Thursday, October 30, 2008

DAY TWELVE - or "Look at the SIZE of that thing!"

Tuesday, 28 October 2008.

As I was blogging and posting in the forums this morning, I got a phone call. It wasn't a bill collector this time. It was a geocacher I hadn't seen in the forums in quite some time. One of the forum regulars had contacted a cacher local to the area (nicknamed Hoppingcrow) to make sure my planned route to Mount Saint Helens wasn't already closed for the season and he gave her my number (thanks, Jim). She was located just about an hour south of me so we decided to get together for a few minutes at a truck stop just off the highway, where highway 12 meets I-5. It turns out that 12 runs into 5 from one side, shares the road for about 20 miles, then continues on its merry way on the opposite side. Turns out Ms Crow was at one exit and I was at the other, even though we were both at the intersection of 12 and 5. Worst part was that we were talking on the phone telling each other that we were "right here!" at the Shell station and the 76 station is across the street. Both exits had both brands of gas station. The Shell station was closed where she was, though, so she thought I was nuts when I told her I was sitting inside the McDonalds at the Shell. We finally figured out the problem and I drove south to meet up with her. We spent a few minutes in the parking lot socializing and taking pictures, then went our separate ways. Hoppingcrow is definitely another of those people I've met who are even nicer in person than they seem to be in the forums. Seems to be a running theme.

After pulling away from the truck stop, I headed for Mount Saint Helens. It was around noon by that point, so I pulled into a little mom-and-pop diner for lunch. After I ordered I realized that all the tables were occupied. Moments later, however, three ladies offered me their fourth seat. For the rest of my lunch we chatted about the ride, where I'd come from, where I was headed, the best place from which to see the mountain, and other things. I said that I was interested in going to Death Valley to see the moving rocks there ( and one of the ladies said she had been there a few times. We had to describe them to the other two ladies. Overall, it was an almost surreal lunch with the leather-clad biker dude chatting with the little ladies from the local bank.

The drive was almost 40 miles from the freeway on a smooth, newly-paved gently twisting road. As I got closer to the mountain, the surrounding environment changed in a predictable way that was still weird to see. Outside of the blast area was mostly old growth or second growth fir trees of different sizes and ages. As I got within the blast radius, the forest was still there, but it didn't seem real. All the trees were the exact same size and there were stumps interspersed densely through them. Apparently all these trees were exactly 28 years old, having been started soon after the eruption. Within about ten miles of the blown out side of the mountain, the land was still barren, 28 years after the blast. There are still acres of downed trees that look for all the world like a giant Pick-Up-Stix game gone horribly wrong. Grass only grows in sparse patches if at all.

When I finally arrived at the visitor's center at Johnston Ridge Observatory (, I was able to see how massive this mountain really is. All the best photography in the world can't give you the true scale of this thing the way leaning over the guardrail and realizing that you are still several miles from this thing and that even the crater is a mile wide. What looks like a riverbed flowing down from the mountain is actually a canyon with walls fourty our more feet high on each side. The mountain just dwarfs everything around it on such a massive scale. Then when you concentrate for a minute and realize how much rock was there before the thing exploded, it's a lot easier to understand all the devastation around you. One scientist estimated that the 1980 eruption blew enough ash in the air for every person on earth to have 15 buckets. Yikes. Inside the visitor's center they have a tree stump on display. This thing is probably six feet in diameter and solid. According to the display, the tree was several miles from the mountain when the eruption occured. The entire tree just broke off. If you've ever tried to break a stick that was as big around as your wrist, you might have a tiny idea how much raw power it took to snap a tree off. Amazing.

After leaving the observatory, the ride back to the freeway was very nice because the sun was out and the temperatures were in the 60s by that point. I rode a couple of hundred more miles, all the way to Eugene, Oregon, and then turned west to get to 101 in Florence. It was dark by that time, and I had already ridden 390 miles by that point (for a total of 3648 on the trip) and was beat again. It had been another great day and I was ready for sleep. If I do this right tomorrow, I will be well into northern or maybe central California by tomorrow night. More scenery with the beaches and the redwood forests, but I didn't know if it would be able to rival the mountain from today for sheer overwhelming grandeur and size.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

DAY ELEVEN - or "I can't let you do that, Sir!"

Monday, 27 October 2008.

I have come as far north and as far west as I can. (The picture is of the Canadian border - mere blocks from Tee's house.) It's time to turn toward home, whatever THAT is. I'm going to head south now until I get into the middle of California and then turn back east. I didn't make it very FAR south today, but it's a start.

