Summer Saddle Sore and Soaking June 24 – July 2, 2020
The original ride would have taken my wife and I to the BMW National Rally in Great Falls. The ride was planned and reservations were made along our route northward and westward after the rally. Those plans were scuttled after the COVID-19 outbreak. As days passed, we also found out we were about to be blessed with another granddaughter. “Nana” had her heartstrings pulled and understandably decided to stay nearby to assist.
So I planned a ride for just myself, I hoped to basically follow the same route but cancel about half of the overnight reservations. Ended up canceling everything and leaving my plan open, except for the leaving date of Wednesday, June 24th. I also knew I would return by July 4th, Saturday. At that point I planned to camp and fix my own meals for much of the trip, spending little time in hotels and restaurants. The final plan included more of those stops than originally planned.
As the day approached I received news that a long-awaited riding suit from Aerostich was ready (almost 2 months early). So the plan would start with a ride to Duluth MN to pick up the new riding suit. When I posted the joy of my suit being ready and my plan to go to the factory to pick it up, a friend asked if I wanted company for that portion of the trip. I said yes. We began planning an Iron Butt Ride for the day of the outing.
The following is a day to day log of the trip that happened. It is long. I wrote it for my memory and a few who like to read about these journeys. Don’t feel any obligation to read it. If you do, I hope you can catch the joy in my head and heart received from these long-ish motorcycle travels.
Lubbock to Shakopee MN: Yee-Haw! Wednesday
Christopher Ross met me at the Loves Truck Stop on I-27 a little before 5 am on Wednesday, June 24 to begin our proposed journey to the south side of Minneapolis. With fuel receipt in hand (DBR) we worked our way over to Highway 114 and headed east toward Seymour.
With Ross’ Clearwaters and my Denalis wicked up to “11”, we kept the roadway illuminated and the animals at a distance. Traffic was nil and the weather was a pleasant 70 degrees.
The ever brightening sunrise set the eastern sky ablaze long before we saw the sun. The sun made its appearance at about Red Springs as we both struggled to see ahead of us. Christopher made an unexpected and very quick stop to water a few weeds along the roadside before our first official fuel stop in Witchita Falls.
Oklahoma to Kansas: Turnin’ Up the Heat
The Oklahoma Turnpike Authority would only get pictures of our “derriere” as we decided they could contact us later to see what we owed for our journey on I-44 to Oklahoma City. We would catch I-35 north out of OKC and stop briefly at the Stillwater “Cowboy” convenience store for a splash of fuel before continuing into Kansas. At the state line I-35 also becomes a toll road on its way to Kansas City with another gas stop and a quick respite for food at the adjoining McDonalds near Emporia KS. The heat had found us. Both of us resorted to evaporative cooling with a water bottle periodically spraying down our jackets. At about 3 pm we had one small missed turn with a quick correction in Kansas City, MO before we exited the city. Once we hit Des Moines IA, we hit some back roads to reach our next goal, the Iron Butt Farm sign, near Webster IA (at about 6:45 pm).
Iowa to Minnesota: The Final Push for the SS1000 (Saddles Sore 1000)
The backroads provided relief from the heat and some great two-lane roads as the sun begins to throw long shadows across the cornfields, but our destination called us back to the expansion gaps of the concrete and the higher speed limits of I-35. Minnesota greeted us with cooler temperatures and increasing traffic as we pressed on. We had intentionally stayed on the southwest side of Minneapolis to avoid getting caught up in any of the local unrest and arrived in Shakopee about 9:45 pm, stopping briefly for our last required DBR to document the day. After checking into the hotel we headed to Applebees for a little food and beverage before crashing for the night.
