Road Trip to Sturgis
Sturgis. A small, somewhat nondescript town located in the southwest corner of South Dakota. Population is normally about 6,400 souls. But during one week in August each year the population swells to over 500,000 as over 300,000 motorcycles congregate for the biggest bike-week in the land.
"I rode Mine"
Like many towns laid out in the plains, Sturgis' streets are aligned East-West, and North-South. Route-34 is the main east-west road and Junction Avenue is the main north-south. Main Street, parallel to and just south of Rt-34 is only about a half-mile long. This really is a small town.
Map of Sturgis, SD
The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is now in its 70th year. It's not the oldest rally in the country, (that would be Laconia, NH, which recently held it's 80th rally) but it's by far the largest and most famous. Most bikers (especially Harley-Davidson riders) feel compelled to make this pilgrimage at least once in their lives. For some, once is enough. For some Sturgis becomes their Mecca.
I've been to Sturgis only once before. Last year I rode from Pax River Naval Air Station, MD. That year I stayed in the lodge at Ellsworth AFB in Rapid City (about 30-miles south of Sturgis). The room was a very nice suite and ridiculously inexpensive. Especially with the exceptionally wet and wild weather that year (Baseball-sized hail for starters). But having to make that long drive home every night really cut into my ability to party and partying is a major part of the Sturgis Experience.
This year I would be staying at "The Legendary Buffalo Chip Campground." That in itself would be an experience. I would travel from Boca Chica NAS (Key West) to Sturgis and back. I would make a stop at Deals Gap, NC, once again to play on The Tail of The Dragon. Another reason to stop by there was to see my lady, Barbara. She was going to meet me at the campground and ride the around Smoky Mountains with me for a few days.
I would also stop by Kansas City to visit my daughter, Michelle. It seems I only get to see her when I'm passing through her town. Fortunately, in the past year I've stopped by three times now. Almost wearing out my welcome when compared to years past.
After Bike Week in Sturgis I would ride to Las Vegas to visit my two sisters, Tammy and Nancy, before riding back to Key West along the Gulf Coasts of Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, and Florida.
The route would look like this:
My route to Sturgis and back
NOTE: This is just a screen shot from Google Earth. I've uploaded the complete route file. If you want to examine it in your own copy of Google Earth you can download my trip data here: Download my GPS Track for Google Earth. Downloading the file would allow you to zoom in and see every little wiggle in the road, every stop for fuel, and every missed turn as recorded in the GPS tracks.
Traveling on a bike is unlike traveling by car in several ways. The main difference is that one will invariably get wet at some point. Another difference is in how much stuff you can take along. I was carrying clothing, tent, sleeping bag, tools, etc. There was no room for a computer yet I wanted to stay connected to my social network. I had only my sometimes-not-so-smart smart-phone to check the weather, keep up with news, update my Facebook page and keep my friends and family informed as to my progress. I used an HTC phone on the Sprint network. It worked well enough.
Reading back through those Facebook entries I see they are verbal snapshots of my trip. Together they make a pretty good summary of each day's activities. Some of those entries are included here in boxed paragraphs. They look like this:
FB: Departed a couple of hours ago en route to Sturgis, SD .
Bike has its usual heavy load of cargo.
July 29 at 11:43am
So let's start with that; my departure from Key West.
I've taken quite a few road trips on this bike and I've developed a pretty standard load plan. My pack (containing clothing) goes over my sissy-bar and sets on the luggage rack. My tent sets over one saddle bag and my ground pad and camp chair sets on the other. Those two bundles are tied together with cord running over the seat. My sleeping bag and extra helmet ride on the passenger seat and are secured with an elastic cargo net.
Once I get my backpack packed, loading up the bike takes only a few minutes. The camping gear stays assembled and ready in my dock box so I just carry it out and strap it on.
The motorcycle is a 1999 Harley-Davidson Road King Custom Classic (FLHRCI), fuel-injected, red in color. I bought it 15-months ago from a dealing in Tampa, FL, on eBay. Since then I've put over 30,000 miles on it while riding across the country 4 times.
My Road King
I woke up a little late in the day on the 29th and didn't leave until almost 10am. I had a long run for the first leg of the trip.
I ran up the east coast of Florida on US-1 and then I-95. The ride from Key West to Miami is pretty. But I've done it so many, many times that it's getting a bit tedious. US-1 runs through the keys as a mostly two-lane, 55-mph highway. Many long bridges span the channels and cuts between the keys and the views can be stunning. But after you've seen it 10-times you just want to get to Miami where the road turns north (rather than east). Only then, when I'm heading north past Miami, do I feel as though I'm making progress.
I planned on making it all the way to St Augustine, FL, that first day; a distance of almost 400 miles. My very good boat buddies, Dennis and Bettye of s/v Son of a Sailor, will feed me and give me a place to rest whenever I pass through. These are great friends that I wish I could see more of. It's so nice to have friends scattered about the country.
The ride north was pretty uneventful. Which is good. I wanted to make some serious time on this leg so I stuck to I-95 most of the way. The weather cooperated and I didn't have any rain. But I knew that wouldn't last.
I had to call Dennis to get his address again. While I'd been there before and I knew where his housing development was the exact house number escaped me. When I came rolling in he and Bettye were there to greet me. Once my bike was in his garage Dennis remarked on the lack of tread on my back tire.
The back tire on my bike. I really shouldn't have been riding on it at all.
Dennis and Bettye are bikers as well as boaters. Well, They ride BMW's and I'm not sure they are actually called 'bikers.' Beemer-riders might have a special name for themselves.
I knew the rear was a getting bald. But I also thought that maybe it would last till I got to Sturgis. There I might be able to get a better deal on a new tire. I guess I hadn't really looked at the tire in a while. But now I could see that it would be foolish to try to ride a couple more thousand miles on what was actually a pretty bald tire. Especially since I was heading over to the Tail of the Dragon for some serious riding.
So I called the St Augustine Harley-Davidson dealer and found that he did, in fact, have the replacement tire for me and would be able to service me first thing in the morning. HD is always good about providing service for 'travelers.' They take us right in, stop work on other bikes, and work hard to get us on the road again. The St Augustine dealer was no exception. Thanks, guys.
I made plans to stop by there on the way out of town. It would be the first of several unintended stops along the way.
FB: Had a lovely dinner with Dennis and Bettye (s/v Son of a Sailor) is St Augustine. Leaving in the morning. Noticed my bike desperately needs a new back tire.
July 29 at 10:15pm
Last time I visited Dennis and Bettye I actually stayed a day and help with some of their boat chores. This time I was just a freeloader. I came, I ate their food, I drank their booze, I watched their TV, I slept, I left. (Thanks again, guys. Love you.)
Bettye and Dennis fixed a nice breakfast and then patted me on the head, kicked me in the butt, and sent me down the road.
FB: is sipping coffee at the St Augustine,FL, Harley-Davidson shop waiting for them to install a new rear tire.
July 30 at 9:14am
All of the remainder of that morning was spent hanging out at the local Harley-Davidson shop waiting for them to install the new tire, tube, and spoke-band, on my bike. They did a nice job and, really, I sort of expected them to take 2- to 3-hrs to do the work; which they did. They also did a nice job of washing it, something I had planned on doing somewhere down the road. The bill was in line with expectations, too: Just under $300.
I was on the road again just before noon. It was over 500-miles from St Augustine to Deals Gap and that's about the endurance limit for my butt. Because of the delay with the rear tire I would be arriving after dark. That worried me.
My favorite place to camp in the Deals Gap/Tail of the Dragon area is the Iron Horse Motorcycle Lodge and Campground. I've stayed there three times this year and on each visit I had no regrets. The owners are accommodating, the staff is attendant, the facilities are clean and far more than adequate, and the grounds are well-maintained. I was looking forward to returning.
This stay at the Iron Horse would be even more special. I was to meet up with my girlfriend, Barbara. She lives in Charlotte and was driving to the campground to spend a few days with me. She was bringing a large tent, air mattress and other amenities that would make this stay at the campgrounds a little more comfortable than the previous ones. Of course her being there would make it nicer, too.
But the delay at the Harley shop for the tire had put be well behind schedule. Instead of arriving at about 5-pm I wouldn't get there till after dark. Barb didn't want to wait for me and then have to put the tent up in the dark. I was concerned that she would not be able to get the tent and camp setup by herself. She laughed. People always seem to scramble to help Barb do things and this was no exception. She had no trouble finding a few bikers to help put the tent up before I arrived.
Our little camp at the Iron Horse Campground
When I did finally arrive I found the camp setup and Barb being entertained by a bunch of bikers who, I think, were hoping I wouldn't show up at all. I was happy to spoil their fun.
FB: Cruising the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina and visiting Barbara again for a few days. This the best riding on the East Coast.
Rode 511 miles from St Augustine, FL, yesterday. Installing a new Rear tire delayed my departure till noon. Didn't get here till after dark. Moonshiner Rt 28 north from Franklin is no road to run at night. Adventure like that I'll leave to those a bit more crazy than I
July 31 at 10:11am
The last hour or so my ride was way too exciting. The sun had set and the shadows on the road had deepened into pitch blackness. The road, however had not had the decency to straighten out. In fact it became more and more twisty as it followed a small creek through the mountains. The switchbacks as the road climbed over ridges seemed sharper as the sun set. The moonlight was blocked by the overhanging tree branches. The road ahead seemed to dance left and right in my headlight as I negotiated the curves, never giving any clue as to where it might go next.
This was the very twisty Rt-28 from Franklin north to Rt-74. Time and again I was surprised as headlights suddenly appeared out of nowhere, coming around a curve that I couldn't see. When the turns appeared out of the black I had to brake hard to get my speed down enough to make it around the turn. I found that I was actually happy to finally catch up to a car. Keeping a car in front of me for the final couple of miles gave me some warning of where the road was going. I used that car as an excuse for going slowly (it's sometimes hard to go slow on a motorcycle; ego being what it is).
I was also very much aware of the fact that I was riding through the deep woods of Appalachia. There are some serious critters out there. There are big animals that I might crash into killing them or me. And there are smaller ones which are very slippery when you ride over them. Even old road-kill can cause serious stability problems. And what was that banjo music I kept hearing...
Running this road at night is not something I want to repeat.
July 30-Aug 02 - Cruising around the Smoky Mountain National Park
Over the next several days Barb and I rode almost all the "official" rides in the area. These include the Tail of the Dragon, the Cherohala Skyway, and the Moonshiner 28. Most were just plain fun. Some were amazing. And a couple were scary.
Some of the rides we took around the area of the Tail of the Dragon
For a printable map of the two-lane twisties in the area click here and go to TailofTheDragon.com.
The Dragon was much more crowded now that the rockslide has been cleared. For my first two visits here (back in June 2010) the Dragon was a dead end street. It was closed at the bridge, 12-miles north of Deals Gap Resort. You would just ride north from Rt 28 for 12 miles, and then turn around and ride south. You would find no one on the road but road-race enthusiasts: Bikers and drivers. The road being closed was no big deal for the enthusiasts. Even when the road was open they would only ride the 11-mile stretch up to the scenic overlook and turn around for the return trip. But the lack of through traffic for the past year or so was a godsend.
