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Don’t think I can blame global warming, but why is it that we can have drought and heat all week and then a deluge on the weekend? First plan for the weekend was the epicurean and riding delight that is the Wisconsin Guzzi Rally. But again, while no scientific evidence supports the theory, Guzzis seem to attract massive torrential flooding which is caused by some Italian atmospheric anomaly or god’s wrath inflicted upon Guzzi riders for some sin or other, depending on your belief system and it’s conspiracy theories. Looking at the forecasts I decide a 350 mile eastward trek wasn’t wise, and sure enough that route is now a series of flood warnings on the weather map. Throw in the tendency for rain to shoo motorcyclists indoors where COVID is thickest, and I also decided against a 150 mile drive to the old bike show at Moon Motorsports in Monticello, Minnesota where one of my favorite dealers even cleared the new bikes off the showroom floor and pitched tents so the bikes would stay dry.

Case did li’l tractors too…

So I fell back to the ol’ reliable Hanley Falls Threshing Show, which never fails to provide ol’ time good gearhead entertainment. Besides the usual selections of 60s Mustangs, Unibody F100, hit ‘n’ miss engines and weird variants of mostly ordinary tractors if not for them being orphaned decades ago, this year the theme tractor was Case and a bountiful selection turned out!

David Brown in Case drag…

Meanwhile back in the summer sauna that is DC (now minus malaria), Congress finally passed a comprehensive environmental, health care, and inflation fighting bill. While the exact taste of this work of legislative sausage making hasn’t been detailed yet, it does contain long term certainty and some expansion of incentives for battery and plug in hybrid vehicles as well as incentives for renewable fuels and renewable energy for homes, businesses, and farms.

While that good news probably had Big Oil’s astroturf apologists who were very conspicuous at Farmfest crying in their bad beer, I talked to a couple 60ish farm boys at the threshing show who were already driving a plug in hybrid and looking forward to a battery electric truck… Looks like even rural folks can see clear skies ahead and welcome them!

A mild “blast from the past…”

Few days before us gearheads annual pilgrimage to Elkader for the Guzzi rally I noted my hack’d SuperTenere (S10) was doing a good job of decreasing and amplifying my throttle hand’s nervous system. A bit of diagnosis and my best guess is it’s a badly cupped Shinko dual sport front tire, and even with a few simple tweaks my right hand still reported some strange feelings an hour after a 40 mile ride. So called up this 75K mile BMW F800S out of retirement and hoped it had been cured of it’s appetite for stators thanks to BMW’s poor systems integration of this bike’s Aprilia designed and Rotax powered parts of them.

Not only was I testing this 15 year old bike, I was testing my 72 year old self- I’ve been riding hack’d (with sidecar) 99% of my miles the last 7 years. I can still balance a 2 wheeled bike well enough in motion, but taxying, take offs, and landings can be a challenge even with this bikes under 500 pound weight. But did the numbers on the fuel cost for this 600 mile round trip- figured $90 for the hack’d S10 and $50 for the F800S and the solo bike won! So kluged on the generic tank bag that replaced the better fitting Wolfman that was stolen when the BMW broke down again, the soft panniers bought for a Buell 20 years ago, and a dry bag across the rack for my small tent and micro cot.

Old Skool & OilHead

Given current fuel costs maybe a few more rode instead of trailered, giving us a chance to see if the classic BMW/Guzzi model of riding and living off a motorcycle was still viable, and by and large it was.

Stelvios…

Turned out I saved even more that expected by going solo, gas mileage was about 60 MPG and trip mileage was about 800 including our “exploring”, so I saved enough on gas to pay the $55 rally fee! My campsite neighbor Jeff with a similar F700GS had similar good results at the gas pumps. Perhaps a mid sized high MPG tour able bike like this can keep motorcycle rallies rolling? Only down side I saw was the idiot 4 wheeler who pulled in front of me in the left lane at half the limit after I’d vacated the right lane so he could merge, resulting in the F800S’ 2nd ABS activation in 75K miles… Better make that a high MPG bike with ABS!

Here’s a few more pix:

Classic Guzzi!
Thanks to our Air Force for more surplus acres of concrete!