What I Learned Today:
Christopher is quite the statistician. He had his electronics all dialed in and was able to provide a great deal of detail for our trip. I concentrated on riding, as it would likely be my first “official” Iron Butt ride. We made fuel stops at almost exactly 200 miles each time. While we both had identical fuel mileage, his GSA had far more range with its 9-gallon tank (vs my 6 gallons). Christopher has loading, unloading, and even fuel stops down to a scientific study inefficiency. He can fill the same number of gallons and be ready to leave nearly before I get my gas cap off. It was embarrassing. Ross gets off the bike at the end of the day and has one bag in his hand headed to the front desk, while I am headed inside to get the rolling buggy to return to the bike and ferry all of my crap inside. I slowed his progress at every stop. Christopher was kind and patient. In fairness, I was carrying all of my camping gear, food, cooking equipment, and stuff for 10 days, while he needed fewer accouterments for his shorter trip. But still, he is one to be learned from if you are attempting to gain efficiency.
Shakopee to Duluth: Relaxing on Thursday
Thursday morning was relaxed and very enjoyable. After loading up we headed up along the western edge of the Minneapolis-plex, completely avoiding downtown. We had zero issues and saw no evidence of any ongoing strife. The ride to Duluth was wonderful in the morning air. Christopher led us directly to the Aerostich building and my excitement was difficult to maintain. This place is motorcycling Nirvana. The crowd was sparse as they are not officially open to the public, yet. I was quickly led to a young lady who located my new pants and jacket and Christopher began being sized. I left my old jacket and pants behind with the instructions to mail it all back home. We bought a few souvenirs and killed a little time looking at farkles and nice-cities before setting off to the hotel.
Mikki found a “primo” place for us to stay. I highly recommend the Canal Park Lodge. We both vowed to return to this place with our respective spouses on a future date. The harbor area is filled with warehouses and old manufacturing facilities reclaimed and repurposed for the tourist crowd. Duluth is a beautiful old city with a lot of charm, on the banks of Lake Superior, … at least the parts I saw. We got a burger and a beverage near the hotel and did some walking around to stretch our legs. We rested and Christopher assisted me in filling out my IBA (Iron Butt Association) paperwork to turn in upon return to Texas.
Duluth and Up the North Shore: Friday “You Can Go Your Own Way”
Christopher swears that I snore. I can’t confirm his accusation. I slept well. Ross says he slept despite my attempts to awaken him with my log sawing. Friday morning had us packing up for a journey that would lead us north and then we would part ways with different agendas. A nice “socially distanced” breakfast was provided by the staff of the Canal Park Lodge and then we were out the door.
Ross headed off inland from Two Harbors MN while I continued up the north shore. We had a great ride together.
My ride northward was relaxing and gorgeous. A calm and smooth Lake Superior flanked me off to the right. Beautifully kept homes both large and small dotted the coastline. Some homes had manicured lawns all the way to the water while others had welcoming front (or back) porches to capitalize on the views of the water. The roadside was painted purple with wildflowers against the tall grass of deep green. The native flowers are called Lupines. They reminded me of the Blue Bonnets I enjoy so much in the Texas “Hill Country”. These majestically tall beauties are accompanied by smaller yellow and white flowers for the duration of the highway north.
My northernmost destination, Grand Marias was bustling with activity; vacationers and day-trippers filled the streets of this coastal town. They even had an Old Ben Franklin ”5 and dime” store downtown, about 2 blocks from Lake Superior. I had traveled north at the recommendation of another rider from home, (Thanks, Upe) and his suggestion to visit the Voyageur Brewing Company in that town.
Heading inland: This is Why I Ride a Motorcycle
After a brief visit, I headed south and began to ponder my path to begin westward. I had no plan. That was the plan… the whole plan.
All roads rise from the coastline and weave through the coastal hills before dropping into the wetlands which make up the Mississippi River headwaters. The roads were all but deserted, leaving me to watch the passing scenery, watch for wildlife, and enjoy the ride. The road wandered almost aimlessly. Continuous curves and endless elevation changes made my internal compass spin. “Just follow the road and enjoy the ride”, is what I heard my brain say. I hoped to see a moose from a safe distance but failed to see anything more than a few deer.
A favorite part of any day when traveling by motorcycle is to find an interesting place for lunch. Today, I found such a place. It was the Bassett Community Church whose Pastor, according to the freshly painted sign, is Belle Westman… Stopped for lunch at this beautiful and simple framed building. Shade was abundant and a cool breeze welcomed me to a picnic table ripe with an invitation to be enjoyed. I will neither confirm nor deny that a nap was taken while in that shade. Magical.
