I sweep quickly across the plain passing a series of nothing towns, the combined populations of which wouldnít surpass the average of their elevations. With a brief stop at the southern end of Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, I get the stamp and move up towards the Big Horn Scenic Byway, driving east. I cross the Medicine Wheel Passage at 9,000 feet. Itís freezing but the weather holds. From atop these Bighorn Mountains, the view back west over the plains is spellbinding. My mind gets lost in the switchbacks.
Down the other side and I hit I-90 near Sheridan. I start cruising south and then east as the rain starts. The road is rather empty for an interstate and the weather drives me on faster. Between exit 65 and 124, almost 80 miles, there is nothing but the Wyoming plain. The stark desolation is soothing, but the 50 degree rain (before wind chill) is eventually too much for my hands and I need to take a break. Unfortunately, my winter gloves are stuffed in the dry bag and I canít get to them easily. I didn't plan on it being this cold, this early in the trip.
As soon as I turn off the interstate at route 14, my mind can think of nothing else but the next stop: Devilís Tower. Remember this odd looking stone monolith from "Close Encounters Of The Third Kind"? My head is filled with the John Williams composed theme music from the movie. Not just the five note ditty that gets repeated again and again, but the real dark music from the film. Iím bounding over hills, forced towards some strange attraction. I feel just like Richard Dryfus in that scene when heís driving the station wagon through barricades trying to get to the tower, pulled by some supernatural force. I sweep over a rise and suddenly, there is it. A chill runs down my spine.
Devilís Tower, the countryís first National Monument, is a 60-million-year-old volcanic core of magma that cooled and fractured into long columns, rising 867 feet from its base. Indian legend maintains the tower was the stump of a great tree clawed by a bear. Today it is a huge draw for rock climbers, with over 5,000 people making the ascent each year. Actually, during my visit, one of them has had a close encounter of the ground kind and there is an ambulance and country sheriff vehicles at the base of the tower. My plans to walk around the tower trail are canceled as there is police tape blocking my path.
The rain starts again, and I leave Devilís Tower, constantly looking behind me until, miles away, I can no longer see it. I press on towards Spearfish in the fading afternoon light. Another construction site hampers my progress, as I have to ride through some thick Wyoming mud. No wonder the flag lady was shaking her head as I went by. She knew what was in store for me. By the time I get back on the interstate, the bike is dirtier than it has ever been.
I reach Spearfish around 6:30 PM and ride though town. I was thinking about spending the night here but I really wanted to press on to Deadwood. Itís just a few miles down the road so I go for it. This turns out to be not such a good idea.
My friend Monica had told me about Deadwood and said it was a cool little town. And yes, it probably is most of the time, with a population under 2,000 people. But when I get there, itís Saturday night and just happens to be the 8th Annual Deadwood Jamboree. There must be 30,000 people here, filling the 40 plus casinos and every motel room for miles. Suddenly I feel like Iím in Atlantic City. Disgusted, I move on.
Just down the road about 15 more miles is the infamous town of Sturgis. I was planning on riding through for breakfast, so I figure Iíll just get there now. Sturgis is the site of the worldís biggest motorcycle rally. Every August, for a couple of weeks, hundreds of thousands of bikers (most of them on Harleys) flock to this little town. This year the turnout passed 500,000 riders, including Dennis Rodman, Jay Leno, Steven Segal, and a bunch of the WWF guys. Hotel rooms go for $300 a night during the rally. I get a nice room at the Best Western for $40.
Itís been a long, hard day. Iím tired, cold, and the bike is trashed. Maybe Iíll clean it in the morning.
Big heartfelt congratulations to my dear friend Patty Gillespie who was married today to Michael Power, in Manhattan. Michael, you are one very lucky guy. And Patty, youíre pretty lucky too. Plus, you now have the coolest name of anybody I know.
I walk over towards the bikes and say hello to the young guy who comes out of the motel room. Christopher Todd and his cousin Parrish Starr are riding across country on these machines. Chris is from New Jersey and Parrish lives in Texas. Theyíll be on the road for a couple of months. Theyíre not much younger than me and only bought these bikes last spring, learning how to ride over the summer. Theyíre here for the 6,000-mile service, which the local dealer will do on Monday.
As it turns out Christopher and Parrishís cousin, Will Todd, went to my high school, Millbrook School. Will, an incredible Lacrosse player, was a senior when I was a sophomore. He now owns a ranch up in Montana.
We grab some dinner and beers and start trading tales and advice. Actually, Iím mostly giving these guys the advice. What they lack in knowledge, theyíre gaining from experience. Theyíve spent the past two weeks fighting cold and wind as they came through Chicago and headed up to Michigan and Minnesota. Theyíre learning as they go and one thing theyíre learning is they need to head south.
For one thing, they know now they probably have the wrong bikes to ride across country, at least during this time of year. The cruisers look cool, and are great fun to ride around town, but I would never attempt to travel too far on one. They have no windscreen or fairing, completely exposing you to the elements, and the gas tank only holds 4.5 gallons. On top of that they canít carry much gear. The guys have some small soft luggage, most of which is filled with Chrisí camera gear.
Iím glad to see the guys are wearing full-face helmets. And they do have proper riding gear, although it is not exactly weatherproof. Leather jackets and jeans donít do much for you in the cold and rain. I convince them that heated vests will change their whole experience. I hope for their sake that the Sturgis dealer has some in stock.
Their spirit of adventure is high, though, and itís great fun to hang out with some guys my age that are going though a similar experience. As they have no plans for tomorrow, I invite them to join me for my ride. Itís not a huge day and weíll try to hit the road by 10 AM.
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