I don't wear Aerostich riding gear, since I'm very happy with the combo of Olympia and FirstGear jacket and pants for myself, but I know many others who love their Aerostich Darien or Roadcrafter riding suits and consider a pilgrimage to their factory to be required riding.
Being so close to Duluth, it made sense to make a day ride up there to visit their home factory, take the tour, and meet the staff. Friend Bronce rode over to our hotel and met us in the parking lot in time for our 8:00 AM departure. Friend Mike has never been shy about showing his disdain for those who use GPS units for navigation. He proudly waved his "analog GPS" at us, this GPS consisting of a sheet of paper upon which he'd written turn-by-turn directions to Aerostich in Duluth. Since he was so proud of this, Bronce and I (both users of Garmin Zumo's) declared him the ride leader this day.
We were no more than 100 feet out of the hotel parking lot and Mike was already on the wrong route to get us over to US 53. I had to prompt him from the "wing" position through several turns to get us out of town and onto the highway. Once up on 53, Mike very quickly left us behind as his throttle hand was a bit more exuberant than ours. We let him go ahead and kept our speed at about 5-over the speed limit. Good thing, too, since Bronce and I spotted a state trooper sitting up on an overpass, aiming laser at us as we passed below. Mike dodged a bullet on that one.
It was a bit chilly and my vents were all open, so I pulled into a rest area to zip up, then we continued on toward Duluth. I was surprised at the vegetation along this route. It seemed almost stunted in places. The evergreens were tall, but skinny with skimpy needles. In some places it looked to be all clear-cut with scrubby, scruffy second-growth. But then in other sections it was heavy and lush, the spruce and other evergreens a feast for these mesquite-weary eyes.
As we neared Duluth we crested a hill and there, before us, lay Lake Superior. It was a terrific view!! We had this view all the way into the town of Superior, where I stopped at a very busy gas station, thinking to fill up and use the bathroom. I cruised the pumps area but seeing every pump full with lines waiting, I pulled over to the side to park, as I needed to use the restroom. Bronce thought I'd seen the sign for cheese curds next door, but I completely missed that! I'll deal with that craving later!
Back onto the highway, we were just a few miles from downtown Duluth. Ron had gone ahead to Duluth the day before and reported to Mike earlier that highway construction had the exits "all torn up." I questioned what he meant by that, but Mike gave no useful reply. To me, it makes a difference. Are they torn up but open, or are they closed, requiring a detour? Well, we'd soon find out.
As we crossed the big bridge and entered the city of Duluth, we saw signs indicating that the exit to I-35S/53N was closed. Bronce was in the lead and my GPS very quickly provided a re-route once I bypassed the exit onto I-35S/53N. Bronce's GPS obviously provided the same detour and I followed along...that is, until he missed the fork to the right onto Superior Street just blocks away from Aerostich. No sense both of us being lost, so I stayed right onto Superior and two blocks later turned onto 18th Ave. Ron was already there, sitting on the bench outside, talking on his cellphone.
I did a U-turn on the little side street in order to be pointed in the right direction and then backed in against the curb. Ron noticed I was alone and asked me what happened? Well...Mike with his analog GPS has not yet arrived, even though he had a pretty good head start on us given his heavy throttle hand and our two stops enroute. Bronce arrived and parked just moments later. About 20 minutes passed when here came Mike, from a totally irrational direction - coming downhill from the north of Superior Street. I so much wanted to say something to him like, "So how's that analog GPS working out for you?"
The guys browsed, Bronce took care of some business regarding his relatively new Darien jacket, and I sat in a really cool and comfortable camp chair while waiting. Bronce, on the motorcycle test-bed, getting his sleeve length checked:
Bronce talked to one of the gals about giving us a tour and we were about ready to start when Ron and Mike said they wanted to join us. We waited for them to finish their purchases then headed out on a quick but very interesting tour. Aerostich occupies a really neat old warehouse building, which used to be a candy factory. It's three stories tall plus a basement, and they're obviously using its layout to full advantage. On the third floor is where all fabric cutting takes place. Large bolts of fabric - shell material and ballistic fabric - hung from racks at the end of the cutting tables. Many WIP (works in progress) are bundled with their respective job tickets in cubby holes along one side of the tables. Patterns hung from clips and large bins filled with zipper pulls, buckles, hooks and other hardware lined the back side of the cubby hole cabinets.
On the second floor were rows and rows of sewing machines and WIP, bundled with all required hardware (zippers, velcro, etc), were piled up in cubby holes in shelving along two walls. Partially complete suits, jackets, pants hung from poles along one wall.
The first floor is occupied by the finished goods inspection, where ladies were doing close QC of seams, zippers, taping, and were attaching the finished product tags. In this same area were several cubicles where women take phone orders and of course the shipping area is here, as well. In a half-basement area the electrical garments are stored. And that was it! Tour was complete and we all had a really good inside view of the entire process from order to completed product to shipment out the door.
The store itself is very small...only a very small area with some Roadcrafter full suits and a couple of racks with markdowns, the same items that are listed in the periodic emails I receive: Returns, slight imperfections, etc.
From here, Ron and Mike are heading northeast to ride around the north shore of Lake Superior, and Bronce and I headed back toward Chippewa Falls, stopping for lunch at McDonald's in Superior and gas and then back onto US 53 southbound.
In Chippewa Falls, I stopped again for gas before heading for the hotel and Bronce followed me into the station to say goodbye. He would be packing up and getting onto the road later that evening and I had opted not to return to the rally site, but to get back to the hotel and start packing for my early departure the next morning.
It was a good trip up to Duluth and even though I don't wear Aerostich riding gear, I still enjoyed seeing their home.
Tomorrow: On the road toward home, I'll be doing those 1285 miles in two days.