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.

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