On the Road Again

The biggest challenge when traveling on a motorcycle is rain. It’s not the slippery conditions I dread, but visibility issues. I look out through six different lens’ surfaces; two sides of my trifocal eye glasses, two sides of my helmet visor, and both sides of my Goldwing’s windshield. When rain smears both those surfaces it’s like trying to see through a sixpack of Coke bottles. When rain is forecast, I opt for a motel.

The overnight forecast when passing through Wisconsin was for clear skies and I spent a delightful evening in a campground that offered Wi-Fi and hot showers.

Unfortunately, the morning dawned cloudy with a smattering of sprinkles in the air. Bundling up 100 pounds of wet tent, sleeping bag, and packs of accessories is not good, so skipping the hot shower, I shotcut the normal 45-minute loading process and hit the road heading for Lake Superior. I hadn’t traveled more than fifteen minutes when the skies opened up and those sprinkles became a deluge.

I’ve learned a few tricks when riding in the rain. Lower the windshield—a nice feature on my late model Goldwing—and stand up on the foot pegs allowing the wind to blow the raindrops off the helmet visor. Still, I needed to find a roadside shelter to escape the downpour.

And there it was, a general store with gas pumps and food service. I parked under the canopy covering the pumps. Trudging inside in dripping rain pants and jacket, still wearing my helmet, I sought the proprietor to ask permission to leave the Goldwing where I it was parked.

The general store in this little hamlet was busy. In one corner sat 20-members of a coffee klatch on mismatched camp chairs I assumed they had brought with them. I guessed this was a regular morning gathering.

The proprietor turned out to be a proprietress, and her response to my aplologetic blocking of the driveway was, “Oh, pshaw. Honey! Grab yourself a cup and sit a spell. This weather is bound to move on sooner or later.” After I introduced myself to her, she announced to the group, “Hey kids, this is Jim. He’s from Indiana and riding a motorcycle to Montana. Find him a chair and a cup.”

After peeling off my wet gear, I answered the questions I am often asked; “Where you from?  How long you been out?” And why do you ride alone?

I answered that last question by telling them about meeting Greg the other day. I was riding past a large yard full of giant bizarre metal sculpures. I just had to go back and check it out. Greg Koeppel, the artist, was mowing the lawn. Greg was an art teacher at the local high school. He had built his home, an igloo-shaped building covered with solar panels. “I’m off the grid,” he announced proudly. I spent 55-minutes touring his creations which included an eight-foot antelope, six-foot birds pulling steel cable worms out of the earth, and a ten-foot Christ on a cross. Greg invited me to stay for lunch, “If you don’t mind veggie burgers and tofu,” he said. Although I was tempted, I thanked him kindly and declined. The road was calling.

You don’t have those kinds of experiences when riding in a gang.

The store’s coffee club was mostly summer people who had cottages in the area and come to Wisconsin to escape the summer heat of Chicago and other urban jungles.

I loved hearing their stories. Ralph talked about a bear that broke into his garage and ate a bag of dog food. “I chased him away by blowing a whistle, but damnedest thing—next day he was back with another bear. It was almost like he was saying, ‘Now, in that garage, that’s where he keeps the good stuff.’”

All laugh, then a half-dozen folks chime in with their own bear stories.

Irene then told about racoons in her attic that topped the bear story. She reminded everyone how she had set racoon traps but the clever rascals had removed the peanut butter bait without getting caught. “Yesterday,” she said, “after taking a shower I thought I heard a noise on the porch. Wearing nothing but her brassier and underpants, she went out to investigate. There was nothing on the porch, but just then, around the corner comes this big racoon, apparently on its way to the latticework to climb into the attic. Seeing Irene in its path, the racoon stopped, reared back on its haunches, spread its front legs, and gave her a big hiss. “The audacity of that SOB,” Irene said. “ Not knowing what to do, I raised mtyself up big and tall, spread my arms, and hissed that bastard right back. The coon blinked a couple of times, lowered himself, and high tailed it back around the house.”

All agreed, Irene hissing  in her bra and panties would make most folks run and hide.

I sat next to George who when learning I was from Bloomington, remarked, “Oh my God! I got my Masters from Indiana University.” That was our first connection. George then told me he had joined Cub Scouts as an eight-year-old which led to a sixty-two-year relationship with scouting.

“So you became a scout executive?”

“Yep. Great career. I loved it.”

I replied, “Well, I have three sons, two of them are Eagle scouts. I was in scouting myself from Cubs to Sea Explorers.

