Thursday, September 28


(Posting this the morning after because there was no reception last night.)

This morning I rode back up to Mt Rushmore to see it in daylight, then I had breakfast and headed west on route 90. I stopped at Sturgis – home of the enormous annual bike rally – and visited the motorcycle museum there. Then a long stretch on 90 into Wyoming, where I forgot that at altitude the bike burns a lot more fuel. So somewhere between Gillette and Buffalo, 90 miles after getting gas – usually indicating at least 1/3 of the tank left – the engine started to sputter and I had to switch to reserve. (At first I couldn’t believe I was out of gas, so I thought maybe I had a flat, or the chain was broken, but there was nothing wrong.) Luckily there was a gas station way out there in the middle of nowhere, with old fashioned pumps and highway-robbery prices, but I wasn’t about to complain.
Theoretically, my final destination was Yellowstone Park, but when I got to Buffalo around 6 it was clear that wasn’t realistic. So I had dinner at the Cowboy Saloon in Buffalo – it was Mexican food night so there was no menu, just a plate of delicious TexMex fare – then continued west, planning to ride a few more miles and find a place to camp.
I pulled into a campground in the Bighorn National Forest. This is my first night of “real” camping – i.e. not a fancy campground with bathrooms, showers, drinking water and telephones; none of that here. (No cellphone or internet reception too, obviously, hence I am posting this a day late.) A fellow from Texas named Lawrence is at the campsite next to me, he gave me some firewood he had chopped and some lighter fluid and I tried to get a fire going but I couldn’t get it to stay lit. I made some soup and hot cocoa on my stove and chatted a while with Lawrence. He’d been here two nights already, and he warned me that it gets really cold in the morning, in the 30s and with a frost, so I’m going to sleep in several layers and have more next to my sleeping bag in case I need them. He also told me that the next town west is at least 40 miles away, so I’ll probably backtrack to Buffalo to get gas before continuing west. There’s also a stream and a rocky hill nearby which I might explore before I leave in the morning. I have several liters of water with me, so I won’t drink the stream water (even though I have purifier tablets should I need them) but I can probably wash my dishes in it.
Once again hoping there are no bears and the ground doesn’t get too cold…good night.

The Red Garter

(Press Play)

Mount Rushmore

(Press Play)

Keystone, SD

From Pierre I headed southwest to Mount Rushmore in Keystone, SD, near Rapid City, about 200 miles. The weather was the worst I've been through so far, with 50 MPH crosswinds (making it necessary to lean 20 degrees just to ride straight and making truck-passing a very interesting manuever) and heavy rain on and off.
All along the highway were big billboards advertising all kinds of stuff at "Wall Drug." Food, clothes, amusement, dinosaurs, was fudge that got my attention, so I shut off my mental advertising filter and gave in, getting off at exit 110, which it kept reminding passerby was the exit for this magical Wall Drug, whatever that was. (I figured it was the name of a town, and a strange one at that.) Well it turns out it's the drug store in the town of Wall - actually a stretch of several blocks around the drug store, selling everything under the sun. The ultimate tourist trap, basically, complete with free bus parking. From the looks of it, the entire town's economy runs off this stretch of tourist shopping, which is doing quite a booming business. (I'm sure the advertising company that came up with the idea "just put a sign telling people to get off at some vague place every 100 yards along the interstate" is doing just fine now too.) Anyway I was there in search of fudge, and fudge I found - not the melted chocolate kind, but the hard, insanely delicious kind. I bought half a pound (a bug chunk a few inches square, for $4) of praline and something else, basically a piece of heaven in edible form.
Besides the fudge, the tourist-trap nature of the place was a little over the top. There was "old stuff" everywhere, relics of the wild west and the 1800's and Indians and every other gimmick or chotchky a tourist in the Dakotas might possibly want. There was an old barrel with an old saddle on top of it, next to an old bench with a hard-to-describe woman/clown/whore statue, and statues of old fashioned folk with mustaches and 1800s clothing and a man with a fiddle get the idea.
After devouring half the fudge, I left Wall and continued west. I reached Rapid City and then followed the signs for another 30 miles to Mount Rushmore. The road climbed through the mountains as the sun went down and it got pretty cold. It goes past Keystone, the town right under the mountain, then a few more miles up and you finally reach the entrance, where they kindly ask for $8 to get in and park. By this time it was dark and the mountain was unlit so I figured I'd see it in the morning and drove back down, where I checked into a motel (for $35, the cheapest I've seen anywhere) and was informed in the motel info package about the light show beginning at the mountain in half an hour. So I quickly dropped my stuff off in the room and headed back up the mountain, paid my $8 and got into the amphitheater a minute after it started. I missed the MC's intro, something about why Jefferson is sculpted the way he is, but I got there in time for the video, a ra-ra patriotic 10 minute history of the United States. Then the mountain lit up and we sang the Star Spangled Banner, and the MC called down all the armed forces veterans from the audience to lower the flag, and it was very moving. I was way up in the top level of the amphitheater but my camera once again amazed me. (I'll post the photos and video of that separately.)
When that was over, I rode back down the mountain, past the motel into "town" (another tourist trap, though I think there is an actual town of Keystone next to it). The food joints were all closed so I went into the local tavern, the Red Garter Saloon, where a country singer-guitarist was playing. Once again there were no local beers, but I had two "Moose Drool" beers out of Montana, pretty good stuff, and shared stories with a biker named Jim at the bar. Then back to the motel. I gained an hour switching to Mountain Time this afternoon - the time zone line is a crazy snaking zigzag but I did indeed pass it somewhere - so it's been a long day and I'm ready to hit the hay.