This past spring, I addressed an old shoulder injury that had become too unstable to continue with my normal activities. An MRI revealed a posterior and anterior labral tear that could only be corrected with surgery. A post-surgery prognosis of three months recuperation with no riding left me wishing I had addressed this problem when winter began-or maybe 20 years ago. Partly in jest, I suggested to my wife that I would need at least a week to go riding later that summer to compensate for missing the entire spring riding season.
"Yeah, I think you're right," she said with hesitating.
I was glad I brought it up, but mistook her instant enthusiasm for license to embellish on the impressive technology of a new S1000RR. Noticing her mood downshift drastically as I expounded on how traction control made motorcycling safer by lessening the chances of a recurring shoulder injury, I decided to leave well enough alone and concentrate on planning my trip.
Pouring over a map later that night, I recalled how fortunate I was to have made a trip west with friends only a few years ago. We called it the National Park Tour and had designed a route that hit several parks throughout the Mountain and Pacific Time zones. Although a few weeks of great riding rewarded us with many highlights, we were disappointed by a partial road closure due to snow through Glacier National Park in Montana. While looking at the map, I decided Glacier National would be the pinnacle destination and began plotting places of interest along the way.
Fast forward three-and-a-half months: I left Waynesboro, Virginia, before sunrise on my R1100S and was soon joined by my friend, Bill, from Roanoke, who rode a Triumph Tiger. The plan for the first day was to ride west as far and as quickly as possible. We wanted to reach Nebraska after nightfall.
Traveling by interstate never felt so good after months of post-surgical recuperation. Nearly 850 miles into the trip-with another 4 to 5 hours to go before ending the day-we made a gas stop off I-70, in west-central Missouri. The weather was hot, and we were making good time, so after filling up, we took time to rehydrate and call home.
A few minutes into the conversation with my wife, I heard Bill yelling and saw him waving frantically from about 50 yards away. I thought for a moment he was being stung by a yellow jacket or maybe his wife had just told him she was pregnant. However, as I approached the bikes, I heard the alarming sound of air blasting out of the dry-rotted valve stem on my rear wheel.
It was seven o'clock on a Friday evening, and no motorcycle shops were open. I called three BMW Anonymous members but none was home. I left a message with the members anyway and soon received offers of assistance.
We removed the wheel, but accessing the stem was difficult. I saw a tow truck parked on the side of the interstate where someone else had had a flat. The driver of the truck helped us by breaking the bead on the tire with one whack of his sledge hammer, then inserted a compatible new valve stem. What could have been a setback wound up costing less than two hours time.
As the sun set, we were back riding on I-70, and I was feeling a sense of relief and gratitude for the fortunate sequence of events. If not for road-side assistance, we likely would have been stuck along I-70 for the night. From that day forward, I planned on replacing the valve stems with every other tire change.
One of our stops during day two was Wounded Knee, South Dakota, located on the Pine River Reservation. I can't say it was a highlight of the trip because the place left me feeling somber. Reports vary about what exactly happened at Wounded Knee on December 29, 1890, but sources have recorded that at least 150-and possibly as many as 300-Lakota Indians died along with 31 U.S. cavalry troops.
I found it odd to see that the two-sided board recounting the details of the event was marred by graffiti. I read later about the sign being damaged by those whose ancestors were a part of this Wounded Knee tragedy and felt it disgraceful to make the site a tourist destination. I also noticed the word "massacre" on the sign's heading Massacre of Wounded Knee was added after the sign was made. Apparently, it replaced the word "battle" after protestations from those sensitive to what actually took place that day.
But within a few hours, we are setting up camp at the Cedar Pass Campground inside the Badlands National Park. We enjoyed the tranquil setting and watched the various hues cast off by the fading sun behind the eroded earth formations.
We were scheduled on day three to meet the third member of our party, Will, in Buffalo, Wyoming. Will had been headed north from Colorado Springs on his Honda Superhawk. Before crossing into Wyoming, we meandered with our new partner through the Black Hills and stopped at Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial.
The brainchild behind Mount Rushmore was South Dakota state historian, Doane Robinson, who wanted to establish an attraction in the remote area to draw tourists. Robinson's original idea was to have the likenesses of famous figures from the western frontier sculpted on the mountainside, including those of Lewis and Clark, Sacagawea, Jedediah Smith, Red Cloud and Buffalo Bill.
Well-known sculptor Gutzon Borglum was chosen for the job in 1924. But instead of a western theme, Borglum imagined one enormous bust of George Washington. Upon completion in 1941, the final design consisted of four busts, each approximately 60 feet tall and depicting pivotal United States presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.
