Five thousand eight hundred miles in sixteen days. Sixteen days of not hearing
anything about Clinton and Lewinsky, or "Reverend" Al Sharpton, or the million
youth march, and 5800 miles of not caring about anything but the road, the view, and the
next destination. Polite, friendly people and good roads. Life just doesn't
get much better than this!
Odometer reading on my 1997 Honda VFR-750: 9,250 miles. A Chase-Harper magnetic
tank bag and RKA matching saddlebags are packed full of everything from underwear to chain
lube and Jack Daniels. Since I've become a creature of comfort in the ripe old age
of 35, I spare the bungee cords the task of holding camping gear.
I left Rockland, New York at 940am with my first destination being Wichita,
Kansas. I've seen this part of the country lots of times so I stayed on the
superslab and kept the throttle wound tight. The Water Gap goes by at 11am. I
whiz by Pennsylvania, reach Ohio at 4pm, and stop for dinner at a Wendy's where the kids
at the next table treated me to a discourse on nose burps. At 9pm central time and a
half hour short of unspectacular Indianapolis, Indiana, face shield nearly opaque with
insect bits, I stop for the night. In spite of my reservations about motels that
require key deposits, the $24.99 Dollar Inn proves to be about the cleanest, most
comfortable cheap motel in the entire trip.
In the morning's preparations, my lower back spasms and I fall to my knees.
Determined not to let this little setback get in my way, I grimace, cinch the kidney belt
tight and watch my posture. A moderate pace that sweltering day and in spite of a
welcome soggy ride through St. Louis, Illinois has gone by in a flash and I make it to
Kansas City on my second night, leaving only a few hours jaunt to Wichita.
Going a bit slower permits more socializing. On I-70 I play leapfrog for a while
with a fellow on a Gold Wing. He's loaded with camping gear, a cooler, and a leather
cowboy hat that seems to be magically resting on a pile of gear but doesn't budge in the
wind as we trade positions at 90 MPH. We introduce ourselves at a rest stop.
His name is Steve Buck. It turns out the hat is held on by Vise-Grip pliers on the
front brim, hidden inconspicuously under his bungee'd jacket. Smiling as he tells me
how many people ask him how the hat stays on, he mentions having left Virginia before 5am
that morning. Suddenly my pace feels much more relaxed than it was!
Through the rains of St. Louis I latch onto a few Sturgis-bound riders from Tennessee.
Three H-D's and a BMW. We finally ride out of the weather, and I grab a
handful of throttle as I silently wish them farewell. With rains and nightfall
joining me in Blue Springs, east of Kansas City, I land at a mediocre Motel 6. The
limit of my interaction with locals is restricted to dinner at an Applebee's chain
restaurant. Retiring to the motel, I turn the TV on to find out I lost the
Powerball drawing. Damn.
I know from prior experience that in Kansas, speed limits are taken pretty seriously
and the cops have absolutely no sense of humour and little sense of mercy. I
throttle down as I cross the state line and keep it to within five-over. The speed
limits are mostly 70mph anyway, so it's not like I'm crawling or anything.
As I toodle through eastern Kansas, I stop for lunch at another Wendy's. No
nose-burp diatribes this time. A couple of farmers and a car dealership manager
strike up a conversation with me, and they relate their experiences with bikes.
Traipsing about the country on a Ferrari-red motorcycle with New York tags can be a real
conversation opener. The car salesman, Jack Hoover, turns out to from New
As I make it into Wichita, I throttle down to a notch under the speed limit. If
you think that the cops on the interstate have no mercy, it's useful to know that in town,
it's not unusual to be pulled over for doing 26 in a 25mph zone, and that during school
hours the slower school zones are taken very seriously.
A Cambridge Suites Inn in downtown Wichita is my home for the next few days.
They really deserve a quick plug here. These are perfectly kept suites with
kitchens, VCR's, CD players, multi-line phones with voice mail, partitions, hair driers,
and coffee machines. Some are multi-level and have sofabeds and murphy beds.
This used to be a Residence Inn until Candlewood took it over from Marriott.
Candlewood has made many great improvements and offers an outdoor pool, free continental
breakfast, and 25c premium soda machines. A studio suite is about $75 at discount
rates. Highly recommended. Only complaint is that on weekends, you can't trash
the room unless you don't mind being the one cleaning it up. Heck, for
that kind of service I can go home!