Indy may have America’s temple of speed and Road America may be our (unofficial) national park of speed, but out here in flyover country Sports Car Club of America puts on the Woodstock of speed, with hundreds of racers testing their and their cars performance against the clock in fierce competition. Entry fees are low, admission is free, and you can even camp on site if Lincoln’s cheap hotels ain’t in the budget. And I live just 280 miles from all this GearHead goodness!

“Christmas Tree” starter lights at a sports car race?

It get’s better- In a normal “solo”, “slalom”, or “autocross” race one car at a time runs against the clock. Taking advantage of the acres of slabs, SCCA set up two mirror image courses so two competitors can start from the same line, then diverge so everyone can see who’s ahead or not. Hey NHRA, this could actually make drag racing worth watching…

Vette’s and Porsches aplenty, but the karts defy physics and humbled most of ’em

This is a 5 day event over Memorial Day weekend starting with a driving school, two days of the “Pro Solo” championship series double slalom, then two days of SCCA championship series on a conventional one at a time slalom course. They also had a second “test and tune” course going for $5 a run or 5 for $20. I drove my new Transit Connect van down that SCCA can’t allow on the autocross courses for safety reasons, same with SUVs and trucks due to their high center of gravity. But sounds like if I update my motorcycle helmet to current specs and bring my Golf TDI I can get in some practice runs. I made a day trip of it and drove down and back saturday, and thanks to light traffic on rural roads was able to catch most of the days racing and still got home by dark. What’s not to love about SCCA “Fun with cars”? And they’ll be back Labor Day weekend!

FFI: https://www.scca.com/pages/autocross

Racing’s safer, for a start.

Those of you that know me note that I have two passions in life- Politics of the small “d” democratic persuasion and anything with wheels and a motor. Picking between my passions, I’ve gone motorcycling all over the countryside in odd years and turned that same motorcycle with a sidecar into a rolling advertisement for our democratic candidates in election years. Heck, some election years I did a parade or three every weekend all summer and just plain advertising our candidates through Election Day in the fall!

Then came COVID, and while two years in we’ve seen some progress it’s still a deadly disease for old folks like me. I follow the science, which told me to avoid indoor meetings and mask up when that wasn’t possible. Got my four shots and happy to report that I’d still COVID free and intend to stay that way- Again the science says that someone in their 70s like me is as likely to get hospitalized or dead from COVID as an unvaccinated person in their 60s so while the young invulnerable can usually get away with going unmasked indoors if they’re vaccinated, it’s a whole different world of disease and death probabilities for us elders.

‘Twas no surprise that the republicans added COVID to their denials almost from the start, and they were quite willing to sacrifice their own to COVID to look “normal” as they scrunched together unvaccinated and unmasked. We democrats followed the wiser path, as we moved all our meetings online in 2020 and won back the presidency and the senate while doing it. Having handled the COVID crisis masterfully, the big “D” Democrats slept while inflation took off and infant formula and a bunch of other essentials became scarce. Then in 2022 deadly Delta COVID was replaced by “COVID Light” AKA the less lethal Omicron strains. That, vaccinations, and probably the need to look “normal” like the republicans who are moving up in the polls despite having way too many insurrectionist wackos in their ranks apparently persuaded those big “D” Democrats to meet maskless and in person. Thus the decree went out from my states Democratic Party that all conventions would be in person, though a few party units wisely stayed online but not mine here in rural western Minnesota.

When I turned 70 to make some space for the young folks I quit running for party office, though I volunteer if no one else does. When we had our county convention a couple months back COVID was at it’s nadir so I attended, went to the senate district convention masked, and as COVID rates rise I skipped last weekend’s congressional district convention. This weekend the party is stubbornly holding their state convention in Olmsted County where even the CDC’s more cheerful map shows a high rate of infections. And yes, I know the party is requiring vaccinations but a shot or two a year ago is just about worthless and the mandatory COVID testing on Friday or Saturday morning won’t catch COVID caught in the Petri dish around the convention that runs through Sunday. So while I’m a voteless delegate by questionable virtue of being a democratic elected official and a member of a statewide party committee that hasn’t met in months, I can’t take the risk of attending in person and there’s no online option available.