Through the coordinated efforts of Brian, Tee, and Suzanne, it was arranged for me to visit The Lilly Pad, also known as Groundspeak Headquarters. Groundspeak is the company that runs the Geocaching website (, as well as develops new applications to add to the fun of the game. I'm sure they do a lot of other things of which I'm not aware, but I'm not engrossed in the hobby enough to look it all up. Suffice it to say that for many of the "hardcore" cachers, The Lilly Pad is a bit like Mecca. It doesn't hurt that they are in downtown Seattle within blocks of the bay, either. It's a beautiful place. I got there around 2 pm and was let in by Annie (they don't like folks just walking in and nosing around so they keep the door locked). I don't know if it was just random luck or her assigned job, but Annie was definitely a great choice for greeting the "pilgrims." I also met Jen. She is a big fan of Jeeps like I am (I'm currently on my third Jeep), so she is now near the top of my "Favorite Groundspeak Lackeys" list (sorry, Ken - she's better looking than you, too.) They both were very polite and friendly and are both very good at putting up with the random babblings of strangers. I got to see the interactive touch screen that tracks the latest finds around the world and shows them on Google Earth (THAT was cool!). I also got to log the cache that is just inside the front door - it's a full-sized treasure chest. Not exactly "hidden," but still very cool. I thanked them for their time and got back on the road. I had another geocacher friend to meet for the first time!

Loriahn is a cacher and a Soldier, too. She and I were both at camp Udari in Kuwait at the same time waiting to head north into Iraq back in June of last year, but we didn't know it at the time. We eventually made contact through e-mail and were able to keep in touch for most of the year that I was there. We both had rough times and we were able to help each other keep our sanity (or least not lose as much of it) during some of the worst of those times. When she heard that I was going to be out this way, she threatened me with bodily harm if I didn't stop in to see her. As our schedules worked out, it turned out that if I wanted to hang out with her I was going to have to go with her and her bridesmaids while she tried on her wedding dress. Seems she's getting married to a pretty great guy next summer. Lucky dog. So we had a quick dinner at RAM Brewery (LOVE their beer cheese dip!!) and then headed for the bridal shop. I mostly sat and made snarky comments and took a few pictures, but we had fun. She had to get up early the next morning for a uniform inspection, so I headed out right after she was done so I could find a room for the night. That's when the real fun started.

My first thought was to head for Fort Lewis, right around the corner from Loriahn. I needed a temporary pass so I stopped at the visitor center. First the guy tells me to take a number. I was the only person in the lobby. So of course my number comes up immediately (it was one of those automated number callers). Then he asks me for my license, registration, proof of insurance, and motorcycle safety course card. Ummm... I took that class in 2001 in Germany. Pretty sure I don't have that. "Well, sir, I'm afraid I can't give you a pass. They're really cracking down on that stuff." Great. I drive five miles down the interstate and spend half an hour checking with the two hotels at that exit. Both are booked solid. Now it's late and I'm getting cold and irritated. I wind up driving another ten miles down the highway before I find a place with a room. At this point I don't even care if the shower works. Just give me a place with an internet connection and a bed. I only rode 200 miles today, (total of 3260 so far) but I'm still beat.

Still, I had a good day meeting the lackeys at Groundspeak and hanging out with a "battle buddy," so I can't complain. And if finding a room is the most trouble I have this trip, I will count myself extremely lucky.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

DAY TEN - or "Eat your beansprouts, Moonbeam!"

Sunday, 26 October 2008.
This turned out to be a down day for me. Or an up day. Depends on how you look at it.

It was a down day today because I did not ride anywhere. It was an up day because I got to spend my down time hanging out with Tee. She and I are pretty close to polar opposites in so many ways that it's amazing we can talk to each other without it ending in fisticuffs. What actually happened was that we spent endless hours helping to enlighten each other regarding the other's points of view. Tee is a self-proclaimed "dirt-hugging tree worshipper hippie." She has a little grabber tool that humanely catches bugs so she can release them outside her apartment without harming them. She meditates. She grows her own bean sprouts. She is very proficient at brewing her own black tea. She has laid claim to Mount Baker (you can just barely see it in the background of the picture here) as "her" mountain. She would not be the least bit out of place in a '67 VW Microbus with a peace symbol on the front and pot smoke rolling out the windows. I, on the other hand, am a self-proclaimed "trained professional killer" (USUALLY stated in jest). In order to keep myself and those who work for me safe while in combat, I've received classes in Combatives (the army's new version of hand-to-hand), I've become extremely proficient with my assigned weapons and teach others to do the same, and I constantly read up on the evolving fighting tactics of those whom I may face in combat some day. To me, beansprouts are not food, they are what food eats. Sweettea (one word) is a food group.

