Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Alaskapade! Questions & Answers

Here are some questions from readers and my answers.  I'll add to the list if I receive more.

Have read with great interest your story and have to say that you did a wonderful job painting the picture that is riding a motorcycle to places I haven't been. My brother and I have planned on riding to Alaska for a long time and your reason for going isn't lost on me. My brother has had a bad heart his whole life and carries the scare from his surgery at 6 years old to prove it.  Now we just have to make it happen...

My questions are:
Q. Now that you have completed the trip is there anything you would do differently if you were to ride to Alaska again?

Believe it or not, the most stressful part of the trip for me was finding camping spots.  I realize that sounds simple, but when you're out there, it's more complex than it looks.  The best way to remedy this would be to plan a specified distance, ride it, and stop when you get there.  In some of the remote parts of Canada, this is easier said than done.  Fuel availability, weather, and road conditions all have an impact on the route and the time required to complete it.

Knowing how I feel now, I would have camped at Coldfoot, waited out the weather in Deadhorse, and rode the rest of the way there.  I now know that I could have ridden from Coldfoot to Deadhorse and back in a day.  I was that close and I didn't do it.

Q. What advice would you give someone planning this type of trip besides the obvious "do it"?
  1. Carry spare gas.  It was a very reassuring feeling knowing I had it.
  2. Don't be in a hurry.  I know I rode over 900 miles two days in a row and another 1,000 mile day.  But I wasn't in a hurry.  I just took advantage of the daylight and the physical high I was experiencing.
  3. Assess the risks such as roads (and the lack of), wildlife, weather, etc. and respect them or you will fall victim to them.
  4. Pack a few basic tools and LocTite. Then make time to inspect and tighten the bike.
...and a side note, how are you doing emotionally? That had to be a tough day, sign, hat, et all...

It was very emotional for me on many levels, perhaps even cathartic.  I'm a pretty simple minded guy and am often accused of having no feelings.   There are many who have done a trip like this and it's no big deal in the grand scheme of things.  But I'VE never done it.  I'm very much a goal driven person.  This trip gave me a semi-long term goal of slapping that sign, with short term rewards of checking off preparation items, getting in physical shape, etc.  Add the Martin component to all that and you have a recipe for emotion; even from a stoic guy like me.

Was it all you expected?

It was all I expected and more. The sense of adventure just knowing I was out there was invigorating. Stretching out in my tent at night after a long day on the road provided a satisfying sense of freedom and independence that I never experienced checking into a hotel.  I discuss this in greater detail in the video.

Which did you prefer, hotels or camping?

Camping by far.  I stay in hotels for my job and did about 46 weeks in them last year.  On the Alaskapade, I always felt uncomfortable leaving my gear on the bike in the parking lot, so on the few nights I did stay in hotels, I nearly unloaded Hester completely.  Even then, I would wake up often and go to the window to check on the bike.  When I camped, Hester was a few feet from me and I could unload just the bare necessities.  Camping just seemed more like a vacation to me.

I followed your adventure day and night and turned my family and co-workers on to your site.  Rest assured New Zealand was well represented in your audience.  The live map you provided was really innovative.  It was I who called for you at the Yukon Harley Davidson dealer in Whitehorse, Canada. I don't even know you and it gave me a sense of comfort to know where you were and that you were safe.  My wife thought I was insane until she read your most entertaining entries. She said they "humanized" you and she herself would be up at all hours checking up on you.  We have a couple of questions for you.

  1. Did you ever feel that the tracking device left you with a sense of diminished privacy?
  2. Your final entry was almost as emotionally tugging as the one when you reached the Arctic Circle. In fact, it seems that you sugar coated nothing.  Do you feel overexposed? 
Actually, The Spot Connect device offered a pleasant mix of feelings.  There were times when I felt thousands of miles from anyone and yet knew I had eyes looking down on me.  I had no idea it would generate the attention it did.  Like the spare gas can, I knew it was there and at the push of a button, I had help if I needed it.

I have never felt, nor do I now feel overexposed.  We all have lives and they all have issues.  A vacation like this has its own set of issues, problems, and stress (bad roads, weather, bike issues, etc.).  To "sugar coat" the experience by eliminating the challenges would be misleading and unfair to my readers.  Same goes for the anecdotal entries before the trip.  I caught heat from a family member who felt I was unfair to my father. But she (like he) wasn't there and I suppose there can be times when enlightenment can be discomforting.   Mentioning my agnosticism generated grief from several people.  Apparently, it's OK to feel that way and to have ecumenical questions, but inappropriate to admit it.  I started the blog as little more than a means reaffirming my commitment to the Alaskapade.  When the site hits started piling up, I was motivated to write more.  I've found opening up to be very liberating and I do my best to not expose personal details about others who appear in my entries.  If I look like a tool, so be it.  Sometimes I am a tool.  If the scenarios are humorous, that's even better.  Writing about the goofy events in my life is a good way for me to remember and re-live them.  Admittedly, some of the memories are less than happy, but those make the happier ones seem even better and in my book, that feeling is worth the "exposure".

KTM, Shrug, Scott, John Galt, or whoever you call yourself,
Although I'm not alone in my opinions, I'm probably the only one who will take the time to write this type of message to you. I don't have a question. Just a comment. I found your repeatly failed attemtps at humor to be sad. I found your occasional moments of contrition and humility to be contrived. You may have the simple minded American motor scooter assembly fooled, but educated literate types see through your attempts at catering to everyman. You alliterate as if you are informed and educated and yet place yourself in situations far beneath someone of such an enlightened state.  I found your self absorbed "lofty goal" to be a monumental waste of time and resources and I find it difficult to believe that the visitor counter on your web page is accurate.

I doubt you have the stones to publish this in your shallow little blogosphere trophy case

Well that was special.  I briefly wondered why someone who dislikes something as you described would waste their time repeatedly (notice I spelled it properly) checking it out.  To each his own, I suppose.  I take no offense to your comments about me.  Still, I suspect that in your enlightened state, you still somehow managed to overlook the fact that the "simple minded American motor scooter community" is successful enough to find the discretionary income to actually buy Harley Davidson motorcycles.  Enough said.

Loved the trip and all the logistical details you offered.  Can you talk to us about the expenses a little?

The overall trip costs were less than I expected.  I needed lightweight camping gear and a few tech goodies, all of which are detailed in earlier blog entries.  Bike prep was minimal, although I pre-ordered new tires from the Harley Outpost in Fairbanks and had them installed when I got there.  Their labor rates are ridiculous.  I suppose I could have located an independent shop there and saved some cash, but the peace of mind helped offset the cost somewhat.  Fuel averaged $5 per gallon.  It was really high in Canada and in the remote parts of Alaska.  The octane rating in the available gas was pretty low and Hester's fuel mileage dropped somewhat.  Hotels up there are expensive, but I preferred to camp anyway.  Camping costs were minimal, leaving extra cash for food.  I found that I ate very little on the trip.  There were a couple of nights where I splurged and ate full meals, but those were usually when I was in the company of other riders.  I just wasn't hungry and I dropped fifteen pounds while on the trip.

Would you do it again? solo or with people?

I would.  I think it was important for me to get away from people for a while.  Next time I'd do it with people, but they would have to be real riders who don't mind putting in serious miles each day.  I know that sounds counter to my earlier statement of taking my time, but at over 4,000 miles from Dallas, it would be easy to waste two weeks just getting to Alaska if a serious mileage discipline wasn't followed.

I've been following your adventure. I made the from Austin to Jasper, Canada trip on a Sportster 1200XL a couple of years ago. It rained pretty much 3/4 of the trip on me and a hailstorm even dented my gas tank!!

I always thought that I would make the Alaska trip ( I'm 55 and Female) but, I think that those bigggg trips are in my past. Not sure if I care to endure the pain anymore. I'm proud of you for making your dream come true.

I would like for you to do something that many bikers really don't want to address. The physical part. We are graying rapidly out here. I think I even see a little weathering on you from this trip:) but, really be up front about it in gory detail?!  How hard, on the old joints, back, would you do it again 10 years from now(aren't you 47)? Could you do those roads then. Would you have the body strength? It ain't like riding to the local watering hole is it!!

It's not a sexy or bravado subject and there is exceptionally fit folks out there at any age know what I mean. Most folks when I am planning a long trip have no idea what it takes to ride all day in all weather and discomfort. I'm I sorry? no, but it ain't always big grins either.
So, what your take on this matter.

p.s. I know you love Hester but, would a different bike type be better for all the tornup roads.
So glad you safe and did it
Mari Beth

Great questions! Congrats on making that trip on a Sportster!

I feel like I did my best to condition myself before the trip.  I wrote about it in detail earlier in the blog.  I committed to getting in shape for this trip and I stuck to my commitment. I mentioned that I weighed 240 in December.  Truth is, I was 250 but too embarrassed to admit it.  When it comes to weight loss, we all have goals.  In my case, I had not just a weight and size goal, but a reason to achieve them, which I believe is why I was able to.

I have had severe back pain for the last few years and thought it was a result of an auto accident.  My assumptions led me to believe I could take some pills or maybe even (eventually) get surgery for relief.  When I learned I had arthritis, it was clear that the pain was permanent and there was no solution.  I had to do something.  My doctor recommended a rehabilitation clinic near me and I begrudgingly went along.  I'm very glad I did.  I started their treatment and exercises about six weeks before leaving for Alaska.  The head of the clinic is a PhD Kinesiologist who really knows her stuff.  I explained what I was about to do and she and her staff worked with me, never judging me for my goal.

