The weather on this trip had simply been unbeatable: temperatures in the mid-80’s, low humidity, mostly sunny. Monday was no exception, though it may have been just a touch warmer. It was still well within “perfect” range for a bike trip.
We gathered Monday morning in the hotel parking lot. A few riders were going to take the Interstate home so they could fulfill some evening commitments; a few others were going back down to Galena’s shopping district before heading home. The rest of us – 11 bikes, I think – had planned a slow westward mosey with stops that included the Wilwert’s dealership in Dubuque and J&P Cycles in Anamosa.
Leaving Galena the same way we’d come back from dinner the night before, Holly lead us on a short detour through Dubuque so we could all have the experience of riding through a particular neighborhood. It wasn’t the historic homes she wanted to show us, though – it was the street itself: I swear to God this thing was a 45-degree incline, with a 90-degree turn-with-incline at the start and another 90-degree-turn-with-incline at the end, followed by an immediate steep decline back down. It was a road that would have really intimidated me had I not encountered something nearly identical last summer out in Deadwood at Mt. Moriah Cemetery. I knew the key was to keep my speed up (though the instinct is to take it slow) – the challenge was to do that while being mindful of what the riders ahead of you were doing.
We all made it through without problems – and gave another WOOHOO at the end – and then we were on to Wilwert’s for more shopping.
After Wilwert’s, we headed out of Dubuque and traveled Highway 151 to Anamosa, where we stopped at the Iowa biker mecca, J&P Cycles. J&P is a retail and mail-order company offering all manner of bike parts, accessories, apparel and gifts. Their catalog is a must-have for anyone who rides, and their annual Open House event draws thousands of bikers from around the Midwest. We did some shopping and then headed on down the road to Scooter’s, a biker bar and grill that looked brand-new, where we had a really good lunch and took some time to pass our cameras around for a preview of some of the weekend’s pictures. That was an eye-opener, to say the least.
I’ll pause here a moment while you ponder that statement.
We continued down 151 through the town of Marion on the outskirts of Cedar Rapids (larger Iowa city), and it was here that we had our biggest traffic problems with cars separating our group and trucks unwilling to give an inch to help us keep together. More butt puckering as we ran the gauntlet down to the junction of 151 and Interstate 80 at the Amana Colonies, then thankfully a gas stop where we could breathe again for few minutes, count fingers and toes to make sure we were all still in one piece, and get familiar with the westward route home. (I didn’t get the full story, but I know Judy B. had a close call with an impatient driver during this portion of the ride. She was understandably pissed and a little shaken at the gas stop.)
We followed County Roads F52, F57 and F62 west, and took our final gas stop at Prairie City about 20 miles east of Des Moines. We toasted our trip and said our good-byes, as we’d all be peeling off in different directions once we hit Highway 163 into the city. It was the last “group moment” of an awesome three-day adventure, and we vowed to expand on the idea for next year with more days and more amazing women.
I rolled into my driveway at home at about 6:30 p.m. Monday night, wishing I’d taken an extra day off work to recover from my vacation but happy to see my family and thrilled to note my biker sunburn: the lower two-thirds of my face are deep red, while the parts covered by my sunglasses and do-rag/helmet combo were distinctly lighter. It’s a look I wear with pride!
Having conquered Poopy’s, we left Savanna around 5:45 p.m. with Laurie and her GPS-equipped bike in the lead, and headed for Sunday night’s supper destination: Breitbach’s Restaurant in Balltown, Iowa. Breitbach’s is Iowa’s longest-existing restaurant and bar, dating back to the mid-1800’s.
It’s located in the tiny town of Balltown, west and a little north of Dubuque. The owners told us they had served some 1200 customers that day by the time we arrived around 7 p.m., and that was just the bikers!
Our route from Savanna took us over a grated-surface bridge back into Iowa (which gave new meaning to the term “squirrely” – riding that surface felt like the bike was going to slip out from under me! – interesting!) up Highway 52, through Dubuque, Bellevue and St. Donatus, then up County Road 9Y into Balltown. Of these communities, a couple things were notable: First, Bellevue is a very pretty little town with the highway running right alongside the river and a lovely, curving recreational trail running parallel on the water-side of the highway. On the other side, beautiful old and well-kept/restored 1800’s buildings line the road – I’m sure several of them must be bed-and-breakfast inns.
