Fall Color Weekend

a.k.a. Gettin' a knee down...

It had been quite a while since Penny and I were able to get away on the bike, and in fact, we hadn't done all that much riding since our big trip out west earlier this year.   With fall approaching, I mentioned the idea of taking a weekend trip up to northern Wisconsin and maybe the U.P. to see the fall colors, and she was all over it, immediately emailing me back ideas of places to go see.  OK, looks like we're going.  During the week prior, weather reports were pretty negative, but Penny was extremely intent on getting away for the weekend.

I also had an ulterior motive for this weekend that will come out through this report.   It was time.

Day 1:

It rained all morning and into the afternoon, finally starting to clear up about 1:30 or so.  I wasn't sure we were going to head out today, and were it still raining at 3:00, we probably would have opted to wait until tomorrow morning.  Yet the sun decided to peek through the clouds, and I stopped looking at the weather forecast, figuring that we're going and we'll make the best of it.  Penny was actually pushing me to get going, and I was holding her back.  I think I still get a little nervous about her handling bad weather, but she assured me that she'd be fine, even though the forecast wasn't great.  As much as I was playing down going, and warning her about the weather, I was pretty determined to go and at least give myself a chance to follow through on my idea.

We headed out at about 3:00 and made our way to the Interstate.  For today, we figured we're slab it up to Stevens Point and go from there the next day.  The wind was howling and pushing the ST all over the road as we headed towards Rockford.  Once the Interstate started to head north, we actually had a tailwind for a while, which was a nice change.  We stopped in Janesville for gas, where I inhaled a quick Subway club. We had left so quickly, and everything came together at the last possible minute, that I forgot to eat lunch.

For some reason, the traffic through Madison today wasn't bad at all, and we continued north without even a single traffic stoppage, which is very rare.  I suspect that the cold weather had kept many of the FIBs at home, rather than escaping to Illinois's largest state park: Wisconsin.  Traffic died down even more as we turned onto I-39 north.   There were actually quite a few signs of the changing fall foliage along this run, and it put my mind into a state of anticipation for what would happen tomorrow, and I'm not just talking about the fall colors.

As the sun was starting to set, the temperature was starting to drop.  I cranked Penny's vest up to high and hoped for the best.  I had the grips blazing, my fleece was on, and I though that Penny's vest was on, but she was still complaining about it not feeling hot. I was actually still riding in shorts under the Stich at this point, and was doing just fine with the fleece on top. When we pulled into Point about 7:30, we discovered that the connection to her vest wasn't connected properly.  Tomorrow would be much warmer, but we were both in very good spirits.  After a hearty meal at Perkins, we called it an early night.

Day 2:

I woke up about 7:30 this morning, and turned on the weather channel, only to find out that it was 41 degrees outside.  OK, back to sleep for another hour.  Waking again at 8:30, the temperature was only 43, so we took our time with the hotel breakfast, I loaded up the bike, and we got on the road at about 9:30.  It was chilly, but with Penny's vest blazing only her hands were cold.  As we rode north, the cloud cover started to dissipate, and by the time that we made it to Tomahawk, clear blue skies were upon us.  It was getting warmer, but was nowhere near "warm."    We filled up the bike and stomachs before continuing north.

Outside of Tomahawk, route 51 drops down to two lanes, and just like that, the full spectrum of fall colors appeared.  As we whisked along this morning, the oranges and yellows surrounded us, with just a hint of red here and there for accent.  The hug frequency was increasing, a good sign that Penny is enjoying the ride.  Little did she know that it would be off the charts in only a few hours.  As we approached Minocqua, Penny started frantically hitting me and then pointed skyward towards a Bald Eagle soaring above us.  The white head and tail were really pronounced against the blue sky above, and I got a great big hug as we were both looking upwards at this amazing sight.  This was Penny's first Bald Eagle sighting, and it couldn't have come on a better day.  I took it as just one of those unexplainable signs.  Thanks for that.

Past Minocqua, I turned onto a county road, dispensed of the mini van that we had caught up with, and set the cruising speed at about 5 over.  The day was absolutely gorgeous now.  It had warmed up just a bit as county road M snaked through the forest and around the nearby lakes. Everything was very clean and crisp, and the blue lake water was a great compliment to the slightly pre-peak foliage.  I slowed the pace so that we could enjoy the road even longer.  We putted along the tree-covered road, stopping here and there, pointing out scenery to each other, and remembering why it was that we got away for the weekend.  Places like this are just worth it.