Meanwhile, general “gear heading” and even racing with proper safety precautions has now become safer that politics- Besides riding motorcycles pretty much within the speed limits while wearing full protective gear, I’m going to scratch a several decades itch and go sports car racing and rallying. No, not Daytona or the track we used to call Donnybrook- Low budget and low risk events like autocross and rallycross where you race your car against the clock on a parking lot or field sized course. And because motorcycling especially and auto sports too need the space of the great outdoors in favorable weather, they’re infinitely safer than day(s)long political party meetings inside cramped halls. 

Been thinking about this for a couple years as winning in this rural area has become next to impossible for democrats, but I stayed involved in hopes we could support our statewide candidates who have a chance of winning. So I still did the parades with the rainbow sidecar but realized it wasn’t the ideal message for out here and a tractor would be better…

Problem was finding insurance for the thing, best option was a small business policy for a not insubstantial $500+ a year, which killed that plan. So thought I’d simply take my new blue van and hook it up to my utility trailer made up to be a float…

Low budget and boring, but that means nobody will object to it… Even the motorcycle phobes seem to at least accept minivans. 

Now this story’s been in my head for weeks, but today I tried to post on my congressional district Democratic Party’s Facebook page a request for some candidate’s lawn signs to properly decorate the minivan and trailer… And that simple post remains unposted. A couple minutes later the admin posted their idea of float decorating, with text so small as to be unreadable from halfway across a wide street, and sourced from a non union vendor. I added up the cost if I blew up the size enough to be readable, damn near $500! I quite politely pointed that problem out and was suspended from the page.

That was the last straw.

So to the big “D” Democrats, you’re quite capable of losing rural elections without my assistance and I wish you good luck, you’ll probably need it. To my friends the small “D” democrats, I love you as much as ever and support you in our struggles. I’ll fulfill my obligations as a grassroots party official, but as my attempts to further support the party have been blocked I won’t be volunteering for much of any new projects. I tried…

Please don’t beat on any Urals- The company is American owned and opposes the war.

This is the height of Russian motorcycle technology, and darn near the height of Russian technology, period. Note the resemblance to a 1930s BMW? Yup, they’re still building clones, with some improvements. Like the British Lucas auto electrical plant that reputedly the Germans never bombed because they considered Lucas an ally, Urals were designed for 40 MPH cruising because that’s as fast as they could safely travel on Russian “roads” and their owners admit they’re unreliable at any speed.

The Russian’s trucks aren’t any better, heck they’re even finally retiring their clones of the 1930s Diamond T’s we gave them in WW2 for the Kamaz, a 1970s Ford design.

Ford’s “Badder Idea”

About now some wise guy or gal is going to pipe up about Kamaz’s Dakar winning truck, the only Russian anything to be competitive in any kind of racing on this planet or any other. That Kamaz has a Cummins engine via China, a ZF transmission out of Europe, and the cab looks to have similar origins.

Now you’re probably getting the general drift now that a Russian military campaign is a slow motion series of breakdowns, and you’re right- As were seeing in a plethora of social media of hapless Russian troops and their trucks and tanks motionless all over the roads while being humiliated by unarmed Ukrainian old ladies. Their aircraft aren’t any better, and there’s a reason why their early jets and ours looked similar. Dictatorships stifle creativity, and the designers who offered Russia better designs probably long ago were disappeared to Siberia.

In contrast, especially when not occupied by Nazi Germany or Communist Russia, the nations of Central Europe like the Ukraine have a long history of creativity in the arts and sciences. The VW Beetle and ingenious Tatras were Hungarian and Czechoslovakian designs that were stolen by the Nazis…

And the Ukrainians…

Built by Ukrainians to piggyback a later scuttled Russian Space Shuttle, the Antonov An-225 went on to become the world’s premiere “super load” cargo plane that’s lifted loads of up to 250 tons and set several world records. This Ukranian feat is even more remarkable because there is no fleet of An-225s for backup, there being only a single complete An-225! Read up on this amazing aircraft: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antonov_An-225_Mriya

As I’m writing, it’s been confirmed that Putin’s cowardly Russian invaders destroyed the unarmed sole Antonov An-225 parked on the ground at a Ukraine airport… Putin, you’re gonna pay for this!

Rest In Power, An-225!

