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My Rustic Road writing, stories & pictures.

2020 – Planning for New Adventures

Original article sent to Our Wisconsin magazine

2019 - The Quest Continues
Riding the Northwest Sector - June 2019
The Final Drive Breakdown & Repair
The Final Drive Replacement - Part 1
Rustic Ride Web page and Photos
Road Dogs -published in June-July Our Wisconsin magazine
My Rustic Roads page - more photos to see

Region 7 Canoe Base - A Paddle Down memory Creek

2/14/18 - Our Wisconsin Magazine submission

Rustic Roads, a dog and a Russian motorcycle

Motorcycles and dogs have been a part of the fabric of my life as far back as I can remember. Unfortunately, it’s hard to bring those 2 things together. So in the past, when I would ride some of the Rustic Roads on my motorcycle – my dog would have to stay behind. That changed in April of 2017 when I bought a 2013 Ural motorcycle.

    The Ural is the only motorcycle that comes from the factory (in the Ural mountains of Russia) with a sidecar attached. I’ve always had a fondness for sidecars; I like the look, the versatility & the uniqueness of them. Plus, a sidecar gives more protection from the wind & weather for the passenger and is more stable in bad weather.

    The extra stability from the 3rd wheel is what makes a sidecar motorcycle rig (commonly called a “hack”) perfect for cruising the Rustic Roads – some of which are pretty “rustic”. Soft sand, deep ruts & loose gravel, so often found on the Rustic Roads, are the bane of 2 wheel motorcyclists. The Ural, with a top speed of maybe 70 mph – going down hill with a tail wind – is an ideal machine for riding the back-roads. It’s like they were made for each other. The light traffic makes them a great place to learn to ride a very different kind of machine.

    After a few short trips by myself & teaching my yellow Lab, Annie, to wear her goggles and other safety gear – we set off to ride some of the roads in Winnebago and neighboring counties. Those day trips went so well, we headed out for some of the rustic Roads farther from home in Oconto, Green Lake, Adams & Marquette counties. In a couple months, we had ridden the 10 Rustic Roads required to get the Rustic Roads Motorcycle Tour Patch, so I sent in pictures and requested 2 patches. After all, Annie did ride all 10 roads, too.

    Over the summer we road a total of 15 of the Rustic Roads and by fall, we had our patches. Annie may be the first dog ever to have gotten the patch. I don’t think Annie enjoys the scenery as much as I do, but she loved meeting all the people who would take her picture, running on the beach and swimming in Lake Michigan or sniffing out squirrels in a new woods. And she loved to ride with her nose in the wind – something dogs and bikers have in common. By the end of summer, we were riding several hundred miles and 10-12 hours in a day.

    With the first year having gone so well and feeling more competent on this off-center motorcycle, Annie & I will set out this year to ride more of the Rustic Road system together, with the ultimate goal of riding all 120 Roads some day. A fun little quest to see the Wisconsin countryside, take some pictures of our beautiful state & see some new places.

    Most every biker will tell you, it's not about the destination, it's about the ride. 
I don't know if anyone has ever ridden all 120 Rustic Roads on a motorcycle before, I doubt anyone has done it with a sidecar motorcycle and it's a pretty good bet no one has EVER done it with their dog. 
And that should make for a lot of fun rides.

    So if you see us in a gas station, or on the road – be sure and say HI. And please – watch for motorcycles while you are driving - especially on the often narrow Rustic Roads.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” 
 Robert Frost

                            To see more pictures of the Rustic Roads and the "official" pics for the patches - click the paw -

See the Roads from 2018
Annie and I - geared up and ready to go
RR104-2Annie checking out the next road while she waits for me to take the "proof"  picture.
RusticRoad48-3Annie looking down Rustic Road #48
The Motorcycle
              Tour patch on Annie's harness.Annie with her patch on her harness

Rustic Road Quest Continues



    Once in while, I bite off more than I can chew – on purpose. It’s good to challenge yourself, I think – otherwise, how do you know what your limits are? And that is my logic behind my ongoing quest to ride all 120 WI Rustic Roads and my first long ride of 2019.

    There is a loosely organized, small gathering of Ural owners near Ellsworth, WI in a few days. Ellsworth is located near the Mississippi River, along Hwy 10 in the Northwest quadrant of the WI Rustic Roads system. Typically, I think more than 3 people is a crowd and I avoid rallies and “gatherings” generally. But it’s sort of an “off-center” group of people that buy these Russian bikes and I thought it might be fun to meet some fellow Ural owners.

