Soaking Rain, New Roads, New Friends
Riding to Sturgis, South Dakota in August is always an experience. It’s usually hot and dry with the occasional thunderstorm. This year’s trip was the wettest I’ve seen and I’ve been going to the rally since the late 1970s. Yes, I’m that old.
My friend and riding partner Max Sidner and I left Athens, Georgia in the rain, me on my Honda Goldwing and Max on his Harley, and rode all the first day in soaking showers to Cape Girardeau, MO. The second day we expected better but it was pretty wet again. There’s a limit to how hard the rain can come down before it’s just totally unsafe to ride in. I think we nearly found that a couple of times. We discovered later that a town in Missouri we rode by had been leveled that night by a tornado.
That was sobering.
Once we got out of the trees and up into northern Iowa we headed west toward South Dakota, and could see the rain storms building on the horizon. We managed to stay out of the rain until about 25 miles from our destination for the night in Chamberlin SD, when the sky boiled over black and brutal, so we pulled into a service station that had a little bar. We sat there and had a cold one while we watched the rain and the hordes of soaked bikers roll in. This was a good time meeting people from all over, with their stories of where they are from and where they are going. There were two ladies who came in soaking wet and declared they were camping at the Buffalo Chip. Soaking wet and spending the night in a mud hole- not for me!
We finally pulled into Chamberlin and stayed right on the Missouri River where we shared stories and a couple bottles of whiskey with fellow bikers. Everyone has a story, and I find them all fascinating. So far every day had brought rain and the fourth day into Sturgis would be no different. More rain. Geez. So we donned our rain suits, once again. We only rode for 50 miles and it thankfully cleared up so the rest of the ride into Rapid City and Sturgis was dry, thank God.
Rocking the Vanderhall; riding around Sturgis.
We stopped at the monster Harley-Davidson dealership in Rapid City to get Max’s Harley looked at for a possible valve train problem. After dropping his bike off in maintenance we decided to sign up for a test drive on this super cool roadster called a Vanderhall Carmel GT. It’s kind of a sports car with three wheels, somewhat resembling a Formula 1 machine from the 1960s. We were the only ones signed up early so off we went zipping around the hills of South Dakota at speeds up to 90 mph. I’m not sure how to classify a Vanderhall, but I can confidently say that it is lots of fun!
We went into the dealership after the demo ride and visited with a friend that works for Icon that I had met in Alabama at the Barber Small Bore Rally. They had all sorts of great motorcycle stuff there and we filled the day looking at new bikes and talking to people. During the afternoon it came another flooding rain that lasted for hours. Rain again. We finally got a sales person to check on my friend’s bike and they said it was ready. So after spending all day we finally found out that it was just a loose floorboard. Seriously?? We rode back to our motel in the rain, again.
What a day!
After another night in our high priced motel we rode over to the Catholic Church breakfast to visit the church ladies. It was (finally) a beautiful, clear, cool morning as we headed toward Spearfish and a ride through the “Spearfish Canyon” which is a must if you attend the Sturgis rally. We stopped at Cheyenne Crossing and hung out for awhile so we could watch the steady stream of motorcycles that were coming and going. I sat on a bench and visited with a retired Army Major from Iowa before we headed over to Wyoming where we stopped at the Four Corners for coffee and donuts from some Amish gals who set up a stand. Like Rob has said before, the best part of motorcycle travel is the people you meet. On our way back we of course enjoyed the daily rain storm.
Burnout Wednesday in Sundance! That’s right, it’s an annual tradition. We spent the night with an old friend and stayed in town for the hordes of Sturgis bikers who poured into Sundance early afternoon. Sundance is a small town with wonderful people who love a good time. We enjoyed a big breakfast at Uncle Louie’s and just a great day checking out the local sights and all the motorbikes rolling through town. We grilled steaks for dinner and listened to the music two blocks away as the cool Wyoming evening air moved in. This was the first day in a week that we had not seen rain.
A brief respite from the constant rain; Sundance Burnout Wednesday.
We headed out of Sundance just as the roosters were crowing and rode west out into the wilds of rural Wyoming. The winds were whipping us around pretty hard as the storms were building across the Big Horn Mountains. By the time we got to Buffalo it looked like we were going to get hammered yet again. We stopped and gassed up as it started to rain but the skies parted to the west, so we took off like Moses and the Hebrews through the parting of the waters.
It wasn’t long before we were up in the Big Horns and it was so lush and green from all the recent rain we had to stop and enjoy the scenery. These mountains are so beautiful with all the cliffs mingled with wild flowers and streams, it’s like Heaven. As we came down out of the mountains we headed into the sage brush country that is so prevalent in this part of the west. I consulted my Garmin GPS about restaurants in the area and found Lisa’s in Graybull, WY. If you are ever around those parts I highly recommend this place. We arrived in Cody around 3pm so we had enough time to visit the Buffalo Bill Center of the West.
Lots of incredible history to see here.
Our day was capped off by having dinner at the Irma Hotel. This hotel was built by Buffalo Bill for his daughter in 1902 at a cost of $80,000. It sports a fantastic bar that was shipped in from back east. Our motel in Cody provided no breakfeast so we grabbed some coffee and hit the road around 6am. We ended up riding around 80 miles to The Lazy S Cafe in Thermopolis, WY before stopping. Let me tell you something about restaurant food portions out here- They are huge! I have discovered that two of these meals a day is plenty.
