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Summer is over, time to reflect – Part I

September 4, 2015

NOTE:  This was going to be one post, but I just keep typing.  The two rides will be split into two posts for the sake of any poor sap that starts to read this and then realizes that I just keep going on, and on, and on…

Wow, I knew it had been a while since I wrote up my last post here, but almost three months?  That, in my book, is too long.  I will say that it has been a busy summer.  Most of my days off were consumed by large-scale family events/projects.  My last set of days off, however, was pretty much all about riding.  Two bikes, two different rides, two different riding partners, eight states, and one injustice set straight (more about this in Part II).

The two rides consisted of a ride around the Black Hills with my wife on our Gold Wing, and a 36 hour/1632 miles rally called the Menage-a-Trois Rally with my brother on the FJR.  I believe I have mentioned it before.

Blsck-Hills-SignFirst was the Black Hills ride.  This ride came about somewhat unexpectedly.  My wife had mentioned that we should take a ride on the Gold Wing this summer – several times.  Finding the time was the tough part.  It looked like we had a weekend free in August so my wife, once again, mentioned a ride.  This time she had details and a destination in mind – the Black Hills in South Dakota.  Don’t get me wrong, here, I am always willing to go on a ride with her.  I was just a bit surprised that she seemed excited to go on a four day ride.  I didn’t argue.

The plan was to ride up to Gillette, Wyoming the first day, spend the second day playing around the Black Hills before spending the night in Deadwood, South Dakota, visit Devil’s Tower before spending the third day heading back to Gillette for the night again, and then head back home on the fourth day.  The trip went largely as planned, though Devil’s Tower was replaced by an air show at Ellsworth Air Force Base featuring the Thunderbirds.  I currently owe my wife a trip to Devil’s Tower.

Days one and four were pretty much travel days, with nothing exciting going on other than riding, so other than to say that day one was hot and day four was cold, I won’t say much about them.  Day two, the trip to, and around, the Black Hills was also quite warm.  We left Gillette at a reasonable time in the morning (that means we didn’t get up at some God-awful time in the morning, and I wasn’t chomping at the bit waiting on anybody else before we could leave) and headed east through Moorcroft and Newcastle, Wyoming to Custer, South Dakota.  In general, that portion of the trip was as dull as most riding is in Wyoming.  Yes, I know that there are parts of Wyoming that are great to ride through, but by no means should any of you that have never been to Wyoming believe, not even for a second, that the entire state is awesome, beautiful, or even scenic.  Just… Don’t…

16A-OverpassA quick side note.  The Black Hills are in southwest South Dakota.  Within the Black Hills are Mount Rushmore, Black Hills National Forest, Custer State Park, and a few other areas that are much more scenic than the adjacent areas in Wyoming.  Also in the Black Hills is a road called U.S. Route 16A, a great road to ride a motorcycle on due to all of the twists, turns, tunnels, switchbacks, and pigtail thingies where the road circles around to go over (or under) itself.  At this point I was going to put in an image that I was about to shamelessly steal from another website, but the site had several good pictures of the area so instead I will post a picture that my wife took and also put up a link to that page, instead.  Please visit Dakotagraph.com to see some other great pics of the area.

Crazy-Horse-DuetUh oh.  It looks as though I have jumped ahead of myself (Sherman, set the Wayback Machine to earlier in that day).

OK, here we are.  The first notable stop in the Black Hills was at the Chief Crazy Horse Memorial, a couple of miles north of Custer, South Dakota.  I have been to this memorial before, but this was the first time for my wife.  While it is a neat place to stop, I doubt that many people plan to make this giant statue the cornerstone of their vacation.  In the picture to the left you can see a 1/34th scale representation of the memorial in the foreground while the actual sculpture is in the distance.  To be honest, I can’t see a difference between the way it looks now and the way it looked when I was there in 2008.

Burro-Blocking-TrafficWith the Crazy Horse Memorial now in the mirrors, we went back to Custer, turned left, and headed towards our next point of interest – the Custer State Park Wildlife Loop.  This stretch of road is exactly what it sounds like, a loop of road with a high possibility of seeing wildlife – and wildlife we saw.  I’m not talking about bunnies and prairie dogs here, though there are both plentiful there.  On the other hand, I’m not talking about lions, tigers, and bears either, though we were told that bears are in the area.  The wildlife we went to see, and did see, were bison (buffalo, and tatanka for you Dances with Wolves fans).  Custer State Park goes to great lengths to ensure that people visiting the Wildlife Loop know that the animals in the park are wild.  Visitors are warned NOT to feed, touch, or even approach the animals.  Apparently, the park officials forgot to tell the wild (feral, actually) burros, whose main goal in life seems to be to mooch food from visitors – and get their noses rubbed.  From what we saw, they love that…  They also really seem to enjoy loitering in the middle of the road and causing traffic to wait on them.

Wildlife-Loop-Bison The traffic finally made its way around the amazing wild (but still begging) burros, we continued down the Wildlife Loop, and we finally found a herd of bison.  In order to get a closer look at the bison we had to take the Gold Wing on a well maintained dirt road.  If you clicked on the link I provided for the Wildlife Loop, you can see that bison are large, and not afraid to hang out in and around traffic.  Simply put, cars don’t scare, or even intimidate these large critters.  I’m going to go out on a limb and say that these are the animals the park officials warned us about.  We weren’t the only vehicles that detoured onto the dirt to see the bison.  We were, however, the only vehicle that didn’t have two or four  metal doors, as well as windows and a roof to protect the occupants.  I was OK with this.  My wife, not so much.  We had to ride within a few feet of a couple of the bison, and then do it again after we turned around to leave the area.  As we slowly (due to traffic, but still too slowly according to my wife) rolled past the herd my wife took the picture on the left.  No zoom here, we were within six feet of the critter.  This was the only herd of bison that we saw.   We didn’t see any bears, either.  Later in the day we did see a couple of mountain goats along the side of the road, though.