If you’re interested, they have services every Sunday at 3 PM.
First Night in the Hammock:
As the afternoon continued I began to consider where I would camp for the night. My desire to hang my hammock was twice rebuffed by separate RV parks with ample space and large trees. Each touted “camping” on their websites… but rejected my form of camping. Eventually, I came upon a Corp of Engineers site, but it was already full. I was told that the next Corp camping site down the road had ONE SITE STILL OPEN.
I worked frantically to use my phone to find the site, create an account, and then secure the tent site. Success. Ended up in a beautiful, idyllic place near the headwaters of the Mississippi. Tall hardwood trees canopied the road and the camping area. Sites were well spaced allowing for plenty of personal stretching. I settled in and got camp set up. I began to relax as I methodically prepared my dinner and a drink for supper. Folks were camped about 40 yards from each other and conversations were politely “shouted” over the “social distancing” distance or from the road that meandered through camp. I had several folks inquire about how I could get everything on the bike for a trip as I had planned. We talked about all the gear and how it all functioned as well as how to secure everything on the bike.
As I retired for the otherwise peaceful and perfect evening, about dark, the landscape came alive with the spawn of Satan, … mosquitoes began to swarm. Enough mosquitoes to make looking across the distance to the other campsites a little blurry. Prior to dark, the little suckers had been absent/dormant/hiding/conspiring. Really, no mosquitoes, at all till dark. I felt invaded like a sailor on the USS Missouri at Pearl harbor. I donned myself with DEET and dove into my bunker, … I mean, climbed into my hammock. I was awakened several times (likely about 100 times) by the buzzing around my ears of these little Kamikazes. Finally got settled by placing a fleece blanket over my head and face and eventually, slept fairly well. Surprisingly, the bloodthirsty soldiers were almost gone the next morning. I packed up to leave without coffee or my oatmeal, for fear of a reprisal attack.
Morning Ride: Rolling Through the Rest of Minnesota and finding North Dakota, Saturday
I was rolling through the tall pines and hardwoods by 6:30 am headed to find breakfast, rather than to become breakfast. there’s a little town about 30 miles down from that campsite called Black Duck with a friendly place to get that breakfast called Restaurant 71 (not catchy, but it is on highway 71). Had a great traditional breakfast and several good cups of coffee before heading off for … who knows?
US Highway 2 would become my traveling companion for all of this day. I entered North Dakota at Grand Forks as my nose continued to point westward along the upper edge of the US. Upon crossing that bridge into ND the land went as flat as a penny on the railroad track. (don’t do that, it’s illegal) The morning heat would climb to mid-day swelter. While the landscape was flatter than the top of Abe Lincoln’s top Hat, the area abounded with small and medium-sized lakes. My greatest entertainment of the day was looking into each of the lakes which appeared frequently on the sides of the road to see little ducklings following their mother. At one point a new mother haphazardly led her group of about 14 little ducklings across the 70mph, four-lane highway in front of me.
One larger lake was named Devil’s Lake and was adjacent to a town of the same name. The heat was getting to me so I began to look for a place for lunch, hoping to find a local park. Bingo! Roosevelt Park was full of trees and had many vacant picnic tables. I unloaded the saddlebag with my food and enjoyed some cheese, summer sausage, and crackers while hoping the breeze would pick up, … a least a little. I rested for about an hour before packing up. I was interrupted by some passersby who were supposed to be attending a wedding nearby. They said the wedding was over an hour late starting and their hopes for it starting anytime soon were waning. People, in general, have a lot of questions about folks who ride.
Michael Brown had referred me to a point of interest within this route. This special spot in the road resides in Rugby ND, It is the geographic center of North America. There is a monument erected along the highway announcing that which likely impresses few, but provides a momentary respite in an otherwise boring day, for many. I snapped a few pictures to commemorate my boredom and the oppressive heat. Boredom and heat would peak that afternoon, with temps reaching 100 in the late afternoon and the landscape never improving. What Minnesota had provided with cooler temperatures and in diverse landscape and beauty,
North Dakota lacked. Completely.
