Saturday, July 09, 2005

2005 Day 21

Start: Coleville CA (37574)
End: Sherman Oaks CA (37959)
Miles: 385
Total miles for trip: 6597

Day 21 - Coleville CA to Sherman Oaks CAWe are up darn early and out the door, hitting the road before 7 am. This is how the cliffs looked in the morning sun, as we got ready to leave. Spectacular.Hwy 395 climbs into the Sierra Mountains from here, and the morning is quite chilly as we ascend. The two major passes on this part of the road, Devil's Gate and Conway Summits, are at 7519 and 8138 feet, respectively. Brrr. We stop for gas at the town of Lee Vining CA, and the gas prices are so eye-poppingly jacked up that Jen takes Can you BELIEVE they are charging this much for gas??a picture of the sign. $3.19 for regular. Egads! Well, you just gotta pay the prices you find sometimes. We hang out at the station for a little while to warm up, drink a cup of hot chocolate, and enjoy the spectacular view. Lee Vining sits up on a plateau with a magnificent vista of Mono Lake.

Continuing on, we pass through more beautiful California mountain country, which is all national forestland until we get to Bishop. (The next two passes, Deadman and Sherwin Summits, are at 8041 and 7000 ft. Still brrr.) After that, it's just a long straight shot down the Owens Valley. We warm up, and click off the miles.

South of Ridgecrest CA, just as we're entering Red Rock Canyon State Park, we pass a guy in a loaded pickup and then move back into the right lane in front of him. He doesn't like this, so he floors it and passes us, pulling in front of me too close. Whadda jerk. I don't like the look of it, so I throttle back to put space between him and us, and seconds later I am glad I did. Sure enough, the load in the back shifts (there can be lots of crosswinds in this area) and I see a large Hefty bag filled with who-knows-what gracefully lift up, then catch the airstream and come flying out of the back of the truck straight as us. It hits the freeway and explodes, and suddenly Jen and I are playing dodge-'em with sneakers and clothing everywhere. Swerving practice does pay off, I'll assure you, and we both negotiate our way safely through the hazard. Just another day on the road, with drivers who don't realise the things they're doing are putting motorcyclist's lives in jeopardy. It's our reality, and we are always on the lookout for it.

That's the last of the adventurous moments, which is a fine thing when you're coming back home after a long trip. I drop Jen off in Acton and head on into the city, pulling into my driveway mid-afternoon. I spend ten minutes looking for my housekeys because I've forgotten which special pocket I stashed them in (saying to myself, 'now don't forget!') three weeks ago. It's good to be home. Ah, THERE are my keys!! LOL.

Friday, July 08, 2005

2005 Day 20

Start: Boise ID (37070)
End: Coleville CA (37574)
Miles: 504

Day 20 - Boise ID to Coleville CATime to head home! Jen and I saddle up and head out early, wanting to make good miles. We have about 900 miles back to Los Angeles, and I am looking to make at least half of that today.

Here's the thing. I really like traveling with Jen; she and I ride together well and we get along famously, in spite of (or maybe because of) the fact that we couldn't be more opposite in many many things. It's a boon to have a road pal who likes to ride the same speed you do, doesn't take too long or too short a time at gas stops, and who tells good stories at lunch and listens to your stories too :) That's my friend Jen. So, today's a long day with a good companion, headin' home. A pleasant set of circumstances!

Heading out of Boise, we pass the amusingly-named Chicken Dinner Road. Someone was telling us the story yesterday about how it got that name: back in the 1930's, a local (who wanted her poorly-maintained road improved) invited the governor to dinner. A chicken dinner, natch. And the governor returned the favor by getting the road paved the following week. Apparently, it's a true story.

Leaving the outskirts of Boise's satellite cities, we pick up US-95, which travels across the great empty spaces of eastern Oregon on the way to Nevada. There is a whole lotta nothing out here, and we mostly have the road to ourselves. I was warned that (a) Oregon's speed limit is 10 mph lower than Idaho's, and (b) the OR Hwy Patrol will be lying in wait for those who do not heed the posted limit. However, it's hard not to speed out here, with the wide-open empty highway rolling out in front of you. Sure enough, I am zipping along at 75 mph or more when I crest a small hill and spot the waiting cop car in its hidey-hole. Oh crap, he's got us dead to rights and we are SO nailed. However, by some small miracle he lets us pass, and I can hardly believe I don't see him in my rearview swinging onto the road and flipping on the lights. Throttle down, throttle down. I continually reminding myself to keep off the damn gas, at least until we get to Nevada.

