On the Road: From Buffalo to Idaho and Back

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A beautiful vista at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. Motorycycle riding buddies Bill and Mike rode from Buffalo, NY, to Idaho and back in 14 days in June 2010, having fun and making memories all along the way.
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The Mitchell Corn Palace, Mitchell, SD.
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Mike in the morning.
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The trip begins.
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One-stop shopping.
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Prairie dogs at play in the Badlands.
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Approaching Mt. Rushmore.
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Badlands, SD.
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Badlands, SD.
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George Washington sweating.
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A big grizzly bear in Lincoln, MT.
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Larry's place in Seeley Lake, MT.
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Almost to Ft. Peck, MT.
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One-lane tunnel in South Dakota.
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Bison in Custer State Park, SD.
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The Bitterroot Mountains in Wyoming.
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Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
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The view from Signal Mountain in Grand Teton National Park.
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Another view from Signal Mountain in Grand Teton National Park.
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Riding along the Snake River in Wyoming.
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A waterfall in Yellowstone National Park.
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Man-made lake in Grand Teton National Park.
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The Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone National Park.
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1936 National Park Bus built by White Motor Co.
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We could have been dinner.
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Getting warmer in Wyoming.
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Cold weather in June.
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Evidence of a fire in Yellowstone National Park.
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Jones Pass, CO.
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Colter Bay Campground in Grand Teton National Park.
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Sunset behind a storm in Kansas.
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Storm cell in Kansas.
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Elk in Arkansas.
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Craig's Yamaha FJR1300.
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Cliffhouse lunch stop in Arkansas.
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The Crescent Inn in Eureka Springs, AR.
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A nation's worth of bugs.
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Downtown Eureka Springs, AR.
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One of the springs in Eureka Springs, AR.
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Don't wear torn jeans.

Editor’s note: The following story, submitted by Bill Hawley, is the first installment of a new feature called “On the Road.” Plain and simple, “On the Road” is an opportunity for motorcycle riders to become motorcycle writers, and share the stories and photos from their favorite motorcycle road trips.  If you’d like to submit a story and photos for consideration, just e-mail MC Associate Editor Landon Hall with the subject line “On the Road.”

Not so long ago I’d joke about how I could truly count my best friends on one hand and still have a free finger to salute all of them. 

My buddy Mike Wrobel and I lost a couple of good friends within the last year and a half or so. We were sitting around having a beer and pondering the tenuous hold we humans have on our mortal lives. As little as two years ago, the four of us were all riding buddies. There were three when Bob left us. Now, with Laureen gone, it was just us two. 

The great moto-journalist Peter Egan wrote a column a while back about how to plan a motorcycle road trip and actually do it. We all make grand plans, but life (or sometimes even death?) will get in the way and they’ll never really reach fruition. So this was our inspiration: “Who knows what tomorrow brings?” 

Right then and there we took the first and most important step: Set a date and stick to it. Let nothing else get in the way. Mike had changed jobs, but made it a prerequisite in accepting the new one that he’d need to have those two weeks off. They kindly acquiesced. Following our trip he gave a slideshow presentation to his office staff about our most recent adventure. He tells me that many of his coworkers are now considering a motorcycle for the first time in their lives. If nothing else, our lives now have real meaning, as we’ve done something good for mankind.

June 11, 2010
I arrived to work the morning of the trip with my “rusty but trusty” 1980 Suzuki GS750ET loaded for two weeks on the road. One of my coworkers asked me whose bike I was riding, as he didn’t even recognize it with all of the gear. It did look rather more like a pack animal than a motorcycle. Quitting time arrived  at 4 p.m. and Mike met me in the parking lot at about 4:01 on his similarly configured 2001 Suzuki Bandit 1200 and we left Buffalo, N.Y. immediately, giggling inside our helmets like a couple of Japanese schoolgirls. We’d actually made our escape. Our first planned stop was near Madison, WI, where we’d camp for the first time.

Nothing remarkable happened on the first leg from Buffalo heading west, apart from us happily arriving about 30 minutes late for two severe thunderstorms along the way. We’d dodged two bullets so far.

Gary, IN on the outskirts of Chicago is every bit as depressing as I remember it being. No wonder Ole Joe worked those Jackson boys so hard to get them the hell out of there –  as someone else once said: I don’t condone it, but I understand…

June 12, 2010
Chicago is known as the Windy City, but it really should be called Toll City, as there’s a booth about every 15 feet. OK, clearly I exaggerate… maybe 17 feet. I instantly regretted not getting an EZ Pass. Every automated booth I used has some sort of glitch or delay, or refuses to accept currency or a credit card. Why aren’t all tolls free to bikes anyway?

2 a.m. on a Saturday morning is apparently also Boy Racer time in Chicagoland. There’s lots of “Urban Yutes” on their Kawi’s, Arr Ones and Gixxers doing about 150 mph – all the while using the cagers and our two-wheeled pack mules as mobile chicanes. For a brief moment I long for my 675 Daytona that I left at home; and quickly remember that just because I’m an organ donor, it doesn’t mean I need to start now. I make a “note to self:” Must make an appointment to have that testosterone gland drained when I get back home.

We roll into our campground as planned, set up our tents and we sleep the sleep of the dead. A long work day, followed by a long night, and most of the next day riding before we’d stopped. But we had a good head start into our journey. We awoke to the sound of playful kids and lawn mowers. It seems the seasonal campers here all have their trailers set up just like miniature versions of their real homes in the subdivisions, complete with sheds for their riding mowers. It’s a bit like camping on someone’s lawn. Thankfully nobody had lawn jockeys, pink flamingos, fake deer or those shiny orbs on pedestals (gazing globes?). Or even worse: a religious shrine in an upended bathtub. Although that last bit may just be a “Buffalo thing.”

So off we went in search of a bar to have “a beer and a sandwich,” as it was well into the afternoon by the time we got packed up. Not two miles down the road we see a place with a PBR sign and a lot full of pickup trucks. That’s always a good sign.

The PS Pub in Wisconsin turned out to be a wonderful slice of Americana. It’s one of those places built around a time when Broderick Crawford and his 50’s Mercury were starring on TV in “Highway Patrol.”  And the place probably hasn’t changed much since then. Don’t misunderstand me now, as this is all a very good thing.  Many of the patrons seemed to be original to the place, too. They seemed keenly interested in our trip, and asked questions; quite a number of which were related to why we weren’t on Harleys (more like sincere puzzlement than blatant criticism or provincialism).