Other than my back, there was really no other noticeable pain on the trip.  I felt the usual numbness now and then and of course, my butt got sore.  But that's part of riding.  The ability to deal with it, look past it, and enjoy the ride is what separates real riders who pack on the miles from motorcycling enthusiasts who ride to the local ice house and pose.

Your "weathering" comment was an astute observation and I think the video will illustrate it even more.  I can think of no other way to state it than it was a really good weathering.  There's a sign in the rehab clinic that reads "Pain is inevitable.  Suffering is optional".  I found that to be simplistically profound and I took it seriously.  I was in the gym religiously at least five days each week, including the day before I left. I credit the lack of significant pain to that fact.

Yes, I would do it again in ten years and yes, I know I could.  Just knowing what to expect is half the battle.  Managing one's expectations is the key. Secondly, the roads between Whitehorse, YT and Tok, AK will be in much better shape in just a few years.  In ten years, the Dalton will probably be a four lane highway.

The ride on those roads would have obviously be easier on a KTM or BMW with suspension travel designed to handle the extremes.  The ride on the other roads was much more comfy on Hester.  There was a degree of pride in knowing that I got there on a Harley.  Mine was the only one I saw.  Some Gold Wings I saw on the side of the road weren't so lucky.  So yes, I would choose Hester again over one of those other bikes.

Wow!  Every time I read another passage of Alaskapade I feel as though I were there riding with you.  Now I am not one to normally take off on a Bike but you sure had enticed me to exercise my options.  To be free on the open road with my thoughts, oh how I would love to just do that.  Forget about all the worries, troubles, trials and aches of our daily lives and just LIVE!  It is amazing how your writing draws me in.  I just want to hear more and more.  I feel as though I am living vicariously through your experiences. One of these days I too will have to take a road trip similar to yours and see all the magnificent places that you have seen. 

Couple of questions I have for you, what did you discover about yourself on this trip that you did not already know? 

A few things actually.  I talk to myself  too much and I'm apparently a pretty bad singer.  Looking inward, I realized that the genetic wanderlust within me is much stronger than I thought it was.  I think also that I might have the capacity to be more emotional than I considered myself to be before I left.  I learned that I enjoyed the company of people more than I expected to.  I think the most profound lesson about the state of my life was learned pretty much immediately when I got home.

Are there things in your life that you are going to change because of this adventure?  

Yes.  I just have yet to sort them all out in my mind yet.  I want to get back to playing my drums.  I want to man cave the office apartment over my garage.  These are obviously simple goals.  I have other more esoteric goals.  I just need to fully come to grips with that last sentence in my previous answer before I can fully define them.

First I've followed your blog since the day you left and thoroughly enjoyed your journey.  I'm actually planning a similar trip to Fairbanks in 2013 and have a question(s).  I'm currently riding the same bike a 2010 RG in Scarlet red. I'm a very experienced rider and average 10k-12k per year. Now that you've returned if you had it to do over again would you consider a different bike to deal with the poor road conditions?  Although I'm a die hard harley rider I would consider making a temporary change to a BMW Adventure bike for a epic trip like this.

Without a doubt, I would ride Hester again. As stated above, an adventure bike would be more suitable on the harsh roads.  But those were few and far between.  Those bad roads can be negotiated on any bike of taken slowly and cautiously.  I'd rather slow down where necessary and enjoy the comfort of my geezer glide the rest of the way!

Other than your flat tire and tip over in Deadwood what other damage did your bike sustain?

Hester took some serious vibration.  I took time each day to look her over and tighten up.  This week, I plan to remove the outer fairing to clean and tighten everything.  I'll also have to troubleshoot the electrical connection that killed my auxiliary power and my power amp.  When I cleaned the bike this weekend, although it took me almost three hours, there wasn't much damage.  I took a few scratches when I hit the deer and when the wind blew Hester over, but otherwise, nothing significant.  One rider in the parking lot at the Harley dealer in Gillette, WY shook his head in disbelief commenting that he would never risk damaging his Harley like that.  He and his wife were on a beautiful, fully customized Harley Trike.  I pointed out a scratch on the rear fender and ask how that happened.  Before he could stop her, the wife spoke up and said that a runaway grocery cart hit it.

How many total miles did you ride?

I rode a total of 9,764 miles.

Where on the trip do you feel the most significant impact happened to you?

Seeing the Arctic Circle sign.   I realize it sounds silly that a piece of painted wood would invoke such emotion, but I think at the moment I got there, the sign represented much more to me than a place on the earth.

Where was your favorite place to camp?

Cataldo, ID was picturesque and peaceful.  The Sturgis RV park was nice because I had two nights there without tearing down camp.

Did you meet any eskimos in Alaska or do they leave for the summer?

If there are any Eskimos there, I didn't see them.

Did you visit any Harley dealers?

I'm not a big HD dealer tourist.  I stopped at Yukon HD in Whitehorse, YT, The Harley Outpost in Fairbanks (for new tires),  and the HD dealer in Gillette, WY.

How did people react when you told them you were riding from Texas to the Arctic Circle?

Most thought I was crazy; not because I was going there, but because I was on a Harley.  Many thought it was cool and a lofty goal.  One woman whose family had followed me in their Suburban said at a subsequent gas/lunch stop that her husband stated out loud in the car that he was so envious that wished he was me.  Her oldest daughter then piped up and said "when you rode up and took off your helmet, mom said she wished that too".  They took pictures on Hester and I had a good laugh.

Why the Arctic Circle?  Why not just Alaska?

Because it was there.  I wish I had gone all the way to Prudhoe. Maybe next time. 

When can we see some videos?

I'm working on it with a friend.  We don't want to just post a bunch of boring road footage.  I tried to shoot stuff that I thought my readers would want to see and I took time to speak to the camera and express whatever was on my mind at that time.  Editing and rendering the footage in HD is a tedious process and I'm fortunate to have a friend who is ultra creative and really knows the applications.  It took us two hours to render a seven minute segment in 1080p high definition.  In the (hopefully not too) long run, it will have been worth it.  I planned this trip for eight months and I don't want to rush the video.  It's as much for my own entertainment as anyone else.  My hope is that it will fall somewhere between self-indulgent schlock and amateur riding clips.

Lance from New York here.  I'm sure I'm not the first to tell you that you are an excellent writer.  Your blog was referred to me by a friend on  I'll admit that BMW riders can be snobs when it comes to adventure touring, but I can tell you that you have been accepted as a genuine hard ass.  I started reading your blog when you left and then found myself spending days on it catching up when I realized it went back into October of 2010.  You clearly have a gift for description when you can keep a non-reader like me wanting more.  Your open sense of humor and a willingness to share your own misfortunes are refreshing.  You also proved that you're more than just a motorhead biker.  You exposed a sensitive, caring, somewhat vulnerable side in several entries...specifically in your Throw Mama story.  I was totally fished and surprised when you were on the bridge.  I'm sure I'm just one of many wondering who or what it was you lost or that you can't have in that Under the Bridge article.

I'm wondering if you have written professionally or if you've had any offers to do so.  Is it something you would consider?

Wow!  Thanks, Lance.  I appreciate your kind words.  I especially appreciate comments from other riders who know what it's like out there on two wheels.  I don't particularly see myself as sensitive or vulnerable.  I just write 'em as I see 'em from a stream of consciousness perspective.  I'm glad you and the other BMW guys get it.  Believe me, not everyone does.  As for writing professionally, I would love the opportunity to do so if the topic were right.  I have a couple of items I've been scribbling on for over five years that I'm considering finishing up and shopping.  I've stated to my friends that although I appreciate the favorable comments from my readers, I just can't buy into my own hype and as confident (some might say cocky) as I can be, I'm pretty humble about my writing.  That said, I would entertain any opportunity to write some published work.  I just don't know where to start.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Short Video Vignette is Up

This is just a short vignette from one day's riding. I wanted to release a quick shorty without commentary while we work on the full release. The full video with mountain footage, Bambi, arriving at the Arctic Circle, and all points before and after is in the works and will be published as soon as it's complete. Sound on!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Riding Home - Alaskapade! Over & Out

Hester - Packed & Ready to Roll Home
This day started like every other in the Alaskapade; I woke up.  I looked over at my phone to see what time it was and to try to figure out why my alarm didn't go off.  It was set for 6:30am, but it was only 6:00.  Had I been at home, I would have rolled over and slept the extra half hour.  But like food, sleep just didn't seem to be something I needed on this trip.  I was living on the adrenalin rush of just being out here.  Well, that and 5 Hour Energy shots.

Where Did All This Crap Come From?
I took my time rolling up my sleeping bag, deflating my air mattress, and generally sorting out crap to be packed for the journey home.  After just two days in this location, I had spread out and made a huge mess.  The ride to Dallas would be about 1,200 miles south through South Dakota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and into Texas.  My goal was to pack so that I could take just one small bag into the hotel wherever I decided to stay.  To be honest, I considered making the 1,100 mile trip in one day.  Lord knows if I did 1,000 miles across the terrain I did when I left Fairbanks, I could do 1,100 on highways standing on my head.  I thought better of it.  I was only going home and was in no rush to get there.  It was Monday, July 4th and I figured the traffic inbound to the cities through which I would have to pass would be stacked up with cagers returning from their long weekend.  I decided to stop halfway in Wichita, Kansas and had made reservations at a hotel there the night before.  Wichita was a short 722 miles from Sturgis and the ride from there to home would be a breeze.

