Sunday, August 30, 2009

Day 7 - Close Encounters

August 29, 2009

I guess I got the same 6 or so hours of sleep I had been getting, even with my late night chat with Brian. When I called it a night I tried to connect to the internet, but didn't have much luck. I really needed some shuteye and finally gave up.

Brian was already up when I left my room the next morning and we chatted some more while waiting for the the biker guys he was expecting. They never did show, so we looked over a map of Wyoming and did some math for the road trip. Turns out it would only be about 15 miles out of the way to hit Devil's Tower on the way to Mount Rushmore, so I got those directions written on the windshield and packed up.

The road leaving the hotel looked much like the road out of Cody had before the sun went down the night before. Thankfully fewer animals at the pavement's edge, but otherwise relatively flat, rolling hills with lots of low growing shrubs and such. Brian had suggested a less direct route to Devil's Tower to avoid the local construction and I was all too happy to bypass any more road work. Once on the road, it occurred to me that it was Sunday and I wondered if crews would have been at work or not...

Still, it was a nice enough ride and I stopped at Ten Sleep to visit Dirty Sally's as Brian had suggested. I was greeted at the swinging doors by the smell of warm pastry of some sort. Turns out they make their own waffle cones and their sole employee was getting the day's supply ready. It smelled really good, but it was too early for ice cream for me. I took a minute to look at all the stuff that was packed in the smallish store, but nothing jumped out at me, so, with a 'thank you', I swung the doors the other way and got back on the bike.

Crazy Woman Cafe was right across the street and I wished I could have gone in for breakfast. Instead I watched another bike pull up and the rider saunter in, surely to eat a fine middle-of-nowhere-town breakfast. Crazy Woman was a frequent moniker around Buffalo. I never did see anything explaining it, but it has to be on the top ten place names EVER!

At 830 am I saw a temperature reading of 50 degrees and not far from that I pulled into a Sinclair gas station to inquire about their 'free air' sign. The guy was pleasant enough and pointed out the hose with a 'have at it'. He asked if I needed a guage, but I had mine. I had culled a bunch of stuff before I left home and one of the things I decided to leave home was my air compressor. I'm still not sure if that was a wise choice or not. I didn't happen to need it on the road, but still...

I held the head of the nozzle on the valve for a handful of seconds trying to gauge how long it would take to put a couple more pounds in based on my experience with my rinky dink compressor. I figured we'd just do that dance between adding air and checking the pressure till it was at what I wanted.

I put the gauge on the valve and looked at it twice. I pressed the release button to reset the number on the gauge to measure again. Certainly there's no way I just doubled the pressure of the tire in less than 5 seconds. Oh, but I did. The mini-panic sets in: MUST LET AIR OUT. I used something, I don't even remember what, to release the pressure from the tire. 60. 60+ psi. Well, *that* was NOT the number I'd been looking for. Once the pressure was back in the normal range, I found the guy who'd helped me to pick his brain about what doubling a tire's air pressure might do to it. I was happy to learn that tires and tubes are subjected to that kind of pressure in their installation to seat the tire anyway, so no worries. That was quite a relief to hear and I got back on the road. Add a couple more things to the 'lessons learned' column.

(The coolest Walmart exterior I've ever come across.)

Devil's Tower was not 15 miles out of the way. The road that left the main drag and made an arc back to the main drag was 15 miles *long*. The road to get to Devil's Tower is off of that arcing road and then you have to drive a bunch of miles on a smaller road before you even *see* Devil's Tower in the distance. I knew this. It was many days ago that I came to the realization that the 'extra' time I'd fitted into all of my stops was not enough. While I had considered it in the planning stages, I'd still underestimated the amount of unaccounted for time that I'd lose on each and every stop.

Devil's Tower was worth it. It was fairly busy, but it is on the list of places I'd go back to. The critters and the varying landscape within such a small area looked like a great place to spend a leisurely day.

There were tons of bikes at the visitor center parking lot. I got my stamp and looked through the small display area and got back on the road. For some reason the gps sent me on a left turn at an intersection and then recalculated to turn me around. Unfortunately, while doing my u-turn, I saw a couple trucks and a group of bikes make the right onto the road in front of me and now I'd be following a pack. The trucks pulled off not too long after, but that didn't improve the speed we were doing. The group of 6 bikes, some solo and some two-up, rode at 45-50 mph on a road marked 65. If I hadn't been wearing my helmet, I'd have pulled my hair out.