A Second Night Hanging from Trees and the Rain Sets In
As I approached the little town of Ray ND, I saw two things that caught my attention. First I saw the presence of lightning and dark clouds forming on the far horizon… Second, I was excited to see the offer of a free city park and lake within the little place. Upon investigation, the park was very nice and not very busy. I set up camp quickly as the storm approached. I checked radar and weather forecasts to find this storm to be formidable, with predictions of 40-60 mile per hour winds and several inches of blowing rain. The storm also promised to bring the temperature down about 20 additional degrees during the night.
I wondered, now, if leaving my tent at home was a good idea. With stakes driven as deep as they could go, I worked hard to securely tie down all the corners of the tarp hanging over my hammock creating a diamond-shaped shelter. I gave special attention to the tie points due to the anticipated winds of the predicted storm. As I prepared my supper I looked closely at my rig wondering if I was about to spend a cold and wet night in the North Dakota grasslands. My boots made a temporary home under the tarp with me and my hammock. I packed up all my loose items into watertight bags and hit the sack as daylight disappeared and turned to a brilliant light show in the sky. Lightening turned to thunder and then to torrential rain. The winds howled and yanked at every side of the tarp. The hammock swung under the tarp but held firm. I actually slept very well, with a few moments of excitement sprinkled in. Dawn was cooler (about 45 degrees) and was a welcome change. With the morning came a short respite from the rain. The short break was long enough for me to be able to pack up all my very wet gear, and I hit the road as the rain resumed. It would have to dry out later.
On to Billings: Trading the Flatlands for the Mountains, Sunday
The morning was sweet relief from the stormy night if only momentary. I happily traded the hard rain for the light mist and intermittent rain. The flatlands of North Dakota began to welcome the rolling hills of eastern Montana. Mountains became visible on the far horizon and the clouds began to darken, thicken, and threaten. Sprinkles turned to a downpour. Wet roads turned to channels of rolling water in both lanes. My windshield goes to the lowest position to blow the rain off of my helmet for better visibility. All the RainX in the world doesn’t seem capable of shedding the water from my helmet shield. Surely this won’t last all day… surely. The miles click by and the rain continues from drizzle to monsoon. I am entertained by the low clouds hugging the nearby mountains and hills. This scene is common in Montana and one I truly love to observe. Despite the rain, it is a beautiful day to be on the road and (even) in the weather. I reached Billings in the early afternoon and decided to indulge myself with a motel room in an effort to get stuff dried out. Notwithstanding, I would have a soft bed and a quiet restful night. After getting into the room I immediately let all of the wet stuff spread out. I covered the beds, the chairs and tables with everything that had suffered from the ride and the overnight rain. I set the AC to request the fulltime fan on high setting. I laid down across the bed and the next thing I remember is that it was about 6 pm and hunger had awakened me. I ordered a pizza to be delivered and enjoyed a little television before crashing again for the night.
On to Missoula: More Rain…. Are You Kidding Me? Monday
I was awake early and looked out the window to (hopefully) observe a clear day for riding. Nope. I delayed packing to let the rain slow down. Nope. The rains continued. A quick look at the local and regional weather only confirmed a greater expansion of the wet weather. I packed up my gear (most of it was dry by this time. I had neglected to get the tarps, sleeping bag, fleece blanket out to dry. I would find them a few days from now.
I loaded the bike after seeing that the wonderful Holiday Inn Express complimentary breakfast was not being offered. I’d get coffee somewhere down the road. I rolled out into the steady rain later than usual, about 9 am. I settled in for another wet day. Although I had ridden this road many times, it appeared different in this rain. I focused on the road but occasionally would enjoy the view of the Yellowstone River and even the Missouri River as I-84 meandered through the valleys.
When traveling on a motorcycle I have become accustomed to lingering looks by those who pass by on the highway and those at adjoining gas pumps. Those stares become more puzzled when there is rain and cold weather. Many nod and greet you. A few silently wag their heads in disbelief. And an even fewer speak to you as if you were friends with phrases like, “Dude, you’re crazy”, or “Aren’t you wet/cold?”. This was that kind of day.