And somehow we spent the entire day discussing the nature of both inner peace and world peace. We realized that we have a couple of things in common, such as our tastes in music, our affection for animals, and our disdain for toy store employees who act like Baby Huey (don't ask). We came to the conclusion that the only way peace can ever come about in this world is for both of us and those like us to keep doing what we're doing. And we each realized that the other can give us insight into ourselves that can help us achieve a little bit of inner peace during our own troubled times.

Then we went to dinner. Not surprisingly, the hippie chick was right at home on the back of a Harley. We rode to the local Mexican restaurant. Tee ordered the vegetarian plate (who is surprised by this?) and I ordered what turned out to be the best steak burrito I have ever eaten, bar none. If you're ever near Sumas, Washington, stop in at El Nopal and get a steak burrito and a Dos Equis. Yum. That's all I have to say about that. Yum.

After dinner, Tee took me to find one of her local geocaches, then we went back to her house and stayed up until 3am discussing the nature of conflict and the roles of both peaceful resistance and the threat of returned violence in stemming the tide of both local and global violence. Then I crashed for about 6 hours before getting up to get on with my trip. For a "do-nothing" day, I think we made good progress in solving the question of world peace. I know I've said this already, but the people I've met on this trip are still the highlight of the ride. Even the weird hippie-chick with the ADHD cat who thinks I'm the antithesis of everything she strives for. Funny who you can make friends with, huh?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

DAY NINE - or "Dang, that's a lot of apples!"

Saturday, 25 October 2008.

My intent today was to reach Sumas, Washington by the end the ride. A geocaching event was going on and three of my friends from the caching forums would be there waiting for me. No choice now - gotta drop the hammer and get moving.

Leaving from Butte, the weather was cold but clear. It got colder as I climbed the Continental Divide toward Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. The drive was beautiful again today, with a lot of twisting and climbing, even on the major highway that is I-90. Because of my time limits and great distance to cover (almost 700 miles), I only stopped once for pictures on this side. I figured you folks have seen enough mountain shots for this trip. I took this picture because of the interesting rock sticking out of the side of the mountain (it's several stories tall), and because of the bright yellow trees. They look coniferous, but I thought conifers were also called "evergreens" for a reason. I'm going to have to look into why certain strips of these trees had turned bright yellow.

After crossing the pass and heading down the western slopes of the mountains, the temperature improved by at least ten or fifteen degrees as I decended into Idaho. By the time I had passed through Coeur d'Alene, I had seen dozens of motorcyclists (granted that it was a weekend, but I hadn't seen another bike since leaving Butte until that point) and several folks were driving convertibles with the top down. I stopped for gas and got back on the road. With the weather improving, so was my mood and I was ready to put down some miles.

Washington state seems very flat and a little barren after leaving the crags and forests of western Montana. Still, it is a beautiful change and made for some easy riding that allows the mind to wander (a little - it IS still a motorcycle, after all). The Cascades still lay between me and my destination, but they were not going to be as challenging nor as tall as the Rockies by any means. I did stop to take one picture on my way through the central part of the state. It shows how flat most of the area is, and it also shows another interest of mine - railroading. A local railroad museum was just starting their collection and this early 1900's boxcar was their roadside attention-getter. It's in great shape for being over a century old.

I had turned off I-90 after passing through Spokane, choosing to take the more direct route of state highway 2. The ten-mile stretch of mountain road from Waterville to Orondo was another great ride on a gently twisting highway. The picture shows a house overlooking Lincoln Rock Lake, I believe. If it had a few trees around it, it would be my perfect retirement home. As the road dropped into the Wenatchee River valley after Orondo, I couldn't believe what I was seeing. I knew that Washington state was famous for apples. I just didn't realize that they all came from this one valley. Row after row after orchard after orchard of mostly bare apple trees. One roadside stand that I drove past advertised over 100 different varieties of apples. (On a side note - who the heck does he plan to sell those to? Everyone else in the entire valley owns a dozen apple trees of their own, apparently mandated by city ordnance or something). I called Ed, one of the cachers, and asked him how far I had to go. I was apparently still more than three hours out, and it was already 5 o'clock. Looks like it's going to be a long one.