But now the road was open all the way through to Maryville and we had to put up with general traffic, pickup trucks hauling fishing boats, and a bunch of tourists in SUV's gawking at the scenery. The road has a 30-mph speed limit and that's enforced more by the nature of the road than by the THP. Although the Tennessee Highway Patrol is always there, watching, and ticketing. They sit at the turnouts and look down toward the next curve waiting for someone to come accelerating out of the turn. You hit over 40 and they will pounce.
Close-up of the Dragon showing where the old roadblock was. The "318 turns in 11 miles" that make up The Tail of the Dragon is to the southeast of that old roadblock down to Rt-28.
If you want a feel for the Dragon, I recommend this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0nrMQ3QwyPo&feature=grec_index. It's not of me, of course. But it shows the nature of the beast. He's northbound near the top of the tail.
Another good video is this one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oqtdJKM5Mfk. It shows the road running south from the scenic overview (just a mile south of where I show the old end-of-road to be in the image above) to the junction with Rt-28. You can see this crotch-rocket passing HD-baggers, like mine, as if they were standing still.
Maybe it was just the lack of traffic but I thought the ride down CR-1310 (Wayah Rd, from Topton to Franklin) was every bit as challenging/fun as the Dragon. But few enthusiasts seem to use the road and we saw only a couple of 'local' cars. It's also far longer than the Dragon. As an historic note, the locals say this was one of the main moonshine routes from Thunder Mountain down to Franklin. As I said before, I can't imagine running this road back in the 50's when it was just gravel and doing it at night with possibly the revenuers chasing you.
Most of the locals know we're here for the ride and most of them will pull over and wave you around at the first opportunity. Some visiting bikers might take a lesson from them.
The Cherohala Skyway is sort of a high-speed version of the Dragon and is a must-ride. From the Tail of the Dragon web site:
"The Cherohala Skyway was completed in the fall of 1996 after being under construction for some thirty-four years. It is North Carolina's most expensive highway carrying a price tag of $100,000,000. Winding up and over 5,400 foot mountains for 15 miles in North Carolina and descending another 21 miles into the deeply forested back country of Tennessee. The road crosses through the Cherokee and Nantahala National Forests thus the name "Chero...hala". The Skyway is becoming well known in motorcycling and sport scar circles for it's long, sweeping corners and scenic views.
This road enthusiast's dream connects Robbinsville, North Carolina with Tellico Plains, Tennessee. It can be desolate at night and extremely dangerous in the winter months. There are no facilities other than restrooms for the entire 36 miles so make sure you have enough gas to make the crossing. There is little evidence of civilization from views that rival or surpass any from the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Also note that the highest point of the Skyway is over 5300-ft. Trust me, it gets cold up that high. More so when you've just ridden through the clouds and your skin and clothing are a little damp.
The Moonshiner 28 runs from Deals Gap south to just over the Georgia state line. But by far the most interesting section is that 20-mile snake just north of Franklin, NC. There is more to see than just a twisty road, too. For example there are three waterfalls which make for interesting photo-ops.
Barb at the waterfall on US-28, just north of Franklin, NC
While riding down a gentle section of this road I gave the Barb the camera and asked her to film the experience. She made this video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SJdPknzKOo4) while hanging on with just her knees (good thing she's also a horse rider). Understand that this is not the Dragon and it's not the Cherohala. This is just a normal, scenic section of road that you can find just about anywhere in western North Carolina. It's not as exciting as the Dragon videos above, but it does give a feel for what you can expect on just about any road in the area.
FB: rode the dragon two-up. then over to the Cherohala. Heavy rain at the top of the dragon. bought a new (dry) T-shirt at the HD shop there. Summit of the Cherohala Skyway (5390 ft) was COLD. Today the Moonshine 28 to Franklin. Love these roads.
August 1 at 9:56am
Barb and I rode the Dragon from south to north. The Iron Horse campground being about 30 miles east of the south end on Rt-28. As before I found that 30-mile stretch of Rt-28 to be a good warm-up for a run up the Dragon. I think the biggest difference between riding the Dragon two-up and a solo run is that breaking takes much more time/effort. Acceleration on a Road King being nothing to write home about even in the best of situations, I found little difference there.
At the "Tree of Shame" located at the south end of The Dragon. Here is a collection of junked parts from bikes that didn't make it.
We stopped at the bridge 12-miles north of US-28 to talk about the ride and for me to catch my breath. We had had a nice, cool, dry run up the Dragon. But now we saw clouds closing in. Other's who were stopped at the bridge saddled up and headed back south. We had intended to ride north and then west where we would take on the Cherohala Skyway. The clouds were getting darker with every passing minute. We decided to continue north as planned. Within a mile we were riding through a downpour of biblical proportions. The road was awash as the water poured off the hillside, across the roadway, and down to the river.
I knew there was a Harley shop near the junction of Rt 129 (the Dragon) and the Foothills Parkway. We made for that, thinking we would wait out the remainder of the storm there. We pulled in and found ourselves huddling on the porch with 20 other bikers.
The Harley shop just north of the Dragon on US-129. This picture taken on a sunnier day back in June.
Since I was soaked (and cold) I bought a new (dry) T-shirt. Barb, who had huddled behind me as we rode was not nearly as wet. We stayed till the rain stopped. It took a couple of hours. There was a snack stand next to the HD shop and we each had a hot dog while waiting. Finally we headed out again, only to hit a small patch of rain just a couple of miles up the road. After that we were fine.
We were fine, that is, until we got near the summit on the Cherohala Skyway. This road climbs to over 5300-ft. I was still a little damp from the rain and I was shivering in the cold as we rode. Barb was also in short sleeves and freezing her butt off. I kept telling her that we were almost at the summit and we would stop there. But each turn showed more road and higher ridges.
We made the summit and stopped to 'warm up.' There were a bunch of cars and crotch rockets parked there. It was a memorial service for someone who had died and they were scattering ashes. Two of the guys came over to us and asked us to move since we were downwind of them. I think they just wanted us to leave entirely; which we did.
Once past the summit the road drops very quickly into the valley near Robbinsville. Down in the valley we were warm and comfortable again.
Most of these small two-lane roads followed streams through the mountains. I love these little creeks. It's nice to stop and cool your heels (and your toes) and sometimes to just sit quietly for a spell after the noise and excitement of riding hard. We found a place to pull over and explore a couple of these streams.
Barb trying to negotiate the wet rocks
We all come here to conquer the Dragon. The merchants know it. Every gas station and restaurant sells T-shirts and other souvenir items. Even the churches get into the act and recognize our penchant.
Me outside a church that welcomes "Dragonslayers"
Finally I had to get on the road again. I had reservations at the Buffalo Chip campgrounds outside of Sturgis and wanted to get there early to find a good spot to pitch my tent.
Barb and I broke camp and packed everything into her car. She headed east, back to Charlotte while I headed west, toward Sturgis
Aug 03-04 - Riding to Kansas City, KS
My daughter Michelle lives just outside of Kansas City in Olathe, KS. It's always nice to stop and visit. Olathe would be my next destination.
My route would take me once again over The Tail of the Dragon. Since I'd ridden it once with Barb, riding the Dragon with all my gear was only moderately interesting. Although I got some strange looks from the guys on crotch rockets. Before making my run I stopped at Deals Gap Resort to fuel up.
FB: Fueling up for my final ride on the Dragon as I leave NC. Sturgis-bound again.
August 3 at 11:12am
My bike fully laden, fueled up, and ready to run the Dragon one last time.
I rode about 300-miles and made camp just north of Nashville. I bought a six-pack of beer and spent the evening chatting with other biker-campers who were heading either to or from Sturgis. I was not surprised at the number of people already leaving Sturgis. They all said the same thing, "Need to get out of town before Bike Week."
My route to Kansas City.
FB: On the road heading west across MO towards my daughters house near Kansas City. After a brief visit there it's on to Sturgis.
August 4 at 12:40pm
The 4th was a very long day; almost 600-miles. But I made it to Michelle's without mishap. I did ride south off the main road to see a bit of the country. That cost me time but I was in no hurry. I rode west on US-50 for a bit. I'd ridden that route through Colorado and Utah when I moved my car from Cleveland to Vegas a couple of months ago. The road provides a glimpse into the past and let's me see how we crossed America before the interstates were built. I like it. Of course there were lots and lots of small-town cops just waiting for the unwary traveler to not take that "Reduce Speed Ahead" sign seriously.
Aug 04-05 - Visiting with Daughter, Michelle
FB: Arrived safe and sound at Michelle's house on Olathe, KS. I'm hot, sunburned, tire, ears are ringing.... but at least I'm not in Missouri any more.
August 4 at 6:58pm
My daughter works for the city of Leewood, KS. She's a civil engineer and does whatever a city civil engineer does. She's been in Kansas ever since we got stationed there in about 1985. She was a kid then and eventually graduated from high school while I was still stationed at Ft Leavenworth, KS. She went on to attend the University of Kansas, graduated, got married, and just stayed there.
My daughter, Michelle, and her husband, Richard, have lived in Kansas just about forever.
Michelle was in the process of putting a new floor in one of her bedrooms. So of course I helped.
Michelle on the first few sections of flooring
My MP3 player had gone bad. And I wanted some music to listen to on the bike. Michelle and I went down to the local Best Buy. She recommended a Sandisk Sansa since she had one and liked it. I looked at a 4GB version but wanted more music capacity. They had an 8GB version for about twice the price and I was about to buy it. Then Michelle walked over and picked up an 8GB MicroSD card that, together with the 4GB player cost a less than the 8GB version. So I walked out with an MP3 player and 12GB of storage. Good call, kid.
Many years ago I had acquired about 60,000 songs on a hard drive. Michelle had a copy of that drive so I used her computer to load up my new MP3 player. I loaded a bunch of my favorite artists that I thought would go well with riding down the highway.
That night I did my laundry, ate a bunch of their food, drank their beer, and in the morning I hit the road again.
Before I got on the freeway I stopped to get fuel and put in my earphones to listen to my new player. I turned it on and what's the first thing I hear? Yodelling! German Yodelling. Where the hell did that come from. I later checked Facebook and saw that my daughter Michelle had posted an entry saying, "Someone left their MP3 cord attached to my computer. I think they're just asking to have Yodel Attack (yes, it's just what it sounds like) copied to it...(August 6 at 12:22am)"
It was bad enough having Weird Al Yankovich on there. The Yodelling would have to go. At least she hadn't set it on "track/repeat."
Aug 06-07 - Riding from Kansas City to Sturgis, SD
FB: Two more days and I'll be in Sturgis again for the big bike rally. Leaving Kansas City today for points "North by Northwest."
August 6 at 9:13am
Two days of interstate with a night of camping brought me to Sturgis. Just north of Kansas City I hit a very bad rain squall. Enough to stop me a for a bit. I've been seeing many bikes heading east. But also many more making the pilgrimage to Mecca.
My route from Kansas City to Sturgis
FB: still about 300-mi from Sturgis. My camp is set up and I have a cold beer in my hand.... life is good... the sun is shining...and there was much rejoicing.