Hwy 95 is the site of one other dramatic event, involving a motorcycle, and empty road and one small, stupid avian. I spot the stupid little bird hopping along the double yellow in front of me. Move it, I think, I don't want to run you over. Instead, the dumb thing just keeps hopping along the road. Hop, hop, hop. Mind you, this all happens in a second or two. The poor dumb thing realises far too late that perhaps it should fly away, and attempts to do so. It gets approximately three feet off the ground before coming into rapid and fatal contact with my remaining running lamp ... the thing wacks off my headlight, making a bigger splat that your average bug. Ai yi yi. The small critter kills always happen so fast that you can't do much about it, but they still make me feel bad. (Later, Jen tells me that she's never seen a bird explode QUITE that way before. She said it just disintegrated and all that was left was a bunch of feathers flying. Thus does my bike earn yet another new nickname: BirdStrike. Later still, when we stop for the night, when I unzip my duffle bag a single downy feather comes wafting out, causing Jen to fall into more fits of laughter. That was one DEAD birdie.)

We make it to Nevada without further incident, have lunch in Winnemuca NV, and spend the afternoon crossing the state. It's stark scenery for most of the way. We start approaching cities by late afternoon, and reach Reno around 4:00 pm, hitting rush-hour traffic. It stays that way pretty much through Carson City. We've made our 450 miles now and we start talking about where we want to stop for the night. Remember how I said Jen and I are opposites? Well, here's one thing where we are completely different: she prefers to have a destination and a hotel reservation at the end of the day, whereas I like to ride without a schedule, going until I don't feel like riding any more, and then find a place to stay. I've convinced her to try it my way on this trip. So, I decide that I'd like to get past the cities and traffic, and we both are feeling good to go a little farther, and there's still plenty of daylight left. I'll be on the lookout for hotels after we get a few more miles on the odo.

However, my no-schedule style comes back to bite me in the butt today. Pulling into hotels in Minden NV, and then in Gardnerville NV, no one has any vacancies. Apparently there is some major bike race in town and all the hotels are booked SOLID. There's nothing you can do but shrug and say, "Oh, well," but after the first couple of times it really starts to SUCK to put your helmet back on and head to the next town hoping for better luck. Now, we've gone all the way to Topaz Lake and I spot a brand spanking new Best Western with an empty parking lot - oh, they've gotta have a vacancy! Sure enough, they do ... their only available room is the honeymoon suite, at $175/night. Trust me, at this point we quite seriously considered taking it, but ultimately decide it's just a bit too pricey for us and we don't really want the teasing that would inevitably follow staying in the honeymoon suite, LOL. I say, "C'mon, just one more town. We'll find something."

Dusk at Meadowcliff Lodge, Coleville CAThe next spot is just over the border in Coleville CA, and I take a chance and pull into the lot of the Meadowcliff Lodge. This is a spectacular little old-style resort hotel nestled under a huge cliff on Hwy 395. What a beautiful setting. Might be OK pricewise, might be out of range, but now the sunlight is starting to run out and we are getting into mountains, where the long shadows might hide deer or other unpleasant road surprises. The room turns out to be $88 a night, a little more than I like to pay but certainly better than the honeymoon setup. We take it, settle in for the night, and have dinner at the restaurant on site, good home-cooking style. The extra miles today mean that much fewer tomorrow.

Next: Day Twenty-One

Thursday, July 07, 2005

2005 Day 19

Lowman ID and the Idaho State Penitentary
Miles: 147

Day 19 - Boise, Lowman, and Idaho City IDJen and I feel like riding a little more distance today, and make a jaunt up to Lowman ID. Overlook near Lowman IDState Rte 21 is a fine road through spectacular Idaho mountains, and we stop a couple of times to take in the views. The town of Lowman (and believe me, I'm being generous calling it that) is nothing but one rickety-looking outbuilding that may or may not have sold gas, and SERIOUSLY. We choose not to stop, 'cause it looked just a bit too weird. (Cue banjo music.) The happenin' main street of Idaho City IDInstead, we have lunch at Idaho City, a little former mining camp that survives as a historic tourist town. We stop at Diamond Lil's Steakhouse and Saloon, which turns out to have a pretty decent burger. Jen poses with Diamond LilThe friendly likeable waitress is offset by the drunken local guy who apparently does not posess the slightest ability to read body language and non-verbal cues, and cannot figure out on his own that the two biker chicks who just walked in are in fact NOT dying to talk to him. (I think the owner finally took him aside and told him to stop pestering us.) Lunch improves after that. :)

Oh, sure, I love dogs. But not nearly as much as Jen does.After lunch, there's a Lab lazing about on the sidewalk in front of our bikes, and Jen happily makes friends with him. She misses her three Labradors when she travels, and this dog is pleased to be today's stand-in. His name is Buddy, according to his tag.

To me, it looks like The Shawshank Redemption. Except, you know, it's in Idaho instead of Maine, and all that.On the way back, we stop and walk around the old Idaho State Penitentiary, which is actually pretty interesting. Jen's hubby just recently completed his training as a correctional officer and started working at a California facility a few weeks ago (which is why he's not on this trip.) She wants the joke look-at-me-I'm-behind-bars photos, My best Carol Merril impressionand we horse around in the Criminal Women's wing, and stuff like that. Built in 1870, the Old Pen is typical of prisons of that era, which equated security with massive blocks of stone for construction. The main building and yard are hulking granite walls, brooding at the base of the mountains.