SOLD FOR $16,500 ON 2/21/22

Now I have a similar R65LS hibernating right next to me, bought new back in 1984. Heads have never been off and compression is still good, transmission’s never been apart, but the odometer quit at 69k miles so I installed a cheap hour meter and ran up over 1000 hours before it died. So I’ve ridden at least 100K miles with pretty much nothing but oil, filter, spark plug, and tire changes. I figure my LS is worth about $2000…

Granted, it’s covered about 100k miles more than the auctioned garage queens 7k or so, and it can’t claim $10k in repair and restoration bills because mine simply hasn’t broken and restoring a $2k bike isn’t a money making proposition, and I gotta wear it out first anyway. And while some of the work on the auctioned bike like new tires, brake pads, etc. makes sense, a lot of it my bike and the auction queen probably too never needed- The near thousand dollars worth of high power alternator and ignition upgrades is nice, but other than a couple jumps and bump starts my R65LS’ original components are doing the job just fine. Then there’s the kit with the big bore pistons and cylinders to push the displacement from 650 to 860 cc., a dubious improvement given the LS’ smallish intake and exhaust tracks, and the “peashooter” exhaust isn’t helping any. Don’t even let me get started on the color- The LS came in a mesmerizing henna red and a superb silver, too bad they trashed it with a sick yellow they probably got on sale. Here’s the link for more of the modder’s bragging: https://bringatrailer.com/listing/1982-bmw-r65ls-custom/

But what really torques me is what these inflated auction prices are doing to the affordability of BMW “Airhead” motorcycles- For a “poverty rider” the airheads are one of the most economical motorcycles and vehicles to run. For the last couple decades a good running airhead could be had for $2k to $5k and that modest price got you a durable engine and drivetrain with a vast ecosystem of parts and advice. The smallest airheads, the R65 and R65LS, were often the best value with their small engines holding prices down while under stressing the drivetrain. I bought one of the LS’ big brothers, an R80ST with 67k miles, for $2200 and it’s given me a reliable 44k more miles since.

But when the airhead price of admission rises over $10,000, loving riders are replaced with investors whose only riding might be a slow 1st gear trundle to position the poor bike for the concours. Airheads were made to ride, and the highest and best use of an airhead is happily rolling out the miles and years!

Global warming been good to us up here… So far.

‘Twas a hopeful end to the motorcycle rally season up north here, even managed to snag the essential 3rd COVID-19 shot in September to keep my ol’ immunity up. Came just in time to see me through the Delta wave, an in person Farmers Union convention, and the holidays with my fully vaccinated family. Then thanks to vaccine supply to the 3rd world being a low priority per usual, roaring out of RSA comes the Omicron mutant.

Being a data driven Gearhead I noted that Omicron might not hit hard but it sure as hell was fast, sorta like a classic Mini Cooper S on a tight autocross course compared to the Road Train the previous strains were. Back a month ago there was also the question of just how damaging an Omicron infection could be- There was some hopeful data from RSA but it might not be applicable to America’s older population. Then there was the rate of spread- A mild case that you could survive with medication and maybe hospitalization becomes fatal when they’re out of medication and the hospitals are overflowing, and in many areas that’s exactly what happened.

Watched the case numbers rise, made a last Costco run and isolated for four weeks… Of pleasure! No schedule, no dress code, and watching racing (Daytona 24 hour) all night if I want too.

That was the days when the weather was too bad for driving, and given that with global warming winter is now a month rather than a season here in Minnesota, I got out a lot…

Where Iowa, Minnesota, and South Dakota meet… In January!

It gets better… Early in my solitude I noted that 100 miles southwest was bare ground, which got closer as that bare ground sucked up the sunlight and new snow failed to appear. Heck, by now that bare ground has grown to big chunks of several states and extended to my front yard, as I write darkness has fallen and it’s 42 degrees and raining!

Couple hours ago, that field is all brown now and the only snow left is some disappearing drifts…

Thus half the afternoons I hop in the Golf 7 TDI, drive a few miles southwestish, and enjoy a vigorous walk and workout in our empty parks-

Days with no races and not so nice weather I’ve been fixing up the bikes, rearranging the shop, etc..