While marveling at the monument's detail, I thought about the Black Hills and how they were once considered sacred grounds for the Lakota Indians. According to Jeffery Olster, who wrote The Lakotas and the Black Hills in 1972, a Lakota medicine man named John Lame Deer remarked about Mount Rushmore: "They could just as well have carved this mountain into a huge cavalry boot standing on a dead Indian."
Approximately ten miles from Rushmore, another sculptor, Korczak Ziolkowski began working on a sculpture of the famous Lakota chief, Crazy Horse, 1948. Ziolkowski died in 1982, and the memorial remains a work in progress, but upon completion, the sculpture is estimated to be 641 feet wide and 563 high, which should make it the largest sculpture in the world. Showing no discrimination, Lame Deer also had this to say about the monument to the Indian chief: "The whole idea of making a beautiful wild mountain into a statue of him is a pollution of the landscape. It is against the spirit of Crazy Horse."
The next day, we zigzagged our way through the Big Horn Mountains. Having ridden the area years ago-and remembering it as a personal favorite-I felt it essential to do some exploring. Wyoming RT 14-A is noted as one of the more expensive roadways to construct in the U.S. Climbing the serpentine stretch of road was blissful in itself, but the scenery made it feel just south of heaven. The contrast between ascending to an alpine climate while overlooking the desert-like Bighorn Basin was inspiring.
Enjoying the moment, we took a detour up a gravel road that ended at a small parking lot with a ranger station. A 1.5 mile walk led to at the Medicine Wheel Historical Landmark. The short hike, at an elevation of nearly 10,000 feet, made the stop worthwhile. The wheel formed by stones of different sizes had a 75-foot diameter and 28 spokes. Various reports generally agree that the formation was made 300-800 years ago by Native Americans. What tribe created the wheel-and why-remains uncertain, but the most common theory suggests some astronomical purpose. According to the ranger, Indian tribes still use the site for ceremonies, as evidenced by the collection of symbolic items and prayer tokens incorporated into and around the wheel.
With the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument nearby to the north, we decided to make it a Magical History Tour. The site is dedicated to those who died in 1876 when a zealous General Custer led the 7th Calvary against a force of Lakota, Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho warriors more than twice the size of his military unit.
Seeking to lighten the mood, we embarked on some good riding along the Beartooth Highway, followed by a blast down the Chief Joseph Highway. The beautiful scenery of the Beartooth and the fun factor of the Chief Joseph made them "must-do" roads. But time constraints didn't allow a visit to the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, which was closed by the time we arrived in Cody, Wyoming. Nevertheless, we recovered with a fine evening of conversation and laughter while enjoying a slow meal and a few Moose Drool Brown Ales.
We headed south the next day through Thermopolis and then northwest through the Wind River Canyon. We learned at the ranger station before entering the Grand Tetons that finding a campsite in Yellowstone National Park would be difficult. An abnormal number of bear sightings in the Park campgrounds forced some sites to close either partially or completely.
About 20 miles in from the south entrance, a sign at Grant Village campground read "Full." But we chanced a stop and found a site still available. While following protocol to put food and toiletry items in a designated bear box before bedding down, I made light of the practice. To my chagrin a few days later, I heard that two campers were injured and one killed that very same night by a bear outside of Yellowstone. Bear attacks on humans are rare, but the news was sobering.
In the morning, Bill and I continued north through the park as Will exited the eastern side of Yellowstone and headed back to Colorado for work the following day. We arrived at the western entrance to Glacier National Park-"The Crown Jewel of America"-that afternoon. Feeling road weary, I found that riding the Going-To-The-Sun-Road through the Park was a much-needed shot in the arm. I was taken aback by the impressive mountains and valleys carved by glaciers some 10,000 years ago. As a bonus, we encountered mountain goats and a bighorn sheep, and later saw four bear within five minutes near St. Mary Lake on the eastern side of the park. Camping that night, I thought: Do they make bear boxes for people to sleep in?
We awoke the next morning at St. Mary's Campground near the eastern entrance to the Park. We had ridden a little over 3,000 miles by now and had approximately 2,300 more to ride before arriving home. I was starting to miss the wife and kids. I usually felt a twinge of guilt for having fun while the family stayed home, but this time memories of recovering from surgery made me feel differently. Perhaps, I was ready to head home.
The final three days of riding had no noteworthy destinations or mishaps. With little change in the scenery and hardly a bend in the road, the ride from eastern Montana through North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin was mind-numbing. Considering I had only 200 miles in the saddle during the previous three-and-a-half months, the discomfort on my sparingly-cushioned backside was noticeable. By the time I reached the Virginia state line, I had been standing on the foot pegs for, perhaps, 50 of the last 150 miles.
Still, I would gladly remake this trip west if given the opportunity.