Home of Arbor Day. Wow.
Hester was packed and ready to roll.  I walked over to Ed's camp to say goodbye and to express my thanks to him for the riding company and for cooking dinner last night.  He was planning to hang around another day or two in Sturgis and then pack up and head off somewhere, but I don't recall where.  Actually, I'm not sure he knew where he was heading next either.  Despite all the adventures I had just experienced, I was envious of Ed.  I saddled up and headed east on Interstate 90.  My southbound route through South Dakota took me through such thriving metropolises as Winner and Bonesteel before crossing into Nebraska.  It struck me that I had never ridden in Nebraska.  After a few miles, I realized why.  No offense intended to any Corn Huskers who might be reading this, but Nebraska was little more than just a state to get through.  The welcome sign said "Home of Arbor Day". I wondered, don't they need trees for that?  The view in Nebraska never seemed to change; just flat fields and railroad tracks as far as the eye could see.  Fortunately, I had vivid memories and images from the previous weeks dancing in my head to keep me sane.  I found myself actually looking forward to gas stops so I could actually see people.  Interestingly enough, the people in Nebraska - as boring and absolutely unremarkable as it was - seemed happier and more content to be there than did the people of Sturgis.

The 270 mile southbound trip through Alaska was as quotidian as was Nebraska itself.  I saw no motorcycles, no law enforcement vehicles, and for that matter, very few cars at all.  It seemed like mere days past since I entered Nebraska and I was already seeing the sign for Kansas.  I had driven through Kansas before and I knew that it would set a completely new standard for tedium on today's ride.  I stopped for the obligatory photo at the welcome sign and tried to adjust my eyes to seeing in black and white.  About twenty miles from Concordia, I noticed Hester's ride felt squishy.  I thought I was just tired.  Then I noticed I was turning the handlebars to the right just to keep her straight on the highway.  The erudite in me realized that this wasn't normal.  I pulled over to look her over.  I had a flat rear tire.

Only Flat on the Bottom
I had ridden over 9,000 miles through the worst terrain imaginable and I got a flat in Kansas?  I had put 19,000 miles on Hester's original tires when I arrived in Fairbanks and I got a flat on a new tire with less than 5,000 miles, in Kansas.  KANSAS!  I looked the tire over and didn't see any visible tear and figured it was just a puncture.  That would explain the slow decline in handling as the tire lost air.  I was carrying a tire plug kit, so I decided to try to find the hole, plug it, and move on.  I removed the saddle bags and closely examined the exposed parts of the tire, then pushed Hester forward a few feet to look over another area now visible after the roll.  I located what appeared to be a small puncture, dabbed some spit on it, and saw bubbles.  Encouraged, I broke out the plug kit and got to work.  The plug process was pretty simple.  I had successfully used plugs before and they held up well.  I reamed out the puncture wound and inserted the mushroom-shaped plug using the clever insert tool in the kit.  I stretched the piece of the plug protruding out to seat the plug against the inside of the tire and used my CO2 cartridges to inflate it.  After two cartridges, the tire was full.  Success!
Not so fast.  I heard a faint hiss emanating from somewhere in the wheel well.  Upon closer inspection, there was another puncture.  I repeated the process described above and used the remaining two cartridges to inflate the tire again.  No hiss.  Success!  Well, semi-success.  The tire was only half full and I was out of cartridges.  My GPS indicated there was a gas station about three miles down the road, so I decided to slow roll Hester there.  It was closed.  Not just closed; closed down. I slowly rode another twelve miles to a convenience store in Concordia and paid a dollar to use the air compressor in the parking lot.  All I had on me was a hundred dollar bill, which the guy at the counter said he could not accept unless I was buying fifty or more dollars worth of merchandise.  I tried my meanest look (which wasn't difficult to generate), I tried my nicest voice.  I was about to break down and ask the guy to just loan me a dollar when I realized I has a two dollar Canadian coin in my left vest pocket.  I kept my Canadian currency in my left pocket with my passport and my US currency in the right.  When I exchanged currency back in Oak Harbor, they wouldn't take my coins.  I offered the guy the $2 Canadian coin and you would have thought it was gold.  He opened the register and handed me four quarters as he called someone on his cell phone to tell the good news.  I had about $9 in Canadian coins in that pocket.  Judging from his excitement, I bet I could have walked out of there with a case of Monster Energy and Slim Jims in trade for it.

I inflated the tire to the proper psi.  No hiss!  I performed the spit test on the two plugged spots.  No bubbles!  This was looking good.  I waited around a few minutes and re-tested the pressure.  No loss!  Success!  I took off and was looking forward to getting to my hotel.  It was well over 100 degrees out and I was melting.  I had drunk all my water and didn't want to buy $50 worth at the store where I inflated the tire.  All I wanted was a shower and a soft bed.  I passed through Concordia and was heading towards Selina when the tire completely let loose.  Hester was fishtailing all over my lane and I fought to keep the bike and its top heavy load vertical as I slowly rolled to a stop.  I had a towing plan and I wasn't too far from Concordia.  I was planning to stay somewhere that night anyway.  I figured Concordia was as good a place as any.  Tomorrow's ride would just be a few hours longer.  The optimist in me was just glad this didn't happen on the way up.  The Road America towing number was pre-programmed into my phone.  I pulled it out to call and the battery was too weak.  I hadn't been able to charge it because of my previously mentioned electrical issues.  I had pre-programmed a message into my Spot GPS transmitter that read "Flat tire at the location indicated in this message" It continued with the Road America phone number.  I had one or two key people I could send it to and know that the message would be relayed.  It would be a waiting game from there because the Spot doesn't receive messages.  I sat on the road for about an hour pondering my next move when a Kansas State Trooper blew by me, made a U-turn, and then pulled up.  I admit that I'm not normally happy to see a State Trooper's lights flashing behind me, but I was happy to see this guy.  He invited me into his air conditioned cruiser and let me plug my phone in to call Road America.  I waited another hour in the trooper's car for Road America to call me back with a status.  They did, twice; and both times told me they couldn't find anyone, but that they were still looking.  The trooper was perfectly happy to let me sit there in his car.  He said that they were not allowed to drive over 130 miles a day and he had already hit that.  He added that he was on overtime for working the holiday, so sitting with me was no bother.  We chatted about our families, his recent 18 months military service in Iraq, what it's like to approach potentially angry drivers, and whatnot.  Another hour later, a truck pulling a flatbed trailer arrived.  Road America called the Concordia Police and had them dispatch a local towing agency.  I had to pay him and will hit Road America up for reimbursement.  Turns out, this guy was a local cop with a Harley and a trailer.  He loaded Hester and dropped me off at a Super 8 Motel.  He said he'd store Hester in his garage overnight and pick me up in the morning to take me to a local motorcycle shop.  It literally was an offer I couldn't refuse.

A Rare View of Hester on a Trailer
I checked into the hotel and when the lady at the desk saw my Rockwall address, she asked me if I knew where Wylie was.  Wylie was minutes from my home.  I replied that I rode through the back roads there often.  She and her husband were from Wylie.  Her husband used to work for Nortel Networks.  I used to work for Nortel Networks.  Her husband worked in the Technical Assistance Center as dedicated support to the Global Crossing account.  Global Crossing was my account.  I even knew his name, but we had never met in person.  Still, what were the odds?  As thrilling as those coincidences were, I was still whipped and quickly made my way to my room and after a much-needed shower, hit the sheets.  I laid awake listening to an endless barrage of fireworks and screaming voices seemingly right outside my window.  I peeked out and realized they were right outside my window.  Apparently, Concordia has no laws against fireworks because dozens of kids were running around going crazy with bottle rockets, roman candles, and sparklers.  I was reminded of my days as a kid when we used to shoot bottle rockets at each other and chase each other around shooting fireballs from roman candles on our bicycles.  Fireworks were cool.  My kids got jipped.

Tuesday morning arrived and Hester was waiting for me on the trailer behind the pickup truck when I stepped out of the hotel.  The parking lot was littered with burned paper, melted plastic rocket fins, and little colored dot trails where smoke bombs had been rolling around the night before spewing their smokey haze.  We rode over to the repair shop, which was only a few blocks away.
Hester Meets Phil's
California Phil's was an independent bike repair shop and the owner, Phil specialized in Harleys.  From the instant we met, I could tell Phil was a cool guy.  Actually, I knew it before we met when I saw the sign in his window.  Phil had the tire I needed in stock and got to work on it right away.  I tried to stay out of his way, even though he invited me into his shop as he worked.  He had all manner of bikes and cool old cars back there.  The mint condition 1972 Corvette he bought in high school still stands out in my memory.  I especially liked the Harley Davidson desert bike with the Rotax motor that was purpose built for the military for use in Desert Storm.
Phil and I talked while he worked and before I knew it, the tire was mounted and balanced and Hester was off the lift.  I strapped the old tire to my Trunk because I have a road hazard warranty through my dealer.  It's pro-rated and the tire is brand new, so when I need a new one, I'll exchange it.  I saw several BMW and KTM adventure bikes carrying spare tires up in remote Alaska, but mine was the only Harley I saw doing that.  I paid Phil for the tire and labor.  He shot me a great deal on both.  I was stranded and he could have raped me for parts and labor, but he didn't.  I got the impression that his character wasn't the type to do that to customers, but when you're used to dealing with Harley Davidson's dealer service shops, you tend to keep your guard up.  If you're in the Kansas area, or you order parts on line, look Phil up.  He ships all over the country.  He's made a customer out of me.

