Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Return from MOA - Riding through Colorado & Texas

My stop in Greeley CO culminated in a nice dinner with another woman rider I know from one of the riding forums. Checking my e-mail that night, another friend, who is following this blog, reminded me that Greeley was where she had her motorcycle accident a year ago. I had forgotten about that. I rode right through that very same intersection where she rear-ended a fast-stopping vehicle. We are all very glad that she survived this incident inharmed (ATGATT) and the bike could be repaired so that she could continue her trip.

The next morning, before getting on the road, I checked my e-mail again and learned that some edits were needed to a webpage that I maintain for a non-profit fund-raising event. So I made those edits and finally got on the road around 9:15 Am.

Just a few miles east of Greeley I ran into construction that had the road down to one lane. The delay was about 15 minutes which, added onto the delay getting out of the hotel this morning, might delay my meeting with another woman rider down at Bents Fort National Park. I told her I'd call her when I got within 100 miles, so this should be okay. Once "sprung" from the construction delays, I was able to move along quickly towards Brush CO, where I'd turn south onto US-71. I've ridden 71 before, so know what to expect. It's wide open, passing through wheat and corn for miles and miles, with no towns to slow me down.

Once I arrived at Limon CO, I called my friend to give her an ETA for Bents Fort, and then got onto I-70 east. I had an AMA Grand Tour photo op just a few miles east, in a town called Genoa. Obviously, this would be for the "Italy in America" Grand Tour. On MS Streets & Trips and on Google Earth, it looks to be a decent little town. Heck, it even has a post office, so it can't be too dinky. Ha! Once off the interstate, both my GPS and the sign toward the "business district" were telling me to turn left onto a sand and gravel road. This can't be right! But there didn't appear to be any options. This was out in the middle of nowhere, on flat prairie, with no other roads visible. So I turned onto the road and followed it toward a cluster of low buildings and run-down houses.

At what appeared to be the "center" of town, the GPS told me to turn right. Ahead I could see that the sand road became paved for a stretch of two blocks and, there on the right, was a very old a sad looking post office. I stopped, got my AMA towel out and arranged it on the bike for the photo of bike, towel, and post office. There was not another person in sight. Mission accomplished, I continued to the end of the block and turned right, off the short two-block section of paved road and onto sand roads again. I carefully worked my way back to the little county road at the interstate and returned back to Limon.

Passing through Limon on the way out to Genoa, I spied a KOA campground. These are worth points for both the AMA tours I'm doing. It was right next to a gas station, so I filled up, posed the bike for the KOA photo, and then continued down US-71 toward La Junta and Bents Fort. I will add here that for the last two days, I have been very cautious about keeping my gas tank topped off. Gas stations are few and far between on the roads I've been traveling. Today would be no exception.

I arrived in La Junta, followed the GPS to Bents Fort, and arrived there at around 2:00 PM. Genia was there waiting for me. We walked to the Fort from the parking lot, where we took a quick tour of the buildings and then visited the bookstore - my favorite place to spend money! By now it's very hot, forecasted to be 100 degrees, and I was hungry! We rode east to Las Animas and had lunch at DQ. With ice cream for dessert, of course! Genia tells me that the large birds I was seeing scurrying across the roads in ND and Montana were most likely pheasant hens, based on my description of how they would scurry upright across the road on stout legs.

We rode together to Lamar, where Genia split off towards home in KS and I continued south on US-287. Thank you, Genia, for a great visit and nice break in the middle of a long hot day of riding.

I made excellent time heading south to TX, even hitting the road construction with one lane just right, so that my delay was only about 10 minutes (compared to this same stretch of road on my outbound leg, which delayed me 30 minutes in the heat of the day). I made fast tracks toward Amarillo, where I'd planned to stop for the night.

The road construction had the same effect on traffic - bottleneck - that it did when I passed through here a few days before. Cars and trucks were badly bunched up, and moved at quite a bit less than the speed limit with lots of accordion-effect going on. Very unsafe!! I couldn't help but notice a State Trooper parked on the side of the road in the opposite direction and now know why he was there. As we moved south after getting through the construction, there was a lot of passing and jockeying going on. A large black pick-up truck decided to start passing a long line of 18-wheelers and cars and got past a couple of them before entering a no-passing zone. The terrain is gently hilly so the passing zones are relatively short. But he continued in the left lane as we went up a hill and I held my breath, waiting for the head-on collision to occur. He managed to squeeze himself into a tiny space between two 18-wheelers...but just barely.

