Rollin' by the River 2014

Our trip to the BMW MOA International Rally in St. Paul, MN was based on a route I received from a member of the Alabama BMW club. The plan was to follow portions of the route, basically following the Mississippi River to St. Paul while limiting our daily mileage to around 400 miles.

We left Labadieville on Sunday, July 20th under cloudy skies with a planned destination of the Isle of Capri Casino in Tunica, MS. Today’s ride took us through Natchez MS where we followed the Natchez Trace for a short piece then back on US 61 to near Rolling Rock MS. There we turned onto MS 1. Although these highways are part of the Scenic Great River Road, once we left Baton Rouge, we didn’t see much of the Mississippi River. What we did see were a lot of fields of corn and soybeans.

Upon turning on MS 1, the levee along the river soon came into view. The weather remained comfortable throughout as we had a mixture of clouds and sun. We did pass through the small community of Benoit where I took a picture of the sign for Tammy & Mike. We arrived late in the afternoon at the Isle of Capri Casino Hotel. We were a bit disappointed in the quality of the room and food at the casino, and vowed this would be the only time we would be staying there.

We left the Isle of Capri on Monday morning under sunny skies and returned to US 61 north, then onto I-55. Our route took us thru Memphis TN, West Memphis AR, and then north toward St. Louis MO. This portion of the trip was mostly 4 lane interstate and aside from the traffic in St. Louis, was pretty uneventful. We did stop at the Arkansas and Missouri welcome centers. Once past the traffic of St. Louis, we turned onto MO 79, again part of the Great River Road system. This route passed thru rural farming country where we again saw corn, soybeans, and hay.

Along this route sections of highway had been flooded by the summer rains. The road was dry, but had a light layer of silt on it. The were water marks on the surround countryside indicating the the height the water had risen. Some areas of land still had water remaining. I estimated that there were between two or three feet of water on the road at its highest point.

Finally, we got to see the river. Along this route, there is no levee between the river and the highway, only railroad tracks. In some areas, the water had risen above the tracks. After growing up on the river, not seeing a levee was a indeed a “strange” site. Running behind our planned schedule and after doing a little research on lodging for the night, we found a nice “mom and pop” motel right on the river in Louisiana, MO, the Rivers Edge Motel. The motel is situated on a bluff overlooking the river at the intersection of MO 79 and US 54.

After a great dinner at a local steak house, we decided to ride US 54 across the bridge into Illinois. Upon return to the motel, Jo Ann sat in the parking lot enjoying the view and calling her friends while I walked around a bit taking a few pictures of the area.

Tuesday morning we woke up to a nice sunrise over the river. We ate breakfast in a small café near the historic downtown. There was a park right on the river, where I had to have my picture taken with my feet in the water. Down river there was a barge that had gotten stuck against a railroad bridge. After taking a few pictures in the park and of a water tank house, we headed toward Hannibal, MO.

Once more we rode some silt covered road and saw more fields that bore the effect of flooding. We stopped at a bluff overlooking the river which provided a scenic view. As before, the only thing between the highway and the river were the railroad tracks. Our stop in Hannibal was to visit the landmarks associated with Mark Twain and his tales of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. The characters in his stories were loosely based on actual inhabitants of Hannibal. There was even an option to pay a fee to white wash Tom Sawyer’s fence! We took a walking tour of a number of houses that are attributed to Mark Twain’s characters in his stories as well as the Mark Twain’s home in Hannibal. I also took a hike up a hill to a lighthouse, but the view there was obscured by trees and the light house was closed to visitors. We did meet up with fellow BMW rider who was also heading to the rally. He and I both took the hike. We saw quite a few BMW riders in town.

After a lunch in Hannibal, we headed north toward Iowa on US 61. We were still behind schedule and wanted to make up a little time. Our original destination for the day was Dubuque IA, but as the day wore on, we could see that we would not make it that far. We encountered our first rain of the trip, running into a downpour. We pulled off to don our rain gear, but as usual, by the time we were ready to ride, the rain had stopped. Since we could see rain in the distance we kept the rain gear on. Luckily, we dodged the rain the rest of the day.

Once more we passed sections of US 61 that had been under water, with some of these sections out of sight of the river. We did pass a small section of the road that was within view of the river. As in Missouri, the only thing between the highway and the river were the railroad tracks.

We did make it to Davenport IA where my GPS didn’t agree with the names of the streets in Davenport. We had planned on staying at a Best Western that we had seen from the interstate, but the GPS couldn’t get me to it. Not having a real map of the area, I kept trying to follow the GPS directions and it had me going around in circles. I finally gave up on finding the Best Western and settled on a Quality Inn. Eventually, I found out the problem. The GPS name of the street that the Best Western was on was different than the actual name.

