“No. Mt. Rushmore is a defaced mountain. But we’ve been talking about a Dakota trip for a few years now and it keeps getting back burnered, so I’m down for that part. What’s your idea?”
And that’s how it began, a simple enough conversation with my mother that within hours, as is our way, had blossomed from tossing around an idea to a fully fleshed out concrete adventure plan. Now we’ve returned from the much anticipated trip, a trip up through the high plains into the Black Hills, along the Wyoming border and down through Colorado, a sort of tour of the highlights of the history of the Old West and stunning vistas of the western plains. And a trip not quite how I had pictured Josh and I’s much talked about Dakota trip, yet better in its own right for the company, the newness, and another dream realized.
It’s strange when something you’ve wanted to do for so long happens, but not the way you’d hoped and yet turns out altogether great for the differences. By way of explanation, for years I’ve wanted to ride to the Black Hills and last week I got to ride that run, but not on my own bike as I’d wanted, rather as a passenger. Peevish about that aspect for the first day or two, in the end it worked out remarkably well. I’ve said before I still enjoy riding with Josh, and I do very much, but some trips are different and really any long trips aren’t my favorite to ride passenger as my aging knees lock up from being in the same position after so many miles. Nonetheless with mom and E along, as responsible adult types the original plan had to change and concessions were made so one of us would be available as a backup driver. My mother cannot drive in the dark safely anymore and we knew with our group’s combined penchant for being distracted by every roadside attraction the odds of being at each stop before dark was slim. So my bike was the one to get the axe from the trip, as although Josh looks really funny on my bike, being behind me for three thousand miles would have been significantly more uncomfortable for him than the inverse and a trailer is not an option for my bike unless she’s completely broken down, end of story. Not long into the trip I was a bit swollen with pride at the matter: E asked why I hadn’t ridden my bike and when I explained that she and our responsibility for her always comes first, she loved it, took on a new view of motorcycles, and decided she’ll get a bike like us so we can all three ride our own as soon as she’s old enough, which according to her is in a mere few years (she’s just turning six, so I think her math is a bit off). In the end this ride ranks as one of my favorite long rides as I only had to leave the bike twice for finishing drives and there ended up being more advantages to the one bike, one car situation than I foresaw.
For example, do you know, I mean really know, how great a chase vehicle is? Holy crap. That may sound like a strange statement to people with large bags and trailers and such, but we aren’t those people. We always have to limit ourselves to basic tools and what necessities fit in a handful of small cubbies, but a whole back cargo area of a vehicle to work with? Spoiled. Positively spoiled. A proper tool box to cover about 95% of what could go wrong with his bike, spare gear and jackets, and sweet Jesus on the cross clean clothes for each day, not a couple of basics to stretch. Clean clothes man. Heaven. Plus, in the end, photos of the trip came out all the more plentiful and better quality. It rained on us extensively and had I been on my own, I would’ve had to have put the camera away for safety’s sake meaning much less photos, but riding with Josh I can shoot away even in inclement road conditions. Most of the road shots of the Black Hills you will see in upcoming posts fall into that category and would not have happened otherwise. Side shots also can happen without blur and mishap or having to stop completely as I can actually look through the viewfinder and get the shot I want, for the most part anyway, making for a lot more photos. The only real trick to being two up was figuring out my forward facing road shots. Easy (relatively) on my own, they are a pain to get with someone in front of you. Quite a few got taken just standing in the road, but ever vigilant, with some practice I mastered it as well as got a lot of stares from passing cars and more so from bikes as I would stand up on the passenger pegs and lean forward over Josh’s head for shots, fighting the cross wind for most being the plains. Exhilarating, but I don’t recommend it. However with so much to photograph, it was worth it.
From the first of our trek the views were overwhelming, starting in the glaring haze of a hot sunny day in the lower plains and heading due north on 35 thru to 70 before making our way into the heart of the historic west to Hays and north again, tracing the edge of the rock chalk dotted Smoke Hills, the ground ever rising into the western high plains and into Nebraska, the sun slipping slowly below the horizon line, an everlasting sunset, bigger than imagination as the indescribably beautiful sunsets of the plains are wont to be. Western Nebraska came as some surprise the next morning, all of us assuming Nebraska was a great field of corn and little else. Years ago I worked with guys from North Platte who insisted western Nebraska was a different place and you just had to cross through the corn curtain to get there. Now I know what they meant. A beautiful run, we followed the old pony express path to state highways and meandered through some of the most beautiful high plains land I have ever laid eyes on. With all the rain this spring the waterways of the plains are full and the land is alive with unusual to them variances of green hues, but even without this virescent season, that land would be stunning for its wide rolling vistas and sudden sharp chop hills at the horizon line.
Stopping for every historic marker, we learned from a roadside museum where along the Mormon and Oregon Trails we were at any given point, about the mining and geologic history, about the buffalo and native tribes. And suddenly, between Alliance and Chadron, as we crested a particularly tall hill up cropped Pine Ridge, a stunning landscape of pine, low bluffs, and high rolling hills. For a handful of miles we wound and curved our way through that former trappers’ paradise before the land opened wide again into the Buffalo Gap Grassland. This is a run through a place where the geography changes so rapidly, the full view from a bike or horse is the only way to take it in.
Into South Dakota by just at sunset, before us loomed the Black Hills, seemingly huge on the horizon line contrasted against the low rolling encompassing expanse surrounding them. Once sheltered from the surrounding open by their winding highways and stunning ridge views, we burned away about half our trip meandering through the hills, seeing the inevitable attractions (the Crazy Horse monument and museum is a far cry more interesting than Mt. Rushmore), visiting the small towns, and mostly taking in every track through the wild undeveloped preserves we had time for. Those adventures in nature rolled fluidly into the open highway to Devil’s Tower Wyoming and a ride along the eastern border dropping out of the pine coated hills into the rocky sea of sage brush below down to Cheyenne and on into Colorado, tracing the edge of storm curtain shrouded Rockies and into the contrasting flat of eastern Colorado and western Kansas before making our way home.
And so it was we had a wonderful vacation and E got to see for herself just how far our adventures with her can go. By the end of it, she and I had decided the Black Hills were for us and that we should just move to that striking rolling land of shadowy infinite magnificence. An all-around amazing adventure, one for the record books, for the next few entries expect excerpt photos and tales from our three thousand mile trek.
A guide to the photos: 1. Colorado Rockies 2. Mt. Rushmore entry 3. Chimney Rock, Nebraska 4 & 5. The Rockies, Colorado 6. Southwestern Kansas 7. Kansas 8. Colorado 9. Nebraska 10. South Dakota 11. Kansas 12. Territorial Jail, South Dakota 13. Pine Ridge historic marker 14. Gold Rush Byway/Black Hills historic marker 15. Crazy Horse Monument 16. Mt. Rushmore 17. South Dakota 18. Salt Creek, Wyoming 19. Big Basin, Kansas 20. Southwestern Kansas 21. Oklahoma Kansas Border