Road Trip USA 2009 ...

Yosemite, the Loneliest Road and the Plains

After the disappointment of not being able to afford to transport my bike to Ecuador, I had to come up with a new plan. I did not feel ready to abandon my ride this early so I decided to ride back across the USA and Canada, with a vague idea of riding Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. Once again my trusty guide came to the rescue with two aptly named routes, The Loneliest Road and the The Road to Nowhere which I could cobble together into some sort of plan.

Rather than join the Loneliest Road in America, US50 at Sacramento, I decided to take a small diversion to Yosemite National Park. When I arrived at the gate, a sign informed me that all the campsites in Yosemite Valley were full, despite being the middle of the week. Fortunately Crane Flat campground nearby still had a few sites left, so I immediately rode there to setup my trusty if leaky tent.

The valley is stunning, but unfortunately nature's beauty is overrun with thousands of tour busses and campers. It had the feeling of a Butlin's holiday camp with hundreds of people drifting down the river on inner tubes, or partaking in countless other organised 'activities'. You just could not escape the sound of voices and even worse loud music anywhere in the valley. I began to miss the quiet tranquility of the Alaskan wilderness!

Decending into Yosemite Valley, California

Decending into Yosemite Valley, California

A view up Yosemite Valley, California

A view up Yosemite Valley, California

Elephant Mountain, can you see the elephant? Yosemite, California

Elephant Mountain, can you see the elephant? Yosemite, California

Great roads and tunnels on US120 dropping into Yosemite Valley, California

Great roads and tunnels on US120 dropping into Yosemite Valley, California

Another Bridal Veil Falls?  How many are there? Yosemite Valley, California

Another Bridal Veil Falls? How many are there? Yosemite Valley, California

El Capitan, Yosemite Valley, California

El Capitan, Yosemite Valley, California

Leaving Yosemite Valley late in the evening, California

Leaving Yosemite Valley late in the evening, California

Night fell as I left the valley, and I headed back to a sleepless night (lots of screaming kids in the campground) in my tent. The next morning I headed for the Tioga Pass which was a great ride through weather beaten pines and junipers winding between massive granite domes. Along the way I met Bo (intresting name), a forty nine year old born again hippy who having lost his job was reevaluating his life and slowly divesting himself of all of his possessions and was going travelling. Definitely someone who I could identify with! We talked for hours about hiking in the back country of Yosemite (don't see anyone else for days) and about various countries that I had been to and that he wanted to visit (South Africa, India).

Big weather beaten pines, Tioga Pass, Yosemite California

Big weather beaten pines, Tioga Pass, Yosemite California

And even more weather beaten junipers, Tioga Pass, Yosemite California

And even more weather beaten junipers, Tioga Pass, Yosemite California

The road cuts through granite domes, Tioga Pass, Yosemite California

The road cuts through granite domes, Tioga Pass, Yosemite California

The scenery at the top of the pass is breath taking, I have seen granite domes before (Matopo Hills in Zimbabwe) but the scale of the domes in Yosemite is just mind blowing.

The big money view, Half Dome and 5000ft granite face of Clouds Rest, Tioga Pass, Yosemite California

The big money view, Half Dome and 5000ft granite face of Clouds Rest, Tioga Pass, Yosemite, California

A closer view of half dome, Tioga Pass, Yosemite California

A closer view of half dome, Tioga Pass, Yosemite, California

A view of Tenaya Lake, Tioga Pass, Yosemite California

A view of Tenaya Lake, Tioga Pass, Yosemite, California

Hey Half Dome is as big as my head or is it the other way around? Tioga Pass, Yosemite California

Hey Half Dome is as big as my head or is it the other way around? Tioga Pass, Yosemite, California

Tenaya lake makes for a good photograph! Tioga Pass, Yosemite California

Tenaya lake makes for a good photograph! Tioga Pass, Yosemite, California

After a stunning ride past Tenaya Lake, the Tioga Pass held one final surprise in store. The Pass Road clings to the side of the mountain and drops steeply twisting and turning as it plummits to the US395. As usual I had difficulty in keeping my 'enthusiastic' cornering in check, after all this ride is about touring not racing!

Tioga Pass Road clinging to the side of the mountain, Yosemite California

Tioga Pass Road clinging to the side of the mountain, Yosemite, California

Decending Tioga Pass Road, Yosemite California

Decending Tioga Pass Road, Yosemite California

When I got to the US 395 I decided to just enjoy the ride and so I did not stop to take any photographs the whole afternoon. The 395 in east California was a great ride and it sugests that other roads in this area are also a good bet, a number of bikers told me for example that the 108 through Sonora is awesome! Unfortunately with limited budget I could only get a taste of some of California's roads, maybe someday I will fly and ride the awesome US1 and some other routes in northern and eastern California!

During the day it started to get hotter and hotter, especially once I joined the US50 in Nevada. Even though it was only mid afternoon I decided to call it a day in Fallon and got a motel room for the night (it was too hot to camp). Like most cities in the USA the motels are based out in strip mall hell so it took some time before I found a reasonable independently owned resturant (The Waterhole) amoung all the lousy chain food outlets.