They welcomed us as one of their own and it was here where we first encountered a “casino” in an establishment. They even have penny slots, which oddly enough, cost at least $1 to play and they seem to be constantly selling tickets for all manner of on the spot raffles. One of the denizens enthusiastically suggested we “buy some tickets.”  When we asked what you win, she looked at us and slowly said, with a perfect poker face, “Well… if you win, you win… MEAT!”  Conveniently, we explained that we’d have no way to carry our winnings and judging by the considerable force of gravity being exerted on some of the bar patrons, we quickly surmised that it would be no small amount of “meat” to be won here. We did, however, get into the “money raffle” mere minutes later – which (of course) we didn’t win.  But we DID enjoy a Spotted Cow, which is a very nice product of the nearby New Glarus brewery. Never did get the sandwich. Just a perfectly cooked frozen pizza served up on a lovely cardboard serving tray; with the ubiquitous “sprinkle cheese” and crushed red pepper on the side to “jazz it up some.” We decided that the application of these condiments didn’t actually improve, or even really change the flavor of the pie. But they did make you think they changed the flavor of the pie, and thus, made for an overall better culinary experience. With this epiphany, we decided we’d better get going, as it’d be way too easy to just live here (like Peter Egan does, but oddly, nobody at The PS Pub knows who Peter Egan is). I decided Wisconsin is pretty much just like Buffalo, but with a few more cows.

Behind schedule (not that we really had one), we left the cheeseheads and headed off for Minnesota. We crossed the Mississippi River and, as evening fell, stopped for fuel and asked about a place to grab a beer and a sandwich. Are you sensing a pattern here? A young lady pointed to a place across the street from the gas station, but also mentioned another place “a few miles down the road.”  We inquired as to which was better, and she opined, “the other place.”  Mike blasted off into the lead, and into the darkness, and… completely blew past the turn.

We eventually turned around and figured: “Now we HAVE to go to this place.”  Not to do so would mean that we’d just wasted more time and miles. We turned at the “Welcome to Dover” sign, and started looking for anything that looked like a business district. 

Residential streets, all four of them or so, and all with not a soul in sight.  We went over a block, and then down what looked like a blind turn, where we found downtown Dover in all its glory. Maybe eight buildings, two of which were bars on opposite sides of Main St. One was really noisy with a “Welcome Bikers” sign, and a bunch of young people outside it. Guess where we went. 

I was a little apprehensive, thinking I didn’t want to be one of the “two old guys creeping out the kids.” No worries. In minutes, we were like the Allies liberating France. A crowd soon formed outside the bar around our bikes, and we were peppered with questions like: ‘How in hell did you guys end up in DOVER?’ To which we lied: “Everyone we met said this is where the party is!” One young man saw our New York tags and said (no kidding!): ‘Ohhhh… You guys are from NEW YORK???? TELL US ABOUT IT!!!! ‘Cos we’re like…from MINN-E-SOT-A, man!”  It took us a couple of minutes to explain that we were from the normal part of New York State. Buffalo is more like the first city in the Midwest than a place that spawned a couple of dazzling urbanites from the Big Apple. Once more, we’d found a place where we could’ve spent all night, but the free buffet ended at 9, we’d missed it, and the kitchen was closed. We had a quick beer and listened to some pretty good karaoke (which always got a big round of applause) and then we headed outside. One of the guys was really checking out my bike, and asked what year it was. I told him it’s a 1980. He said to his buddy “See? I told you it was really old.” Another then went on to list all the bikes he’d had and the Gold Wing he has now, which is the only bike he’d even consider touring on. “A 750 is waaaay too small.” I asked him and his absolutely stunningly beautiful blonde companion if they had done any touring. She explained that he never takes her anywhere on the bike. Before leaving, I mentioned to him that he really should take her on a nice trip (as I was thinking: before someone else offers to). The little wink she gave me just then is burned into my memory like my own first name. I know she was only a 1 year old when my GS was new, and I’m probably older than her Dad. But my point here is: I’m NOT her Dad.  If I was single, and twenty years younger, that luggage would’ve gone right onto the ground as she went onto the back of my bike. Or so I’d have you believe as you join me vicariously in my fantasy world…

(Smoke break)

Where was I? Oh yes, back on the road again.

Two hours into the trip from Dover to Wall, SD, things began to deteriorate. The rain that we’d so far avoided began in earnest (and it seemed, everywhere else too. Sorry, but I couldn’t resist.)  It was extremely dark and the highway markings were old and faded, with no reflectors, which always help somewhat when driving in a driving rain. So maybe they do spend a few of our tax dollars on the roads in New York.

Oh well, deal with it. But then the fog rolled in; a really thick fog. And with it, much colder air. I began to see pieces of meat on the sides of the road. And then actual, still living, animals in the median. I suppose they were considering taking a chance on getting across to look for some sort of shelter. I realized that I was going “too fast for the conditions,” and as Mike’s tail light got smaller, I surmised he probably was too, even with his far better lighting (man, those PIAA’s are like the sun). Since we seemed to have roughly the same range between fuel stops, I figured we’d meet up at the exit nearest the 125-130 mile mark on this tank. Sure enough, there was Mike on the side of the off ramp. We topped off and went to a Perkins for some food and to try to dry off. Enough was enough, on this road on this night. We both decided that we should break down and get a room.

June 13, 2010
The room was a good call. As it turns out, the Interstate was washed out further ahead in a few places, and they’d closed it. We’d have been forced to sit in the middle of exactly NOWHERE and wait it out. We saw the evidence the as we rode through. The water level on both sides had raised high enough to cover the Interstate in several places leaving a muddy residue where it had been. Record rains had saturated the soil to the point that it had no place to go. Not an auspicious beginning to our trip. The weather map on the motel room TV looked like a giant cloud covering all of the USA; all except Dover, MN oddly enough.

OK, I’m kidding about that last part.

Leaving the motel in the morning, I was marveling at a Sinclair sign on a still operational gas station. I hadn’t seen a Sinclair dinosaur since they closed the station next door, when I was just a kid. I thought it was as dead an enterprise as the big green dino on the sign. I mentioned this to the lady loading the minivan in the parking lot, and as it happened, she actually owns a few Sinclair stations; and told me they’re still headquartered in Utah. Hmm, small world… or big people. It’s somehow reassuring to me to know that Sinclair’s still part of the American landscape after all, just perhaps a somewhat smaller part of it now than it used to be. We saw ’em all over the place after that day. Still, how is it that all gas stations used to have uniformed attendants to wash your windshield and check your oil, and now most of their employees wouldn’t even know how to open your hood? They used to have free maps, but now charge .35 for a cup of ice, and water’s more on top of that. What has happened to us as a people? …Oh my God. I’m turning into my old man… HEY, YOU KIDS – GET OFF MY LAWN!

Somewhere in here, a quick stop for breakfast at a Cracker Barrel had seen our first breakdown. It actually took longer to get the gear off Mike’s Bandit than it did to solve the problem. We’d come out from breakfast and went to start the bikes. Mike had pushed the start button and nothing happened. We tried a quick push start with no results. Off went the gear and the seat. A quick check of the connections at the starter, battery and relay proved everything was snug, and the headlights were strong, so it must be the clutch or side stand switch. Sure enough, we jumped the open connection at the clutch handle interlock switch, then reloaded and were on our way.

