Author Archives: crazyshannon

On Death, Dragon Slayers and Underwear Thieves

tricolore

North Carolina knows how to build a road. For a week I was sucked into Deal’s Gap and surrounding area, making new friends, seeing all manner of cool motorcycles, and exploring the gorgeous winding highways. Once again I could not help but reflect on the differences I saw between the Dragon, and the Snake (Mulholland Hwy) in Malibu California. Skill sets vary in the latter, but mainly it’s sportbikes and generally the skill level runs from intermediate to expert. By contrast, the Dragon seems to attract intermediate and quite a few beginner riders. But more than that, it attracts motorcycle tourism: and that means cruisers, trikes, and goldwings, with or without trailers in tow. I had an interesting chat with a handful of locals on top of the mountain. “Guys come here with temporary plates on their bikes and think they’re going to ‘slay the dragon’,” one said.

“What does it matter if they have a temp plate?” I asked.

“It’s a sign of lack of seat time,” he said. “They park their bikes all year, working their 9-5, then they plate their bike and ride eight-twelve hours to get here, or trailer down, planning a week’s vacation of 200 mile days. They buy their dragon t-shirt and put the sticker on their motorcycle. By day 3 they’re exhausted. They aren’t used to being on the bike this much. Then they throw it down the mountain.”

“They own a bike so they think they’re bikers,” another chimed in. “But they’re not. They don’t think to try to improve their skills or self-evaluate. And they’re not ready for these roads.”

I’m a whitewater kayaker. On the river, rapids are rated according to difficulty, on a scale of one to five. Understanding what is above your skill level as a paddler is going to be absolutely vital to your lifespan. To get down a class IV section safely, you’re going to need the skill set of a class IV kayaker. Similarly, dirt roads – single track – are classed according to difficulty, because there will be obstacles that can only be overcome with certain techniques. Paved roads without traffic are different; there’s no current pushing you along, no rocks to navigate around, and there’s no logs to jump or steep hill climbs to get through. So when I was first heading to the Dragon and some riders warned me not to try it first at night, I didn’t understand. My headlights work fine – I’ll just slow down. How tough can a paved road really be?

I listened to them. I parked the bike north of the Dragon and rode it for the first time the next morning. And then I understood. This is unlike any public road or private racetrack I have ever been on. For eleven miles, the rider is asked – no, expected – to negotiate one turn directly after another. There are elevation changes, camber changes, tight slow corners, blind corners, and zero runoff. Large trees line the road before it drops off 20-100+ feet down. I am tired by the halfway point and dog-tired by the end. Then I still have to turn around and come back down the mountain.

My first day, I started from the north end, had the cruiser run out in front of me, then I responded to a crash before I even made it to the bottom. The second day, someone died. It happened early in the morning, and I didn’t hear of it until early afternoon. I spoke with a new friend – a local – who was one of the first people on the scene. The rider missed his corner and slammed into a tree. Two physician motorcycle tourists stopped to assist fairly quickly, but it didn’t matter. Death occurred in minutes. It was the third Dragon death of the year, and the fifth motorcycle death in the surrounding region.

The atmosphere surrounding the death was surreal. The locals didn’t talk about it and the tourists didn’t know of it.

“Someone died here yesterday,” I mentioned to one rider. We were stopped at one of the Dragon’s many paved pull-offs. Newly installed a few years ago, the pull-offs encourage the cars to stop for motorcycles trying to get through, and hopefully cut down on dangerous double-yellow pass attempts.

“People say that all the time,” he said. “Every year I come here, someone died yesterday.”

“I spoke to the person who saw it happen,” I said.

He shook his head, the skepticism still apparent in his eyes.

The locals, meanwhile, were bitter. “The newspapers are already blaming the road,” one told me. “That evil Dragon, it twists open throttles, it forces people to target-fixate, it hits the brakes mid-corner. It’s nothing to do with the rider.” He made a sour face. “Why can’t these people just slow down and ride their own ride?”