Remember the State Trooper I saw a few miles back?? A few moments later, I saw him working his way around the traffic behind me with his lights on. He was after that pick-up truck. And he got him. So now I know what that trooper is doing. He's intentionally sitting there waiting for the bolus of cars and trucks to come through, all bunched up after the construction zone. He knows that drivers will take risks and chances just to break away from all of the bunched up vehicles.

The pack eventually broke apart as more passing zones and third lanes appeared, but it took many, many miles. As the sun got low in the sky, the temperatures moderated some, which was a tremendous help. I love the late afternoon light, which gives everything a warm glow. I made good time from Boise City, where I stopped for gas, and arrived in Amarillo at 9:00 PM.

Last day:
I was in no hurry to get on the road for my final day of this trip. I wanted to arrive in Houston after 7:00 PM, to miss the rush hour traffic. I checked the weather, knowing that Houston would be feeling the outer rain bands from hurricane Dolly. I would ride into rain, but am used to it, so there were no concerns or worries.

I was packed and headed out of Amarillo by 9:15 AM or so, and took US-287 southeast toward Fort Worth. There were no surprises, just lots of open prairie with a chain of small towns strung along the highway. I had lunch in Wichita Falls, and ate a surprisingly good slice of pizza at the C-store at a Shell station. I guess I'd been eating so much bad food on this trip, that anything tastes good at this point!

As I got near Buffalo, I could see the cloud build-up on the south horizon, which grew larger and darker the closer I got to Houston. I opted to stop and fill the tank up one more time in Buffalo, even though I still had 1/2 a tank or more, but this would ensure I wouldn't have to stop and gas up in the rain, once close to Houston.

I rode into the rain as I approached Conroe. It would rain hard for a couple of miles, then I ride out of it onto dry pavement. It continued this way down to Beltway 8 near the airport, then stayed dry all the way to within 3 miles of my house, where I rode into another band of rain. But...I'm nearly home!

2008 BMW MOA Rally trip is done!
Miles: 3995
Total Days: 9
Travel days: 7
Average miles ridden per travel day: 571 miles
Longest day: 720 miles in 13.5 hours

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Going Home the Long Way - Getting to Colorado

Today was hot...very hot! It would also be another long day, 670 miles, as I wanted to make it to Greeley for the night. I was packed and on the road by 8:15 AM, and it was pleasantly cool as I headed west from Miles City on I-94.

My next stop was Pompeys Pillars National Monument along the Lewis & Clark Trail.

This area of Montana was beautiful! The highway generally follows Yellowstone River and to the north of the river I could see a ribbon of green with high buttes and bluffs beyond. Some very pleasant elevation changes and sweepers led me 115 miles toward the national park exit.

The "pillar" was easily visible from the highway. NPS have built a beautiful new visitor center and I was intrigued by the landscaping and walkway that led to the building. Inside, I got the stamp, talked to the ranger a little bit, and then left. There's a several hundred yard walk to the rock formation itself, and I debated whether to take it, but in the end decided I had too much ground to cover to get to Greeley.

I continued to Billings, rather than take a shortcut down to I-90. The gas station choices were few and far between out here, and I didn't want to take a chance. So, fueled and fed, I got onto I-90 toward I-25. I'm seeing many, many cruiser-style motorcycles, mostly Harleys, and mostly loaded down with all sorts of luggage. They are no doubt headed toward Sturgis to get an early start on that rally. Surprisingly, I found that I was passing most of them, and I was pretty much going the speed limit, or maybe just a little over.

Many long stretches of I-90 and I-25 were down to one lane due to construction. This slowed me down quite a bit, as the speed limit through these zones was 45 mph. It meant that I would not make it to Greeley by 6:00 PM as I had hoped.

A few miles beyond Casper WY, I had an AMA Grand Tour point collecting opportunity, so I took the exit and was immediately dumped into a very confusing mess of construction. Access to any gas stations or other businesses was through a maze of orange cones and gravel drives. I did need gas, but opted to continue on to my AMA photo op and seek gas on the south side of town. I was looking for the world's largest jackalope and rode to the supposed coordinates at 3rd and Cedar, in the center of town to find nothing. I circled a few adjacent blocks and still could not find it. Then, finally, just as I was about to give up and get back onto Business 25 to leave town, I saw it on the corner of that road and 3rd Street, about 3 blocks off from it's supposed location. Thank goodness!