Over the next few days I see all my friends in Wichita, party, drink, sleep, eat, and
party some more. I got to try out my friend's hot tub. We made the mistake of
seeing Saving Private Ryan at one of the new multiplex theatres. Great theatre with
a huge screen and comfy stadium seating, and $3 less than in NYC, but as good as it was,
the movie is about the most depressing I've ever seen. Not what you want to see on a
vacation, for sure.
With close to 11,000 miles on the bike's original tires, I decide it's a good idea to
freshen up the rubber. I pay too much at a large downtown shop for a set of Dunlop
D205's to replace the crappy D202's. I know that when I reach Colorado, I'll
appreciate the newly gained traction and confidence.
My vacation can't last forever so it's time to get back on the road. Everyone
says that the plains part of western Kansas is boring to travel through, but I find the
great expanse to be very beautiful and of course peaceful. What I also notice is
that as I get closer to Colorado, the people also get better looking! Better dressed
men, prettier women, more blondes. Not that Kansas folk are bad looking, but the
Colorado folk simply seem much more cosmopolitan.
I make it to Denver, take notice of the signs mentioning that they now have
speeding cameras planted all over the city (must be taking lessons from the U.K.), stop to
avoid some more rain and to buy a sweater, and get on Route 119 toward Estes and the
Rockies. I stop for a truly wonderful lunch at the Sundance Cafe (also Sundance
Lodge and Sundance Stables) and learn that a film crew is there shooting "Enough
Said", and they needed extras. I thought about mugging for the cameras instead
of riding through the rain and fog, and chose to stay on track. After a brief
conversation with a fellow from Ohio, I get back on the road and meet a couple named Mike
and Rose at Boulder Falls, who turn out be from Texas and are on a trip to celebrate their
retirement. Just like me, they're all smiles in spite of the intermittent
rain. The scenery is amazing and now I know why this is called God's country.
This area of Colorado is spotted with old-west style gambling towns.
After passing up several of these towns, I finally stopped in one just to see what it was
all about. I'm no big fan of gambling, and aside of that these towns had nothing to
do except eat and pan for planted gold. I took a brief look around and moved
on. Notably, all the parking is valet-only, but free. I wondered if in the old
west, valets were the only people that could hitch your horse outside the casinos and
I make it to Estes, stop at a sporting goods shop to replace a compass that got sucked
out of my map cover somewhere on I-90, and find Route 34 to Trail Ridge Road - the pass
through Rocky Mountain National Park. $5 gets a motorcycle one week of admission to
the area - $10 if you're unfortunate enough to be stuck inside a car. The weather is
still very unstable but undaunted, I continue up the winding mountain road.
foul weather makes the ride treacherous, but it also brings out the wildlife.
Nature photo opportunities abound, if you can get to the camera quick enough and keep the
lens dry. The fog and clouds also give the mountains an eerie, constantly changing
face. Any weather formation that looks like a photo opportunity is sure to be gone
by the time you get remove the lens cap. Deer and longhorn sheep wander through the
fog and low clouds and unafraid of being shot, don't mind coming close to visitors while
they forage for food.
elevations make the bike wheeze, and make me wheeze too. The approach roads around
the park area are over 8,000' ASL and Trail Ridge Road brings you to evelations exceeding
12,000' ASL. While it was still 90deg at the Kansas/Colorado border, it was under 60
in Denver and under 40deg here. This photograph was taken at over 11,600 feet.
Mountains that are thirty miles away peer through the fog as if they were a stone's throw.
The weather seems to be turning even worse - fog thickening, rain getting heavy and
hailing intermittently - so I head back down the mountain and decide to find a motel.
After miles and miles of signs saying "Sorry!" and "NO
VACANCY", I end in one of the only two rooms left in a Best Western, 90 minutes away
in Loveland, Colorado. I settle in quickly and run out to the mall across the
highway for dinner. The Lone Star Saloon gives me one of the best filet mignon's
I've ever had, and a sweet potato that could give ten people insulin-dependence for life.
view from the motel window was a lovely cornfield, glowing softly in the low morning
sun. With the good weather ahead I decide I'd like to take another stab at the
Rockies and head back west again, 90 minutes. Even though the total detour time both
ways was about four hours due to construction, it was more than worth it. As
wonderful as the Rockies were the day before in the miserable weather, it was incredible
on this day. The wildlife was a tad less conspicuous in the early day's sun, but the
mountains and snowcaps were indescribable. The view from Trail Ridge Road is one
usually seen only from airplanes. I completed some obligatory photo-ops and head
back down toward Loveland.
