July 3, 2005

In the past few years since I'd gotten my previous motorcycle, a Honda Shadow VLX deluxe (650CC), I hadn't made any real trips on it. Granted, I made a few trips home to see family, but I never made any day trips to check out a landmark or a town I'd never really been too. Once I did end up In Winterset and saw the birthplace of John Wayne, but that was more of an accident than a planned event.

This year, when I bought my new bike, a Honda Shadow Aero (750 CC) I decided I should make some trips and see some of the things that Iowa has to offer. I'm 30 years old, lived here my whole life, and have hardly seen any famous Iowa landmarks. I have a nice, new bike to break in and making a few trips to see some Iowa history seemed like a good way to do it.

I spent more than a few hours online coming up with a list of the places I cared to see. Surprisingly, there were quite a few of them close to the Des Moines area. Each a short jaunt, no more than 3-5 hours round trip. Seemed like a good way to ease myself into it.

I decided I needed a few guidelines to make sure I got maximum enjoyment out of my trips.

Avoid the freeway at all costs. The scenery on the freeways leaves a lot to be desired. It's mostly people driving their cages in a hurry to get home. You trade cornfields and rolling hills for Kwik Marts and rest stops. The journey is just as important as the destination when I am on my bike and I do not want to be rushed. I want to enjoy myself at my own pace. Back roads will allow me that freedom.

  1. Get plenty of sleep the night before. Who wants to get 100 miles from home on 2 wheels and discover they are too tired to continue? Not me, for sure.
  2. Take pictures. I want to remember these places. Not just the landmarks, but anything that catches my eye. Anything and everything is fair game.
  3. Take cash with me. I rarely carry more than $20 in cash, but some of the smaller towns in Iowa do not have pay at the pump capability and likely do not have an ATM either. I've ran into restaurants that do not take credit cards. On travel days, it will be cash and carry.

That sorted I looked at my list and made my plans for my first trip. I was going to Adair , Iowa to see the historical marker of the First Great Train Robbery of the West, committed by James/Younger gang, and also to see Adair's Smiley-faced water tower. This all took place in early may. I had other plans for a few weeks so I decided Friday May 27th would be the day I made my first trip. Even 3 weeks before the actual day I was excited. I was prepared for a grand adventure. I know it was only 120 miles or so roundtrip, but in my mind it was like I was setting off into the unknown west, off to seek my fortune.

A week later reality brought me back to Earth. I was given an important responsibility at work that made me very happy, but also required me to make an overnight trip to Chicago . I knew I was going to be back very late on the 26th (or perhaps quite early on the 27th ) so I decided to postpone my trip for a bit. Once again reality hit me square in the face and it wound up being nearly a month later before I actually got on the road. A badly twisted ankle and a few other things all conspired to force me to put things on hold longer than I'd have liked. But eventually the day came and I made the trip I had planned 7 weeks before…

June 24, 2005

I didn't know I'd be taking the trip today. I didn't get to bed until 3 am. I was back up at 6 am to take Sidney outside to do her business. After that I hit the sack and didn't roll over until nearly noon. As soon as I did, Sidney pulled her patented “I'm a cute puppy so rub my belly” trick. I fell for it as usual and spent the next 10 minutes alternating between rubbing her belly and wrestling.

After a shower I took Sid out to do her business and noticed it was a damn nice day out. My wife wouldn't be home until 6:30, so I decided on the spot that today was the day. I was going riding.

I took Sid back in and got dressed for the ride. Jeans, boots, t-shirt, light jacket. I grabbed my wallet, watch, cell phone, and made sure I had my Honda Rider Club emergency card with me. I wrote some basic directions down and headed out the door. I rolled my bike out of the garage and I gave it a quick once over as it warmed up. All was well, so I cruised a block over to Kum & Go. I filled the tank and grabbed some cash from the ATM. I drank some chocolate milk and called it breakfast. I slid my goggles over my glasses and set out in earnest. It was warm out, but not hot. A perfect day for riding.

I headed west out of Waukee on Highway 6 towards Adel. Technically it is 4 lanes and 65 mph, but it doesn't feel like a freeway to me so I decided it was ok. Less than a mile out of town a city cop had a female rider pulled over to the side of the road. I went by quick, but it looked like she was riding a Honda Rebel. She looked too occupied to wave back at me so I didn't bother.