Harley Davidson Rotax MT-500 Special Forces Bike

I was back on the road by late morning heading south in I-135 towards Salina, KS.  There was a Harley dealer there that I had considered taking Hester to had she made it that far with the two plugs I installed.  I wouldn't have considered trying to ride the remainder of the trip home on that tire, but it was irrelevant now.  I was riding without any leathers now.  It was hotter now than it had been on the entire trip.  Texas and much of the southwest entered an extreme heatwave after I left back in June.  Other than rain here and there, I had enjoyed great riding weather.  Now, I was melting.
I looked at the air temperature gauge and it read 60 degrees.  Something told me it was off.  I tapped the fairing and it jumped to over 115.  That was more like it, but I still didn't trust it.  Honestly, I don't know why I even bothered to look at the damn thing.  It's never been right, which made me wonder.  Harley can design internal engine sensors that can detect that the crankshaft is 1.5 degrees out of sync and then send engine killing alarms to the Electronic control Module, but they can't figure out a stinking thermometer?  I'll be opening up the fairing to clean, tighten, and re-seat everything after the trip.  Maybe I'll replace the air temperature gauge with something more accurate like a mood ring or a divining rod.   
The 187 miles from Concordia to the Oklahoma line passed quickly.  Atlas Shrugged had me pleasantly distracted from the heat.  Hank Reardon had joined the strikers; Dagny was surely next.  Oklahoma to Texas was 220 miles.  Once in Texas, I had a short 80 miles and I was home.  Atlas ended.  I had read it before, but it's such a great and profound story that a repeat was warranted. I was heading south on Interstate 35 in Sanger, TX, jamming out to Ace of Spades by Motorhead using the spare ear buds I discovered in my glove box and then recalled that I had placed them there before the trip.  In one of my routine mirror checks, I saw red and blue lights flashing behind me right on my ass.  Oops.  I pulled Hester onto the right shoulder, killed the motor, and dismounted.  The Sanger Police officer patiently waited for me to remove my helmet and then told me that he clocked me doing 80 in a 70 using a laser gun.  I had seen him on the service road several feet off the highway and I wondered where the flat, reflective surface on Hester was that he used to clock me with a laser.  Nevertheless, he was probably right and as much as I like a good debate, I don't argue with law enforcement.  I explained that I was on the final leg of a 10,000 mile trip and that I believed was really just trying to go with the traffic flow and not impede other drivers.  I never denied the charge.  He ran my license and let me off with a warning.  The irony of it all struck me.  I had ridden almost 10,000 miles through twelve states and two Canadian provinces.  With the exception of some courtesy assistance from a Kansas State Trooper, this was my first interaction with the law on the entire trip.

My last night in Sturgis while sitting atop "Mount Rodney" in the the RV park, I began musing about the past few weeks; the miles Hester and I covered and the places I had seen.  This trip was many things to me.  In fact, it was many more things than I planned for it to be.  My attitude before I left was piss poor.  I needed to get away.  I felt like with the exception of one or two friends, nobody seemed to get me.  I left with no fanfare.  No one at home even bothered to get up to see me off.  I was OK with that and realistically didn't expect them to.  This was my dream and it had been made clear to me from the beginning both directly and indirectly that it was a selfish and risky endeavor that I had no business taking.  I agree that this was somewhat selfish and that there was a degree of risk.  I was also fully aware that I am genetically prone to wanderlust. I wrote about it months ago and I've always managed to keep it in check.  That mindset notwithstanding, I was somewhat angrily looking forward to being alone; just an anonymous guy out on the road on a bike with no responsibilities and no sense of commitment other than to realize a long suppressed dream that few who really mattered to me seemed to understand.  I got to experience those moments of solitude and they were wonderful in a liberating sort of way.  I wouldn't trade the feeling for anything.

Fat Shrug - December 4, 2010 & Slimmer Shrug June 21, 2011
Speaking of feelings, this trip took a physical toll not just on Hester, but on me.  I had worked hard for six months to condition myself and be ready.  I was in the gym at 5:00am doing heavy cardio  five days each week and had altered my diet considerably.  The hard work paid off and I dropped almost fifty pounds before I left.  The reality is that no amount of gym time could have prepared me for the pace I maintained while I was out there. I began at almost 250 pounds in January and weighed 186 when I returned. I've been reviewing the video I shot while out on the road and I think the transformation my viewers will see when we're finished editing it is astounding.  There's a tremendous amount of footage to review and edit, but when it's finished, I believe it will yield some exciting stuff and provide a pretty insightful view into my head and my heart; dangerous places - not for the weak.
I sat looking out over Sturgis and considered the people I met along the way. Hermann and Joanne in Jasper, Alberta graciously hosted me and cooked a wonderful meal for me in their home.  Jeff in Fairbanks let me use his corporate rental as a base of operations while I was in Alaska.  He also gave me encouragement and invaluable information about the Dalton and pipeline weather conditions.  Christian from France riding Mustang Joe; his months-long south-to-north journey was an inspiration.  Meeting Scot at the Arctic Circle and then again on the road in the Yukon Territory and getting to ride two days with him gave me someone to share the experience with after being alone for days. Ed from Florida in Sturgis helped me to remember to slow down and enjoy the view.  He cooked a great steak too.
Pastor Jerry & Shrug at the Circle
I met a guy named Jerry while sitting at the Circle.  He and his friends had commented that somebody forgot their hat, pointing up at Martin's Harley cap I had left there moments before they arrived.  I replied that it belonged to a friend of mine who "couldn't make it."  Jerry walked over to me and mentioned that he was a Pastor for a biker church and added "I think there's more to this hat than that."  I related Martin's story to him and he seemed genuinely moved. I was already somewhat emotional having finally reached the sign, having kept my promise to Martin's widow, and having had time to contemplate things.  I'm not a religious person, but this was indeed a spiritual moment for me.  Well-timed compassion and understanding are powerful things.  Jerry emailed the the photo on the left that one of his friends shot after he returned home.
There were countless others who were along from a distance tracking me via the web page.  There were times when I felt very alone and insignificant out there and I would then realize there were thousands of eyes looking down at me, watching my every move.  I received a phone call at my hotel in Great Falls from friends who tracked me using Google Earth, saw the hotel, called it, and had the front desk ring my room - just to tell me they were watching and were hoping the best for me.  I loved it.  I received hundreds of texts and emails from people telling me they were living vicariously through my adventures and my writing. When I was in the parking lot at Yukon HD in Whitehorse, the parts guy came out and asked "Are you Shrug?"  I answered and he said, "You gotta phone call inside."  A reader from New Zealand tracked me to the dealership, called their number and jokingly asked me to pick him up a t-shirt.  Again, I loved it.  I saw a passenger in an SUV staring me down as I passed them.  A few moments later, they sped up next to me honking their horn and waving.  The passenger was waving her arms and pointing to her iPad which had the Alaskapade page on it.  They told me at a gas station hours later that they saw the logo on the back of the bike and "tuned in".  They emailed me the day I got home congratulating me on the trip's success.  I received an email from a group of soldiers in Iraq. They were all Harley riders who were tracking me and commented that they would be proud to ride with me any day, anywhere.  I was humbled beyond description.  My point isn't that I was gaining notoriety.  My point is people really cared.  What started out as a simple means of on-line self affirmation and a dream to deliver a stupid hat somehow grew into something much bigger than any words I could write or photos I could post.
I considered all of what I just described and compared it to the times I spent alone and it occurred to me that I needed people more than I thought I did.  I was ready to go home.  I missed my family and friends.

