August 21st, 2003
This trip had nothing to do with boating. Although, a long road trip has it's similarities to cruising from place to place.
We left Houston on August 21st, 2003, headed for Harley Davidson's 100th anniversary party in Milwaukee, WI. We were traveling with our friends Barbara & Gary. We had my bike, a 2001 Dyna Wide Glide, Gary's bike, a 2002 Heritage Softtail Classic, and Gary's SUV pulling a two-bike trailer. The girls took turns driving the truck with the intent that we would trailer home, or have it incase of bad weather or mechanical problems.
The event was called The Ride Home. Harley had planned four routes from across the country, all to culminate in Milwaukee. The South Central route included stops in Baton Rouge, LA, Memphis, TN, Nashville, TN, Indianapolis, IN, and Rockford, IL, before arriving in Milwaukee on August 27th. Each stop included dealer parties, and street parties. Nashville and Indianapolis also had optional exclusive parties available for a fee. We signed up for both.
Our ride to Baton Rouge included the only bad weather we had. We left Houston around 10:00am, and stopped for lunch in Lake Charles, LA about 1:00pm. When we came out of the restaurant it was about to rain. We donned our rain gear and pressed on through several off and on showers. Just outside Baton Rouge though, the sky opened up. This was the kind of downpour that makes cars pull over. And they have wipers! We made it to an overpass and pulled over. The rain was horizontal, so we were still getting rained on, but we were stopped, and protected from the lightening. After about twenty minutes, it passed, and we went on to the hotel. We got checked in, went to dinner, then went downtown to a street party on the bank of the Mississippi River. The rain had limited the bands, and the crowd, but we caught the Marshall Tucker Band for a couple hours.
Friday was on to Memphis. We were staying right downtown, just two blocks from Bealle St. where the evening street party was. We paid a visit to the local dealer where there was a party during the afternoon. The street party consisted of blocking of several blocks of Bealle St. where there are nothing but on bar after another. Bikes were parked everywhere, and people crowded the street and the clubs.
Saturday we headed for Nashville. In addition to a dealer party, this stop had one of the exclusive parties. 1000 people were able to buy tickets to the Wildhorse Saloon. The party there included a buffet, and musical entertainment. Amongst the entertainment was either Reba McEntire, or an excellent impersonator. We never were sure which.
Sunday we moved on to Indianapolis. Again, we were in a nice downtown hotel. They were very cool with our visit, doing things like letting us park all around the sidewalks around the front of the hotel, and putting a hose and bags of old towels out so we could wash our bikes. The first day in Indy, we went to a large party in a city park that included music, vendors, and a large display of historically significant Harleys from throughout the years. Indy was a two day stop, and the second day was the highlight. In the afternoon, we went to a party at the local dealer. But at 4:00pm, we were at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the second exclusive party that we paid for. This party consisted of taking two laps around the track on our bikes, and then having a nice buffet dinner in the pit area at the start finish line. Having been a fan of Indy Car racing for twenty years, being on the track was quite exciting for me. Coming around the fourth turn onto the front straight that first time sent chills up my spine, and made me wish I could have shared the moment with my late friend Jack who had attended many. many Indy 500's.
Tuesday morning we left for Rockford, IL, northwest of Chicago. We had gotten advice the previous day from a "local" to go through Bloomington, IL instead of Chicago. He said it would be fifty miles further, but an hour faster, due to skipping tolls, construction, and traffic. Once we were in Rockford, we were glad we took his advice, because it turned out we also missed a heavy thunderstorm in Chicago. Rockford is home to the oldest Harley dealer in the world, Kegel's. We stopped there on our way in to town and spent some time at their party. An amazing thing started happening as we drove into the Rockford area. People were gathering on the overpasses to watch the bikes come to town. They were waving to us, and waving flags, and holding banners welcoming Harley riders. It was amazing, and continued from there to Milwaukee. Another amazing thing was the number of bikes. Everyday, we noticed more and more bikes on the road as we got closer to Milwaukee. By the time we left Indy, there was steady stream, and any time we stopped for gas of food, there were groups at each exit. A humorous side note to this stop - in the evening we decided we wanted to sample Chicago style pizza. We were stopped at a red light and asked a driver where to get good pizza. A young girl promptly gave us directions to Pizza Hut! Fortunately, we spotted a billboard for a local place a few blocks down the road.
Wednesday was the day we would arrive "home". Home for Harley. We were staying with my niece in Madison, WI, which is about 90 miles west of Milwaukee. Gary & Barbara were staying at a resort on Lake Geneva which is about 80 miles south of Milwaukee. So, in Rockford, we actually strapped our bags on the bike for the first time, since the SUV would go with them. We headed to Madison, which is only a little over a hour from Rockford. Conveniently, the Madison dealer was at the exit we were taking anyway, so we stopped there for a short time. We then got to my nieces and relaxed for the afternoon. In the late afternoon, we headed into Milwaukee.
