The Great River Road - Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin
Truth be known, a "Father of Waters" tour should really begin at Lake Itasca in Northern Minnesota, the birthplace of the mighty Mississippi; however, to do that justice would have required stretching this three-day tour into five. I choose instead to begin my sojourn at a well known landmark, the Mall of America (MOA).
Drumlins, the Infamous Highway 61, and Red Wings
After 37 years of riding, I still get butterflies the night before setting off on another two-wheeled adventure. Although my choice of mounts has changed many times since my very first road trip (Sturgis Rally, 1971, 1400 miles on a CB 350 Honda), the anticipation and lack of sleep that invariably marks the night before has not. The old CB is long since gone, and a secession of Hondas, Suzukis, and Yamahas have peppered the intervening years. My trusty, long-distance buddy these days is a Yamaha FJR 1300. More than capable of chewing up the miles.
This tour begins within credit-card throwing distance of the mall's 520 shops, just off the west parking lot at Interstate 494 and SR 77, better known as Cedar Avenue. A scant nine miles south of MOA, on Cedar Avenue, subdivisions give way to cornfields where a left turn on SR 50 brings one to, appropriately named, Farmington, MN. Continuing southeast over SR 56 and SR 19, the careful observer will notice small rises known as drumlins, among the gently rolling terrain.
Ariel views reveal these drumlins, which were long-ago created by retreating glaciers depositing sediment, to be spoon-shaped and always tapering to the north. Nearby, the historic Stanton Airfield with its grass-only runway offers proof with a quick trip up in a glider for those who might be inclined.
Motorcycle & Gear
Yamaha FJR 1300
Helmet: Arai Vector
Jacket: Hein Gericke
Boots: Red Wing
Pressing on eastward, I ride up and over Lake Byllesby Hill and follow a twisty little downhill section of SR 19 into Cannon Falls for a cup-of-joe and donut at the High Quality Bakery. This cozy respite provides an opportunity to shed a few layers and absorb some heat, in what feels like my frozen veins - did I mention it was 38 degrees when I left home on this early October morning?!
Warmed and refreshed, I'm back on SR 19 as it winds its way slowly though hardwood groves towards the Mississippi. As SR 19 ends, I make a sharp right on Bob Dylan's favorite piece of blacktop, Highway 61. I roll into Red Wing, the home of Red Wing Pottery, and perhaps more significantly, the headquarters of my still-going-strong 38-year-old Red Wing boots. If time permits, a stop at the St. James Hotel is in order. This 19th-century masterpiece was saved from the wrecker's ball in 1977 when the Red Wing Shoe Company stepped up to the plate to purchase the grand old building and begin a multi-million-dollar renovation lasting two years. The American Queen riverboat, which looks as though it could be from the era of the St. James but was actually built in 1995, helped to put Red Wing on the map by bringing ongoing tourism to boost this river town's economy.
68 Miles of Wisconsin:
Scenic Overlooks, Fall Foliage, and Laura Ingalls Wilder
Despite being a native Minnesotan, I'm not too proud to admit that Wisconsin has a lock on the best scenic roads from which to view the Mississippi. Getting to the Badger State requires some careful navigating, so be sure to watch for the "Wisconsin" sign as you pass the St. James - sounds trivial, but it's easy to miss.
Faster than the American Queen can get up a head of steam, I'm at Wisconsin's SR 35, the Great River Road. Only the best broasted chicken in the Midwest could delay my trip south, so it's no surprise that I cross SR 35 and pay a visit to Hager Heights Drive-In. Soon I depart what's become a local staple, and finally hit the road.