All afternoon I could see large rain cells off in the distance and I began beg them to head my way to cool me off and wash the bugs off my visor. I did run through one brief bit of rain just north of Cheyenne which cooled things off nicely. I would be meeting a woman and fellow rider in Greeley for dinner, but was about an hour behind my projected arrival, so I stopped in Ft. Collins for gas and gave her a call to let her know where I was. Once at my hotel in Greeley, I had a few minutes to change clothes and freshen up before walking to a nearby IHOP to meet her. We had a great dinner together, talking until 9:30, when the restaurant staff subtly let us know they were trying to close.

She rode her bike over to the hotel where we continued to chat for a bit before saying our goodbyes.

Tomorrow: Bent's Fort and riding back into Texas. It's going to be very hot!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Going Home the Long Way - Enchanted Highway

In my never-ending quest for national park stamps and big things, I routed myself about 500 miles out of my way so that I could ride the Enchanted Highway and get a national park stamp in North Dakota.

So I headed east on I-90 to Spearfish, where I turned onto US-85 north. A few zigs and zags north and east got me to Regent, at the south end of Enchanted Highway. Gary Greff, an artist from Regent ND, creates these very large metal artwork sculptures and has been leasing land from the farmers along the 30 mile stretch of CR-2117 between Regent and Gladstone.

Along the way, I came up on a deer who was shoulder deep in a field of wheat. All I could see was her head and neck, as she walked slowly through the field. I saw her and slowed down, and as she got closer to the road, she sensed my presence and froze. I continued to slow down, as I watched for her next moves. We were at an impass when she finally turned and bounded over the wheat towards a line of woods along the edge. This was one of those moments when I wish I could photograph on the fly. It was a magnificent sight!

The sculptures were great! The first one, closest to Regent, was the large metal farmer and family. These were followed by a large pheasant family, a large Teddy Roosevelt on rearing horse, large fish, large grasshopper, large deer, and finally the large geese in flight. Well worth the detour.

Roosevelt National Park Painted Canyon Visitor Center is about 40 miles west of Gladstone on I-94, so I pulled off the interstate and got behind a very slow-moving 18-wheeler who was also pulling into the visitor center...this center also serves as a rest stop.

He was going so slow that when I crossed the cattle guard, my rear wheel started to spin on the slick metal. Yikes! That's not a pleasant feeling!

I parked, went inside to get my stamp, and then took some photos of the overlook. It sort of looked like a cross between painted desert (south of I-40) and the SD Badlands. It was cloudy so the colors weren't as vivid as they probably would be in sunshine. As I started to get back on the bike, a fellow from Canada on a red sport bike (something like a VFR or similar) and in full racing leathers pulled up next to me, stopped, and took off his helmet. His first comment to me was, "This is the first motorcycle I've seen all day that's not been a Harley." Now, I'd been seeing BMW's all day, headed home from the rally, and I said that to him. He responded by saying something along the lines of "so was there lots of drinking and partying?" That sort of hit me wrong, so I just ignored him, put my helmet on and rode off.

I wanted to also get the stamp at the park entrance in Medora, so took that exit and went into town. It's a cute town, mostly turned into a tourist trap, with quaint log cabin buildings turned into gift shops and various museums. I wandered through the little streets, taking it all in, but decided to skip this visitor center since I already had the stamp, and headed back to I-94. The sky was looking a little black to the west, and it was another 128 miles to Miles City, my stop for the night.

One more gas stop before getting to Miles City and I saw three Harleys sitting at one of the pumps. They'd gotten gas but were obviously going to wait out the rain, since it had started just as I was getting off the interstate. I said Howdy as I walked past them to go inside, but they did not respond. When I returned to my bike it was raining pretty hard, but that didn't deter me. I put my jacket and helmet back on, plugged my speakers into the GPS, saddled up and smugly rode off. Rain doesn't stop me.

Tomorrow: Pompeys Pillars then south to Colorado.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Rally Day 2 - BMW MOA Rally, Gillette WY

Rally Day!!

Up at 6:30, dressed, fed and on the road to the rally site by 8:30 AM. My First Aid Center shift begins at 12:00 noon today, so I wanted to get there early to do some vendor browsing beforehand.

