Saturday, December 31, 2011

Riding the Tall Grass Prairie - Oct. 2011

 As mentioned in a previous post, my trip to the Tall Grass Prairie area of central Kansas finally began in October this year.  The Yamaha TW200 was loaded on the trailer, luggage, food, riding gear, extra tools, spare tubes, etc. were packed in the car with everything ready to go.  By 6AM Saturday morning, I was headed southwest.

By mid-afternoon I was in Council Grove, driving up along the west side of the reservoir to the Canning Creek Campground.  Concerned that since the weather had been so nice, I was anxious to find and get a campsite set up.  I needn't have worried.  There were a few sites taken but only a small fraction of the total sites were occupied.  I took a short ride that evening after everything was setup, then took advantage of the fire-ring for a lovely campfire.

To see the many areas I'd both read about and learned about, loops were planned, all centered out from Council Grove.  Proper thanks need to go to the Backroads Kansas forum for their huge archive of previous rides and maps.  Each of 4 loops were named with color and essentially went out like the leaves of a clover. I'd wait for weather, mood, etc. to decide which one to take on which day.  With 4 rides planned and 3 real days for riding, things were going to be left for another trip.  My laptop was along, so the GPS Routes were very subject to change and easily altered.

Santa Fe Trail Marker
Daughter's of the American Revolution
Deciding to adjust my first day's ride, Sunday took me mostly South.  It seemed a weekend day might be the best time to find the Tall Grass Prairie National Preserve the 'most' open and it was a 'must see' on my trip.  Including the nearby Cottonwood Falls area would be a good place to start.

Two Min. Maint. roads converging, EXACTLY the kind of riding I was after

A very typical view, especially on my first day of riding.  Note the ridge of gravel on one side.  Speculation tells me that the grader moves that ridge from one side to the other with periodic road patrolling.  As a woman quoted in Least Heat Moon's PrairyErth said, "This air hasn't been used before".

Describing the area as "flat" wouldn't really be accurate........

Working my way down towards Strong City; the National Park Service's Tall Grass Prairie Preserve, my goal.  Much controversy brought the Preserve into being.  Private land ownership rights, Big Government presence, etc. were issues changing and postponing the creation of a National area to preserve the largest native stand of tall grass prairie land in the country and many felt it was worth saving.  I'll include a few photos I took while visiting the grounds, but the Preserve's website is the place to go if you want more info.  The ranch was owned by Stephen Jones, the house built for $25,000, the barn and other outbuildings for $15,000 from locally quarried limestone, incredible sums for Kansas prairie construction in the 1880's.

Spring Hill Farm

Looking west from the second floor of the barn

Chicken House

A lithograph of the home from 1887.......

Back of the house, looking east, photo taken from near the chicken house

Leaving the Spring Hill Farm site, I headed south to Strong City and Cottonwood Falls, picked up some backroads and rode a section of old route US 50.

Old US 50, Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe mainline just to the right.

All of the first day's ride here

The Flint Hills, KS

The trek to the Kansas Flint Hills has been a very long, indirect one for me. In the past 40 years, I've both driven and ridden up and down I-35, most often to and from our southernmost boundary.  The interstate passed right through an area with signage proclaiming the region as being the Flint Hills.  Somehow, somewhere, long, long ago (Before Internet) I found out that the Flint Hills was an area that was mostly desolate, something very easy to witness by racing through at 70+ mph.  Set this knowledge aside for a paragraph or two.

Back in the late '70's, a book was introduced, its title one very easily able to capture my interest.  The book was "Blue Highways" by the author, William Least Heat Moon.  A paperback copy was obtained, the book was read, enjoyed and stored away.  A few winters ago (my reading season) while sorting through some old posessions, I came across the book and once again, read through it, confident that with the passage of time and gained experience having done more traveling back and forth across the country, quite possibly I'd have new impressions of the book.  I did.  Read the first time, my great focus was on place.  Thirty years of time has allowed me to see less geography and more of the human experience.  In other words, people met, ideas, human interaction and the like were the focus of what was taken away from the re-read.

Least Heat Moon was also the author of another book, one named "PrairyErth: a Deep Map".  Dealing with Chase County, Kansas, essentially the heart of the Kansas Flint Hills, I was intrigued.  The author was a known, as was interest in the central section of Kansas.  Checking an online auction site, I found a cassette-based audiobook of PrairyErth and "Bought Now".  I listened on my commutes and wherever and whenever I had quiet breaks, hearing many chapters numerous times.  The decision was made to motorcycle to the area, the only questions being when and with which of my bikes to make the trip.