And second, Highway 52 between St. Donatus and Highway 151 is TERRIBLE for motorcycles! It’s scenic enough, but it seems that every hundred yards or so there’s literally a hump in the road where it’s been repaired and surfaced with road-gouging equipment. Whoever in State Government is responsible for this method of road repair should be fired… or forced to ride his/her handiwork on a Sportster: it feels like speed bumps! And it thoroughly ruined any enjoyment I got out of that portion of the road – perhaps the gals on the larger bikes didn’t feel it as much, but for me it was miserable and it actually ruined my good mood for awhile. (It also doesn’t bode well for the community of St. Donatus – this is the ONLY thing I remember about passing through what may very well be a lovely town.)
Pulling into Balltown, we met up with the gals who had skipped the side-trip to Poopy’s and had traveled over directly from the hotel in Galena. Once again, the restaurant was prepared for us with an excellent, well-stocked buffet and plenty of available seating for all. By this time there were plenty of shared road stories flying around – deer sightings, favorite scenic views, notable Galena shops, over-eager McGregor locals, etc. – so dinner was a delightful combination of great food and spirited conversation.
The ride back to Galena was interesting. I hate riding deer-laden roads at night. (I’m quite certain the little buggers hover behind every tree on these dark country highways, just waiting for the opportunity to spring out onto the road and offer a cheerful – if stupidly mutually-destructive – “hello!” to us bikers.) By the time supper was concluded, it was dusk and now we had to ride back to Galena… along an unfamiliar deer-laden road at night. To further complicate things for me, I happened to be the last bike out of the restaurant, and the closest bike to me was a good hundred or more yards ahead for the first several miles of the trip. I had to ride about 10 mph faster than was comfortable for me on that road just to keep tail lights in sight, and that made me far less confident that I would spot any lurking deer far enough in advance to avoid a collision. (This is where the “ride your own ride” advice kind of fails: if I had ridden my own ride, I would’ve slowed down – but then would have quickly lost the rest of my group, and been forced to ride alone at night without a map in unfamiliar territory.)
I caught up with the group once we got to Dubuque, but I still felt like I was riding too fast. (And we were not speeding – the group was riding the speed limit! I just felt very unsure of the territory.) I was pretty damn happy to finally roll into Galena – it was only a half-hour ride, but it was for me a 30-minute butt puckering, character-building ride.
The rest of the evening in Galena was spent on the hotel patio, enjoying drinks and again sharing road stories. The next day would be head-for-home day.
Next up: More butt-puckering roads, a stop at J&P Cycles, and home!
Day Two started out with a fond (if slightly hung-over) farewell to McGregor and a short hop down the road to the Isle of Capri Casino, where we enjoyed the breakfast buffet.
Once finished, we headed to the parking lot to learn the plan for the day and to say good-bye to several folks who were headed back home, including all the gals who had driven in cars. I learned later that one of our riders had a little trouble and dropped her bike in a tight, slow-speed corner going out of the casino, but she was not injured and neither was her bike so she continued on without incident.
We left the casino in our small groups a few minutes apart and crossed the Mississippi into Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin.
We took Highway 18 down to Bridgeport. Just south of Bridgeport we picked up County Road C, which is a must-ride for anyone visiting that area. It’s a narrow little road under a canopy of trees which runs right alongside the Lower Wisconsin River (which feeds into the Mississippi back at that Pikes Peak Overlook) and offers constant twists and curves as well as beautiful views (woops! and deer!). Our group spread out a little so we could each enjoy the road, and when we pulled up to the stop-sign at the end of it we all let out a “WOOHOO!!” so Holly would know we had enjoyed it.
From there we headed south down Highway 61 – our group made a stop at a Wisconsin cheese shop where we all purchased fresh cheese, then continued south to Galena. Somewhere along the way we got off our planned route and went through Dickeyville and East Dubuque, eventually coming into Galena on Highway 20 from the west.
Our stop here was at Wilwert’s Harley Davidson (which also has a location in Dubuque, Iowa), and turns out our hotel was right across the parking lot from the dealership – fortunate, because I had a few purchases to haul and thankfully they didn’t have to go far!
Some of the gals headed down into Galena’s main shopping district – I checked into the hotel (Stoney Creek Inn – VERY nice with a cute “lodge-look” theme) and then headed that way. Galena is a popular tourist destination precisely because of the well-kept old buildings and the concentrated shopping on the main business street. Hundreds of little specialty food and gift shops line the narrow street with it’s 1800’s architecture and pretty landscaping.
I met up with Susan S. and Michelle C. once I got parked; my only purchase (besides bottled water) was a bottle of homemade hot sauce from Galena Canning Company. Although Susan and Michelle had been there awhile already, I only got to shop for about half an hour before Theresa called to say a group was headed down to check out Poopy’s, a biker bar/repair shop/parts store located in Savanna, IL about 30 miles south. The three of us decided to cut shopping short and go to Poopy’s.