That couldn’t have pleased George more. “In fact,” I said. “One of my Eagle sons is running across Wisconsin and Michigan and I’m going to rendezvous with him in two weeks.”

“Running across Wisconsin and Michigan?”

“Yep. Brian is a long distance runner—a loooong distance runner—and in 1998 spent nine months running across the United States. He now has the goal to run across every state by the time he is 50.”

“I bet he is able to do that because of scouting,” George said.

“Well maybe,” I replied. His oldest borther, also an Eagle Scout, is conductor of the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir, a Bultler University professor, a pilot, a runner, and has performed in China, conducted at Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center, and teaches in Japan and China.”

“I bet he is able to do that because of scouting,” George said.

I told him I was heading to a campground in Glacier National Park and then returning to Wisconsin to meet Brian.

George suggested I was probably only able to do those things because of scouting. I debated telling him the only things I remembered about scouting was how to tie a square knot and smoke cigarettes, but decided against it.

Soon the rain stopped and I bid farewell to my new friends and headed down the road.


Winnett is a dusty crossroads town on the plains of eastern Montana. Actually, it’s not a crossroad at all, but sits a mile south of the highway. My map showed no other towns within 30 miles and that concerned me. I had taken a chance Winnett would have a gas station because my near empty gas tank wouldn’t make it another 30 miles. To my relief, one of the twelve buildings in Winnett had a gas pump in its side yard.

One of the other buildings had a weathered Coca-Cola sign that identified it as the Kozy Kitchen Café—and I was hungry. Parking the Wing, I saw one woman on a ladder painting the exterior walls of Kozy and another puffing on a cigarette under the building’s canopy. The smoker didn’t ask if I wanted to eat, she just said “follow me”. Inside, the small dining room had half dozen tables, one of which was occupied by four middle-aged women who had finished eating and were now smoking and talking.

I ordered a fried egg sandwich and a cup of coffee. On the wall above my table was the reprint of a 2005 Gourmet Magazine article about the Kozy Kitchen Café. “What? Is this for real,” I asked the woman who took my order.

“Oh yeah,” she said. “That’s before my time here, but it’s a real funny article, especially about Buck.”

The writers were the well-known Gourmet magazine writers, Jane and Michael Stern, who had been doing a series of articles about great restaurants across the United States but had not found one in Montana. A friend told them to check out Kozy Kitchen in Winnett. “They have the best pancakes on earth.”

Jane and Michael arrived in Winnett early one morning expecting to see the parking lot filled with pickup trucks. I was empty. The time was 6:50 AM. They waited a few minutes debating what to do when the restaurant door opened and a grizzled old codger, without a word of greeting, signaled to them to come inside. it was Buck Wood, the owner. He and his wife, Ellen, had been tipped off the the Gourmet writers were coming. Ellen told Buck, “Now you be nice to these people.”

The authors, used to elegant dining, described the place as having all the panache of a truck stop or a county jail. Jane asked Buck if she could have some water. Buck answered in his grumpiest manner, “There’s water in your coffee.” He then brought two ice filled glasses of water. Jane then asked for milk for her coffee. “What does this look like, a dairy?” Buck replied. He then took Jane by the hand, led her over to the refrigerator and poured milk from a carton into her cup. All the while he was giving Michael a wink on the sly. The Sterns had pancakes and loved them.

My egg sandwich was good, but I should have ordered pancakes.


Here’s a PS to the Winette story.

The story of the Winnette experience appears in my book, The True Adventures of Jim Stark. I had given a talk to the Bloomington EAA Club and sold some of my books. Tim Sparks, a United Airlines pilot, was there and bought one of the books.

Sparks was reading the chapter in the book about Winnett while on a flight from Canada back to the US when he looked down at his Nav Screen in the 727 and saw at that moment he was flying over Winnette, Montana. He took a picture and sent it to me.

Just can’t wait to get on the road again,

Going places that I’ve never been,

Seein’ things that I may never see again,

And I can’t wait to get on the road again.

3 thoughts on “On the Road Again

  1. Another wonderful story, Jim. Thank you
    Yes, you should have had the pancakes.
    We’re hoping to get back on the road again this year,…we’ll see if we can make it to the Kozy Kitchen !

  2. Another interesting tale, Jim. I appreciate your stories, especially the ones in which you ride the MC.
    I ride too but I’m on three wheels now that I’m in my 80s.

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