I changed into shorts and sandals and stowed my gear temporarily in the first aid room while I attended the Woman Rider seminar. It wasn't what I expected or hoped for, but was too polite to leave. LOL! Onward, then, to the vendor hall and outside vendors, but first a stop to watch Skert do her bike pickup demonstration at the outside stage next to the demo bike area. I ran into another Houston club member, and saw Mike ride by, looking for us with the club sign-in roster for club attendance awards. That was lucky!

My next stop was Bill Mayer Saddles to fill out an order form for a custom saddle for my not-yet-owned R1200R. I can get a spare seat pan and get it sent in to be worked while waiting for the new bike to be built in Germany. BMS is offering a rally discount plus "head of the list" build date, and I wanted to take advantage of that. Next, it was inside to find the Bob's BMW booth. I spoke to Bob Henig about getting a seat pan and also ordering the side cases for my R1200R. He is offering free shipping for rally goers, so this will help alot, as these are bulky items. I ran into fellow MTF'er Don Wallace at the Bob's BMW booth. We'd been playing phone tag for the last three days.

My last stop was National Cycle to ask the manager which windscreen he had on the R1200R at the RA rally the previous month. From the website I saw that there were two heights and wanted to make sure I ordered the right one. So, now my business was complete!! I was hungry!

The rally food was not the greatest, consisting of typical vendor food: hot dogs, polish dogs, hamburgers, and the like, but I did find a pulled pork sandwich that wasn't too bad. But I sure was craving some good food!

The 4-hour First Aid Center shift was relatively quiet. We had four staff, so two of us took the radios and the golf cart and roved for awhile. It was good to get out and about the rally site on four wheels for a change. We packed things up at 4:00 and closed down. I walked over to the campsite of the Louisville group, but they were striking camp, as most of them were leaving that afternoon after closing ceremonies. One of the fellows was planning to leave the next morning, so he and I walked over to the beer hall and had cold drinks and went off in search of ice cream. That hour spent just sitting and talking was really pleasant and relaxing.

The hordes headed over to the outdoor arena bleachers for the closing ceremonies. No, I did not win the R1200GS!! In fact I didn't win any of the grand prizes, but I did win one of the daily door prizes! Mike from Houston called me on the cell phone to say that he was at the grocery store buying things to cook on the grill. One of the other club members camping at the rally site was having a cookout for all Houston members. I wandered over there after the closing ceremonies but didn't think this shindig looked very promising, so I bid goodbye, walked over to the day parking lot, changed into my riding gear and headed back to the hotel.

I parked, dumped my stuff in a chair in the lobby and walked next door to Subway. As I arrived, a fellow on a GS with Canada plates rode in to the Subway parking lot and got in line behind me. What the heck! I asked if he was staying to eat, 'cause if he was, I would. So we had a pleasant meal together. He won one of the grand prizes: the $1500 gift certificate for camping gear from Twisted Throttle. Turns out that a couple of years ago he retired, sold all his belongings and has been riding and camping all over the world on his GS! That particular grand prize couldn't have gone to a better recipient!

Tomorrow: Enchanted Highway, Teddy Roosevelt, and coloring another state on the map.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Rally Day 1 - BMW MOA Rally, Gillette WY

This day didn't turn out the way I thought it was better!

My original plan was to ride over to the rally and spend the day visiting the vendors, eating, sitting with friends. So I packed sandals and shorts on the bike and, at 9:15 AM, was headed toward I-90 to ride 2 exits down to the Cam-Plex Center where the rally is. But it was so gorgeous - blue skies, cool temps - that I rode right on past the exit and headed towards Devils Tower.

Lots of BMW's on the road headed the same direction I was. There are plenty of great riding opportunities in this direction: Devils Tower, The Badlands, Needles Highway, Mt. Rushmore, just to name a few of many. I exited the interstate 25 miles later at Moorcroft and took US 14 north. The road was smooth and wide, and a few miles later it started ascending into the Black Hills with plenty of high speed sweepers to accomplish that elevation change.

As I neared the next turn-off, I caught a glimpse of the top of Devils Tower, peeking over some hills to the northwest. Just a few miles later, on WY-24, the road was flanked by two wide pull-outs with a spectacular view of the tower. I made a note to stop here on the way back to Gillette and continued to the park entrance. The terrain was beautiful riding through the park to the visitor center. The road wound through woods and open fields as it made its way up to the visitor center. An open field along the south side of the road was home to prairie dogs and they could be seen sitting on top of their burrows watching the tourists.