At Adel I wanted to take Highway 6 south to Redfield. On the map I had at home, 6 south was actually more of a western direction until Redfield, at which point it turned due south. A sign at an intersection in Adel pointed me due south right off the bat. I followed it thinking maybe it turned west a bit south of town. 3 miles later I decide it didn't and head back for Adel. I turned left (west) at the same intersection I was at previous and soon saw a sign telling me Redfield was a dozen or so miles away. The short trip to Redfield was calm pleasant. Some hills, some valleys, completely surrounded by green corn and bean fields. It was warm out but the natural breeze of the bike cutting thru the wind kept me cool and comfortable. I passed no one on my side of the road and only met a few cars and trucks going the other direction. You're not gonna get that on the freeway.

The road curves south on the edge of Redfield so all I saw was a convenience store and some houses. There were some trees in the background and I saw a few buildings across the tops of the branches. A few miles later I passed through Wiscotta. Further south, right before the freeway. I turned right and headed for Dexter. Coming through town a woman carrying her wash in from the line gave me a wave which I smiled and returned. A few blocks later a couple of boys were waiting to cross the road on their bicycles. They gave my bike a pretty hard look. If they are anything like me at that age, they were wishing for the day to come when they were able to set aside the Huffy and get a 2 wheeler with an engine. I was surprised to see Stuart has a wind turbine.

Leaving Stuart I continued on the White Pole road. Traffic was still almost non-existent and suited me just fine. Although I enjoy city riding a lot, you can't get the solitary peace you find on a back road between small towns. Looking around all you see is the road in front of you, ditches, fields, and trees off to the side. With no markers of any kind, traffic, you could be anywhere. Only the occasional blip on the map lets you know where you really are. The next blip in the case was the town of Menlo . I don't recall much about Menlo other than I passed through it. I do recall a couple of kids running around the front yard of a house just off the roadway.

I kept on until I came to Casey. Some older buildings lined the roadways. Somewhere around here is Slayton Rock, one of Iowa 's largest glacial deposits. I believe that means it's a big ass rock.

Eventually the road turned south and I headed on down towards Adair. I went right through town even though I was quite thirsty by now. I wanted to see the Train robbery marker. On the south edge of town I did have to take the freeway about a quarter mile to the next exit. I didn't know how to get to the road I needed going through town. I figured less than a mile of freeway was alright. I took the exit, turned left, went a short ways and rounded a bend. A sign right before the bend told me I was near the historical marker. It didn't lie. Before I straightened my bike from the lean of the corner, I saw it. It was on a little hill next to a field of what looked like wheat. I slowed down and took the little gravel road to the top of the hill. I shut the Shadow down for a quick break. I checked out the wagon wheel and plaque and then walked the few rails they had stuck in the ground. These are supposedly the very rails that the James/Younger gang separated to wreck the train.

I tried to imagine what it was like living in that time. Some would call it simpler, but I believe that is how you look at it.. I found I imagined it would be somewhat similar to the TV show Deadwood (the train robbery took place in 1873, Deadwood takes place in 1877). I understand Deadwood is a fictional show, but the basics are still the same. You want to eat, you have to work. You want heat, you build a fire. You want to eat, you make something. There was no car or motorcycle to drive you along the nice paved roads to the ATM where you grab some cash so you can hit Wendy's for a combo meal at 2 am. So was life simpler? Yes, in the fact that things aren't as complex as things are today. Back then you didn't have to load the kids up, take them to school, drop them off, go to work, leave work, grab the kids, get them to soccer practice, get some groceries, pick the kids up, get them a good meal, make sure there homework is done, get some quality time in, etc.. Simpler? Yes. But easier? Not a chance.

After a few minutes, I loaded back up and went into Adair proper via a paved road that went north of the freeway and led into town. I saw the famous Smiley water tower. What's it like you ask? Well, it's a big, yellow, cylindrical container with a bulbous head on the end with a smiley face painted on it. Being a water tower, I suspect there is some H2O on the inside. Possibly. Or maybe that's just crazy talk.

