Every five years, motorcycle enthusiasts from across the United States, and beyond, travel to Milwaukee to observe the birthday of Harley-Davidson. This year's 105th birthday celebration begins Wednesday and ends on Sunday. But before they roared into Wisconsin, many riders made one last stop Tuesday in Springfield, which was on one of several official routes leading to the big Harley bash.


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Another day, another Harley dealership — that’s been the life of Xavier Gonzalez since leaving his home in Colima, Mexico, uh…

Gonzalez has to check the calendar on his watch in the parking lot of Hall’s Harley-Davidson, which was fast filling with motorcycles Tuesday evening.  Aug. 18, he says — that’s when he started this journey north to Milwaukee to celebrate the 105th anniversary of the founding of America’s biggest motorcycle maker.

You know you’re on an epic motorcycle voyage when you forget what day it is, and after more than 2,500 miles of traveling with a loose-knit band of Harley riders that grows ever bigger as Milwaukee nears, Gonzalez is lost in time. His brother and eight friends are with him on this trip, his first big one after 47 years of riding motorcycles.

“I’m crazy at this age,” Gonzalez says, holding up an elastic back brace that he uses to ward off pain from the road.

That’s what his wife said when he left home. He won’t return until Sept. 8. Why, after all these years of riding, is he going to Milwaukee? He smiles as he answers.

“Well, just for the party.”

Every five years, motorcycle enthusiasts from across the United States, and beyond, travel to Milwaukee to observe the birthday of Harley-Davidson, which sold its first motorcycle in 1903. This year's celebration began Wednesday in Milwaukee and ends on Sunday. Springfield was the last stop for riders on one of dozens of official routes leading from all points to Wisconsin.

The party at Hall’s on Tuesday drew hundreds. Texas, Kansas, Tennessee, Missouri — license plates from more than a half-dozen states bore witness to the tide of riders who are journeying north from all points, as if to Mecca. Like salmon on a five-year cycle, they migrate to Milwaukee to observe the birthday of their favorite motorcycle. There are official routes, with official stops each night at Harley dealerships, but other than that, this is as unofficial as motorcycling gets.

No registration forms, no entry fees, just ride around 300 miles every day, meet up at a motorcycle shop with a few hundred of your best friends — who cares if you don’t know their names — crash at a motel or campground, then do it all again the next day.

“It’s an 850-pound therapist,” said Richard Kilcrease of Wimberley, Texas, nodding toward his 2003 Ultra Classic. “You go to a therapist’s office, you’ll never see a motorcycle parked outside.”

And you rarely see a motorcycle trailer like the one Kilcrease pulls. It looks just like a miniature Airstream travel trailer, sans windows. Kilcrease built it himself (he swears no trademarks have been infringed), and the patent is pending. The prototype hitched to his Harley is considerably smaller than the one pulled by his friend Mike Valdez, and with good reason.

“I said, ‘Honey, you’ve got plenty of room, pack anything you like,’” he recalled telling his wife, Angela, before the trailer’s maiden voyage.

Nine hundred pounds of portable chairs, propane barbecue, tents and kitchen sink later, Kilcrease decided to make his future models smaller. The Kilcreases have put 40,000 miles on their trailer in less than two years, but this trip to Milwaukee is special.

“To me, it’s like celebrating your child’s birthday,” Angela Kilcrease said.

Bruce Rushton can be reached at (217) 788-1542 or bruce.rushton@sj-r.com.