Saturday, August 15, 2015

~ Sturgis-Crazy Horse ~

Two goals merged into one, that’s what this ride is all about.  Gilbert has always wanted to go to Sturgis and I always wanted to return to Montana. 

My alarm clock rings loudly at 3am.  My bike was packed the night before and I was on the road by 4:30am in the dark.  Gilbert left Barstow at 5am and we planned to meet in Benton, California between 9:00am-10:00am.  Gilbert would travel up Highway 395, past Lone Pine, then Bishop.  My route was through Yosemite National Park and over Tioga Pass.  The road construction delayed me and I was late in meeting Gilbert at the Benton General Store by a good hour.  It was colder than I thought, crossing 10,000 foot passes.  I did have warm gear but too lazy to put it on as I was in a hurry.  He had time for several cups of hot coffee and met the mayor of Benton, a Paiute Indian.  Gilbert shared with him our past rides and how we camped on the “wild side” of his reservation, a place we named Paiute Ridge. The mayor was happy that we camped out on the wild side and we were always welcomed to return.  I downed a cup of coffee and two donuts, filled up my gas tank and we were gone.  So starts our journey North by North East on highway 6 to Sturgis South Dakota via Montana.  Gary Salidvar made this trip 20 years ago on his bike and is one of the few people I know who has experienced Sturgis.  It took me a few years but I now know what he experienced.

Day 1.  The wind is hot as we ride east on Highway 6 towards Ely, Nevada.  Along the way, we see wild Mustangs and two incredible wild rams (mountain goats) on top of a pinnacle, each facing in opposite directions.  We do not take pictures just look in awe.  We make Ely, Nevada near evening.  We usually buy dinner and drinks for the night and ask around for a good camping spot.  Most people suggest the developed campgrounds but get the point quickly when we say that we are looking for the wild or isolated sites.  The lady at the store quickly speaks, “Then you want to camp on the Pony Express Trail, about 30 miles from here on the first dirt road you see on the right.  I'll warn you there is little out there.”  We could not have picked a more beautiful camp site.  This is the actual route of the Pony Express, and we fantasized how they camped in the very same spot in pursuit of their hard work.  This was a long ride for our first day, over 500 miles.  However, it seems tame in comparison to what the Pony Express riders endured.  We could only imagine the colorful life as we look into our fire, sipping a cold beer.

Day 2.  We have a great country breakfast at a local bar.  When we ask if they serve breakfast, the bartender simply replies "what do you want, don't have a menu?"  It took awhile to get our breakfast but it gave us time to look over the maps and plan our next move.  The locals were eager to give their opinions on which route to take.  The breakfast was so good – eggs, hash browns, bacon, toast, juice, and coffee; this was well worth the wait.  We quickly crossed into Idaho and then began going east on Highway 86 to Pocatello and then Idaho Falls.  The scenery had changed from the low grasslands of Nevada to the mountains of Idaho.  The temperature also feels a bit cooler.  We knew that this was to be another long day of riding, 500 miles plus so we pushed on a bit harder.  Our goal is Grand Teton National Park to celebrate Gilbert’s 57th birthday but we fall short.  We camped on USFS land near Swan Lake just minutes before it got dark.  We quickly gathered wood and started our fire and barbequed hot dogs, wrapped in tortillas.  We celebrated Gilbert's birthday with a can of Hawaiian Macadamia nuts. 

Day 3.  The Grand Tetons are magnificent!  We had reached North and we fee better, knowing that we would have a few short traveling days ahead.  We camped at Lizard Creek Campground in Grand Teton National Park.  We jumped into the Lake and took a cool, refreshing bath.  That night we cooked the best T-bone steaks we have ever had.  The campground host warned us about Black Bears and GRIZZLIES recently spotted in the area.  We asked where in the campground were the Grizzlies spotted and she pointed to the very site we picked.  This was the only site left; we sleep with one eye open tonight.