Up at the top of the road, the parking lot was filled with BMW's. I slipped in to a slot between two other bikes and went to the visitor center to get my passport stamped.

The center is housed in an old log cabin, built in the very early 1900's. It, in itself, was an attraction worth examining more closely. I got a great photo of my bike with the tower immediately behind it, before getting back on and riding back out of the park. I savored the scenery, spotting a deer in the woods just off the park road. Just at the entrance to the park there is a KOA Kampground and I pulled in to the entrance to get photos for the AMA tour.

Back onto WY-24 I joined the parade of BMW's heading back toward Gillette. I saw many BMW's headed the other direction as I worked my way back to I-90 and the rally.

At the rally, I changed into shorts and sandals, checked in at the First Aid center, and then went off in search of vendors. I wanted to meet Mario Winkelman of LDComfort riding shorts. He's on the MTF forum, but I've never met him in person. Then I went to the Bill Mayer saddle booth outside and met Rocky in person. He has done two saddles for my R1150R in the last 3 years. Now I wanted to get my name on the production list for my new R1200R, which should be built and shipped in the next month or so. Rocky was offering a discount for those who order there at the rally, and also is putting rally goers at the top of the production schedule.

I ran into Mike at the registration area and we went off in search of food. Klaus and Diane joined us as we waited in line. But Mike decided to head over to the hotel and get checked in so the three of us sat in the shade, visited, ate, and then walked over to their camp site to visit until my shift in the First Aid Center.

A great group of people have been working First Aid, and today my co-volunteer was a fireman from Colorado. We had visitors drop in all afternoon: Fletcher Clark from MTF, who'd just finished his shift volunteering in registration; Glenn from the Detroit BMW club, who I met in Houghton at the BMW RA rally; Mike came by for a short while.

In late afternoon, the winds picked up considerably, and the sky turned red from the dust being kicked up. Weather radar showed a strong band of thunderstorms headed toward Gillette, so the rally goers thought we were all in for another wild night like last night. A strong storm blew through last night, much to the discomfort and dismay of the many campers at the rally site.

Stories of tents and motorcycles blowing over abounded. The dirt roads that crossed through the camping areas turned to muddy soup, and there were many episodes of big, expensive bikes going down in the slop. Klaus brought his KLR and his GS to the rally, and has been scooting around the rally grounds on the KLR. An extremely accomplished off-road rider himself, he even got bogged down in the mud on a bike that is normally more than capable of handling rough off-roads. But fortunately the storm skirted to the north and the winds died off just at sunset. So the campers are safe tonight.

My shift over at 8:00, I headed toward the entertainment tent and Beer Hall. There I ran into a group of guys we'd met at Burlington VT rally two years ago, and I called Mike and Klaus to determine their location. The band - Riders of the Purple Sage - were playing, but I didn't think they sounded very good. We all visited for a while but by 9:45 PM I was more than ready to get into my riding gear and head to the hotel.

Tomorrow: Some morning workshops, 12-4 shift in First Aid, closing ceremonies at 6:00 PM.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Arriving at BMW MOA Rally

After the strong thunderstorms throughout the night, the third day started cool and cloudy. A group of Harley riders arrived at the hotel the night before about the same time I did, and I had struck up a conversation with one of the riders and his wife as we both unpacked our bikes. We were both reloading the next morning and agreed that we'd arrived at the hotel just in time, before it got really wild!

This would be a relatively easy day, only about 400 miles to Gillette up US 385. The first stop was Chimney Rock National Monument, a short diversion off 385 onto US 26. The rock formation could be seen for miles, and the pioneers used it as a beacon as they traveled west. I stamped my passport (no date on the stamp) and bought a book to get a dated receipt. Now I continued north toward SD.

Nebraska is surprisingly pretty and rugged in the west. US 385 took me through diverse landscapes that made the ride interesting and the miles flew by. At one point I was riding through grassy plains with no trees in sight as far as the eye could see. I was watching the elevation on my GPS and noticed a gain of almost 500 feet. As the road crested another rise, the landscape instantly changed. Suddenly it was heavily wooded with pine and the temperature dropped noticeably. The area, known as Pine Ridge, was beautiful, and the road suddenly became a series of tight sweepers as it dropped down toward Chadron. I stopped at a gas station momentarily, to shed my jacket liner and saw the first of many BMW riders headed toward the rally. I was surprised that I hadn't seen any sooner. From here all the way to Gillette I was to see many.

