October 25, 2015 1 Comment
Told in the collective first person, jointly from Stu and Janell Clarke's perspective.
Narrated Audio Blog
Our route was to take us along the northern states to Seattle and then head south along the coast. We still had a lot of ground to cover and it would start with The Great Plains of the Dakota's.
The speed limit was a whopping 85mph (over 135km/hr), normally we wouldn't entertain the idea of travelling so fast, not with a Pillion Pooch attached, but the road quality was superb and the winds nonexistent. This also gave us an opportunity to experiment with fuel consumption and what impact the Pillion Pooch had on drag with one bike fitted with a Pillion Pooch and the other not. We took our measurements over a range of two fuel stops covering around 800km. Our first conclusion was that from the riders point of view the presence of the Pillion Pooch was not noticeable, we'd easily creep up to 90mph and have to deliberately back off. The second conclusion was that the difference in fuel consumption between the two setups was barely measurable and with weight difference taken into account practically negligible. Admittedly this experiment wasn't carried out in the most scientific fashion, but it left us convinced and reassured us that what we'd measured at lower speeds was in fact correct.
Crossing South Dakota was, in a word, boring! Long stretches of interstate with next to no feature in the landscape, except for a massive river at about half way across. We stopped at a small motel amongst a cluster of buildings which we guessed constituted a town. We felt we'd earned a drink and so we took ourselves straight to the bar. Other than the barman, it was more or less empty. Except that is, for Bob. We got chatting to Bob and the barman and learnt that the motel we were staying in was frequented by Kevin Costner, it may have been a stretch to say frequented but it seemed he had stayed at least once in his younger years.
It turned out that Bob was the safety officer at the nearby Big Bend Dam Hydroelectric Plant on the Missouri River. With us both being engineers in the civil and electrical disciplines and Hydroelectric dams being the perfect blend of each we were immediately interested. Amongst Bob's other duties was his responsibility to take guided tours of the facility, he admitted that his most common visitors were usually school children but had certainly taken adults through the facilities before. Bob told us that if we were interested he would be able to give us a personalised tour in the morning. We knew we had around 400km to cover that day which usually we'd consider a big day, but with the roads the way they were we knew we could easily do it in an afternoon, so we graciously accepted.
The next morning we arrived at the dam at 11am and were met by Bob in the car park. Weeti and Shadow waited with the bikes, being mid October in South Dakota they were happy to be parked in the sun. We passed through the security checkpoint and into the briefing room. Bob took us through a few safety points before outlining the history of the plant from conception to completion and briefly touching on the 2 hydroelectric plants up and down stream along the Missouri River which were proposed at the same time.
Bob did not disappoint in taking us on a truly fascinating tour taking us to area's not normally included on his regular tours. By the time we finished it was already midday, so as much as we would love to have hung around and learnt more about the facilities, we really needed to get moving, and Bob probably had some work to do himself.
We arrived at Sturgis well before dark. Although famous for its Sturgis Rally, outside of this 2 week event the town resembles more of a ghost town with a lot of campsites and hotels remaining closed for the other 50 weeks of the year. Another friend we made while in Ushuaia had insisted that if we pass through Sturgis, she would make sure we were taken care of, whether or not she was home. Again these angels from the road did not disappoint. Michelle's Dad, Fritz, ran a huge campsite fairly central to Sturgis and being out of season it was full of empty cabins. Unfortunately for us Michelle was still on her travels, but Fritz opened up one of his cabins for us and gave us the local tips on where to go and what to see. Even without the rally, there was plenty to do exploring the Black Hills, Key Stone, Mount Rushmore and our favourite and one of the most pet friendly attractions in the US Crazy Horse. Crazy horse is a rock carving similar to Mount Rushmore but on a bigger scale and funded solely on donations. There is a fantastic visitor center where dogs were welcomed provided they were carried. We walked around admiring the views and memorabilia. When the girls got too heavy to hold, we sat them on our laps in the cinema watching a short documentary on the history and progress of Crazy Horse.
