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Sturgis and West Coast Ride

Prepping for Sturgis

A new bike! Traded in my 2001 Harley-Davidson Road King Classic with 65,000 miles on the odometer for a 2008 Harley-Davidson Cross Bones - a springer / softail for those few who might be interested. The Cross Bones isn’t really a touring bike, but the ride is comfortable, and it’ll do for this 6,000+ mile ride. No map, no GPS, strap a big bag across the rear fender, and I’m good to go. I’ll be heading north, visiting friends, my sister Pam in Portland, then meet up with my brother Gordon in Seattle, from there we’ll ride to Sturgis, South Dakota to meet friends and ride for a few days. This will be a great trip

Day 1 Sturgis Ride

Midmorning departure for Sacramento, starts hot, but thankfully cools off north of Bakersfield. Bit of a boring ride between Los Angeles and Sacramento - the next time I choose SR 99 instead of I 5, someone shoot me! 376 miles, 6 hours.

Day 4 Sturgis Ride

Nice ride on SR 16 beginning in Woodland, rolling countryside, no traffic, a gigantic casino in the middle of nowhere. Take a wrong turn on SR 20, road maintenance delays, smoke all around with forest fires burning out of control. Make up some time once I hit US 101, pass Paul Bunyan and Babe at the Trees of Mystery, where I always have to stop and photograph them, even though I’ve done so many times before. This is the first time I’ve heard Paul speak, has a surprisingly tiny voice for someone 32′ 8″ tall. It’s cool as I continue up the coast, hypothermia begins to set in as I wrap up the day’s ride in scenic Gold Beach, Oregon. Stay in a log cabin at Ireland’s Rustic Lodges, with a fireplace, real wood! Great chowder, salmon and Long Island Iced Teas at Spinner’s Restaurant up the street - hadn’t eaten since a breakfast of five cherries - thaw out for the evening reading a book in front of a roaring fireplace. 448 miles, 10 hours.

Day 5 Sturgis Ride

Beautiful crisp and clear morning. Not a typical morning, though, as I see, simultaneously, a Jesus-look-alike, dragging a 12′ cross on one side of the road, and a to-scale Tyrannosaurus Rex on the other side of the road. Frantically yanking the camera out of my jacket - I’m traveling at 60 mph on a two-lane road - I snap a few photos of Jesus, then find a place to turn around further up the road, and cruise back, slowing and waving to Jesus, who smiles and waves back, as I’m snapping more photos. This puts me back to Trex, where I turn around, snap some photos of him, then I head back up the road. Family and friends will likely think I’m deranged when I tell this story, looking forward to perusing these photos on a computer when I get to Gordon’s. At Waldport, head inland on winding SR 34 to meet up with Donna and Graham - friends visiting from New Zealand - who are staying with friend Brian in Philomath. A nice lunch there, including their friends Janet and Jay. All rode out from Philomath to meet me part-way, which was really nice, and yes, we talked about motorcycling for the entire lunch. Over to I 5, head north to stay with Pam and her husband Brad, in Portland. Always fun staying with them! 316 miles, 8.5 hours)

Day 6 Sturgis Ride

SR 503 in southwest Washington winds through the small town of Amboy - the restaurant Volcano Burgers is closed, damnit - and along Yale Lake and Swift Creek Reservoir, where I spent some vacation time with the family as a child. North on infrequently-travelled SR 131 takes me alongside the “backside” of Mt. St. Helens, including a stop at scenic Iron Creek Falls. Road to the Windy Ridge overlook is closed, I circle around via US 12, I 5 and SR 504 to visit mountain proper, at the Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. Beautiful day, unobstructed view of the mountain from Johnston Ridge Observatory, steam rising from the active caldera. After an hour enjoying the view and remembering some summers at [what’s left of] adjacent Spirit Lake, head back, then north on SR 505 where I see several deer alongside and on the road, then to I 5 and north to Seattle. Great to see Gordon and his wife Lori, and also niece Shaina, who joins us for dinner. Oh, those photos of Jesus and Trex…Trex photos came out fine, the photos of Jesus and his cross, well, they’re just photos of the side of the road, no sign of Jesus or his cross, very strange. 420 miles, 11 hours.