More crashes would occur as the days went by. One group from Detroit, nicknamed “The Detroit Wrecking Crew”, had four of their eightfold group wipe out. I didn’t see any more crashes, though I continued to do runs up and down the Dragon, also venturing out to the surrounding roads, including Hwy 28 and the Cherohola Skyway (a beautiful, sweeping road that goes above 5000ft elevation. Draped in fog it seems to cut through the clouds). I swapped bikes with new friends from Chicago and North Bay, trying out a Hayabusa and a DRZ400SM. The Busa was a brilliantly fast bike that sounded like a Ferrari. The DRZ was faster than I’d thought it would be, and a lightweight compared to the heavy Dorothy.

fail_truck

This truck driver thought he’d found a shortcut on the map by cutting through the Dragon. Here he’s shown stuck on one of the first corners. He had to get towed off the shoulder and then reversed out, escorted by police.

I ate hamburgers offered by motorcycle tourists, shot video, edited video, and slept on the dock at the bottom of the Dragon. I bathed in the cold lake, only to discover free hot showers at one of the Dragon stores a couple days later. I went offroading and snapped a header bolt; Dorothy could use a metal skid plate. Luckily it was an inexpensive $40 fix at the local repair shop.

I washed my undersuit one day and hung it up to dry at the dock. When I returned that night to set up camp, it had vanished. I’d tied it round a tree limb, so it couldn’t have blown away, and it wasn’t in the adjacent garbage bin. It was too small to fit anyone else and too smelly to consider worth stealing. I couldn’t understand what happened to it. It was an important part of my motorcycle apparel however; I brought two undersuits, so that I could have one to wear when the other is being dried from a wash. Now I guess I just won’t wash?

After a week in motorcycle paradise, it was time to leave. I said goodbye to the new friends I’d made, packed Dorothy and headed south. I followed the Cherohola into Tennessee, where I took 68, to 294 back into North Carolina, to 60 into Georgia. Up Hwy 180 and down Hwy 9, I stumbled across the most perfect, wonderful motorcycle road I’d seen yet: Hwy 19 from Tucker’s Corner into Dahlonega. It wound down a mountain, featuring constant open and extremely fast switchbacks, double-lane on the uphill and single-lane on the downhill. The line of sight was as far as the eye can see, every corner was on-camber, and the pavement was pristine. The air smelled like campfire and cinnamon buns. I marked the road on my Garmin, saving the waypoint as “Heaven on Earth.” I wanted to run the road again, but sunset was nearing, and Dorothy wasn’t the right bike for that road anyhow – what I really wanted was the precision and stability of my R1. So I made camp past Dahlonega, following a dirt road to an open field overrun by fat black caterpillars that crawled into my tent and overwhelmed me with their cuteness.

The next morning I visited the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, the largest aquarium in the world. I had been warned about Atlanta traffic by near everyone I’d spoken to of my destinations, and so I was on my guard, but I saw nothing of note. It’s a fairly large city, so there were lots of cars; that’s about the worst thing I could say of Atlanta drivers. They seemed perfectly calm and capable to me. I suppose it may be unsettling for someone not used to navigating a motorcycle through traffic.

skeleton

The aquarium was really cool: sharks, beluga whales, seahorses, sea otters, penguins, manta rays, and jellyfish. I was hoping to see sea slugs, but sadly they were not present.

No one who knows cameras would ever mistake someone toting a GH3 around for a pro, but it’s enough kit to fool a layperson. Coming back from the aquarium, I was asked how much for a headshot, by the gentleman who owned the parking lot I’d left Dorothy in. “I’ll do it for nothing,” I said generously. “I’m not very good, and I enjoy photographing people.”

So I snapped off a couple of shots (alright, 200), and handed them over . . . and was given a crisp $20 bill! And just like that, I became a paid traveling motorcycle photographer. I’ve got a ways til I break even.

ty_site

Here’s TY. Thanks for sponsoring my trip across the USA !

I finished my video, showing footage from my journey thus far, and now the challenge is to try to find an internet connection fast and stable enough to be able to upload it for my faithful readers. I have tried in a few spots now and keep timing out near the end. I’ve heard the town of Chatanooga has fast free wifi, but it’s three hours in the wrong direction.

