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43rd Annual Hiawatha Rally

By: Chad Gillen

Since we bought a new motorcycle for Heidi, we planned on getting some actual miles in this summer. We figured the 43rd Annual Hiawatha Rally would be a good precursor to our big anniversary trip to Ohio. We have done this rally two-up and also with two bikes before, so not a lot would be new to us. The Hiawatha Rally is a small rally put on by the BMW Motorcycle Owners Club of Minnesota at the Money Creek Haven Campground in Money Creek, MN. Money Creek is about a half hour west of La Crosse, WI. Money Creek is in the Historic Bluff Country region of Minnesota, which is a great place to ride and I love how the area doesn’t feel like a tourist trap.

We got on the road at about 8:40 Friday morning. Heidi had the large dry bag with all our clothes and personal items strapped to her bike and I had a large and an extra-large dry bag strapped to my bike with the tent, cots, chairs, sleeping bags and gear. We headed west on I-90 and stopped at Blue Earth, MN to actually look at the Jolly Green Giant statue for the first time (and so Heidi could try out her new selfie stick). We got off I-90 at Dexter and took Hwy. 16 the rest of the way. Riding down the road, we were extremely happy we bought new helmets and new communicators this year. With the Cardo Packtalk Bold, we can each listen to our own music and still have full, clear, duplex communication at interstate speed.

At Grand Meadow, MN, we decided to stop and grab some lunch. Trying to stick to my “no franchise food traveling rule,” we rolled into downtown and found the Diner. It is the quintessential Mom and Pop diner, and you instantly feel at home with the decor and the people. I usually ask at restaurants like this what their specialty is, but I easily found it on the menu. It was an olive burger, something I had never heard of before. A hamburger covered with sour cream and green olives, covered with melted swiss cheese. With crinkle cut fries, an iced tea and homemade rhubarb custard pie for dessert, it was outstanding! As we began to eat, a local 91-year-old man, Dwayne, asked if he could join us. While we ate, we had a great chat about his RV and his travels after he retired. The owner of the cafe made sure to tell us our check was ready as she motioned with her hands that Dwayne likes to gab, and we didn’t need to stay. But we waited until Dwayne was done eating too. I then got up and paid for all of our meals, as Dwayne now felt like family to us. As we left, we told the owner we would definitely be back again someday.

Outside Preston, MN, about an hour away from the campground, Heidi got bad news on the phone via the Cardo comm system. Her father had been rushed to the hospital by ambulance and no one knew the reason yet. Once we got to the campground, we finally learned he had a heart attack. He already had two stents put in and was in recovery at the Avera Heart Hospital. We felt shocked, stunned, amazed and blessed. From ambulance to recovery was about 30 minutes! Heidi was exhausted from worrying for the last hour and there was no way she could ride the 5 hours back, and I didn’t know if I could either. After paying our rally dues and setting up camp, she finally got to talk to her dad. In his classic fashion, he told her, “Don’t you come rushing back on my part.” He seemed his normal self and we stayed.

We camped in a different area than usual and I’m glad we did. It’s closer to the shower, farther from the highway, and we got to meet more new people, such as Mike, Scott, Steve and Diane and Larry “the Bagpiper.” Friday night was soup supper, followed by movie night with free popcorn, peanuts, hot dog roast and open bar at the pavilion. After soup, Heidi found the Quiner family. They are members of the Christian Motorcyclists Association that always come to Hiawatha and have girls that are very close to the same age as our girls. They all prayed for her dad’s recovery. Later, I roasted some hot dogs at the campfire and miraculously kept my eyebrows. Heidi found one of the smallest and loudest frogs nearly three feet away from the fire, and almost got in an argument with a self-proclaimed “evolutionist.”

Saturday, we rode to Stumpy’s in Houston for breakfast by taking Hwy. 26, which is a very technical road. Heidi didn’t remember any of it from the day before as she was too stressed, so I gave her pointers as I was in the lead. For the first time in years, I noticed the knoll in the road from a cow tunnel going under it for cows to get to the farm from the pasture. How I had never seen this before, I’ll never know.

We got back to the campground just in time for our demo rides. Leo’s South from Lakeville, MN is a sponsor for this rally and always brings a fleet of demos to ride. I rode a 2016 BMW R1200RTP (Police with lights and siren) with less than 2,000 miles on it. It used to be a funeral escort bike. My ride was fast, comfortable and definitely a premier ride. For $11,000 it was very tempting. Heidi rode a Kawasaki Vulcan 650. It has the same engine as her bike but in a cruiser frame. Heidi’s was ride was stiff, excruciating, and ergonomically nearly destroyed her. She can’t understand while people like to ride in the big “C” position.

After our demo rides, we hooked up with Rod, Istvan and Deb who are members of the Sioux Falls BMW Club. Rod took us to some places we hadn’t been before. He told us he’d turn on his turn signals real early so we would know he was going, but he failed to notice they cancel way before the turn, as well. We rode to the Apple Blossom Overlook Park, which has a great view of French Island, the currently flooding Mississippi River and La Crosse, WI. We then rode to Pickwick Mill, which is the oldest flour mill in Minnesota. Next was the Rock in the House in Fountain City, WI. In April of 1995, a 55-ton rock fell from the bluff into the house, taking out the bedroom and bathroom. Luckily, no one was hurt or killed. Years earlier, in April of 1901, a rock fell from the bluff and took out a house on the exact same spot killing a woman. You can self-tour the house for a $2 donation. Our next stop was the Prairie Moon Dance Hall north of Fountain City, and a tour of the rock gardens there. I led us back to Fountain City and the Monarch Pub for some authentic Irish food for lunch. Rod did a good job of upsetting the owner by asking for steak sauce for his Irish burger. “I don’t carry steak sauce! Wouldn’t you like to try it first!?” I think Rod might have stiffed him on the tip later.

We headed back to Money Creek and got to eat again. Door prizes and awards were given out and Dale Nordlie, one of the luckiest guys I know, won a $250 BMW merchandise card. Heidi and I got some $1/minute chair massages and stayed for the live band and open bar at the pavilion. The oldest attendee at the rally was 88 years old, and he definitely out danced me! We chatted with new friends and tried to theorize why the rally has gone from 360 people in 1994 to 212 today. We concluded that millennials just don’t want to do motorcycle touring.

On Sunday, we took our time breaking camp. The Quiners had a quick and meaningful Sunday service that hit home more than ever before. We got rolling at about 10:20 AM, and before Spring Valley, MN we got behind a farm pickup towing a tractor on a flatbed. Luckily, I noticed at the last minute there were no trailer lights when it slowed to turn off the road. We were both able to brake in time, no thanks to lazy Joe Farmer.

We rolled into Grand Meadow to find the Diner closed, so we hit the gas station on the highway instead. A pickup came screeching in next to us as we pulled off our helmets. It was the owner of the Diner. She recognized us and said, “I had to stop and say hello to my new friends!” We caught up and promised her we’ll see her again in August for the MN-SToc rally.

At the rest area near Austin, MN, I got out my jet stove and freeze-dried dinners to make us some lunch. A small group of about six Harleys with IA and SD plates stop to use the rest area. I wave but none of them wave back. I guess the only time Harley riders are allowed to wave are when they are at speed and going the opposite direction. We got back to Sioux Falls in good time to shower and go visit Heidi’s dad that evening and found that he was pretty much back to his jokester self. Thank God for the great medical services we have in Sioux Falls. Stay tuned for our next adventure. The destination is The Windy Nine of Athens, Ohio.


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