Old picture, but you get the idea…

But most valuable were the lessons I learned… First off I discovered that what goes on in the rest of the world doesn’t affect me that much, thanks to living on a dead end street in a house that disappears into a hill with 2 cars, 40 gallons of diesel, 3 heat sources, and stuffed cupboards and freezers thanks to the gateway drug of preppers, Costco. Next I learned resourcefulness, from fixing minor breakdowns to learning new combinations of leftovers to break the boredom and that salad dressing makes even better tuna salad sandwiches that the usual mayonnaise. Then one night after drinking too much coffee too late in the evening and getting up to pee too quick in a cold bathroom my heart wouldn’t slow down. Google is again your friend, I already knew what tachycardia is, but the Mayo Clinic taught me how to get it under control and calmed my fears without need for a late night 200 mile drive to Rochester. Put on my forgotten Apple Watch and found that even my low end Apple Watch and iPhone could give me volumes of reassuring heart and health data. So got back to sleep, cut back on the caffeine, and with the data from Apple and the internet eased back into aerobic workouts with no problem… Technology is wonderful!

That health scare reminded me that I’ve got a lot to do before leaving this world and I’d best get to work. I’ve probably wasted too much time in politics in an area whose major function for democrats is as a republican vote sink. I’m carrying far too much history in my head that needs to get out, stayed home when I need to get out, and I need to leave behind a good legacy when I’m gone. So I’ve got plenty of living yet to do!

Omicron wave is ebbing so safe to get out again, despite my new van being stuck on the dock in Spain…

Ford, how about European Delivery?

But spring’s coming early (again) and the motorcycle rally season ain’t far off!

Welcome to…

The mainstream media is full of stories of overrun parks and campgrounds in this era of COVID. But last fall we had our county Farmers Union meeting at a quiet county park I’d been by dozens of times but never explored and I was amazed at how lovely and underused it was. Was exploring another county park on Saturday of Labor Day weekend and same deal- walked a couple miles of trails and saw only a couple fellow hikers, and campgrounds weren’t full. And that was in Lyon County, Minnesota with but two county parks ’cause the farmers didn’t want to waste even an acre of steep hills or swampland on mere recreation. Time to explore the next county over, where planted acreage takes a back seat to parks…

Lincoln County, Minnesota is a magical place with barely five thousand people thinly spread over 15 townships and a half dozen cities, incorporated or otherwise. Seems like the settlers of the county and their descendants had a thing for parks and just couldn’t stop making them, as well as a folk school, opera house, and stuff like two story four room schoolhouses for just a couple rural sections. These folks believed in investing in their communities- Heck, when the WPA went on it’s building binge they probably figured it was just the rest of the country catching up to them! Having all that civic activism take place on a glacial ridge dotted with lakes in this magical county and it’s parks are a secret too good to keep!

First stop, Anderson Park and Arco::

Anderson Park: We got lake…
Rock sculptures, boat launch, picnic grounds, and a not full on Labor Day campground too!
And more sculpture in the tiny city of Arco.

On to the Polish enclave of Ivanhoe(?)…

Rural economics- Ivanhoe’s built this lovely ballpark just for a softball tournament one weekend a year…
Leaving this lovely campground, shelter, and showers for us to enjoy from snowmelt to first snow.

Even Marble Township got into the park building act…

Used mostly for an annual tractor pull, so not so fancy.

Then there’s Hendricks, a town so obsessed with parks that they gave up the whole west side of town by the lake for a park… They gave up millions in tax base, and it was worth every cent!

A little on the big side, but…
RV campsites looked pretty full, but plenty space for us tent dwellers.
Plus docks, a breakwater/fishing point, beach, shelters, showers, need any more?
OK, would this museum and a whole downtown with a brewery just a few blocks away bring you here?

On to Picnic Point County Park , half full campground behind the trees…

Then Norwegian Creek County Park on Lake Benton, huge campground had a few empty spaces…

Just down the road, Hole in the Mountain County Park…

Mile off the lake, but secluded valley that gave it the name and plenty shaded camping,

Lake Benton City Park and lovely boat launch…

Biggish lake…
The sign says it all…

The old Lake Benton boat launch…

If you can fit under this railroad bridge…
The intimate side of Lake Benton is yours.

This was Labor Day weekend… We’ve at least another month of good weather left and the parks will be pretty much ours ’til the snow flies. So get out and explore!