I left Atlanta in the evening, intending to reach Birmingham, which was only a few hours away, before midnight. After stopping for gas however, I was beset with Dorothy’s first real problem in 5500 miles: her headlights both shut off simultaneously. It also happened as I was riding down the onramp of the I-20. Unwilling to ride to the next exit in complete darkness, I did what I’ve never done, u-turning and riding back up the on-ramp in the wrong direction. Feeling like a fugitive, I rolled into the truck stop I’d just left. I checked the fuses and bulbs, but everything was good there. Running light and highbeam both non-functional . . . the pass light worked. I taped it down and rode another fifty miles, stopping outside Birmingham, where I followed another dirt road that lead past a house under construction, into a sort of clearing. In the morning I made rice and edited photos, then headed out to the famous Vintage Motorcycle Museum at Barber Motorsports Park.

mv_agusta

I had been advised by many people to attend this museum, and I had been pretty skeptical, but this was immediately dissuaded as I first stepped into the facility. There were hundreds of motorcycles, old and new; and the very layout was the best I’ve ever seen, of any kind of displayed collection, motorcycle or not. An oversized cargo elevator lead to three floors of moto-history in the center of the room, wide ramps spiraling round the elevator, both clearly designed to facilitate the easy movement of bikes throughout. Detailed plaques relayed important specs and notes on the history behind each bike, which ranged from old war machines, early slim 5 HP bikes from early 1900s, vintage racers, and more modern bikes like a 999R, 916 Senna and an MV Agusta F4 Tamburini (one of 300). There was a 2004 R1, which I own currently, and a 1986 Honda VF500F Interceptor, which I owned years ago. But for me, one of the most special bikes was the Britten V1000. There are only ten in the world. I thought I’d have to go to New Zealand just to see one. Unfortunately I missed all of my photos of it: no tripods permitted in the museum.

Dragon Rider

After Asheville I reconnected with the Blue Ridge Parkway. It is a smooth road of continual sweeping curves, lined with tall trees and scenic outlooks that reveal the valleys beyond. It has true rhythm, and seldom have I felt so lost in the moment on a stretch of pavement that was not a racetrack. The fog had cleared and I was able to see well off into the distance. There was some traffic, and passing was difficult as the road is double-yellow much of the time. Often in the more congested areas I would choose to stop and take photos.

butterfly

Butterflies were everywhere; several shades of blue, orange, and brown varieties.

stream

I tested my new Dainese Gore-Tex boots in the stream. Verdict: Waterproof.

The Parkway ends at Cherokee; there I paused for food and water. Cherokee is an obnoxious, garish town dominated by bright lights and motels. It was like some kind of little Las Vegas tucked in the Great Smoky Mountains. Nature built the fog and the mountain and the view; humans built elevated go-cart tracks, waterslides and three-for-one souvenir shops.

I followed more backroads to the Foothills Parkway, where I watched the sunset with a group of hobbyist astronomers. The largest telescope they’d brought weighed 275 lbs. They were friendly enthusiasts who told me about the stars and the birth of universes. They showed me Andromeda – the nearest galaxy which would one day merge with our own, and a globular cluster caused by hundreds of thousands of stars so close to each other that they were all locked in orbit. My favourite was Saturn; I could see the very rings.

The astronomers warned me to be careful on the Dragon the following day. “The weekend is a bad time to go,” one said. “Those crotchrockets, they don’t care, they’ll pass you any which way. They get killed all the time. Bikes go off the cliff and they’re just left there as warning signs for other people. They’re idiots.”

It was funny to me, how Dorothy, in the eyes of non-motorcyclists, did not appear to be a sportbike. She is one; albeit a rather slow and bulky one. A sport-touring bike, she’s called, although in later years she is sometimes called an adventure bike, because that market segment has become so popular. I was not particularly afraid to be passed up the inside by true sportbikes, rather I looked forward to it. I camped in a secluded area, just a few miles north of the Tail of the Dragon, heating some soup with my stove for dinner. The cicadias were loud and fervent. I slept a dreamless sleep.

meadow_sunset

I got a late start the next morning. I could scarcely recognize myself in Dorothy’s mirror. I looked like a wild thing, my braids well tousled and unwashed for many days. There was a boat dock nearby, and I thought perhaps I might have a bath there later on. Truck stop showers were not an option; I hadn’t seen one for a couple of days now.

Dorothy packed, I headed over to Tail of the Dragon, a very famous section of road in the motorcycle world: it boasts 318 corners in a mere 11 miles. I had known of this road since I started riding, but now would be my first ride. As I approached the entrance, cautionary signs warned of switchbacks ahead and advised trucks to consider an alternative route.

tree_of_shame

Pieces of crashed motorcycles are attached to the famous Tree of Shame.