finally that I've truly enjoyed the Rockies, I get on I-25 to make some time toward South
Dakota. I have a hotel reservation beginning tonight at a Quality Inn in Rapid
City. As I make my way up through Wyoming I'm seeing more and more motorcycles and
less and less cars. Stopping at a gas station in a deserted area of Wyoming (er,
deserted even by Wyoming standards), kids are trying to sell flags and pens and to clean
faceshields or even the bike - anything for a few bucks. The speed limit is 75 on
this secondary road and nobody's there to enforce it. Needless to say that limit was
"If you speed in the plains and nobody measures it, did you really speed?"
100mph through parts of Wyoming Rte. 85 and Nebraska Rte. 20. Long, straight,
deserted roads and gentle rolling hills. Miles and miles of grazing lands dotted
with cattle and an occasional horse. I find Rte. 385 up through Hot Springs, South
Dakota and slow the pace down a touch. The only interruptions were, it seemed like
every bridge in the area was being rebuilt, so every stream or drainage crossing had a
temporary traffic light and only one lane open. I look at Mt. Rushmore on the map,
check the time and mileage and decide to bypass it for one day during the week's touring.
At 10pm and with a dehydration headache setting in, I attempt to check into the hotel
and they can't find my reservation. They can't find the reservation that I verified
on the phone verbatim that very morning, that I had for a solid month prior, that I
painfully over-paid for because of the gouging for the Sturgis crowds.
Geniuses. "Don't worry", they say. My head begins to pound, as I
remind them I need a non-smoking room. The receptionist hands me a key and off I
go. I end up having to use some out-of-the-way entrance, walk up a flight of stairs
and down this long corridor full of cigar fumes to open a smelly room in the smoking
area. Now I feel the vice-like grips of a migraine coming on. I pick up the
phone and tell the front desk that by the time I walk back there they'd better have found
me a good non-smoking room. As the woman fumbles around and sets me up in a more
convenient downstairs non-smoking room she mentiones that "she was going to give this
room to someone else". Nice. The headache is already so bad now that I
can hardly walk, and I can't spare the energy to find out who in bloody hell she was going
to give this room to that she had to screw me around like that. Trust me when I
tell you that Quality Inn is going to pay dearly for this crap. I take a fistful of
narcotics, stumble into the Perkins across the street and have a quick meal to help me
sleep off the headache.
I stayed in Rapid City which driven briskly, is a half hour from the tiny town of
Sturgis. This apparent lack of proximity did not matter. Every town within at
least 100 miles was completely taken over by motorcyclists. With the 58th Annual
Sturgis Motorcycle Rally already half over, there was a party no matter where you
went. Last year's event supposedly drew 200,000 people and this year certainly
appeared to have drawn at least as many. I had to feel sorry for the hapless
motorists touring through the area looking for lodging, not knowing what was happening.
There was not a hotel, motel, campground, garage, back yard or attic to be rented
for two hours in any direction.
if I really needed to be warned, friends warned me about taking a Japanese sportbike to
Sturgis. Yes, it's a very Harley-centric event, but nobody hassled me. If
anyone did have a problem, they were smart enough to keep it to themselves. In fact,
being on a bright red Honda sportbike (oh, "sport-tourer", Honda says) with a NY
tag made me stand out in a way that provided many more opportunities for
conversation. Nobody cared that much what you rode, as long as you rode.
I have no
idea what Sturgis is like the rest of the year, but this week the town, which is maybe a
mile and a half in length, is a biker freak show, block party and shopping mecca.
Both Rte. 34 and Main Street, which run in parallel lengthwise through the town, are
loaded with vendors of all sizes. All the major motorcycle manufacturers are there,
and so are all the accessory shops. There are at least a hundred places to buy chaps
and other leather goodies, pins, stickers, knives, tools, etc. Anything you want
from a panhead crank to a gel seat cushion can be found, and test rides were available
from most of the manufacturers as well. The post office was so busy they set up a
satellite office in a nearby H-D dealership, and they were even open most of Sunday.
and night on Main Street, thousands of bikers would park tightly along both sides of the
street and in two rows down the center of the street. Police and barricades would
keep out cars, and the bikes and trikes and people would parade up and down this ten block
stretch. Folks would show off their bikes or just as often, themselves. It
occasionally seemed a bit like Halloween. The bars would play music and hold amateur
strip contests (limited nudity due to local ordinance - ladies bring your pasties).
