North By Northwest: A Solo Motorcycle Adventure from Georgia to Alaska (Day 6)

July 28, 2019

Day 6 – 7/3/19

Yesterday’s decision to detour to the EAA Museum in Oshkosh reminded me of one reason I like doing these motorcycle adventures solo: I call it the “Committee of One.” I get to make all of the decisions about when to leave, when to stop, what to see, and where to stay overnight. The downside is I also have the burden of dealing with problems by myself that occur on the road, which can be especially tricky in remote areas. On balance, though, I still prefer the solo option.

I had a somewhat ambitious agenda for the day, probably too ambitious given the potential for pre-holiday traffic, roadwork, and the persistent heat. I took I-39 north for the short ride to Wausau, where I was going to swing by the Visitor Center to become a member of the 45x90 Club. Technically, you’re supposed to visit this geographical landmark at the exact center of the Northwestern Hemisphere first and then sign the book at the Visitor Center and get your commemorative coin. That would have been a lot of backtracking for me, and the staff graciously allowed my deviation from the normal practice. At this point in my life, I have all the trinkets, souvenirs, and tchotchkes I need or want, but the 45x90 coin is very cool.

The 45x90 Geographic Marker is about 30 minutes west of downtown Wausau and is carved out of farmland through an agreement between the landowner and the county. The parking area and sign are located just off the road, and it’s a 10-minute walk on a gravel trail to the marker.

The weather was good, so I got some drone photos.

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I stopped for gas and lunch (in that order) in Chippewa Falls and enjoyed the air-conditioned break from the road. I had an uneventful ride on I-94 west towards Minneapolis and Saint Paul, with a few slow-downs for roadwork.

My next stop was the former Gopher Ordnance Works south of Saint Paul near Rosemount. Construction of the Gopher facility began in 1943, but it didn’t start producing smokeless powder for our armed forces until January 1945. With World War II ending several months later, there was no need for the facility, and Gopher Ordnance Works closed in October. My research found that numerous remnants of the facility were likely still standing, and Google Maps imagery (current as of 2012) showed that a road into the site was publicly accessible. When I arrived, though, I found a locked gate blocking the road. The good news was I had the benefit of a drone to get aerial photos and video, and the area was well outside of the Minneapolis-Saint Paul Airport’s restricted airspace.

Another area of the site with rows of T-shaped walls is across 160th Street, which was pretty busy.

The future of the former Gopher Ordnance Works is unclear. As with many of these World War II era industrial sites, environmental contamination is a formidable obstacle to redevelopment. The University of Minnesota has been leading an effort to determine how best to proceed, and I hope they get the support they need from the state government and Army Corps of Engineers.

By the time I packed up the drone and was ready to leave, it was somehow already 3pm. Anyone who’s traveled by motorcycle knows that everything takes longer, whether it’s a simple stop for gas or to see a point of interest, or a more involved activity like drone photography. When I checked Google Maps on my iPhone for live traffic, it was showing a lot of red (meaning bad traffic) around downtown Minneapolis and several detours for roadwork. The Committee of One decided to skip the planned points of interest downtown and head towards my hotel in Saint Cloud. When I entered my destination in Google Maps and the Navigator V GPS, Google Maps had a much different route and an arrival time of an hour later than the Navigator V. After a little more digging around, I found that there was a complete road closure for construction on I-94 between Minneapolis and Saint Cloud, and Google Maps had a detour on secondary roads through some small towns. I was surprised and disappointed that my in-depth planning hadn’t alerted me to this situation.

I had no choice but to join the pre-holiday gridlock getting around Minneapolis and then around the roadwork. The heat, stop-and-go traffic, and fatigue had pushed me close to my breaking point, and I was thoroughly spent when I finally got to Saint Cloud.

I worked off some frustration in the hotel’s fitness center and then shifted my focus to what I hoped would be a shorter and cooler ride into North Dakota the next day.

Daily portrait challenge: Miranda said I look like I need a drink.

Did I mention that the new GoPro Smart Remote wasn’t doing any better turning on the Hero 7 camera?

Total mileage: 349.3

Lodging: Homewood Suites, Saint Cloud, Minnesota