The road was not what I expected. I had thought it would be narrower, the pavement less pristine, with more blind corners. Although corners were very tight, there was a long line of sight through a great deal of them. There were almost no straightaway sections, just a steady back-and-forth momentum. My bike felt heavy, and yet graceful. I began to lose fear. There were photographer set up in many of the corner, shielded by canopies. And then, coming around a blind corner with a canopy tent set up, there was a wide Harley in the middle of my lane. My lane! Headed straight toward me! I yelled. My bike was too wide, the saddlebags extending a good few inches past my handlebars, there was no way I could clear him, but I couldn’t look at him, I mustn’t look – then he was back in his own lane. I stopped in front of the photographer’s tent, shaking, my breath rapid. There I remained for almost an hour, at first trying to recover from my brief scare, and later discussing life as a local at the Dragon. I asked where I could see the corpses of fallen motorcycles off the cliff-sides, but he said the bikes are never left behind. Just an urban legend. “There are deaths here though,” he said. “Maybe once a year. Usually Harleys.”

This can’t really be much of a comment on the calibre of the Harley riders, however, seeing as how most of the riders I saw were on Harleys. So it made sense that they’d crash the most. I’ve spent some time on the famous Snake – Mulholland Hwy in Malibu California – and that road is mostly sportbikers of mixed skillset. Cruisers do present themselves there, along with road bicycles, longboards, sportscars, and the occasional trikes and scooters. It’s a much shorter section of road, with far less tourists, and the community seems more tightly knit. Police presence targets cars more than bikes. There’s a callbox at the top of the hill: a direct line to EMS, which is also close by.

The Dragon was a different story. Most of the riders I spoke with were from well out of town. The experienced Dragon riders were out-of-towners who managed frequent trips, sometimes leaving their bikes in storage nearby so they could fly or drive into Tennessee just to ride. And EMS is very far away, as I was to learn.

I was with the photographer, when a bike pulled over, talking to another rider about an accident. I heard just a piece of the conversation – and as I was getting up to ask what had happened, both riders took off. I was confused – should I go look for an incident? The photographer pointed out that there were still people coming down the mountain, so it was unlikely to be anything major. I nodded, less certain. About ten minutes later, someone else stopped, talking of it, so I rode up to investigate.

First I found two riders digging a bike out of a ditch. They was fine, but there was another accident further north. So I rode up more, and soon came along a cluster of Harleys and cars pulled over. I parked the bike, got out my first aid kit, and went to assist the fallen rider, who’d had a collision with another motorcycle. He’d already been there twenty minutes, and I was sorry that it had taken me so long to respond. Then I learned that riders had been sent down the Dragon to call for help. There was no cell reception on this road! Are you kidding me? I used my Inreach to send an SOS.

Both riders ended up being stable. I repackaged their wounds, replacing the T-shirts used by the initial responders, and waited for EMS to show up. After twenty minutes, I was relieved to hear sirens . . . but the two fellows who appeared were not paramedics. They were volunteers with a search-and-rescue type squad, and they didn’t have the means to transport. I also outranked them, which meant that I couldn’t leave the scene – I can only hand off patients to persons of equal or higher care level.

A full hour after the riders collided with one another, paramedics arrived at the scene. I learned that in a life-or-death emergency, a heli is called out. But, I pointed out, it would take some time for the heli to even be summoned, since someone has to ride down the mountain just to get help. It’s not a good situation on a road often treated as a public racetrack.

I rode the Dragon the rest of the day, doing two or three runs. It is a mesmerizing sort of road, demanding full attention; I find myself to be a very focused rider in general, but I would catch myself thinking about something else for just a moment, and then I would be off-line. I had planned a route for the day, a two-hour loop that took me past the Dragon into the surrounding mountainous area, but time ran short and I didn’t make it.

dragon_dam

This dam is located at the bottom of the Dragon.

The sun was setting just as a fiddy race was breaking out in the parking lot of the Deal’s Gap Motorcycle Resort. I rode to Robbinsville, where I found an actual campsite with showers! I washed my smelly self along with my undersuit.

I will stay another night and ride the Dragon again tomorrow. I’m unsure how much longer I will stay after that – I mean to go to Atlanta, but the roads here are incredibly dreamy . . . surely even California has nothing on the North Carolina/Tennessee divide.