Wednesday, we set Duluth MN as our destination. We again rode north on US 61, crossing the Mississippi River one more time in Dubuque IA, entering Wisconsin. As in most of our ride north, we again encountered corn and soybean fields. After Dubuque, US 61 looses it’s designation as the Great River Road as it heads away from the river before returning to the river near La Crosse

We left US 61 near Westby, WI and road WI 27 north to I-94 southeast of Eau Claire, WI. We followed I-94 to US 53 North, which took us to Duluth. Knowing we would arrive late in the day, I had called ahead to made reservations at a Comfort Inn in Duluth. We had hoped to get a room right on Lake Superior, but every place I called was full.

After we checked in to our motel, we rode down to Canal Park, located on Minnesota Point, a thin but long sand spit on Lake Superior between Minnesota and Wisconsin. Canal Park has many shops, restaurants, and lodging as well as the famous Aerial Lift Bridge. This bridge is one of only two like it built in the United States and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The bridge rises high enough to allow tall ships to pass under it.

We ate supper at Grandma’s Bar and Grille, sitting outside with a great view of the lake. After supper, we walked down to the park by the water, taking in all the sights. We watched as sailboats returned to the harbor for the night. We also got to see the Aerial Lift Bridge lower to let automobile traffic pass.

Instead of heading to the rally site via the headwaters of the Mississippi River near Lake Itasca as originally planned, we decided to spend Thursday morning riding along the North Shore Scenic Drive along the north shore of Lake Superior. This scenic route follows close to the shore of the lake. We stopped in Two Harbors and walked to the end of a breakwater that extended into Lake Superior. An iron ore plant was in view with a ship berthed to offload its cargo. Before leaving Two Harbors and returning to Duluth, we stopped by a train museum for a few pictures.

We followed the same route back to Duluth. Upon arrival, we decided to head to Skyline Blvd, a scenic route that follows the ridge above Duluth. Parts of the route were closed due bridge washouts caused by heavy rains, so we planned on picking it up in downtown Duluth near the scenic tower. The route to the top included a steep hill with stop signs at every other intersection. We did finally find the boulevard. Unfortunately, when stopping to enter the boulevard, the combination of downhill slant of the highway to the left and the weight of the loaded bike, the bike went over to the left. Someone called 911 and two police cars, an ambulance, fire truck, and fire rescue vehicle arrived. This would end up causing problems the remainder of the trip as I hurt my back in trying to lift the bike and I landed on my shoulder in the fall. Jo Ann was ok, but shook up. Since we were both shook up, Jo Ann got to ride in a police car down the hill while I followed on the bike.

After lunch, we jumped on I-35 and headed to St. Paul. Since we were both sore and it was late afternoon, we decided not to ride to the rally. Instead, we checked into the Holiday Inn Express and rested. We talked to a lot of BMW riders who were also staying there.

Off we went to the rally Friday morning where we met up with Tom Werstler. We also looked up other members of the Alabama BMW club. Since my back was really bothering me, the only riding we did was to and from the motel. I wanted to rest it as much as possible for the return trip home. We spend Friday and Saturday at the rally, checking out the vendors, talking with other riders, watching the GS Giant competition, and pretty much just hanging around. The weather was perfect for the rally, cool temperatures and plenty sunshine. There were lots of choices for food at the rally. As we expected, we did not win any door prizes, 50/50, or grand prizes at the closing ceremony.

Sunday, we began our trip home. Since we needed to be home by Wednesday, I had planned the quickest route home, riding mostly interstate/four lane highways. We made it to Hannibal MO late Sunday afternoon. I had discomfort with my back all day long. Along with us at the motel was another couple who attended the rally. They were also riding a GTL, but there method of packing the bike was “strange”. They had removed the rear trunk, and strapped everything on the back. I asked them if they had lost anything on the ride, and they said no, that everything was strapped on good.

Monday’s ride took us to Batesville, MS where we spent the night. Passing on the rough section of I-55 in Jackson MS was not very good to my back. By that point, I just wanted to get home. We left Batesville early Tuesday morning, and arrived home by mid afternoon.

We traveled a total of 2,953 miles on the trip. Our highest mileage day was 455 miles. We averaged 369 miles/per day not including days spent at the rally.

Aside from the mishap in Duluth which put a damper on the trip, we had a good time. I was disappointed in not going to the source of the Mississippi River. Since both Jo Ann and I grew up on the river, that was to be a highlight of the trip. I guess that means a ride back to Minnesota in the future.