We pressed on toward Wall, but had no choice but to stop in Mitchell, SD to see and be seen at the World’s Only Corn Palace. Hey, I’m not coming this far and not seeing the ‘Palace.’ To Hell with Mt. Rushmore, this is what this county’s really all about. Every year the people of Mitchell spend months producing a completely organic themed mural made entirely of asparagus…err…I mean CORN, and corn products (silk, stalk, etc), with which, skilled artisans cover the entire front of a huge theater style building. It really is remarkable and absolutely worth the trip. There’s a festival in August every year too, which one can only imagine is likely to be magnificent… as such festivals likely go.

I remember telling Mike that ideally, we’d find places where we could do our laundry every few days, and grab a beer and a bite while we waited for the clothes to dry. Ah, but Mitchell, SD takes it one step further. “Sudz” features a laundromat, a bar AND…wait for it… a casino! Only in America. Is it any wonder illegal aliens are sneaking in by the tens of thousands every year? What is a wonder to me is why this establishment is not franchised all across this great land of ours. Lose your shirt (or perhaps someone puked on it) while drinking and gambling? No problem, there’s probably a nice clean one spinning in a dryer next door.

But I digress.

The Badlands are exactly what you’ve heard, and unlike any other place on this Earth. It’s an utterly alien dreamscape. We only scratched the surface, riding through on the main road. Nestled on the other side of The Badlands is The Worlds Largest Prairie Dog. OK, so he’s not real, but they do have a bunch of real ones there (and a neat little gift shop). We dutifully took pictures and uttered noises like “Awww!” while looking at the furry little guys. We slid past Sturgis — what’s the big deal about this place anyway? —  and stopped at the SOB (St. Onge Bar) in St. Onge, just to absorb some ambiance. Yawn. OK, so now I’ve been there done that, and didn’t have to sit in traffic or even show anyone my boobies. The only thing missing was a few tens of thousands of loud pipes saving lives.

You may notice a sign or three (thousand) for a place called Wall Drug on your way to Wall, SD. You simply can’t NOT stop there. I dare you to try. If you like to shop, plan on spending a few days here. I personally do not, but was compelled to go into the place ANYWAY. Just one eensie beensie corner of it, but I actually bought some stuff; including a freshly made donut (or doughnut if you prefer). I watched it come right out of the deep fryer, into which they were adding a lard like substance to “keep her topped off” for the next batch. Since Buffalo has the largest per capita incidence of heart disease in the nation, and was, after all, the first U.S. city to have a Tim Horton’s franchise (if you’re not Canadian, you may not understand this), anything apparently being fried in animal fat which results in a product that’s either spicy, cheese filled, gravy covered, or wickedly sweet is what we Buffalonians would call a “staple food.” I had one with chocolate icing on it. Delicious. I’d have had two, but I’m a Type 2 diabetic after all; though I must admit that I usually put a little Frank’s hot sauce on my Metformin pills, just to make them taste a little better going down.

Rapid City was our next campsite. A terrific campground with a great view overlooking the city lights. We had our first campfire that night. The next day we went up to see Mt. Rushmore and drove the extra distance to see Crazy Horse, which is only a head right now. A local that we spoke with said that since it’s being funded solely through private donations, he expects it’ll take about 150 years to finish. Of course, it started to rain heavily again, and the fog rolled in again, so by the time we got there, it was utterly shrouded in fog, and we never did get to see it. I trust it’s there.

U.S. Route 16A is an absolutely amazing road in the Black Hills, with one lane tunnels and bridges called “pigtails.”  Built from wooden timbers supporting the roadway, they wind around just like spiral staircases. It’s something not to be missed if you’re ever in the area. The two-lane road actually splits into single lane paths through the woods in a few areas. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s just an incredible road, but probably much better in the dry. Both of us considered turning around and going back through it, but darkness was approaching and we needed to get back to the campsite and civilization (AKA: a cold beer and a warm fire).

June 14, 2010
The next morning, Mike had his first chance to try a Sonic restaurant for breakfast. One word to the wise touring motorcyclist: avoid eating hot peppers in your breakfast burritos, and ordering the breaded hot poppers as a side dish to compliment it – more on this later.

We also stopped by the Black Hills Gold factory outlet store. It turns out that the manager is an avid motorcyclist. He gave us some tips on the best routes to take when we got further up the road. In return, we both bought some swag for our women folk. We thought that’d help them feel a little better when the charge card statements with all the fuel stops came in.

We left South Dakota for Montana, grazing a corner of Wyoming on the way. I’d been told that this was a mind numbingly boring ride, but I found eastern Montana to be quite beautiful, with a variety of views. We actually caught a glimpse of the Canadian Rockies as we moved north to our next campsite in Fort Peck, MT. This is home to the world’s fifth largest water reservoir, thanks to a large earthen dam created by the Army Corps of Engineers. As an aside, we also passed Jordan, MT the reputed home of an outlaw militia which was alleged to have been Ted Kaczynski’s support crew. You remember the Unabomber, right? As we drove up the road leading to the ampground, we stopped for pictures at a roadside shelter with a picnic table under it. With those unrelenting black clouds looming closer, we briefly considered pulling the bikes in and just camping under the roof of the shelter. But nooooo. We had a reservation at the campground, and we were going to honor it. We’d “almost” finished setting up when it started to pour down a rain of Biblical proportion. I casually observed that, since we were in the downstream camping area, if a fissure developed in the earthen dam, we might at least have an elementary school or children’s day care center named after us; certainly not a high school or senior center, since we’re not mature enough for those. It’s at about this point that we took shelter in Mike’s tent, talking about the day’s ride. That’s also when the Revenge of the Hot Peppers (and whatever other demons those were) residing in Mike’s innards decided they needed to get out. Just moments later, after Mike muttered the words, “Oops, sorry. Oh man…wow…” I decided I needed to get out of the tent.

It takes quite a lot to drive an old man out into a torrential downpour with no rain gear, knowing full well that it’ll take at least a minute to get inside his own tent, but I didn’t hesitate for a moment. I was all “ass and elbows” sprinting for my tent. I think even the plentiful Fort Peck mosquitoes ran for their lives. Note to Mike: Next time, put Beano’s on your travel menu, pal.

June 15, 2010
We pressed onward the next morning with nothing dry, but full of expectations of getting to Glacier National Park and the Highway to the Sun. However, we found out that the road was impassable due to the eight feet of snow in May that still hadn’t been cleared, and the predicted high temp would be 37 degrees F. Instead, we decided to accept a gracious offer to stay a night with Larry, our late friend Bob’s brother in law, at his place near Missoula.

Time for another mechanical malady: You see, as the elevation increases going west, the long uphill sections of road do as well. Now, with the equivalent of a small village strapped to the back of a 31-year-old motorcycle that’s geared as tall as possible for the best mileage, this results in very large throttle openings. Suzuki employed this clever vacuum operated petcock, so you don’t have to remember to turn your fuel tap on or off like some Limey bike owner. Brilliant! Unfortunately, the 1980 Suzuki valve also has no “prime” or “reserve” setting (at least there’s no lever) on it. What’s the big deal, you say?