    Getting there is a bit of a jaunt, so I decided to make a road trip of it as long as I was there. In this 3rd year of my personal Rustic Roads goal - I am going to try and ride the 33 Rustic Roads in the 19 counties that make up the NW quadrant. My 5 day plan is to ride NW from Winneconne on Wed. and try to ride the Rustic Roads that are the farthest away on Wed, Thurs & Friday morning. Friday I plan to head south and by nightfall, I plan to be in Ellsworth for Ural group gathering. Then head out Saturday to ride the Rustic Roads in the St. Croix area, along Old Man River and the Minnesota border. Sunday I plan to head toward home, maybe hit a couple roads I may have missed. In 5 days I will have criss-crossed NW Wisconsin from the UP of Michigan to the Minnesota border.

    At least – that’s the plan, such as it is. When traveling by motorcycle, I never make reservations (hotel or campground), there are no planned meal breaks, gas stops, scheduled stops or itinerary of any kind. You can never know how many miles you will be able to travel when you are riding a motorcycle. Bad weather can slow you down and a breakdown can literally throw a wrench in your plan. I discovered it’s best to keep plans very loose and flexible when traveling on 2 wheels – or 3 in this this case - which is sort of the whole point of it.

    Now, this might not seem like a big adventure, after all, some of the Rustic Roads are only a few miles long. But traveling on a Ural with a dog adds some unique challenges. The Ural is not a high-speed cruiser, so state, county and local roads will make up the route. Many of the county and local Wisconsin roads have no shoulder, no center line, lots lot curves and little traffic. Sometime the roads you ride in order to get TO the Rustic Road is just as scenic as the Rustic Road itself. This adds to the enjoyment, but also adds to the travel time. Of course, Annie will need stops to relieve herself, get a snack, stretch her legs & have some fun. But at least she never asks to stop at a garage sale or flea market. And, after all, it’s not about the destination, it’s about the ride.

    Then there is the navigating to the Rustic Roads themselves. Most of these roads are in out-of-the-way locations, so just getting to each one will require lots of back road driving & navigating. Once in while the signs designating the Rustic Road are missing; I’ve found them in the ditch or not at all. Other times the sign is barely visible, hidden behind trees & overgrowth or just poorly marked. This being the case - I added the beginning and ending coordinates in my GPS to help find each road. I’ll also bring along my trusty Gazetteer, since quite often the GPS & cell phone don’t work up north. There are lots of dead zones on these north-woods roads. Paper maps are still the best & most reliable back-up when your electronics fail to function. A Gazetteer is a large book of maps for an entire state which shows just about every paved and gravel road in that state. They also show boat landing, fire service roads, state and National forest land, etc.

    I would be doing this ride solo, sort of. My Lab Annie would be my monkey (sidecar slang for the passenger in the car), but no other bikes & riders joining us. My wife, Velma, and I have traveled much of the country east of the Mississippi by motorcycle. We have done some group rides, but we both prefer the freedom that comes from traveling by ourselves. No group decisions on motels, food stops or sight-seeing attractions allows you to travel at your own pace and see the things that you want to see without having to take a vote or listen to someone complain about the stop. One 12 day trip was over 4,000 miles from our home in WI down to North Carolina, up the Blue Ridge Parkway and over to Connecticut, then across Ontario and back home. We saw a lot a beautiful scenery and met some very interesting people, but there were some long days in the saddle, too. We both returned with blisters on our……...gluteus maximus. She still refers to that as “The Vacation from Hell”. Later trips to Illinois, Arkansas and Mississippi were less of an endurance ride and we allowed time to make the trip more leisurely. We stopped a little more often to see the sights and smell the roses along the way. We rode the Natchez Trace coming back from Mississippi on one trip.  We liked to stop and visit museums and caves wherever we saw them. Museums are always air-conditioned and caves are a naturally cool and welcome reprieve on a hot summer day spent riding a motorcycle.  

    But a trip like this is a bit too much for Velma to ride with me now. In October of 2017 she had open heart surgery and has not fully recovered her strength yet. Riding for hours each day and days in a row as a passenger on a motorcycle is more physical than one might think. It was one of the reasons I bought the Ural in the first place, thinking it would be more enjoyable for her in the sidecar than on the back of our Venture. And she does like shorter rides around town in the sidecar, but longer trips are still too taxing on her physically. Camping was also part of the agenda this trip and sleeping on the ground has never been her idea of fun. So with her blessing and her warnings to “ride safe” - Annie and I set out for a few days on the road.

    Whether I can ride them all or not will depend on weather, the bike running well & how many times I get lost or miss the turn. I am taking minimal camping gear and food. Of course, Annie will be along for the duration. I’m not sure what the total mileage will be or how many hours we’ll be riding each day. Fingers crossed – it should be fun. Stay tuned.