I only made one other stop between Wenatchee and Sumas, just to take a picture. I passed through the very sureal town of Leavenworth just as I was entering the Cascade range. The entire town, including the fast food joints and hardware store, are all done up like a German alpine village. With the snowy crags as a backdrop, it felt for all the world like I had fallen into southern Germany. As it was a Saturday evening, there were hundreds of tourists around checking out all the little shops. I pulled off long enough to get a picture and then moved on. Dark was coming on quickly and I still needed to get out of these mountains. I actually wound up crossing the last rise (Steven's pass) just at dusk. It was above the snow line and the temps were in the 30s, so I spent about half an hour worrying that the patches of melted snow on the road had refrozen into black ice. If I slid to the edge, I would have plenty of time to contemplate my screw up before I hit the bottom.

I was slowed down significantly when I got to the coastal side. It turns out that highway 2 becomes a local road for several miles before meeting up with I-5. It took me half an hour to cover the last 10 or 15 miles. Finally, around 9 o'clock, I arrived in the border town of Sumas. Even though the two who lived out of town still had a hundred miles to drive that night, they patiently waited for me to get there. As I had not eaten all day, we met at Bob's Burgers and Beer. Despite the cheesy name, it was a great lodge-type restaurant and bar with excellent sourdough burgers and HOT chocolate that takes the edge off the cold. The others sat and watched me eat and we talked for about an hour before the restaurant closed. Everyone walked out with me to check out the bike, then we loaded up and drove back to Tee's apartment (she's the cacher who lives in town). The guys headed home andI wound up crashing on Tee's couch for the night as I was exhausted from riding 687 miles and crossing both the Rockies and the Cascades. I am now over 3060 miles into this trip, and these meetings with friends are still the highlight of my trip.

DAY EIGHT - or "On the road again..."

Friday, 24 October 2008.

Last day of training. This has been a really good time, but it's time to hit the road. Of course, the bike has 11,000 miles on it and I didn't get the 5,000 mile maintenance done so I definitely needed to get the 10,000 mile checkup. Luckily, the local Harley dealership is just a couple of blocks from the hotel. The printing company has a deal with the local cab company, so I got a free ride back when I dropped the bike off over lunch. When I told the guy what I needed, he immediately went to the back of the bike with a tread gauge. Turns out that the rear tires are only rated for about 8000 miles, and I only had 2/16" of tread left, so it was time to change the rear tire. Ouch. That was some funding I wasn't ready to spend. It beats sliding off the side of a mountain on a wet patch, though.

After the last class, I caught a ride back to the dealership (Teton Harley Davidson in Idaho Falls and got ready to head out. I love that part of the maintenance package is washing and drying the bike. They had 2000 miles of bug guts to get off that wind screen. Better them than me! My original goal was to reach Missoula, Montana, by night fall. I did not leave the Harley dealer until almost 4:30, though, so that was out of the question. I decided just to hustle as far as I could as fast as I could (stopping for the occasional photo op) and just stop when it got dark.

My first stop was just over the state line of Idaho in Montana, just past the continental divide. It was SERIOUSLY cold by that point. Every guy in the gas station wore a huge cowboy hat and boots. They all looked at me like I might suddenly rob the place or burst into flames or something. I don't know if that was due to the abundance of black leather or the fact that I was riding a motorcycle in sub-40 degree weather. Didn't matter. The till-jockey was a good guy who asked me which way I was headed and gave me some good advice on how far I could get before dark and where to watch out for deer. He was right about the deer. I saw several herds just a few miles up the road where the highway crossed over a river and had one run across the road ahead of me at the next town where he told me to watch out. It really is always good to talk to the locals and not be a jerk at the gas station. It could save your life.

I saw a large red fox on the side of the road not long after the deer ran across. Then I saw something just as rare - another biker headed in the opposite direction. I hope I don't look like Nanook of the North as bad as he did, but I probably do. Of course I waved back as we passed. Bikers most always wave like that just because of the lifestyle choice of owning a bike. But when you see another guy as dumb as you out riding in the cold, you definitely share something profound (and a little frightening).

As the sun was going down it played gorgeous colors onto the clouds. My daughter loves colorful sunsets, so I pulled over once more to take some pictures of it before finishing the ride. I finally reached Butte, Montana, just after the sun went down and got a room. It had been a short ride and had been cold again, but it was a gorgeous day and there were great views with at least a couple more wildlife encounters. I got some sorely needed maintenance done on the bike, and I rode 238 miles and wound up with 2372 miles on the clock for this trip so far.