This can result in near zero engine vacuum being produced during extended nearly wide open throttle applications. The result is the engine literally draining the float bowls faster than the tank can provide more fuel. The net effect here being that you can “run out of gas” even at 85mph with a full tank. Very entertaining during a 700 mile day, as you might imagine. The temporary cure for this is to kneel down next to the bike ON THE TRAFFIC SIDE, pull the vacuum line off at the carb end, and suck repeatedly on it until enough fuel flows down to refill the float bowls. Then ride, repeat, ride, etc, ad infinitum.

Not only is this inconvenient, it’s quite undignified, as it gives the impression to passing motorists (which are mercifully few in Montana) that you are either worshipping an old Japanese motorcycle as some sort of idol or waiting for The Queen to come by and confer knighthood upon you. Or you’re just performing an unspeakable act upon the aforementioned motorcycle.

It was quickly determined that this could not reasonably continue in order for us to complete our trip as planned. Especially when the Rockies lay ahead, and one very pleasant and courteous Montana State patrol officer has already questioned your safety (and perhaps your sanity), as you shrug and assure him it’s not a problem, that you have the situation well in hand.

So, we proceeded to pull the fuel tank off after unloading all of the gear; all the while having a very nice conversation with the rancher upon whose land we’re disabled (who seems mostly amused at the old fossil working on the old fossil). I disassembled the petcock and removed the spring that normally holds the diaphragm closed in the absence of engine vacuum. Then, the fuel flowed freely (ie: mostly up my arms as I struggled to reconnect the fuel line to the spigot on the back side of the petcock). There. All better, sort of.

We continued on to Great Falls, MT and toward Larry’s place at Seeley Lake.

June 16, 2010
I resolved to get a proper shut off valve ASAP or I’d likely be going home via Greyhound. I tried to piece together something that would work at a NAPA store in Big Sandy, MT. While the guy there was very helpful, we ended up using brass fittings that were really for air line and built a contraption which was about 5 inches long and around $25. I figured I’d keep it in case I was pressed into using it, but thought I might do better down the road (and I did). Oh yes. One more point here. Never call your wife when you’re out west, and when she asks what you’re doing, cheerily reply: “I’m in Big Sandy.” It could lead to a serious and costly misunderstanding if she doesn’t realize that’s actually a place. Those nouns can be so confusing…person, place or thing.

We decide this too would be good night to get a motel, since I had no clean or dry clothes to change into. This is where we met Davidina, the proprietress of the Graystone Manor, and possible Mistress of the Dark. Elvira has nothing on this gal. The Graystone is newly reopened under her stewardship, and I suspect she had a heavy hand (emphasis on “heavy” here) in its décor. The best way I can describe the motif is Post Modern Industrialist Deconstructionism. Everything is either black or gray (stone), with primer, spot putty and grinding wheel marks on the doors — which (I think) is the intended permanent finish. It’s all very Goth (is that even still a current term?) as is Davidina her-own-self. She told us she’s a transplanted Californian (who knew?) and was named after her Father David. If you’re into this sort of style, you’ll love it. If you’re not, well just simply try to look past it. Davidina is actually quite a gracious hostess, the rooms are large, as are the beds and pillows, and everything is clean and functional – sometimes to a fault.

You each also get a free drink coupon to the City Casino just a few hundred feet up the road. This was the clincher in choosing lodging for the night, as you might also surmise given our travel habits to date.

Davidina provided us with directions to the laundromat a few blocks away, where Roger of the Falls Laundry very kindly stayed well after hours to allow us to finish laundering, drying and folding our clothes. He also swore an oath to never tell my wife Bonnie that I actually know how to do those things. With that out of the way, we headed back and parked the bikes for the night.

We each had at least two drinks at the City Casino, since it was within walking distance. This place is beautifully finished, with a lovely wooden bar, a very impressive and elaborate antique stove, and a fabulously photographed and displayed history dating back to the beginnings of the city. You really must stop in when you’re in the area.

June 17, 2010
Word to the wise, touring motorcyclist: When you clamp off your fuel line with a Vise Grip and it’s dark outside, always use a flashlight to make sure you fully pinched off the hose. If any part of it can still flow fuel, and you should have a leaky needle and seat in a carb, it will flood that cylinder and could hydro lock the engine, potentially damaging the engine (like a bent connecting rod). Fortunately, when I removed the Vise Grip the next morning and tried to start the engine, the starter clutch disengaged the starter when it met resistance. Oh boy.

I pulled the plugs and my long suffering friend Mike pushed me around the parking lot so I could carefully blow the gas out of the cylinders by releasing the clutch in 3rd or 4th gear. Only the No. 3 plug was wet with gas, so I reinstalled them and she fired right up with no terminal sounding noises. Of course, this made an oil change a big priority too, which we later accomplished at an auto parts place. Oh yes – -ne more thing: If you leave your room at the Graystone, you MUST take your key or you’ll be locked out of the place. I was warned of the security measures in place here, so it’s entirely my fault. The office doesn’t open ’till Noon (but is open ’till Midnight). Our room was on the second floor, and no number of little pebbles tossed at our room window could alert Mike to the fact that I was downstairs in the parking lot with no way back in. Somehow I managed to do this to myself not once, but twice (the previous day I tried to cheat and leave the stairwell outer door open while I was making trips in with my gear, but the alarm went off and I shut it quickly without thinking). 

During a pre-trip inspection, we’d also realized that Mike had overestimated his chain’s life expectancy. Steve’s Sports Center, also in Great Falls got Mike’s Bandit right in and put a new chain and sprockets on for him, and provided me with a $15 inline fuel shut off valve. They were also busy putting a clutch on a guy’s bike that was on his way down from Alaska. Seems he and his buddies were coming through Glacier, got stuck in some mud and he burned it up getting her out (I’m assuming his motorcycles’ gender here). I offered that it was a small price to pay; far better than being mistaken for a Meals-on-Wheels volunteer by the local wildlife. He had to agree with that logic. I then rode out to find a rain jacket, since Steve’s didn’t have anything in my size at the moment, and mine had literally torn to shreds coming through the wind and rain. Once I found myself a good rain jacket at the local big box sporting goods store, I was good to go; and of course, right on cue and true to form, as soon as I put it on over my now wet denim one, it stopped raining. We had lunch at a 4 B’s restaurant across from Steve’s while they buttoned up the Bandit, and quickly headed back out.

If you plan a trip like this, make sure you have quality gear that’s very versatile and packs small. You may need protection over nearly an eighty degree temperature range, as we had.