The duration of time available for the trip would have a bearing on which motorcycle, as well as the route to/from, all choices involving ever present compromise.  I toyed with taking my large sport touring bike, hustling down to KS, confining myself to the larger, primarily paved roads which wouldn't have been a very good option considering the lack of roads in general, not to mention that they are almost exclusively rough gravel and poorly maintained.  My smaller machines and one in particular, my Yamaha TW200, was the ideal bike for the roads themselves but was less than ideal (most of my friends would say woefully inadequate) for the ~500 mile trip down from Minnesota.

While attending an early season BMW rally in the midwest, friends once again encouraged me to ride down and attend the Missouri Falling Leaf Rally, the St. Louis BMW Riders' gathering in October.  It suddenly dawned on me that it would make an almost perfect trip to trailer the Yamaha down to Kansas for part of a week, then pack up, head east and spend the last half of the week in eastern MO.  Seemed like a perfect plan and it was.  Watch for a future post.

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Beginning (again).....20 years later

I'm going to break up my look back at the beginning of my motorcycling history by moving closer to the present day, namely 2004.  Back in the mid-80's, we got married, bought a home and started a family.  My 1980 Moto Guzzi SP1000 (more on that when the History continues) was mostly sitting idle in the garage.  Extra hours spent with the family, my career, projects around the home, etc. made the kinds of rides I'd become accustomed to, i.e.weekends that might take me >500 miles, simply stop.

We were living inside the city limits of St. Paul, making the occasional hour here and the hour there available for riding more of a chore rather than something fun.  I had become spoiled and probably worse, bored with riding.  What had been a major priority suddenly seemed easily put aside.  I remember feeling uncomfortable about it but refreshing at the same time.  I was ready for some new ways to spend my time.

Fast forward to 2004.  A number of details were coming together, one of which was the fact that I was all too quickly approaching my 50th year.  Another was that life on our rural farm had moved on from huge gardens, 4H projects, a herd of sheep, etc. to a less agricultural lifestyle and more of a rural living way of spending time. One more fact, the one that most likely 'clinched the deal', was the fact that a friend told me about one of his workmates having a very nice Sport Touring Ducati for sale and wondered if I just might be interested.  Over the next couple of weeks I became so, so interested in fact that I had already become the owner in my mind.

It's important here to mention that I had been a former Ducati owner (again, more on that later).  I had left the 'sport' owning a Sport Touring bike, the Guzzi, comfortable that I had been and would again some day be a Sport Touring rider.

By the time the owner got back to me, someone else had bought the bike.  Very disappointed, I zeroed in on the Ducati ST series and began looking for them online.  One was found, there was lots of correspondence with the owner and soon, we rented a van and were off to southern Indiana to bring home a 2000 ST2 Ducati.  After ~20 years, I was riding again.

Those geese are ON the lake, not in it.  December 2005
Yes, it was very cold

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Sportster - 1972

For all kinds of reasons that don't seem quite so valid now, the only machine worth owning seemed to be an XLH Sportster.  Already spoiled with electric starting, the idea of using my then-trim mass required every time I needed to go somewhere sounded like far too much work.  So, even though the kickstart model XLCH was a man's machine, and I was all about a man's machine, I avoided the XLCH and looked for an electric start model instead.  As a Senior in high school, it was all the 'man' I needed.

I found one in the neighborhood, a 1970 model that the owner had equipped in two sets of trim.  As purchased, the bike had the classic Peanut tank, proper contour seat, sissy bar and the requisite 4" over fork tubes.  For road trips, I'd swap parts out and install the larger gas tank, touring saddle, fiberglass saddlebags and windshield.  Once I had my leather jacket, I was all set for any and all adventures that might come my way.

It worked for a while, in fact, I rode the Sportster and my brother rode his Suzuki 500cc, both of us down to Texas the following summer.  Well, not quite to Texas; when we got to southern Arkansas, we decided that we'd had enough travel under our belts and turned back towards home.  The trip went well, the only real issue we had was when we were going through the Quad Cities.  My brother must have noticed a young coed or something on the sidewalk, missed my slowing down for a stoplight and the sharp diamond 'cap' he'd welded on the end of his freeway pegs pierced a hole in my saddlebag as he almost stopped in time beside me.