We bid farewell to Fritz and thanked him for his gracious hospitality and headed west. Onwards to Yellowstone National Park, a place well known to overland travellers crossing the US but a place that would have to wait till another time. It was still the plan as we rode out of Sturgis but we very quickly got to talking over our Sena comms about the recent snowfall in Yellowstone. Over the next 80km we discussed our overall route, we'd had significant unpredictable delays and along with the cold, time was running out. So just like that, we turned left and headed for Colorado.
The flat and tedious landscape continued through Wyoming but for the most part we were now off the Interstates (US Motorways). However, the quality of the road surface was still impeccable, with the added charm of passing right through town centers.
Riding into Denver we saw the landscape changing off to the west, that welcome change was where we were heading. Although this route along the I-70 would take us to the highest elevation within the US Interstate network, it would still be well short of the heights we had reached crossing the Andes. However, the scenery was still breathtakingly beautiful with us riding between some truly magnificent rock formations.
Coming out of the Rocky's on the west side we reached Grand Junction. We'd been up and out early that morning, so before checking into our campsite we decided to explore the Colorado National Monument and surroundings. We felt like we'd walked straight into a western or at least a Road Runner cartoon. It was a good thing that we'd made the most of our time, because the next few days proved to be a washout.
The next day was wet and miserable, probably not a bad day to hit the road but for some reason the idea just didn't appeal. So we checked in for another night with the intention of doing nothing at all. And that, pretty much, was exactly what we did. While hanging around the campsite we got chatting to a couple of bikers, Robert and Jody, these guys were serious off-roaders, they'd driven up from Texas with their dirt bikes strapped down in the pickup and were making daily trips into the hills. They invited us into their cabin for a few beers where we exchanged stories. It turned out that Robert had been in the circus as a BMX stunt rider so he knew a thing or two about being on 2 wheels and the GoPro video they showed us from that day's ride confirmed it, some pretty hairy stuff.
Robert and Jody decided to cut their stay short due to the weather and insisted that we take their cabin for the last night since it had been paid for and they weren't getting their money back. An offer we couldn't refuse after two nights camping in the rain. It was so cosy inside and we couldn't wipe the grateful smiles off our faces.
We looped down through Mesa Verde National Park and Four Corners Monument on route to Moab, a good base to explore its surrounding National Parks including Arches. But the main highlight of Moab visit wasn't the landscapes at all, as stunning and fascinating as they were. No, Moab was about meeting E.H. Alberts. Alberts had been following us from the very start of our journey, a fellow biker dog owner he was like minded and passionate about our causes. Sadly, Alberts had lost his longtime companion only weeks before our paths crossed, a tragedy that we could empathise with on so many levels. As well as being able to talk openly about the hardship of losing a much loved dog while on the road we were able to provide him with puppy love from our girls, the best kind of therapy. What we couldn't provide after inviting him to our campsite for the evening was a hot fire. For some reason, the firewood we purchased gave absolutely no heat so the three of us sat shivering around the 'fire' instead, trying to keep warm drinking red wine. It certainly made it a memorable evening that we can still laugh about. As grieved as Alberts was about the loss of Ripples, he understood that the best way to honour this incredible dog's life was to adopt another dog in need. Not long after we'd met up, Alberts had welcomed Chaco into his life and started a new chapter in his adventures, whilst preserving the memory of Ripples the Road Dog.
Continuing west we travelled "The Loneliest Road'' and to be frank, were a little disappointed. To be fair, most literature refers to this section of road as "The Loneliest Road in America,'' rather than how it was sold to us as simply "The Loneliest Road" in the world. It certainly did have stretches with no services or communities, but the longest of these was barely 100km, so coming from Australia where we have personally travelled nearly 1,500km between fuel stations without passing a single sole we wondered what all the hype was about. To be sure, it did require a small level of preparedness but only to save inconvenience, we could only ever be caught 55km at most from a fuel station. We knew from experience that once our fuel light came on we were still good for another 90km.
From Reno we picked up the I-80, which took us all the way to San Francisco and the Pacific Ocean. We're from Sydney's Northern Beaches so there is always something refreshing about seeing the Pacific, even if we find ourselves on the wrong side.
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