We return to the hotel mid-afternoon and there's more parking lot chatting and checking out bikes. There are some really pretty customs and mods here - these women love their rides. :) We're standing under some shade trees and I point out to Jen, "Hey, those women over there are checking out your bike." She replies, "No, I think they're checking out yours." We wander over because I am now dying of curiosity. Approaching, I call out, "Hey, I'm just wondering, out of all the bikes in this parking lot, why are you looking at the VLX?" And the woman replies with a straight face, "Well, from a distance we thought it was a custom glitter paint job, but when we got close, we saw it was just the bug splats." Jen just about falls on the ground laughing, and immediately bestows a new nickname to my bike: GlitterBug.

Next: Day Twenty

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

2005 Day 18

In and around Boise ID
Miles: oh, about 40

Arriving at the Bogus Basin Ski Area above Boise IDSix of us take a short putt up to the Bogus Basin ski area above Boise, a nice little ride. However, today is mostly hanging out and chatting with the attendees of the WOW Ride-in. I do a little parking-lot wrenching on my bike, giving it a good once-over. In spite of the fact that it looks like hell, with headlamps falling off and whatnot and grimy from so many days on the road, the wee beastie is running well. Jen has taken to calling it the Alien Bike, due to the crazy cockeyed look of the missing headlight and the exposed wires.

Next: Day Nineteen

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

2005 Day 17

Start: Arco ID (36672)
End: Boise ID (36882)
Miles: 210

Day 17 - Arco ID to Boise IDToday is a short day. I take Hwy 20 across the stark and empty parts of Idaho. The Craters Of The Moon National Monument is well named, the black lava rocks appearing to support no living being, until you take a closer look. Only the two-lane ribbon of road divides the featureless hillocks and horizon in two.

Eventually I reach Interstate 84, and turn back northwest, and the empty spaces give way to small towns give way to city outskirts, and then I am in Boise, which is large enough to get lost in. I have no idea what's the address of the hotel, but remember it's close to the river. I had looked it up on a map before leaving home. Somehow that's enough to find it :)

I know hardly anyone here at the WOW Ride-In. I'm rooming with Jen (who shows up a few hours after I do) and Blue's here, so at least I'm not totally on my own, LOL. Blue graciously lets me stash my stuff in her room, and use her shower to clean up. There is nothing quite so satisfying as taking a nice hot shower & putting on clean clothes when you know you're going to be off the road for a little while.

Next: Day Eighteen

Monday, July 04, 2005

2005 Day 16

Start: Gardiner MT (36345)
End: Arco ID (36672)
Miles: 327

Day 16 - Gardiner MT to Arco IDI dress in full leathers again this morning, still pleasantly surprised at the northern chill in the air here. I guess I got used to how stifling the South is in summertime.

I re-enter Yellowstone, determined to explore the geothermals that I didn't have time to see yesterday. It is a perfect day for sightseeing. The weather is lovely, it's the Fourth of July, and I have a map, a good road, a full tank of gas, and one of the gems of America in front of me. Life does not get much better than this.

Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone NPFirst, I stop at the post office to drop off postcards for my family, earning them a genuine Yellowstone postmark. :) Then, the first big stop in the north part of the park is Mammoth Hot Springs, where I walk around for a while, admiring the spectacular colors and the sheer size! Steaming water cascades down the terraced cliffs, really an amazing sight. The air reeks of sulphur, and the yellows, blues and reds sparkle in the morning sun.

I head on down the road, stopping next at Roaring Mountain. Here, the entire side of a largish hill is covered with fumaroles and vents and steamholes, and there used to be so much geothermal activity here it gave the mountain its colorful name. It died off twenty or so years ago, when a lot of geysers changed their behavior patterns. Geologists suspect that some event happened deep underground that shifted stuff around in ways they do not yet understand. The cauldera lives, but Roaring Mountain no longer roars, just quietly steams. Water trickles out of numerous vents on the hillside and collects in a streamlet next to the road. I quickly dip my fingers in the water, wondering how hot it is ... it's not. All the heat has been given up to the atmosphere and it's now an icy mountain rivulet running at my feet. A park worker, picking up trash, glares at me ... guess I shouldn't be testing the waters like that! Tsk, tsk.

Heading south, I detour off the main road on Firehole Canyon Drive. This lovely little road travels a deep-cut gorge, following the river that's born near Old Faithful and drains the various geyser basins, flowing north. The river is reknowned for its trout fishing, and swimming holes are marked at some of the turnouts.

Crossing the Lower Geyser Basin, I see a park ranger frantically chasing after the tourists who are walking right up to the bison to get a good picture. Yep. People are that stupid.

