Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Corner To Corner -- Final Thoughs

It seemed strange to sleep in our own bed last night, and to get up and not go downstairs, eat a “continental breakfast” at the hotel breakfast bar, and load up the bikes and head out. The ride back from Cape Flattery and Neah Bay was uneventful, except for the frustration of road construction, and my internal sadness that the ride was over and we were not going someplace new in the morning.

I must confess I have a wandering soul I suppose. I always have, and I attribute some of that to my parents who were thoughtful enough as I was growing up to take us someplace in the car or the camper nearly every week. This is one of the greatest gifts they gave me – to not be afraid to see what’s up around the next bend and to love travel. And I suppose as well that it could be considered a curse.

As we were heading towards home down US-101 we got to a junction where US-101 continues south, ultimately to the Mexican Border south of San Diego, and we had to turn on WA-104 over the Hood Canal Bridge and towards Seattle. I told Tony, “hey, lets just turn south and ride down the coast to San Diego”. The look he gave me would have stalled my bike had he looked at the engine. I’m fortunate that I have the means and the job that allows me to do that – not everyone does. So we continued across the bridge, down WA-3 and Bremerton and across the Southworth ferry and headed to Alki Beach for dinner before riding home. A ferry ride is perhaps the perfect way to cap this trip – taking the boat into Seattle is always something I look forward to.

There is a song by singer-songwriter Randall Williams called “The Man With The Wandering Soul” which is about a sailor and his love for the sea and how it affects his family. I suppose you could change it to someone like me who loves the road…

“You were not his first love, he was seduced by the sea air on his skin, as a young man he promised his heart to Aurora Borealis and the stars.
May you never be the widow of the man, with the wandering soul.”

I have that wandering soul, and after a day of catching up on a mountain of mail, and phone calls and things around the house, and making an appointment for work on the bike tomorrow at the HD Dealer, I’m itching to get back on the road.
So for now this will be the last post for a while. I do want to thank you for reading, and I hope you have enjoyed it. We’ve heard from a lot of you with very kind and nice comments, and I’m flattered -- especially those of you who said it was what you looked forward to reading each morning. As a budding writer, it makes me think there might be possibilities for this. We have lots of notes and lots more stories that we didn’t put in the last 15 chapters – I would have spent all my time writing and not riding! I’ve toyed with the idea of a book – like “Blue Highways” or “Travels With Charley”, but I’m not sure. However, I would appreciate any feedback you have, good and bad… you can e-mail me at grgardner@comcast.net

And I would be remiss if I didn’t thank a few people who encouraged me to do this and who helped put it together.

Number one of course is Tony – who took all the great pictures and who’s notes and recollections as I wrote this were invaluable. It’s as much his story as mine. This ride was his idea, and he's the one who encouraged me to go on it, even when we were having second thoughts up until the day we left.

Tony’s sister Debbie who gave us the Harley Road Atlas for Christmas that had all the maps we used.

Tony Screws and the crew at Downtown Harley Davidson who got the bikes in shape for a 5,000 mile ride.

My parents for giving me the gift of wanderlust.

And all of you who read, commented, and encouraged us along the way.

As a final thought. I’ll leave you with another song lyric – this one from Alison Krauss a song on her “Lonely Runs Through It” CD called “Gravity.

I left home when I was seventeen I just grew tired of falling down. And I'm sure I was told the allure of the road would be all I found. And all the answers that I started with turned out questions in the end. So years roll on by and just like the sky the road never ends. And the people who love me still ask me - When are you coming back to town? And I answer quite frankly when they stop building roads and all God needs is gravity to hold me down.

I use that last paragraph as the signature on my personal emails, and it’s the title of my “Livejournal” at http://grgardner.livejoural.com which is a more personal version of a lot of my rides in case you are interested.

Gary Gardner
August 5, 2008
And the people who love me they ask, when are you coming back to town. And I answer, when they stop building roads and all God needs is gravity to hold me down.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Corner To Corner - Chapter 15, The Other End Of The Road

We went to dinner last night at the Quinault Beach Resort and Casino. What is it about casinos that attract the mullet crowd? We had heard that the restaurant there was quite good and wanted a nice place for our final night on the road. If we’d gone with our first impression though we would have left. We first tried their sushi bar, however it had “run out of rice”. A sushi bar that runs out of rice? So we went to the main restaurant where there apparently was no hostess on duty. I was having a gut feeling this was not going to be good, especially after getting things sorted out we had 15 minutes to wander the casino until the table was ready. This place had gotten good reviews and the hotel/spa was quite nice and I was hoping my first impressions were wrong. They were. We had a nice bubbly waitress, and fantastic food, and lingered there for a good 90 minutes reflecting on the trip so far.

When it came time to pay the bill the waitress noticed my business American Express and asked what I did for a living. I explained and she told us she had a degree in “Political Communications”. She had gotten her degree and then went to LA for a few “fun years” but came back to the reservation with a two year old kid and this job paid the bills. She was as dismayed as I am about the state of political discourse in this country and said she wouldn’t take a job in her field now. I had to agree.