The Northwest Rustic Roads Ride - the After Action Report

     Sometimes our adventures don’t go or end like we plan. After all, it’s the unplanned, unexpected, unforeseen and even the unfortunate things that make a trip unforgettable. And those are the things that teach us about who we are, things try our patience and often force us out of our comfort zone. If everything goes exactly as expected, if all the items are checked off your “to-do list” and nothing unfortuitous happens along the journey – it’s sort of an “un-adventure”, isn’t it? It’s said we learn more from our failures than our successes, and that’s true about ourselves and our machines.

    Three days into a 5 day motorcycle trip around northwest WI, the final drive on my Ural decided to break down. In those 3 days with Annie, my yellow lab and motorcycle traveling companion, we had logged 995 miles & ridden 25 of the 33 Rustic Roads in the sector. The plan had been to ride all 33 Rustic Roads on this trip – but plans change. As we were coasting down a long, smooth stretch of highway 10 – a loud BAM from the engine & drive train area followed by some metal-on-metal grinding noise was the first sign of trouble. Then the noise stopped, I still had power, engine sounded fine …….. maybe a rock popped up and hit the driveshaft, I thought. Nope. A few more miles, another BAM and it felt like something hit my leg. Still – no change in power. At this point, your brain begins to troubleshoot as you ride along, trying to decipher the noises and symptoms into potential causes. We get thru Ellsworth, WI without incident or noise and downshift into first gear at the light. I am less than 5 miles from the little rally of Ural owners now – maybe I can nurse it there. As I pull away when the light turns green – there is more horrible metallic grinding noise and I am unable to shift into 2nd gear. I coast to a wide gravel spot on the shoulder and shut off the bike. Looking for the cause – I see a bolt emerging from the final drive. The final drive is what transfers power from the engine and driveshaft to the rear wheel. And that bolt should not be poking out of the case. Something broke loose inside the final drive, ricocheted around until if made a hole in the side of the case. This is not good – this is not a repair that can be made at the roadside – it’s a trip ender.

    A call to one of the other riders I had planned to meet and 4 bikes with riders flock to my location – and each confirms the damage and its severity. After some difficulty getting roadside assistance to show up – we manage to get the bike towed to the campground. I set up camp in the near dark, feed Annie and eat some jerky for dinner. Now it’s at this point you find out who your true friends are. Which one can you call at 7 p.m. , ask to drive ½ way across the state to rescue you the next day? I am thankful I have at least 1 friend that drove more than 4 hours with his truck & trailer to come pick me up and haul the bike back home. Bless you, Mike – I am in your debt. In the beginning.......

        That’s how the trip ended, but it began with great promise and for 990 miles at least – it was trouble free.   The impending rain in the forecast all week failed to show, the traffic was light, the bike ran like a clock and we made good time. I did not plan a route or have determined stops – I really had no idea how long it would take to locate & ride some of the roads, or which towns might have gas or hotels. The general plan was to ride northwest, then north, then zigzag west to east across the sector going from one Rustic Road to the next closest Rustic Road. So I plotted the end points of each Rustic Road into my GPS and marked each on my Gazetteer, just in case the GPS failed, and off we went. After completing each Rustic Road, I entered the waypoint for the next one into the GPS, it plotted the route and we rode on.

        Leaving at 8:00 in the morning, we found our first Rustic Road just outside of Neilsville about 2 hours later. Rustic Road #76 was a gravel road and not all that remarkable. I was passed by a group riding ATV’s and after a few minutes I came upon them again, stopped at a junction in the road looking at their map. The Rustic Road made a jog here and since there was no sign designating which turn would keep me on #76, I needed to look at a map, too. Since the ATV riders had a map out already I asked them if they knew which way was the Rustic Road. It seems they were looking for a way get back to town because one of the riders had a tire that was going flat and they needed a gas station to repair it. I carry a small air compressor in the trunk of the Ural, so I offered to put some air in his tire. Annie was anxious to get out and greet the new friends, so after a few minutes, the tire was aired up and Annie had made sure everyone got a chance to pet her. We all wished each other good luck and went our separate ways. One of the first rules of the Biker Code – never leave another rider stranded. I believe it’s good karma to help someone out whenever you can and that would certainly be proven true in a few days when it was my turn to beak down.

