"Bottoms Up Tour"
Notes on a ride from Key West, Florida to Angle Inlet, Minnesota:
The planning process over two years ago when I realized that no-one had done a sanctioned ride from the Southern most to the Northern most point in the contiguous United States. I wrote to Mike Kneebone, President of the Iron Butt Association. I asked if the I.B.A. would be interested in sanctioning such a ride if in fact it hadn’t already been done. Mike agreed enthusiastically and said "I have been wanting to use Angle Inlet for an IBA ride for quite a while, this is a great excuse to do so". With that encouragement planning started in earnest.
This route presents a few different challenges from the east/west coast to coast route even though they are almost exactly the same distance (within less than 50 miles difference). The North/South route has added complications due to variable route choices, a big difference in the choice of a start location (top or bottom), very different climatic conditions encountered and of course the remoteness of the Angle Inlet location. During the ride temperatures could reasonably be expected to range from high 90’s°F with correspondingly high humidity in the southern portions to close to freezing (or even possibly below freezing at the planned date) in the northern portion. In addition to having no "track records" of the ride route I myself was not familiar with the Northwest Angle of Minnesota area.
First was to research the unfamiliar. The internet proved invaluable in discovering that there was in fact a vibrant settlement at the northernmost point. Although it couldn’t be much more of a contrast to Key West and still be in the U.S. There is a road (of sorts) built in the 1980’s, and they actually got a land line telephone in the 90’s. I managed to contact some representatives of the community and found out that they do in fact have a "gas station" (tank is above ground as the frost keeps throwing it up every winter) with the ability to create a computer receipt for a finish time. They also have a State Trooper stationed there so perhaps an official finishing witness would be possible. After several phone calls to various people in the area I decided that the only way to be fully prepared would be to make a "reconnaissance" trip and see for myself just what conditions could be expected. Of special concern was the "dirt" road for the final 50 or so miles. My wife Lynn and I drove up in early April and found several interesting things. The road would driveable once the "frost boils" were gone (projected for early May) "so long as it wasn’t wet". (remember that phrase). The people were wonderful. We met "Trooper" Bob Nunn and his wife Sherri who agreed enthusiastically to be the finishing witness(s) and the "gas station" operator even showed me her house and which door to knock on to rouse her if I arrived late and the station was closed. All in all a successful and well worth it trip. By the way there was still snow in the bush and we counted 14 deer in the last 10 miles into the "Angle" as the locals call it. The other detail we wanted to check out was the border crossing. You see, you can’t actually get to the Northwest Angle from here.....sort of. Due to it’s unique location you have to either swim across Lake of the Woods or cross the border into Canada in the province of Manitoba go about 50 miles over paved and dirt roads then cross over the border again to get into Minnesota again and thus the "Angle". The border into Canada is straightforward although not what I’m used to home in Windsor/Detroit where literally 10 to 20 thousand people can cross daily. This is a two person affair which serves the highway as well as the railway line. The trains pull up just like a car and the officer walks over to talk to the engineer. I don’t know what they do for a passenger train as I only saw it happen with a (very long) freight train. The border from Manitoba into the "Angle" however is an entirely different situation. Picture a gravel/dirt road through the boreal forest. No houses, no traffic, no people, in other words wilderness. You know by the mileage that you’re nearing the border and are looking for the crossing. Whoops - you just missed it. Back up to read the sign. "Welcome To The United States, You are entering the Northwest Angle, Minnesota. Please report to the U.S. Officers For Inspection via the videophone at Jim’s Corner (8 miles ahead) Thank you for your cooperation Have a nice day." Sooooo.... we drove to the first cross road 8 miles down the road. Here you have two dirt roads crossing in the middle of the forest with a small mud turn off on one corner (raw bush on the other three) with a small plywood "phone booth" in it. Nothing so sophisticated as having a door even and it is absolutely no larger than a phone booth. Sort of looks like a very public outhouse. In it is a white box on the back wall with two buttons. One says "U.S.A." the other says "Canada". There is also a glass panel with a small camera lens visible behind it. The instructions are simple. Press the U.S. button if you’re going into (even though you’re already 8 miles in) the U.S. or press the Canada button if you’re going to go the 8 miles back to Canada. We pressed the U.S. button and were asked the usual questions then told that all was OK and would we stand in front of the camera and "if nothing happens in 30 seconds you’re free to go" We stood there for perhaps 2 minutes crammed both into the booth. All the time wondering what would be the alternative to "if nothing happens". Nothing happened. We left and that was that. So much for all the security and so forth. On the way out we found that the "Canadians" don’t have access to the Camera. Guess we really are a backward nation after all!