It was quite foggy and darn right cold when we pulled out of Ocean Shores this morning on the final leg up the Olympic Peninsula to the town of Neah Bay and the far Northwest Corner of the lower 48 at Cape Flattery. We left with every stitch of clothing we could have on to stay warm. In my case, a long sleeve t-shirt, our “commemorative” Corner To Corner t-shirts (still available at http://cafepress.com/tonyandgary), a zip-up hoodie sweatshirt, and medium lightweight leather jacket – and even pulled out the big leather gloves for good measure. It was that cold, and rather ironic since two weeks ago we were looking for a baptismal font in Georgia to cool off in, and after a few miles in this we were looking for a hot-tub! While riding through the rain forest I turned to Tony and asked him if he was sure it was August.

Neither of us had ridden up this section of US-101 before, as it skirts the Pacific shore and goes through the Olympic National Park rain forest. Although it was foggy, what we could see was magnificent, and we’d like to come back again. As the day wore on the sun burned the fog off, although it stayed cool, and we continued up the 165 miles to the far northwest corner of the US. We rode through the small logging town of Forks, and shortly after found the turn off to Cape Flattery. It seemed so strange to think that the journey was about to end as we motored down WA-112 into Neah Bay and around to the point.

We literally drove as far as we could in the parking lot for the short walk to the end of the earth. To tell the truth, I was actually kind of sad, and choked up. After all these days, and all these miles -- after crossing the entire United States of America, seeing things we'd never seen, places we'd never been, and meeting some great people, here we were – at the other end of the road. It was all coming to and end and I didn't want it to. As we pulled up with grins on our faces, the people getting out of the car next to us asked if we were having a good day. “A great day!” I replied, and they asked where we came from, and I answered “Key West”. The young lady who asked did a double take and said “Florida?” and we said indeed. We became instant celebrities in the parking lot – especially after we took off our jackets and they saw our commemorative t-shirts (still available at http://cafepress.com/tonyandgary – did I say that already?)

When we got to the point – which is a cliff overlooking the Pacific, there were a number of people there, and as we waited for a quiet moment to take a picture, people read our shirts and asked about them, so once again we said we’d just spent 15 days riding back from Key West. We had more than a few pictures of us taken, and then posed for one ourselves. So here we are, 15 days and 4,973 miles from the end of the road at Key West.
So, while the road ended at Cape Flattery, and at Key West, it really never ends as all you have to do is turn around and head out – and then just like the sky, the road never ends.

Corner to Corner: Tony's Perspective

Our travel blog is usually written by Gary while I take most of the pictures. However, today I thought I would contribute my thoughts as the trip has come to an end and what my thoughts are and have been... Tony

This morning I stand looking out into the fog that has crept onto the beach of Ocean Shores, Washington and I think...

Something has changed within me
Something is not the same
I'm through with playing by
The rules of someone else's game
Too late for second-guessing
Too late to go back to sleep
It's time to trust my instincts
Close my eyes
And leap...

It's time to try defying gravity
I think I'll try defying gravity
And you can't pull me down

Today is the last day of the Corner to Corner ride that I have been on since July 19th, when we left Miami (following the week I was there for GALA Festival 8) and rode our Harley's to Key West. Since then we have been making the trek across the country and meeting some fascinating people along the way...

Four years ago, riding a motorcycle was only a dream. Even after I got my license and bought my first motorcycle (Suzuki Boulevard 800), my thoughts were only to ride around West Seattle and possibly Seattle once I felt comfortable enough. Then I had this idea to ride our motorcycles to Whistler for our annual Summer trip there and after only two and a half months of riding, Gary and I loaded up his Harley 1200 Sportster and my Suzuki and made the 300 mile trip to Whistler and then took 500 miles to get home across the backside of British Columbia. This 800 mile trip was the longest ride either of us had ever done and we realized that we really liked long distance riding.

I'm through accepting limits
Cuz someone says they're so
Some things I cannot change
But till I try I'll never know
Too long I've been afraid of
Losing love I guess I've lost
Well if that's love
It comes at much too high a cost

I'd sooner buy defying gravity
Kiss me goodbye, I'm defying gravity
And you can't pull me down!

Since then, we have ridden across Scotland on rented Harley's, all across the Northwest while the Seattle Men's Chorus and Seattle Women's Chorus were on tour buses and last year all through New England after attending the wedding of my cousin in Mansfield, PA. As I stand looking out to the Western Sky, I feel like I have truly accomplished something incredible by riding the backroads of America from Key West to Neah Bay.

So if you care to find me
Look to the Western sky!
As someone told me lately
Everyone deserves the chance to fly
And if I'm flying solo
At least I'm flying free
To those who ground me
Take a message back from me!

Tell them how I am defying gravity
I'm flying high, defying gravity
And soon I'll match them in renown
And nobody in all of Oz
No Wizard that there is or was
Is ever gonna bring me down!!

What happens next? I don't know but I am excited to ride into the unknown.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Corner To Corner - Chapter 14, Dusty towns left far behind, mountains drawing ever nearer...

The title for this chapter comes from a song by Canadian Folksinger Garnett Rogers about a night drive across Canada. It is quite fitting for our ride today, as well as for what we have planned tomorrow since the next line is “Dreaming of the Western Ocean”.

