Gary Ilimen’s Top 20 Motorcycle Trip Images of the Past 15 Years
My camera makes the trip pretty much any time I roam on a motorcycle. It is as much a part of my road gear as a tool kit, bungee cords and bottle of drinking water. Indeed, it seems every time I don’t pack the camera, there’s something worth getting a picture of, be it an unusual or rare motorcycle, a spectacular landscape view or rare weather event.
Over the past 15 years, I have managed to pack the camera and get some shots of things that made me glad I remembered to pack the camera. While my image files contain several thousand images and there are a lot of them I think are good, memorable, unusual or you-name-it, the 20 shown here are some of my favorites and maybe you’ll like some of them, too.
1—One late afternoon in 2011, I had my ’76 Honda CJ360T out for a run at twilight. There was a full moon setting in the west and some unusual lighting and sky conditions. Stepping away from the bike, the view put the moon just above the right-hand mirror and my ride at the end of a fading rainbow. I looked but no pot of gold was found—just aging but still peppy Honda.
2—On a sweltering summer afternoon while out cruising the back roads on my ’84 Honda VF1100S, I stopped and had a chance for yet another moonshot with a vivid blue sky and the old Honda posed up beneath it. With a calculated top speed at the redline in sixth gear of 177 mph, the VF1100S is my adrenaline pump, but it has remarkably amiable road manners.
3—Of course, bikes are a very common feature in my favorite images and this old Harley Sportster is a great machine for laid back cruising on back roads. In the fall, the colors in the trees start to show, the air gets cooler and crisp and the crops being taken in gives the air an aroma you can only really sense adequately on a motorcycle.
4—Leland Pond in the hamlet of Leland, WI, is one of my favorite spots for a rest stop on a ride and it also makes for a great backdrop for a motorcycle portrait. Leland is the end point of the Slimey Crud Motorcycle Gang Café Racer Run taking place on the first Sunday in May and October.
5—The old Harrisburg School along CTH C in Sauk county recalls the days when schools were heated with a wood-burning pot-belly stove, had one interior room and an outhouse, and served a kid from first grade to graduation. What better setting for an image of an old-school bike than a truly old school?
6—The best riding in the upper Midwest is on quiet town roads that sway through farm country. Neuheisel Road near Spring Green, WI, is just such a road with a sweeping view of the farmlands south of a ridge that rims the broad Wisconsin River valley.
7—Bodies of water on sunny days are some of my favorite things and the number of images I have of such scenes proves it. The Gile Flowage is just west of my old hometown, Hurley, WI and, even though the flowage is man-made to help assure water for the hydroelectric plant downstream near Lake Superior, it is one gorgeous spot that I like to ride to every time I get back to northern Wisconsin.
8—Covering racing is a thing I’d love to do more of. Thanks to S&S Cycle hosting the Rumble at the Ranch flat track races as part of the company’s 60th Anniversary last year, I had a chance to do it. One of my favorite shots from that event is this one of AMA champ Michelle DiSalvo dusting the competition.
9—Fall riding can be some of the best all year with less humidity, cool, crisp air, the aromas of harvesting going on and, of course, an explosion of color in the foliage. This shot at Brigham Park near Blue Mounds, WI, combines the spectacular view from the summit, a view of the great county road that gets you there and some of the fall colors.
10—Another view of fall colors combined with the vintage barn along the Wisconsin River brings it all together under a dazzling blue sky. I spent a good part of my youth with my uncle Ray and grandparents on their dairy farm in northern Wisconsin, helping with milking, making hay, cutting firewood, picking rocks, fixing the fenceline and other chores. I look back on those years as some of the best a kid could have. To this day, seeing one of the old, smaller barns like the one in this shot, the scene takes me back to those happy days on the farm.
11—Big rivers like the Mississippi and Wisconsin make for great images, but so do small rivers like the west branch of the Montreal river, which flows through the Kimball Town Park. The bridge I stood on for this shot was built by a crew that included my grandfather, August Ilminen back around the depression days. I spent a lot of time at this park as a kid and when I was 14, I landed my first and only muskie there right below the falls in this shot.
12—There is no better view of the granddaddy of ‘em all, the Mississippi river, than from atop Mt. Hosmer in Lansing, IA. It is a spectacular view any time of year, but even more so in the fall.
13—The high places of the earth hold special fascination because they allow us to take in so much of the world around us. Mt. Zion Park is one of those places, featuring an incredible view north toward Lake Superior and Copper Peak Ski Flying Complex is visible in the distance. Its eastern face is home to Mt. Zion Ski Hill, which is on the campus of Gogebic Community College in Ironwood, MI. I enjoy the expansive view from the top and I have a special affinity for the college having been a proud three-time graduate!
14—Speaking of Copper Peak, here’s a shot that captures the massive scale of the jump. It is literally called a “ski flying” hill because it is so much bigger than your standard Olympic-sized ski jumps, the largest of which are termed 120 meter hills. Copper Peak is a whopping 170 meter hill!
15—Lake of the Clouds is not all that far from Mt. Zion and Copper Peak, lying north of those sites in Ontonagon county in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It is a spectacular natural lake with a scenic overlook that is hard to beat.
16—Wisconsin has two natural bridges only about 40 miles apart. This soaring arch is in Natural Bridge State Park, just outside Leland, WI on CTH C. Below this arch is a cave that anthropologists say may be one of the oldest sites of human habitation in North America. The natural bridges were created by the enormous erosive power of the outwash from melting glaciers to the north. There were four periods of glaciation, but for reasons that are still unclear, southwestern Wisconsin was never under glacial ice.
17—One of the best views of the Wisconsin river and a lot of the surrounding territory is from the top of Ferry Bluff about six miles west of Sauk City, WI, just off STH 60. Ferry Bluff is so-named because in the days before bridges spanned the river, a ferry boat operated from near the foot of the bluff.
18—The greatest and largest freshwater lake in the world is Lake Superior and part of its south shore forms the northern boundary of Wisconsin. About ten miles west of Hurley, WI, and only a few miles from Saxon, WI, is Saxon Harbor. A couple years ago, the marina at Saxon Harbor was devastated by a massive storm that tragically took the lives of four people around the region. As I write this, the reconstruction of the marina is still underway, but the view of the lake is still there and still breathtaking.
19—Pier Park in Rockbridge, WI, along STH 80 is home to the other of Wisconsin’s two natural bridges. The Pine river cuts right through a natural tunnel in a massive sandstone wall-like formation in the park. Another natural tunnel a few yards away is high and dry, allowing you to walk through to the other side of the formation where the rest of the park is located. A stairway to the top of the foundation lets you walk on the sod at the level most of the area might have been before the meltwater from the northern glaciers carved the topsoil and sandstone away, creating the formation that’s left.
20—Another geographic feature of the land in Wisconsin that was created over millennia by erosion is the canyon at Parfrey’s Glen in Sauk county. It is craggy, cool and beautiful and only a short walk from the parking lot. Located on CTH DL, not far from Devil’s Lake State Park it is a feature that many riders on their way to the state park overlook—but they shouldn’t.
Well, that’s the sampling of some of my favorite images—and through that, of some of my favorite places and points of interest. I guess one of the things I enjoy about these images is that when it is bitter cold outside and the snow is piling up and getting out on a bike is a long way off, revisiting images like this is a way to revisit those places as well. Even though that, like spring, may be a long way off.