DAYS FIVE, SIX, AND SEVEN - or "I'm not riding in this stuff!"

Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday 21-23 October 2008.

This is why I came to Idaho. I'm here for job training and won't be doing any riding for these three days. I rode to training the first morning here and I got snowed and sleeted on before I got there. That's enough of that. The day got nicer and it was a good ride back to the hotel, but I left the bike parked for the rest of the week and took the bus to and from training instead.
On the plus side, I got a really nice room in a hotel by the falls. I'm on the seventh floor and my balcony overlooks the river. The hotel is round with the elevators at the core and each room radiating out from that. It makes the room slightly wedge-shaped, but also gives each room its own balcony.

The "falls" are an interesting story in themselves. I was expecting some large plunging bit of water over a high cliff. Turns out the falls are all of five or six feet high. Now granted, they're really really WIDE. But if you look at this last picture, that's part of the falls as seen from my balcony. Apparently someone built some kind of hydro-electric doo-hickey beneath that wall and they extend quite some distance either side of that picture.

I will start posting again when I leave here. I am getting some really good training here and I'm getting excited about getting this business up and running. But I'm also ready to get on with this trip and to see the rest of the country. More to follow.

Friday, October 24, 2008

DAY FOUR - or "Look! A bear!"

Monday, 20 October 2008.

This was supposed to be another "drive until you drop" day to get all the way to Idaho Falls. I needed to be there by 6pm for a welcome meeting and dinner. I wound up not making it on time, but they were okay with it. Besides, I blame the bear. And Google Maps.

Perhaps I should explain.

I slept in a little this morning to let the weather warm up. I knew I had plenty of time to get to my meeting. The drive across the rest of Wyoming and up into Montana was fairly uneventful. It was a cool but mostly sunny morning and I started getting plenty of miles under the bike. Besides fuel stops every 150 to 200 miles, I only stopped once to take a picture when I started getting close to the mountainous part of the middle of the state. I was just hoping that my route wouldn't take me high enough to reach the snow line on them. It looked really cold up there. Fortunately, the interstate did a fine job of winding its way between the mountain ranges and it stayed a cool and sunny drive.

My first sign of trouble came after I had turned south onto highway 89. Thus far Google maps has done a fine job of getting me where I needed to go pretty efficiently. Speed limits out here, even on the state highways stay around 75 and I had been making good time all morning. As I got to the Montana/Wyoming border, I entered the town of Gardiner. I pulled over to get a quick picture of a motor lodge that consisted of tightly-packed log cabins. The place looked like a Route 66 transplant, complete with a sign right out of the 40s. If it had fit my schedule I would have loved to stop there for the night. As it was, I continued to the other side of town and got lost. The highway seemed to come to an end. The road teed. To the left was an "employees only" gate and to the right was a small secondary road. After driving around for a few minutes trying to get my bearings, I rode back to the town gas station. The nice lady inside let me know that I was at the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park. Officially the highway ended at the gate. She told me how to get through the park and continue on my way. Technically, Google Maps was right because the roads connected the way it said. The problem was that for the next 60 miles I was going to be on National Park roads - speed limit 35 or 45 mph through the whole thing. Dang. With no quicker options available, I paid the $20 fee at the gate and headed in.

Within the first couple of miles, I encountered my first wildlife. Silhouetted against the sky on a high ridge were two more big horn sheep (they're not mountain goats as I first claimed - it's been a while since I watched Animal Planet. Sorry). I wasn't able to get a good picture before they bolted, so I drove on. The pace was starting to get to me as I watched the clock on my dash move a lot faster than I was. Still, the drive was beautiful and started thinking that it wouldn't be such a big deal if I was late. I had never been to this park and I was really enjoying this drive.

As I got to the "town" of Mammoth Hot Springs, I nearly ran into more wildlife. Strolling around the town like they owned the place were more than half a dozen large elk. They were just eating grass from the median and generally just seemed unconcerned about the few vehicles trying to get past. I was waiting for one to just plow me off my bike, but it didn't happen. Those dudes were BIG!