    We made good time and after finishing 4 more Rustic Roads, we were in the town of Mercer by 4:30 pm. This was better progress than I anticipated, so we rode #100 up to the MI border, turned around and road down into Hurley. It was still only 5:30, so I decided to push on to Mellen. It’s a fair size town – I reasoned there would be a hotel room available on a Wed. night. Except there are no hotels in Mellen, I was told by a nice older couple. The next town on Hwy 77 was Crab Lake and they were sure there was a motel there – so on we rode. In Crab Lake, there was a motel, and it was booked up. No rooms at the inn – they had all been taken by a nice group of folks up from Illinois who came up to ride 4-wheelers on the WI trails. By now it’s 8:00 pm and the shadows are long and the deer are getting more numerous. The group at the motel said they thought there was another motel between Crab Lake and Hayward. And there may have been, but I came to the my next Rustic Road - #111 – first. It was getting late and I needed some place to stop, eat and rest. The sign for Rustic Road #111 also had a National Forest Campground sign pointing down the same road. I really did not look forward to setting up camp in the dark, but I was out of options. The road was a gravel forest service road, which means a top speed of 20 mph if I want to keep the fillings in my teeth, so by the time we got 5 miles down the road to the Moose Lake campground, it was after 9: pm. And dark…….it gets very dark early in the big pine woods. I found an unoccupied campsite and set up camp on Moose Lake in the light from the motorcycle headlights. Day 1 was over 13 ½ hours of riding and 450 miles – a long day by motorcyclist standards, but even longer since much of it was on gravel or secondary roads.

        Annie in position. Annie is an experienced sidecar dog, but had never been camping before, so she was not used to the variety of animal sounds & smells that bombarded her senses. While I set up camp, she investigated every scent, listened to every owl hoot and tree frog and wanted to go down every animal trail her nose discovered. When we got into the tent for the night – that’s when the coyotes started signing and put her on high alert. She finally laid down next to me on her pad and we got some rest. Thursday was overcast & cool, so after some hot coffee and jerky for breakfast, I repacked the load. Knowing I was low on gas and just a few miles from having to go to reserve – I poured one of the 2 gallons of spare gas I was carrying into the fuel tank. I double checked to make sure we left a clean camp and back on the gravel road just after 8:00 am the next day.
        We made it into Cable on reserve and I finally had cell phone service again – so I checked in with my wife, got gas, ate some lunch, a minor repair on my clear glasses (they had lost a screw) and we headed for the next Rustic Road, then the next. By 6 pm we completed #41 and were near Balsam Lake. Not wanting to repeat setting up camp in the dark – my GPS located the Blacksmith Motel not far from our position. The rooms were clean, the owners and everyone were nice and they allowed Annie to stay in the room. The owner had a yellow lab named Faith that could have been Annie’s sister. They got in some play time along with a little Chipin (a Chihuahua-Mini-Pinscher cross) named Charlie. Later that evening, while I worked on the next day’s route on my bed – Annie staked out a claim on the other bed and got some rest. The next evening we were going to meet up with some other Ural riders at a campground near Ellsworth. But before we got there – there were some more Rustic Roads to ride.

        Now, I will be the first to tell you – not all these Rustic Roads are full of amazing scenery or some spectacular & unique attraction. In fact, I cannot say why one gravel, washboard Forest Service road receives the high honor and the next one doesn’t. The scenery was always nice along these roads, but like most of the scenery in WI, rarely dramatic or spectacular. Lakes, rivers and woodlands make up much of the pastoral beauty of Wisconsin, and it makes up much of the scenery on the Rustic Roads. Some of the Rustic Roads are smooth and well maintained, traveling alongside beautiful rivers & lakes or damp, cool woods where the trees arch over the roadway and sunlight dapples the black pavement. But some are in terrible shape, full of patches, potholes, ridges and cracks. Some had speed limits that can only be described as “aspirational” - because if one actually drove 45 mph on some of these roads – parts would fall off your motorcycle. On many of these “paved” roads – 25-35 mph was the best I could do and still maintain control of the motorcycle and not bounce Annie out of the sidecar. Some were so curvy with one blind corner after another, that there was never an opportunity to reach the speed limit.

        Don’t get me wrong here, some of the roads were fantastic, from both a scenery and motorcycling perspective. Roads that were smooth with almost continuous curves and no traffic are a 2 wheeled motorcyclist dream and a lot of fun on a sidecar bike as well. But with the sidecar, you can’t lean into that curve until your footpads scrape pavement – you have to “power thru” a corner so you stay on your side of the road. Coming too fast around a blind left corner will put you in the oncoming traffic lane and get you dead quickly. Coming in too hot around a blind right hand turn can cause the sidecar to become airborne. This is called “flying the chair” and while an impressive skill on a flat, smooth paved surface – it can be a trip or life killer on a narrow, poorly paved road with no margin for error. Should you hit a pothole or bad bump, gravel or sand while the sidecar is in the air, you can quickly loose control & crash. At a minimum, your bike will be damaged. At a maximum, the bike can flip over into the oncoming traffic or take you, your dog and your gear down the side of the hill - ending your adventure. I did my best to NOT do that. And I can tell you from experience, navigating a steep downhill grade with a blind right hand curve at the bottom, which you discover at the last second is also covered in sand………. that, my friends, is a lesson I only have to learn once. Sliding thru thru the curve and fighting to keep the chair down and in my lane - I was wishing I’d have scrubbed off more speed before I hit the corner. Take it from me – on the Scare-the-Crap-Out-of-You scale - with 10 being a “change your underwear” event – that curve was a 9.5. Lesson learned – reduce speed early when approaching a blind right hand corner.

