Why do we always wish we were elsewhere? A group of vintage motorcycle riders in Chicago answered this question by starting the "TWALD" ride 17 years ago. It stands for "Two Weeks After Labor Day" or, "The Week After Labor Day." It's about finding "elsewhere," geographically and spiritually.
"Escape to Wisconsin" was the Wisconsin Tourism Department slogan from 1980-1985. TWALD means escape through spirited riding, productive carousing, frequent breakdowns, occasional crashes, the odd marriage proposal and everlasting bonds between fellow riders.
It's the best riding experience you'll ever have, made possible by the most questionable decisions you can make.
"Organized chaos. Really fun chaos."
Bob Burns: The first TWALD was in Galena around 2001. The idea was to find a place someone with a CB350 and a backpack could make it to in a day. That's what you do with a motorcycle, you leave. Leave the BS behind. The job, the news, all of it. A lot of people's first time leaving town on a motorcycle came at TWALD.
Fred Cousins: TWALD started because Bob wanted to get away and ride somewhere closer than Michigan or Canada. It was to include a bonfire.
Bob Burns: 30 people showed up in the rain on Goose Island that morning. We didn't even make it to the highway before a guy on a Norton cracked his oil tank open. And then someone else dropped their bike while we were sorting the Norton.
Tina Lefauve: TWALD is organized chaos. Really fun chaos.
Chad "Chadwick" Dennis: Some dorkwads from Chicago thought it was a good idea to ride crappy vintage motorcycles to a small town and stay in outdated, zero-amenities motels while riding some of the most fabulous roads in the state.
Matte Black: Take your vintage bike out of town. Let's have some adventures, we're all mechanics-ish.
Bob Burns: The point was, if it would do 50 miles an hour, in four and a half hours you'd be in Boscobel.
Amanda Scampini: Being 2001, I'd just gotten the Honda on Sept. 6th. I'd only been riding for a few weeks.
Matte Black: In 2001 I had a KZ1000 with rusty wheels. Turns out the charging system didn't really work. But my riding buddy's bike had the same battery that mine did. So we swapped batteries every so often. Ran like that the whole weekend, no problem.
Tina Lefauve: I used a nylon bag for luggage on my Laverda 3C, which melted onto my pipe. I felt stupid, but I thought, I've got this beautiful bike and I'm out riding it, and that's what it's all about.
Amanda Scampini: The second TWALD, my bike lost power somewhere on US 20. Some trucker gave Bob some wire to hot-wire it. Then we hit rain. Then I hit a raccoon. We arrived after midnight, cold, wet and really tired.
Brett Kurtz: The first year I rode up, a cold front came through. I stopped and put on every article of clothing I had. I got lost and finally got there at 2 a.m. Some bank clock showed 27 F. I took a hot shower for an hour to stop shaking. Good times.
Tina Lefauve: We went to this ski area in Galena with all our gear on and rode the bobsled run. It was this plastic half-pipe on these mechanical sleds with a brake. Some people got really out of control. But the people who owned it were OK with it since we had gear on.
Amanda Scampini: The downhill luge competition started at Chestnut Mountain. All these kids were going down the hill in shorts and tank tops, but we went down in full motorcycle gear.
Bob Burns: Everybody had such a great time, we had to do it next year. Well, when? "Two Weeks After Labor Day" was a pain in the ass to type. So that's how TWALD came to be.
"Let's go somewhere cheaper."
Bob Burns: The second year at Galena, we had 40 bikes. We thought, "We had a great time, but next year let's go somewhere cheaper and farther away." So we scouted things out around the Mississippi River. We turned right at the Wisconsin River, and it was like, "Hello, Boscobel."
Joe Block: The geography is truly unique. Join me on a Sunday morning ride and you'll be treated to two to three hours of beautiful, challenging twists, turns and valleys where you ride as fast as you feel comfortable with and never see traffic for 80 miles.
Bob Burns: We visited the Sands Motel when they had that gorgeous neon sign, talked to the owner who thought TWALD was a great idea, and then left Boscobel. Then we saw Hubl's Motel, which changed everything. The owner said, "All the summer folks are gone and the hunters haven't arrived. You can do whatever you want."
Tina Lefauve: Boscobel? It's a typical hunting town even when it's not hunting season. They're always glad to see you.
William "Bosco Bill" Becker: I was born in Boscobel, raised on a farm nearby. I stopped in town on my CB750 chopper and was looking at a Ural sidecar rig when this burly guy emerges from a bar with his tall gorgeous mate. I figured the Ural caught his eye, but he walked right over to my chopper and gave it the evil eye. I was expecting, "Why would you do that to a bike," but he dug it and explained his love of single overhead cam 750s. That's how I met Big Bob and Jen.