Day 8 Sturgis Ride

Another beautiful morning - am I really in the Pacific Northwest? - and Gordon and I head up I 5, catch scenic SR 20, the North Cascades Highway, traversing the Cascade mountain range into central Washington. Gordon rides a Buell - a brand of Harley-Davidson - Ulysses, a tall bike, and considerably faster than most Harley-Davidson’s, including mine. Gordon’s years of experience backpacking and as Scoutmaster in the Boy Scouts were applied to rigging his bike for gear, an elegant and colorful potpourri of straps and bags. SR 156 through the Colville Indian Reservation, stop at Grand Coulee Dam, the largest concrete structure in the US. Some protein bars and homemade beef jerky - which I really appreciate, since I usually don’t stop to eat when I ride on my own - south on SR 174, connect with US 2, then into Spokane for gas, where the cash register counter rests on a red mid-fifties Studebaker. On to I 90 across Idaho and into Montana, averaging 85 - 90 mph. This section of I 90 is the most scenic interstate I’ve ridden on, twisting through mountains and across rivers and lakes. After sunset we pull into Butte, Montana, stay at an overpriced Best Western. Butte is celebrating Evel Knieval Days, dubbed the world’s greatest celebration for the world’s greatest daredevil! Lot’s of drinking and eating in the streets, and hoodlums on motorcycles, of course. 678 miles, 13 hours.

Day 9 Sturgis Ride

Morning blast down I 90, then south on SR 78 to Red Lodge, a cool western town at 5,555′ elevation, located at the edge of the Gallatin National Forest. From Red Lodge, up US 212 to Beartooth Pass at 10,947′. There’s snow on the ground! Cross into Wyoming at the summit, stop at a small roadside field for snacks, watching for bear who might want to join us for a meal. SR 296 takes us into Cody in the late afternoon, it’s blistering hot. For the flat haul on US 14 from Cody to Greybull, we trade bikes, Gordon moves ahead. As I ride over the next rise, there’s Gordon and a Wyoming State Trooper huddled alongside the road - it seems that riding 80+ mph in a posted 65 mph zone is frowned upon. By virtue of being the first biker that day who didn’t argue, Gordon gets off with a warning, which is very cool, though this causes us to ride at slightly lesser speeds while in Wyoming, at least for the remainder of that day. From Greybull - it’s 97F at 5:30 pm - a wonderful twisty high-speed ride up and over the Bighorn Mountains, landing for an early evening in Sheridan. There’s an odd mishmash of bronze sculptures on the street corners, as if someone had recently come into a sum of money, and attempted to beautify the streets, without thinking about a theme or message. Our Best Western room - more reasonable rate this time - is adjacent to the Dairy Queen drive-thru, apparently a popular destination in Sheridan. Blizzard, Arctic Rush and Buster Bar were the favorite items that evening, all evening… 488 miles, 10.5 hours.

Day 10 Sturgis Ride

A short distance to Deadwood, but strong cross- and head-winds make for a tiring ride. Exit i 90 at Spearfish, South Dakota, head south on US 14a, Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway, and it is scenic. US 84 north into Deadwood, early arrival at Deadwood Gulch Resort, our home while in the Sturgis area. The employee at the check-in desk was almost superhuman - she knew that our room would be ready for occupancy precisely at 3:00 pm (and not a moment before) and she didn’t even have to consult her computer or place a phone call to the cleaning staff. So we rode into Sturgis to kill a couple of hours while our clean and ready-to-occupy room sat unoccupied. Back at 3:00 pm, our room was ready for check-in (she was right!), showers, then friends Jana, Bill and Dan ride up. Ride 1.5 miles to downtown Deadwood, drinks, discourse and dinner at Kevin Costner’s Diamond Lil’s, planning the next days’ rides, walking around town, then back to the hotel for a reasonably early evening. Our room faces a creek, away from the road - a big deal if you don’t enjoy the sound of under-muffler’d Harley’s all night - it’ll be nice not to have to pack / unpack for a couple of days. 235 miles, 4 hours.

