Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Spam Museum

The scale of the Great Plains is overwhelming. Particularly west of the Missouri River, where towns - real towns, not just small knots of abandoned buildings with a name and a dot on the map - are 60 or more miles apart it's easy to get disoriented in all that space.

Aircraft cabins have silly little dividers and curtains not for privacy but for the psychological comfort they provide: past the curtain, beyond the great divider there is somewhere to go; you are not trapped in a little aluminum tube 6 miles in the air.

There are no curtains marking county lines in the Dakotas: from some of the scenic overlooks you can see the horizon 30 miles away in all directions. Ironically, in all that space, it's easy to feel trapped, to feel there is no place to go that isn't the same as where you are right now.

It's also easy to obsess, to wonder what in the hell a sane person would be doing out here, really, really, REALLY in the MIDDLE OF NOWHERE on a 40 year old motorcycle that hasn't seen a shop for 20 years, with the nearest motorcycle shop of any kind either 200 miles behind or 200 miles ahead. No towns for scores of miles, no state troopers to help in an emergency and no cell service. Just $200 worth of spare parts in the right saddle bag, a factory shop manual and about half the tools I'd need to fix anything serious. I have a lot of faith in these bikes, in this bike.

I've been riding US 212 west, a first for me. I've crossed the plains many times over the years, in both directions on Interstates and secondaries. I plan my trips for the US numbered highways and so 212 was the perfect choice westbound out of Lake Woebegone, MN.

I love the intimacy of the US roads as they tiptoe through the heart of each small town they serve. The shoulders are close by, the scenery close by, the smells and sounds close by. A perfect size of road for me and this R75/5. You'll never make great time but you'll have one.

But taking this road means that, once again, I've missed a visit to the Spam Museum. The Hormel company, makers of the original mystery meat in a can, has a museum in Austin, MN, right there off I90. I've always wanted to stop there, to see the kitsch for myself but each time I've been on I90 at the Austin exit, the museum has been closed. And this time, it was just too far south. Adieu, until we meat again.

As compensation, I did experience Madison, MN which proudly bills itself "The Lutefisk Capital of America". They didn't have T-shirts. Or lutefisk which, from what I understand, is just as well. And I picked up the only map I've used so far on this trip in Madision, at the gas station. Navigating in the plains is easy: ride in whatever direction you're headed without turning until you run out of gas, then fill up and do it again until you get somewhere. No turns, no curves to confuse, really easy on the sidewalls of your tires, too. But there's nothing like the comfort of a good map:

A US212 detour.
Map (c) 2012, Gloria at the Sinclair C Store.
Three hundred sixty five starkly beautiful miles today, Watertown to Sturgis, where my BMW is conspicuously parked in the middle of a row of - c'mon do I have to tell you what brand? - other bikes at the Super8.

After breakfast tomorrow I have to take the clutch throw-out bearing out as it started squeaking timidly today. Always the optimist, I'm hoping to find a mouse in there.