Tina Lefauve: So Bosco Bill shows up at the Hubl on this Honda with extended forks. He's got a baseball hat, camo jacket and work boots. Who's this farm boy on a chopper? But he led the ride. We tried to keep up, but my Laverda was no match. We were amazed how fast he was.
William "Bosco Bill" Becker: Fun facts about Boscobel? John F. Kennedy and Jackie stayed at the Boscobel Hotel during his presidential campaign. John was born about 9 months later. The famous photo of Wild Bill Gelbke on the world's largest motorcycle was taken across the river from Boscobel, at the junction of Highway 60/61.
Matte Black: On the third year in Boscobel, the Sands became the overflow to the Hubl.
Kris Baustert: And then the partying got weirder.
"Stuff will happen."
Norm Hogeveen: Three tips: Don't try to keep up with the guy in front of you. Enjoy the curvy roads of the country. Don't drink too much.
Bob Burns: Somebody said, "We should have a countdown saying it's been this many years since the last incident." No way. When you take 100 people and this is the one time they take their bike out and make it do what it's supposed to do — they're going to turn it up. Stuff will happen.
Dan Waite: That's the beauty of TWALD. Everybody pushes themselves all day long. That's how you get better.
Andrew McCarthy: It helps that many of us have track experience.
Kris Baustert: You get real comfortable with turn markers. Twenty miles per hour means you can go about 40mph, 30mph means you go about 50mph, 40mph means wide open.
Matte Black: We got busted the first year at Boscobel. We were like 30 bikes or so. My license was expired and I'd just built this Honda double overhead cam with no gauges or mirrors, no registration and a borrowed plate. It had lights, though. In 15 minutes I brought up so many issues, the cop gave us a warning and told us to take it easy.
Brady Polowy: I was in a fast group. According to GPS, we averaged 68mph — with stopping. Going through a turn, I fixated on the guardrail I didn't want to hit. Which I hit. Shattered my visor and broke my hand. Bent the handlebars and had to remove the centerstand so it would ride home. And it did, thanks to Karsten Illg.
Tina Lefauve: I wanted to see if my Vincent could do the ton. There wasn't a speed trap, so I wound her up to 90-95mph. When it misfired, I was like, "Wait, there's a tuning opportunity here." How can you find out if your Vincent doesn't run well at 90mph in Cook County?
Matte Black: Brett Kurtz is a badass rider on his trick Speed Triple. But Brett totally blew a corner at 60mph. He just went straight.
Brett Kurtz: I had a nasty sinus infection and wasn't on my game. I don't recommend crashing while leading a group of new riders. The bike was completely unscathed, though. It landed in really tall grass. Not a scratch on it. It took four of us to lift it out.
Kris Baustert: Tall grass is called a "Wisconsin Air Fence."
Bob Burns: One year, this first year guy put his bike in a ditch near Madison. A local guy with a pickup truck was nice enough to haul his bike to Hubl's, then took the injured guy to the urgent care center. He bought the pickup owner a case of beer and a tank of gas. Fair and affordable.
Matte Black: The worst crash was this guy on a 400F, who was heading back to the Sands. He got a Medevac flight out of there. I think he had a punctured lung. Don't think he rides anymore.
"Sorry I blew up your bike."
Ira Cox: This year Andrew's exhaust baffle flew out at me at 70mph, which we actually found. He fixed it with a Christmas tree stand found in a ditch. Then my CB750 chain wore out. Muscodet Dave's tip was to buy a new one at the farm implement store. So I only missed an hour of riding.
Andrew Golding: I won the MacGyver award this year, because of the Christmas tree stand fix. The trophy was a roll of camouflage duct tape. You can't see the fix!
Matte Black: I had my Harley one year, but somebody suggested riding my friend Daniela's CB350. So my girlfriend got on and we took off. Unfortunately, the group was mostly liter bikes. I tried to keep up, despite my girlfriend hitting my helmet and yelling at me. It held together nice until we hit a town, dropped a valve and it died. Sorry I blew up your bike, Daniela.
Amanda Scampini: While picking up a dead bike a few towns away, Baustert's bike broke down. We picked up three bikes that weren't ours with three trailers, plus two more. Baustert took my Honda with a king/queen seat and sissy bar. Then our van broke down. That's how I met Kristin, Miriam, Melissa and Jason.
Jason Koschnitzke: The first year, Melissa and I took a CB160 and CB200. Turns out that was a poor choice. Small bikes are fun unless you want to go somewhere far.
Kris Baustert: The year Matt J. rode his Harley bagger we had to pull over to keep reattaching his sideboards because he kept grinding them into the pavement. He also had an inflatable doll on the back all weekend.
Tina Lefauve: I took my Vincent one year. We got it up there but a carb wouldn't stop leaking. Bosco Bill happened upon us and made a Franken-gasket that's still in the bike.