Hot pool on Firehole Lake DriveAnother geothermal side road is Firehole Lake Drive, offering a nice drive around the Middle Geyser Basin and some up-close walks around very active vents. I stop at a wide place in the road right next to a small pool; it's amazing to walk right up to the jeweled edge and peer down into it. The picture I take does not do the deep reds and tourquoise justice. I dip my fingers in this pool as well ... this one is QUITE hot. Later, I stop in the main parking lot, and spend some time walking around the big geyser complex. The roar and sputter of the geysers is constant; what a noisy place! Geysers at Firehole Lake DriveAs I am walking back to my bike, a raven lands on my duffle bag and busily tries to get in, perhaps thinking I have something good to eat. Heh. I am too amused to yell at her. She gets some of the velcro open, but is stymied by the cargo net. Those birds are damn clever.

Yellowstone Nat'l Park - South EntranceI ride on, eventually exiting the park at the South Entrance, yet another lovely spot for a photo. The road leads me on through the Grand Tetons. The four great peaks stand amazing and jagged against the deep blue sky. It's a truly spectacular part of the country.

I head south through Jackson WY (or Jackson Hole WY depending on who you are listening to) which has an air of rich snootiness that reminds me of Santa Barbara. Heh. From there, I turn west & the road takes me through Idaho Falls. Hwy 20 crosses the Snake River right by the cascades that gives the city its name, then crosses I-15 and forges due west, and after that it is pretty much the MIDDLE OF FRIKKEN NOWHERE. But it's not empty. For miles and miles and miles and miles, a tall chain link fence stetches along the north side of the road, electified wire running along the top, marked intermittently with small plain placards stating GOVERNMENT PROPERTY - NO TRESPASSING and even more infrequently broken by large gates guarded by sentries in little air conditioned huts, set back from the road. I start to get seriously creeped out. It reminds me of nothing so much as the last few chapters of The Stand, where Trashcan Man goes into the desert and into the bowels of gov't nuclear facilites, bringing back a strange dark treat for his hero Randall Flagg. I halfway expect to see him come shambling forth, my life for you!!! and I am getting quite freaked out by my whole train of thought here. I pass a turnoff for Atomic City, and see a few signs telling me I am passing the Idaho National Labratory (formerly Idaho Energy Reseach Labratory.) Oh my god I AM in the middle of a government nuclear facility. Worse, I've been running on reserve for a while and I haven't seen any cars for a while, much less a gas station. Nothing to do but keep going & hope to make the next town. The sun is lowering, but the wind is not too bad here.

USS HawkbillThe next town, which is Arco ID, finally hoves into view as I am getting fairly worried about my gas situation. I fill it, all's well again. This seems like a good stopping point for the night, so I cruise down main street (still Hwy 20) looking for likely lodging. And ... whaaa? There is a submarine conning tower in the middle of town. Now that's just ODD. Across the street from the submarine, there's a cute little mom & pop motel. It looks nice and neat, so I check it out. It's more than suitable, it's a score! Good friendly people, a decent room at a great price, and LAUNDRY FACILITIES! I'm happy as a pig in mud! (If you ever find yourself needing a room in Arco, go to the DK Motel, I recommend it!)

The young lady running the hotel is friendly and chatty. After I get settled in, I go back to the front desk to ask her for quarters for the washing machine (she helpfully gives me some laundry soap as well) and I ask her, what's the happs around here on the 4th? And by the way, what's up with the submarine? She tells me that the 4th isn't the big deal in Arco ... their big summertime thing is "Atomic Days" later in July. Arco is famed for being the very first city in the US that had electricity entirely supplied by nuclear power (back on July 17th, 1955, for about five minutes. Hey, a first is a first. LOL) The conning tower is from a decommisioned nuclear sub. She doesn't know much more about it, but tells me there's a display over there, go check it out. (I do walk across the street later, and read the flyers posted under glass, telling me about the USS Hawkbill, decommissioned in 2003.) For the 4th of July festivities, they'll be shooting off fireworks at the high school, and she says that they sit out on the front lawn of the hotel to watch 'em. She invites me to join them.

And I do. As the sun goes down, a collection of nice folks drifts onto the lawn: a couple from Utah, young newlyweds from British Columbia, the hotel family (the chatty front desk woman, her sister, her sister's husband, and their young son) and me. The high school sits under tall cliffs (called "Numbers Hill" because each high school class paints their graduation year on it), and their bowl shape enhances the boom of the big charges until it sounds like old artillery thunder! We ooh and ahh, happily chat into the night, and applaud the final orgy of fireworks that lights up the sky. Best 4th I've had in a while!!

Next: Day Seventeen

Sunday, July 03, 2005

2005 Day 15

Start: Gillette WY (35916)
End: Gardiner MT (36345)
Miles: 429

Day 15 - Gillette WY to Gardiner MTI wake, dress, and get ready to hit the road. The young man at the hotel desk tells me the winds were gusting up to 60 mph last night. "Well, yeah," he allows when I ask him, "it's always windy here, but that was pretty bad yesterday." I am glad that I stopped when I did.