We left Pasco, Washington (one of the Tri-Cities - the other two being Richland and Kennewick), or as I say “Try” cities since it “tries” to be a city) and headed West on US-12. At this point US-12 merges with I-84 for 70 miles or so to Yakima, but you know how we feel about Interstates, so we got off in the small town of Prosser and took WA-22 which is the old US-12, through the orchards of the Yakima Valley. This road runs parallel to the freeway, but it isn’t the freeway which is kind of the point. It reminded me of something Tony says while skiing and we have our choice of a blue run or a green run that get us to the same place, and he says “why take a blue run when there is a perfectly fine green run over here.” Same thing with this trip – why take the Interstate when there is a perfectly fine two lane.

This morning, as well as last night, the bikes started conversations. Last night we rode over to a Sonic Drive in for a late bite, and of course rode with the new LED’s glowing. A couple eating at the drive in came up and commented on the bikes, and asked about the trip. Then this morning a large contingent of Mexican wedding attendees were checking out of the hotel and two of the bridesmades wanted to pose with the bikes. It’s amazing how motorcycles start conversations and bring strangers up to you to ask questions.

The road this morning was familiar – at least to me, I’ve ridden it several times already this year, but it was new to Tony. As we curved around out of Prosser, I could see Mt. Rainier rising up in the distance. I knew then we were close to home. Even though the Mountain is several hundred miles away, it dominates our view at home, as well as out here on the opposite side of the state. About this time on my i-Pod came Johnny Cash’s version of “I’ve Been Everywhere”, which is a fun tune listing hundreds of cities and is quite the trick to sing. It was rather appropriate as we rode towards Mt. Rainer and neared the end of this journey.

In Yakima we turned West again on US-12 and headed up over White Pass and down into Western Washington. Mt. Rainier was close enough to touch it looked like, and it was a tad chilly on the pass and down the West slope. We stopped for lunch in Morton, and then continued on down 12 until it met up with I-5. Both the Yakima Valley and this part of Southwest Washington are the “Red” parts of a very “Blue” state. What few Republicans in the legislature are from here. There are billboards for the Republican candidate for Governor, Dino Rossi, that are too offensive for words, and every time I see one I tend to give it the one-fingered salute. They say “Don’t let Seattle steal the election again, Re-Elect Dino Rossi”. Now I’m not often proud, and in fact often wish I could de-annex myself from Seattle, but to say we “stole” the election or that Dino was elected to begin with is highly offensive. I was about to do it again here, and Tony was ready with the camera when an oncoming car pulled up and rather than risk them thinking I was addressing them, I skipped it.

When US-12 split off from I-5 just north of Centralia, we exited off and continued Northwest into Aberdeen, Washington. As we neared Gray’s Harbor it cooled off considerably and we had to get our jackets on. We rolled into downtown Aberdeen, which in it’s heyday apparently was quite the bustling town, but now feels like the worlds largest ghost town, with blocks of four and five storey buildings that are vacant and abandoned. This was a timber town, and years ago as the timber ran out, so did the town unfortunately, and now it’s just someplace to pass through on the way to the coast. It also is the literal end of US-12, which starts in Detroit, MI. We’ve run on a number of stretches of this road on this trip, in Michigan, as well as Minnesota, and have been on US-12 for the last two days since we left Billings, MT. It’s somewhat ironic and quite sad that this highway has it’s end points in two cities that are dead or dying.

Leaving Aberdeen we turned onto WA-109 for the ride out to the town of Ocean Shores and the Pacific Coast. This road is signed as a Tsunami Evacuation Route – just in case we spot a big tidal wave coming in from Japan.

Right at the coast we ran into some fog as is typical here, and then turned onto the beach itself and rode up to the tide line. We turned the bikes off and realized we’d reached the Pacific Coast – we had ridden coast to coast, a distance of 4,808 miles over the course of 14 days. And while we’ve reached the coast, we aren’t done. This would be like reaching the South Summit of Everest and not going for the peak. Ocean Shores would be the equivalent of what Miami is to Key West on the Florida Coast – at the shore, but not as far away as you can get. Out here that would be Neah Bay, up in the far Northwest Corner of the Olympic Peninsula, and still over 100 miles away. We’ll head up US-101 to that corner of the country tomorrow and have completed our journey.
Meanwhile, we’ll sit and look out over the ocean from a nice hotel room with a fireplace, relax, and know that tomorrow we will truly reach the end of the road on US-101 and the other corner of the US from Key West on US-1.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Corner To Corner - Chapter 13, Closer To Home

One thing about bikers, you can almost always approach them and chat. We can spot each other a mile a away. In the small breakfast areas of hotels it’s very easy to spot the other bikers – most of the time we all have Harley shirts on for one thing. This morning at the Holiday Inn Express in Missoula we sat next to a table of guys from Michigan. We’d chatted briefly in the parking lot when we checked in yesterday, and met up with them at breakfast today. There is that commonality of interests that instantly binds you to each other, and we talked of places we’d been, and our ride in Michigan and it turns out they were from the same area. This morning they were headed south towards Yellowstone on a road Tony and I had taken a couple of years ago, so we gave them some suggestions, and we all swapped stories before heading out. It’s this way in every hotel we’ve been at – especially as we’ve headed West and run into the Sturgis bound traffic. Our hotel was also filled with a crowd of Hells Angels – actual Hells Angels. I’ve rarely felt intimidated, but these guys kept me on my guard.