The rain intensified through the day. Radar showed neither a ray of sunshine or of hope along my desired path. Upon reaching Missoula I paused for fuel and a little soul-searching. The rigors of riding in the rain add to the expectedly more demanding skills of riding a motorcycle. I was tired; more tired than I would have been without the last few days of continual rain.
These are critical moments for those of us on 2 wheels. Choices need to be made clearly and egos must be set aside or accidents follow. I altered my plan.
I had hoped to venture further westward into Washington state (less than 3 hours away) on this trip to see friends. The rain was predicted to dissipate within 24 hours. It would likely be raining for the rest of the day and through tomorrow anywhere I went, no matter my direction. I had traveled about 3500 miles thus far. Was this going to be my turn around the point?
I needed to stop for fuel as I ventured into Missoula MT. I pulled into the pumps and reloaded the tank as I had about every 230 miles along the way. After fueling, I looked at motel options and even looked at a nearby KOA. Surprised by the equal cost of $73 for a KOA Camper Cabin and the same exact cost for a Motel 6, I pondered other options. As the rain fell my eyes turned to see a Cracker Barrel Restaurant with a near-empty parking lot. Dinner would give me some time to consider all my options and coffee would warm my brain to greater lucidity. A quick search revealed a nearby Airbnb for less than $40. It had great ratings. I sent the message and soon got a confirmation of a successful booking. I climbed aboard my soaked cycle and made my way 5 miles into Missoula to find my bed for the night. I pulled up to see a garage with 2 motorcycles and my host walked over to greet me. He offered to move his bikes to the side and allow me to place my bike off of the street and into the safety of his garage. SCORE!
Even though I had already unloaded my gear, I was still grateful to be able to get my bike off the side of the street. My small room at the end of the hall was near my bathroom and had ample space for me to spread out another day of wet clothes. I was even given a small fan to speed the drying process. I charged my battery-operated gear and the auxiliary batteries for the next day. I cleaned up and soon was planning my next day’s route. Christopher Ross and others had spoken of the tremendous thrill of riding Lolo Pass in Idaho. I was on the edge of the eastern border and within a couple of miles of the start of that highway. That would be my starting point in the morning. I fell asleep thinking about mountain roads and dry weather.
Up and Way Down: Leaving Montana, Lolo Pass in the rain and on to Salt Lake City, Tuesday
I intentionally arose early (about 5:30 am) to get a jump on the day. A brief look out the window revealed the rain would be my partner, again. I loaded and tied down my gear, donned my helmet and gear, and pulled out into the soggy morning. I was greeted with light fog and pouring rain. I worked my way through the early morning city traffic, receiving the understandably puzzled looks from those adjacent to me at the stoplights. Within about 6 miles I had turned right in the town of Lolo, MT on US 12, and headed up the two-lane toward Lolo Pass and the Idaho border. Yeah, it’s still raining.
The temperature dropped consistently, much like the morning rain. As I crested the meager pass at 5,233 feet there was a flake or two of snow in the air, but none sticking to the ground at 39 degrees. The “up” went quickly, but the “down” would be much longer as I mirrored the path of the Lochsa River that ran alongside. While not as manicured as a “Yellowstone” this area had much the same feel. Unmolested wilderness and unobstructed waterways. I almost forgot about the rain and the ever creeping cold that was overtaking me. Near the summit, I saw an offer of breakfast at the Lochsa Lodge welcoming me. Arriving at the front porch two men informed me the restaurant would not open until 7:00 am, 45 minutes away. I rolled on. Twenty miles of curves later I came upon the Wilderness Inn and restaurant (Lowell ID), open and ready for my breakfast order. The cook and the waitress are sleeping together… not surprising as they have been married for many years. Four “take-out” customers and one dine-in customer also agreed with my stellar assessment of the quality of the breakfast fare.
After a great breakfast cooked close enough to my table, I could hear the sizzle of the bacon and the crack of the two eggs, I helped myself to last cup of coffee. I began to peruse my riding gear. My feet were again wet, even though I was wearing waterproof boots. My socks were also soaked and the misery of another day in soggy boots and socks did not make me smile. My hands were somewhat shriveled from my rain-soaked gloves (despite 4 days of drying each night and additional coats Scotchgard. I relegated myself to having wet hands for as long as I was to encounter rain on that day. There was good news; the new Aerostich Jacket and pants had performed better than expected. I was dry everywhere except for my hands and my feet.