Further planning consisted of hours on the internet checking such things as weather averages for locations along the route at various times of the year, dates for the full moon, highway construction etc. etc. etc. etc.
Decision time. Decided to do the route from south to north. This was the major choice and was decided on by many factors such as: The ability to control the passage times through Miami and Atlanta so as to avoid traffic congestion. Since it would be early in the ride more control would be possible than if at the end of the ride where more delays would have had a chance to affect the planned time. The sun would be behind, rather than in front all day. The assurances of the people in Angle Inlet that they would accommodate a late arrival. Arriving at Key west at 3 a.m. could present problems. Other factors considered were time of departure (9:00 p.m.), date (May 23, so as to take advantage of the full moon, weather averages, and close to the longest daylight day of the year), getting the bike to Key West along with myself in a non exhausted state, what equipment, spares, food, hydration, adding a fuel cell to the bike and on and on and on......... the details seemed to crop up as fast as old ones were addressed. This was becoming quite a "Plan"
Decided to ride to Miami, leave the bike there and fly home for a week (work pressures/ rest up), fly back, pick up the bike, ride to Key West, stay (try to rest up some more) for a day and a half and leave on Sunday evening at 9:00 p.m. All went well on the ride down. Actually did a SS1000 (1000 miles in under 24 hours) from Windsor to Lake City, Florida. Must practice you know! Upon getting my final fuel receipt I found that the (now full) fuel cell was leaking all over the bike. More delays but got into Miami the next day. Nothing like riding down I-75 while sitting on a sheepskin in a puddle of gasoline. Fortunately that was only to the next town to find a bike dealer with a large enough wrench to turn the outside nut while I reached down into the almost full fuel cell to hold the inside nut. About this time I was beginning to wonder who was the nut, me or someone who had decided to not do this thing. I would appreciate your discretion in not offering advice or comments at this stage. In Miami I dropped the bike at a friendly Honda dealer for new tires and fluids and advised that I couldn’t pick it up ‘till next week as pre-arranged.
Flew home, flew back the following Friday and rode the bike from Miami to Key West. Got the required photos at the "Southern most Point monument". Collected my water sample from the ocean. Found a cop to sign my witness form. Tried to get some sleep and generally managed to avoid all of the temptations of Key West. This being off of caffeine and alcohol for a month prior to the ride was proving to be harder than at first anticipated. The caffeine was the worst. Around about 7:30 p.m. on Sunday I couldn’t wait any longer so went to the "southern most gas station" and again found it wouldn’t take a Canadian Visa card. This "please enter your Zip code" B.S. is getting really tiresome when you don’t have a Zip code. This first receipt therefore came from the inside machine - more were to follow.