We headed West on US-12 this morning out of Missoula and up the Bitterroot valley. It was somewhat overcast, and I wore a long sleeve t-shirt, but we kept adding layers as we headed into the mountains and by the time we crested Lolo Pass we had shirt, sweat shirt, and leather jackets on. It was still a bit “wintery” up there. The road over Lolo Pass from Missoula to Lewiston, Idaho is a long and very lonely one. There are signs warning you to gas up before heading out, and it’s nearly 112 miles between stations. The Dyna has a 4.5 gallon tank, and I can get about 160 miles on it before I start getting nervous. Tony’s Geezer Glide has a 6.5 gallon tank and he can drive nearly 280 miles.

As soon as US-12 turned up the canyon to the pass I noticed a smell I hadn’t smelled in a couple of weeks. I can’t really describe it, but anyone who has grown up in the mountains of the West knows it. It’s that fresh, crisp, clean smell you get along a brook or stream in a canyon. It’s not “piney” at all or “woodsy”, but it’s a scent that instantly takes me back to the mountains where I grew up. I didn’t smell it all in the mountains of the East – I think the air is too “heavy” there. You need dryer air, maybe some “altitude” as well, and of course less people. However, that scent told me that I was getting closer to home. And when we crossed the pass and into Idaho, we dropped into the Pacific Time Zone, and reset our watches one last time. Now we really are getting close.

Dropping down the other side into Idaho we followed the Clearwater River all the way until it joined the Snake River in Lewiston. We watched this river grow from a trickle to a fairly good sized body of water – and all the way, the water was crystal clear. It was so clear you could see the rocks on the bottom.

About half way down we stopped for gas and a break in the small town of Orofino. Across from the gas station the local girls dance team was having a bake sale, and all the girls, and a few of the moms were eyeing the bikes, so we rode over to say hi and grab a snack. They had a couple of card tables of home-made goodies, and we found a nice ziplock bag of white chocolate chip cookies. I asked how much, and they said, “as much as you want to pay, it’s a donation”. So I said how about $10, is that enough? It was, and they were all smiles, as were we because the cookies were quite good. We munched on them all afternoon on the road. Mom asked about where we were going and we recounted the story of Key West back to Seattle, and they all got bug eyed. One of the girls asked for a ride, but we had luggage all strapped on so we unfortunately had to decline. We hopped on and fired them up and they all smiled and waved as we pulled out. Nothing like a small town bake sale.

We rode down into Lewiston, Idaho on the Snake River and our stomachs said it was time for lunch. We cruised Main Street looking for something interesting, and we saw a sign in a small brownstone downtown across from the railroad tracks that said “Effie Burger”. We did a nicely illegal U-turn and pulled up and went into this small tavern where every booth was filled and so we sat at the old-fashioned lunch counter. The first thing I noticed was the price. I’m not usually price conscious, but the menu said “Effie Burger - $17.” I turned to Tony and said “what the hell?” but by this time he’d spotted a picture on the wall. This thing was huge – it had to be a dinner plate sized thing. Fortunately they also offered “half Effie Burgers”. We each ordered a half burger, and I was hoping I was ordering from Effie, but it turned out it was Connie. She owned the place, I could see her name on the license. She apparently walked right off the set of the old Dick Van Dyke show, about as tall as a fire-plug and complete with Rosemarie hairdo and Laura Petrie capri pants. I overheard her age – approximately anyway, she said she didn’t need to sign up for Medicare for a few years. The burgers were fantastic, and she was happy we said so. We again had to tell her, and most of the people at the lunch counter about the trip, and how we were on the tail end of it. It’s amazing the number of people we run into who get that wistful look in their eye, and who have rarely been more than 200 miles from where they are sitting. We are indeed fortunate to be able to travel as we have.

It had warmed up to 85 so we changed out of our jackets and into sleeveless shirts and pulled out and back onto US-12 West, and crossed the Snake River into Washington. Home. Our license plates on the bikes were no longer out of place. And gas was still over $4 a gallon. We were most definitely home! It was interesting to note that places like Key West had cheaper gas than Washington where we have refineries and no transportation costs. Go figure.

Roaring down US-12 towards Walla Walla and Pasco we passed through what is known as the Pallouse. It’s a huge wheat growing area of Washington, and perhaps the nicest scenery of the day. Rolling hills of dry farmed wheat and small groves of trees, red barns and small grain elevators. The first crop had been harvested and the stubble was still not plowed under, and the next crop was ripening nicely, so as far as you could see were golden fields of grain. One of my favorite artists is a guy named Z.Z. Wei, and he paints the most magnificent paintings of the Palllouse. Compare his painting to the actual and you'll see.
We zipped through Walla Walla and into Pasco for the night – traveling some 369 miles today. It was a nice relaxing day as a road trip should be. Tomorrow we’ll continue further west on US-12 until it ends and actually hit the coast of Washington at Gray’s Harbor, and then Monday morning motor out to Neah Bay – the far northwest corner of the Olympic Peninsula, and then home to Seattle. We’ve lost track of the days of the week, and when retelling our trip to folks, we have to say, “when we were in Indiana – what, 8 days ago?” and things like that. I have to confess as well that as we pulled into Lewiston, Idaho, we passed a junction for US-95 South – which goes south through Idaho, and into Nevada and Arizona, and a road I took back in May on a solo bike trip, I got to thinking, Hmmm, maybe we don’t need to go home after all.