    As with most motorcycling trips – it’s less about where you are going to end up and more about how you get there. Taking roads less traveled is the best way to enjoy the ride. A lot of the really great riding came on the small, rural roads that you have to travel just to get to the Rustic Roads. It was there you find excellent pavement with little traffic, challenging curves, picturesque farms and little towns with friendly people, smiling and waving at the old man and his dog riding a sidecar motorcycle as we pass through their town. And it is here that I truly miss not having my wife Velma riding with me. Annie is great rider who never complains about much of anything, but she cannot take that amazing shot of the sun setting on a lake or a mural painted on the side of a barn or any of the 1,000’s of other fantastic pictures of scenery, people & places Velma has taken over the years from the back of our motorcycles. While I am focused on the traffic or the next turn or navigating – Velma was free to focus on taking pictures of the landscape and other interesting subjects that we rode past. She would catch beautiful images of things I never even saw.

    Now, as I zip by a lake with the sun sparkling off the slight chop on it’s surface – all I can do is think - that would have made a great picture. Velma would have remembered to take a picture of the dogs and folks at the Blacksmith Motel – I thought of it after we had left. She would have taken more pictures of the other Ural riders at our little rally or of the campsite the first night. And she could have provided more conversation than my GPS is capable of. While I grumbled at her desire to stop at a junk shop or garage sale – it added to the memories we share today. I miss her voice in my ear as I cruise down the road - “Did you see that??” and knowing I would get to see the picture later. I miss not being able to share these new experiences with her or having her tell me - “you took that corner kind of fast.”

        One of the many deer crossing
                      out path - this one stopped and posed. If Velma had been along, she would have gotten more pictures of the numerous wildlife we saw while riding, too.   Some of it too close for comfort, like the numerous does with their spotted fawns that crossed our path. A pair of mature bald eagles feeding on a deer in the middle of the road was quite a sight as they took to the air at my approach. Fox and grouse and wild turkeys also made appearances. And there were a couple of bunnies and squirrels that managed to keep just out of Annie’s reach as they scooted in front of the sidecar.

        I came off of Rustic Road #6 running on reserve for several miles and the closest gas station was over 15 miles away still. Heading west on Highway 64 toward Bloomer, I get to the top of a hill where Highway 53 intersects Highway 64 and I can see a gas station just down the hill. After a few pops and spurts going down the hill, the engine dies & we silently coast up to the pump, the tank 100% empty. Some lunch, a little run for Annie a few phone calls and we are on our way to Ellsworth. Only 5 Rustic Roads remain and I would have completed my goal. I planned to ride them on Saturday before the rain predicted for my ride home Sunday. Ellsworth is only 30 minutes away, so off we go……...until those loud noises and we don’t go – no mo’.

        Good luck is not ever having bad things happen to you & machinery breaks. I define good luck as anything less than the worst case scenario. No one ever wants to break down and it’s hard to see a mechanical failure as anything but a negative. But if the bike was going to break down, it did so just 5 miles from a safe destination, on the side of a busy road in a place where we could call for help. The final drive did NOT lock up when it failed, as they sometimes do, which would have put me into a skid. Instead, it free-wheeled and allowed me to coast to the side where Annie & I could safely wait for a tow truck. If it had died just an hour before, it would have meant abandoning the bike and all my gear and Annie & I walking maybe 5 miles to a road where we could possibly get a ride to a place where there was cell service. Or if had broken down on one of those twisty, hilly roads – I would have had great difficulty controlling the bike with no ability to shift gears and may had to put it in a ditch to prevent a worse crash. It could have happened at night. The rain in the weather forecast never came. In other words – it could have been much, MUCH worse. So between the time & place and the way it broke and the friends that came to my aid plus some nicer weather than predicted – I see the break down as having been very blessed and fortuitous. My guardian angel was hard at work and my Ural, which I call “Trece Suerte” or “Lucky 13”, lived up to her name. She will ride again and once I replace the final drive – the Rustic Roads quest will continue.

edit - 7/5/19, 7/9/19
To see photos of the individual roads and other scenic shots - click the paw-  
Go see some pics!