The ride to Savanna was also very scenic, but this was when we had another bike-down incident. Because we missed the actual turn-off to Savanna, we had to turn around at one point. We pulled into a small utility area with propane tanks situated in it, but it was large loose white rock and gravel. The driveway to get out was a steep incline with only a small cement pad at the top, and one of the gals riding an Ultra Glide got situated on that incline in the loose rock and lost her footing. The bike went so far over the wheels were pointing up. She also fell, but was not hurt. It took about six people working to lift the bike, but fortunately the damage was limited to a broken tab on one of her fairing louvres, a few scratches, and a loosened footpeg.
Once in Savanna we had a little trouble locating Poopy’s (the address we’d been given was on the main street – it turns out Poopy’s had relocated a little ways out of town), but true to our womanhood we were not afraid to stop and ask directions so we soon found it.
What a neat place! Poopy’s is actually a sort of multi-purpose biker gathering place: it consists of a large building with large paved parking lot, a covered patio, and a “backyard” area. In the building are a bike repair shop (they fixed the loose footpeg on the Ultra Glide free of charge!), parts, accessories and apparel store, tattoo shop, bar and restaurant. The bar and restaurant extend out onto the patio, where there’s also an area with pool tables. In the “backyard” there’s a stage for live bands to play, and a grassy area where bikers are inited to tent-camp for free. Every Friday night is “bike night,” so I imagine there’s a bit of a rowdy party followed by “sleeping it off under the stars.” Like County Road C up there in the 2nd paragraph, Poopy’s is a “must-do.” (This is where we saw the best t-shirt of the weekend. Poopy’s servers wore bright orange t’s that said, “Please tip generously. Poopy’s pays shit!”
Next up: A great dinner followed by a butt-puckering ride back to Galena!
What happens when 30-plus high-spirited biker women go bar-hopping in a small town?
Tables get pushed together…
music cranks up…
beer gets bought…
friendships are forged…
the local men try to crash the party…
ask us if we’re a lesbian biker gang (we tell them YES – LOL!)…
more beer gets bought…
the music cranks further…
some of the locals are following us from bar to bar… are we THAT much of a spectacle?? (YES!)
locals trying to dance with us… we feed them to the crocodiles…
… then slowly start trickling home… a slow mosey to the convenience store for snacks… why’s it so friggin’ BRIGHT in here?
And the next day comes around far too soon!
Needless to say, we all had a great time partying in McGregor on Saturday night. Josie’s and Crazy Carl’s received the brunt of our “Surge the local economy” program, as they were within easy walking distance of the motel. I’m sure they are still wondering what the hell happened!
What do women bikers want?
Scenic roads, camaraderie, shopping, and plenty of potty stops. The “Dangerous Curves” Estrogen Ride didn’t disappoint.
Perhaps I should start by explaining that the “Estrogen Ride” was a group of women bikers – some of whom already knew each other, some of whom had never met before – who had gathered to go for a three-day scenic tour of northeastern Iowa and Galena, Illinois. (As a follow-up to a 2006 birthday ride, Holly N. and some friends decided to hold another ride in 2007 and invite a few more women.) The group included one rider from Waterloo, a small group from Carroll, Iowa, and the rest from Des Moines and central Iowa.
In all, more than 30 women Harley riders (and a few who joined us in cars) gathered at Big Barn Harley Davidson in Des Moines on Saturday morning, July 28. After donuts and juice courtesy of Big Barn, and brief pre-ride instructions from Holly, we staged in our smaller groups and the first of us pulled out right at 8:30 a.m.
The weather was perfect: destined to be a pleasantly warm day, but a little cool when riding because of the mild humidity. (Unbelievable, quite frankly, for July – it COULD HAVE been a hundred degrees!) I was riding in Group 1, which was lead by Holly and swept by Carole B.
We rode through Bondurant to Highway 330, then northeast on 330 to Highway 14 north of Marshalltown, then north and east to Grundy Center where we had our first gas/potty stop. We eyed the western sky a little nervously at first – it looked like it might rain on us – but eventually the clouds went away and we never saw a drop.
Back on the bikes and on to Waterloo, where we stopped at Silver Eagle Harley Davidson and met up with the other two groups. Silver Eagle had a great selection of apparel and gifts… a little skimpy on bikes, but the ’08’s are just coming in around the country so everyone’s in between model years at the moment. They did have a copper-and-black Low Rider… a bike I really like in a color scheme that looks really cool and retro.