June 18, 2010
We finally made it to Larry’s house the next afternoon. We’d called him and told him we were going to push on and get there late, but he’d suggested waiting until morning to make the final ride in. We just assumed he figured we were a couple of flatlanders that couldn’t drive mountain roads at night, but it turned out to be sage advice indeed, and I’m very glad we took it. Montana has these white wooden crosses on the roadsides where people have died in motor vehicle accidents. Rogers Pass has them almost like a picket fence, with seven of them in one spot. Rogers Pass was just about freezing and actually lightly snowing and sleeting, and after crossing, we stopped at the Ranger’s station in Lincoln, MT to let our fingers thaw out. This leg was definitely the hardest part of our trip, with 40 – 50 mph crosswinds all the way. It seemed like we were leaned over about 45 degrees even going straight. The Ranger said he’d never seen so many colors on the weather radar in his entire career, which surely had to be decades long. It was still only 36 degrees at the Ranger station, so I’d guess with the wind chill factor the pass must have been in the teens. It was also in this area that they finally captured the Unabomber. The poster about the event that was displayed at the station was really interesting. They also had a fair number of stuffed creatures (wolves, mountain lion, and raccoon), and the Big Kahuna: the largest known grizzly bear, which was estimated to weigh well over 1,000 pounds. He was killed when struck in the left side of his head by a truck. The truck had almost $8,000 damage to it… from hitting …um…his head. It sure makes you think twice about tent camping out there doesn’t it? But, being the manly men that we are, it didn’t stop us that night, and it certainly does get cold there at night. Even in June. Brrrrr…

It was also here that Lewis and Clark nearly starved to death trying to find a way through the mountains in the winter, finally having to slaughter a horse for food. Kill Pony Creek is named for this desperate event. If it weren’t for a native Indian guide, they’d have never made it out. Makes you wonder how the world (or at least the West) might have been different had they perished out there.

Thawed out after the sun warmed, we stopped in town for a coffee, and then hit the last leg into Seeley Lake. There’s a turn you need to make to take the last few miles up into beautiful Seeley Lake. It’s at a convenience store/ gas station, with this enormous cow displayed out in front. If you’re looking at The Cow, and not the route signs, you could easily continue right into Missoula. Of course, you will also lose cell phone service right about there, until you’re about 8 miles from Missoula.

I saw the sign, but Mike didn’t hear my feeble horn bleats, or see my frantic headlight flashing in his mirrors. Moto Mike forged onward, having been properly transfixed by The Cow. I figured, no problem, I’m not running over The Ton to catch him, and he’ll check his mirrors in a mile or two, and turn around to see what happened. I went inside, grabbed a coffee and went outside for a smoke. Then I had another. Then I called home and chatted for a while, explaining what had happened in case he called. I then called his voice mail and left a message telling him I’d meet him at the chicken shack in Seeley, as we’d planned. I went into town and found the restaurant/ bar Larry spoke of, and called him. He would come down to meet me. I nursed my first ever Moose Drool lager while I waited in the bar, with the tantalizing aroma of fried chicken wafting over my olfactory array. What a diametrically opposite sensory experience compared to the “Tent of Certain Death” that I’d experienced mere nights before!

As I suspected, Mike went quite a ways down the road (24 miles, he tells me) before realizing his error, but did get my missed call and voice mail message when he got back to the turn off at The Cow. Isn’t technology wonderful? Larry arrived just moments after Mike did. And as it happened, another of Larry’s friends was in from Dansville, NY (Larry’s previous home), and had been at the bar all along. Introductions all ’round, another round ordered up, and then probably the best chicken dinner I’ve ever been involved with. It was an almost spiritual experience after some of the stuff we’d been eating the last few days — with the notable exception of the 4B’s regional restaurant chain that we’d discovered, which offers fine food at reasonable prices. Order their meatloaf and absolutely do not fail to consume a bowl of their tomato soup. Nobody you’ve ever met makes it any better.

Larry lives way up three dirt roads, very muddy from the rain, on a beautiful piece of land with five horses, three dogs (he says he “temporarily inherited” two of them, but you can tell he loves them all), and nothing but nature all around him. We watched the Lakers on satellite winning Game 7 of The Finals for the NBA Championship, I think mostly because coach Phil Jackson has a “cottage” nearby.  Meanwhile our wet clothes dried out in the mudroom near the air-tight stove that issued forth the most wonderful radiant heat and aromas. I also couldn’t help but notice the rifle he keeps leaning up against the doorway to the living room. Not sure if it’s for protection from two, or four legged varmints. Never ask a question if you don’t already think you might know the answer. Some might politely call his digs rustic, but to us, if it’s not Heaven, you can certainly see it from There. Big Sky Country indeed. Or the Land of Extremes, as a local would call it. It’s also unimaginable how utterly quiet it is at night outside the house. It’s almost like your ears invent a bit of white noise just so you know you’ve not gone deaf. It’s a little eerie actually, for a city mouse like your humble author. But I stand there finding myself thinking that I could get used to this life in pretty short order. A comfortable warm bed, dry riding gear, a mug of coffee and a chance to do a little bike maintenance by his barn were just what we and our bikes needed. We awoke to, and departed on, a nice sunny day. Thanks for the hospitality Larry, we’ll be back ASAP.

June 19, 2010
Everyone we spoke to in Montana told us Missoula was the place to go if you’re into a good party town (but then, clearly they’ve never been to Dalton, MN on a Saturday night). We really didn’t have the time to stay over without changing our trip plans, so we settled for lunch at the local Hooters franchise. What? They have wings and we’re from Buffalo, right? Besides, we had lemonade, so there. And you thought you knew where this story was headed, didn’t you?

Actually, we were all business from there to our next planned “down time” in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. We headed into Idaho toward Wyoming through the Bitterroot Mountains. Here the road follows the Salmon River and meanders through some of the most beautiful scenery you can imagine – assuming you have a spectacular imagination. I’m here to report that Idaho is entirely spud free as far as I can tell. I didn’t see a single potato. We did encounter The Idaho National Laboratory which, at the time, was something of an enigma to us. Here we were, traveling through grassy ranch lands, when all of a sudden this big sign appears announcing the INL — and the surroundings immediately turn to desert, with sandy soil, scrub grass and cactus. I remind you, this is in IDAHO. We were compelled to get off the bikes just to look around. The place is complete with the very intimidating “No Trespassing on gubment property” signage every 10 yards or so. Naturally, I took a picture of Mike relieving himself on one of their signs. He’s just another old rebel still fighting “The Man.”  Just as I was reminding him of the many rattlesnake burrows, he almost soiled himself when he unwittingly dropped his glove next to his boot (thinking it was a snake). Had he been bitten on any exposed flesh at that moment he most assuredly would’ve died there. Friendship only goes so far my friend.

