The Long Solo Ride – 3700 Miles on a Speed Triple: Part II
I awoke on Monday to a pouring rain, further antithesis to the weather predictions I had been following so carefully. It was 5am, or actually 4am by my Pacific Daylight Time body clock. However, the rain looked to be abating, so I took my time getting packed and so forth.
The bike had been cleaned a bit the night before, using the WD40 I had brought for the chain lube on the rear wheel after a fresh application. I used a new concept here – when staying at a motel you check in, and then go back later and ask very politely if they have any old rags or shredded towels they do not want to see again, because you want to clean you bike and do not want to ruin any room towels. This works a treat! In this manner the chain got a fresh application of lube each evening, and the rear wheel was cleaned and the entire bike wiped down for the new day. I am sure nobody on the trip ever noticed the pristine rear wheel, but that is one of my minor obsessions.
One of the advantages of my expensive room was that I could take advantage of the indoor pool (one of several) and spa (one of several) the previous evening – a good way to soften the muscle kinks in back and arms. The 2nd was the provided breakfast. Some motels have nada but bad coffee (Motel 6), and some have a “Continental breakfast,” which is usually pastries and bad coffee, but your high end place will offer fruits and waffles and sausage, etc. Even better, this place had it all ready to go slightly before 6am.
By 6:15am the rain had stopped and the freeway would probably be dry. This became moot in two miles as I caught up to the rain and rode through it.
The morning was uneventful but gorgeous, as the weather gradually improved to perfect and then ventured into hot. The miles rolled by at about 80mph. Mornings were consistently my favorite leg of the day, cruising at speeds that would put you in jail where I live and watching the scenery roll by, enhanced by wildly evolving weather conditions from excellent to dire. Lovely.
I began to realize how terrific it was that I was by myself. There is camaraderie and enhanced safety in traveling with one or two friends, but how many people would want to do “touring” the way I was choosing to do? Leaving at the crack of dawn, I would ride for ten or eleven hours, and start looking for a motel between 3pm and 4pm. Worse, my Speed Triple can do 150 miles on a tank, or a good deal more in ideal conditions, but I preferred to start thinking about a fuel stop at 100 miles, and often refilled after 110 or 120 miles. This would drive most people with much longer ranges utterly nuts. Worse, I was really enjoying stopping at rest stops in between, usually for a half an hour or more, smoking my pipe and writing and digitally recording notes. As I expected, the majority of the pictures I took show the bike with a rest stop in the background.
Each day I would make use of my early stop to check in, enjoy the pool if there was on available, and generally sit in a chair and do nothing. Dinner would be from a place I could walk to, often enjoyed in the motel room. Not the recipe for joy most would mix, but it suits me down to the ground. On this day the motel was in Hardin, Wyoming, and had everything I wished. Old towels to clean the bike, a pool to enjoy, a myriad of “dining” options, and breakfast the next morning.
I spent some time chatting with a nice couple from Alberta on two Harleys – the wife’s first big tour. I asked if they were headed for Sturgis and was told yes, and no. They would ride through, but well before the official start of the rally, which features 250,000 people or so riding, or parading, or usually parking – all manner of motorcycles, a lot of alcohol consumption, and hundreds of women wearing less clothing than ideal for their appearance. In fact, EVERY motorcyclist I spoke to on ride east said much the same thing. None of them were actually attending the Sturgis rally. Some had been there and done that and did not need to repeat the experience, and most did not want to get anywhere near it. Eventually I created a phrase in my head that I never dared state out loud, although people would have agreed with me. “Sturgis is for amateurs.”
First hilarious incident of the trip. Popping into the breakfast room at 6am on Tuesday I found a good selection of foods, including a waffle maker, and a large pan of scrambled eggs and sausages. The other diners were all wearing matching t-shirts of a construction company, and I think some of them did not speak English. I took a healthy portion of the eggs and remarked that I hoped the motel had someone making more, as there were a lot of people who would be up soon.
