, and we enjoyed the Sturgis Bike Rally for a few days before riding 850 miles across endless plains to our home base: Rhinelander. It’s been a long, straight shot getting here, but now we’re in Shamrock mode and ready for some daily loops.
Ken and I each stride a new Victory CCT, his being white and mine red. We attract immediate attention as we roll into Rhinelander fully decked out in safety gear on our edgy touring machines. But it’s our eyes that soon become riveted: At the entrance to town, we spy an 8-foot-tall, 15-foot-long monster with huge fangs and claws as long and thick as the tires on my ride. While our first inclination is to flee, we push our survival instincts aside and courageously approach the creature for a closer look. This frightful beast, we learn, is a recreation of one “discovered” in the 1890s by local logger and prankster Eugene Shepard. The folkloric Hodag, as it’s called, has “the head of a frog, the grinning face of a giant elephant, thick short legs set off by huge claws, the back of a dinosaur, and a long tail with spears at the end.” It’s so closely associated with Rhinelander that it lends its name to the annual Hodag Country Festival, which draws about 40,000 attendees each year.
Ken and I tear ourselves away from the town’s historic mascot and head just a stone’s throw away to the AmericInn hotel, where we settle in for the night. As soon as we check in, the obligatory phone calls to the women we left at home ensue. I’ve been on the road for two weeks already, and Ken one. A quick update about our travels, reassurances that we’re safe, and most importantly, declarations of how much they’re missed satisfies them and allows us to focus on the upcoming days.