Exploring Minnesota and Wisconsin…The Day the Skies Turned Black In The Morning…Scenery Changes…Homesick But Wanting to Keep Travelling.

Beautiful Minnesota

I never really heard much about or ever planned to go to Minnesota…..but having driven through just a small part of it, from west to east….I have to say….I really love Minnesota. It reminds me of home, and although I wanted to continue travelling west for many more weeks, I am homesick for my children and my puppies. So this is a melancholy part of the journey for me.

Minnesota has many lakes…and that is why it is called the Land of 10,000 Lakes. The western part of the state is primarily farmland, the south eastern area known for its lush forests and the Northern woods area is less populated and is the area for mining and recreation. The state is inhabited by large populations of Germans, Scandanavians and Czechoslovakians. These folks are likely the descendants of the first settlers to Minnesota as they all came from those countries. There is much wildlife here…no…not that kind of wild life, silly…I mean elk, bison, caribou, deer, bobcats, black bear, moose, pheasants and eagles. Hawk Ridge, Minnesota is known as a premier bird watching site in all of North America. I guess there is an abundance of wildlife here because they have 72 protected State parks…over 4 million acres of land….that is incredible.

Minnesota is home to many famous people: musicians Bob Dylan and Prince, cartoonist Charles M. Schulz (he wrote the Peanuts cartoons), and many actors; Loni Anderson, Judy Garland, Josh Harnett and Vince Vaughn.

I am enjoying the ride today….its sunny, the roads are not busy, and there is so much scenery and sights to take in. Like I said in my last blog we drove from Huron, South Dakota to Ortonville, Minnesota which is where we start our tale today.

Ortonville, Minnesota

There isn’t alot to say about Ortonville….its only 9.22 km squared and has a population of 1900. But really, just look at the picture above. Now you understand why we slowly drive through these towns and take many stops to walk around and enjoy the views. One point of interest is it is the hometown of Dan Jurgens, a comic strip writer and artist who worked on the Superman comics. Nice.

Next is Willmar….a lot larger with a population of 19,000. An interesting note about this city is that on July 15, 1930, Machine Gun Kelly and his gang robbed the bank there, on their way to Bremer, where if you read my previous post, you will remember that they also robbed the bank there….of $70,000.00. Interesting that I am on a bank robbers trail…but as I have done many times in my life…I am going backwards…c’est la vie !

Willmar, Minnesota

I love the name of the next town…St. Cloud. It sounds billowy, and soft and fluffy….lets see if it is. It is a good sized city, with a population of 68,000. Its named after a city of the same name in France, which was named after a 6th Century monk named Clodald. Not sure how this morphed to St. Cloud…but…it did. St. Cloud University sits on the banks of the Mississipi River (yes, that river does actually begin in Minnesota), and is between the downtown and the Beaver Islands. These 30 undeveloped Islands form an incredible 2 mile maze, which draws alot of people in for kayaking and canoeing. I wish I could have gone kayaking there….another item for the bucket list. A fun fact….in 1989 the movie Catch Me If You Can was filmed here.

St Cloud, Minnestoa

Now as I have mentioned before, I love and have owned horses. So that is why I am going to share the next town we go through…Mora, Minnesota. A small town which was founded by predominantly settlers from Sweden, it is worth a stop to check out….the Dalecarlian Horse. This beautiful sculpture is traditionally carved from wood, painted red and has decorations all painted by hand in white, green, yellow and blue. It was originally made on a small scale as toys for children. Here in Mora, as a tribute to the country of Sweden, they have built a large sculpture of this horse and it is truly a sight to be seen. In Mora, the sculpture is made of fiberglass, is 22 ft tall, 17 ft long, 6 ft wide and weighs 3000 lbs. Thank goodness its not real because that would be one heck of a hay stack to feed it for just one day.

Dalecarlian Horse, Mora, Minnesota

We have spent alot of time today stopping at sights and of course for lunch, and now it is getting close to dinner time so… that means time to find a spot to spend the night.

We get to Hinkley and start looking for a motel….and we settle on the Days Inn.

Hinkley, Minnesota
Days Inn, Hinkley, Minnesota

You may be reading this and saying, “Gee Jan. Thanks for the riveting photo of a Days Inn”. I know we likely have all seen one, but I posted this for a reason, as I always do. You will see why soon….please take note of the awning area, because it becomes important later. Ohhhh….the intrigue of it all!

We are all settled in, find a place for dinner, and have a restful night. I know I only have two more nights of this trip and I want to take in every moment.