August 6 at 6:09pm
FB: Good riding north out of Kansas City. Just over the Iowa line I hit a bad rain squall. Lots of bikes heading east. But hundreds making the pilgrimage to Mecca.
August 6 at 6:14pm
On the 7th I cruised through town and headed east out to the Chip.
I was booked at The Buffalo Chip Campground from Aug 07-15. I had bought my ticket way back in May and paid $300. That got me a place to pitch my tent and access to two concerts a day for the whole week. Concerts included Bob Dylan, Drowning Pool, Tesla, ZZ Top, Ozzy Ozbourne, Motley Crue, The Guess Who, Disturbed, BuckCherry, Kid Rock, and others.
The Buffalo Chip
I had not stayed at the Chip before and was not sure what to expect. I was not disappointed in either my expectations or my dreads. Yes, there were some 80,000 bikers camped there. And, yes, there was a huge amphitheater with bike parking right up against the stage. And, yes, it was very dusty and noisy. And, yes, the sanitation facilities left a bit to be desired.
But the concerts were very well done. The swimming hole was fun. The off-stage entertainment was great. And for a few dollars extra you could take a shower in a very nice facility.
On of the problems with staying at The Chip was that no matter when you headed to town, it took 40-minutes to travel that 3-mile stretch of road. Sometimes we spent 15-minutes just trying to get out of the campground and onto the highway (Rt-34). It was a combination of congestion and stop signs. Between The Chip (a couple of miles east of town) and the west side of town there were no fewer than 12 stops. They were either traffic lights or stop signs; mostly signs. That and the 35 mph speed limit makes for a ride that is tedious at best and damned frustrating most of the time. And you had better not speed. I think every cop in the state was in that town. And you really couldn't dive down to a side street until you were past most of the congestion.
But, hey, this is STURGIS. We're here for the EVENT. And it's always an event. The heat, the dust, the traffic, the rain... it's all part of the event.
Aug 07-15 STURGIS
FB: Ahhh, Sturgis. Nowhere will you find a larger collection of women who once were beautiful.
August 7 at 5:14pm
I got to the Chip and looked for a place to pitch my tent. I was there a bit early but there were already tens of thousands of bikers there. I saw a large, flat, open area off to my right as I rode down Main Street. It looked sort of like an undeveloped housing development. "Roads" were little more than beat-down paths in the prairie grass. Dust was rising into the air as vehicles ran up and down between the RV's and tents. Few trees and therefore very little shade. The heat and the dust made most of those open areas untenable.
As I passed the swimming hole (Bikini Beach) and turned left toward the amphitheater I saw a little cul-de-sac off to the right; sort of behind the swimming hole. There were a couple of tents down there so I turned in. There was an embankment with a fence on top that walled off the swimming hole. But there were shade trees at the swimming hole and they cast a long shadow over the embankment and into this little community. I tucked in close along the embankment and put up my tent. Being off the main road meant less traffic, less noise, less dust. Being in the shade meant good naps in the afternoon. Being right next to the swimming hole, with its bar and bands, meant I had a short walk to a fun spot. Being close to the amphitheater meant, well, I was close to the amphitheater. Also, right across the street was one of the very few permanent toilets (they flush and everything!).
My little neighborhood behind the swimming hole at The Buffalo Chip. You can see my red Road King peaking out from behind my blue-topped tent in the lower center of the picture. I'm standing on the embankment with the swimming hole behind me.
I was quite pleased with myself and things were looking good.
With my campsite established I headed downtown and started looking at T-shirts (you have to buy at least three, ya know?) and getting a feel for the bars. Sturgis is all about Bars, Beer, Boobs, and Bikes (not in any particular order, there). Oh, and buying stuff. And one of the things we buy are T-shirts. They start off at about 3 for $30. Late in the week they drop to 3 for $25. As I left town on the 15th, they were going for 12 for $20.
Sturgis was what Sturgis always is: hundreds of thousands of bikes and every size and shape of rider you can imagine. So many women who are beautiful; or once were.
Eventually I ended up at the west end of town at McDonalds where I was having lunch. While there I received a phone call from my old buddy, Bob.
My Buddy Bob
I had met Bob during Daytona Bike week earlier in the year. We were camped next to each other at the Moonshine Campground and hit it off pretty well. He's a truck driver from Ohio. We have been Facebook buddies since Daytona and I knew he would be here. Well, Bob was camped down in the sunny, dusty, noisy, flats. We got together, he saw where I was, and eventually he moved over to my neighborhood.
Bob and I quickly fell into a routine. One of us would get up at about 7 am. Go get coffee and then wake up the other. We'd chat and come up with a place to have breakfast (Sturgis, Rapid City, Spearfish, Deadwood, etc) and a ride for the day. Then we'd try to execute that plan. We would always get back to the Chip in time for a little rest followed by a walk over to the amphitheater for the nightly concerts.
Bob coming to get me in the morning
Sturgis has a set of rides that one must do. These all involve seeing the main sights in the area: Rushmore, Devils Tower, Crazy Horse, Badlands.
This brings me to the single most frustrating thing about Sturgis: You can't ride anywhere! Everywhere you go, you no sooner get on a rode with some good turns, sights, hills, whatever, and Bam! You catch up with a stick of 10 to 20 bikes. These are sometimes organized groups and sometimes just an ad hoc collection. But invariably they are traveling 5 mph below the posted limits because someone in the group can't ride a Harley in anything but a straight line. Speed limit is 40, they are going 35, they come to a curve and they slow to 25. People: Ride it or Park it!
Sometimes I treat that double-yellow line as "advisory" in nature. I start to pass them, one by one. They usually don't like that for some reason. I guess they think they get extra points for blocking me. Frustrating as hell.
For that reason alone if I come back to Sturgis it will be right at the end of Bike Week. Everyone will be leaving, the roads will be clear, the T-shirts will be cheap, life will be calm.
[...turning down flame... stepping off the soapbox...]
I didn't go on any long rides right away. I just cruised the town and went back to the Buffalo Chip to see the concerts. The concerts were all at the amphitheater in the Chip. It's a big stage with a big lot for the audience. You just pull your bike up there and hang out. Or if you walk in, you stand around.
The amphitheater and grounds at the Chip
FB: Drinking heavily at the Sturgis Buffalo Chip. Waiting for tonight's concerts: Bob Dylan and Kid Rock. yeah, I'm having fun this week.
August 10 at 8:09pm
While waiting for the concerts the pole dancers caught my eye.
This girl was a remarkably talented dancer. And hot, too.
FB: Tesla was rocking when the wind came up and knocked over the amps, the backdrop, the drums. The swaying light trusses forced them to quit the stage. Bummer.
August 8 at 1:20am
Tesla was playing at the amphitheater when the wind came up and knocked over the amps, then the backdrop, and finally the drums. But it was the wildly swaying light trusses that finally forced them to quit the stage. The crowd was calm and at about midnight Tesla came back on and finished their set. I don't think the crowd was any smaller. These are some crazy folks.
FB: Midnight at The Chip and Tesla is back on stage to finish their show. This place is crazy.
August 8 at 2:04am
Concert Crowd at the Chip
The next morning I discovered some folks who didn't even bother putting up tents.
In my corner of the cul-de-sac, some folks just slept on the ground.
The next day (Aug 8) Bob and I went for a ride down to Mount Rushmore. I've seen it before and sure, it's impressive. But for me it wasn't all that it was cracked up to be. Maybe it's just the distance, maybe it's because I've seen it in pictures so many times, who knows. But I was never all that impressed with these guys heads carved into a mountain. Yeah, I know it's an amazing engineering feat and all that. But still...
Me at the entrance to the park
The first glimpse of Mt Rushmore happens about here, and it looks like this
After Rushmore we headed north to Deadwood because it was well past beer-thirty. Along the way we stopped at this little roadside museum/snack shack named Boondock's. I had been here last year (I had taken a picture of me with a big hotdog). This time I found my favorite lady, Betty Boop, and just had to say, "Hi."
Me and my Betty Boop
Deadwood is my kind of town. I know it's all touristy and stuff but I still like the 'Old West' atmosphere it tries to portray. Bartenders are all happy that you made the trip out to see them and there are friendly folk everywhere.
Bob and I flirted with a couple of the bartenders while having a couple of beers just to fortify us for the ride back to Sturgis.
Two of our favorite bartenders in Deadwood.
After a couple of beers, Bob and I headed back to Sturgis. There we had a couple more beers and flirted with a few more bartenders and servers. Here are a some of my favorites:
More of our favorite bartenders and servers
FB: I just bumped into Vinnie of Orange County Choppers fame.
August 11 at 9:30pm
I was walking from the latrine back to my tent when I was walked past Vinnie and Cody of Orange County Choppers. Later I saw Mikie and Paul, jr. Mike was getting a fake tattoo and Paul was just hanging out. There was a camera crew following them while they strolled around the campground and made comments.
The main drag in Sturgis is nothing but a big bike parking lot. Thousands of bikes parked along the curbs with a double-row down the middle of the street. All that parking space and you are still hard-pressed to find a spot. I found the easiest place to find a parking space was on the side streets (usually around 1st or 2nd street north of the main drag).
Main road in Sturgis. 4-rows of bikes down the entire street
FB: At the Loud American Bar, Sturgis, SD, listening to a great (but loud) no-name band. And, yes, I AM wearing my ear-plugs. [Later found out the band was Judd Hoos]
August 12 at 2:43am
OK, this is the boobies section.
Sturgis is a pretty open town, sort of like my home town of Key West. As long as you follow the rules you can have a good time. Part of that good time is looking at babes without a lot of clothing on.
I just can't help snapping a picture or two to share with my friends who couldn't make it. These are provided in no particular order and without comment.
Some are better than others, there's no accounting for taste, to each his own, your mileage may vary, etc...
But some things are just plain wrong. Such as:
One day Bob and I were leaving the Chip to have breakfast and head out for one of the standard 'must-do' rides. We had decided to go to Spearfish for breakfast which is about 20-miles NW of Sturgis. Bob's bike was parked right next to his tent, as was mine. We fire up our hogs and head out. After the standard, long, slow ride through town we hit the highway and had a fast ride up to Spearfish. There we enjoyed a really nice breakfast at a nice non-chain restaurant.
So there we are, this is no shit.... We finish breakfast and go out to our bikes. I fire mine up and back out of the parking space. I look over at Bob and see that the lights on his bike are flashing. "What's that all about, Bob?" I ask. Did I mention that Bob has a relatively new bike? He bought a Street Glide while we were at Daytona Beach for Bike Week earlier in the year. This new-fangled bike of his has a "buttonless key fob" with a proximity security function. It works like this: If the fob is within a few feet of the bike, the fob deactivates the security system and the bike will start normally. If the fob is NOT within a few feet of the bike and you try to start it, or even move it, the alarm goes off and the bike will not start.
Bob's fob was 25-miles away... back at the Buffalo Chip... in his tent.
It seems that when we left the Chip the bike was parked close enough to the tent for the fob, which was laying in his tent, to disable the security system. Bob just turned the key, fired up the bike and rode off. But now the fob was 25-miles away; a little out of range. Bob turned the key on. The alarm activated. The lights flashed. The security system was essentially saying, "Where's the fob, Bob?"
