Saturday, June 6, 2009

Black Hills, Iron Mountain, Big Horns, Chaos

I woke up at the foothills inn in Rapid City, strapped on all my raingear expecting the worst and started heading down route 16 into the Black Hills. I was excited to go be a tourist and see Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Monument. My idea was to zip around some roads in the hills, see the sights, then zoom way out into Wyoming to Ranger Creek Ranch outside Shell where my friend Mel is working for the summer.

The roads into the hills are amazing! Although, they are loaded with RVs and you can't look anywhere without seeing billboards for INCREDIBLE! DON'T MISS IT! COSMOS MYSTERY AREA! REPTILE GARDENS! VISIT HISTORIC KEYSTONE! CLOSEST HOTEL TO RUSHMORE! ONLY 5 MILES AHEAD! NEXT LEFT TURN! seriously obnoxious. The first view of rushmore was pretty impressive. Some folks say it's smaller than it seems in pictures and on TV but i don't know, I thought they were some pretty damn big carvings.

Then I took Iron Mountain Road. I saw it on the map and thought "oh, that looks nice and zigzaggy, I'll take that road on my bike." There's goddamm corkscrews in it! And tunnels! and the lanes split and it becomes single track through the forest!! The pigtail bridges are unlike anything I've ever seen before. This road, this single stretch of rt. 16A made the whooole trip from Vermont entirely worth it. Iron Mountain Road in the Black Hills south of Mt. Rushmore, I will ride you again.

Then I saw a bunch of these guys. Just chilling, grazing on the grasses on the side of the road. Tons of bison.

Crazy Horse Monument just outside Custer, SD.

This was a long day of riding. I took 16 out of South Dakota after three lovely days in that beautiful state, headed toward Newcastle, Wyoming. Here, it started to rain. Wet weather 50 miles up to Moorcroft, then wet weather another 140 miles out I-90 past Sheridan to 14west. Then wet weather out 14 toward Shell. I was riding through an open valley straight toward invisible mountains. I knew that if it were clear they'd be beautiful but the clouds hung so low that they were severed just above the valley. I reached the foot of the hills and began winding up and up and up. Up into the fog, Up around the switchbacks, Up until...

My front cylinder cut out. I lost half the power on my bike, Zero accelaration, barely able to climb. Then the power came back and my bike JERked back to life. on and off like that. This happened in a downpour in Ohio too, and some guys at a shop told me exactly what I needed to do but I didn't have a can of compressed air with me. The sparkplug gets wet, the drain hole fills with dirt and grime, the plug hole floods and it doesn't fire. You just need to blow it out and you're a-okay.

By this time I'm up into the mountains. Visibility is at about twenty feet, the clouds become full of stinging ice crystals. My winter gloves are soaked all the way through. up and uP and UP. There is snow on the pines and at the roadsides, my sick bike wheezing and coughing as I approach a mountain pass at 8,437 feet. I'm close to Burgess Junction. I'm freezing cold and soaking wet and I can tell that my bike wants power in that front cylinder just as much as I do. If I put my faceshield down I can't see through it, if I flip it up my face and eyes get stabbed by sleet, so I compromise and close it all but just a crack, and tilt my head back to see through the crack and scrunch my face up so the sleet gets my cheeks but not my eyes. I stop at the Burgess Junction station. Nobody is there but the door is open and it's warm inside. I check the map to see that i'm farther than I thought to the pull out for ranger creek ranch. Now I'm starting to wonder if it's going to get dark soon. I'm in the middle of nowhere at the top of a mountain in the Big Horn national forest, my bike is ill and I'm soaked to the bone, my heated handgrips all that's keeping my hands from freezing.

I get that feeling. I have to just get through this weather, my bike has to get to the ranch. I'm either going to make it, or I'm not.

At Burgess Junction I turn left, head downhill a bit into a valley and it clears. Fifteen slow, sputtering miles ahead I finally get to the road that turns off toward the ranch. It's four miles, uphill, and impossibly muddy. With one cylinder out I have to rev it slowly up to about 3 or 4,000 RPMs before I can get it to move in first gear on flat pavement. Up a muddy hill with slick tires, stalling out when I tried to take off, for four miles, I don't know how I did it. Slipping all over the place, I managed to keep my bike upright wishing all the while I was on a dual sport with knobbly tires. Here's to taking inadequate equipment into unsuitable conditions!

I finally got to within view of the ranch. I approached the archway over the road with the Ranger Creek Ranch sign, I was about 5 ft from passing under it. I tried accelarating out of a mud slick and the tire spun and the engine cut out. I fired it up and tried again. Nothing. Again. Nothing. Doc and JP heard the dogs barking and came out of the lodge. As they approached the bike offering to help push I asked.... "does this count as 'making it?'"

I didn't just "make it" to Ranger Creek. I didn't just "Finish my ride" over the Big Horns. I f#&k!n survived it.

Inside the lodge, there was a fire going, and a full bar.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Made it to Rapid City, SD. Speedometer blew again.

Had a great time in Iowa City hanging with Kevin. Rode a long long day to Parkston, SD, 460 miles on beautiful long straight wide flat fast secondary roads. South Dakota has officially overtaken western PA for the nicest rides of the trip.

MY #$%!NG SPEEDOMETER BLEW AGAIN!!!! I'll have to do the whole rest of the ride without knowing how far or how fast because I'll wait for a part in pittsburgh but, forgive me fine residents of Rapid City, South Dakota, not here. I'm upset that I waited in PGH for a whole week to make sure I wouldn't have to do this ride without my speedo and odometer and here I am with over 1,000 miles to go and they crapped out again.

There's way more to report than I have energy to type right now. Forgive the slack upkeep of this page.

Look at pictures.


These roads. They just keep going and going and going and going. When I ride out to the horizon and crest a hill, another scene just like this unfolds again before me. over and over and over again. Red Bull + Saves The Day = my friends.

Taking pictures while stopped in the middle of the road for a construction zone. This one turned out neat.

Trick Photography

All tucked under the eaves anticipating a storm that never came.

Parkston, SD

They don't call them the Badlands for nothin'.

This guy.

Every ride report needs the bike-with-scenic-backdrop photo.


Yes, I actually took this photo today.

Tomorrow I join the throngs of tourists in the Black Hills and take pictures of Mount Rushmore.