The coolest encounter of the day happened about 20 miles outside Mammoth. As I came around a bend, I discovered a couple of dozen cars parked on the side of the road. There were a couple of park rangers keeping things orderly. The drivers and passengers were all gathered in small groups at the edge of a small lake just off the road. Most of them had cameras with huge lenses or large binoculars on tripods. I asked a ranger what the big deal was as I drove past. She pointed across the lake. A huge grizzly had killed an elk and was eating it at the edge of the lake. Four wolves were also prowling around waiting for their turn at the carcass. While I knew I was on a time crunch, I also couldn't pass this up. I jumped off the bike, zoomed in as close as I could with my little digital pocket camera, and got a decent shot of the bear. Although I couldn't get the wolves in the shot, it was still a very exciting thing to see. I quickly got back on the bike and drove off, stopping only to take one last picture of a lone bison grazing in the distance.

As I exited the park more than an hour later, I saw a sign telling me that I had more than a hundred miles to go still. I hit the gas and did my best, but wound up arriving at my hotel almost an hour late. The meeting was still going on and I got caught up quickly. There was even some food left on the free buffet, so I got dinner out of the deal, too. Then I headed up to my room to crash. This had definitely been another surprising day in which I hadn't expected to see much but wound up with a couple of very memorable experiences. I guess I can forgive Google Maps for taking me through the park, considering that I got to see a wild bear for the first time in my life.

Miles under the bike today - 585. Total miles this journey - 2134.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

DAY THREE - or "Live animals and dead Presidents"

Sunday, 19 October 2008.

So today was going to be the day to do a little sight-seeing and then hit the highway toward Idaho. After talking to the couple sitting beside me at the bar last night, I made some changes to my route. I would go back down Spearfish Canyon during the morning, check out Deadwood on my way through, then cruise through Sturgis before heading down to Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Monument. Then I would head out of town and stop at Devil's Tower on my way through Wyoming. I didn't have retrace any routes that way and it would allow me to see the most in as little time as possible.

The drive through Spearfish Canyon was even more amazing during the day. There were cliffs and bluffs and outcropping and waterfalls. The smell of the decaying Aspen and Birch leaves was refreshing and almost sweet in the cold morning air. It was difficult to concentrate on the challenging drive with so much beauty around me at every turn. I had overslept (stupid hotel alarm clocks) so I only stopped once to take a picture that does very little justice to Bridal Veil Falls. Just imagine another twenty miles of scenery just as beautiful as that and you will have some idea of the drive I took this morning.

I made a souvenir stop in Deadwood. It's a very cool little town. The main street with the oldest building is occupied almost exclusively by casinos, bars, and gift shops. There is a Harley store that sells licensed merchandise. One of the casinos was also raffling a customized Ultra Classic Electra Glide. The town was nice and quiet on an early fall Sunday morning.

I continued on to Sturgis which turned out to be a bit of a let-down. All I saw there were bars (which were closed), gift shops (which were also closed), and empty store fronts that apparently only did business during the motorcycle rally. I didn't have any maps of the city to show me where the "cool" part of town was, and I didn't have enough time to go exploring for it. I'm just going to have to come back during the rally, I guess. I'll bet I find the cool parts of town THEN!

Finally, I got on the highway to Mount Rushmore. It was on highway 16 near the monument where I had my first close encounter with wildlife for the day. Several wild turkeys were hanging out on the side of the highway poking around for lunch. I turned around and parked near them to take a picture. Like the rest of the animals in this state, they really didn't much notice me. I took a couple of good pictures of them and drove on. I only wound up spending about an hour touring the monument but got to see great views and even took the path that goes right to the base of the mountain. I took the time to stop and read a lot of the historic descriptions and I took a LOT of pictures. But since this is one of those seriously over-photographed national monuments, I won't flood this post with them. Still, I like this one a lot and you'll just have to put up with it. I was surprised that there didn't seem to be much of a museum on the premises. I did take the time to look through the gift shop and get my kids a couple of pressed pennies, then I hit the road again in order to get to the Crazy Horse monument. It was already after lunch at this point and I still wanted to get out of the state before dark.