Day 11 Sturgis Ride

Exciting day! First stop is the South Dakota Air and Space Museum at Ellsworth Air Force Base east of Rapid City. Several vintage and modern aircraft, including a Mitchell B-25 and Douglas C-47 (DC-3 in civilian guise), my dad flew both of these aircraft. Also toured a Minuteman II ICBM missile silo, interesting and sobering. Then to Keystone - quaint western town at the base of Mt. Rushmore - for lunch, then up the hill to Mt. Rushmore National Memorial, always impressive to me, though I’ve seen it several times. George Washington’s nose is 21′ tall (and I thought my nose was big - ok, it is). Then riding the Iron Mountain Road - it’s like riding a motorcycle on Disneyland’s Big Thunder Mountain - into Customer State Park. Wild asses abound in the park, like being fed by tourists, reminds me of a convention I went to… North on Needles Highway, my first time on this stretch of road, which is very curvy and scenic, and like Iron Mountain Road, has several narrow tunnels to ride through, which is always fun. Something about honking your horn when you’re in a tunnel… Ride up scenic US 385 to Deadwood, showers, then off to Sturgis for the evening. Drinks at the Full Throttle Saloon, the world’s largest biker bar as claimed. It’s quiet, since we’re here a few days before the official opening of the Sturgis Rally. Then off to the Loud American Roadhouse for dinner, and a really great band whose name I can’t remember. We missed the action later that week when an off-duty police officer shot a Hells Angels member in that same bar - another reason to attend early and leave early.  Attendance to the 68th Anniversary Sturgis Rally was estimated at 300,000, a light year in comparison to 500,000+ each in 2004 and 2005. This thing has been going on since 1938! 207 miles, 14 hours.

Day 12 Sturgis Ride

Nice morning ride down US 385, SR 44 into Rapid City, where I lose my way and lead our posse of riders back towards Sturgis instead of to our target of Black Hills Harley-Davidson in Rapid City. Route corrected, after many miles, we arrive at the dealership, shop, tour the exhibits. Gordon and I get fitted for Big Ear ear plugs - I’ve worn custom ear plugs for years (when riding), swear by them, at them - I need a new pair, as my old ones are wearing. As is the wide tire on my bike, I get a new tire installed - expensive! - while everyone splits to do their own thing. Meet up again for dinner, back in Deadwood this time, have a great steak at a restaurant whose name I don’t recall. This is our last evening together, as Gordon and I will return tomorrow, while Jana, Bill and Dan will stay an additional day. We’ll still ride together tomorrow, though. 156 miles, 9 hours.