I stood and put my gear on while reaching for my wallet to pay my bill. It was NOT in the pocket of my Jacket as it had been consistently for the past 5 days. I did locate the credit card kept safe and dry in my jacket pocket in the lower sleeve. All hope was not lost. I searched every pocket. I went and searched the bike and all of the bags on the bike. Nothing. I then heard a peck… peck… peck… from inside, on the window of the restaurant. The only other customer in the restaurant had seen my wallet after I had gotten up and was signaling me it was found. I quickly went inside and thanked her. I proceeded to go to the counter and pay for her breakfast as well as my own.
By now the Lochsa River has intersected with the Selway River to create the Middle Fork of the Clearwater River. All I can say is, “It’s breathtaking”. The deep canyons and overcast sky have kept the sunlight at bay. At Kooskia a left-hand turn places me southbound on Idaho 13, the canyon widens, and sunlight erupts as the clouds seem to melt away. The rain has passed! I break into song and sit up straight. It’s going to be a great day.
These river roads are fantastic. They offer beautiful views and endless curves and the river moves up or down a valley. But this can’t last forever. At Slate Creek ID, I was less than a ¼ mile from Washington State, but if I were going to claim a state (as having ridden there), I would have to do more than just set my foot down within its boundaries.
Once I reached US 95 South the scenery changed yet again. From White Bird Summit it felt as if I could see all the way to Texas. I deep canyon dropped off to my left as I began my descent on a smooth four-lane road. I switched on the video cameras hoping to camera a small portion of the beauty. Each long-running ridge is mated with a deep valley yielding a gorgeous clear river.
I-Eighty-four-ever (I-84): Its still Tuesday and this road goes on forever
At Ontario OR, I hit I-84. I don’t recall ever being on this fine piece of the US Interstate system before today. It serves as the quickest route between Portland Oregon and Salt Lake City Utah (766 miles). Somehow, I forgot to eat lunch and found myself eating snacks out of my tank bag. A Belvita cookie package, a squeeze tube of Jiff peanut butter, and some stale crackers that had almost survived through the rain … almost. I had 400 miles to put behind me and the speed limit was 80, legally. Zoom. Zoom.
Interstates are great for making time but poor for making memories. It’s best to just get on and roll as long as you can. One stop for gas and then my next tank will be in the north Mormo-metropolis of greater Salt Lake City. Little known fact: It’s over 100 miles from the north side of this metropolis to the south end (Brigham City to Provo is 106 miles. For contrast its only 85 miles from Weatherford, Texas to Rockwall, Texas).
Great Friends and Great Stories
Mike and Susan Tucker are long time friends. Friends from ministry and just good friends outside of ministry. They live in West Jordan, UT. Susan has spent her life as a nurse, most recently doing the work of monitoring and watching over patients as they come out of anesthesia. Some call the gentle voices, guardian angels as they monitor every breath and movement of those coming back to ask, “is it over?”. Susan is a top drawer, true champion kind of girl. Mike married out of his league and truly out punted his coverage when he found this girl. Mike, on the other hand, was a youth ministry for decades and finds himself, now, still in ministry. But there is more to the story. You see, four years ago Mike had a stroke. While in the supermarket with Susan, Mike began to walk in circles with the grocery cart. Susan, knowing Mike was always “cutting up” didn’t fall for the trick. He even told her, my leg is not working. A few moments later at the checkout counter, Mike’s arm fell to his side, like an apple out of a tree. Susan looked at him and calmly said to the cashier, “Excuse me I need to make a phone call, I believe my husband is having a stroke.”
Mike has always been a fighter. He’s never backed away from a challenge. In this case, he was in for the fight of his life. Mike goes to the hospital in the ambulance. Susan goes home to put up the groceries… and then goes to the hospital. (Only a nurse could do that) A bit later Mike goes to rehab, and Susan is having major back surgery. These guys are quite the team. Mike was immersed in rehab. He was determined to “walk outta here!” His doctor commented that Mike had an unbeliever will power. Indeed, he walked out of that facility. Not easily, but under his own power and a wheelchair, nearby.