Thanks to the helpful suggestion of the stranger at the Badlands National Park, I decided to ride to Crazy Horse via Iron Mountain Road out of Rushmore and then north on Needles Highway. As it turns out, both roads were slow going due to the great twists, curves, and spirals. The spirals on Iron Mountain Road were done with bridges called "pig-tail bridges." There were no good pull-off points to get a good picture of one, but take my word for it that there is an old wooden bridge under the spiral in that picture. As I first entered Custer State Park from Iron Mountain Road, I had my second wildlife encounter of the day. I have no idea where he came from nor why, but there was a donkey in the road. I stopped far enough back to get a picture without scaring him away. I really needn't have worried about it, though. A car approached from the opposite direction but he just watched it pass. After I took this picture, I rode on past the donkey. He just stared at me as I went by as well. My next encounter came just a couple of miles later. I have no idea where the mountain goats came from, either, but at least the terrain seemed a lot more appropriate for them to be there. And just like the donkey and the wild turkeys, they didn't seem to really care that a couple of cars and a motorcycle stopped to take pictures and drive slowly past. In fact, one of the mountain goats walked out into the road when a car approached. He definitely seemed to be expecting some lunch. We all just drove past, though. I soon found out where Needles Highway got its name. Although both roads had tunnels and rock formations, there is a rock formation called the eye of the needle that is a large narrow opening in a tower. Directly behind it is a tunnel that felt for all the world like driving through an eye of a needle as well. While I didn't get a picture of the rock formation, here is a good one of the tunnel. It is only covered for the first half (as you approach the camera) - the last half is open to the sky up a very narrow crevice. It was a gorgeous drive.

Even though the scenic route probably added twenty minutes to my drive, it was absolutely worth it. The problem was that just as I arrived at Crazy Horse, thick clouds began coming over the next range over and obscuring the sun. That really bugged me because the Crazy Horse monument has a great complex of several buildings dedicated to recording the building of the monument as well as native American history and modern native American crafts and artwork. There is even a pair of custom motorcycles representing the monument, one of which was being raffled off. If I thought I could spare the $20 I would have tried to win the new white Street Glide, too. As it was, I made due with more pictures. I spent well over an hour exploring the complex and taking pictures. As I was leaving, I decided to get a picture of myself and the bike with the monument behind. (A modern military leader and his ride with a representation of an historical military leader and his steed behind? Probably not, but it's nice to pretend.) The employee who took the picture for me was also a Harley rider. He told me that for a $125 donation, I could be escorted to the top of the monument. Or I could wait for the first full week of June to join thousands of others for a donation of a few canned goods. I may have to make the larger donation just to get a "private" tour. This is a beautiful monument that I hope is completed in the coming years while I'm still able to ride.

Finally, with clouds closing in it was time to get out of the state. After all, I needed to be almost 900 miles away in a little over 24 hours. I still wanted to get to Devil's Tower. Since it was only a couple of dozen miles off my path, I decided to risk getting caught by the imminent weather and go for it. "There's no bad riding weather, just poor clothing choices," right? I had my last close wildlife encounter of the day just after I left I-90 on my way to the tower. While I had seen quite a few road-killed deer and a couple of live ones in South Dakota, as soon as I crossed into Wyoming I started to feel like I was in one gigantic deer preserve. The picture shows just the first of more than half a dozen HERDS of deer that I saw close by the road as I finished my trip for the day. Highway 14 winds a lazy way to Devil's Tower and is a nice relaxing drive. I stopped once more when I got my first glimpse of the Tower, and one last stop at the souvenir store at the base. This store was the first place I had found that carried walking stick badges similar to the ones that the kids and I collected in Germany, so of course I bought three sets. I took a little time to warm up in the shop as the overcast skies helped drop the temperatures that were in the high 60s earlier quickly down to the low 40s. Then I hit the road one last time for a blast until dark, finally stopping at a Days Inn in Gillette, Wyoming for the night. Total miles ridden for the day - 318. Total covered so far - almost 1550.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

DAY TWO - Part Two

When we last left our intrepid hero... oh, wait. That was some other guy. Sorry.

At the end of my last post, I was in the middle of South Dakota, heading toward Sturgis. My goal at that point was to drive through Badlands National Park then head for the Black Hills. On Brian Klock's suggestion, I decided to drive through Spearfish Canyon and stay the night in the town of Spearfish before checking out more local attractions the next day.