Crossing into the U.P., the colors continued to impress.  There were sections where the colors would turn back to green for a mile or two, but then we'd crest a hill only to see the beautiful foliage in the surrounding valley.  We made it to Wakefield, where I pointed out one of the ATL stops to Penny, and then turned right, heading around the lake in the middle of town.  The houses up on the surrounding hills really stood out against the foliage, and the town looked as quaint and quiet as I have ever seen it.  We turned onto county road 541 and headed towards Porcupine State park.  The colors were in full force here, and occasionally I'd catch a glimpse of the deep blue Lake Superior water way off in the distance.  Pointing out the water to Penny would result in another hug.  I was just glad to be there, and even happier to be there with her.

We took a walk down to the waterfall and spent a few minutes there before continuing towards Lake in the Clouds via south Boundary road.  And I thought this was a nice ride in the summer.  Wow.  The spectrum of colors was simply amazing here, and the unbelievably blue clear sky did it's part to help.  Awestruck, we rode along through this paradise, and despite what I thought I might muster up the courage to do at Lake in the Clouds, my mind was pretty clear, and I wasn't nervous at all.  The day, this place, this woman, this time - it all seemed just right.  There really wasn't anything to be nervous about.  That's how I knew it was right.  I decided (although I was already pretty sure it would happen) along this road that I'd ask.

As we walked up to Lake in the Clouds, I waited for that split second where the lake comes into view and the feeling I always get when I see it.  It's view, for me, seems to take all of the weight of the world off my shoulders, if only for a few minutes.   Penny and I walked around the fence, and sat on the rocks overlooking the lake.   The serenity and peaceful feeling of looking over this beautiful valley with the long blue lake sitting peacefully to the left was soon overtaken by the frantic beating of my heart...and a complete loss of those words that I wanted to try to say to her.   We talked about my buzzwords for a while - freedom, opportunity, mindless searching for places like this, and it all popped into my head and flowed without really thinking (which is a good thing, because when I think, I usually mess things up).  We talked about always taking the time to come see things like this, especially at the last minute and without planning.  She commented that "I like when you talk all sappy." I stood up, told her, "Well then, it's about to take a turn for the better," and reached into my pocket.  As I started to get down on one knee, I again realized that this was the right time and place (not that I could back out now anyway), and I simply said, "Penny, will you marry me?" 

I didn't realize how oblivious and shocked she was to hear those words, and for a second, she'll admit that she thought that I was messing with her.  When I produced the ring, I saw the look of shock and surprise simply turn to unbelievable joy and happiness.  I never thought that I could make her that happy.  We sat there a long time, and although there were some other people somewhere, we were all alone, and together in this place.  Just like us, this place will always be here.

On our way back to the bike, we were congratulated by the person who took our picture for us a few minutes prior.  I guess his wife had noticed the jewelry box sitting there, although he was oblivious to it (as he should have been) while he took our picture.   Before we could leave, another woman comes running up to us asking to see the ring.   I sat back and smiled and let Penny have her moment in the sun.  I could tell she was both enjoying the attention, and was a little nervous about it at the same time.

I never thought that the hug frequency would get to this point, but I swear we were at a 2/1 hug/mile ratio as we left the overlook.  I had to stop along Lake Superior just so that I could catch my breath.  We walked along the shoreline for a while before getting back on the bike.  We then headed through Ontonagon before turning south, realizing that if we did a few more miles today, then the ride home tomorrow would be easier.  The day was still fantastic, although the excitement of the fall foliage had now been replaced.

Arriving in Eagle River, we found that there was a festival in town and hotel rooms were not easy to come by.  The hotel clerk was very nice, and told us of a lodge nearby that had rooms available, and even called to make a reservation for us.  Just a few miles out of town, we found the Chanticleer Inn, a beautiful tree-lined multi-building lodge set against a lake.  Figuring it would be expensive, we were even more thrilled by the reasonable price.  We made a reservation in the dining room, and after changing, enjoyed a decent meal and bottle of Merlot before calling it a night.  I couldn't have planned a better day than today.  I'm glad I didn't try.   Like always, I had a vague idea, and just let things run their course.   Whenever I do that, things just tend to work themselves out.

County Road M, Northern Wisconsin

The ST parked further up the road

A blue water lake, somewhere in northern Wisconsin

The ST parked near a blue lake

Penny near a waterfall in Porcupine State Park

Another waterfall in the park

The colors along the south boundary road in Porcupine

Another shot of the colors along the road

Lake in the Clouds, patchy foliage

The view in the other direction

OK, I know you're happy, but please don't strangle me...