Crossing into the Lone Star State
I rode the last hours through Texas genuinely excited to be getting home.  A close couple of friends who had been tracking me since I left were on the road waiting to follow me in and videotape my arrival.  They had actually gotten up the morning I left, met me on the highway forty miles from home, and taped my departure.  Here they were again to support me and share the experience.  About fifteen miles from home, I spotted a Harley rider on the side of the road and I remember looking over at him wondering if he needed help.  He waved and started rolling as soon as I went by and then rode up to me at a traffic light and yelled "Welcome Home!  He added something along the lines of "You and Hester are famous".  He told me that California Phil in Kansas was a friend of his, had read my page, told him I was coming through, and that he was moved to join me on a triumphant ride in for my last few miles home.  I have to admit I was glad I was wearing goggles.  I rode down my alley and into my driveway feeling a sense of accomplishment that I still can't pin words on.  The reception at home was about as warm as the one when I left.  Zeus was happy to see me and the friends who taped my departure were there.  Otherwise, the attitude at home was as if I had never left.  I accepted my role at home of being financially necessary but otherwise emotionally insignificant long before I left.  Perhaps that's one reason this journey was so important for me to make.  This journey wasn't for the readers.  This journey wasn't even for Martin.  This journey was for me.
Five years of dreaming and eight months of planning came down to 18 days and 9,764 miles for one man on two wheels.  It was more wonderful on every level than I could have possibly anticipated.  It was also much harder than I thought it would be.  The triumphs were great - crossing into Canada, reaching the Arctic Circle and slapping that sign, riding a thousand miles in one day, crossing back into the States, and the people I met who I'll never forget.  The trials were plenty also - horrible roads, motorcycle malfunctions, losing gear along the way, the flat tire, intense storms, and unplanned detours.  I wouldn't trade the triumphs or the trials for anything.  The events in our lives - be they good or bad - make us who we are.  Before I left, someone told me that this journey would be a good opportunity for me to find myself.  Since I returned, a few have asked if I feel it changed me in any way.  I'm pretty sure that although I wasn't looking, I indeed found myself.  The guy in the photo below is the guy I found and I hope I never lose him (hair notwithstanding).  I wonder a bit if the people who really know me will like that guy.  The answer to that last question is yes because before I left, I would have actually cared whether or not those same people who really know me like that guy.

Alaskapade! Over & Out.  Stay Tuned for the Video, Coming Soon.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Touring the Black Hills

I woke up Sunday morning feeling every bit as refreshed as I had the day after I reached the Arctic Circle. As I laid in my tent pondering the day's plans, I found it appealing that I didn't have to break camp and load Hester.  I had already offloaded most of my gear from the bike the afternoon before in a failed attempt to hold my tent down in the storm that battered the area that day.  Just riding away without extensive preparation would be a rare luxury on this trip.

I crawled out of my tent and left the mess behind inside.  It was liberating, like getting up and not making your bed...which honestly, I really never do at home anyway.  Ed was already up and stirring around his camp.  I dressed and wandered over to the RV park office to pay for an extra night's stay.  The office had a cooler with Monster Energy drinks and a snack rack with peanuts.  I bought a can and a bag...breakfast of champions!  As I paid for the camping spot, I asked the lady there what the rates were during the rally.  She replied that the rates jumped to $35 per night per person with a minimum of five nights, which included water, electricity, and WiFi Internet.  She added that campers are given wrist bands and all bikes and people must pass through a narrow security gate that would be manned 24 hours a day while the rally was in progress.  $175 for a week's camping with utilities during the Sturgis rally with access to their top notch, modern restroom and laundry facilities seemed like a bargain to me.  Honestly, I expected to pay $35 per night for my brief stay before the rally.

Ed and I discussed possible routes for our day of riding.  Both of us were somewhat lethargic about it all.  It's not that we weren't interested, we were just easy about it and neither of us had any real preferences.  Ed had heard that the geographic center of the United States was in a nearby town called Belle Fourche, South Dakota.  The actual center is still a matter of debate.  Kansas used to claim it, until 1959 when Alaska and Hawaii became states and Kansas lost its bragging rights, which is sad because Kansas has very little else to brag about.  We saddled up and headed for Belle Fourche.  From there, we planned to ride the scenic Spearfish Canyon route and make our way to Mount Rushmore.  The townspeople of Belle Fourche have erected a nice monument completely encircled with flags from all fifty states and there was a Korean War memorial as well.  We spent a few minutes relishing the splendor that was Belle Fourche and then headed out to Spearfish Canyon.  Ed and I had heard great things about this scenic route and were stoked to get to ride through it.  Unfortunately, hundreds of rental camper drivers had apparently heard about it too.  The ride was painstakingly slow.  I'm not one of those guys who has to ride fast all the time, but there are some roads that just command it and the Spearfish loop was one of them.  We piddled along at a speed only a Gold Wing rider could appreciate.  I suppose a benefit to the snail pace was that we were able to get long views of the canyons, waterfalls, rivers and wildlife that dotted the land.

We stopped to snap photos at several locations.  I was enjoying being able to ride in a short sleeve t-shirt without my chaps and leather jacket.  I really wanted to lose my helmet for a while like I did before my game of chicken with Bambi. That close call reminded me of how lucky I was and I decided to just keep the skid lid on.  The photo on the left illustrates just how clear and blue the skies were that Sunday.  The temperature was in the mid 70's and there was but the slightest of breezes in the air.  I noticed that the air up there smells different.  I think I've grown accustomed to the smog that surrounds the Dallas area because my sense of smell seemed heightened in the absence of it.  It was hard to believe that the area had been ravaged by such a violent storm just sixteen hours earlier.  The roaring rivers, waterfalls, and raised lake levels were a clear indication that several inches of rain had fallen.  The Spearfish loop is littered with trail heads and we saw many hikers suiting up beside the road and many more scaling the canyon walls.  I thought to myself that those people really needed helmets!

Ed and I rode past the Rimrock Lodge, Victoria's Tower, Eleventh Hour Gulch, and by a few working mines before making our way to highway 86 near Spearfish Falls at Cheyenne Crossing.  We then continued southward for about seventy miles toward Custer, SD.  This route would take us to the Chief Crazy Horse monument, from which we could hit Mount Rushmore on our way back to Sturgis.  I had heard the Chief Crazy Horse Memorial had to be seen to be believed.  Mount Rushmore gets all the mainstream press, many but riders said that Crazy Horse was not to be missed.  We stopped for gas and a cold drink and compared our differing GPS directions to a printed map.  An Army soldier home on leave stopped by and told us that improvements to 385 had been completed and that that road was a great route to the Avenue of the Chiefs that led up to the memorial.  When in doubt, I tend to trust the locals.  We decided to ignore our GPS and take the soldier's advice. The ride on the multilane highway was a welcome departure from the elephant walk that had been the Spearfish Canyon run.  Before we knew it, we were at the gate heading in to the Crazy Horse Memorial.  This monument was commissioned by Lakota Chiefs after seeing all the Mount Rushmore activity in their back yard.  Work on it started in 1948 as a solo effort by sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski. We rode up a long hill to the ticket booth and each paid $5 to enter the park.  Ahead of me, meticulously carved into the mountain was the profile of an enormous face.  Realizing the enormity of the face at that distance made me instantly realize that my $5 was money well spent.  I couldn't wait to get closer and to learn more about it.

Ed and I entered the pavilion and watched the twenty minute video presentation detailing the history and progress of the monument.  The sacrifices Korczak made to realize his dream were mind boggling.  While living on the mountain, he married and had ten children.  Five of them are still involved in the day-to-day operation of the monument's construction. Korczak died in 1982 at the age of 74, but his widow still lives on the property.  Progress is woefully slow, but the project is completely funded through donations.  The Lakota and Korczak twice turned down offers of over $10 million dollars from the U.S. government in favor of keeping the project private.  It's completion might come sooner if there were more cash infused into the process. I suspect I'll not see the monument completed in my lifetime. The term "monumental" truly applies here and although it will take generations to see it through, it will be completed on the Lakota's terms.
The Model & the Real Thing
After watching the video and wandering through the sculptor's residence and workshop, we decided to pay the additional $4 to take a bus ride down to the base of the mountain and get a closer look.  The enormity of the structure is mind boggling.  As a comparison, all four heads of Mount Rushmore could fit into Chief Crazy Horse's head when the monument is finished.  It's amazing that the sculptor was able to gain the ground he did without the aid of satellite imagery and modern cutting tools. 
The $9 Ed and I shelled out to see the Crazy Horse Monument was absolutely money well spent.  I'm a goal-driven person, so I can relate to the commitment the sculptor's family has made to seeing the project through.  It will be generations before the sculpture is complete, but I suspect those generations will have all included members of the Ziolkowski family.

Ed and I saddled up and headed towards Mount Rushmore.  We backtracked a few miles and made our way towards Keystone to the National Park.  The sweeping mountain roads were somewhat crowded, but this was a three day holiday weekend, so it was to be expected.  We approached the entrance to the Mount Rushmore park and saw that they wanted $11 just to drive on the road that allowed viewers to get a decent photo of the sculpture.  We weighed our options comparing Rushmore to Crazy Horse and both determined that our $11 could be better spent on dinner.  We found a spot on the highway to snap a quick photo and motored on back towards camp.
I'm not saying Mount Rushmore isn't an impressive accomplishment.  It's just that when compared to the Crazy Horse memorial, well, there's just no comparison.

It was after 5:00 and Ed and I were both hungry.  We both skipped lunch and the fuel from my breakfast of peanuts and Monster Energy had burned off hours ago.  Ed suggested we find a grocery store and pick up some steaks to cook at camp.  I had no cooking equipment, but Ed was pulling a trailer and had all sorts of camping gear.  I was impressed to the point where I can see myself picking up a trailer rig like that sometime.  I love riding and I love camping and if a trailer makes camping more comfortable, I'm up for that.  I wondered however, how a trailer would have survived the road from Destruction Bay and the Dalton Highway.  We made our way into some small town that I can't even find on the map as I write this.  Thousands of others did though as traffic was a snarl when we rode down the main street.  Eventually, we came to a dead stop just past the tunnel in the photo above and the line of cages stretched as far as we could see.  I decided to trust the GPS and we turned back looking for an alternative route back to Sturgis.  Ed and I found ourselves on a single lane twisty road that meandered along countless creeks and forests.  It was an unexpected treat after riding an hour on the highway after leaving Mount Rushmore.  The twisty road eventually dumped out on some other road that led us up to Rapid City and Interstate 90.  

