The Rumble of Freedom


For the last year or so I’ve been living in Milwaukee, Wi. This is where I was living before my year on the road, and it was easy to settle back into. Too easy, perhaps, but here I am.

Milwaukee, apart from being the land of beer and cheese, is the home of Harley Davidson. Now, I have done my fair bit of Harley-bashing over the years, but it’s been generally targeted at a certain segment of their riding population. The ones who bought the bike as an investment, planning to sell it for almost what they paid (or more) in a couple years. The ones who worry about their miles building up, or who only ride from one bar to another, or who never ride anywhere at all, except so people can look at their bike and be impressed.

Okay, some of the bikes are impressive and not particularly rideable, but at some point they change from a motorcycle to some sort of rolling art – something which is definitely not a motorcycle.

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(I met the owners. They just rode it in parades and such, trailering it every where. I asked how it handled and the man just shook his head and said “About how you’d expect.”)

I don’t have a problem with motorcycles as art, but my real love of motorcycles and motorcycle culture is the travel – the going of places. Of how being on a motorcycle immerses you in the world in a way other travel just doesn’t. On the whole, while Harley promotes that sort of thing in their commercials, there are few riders who really embrace that sort of thing. The lifestyle seems all most want, and that I just don’t understand.

So, It was with more an a few mixed feelings I agreed to go and hang out at the Harley Davidson 110th anniversary with a friend who was returning to Milwaukee just for the event.

I opted to grab the Ural to meet my friend at the ferry, and to head over to the Harley Davidson Museum for the first night. Others of her friends would be meeting us there, and at it turned out some of mine were there too. Blue got to ride in the sidecar, something he hadn’t done in literally years.

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He said he liked it a lot better than being stuffed into the daypack, so maybe we’ll have to take a couple sidecar trips next year.

Rania – that would be my friend – was taking the Lake Express Ferry into Milwaukee. I admit to liking the Badger more, but the Lake Express is faster and arrives a short distance from the museum we were all headed too. I told her I’d meet her at the ferry, rather than trying to find her at the party.

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There were a lot of bikes coming off the ferry, but I found her and someone she had ridden to the ferry with from Philly (where is lives). The three of us headed to the museum, me trying to avoid the chaotic parade that was already developing from the dock. Lucky for me, Milwaukee is on a grid and there are almost always other roads, at least until right before the museum.

Parking was – interesting. The city had closed down part of the street so bikes could park down the middle, but that area was full when we got there. There might have been room on the grass of the museum, but the Ural isn’t a small rig, even for a sidecar, and Rania and I parked up the road a bit.

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The museum had vendors selling HD shirts (for the 110th), some food, some beer. A couple bands. A lot, a whole lot, of bikes. Most were people there for the party, but some looked like displays. One, which I apparently didn’t take a picture of, had a lot frame with each of the different engines Harley had used over the years. It was probably the coolest bike I saw the whole night, though I’m pretty sure it wasn’t running. The new models were there too, where people could sit on them or look at the various new features. I was amused by the iPhone holder in one of the fairings, complete with power cord. I wondered if that was stock or something extra. It wasn’t listed on the price sheet.

I handled the crowd better than I thought I would, staying until after dark. There was talk of going for a ride the next day, and Rania said she would get in touch with me.

She did, in the late morning, to let me know they were already out and about, and where I could meet them for lunch. It was going to be her, Mary, and Sue, there weren’t a whole lot of other details, and I met them at one of Sue’s favorite lunch spots. It was actually pretty good.

The four of us, Blue hadn’t come with and I was on Curiosity, then headed south on the Kettle Moraine Trail – a scenic route through South Eastern Wisconsin. The whole thing is only a couple hundred miles, but we were about at the midpoint.

As we rode south the sky clouded over then turned dark – and then darker.

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I suggested a couple times that we should stop, preferably somewhere with frozen custard, but instead we found ourselves in a small diner when the skies opened up.

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Rain is rain, and it happens on the road. When it started hailing I was extra glad we’d stopped when we did. Hail sucks.

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The power went out in the diner, after we’d eaten, and offers to help save the ice cream (by consuming it) fell on deaf ears. After about 45 minutes the rain stopped and we headed back outside. Getting back on the road we saw lots and lot of branches on the ground, and there were some road closures for whole trees and live powerlines that had been knocked over.

I had waterproof riding gear, and the ladies worked out how to get home on their bikes, since it was now much colder. We just took the freeway home, me following the others and wondering if they were going slow because they didn’t think Curiosity could go faster, or because they were uncomfortable. I never asked.

Apparently the next morning the three of them hit the party early, and I didn’t meet up with them until later at night. Rania was no where to be found, apparently she was still recovering from the morning, so I went for walk along Brady Street. The street had been closed off for the party, but instead of using the area for parking (parking is always an issue there) it was some sort of, well I don’t really know what to call it.

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People stood along the sides of the road and other people rode up and down. It was perhaps 8 or 9 blocks. There was a lot of engine reving and cheers from the sidewalks. There was also the occasional burnout, impressive since a lot of police were in the area. I don’t think anyone got arrested for that, but I did see people getting arrested, as well as a lot of bikes being worked on.

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Over the course of the four day weekend I saw about a dozen bikes on the side of the road. most of them were talking about needing to get their primary covers off, which made me joke on Twitter “I guess it’s called the primary because it’s primarily where things break.”

It was a late night on Brady, and then at Mary’s house where Rania reappeared. And, while there was a lot of the stereotypical things that Harley is both known for a resents, I can’t say it was a bad time.

Of course, the best news is that it’s a long time until the next one.

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