By the Spring of 1974, brother had picked up a 350cc HD Sprint and a Yamaha 250cc motocross bike in addition to his Titan street bike and Honda 100.  The race to see who could collect the most bikes was on ;)   Not wanting to be left out, dad was playing too.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Family - 1972

It didn't take very long before we were a 3 motorcycle family, one for each our dad, my brother and myself.  We outgrew the yellow '64 Honda trailbike and I had purchased the 125 Yamaha Enduro.  Dad picked up a barely used '70 Suzuki Honcho 90 'enduro-style' bike and younger brother bought a brand new '70 Honda SL100.  We'd load up all 3 on our snowmobile trailer and spend entire weekends riding while visiting relatives in rural areas of Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Over the next year, dad, brother and I collectively bought a couple of project bikes, fixed them up and resold them.  One was a '70 Honda SL350.......

Another was a '69 Puch 250, something we traded a snowmobile for........

While and in between working on old bikes to fix, ride and sell, I was getting the urge to have something bigger and more road-worthy.  Towards that end, I found a local '68 Honda CL350 Scrambler that was in really nice shape.  I finally had something that would comfortably cope with highway traffic and allow me to expand my perimeter.

It was the summer after I was a Junior in high school and by the fall of my Senior year, I'd have a motorcycle made in America.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Gramp's Montana Story.....1922

As mentioned in a previous Post, my grandfather was a big influence on my travels in general, and motorcycling in particular.  He saw a motorcycle as a device of freedom and a tool allowing him access to the world.

Gramp not only explored the areas of northern Wisconsin, but in 1922 headed west to Montana, chasing his dreams and hopefully, some kind of job.

Every time I think about or hear my friends discussing the cornucopia of choice over the specialized bikes available today, I have to smile, thinking about what Gramp might say if given the chance.  Here's his D/S machine......

And his stunt bike.....

(there's an anchoring post in the ground supporting his precarious position)
 Gramp, with his dad on the Winter machine........

Last but not least, the sidecar mounted for his trip to Montana.  The babe with the wing-ged hat will some day become my grandmother.  Gramp often mentioned the yellow ribbons on some of the telephone poles, marking the Yellowstone Trail..........

Near Roundup, MT
In the late '70's, Gramp submitted a story to Good Ol' Times magazine of his trip west.  His story was later reprinted in Antique Motorcycle magazine, "Incident on the Yellowstone Trail", see it here

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Around 1968

In 1968 I was 13, my brother 12 and the riding bug began for us both.  Dad had ridden various Cushman's and Harley's as a young man, in fact his dad had ridden as a young man and it was our grandfather that really allowed for and locked in our interest in riding.  I remember it well; a nice summer day in northern Wisconsin, our family in a white '70 Dodge Polara wagon and as we rounded the corner into Gramp's driveway, there it was, a bright yellow, 1964 Honda C105, 55cc's of 3 speed semi-auto power.  This power could be multiplied with an overlay sprocket (72 teeth) that provided a realistic top speed of ~25mph rather than the too-much-for-young-teens ~40mph that the smaller, original sprocket allowed.

Gramp's 'wide spot in the road' rural village in Wisconsin allowed for a very large lot, much of it filled with garden patches elegantly placed around the property where the soil and topography would allow.  Mowed pathways connecting the garden sections were our roads, larger sections of lawn were our parking lots.  Brother and I literally wore out the grass with our weekend riding.

Handy with tools and 'tinkering', Grampa Allen built a low-sided wooden rack to fasten on the already oversized chrome OEM Honda luggage rack, a safer riding perch for his dog.  I can still see the quart Listerine bottle that he drilled a hole in, an auxiliary fuel tank that Gramp pre-measured 128 ounces of leaded regular into.  Around the local area's rolling hills, he was able to go slightly more than 128 miles.  His large smile is still with me, "A mile to the ounce" he proudly proclaimed to most anyone and everyone that might even remotely care.

Brother and Grampa Allen, he on his brand new 1969 Yamaha 125 AS-2C twin scrambler.

Once Gramp had his new Yamaha, we bought the '64 Honda from him.  It didn't take long before sharing the yellow Honda between brothers became challenging.  Both of us were more than ready for some more power and speed.  Our neighbor in St. Paul had purchased a 1970 Yamaha AT1 enduro, his intended use to be hunting.  Before long it was for sale and even before I was legally able to ride, I bought it.

As you can see, the AT1 hadn't seen very severe hunting action.

A Beginning

Well it's started, my first blog posting.  Christmas Day, seemingly a nice time to begin.  The turkeys visited the harvested bean field next to the house while Christmas dinner was cooking, possibly taunting us with their presence, guessing at what was in the oven?

Thanks to Erik for the inspiration to finally get started.