We hit Sturgis around 7:00 and found a grocery store.  Shopping for groceries was the last thing I thought I'd be doing on the Alaskapade, but I was salivating over the prospect of a steak cooked on an open fire.  Everyone knows food cooked outside on a campfire is better than any food cooked in a restaurant.  We loaded up on steaks, beans, salad stuff, and bottled tea and headed back to camp.  Ed was as laid back a chef as he was in every other manner in which I observed him.  He had a handle on the cooking chores and two cooks in any kitchen can be a crowd, even if that kitchen is a wide open space such as our campground.  While Ed was cooking, I headed up to the topmost hill of the Sturgis RV Park to take a pic or two and shoot some footage for the Alaskapade! video.  While I was alone up there, I could see the entire town of Sturgis and for miles beyond it in three directions.  Sturgis was still dead.  It occurred to me that the essence of Sturgis isn't the place.  It isn't the volunteer prisoners who mope about the place.  It's the event.  It's the ride.  When I considered the bigger picture of the Alaskapade, it too was not about Alaska or even the Arctic Circle.  It was about the ride.  And it had been the ride of my life.  Throughout the trip, I had struggled to find profound things to say in the little self interviews I conducted in front of my video cameras.  Suddenly, I was overwhelmed with plenty to say.  The profundity of it all is yet to be seen when the video editing is complete and I find a place on the Internet to post it.  But I think I was able to articulate my feelings and observations clearly enough.  I suppose we'll see in a week or two.

Ed from Florida - Shrug from Texas
Several deer made their way down the hill behind us and wandered almost all the way into our campsite as Ed and I enjoyed a great steak dinner.  The reality is that it could have been more peanuts and Monster Energy and I would have enjoyed it just as much.  I had a great day of riding preceded by a picture prefect night of camping under the stars.  Tomorrow, the fun would be over.  I would be packing up camp in the morning and and heading home.

I pondered the accomplishments I had made on my long journey, all the places I had seen, and the people I met along the way.  This trip had been everything I had hoped for and more.  It was harder than I could have ever imagined, but it measured up and beyond the steep expectations I had set for it and for myself.  Ed and I sat at his camp and talked late into the night.  We talked for hours and we talked about nothing.  He pulled up my Alaskapade site on his iPad and started reading my account of heading to the Arctic Circle.  I eventually retired to my tent and left him there reading in the silence of the cool, crisp South Dakota night air.  I awakened hours later realizing I had forgotten to cover Hester.  When I stepped out, Ed was still reading. I stretched the cover over Hester and quietly crawled back into my tent anticipating another night of sound sleep.

Alaskapade Q&A

I've received numerous emails asking all sorts of questions about the Alaskapade and I've decided to answer them here.  Before I do, I'm opening it up for others to ask whatever they want.  I'll answer anything pertinent to the trip and maintain the anonymity of the persons asking.

Drop me an email and post your comment and/or questions.  I'll give it a week or so and then after my last riding entry, post the answers in one article.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

To Sturgis & the Black Hills

Taking a Break in Bighorn Pass
I woke up to the fragrant smell of fresh shit.  Chloe had left a present for me right outside my tent.  In fact, it was so close that I struggled to imagine how she could have squatted that near the tent without falling through the screen door.  I guess the paper lady was right and it was my fault for feeding Chloe that stinky fish.  I dragged my tent away from the putrid pile and packed up to leave.  By this point, I had gotten pretty good at rapid camp set-ups and tear downs.

Awesome Curves Ahead
Hester and I headed east on highway 14 towards Sturgis.  The route took me through Bighorn National Forest and over the 9,000+ foot high Bighorn mountain pass.  This was a stellar sixty mile ride that I didn't even know existed.  The horseshoe curves, switchbacks, and elevation changes were the most extreme I had ridden in all of the previous 7,000 Alaskapade miles.  Fortunately, these roads were all paved and in great shape with no gravel sections or pot holes.  When I saw what was in store for me on the GPS display, I stopped at a scenic spot to rest for a second and to mount my helmet cam under the right footboard.  I had fabricated a mount there before I left, having anticipated the cool views it would capture on roads just like this one.  The road was so tight that it took me over two hours to ride sixty miles and I loved every second of it.

Floorboard Cam
Actually, there were a few tense seconds when I played a game of chicken with Bambi.  I had just negotiated a tight uphill curve and finally passed a slow moving cage that had been holding me up when I saw the deer standing at the edge of the rocks on the road on my right.  I eased back on the throttle and kept a steady eye on the deer.  It stared at me; I stared at it.  I had horsepower, but this was the deer's turf.  I remembered that deer usually wait till the last second to react, so I approached with even more caution.  Just as expected, it darted in front of me the instant I was next to it and glanced the leading edge of my right saddle bag.  I looked behind me and saw the deer spinning on its side in the middle of the road.  It jumped up and limped off the road just before the cage I had recently passed rolled up.  That was a lucky deer.  I was a luckier rider.  The video camera caught it all.
A Deer Playing Chicken
Bighorn Pass - Adventure at Every Turn
The Bighorn run was a mix of painted rocks, canyons, snow capped mountain crests, and jagged cliffs that reached vertically downward into roaring rapids of  water that were as blue as the sky above and randomly topped with white foam. I saw numerous trails leading from the roadside up to caves in the sides of the mountain walls an I was tempted to pull over and climb up for a closer view.

Highway 14 dumped me out on highway 90 near Sheridan, WY and I found myself rocketing towards Gillette. I crossed I-25 and realized that I was intersecting the exact same spot I had ridden on day two of the Alaskapade. 
At 2:00pm on Friday July 1st, a copper wire snapped inside Hester's fairing and the music which had violently shattered the tranquil silence of the unsuspecting countryside with blistering rock music all the way from Texas to Alaska and back to Wyoming and all the while entertaining your humble writer - was suddenly silenced.  At the next gas stop, I checked my cigarette lighter and it had no power.  Way back on day three of the Alaskapade, the auxiliary cigarette lighter and USB power ports I had wired-in had melted in my glove box.  In a rush, I had stuffed a bunch of cables into the the glove box and one of the USB plugs dropped into a 12 volt cigarette lighter socket and shorted out.  I saw smoke billowing out of the glove box and damn near had a heart attack.  I pulled the melted cable out and saw that the plastic power housing I had installed had actually melted into the glove box.  Since that happened on day three of the Alaskapade, I had been swapping out charging cables in the stock cigarette lighter on the left side of the fairing.  It was difficult to keep all my cameras and bluetooth headset charged when I was tent camping without electricity.  Now, my last source of recharging power was gone.  There was a Harley dealer in Gillette, so I stopped in and checked my fuse in the parking lot.  The fuse was fine, but the circuit was dead.  I resigned myself to riding the rest of the trip without music.  I could play the tunes though my bluetooth headset, but the audio quality sucked.  I had plenty of audiobooks to keep me entertained and was in the middle of Atlas Shrugged (from which I stole the opening line to this paragraph).  At 67 hours, there was plenty to keep my mind occupied for the rest of the trip.  

A service tech who was smoking a cigarette outside the dealership walked over to talk to me when he saw the logo on the trunk.  "I'm guessing by the look of that bike that you really rode it to Alaska" he said.  I replied that I had, suppressing a prideful look and acting cool about it.  The next question he asked was common among bikers. "Where did you get that windscreen?"  I told him that it was from MadStad Engineering and that I wouldn't own a bike that didn't have a MadStad screen available for it.  A sales rep came out, took pictures of it, and wrote down the name.  The coating of bloody, squashed bugs probably didn't make for a very good representation.  Perhaps my testimonial and recent miles lended a bit of credibility.
I rolled out from Gillette and made my way to Devil's Tower.  I've been fascinated by this monument since seeing Close Encounters of the Third Kind in high school and I wanted to see it first hand.  I took a thirty mile detour off the highway to get Hester's picture with the monument in the background.  The line of cages waiting to pay to get into the park was half a mile long.  After my experience in Yellowstone, I wasn't falling for that again.  I rode on the shoulder, stopped at the monument park entrance sign, took a picture, and turned around to head for Deadwood.  It was worth the extra miles. 
The Devil & Miss Hester
I exited off the interstate and took highway 85 into Deadwood.  Honestly, I had never heard of Deadwood until the HBO series aired a few years ago.  I had heard cool stories about the place since then and it was on the way to Sturgis, so I thought I'd drop in.  Deadwood was bustling with tourist buses, bikes, and pedestrians.  As far as I could tell, the only attraction to Deadwood was the mere fact that it was Deadwood.  Still, I found it cool and enjoyed riding the main street.  I must have found the back way in because on my way out, I saw a nice Deadwood sign atop a hill and had to stop to get Hester's picture there.  I just had to stop.  The wind was gusting up pretty good and I wondered if we would get some rain.  I pulled Hester in front of the sign and dismounted.  While I stood fiddling with my camera, a blast of wind blew Hester right over.  I literally screamed "FUCK!" so loud I was sure it echoed all the way back into town.  Bruce Banner had nothing on the rage I was feeling and I thought I was going to Hulk out right there on the side of the road.  I had ridden over 7,000 miles through hell and back with no problems and now Hester was dropped by the f-ing WIND?  I struggled to pick her up on my own.  I tried everything I learned in the Motorcycle Safety Foundation class I took thirty years ago.  The Honda XL-100 I rode back then was much easier to lift than Hester was. The rage I was feeling and the physical conditioning I had put myself through in the months prior to this day were no match for Hester's weight. I struggled for several minutes on my own before another rider stopped to help me stand her up.  I was as embarrassed as I was outraged, but I was also grateful.  I dusted Hester off and hit the road heading for Sturgis.