The Final Drive Repair

          Without getting too technical, there are basically 2 ways a motorcycle takes the power generated by the engine and gets it to the rear wheel.  This a chain drive and belt drive, very much like the method used by a bicycle, where a chain or toothed rubber belt runs from a sprocket on the transmission to a sprocket on the rear wheel. 
         There is also shaft drive utilized on many motorcycles, similar to the method used in cars.  A drive shaft runs from the transmission to a final drive that is connected to the rear wheel.  Inside the final drive are a couple of gears and one of those gears, called the ring or crown gear, is attached to the wheel with bolts.  If one or more of the bolts fail and break or shear off - it can do 1 of 2 things.......or both.  The broken bolt can ricochet off the gears until they get lodged there.  This  jams the gears, locks up the final drive and the rear wheel - and puts the bike into a skid.  Or the bolts can ricochet  off the gears into the sides of the final drive case until they break thru.  That's what happened to my final drive and is much better than going into a skid.
         I still need to remove the final drive and see what the actual damage is and hopefully, no other damage to the engine or transmission has occurred.  I have decided to replace the final drive with a brand new one and then send the old one in to Terry Crawford to have him rebuild it if the damage inside is more than I can do.  There are some bearing that may have gotten damaged and the case will need to be either repaired by a skilled welder or replaced.  More on that once I get it removed and open up the final drive.
Final drive - new
                  exiting boltFinal drive showing
                  both bolts
        As I called around for parts availability & prices, I thought I would inquire at my local Ural dealer to see what it would cost to have them do the work.  Metro Motorcycle is located in Neenah, WI, only about 20 miles from me.  Back in Sept. 2016, when I was first thinking of getting a Ural, I took my Venture in for new tires and wanted to ask about the Urals.  The manager was too busy to talk to me, did not want to answer my questions and seemed disinterested in my business.  He was even less interested in showing me any used Urals, which were way over-priced anyway.  So I ended up buying my Ural from a private party in April of 2017.   When one of the members on a Facebook Ural group a commented about the poor service at Metro, I concurred and said I "customer service is not their strong suit" and I would take my bike there "only as a last resort".  Well, apparently the manager/owner saw this post and was still offended 2 year later, because when I asked about having them repair or replace my final drive, he refused.  He declined to do any service work OR even get any parts for me - because I had "murdered them" on Facebook.  Rather than seize the opportunity to prove that Metro Motorcycle DID provide great customer service, rather than apologize for the mediocre performance I received, he confirmed my original opinion - they suck at customer service.   Every other dealer I called was polite, helpful, friendly, returned my calls and answered my questions.  In the end, I ordered a new final drive from St. Croix HD-Ural and will replace it myself.  One thing about having a machine with old technology - you can fix a lot of it without taking it into a service shop. 
          Thanks to the Internet - Metro Motorcycle in Neenah, WI will never see any money from me and I will do my best to tell everyone about the treatment & service they provided.
Next - the removal and opening of the Final Drive & the replacement.  Then on to more Rustic Roads.

Final Drive Replacement– not quite final


    The new final drive unit came in just a couple weeks. In addition to a new final drive unit, it included a new driveshaft, new rubber boot to cover the driveshaft splines & a new rubber “donut” or “puck”. The donut is a rubber hockey puck like thing that attached to the back of the output shaft on the transmission. There are 5 holes in it – 1 in the very center, 2 for the output shaft and 2 for the driveshaft. It’s made of rubber so that it can flex as the rear of the motorcycle goes up and down with the bumps in the road. I wouldn’t have ordered those things, since I thought with the exception of the final drive itself, the rest of the drive train was in good order. As I often am – I was wrong. Looking closely at my donut while it was on the bike, the round holes where the fingers from the driveshaft connect were worn into oblong kidney shapes. OK, so I need to replace the donut. I’ve got it apart anyway, may as well use the new pieces, right? Now - how it the hell do I get it and the drive shaft out of there? 

    In what can only be described as a stroke of evil genius – the Russians decide that in order to replace the puck, and  the driveshaft, you need to remove the swingarm. The swingarm is basically the back ½ of the bike frame. It’s what holds the rear wheel & shocks and connects it to the front ½ of the frame. Remove shocks, remove swingarm bolts, drop swingarm back, replace the puck – that’s what the manual said. But in my world – things seldom go that easy......................or as planned.

    The shocks came off quickly enough, and the left side swingarm nut was easy to get to and with a hefty push, it came loose. This is gonna be a snap………..but wait - there's more.   I discovered the next piece of brilliant Cossack craftsmanship and engineering – the nut for the right side swingarm bolt was nearly inaccessible. Shining a bright light into the hidden recess, I could see the nut. And I could also see that it had been slightly rounded by previous attempts to extract it. Access to the nut was only thru a narrow space between the swingarm crossbar and the driveshaft and only up from the bottom. I had to grind a 19 mm wrench down to get it to fit in the spot. Perhaps if I had another person who could turn the ratchet while I held the wrench on the nut, it may have relinquished it’s death grip on the bolt. After more than an hour of attempting to wrestle this lone nut off the swingarm bolt, applying several dose of WD-40 and Liquid Wrench and removing every piece of anything that might possibly give me a millimeter more space, I went to Plan B. The “flame wrench” or torch is not the ideal tool to use on any thing that contains rubber, like the inside of the swingarm does, because the heat can damaged the rubber. I used it sparingly, but it was also no path to success.