Down

stone_moto

I’ve been riding motorcycles for twelve years. People say this a lot: how many years they’ve been riding. But it’s not the full story. How many miles a person puts on and under what sort of conditions counts for much and varies widely; much of the distance accumulated by me this trip has been some of the safest, easiest riding I’ve ever done.

I am not the fastest, slowest, or most talented rider and never was. For a brief moment I may have been the most hardcore; but that time has passed too, and I’m closer to a fairweather rider than I have ever been. I used to commute in the snow on a sportbike. It was silly. I have a car now and I like it fine.

But I still love motorcycles and I still get the itch to do something really wild once in awhile, and sometimes motorcycles are involved.

I name all of my bikes: this one, a Suzuki V-Strom, is called Dorothy, because she’s sweet and gentle and destined for a great adventure. A V-Strom is a ubiquitous, do-everything kind of bike; not very fast or agile, not great offroad, but capable of highway touring and easy gravel roads. That flexibility is what sells V-Stroms worldwide, and their legendary reliability keeps people like myself buying the things even ten years later.

the_bee

I left Raleigh, pointing the nose of my bike back westward, because it’s time to go home . . . or is it? Am I finished here? Did I find all the answers I was looking for?

I stayed near Greensboro, pinned by bike troubles: Dorothy’s chain was past due, and I’ve snapped enough chains in my riding career to know when to call it quits. I waited two days for new sprockets. I spent my time reviewing video footage and watching movies in theater. It rained a little, and I learned that North Carolina rain, when it happens, is serious business: flash-flood style and completely blinding. I mistakenly had my US phone in an outer pocket which was both waterproof and unzipped, meaning that the phone was completely submerged for a half hour in water before I remembered it. Next my laptop charging station in my pelican case failed, I clipped a saddlebag on a fencepost and dropped the V-Strom onto a mudbank and couldn’t pick it up, then my credit card was frozen after being flagged for roaming across the countryside. And somewhere along the way I seem to have lost a boot and a half-pound of beef jerky.

sunset_path

Eventually, I sorted out my business and left Greensboro. Campgrounds have been scarce here in the east, and I keep an eye on every dirt road for potential hiding-places.

birders

Following a fellow advrider’s advice to tack north to Fancy Gap and ride the Blue Ridge Parkway back south, I joined a group of birdwatchers who were following the migration of broad-winged hawks. When I stumbled across the group a little past noon, they’d already had 1300 sightings.

Off the Parkway, I found Hwy 221, a smooth and technical section of road. I thought I was keeping up a good pace, until a stream of eight porsches went past going the other way, their engines whining a sing-song tone that called to me. I u-turned after them but never caught up. I blamed the slow Dorothy, impatient. But once we were alone again, the lack of speed didn’t seem like an issue, and it was just smooth pavement and the sun throwing light kisses through the fog and the forest.

I continued to follow the Parkway on southwest, riding well past dark. As I scouted for a place to spend the night, the fog became thick enough that I realized I had built-in camouflage. So I set up camp right at a scenic outlook, the small footprint of my tent perched directly beside a steep dropoff of, oh, 4000 ft.

outlook_camping

I woke in the morning to the sound of a small pack of Harleys cruising into my outlook. “Now there’s a true biker,” I heard one comment as they shut off their engines.

Crab-holes

I rode the interstate and watched corn grow; thus sums my overall impression of Iowa. It seemed a state undecided as to whether it should try to hinder or help the travelers who so often pass through on their way to more impressive lands. The road quality was noticeably poorer than South Dakota’s. But it also had the best rest stops of my trip, equipped with modern washrooms and free high speed wifi.

I was also amused by the signage displayed in gas stations … “Support your state! Choose ethanol!”

wagon

At the Indiana border, the contrast was sharp. The cornfields disappeared instantly, trees appeared along the roadside and horizon, and the pavement became smooth. I knew there were good side roads available, but I was trying to make time, and I stuck to the interstate. Illinois too passed in a blur of toll booths and ads for personal injury attorneys. I finally rolled into my parents’ driveway outside of Toledo OH around midnight. Aided by the tracking device, they knew my approximate arrival time and were waiting outside in the driveway for me. I was so tired that I dropped the bike in the garage – onto my stepfather’s truck. And that’s how my motorcycle earned its own private garage for the seven days that I stayed with my parents.