Given the road, my bike, and my experience, at 45-50 I wasn't comfortable passing them for a while. The group rode pretty spread out, too, and eventually they seemed to stabalize in a group of 4 and then 2 out in front. The road straightened out enough ahead that I passed the first group comfortably and moved behind the front pair. I eventually passed them at a safe place as well, waiving as I went and I quickly lost sight of them in my mirrors with no extra effort at all.

Now free to make some progress, I looked ahead to the open road ready to get on with it and started thinking about the plan. I dropped my head to look at the gas gauge and looked back to the road. Blinking? It's blinking already, ok, when did that happen? Well, apparently I should have filled up at the tourist area just outside the park before I left, but for some reason didn't. Perhaps it's my sense of adventure, or my wonton disregard for comfort, or that I'm a slow learner, but I was low on gas again.

I press a couple of buttons on the GPS to see where the next fuel stop will be. Hmm, maybe I'd make it. It was still all me on the road and I was enjoying it, knowing that I had a full gas can strapped down behind me...and, yes, it was full. There was just one thing that niggled at my brain: the bikers. If I had to pull over to fill up, would it take so long that they'd pass me? First of all, that's just embarrassing, but worse than that, as far as I was concerned, was that I'd be stuck behind them again and quite possibly lose my mind.

I kept an eye out ahead not just for all the normal stuff, but also to find a decent place to pull over. I was thinking it would be better to stop before the bike made me, have a decent shoulder to pull off on, fill up real fast and get going again before they *chug* ...

Nnyyyooooo!!! Oh, no. Oh, no, no, no. How much time did I have? I didn't even try to eek out some distance coasting. I was on a mission. My heart beat fast as I pulled over at the first straight bit in the road with decent visibility. I hopped off, ran to the back, snatched the gas can from the strechy web, whipped off a glove to turn the key in the gas cap and pushed the lever on the can that would release the gas into the tank. Once the gas was flowing I looked behind me...and waaay back I saw them. One after the other they appeared from behind a curve. Still doing 50 to be sure, but they were coming.

I looked at the inverted can that was still half full and remebered how many miles it was until the next gas station. No time, there's no time! Half a gallon would get me there. I released the lever to stop the gas flow, untipped it from the gas tank, snugged the can back in it's spot and quickly reclipped the hook that secured it. I looked behind me and saw them rounding another curve. Did they see me? Gotta go! I checked once to make sure everything was secure and hustled to the left of the bike and threw my leg over. Key in bike, glove on hand, brake, clutch, 1st gear, accelerate... I couldn't see them in my rear view and was on my way again. No one had passed me either way in however many seconds that took and I was back on the road headed to the nearest gas station.

It wasn't even 10 miles to the gas station at the intersection I was getting onto anyway. I gassed up and was refilling the gas can as the biker group pulled in for their fill up. A couple nods and a smile and I was on my way to Mt. Rushmore.

There was a palpable change in the atmosphere as I crossed into South Dakota. The clouds obscured the sun for the next several hours of a cool ride. I got to Mt. Rushmore expecting the crowds, but not expecting the parking garage. I chatted with the guy directing traffic while waiting for the car ahead of me to pull away from the booth. He laughed that I was chilly as he, too, rode and clearly didn't think the weather warranted the fleece neckwrap, winter jacket, riding pants, winter gloves and full face helmet. There was only the car in front of me and me, so he walked next to me as I moved forward and pulled out my National Parks Pass at the window. In a vexing exchange, the woman manning the booth finally managed to explain that the park was free, but the parking was not.

When I left home I had x number of dollars with me. I never use ATM's or debit cards, so don't know the numbers to the ones I have even if I'd wanted to use them. The green I'd brought with me was it for this trip. I'd been relying on credit for most things, but a couple cash hotels and some other expenses, like water and snacks and such (read: gas can) had depleted my funds and the PK Bar Hotel last night had broken my last $50. I had a ten on me to make it the next 4 days and it was not going to a parking attendant.

My superhero in the orange vest called out to my nemesis, "Well, let her make the turn around, then." And in a lower voice that I'm sure she heard anyway, said, "Just go and park, don't worry about it." I smiled and thanked him as I closed my helmet and headed out for the loop that would send me by the parking garage on the way out of the park. I made the left in to the garage and found a front corner spot where I hoped it would be easy to find when I got back.

The weather was windy and cool as I walked up the steps to find the visitor center and bookstore to make sure I got the Passport Stamp for the IBA documentation. Directly ahead as I ascended the stairs were the four larger than life faces staring out into the coudy sky thinking their private granite thoughts.