Day 4.  We are in Yellowstone National Park and the views are breathtaking.  We travel, what seemed like hours, around Yellowstone Lake.  Motorcycles are now everywhere and we sense we are getting close to Sturgis, though in reality Sturgis is many, many miles away.  At one of our stops in Yellowstone, we meet Chuck, a colorful old guy who is on his way to Sturgis on his bike and to meet his daughter of 45 years for the first time.…heavy.  The air is colder, the clouds are darker and then without warning it is raining hard on us and then the hail comes down like rockets.  We quickly put on our rain gear and then were off in what can only be described as hard wind and rain from all directions.  It is simply excelerating – thunder, lightning, rain, hail and we are right there in the thick of things.  The visibility over some of the passes is less than 10 feet and rocks have fallen down the steep hill sides so we are concerned.  We pass a sign that reads:  “Grizzly Bear Area – camp only at developed campgrounds.”  We continue on towards Cody, Wyoming where our goal is to camp on the northern end of the Bighorn National Forest.  The weather is changing rapidly as the winds are blowing and rain is imminent.  We see dark rain clouds in the direction we had planned, so we instead head South and make camp just East of Ten Sleep, Wyoming.  We see Chuck several times along the route; he is amazing, stops for a few beers and is always ahead of us.  The number of bikes has increased dramatically – all moving East towards Sturgis.  We see several moose along the road side, as well as deer.  We see hawks and kites hunting for fish from the skies, as well as a rare King Fisher.  The moose however concerns us.

Day 5.  We are now on the Interstate 90 and the speed limit is 75mph.  There are thousands of bikers everywhere and you can feel the energy around as we moved closer to Sturgis.  Sturgis is a city, but I thought it was an event.  The Sturgis rally is celebrating its 70th anniversary and we hope to see Bob Dylan and Kid Rock perform tonight.  It takes us a good hour to drive through town, maybe 3 miles long.  Bikes are everywhere.  They estimate that 200,000 bikers are in the Black Hills area; we believe it!  We finally reach the Buffalo Chips Campground which is the main staging area.  One fee gets you inside where camping is on the open prairie and a huge stage will host multiple big bands and performers.  There are vendors everywhere, selling just about everything.  There are tents and bikes everywhere.  There is no organization to the camping and any open space is fair game.  We camp in the more isolated area where the tents are located.  Our neighbor, Matt pulls up and set up camp next to us.  We offer him a luke warm beer.  We later find out that he flies the B-2 bomber and offers to take us up in a 'B-2 simulator.'  We heard that Jay Leno was here the night before and the Kevin Costner frequents Styrgus too.  That night we had a great time.  I was disappointed in Bob Dylan, expecting him to sign songs of the 60-70’s during my era.  He seemed out of touch with the crowd of some 20,000 people standing.  Kid Rock was just the opposite – he was dynamic, full of energy, and I must say, I liked him very much.

Day 6.  We depart Sturgis and after a great breakfast head for Mount Rushmore National Monument – too many people, to many park rangers, not enough parking spots so we take a few pictures and move onto Crazy Horse.  This is a must for anyone traveling in the Black Hills of South Dakota.  The rock sculpture, a project in progress for over 70 years, is unreal – a real tribute to the Lakota people and their leader.  He was the only Chief who did not surrender during the army and Indian wars.  When asked by a white man, “Where are your lands now?”  Crazy Horse replied, “My lands are where my dead lie buried.”  We continue onto Custer State Park and Wind Cave National Park.  The ride is slow and comfortable and we see a few buffalo, then we spot a big herd of buffalo living freely on the prairie.  We however call them 'tatanka.' We see many pronghorn antelope and elk too.  We camp near Hot Springs, South Dakota where Gilbert swims in some very clear water.  He meets a Lakota Indian by the name of Eric American Horse and has a good time with him, learning more about the Indian ways.  Later that night, we roast popcorn and we are surprised that it did not burn over an open fire and tasted very good.  We enjoyed pizza at the Pizza Hut earlier so dinner was easy.

Day 7.  We leave Hot Springs, South Dakota and briefly re-enter Wyoming before entering Fort Collins, Colorado.  The weather turned bad again but we decide to ride through it without our rain gear.  In Fort Collins, I stop by the REI store to replace my therma-rest which sprang a leak several days before.  They give me a new one, no questions asked.  Gilbert has a decision to make, whether to continue South with me or begin heading home to Barstow.  He has commitments at home and decides that this would be the best time to split up.  He drops down into Denver, Colorado and then east towards Grand Junction and then Green River, Utah where he travels nearly 700 miles!  And I thought my record of 591 miles on my first day of this ride would last forever.  He breaks camp early in Green River and continues on through St. George, Las Vegas, and reaches his home in Barstow about 4pm.  After Fort Collins, I head for Rocky Mountain National Park to visit Estes Park and the place where we lived for 6 ½ years between 1980 - 1987.  Estes Park had changed dramatically, overtaken with lodges, restaurants, gas stations, markets, and shopping malls.  I headed into the hills to find a USFS area where I had gone hunting elk before to seek solitude.  Near nightfall, I found a spot next to a stream with ample fire wood and called this home for the night.  I missed my riding partner dearly but I took comfort knowing that he was camping along the trail doing likely what I was doing.  Gilbert is a great traveling companion, safety conscious, and has a keen eye sight for spotting wild game along the trail.  It is very quiet and I sleep soundly.