It's a nice morning today, however, and I'm soon rolling into Buffalo and looking for a gas station. Brr! It's actually cold! This is the first time I have been chilly on this entire trip, LOL, up 'til today it's been sweltering heat and humidity. Here, the air is bright clean and crisp, and I am only at the foothills of serious mountains, and the Tetons are ahead of me today. I break out the chaps (I had actually started to wonder if I was silly for bringing them on this trip, but at last I have a chance to don 'em) and get myself a nice big cup of coffee. Ahh, that's so much better. I study the map, examining two roads that look equally good on paper, and finally give up trying to divine the better route and ask the lady at Chevron. Should I take 14 or 16? Swing north, or south? Which is better? She tells me 14 is closed, which makes me chuckle. Well, that makes the decision pretty easy.

Leaving I-90, I travel west on a good highway through lovely, lonely country. Hwy 16 climbs rapidly and it gets colder fast. Having lost my heavy gloves on the first day of the trip, I make do as best I can ... I put on a pair of latex gloves under my lightweight leather gauntlets, which actually helps make the chill a bit less biting. Climbing. More climbing. Summer flowers dot mountain meadows around me, looking very scenic and alpine. Finally, a pullout and a sign announce I have reached Powder River Pass, at an elevation of 9665 feet. Brrr! No wonder I am freezing! The road is equally scenic on the descent to the town of Ten Sleep, and I am happy to start warming up again.

I gas again in Greybull, and get in a gas-pump chat with a couple riding two-up. She asks me, "Are you going to the rodeo?" Me: "Ummm, what rodeo?" Heh, I can be so clueless. Apparently I am riding straight toward the greatest rodeo in the U.S. of A., the Cody Stampede Rodeo. It is THE happening in Wyoming and I'm gonna pass right through town! This is so cool. I am reminded again why I love to travel this way, encountering happy unplanned joys along the road. The Rodeo is roaring for the 4th of July holiday long weekend; in fact, the big parade will be held today on the 3rd, in order to fall on Sunday.

Glorious indeed is Cody, "The Rodeo Capital of the World." The parade has just ended an hour or two previously, so the main street is open to traffic again but the sidewalks are still busy with families strolling along. Buildings are strewn with bunting; red, white, blue everywhere the eye turns. It's the sweet part of Americana & it's making me smile. The big rodeo arena is on my right as I pass through the west end of town. People are starting to gather and they'll be starting up in a while, looks like. I am glad I came through here, especially today. Sometimes I just get lucky like that.

Now, after Cody, I am treated to the most magnificent road I may have ever seen. Breathtakingly beautiful mountains and gorges surround me on my way through the Shoshone Nation Forest up to the East Entrance of Yellowstone. Oh, wonderful, wonderful! After the entrance, it's a perfectly wretched five miles to Lake Elenor, a treacherous mess of gravel, mud and single lane. How quickly conditions can change, LOL. They are repairing the roadway here and there is no way around, so I can do nothing but grit my teeth and ride it out. The cars that are stuck behind me (I must travel more slowly than they can in these conditions) can just kiss my big white happy butt. I breathe a sigh of relief when I reach the end of the construction zone, and pull off for a little while to take in the scenery. Welcome to Yellowstone, our first national park.

... almost ...
... there it goes!!
Old Faithful, July 2005
I stop at the Fishing Bridge Visitor Center, pretty much in the dead center of the park. I browse the visitor center, buy some postcards, and have my photo taken with some Buddhist monks in the parking lot. Their interpreter shyly asks if one of the monks can stand next to me while he snaps the picture, and I readily agree ... but almost commit a great faux pas when I step too close and make as if to put my arm around him. He shies away and even though he has no English, makes it perfectly clear that it's, ummm, not cool. I apologize, and we take the photo standing about three feet apart. Then, I bow to him and apologize again, and he bows and smiles, and demonstrates that he does have one word of English after all, "OK." I'm not entirely sure what happened there (I think maybe they are not allowed to touch women?) but it seemed to turn out all right in the end.

I ride the park, swinging south around the lake, and stop at Old Faithful. The next eruption won't be for forty minutes or so, but the crowd is slowly trickling in to wait for it. It's easy to spot the women heading to the WOW event in Boise. There are loads of women motorcyclists in the crowd. I hang with a group from Sacramento, chatting and making friends. Old Faithful blows. We all cheer.

An Amazon visits Old FaithfulI head north thru the park, just meandering. The critters are enormous! Buffalo, deer, a bear across the river ... any animal sighting causes a huge traffic tie-up, especially if they are close to the road. Good heavens, I grow to hate these animal-jams. The cagers drive like idiots (even worse than usual.) I eventually run out of time, and I haven't even stopped at the hot-water springs and geysers, and it's getting late. Dusk around here is pretty nerve-wracking, and I am even more watchful than usual as I ride out via the North Entrance. Dusk = Critter Time, and there are plenty of them here and they're likely to be on the road. I drop down into the town of Gardiner and get a room for the night so I can ride the park again tomorrow, just too much to see in one day.