Being the good buddy I am I gave Bob a ride back to the Chip. This marks the first time that I've ever had a guy ride bitch on this bike. We rode all the way back to the Chip and to his tent. Going through town, in all that stop-and-go traffic, I felt about as uncool as I ever have. I don't know what Bob was feeling but at least he wasn't sniffing my neck (a la: the movie, "Wild Hogs"). We got to our tents, he got his fob and we rode all the way through town, again, with Bob riding bitch, and back to Spearfish.
Bob felt really bad about this whole thing. But, hell. Shit happens. Of course the bike's security system was now very happy and complained no more.
I later learned that there is a work-around for this problem. All we had to have done to just be on our way was to enter the 'override' code. The bike comes with a factory/standard code programmed in. The new owner is supposed to enter his own code when he buys the bike. Then, if the fob is missing or malfunctions, or in your tent 25-miles away, you just hit the turn signal switches in a special, magical, mystical sequence (something like L,L,R,L,R) and then enter your code and the security system is deactivated. If only Bob had read the book (or had it with him so I could have read it) we could have saved a couple of hours.
By the time we did all that running around it was too late for the ride we had planned so we just went back to Sturgis and drank.
And that's not a bad thing to do at Sturgis, either.
There are some very curious folks here at Sturgis. And there are many, many young ladies that try very hard to catch your eye. They do that with provocative clothing or none at all. Some are booth babes hawking wares, some are just babes strutting their stuff; they know how to work what they have. But some biker babes can catch your eye without trying at all. This young lady had just hopped off her bike and was simply walking by. She caused my head to swivel. Just a beautiful biker-babe living the life. So very cool.
Fellow biker walking through the Chip.
If you are even a little outgoing and enjoy talking to strangers you can meet some beautiful people at Sturgis. For example Donna and Dan from New York. Bob and I stopped in a little bar on a side street and found ourselves sharing a table with them. A few words between us and we were all buddies. They were fun folks with more smiles per minute than I've seen in a long time. It didn't hurt that Donna had a wonderful rack.
Donna and Dan, new friends from New York
Of course, not everyone is beautiful on the outside. I suppose they are beautiful on the inside, though. Some people you just know you shouldn't try to talk to.
Really concentrating on that camera
FB: Visiting Deadwood one last time bidding the barmaids goodbye. Now back to the Buffalo Chip to catch the Doobie Bros.
August 14 at 6:16pm
More rides, more beer, more concerts, more walking around look at bikes, talking about bikes, buying parts for bikes. Sturgis was good. And at the end of each day we were at the Chip, in the amphitheater, watching rock concerts.
Waiting for the nightly concert
Bob Dylan at the Chip
Speaking of buying parts, one of the parts I bought was just a small, flat piece of metal. It was a throttle lock lever that fits over the throttle locking thumbscrew on underside of the right handgrip. I was walking through a bunch a vendors when I saw this item. The young lady at the booth asked if I wanted a demonstration. Sure, I said, why not? She went through the sales pitch with practiced ease. I suggested that my bike's thumbscrew may need to turn more that the one she had as a demo. She said, "Well, if it requires more than a quarter-turn then you have a plastic friction shoe in the grip. Just replace it with one of our metal shoes and yours will work like this one." I suggested that she was very knowledgeable about the product. I asked if she worked for the company that makes the device or if she was "just a booth-babe."
"Nope, I'm just a booth-babe," she said. "But I've been going through this demonstration all week." So I bought the little device and she threw in the metal friction shoe for free. I later installed it and was pleasantly surprised at how nicely it worked.
On top of being well versed in the product, she was very cute in a nice, wholesome way. Very much like most of the booth-babes weren't.
Cute little booth-babe that sold me my throttle lock.
FB: Standing in line at the camp latrine.
August 12 at 9:34am
I have mentioned that the road from the Chip to Sturgis, while short, was very congested. There is a back way out of the Chip that is never congested. It's a road that runs from the Chip east then south to I-90 Exit 55, near Rapid City. The only problem with this road is that it is gravel. Loose gravel. Slippery, slidy gravel.
Bob catching up with me on the gravel road leading out of the back of the Chip
I was able to run about 40 mph over this road. Loose gravel isn't too bad if you pay attention, try to avoid the thick areas, and drive at a reasonable speed. Bob didn't like it at all. We took this way out only once. Oh, and both you and your bike get very, very dusty. At the south end of the gravel road we stopped and dusted off the bikes. Hard to be cool with a dusty bike.
FB: Paid $7 for my first real shower in a week (that 'real biker' enough, Bettye?). Time to start drinking the day away. I think the concert tonight is Ozzie Osbourn.
August 12 at 3:13pm
Showers at the chip take two forms. For the standard camping fee you get access to the 'public' showers. The public showers leave a lot to be desired. But there's a private company that brings in trailers containing nice flush toilets and very nice sets of showers. But they charge $7. That gives you one shower and unlimited use of the toilets for a full day. I can usually get by with a box of baby-wipes for several days; they clean you up pretty good. But eventually everybody needs to stand under a stream of hot water. So I broke down an paid for a shower. It was heavenly.
After my shower I rode back to my tent to get ready for the daily ride. I look up to see a guy riding by completely naked. Obviously he didn't want to put his dirty clothes back on. Why he didn't carry clean clothes to the showers remained an unanswered question.
One of the rides I had not taken before was the one that goes over to the Crazy Horse Memorial. The monument is being built without federal funding and is essentially the work of a single family. There have been offers but the family doing the work has refused. This is a true grassroots effort. As such it's way behind schedule. That knowledge made the token entry fee much more palatable.
Inside the welcome center they show a very informative movie depicting the history of the endeavor. There is also a museum that includes the local Indian culture and photo's of the slow and not-so-steady progress on the monument.
The view from the main visitor center
The same view but with a statue of the completed project in the foreground
I spent an hour or so walking around, there's that much to see. When I'd had my fill I rode south from the Crazy Horse monument to the town of Custer, SD. This is a very small town that tries to get a piece of the bike-week-pie by setting up 'center-of-the-road' bike parking on its main street and hosting several vendors in its parking lots.
The main road in the small town of Custer, SD. Sort of a very, very, mini Sturgis.
From Custer I road north to Sylvan Lake and turned right onto Rt-87, aka: Needles Highway. The park service charges $10 per motorcycle to ride through this little stretch of twisty highway. The sights are fabulous and the road is fun to ride. Even at the slow, parade-like speed one is forced into during bike week congestion.
A few of the Needles of Needle's Highway.
Once through the park I could see storm clouds to the southeast of me. I was racing southeast on 87, then east on 16, then north on 79 to Rapid City. I could see lightening and hear the thunder as I made my way east. It was at the intersection of 16 and 79 that the rain and I collided. There's a small bar on the south side of that intersection. I noted a few bikes parked out front and thought that I should stop in for a beer and some camaraderie. The storm would pass and I would then ride home in comfort. I'm not sure why I didn't do that.
The rain had just started to fall. Not hard yet. But it was those big, juicy drops that hit with a resounding splat! The kind of first drops that say, "This is going to get really nasty." I sat at that corner and weighed my options. I looked back over my right shoulder and saw the bar: beer, bikes, babes. I looked right and saw the entire southern sky black with clouds. The gray rain reduced visibility to about a half-mile. The lightening was fierce. And I looked to the left, north toward Rapid City and saw nothing but blue sky. I was starting to get wet. I turned north and accelerated toward the light.
Within a few minutes I was out of the rain. I slowed as I watched the storm disappear in my mirrors. Eventually the storm moved eastward and missed Sturgis completely.
On the way through Sturgis en route to the Chip I stopped at the big tent of the Mustang Motorcycle Seat Company. My current seat is an after-market seat sold by HD named the "Sundowner Deep Bucket Seat." It's a very good seat. Fits my butt quite nicely. But it is starting to show signs of age and wear. Some of the decorative basket weave is cracking and the padding has seen better days. I'm starting to feel the seat-pan after a couple of hours in the saddle.
I parked outside the tent and walked in to see what a Mustang seat would cost. Just curious, you know? The salesman comes up and asks what kind of seat I'm looking for. I explain that I'm just curious about what a new seat would cost. He brings out a seat that he says will fit my bike. "Feel this one. What do you think?" he asks. I explain that I can't really tell without sitting on it but that I'd heard good things about Mustang seats. "Roll your bike over here into our installation bay, he says with just a bit too much enthusiasm, "and we'll slap this seat on your bike so you can see what it really feels like." I say, no, I'm not buying right now. He persists, "Try it out anyway." So I do.
His man comes over with the long screwdriver just right for taking the back seat bolt off a Harley and before I know it my old seat is on the ground and a brand new Mustang seat is in place. 'These guys have done this before,' think I.
"Just climb up and sit down," the salesman says. He holds the bike upright so I can sit on the seat with my feet up in the proper riding position. I said something about it being a good hard seat. He says, "We prefer the term firm." Yes, it's very firm and very comfortable. I can see that it would be great on long rides (like the one from here back to Key West). I say I like it but really don't want to buy it right now. He says it's a Sturgis Rally special deal and it's only $450. I ask him to put my seat back on, which he does. I tell him I'll probably put my bike away for a couple of years while I do some serious sailing. He agrees that maybe I should wait until I get back to replace the seat. We chat a bit more and I ride off.
A week later I'd be in Las Vegas and at the Harley-Davidson shop. I asked about the replacement seat and found it cost $350. I decide that I don't really need a new seat right now.
Three weeks later I'd be riding across Texas squirming around trying to get comfortable thinking, 'I sure wish I had bought a new seat.'
One of the last rides Bob and I took was out to see Devil's Tower. The ride took us into Wyoming and made for the furthest point north on this trip. Of all the monuments and natural wonders I've seen to date, Devil's Tower was by far the most awesome. I just stared at it in wonder. Now, I understand what it is; I understand how it was formed and all that. But still I found it to be completely captivating.
This is the first view of the Tower. It's still very far off but even at this distance it's very impressive.
Pictures can't capture the majesty of the thing. At least mine don't. And since this place was featured in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" this makes one more movie set that I've visited this year.
At the trading post (souvenir shop) just outside the entrance to the park.
As with most of the federally managed parks, there is a fee to get any closer than this. That's why these pictures are from outside the gate. Some of the use fees I've bumped into include:
Mt Rushmore costs $10 to park at the visitor center. It's a big monument. Easily seen from the road.
Needles Highway cost $10 just to drive down the road. No way around this one.
Grand Canyon costs $25 per car. Actually worth it.
Lake Mead costs $20 per car. No fee if you arrive after dark and swimming in the moonlight can be fun.
Four Corners Monument: $3 per person.
With a little bit of zoom you start to get a sense of this amazing natural structure.
FB: Heading back to the campground. The concerts tonight feature Disturbed, and Scorpions. Definitely gonna need ear plugs.
August 13 at 6:17pm
Bob and I cruised back to Sturgis for our daily drive through town. Sturgis, once you park your bike, is like a big outdoor mall. There are millions... well, hundreds at least, of stalls selling T-shirts. Most of the stalls sell the same shirts and they all have the same prices (3 for $30). The raunchy theme from last year (69th annual rally, with the appropriate cartoon) was carried forward with this year's "69+1 There's always room for one more." It was the same cartoon with another woman walking up to the featured couple.