With all three smaller groups gathered at the dealership, we proceeded as a large group to a truck stop in Waterloo called Junie’s – where they had a banquet room all ready and waiting for us! Lunch was the first opportunity to get to know a few of the gals a little better. It was at this gathering that we learned that the range of riding experience in our group was pretty incredible: Carole B. had been riding about 36 years, and Jules from Carroll, Iowa had only been riding for a month! We also presented Sue S. with a card and a small donation to help pay for her weekend expenses as a thank-you for the embroidery on our shirts.
After lunch we took off in our smaller groups again, heading west on Highway 20 and then north on 187, through the VERY scenic Backbone State Park, and into Strawberry Point. Turns out the little town of Strawberry Point provided the first challenge to our collective riding skills: we had to take a brief detour off the main highway that took us through a neighborhood… the loose-gravel portion of this detour was pretty short, but the fine-gravel and POT-HOLED portion was a little more interesting. (These were holes big enough to get lost in! You not only had to try to navigate the pot-hole gauntlet, you had to keep track of the bike/s in front of you to make sure you weren’t going to run into anyone as we slowly moved through the obstacle course.) We all made it through without incident and stopped for gas a block away from the giant fiberglass strawberry.
By this time the Iowa landscape had certainly changed: in central Iowa, there are some gentle hills and lots of lush green cornfields, but in the northeastern part of the state you start to see some significant bluffs and hills as the land climbs up from the Mississippi River.
There was no shortage of scenic views on Day One – as beautiful as Backbone had been, the best for this day were yet to come. We traveled from Strawberry Point to Pikes Peak State Park, where there is an overlook with a sweeping view of the confluence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers and the town of Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. It was here that explorer Louis Joliet and Father James Marquette first crossed the then-unknown (and un-named) Mississippi River in the late 1600’s. All three of our groups met up here as well, after a stunning ride through the park itself to the overlook, and we attempted to get some full-group pictures. This proved difficult – we were a noisy, excited group (and some of us were still in the bathroom) and getting everyone to stand still at the same time proved nearly impossible. (I’m pretty sure Marquette and Joliet didn’t have this problem.)
After admiring the overlook, we took off as a full group and descended (literally) upon the town of McGregor, Iowa – our first overnight location. McGregor is a lovely little town right on the Mississippi, home to the Isle of Capri Casino but also to a quaint Main street business district and a touristy motel called The Holiday Shores. The Holiday Shores is actually the kind of locally-owned place I love to discover… showing its age a little, but run by a very friendly and knowledgeable family… large rooms – some with great views overlooking the river – and right across the parking lot from a great restaurant with a scenic view from the patio.
One of the neatest things about being on this ride was simply being part of the “spectacle” of a group of more than 30 women on motorcycles. I’m confident the town of McGregor is still recovering!
Next up: Our quiet evening in a sleepy little river town.
I don’t even know where to begin chronicling this awesome trip – the 2007 “Dangerous Curves” Estrogen Ride! From the bikes to the people to the weather to the route to the sights to the arrangements, meals, and gas stops, it was about as perfect a trip as you can imagine.
We left Des Moines promptly at 8:30, proving to the skeptical husbands/SO’s that 30+ women CAN all be ready to go at an appointed time (the SAME appointed time, mind you!) if the occasion is worthwhile enough. And the last of us arrived home, as far as I’m aware, around 6:30 p.m. Monday night – perhaps the gang from Carroll took a little longer?
I do know that before I get to the actual ride reports, a few big thank-you’s are in order:
First, Holly N. put together this awsesome trip from start to finish. She planned three days of scenic rides, secured hotels with plenty of room, arranged for restaurants to accommodate us, ordered perfect weather, and still left enough time for a side-trip to Poopy’s!
Sue S. made sure we all looked the part with awesome denim shirts embroidered with a ride logo and a nickname – this started out being a fairly safe bet for her, because originally she was only expecting maybe nine or 10 participants. I’m sure she must have gotten a little panicky as the number of riders grew and grew, but she hung in there and all who wanted them ended up with a “Dangerous Curves” riding shirt!
And, each of our sub-groups had a ride captain and a sweep rider – I don’t think I can remember all of them… I know that Holly, Lee, Diane, Carole, and Carla all helped out in this way. But I know there were others, so ladies if you served in these roles, THANK YOU!!
I’ll close this first-of-several posts about the ride with a tip for anyone organizing a group ride: do what Holly did – break the large group up into smaller groups, with a captain and a sweep for each small group and a common destination at the end of the ride. It’s easier to keep ten bikes together than 30… more efficient at gas stops and potty breaks… and safer on the road because there’s less chance of cars sneaking their way into the column.
Coming next, DAY ONE ride report!