They SERIOUSLY roll up the sidewalks after 8:00 pm in Gardiner MT. By the time I went looking for food, the only place open was the bar, and I content myself with noshies from the gas station. Hmm.

Next: Day Sixteen

Saturday, July 02, 2005

2005 Day 14

Start: Wall SD (35531)
End: Gillette WY (35916)
Miles: 385

Day 14 - Wall SD to Gillette WY, with a few detoursA storm blew through South Dakota last night, mostly gusty wind and a little rain, but I'd stashed the wee beastie snug and secure under her cover. I peel it off and fold it back neatly into its place in the saddlebags, thinking it's nice to have a dry seat after a rainstorm. :)

I am near one of the most spectacular areas of the country, the Black Hills of South Dakota, and I intend to take full advantage of it today. I pack up and get out of the parking lot early, and backtrack a little ways on I-90 so I can enter Badlands Nat'l Park from the east entrance. (This way, I can ride through the park with the sun at my back, instead of squinting the whole way.) The air is still cool, almost enough to think about breaking out my chaps, but I know it will warm up soon and turn into another lovely summer day.

I take the 31-mile scenic loop road through Badlands and it's a spectacular ride. The park is a combination of preserved grassland and canyons carved by wind and rain and eons. The earth's colors glow softly in the morning sun, the road dips in and out of the landscape, The Badlandsand I am awed by the place. This was once the great hunting grounds of the Lakota, and the scenery has been made famous by "Dances With Wolves." Words simply cannot do it justice. Go see it. I encounter no bison on the road today, for which I am thankful. I hear that they can be nasty-tempered and do not particularly like motorcycles. The loop road eventually puts me back in Wall, and I pick up the interstate heading west.

Approaching Rapid City, I see billboards, not only for a Harley-Davidson dealership, but for a Honda-Suzuki-Yamaha outlet as well. I start juggling plans in my head; it would be a good thing to take advantage of parts and repairs while they're available, because there's not a whole lot between here and Boise, my next big stop. Mainly I need a new rear tire. (It's the same one I had put on in Virginia last summer; that's how long they last.) The dwindling tread has been making me a wee bit nervous for the last few days, and I was hoping to nurse it to Idaho, and it seems like less and less of a good idea to do so. I find my way to Rice Honda (heh) and pull in to the service bay, which is crowded. Not a good sign, even though it's what I expected. The guy with the clipboard tells me they just had an appointment cancelled for 2:00 pm and pencils my name in that slot. OK, I have four hours to kill. See ya in a while, guys!

I head south on US-16, into the Black Hills and the complex of roads around Mt Rushmore. It is the 2nd of July, a holiday weekend, high summer and fine weather, and the roads are crowded with RVs and families and tourists all doing the See The Greatness Of America crawl. I don't mind -- I am doing the exact same thing, and I haven't yet run into any rude or clueless drivers, and everyone is smiling and happy. There are many, many, many motorcycles on these fine roads. The machine hums happily up the mountain, and the air cools as I gain altitude. As I come to Mt Rushmore, traffic slows to a crawl. There is a long line to get into the sole parking area, and it costs $15 to any vehicle to get in, whether it's a car or a motorcycle. I pass.Mt Rushmore, profile view of George Washington Instead, I pull over at the first (non-concession) area where I can take a photo, a place called the Profile View. Here, I get into a conversation with a Texan mother and her pre-teen son (who is painfully shy in that young-boy way, but likes my motorcycle), a couple of Swiss tourists, and an older gentleman from Pittsburgh PA. Everyone is indeed in a happy holiday mood.

After seeing Mr Borglum's carved heads of dead white guys, I wander further south in the Black Hills, and see the Crazy Horse monument under construction, which is still a century away from completion. It doesn't look like much yet. Might be cool to go see it in twenty years to see if it looks any different. I keep wandering, rolling into the town of Custer, looking for a likely place to stop for lunch. They're having their Independence Day festivities: one street is closed for a downtown block party (this is a significant fraction of the entire Custer metroplex, btw) and there are kids with their faces painted and people in costume and burgers and dogs on the grill and balloons and bunting everywhere. Small-town Fourth of July festivities are their own special, sweet phenomenon. I get a dog and a soda, and enjoy them from a good shady people-watching spot. A handsome English gentleman shares my bench and tells me stories of a motorcycle he owned when he was in his twenties. He is utterly charming and entertaining, and I think that he is the sort of guy my mom would completely swoon over. This makes me laugh. I ask him if he's from the north of England, because his accent sounds like Manchester to me. He tells me I'm close, that he's originally from a town called Chadderton. Nice guy.

As I'm gearing up to hit the road again, I notice a four-year-old boy staring at me, his eyes round with wonderment. I try my standard line that I use with most four-year-old boys, saying, "Do you like motorcycles?" He remains mute, but his mom rescues him, saying, "He likes the Power Rangers." I must look confused at this point, because she continues, "I think he thinks you look like the Yellow Ranger in that jacket." Ohhhh. And here I was thinking I looked like a tough biker, LOL. Laughing at having been taken down a notch by a toddler, I ride off.