Just a few miles later I crossed into SD, headed toward Hot Springs. This is a pretty little town tucked tight against the banks of Fall River. Leaving the town, the road gains elevation quickly as it heads toward Wind Cave National Park just a few miles north. The road passes through the heart of this park, and the entrance is marked by a cattle guard. There are herds of free-ranging buffalo in this national park and the adjacent Custer State Park, and I had hoped to spot some as I rode through, but no luck!

I parked at the visitor center, got my national park passport stamped, and continued north on US-385 toward Custer and US-16 west. This is a great motorcycling road, with some sharp corners and beautiful views. Jewel Cave is tucked along this road and I took the turn onto their entrance road and headed down toward the visitor center for another national park stamp.

Back onto US-16, I soon caught up with another BMW rider and followed him into Newcastle WY. He turned right onto US-87 and I continued on US-16 toward I-90. Just 50 more miles to Gillette!

The rally is being held at the Cam-Plex facility in Gillette. It's a huge multi-purpose campus, and is well-suited to this event. Lots of open parking, many buildings, easy to access. I arrived behind a group of other riders, and the security and greeters directed us toward the day parking. The front of the parking lot was already full, but I had studied the map beforehand and rode further back as the lot curved around the buildings, and found myself in wide open parking spaces, just steps from the registration building.

Once inside Energy Hall, I was pleasantly surprised at how efficient and organized the registration area was. There were no lines, many volunteers, and I stepped right up to the pre-registration table. I spotted a fellow Houstonian working one of the back tables, so chatted with him a bit after gettng my packet. First Aid is also in this building, so I went in and introduced myself to the volunteers who were already there. I would be working First Aid Friday 4-8 and Saturday 12-4.

Now on to the vendor and demo fleet areas, mostly to find something to eat and drink. I took a quick pass through the vendor area, making note to be sure to get back in the next two days. I also went to the demo fleet and noticed they had an R1200R with low seat. But talking to the BMW workers, I realized that trying to sign up for a demo ride would be difficult, given my volunteer commitments.

My friend Mike had called the night before, giving me the location of some folks we'd met at the Burlington MOA rally two years ago. They were encamped right behind the demo fleet and were easy to find. I spent a little while with them, getting caught up, then decided I was ready to get to the hotel, get checked in, and get out of these riding clothes. I also wanted to make a plan for riding to Devil's Tower. I originally thought I'd do it tomorrow, but it could also be done on my way to ND on Sunday.

Tomorrow: Will I ride to Devils Tower? Not sure. But I will get to the rally site, spend more time at the vendors, hang around a bit, then do my First Aid shift.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

On the Road to BMW MOA Rally - Enroute Day #2

I should rename this blog the "birding" blog. Since I've stayed off the interstates for some of the first day and most of the second day, I have been treated to a wide variety of birds, ones that I don't see in Texas and that I wouldn't normally see while on the bike. But more of that later.

This morning I walked out of the hotel at 8:00 AM but couldn't pass up the opportunity to razz a guy whose pickup was parked right at the hotel's front door. It had a BMW R1150RT in the bed, so he was game for being teased. We chatted quite a bit before I headed to my bike. He followed me to see what I was riding. More chatting - turns out he'd bought that bike a year or so ago from a Continental pilot who lives in the Houston area - and I got on the road at 8:30, a bit later than I wanted, since I had an extremely ambitious day planned. It would include two national parks and several AMA grand tour stops before reaching my destination in Sidney for the night, more than 700 miles later.

First stop was Washita National Battlefield, west of Cheyenne OK. It was easy to find, but I missed the entrance to the visitor center! I was so busy waiting for the group of rabbits to finish their gabfest in the middle of the road that I didn't even notice I was stopped right in front of the entrance drive. So a u-turn later and I was inside talking to the young park ranger who just happened to be from Jersey Village area of Houston. He really knew his stuff and we spent a good 45 minutes or so in front of the diorama as he explained the logistics of Custer's raids on Chief Black Kettle's people.