I stopped at a gas station and grabbed a Pepsi. I took it outside and walk around the corner of the building to find some shade. I'm almost finished when I hear the unmistakable sound of a Harley pull up. A few minutes later I finish my Pepsi and walk back around front. I tossed my empty into the trash can and throw my leg over the seat. I put my earplugs in and am preparing to insert the key when the Harley rider comes out of the store. He is an older guy, in jeans and a sleeveless t-shirt. I'd guess him to be in his mid 50's. I can see some tufts of white hair and some lines around his eyes but that's about it as he wore his helmet into the store. It's a flip up helmet but it doesn't have the shield attached. The lower part of the helmet runs across the bottom of his face. All I can really see is an oval shaped patch that shows his eyes and nose and a wee bit of his forehead. He sees me and steps in my direction.

“Mphh ay out it it” he says.

I lean my head towards him. “Sorry?”

“Mice ate out isn't it?” he says.

I realize he is saying ‘nice day out, isn't it', but between his mouth being covered by his helmet and me having my earplugs in, we can't understand each other worth a damn. I pop out my right earplug. “Oh yeah, very nice.”

H tells me he hasn't had his bike out in a week and couldn't resist. I tell him we I haven't had mine out in a month and was way over due for a ride. After this he says again it's a nice day and clams up. It looks like he is expecting me to lead the conversation from here on out. This guy seems nice enough, but I think our conversation is at and end and about to become an uncomfortable silence. I just want to ride. I tell tell him to ride safe and put my earplug back in. He takes off for his bike and I fire mine up, anxious to head north to 44. It's part of the Western Skies Scenic Byway and I was looking for to seeing how scenic it actually was.

I gave the smiley water tower a wave and set off. A short jaunt north and I see the sign that points me in the direction of 44. I make the turn and take it slow for a few hundred yards. Someone has been working out here and the road is covered in gravel and oil. I stay as far right as possible, avoiding the muck. It clears off over the top of a hill and I shift the Shadow up into cruising speed. It's a bit hilly as I get close to 44. I can see the T intersection in the distance when I spot something out of the corner of my eye. Off to my right is a bit of a valley with some trees. Bounding along through is a deer. It's a bit far to cause me any problems but I slow down just the same. In Iowa they say it's not the first deer you see that gets you. It's the second one behind that you don't see until it's too late. I once owned an ‘81 Monte Carlo that could attest to the truth in that saying. Coming home in the dark one night a deer jumped across the road. I hit the brakes pretty hard and watched him pass. I was still slowing down when I clipped the second one following behind the first one. The joker broke my grill and ran off. Jerk.

I hit the T intersection and turned right on 44. I cruised down into a valley and thru the town of Guthrie Center. I consider stopping for a bit to check out the town since I had never been there, but by now it was past 3:30 pm and I hadn't had breakfast. I had a craving for a Chicken Cordon Blue sandwich they serve at a nice place about 10 minutes from my front door so I decided to hold off on looking around and just enjoy the ride home. I rode on thru Guthrie Center in no time and set my sites on Panora.

Panora isn't the world's largest town. As a matter of fact it is rather small, I'd guess 1200 or so folks or so make their homes there, but they do have a very beautiful lake that has houses all around it. The road that goes around it, Panorama Drive is long and I hope to ride it someday soon. Since it is a single road with a single name, it makes it seem like half the population lives on the same street. I stopped for a 4 way intersection, waited for a car to turn in front of me and then went on my way. I'll be back another day to ride around the lake.

I kept on through Dallas Center , another small town. Nothing to report there. A few miles east of town I turned south on a county road and rode the last few miles back home to Waukee. On the edge of town, at a stoplight I looked off to the right where I had seen the lady rider pulled over earlier. The bike was still there, parked in the same spot, but the lady, the cop, and the cop car were gone. I'm gonna assume her day turned out in a way she hadn't planned on. For a moment I was almost sorry she didn't get to ride on such a great day, but then I reasoned if a cop pulls you over and hauls you back to the station, odds are you did something to deserve it.

I worked my way through town and pulled into my garage. I rode 132 miles for the day. All of them good. I saw some nice towns, nice scenery and had a great ride. Can't wait to do it again.