A couple of days later I rode as a passenger in my mother’s car up to Ontario, where the majority of my family lives, keeping my tracker on since it’s technically part of my overall trip. I spent time visiting my grandparents, whom I don’t see nearly enough of, and other extended friends and family.

leon

Here’s a picture of my grandfather, Leon. He’s been following my trip most avidly.

I stayed in Ohio for a couple days longer, and then I packed up the bike and headed south.

virginia_grass

West Virginia was beautiful everywhere I could see.

virginia sunset

I took back roads and wound my way to Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia, where I camped at 4000 feet above sea level. I enjoyed being back in my tent, even as the warm wind raced in circles around the rainfly.

I reached Outer Banks NC on Thurs Sept 11. It’s a narrow island, its widest point still less than a mile, linked by a bridge to northern NC. I stayed with new friends at a beach house. They were chilled by the steady wind, but for me it was a welcome embrace.

crab

The beach was absolutely swarming with crabs, as small as a fingernail and a couple larger than my hand. Did you know that crabs like to hang out in crab-holes? Me neither. Everywhere I walked, crabs were freaking out, scurrying into little holes in the sand. This one had wandered a bit too far from his hiding place, and so I watched him cleverly dust himself with sand and then become completely still.

After two days rest, it’s already time to resume my journey. I head now for Raleigh.

spokane-outerbanks

Here’s what my trip looks like so far. Although I did start in Vancouver, I purchased my tracking device in Spokane. The disappearance in South Dakota happened when I accidentally stopped transmitting (not before clumsily sending a false SOS signal!).

Corn

I don’t usually think of myself as an outdoors person. I can’t whistle four different bird calls, tie six kinds of knots, or make fire with two pieces of sticks. My camping experiences ended with my childhood, mostly involving cabins, ice coolers and marshmallows.

So I brought my camping gear mainly as an afterthought; sort of, keeping my options open. It just so happens that I’ve found reason to camp the entire trip. Habit is a very powerful thing. I don’t crave the dubious comfort of a cheap motel bed, or watered-down orange juice in a free continental breakfast. Rather I have learned to look forward to the spartan and comfortable existence in my small tent and plush sleeping bag. Even the tent set-up isn’t much of a hassle; it’s near automatic now, and traveling on a motorcycle involves a certain amount of steps no matter where you rest your head at night.

pond

Tuesday Sept 2, I left Badlands by noon and rode well past sunset. At a truck stop I spoke with a couple moving across the country, from Iowa to Seattle. The husband was driving a U-Haul which contained two motorcycles and their furniture; it was also trailering an SUV. The wife was driving a second SUV. “Get ready for the most boring stretch of land you’ll ever encounter,” the wife said to me.

“Why? What’s in Iowa?”

“There’s nothing in Iowa. Nothing ‘cept corn and politicians. More politicians than any other state outside of Washington DC.”

“Why should Iowa have so many politicians?” I wondered.

“Because Iowa grows 98% of the world’s corn . . . and corn is important to America.”

This statement would turn out to be incorrect. In reality, the US produces 32% of the world’s corn; and Iowa only has an 18% share of that. But there’s no denying that Iowa has a lot of corn. And grasshoppers; they climbed into my saddlebag and danced inside my helmet just in range of my peripheral vision. There were no windy or scenic roads, and I was trying to make time, so I rode on the interstate; and on both sides of the road, from state’s entrance to state’s end, there was a constant stream of corn.

I can recall as a youth being brought to farmhouses during harvest and going on hay-wagon rides and pumpkin-picking expeditions. My favourite was the corn maizes. One of my first kisses would occur here, breathless amidst the cornstalks. But there would be no such childishly romantic interludes in these fields: the corn is packed so tight as to not even allow a slim teenager to slip through. It’s endless, and ruthless, and formidable; the landscape is entirely man-made, an angry call of defiance to nature itself. The sterile corn grows, the hard stoic kernels destined to be later transformed into syrups and flours and ethanol.

The campsite I’d intended to stay had closed for the night by the time I was ready to stop riding at around 11pm; I continued on east, and at the next gas station stop I found an old abandoned trailer, the windows smashed in and the door left unlocked. I thought it might be a cozy place to shack up, but it smelled rather stale, so I set up my tent behind the gas station, which was closed, its window displaying a sign indicating that prepay gasoline was still available. I wore my earplugs to block out the sound of the nearby interstate and slept wonderfully.