Always an interesting place to visit in Sturgis is Bourgets Bike Works. I like their style of custom bikes and watching them being built.
Bourgets Bike Works bikes are on display and for sale ($30K - $80K)
FB: At the concert. On the live web cam at http://www.buffalochip.com/MEDIAVIDEO/Webcams.aspx
I'm way back on the right. See me?
August 13 at 11:33pm
One of the options for breakfast inside the Buffalo Chip campground is this little greasy spoon. The food was certainly cheap and actually not bad.
I asked, "What's for breakfast?" and he did his best Vanna White imitation.
Breakfast in the Chip.
FB: I've just heard that Guns N' Roses (playing at one of the other venues here in Sturgis) didn't show up on stage till after 2 AM. Many folks gave up and left.
August 14 at 8:09pm
Back at the Chip more concerts.
Waiting for the music to start. Bob and I did a lot of this. But it was a nice way to end a long day of riding and buying stuff.
I mentioned that I was camped directly behind the swimming hole (aka: Bikini Beach). The beach has it's own stage and some top-notch entertainment. They also have some bad entertainment. There was of course the Karaoke afternoons that made me want to pull my hair out. There was also some sort of vampish burlesque where the girls could neither dance nor sing. But they also had some excellent groups playing.
One of the best was The Iron Cowgirl, Missy Covill She's a beautiful and talented young lady who plays guitar, writes songs, sings beautifully, and rides her own bike. You just can't wish for more than that. I would wander over from my tent each afternoon that she was playing at the swimming hole. Her original works were exceptional.
One night in the Amphitheater I happened to have to good fortune of meeting her and bending her ear for a moment. She's as sweet in person as she is on stage.
Near the end of the week Bob and I were riding out toward the exit for the Chip to get in line (did I mention there was always a line of bikes and trucks leaving the Chip?) when I noticed my steering felt a little sluggish. Heavy might be a better word. Near the exit to the campground I looked down and saw that my front tire was just about flat. I happened to be stopped directly in front of a vendor that had setup a bike shop on the Buffalo Chip grounds. I wheeled it in and they took a look. Well, they took my credit card first with an estimate of what a new tube would cost, plus labor. It came to about $90.
So they put my baby up on the rack and pulled the font tire. The mechanic was very efficient. From the stack of old tires out back I could tell they had done this many time in the past week. Once he busted the tire off the rim he came out to show it to me. "Ask Santa Clause to bring you a new set of rims for Christmas," he said. The spoked rim was all rusty on the inside. He said he couldn't find any penetration of the tire and assumed that the rust, which also encrusted the tube where it touched the rim, had abraded the tube to the point that it was perforated. "Bouncing around on these dirt roads would have dislodged the rust flakes. You'll find that the tube probably leaks all around the inside of the tube," he said.
My bike up on the rack with the front wheel off
So he took a wire wheel and buffed the rust off the inside of the rim. He smeared a bit of grease on the rim to slow down the rusting and lube the tube. He then put on a new tube and spoke band and reassembled everything.
I just had a new back tire put on in St Augustine. I'll bet that rear rim is also rusty on the inside and I'll bet that the guy at the Harley shop didn't go the extra mile and wire brush the rust off. So I expect the rear tire to go flat sometime soon.
One hour and $100 later I was on my way.
FB: Awoke to rain; first rain in over a week. Also first morning without the sound of motorcycle engines revving. Strangely silent.
August 14 at 8:12am
The campground has been hot and dusty all week. Today it rained. It rained all morning. This was good for dust control. It also kept a lot of the bike noise down. People just moped around.... quietly. It was a nice, quiet morning. I walked to the coffee stand in the amphitheater for my morning coffee and had a nice chat with the lady there.
FB: The rain has let up. A quiet morning at the.Chip. cool today with a high of 73. Getting ready to leave in the morning. Concert tonight is The Doobie Brothers.
August 14 at 11:20am
The last day in Sturgis was pretty low-key. Bob and I went to town and did the usual walking around, looking at bikes and babes and drinking beer. The roads were clogged with RV's and trucks with bike trailers heading out. Many of the bikes on the road were heavily laden with luggage and people were calling it 'finished' and going home.
I couldn't help but think that this might be the perfect time to arrive. Sure, you would have missed the concerts. And, sure, a lot of the hot babes would be gone. But I was here about half a week late last year and I had a great time. The bars stay open for a week or so after the official end of the rally and the vendors had everything priced to sell. I'm not just talking about T-shirts here. I mean parts and services, too.
A few weeks after the event, the city of Sturgis would issue their report (read it here) placing the "official" attendance at 466,769. Obviously that number was not derived by an engineer. We engineers understand the concepts of accuracy, precision, and significant digits. I'll wager that there is absolutely no confidence in those last thee or four digits. After all one of the metrics used to arrive at this attendance figure is the number of tons of garbage hauled. Tons of garbage! Clearly the precision must be on the order of +/- 10,000. So it's probably more accurate to say the attendance was 460,000. And they say if the sagging attendance at Mount Rushmore is discounted, the estimate jumps to 620,000.
The city of Sturgis collected about $500,000 in sales tax and vendor fees. The state also collected almost $500,000 in sales tax. Neighboring cities made out on event, too. Rapid City, Spearfish, and Deadwood all treat this event like Macy treats Christmas.
There were surprisingly few arrests for significant violations of the law. In all, lots of people spent lots of money in Sturgis this year.
FB: Said goodbye to Bob, the Buffalo Chip Campground, Sturgis, and South Dakota this morning. On the road again heading to Las Vegas.
August 15 at 1:57pm
My route from Sturgis, SD, to Las Vegas, NV
Finally Sturgis Bike Week was at an end. I said goodbye to Bob, packed up my tent and for the last time got in line to exit the Buffalo Chip campground.
On the road leading out of the Chip one last time. Everyone is loaded up and heading home. Still took the standard 40-minutes to go 3-miles.
The next destination is Las Vegas, NV. I had a few rough days on the road ahead of me. The scenery was beautiful, of course. And riding through the Rocky Mountains is always breathtaking. The desert vistas are full of colors you just don't see anywhere else. I took a bunch of pictures along the way. But I won't be boring you with them here. As I flip through them I see that they just don't compare with the images in my head.
Well, OK. Maybe just a couple.
Dark clouds over Rocky Mountain peaks
Looking east up the valley toward Telluride
On I-15 leaving Arizona
Oh, and I found that the best place for my camera was on a string around my neck. It is heavy enough to just hang there in the breeze; and not fly around. Yet light enough not to bother me. And I can grab it for that quick snapshot of things that catch my eye. That's one of the reasons that I had over 700 pictures at the end of this 6-wk trip. Also, I can take cool pictures of myself such as this one:
I've found I like goggles for riding much better than just sunglasses. Two reasons: First of all they keep the wind away from my eyes. My eyes feel so much better after a long day of riding when I've worn goggles.
Secondly, the head strap keeps my doo-rag from flying off my head. Don't laugh, that's really important. At Sturgis, along the freeway on-ramps the shoulders are littered with doo-rags and sunglasses and hats that have blown off.
FB: Stopped at an overpriced motel just north of Denver. I'm treating myself. This will be the first time I've slept in a bed in weeks. And don't forget the shower!
August 15 at 8:58pm
I unloaded my bike at a small, expensive motel near Loveland, CO, just north of Denver. Nearby was a classy looking steak house so I rode over and had steak and bear. Oh, and I met some very nice folks there (as usual). They happened to be boaters, too, but focused on rivers and lakes. They stayed and chatted while I ate.
I headed back to the motel and stopped in the bar on my way to my room. It was a small bar in a smallish motel. When I arrived it was just the barmaid and me and we had a nice little chat. Some locals came in and we were all having a good time. I must say, though, that she lost me when she said, in all sincerity, "I talk with ghosts." Hmmmm, yeah, OK. But still she was cute and friendly.
Then the Banditos showed up. They took a table away from the bar and, except for coming up to the bar to get drinks, they kept to themselves. Nonetheless we could feel their presence. I saw the barmaid slipped a note to one of the locals. It said, "Please don't leave until they do. I'm scared." Some businessmen came in and took a table near the Banditos. After a bit, we at the bar were laughing and joking so much that one of the businessmen came up to join us.
About then the Banditos paid their tab and left. The barmaid breathed a heavy sigh of relief. The business guy asked what the big deal was. We explained who the Banditos were and why we were a bit on edge. The barmaid showed him the note she had given to her friend. She went on to say that if everyone else had left and it was just her and them, she would have simply walked out rather than be alone with them.
The business guy was impressed. He said, "Wow. I was about to make some wise-ass crack about how they dressed but they left before I could." We expressed our gratitude for their timing.
FB: Made it to Cortez, CO, and found a campground. But for the last two miles I rode in some of the heaviest rain I've ever seen.
August 17 at 4:27am
All day long I had seen serious storm clouds flying over the mountains. They passed to the right or left of me or crossed my path well ahead or behind me. I was avoiding getting wet until I came to Ridgway, CO. I came around a turn in the middle of town and looked up the highway. About half a mile up the road was what seemed to be a wall of water heading right for me.
I turned back into town and hurried over to a local Subway sandwich place near the center of town. There I joined another biker waiting for the storm to pass. No sooner had I pulled into the parking lot than the winds came up. Strong winds were whipping down the valley and through the town. Branches and leaves where flying. Then the rain hit. And it hit very, very hard. The other traveler and I watched as the rain flooded the streets and wind whipped through town. For a while I was seriously worried that the wind might knock my bike over. Lightning was almost constant and the thunder was deafening.
The rain lasted only about an hour. I gave it another half hour just to be sure it was safe to venture out. As I headed west I ran into a few areas of drizzle but nothing really shocking. Then, about the time I was riding through Delores, CO, I could see another storm bearing down on me. Again I turned back. I stopped at a small motel to call it a day but the cost of a room was just too much. This is ski country and these little motels are very proud of their rooms.
I had already selected, as a destination, a KOA campsite in Cortez, CO, just 10-minutes down the road. So I zipped up my foul weather gear and rode on. I was almost there, only 2 miles to go when I rode into the wall of rain. I couldn't see 100-yds ahead. I slowed to about 30mph. The rain hit so hard that it hurt even through my heavy rain gear. Finally I made it to the campground. I parked my bike and squished my way into the office. I asked to register for a tent site. The guy asked, "Are you sure you wouldn't want a cabin, instead?" I glanced out the window at the rain that was still pouring down and listened the wind that was still howling. Yeah, I shelled out the extra $20 and got a cabin. I rode over to the cabin, unloaded my bike, and got out of my wet clothes. The cabin was still warm from the heat of the day and so very comfortable. The lightening and thunder kept me awake for a while but I finally got to sleep. The cabin was so warm that by morning my clothes were pretty much dry. I departed Cortez, CO, under a cloudless blue sky. Life was once again good
One of the stops I had planned on the way to Las Vegas was 'Four Corners.' As you may know there is only one place in the whole country where four states join each other in one spot. The states are: Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico.
There's a small monument there where visitors can park and take a picture of them straddling those states.
