The heavens smiled on me and Lucrezia had no major issues detected by the shop. After a million test starts and test rides, my mechanic chalked it up to a battery connection issue and said I should be good to go. This being my first cold season with the scoot, he gave me some tips on cold-weather starting (give it some throttle while pressing the starter) and riding (get it over 1/4 on the temp gauge before going over 40 or so), and recommended a battery tender setup for the winter.

A few days later, my husband and I set off on a little road trip for our anniversary. Our destination wasn’t particularly far away –  a cabin at a winery in Grafton, Illinois – but I mapped our route to make the most of the fall foliage, the river views, and some  little-used back roads.

We left the city heading west instead of east, to get on Hwy 94 in St. Charles. North of St. Charles, we took Hwy B even further west, to the Golden Eagle Ferry. This was our bikes’ first journey on a ferryboat and it was so fun. The Mississippi River crossing was short but it was a pleasant way to take a little stretch and look around before we disembarked in Calhoun County – a little strip of Illinois land between the Mississippi and Illinois rivers that is mostly farmland and flood plain. I hardly saw any traffic as we chased each other around the cambered roads, up and down hills among bright red and orange trees. We’d been hoping to stop and grab a beer and lunch someplace in that area, but found that most places were either evenings or weekends (or weekend evenings) only, so we had to move on.

The second boat we took that day was the Brussels ferry, crossing the Illinois river and landing on Route 100 just north of Grafton, part of a long route called The Great River Road. 100 follows the Mississippi River for a stretch along the Illinois coast and is a wonderful scenic ride through the limestone bluffs. Growing up not far from here it had long been part of my consciousness, but this was the first time I’d ridden the popular route on two wheels. It’s a whole ‘nother thing.

Damn, did we have a gorgeous day for this ride. The sun was glinting off the river, the trees were still massed with bright leaves as a gorgeous contrast to the pale stone of the bluffs and the blue, blue sky. It was cool enough for lined jackets on the bikes but warm enough to leave visors up comfortably. Riding through Grafton, we noted signs for the winery but were nowhere near ready to pack it in for the day. I know it’s not a necessary expense, but this is where I love having the linked Sena headsets in our helmets. It’s so easy to just bop the button and have a quick conversation about where to go next without having to wave arms, find a place to stop, and shout over engines.

So we headed toward Alton, about 15 miles south, and a little brewery we’d been to once before. I was pleased to see something I remembered from my childhood on the ride down – the Piasa Bird, a dragon of Native American traditions that lends its name to many surrounding streets, structures and businesses. The legends tie it back to civilizations in the area hundreds of years before European settlers came and stomped all over everything. I was a little disappointed to see it freshly painted. The good people in charge of maintaining the historic site do this every so often because limestone won’t hold the paint well in the weather, but I remember seeing it as a kid when it was all faded and mysterious and ancient looking, and that was somehow a lot cooler. Now it feels a little bit like a billboard.

Driving through Alton is always a bit of a jolt when you see the markings on the grain towers indicating how high the floodwaters from the Mississippi rise during a bad season. I don’t have any footage (more on that in a sec), but it’s crazy to ride by and realize everything you see was completely covered by the river not long ago. Not just a puddle in the road, either, my bike and I would have been completely swamped. Then you get to thinking about the gorgeous bluffs you’ve just ridden through and remembering how they came to be, back when the Mississippi was truly mighty and undammed and carved its own path, and pardon the pun but it’s a lot to soak in.

Lunch and a leisurely pint at The Old Bakery Brewing Company in Alton concluded with the realization that SOMEONE left his keys in his bike and the battery was dead. I won’t lie – I snickered a little because the scooter had to save the day. I rode a few miles to the nearest AutoZone and picked up some itty-bitty jumper cables for ten bucks, then took a photo (that I promised not to share ever on pain of purgatory) while my little scoot was juicing up the “real motorcycle.” Here are the photos I’m allowed to share, though:

We’d planned on doing a few more short stops here and there, but decided it would be best to just head back to Grafton so he could run the bike for a stretch and get the battery charged. The winery and our cabin were up high on the bluff, and the road went basically straight up a really steep hill at one point, before a series of switchbacks got us to the top. I learned to my chagrin that the memory card on my GoPro was full, so I have no footage of the ride up or the even more terrifying ride down the following morning. I went slo-o-o-o-ow, whispering “no front brake, no front brake” over and over as I tried to look ahead without looking down.

The ride home was a little less exciting – we’d slept late and had to go get the kids, so time wasn’t on our side and we had to take the faster route home, over the Clark Bridge and onto the highway this time instead of the pleasant little ferry boats and back roads.

As always, lessons learned:

  • Must buy bigger memory card ASAP!
  • The FACO twin screen was SO worth the money
  • Check your keys, kids 🙂