The evident boss of the crew explained that they from Texas and were staying in the motel for 6 months while repairing a large generator out of town, and that one of his crew had made the eggs – for them! I was so embarrassed, but they thought it was pretty funny, and they had all pretty much concluded their meal, so it ended well.
The second amusing incident occurred at my first rest stop. As I packed up to get underway again I noticed a small sedan to my right with the headlights on. Inside were two women, fast asleep. What to do? Since they were sound asleep it was unlikely the car was one where the lights stay on for a couple of minutes after the ignition is turned off.
I did not want to disturb the women, but if they ran the battery down to extinction they might have a real problem. I also did not want to terrify them – imagine being awakened from a sound sleep by this old guy knocking on the window. How creepy! After some deliberation, I chose to act. When I rapped on the window the driver looked as alarmed as I had feared, but as she awoke further and I explained her problem she was grateful. That afternoon I saw them at another rest stop 200 miles down the road, and they thanked me again, so it all worked out OK.
Once again the morning ride was spectacular, and the speed limit was now a heady 80mph, and I took advantage. I almost paid for it in Moorcroft, Wyoming, where the low fuel light blinked on. The low fuel light on a Triumph is a very bright yellow, and always gives me a start, as your first thought is that you have no oil pressure and the engine is blowing up. My mileage for that tank sunk to 37mpg, a new low, brought about by speeds of over 90mph and a headwind. By the end of the trip I had learned that mpg would be 40 – 42 at speeds below 85mph, and drop quite a bit over that.
I turned north on 14 to take in Devil’s Tower, which I remembered viewing on my first trip in 1968. To no surprise, it looked about the same.
Back to I-90 and into the Black Hills, where at Spearfish I turned on 14 again to enjoy a “scenic byway.” 35mph? Really? Surely the limit will become more reasonable out of town. Nope.
Most of the traffic consisted of couples two up on Harleys or Goldwings, rolling along with no helmets – at 35mph. I passed them here and there while pondering just how big a speeding ticket I was willing to risk on such a spectacular road. Wide, perfectly paved, with good sightlines and little traffic, this road deserved to be ridden at a relaxed pace of 65 – 70mph with braking for corners done simply by letting off the gas and arcing through, all the while enjoying the spectacular scenery.
It is hard for me to imagine, but all of the states that I rode in are no helmet required states. I never got used to the creepy feeling of seeing so many people riding along, seeming able to ignore the basic physics of what happens when you bounce a skull full of soft tissue off solid pavement. It really hampers my opinion of my fellow motorcyclists.
Eventually the speed limit rose to a dizzying 45mph, and then I caught up to a car being held up by – three motorcycles. I passed the car and then the rearmost bike. The middle one was a trike, and at the front was a man wearing one of those fake German WWII helmets (who thinks that is a good idea, and why?) emblazoned with the usual rude stickers. Even better, he was lolling along at 42mph in a 45mph zone, with a vanity plate on his Harley that read “WILD 1.” Right. I blew by him and rode on to the massive disappointment that was Mount Rushmore.
I did enjoy one of the best burgers ever at “Boondocks,” which featured several 1940s-50s era cars and a half a dozen vintage bikes in a semi-open air display. I noticed a Honda 250 Scrambler, which would have been the ultimate fantasy fulfillment for me in high school (all the cool guys had one – I was not cool) now relegated to rusting oblivion poised on the roof.
I was spoiled as a child by visiting Mt. Rushmore in my teens. You drove into a large parking lot and enjoyed the spectacle. Now the entire area has been turned into the megalopolis of tourist traps, and the parking area is a proprietary venture that charges $11 to park your car – or motorcycle. Even at that, you are nowhere near the actual vista, and I think they had a shuttle bus system from the parking lot of thousands of vehicles to your actual intended stop. I passed.
From there it was on to Rapid City and a Motel 6, for a night of rain, tornadoes, lightning and hail.
Coming in Part III – the Badlands do not disappoint, a custom Harley, and spending time with a favorite student.
David Preston Copyright 2014