Four years later he is a chaplain at a Salt Lake City hospital. One of four who share the duties, and the only non-Mormon. He is deeply respected and loved by all. He continues to improve and thanks God for each day he has. Susan is still, … well… Susan. When I visited with them she had surgery scheduled for the next week to repair a shoulder.
So with that information, I hope you know why I wanted to go by and see them, so badly. I pulled up to their apartment having not seen Mike since before the stroke. Mike walks outside to greet me and starts helping me carry in my bags. I’m stunned and humbled. We spent the evening talking about memories, marriage, life, ministry, theology, and children. We stayed up way too late. I wouldn’t change a thing. Priceless.
Utah to Colorado: Headed to the Homeland
The morning brought about a slow-paced time of great coffee with great friends. I was near tears upon my departure, not having the words to describe the value of my time with them. But good friends already know.
I reflected upon that visit as I worked my way through the traffic and back onto the interstate. At the Spanish Forks turnoff, I grabbed a breakfast burrito and hit US 89 headed for Green River and Interstate 70, just less than 200 miles to my south. I did find a reason to hit pause on this day. I made a stop at the Rocky Mountain ATV/MC in Helper, UT. All side-by-sides and dirt bikes in the showroom. They are an outlet for the main store in Payson, UT (South side of the “Mormon-plex”)
Entering Green River UT is a sure sign I am headed home. I-70 is one of those roads I do not care for. The winds between Green River and Grand Junction are always sideways and formidable. No change this time. Oh, and did I mention the heat? Always hot when I am here. But I did it anyway. It is an efficient way to get across the high desert to the mountains. I meant to take 141 at Delta CO to get to a beautiful piece of highway that hangs out on the edge of the mountains and wanders in the wilderness but missed my turn off. Ok, I’ll catch that next time. No relief from the heat until I got to about Ridgeway. I was in motorcycling heaven. I rode at a leisurely pace to get through this area. Enforcement has been increased over the years. Speed limits are ridiculously slow and the presence of RVs and trucks has increased. Besides, this is where I want to be and the evening air is intoxicating, the rivers and waterfalls are beautiful, and the views are stunning. The long shadows of the afternoon make the place magical. Why would I hurry?
My Million Dollar Motel: Camping near Silverton Along the Million Dollar Highway
I watched along the sides of the road for a place to pull off and camp. Every time a side road appeared it was stuffed with RVs and trailers with ATVs. As I approached Silverton I noted an upcoming turn off to a National Forest Campground. I had become tired from the long day in the saddle in the summer heat. The campground was abuzz with tents, RVs, and various other modes of outdoor shelters. I pulled into an open area (no designated spots, like an RV park) and stopped. I put the side stand down, checked it for stability, and stepped away. (I should have waited a little longer) The heavily loaded bike began to fall toward the back of my body as the side stand sunk into the soft sandy soil and pine needles, as I had turned away from the bike. No harm, no foul. The bike went down slowly with no damage and I was able to muscle it back up without issue. I placed a large steel plate under the side stand before releasing it.
I knew this would be my last night on the road. Bittersweet. Tomorrow night I would be home to my wife and my bed. Homecooked meals and familiarity of surroundings. I still would have several days off before needing to return to work. I set up the hammock and tarp. Remember when I said that they were packed up “wet” several days ago? My “dry bag” had retained every bit of moisture I had placed inside of it. They had percolated in there since Saturday night. The beginnings of mildew were present. I hung everything out to dry and hoped for the best. Within an hour, everything was good and dry. Better yet, no remaining odors.
The campsite nearest me shared that it had been 40 degrees the night before. He wondered if I was ready for tonight with my hammock. I assured him I had had cold nights in the days past and would be fine. I fixed my supper of Wendy’s chicken nuggets, picked up in Montrose, and a bag of broccoli, cheese and rice that I boiled up. Delicious.