Morning comes and the sun is shining. We aren’t feeling rushed, so its a leisurely start to the day. Breakfast is included with our rooms, so we head down to have a bite. I met a lovely couple from Hawaii at breakfast, and we shared great conversation and coffee. Now its about 10 am and it is time to check out and head out. We head to the bike, which is parked….under the awning (aha, now the picture above comes to mind, doesn’t it?) and get loaded up to go. We head back in to turn in the keys and….the couple from Hawaii come over to say…”you guys can’t leave….look at the sky. A tornado is almost on top of us”. WHAT? I go outside and see that the sky is now pitch black and the rain and hail have started, pouring down. Thankfully again, the bike is under that awning, but we run to the bike and unpack it quickly. We go back inside and ask the nice lady at the check in if we can stay in the lobby for a few more hours, to ride out the storm and if necessary, can we rebook another night if we can’t leave. She is super accommodating and suggests we sit in a room, not by the glass windows of the lobby to ride out the storm. We do just that. I have not ever experienced something so out of my control and so powerful in my life as I did sitting in that room watching our motel be engulfed by rain, winds, flying debris….you name it. It was both awesome and frightening.

Tornado in Hinkley….not my picture because I was hiding in my motel room but it is actually from that Tornado !

After an hour or so, things calmed down, with only a light rain coming down and sunny skies right behind it. We pack up the bike, and decide we are good to go. Obviously we have not ever ridden in the aftermath of a tornado.

The roads are covered in debris. Trees are down everywhere with their branches spanning the road and in some spots massive uprooted trees are leaning precariously in our path. I can’t even properly share the devastation that we witnessed in what was truly a very short amount of time.

Road crews are everywhere and clean up is underway. We swerve to miss obstacles, stop when the crews are clearing a spot right in front of us, and just generally play frogger with the bike on this road. It is highly stressful, yet thankfully there is no real flooding….I don’t know where all that rain went.

We stop after about an hour for some lunch, a break from the driving and from the rain, which has started up again…we want to wait it out for the rain to pass. At the time I didn’t know this, but this tornado was part of one of the most prolific string of tornados that have landed in the USA. There were 94 tornados within a short period of time, and the day this one come upon us, Minnesota ended up having 17 tornados within a few days. 4 of these were F4’s and sadly 4 people died in Minnesota during this time.

We stay out of the rain for lunch for an hour or more and then, as the rain stopped, we headed back out.

Soon we cross into another state, Wisconsin. Known as the dairy state, due to its large production of milk and products from dairy farms, Wisconsin is another of those states that is covered in beautiful forests and lakes. So many notable people come from Wisconsin: Arthur Davidson, co-founder of Harley Davidson (on which I ride, so thank you)…Georgia O’Keefee, artist…Frank Lloyd Wright, architect…Ole Evinrude, motors for boats..,. Chris Farley, comedian-actor…Harry Houdini…Mark Ruffino, actor and Gene Wilder, actor.


I am loving cruising through the small towns and villages again… Danbury, Minong to name a couple. I do have to share a little of what I saw in Hayward, Wisconsin though.

Hayward is not a large town. It is home to the National Fresh Water Fish Hall of Fame…who knew this was a thing…and on its grounds is a massive fiberglass statue of a musky. You can climb into the mouth of this giant fish and look over the town of Hayward and Hayward Lake. Awesome. Hayward also hosts the American Birkebeiner…a cross country ski race. It is the largest of its kind in North America, hosting over 13,000 skiers each year. Hayward is also home to the hideaway of gangster Al Capone who hid out here in the 1920’s and 1930’s. You see….you never know what you will see or find out about in those little towns you travel through….this is what travel is all about to me.

We continue on through Clam Lake, Iron Belt and Montreal (no, we aren’t back to Canada yet) and finally drive across the state line into Michigan.

Michigan is where we first entered into the USA at the very start of this journey (check out my first blog). This time we are on the western side heading east so I get to see some different sights.

Ironwood is the first place we drive through and we keep on riding until around 6:00 pm we arrive in a really small town called Bruce Crossing. Seems like a good place to spend our last night so we pull into the Tulppo’s Motel/Cafe… with its what will become memorable Copper Drift Lounge.

Tulppos, Bruce Crossing, Michigan.

This stop will become one of my favorite memories and has some of the funniest moments of this trip.

So as all good story tellers do….I will leave here…wanting to know what happens…unable to sleep because you are so excited for the story to continue.

Don’t worry…you will find out soon.

Until then,

Live your Life Jan

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