The next morning as I was packing up my bike, I was joined by a Harley rider whose little Sportster was near as loaded down as my own steed. He wore black leather chaps and his long grey hair was tousled by the wind. “Did you spend the night here?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“Good girl.”

Yellowstone & Badlands

branches

Yellowstone National Park is full of wandering souls. The parking lot in front of Old Faithful is a who’s-who of far-flung license plates from Florida to Alaska. It’s not hard to see why — you could fall into the mud and find something beautiful on your way back up.

geyser

Well, that’s if you didn’t fall into one of the active boiling geysers.

sunset

The rain let up briefly during the sunset.

trees

For just a moment, I could forget that my feet hadn’t been dry for three days.

I camped at Lewis Lake, setting up my tent in the rain in less than five minutes.

teton

Grand Teton National Park is located in the southern shadow of Yellowstone, and in case that wasn’t enough to make you feel sorry enough to visit, the entrance fee is included with Yellowstone’s.

nebraska

After breezing through Teton on Sunday, I made serious time, riding late into the night, cruising through the top half of Nebraska under total darkness. My goal was to make the entrance of Badlands National Park, camp there and catch the sunrise.

welcome_badlands

I had thought that Badlands would be much like Yellowstone… overrun with tourists and lodging. Instead I found that the nearest camping facility on the other end of the national park. 550 miles into my day, I wasn’t able to continue. Under my own motorcycle’s highbeam I set up my tent, crawled into my damp sleeping bag, and fell asleep a little ways off the road. I set my alarm for dawn, unsure what the landscape surrounding me would look like come daylight.

straight_badlands

I woke up to this. There was nothing, anywhere. No tourists. No trees. Beautiful in a stark, who-needs-food-water-or-shelter kind of way.

windy_badlands

I rode north into Badlands’ interior section, and found both beauty and a a technical winding route with perfect pavement and scanty traffic. I’ve seen racetracks in far worse condition. I ran it twice; once for the scenery and once for the road itself.

shannon_badlands

Wyoming

Hey all, stopped for gas in a reception area. Octane levels here are oddly specific.
gas_specific

If you were looking for reasons not to go on a cross country motorcycle trip, yesterday would be a good example. There was a steady downpour all day, with a brief eye-of-the-storm moment that occurred just in time for me to catch the Old Faithful geyser erupting at Yellowstone National Park. I set up my tent in the rain, not before considering going to sleep in the Bear Box, a large locking food storage container designed to kept keep campers safe. As I drifted off to the sound of yet more rain, I remembered that I’d left out a packet of freeze-dried chicken and rice on the bike. I was too tired and cold and wet to venture the ten steps outside to get it, and I fell asleep hoping that if a bear came to steal my breakfast, it would at least have the decency to not knock my bike over.

Breakfast

This morning I head out to Yellowstone, where I intend to stay the night. Since I won’t be doing much riding today, I made myself a hot breakfast.

eggs_1

eggs_2

In freeze-dried form.

eggs_3

Rehydrated eggs. They turned out okay.

Ahead of the Storm

I reached the campground last night. Thankfully there was a night check-in. If you haven’t camped much – I certainly haven’t as an adult, tho my mother was a Girl Guide leader and taught me a thing or two – this is where you enter your credit card information on a little slip, leave it in a drop box and move into the nearest empty site you can see. I had my tent and things set up in a little under ten minutes. It’s getting faster every time. I woke up to a steady rain, but my tent held up and my gear stayed dry.

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The skies threatened fury all day, but never quite delivered.

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The mountains never stop in Montana.

bridge

This bridge was located off Hwy 287.

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What baby paramedic would feel complete without an adequate first aid kit?

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Even a V-Strom needs a backup plan.

Hot dog thing

I’m at a truck stop 90 miles north of Yellowstone, and 10 miles north of my next campground – hopefully it’s open when I get there. I just ate this weird hot dog.

hot_dog_thing

When I was in line to get it, an older chap sang me a song about a motorcycle rider. He gave me his business card and told me to check out his website where I’d find a song about a pretty girl. I said I’d pass on the info if I saw one.

Montana is big and full of mountains and cows and farmland. There’s no traffic and no tourists. It’s also freezing cold at night. I’m grateful for my heated vest and my thick waterproof gloves. I hope to get an earlier start tomorrow and hit up Yellowstone.