We stopped for dinner in Rigby, ID, a lovely town that seems to have some very lovely people too. I asked a young couple what all the tents were set up for, and they explained it was a large farmer’s market that was just wrapping up. We chatted for a while, and they told us that we really needed to try the frozen fruity ice stand next to the Taco Bell where we’d just eaten. They claimed it was the best anywhere, and I have no reason to doubt it. Unfortunately, we were losing daylight and had to find a campground. They kindly provided directions to a nice municipal lakeside facility nearby (as we were still too far away from our planned stop to make it before dark). I still wonder if she realizes how pretty she is, and if he realizes just how lucky he is! Two more great young people we met that help fill me with great hope for our future. I told Mike that this trip helped restore my faith in humanity, and was entirely sincere when I said it.

The tent sites were not prepared very well, with poor grass and lots of stones — and there were no shower facilities, but there were clean bathrooms, it was cheap, and we were ready to stop. We cooled the few cans of beer I had left in my saddlebag in the fast flowing mountain fed steam right next to us, and built a nice fire as the sun went down. It was an altogether enjoyable end to a great day. We smoked another cigar that night to remember our lost friends, knowing full well just how much they would’ve enjoyed this.

Our single biggest regret about Idaho (and the whole trip really) was in not stopping to speak to a lone cowboy on horseback that was leading two other horses. There was nothing, and I mean nothing, around for many miles, so he was clearly spending extended periods riding the range or checking fences, or whatever the hell cowboys actually do anyway. But he was the genuine article, probably still calls females “Ma’am”, and all we did was give a friendly wave (as he tipped his hat) as we rode by him. We stop at the Worlds Largest Prairie Dog and drive past this guy? Go figure. We secretly fancied ourselves as a modern “him” (for two weeks at least) and we passed him by on our iron horses. Mike felt the same way. We were too busy trying to “make time” and “stay on schedule”. But isn’t that what work is for? Don’t make this mistake on your next epic road trip. As Don Henley once sang: “Learn to be still.”

June 20, 2010
There are two great things about Wyoming: Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. They’re also frustrating and sort of scary at the same time. Jackson Hole is still a neat place too, but too touristy for me. We’d planned on doing the loop through Yellowstone and getting further south on this day, but traffic is impossible here. There are pullovers everywhere for people to use, but they refuse to. Instead, 20 vehicles will sit bumper to bumper in a parade behind the moron in front. OK, I know the moron’s on vacation too, but c’mon people, use your mirrors or extend a little courtesy by leaving some room in between, so people that aren’t in the early stages of rigor mortis can safely pass you (and yes I know that this comes right after me praising humanity and all that … sue me).

You pay $20, which is good for both parks and a 7 day pass, so it’s still a good deal. We saw Old Faithful, but were 20 minutes late for the eruption, and we didn’t have time to wait another hour or more for it to do it again. The lodge there is magnificent, and is far more impressive than the geyser if you ask me, being largely crafted from natural materials preserved seemingly as much as possible in their natural forms. The lobby is immense, as is the field stone fireplace that stands three stories high. Everything is built from natural timbers. The supports for the viewing decks, for example, are individual tree trunks, with a limb on each side of the main trunk, raised upward at 45 degree angles to serve as the rest of the tripod. Save up so you can stay at least one night here. Wish we had.

You will see wild life in the actual wild in these remarkable parks. It’s a truly unspoiled area, and the animals own the place. As we came around a turn in the Tetons I stopped maybe 15 – 20 yards away from a huge bull bison that was standing behind a tree. I was directly in front of him as Mike took his picture, from his vantage point just up the road. I’m what he’s looking at in the picture. Trust me here; I didn’t take my hand off the clutch or the bike out of gear to reach for my own camera. You could actually smell the musk emanating from him. He’s the acknowledged boss around here, and he knows it.

We stayed that night at Colter Bay Campground in Grand Teton (the only one with showers – which we badly needed at this point). They have a great store, laundry facilities, toilets with soft toilet paper, and showers. The shower is like 3 or 4 bucks, but all feature no time limit, good water pressure, and endless hot water. For a buck or two more they’ll provide a nice fuzzy towel to use. I continued to use my As Seen on TV type synthetic material absorber, while Mike chose the Full Monty towel. What a slave to luxury, that guy. Now for the scarier (for us) part. Not too far away from where we were staying, an older fellow was attacked and killed by a grizzly that same morning. Apparently, (or so we were told) prior to the attack the beast was deemed to be a potential threat or nuisance, and had been hit with a tranquilizer dart by the authorities, but they then lost track of him when he bolted. Yikes. There were “Be bear aware” signs on every picnic table. I’m told that on average there’s something like 14 people killed every year by a griz just in Yellowstone alone. I’d guess many are tent campers and hikers. I slept that night with my knife open on one side, and my hand axe (hatchet) on the other. The previous thoughtful occupants of the site left some neatly stacked firewood under the table, and you’d better bet we burned it all that night. It was well into the low 30’s and felt it.

June 21, 2010
We grabbed coffee and some nutritionally worthless stuff at the camp store the next morning for breakfast. Not sure what the grizzly had, but whew – it wasn’t us. Fed up and back on the road, we continued toward Colorado.

I figured I’d lead for a while and give Mike a break. I had a pretty good idea of how fast I was going, knowing that since I hit that deer a couple of years ago, the speedometer had been way pessimistic, and by what it was reading when Mike was leading (around 55 – 60 on the dial). Besides, the GPS that I used for the first few hours of the trip allowed me to gauge my speed. But Montana and Wyoming are a far cry from NY and PA. Nobody does the speed limit, and the interstate is posted at least 70 – 75mph in most places; typically averaging much faster speeds than we ran the first 5 states or so. We were on a 65mph US Highway with nothing around and visibility for maybe 25 miles in any direction. I never even gave it a thought when the State boy went by the other way. Until he turned his lights on and I saw him turn around. Now, say what you will about there being no such thing as “quotas” or cops playing favorites, but I think 79 in a 65 under those conditions is not unreasonable or imprudent – and is exactly what the speed limit USED to be in these parts (“Reasonable and prudent”).  I explained that I had my throttle lock on, and it picks up speed quickly as you crest a rise and begin to descend, and that I was just starting to roll it back a tad (really) to maintain cruising speed. He offered some BS about how if we didn’t know how to drive in the mountains, maybe we should stay home. It was then that I realized that he probably just saw the baggage on the bikes and figured “here’s an easy score”, and/ or he just hates out-of-state types. No reasoning with this guy. Yeah, I was guilty of “speeding” and I paid my fine, but a warning instead of a ticket might have been just as appropriate. I think he relished the fact that Mike had to unload his bike to get the seat off so he could get to his registration. Most cops with a video camera (as he claimed he had) can probably run a plate in seconds to gather all the info he’d need for a citation.

If there was much more to see in Wyoming apart from the longest/ straightest stretch of desolate road I’ve ever seen – except maybe in the movies — I honestly can’t remember it. But this was probably because I was knocked senseless by the outdoor registry box lid at the tourist center at Split Rock — due to the 45 mph winds — or so I was told when I woke up (just kidding, it was “only a flesh wound!”).

“Welcome to colorful Colorado”, read the sign. It was a most welcome sight indeed. We made it to Craig, CO and called it quits.