I took a couple pictures and found the visitor center and bookstore on either side of me at the top of the steps. I didn't go much closer to the monument as it was quite large enough to see from where I was, it was fairly crowded, I was watching the weather, and didn't want to overstay my welcome in the garage. I got directions from the rangers inside and stamped my passport book. I asked about Wind Cave National Park which was just off the main road on my way South into Nebraska. The rangers thought it was open until 6 or 7, more likely 7 and that I should have plenty of time to get there.

(Touristville at Mt. Rushmore.)

Well, it's never that easy, is it? With too many lefts and rights and construction cones to decipher I have no idea if I went the way they meant or not. I stopped at a red light to wait for a bus to leave the monument area and consulted the GPS on which way to go. I looked up to the gate while I waited and caught the eye of Orange Vest Man. We exchanged friendly biker signs as the light turned green and I pulled away according to the GPS' instructions.

Down the hill that lead up to the monument and a left on a road I hadn't come in on. Follow the sign to Custer State Park, they'd told me, but the orange cones said 'no, no, no'. I followed the GPS onto Old Hill Road, a narrow one-lane-each-way twisty back road headed uphill. After a good bit the GPS commanded that I take a left on Centennial Trail in 400 feet, but the only thing that branched off the paved road was a dirt trail that didn't identify itself as Centennial or anything else. I passed it and the GPS balked. 'When Possible, make a U-turn.' (Damn the GPS!) Nope. Keep moving forward. It will recalculate to a road ahead of me eventually. (It didn't.)

25 mph was frustrating under a deadline, but appropriate for the road. Deer looked up at me from the shoulder of the road close enough that I could have touched them with my boot. I criss-crossed a train track half a dozen times wondering if it was still used, slowing at each crossing to look both ways. I wondered if I should have turned around and gone back to the main road, but decided I'd gone too far to turn around. Eventually, I caught up with a pair of biker couples riding two-up enjoying the lazy country curves and not long after we all popped out on the familiar main road just South of the Monument. (Damn the GPS!)

(Some horses sharing the pasture with some deer on Old Hill Road.)

I made my way South and noticed the evening colors in the sky now that the clouds had dissipated. The moon had appeared and, while it was getting cooler, it was still comfortable and a very nice ride. I stopped for gas at a station that doubled as a casino, but playing the slots didn't even cross my mind.

I entered the park and immediately saw a groundhog, which is probably properly called something else, and slowed for a family of deer to cross the road in front of me. The land was rolling hills in dusky colors backed by a magnificent sunset sky dotted only by the half moon.

Around 630 I pulled in to the visitor center to find it closed, but not empty. Another family and a group of young men in a beaten up bus were in the parking lot. A very pleasant ranger answered some questions and even reopened the VC to get us brochures. He apologized that he didn't have the key that would get me in to the bookstore for the stamp, but he told me when they'd open in the morning.

(There's the stamp I need right there on the end of that desk.)

Everyone thanked him and headed to their vehicles. I set out on the road through the park and was rewarded with some of the most stunning landscapes I'd seen and hundreds of bison. They were everywhere. Far off on hills sillouetted by the pinks and blues in the sky, to the right and left grazing in groups, crossing the road in no hurry to get where they were going. I took many pictures and stopped once to watch a pair cross in front of me, but needed to keep on to find a town to spend the night.

It was a cold ride to Chadron, Nebraska. If there had been any towns in between, I would have stopped, but I was in the middle of nowhere again. It was an uncomfortable ride in the cold and even once I spotted what I was certain was Chadron, it was so far off it I might as well have been looking down on it from a plane. It took another half hour after I spotted the innumerable lights in the distance that I and the two cars well ahead of me took the last of the turns in the winding road to Main Street.

I made my hotel calls while my dinner was doing laps in hot oil. The local teens were out in packs and the convenience store next door was apparently a popular hang out. I relocated a bug taking cover under my tang bag while trying to decipher their noise, but with no luck. Cold and ready to eat, I strapped my food down and went the mile and a half to the hotel.

The food was not as excellent as their sign professed. The wonton soup had whole heads of broccoli and other unacceptable oversized vegetable matter in it and their overbattered chicken strings were seriously lacking. I heated up one of the two microwave dinners I had left from a previous shopping trip and ate in front of the weather channel. Not that I believed them, but tomorrow would be cloudy and dry. We shall see...

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