Day 8.  After a cowboy breakfast (coffee, spam, and tortillas), I was off to see our old house in Estes Park.  A fella by the name of Robert opened the door and I quickly told him "I use to live here 27 years ago and could I look around"?  He was happy to let me and we walked around the area.  The 5 foot blue spruce tree that we planted years ago was now 80 feet tall.  Other native pines that we planned as 1 foot seedling were now 50 feet tall.  I had built a swing set for Lori and Keith in the back yard, made from large round timbers which still stood, if only at a lean.  I also stop by to see my friend, Dave Essex but he is traveling as well.  I leave him a note and plan to call him later.  I push on through Denver and head for Taos, New Mexico, a place I had never been to before.  I stopped by a small store and bought some stew and tortillas for dinner.  People are very friendly in the rural communities and offered some good camping spots.  Just before dark, I find a good spot on USFS land and quickly build a fire and set up camp.  No one around.

Day 9.  Breakfast at Ricky’s in Taos.  Hueveos Rancheros, green chili, sopapillas, juice, and coffee -- delicious.  The wooden chairs are the same one’s my dad made – designs that depict New Mexico. As I stroll around Taos, an old western store catches my eye so I go inside.  It's called  Horse Feathers and I feel as if I stepped back in time 100 years. 

A cowboy by the name of Lindsey welcomed me in and we talk about travels and simple things in life; a good conversation.  

 I bought two stars for my saddle bags and a road runner belt buckle for my rear seat.  Further along the way, I stop in Belen, New Mexico to see my cousin, Tudie and I grab some dinner at the Belen Fiestas.  I decide to ride onto La Joya, New Mexico and spend the night at Jewels Camp. 

It’s comforting knowing what to expect at a camp and Jewels Camp was just that.  I stop by the La Joya cemetery to pay my respects to our ancestors.  I find for the first time the grave of Luz (Griego) Romero and her husband.  Luz was the oldest child in my dad’s family; she died in October 1949, a few months after I was born.  A quick fire is built to fight the mosquitoes which are the worst I’ve ever experienced at Jewels Camp, but I’m home.  The stars are out and it feels good.

Day 10.  Breakfast in Socorro, New Mexico and I begin heading West – Magdalena, and Quemado.  The weather turns bad and heavy rains and lightning are on the Eastern horizon.  I put on my rain gear, setting on the asphalt to avoid being the high target for the multiple lighting strikes all around me.  In Quemado, I quickly change directions and head North for Grants, New Mexico where it appears the skies are less turbulent - a good decision I tell myself.  I am wet but soon the sun is out and I can only see darkness to the East.  This is a long day, some 450 miles and tired.  I want to make Laughlin, Nevada but that is not going to happen.  I decide to stop at Satellite Camp, near Ash Fork, Arizona.  Actually, it is 10 miles North of Satellite Camp so I call this place Upper Satellite Camp.  It is isolated and quiet.  The quiet is briefly interrupted by the howl of coyotes.  A partial moon is out and Venus, the brightest planet in the western horizon is my companion.  It is very peaceful; this is a good camp.  I will be back again sometime.

Day 11.  I push on past Laughlin, Nevada towards Needles, California where it is about 115 degrees, having traveled 250 miles this morning.  I stop only for gas and water breaks and make Barstow where I stop to visit Gilbert (not home), Paula (not home), Elva and Robert and then Leo at his work.  I still have another 225 miles to go so my visits are short.  The cool weather over the Tehachapi Mountains is a brief relief before dropping down into the hot Bakersfield area.  I arrived home in Three Rivers about 8pm where Denise greets me with a big kiss and hug; she takes a final picture of me from our trip up North and to Sturgis; our goals fulfilled. 

The odometer records 3,947 miles . . . . .

Pony Express Camp, just this side of "nowhere"

No comments:

Post a Comment