I got a bit of a surprise driving through the middle part of the state. Indiana's unofficial motto is "there's more than corn in Indiana," to which someone usually adds, "yeah - endless freakin' soybean fields." Some of the really adventurous farmers in Indiana will put out a field of wheat on occasion. Party animals, that bunch. I had to actually pull over and take a picture when I saw a field of SUNFLOWERS in the middle of South Dakota. I definitely wasn't expecting that.
Since I decided at the beginning of this journey to stop at whatever grabs my attention (within reason and time constraints), I pulled off at a roadside "attraction" called the Badlands Petrified Forest (I think). It was a little museum/gift shop with an enclosed back yard full of large specimens of local petrified wood. The place was well-organized and it was fun just walking around looking at the unique pieces. I especially liked the logs that had been flattened by intense pressure before being petrified, making them look for all the world like a gigantic loaf of petrified french bread. Several pieces were so perfectly petrified in natural colors that I had to touch them to be sure they were actually made of stone. There was even a ten or twelve foot high log. It was a massive stone that must have weighed several tons. I picked out a piece of petrified wood for my son and a piece of rose quartz for my daughter from their rock-hound yard and went inside to check out their museum and store. There was more petrified wood, as well as many large dinosaur bones and other fossils. As I was taking pictures, some movement on the floor caught my eye. A juvenile bull snake had come inside the building and the cold concrete floor was making him lethargic. I picked him up and he seemed to appreciate the warmth of my hand. I asked the owner if it was a shop pet before releasing him back outside. Overall, this was a really great little stop for such a small little roadside stand. I'm definitely glad I stopped.

Next it was finally time to head through the Badlands National Park. For a small fee, you can drive a 35 mile loop that comes out about 20 miles further down the interstate. Very convenient. The drive itself is a lot of fun for motorcyclists due to the hills and curves. The park also has several turnouts and overlooks with information boards telling about the sights. All told I spent well over an hour driving from stop to stop and taking pictures. At the first stop a family asked me to take a picture for them, and I asked them to take a couple of pictures for me. The husband asked where I was going and then made suggestions for nice sight-seeing and driving and gave me a good map of the area. As I continued on the road, it dropped down into and wound its way through the crags and canyons and then would come back up and follow along the rim. At one point, I even came across a wild prairie dog "town." Apparently these little dudes aren't afraid of much of anything. One seemed to like having his picture taken, even. It was really a beautiful drive and I could have spent a lot more time walking the trails and seeing the sights that were further off the road. Visiting this park could easily be an all-day trek, especially if you stop to shop in the very nice visitor center and gift shop. As it was, I had over a hundred miles to ride still and it was getting well into the afternoon. So I headed out.

Although I didn't have much interest in Wall Drug, stopping there seemed like a sort of rite of passage for folks traveling through South Dakota. As it turns out, the town of Wall is at the western terminus of the Badlands National Park loop, so I didn't have much excuse, really. I took a quick look through the place, but didn't see much that interested me. Mostly it was just a lot of shops. There was a penny press machine though, and since my kids like to collect the stamped pennies I decided to get a couple. I walked across the street to the little bar to use their ATM. Since I needed change, I stopped to get a Coke. There were several locals there drinking, and I started chatting with them. They looked for all the world like they were right out of a wild west painting. It turns out that one of them was a rodeo legend from back in the 60s and 70s. Apparently the guy had been read last rites three different times from bad bull rides, including being gored in the head twice. He's the guy with the falling hat in the picture. I stayed in the bar chatting for almost half an hour. These were very cool people and it was worth the time getting to know them before heading for Spearfish. I'm glad I needed to find that ATM.

Finally, I drove toward the Black Hills. It took almost another hundred miles to get to Sturgis, then I had to get to Spearfish Canyon. The route from Sturgis took me through the towns of Lead and Deadwood. The sun was going down so I didn't have time to stop in these towns, but I planned to visit them the next morning. Along the twisty two-lane I saw several mule deer right on the edge of the road - got a bit of a chill imagining what would happen if one started out in front of me. There was still a good deal of snow in the shady areas from the 8" the region received the previous weekend. As the sun went down, the temperature quickly dropped into the low forties and as I went up in elevation it got down to the high 30s. By this time, I didn't care. This was the most beautiful stretch of road I had ever seen. I spent the last 20 minutes of the drive twisting back and forth on switchbacks and hairpin turns. There were very few straightaways. Even in the failing light I could tell that this was a beautiful area. I was definitely going to drive back through here the next morning to see what I was missing tonight.

At the far end of the canyon, I stopped at a busy little restaurant called the Spearfish Chophouse. Man, those guys know how to kill and cook a cow. I had a ribeye and fries to celebrate my great day. I knew it was a good place to eat when I saw the cow skull on the wall above the entrance. (For those who don't know, I've had a similar skull mounted to the front of my Jeep for over four years now.) The meal was great and I immediately headed to a hotel to crash for the rest of the night.

As I lay in bed writing notes for this blog and remembering all the cool stuff I had seen and done and the great people I had met, I realized that THIS is why I took this trip. What a great day. Total miles ridden today - 470. Miles this trip - 1230.