Start: Wall SD (35531)
End: Gillette WY (35916)
A 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, and 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. 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. 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