There were two major venues in Milwaukee on Wednesday through Saturday. One was Club H.O.G. XX, which was about 25 miles north of downtown Milwaukee, and was sponsored by the Harley Owner's Group. The other was at the Summerfest grounds, right in downtown, and was sponsored by Harley. Wednesday evening, we went to Club H.O.G. to see Jeff Beck and B.B. King. The number of people there was amazing, and they all came on bikes. The fairgrounds and a farmer's field across the street were full of Harleys. It was a sight to see. We got fooled by the weather here. When we left Madison, it was in the high 80's and we were dressed appropriately. By 11:00pm when we headed home, it was in the low 60's. We wore our rain gear home which helped, but we were cold. The next day we bought sweatshirts.
Thursday we met at one of the Harley plants in the area. This plant is where they make all the big V-twin motors. The place was packed, but we had a very interesting tour of the plant. It was touching that there were several employees along the tour route whose job it was to shake every persons hand and welcome them "home". They really seemed appreciative that we were their customers. After the plant, we went to the Summerfest grounds. The way this place was laid out was that there were seven or eight stages arranged so the music didn't interfere with one another. Each day, there were five or six well known bands playing in the evening, and lots of local bands playing earlier. We left there about 11:00pm and headed home. We ran into rain just outside Milwaukee, but had our rain gear and it wasn't nearly as cold as the previous night.
Friday, we took a day off and stayed in Madison to spend some time with my niece. It was nice not to drive for a day. Saturday, we went into Milwaukee early to watch the big parade. 10,000 bikes paraded for seven miles from the zoo to downtown. Half the bikes were made up of Harley executives, Harley dealers, representatives from each H.O.G. chapter, and people who had raised over $5300 for MDA, the official charity of Harley. The other 5,000 bikes were randomly selected from the 150,000 or so who had bought advance tickets for the big party Sunday. The parade was something to see, and huge crowds turned out all along the way. Unfortunately, we also got word that morning that our friend's father passed away back home in Houston overnight. So, instead of meeting them in Milwaukee for the day, we drove down to Lake Geneva to meet them. We spent a nice afternoon down there and in the evening loaded Gary's bike on the trailer and drove it back to Madison with us. Gary and Barbara flew home Sunday morning and missed the big party.
Sunday was The Party. It was to be held at Veteran's Park, on the lakefront just north of downtown Milwaukee. The gates opened at noon, for a concert that was to start at 6:00. We got in the grounds about 1:00, and were probably 50,000 people from the stage. Overall, there were about 150,000 people by 6:00. Where else could you get 150,000 to come to a concert without announcing who was playing? At 6:00, Dan Akroyd opened the show. He introduced The Doobie Brothers as the first act. They played for about an hour, after which Akroyd came out again. After a fifteen minute set change, he introduced Tim McGraw. We thought he was the main act and enjoyed him for a little over an hour. During his set, Kid Rock joined him for a couple of songs. When he was done, Akroyd came back out and made it clear there was more. During the thirty minute set change, they announced the total raised during the past year for MDA - 7.2 million dollars! Two million over their goal. After this, the final act came out. There had been several rumors about who it was, but none were right. It was Elton John. He played for a little over an hour. When this was done, there was an amazing fireworks show. It was like the biggest grand finale you have ever seen and it went on for fifteen minutes. We walked about three miles back to where we parked and headed for Madison. Amazingly, the traffic was not a problem since the parking was pretty spread out over several miles. We hit a McDonald's on the edge of town since we hadn't eaten since mid-afternoon, and they were still open and hour past closing time, trying to handle all the bikers. We made it in just before they locked the doors. The only remaining excitement was getting stopped speeding about halfway to Madison. My excuse was that we were cold (it was about 60). The trooper seemed amused that we thought 60 was cold. Well, to a Texan it is!
Monday we headed home. Both bikes on the trailer and a long drive ahead of us. We split twenty-two hours of driving into two days and got home Tuesday evening with no problems (or tickets). It was a memorable trip. What other American company has lasted a hundred years, let alone throw an appreciation party for all it's customers? And the welcome by the people of Milwaukee was amazing. Back to reality now. Back to work. And start planning the next boat trip...
Update May 2004 -
After 30 years of off and on riding, I was involved in my first motorcycle accident on 3/10/04. An oncoming car turned left right in front of me. I hit the car and flew off the bike, over the car, and landed in the street on my butt. I received a compression fracture of my lumbar #1 vertebrae. I have been wearing a back brace since then, and expect to wear it through early June. All in all, I was lucky. I had no road rash and should heal as good as I was. The bike has been fixed too. It had substantial damage (see new pictures), but was repairable. Several friends have expressed their concern that I would consider riding again, but I can't imagine not doing it. It would be like never leaving the marina.