Moving on past the wildlife loop we took the ride up U.S. Route 16A, also called Iron Mountain Road.  I covered that above, so I will just gloss over it now.  The ride was great, scenery beautiful, and we (my wife and I, riding together on our Geezer Glide) were able to push two guys in the curves after they blew by us on a straight section of road.  Anybody can ride fast and loud on a straight road, as these two road pirates demonstrated.  Once the road veered (a lot), either lack of skill or lack of maneuverability caused them to slow WAY down and they ended up holding us back, too (I hate that), though they would pull away when the road straightened out.  At some point I found my inner Zen and slowed down enough to let them pull ahead and out of view.  At two other points I had to look for that Zen as well.  In retrospect, if that’s the biggest thing I had to complain about on the trip then it was a pretty good trip.

Mt-Rushmore-FlagsThe fun road behind us, we motored on to Mount Rushmore.  This was one of the primary destinations of this trip.  It’s not real exciting to watch because Mount Rushmore is a fairly static display.  I’m sure it has something to do with the whole etched-in-stone thing.  Anyway, the park was full of the obligatory visitors, complete with unruly kids, bus tours full of foreigners wondering who these guys are, an annoying know-it-all that won’t stop spouting off trivia to annoyed listeners (wait, that was me – never mind) and, worst of all, people with selfie-sticks.  If you look hard you can actually see Teddy Roosevelt scowling over the use these new-fangled banes of society.  As I was ranting about them, my wife told me that we actually have a selfie-stick in our house.  OUR HOUSE!!!  What is the world coming to?  Sorry, I need a moment…

OK.  I’m back.  After I recovered from the trauma of my wife’s admission we got back on the Gold Wing and worked our way to Deadwood, South Dakota.  We would spend the night there.  The ride to Deadwood was pleasant.  Not much traffic, good weather, and great company.  I don’t know if I have mentioned it before, but my wife and I have intercoms in our helmets that allow us to chat back and forth while we are riding.  This leads to some great conversations during the rides, and is much preferable to the old way of communicating – a hand smacking my helmet.  It’s even worse if I can’t differentiate between *Smack – look at that over there, and *SMACK – I have to pee, NOW!  I hated it when she had to repeat herself…  That’s all in the past.  We have intercoms, now, and when we aren’t talking we can listen to XM Radio if we want to.  Yeah, life is rough.

We spent the night at Cadillac Jack’s Casino.  The hotel was clean and comfortable and the food was quite tasty.  The casino was decent, though I’m not much of a gambler, so I’m not really an expert.  I was a bit annoyed that all of the penny slot machines were set to bet the maximum bet.  The fact that I both know this and am annoyed by it should give you an idea of what kind of gambler I am.

At some point during our stay in the hotel we heard that there was an air show at nearby Ellsworth Air Force Base, and that the U.S Air Force Thunderbirds would be performing.  Plans – sometimes they change.

Gold-Wing-Sturgis-SignAt the start of day three we left the casino a little earlier than we originally planned so we could get to the air show in time for me to wander around aimlessly for a while before the Thunderbirds started their show.  I can’t remember the last time I saw the Thunderbirds.  I know that I have seen them, but I can’t put a place and time on the last time.  If I had to guess I would have to say somewhere around 1981.  I grew up in an Air Force family, and air shows were a part of that life that I pretty much took for granted.  Once I left the Air Force fold, I’m not sure I ever made it to another air show, until this trip.

On the way to the air show we passed through Sturgis, South Dakota.  The rally had ended the week before, so while we had the chance to easily and quietly ride through (the now quite ordinary) town, we did.  The town looked almost deserted compared to some of the pictures that had come out of the rally this year.  No matter where we stopped, there were no lines to wait in.  I realize that we didn’t get full experience, but I’m OK with that.

Thunderbirds-Dakota-Thunder-2015The Thunderbirds put on a great show.  The sky was filled with smoke from fires in pretty much all of the northwestern states, as well as Canada.  The smoke didn’t stop the show, but it did keep the Thunderbirds from performing some of the vertically based maneuvers that I really enjoyed watching as a kid.  Still, I got to see the Thunderbirds and I was happy.  Due to the hour and a half that we spent waiting for the parking lot to clear after the show we had to postpone our side trip to Devil’s Tower until another trip.  I know my wife wanted to see Devil’s Tower, so thank you, Sweetie, for letting me see the Thunderbirds.  I owe you one.

We worked our way back to Gillette, and then back home the next day.  As I said, this is a boring stretch of road, so this is all you are going to get about it.  All told the ride covered just under 1,200 miles, a new record for my wife.  For the most part the weather was good.  Hot for the first three days, and cold and windy (at least in the morning) on the last day.  We hit a couple of quick rain storms on the second day, but it was so hot that the rain felt quite refreshing, so we didn’t bother to stop to put our rain gear on.

As much as I like to go on my ride-all-day-and-night rides, I actually enjoy riding with my wife more.  The rides are more interesting when I can share the whole experience with her.  Again, thanks, Sweetie!

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