I've never been inclined to be in Sturgis during the corporate mess that the rally has become, but I wanted to see the place nonetheless.  Up until Hester's fall, I was in a great mood.  I had ridden through the most incredible mountain pass I've ever seen that morning and I had spent the rest of the day knocking off places that I've wanted to see for years.  I was still fuming and was in no mood to let myself enjoy the moment.  It was a good thing I was riding alone because I was not fit for company.  I rolled into Sturgis and it was empty.  A month before the rally, I didn't expect much of a crowd, but I figured this being a holiday weekend, there would be a few bikes.  I found it odd that Sturgis was the ghost town and Deadwood was the boom town.  

As Hester and I rolled down Main street, I envisioned pictures I had seen where tens of thousands of bikes were parked on both sides and down the middle.  Now, Hester and I rode solo down the empty street, stopping every fifty feet at each of the legendary annoying stop signs.  I rode through town avoiding blinking so as not to miss it and headed for the Full Throttle Saloon.  I had watched every episode of the Full Throttle's reality TV show and was looking forward to seeing the place in person.  Of course it was pretty much empty, but wandering around the place and seeing all the landmarks I had watched on TV was pretty cool.  I bought a t-shirt and remembered when I met the Full Throttle Saloon owner Michael Ballard at the Lone Star Rally in Texas last year.  I wanted a shirt then, but told him I would buy it on site in person.  I have a few Harley shirts given to me by friends, but I only buy biker shirts for myself from places I've actually been.  I bought my shirt, snapped a few photos, and mounted up planning to head for Mount Rushmore.

Hester in a Ghost Town Under Threatening Skies
Then I looked up.  The skies to the east were black and hung low on the horizon.  The air was dead still and in the silence that was the emptiness of Sturgis, I could hear my heart beating.  I topped off Hester's tank and asked a local at the station if he thought it looked like rain.  He replied "Are you kidding? This is Sturgis, man."  I was already in a fowl mood and I didn't need this.  My plan (born out of anger) was to ride to Mount Rushmore, find a nearby place to camp, and then just head towards home in the morning.  I had accomplished my goal if riding to the Arctic Circle a week ago and in my angered state, I convinced myself that Ill these extra stops were just gravy.  Nevertheless, the weather altered my plan and now I needed to find a place to stay.  None of the popular Sturgis campgrounds were open yet as the rally was over a month away.  Despite the date, the hotel rates were all still ridiculously high.  I rode back across town to look for a tourist information center I had seen earlier on my way into town, hoping they could point me towards a campground.  As I sat at a traffic light, a pickup truck with a dog in the back rolled up next to me.  This was one of those dog mixes that defied breed classification; a real dog's dog.  His coat had more colors than Cyndi Lauper's hair, he had one white eye, and proudly wore an old bandana around his neck.  This was one happy dog.  He looked thrilled just to be alive in the back of that truck sniffing the world as it passed by.  His little stub of a tail wagged so hard that his whole rear end shook.  One ear stood tall and the other hung folded over, half erect.  His tongue hung out of one side of his open mouth as he panted and it looked as if he was actually smiling.  When the truck stopped next to me, the dog stepped up on the side of the bed and stretched himself as close to me as he could without falling off.  As I reached over to pat his head, I wondered if I would draw back a nub.  I could see a young boy in the truck's cab peeking at me through the passenger mirror.  His head was resting in the crook of his folded arm at the bottom of the open window and his face was devoid of expression.  I thought to myself, what a contrast.  The dog was thrilled to be alive and the mere site of a person on a bike patting him totally made his day.  The boy remained stoic as the light changed and the truck and dog drove off.  For some reason I felt better.  My anger over Hester's fall had passed.  I missed my dog Zeus.

On the way to the visitor center I saw the Sturgis RV Campground up on a hill above town.  I rode up and down the street looking for the road to get there.  The skies were growing darker by the minute and the wind was really picking up.  Long, thin forks of bright lightning were streaking from the sky to the ground in the distance.  I was mesmerized by the sight of the lightning. It appeared to me as a 3D special effect projected against a constantly morphing bruised backdrop of grey, blue, and black curtains.  I snapped back to reality and realized I was in trouble.  I could either ride west in an attempt to escape the storm or find a place in Sturgis to hunker down and ride it out.

The Previous Name & Sign of the Sturgis RV Park
I finally found the road that led up to the RV park.  It was a brand new road that wasn't on my GPS.  I rode in and figured it was open because there were a handful of large campers there.  The office door was unlocked, but the office was empty.  I decided to pull Hester in under the porch overhang and ride out the storm there. A woman exited a camper parked immediately across from the office and asked if she could help me.  I looked up and said "Tell me you allow tent camping and you can definitely help me."   She replied that they had tent spots with water and electricity and the rate was $10.85.  "Per hour?" I said. I mean, this was Sturgis.  "That's the daily rate through July" she replied.  I was stupefied.  She said that there was only one other tent and that I could have any spot I wanted.  I found a place near a tree and quickly set up my tent.  It was only 4:00 in the afternoon, but it looked much later because of the approaching storm.  As large raindrops began to fall intermittently, I used all the stakes in the tent package to anchor it to the ground.  The gusting winds were already making it difficult to set up the tent.  I placed as much gear from Hester's saddle bags and trunk as I could into the corners of the tent to weigh it down.  It was starting to rain pretty hard by then, so I rolled Hester up to the large tree, sat her up on the center stand, covered her, and used my tie downs to strap her against the tree trunk.  I had learned my lesson about high winds well earlier today.  As I went to crawl into my tent, I noticed all sorts of stuff blowing off the picnic table adjacent to the only other tent in the complex.  There was a small bike trailer there and a canopy was erected over the table, but no one was around.  I slipped on my rain suit top, walked over, and placed as much of the stuff as possible under the table and then took some rocks from the fire pit and used them to anchor the outside corners of the tent.  It was almost completely dark by then and the approaching wall of the storm was hanging directly over the edge of the RV park.  The air was dead still.  The only sound was the faint hint of music emanating from an empty bar across the street.  I heard sirens and wondered what happened.  I quickly realized that these were storm sirens.  Did they have tornadoes in South Dakota?  I was about to find out.  I high tailed it to my tent, crawled in, zipped up, and hunkered down.

Once inside, I inflated my air mattress and unrolled my sleeping bag. I made a dizzy mental note to buy an air compressor before my next trip.  Of course, with no auxiliary power, I'd be blowing the mattress up manually this time anyway.  I realized it was really dark, so I cranked my wind-up lantern, slipped off my wet jeans, and started nesting.  The winds continued to pick up and the sound of the rainfall pounding the top of the tent grew louder.  Within minutes, I was under the full rage of the storm.  The wind blew between the rain cover and the vented top of my tent and swirled inside around me, making for a strangely comfortable breeze.  The thunder was as loud as I had ever heard. The tent was being hammered by winds from one side and then the other as if trade winds were taking turns testing my planning and the anchoring stakes.  Suddenly, one corner of the tent rose up tossing the helmet and leathers that had been placed there to hold the corner down into my lap.  The thin metal stake had loosened in the soggy ground.  Then the opposite corner lifted up and I found myself sandwiched like shivering meat in a flimsy vinyl and nylon taco.  I tossed the helmet and leathers back into the corner hoping to regain some stability.  No dice.  I briefly considered crawling out of and dropping rocks on the corner like I did the other guy's tent.  At that instant, a huge series of flashes illuminated the inside of my tent providing a strobe light effect that allowed me to clearly see the violent shaking the tent was receiving. The lightning was followed almost instantly by enormous, seemingly endless claps of percussive thunder, telling me just how close the strikes really were.  Another corner of the tent let loose.  My attempts at replacing the items into the corners were fruitless.  I stretched out, lying flat on the tent floor extending my hands and feet as far into each corner as I could reach in an attempt to hold them down.  The wind was howling, thunder was clapping, and lightning seemed to dance indiscriminately just outside my little two person tent.  I was lying there wondering how long I would have to hold that awkward position when my yank and crank lantern died.  Darkness.  I considered crawling out and running to seek shelter in the office.  I considered putting on my helmet. I considered how stupid I would look if I was found dead wearing a helmet spread eagle in my tent in my underwear, snuffed out by lightning electrocution and/or fright.  I found myself counting the sound of my heartbeats.  Then it struck me that I could actually hear my heartbeat and I realized that the wind and rain stopped as suddenly as it had started.  What seemed like hours was in reality, mere minutes.  I retracted my arms and legs and fought the urge to roll up into a fetal position.  It was dead silent outside and I wondered if this was just the calm between the storms or if it was over.  I unzipped the door to the tent and crawled outside to see the damage.  To my amazement, there was none.  The skies were clear and deep blue and there was a light breeze in the air.  It appeared as if nothing had happened, until I looked at my poor little tent.  It took about twenty seconds for me to shake it back into shape and it popped back into its dome like structure as if it had never been molested by the wind and rain.  Indeed, nothing inside was even remotely moist with the possible exception of the spot where I had been lying holding the corners down.  I glanced down and checked my drawers; no stain.  An older gentleman from one of the campers walked over and asked if we were OK.  Standing there in my underwear, I replied that I was alone, that the other tent was unoccupied, and that I was fine.  I've always joked that I wear black underwear to hide the skid marks.  In this case, it was no joke.  I checked Hester and she was still parked on her center stand with her vinyl rain cover still in place.  The straps I had placed around her and the tree were unnecessary.