Tad & Penny at Lake in the Clouds, after Tad popped the question

The ST parked along Lake Superior

Penny walking along the Lake Superior shoreline

Day 3:

Some serious rainstorms rolled through last night, and I heard rain outside the couple times that I woke up this morning, so I kept rolling over and going back to sleep.   Eventually, I woke up and didn't hear rain, so I decided to check and see what time it was.  There was no clock in the room, but when I saw that the Sports Reporters were just about to end on ESPN, I realized it was almost 9:30. Oops.  Time to get moving.

We headed back to town and picked up route 45 south, only to find drizzle and traffic.   Lots of traffic.  Rather than fight the endless parade of mini vans, I turned left onto state route 32 in Three Lakes, and we were magically transported back to the roads of yesterday.  Well, all except for the rain.  Route 32 would be awesome in the dry, but the slower speeds today just made it more possible to enjoy the scenery.   There were certain sections of the road where the whole "tree-tunnel" affect was happening, and others that gently flowed through rolling farmland.  We continued south on route 55 before stopping at a Sunday buffet at a supper club where we were greeted with warmth and strange looks from the owner....as usual.

As we continued south, we left the fall foliage behind us, eventually picking up the four lane in Appleton.  We took the backway home through Lake Geneva, made a quick stop at my parent's house to tell them the news.  Heading across Ela road, out of a stop sign, Penny's arms clinched around me as she felt the tell-tale sign of a wheelie coming.  The ST1100 revved up to 5,500 RPMs, I dropped them down to about 5K, and pulled a nice long (but not high....she doesn't like those) wheelie.  I heard and felt the giggles from the back seat, and the never-ending hug, even after the front wheel set back down.

Penny and the ST along route 32

Another picture of Penny and the ST


Well, I did it. (I almost ended it with just that sentence, but I'm feeling long winded)

I apologize to those of you who were expecting a regular ol' trip report, and instead got more than you bargained for.  So too did I.  When I met Penny, I was at a point in my life where I was finally happy with myself and with life.  Then this Iowa farm girl entered my life and made me see that I was missing about 120 degrees of the 360 degree view.  Over the next few years, we grew together, learned from each other, and experienced things that I can only try to explain, yet never can completely come up with the words for.  I've never been so happy and so complete in my life, and I don't ever want that to change.  As much as I was under the illusion that marriage is something that I could/should/ want to avoid, that's not necessarily the case.  I've known for a long time that Penny was the one that I was going to marry, yet I needed the right time and place to do it.  And I don't mean Lake in the Clouds.  In my mind, there were still a few things that I needed to work out for myself, and I'm certain that I have.   I had figured that once I worked these things out, I'd take a look around and say "OK, let's do it."  In actuality, I looked around, hit myself in the back of the head, and said, "What the hell are you waiting for??"  Sorry it took me a little longer to get here, but that's the path I chose.  No regrets.

Well, I did it.  And I couldn't be happier about it.  I'm not so thrilled about the hoopla that goes with it, as this really is something for Penny and I first and foremost.  Which leads me to wondering why I'm even writing this trip report.

If you've read any of my trip reports to this point, then you already know that they end up being as much about life than about motorcycling.  For me, these trip reports, as I've stated before, are my outlet - my way of learning and growing.  It takes a lot of thought in order to write these conclusions and I often come up with things that I hadn't previously thought of.  For that reason, I felt it appropriate to write this down, despite it's lack of motorcycle content. 

I know that a lot of people have been expecting this engagement for a long time, and that they are very glad for me, and glad for us.  I appreciate everyone's sentiment, and I know that Penny does as well.  But the most important thing is not what others think, but what I think.  I am happy for myself.  That's saying a lot.

So many people view engagement as a "beginning" whereas I view it as a continuation, and it only happened because she and I see eye to eye on those things that are most important to us.  Sure, we disagree (a lot) about the little things, but those are just that - little things.  Our road thus far has been pretty smooth with only a few bumpy sections along the way.  Motorcycling together has played an important role in our relationship, and without it, there's no way that she ever could have come to the understanding of why I am like I am.  She knows this, knows it's not going anywhere, and best of all, has a little bit of it inside her.  We know each other, like I imagine so many other couples know each other.  Our deepest, darkest secrets are our everyday world, and those things that we share together make life worth living.

As my life with Penny moved forward this past weekend, I felt it important to take this step in a way, and in a place, that symbolizes what life means to us.  Oftentimes it's about peace, beauty, and relaxation.  Many times it's about me saying "Hey, I want to show you something," and heading halfway across the country together so that we can experience something together.  Almost all the time we run across something that we didn't expect, and are all the better for it afterwards. 

This time it was all of those things.