Day 13 Sturgis Ride

I’m cracking the whip this morning, want to get on the road as Gordon and I plan to cover lots of miles today. Head down Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway to beautiful Roughlock Falls, with nice walkways and viewing platforms along Little Spearfish Creek. Two motorcycles with little dogs riding in pouches behind the riders show up. Of course we all descend on them, questions photo requests, hope they enjoy their celebrity status. North on US 385, west on SR 34, SR 24, through Aladdin, population 15, elevation 3,740′, other small towns. Road crews are painting new centerline stripes, at about 10 mph, backing up traffic. We scoot around on the right shoulder to pass, likely angering the automobilotorists who can’t do the same…but hey, we’re past! Arrive at 1,267′ tall phonolite porphyry Devils Tower National Monument - where the aliens landed in Close Encounters - stop and watch two climbers begin a long ascent to the top. Gordon and I say goodbye to Jana, Bill and Dan, we head west, they head back to Deadwood. it was great to spend time with them in Deadwood, hope to do so again. SR 24 to US 14, then on the I 90 slab again, heading west. Once in Montana, we’re not shy about riding 85 - 90 mph - Gordon doesn’t have a speeding violation warning in this state - and the riding is uneventful…until evening arrives. I pull over to squeeze some dust and sweat out of my eyes, which are tearing up. Gordon notices that one of his exhaust header pipes is loose and leaking, the fastening nuts missing. And his bike won’t start either. We push him, he gets it started, and we limp along the highway for a few more miles, exciting near Cardwell, 34 miles east of Butte. At this point his bike has given up the ghost, we push it to the Cardwell Store RV Park. For the next three hours, Gordon talks with various insurance company representatives until he secures a tow to the nearest Harley-Davidson dealership, located in Belgrade, 44 miles east of Cardwell. In the meantime, the Big Sky mosquitoes are feasting, Gordon gives me serious mosquito lotion that he refers to as “nasty”, implying its very effective, but not necessarily pleasant. After I rub it on my face, he mentions that one of his assistant Scoutmasters told him this same ointment had turned his beard white for three years… A more immediate challenge was an incredibly drunk woman - driving her equally drunk but passed-out husband in a dilapidated Jeep Wagoneer - who kept driving by and asking us if we needed help, which we politely refused. She insisted that we drink, Gordon finally good-naturedly took a swig out of a bottle to pacify her. She drove by so many times, I thought she’d either run over us, or her husband would wake up and shoot us in a drunken rage. She did buy a case of beer at the store next to the campground, the store clerk carrying the case out to the car for her, as she was too drunk to carry anything. The store closed at 10:00pm, so I ran in and purchased some beef jerky, chips and disgusting meat sticks (and a Rock Star for Gordon). The tow truck arrives around midnight, we head back to Belgrade - the trailer was big enough for both bikes - me happily in the back seat, so I don’t need to politely listen to what the amped-up driver is going on about, though Gordon did a good job of appearing attentive, even if it had been a stressful day. We got the next to the last room at the Super 8. 571 miles, 17 hours.

Day 14 Sturgis Ride

Gordon is over at the dealership first thing in the morning. By the time I wake up and mosey over to the dealership, he’s enroute to picking up a U-Haul - he’ll truck his bike the remaining 600 miles home, deferring repairs until he returns to Seattle - so rather than riding to Seattle, I head towards California. US 191 along the Gallatin River is beautiful, skirting into Yellowstone National Park. US 20 at West Yellowstone, into northern Idaho (lots of State Troopers!) towards Idaho Falls. Slab I 15 south, west on I 86 at Pocatello, west on I 84 - monotonous…zzzzz…freeway…zzzzz… - US 93 south at Twin Falls. At Wells, Nevada, take I 80 west, stop for gas in Burley, the gas pump lever won’t release, once the tank fills, gas fountains out, drenching me and the bike, hopefully providing some entertainment for other travelers gassing up. After I rinsing my eyes out in the restroom, back on the freeway until I run out of energy, exit at Elko. Check in to a very nice Holiday In Express, styled as a mountain lodge, with a really comfortable bed. Eat at a bar across the freeway, with cute waitresses, good drinks, mediocre food. Early to bed! 511 miles, 9 hours.

Day 15 Sturgis Ride

An all-slab day, I 80 all the way. While passing through Patrick, I craned my neck to both sides of the freeway to get a glimpse of the infamous Mustang Ranch brothel, but no luck. Nevada also seems to be a popular place for prisons, of which I passed many, before reaching Reno. After cresting at Lake Tahoe, I 80 traffic moved at 80 - 90 mph, making for an early arrival into Sacramento. 429 miles, 6.5 hours.

Day 17 Sturgis Ride

Ditto. I 5, but no prisons or brothels like Nevada has. 396 miles, 6 hours.

A great ride! My first distance excursion with no rain, nice! And it was great to see friends and family along the way, and Jana, Bill and Dan in Deadwood. But most of all it was great to ride and travel with Gordon, our first ride together, and I had a blast - looking forward to the next one!

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