I was hungry.  No, I was starved.  I couldn't remember when I last ate anything other than peanuts and Slim Jims.  Even the fish offered to me the night before in Greybull was starting to sound good.  People were stirring down on the street across from the RV park.  I decided to go find a real meal.

At a traffic light, I was once again greeted by the same pickup truck with the same dog in the back.  This time, there was no passenger staring me down from the side mirror in the cab and the dog in back who had seemed so happy a couple of hours earlier, was now slumped over, dripping wet; his dusty bandana soaked and dripping.  Unlike before, both of his ears were drooping and his nub of a tail was tucked tight against his speckled rump.  I reached out to him like before and he just laid his head on the side of the truck bed.  Apparently, he was as afraid of the storm as I was, but I had shelter from it that he apparently did not.  I thought of my dog Zeus and how as fiercely protective as he is, he's still terrified of thunder.  A strange but somewhat familiar feeling rumbled inside me and it wasn't hunger.

I settled in for a steak at a place called Rosco's and I rode up to incredulous stares from the staff there.  "Did you ride through that storm?" the hostess inquired.  I replied that I had ridden it out in a tent down the street, which only generated more stares.  "You're not from here, are you" she commented.  I asked "Is anybody?"  She said that there were a few, but they knew better than to risk exposure to a storm like that" as she walked me to my table.  I thought to myself "they had a choice".  The waitress arrived and offered me a menu.  I told her all I wanted was the largest steak they had - cooked medium rare, a salad, and a glass of tea.  "Don't you want to see the prices?" she asked.  I replied that I didn't care; I just wanted food.  It occurred to me that my appearance might not be its best, so I hit the men's room.  I was right.  I was a mess. My hair looked like Albert Einstein stuck his finger in an electrical socket, my face was dirty, and I needed a shave.  I was reminded of the look I got from the hostess at Fast Eddie's seemingly eons ago in Tok, Alaska.  I shaped my hair down using my fingers and water from the sink and then washed my hands and face.  I still was far from pretty, but it was an improvement.  As I looked in the mirror, I could see that she shape of my face had changed.  My belt was tightened to the last hole and my pants were still drooping.  I looked like a homeless guy with a really cool Harley.  The steak was OK; Sizzler quality at best.  But it was much-needed sustenance and I scarfed it and the mixed veggies down using the bread to sop up the juice.  The plate looked as if it hadn't even been used.

The cook came out and sat across from me in the booth.  "Didn't like it, huh?" he joked.  "No. Can I send it back?" I replied with a grin.  He told me that he had been in the Army, stationed in Texas and had come to Sturgis for a rally twenty years ago and never left.  Even compared to me at that instant, this was a rough looking character.  His faded do-rag covered his sparse grey hair and reached down over his forehead, almost touching his unibrow.  He had old piercings in both ears that appeared to have closed up years ago.  One looked as if an ear ring had been torn clean through the ear lobe.  Strangely, he had no tattoos; at least none that I could see in his short sleeves.  His face held deep cracks, surrounded a cauliflower nose that appeared to have been broken more than once, and bore no facial hair.  He had scarred hands with thin rings on several fingers and on one thumb.  His fingernails looked as if they had been nervously chewed way too far down.  His dark, narrow eyes seemed to lighten and widen a bit as I described my trip; where I had been and where I was heading.  He asked for details about all my stops and seemed genuinely interested in my response.  As we talked, I considered the other people I had encountered in Sturgis.  Everyone there seemed like voluntary inmates in some sort of Twilight Zone prison camp without walls.  It occurred to me that their entire lives revolved around ten days in August.  I remembered the old woman in the window back at the Hot Spot on the Dalton Highway in Alaska.  She was stuck in the middle of nowhere.  But these people could drive thirty minutes to the east or to the west and be in a world that had a purpose year round.  It seemed to me when I spoke with them that they secretly relished their voluntary vassalage, yet they intentionally projected a sense of emulous despair to people like myself who were only passing through.  It made me glad to have a home to go to.  I realized that this as-of-yet unrecognized feeling that had been developing within me over the last two or three days - was me starting to miss it.

One exception to the depressed Sturgis residents was the park manager. She and her husband were retired snow birds who lived in Florida during the winter and managed the RV park through the summers.  She was a gracious and kind woman who seemed genuinely interested in the Alaskapade and for my safety after the storm.  She had the appearance and demeanor I expected from the voice on the phone the night before.  If I ever go back to Sturgis, I will stay at this RV park.

I saddled up on Hester and rode back to the RV park. The ground was dry and there was no evidence whatsoever of the violent storm that had rocked these grounds less than two hours before.  The summer sun was setting to the west, but it was still bright out.  This struck me as a stark contrast to the seemingly absolute darkness I had encountered only hours before.  The skies had faded from a deep blue to a warm orange, which made the few clouds that dotted the sky seem even more voluminous and closer to the ground, yet peacefully harmless.

When I arrived at my tent, I felt a peculiar sense of security.  I felt like I was in a familiar place.  It wasn't home, but it was strangely common and comforting.  I was again reminded of my dog Zeus.  He always felt at home wherever his bed was.  My tent was my comfy, familiar dog bed.  As euphoric as I found myself feeling when I rode through mountains and scenic landmarks each day, every night that I had to seek a place to camp generated an uneasy sensation in my gut.  It was an insecure feeling to which I was not accustomed.   I felt homeless.  I had money for hotels, but I wanted to stick to my plan and more importantly, I needed to stick to my budget.  The uneasy feeling seemed to dissipate almost instantly whenever I secured a place to sleep;even if that place was just a cut-out on the side of the road.  I have yet to put my finger on the exact reason for my insecurity in this regard, but the feeling was as deep as any other emotion I had experienced on the Alaskapade.  Needless to say, I was happy to be back at hotel Hester in the Sturgis RV park.

I saw a bike and realized that the other tent's occupant had returned.  I wondered where he had ridden out the storm.  He saw me and came walking over.  We introduced ourselves and made smalltalk about the weather.  Ed was retired from the utility industry in Florida and was on a long bike trip across the country, riding a Triumph Rocket III.  He rode out the storm at a card table in a casino down in Deadwood.  I mentioned that I tried to put his things back where they were before the storm.  He was appreciative, but I think he still wondered how his camp survived.  Ed and I talked quite a while and the topic turned to where we had been and where we were going.  He said he planned to ride the Spearfish Canyon scenic loop, to the Chief Crazy Horse monument, and to Mount Rushmore the next day, which was Sunday.  I said that I planned on breaking camp in the morning and heading to Rushmore myself before starting the final 1,200 mile ride home to Texas.  Ed mentioned that we could ride it together if I wanted. We talked more about our respective journeys and I was somewhat taken by Ed's relaxed demeanor.  It occurred to me that I was in no real hurry to get home and that I enjoyed Ed's company.  I decided on the spot to stay through tomorrow and ride with Ed to all the places he mentioned.  I would drop by the office in the morning and pay for another night.

Ed From Florida
Ed and I talked a while longer and I decided I needed to charge up my goodies and try to get on line to update this blog.  The Sturgis RV park had an excellent WiFi network.  Earlier in the afternoon before the storm, I was geeking out looking at the antenna array with its directional patches broadcasting to the various camping areas and the backhaul antennas that connected their signals between the network equipment and the antenna towers.  I wanted to ask the hostess if I could get a look at the network gear, but I figured she already thought I was weird enough as it was.  In the background, a band could be clearly heard playing in a bar across the street.  I considered walking over to give them a listen as I love live music. Hearing all the great classic rock tunes made me really miss playing my drums.  I blew off walking over, electing instead to enjoy the music from a distance.

I sat back in my tent with all the flaps open, letting the light breeze blow through.  The air was scented with a fresh, clean-smelling post-rain fragrance.  It was if I was living in a TV ad for fabric softener.  The bright orange sky gave up its battle against nightfall and darkness fell over the camp.  Sturgis had a great starscape.  The clearly visible constellations in the deep black night sky reminded me of camping trips I took with my uncles when I was a kid.  My uncle King would point at stars and make up ridiculous stories about them, all of which I believed wholeheartedly.  It struck me that in less than an hour, I had experienced an emotional 180.  I had a comfortable, safe place to sleep without the threat of finding wildlife, derelicts, or dog shit outside my tent the next morning.  I was relaxed, confident, and looking forward to a full day of relaxed riding with absolutely no agenda.

My belly and my heart were full and my spirit was recharged.  I quickly fell asleep staring up at the new moon through the open tent flaps.