This monument is on an Indian reservation and you have to pay $3 per person to get in. The monument itself is actually pretty nice. But it is surrounded by makeshift shacks hawking "authentic Indian jewelry" and other trinkets. There was also some construction going on while I was there and the grounds were pretty muddy. But I paid the fee, I stood on the monument, I had the picture taken by a fellow traveler, and I checked that block off my 'to-do' list.
Me at the monument at four corners.
Nowadays everyone has a GPS of some kind. While talking with other travelers about my plan to go to Four Corners I had heard some rumors that the monument was actually a little out of place. According to Google Earth it's only a couple of hundred feet SE of the actual boundary junction. I don't know how accurate Google Earth is with respect to state boarders. I know it's very accurate when I overlay a GPS track on a road. The track and the road are almost exactly on top of each other. So I'm going to assume that the boundaries depicted on Google Earth are pretty close to where they really are.
Four Corners. I've circled the monument in yellow. You can see where Google Earth says the states come together just NW of the monument.
Then on the road again.
Eventually I made it to Nevada. Now I know I've talked about riding in Nevada before. But let me complain one more time. First of all, it's a "Helmet-required" state. So you have to stop and put on your hat.
Stopping at the Nevada state line to put on my helmet.
Secondly, it is incredibly hot in August. Riding in this desert is like sitting in front of a hair drier. And the faster you go, the hotter you get. I have to wear gloves just to keep my hands from burning up in the wind. When the temps get up to 107 (in the SHADE) the last thing you want to do is ride a bike. At each stop light you get some relief from the blow-dryer effect but you're sitting in the sun and that's not fun. At night on the freeways going through an underpass feels like you've ridden into an oven, the residual heat from the day is so intense.
FB: Arrived at Tammy's house in Las Vegas. It's hot.
August 17 at 8:16pm
Fortunately for me, I had moved my car to my sister's house in Vegas That gave me a more comfortable way to get around while I was visiting. I have two sisters, Tammy and Nancy, who live there. That gives me a place to sleep, a place to keep my car/bike/stuff, and unlimited advice on where to go and what to avoid in town. Also, since Tammy doesn't drink I have a built-in Designated Driver.
Tammy lives on the west side of Vegas. And she lives up the hill a bit, so she's not down in the valley. That actually makes a 10-degree difference in temperatures. The high downtown might be 105 but at Tammy's house it's "only" 95.
The Las Vegas Strip's skyline as seen from near Tammy's house.
I had made arrangements to fly my lady, Barbara out to visit with me for a week. She arrived a couple of days after I did. Barbara had grown up across the street from my childhood home. She's a bit younger than me so she was more friends with my younger sisters than with me; I barely knew her. Now she's all grown up and we're having a ball together.
Barbara had never before been to Vegas. Tammy and I showed her the sights. On the way home from the airport Tammy drove down the strip. It was about midnight and the strip was jumping. Barbara just stared at the buildings, the lights, and the people.
Barb and I had a list of things we wanted to do. They were mostly the common tourist things. But that's what we were. Before we got too involved with the tourist bit, we had to take a little road trip to San Diego.
One of the reasons for Barbara coming out to Las Vegas involved her daughter, Kelly. Kelly lives near San Diego, CA, with her two children, Randa and Ketrena. She was planning on getting married about the same time that I would be in Vegas. That's what caused me to suggest that Barb fly to Vegas and that we then drive to San Diego. The wedding plans changed a little but we drove to San Diego for a visit anyway.
A couple of days after Barb arrived in Vegas we hopped in the Vette and headed west. Tammy had warned me that leaving Vegas on Sunday was a bad idea. Something about everyone going home to California. As usual, she was right: Westbound traffic was very heavy.
Late in the morning Barb and I stopped at a small casino on the CA/NV-line for a inexpensive but filling breakfast. Whiskey Pete's casino sits almost directly on the state line. It's a smaller, older casino and in no way can compete with the likes of Caesar's Palace. But it had a '60's charm and look. And breakfast for $3.99 can't be beat anywhere.
Driving out to San Diego.
Kelly was gracious in welcoming me to her home and the kids, Randa and Ketrena, were, well, kids. Randa, being almost a teenager ignored us and Ketrena, being an energetic kid wore my but out playing kickball in the back yard. Kelly's fiance, Jonathan, came by to join us for dinner. He's a nice enough guy. But he's not quite as crazy as Kelly.
Randa and Ketrena. I don't think Randa ever put down her phone and Ketrena was the most precocious child I'd met. Here she decided to wear the ball that we had just split (rose bushes and balls don't get along).
For example: We were all still out in the backyard after a pleasant dinner. Kelly's backyard faces a golf course; just a low fence delineates the boundary. The sun had just set and the moon was bright. Suddenly the golf course sprinklers came on. Kelly's eyes grew big and she jumped up saying, "Let's run through the sprinklers!" The kids looked at their mom like she had suddenly grown antlers. Jonathan suggested that we would go to jail. My first comment was, "I'm in!"
A moment later all six of us were over the fence and running down onto the golf course toward the sprinklers. They don't all come on at once, you know. The sprinklers cycle down the fairway looking like a very small rain shower running down the course. We ran full speed down the fairway trying to keep up. As one sprinkler shut down and the next came alive, we were there. I looked back just in time to see Kelly do a belly-flop at full speed turning the fairway into a big slip-n-slide. Randa and Ketrena followed her lead.
When we finally made it back to Kelly's house, which was surprisingly hard to find in the dark, we were a mess. Great end to a great day.
The next morning Barb and I drove back to Las Vegas. The drive was fun as only Barb can make it. Now we had to go out and see the sights of Vegas and we only had a few days to do it. We were going to play tourist and Tammy would play tour-guide. I wanted Barb to see the famous sites as well as a few of the lesser known fun spots.
First of all one simply must have a picture taken at the world famous "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign. So we did. The city now has two of these signs: one at each end of 'The Strip,' aka: Las Vegas Blvd. So many people stop to have their picture taken here that the city has built a parking area in the middle of the street. Tour busses stop and wait while the tourists jostle for position for a picture of them and theirs hamming it up in front of that sign. On one side the sign says, "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas Nevada" and on the other side, "Drive Carefully, Come Back Soon." The back side is deserted, of course.
Barb and I at the famous "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign.
And we had to do some gambling. We didn't spend too much money. Most of what I lost I lost at the blackjack table. Tammy likes the slots so we dumped a few bucks into those, too.
Barb and Tammy at the slots.
FB: Cubby and I are on Fremont St, Las Vegas, now.
August 22 at 12:03am
We walked the length of the 'Fremont Experience'. This is the pedestrian way with the $70 million light canopy and the "glamour of vintage Las Vegas casinos." A walk down Fremont St is a little like being at a county fair. At every step there is something new to see or smell or hear.
One cannot argue with the claim that Vegas is a city of decadence and excess. But for me one of the most decadent experiences to be had in this town of sin is a deep-fried Twinkie on Fremont Street. If you've never eaten one you don't know the meaning of the word, "Sweet."
Since my little sister Tammy lives here she knows all the cool places to go. More importantly she knows all the shortcuts and back roads to get us there. Barbara wanted to see Caesar's Palace and Tammy wanted to show us the Venetian. I wanted to go to the Lexor because I've never been inside. Along the way I think we were in almost all the major casinos on the strip.
As Tammy drove us past the Bellagio the water fountain show started. So Barb and I jumped out at the curb to watch the show while Tammy parked the car. The water fountains did their dance to the music and the crowd did their job of oooh'ing and aaah'ing at all the right times. It was a blast.
I called Tammy to find out where she was (how did people ever find each other in a place like this before cell phones?) and we hooked up again. We walked about a million miles that evening. We walking through all the major casinos and down the street and over the street and up the street. Yeah, it was a long walk. But Tammy showed us the town as only a local can. Thanks, again, Tammy.
FB: Heading down to the Vegas Strip to lose some money with Cubby and Tammy.
August 21 at 10:01pm
Barb and Tammy in the Venetian Casino
Barbara has this little stuffed Dragon named Pyewacket. On my first trip to the The Tail of The Dragon I had bought the toy from one of the souvenir shops for Barbara. She named it Pyewacket after the witch's familiar in the movie, Bell, Book, and Candle. Barb has brought it along where ever we have traveled. We took a lot of pictures of Pyewacket in all the scenic hot spots of Vegas. Pyewacket has his own Facebook page where he documents his travels, chats with friends, and does whatever else a familiar spirit does.
Pyewacket on the Las Vegas Strip
Barb outside of the Luxor, I think. I get confused sometimes. I mean, I know it's Barb. I'm just not sure where.
Swimming in Lake Mead was another thing on the 'must-do' list. I've been to the lake before but I've never swum in any lake at night. There was a full moon (or close enough) that week so Tammy drove us out there about 10pm. The first pleasant surprise was that the money-collectors go home at sundown. So we got in for free. Once in the park Tammy made a couple of wrong turns ("It looks different in the dark") but finally we got to the beach. We'd had several days with temperatures over 105 so the water was warm. Swimming around in the dark was a strange. No one else was there and the wind was still so it was very quiet. So quiet that one felt compelled to whisper. A few cars drove by and each time they did Barb would panic saying, "We're all going to jail." We didn't of course. A couple of cars eventually came down to the beach but they parked far up or down the beach and seemed to want privacy as much as we did.
Barb must have done something to anger the Lady of the Lake. Just as Barb was coming out of the water the wind started to pick up. Within minutes the wind was blowing at about 20-kts and there were small but serious white-caps on the lake. Must have been Barb, she was the last one to come out.
The next day Barb and I drove out to see the Grand Canyon. Along the way we drove over Hoover Dam and saw, in daylight, Lake Mead. Having only been there at night Barb was surprised to see how big that lake really is. The drive to the Grand Canyon is longer than we thought. It took us about 5-hrs each way. And of course there was all that construction going on. At the dam they're still building that new bridge that will take vehicles away from the dam, relieving everyone of the security stop. And the road just south of the dam is being widened to 4-lanes so there's miles of construction to get through there, too.
Once inside the Grand Canyon Park we found they were re-surfacing the road. It was that kind of re-surfacing where they spray oil or tar on the road and then spread gravel over the wet tar. I hated driving my nice shinny Vette over the freshly spread gravel. I could hear it pinging up against the fenders and I just knew it was leaving little spots of tar all over the car.
Eventually we arrived at the canyon. We had to park quit a way from the south rim. And of course, there was construction going on at the main observation areas of rim itself. We had to walk a half mile west to actually get to a place where we could see into the canyon. Well, it's breathtaking and Barb was suitably impressed. There were bus-loads of people there. Lots of different languages could be heard as people went to the furthest piece of rock sticking out of the rim and had their friends take their picture.
Barb and I stopped a fellow tourist and asked if she would take our picture. Of course she would. I stepped out onto one of those rocks that stick way out over the rim and as Barb joined me I lost my balance. I was teetering out there with Barb trying to hold on to me when the girl took the picture. At the time we all thought the picture might only show our butts as we fell to our deaths. But we recovered. No we didn't die. But the girl taking our picture was sure worried about us.
