Midwest Motorcycle Touring Diary
November in the upper Midwest tends to be a transitional month. It usually marks the transition from riding your favorite motorcycle in sunny but cool autumn temperatures to gray, cold and sometimes icy days. These icy days are usually spent standing in the garage trying to remember where the heck you put the battery tender.
November usually marks the transition from grabbing the handlebars of your old Harley and thinking, “screw it, let’s ride” to grabbing the handlebar of the old Sears snowblower and thinking, “I wonder if this thing’s gonna start.”
It’s not uncommon for the upper Midwest to have had its first real taste of snow and cold north winds early in November–the average date for first snowfall in southern Wisconsin is November 5. Certainly a dose or two of snow usually arrives by Thanksgiving.
In 2016, Mother Nature did something unexpected: the Wisconsin motorcycle riding season got an extension—at least from about the middle of the state south. As of November 29, no measurable snow had fallen in much of southern Wisconsin and the forecast through the end of the month was for some periods of rain, but still no snow.
Needless to say, that is all right by me and a lot of other motorcyclists who don’t mind gearing up to ride in cool temperatures. Truth be told, I tend to favor cool temperatures for riding because gearing up in heavier riding gear allows for more protective material without getting the sweatshop treatment.
For me, it also afforded a lot of ride time in the Bell Qualifier Snow helmet with a heated dual layer face shield that we recently reviewed.
For the rest of my cool-to-cold weather kit, I wear either my Castle X Racing blaze orange snowmobile jacket or my Icon Raiden Patrol jacket. I know Icon didn’t really market that jacket for use as a winter jacket, but it works amazingly well and it is armored-up so it is a natural for cold weather riding. Throw in the Raiden’s high-viz colors and it’s a great piece of gear for the purpose. Indeed, on days in November this year, when temps reached the mid-fifties in the afternoon, the gear was almost too warm.
This November to remember got started with a road trip north on my old Honda V65 Sabre on November 3. One of my stops on that warm, sunny day was at the boat landing on the Wisconsin river at Muscoda just off STH 80. From there, I headed east to Elephant Trunk Rock on STH 58 near Ithaca, Wisc. This aptly named sandstone formation is one of many stone formations created by the erosive power of outwash from melting glaciers thousands of years ago.
November 5 proved to be another clear day and another great scenic stop was only a few miles from home. The public boat landing off STH 133 just south of Lone Rock offered a spectacular view of a plate-glass smooth Wisconsin river. The spot is a favorite launch point for many recreational boaters, fishermen, sandbar campers and hunters.
November 6 brought more sunshine and another chance to hit the road around southwest Wisconsin’s spectacular Driftless Area. One of the beautiful stops I made on that day was along CTH S where Saunders Creek hugs the road south of Boscobel. The creek’s watershed is dotted with farms that convince me that Wisconsin’s ultra-productive farmers could grow crops on a sidewalk, if they had to.
On November 11 the spectacular sunny weather continued and a day trip east included a stop at a classic old one-room school house along CTH WC in Sauk County. These reminders of a simpler time and good country living are cherished in the area and they come into view around rural Wisconsin, but they are slowly disappearing, if they aren’t deliberately preserved.
November 12 proved a great day to hit the road along part of the route covered by the twice-yearly Slimey Crud Motorcycle Gang Café Racer Run. That took me along CTH C in Sauk County to Leland, the ancestral end-point of the Run and location of the placid Leland Pond. The Pond is filled by the North Branch of Honey Creek.
As late as the 27, though skies had a high light overcast and temps hung around the 50 degree mark, cruising the back roads was still a pleasure. This spectacular rock formation on Leland Road just off CTH PF in Sauk county soars above nearby trees and stands in stark contrast to the verdant pastures and cropland around it.
As I write this, the month isn’t over and outside, clear skies prevail—for now. The long-range forecast doesn’t look too bad right now, but in winter, that can change fast. I guess I better go out to the shed and see if that old snowblower is gonna start, but one thing’s for sure—this was a November to remember.