This part of Wyoming is known as the Wind River Range. This is an amazing region of the United States with long expanses of open road and great sweeping curves that you can take at the posted 70 mph. At one of our photo op stops we met a bicycle rider from the UK who said he was riding around the world. Now that’s an adventure!
Wide open Wyoming; the world traveling Brit cyclist we met.
We made it to Colorado and our motel in Walden at 5pm right before the customary evening rain shower. Walden is a nice Colorado mountain town on the way to Rocky Mountain National Park. We were looking forward to riding Trail Ridge Road the next day. After another large Denver omelet Max and I took off toward Granby and the west entrance to Rocky Mountain NP. The sky was clear and the air was cool in the low 50s. We had a timed entry into the park for 11am and we arrived at the gate just then. We had no delay and with our passes we breezed right in after the required picture at the sign.
No fires this year.
I noticed that there were still signs of a large fire, probably last year. I doubt there will be any fires this year, with all the rain making everything very green. As we ascended into the park the clouds began to build in the south again. We had smooth sailing to the summit but people warned us about the rain so we put on our rain gear along with our warm stuff as it was still in the 50s. The rest of our ride going down to Estes Park was just wet roads as we missed most of the actual rain. It had warmed up as we got lower so we removed the warm gear but kept the rain gear. It was a good thing as we rode some 70 miles in rain on twisty mountain roads to get to the home of Coors Beer, the town of Golden! It cleared by Golden so we stopped and took off the rain stuff and visited with some wet bikers we had passed earlier, before heading to my sisters’ place in Denver where we would stay for a couple of nights.
Beautiful riding and sights, when it’s not pouring; “Down Home Cookin”, always the best.
Colorado is a wild and wonderful place for motorcycle riding. We rode down to Colorado Springs and rode to the top of Pikes Peak on the Cog Railroad. We also visited the Garden of the Gods while down there. We snuck out of Denver early in the morning and rolled up on I-70 headed west. We got up in the mountains and it really cooled off. By the time we hit Georgetown it was in the low 40s. Later on it would hit the mid 90s in Delta. Crazy temp contrasts.
We stopped in beautiful Glenwood Canyon for a break in their riverside park. We happened on a gem of a hotel called the Redstone Inn where we had a nice poolside lunch before heading south toward the famed Million Dollar Highway and Durango. We made it all the way to Ouray before our old friend the rain caught up with us yet again, giving us more practice riding in the rain in the mountains.
We were getting plenty of rain riding practice.
The morning ride south on 550 from Durango was uneventful aside from a wrong turn that we had to correct. Colorado does a lot of road construction in the summer so you always have to contend with that. We stopped and enjoyed breakfast with farmers in Aztec, NM before heading on down through New Mexico. The countryside is wide open and is basically rolling hills with high plateaus and dry washes all around. The entire landscape is filled with sage and pinion pine. We had hoped to get lunch near Santa Fe but I guess they have a law against signs as it’s hard to find a gas station or a restaurant out there. I suppose it’s nice if you know where you are going but if you’re not from there, it can fry your nerves.
We found our motel in Amarillo after a 500+ mile day and still had to ride to get dinner. Note to self, research food with rooms. We were finally out of the rain and into the August toaster oven. We left Amarillo in the low 70’s and as we rode across the sweeping Texas high plains it got hotter by the hour. By the time we stopped in the little turn-of-the-century oil town of Electra it was well into the 90s. The oil boom has dried up and so has the town but we did have a Texas sized hamburger while visiting the Pump City Diner which is open from 11am to 2pm, five days a week.
Former oil town Electra, Texas; helicopter display (I flew these in Vietnam) at the Vietnam War Museum/Army Primary Helicopter Flight School.
We arrived in Mineral Wells around 3pm with plenty of time to visit the Vietnam War Museum located here. This is also the home of the former Army Primary Helicopter Flight School that I attended a lifetime ago. By late afternoon it was well over 100 degrees. Yes, I know, it’s a dry heat.
Mineral Wells is located west of the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex and it’s a very long way around so we pretty much were stuck taking our chances riding through the cities on I-20. I thought I had made a big mistake as we were duck walking in traffic for several miles, but it finally loosened up and we were again cruising along at 80 mph before long and all of that was soon forgotten.
We stopped at a Buc-ees for a break and fed the birds. We sailed along out on the interstate as we watched the temperatures continue to climb. At one point in the afternoon after we were in Louisiana we stopped in Start (the name of the town) for a cold drink break. As we got off the bikes we were greeted by this friendly old black gentleman named Mark who said he was “the welcoming committee for Start”. We got our drinks and the clerk said that they were on the house. Grateful, we sat on the patio with Mark, who regaled us with some of his life stories and we shared some of ours. A new friend was made.
Our stop in Start; the “welcoming committee.”
We rolled on through Louisiana and into Mississippi through Vicksburg and on past Jackson to spend the night in Pearl, MS. I can’t help but think of all the history I am riding past, both from my previous trips and from stories that I have read. As we concluded our eventful two week, 5000 mile journey I can only reflect on the places we rode and visited, the people we met, the things we learned. I am enriched with every trip I make across this vast, beautiful land.
Keep riding and remember to watch out for those “Road Gators”.
No matter how far and wide I travel, there’s no place like home.