    Rather that risk damaging the swingarm, I had to go to my final option – cut the damn thing off. This meant it had to be removed in 3 pieces. First, cut off the head, then use a punch to drive the bolt back so I could grab the nut with a pair of needle nose Vise-Grips, then cut off the bolt behind the nut and finally, use a drift punch to drive the bolt out from the inside. It wasn’t easy, but it worked and I now need to buy a new swingarm bolt and nut before I can finish the assembly and hook up the swingarm & shocks. I think I may have the new nut spot welded in place so if I ever have to pull the swingarm again, it will be a whole lot easier.

    Once the swingarm was out of the way, the old puck came off with a bit of prying and the new one went on with some help from a little silicon grease and a rubber mallet. Then I looked at my driveshaft and I could see the hole where it connects to the transmission output shaft had been worn into an egg shape, so it needed to be replaced, too. The new driveshaft popped into it’s holes in the new donut and is now much more snug than the old assembly was. Once I get the new bolts, then I can reassemble the swingarm and shocks so I can install the final drive. And, as long as it’s off anyway – I’ll put on a new rear tire and tube, which should be in next week, before mounting the rear wheel.

Shocks off, left side  swingarm bolt out.

The swing arm bolt from the right side - removed in pieces.
You can see how rounded the nut was.

   Old driveshaft and rubber puck. Note the oblong holes – not good.

End that connects to the rubber donut – the hole in the center should be round and not egg shaped.  

New rubber donut installed on the transmission output shaft. Notice the nice, round holes.

The new puck with the new driveshaft installed.




2020 – Planning for New Adventures


    I just finished blowing about 6” of new snow off the sidewalks, driveways and making a Potty Path for our Chihuahua, Dora. The wind is whipping at about 25mph outside and the temps are dropping to single digits – seems like the best time to begin the planning for the 2020 phase of my Rustic Roads quest. Winter is the worst time for PMS - Parked Motorcycle Syndrome - it feels like decent riding weather will never come.  I know it will, eventually, and I want to be ready for it.

    I also sent the old final drive in to Crawford’s – a Ural dealer, parts supplier and mechanic of excellent repute. He repaired my final drive (for under $300) so I now I now have a back up should the worst happen again. Lightening may not strike twice in the same place, but that old saw doesn’t apply to Russian motorcycles. Mr. Murphy’s Law is generally more true when it comes to motorcycles and motorcycle travel – whatever can go wrong, will. I may never need the extra final drive, but it’s better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.

    Even though the near-death of my final drive stopped us 8 roads short of completing all of the Rustic Roads in the NW quadrant, Annie & I still completed more that the 25 roads required to qualify for the “official” Certificate of Completion from WI DoT Rustic Roads Program. They believe she is the first dog to have gotten the certificate. There are no more official awards, patches or high honors for completing any more roads, or even for completing all of the roads. So I believe I will take it upon myself to have a “rocker” patch designed and made to accompany the main patch. I think it should commemorate the various milestones of having ridden 50, 100 and all 120 roads.

The "Official
                " Certificats of Completion for riding 25 Rustic

    While looking back at my breakdown last summer and thinking about what went wrong and what went right - I felt there a couple things that I was unprepared for.

        1. If the bike have broken down a distance from a town, cell tower or paved road – I had no way of carrying valuables & necessities should I have had to walk for help and leave the bike. I decided I need to stash an empty backpack on the bike at all times so I can carry out anything I need or don’t want stolen.   Some food and water, tent, dog's supplies would be some of the things,  along with license, money, GPS and anything it might be costly to replace. 

        2. I like to ride alone, but that means if I break down – I may not be able to call a friend and have him drive 4+ hours to get me. With that in mind, I purchased a small flatbed trailer last fall so that I might be able to “self rescue” if another major breakdown should occur. I plan to trailer the bike to a central spot in the riding area and make a base camp. Then I can ride out to the various Rustic Roads and return to camp each night. I will also not be too far away from camp, my truck & trailer should I need to hitch a ride, then go back and get the bike. I can also carry an extra tire, extra final drive and other parts that way………just in case.

    So with the new pusher tire mounted and final drive and other parts replaced – the bike is ready for some small Wisconsin  adventures in 2020. I still want to finish the 8 Rustic Roads in the Northwest quadrant that I wasn’t able to complete before the breakdown. However, my responsibilities as executor of my parent’s estate includes getting their house in NE Illinois ready for sale, so I will need to make multiple trips down there over the summer to clean, paint etc. It's about a 3 hr+ ride if I take the Ural and the ride the state and local roads.  As it happens, there are 29 Rustic Roads in the Southeast quadrant that I have not yet ridden, so it seems only logical and efficient to focus on those roads this year.   And it will be a nice diversion from a task I hoped would not come this soon. Now is the time to mark the map, input the GPS coordinates and plan a route or 2 or 3 or 4. Gotta keep moving forward.