Barb and I at the Grand Canyon
Barb visited for a week. After she flew home to Charlotte I stayed on in Vegas for a few more days.
I spent some time resting and then went out to some of my favorite places in Vegas. For some reason Barb and I had not made it to my favorite biker bar, Hogs and Heifers. Tammy lives pretty far from the strip so I also went online and looked for biker-friendly bars on the west side near where Tammy lives. I scouted around and eventually ended up in a couple of biker bars that were pretty rough. In fact I got home one night and my brother-in-law, Mike, asked where I'd been. I told him. He said, "You went THERE? That place is always on the news with shootings and stabbings." Well, yeah, there were some 'colors' in evidence. But I felt like I fit in fairly well. One place was having Karaoke night. When some big biker said, "Ain't she good" referring to his woman's performance, I felt strangely compelled to applaud and say, 'Hell yes!" even though she couldn't carry a tune in a bucket.
One of the bars I tried out was named 'Off The Strip'. It's way out on Tropicana Blvd. A nice enough restaurant with a smallish bar and a friendly bartender. When I came in and sat at the bar I was wearing my leather biker vest and a T-shirt with a cloth doo-rag on my head. I ordered a beer. A couple of stools down was a young guy in cook whites. He'd obviously been there a while. He started talking and telling me his life's story. I understand this since I often do the same. But soon the conversation came round to motorcycle clubs. He obviously was in awe of bikers. He saw my leather vest and assumed I was a member of Hell's Angels.
Now, my bike vest sports only a big Harley-Davidson patch and a Vietnam Vet patch on the back. I told him I was not affiliated with any club. And certainly I was no Hell's Angel. I told him that several times. Yet he persisted, saying he would do anything short of murder to get in the club. He kept starting with, "You guys..." And when I shot him a glance, a glance with which I meant to convey, "What are you talking about?" he would back-peddle and apologize saying, "Oh, no offense...."
This guy even went so far as to write his name and number on a napkin and sliding it across the bar to me. He said, "OK, I'm giving you my number. I'm going to the bathroom now and what you do with it is up to you. If I get a call, fine. If not, well, that's ok, too." The guy was nuts! I left. I felt pretty low about having a guy give me his number instead of a babe.
FB: I've developed a cold. So right now I'm self-medicating with Bourbon-on-the-rocks at Hogs and Heifers Saloon, Las Vegas. Starting to feel better already.
August 27 at 3:47am
Of course I had to spend a few evenings at my favorite bar of all in Vegas, Hogs and Heifers.
Why is Hogs and Heifers my favorite saloon? Well, first of all it's a real, honest-to-god saloon. It's not pretty. It's not on the main strip so you find a lot of locals there. And the bartenders do shots with the customers; in fact they insist on it. And they dance on the bar. The dance well on the bar. If you don't move your drink they will just kick it over. They let the lady patrons dance on the bar, too. That's usually a hoot.
Bartender dancing on the bar at Hogs and Heifers. I don't think the guy in the red shirt was a happy camper.
Lady patrons dancing on the bar at Hogs and Heifers
FB: It's 4 AM in Vegas. Last call and time to go home and get some sleep before I start it all again.
August 28 at 6:45am
At some point some tourist will wander over from Fremont Street and ask politely, "What kind of wine do you have?" At that point the bartender will pick up a megaphone and in an over-amplified screech shout something to the effect, "We got no fucking wine! We got beer! We got Whiskey! But we got no fucking wine! If you don't like it get the fuck out!" I love this attitude.
"We got no fucking wine!" says Michelle, Hogs and Heifers owner.
Hogs and Heifers has a free barbeque once a month. This month it just happened to be scheduled while I was there. I showed up not really knowing what to expect. It's held at 4:30 on Sunday.
I made the right turn off Stewart and onto the one-way 3rd I saw about 50 bikes parked in front of the bar. I had never seen more than about 6. I grabbed a free plate of food and bought a beer and settled at a table with a few other guys. I eventually went back for seconds. I thought it was all very nice until later that evening. I was lying in bed with a tummy ache. Suddenly everything I had eaten came rushing back up. I guess it was a bit of food poisoning. Free barbeque isn't always as good as it sounds.
My other (older) sister, Nancy, also lives in Las Vegas. And her house has a pool, while Tammy's doesn't. So on several occasions we had gone over to Nancy's just to hang out in her pool. The last time I visited Vegas I floated around the pool long enough to get a very bad sunburn over my whole body. Very painful. But this time I was much more responsible about it.
Tammy pointed out the fact that she had not gotten to ride on my bike in the two times I've visited Vegas. So one day, when we were heading over to Nancy's to have dinner, I gave her a ride while her husband, Mike, came in the car. After we had been sitting around at Nancy's a while Tammy started hinting about how she thinks she could ride my bike by herself. Tammy had had a small Honda when she was in high school. But, (sorry, Tammy) that was quite a while ago. Anyway I decided that maybe she was right and that she could ride my bike.
So we went outside and I backed the bike out of the driveway and into the street. Rolling a bike backwards down an incline is tough and she didn't need that extra hassle. She climbed on and stood the bike up. She looked like she could handle it. She really did. She fired it up and clicked it into gear. She slowly let out the clutch and moved about 10-ft.
The bike then started to wobble and I stopped breathing. Her feet went down; always a bad sign. The engine revved as she pulled in the clutch and couldn't roll off the throttle; another bad sign. She was grabbing for the break. And the bike wobbled more. She finally got the bike to stop and, to her credit, didn't drop it. But I thought for sure she was going to. She sat there a moment and then shut off the engine, put down the kickstand, and climbed off. She had ridden about 20-ft in about 10-seconds. That was enough to demonstrate that there was a possibility that she might not be able to ride an 800-lb Harley-Davidson Road King. My bike is not at all like the small, lightweight Honda that she had once ridden as a teenager. I drove the bike back in the driveway and we all went to dinner.
FB: On the road again.
Departed Las Vegas en route to Key West this morning. May make it to southeastern Arizona today. Good to be heading home and closing out this summer's travels.
August 31 at 1:49pm
My route from Las Vegas to San Antonio, TX
Me, loaded up and departing Tammy's house heading east toward Key West
Finally I loaded up my bike and headed east toward home. Last time I made the run east out of Las Vegas, I was heading through Kansas City and toward Pax River, MD. This time I would ride southeast toward El Paso, across Texas and through New Orleans. Then around the Gulf Coast and back to Key West. It should be a long, hot, trip.
As I left Las Vegas I stopped again on this little stretch of historic Rt-66 just outside of Kingman, AZ. I had stopped here before on the way to the Grand Canyon with Barb in my Vette. Now I was in the same spot on the same road with my Harley. Definitely picture-worthy.
Vette and Harley at the same place on Historic Route-66, Kingman, Arizona.
FB: Breakfast in Globe, AZ; Eastbound.
September 1 at 11:20am
FB: Stopped at the KOA in Las Cruces, MM for the night. Aiming for Del Rio, TX, tomorrow. Set my camp in the shade, now it's in the hot sun. Need a horn to stop sun
September 1 at 8:26pm
Riding across west Texas is not fun. There's really nothing at all to look at and very few places to stop. So I took pictures of myself.
Yeah, I look like a bad-ass biker; buy my friends know better. Just cruising along through Texas
I was stopped twice on the road to San Antonio at Customs roadblocks. They stand there and ask if you're having a good day while their partner walks the dog around the bike. He asks, "What's your citizenship?" I answer, "US." The dog is by now satisfied that I'm not a smuggler of contraband, human or otherwise, and I'm waved on with a smile and a, "Have a nice day, sir." At least they didn't say, "Show me your papers!"
I think this kind of roadblock is what was set up down in the Keys back on April 23rd, 1982, that caused the quiet rebellion and formation of the Conch Republic in Key West.
I saw in the news that some sheriff had posted a sign on a freeway saying to "Prepare to stop. Drug enforcement roadblock ahead." The sign was just before a little-used freeway exit. The real roadblock/check-point was on the ramp. Anyone who took the off-ramp was stopped. Of course there was no roadblock on the freeway. Smart or entrapment?
I arrived in Del Rio and looked for a campsite. It was a little late in the day (6pm) and most of the places I stopped at either didn't offer tent sites or the office was closed already. I was about to give up when I came to a small RV/Campground that was still open. For $15 I could camp, shower and do laundry. There was also a trashy little bar almost directly across the street. My kind of place.
FB: Awoke to lightening, heavy rain, and high winds here in west Texas. My little tent is dancing all around me. My big butt is the only thing holding it down.
September 3 at 6:58am
Of course, I was in a hurry to get to that trashy little bar almost directly across the street. So I just popped up my tent, threw my gear inside and rode off. When I got back I was in no condition to worry about things like staking the tent down. Besides, it was a beautiful night.
But at 5 AM things were decidedly different. I awoke to lightening. That nearby, "Holy Shit!" kind of lightening where the thunder seems to almost precede the flash. Then the wind and rain hit. I'm lying there spead-eagle trying to hold my tent in place with feet and arms. The thin bamboo rods are flexing and collapsing and I swear the tent will be wrent asunder any moment. The rain started to drip down the walls of the tent (whatever happened to water-proof tents?) .
Soon I was using a dirty sock to mop up the pools of water that were forming on the apparently water-proof floor of the tent. The wind slowly died but the rain continued through the dawn and into the morning hours.
As the rain let up I carried a bunch of clothing over to the laundry and used the dryers.
FB: Rain finally let up so I broke camp. But as I head east toward San Antonio it looks like I may be catching up with that line of rain.
September 3 at 12:51pm
The storm was moving east, as was I. I knew that I would probably catch up to it if I left too soon. So I gave it plenty of time to move off my route. It looked like it might be traveling a bit more northerly than I.
I rode through some moderate rain squalls. At one point I noticed that when my leather streamers get really wet, and then whip against my bare arm, they hurt!.
My streamers whipping my arm. Hurts... but I sort of like it.
Finally I arrived at San Antonio, TX. I stopped there to see the sights and to visit with my friend, Kristie. She's a nurse in the Air Force, stationed there at Lackland AFB. She is also the owner of the sailboat, "Barely Twisted" that is in the slip right next to mine. She had her parents visiting and we all got together a few times.
Kristie and I went to a small natural history museum that taught all about the Texas environment.
And of course, I had to see the Alamo and the famous River Walk. That takes all of about half a day.
The Alamo in downtown San Antonio, TX
The River Walk
FB: I've seen the Alamo, I'm having a need at an Irish Pub on the famous San Antonio River Walk. I've about checked the blocks.
Staying at the Air Force Base.
September 4 at 2:55pm
So Kristie took me and her dad kayaking with the San Antonio Adventurers' Club. That was a blast! I had never Kayaked down a river before. Granted, the 'rapids' were not too impressive from a distance. But once you're in them, you are very much aware of the power of moving water. Tired and wet at the end of the day we wrapped it up with some great, authentic Texas Barbeque (I'm not sure what that means, but it tasted good).
FB: Kayaking yesterday with Kristie and Herb. 7-miles down a river with a nice mix of 'gentle' rapids and long stretches of paddling.