June 22, 2010
The next day we had to look forward to Kansas, nearly the entire width and breadth of it. We stayed in an excellent KOA with great facilities (a 24-hour game and video room with TV, plus laundry). They even had a hose on our tent site so we could clean the bikes. Mike did, but I figured my “road patina” was just getting to the point where it looked like I’d gone somewhere. I was hoping for some really colorful bugs now that the weather was warming. There was a nice German couple from Berlin staying across the way from our site. Their Euro-spec BMW thumpers had German plates on them too. Some time ago they shipped them over so when they’re here they can ride them.

We stopped up the road for breakfast on the way to Steamboat Springs the next morning, and then continued on route 40 down to the Denver area. I’d spent some time in Steamboat as a “yute” but haven’t been back in at least 20 years. Like so many other great places, once the secret gets out it’s all over except the screamin’ and the shoutin’. You’d never know the place now. Most of the charm seems lost to sprawling development and commercialization. But Colorado isn’t about its towns — it’s about Colorado beyond its towns. Route 6 into Denver looked like a wonderful road, but when we got on it, it was like the roadway leading into the Galleria Mall, filled with traffic. I guess in a way that was good, because it gave us a chance to appreciate the shear rock walls and the railroad track running alongside the river that determined its path. Coming into Denver it was like opening the door on a pizza oven. We ran in and out of the edge of a massive thunderhead and caught a bit of rain, but it felt pretty good to me. We watched the majesty of the Rocky Mountains disappear in the periphery, and finally our mirrors, and I was sad to see them go, not knowing for sure when I’ll ever see them again. 

Kansas lived up to its reputation for weather. It was 104 degrees in Hays, and we initially made it only as far as Goodland (maybe 30 miles in) before we thought it would be a good idea to find a campground and get sheltered. The two massive fronts rolling in were converging from the north and east and the sky was that deep black violet that seemingly only Kansas can produce. We thought for sure our luck had run out this time. Turns out we never saw a drop of rain. Our tents were literally blown flat and held there by the winds (easily 65 – 70 mph). There was lightning all around us, but with one small “viewing port” directly overhead through the clouds. Like the amazed idiots we were, we stood out there watching this all going on. Mike shot a video of some of the storm with his digital camera, as I encouraged him. We walked (leaned into the wind) to the truck stop across the way and were inside maybe 10 minutes – just long enough to hear that there were tornados directly east and to the north (the two super cells we’d seen rolling in earlier). Some lady was sucked up out of her house over 300 feet into the air and then hurled to the ground (dead). When we walked back out of the truck stop, the sky was ablaze with stars, and there was not a cloud to be seen. It all blew away just that fast. I never want to hear anything about Buffalo weather again. I’ll take 7 feet of lake effect snow over this stuff any day thank you. There it melts or gets cleared away eventually. Here you just die.

June 23, 2010
Neither of us was too excited about doing the rest of Kansas, but we had no quicker way to get to our buddy Craig in Arkansas. It was 650 miles of a steady side wind which blew from the south for the first 400 miles or so; and then roughly as a headwind for the other 250. These were 100-plus degree 40 mph steady winds, with higher gusts. On the bright side, it was sunny. So it was sort of hellish, but it was a dry hell, so you didn’t really notice, as the Arizonans are fond of saying when 125 degrees sounds awfully damned hot to us normal humans. Unless of course we’d have chosen to cover the distance at night; then I’d imagine it’s just a dark, dry hell. The rest areas are really nice though. Free maps so you can see clearly just how much more Kansas there is. Their motto, in fact is: ‘Kansas, it’s as big as you think’. I think that’s meant to stimulate commerce, but that is absolutely not what it meant to us at that point. We tried to get gas in a small “bedroom community”, but there was none to be found. Really weird. No going businesses that I could even see. Just newer housing, no moving vehicles, and what appeared to be a newly erected “Main St.” with all new buildings; but I don’t think any were occupied or open. On a weekday. The only sign of life was a couple of people at the public pool. It was like a Twilight Zone episode (or nuclear bomb test zone?) and we were in it. I prayed we didn’t run out of gas here. These people may actually be aliens. We got back on I-70 and grabbed the next exit (with me literally on fumes and the engine leaning out to stall as I pulled to a pump). We then made it to a Sonic in time for happy hour, so we could get two mega sized slushy icy drinks for the price of one. Ahhhh. We stopped later at a “well known chain” pizza place for a quick pie, and were reminded that the only real pizza is to be found at Imperial or Bozanna’s in Buffalo. Chicago is the only other place that seems to know how to make a pizza. Of course, we could be wrong… but on second thought… nah. Hey, if we can’t win big games, at least we can eat well, and brag about what made us fat while watching them.

We made a gas stop and drove into the little southeastern Kansas town in the direction the sign said the gas would be. I saw one closed station and figured we’d have to turn around, get back on the highway and go to the next exit. So I spun around in the little intersection, and pulled up to face Mike (to share the plan), put my foot down in some sand in the road, slid, and dropped my bike. Nothing hurt but my pride. One of the locals pointed out (as he helped pick it up) that if I had continued to the next block, I’d have seen the gas station. Sigh. No way to look cool in that situation. I did my best not to fall down at the gas pump too, as I hauled it up on the center stand to fill the tank and check the oil level. I was physically beat at this point, and I’m pretty sure Mike was too, but we were bound and determined to get to the KOA in Eureka Springs that night and weren’t about to admit it. Like the two Alpha males that we are I suppose. It was about here that I didn’t think my (brand new when we left) rear tire would make it home.

There are some really nice roads in Missouri and Arkansas on and around US 62 into Eureka Springs. We took turns leading, and this time I missed a turn, but fortunately didn’t go too far before I noticed the Bandit’s headlight was missing in the mirrors (just cars). We stopped at a little store about 10 miles out of town to grab something cold (it had cooled to maybe 95, but now had the added feature of humidity!). They were actually closed, but the proprietor was kind enough to get us each a pop (sorry, “soda” to the rest of the world…). I drove the rest of the way in, and actually didn’t drive past the campground in the dark (I did just that about 10 years ago… but the signs are better now!). We idled through the place looking for Craig’s FJR1300 Yamaha, and there was Craig waving a flashlight to direct us in. Craig had ridden up to Eureka Springs from Russellville, AR earlier, and we’d been playing phone tag as we were both en route. He’d reserved the spot for us before the office closed, and I guess it was close to Midnight when we arrived. The last time I stayed here we’d gotten in about 3 AM. It’d be nice to see what the place looks like in the daytime someday!

June 24, 2010
I probably shouldn’t even be telling you this, because I don’t want you, your friends, and your families to spoil it for me, but Eureka Springs and the whole northwestern part of AR is probably among the best motorcycling roads you’ll find anywhere. The ‘Springs is just a lovely town with older Victorian style homes (“painted ladies” we’d call them in the Allentown District at home). They even painted the curbs red throughout the town. There are plenty of boutique style shops, and all manner of things to do there. You’ll find grand old architectural treasures; along with plenty of fun for the kids, and a wealth of naturally mountain fed public springs that are the town’s namesake. You could easily spend a week in the area, and Branson, MO is right up the road too.