Nightfall came slowly. The noise died down slowly. Adjacent campers with four children ranging in age from about 6 to 14 made my early retirement to bed, unproductive. They were all in their tents by about 10:00 pm and all was well. A gentle breeze rocked me to sleep as I enjoyed the high mountain air. Twice during the night, I was awakened by my bladder telling me attention was necessary. The second time I exited the hammock, I became poignantly aware of the dropping temperatures. I climbed back into the hammock and attempted to rewarm myself, especially my toes. My sleeping rig is a hammock with an insulating layer of a thicker than usual emergency blanket/tent floor, before placing my 20-degree sleeping bag into the hammock on top of the silvery material. It blocks wind and provided heat reflection. I also had readied myself with a fleece blanket that zips like a sleeping bag. This was put over the sleeping bag like a sock. By 4:00 am I had everything zipped up tight, all the way up and over my head and face. It was still cold. By 6:00 am I was ready to get up and warm up. I exited my hammock and immediately put on my heavy riding coat. Upon return from the restroom I put on my heavy riding pants. Still shivering, I added layers to add warmth.
A Time for Everything Under the Sun: My Last Day in the Road
This time, as I am breaking down my campsite and packing up my mood is noticeably quieter. Even the cold reminded me I was alive and today was special. As I packed the last items and tied them down, I started the bike. The onboard computer showed me an ice warning at displayed a temperature of 29 degrees… No wonder I was cold. I rode to Silverton to find the Brown Bear Cafe open and ready for my request for coffee and a big breakfast. I delayed leaving longer than I should have. The road was calling. The sun was bright and the sky was clear. The morning would be cool and dry, but the weather promised to heat up the farther south I went. It was time to hit the road.
Durango traffic was heavier than expected and congestion made the usually easy transition longer than desired. The highway to Pagosa is always busy and the Pagosa-plex that is from haystack Mountain to eastern Pagosa was bumper to bumper. Everybody seems to have decided to be in Pagosa on this Thursday morning. I was pleased to turn south and get out of traffic. I stopped for fuel in Chama NM and headed south to Santa Fe. I do not like Santa Fe. I have never liked Santa Fe. My opinion has not changed. Weirdos are abundant, it is always blistering hot, and traffic is never light. The noonday sun was cooking me and the bike was headed to overheating. Get me outta here. As I reached I-25 both the bike and I signed with relief.
I made a quick stop at Camp Glorieta to attempt to see a Wilderness Trek Friend. I missed him but got to drive through the streets of the silent summer camp. A reminder of the current challenges of COVID-19. Upon leaving I stopped on US Highway 285 for fuel and headed south for the last leg of my journey. The speed limit here is 55 mph for a long time. No one seemed to care. I joined the chaos and was quickly to I-40 and headed east to Santa Rosa.
I filled my tank one last time with 200 miles left to go. Eastern NM and West Texas both had a few tricks up their sleeve as I encountered blowing dust, heavy winds, and thunderstorms across my easterly journey. I arrived home at about 8:00 pm., Thursday. I opened the garage door and pulled my ride into its place. I signed with relief, satisfaction, and gratefulness for a safe and successful trip.
Reflection: Solidifying my memories. Remembering my lessons. Counting my blessings!
Nine full days, about 4800 miles, three days of heavy rain, 4 nights of camping, a day of 1153 miles to complete my first official Iron Butt ride, and 14 states. Yeah, that was enough.
A few things always happen as I turn toward home. Maybe it happens at the moment I change direction, or sometimes, within a few hours or sometimes in the last 500 miles, my mind always turns with my direction. On this trip I had three days on the bike to reflect. I continue to reflect even now as I have been home for eight days.
I guess this is the reason I enjoy journaling my journeys. As much as I hope you like what you read, I really don’t care. As much as I enjoy your positive comments, it does not make me want to write. My life and my choices are my life lessons, my memories, and my reason to be grateful. None of which do I want to forget.
The bike is parked, still dirty, and has been neglected for the past week. I’ll need to do some maintenance in the next few weeks and get the bugs off. My job for now is to reflect upon my last journey. The experiences, the people, the places, and the lessons that came from each are to be cherished and committed to memory.