Corner To Corner - Chapter 12, My God Montana is a Big State

Mile marker numbers start at 0 on the west and south ends of states, and get larger as you go north or east. When one is traveling across a state, east to west like we are, you can see how far you have to go just by reading the mile markers. Montana is a freakingly large state. When we got onto 1-90 yesterday at Crow Agency, MT, southeast of Billings, the mile markers on I-90 were in the 500s. And although we didn’t travel much of the Interstate on Friday, we are still in the 100s in Missoula. This state just never ends.

It was cool when we left Billings – I had on a long-sleeve t-shirt for the first time this trip. However, once again the sun was shining and not a cloud in the sky. We headed north on MT-3 to where it picked up US-12 West. As is usual in these sparsely populated areas there was little or no traffic. I was able to put my feet up on the travel pegs, stretch out and enjoy the sun shining on me. Going up hills on straight runs at 65 mph or around gradual curves with my feet out and arms up, it almost feels like flying as you bank into a gradual curve, or climb up into the sky. A lot of riders like tight quick curves, and they too are fun, but these long gradual curves where you can lean into them, stretched out like an eagle flying are what I really love. In fact a couple of times I got so lost in it I actually lost sight of Tony (and his buddy Sturge) behind me.

In Montana, the American Legion puts up a marker wherever someone has died along the road. They are small white crosses, and judging from the number we saw, both on US-12 and on other roads when we were here two years ago, Montana appears to have a disproportionately high number of highway fatalities. It’s actually kind of creepy to see these markers all up and down the road.

At one point US-12 merges with US-89 – and I had a chance to have the same moment Tony had back in Michigan when we were on US-41 and US-2. US-89 is the main street in my home town of Salt Lake City, and it also is the main street where I spent a number of years, Tempe, Arizona. US-12 heads back to Seattle. It’s one of those crossroads in life that appear on the horizon, quite literally in our case on this trip, and I think it makes for a great visual.

You have a lot of time to think and contemplate while riding a motorcycle, and my mind tends to be all over the map, from work and relationship problems, to song lyrics, to philosophy, to curiosity, to contemplating how life has changed over the years. Take for example bales of hay. Huh? Bales of hay? When I was a kid we’d go visit my uncle Ted on his dairy farm in Southeast Idaho. I was – and still am – fascinated by farm machinery, and how much like Rube Goldberg contraptions they tend to be. Its one of the reasons we stopped at the Farm museum back in Minnesota. Anyway, one of the cool machines Uncle Ted had was a hay bailer. It scooped up the hay, compressed it into blocks, bound it up, and spit them out the back like a Pez candy dispenser. Rows of perfect little green blocks that ripened in the sun into yellow hay bales, which then got stacked into building sized piles. This was the ONLY field we saw this trip with normal hay bales.

Apparently now days however, bales are made into huge minivan sized round balls. These things don’t stack into nice haystack sized things, and they are so massive you have to have a forklift to move them. All these hundreds of miles we’ve traveled in farm and ranch country in Minnesota, South Dakota, and Montana, only once have I seen the square hay bales – and everywhere else it’s been field after field of minivan sized round balls. The sad thing is that the farm boys won’t build up nice muscles tossing square ones around anymore. What a shame.

We kept heading west on US-12, and of course passing what seemed like hundreds of bikers headed east to Sturgis, which gets rolling officially today. At one point we were riding through a hay field and ran into a cloud of grasshoppers. These little monsters HURT at 60 mph, and they make a big mess on the bike and on me – it felt like I was getting shot by a bunch of bb’s, and by the time we got to Missoula they were stuck in every crevice of my bike and we had to go spray it off at a car wash. Tony, in the Geezer Glide, with all it’s faring did better – all that plastic blocked then from hitting him, but his bike was plastered as well.

We started to get hungry as we were pulling into Helena, and Tony and Sturge pulled along side to ask where we should eat. I did my hand signal of making a swirly motion on top of my head which is Gary’s universal sign for “small drive in with a vanilla soft serve cone on top”. Tony just rolled his eyes, but I had another thing planned as a surprise. Tony’s buddies in Minneapolis have been raving about a regional chain called Taco Johns, and I had seen a billboard for one outside of Helena. Tony lit up when I signaled and pulled into the Taco Johns and couldn’t wait to get in. To me it was the same as any chain taco joint – just OK, but he was a happy guy.

Wile we were sitting there I was contemplating our route and what to do. We still had many hundreds of miles to get out of Montana, and we had wanted to complete the ride on Sunday. The more I looked at the map, the more I saw how far we had to go, and more importantly the distance between towns with hotels. We had a couple of options at this point, neither of which we really liked. We could stay on I-90 and blast to Idaho and maybe as far as Spokane, or we could take US-12 and try to get to Lewiston, ID. Both of those options would involve almost 600 mile days, and we were just barely at 250 miles at that point. We would be riding well into the evening. We had to make our mind up at Missoula where the roads diverged. While we were eating a fellow diner who over heard us talking told us we needed to stop by the “Testicle Festival” up the road. He said some “Hells Angels” were there, but we should have fun anyway. Eating castrated calf testicles with Hells Angels – hmmm, sounds like fun in my book. Neither of us thought twice when we passed the billboard at the exit for the festival.