The road back to Rapid City takes me through Hill City, another small town with a bustling downtown block party, but this one features fewer cowboys and more Indians. Specifically, it appears that a Native American powwow is going on, and I see lots and lots of folks walking the streets wearing magnificent native clothing ... feathered headdresses, beaded tunics, all colorful and splendid. Somehow it has a whiff of authenticity; these clothes aren't "costumes" worn for tourists, or at least I hope it's so. I drive past an open area, a park/plaza set up with tenting, which seems to be the center of the powwow. Well, cool. Wish I could stay and watch for a while, but it's time to get back and get new rubber for the wee beastie.

When the guy with the clipboard comes out to write down my information, he doesn't say anything at the California plate on the scoot (boring blue-on-white) but he does remark when he writes down the odometer reading, "Whoo, you put some miles on this thing, doncha?" Heh. The California plate is your first clue, dude. They only have the stock Dunlop tire for the VLX; it'll do. I'm overdue for an oil change as well, so I have them put in fresh oil and filter while they're at it. It takes them a little time to do all this, which I spend making a few phone calls. By the time they have everything ready, it's after three o-clock. I see thunderheads to the west, and contemplate how far I want to go in potentially foul weather, deciding to head into the dark clouds and make some miles. I made up half a day yesterday, but have lost time today.

The weather turns out to be no big deal; I get rained on going through one squall line and I've emerged into sunshine on the other side of the storm before many miles pass. The western part of South Dakota is truly lovely. The towns here are Sturgis, Deadwood, Whitewood, Spearfish. I of course have to stop for gas in Sturgis, just to say I did it. It is weeks before the annual bacchanalia of Bikefest, and it looks like any other small town as I drive through it. I spot some of the famous taverns - the Knuckle, the Broken Spoke. What a zoo this place must be in August. Hundreds of thousands of bikers, all stuffed into this small town, looking for a high time ... for some, it's the biggest event of the year. But I dislike the mega-rallies and generally avoid them.

Passing into Wyoming, I make a spur-of-the-moment decision to take the long road in to Devil's Tower, and get off the interstate at Hwy 111. As I am descending the off-ramp, another piece of my crappy lightbar decides to break. The welded stem that holds the light itself onto the mounting hardware gives way, and my left driving light does a slow nosedive forward ... plop! ... and hangs there, dangling by its wire. I just look at it and laugh, and pull over at the bottom of the offramp. Stupid thing. I disconnect it and take all the pieces off that side, stowing them in the bottom of my saddlebags, and find a little electric tape to tie off the now-useless but still live wire.

I like the road through here, except for the one curve I came around to find myself face-to-face with an ENORMOUS wild turkey, right in the middle of my lane. Luckily, I wasn't going too fast. I had no idea those birds were so huge.Devil's Tower, from Hwy 24 The highway takes me up and over to the town of Hulett, and then comes at Devil's Tower from the north. It stands there, weird and lonesome, in the middle of nowhere. Strangely, I don't think of "Close Encounters" when I look at it. Instead, I remember the Native American origin legend, which I read somewhere ... the Tower was a great tree onto which children climbed to escape a bear. The deep grooves on the side of the rock were created by the bear's clawing and scoring of the tree trunk while trying to get the children on top. The children were eventually borne into the sky and became the stars of the Pleiades.

I've been skirting a storm for a while now. The sky is dark and wicked-looking to the north, clear and sunny to the south, and the line of demarcation is as straight and sharp as if someone had drawn it with a ruler, and I seem to be directly under this line of demarcation and can't get away from it! I get back to I-90 at a town called Moorcroft, where I stop for gas and a soda. I'm standing there drinking it, and something catches my eye moving in the empty lot next to the gas station. It's not a deer, it's an ANTELOPE. Are there enough of them around here that they hang out at the edge of town? It's been quite a day for wildlife, I guess. I'm thinking that I have enough daylight left to get to the town of Buffalo WY. Suddenly the wind comes up. Seriously, it's like someone flipped a switch, and it goes from still to swirling choking dust devils in no time at all. I chuck the remains of the soda and hop on the scoot, heading westbound on the interstate.

It's a mistake. I should have stayed in Moorcroft (I think I could have gotten a room there) because this wind is AWFUL to ride in. It's pushing me all over the road, I have the bike heeled over a good ways to the right (the only good thing about this wind is it's pretty steady) and it's biting cold, the gusts feel like they're coming straight from the North Pole. Jeeeez. Nothing to do now but get myself to the next place I see that I can stop for the night. Unfortunately it's thirty miles before I spot a sign for a motel, and I pull into a Choice Hotel in Gillette WY and say oofdah, that's enough of THAT. I'll try to pick up a few more miles tomorrow.

Next: Day Fifteen

Friday, July 01, 2005

2005 Day 13

Start: Warrensburg MO (34807)
End: Wall SD (35531)
Miles: 724(!)