On to Fritch TX and Lake Meredith NRA, but not before having to outwit a pack of black dogs as I exited the park area. They were lying in wait. After getting the NRA stamp and the Alibates Flint Quarry stamp, I headed north and rode across the Sanford Dam, which is at the north end of Lake Meredith. This area is surprisingly rugged, heavily corrugated terrain with steep aroyos. The ride across the dam gave great views over the lake.

Now it was north and west toward Dumas but rather than get onto 287, I took FM 1060, which was out in the middle of absolutely nowhere! But it did go past miles and miles of oil derricks and quite a number of shiny new cattle sheds. Looked like calf feeders? Not sure, there were no signs, but they had clearly had pens and very large silos attached at either end. Anyway, this road reconnected me about 20 miles north of Dumas onto 287 and I was quite glad to be back on a trafficked road again.

Next stop was in Boise City, for gas and a quick bite to eat, and then to the Cimmaron history museum, where there's a bonus Santa Fe trail stamp. It's not dated, and might not have been worth the stop, but it didn't take long. Further up the road, into Colorado, a small town earned me some AMA "Italy in America" grand tour points, and it was now time to really push on, as I was now about 2 hours behind schedule.

I made good time going up 287 until traffic came to a stop for construction in the middle of nowhere. Judging from the long line of cars and trucks stretching for nearly a mile ahead of me, I knew it must be a long stretch of one-lane road. I stopped the bike, took off my helmet and drank some water as we sat there, me frying in the hot sun. About 30 minutes later we began to move and, yes it was a several mile long stretch. Once free of the pilot car and reduced speed limit we should have been able to pick up speed. But the long delay resulted in a huge bottleneck of 18-wheelers and cars now moving and accordioning at between 45 and 55 mph. As we passed through Lamar the backup became worse, as the 18-wheelers jockeyed for position at all the red lights. Fortunately I was able to break away from all this onto CO-196.

What a great little road! Here I saw many goldfinches and I think I even saw a Mountain Bluebird! This road was also home to many prairie dogs! For miles and miles, I could see prairie dog mounds out in the fields. Many little guys were sitting in the middle of the road, and they'd scurry to the shoulders as I rode by.

This road took me to 385 north, which I'd be taking all the way to Sidney NE. It was long, mostly straight, and completely deserted! Miles and miles of wheat and corn. The wheat is being harvested now, and I saw many giant harvesters in the fields working. I'd rarely see a car or truck, and occasionally the road would pass through a small, nearly abandoned little town.

Many miles later, I reached I-70 where I gassed up in preparation for a short diversion east toward Goodland KS for an AMA photo opportunity. At the gas pump I chatted with a local man who was putting gas in his truck. He said that he and his wife both ride and had just returned from a trip west into the mountains. He was surprised to hear how far I'd ridden so far.

In Goodland is the world's largest easel, upon which is perched a giant replica of Van Gogh's Sunflowers. It was easy to find and I posed my bike and the AMA flag for the photo. With that accomplished, I returned back to CO and 385 by backtracking on I-70. My original route was to go north out of Goodland to St. Francis, but I kind of liked the idea of a 75 mph speed limit and no small towns, to get me down the road a little faster.

More deserted road, more wheat, more occasional 90-degree jogs. As I rode north I could see rain ahead of me. It was pretty far off and moving west to east. It took more than an hour to catch up with it, and fortunately the heaviest stuff and blown east of me. But I still did ride through it, and it was refreshing after the heat of the day.

I reached Julesburg at I-76 just as it was getting dark. The sky was starting to look a little threatening again, in the direction of Sidney, but at this point I was only 40 miles away. Those last 40 miles, however, were ridden in rain and lightning. I didn't care! It was getting late, it had been a long day and I was so close to the hotel.

Finally! The exit was right there, the Days Inn visible from the highway. I stayed here last year on my way to Lolo MT and - even better - I could exchange some accumulated points for a free room.

Tomorrow: More national parks and arrive in Gillette!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

On the Road to BMW MOA rally - Enroute Day #1

Tonight I'm comfortably settled into a Hampton Inn in Clinton OK. Yes, on the road....again! I managed to get out of the house this morning at 6:15, and thankfully overestimated how long it would take to get to Clinton, since I added a couple more stops on the fly getting up here. As I headed north on I-45, my original plan was to cut over to Italy, TX on I-35E, get some AMA bonus points along that route and then cut over to Ft. Worth and up 287 toward Wichita Falls. But I realized that route gained nothing. It was shorter, but probably slower and there were no points or stamping opportunities along that route until I got to near Clinton. BUT...if I stayed on I-35E straight up to Oklahoma City, then west on I-40...yes, it's all interstate, but it's faster AND I could gather a couple of NPT stamps along that route.

