Christopher and Parrish are ready to roll and we head east along I-90, with the wind at our backs, for the most part. They’re like kids in the candy store on their bikes. For guys who just started to ride a few months ago, they like to go fast, but they’re not reckless. They actually hand signal their lane changes. It’s almost cute. You can tell they’ve taken riding lessons and actually got their motorcycle licenses. Unfortunately too many people just buy bikes and jump on, without knowing what they’re doing and without the proper license.
It’s a lot of fun to be riding with someone else. After 26 days alone on the road, it’s nice to have some company. In general, I prefer to ride alone, but today is a delightful change. Many people have asked me why I am doing this alone. Most of them have never ridden a motorcycle and don’t understand the pleasure and freedom of riding by yourself. First off, I don’t know anyone who could take 100 days out of his or her life. Secondly, doing a trip like this with another person would be almost impossible. Everything I do is because I want to do it. If someone else were with me, the trip would be a democracy, not a monarchy. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but I would only travel with another rider on a shorter scale.
Our first stop of the day, is about 80 miles down the interstate: Wall Drug. As you cross the highway you are bombarded with billboards every mile for this place, and it’s kind of fun. In 1931, a pharmacist named Ted Hustead and his wife Dorothy, bought a drug store in the lazy town of Wall, South Dakota, population 326. The local people were poor, wiped out by the Depression or drought and business was horrible. In 1936 Dorothy had an idea to give away free ice water to all the travelers on Route 16A crossing the country (there wasn’t the interstate then). She came up with few lines for a sign and Ted fashioned them like the old Burma Shave highway signs. "Get a soda…Get root beer…Turn next corner…Just as near…To Highway 16 & 14…Free Ice Water…Wall Drug."
It worked and the town of Wall has never been the same. Over the years the store has grown into a monster complex of gift shops, bookstores, camping gear, boots and western clothing, a cafeteria, memorabilia displays, and of course, the pharmacy. 20,000 people a day come here during the summer months, and if you are traveling on I-90 you just have to stop. Dorothy passed away a few years ago, and Ted just this past January. But their success will live on forever. As Ted said, "No matter where you live, you can succeed, because wherever you are, you can reach out to other people with something they need!"
Our next stop is Badlands National Park, and we enter the park at the Pinnacles Entrance just south of Wall. I convince Christopher and Parrish to buy Golden Eagle passes, as they will save some bucks within a few weeks of hitting National Parks. Plus the Park Ranger at the entrance gate is very cute and the boys don’t mind the extra time chatting with her. They’re suddenly liking this National Park idea.
We sweep through the steep canyons and sharp ridges of the Badlands, taking pictures and shooting video from the moving motorcycles. This place is like another world with deep gullies and striking spires. When Frank Lloyd Wright traveled through here in 1935 he wrote, "What I saw gave me an indescribable sense of mysterious elsewhere – a distant architecture, ethereal…, an endless supernatural world more spiritual than earth but created out of it."
Reaching the Ben Reifel Visitor Center, we turn back west through the Buffalo Gap Grasslands towards Rapid City. As soon as we start out the wind hits us like a ton of bricks. This is no strong breeze. It is a wall. I’m laughing to myself inside my helmet because it is so ridiculous. The head-wind is at least 50 MPH, and I’ve never ridden in anything like this. I duck behind my windscreen, pull in my elbows and tuck in my knees. Christopher and Parrish have nothing to shield them from the torrent, but they manage well. We take a break in Scenic, a desolate, boarded up way-stop. It’s not very scenic, but the buildings shied us from the gale for a few minutes.
Once we reach the Black Hills and head south from Rapid City, the riding returns to a normal pace. At Mt. Rushmore we have to pay $8 each for parking our bikes although they all fit into one space. The guys are ribbing me about the Golden Eagles, which work everywhere but one park: Mt. Rushmore. When I came here ten years ago for a photo shoot with my old boss Neil Leifer, I don’t remember having to pay any parking fee. But as soon as we approach the monument I can see why.
The facility has completely changed since I was here. The monument is exactly the same (no, they haven’t added Ronald Regan yet), but the Information Center, Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center, Buffalo Dining Room and the Grandview Terrace are all new granite structures. The entire scene is quite imposing and I can see where that eight dollars is going. I was a little sad when I saw they had removed the old wooden building, famous for that scene in "North by Northwest" when Eve Marie Saint shoots Cary Grant. But after strolling the new digs for a while, I must say I was very pleased. It is a fitting facility for such a grand memorial. The exhibit on the building of the monument, courtesy of Citibank, is especially impressive.
Our last stop of the day is just a few miles down the road: The Crazy Horse Memorial. In 1947, Korczaj Ziolkowski, a self taught scupltor of Polish descent (whose Paderewski: Study of an Immortal had won first prize at the 1939 World’s Fair), was invited to the Black Hills by Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear. The chief wrote "My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know the red man has great heroes, too." Ziolkowski accepted the invitation and started a mission that would last beyond his lifetime and into the next century.
Work was started on the mountain on June 3rd, 1948 and it continues today although Korczaj passed away in 1982. His dedication and determination have created a movement that will help see the project to completion. When finished, the sculpture will be 563 feet high and 641 feet long. Eventually it will be the background for an Indian Museum of North America and a University and Medical Training Center for the North American Indian. Korczaj was a strong believer in the free enterprise system and he felt Crazy Horse should be a nonprofit educational, cultural, and humanitarian project built by the interested pubic and not the taxpayer. He turned down ten million dollars in federal funding, twice. He and his wife Ruth also prepared detailed plans in order to continue the project after his death.
Viewing the half-completed mountain, I was extremely moved by this man’s dedication and drive. He knew that this monument was something so important and so meaningful that he gave his entire life to it. Korcazk Ziolkowski’s compassion and understanding of the North American Indian is evident in his writings which will be carved onto the mountain:
"When the course of
history has been told
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