Day 13 - Warrensburg MO to Wall SDBack on the road!!

I say my goodbyes to my family; it'll be awhile until the next time I see my sister (jeez, I am so not used to that.) I head out through Kansas City, stopping near the airport for gas, and strike out north. New ground! I am traveling into the great northern prairie states, on I-29, and it's a fine, fine morning.

Oh, I know. I said I wasn't going to travel on interstates unless I had to. What am I doing on I-29? Well, it turns out to be a pretty decent road. There are trucks, but not as nasty as I-57 the other day, or I-5 which I'm used to. Traffic moves well, and remains Friday-morning light. Yesterday's storm has set me back a day, so might as well make some miles while I can.

The highway roughly follows along the Missouri River, staying on the east side. Soon I am in Iowa, looking across the water to Nebraska. Wow, it sure is pretty along here, in a wide-open sort of way. Long ridges, drifting along the horizon, break the great flat sweep of the country. Sometimes the road comes close to these features. I get a very good look at the cliffs that give Council Bluffs their name, gently looming up on my right where I-80, a major east-west route, crosses the highway. I wish I had a little time to explore around here, but that'll have to wait for some other day, some other trip. I keep pressing north.

I finally get tired of the interstate, and cross the river into Nebraska, when I am a few miles short of Sioux City. US-20 takes me to Nebraska SR-12, and now the road follows along the Missouri River valley as it makes its great bend to the west. I'm on the south side of the river, and road markers tell me I am following the Lewis and Clark Trail. Oh how cool. The country has become truly magnificent; I am passing through gently rolling land that offers grand sweeping vistas of the river and endless grasslands. Again, I wonder why I love the prairie so much. There is something so ... American ... about it, I can't help but think of hope and endless possibilities looking at it. There should be Aaron Copeland music. Instead there is only bright sunshine and miles of road and endless cropland and the song of engine and wind, which is just as infinitely satisfying. It is a wonderful day to be alive.

I gas up in a small Nebraska town called Crofton. I always like getting gas at these single-pump stations in small towns, with their dusty driveways and mechanics wiping hands on shoprags and the entire relaxed feel of being off the main road. This one happens to be a Sinclair Oil station. The price is $2.259 per gallon, which has been pretty average for this trip.

I stay westbound on Nebraska SR-12 for a while longer. I've found my way into pretty remote country, I think, there are few outbuildings and even fewer farms, only miles and miles of fields. I've passed out of corn country; I think this is all wheat, or some other shortgrass crop. The best thing about being off the main highway is that you can smell the prairie. It smells faintly of baking bread, and of wildflowers, and of sunshine. It is heady and intoxicating and I am entirely enchanted by this place. I smile my way across the gentle rolls of the land. Finally, I turn back north and cross into South Dakota at a little town called Bonesteel. Why the heck would a place be called Bonesteel, I wondered when I was looking at my map earlier, and rolling into town, I spy a plaque and pull over to read it, and lo and behold find the answer to my question. (There was a Joseph Bonesteel who founded the town, and unscrupulous land developers waaay oversold land in the area, until the town of Bonesteel found itself crowded with far too many "undesirables" and the powers-that-be essentially rounded them up and ran them out of town, causing a near-riot, an event that is remembered as The Battle Of Bonesteel. The population is currently 297 souls, a far cry from the 30,000+ who once lived there.)

Now I'm traveling west along US-18, and still thoroughly enjoying myself. I have covered a LOT of miles today, but just don't feel like stopping. The day is perfect, so may as well keep riding. I'd forgotten how long the days are, this far north and this close to midsummer, and my sense of time is all screwed up, and I really don't care. This is the reason I don't wear a watch when I am on the road. Time becomes meaningless; all that's important is if you want to stay in the saddle, or you want to stand and stretch for a bit, or if you need to stop and sleep. I have light and I have good weather. I feel good. I know if I keep heading north, I will eventually hit I-90. What else matters?

I eventually do reach I-90, near the town of Murdo, and turn once again into the now-lowering sun. Back on the interstate, I am seeing families on vacation, which reminds me that it's the start of the 4th of July holiday weekend. There are lots of kids in backseats to wave at, which always tickles me.

The famous Ice Water fountain at Wall Drug, SDThe quintessential Roadside American Weirdness town of Wall, SD is within striking distance so I decide that's where I'll stop for the night. I pull in a little before the sun goes down, locate the world's smallest hotel room for a pretty cheap price (seriously, a twin bed barely fits in the room, but who cares, I just need a clean place to sleep) and after I clean up, I walk over to Wall Drug and the town's main drag, to get some dinner and wander around the tourist shops and buy some tschokesCome see the JACKLOPE at Wall Drug! and drink in the experience of the Mecca of American road trips. If you've never been to Wall SD, you must go at least once in your life. Heh.

I am amazed when I write down my mileage for the day. I did over 700 miles?! It sure didn't feel like it.

Next: Day Fourteen