Today brought some nice and not-so-nice memories. First, along SR-22 west of Corsicana, a Scissortail Flycatcher flew right across the road, right in front of me at eye level. Wow! That's the first time I've seen one. It's the Oklahoma State Bird, and this was a fine specimen. Then, just a little while later, as I headed north on FM-55, what I think was a Summer Tanager flew across the road in front of me. It was more orange than a Cardinal would be, and had no black markings at all. A male cardinal has darker red wings and black on its face. Ah, the things we can see from the seat of a motorcycle! I was on my way to Italy, TX, worth a point in the AMA Grand Tour, and in the same town is a giant caterpillar, also worth a point. And if I go straight up I-35E I'll pass right by the Dallas Zoo, with its giant giraffe out front...worth another point.

Well, got Italy, got the caterpillar, but getting that darned giraffe wasn't so easy. Guess that zoo does a booming business in summer, because police cars had so many roads blocked off, it was impossible to do anything but ride past it on the feeder road. I had hoped to just pull over near the entrance, but that was clearly overly optimistic on my part. So up to the next cross street, and I can only turn left or go straight. Turning left would work, so that's what I did, then turned left again on the feeder road headed the other direction. But the next cross road was blocked and turned into a pedestrian way. I had hoped to just get back on I-35 and take the photo from the shoulder...risky, but I had noticed that the shoulder is very wide at that point. But wait! Here's a gas station, directly across the Interstate from the giraffe. I zipped in, pulled into a spot in front of the C-Store and got a pretty good photo. Got the photo but now I can't seem to get back onto I-35 going north. The next two crossroads were blocked by police. So I had no choice but to go about 3 miles south along a surface road until I found an intersection that would get me northbound on a feeder road and ultimately back onto I-35 headed north. What an ordeal! A bonus presented itself along I-45 earlier in the day as I headed to Corsicana. A giant fishing pole! So I stopped and got that photo to add to my collection.

The not-so-nice part of the day was a horrific accident on I-35-E in Denton. Traffic was backed up for miles in both directions, and it was very hot as we crept along, one car length at a time! Eventually we were merged into one lane and as we got up to the accident, we could see the carnage. Many ambulances and firetrucks, and it looked like at least one 18-wheeler and two cars were involved. It appeared that for whatever reason, one 18-wheeler went off the shoulder on the right, flip and tumbled down the embankment to take out at least one vehicle on the feeder road. It was ugly! EMT's were working on one victim on the ground, and one car was flipped upside down and another EMT was crouched down beside the open window of that car, so the driver was still inside.

Whew! That behind me, I could pick up speed and catch a breeze. Next stop would be Chickasaw National Recreation Area. I'd been here a couple of years ago, but didn't remember it being so far off the interstate. I passed up a gas station thinking I'd stop there on the way back to the highway. That decision was made thinking the park was in the first town, Davis. Boy, was I wrong! And the next gas station wasn't until I got to Sulphur. The low fuel light had been on for nearly 50 miles! I pushed that tank of gas farther than I'd ever done before. Of course, it's nice to know that 1) my motorcycle unfailingly gets 50 mpg; and 2) there won't be any surprises.

Okay, so got the stamp, and continued north on I-35. At The City, I had to make a decision about going into downtown for the OK City Memorial stamp. A clock check made my decision for me, since it was about 4:15 PM and I would be getting to the visitor center close to closing. It's not real handy to get to, since parking is on the street and it would entail walking a couple of blocks or more.

Roadside America website says there are two giant Indians in Clinton, one at Cherokee Trading Post, the other at a car dealer. The Trading Post came up first, so I got off the interstate only to discover that the large indian is no longer there! But there's a giant Indian Chief head over the door of the store, so that seemed to work. Then....the very next exit was a KOA, worth a point. It was an easy grab! The car dealership is just a mile or so from the hotel so I'll grab that in the morning.

Tomorrow: Washita National Battlefield, some AMA Italian and Big Things points, and Sidney NE for the night.