But I’d been telling Mike about Route 23 for years now, and I wanted to see if it was as good as I remembered. If you’re reading this you’re obviously into bikes. But if you’re really into turning, accelerating, and braking hard with them (ie: with sport bikes or sport touring rigs), then this is where — if you’ve been really good — you go when you finally “walk into the light.” Craig led us though some wonderful roads the next day, and being able to ride the whole day without rain AND luggage was immensely liberating. Clearly my old GS Suzuki is seriously overmatched by Craig’s sweet ride, and Craig’s a very good rider, but he did a nice job of creating the illusion that I was doing a pretty good job hanging with him. We had lunch at Cliff House, whose deck majestically overlooks the deepest valley in the Ozarks. We enjoyed a great reasonably priced meal, some nice raspberry iced tea, and I picked up a couple of tee shirts for my wife and my new granddaughter there too (really nice little gift shop). Then it was back off for an afternoon fang around the Ozarks, with a little sightseeing mixed in. We had a remarkable opportunity for Mike to get some nice close up pictures of a few of the members of the elk herd that inhabits the area.

Then it was back to the campground where we shared part of our dinner (from a safe distance) with the gray fox that is a regular there. The young lady that helps run the place and is studying to be a veterinarian asked us later if we’d met their resident fox. We did NOT, however share our Mickey’s Malt Liquor (never mind the name, it’s deliciously refreshing ice cold) or Sam Adams Summer Ale with the little fellow. Craig doesn’t indulge, so he was the responsible adult that evening. I even made the KOA wall of fame (I’m told), being photographed cutting the legs off my jeans to make swim trunks – with my own knife, and with me still in them (and just maybe a couple of Sam’s and Mickey’s in me too). We went for a swim in the most perfect pool we thought we’d ever experienced. The temperature was ideal and we were lounging like a couple of lizards on a rock. This is the life I tell ya.

June 25, 2010
The next morning it was farewell to our hosts at the KOA, a quick breakfast at Mickey Dees, and on the road running the magical Route 23 to I-40. At the risk of sounding immodest, I have to say: I’m still right. This road is a good workout for both rider and machine, and I longed for my Daytona once more. Craig and I had stiffened up the springy bits on Mike’s bike the night before, and he reported the handling and ride was much better. Route 23 winds for about 85 miles through the Ozarks, and has these lovely sections where you go into tunnels of interlocking overhanging tree branches, almost like they’re there as a brief rest period as a courtesy to you before you attack the twisty sections again. Almost no traffic and lots of elevation changes here too, as the smell of brake pads definitely began to fill the air towards the end of the ride down (those would be mine, not Craig’s). He was probably still one-finger braking the Yammie, while I was getting the “Gold’s Gym right hand workout” trying to get the old girl to whoa before I rode off down a hill and off on an unscheduled trip into the surrounding forest.

We stopped to gas up in town, and guzzled another jumbo icy slushy thing down, hopped on 40 east and bid adieu to Craig at the Russellville exit. In stark contrast to what we saw of Kansas, Arkansas is very scenic all the way into Tennessee. We’d planned on heading over to Georgia and Two Wheels Only in Suches, then back home through the Carolina’s, but we both had serious concerns about making it home on our rear tires. We didn’t want to see that second set of tread that’s hidden under the black part. We stopped for barbeque at a Topps in Memphis. It was my third time through Memphis, and it was The King’s 75th anniversary and everything, and yet I still haven’t seen Graceland. We made camp at Jackson, TN where the proprietor made a big deal out of his tent campsites. Anywhere else I’ve stayed allows two tents on a site, but not this guy. He said he’d “give us a discount” on the second one (and he did take 5 bucks off). Then he “showed us where the tent sites were.” A long strip of grass, with one lonely little tree down at the end. That’s the one we picked. Obviously I can see why he was so proud of the place. At least the bathroom worked (sort of). One sink had a functional faucet, one toilet flushed, and not one shower stall door aligned with their frames or locks, but hey, we had all of the tent sites to ourselves, for less than the price of two of ’em. Who could complain? At least the 24-hour gas station and traffic sounds from I-40 next to us insured we wouldn’t oversleep. So we got an early start the next day.

June 26, 2010
Florence, KY, was our next stop (near Louisville), where we stayed in a beautiful state park. We went down to check in, and misunderstood the directions for where the tent sites were. Where we set up was actually a parking area for the fishing hole on the lakeside. We were completely set up, and sitting down having a beer when the ranger showed up and told us we had to move. No reasoning with this guy either, but I do understand he was just doing his job. Still, we had to break down everything and carry it around the corner about 1/8 mile to the tent sites and set it all up again. On the other hand, this area did have fire pits, and we had a magnificent fire that night. So I guess the local Gendarme actually did us a favor in the long run. I called our good friend Jeff (AKA: Raul Duke), who’s one of the other “fingers on the friend hand” that I spoke of earlier, just to let him know we were thinking of him, and that we were having fun. He said it sure sounded like it (hey, it was our last night as “free range men”, and we were going to make the most of it before returning to reality).  I commented to Mike that it was remarkable that we’d gone through all of this and we still actually LIKED each other. If you really want to find out who your friends are, or maybe you want to “thin the herd”, take a trip like this with them. You’ll either add cement to your friendship, or someone’s dropping off of your Christmas card list next year!

We had our last “tribute cigars” there too, so most everyone that really mattered to me (that wasn’t family or pets) was “with us” that night. At least in spirit.

June 27, 2010
Through Bowling Green, KY, and past the National Corvette Museum; it was a Saturday, and while the museum was open, the Corvette assembly plant doesn’t work weekends, to enjoy their available plant tour. The only way to do it, in my estimation, is to do both. I’ll save that for a long weekend (do the plant on a Friday or Monday). Instead, we stopped at the Jim Beam Distillery. Mike always orders one of those when he orders anything that comes in a small glass like that. It’s a fascinating tour to take (even if you’re a teetotaler), as you’ll learn quite a lot. Maker’s Mark is just down the road if that’s more your poison.

From here we just high tailed it home through OH and PA, pulling in around 8 PM. 14 days, and 6,303 miles after we’d left.

I guess you could call this a trip of a lifetime for a lot of people, but I sure hope that’s not the case with either of us. But you never really do know for sure, isn’t that true? You know what they say about the plans of mice and men. Why wait for fate, or for the “time to be just right.” It’ll never happen if you don’t make it happen. Don’t put it off. Make it a priority. Set a date and then stick to it. Egan was absolutely right.

Both of us would’ve turned right around and headed back out again if we could have.

Right after we replaced our rear tires.

Motorcycle Classics Magazine
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