Off at last. Weather hot and sun going down. Time to make some miles. Alas that was not to be. The highway from Key West to the Mainland hops along many small islands, each of which is a community in it’s own right. Every one of them had a radar trap. I’ve never seen such a concentration of speed law enforcement in my life. Where were these cops on my way down? Perhaps they just do this on a Sunday night to catch everyone after the weekend. Suffice to say that it was a long, slow and cautious ride the first 127 miles to the mainland. In general I don’t speed above the rate of the surrounding traffic flow on this type of ride since getting a ticket is slow and I find it isn’t safe to exceed the general flow of traffic. Not to mention that it’s tiring and the need for more frequent fuel stops. The main rule is "Arrive Alive - so safety plays a big part. Remember - the turtle won the race! Apart from the frustration of being delayed on the great adventure the ride "across the ocean" was delightful. The full moon (as planned) came up and it’s reflection across the water was truly magnificent. What an eerie feeling to be motoring along with nothing to see but ocean. It was almost like being in a boat as you could see across the water to other boats cruising along in the moonlight. This tranquillity soon was destroyed by clouds moving in over the moon and by Miami it was a steady rain and no more moon (not planned). All along the Florida’s Turnpike I smugly rode straight through the (seems like) hundreds of toll booths as I had obtained an electronic "Sun Pass" device which pays the tolls automatically from a small transcoder. The nice thing is they will take it back up to 48 days after purchase for a full refund. You still have to pay for the tolls however, but even they are at a reduced rate if you’ve got a "pass" (more planning).
Sunrise and onward to Atlanta. I had the benefit of lots of advice going through Atlanta regarding usage of the H.O.V. Commuter lanes by motorcycles. Let me say now that at 10:30 in the morning you don’t need them. Just follow I-75 right through the middle and do not slow down, go with the flow. The flow in this case was about 85+ m.p.h. in the inside lane, and sometimes more! Goodness knows what they were doing in the "fast" lanes. This proved to be the fastest part of the entire trip. Atlanta spit us out into rural Georgia into nice clear weather which lasted for most of the rest of the ride. Generally the rest of the ride until the planned sleep stop in Ottawa Ill (I-80 & I-39) was smooth apart from finding out that being an "Iron Butt" doesn’t mean that you actually have one - ouch!. Just watched the scenery unfold into the mountains of Chatanooga and area on into the rolling foothills then the flat lands of Illinois. Only glitch was getting sidetracked for 10 miles in a detour getting onto I-39 near Peoria. I still claim it was faulty signage and not my by then 25+ hours in the saddle with only a few 15 minute sleep stops at the "Iron Butt Motel" also known as a picnic table. Now if I could only discourage the "Hey are you OK mac" people when trying to catch a little rest. Next time I’ll have a large sign saying "I’m OK just sleeping" made and wear it. Checking into the Holiday Inn early in the a.m. provoked some sly looks from the clerk when I informed her I’d be checking out in 3 hours. I’m sure I heard the door lock into the office click as I went to my room for some very expensive sleep.
Aaaaaaaaa - shut it off - quick - Screaming Meanie ultra loud alarms are a real rude awakening. However they do, do the job. Not to mention setting off car alarms and rousing other guests at the end of the hallway. I left in a hurry. After all I had places to go. Another nice night/morning and later at sunrise was so impressed by the full moon (as planned) setting to the west as the sun rose in the east that I took the time to stop and take a picture. It actually looks like a sunset. One of my best photos ever. Onwards up through Wisconsin where at the higher elevations the leaves were still just buds on the trees. Down again to the bridge at Duluth, MN. Hot Damn, getting close, this ride might just be doable after all. Only about 6½ hours to go. The scenery is now beginning to change again and looks somewhat like southern Florida again. Generally flat with scrub brush and fields, strange to see.