Fred Cousins: Riding with David Venkus, my Ducati started running poorly. So we pulled over. David asked me, "Did it drop a cylinder?" My Ducati was a single. If this isn't sidesplitting hilarious, you haven't spent enough time with David.
Jen Burns: One year I lost my phone, my lucky hat, and my purse, which was a camouflage bag. Being Wisconsin, I found my phone by just calling it and having the nice guy who answered it drop it off at the bar I'm at. And I found the lucky hat on the side of the road. The camouflage bag, being camouflage, was never found. Natch.
Bob Burns: I took one last 30-minute ride. I'd had such a great day. So I made it 4 miles from the hotel, and a deer tagged me. He bounced off me and ran off. This was the second deer I hit. The first deer I hit was a doe, and I was on my Triumph Tiger. Me and the bike weighed a half ton, so I ran that deer over.
Matte Black: What's more ridiculous to ride than a Kawasaki H1? It was the most hated bike ever, because it had chambers and it blew oil all over anybody behind me. On day two, one of the chambers vibrated off, so we "liberated" barbed wire from a fence to remount it.
Fred Cousins: The wonderful part about TWALD is being left alone. Dumbasses who can't maintain a bike don't get past DuPage County. I don't mind helping someone who's had a spill or a flat tire. But if you show up on a bike leaking oil with a bald tire, you deserve to be mocked. Ninety-nine percent of people manage repairs by themselves and don't need my help.
Bob Burns: "TWALD sucks, stay home" started as a joke. "No, don't come, you'll hate all these nice roads and fun times." One year I said nothing about TWALD to see if people would show up on their own. Big mistake. Lots of regulars never made reservations and got their rooms snatched out from under them. Which actually did suck — for them.
"The cops were there in two minutes."
Fred Cousins: A good way to survive TWALD? Moderation.
Bob Burns: Don't drink too much because it ruins the next day of riding. Or do. It's up to you. For some, it's a weekend to get loose and have a good time. Party until 3 a.m., sleep until 2 p.m. and ride less than 100 miles. But as far as I'm concerned, take your bike, cram clothes and a toothbrush into a bag and really go someplace. See something.
Jason Koschnitzke: One year I drove my 1970 Datsun 240Z. Turns out I was overwhelmingly welcome. I had a blast driving the back roads all day. I also loved being dry. Somehow every year it rains on the ride home.
Kris Baustert: One time, some folks took a spare gas tank and filled it with acetylene and placed it across the street from the Sands. They lit a fuse and didn't tell anyone. Boscobel police have an amazing response time.
Tina Lefauve: One year while drunk we decided we needed to see the river, right across the street. We decided to cross under the road, through the culvert, with no lights.
Kevin Hansing: We saw this hunting shack by the river, and Darren and Klobber and I decided to check it out. Darren got poison ivy all over him. That was the first "Walk in The Woods."
Tina Lefauve: The next year, I brought weird junk to the woods for newbies to "discover." Then someone made all these Blair Witch stick sculptures. Really freaked people out. The Walk in the Woods became the mandatory newbie ritual.
Kris Baustert: We brought Roman candles one year. The cops were there in two minutes and confiscated everything we had. That's why we took up shooting BB guns.
Bob Burns: Part of the reason the event works is that we have a pretty aggressive "no a**hole" policy. Only a handful of people — three — have even been officially uninvited. The first guy I tossed was a challenge. But it got a lot easier after that.
"I got engaged at TWALD."
Amanda Scampini: Kevin and I went to the Dairy Queen and sat on the little hill behind it eating our ice cream. He leaned over, showed me the ring and asked if I'd marry him.
Kevin Hansing: It just kind of happened that way. Every year since, we go back to that Dairy Queen.
Chad "Chadwick" Dennis: The most achingly wonderful, transcendent thing that ever happened at TWALD? Two things. First, I decided to go streaking through Bob's speech. Second, the following year they made T-shirts and stickers of said event.
Jason Koschnitzke: My memorable moment is the same every year. I get the same room, number 13, right in the sweet spot of the Sands Motel. I've had that same room almost since the start. Each year I open the door to room 13, knowing the weekend has just begun.
Amanda Scampini: It's such a great group of people that I always look forward to sitting outside the motels or around the bonfire and catching up. It's the only time of year I see some of them.
Brett Kurtz: TWALD is a state of mind. Every time I go riding outside of the city with friends we represent the spirit of TWALD.
Chad "Chadwick" Dennis: I get to spend time with some of the most important people in my life, people who have shaped my middle age with vintage motorcycles, racing, a new career path and some of the best stories ever.
Bob Burns: From time to time, incidents and behavior make me consider giving it up. But then we get around the fire on Saturday night and I see all these people having a great time all weekend because I said, "Hey guys, let's go ride motorcycles." There's no way I'm stopping this thing any time soon. MC