September 6 at 12:11pm
FB: Heavy rain from TS Hermine is keeping me in San Antonio one more day. Waiting for weather happens on bikes, too. And this Air Force inn is cheap and comfy.
September 7 at 8:51am
Hurricane Hermine decided to come directly over San Antonio while I was there, so I was delayed another night. Lots of wind and buckets of water. Serious flooding throughout central Texas as a result. Even when I did leave the next day I saw evidence of flood damage all along the roadways toward Houston.
Since I was staying another day, Kristie picked me up at noon and we had a nice Greek lunch at a local favorite of hers. Then she was off to work and I went back to my room for a quiet night before riding off in the morning.
Kristie dressed for work is a whole different animal.
My route from San Antonio to Key West.
FB: On the road between San Antonio and Houston, TX. Riding through angry remnants of TS Hermine. My world is very wet.
September 8 at 1:58pm
FB: North of Houston now. The clouds parted; the sun shown; the angels sang. And there was much rejoicing.
September 8 at 5:36pm
FB: Arrived Naval Air Station New Orleans. Nice room for $25. Tomorrow I see the sights
September 8 at 11:13pm
I made it to New Orleans Naval Air Station late at night . I wanted to stop in New Orleans just because I'd never been there before.
I had originally made my reservation for only one night. But now I wanted to stay for two so I could hang out downtown and do the Bourbon Street crawl. But this is a reserve base (I was told) and this was a drill weekend (I was told). The desk clerk said when I checked in that there were no rooms available for me.
I went up to my room and went on-line. There was a room available. It was a 'shared head' room but what the hell. The next morning I went to the office and asked when I had to move from the room I had to the room I had just booked. It took a while to explain it all to the day clerk. Finally she said that I would have to check out at 11am and then could check in at 3pm. In the meantime I could leave my things in the lobby. That didn't sound very good but, if that's what it takes....
The clerk called me an hour later and said, "I've done some switching around and you can stay where you are tonight." Too Cool. Someone was actually taking the initiate to help out a weary traveler.
FB: Having a beer and some strange food in the French Qt, New Orleans. Football today, too, so it's very crowded. And it's raining, again. Having a great day!
September 9 at 5:39pm
So I was able to stay a couple of nights at a Navy base; nice room, cheap rates. And coincidently, the Saints were playing that night. So downtown was wild. Especially after the Saints won the game! With a second night booked I took a couple of trips downtown and took my time seeing the sights.
I found Bourbon Street and was suitably impressed. That is it looked like I thought it would. The streets are narrower, the buildings smaller and closer to the road, and... OK, maybe it didn't look like I thought it would.
During the day both sides of the road are jammed with deliver trucks. I didn't get around to seeing it at night. I'm sure it would look much different.
Bourbon Street during the day.
FB: "When you get to the end zone you should act like you've been there before." -Jim Brown
September 11 at 12:11am
I met some friendly people there. Among them, Jackie and her friends Maria and Jason. We watched the parade and then went into Harrah's to watch the game on the huge screens there.
The pre-game parade made it's way down to our part of town.
Jackie was an expert at getting the people on the floats to throw her beads. And she was an expert at catching them She gave me some of her extras.
I had to stay sober to get back onto the Naval Air Station. But they didn't. Maria and Jason had an argument. So I split after the game.
Me and Jackie getting drunk and watching the Saints win
FB: In a bar called 'Red Eyes' enjoying the 'we won' party.
September 9 at 11:57pm
I ended up in a little bar called Red Eyes. This is funny because the main dock bar at my old marina at Kent Narrows was called Red Eyes, too. After the post game the place turned into a hot spot for 20-somethings. The crowd was just a little too young for me and the music, well, to my old ears it didn't sound much like music. And they dance funny in New Orleans (don't let anyone tell you different!). I split about 1am and rode back to my quarters.
The crowd at the Red Eyes bar, New Orleans
FB: On the road again. Left New Orleans this morning .
Going to have lunch at Lulu's.
September 10 at 11:09am
I followed that up with a quick stop at Lulu's and the Flora-Bama.
FB: Having a burger and a beer at Lucy Buffett's place, Lulu's. I was here a couple years back with my buddy, Capt Ron. It hasn't changed, Ron: still full of rug-rats.
September 10 at 2:34pm
Lulu's is a nice, family-oriented restaurant in Gulf Shores, AL. My buddy, Capt Ron, and I made a road trip there from Annapolis a few years back and it hasn't changed a bit. Still too family-oriented for rough old sailors.
Lulu's restaurant in Homeport Marina, Gulf Shores, AL
The story of the magnificent weekend road trip of Capt's Ron and Bill from Annapolis to Lulu's and back is legendary. The story has been told around campfires for years. You can read the whole in depth narrative right here:http://sv-galena.livejournal.com/31641.html.
But in a nutshell, way back in June of '07 my buddy, Capt Ron (s/v Lastdance) and I decided on a whim to drive to Lulu's for lunch. It took a full day to get there and a full day to get back. But the place wasn't exactly what we had expected. Lulu's is a family-oriented place. We were looking for a rough-around-the-edges dock bar or beach bar. After a very nice meal Susan, the manager at the time, suggested we stop by the Flora-Bama. We did and were very happy about the find.
FB: Had to make a pilgrimage to the Flora-Bama. This is the view from the deck. As many of you know this is the bar Jimmy Buffett was actually singing about in his song, 'Bama Breeze,' one of my favorite Jimmy Buffett songs
Now on down the Gulf Coast on US-98. Don't know how far I will get. I'm still about 1,000 miles from home. But at least I'm back in Florida.
September 10 at 6:02pm
The Flora-Bama has seen some more reconstruction. But it still looks like shit. It is a true biker/boater/beach-bum kind of place. I love it.
It sits right on the Florida/Alabama line (hence the name). well, actually it is entirely in Florida. But the state line is just 5-ft outside the west wall.
The Flora-Bama, on the beach at the Florida/Alabama state line
I made to Panama City Beach before I got too tired to go on. I was looking for a campground that was supposed to be right next to this little amusement park. But I couldn't find it. I did, however, find a small motel that looked interesting. Rooms were very finexpensive and I was surprised to see that they were 'extended stay' rooms with full kitchens. That wouldn't do me much good since I was just there for a good night's sleep. Granted the appliances were from about 1960, but at least everything worked.
FB: Sitting at a biker bar in Panama City Beach, FL. Beer, babes, and bikes. The only thing missing is...
September 10 at 11:20pm
Once I was settled in I asked the lady at the desk where I could get a beer. She said all the bikers (of which she was one) hang out at a place called Miss Newby. It was less than a mile down the street. I found it easily enough (it was the bar with all the bikes out front). I went on in and had a nice couple of drinks. There was a head-banger band with the now ubiquitous shirtless androgynous lead singer. But there was also a lot of women milling about. I had a good time chatting-up several of them. Found one who's husband was in jail. She was having a rough time coping with the loneliness but said as long as there is no penetration she wasn't really cheating. Interesting philosophy. A batchelorette party showed up. Eventually the booze brought out some bitchiness in a few of them and I'm not sure all the bridesmaids would still be in the wedding party.
Then back to the room for a good night's rest. Luckily it was less than a mile and the road was straight.
FB: A Waffle House breakfast south of Panama City, FL. Sunshine and blue skies; great day for riding.
I've ridden over 8,000 miles in the past 6-wks. Almost home
September 11 at 10:28am
Up in the morning and heading out of town. I thought I'd get breakfast somewhere some time in the morning. As I'm leaving Panama City I spy I Waffle House. I have not had a Waffle House breakfast for a while; I was overdue. So I turned around and hopped in. As usual the place was staffed by the most outspoken and fun ladies. Just sitting at the counter and listening to them bitch about whichever employee wasn't there at the time is worth the price of admission. And I've always had a good breakfast at Waffle House. I know some people who refer to it as "Awful House" but they are just snobs and wouldn't know solid American food if it hit them in the face.
FB: The Gulf Coast. The ripe odor of the flats at low tide. I can almost near the salt air chewing on my chrome over the gentle purr of my Screaming Eagle pipes.
September 11 at 1:53pm
As I rode along the Gulf Coast I was more and more aware of how much I had missed the water. Looking to my right I could see the waters of the Gulf stretching to the horizon. I could smell the salt marshes. I knew I was getting close to home. Yeah, I really like riding my bike around the country. And I like playing the role of the bad-ass biker dude (don't laugh! some people see me that way.). But what I really love is the ocean and my boat. Almost home.
I stopped at a motel in Port Charlotte, FL. I was looking for something very, very cheap. I found it. This place didn't even have a remote for the TV. The building looked to be 60 years old and the place was administered by a very old Indian guy. Just as I was signing in the rain started again. I got the bike over to my room and had just finished unloading it when the rain came down with a vengeance.
The room was sort of crappy but at least it was clean. I put myself to bed and slept well through the stormy night.
One more day and I'd be home. That was a nice thought.
FB: Riding through Port Charlotte, FL. Cracker Barrel breakfast to get me going. Only 350-mi to go on this, the last day of a very long trip.
Sunday at 9:27am
FB: Made it home today at 1545hrs. Beautiful day of riding. Except for the last 15 miles when I hit a very bad rain squall. Soaking wet as I parked in the marina.
But Galena was waiting for me all dry and inviting. It's very good to be home.
So now I will concentrate on getting Galena ready for my trip in November.
No more "Biker Bill." It's just "Sailboat Bill" for the foreseeable future.
Sunday at 5:20pm
After what it was a long, hot, muggy run down Florida's Gulf Coast and around to Key West.
The last day of my road trip was beautiful. The weather was sunny and the air was warm. Traffic cooperated for the most part.
But when I got to Marathon I started to see rain squalls marching across the keys. A small one came right up US-1 and over me. I though it was too small to stop and put on my rain gear. I was wrong. It dropped buckets of rain on me in the few minutes it took for it to move north while I motored south. Well, that's not accurate. The lower keys run east and west, but we still call it north and south.
At mile 20 I saw another squall. This one even looked big. I stopped about a half mile from the face of the rain front and put on my rain gear. Again this rain was brutal. I was soaked to the bone below my rain jacket in a minute. I had put on my helmet because it's just too easy to fall in the rain. I was glad I did as I felt the huge drops knocking my head around.
That rain lasted from Mile Post 20 all the way to the parking lot of the marina. The guard at the gate to the air station looked at my bike all loaded down with luggage and equipment and asked, "Been traveling?" I said, "Yep coming from Las Vegas." He said, "I hope you had better weather than this for the other parts of the trip." Yeah, most of the trip was beautiful.
I parked the bike and strolled over to the Navigator bar. It was time for a 'welcome home' beer. Unloading the bike would wait. Besides it was raining. I beer or two later and I carried all my junk to the boat.
Galena was as I had left her. The only thing wrong was that I had left my US flag up and at some time in the past month or so we had had enough wind do tatter her pretty badly. The flag came down and was replaced with one of several spares that I keep on board.
Over the next couple of days I would settle back into my usual routine. The 700 pictures would be reviewed and the best posted on my Facebook page, my blog, my web site. I'd eventually complete this narrative and then this most excellent adventure would be history.
Oh, and once again, my bike's rear tire is worn out and needs to be replaced. We finish where we start, huh?