Some 5 hours later arrived at the village of Warroad where the Canada/U.S.A. border crossing awaits. No problems with the customs folks although I’m absolutely sure he thought I was lying when I told him that I’d left Key West on Sunday night at 9:00 p.m., since it was now only about 1:00 p.m. Tuesday afternoon. While at the border it started to rain a bit. It had been looking threatening for the past couple of hours but this was still not according to plan. I departed the border and proceeded into Canada across Southern Manitoba towards the highway north back into Minnesota and Angle Inlet. Unfortunately the rain started up in earnest so lots of time was wasted trying to pull waterproof booties and gloves on over items already wet and "clingy". (not planned). Perhaps a little aside is in order here. My wife Lynn and her sister and brother were driving up from Windsor to meet me at the finish and then we were all to go for a slow ride home on a sort of mini vacation via Mackinac Island with the bike being a trailer queen. That was the plan anyway. In the mean time the rain is intensifying so I tried to make the best time possible on the "tar and chip" road leading up to where the gravel/dirt road would start. In about 50 miles I encountered one vehicle, a beat up black pick up truck. Which I passed. Finally after much trepidation I could see the road change colour ahead through the rain. The infamous dirt road which I had been assured would be no problem after the frost was out except when it is wet. Well it was wet, very wet, (not planned). The gravel had been pushed into rows alongside where the tire tracks had brought out nothing but mud! Smoooothe, slippery, like the inside of a diaper, mud. THIS WAS NOT PLANNED!!! Nothing for it but to slow down, way down. To crash now and not be able to finish would be heartbreaking, not to mention it would really have upset the Plan. So I wobbled my slow way through the forest as best I could. Honda Pacific Coast motorcycles are just about as far from a "dirt bike" as you can get and although she was trying her best, she just wasn’t very good as a "mudder" as they say about horses. Along about 20 miles into the dirt I noticed headlights in the gloom behind me. They seemed to be catching up fast. Uh-Oh! Surely this must be the old pick up truck I’d passed. Now he wants to exact revenge was my first thought. On closer looks (short looks as I was pretty busy) I noticed that it wasn’t a black truck at all. It was white and it looked like a van. Now that’s strange, cause I own a white van just like it and My wife is supposed to already be in Angle Inlet with it. After All she left on Monday morning and only had 1200 miles to travel. As it got closer my suspicions grew and as we turned a bend I saw it was towing a motorcycle trailer. My heart leapt. I wasn’t alone here in the mud and the rain. This was far better than any final greeting could have ever been. Just what I needed to help on the last stretch which was proving so difficult. (not planned but sure would have been if I’d thought such a meeting was plannable). Crossed the border (sign only) and sped turtle like the 8 miles to Jim’s Corners to clear customs back into Minnesota. Lots of hugs in the mud lot at the customs house, but I still wasn’t done. Unfortunately the phone was busy every time we pressed the U.S.A. button. We tried several times until a local came along and asked if we were getting a busy signal. "Yes", we replied, thinking it strange that he would guess this. "Its been busy for 3 weeks" he said. "Phone the number on the wall if you’ve got a phone." So that is how we cleared into the most secure country in the world. Standing in the rain, in a mud lot, talking on a cell phone.
The rest of the ride was somewhat of a blur. Time seemed to be compressed. Continue along the road into Angle Inlet and get gas at the store. The owner had my receipt waiting for me when I went in and was quite happy that he was to be a part of the ride. They remembered me from the reconnoissance trip, and were expecting me. DONE, DONE, DONE (as planned). Nothing to do now but to go to Trooper Bob’s and get the final official witness. Arriving at his house he and his wife came out in the rain to welcome me. Sherri said that she had just checked the map I’d given her previously and noted that my planned arrival time was 3:08 p.m. and that they wondered when they would see me. We all checked our watch at that time and had a good laugh. It was exactly 3:00 p.m. (almost as planned). "You’re actually 8 minutes early" stated Trooper Bob. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I was actually an hour late (not planned) due to the time zone change. Went to find the cabin we had booked for the night and was officially welcomed by Lynn and Brian and Karen. Most trouble was finding something to put under the kickstand to prevent it sinking into the mud as my usual support just wasn’t large enough due to the mud created by all the rain. (not planned). Not to mention, of course, getting my creaky old non iron, butt off the saddle for the final time. Nothing more to do but to collect a water sample from the shore of northernmost point of land. Now I’ve got two simple bottles sitting on my mantle piece. One from the warm Ocean at Key West and the other from the icy waters of Lake of the Woods. Between them lies memories, lots of memories (as planned).
Bob Munden, Windsor, Ontario June, 2005
I'll add photos later