Every once in a while if the women thought the police weren't watching, they'd flash the
crowd. This would go on until about 2am. Liquor stops being served at 1am.
There's only so much time that you can spend at a freak show or shopping,
so that gives you lots of time to tour the region. This area of South Dakota,
Wyoming and Montana has a lot of picturesque geological points of interest and old wild
west history. I piled on hundreds of miles in these few days venturing into the
Badlands (Rte. 240 is great in between Winnebagos), Deadwood, Mount Rushmore, Devils
Tower, etc. The local Departments of Commerce got together and printed tour maps and
invaluable safety maps that covered information about road construction and debris and
other high-accident areas, so getting around was a snap. Residents and shop owners
in the region all gear up heavily for the event, and everyone is helpful, enthusiastic and
I met lots
of interesting people in and around Sturgis, from all over the country. I found
folks from New Jersey to Mexico, riding everything from Japanese pocket bikes and Cushman
carts to 100% custom H-D's and trikes. Everyone was receptive to each other, with
the only apparent snobbery being toward some of the poseurs who trailer their bikes
in. Folks paraded, rode, watched, took photos, bought stuff, drank, ate, and had
fun. There were races, demolition derby's, wrestling matches, and other events
designed to keep the masses entertained and make sure that all 200,000 visitors weren't
all trying to cruise in circles on Main Street simultaneously.
By Saturday morning many people were already packing up to leave and by Sunday morning
the outlying event towns like Rapid City seemed to be almost back to normal. I
wonder what really is normal there, though.
12,650 miles now showing on the odometer, I set my sights on Minnesota. I hop onto
I-90, grab a fistful of throttle and keep my head down. I finally succumb to the
8,437,951 signs on I-90 for "Wall Drug" and stop in bustling (ahem) Wall, South
Dakota. This one store is the major attraction, along with a few saloons and jewelry
stores hawking Black Hills gold. Wall Drug seems like a cooperative of many stores
selling all kinds of interesting regional things and even including a pretty decent
cafeteria. Having had more fun than I can stand already, I get back onto I-90.
Construction on I-90 at the Minnesota border has the state welcome sign missing, so I
detour briefly to Iowa for no other reason than to take pictures of the welcome signs for
Iowa and Minnesota. Both states have lovely welcome signs on their secondary roads
that all other states should envy.
With clear skies overhead I head north on I-35, and about one hour south of St. Paul,
an enormous thunderhead appears on the horizon. This huge, black and grey monster
was at a complete standstill but slowly mutating, and the leading visible edge was a
curtain of constant lightning. Even at 85mph, I watched the sparks for 45 minutes
before I felt compelled to pull over and pull on the rainsuit. Waterproofed, I
continued into the mouth of the beast. In another ten minutes I hit torrential rain
and 45mph cross-winds. The winds curtailed after the longest five minutes of my
life, and the rain trailed off as I entered St. Paul. Looking for a really cheap
motel between St. Paul and Duluth turned out to be a Twilight Zone experience
("Office Closes at 9pm"), so I ended up in a Travelodge around Pine City.
Destination: Thunder Bay, Ontario. Yesterday I actually had to decide whether to
continue west from South Dakota and plan on shipping the bike back from Vancouver or
thereabouts, or head east. Today was the day I chose between going through Michigan
or over the north shore of Lake Superior. The north shore won, and I was glad to
have made that decision.
I stopped in Wisconson mostly for a photo
opportunity, and plodded north toward the Pigeon River border crossing into Ontario,
Canada. The bridge that connects Wisconson and Minnesota appears to have been named
after a man named Ira Bong. I wonder... nah!. The temperature drop as I
passed Duluth was noticeable and concerning. I already froze myself once in Colorado
and didn't care to have to bundle up again. The scenery along the north shore
reminded me very much of up-state New York, except with more pine trees than maple.
Very beautiful terrain. I checked in relatively early to a hotel immediately south
of Thunder Bay, had a mediocre meal and a good massage in the hotel, and rested up for a
long next day.