                                            Region 7 Canoe Base ~ A Paddle Down Memory Creek
    You never can tell what events or experiences will help chart a course for your life. I was reminded of this recently when I came across a photo of my Scout group, taken at Region 7 Canoe Base. Located on White Sand Lake near Boulder Junction, Region 7 Canoe Base was one of the Boy Scouts High Adventure bases. I didn’t know it then, but the memories and the skills I gained there would play a formative role in the path my life would take and in my decision to settle and build my life in Wisconsin.

    The group photo was taken in 1974, shortly before we headed out on our adventure. I am seated in the center of the photo, and I look a bit ragged among all the other boys in full uniform. In in my defense, I had just returned from my Voyageur training trip only minutes before the photo was taken. The previous year, I had been at the Canoe Base with members of my troop for a week of canoeing and camping, but this year I had been selected to be the voyageur and lead the group on our canoe trip.

    To qualify as Voyageur, a Scout was chosen by their troop and arrived at Region 7 Canoe Base a week before their group’s trip was scheduled to depart. Six to 8 “Voyageur candidates” were grouped into units and each unit was assigned a counselor/trainer. What followed was 5 days of intensive training on the trail; canoeing, portaging & camping. The counselor was there to teach and assess our cooking, camping, canoeing, navigating, lifesaving, first-aid, teamwork and leadership skills. Those boys that passed would be designated as the Voyageur for their group and responsible for teaching canoeing technique to the other boys, navigating their route and finding the assigned campsites and portages, among other duties.  Not every candidate made the cut. Safety was a top priority at the Base and having the necessary skills was a must. There were no cell phones or GPS in those days, so getting lost or hurt could have dire consequences.

    That week-long trip venturing from lake to lake and down narrow streams, seeing wildlife up close, catching and cooking our dinner made an indelible mark on my soul.  There is something unforgettable in the haunting song of the loon as it echoes across a glassy lake in the black of night or the sight of a bald eagle as it glides out of the morning fog.  I remember how it flew low, just over our heads, startling us as we paddled along. Racing our canoes across a lake, camping on small islands under the tall pines, swimming in the clear water and even the tough portages are just some of the memories that are forever etched in my mind. It was an incredible week in the wilds of Wisconsin.

    It was such a great experience that I returned the next summer with a friend. We loaded our canoe with some food, fishing and camping gear. Map and compass in hand, we started out from Trout Lake. We had planned a big loop trip and after paddling across numerous lakes, down fast flowing rivers and up small creeks, we returned to Trout Lake 10 days later. It was such a fun & memorable trip, when it came time to settle down and raise a family, I knew Wisconsin was the place I wanted to call home. 

    The Region 7 Canoe Base closed in the mid-1980’s after more than 50 years and giving thousands of boys the adventure of their lives. I still have a few pieces of memorabilia from my trips – a hat, a small guidebook, and the recipe for Hudson Bay Bread, a staple food on the canoe trail.  The memories of my adventures and the chilling song of the loons are things that I will cherish forever. They are just some of the things that drew me back to Wisconsin.

Our Wisconsin may not have the dramatic mountain scenery or sweeping vistas of some other states. But the farms and fields, lakes and streams, cliffs and creeks all blend together to form a pastoral beauty all its own.  My wife calls it her “calming beauty” – a peaceful and inviting place – and whenever we leave, we are always happy to return here. I may not be a native son, but I am a Wisconsinite at heart.


                                                            But wait – there’s MORE!

    The trips to northern Wisconsin impacted my future in another profound way.  My older brother attended Region 7 Canoe Base in 1972.  After dropping him off and starting home, we passed a taxidermy studio located on Star Lake.  I pleaded for my parents to stop. By this time, I had been learning to do taxidermy for three years through a correspondence course from the Northwest School of Taxidermy.  I found the art of taxidermy challenging and engaging on many levels.  I loved to hunt, fish, carve and draw and doing taxidermy allowed me to use those artistic and creative talents to capture the beauty of the natural world.  The taxidermist was kind enough to show me around his amazing studio and work area.  He took the time to answer my questions, and tho I was only 13 years old, he talked “shop” with me for quite a while.  I left determined to continue to improve my work and hoped to have my own taxidermy studio one day. I continued to practice taxidermy throughout my school years, and after graduating high school, I worked in taxidermy shops in Montana and Idaho.  In 1980, I moved back to Wisconsin, and after a few years, I was able to open my own studio in Winneconne, where I have been working as a professional taxidermist & wildlife artist for the past 35 years. 

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