We rode West out of Helena and US-12 merged with I-90 again for 70 miles into Missoula. As we merged onto the freeway it was hot, and we faced into a strong head wind. In addition there were lots of trucks, and truck ruts on the road, and more than a few hundred bikers headed east. Getting buffeted by high winds, dodging 75 mph traffic on an Interstate, and realizing we’d be on this for some time was not a pleasant thought. I remembered as well what has become my “Prime Directive” if you will. We ride on the road to HAVE a good time, not to MAKE good time. Yes, we wanted to get Neah Bay on the other corner on Sunday. But in order to do that we’d have to sacrifice the enjoyment of the road trip itself – which is why we are on it. I realized then that we could call the kennel, have the dogs stay another day, and finish the ride on Monday. We could stop in Missoula for the night having done 356 miles. We’ll do another 300-400 on Saturday, taking US-12 which we haven’t done and ending up in Washington somewhere, then another 300-400 on Sunday, getting us to the Washington coast That way on Monday we finish it by riding up to Neah Bay, and then back to Seattle.

So, that’s what we’ll do. We will be on the road an extra day, and that’s a good thing. Never forget the Prime Directive of a Road Trip. Travel on the road to have a good time – not to make good time.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Corner To Corner - Chatper 11, The Wild Wild West

Another warm and sunny day this morning as we loaded up outside the Holiday Inn in Sturgis. We wore our “biker” ripped off sleeve button up shirts we bought yesterday for the ride out, after making one last loop through the Sturgis Main Street. Loading up the bikes every morning is a little ritual – hauling the suitcases downstairs, strapping them to the bike, putting my note-pad and pen to take notes with and my I-Pod in the tank bra, taping up my directions on the yellow sticky note, and spraying on sun-screen, strapping the helmet on, and so on. Tony and I do our glove touch and roll out.

After our detour down Main Street one last time, we headed West on SD-34. More and more bikers came in, and we passed an endless stream of them on the road headed towards Sturgis. I realized we have to come back and spend some more time as. As it gets closer to the rally starting, more vendors are arriving and setting up. One we saw setting up this morning was doing trike conversions on Honda Goldwings. Tony said "hell, might as well add a fourth wheel and call it a Civic". Everyone we talk to says we should come early and leave early before the crowds, which sounds like a plan to me for next year.

We headed up into the Black Hills on SD-34 towards the town of Belle Fourche. This town has intrigued me for quite some time. One of my favorite movies is “The Cowboys” one of John Wayne’s last movies. If you recall the movie, there are no cowboys to take the cattle to market, so John Wayne hires out the school kids – all 12 years old or so. He gets killed along the way and the cattle stolen and the boys become men by rounding them up and killing the guys who stole the cattle and then driving them into Belle Fourche. So for that reason, plus it sounds somewhat “romantic” in an old-west kind of way, so I wanted to see it. It was a small, charming town, with a lot of old west flavor still, and a rail-head with a large cattle lot – and to this day it’s used just like it was 100 years ago when the movie was set.

I got Tony a little biker bear that rides on his windshield as we left this morning -- its our 12th anniversary and this guy will keep him company on the long stretches as we head home. We turned west on US-212, which cut across the corner of Wyoming. As soon as we crossed the Wyoming line I felt I was getting closer to home – though not “home” as in Seattle. I grew up in Salt Lake City, and we spent a lot of time in Wyoming when I was younger – although it was the opposite corner the Southwest one. Still I was in Wyoming and that means we’ve come a long way from Florida and are getting closer to home.

One thing about the far west, the towns are a hell of a lot further apart. Even in sparsely populated South Dakota, we had small farm towns every 25 miles or so. In Wyoming and Montana, it’s more like 80! You go long long long stretches without passing a single car, or even a farm house. Somewhere in the middle of the Powder River Valley in the SE corner of Montana we stopped at the only town we’d come across, Broadus, MT, and the only gas station to fill up and get a drink.

As we were filling up a group of riders headed towards Sturgis pulled in. By coincidence they were members of a Harley Owners Group Chapter that’s affiliated with the Marysville HD Dealer. Small world. We chatted for a bit, and as we were wearing our Sturgis shirts they asked how it was and this was their first trip. Since we have been we are no longer Sturgis virgins so we could fill them in (like we know anything, but I guess we looked like grizzled veteran bikers). They were all excited to go, until I asked them where they were staying and they answered “we don’t know we’ll figure it out when we get there.” I guess I had a look on my face as they said, “you don’t think that’s a problem do you?” Lets see, 10,000 bikers invading a town and you don’t have a hotel reservation. Yeah, I think so. We quickly gave them the number to the Holiday Inn Express we stayed as as they had mentioned they had some cancellations and told them to get on their cell phone now. As we pulled out we could see them huddled around one guy who was on the phone – lets hope they got something.