Fort William in Thunder Bay is a very realistic reproduction of a genuine period fur
trading post, and a great bargain at CDN$9. You can watch and even participate in
reenactments of fur trading as well as view and experience life and how things were done
in the 1800's between the Ojibwa and the tradesmen. The place takes up ten
acres with 42 buildings and can easily consume the better part of a day. Everyone
is completely in period character and speaks in period terms. Now I know what a
"ploo" is. ("Made beaver", or one fine large beaver pelt - a
monetary standard of the time). The women in the canoe seemed authentic enough until
I noticed the plastic-covered paddles.
I begin to realize how homesick I am when I start thinking how cute the
Ojibwa women look in their period deerskin clothing, so I cut short my visit to Thunder
Bay and head for Sault Saint Marie. The map is deceiving. Achieving this
one-day goal on 90kph (posted) two-lane road takes some work. Luckily, the O.P.P.
isn't around much, except for predictable spots like the borders of small towns along the
way. I enjoy the view of Lake Superior over the pine trees as I blast along,
stopping only for gas and the occasional town traffic light. Gas here is expensive,
with a 5 gallon (US) fill-up costing over CDN$12. The exchange rate takes out some
of the bite, working out to around US$9.
As I'm travelling along and passing all these tourist traps with the term "Trading
Post" in their names, I can't help but wonder what would happen if I walked in and
offered two ploo for a roll of film. I must really be getting bored. Finally
reaching "the Soo", I make an obligatory tourist stop at the canal locks and
head for a cheap motel. An ordinary meal at a local steakhouse finishes my evening,
and I can't find the remote control for the motel room's TV. Maybe there never was
Toronto is again a goal that takes some work, but most of Canada 17 is a bit like NY17
with long, fast sweepers and an occasional dip into small towns with a few traffic lights.
Rte. 17's two lanes finally gives way to Rte. 69 and Rte. 400. I picked up
lots of speed going south on 400 and as a result, substantially miscalculated my gas
reserve. I rolled to a stop a few miles short of an intended gas stop.
Luckily, a small manufacturing plant was just the other side of the fence on the side of
the highway. I begged and pleaded for a gas can and someone finally found a
two-gallon container. Thank heavens for rural necessities! Thanking them
profusely and handing over a $5 bill, I get back on my way. Suddenly I realize that
in Canada, $5 for a two-gallon gulp isn't really leaving much of a tip.
When I arrive for a surprise visit to my Aunt's house in Toronto and everyone recovers
from the shock of seeing my on their doorstep in full leathers, I'm told that they're
heading to the airport to pick up my cousins visiting from Atlanta! A double-bonus.
I make my way through the weekday morning mess of Toronto's 401, 403, and the QEW.
In spite of highways that are more than 20 lanes and full speed ramps, the traffic
still ebbs frustratingly. At the Queenston border crossing Duty-Free Shop I sift
through my receipts and discover that I'm $1 short of the minimum required spent GST, so I
can't get my taxes back from the motel stays. Without the room or the desire to
carry out any cheap hooch, I exit hastily and head for the interstate. Construction
has the sign from 190 to 290 missing. Well, Buffalo's not so bad to go through.
Quaint architecture, if nothing else.
At least I don't miss the Syracuse bypass (690), but construction on I-81 still
isn't done after two long years. Last year my car damn near lost a wheel on that
road. By the time I hit picturesque Rte. 17 for the final leg home, late and
frustrated by traffic and construction, my wrist is twitching. "Damn the
torpedoes, full speed ahead!" Ignoring the omnipresent small-town cops armed
with radar, donuts and greed, I throttle the bike up to between 100 and 120mph on the long
sweepers on 17. When I'd get tired and slow down, 1 time out of 3 there was a cop
over the hill. Then I'd pick up the speed again. Damn lucky, this whole trip
in fact. Not a single speeding ticket. In some places I think I violated FAA
guidelines as well as state and provincial speed limits. At a gas station I check my
tires and find they look like they've been on a race track - rubber melting and rolling up
into little balls - so I slow down a bit for the ride through Bear Mountain and home.
The traffic-sensing light off 287 ignores me, as usual. I wait for a lull in the
traffic and go for it, uneventfully. Every time I use this exit I wonder when a cop
is going to see that stunt and decide to fortify the county's donut budget. The
30mph side streets feel like an idle crawl now and I nearly over-cook the corner on my own
street. I roll into the driveway, and the house is dark. The street is
dark. Everything looks the same. The odometer shows 15,050 for a total trip of
5,800 miles. Seems anticlimactic somehow.
Someone please remind me, why I still live in New York??
Last Story Changes:
For Sturgis Photographs.