COVID sucks! But one of the few benefits of this killer virus is increased and improved TV motorsports coverage. With the usual TV sports shutdown last year, suddenly a lot more auto and motorcycle racing popped up on free TV, which made the isolation a lot more bearable. To top that off, in car video have gotten cheap enough that it’s almost mandatory in pro motorsports- Ford’s in car cameras in four cars at LeMans last year was so good I didn’t bother buying paid coverage.

Comes 2021 and COVID has refused to leave as planned and looks like Ford is forgeting LeMans for another half century. GM is doing their best to fill the gap in American effort with their Corvette Racing team in IMSA and the LeMans GT Pro class. IMSA’s streaming video package for their series was a bargain so I binge watched the 24 hours of Daytona and 12 hours of Sebring. Nascar and the Indy Car series aren’t as exciting ‘cept for their rare visits to road courses, but they’ve mostly been free so I don’t complain much.

So comes August 2021 and a delayed LeMans 24 hour race, but with Ford shrinking from world class racing and otherwise, I had to pay up for Motor Trend on Demand’s excellent coverage. The feed comes from the Eurosport network, and the quality was excellent- informative and unsensational commentary with more high quality video than you can imagine. from multiple cameras around the course, drones, roving reporters, and even a Goodyear blimp! I confess to falling asleep for a couple hours…

The balance of power has indeed shifted, as Toyota dominated the Prototype Pro class with a Renault backed Alpine entry laps behind. Following them was a 2nd “spec racer” class of over a dozen “amateur” prototypes that backed by million dollar budgets put on a spirited race. In GT Pro Corvette Racing did their best, placing their top car 2nd and their other car a few laps back due to a 70 minute clutch replacement. A Ferrari took 1st and a Porsche 3rd, not surprising with the fleets of race cars Ferrari and Porsche brought to Corvette Racing’s two. There’s an undercard “Pro-Am” GT class too, and thanks to Aston-Martin’s, Ferrari’s, and Porsche’s upfront and backdoor sponsorship they dominated. Despite several manufacturers being unrepresented the racing was competitive and entertaining in every class, with several cars on the same lap after 24 hours of racing.

Re-addicted to racing and with a national championship Rally but 200 miles away, I was planning on watching the action live. Life intervened the first day of the rally as I had to play utility locator for my town’s water system, but I caught a few streaming videos from the rally between planting blue flags all over town. Tried to make it in person the second day, but crappy weather intervened so I followed the action on the screen again. Wasn’t the cost no object coverage provided for LeMans, but not bad for a low budget operation fighting for bandwidth in rural northern Minnesota. Results have been sketchy, but Travis Pastrana managed to beat Ken Block in the event and win the American Rally Champions, both of course in Subarus. The Suburu parade was interrupted by 3rd place Ryan Booth in a Skoda Fabia 5R (think mucho modded Golf R). Thanks to Suburu’s generous sponsorships and contingency money fully half the 60 driver field were in Suburus, that company knows what they’re doing. Ford’s vestigial Ford Performance division didn’t get the memo that cars are dead and still offers contingency money, so almost a quarter of the field was in Fiestas, the odd Focus, and even a couple of surprisingly competitive classic rear drive Escorts. Thanks to an LS repowered RX7, a ratty but competent 80s S10 pickup, a Hyundai, and a few other freaks of rallydom we had relief from the Suburu parade.

Hate missing a couple nice days in front of the screen, but a whole winter of racing is coming…

Yup, that’s a military bicycle on the 5 ton…

The Military Vehicle Preservation Association is convoying 40 odd old military vehicles from Aberdeen, South Dakota to their convention in Ohio, and I had the good fortune to catch them on the old Yellowstone Trail. Enjoy…

Official manufacturer was AM General, but cab is International and that looks like a CCC emblem on the hood. Big tires may be a retrofit.
Trust the military to find a unique way to haul a container… Pretty sophisticated design though.
No, this ain’t no Jeep- Ford built M151 “Mutt” that escaped euthanasia.
Quite the ham (radio operator)
Granite Falls secured, the convoy went to lunch…
The “brass” always travel in style!
Not a Jeep either… Late model ATV replacement for Special Forces, built by Flyer/General Dynamics with GM 4 cylinder diesel power.
Head ’em out…

And to all our veterans and their historic vehicles, thank you again for your service!