A bit further West on US-212 we ran into every biker’s nightmare. Road construction. Miles of it. It appears they were widening and repaving the highway, and it involved us riding for about 9 miles on dirt and gravel – very slowly – and waiting for pilot cars in the heat. Fortunately the flagman walking the line said “why don’t you guys cut to the front of the line so when the pilot car gets here you don’t have to wait behind all these trucks.” Needless to say we jumped at the chance. I don’t know why they needed to widen the road though – we maybe passed 10 cars in 50 miles – there just ain’t a lot of traffic out here.
It had started to get a bit hot and dusty as we rode across the Crow Reservation, so we stopped at a small town with a great Indian name – Lame Deer. There were two restaurants – one a bar with a sign that said Welcome Bikers, and had about 6 bikes in front, and the other, a café that said “Shakes”. We opted for “Shakes”, and were sorely disappointed that their ice cream machine was broken. This was also a local gathering spot, and the food was good, so we didn’t mind.

Unfortunately US-212 merges with the dreaded Interstate 90 at Crow Agency, Montana – where Custer’s Last Stand was fought. I felt like I’d been over-run as well having to get on the Interstate, but we had no choice. It also seemed like the rest of the biker world was headed to Sturgis while we were headed in the opposite direction. I’ve never seen so many bikes headed east on the freeway and on US-212. We didn’t pass a single bike headed West. In a way it makes me wish we were headed back that way. Fortunately it was only 60 miles to Billings, MT where we have camped out for the night.
Today was also about the last stretch of unknown road for us. Virtually all of the remaining route home is on roads we’ve ridden before. Indeed we are getting closer to home.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Corner To Corner - Chapter 10, STURGIS!!!!

Oh boy did it feel good to sleep in – and an extra hour too since Sturgis is on the Mountain Time Zone. We really are headed west, and it’s noticeable as we cross time zones now. Sturgis is like Mecca for bikers. All we’ve ever heard since we started riding was “are you going to Sturgis” “Have you been to Sturgis”, “When are you going to Sturgis?” And even though the rally hasn’t technically started, we are here now, along with thousands of other bikers. Good Lord I’ve never seen so many bikers in one place, and this is apparently just a drop in the bucket of what’s to come.

This small town is completely overrun by bikers in August every year, and the town turns into one huge motorcycle event. The vendors are already set up or in the process of setting up. I’ve never seen so many t-shirt vendors in my life. But along with the t-shirts, leathers, patches with cute, funny, and obscene sayings on them, and biker accessories galore, all the major accessory vendors and bike makers are here, along with the custom chopper crowd, and enough food vendors to make the Puyallup fair look small. The one thing they were lacking is Port-A-Potties. We were drinking quite a bit because of the heat and all that water and soda had to go somewhere. The vendors all told us they don’t put the Port-A-Potties out until later in the week when the crowds really get big, and so we had to keep ducking into bars to use the facilities.

Tony and I spent most of the morning wandering among the bike vendors and t-shirt shops. Yes we bought some, I’m not telling you how many, but suffice to say we have to ship some home. We bought some accessories for the bikes, and Tony splurged and got his Big Blue Bike all decked out with blue LED lights. Tom and Dwayne from American Custom Cycles in Houston did a fantastic job, and boy does it look cool! These guys came up from Texas and do the bike shows installing lights and air horns and such. They set up an outside garage next to their 5th Wheel trailer and go to work on bikes during the rally. It took about an hour to wire up Tony’s bikes with the lights, which are sure to be a head turner when we cruise Alki on summer evenings.

It’s was quite hot wandering around Main Street in Sturgis, but getting on the bikes felt good after we started moving. Bikes and bikers as far as the eye can see. I kept getting hit on by girls too – who’d ask me if I was here with my wife or girlfriend, and I learned to reply, “now why would I bring my wife OR my girlfriend here – I couldn’t have any fun”.

We let it cool off a bit by relaxing around the hotel pool, and about 3pm decided to head out for a ride up to the Crazy Horse memorial and Mt. Rushmore. I have to say the Black Hills of South Dakota are really something. It was cool, the air smelled of pine, and the roads twisty. We went on a nice loop up through Deadwood and Hill City on US 14 and US 385. Deadwood and Hill City were nice old mining towns now turned gambling towns, and the bikers were everywhere, lining the streets and riding the highways. A car was indeed a rare sight.

The Crazy Horse memorial was amazing, and the scale is hard to contemplate. It is no where near being done, and my bet is that it never will be. When you compare it to Mt. Rushmore the size becomes evident. The head of Crazy Horse alone is as big as the four heads of Mt. Rushmore.

The loop was about 150 miles, and we rode it without helmets. My mother is going to have a conniption fit at that, but you know there was NO ONE riding with a helmet anywhere. We’d have been the only ones. (Yeah, I can hear it now, “and if everyone jumped off a cliff would you too?”) Nonetheless it was a bit un-nerving and not something we’ll do on a regular basis. But I have to confess it sure felt nice.

Riding down Sturgis’ Main Street at dusk with Tony’s blue lights was cool, and the town is up and partying for some time. I imagine this place becomes quite the zoo in a few days when the rally really gets going. I’m almost wishing we could stay, despite how I hate crowds. We rode past the shop where Tony got his lights done and told them all the positive comments we were getting -- and it made me want them on mine. So at midnight, these guys put the Dyna up on the lift and outfitted it with some hot red LED lights. Tony has his blue, I have my red, and we'll be the hit of Alki on summer evenings!
Tomorrow we’ll head out, maybe find some time to swing by Devils Tower before we head northwest into Montana and Billings or beyond.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Corner To Corner - Chapter 9, Conversations With Dusty

Does it count on the Corner To Corner Ride that I didn’t ride the motorcycle 129 miles today, yet the motorcycle and I are in Sturgis, South Dakota as is Tony who rode 345 miles, while I only rode 216 on the bike and for 129 miles the bike and I rode with Dusty in the tow truck? Do I still get credit?

Harley Roadside Assist sent over a very talented young tow truck driver named Dusty, who was able to get the bike up on the flatbed with no problems. He and I set out in the truck for the 129 miles to Pierre, while Tony rode behind on the Geezer Glide. There was a fair amount of road construction over dirt roads which were rough in the tow truck, and I could hear Tony cussing at it from 100 yard behind. It took us two hours to get to Pierre in the tow truck, and Dusty asked about the ride, and was a bit wistful since he said he’s never been out of the Midwest. He’s 27, and this is his family business – along with his Dad and brother. He was born and raised in Huron, and bought his first house – a 2200 square foot place on a quarter of an acre for $60,000! Needless to say he was shocked at Seattle housing prices. Huron is the pheasant hunting capitol of South Dakota, and Dusty says they experience an invasion of hunters every fall. About that time a pheasant flew out of the ditch and about knocked Tony off the bike! And of course they have that huge pheasant statute in the entrance to town. We talked of farms and crops and how they tow big implements out of the field when they get stuck. Dusty had more than a few stores of wrecks, and trucks plowing into wandering cattle and such.

He asked me if he had a few days to drive and see some scenery where should he go? I said “Go West”. Head up to Montana – see some mountains. He’d been to Detroit to see an old High School buddy and hated it, but he seemed intrigued about Seattle and why I loved it so much.

The two hours flew by, and we pulled up to the Harley Dealer in Pierre at noon. Dusty got the bike down and pushed into the dealer, where they tinkered with it and Tony and I went to the Longbranch Saloon for lunch (no Miss Kitty or Marshall Dillon). It was very hot in Pierre, almost 100, an we were feeling it when we walked back to the dealer. They hadn’t figured out what was wrong yet, so we sat, and we sat, and we sat, and we napped, and we sat some more. About 4pm they said that they had gotten it to act up once, but had not been able to get it to do it again – and they had tested and probed and run everything and couldn’t figure out what the problem was, and that it had started 15 times in a row with no problem. They charged me $60 and sent me on my way.

Our goal was to be in Sturgis tonite and spend a day here before the big Black Hills Motorcycle Rally starts later this week. In order to get their quick, and be along a well traveled route incase the bike acted up again, we decided, much to my dismay, to take I-90. It’s 225 miles to Sturgis via the freeway, and at 4pm in the afternoon heat, just a ton of fun. The freeway cuts like a knife through the prairie – and through my heart. It was long, straight, hot, and full of trucks. It didn’t move with the land, pierced it like an arrow. I would have rather continued on US-14 and SD-34 the back way through the Black Hills and taken the back way, but we thought it was wise to stick to the well traveled road. As it was the bike behaved and we had no problems.

South Dakota has a 75 mph speed limit on the freeway, and at that speed you get a lot of wind noise. I’ve been riding some with my I-pod, but with that much wind noise you have to have LOUD music on to overcome it. I had a playlist of what people my age consider rock and roll – things like the Eagles, Marshall Tucker Band, Styx etc. This playlist I had labeled “Fast Ski Songs”, for songs that I like to listen to while skiing fast. Apparently there are also a few show tunes and movie tunes on here – including songs from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. So picture it – I’m riding along, feet out on the travel pegs – arms level on the ape-hanger handle bars, arms very tan and muscles bulging from having to hang on at 75 mph, a glare on my face, doing a little seat dance, and foot tapping, and looking like a weathered grizzled old biker – singing along with the I-pod “I’m just a sweet transvestite, from transsexual, Transelvania…” No wonder the truckers were giving me odd looks.

So, despite singing along to Rocky Horror and a few other oddities, the time passed very slowly on the ride up I-90. The country was interesting – grasslands as far as the eye could see, and I felt like I was riding through the set of “Dances With Wolves”. Apparently Lady Bird Johnson didn’t remember South Dakota when she had billboard taken down off the Interstates. This stretch is lined with them – all for upcoming tourist things. Places like Wall Drugs, Wonderland Cave, and Gator World. I imagine this is what the old Route 66 and other major roads looked like back in the day – and to be honest, I kind of liked it. It helped pass the time, and had we had some extra, we might have stopped in on a few of them just for the silliness factor.

As we got closer to Rapid City and Sturgis, the countryside changed from the grasslands to some very pretty hills and I’m looking forward to riding through them tomorrow as we explore the area, and take in the experience that is Sturgis. We went into town for dinner, and already the vendors are setting up and there are a lot of bikers in town early. We’ll avoid the crowd and still have some fun. By Friday this street will be lined with 10,000 bikes!
I-90 is right outside the door, and we could take it straight back to Seattle and be home in a day – but I’ll be damned if we will.