I left early the next morning, at about six, in order to cross the desert before the heat of the day could take it's toll. The early start meant I had a couple of freezing cold hours before the sun started roasting me! I had been dreading riding the desert for days, but once in the middle of it I loved it. The road runs perpendicular to a number of broad, flat valleys so after a short twisting ride up a 'pass' you drop back down onto a flat valley floor. The passes are just twisty enough to provide a welcome change to the long straights on the valley floors. This part of the US50 through Nevada is known as the Loneliest Road in America (you can get a certificate for crossing it if you get your guide book stamped in each town along the way) and they advise you that you may need survival skills in order to cross it. I had only had four litres of water, a tent, a stove and a few days of food and absolutely no survival skills but thought hey it can't be that hard. I am not sure the 'Loneliest' moniker is really true anymore, the longest period without seeing another car or truck was about 15-20 minutes so I'm sure if you did have a problem or accident then someone would be able to help you. I am not sure the same could be said of the very tempting dirt roads that occasionally shoot off from US50 into the wilderness of Nevada, some of these go to exotically named canyons up to fifty miles off the main US50, if I had better offroad skills I may have been tempted to just disappear up one of these roads.

Early start, notice bike shadow, on US50 the Loneliest Road in America. Brrr it's cold! Nevada

Early start, notice bike shadow, on US50 the Loneliest Road in America. Brrr it's cold! Nevada

Looking out across the flat valley to one of the ranges of mountains that seperate the valleys, Loneliest Road, Nevada

Looking out across the flat valley to one of the ranges of mountains that seperate the valleys, Loneliest Road, Nevada

In the valley the roads are long and straight, Loneliest Road, Nevada

In the valley the roads are long and straight, Loneliest Road, Nevada

It's already starting to get warm, Loneliest Road, Nevada

It's already starting to get warm, Loneliest Road, Nevada

Another diversion along US50 are the historic Pony Express stations, possibly the best of these was the New Pass Station where you could still see the foundations and some stonework from the buildings and could read a little about the history of this remote place.

Stopping at New Pass Station, historic Pony Trail stop built in 1861, Loneliest Road, Nevada

Stopping at New Pass Station, historic Pony Trail stop built in 1861, Loneliest Road, Nevada

New Pass, the passes aren't too high above the valley but offer some great corners to play on, Loneliest Road, Nevada

New Pass, the passes aren't too high above the valley but offer some great corners to play on, Loneliest Road, Nevada

The first town heading east is the silver mining boom town of Austin, the boom is definitely over but I found the town facinating perhaps because it seemed to have far more bars and clubs than could be suported by its tiny population. When I remarked on it to the service station attendent she said 'yes we do have several bars, but we have no grocery store!', folks in Austin must party hard!

Parked up in the not so busy main street of Austin, Nevada

Parked up in the not so busy main street of Austin, Nevada

Breakfast at the International Hotel and Bar, Austin, Nevada

Breakfast at the International Hotel and Bar, Austin, Nevada

Another saloon, just how many bars does this tiny town have? Austin, Nevada

Another saloon, just how many bars does this tiny town have? Austin, Nevada

Looking out across main street from the only (closed) shop in town that is not a bar! Austin, Nevada

Looking out across main street from the only (closed) shop in town that is not a bar! Austin, Nevada

Looking down on Austin from the pass. Austin, Nevada

Looking down on Austin from the pass. Austin, Nevada

The next stop along the way was Eureka, another old mining boom town that was bigger than Austin. It also has a good museum, the Sentinel Museum which preserves the printing room from Eureka's newspaper which closed in 1960 after the son of the founder died. I really enjoyed the innocence of the personals section of the newspaper, there was none of the tackiness of GSOH or anything like that. One for example read 'John has come home for two weeks to visit his mother'. I found the second floor quite disappointing though, as I have written before a collection of old objects and photographs does not make a museum there has to be some context for the objects for example how they fit into the development of the city.

Eureka Sentinel Museum. Eureka, Nevada

Eureka Sentinel Museum. Eureka, Nevada

The museum provided a good free walking tour guide of the city so I trudged around the town in the already stifling heat following the trail.

Historic main street. Eureka, Nevada

Historic main street. Eureka, Nevada

During my little walk around I spotted one of those Nazi officer cars you always see in the WWII movies, rather than being used to ferry facist dictators it was being used to make a beer run to the local store! Seems like a fitting retirement for such and old car!

Hey its one of those Nazi officer cars. Eureka, Nevada

Hey its one of those Nazi officer cars. Eureka, Nevada

On leaving the town I spotted a 'Loneliest Road' sign so just had to get one of those 'hey this sign is growing out of my head' photographs!

Saw the sign had to get a photograph to go with my Route 66 sign. Eureka, Nevada

Saw the sign had to get a photograph to go with my Route 66 sign. Eureka, Nevada

After leaving Ely it was back into the desert, it was starting to get really hot perhaps stopping for a museum visit was not the best of ideas!

Back out on the flat, boy it's starting to get really hot now! Loneliest Road, Nevada

Back out on the flat, boy it's starting to get really hot now! Loneliest Road, Nevada

Clouds in the desert, Loneliest Road, Nevada

Clouds in the desert, Loneliest Road, Nevada

The final town on the Loneliest Road section of US50 is Ely, I parked the bike outside a biker friendly bar and casino that featured 'show' girls and 99c margaritas.

Biker friendly bar with show girls! Stop you fool, stop! Ely, Nevada

Biker friendly bar with show girls! Stop you fool, stop! Ely, Nevada

Spot the odd one out, the one that has been riden hard! Ely, Nevada

Spot the odd one out, the one that has been riden hard! Ely, Nevada

While I was in Ely I met a couple of bikers who told me about Mormon crickets, they said sometimes these crickets swarm across the US50 creating a very dangerous hazard to anyone foolish enough to ride the US50 during a swarm (google it if you like). They were very eager to know if I had encountered any so far! To be honest I wasn't sure if they were just fooling with me or whether they were serious (I have since been told that these crickets can be deadly as you can skid on them) but I assured them I hadn't seen any!

As it was my birthday I should have stopped, got a room, got drunk and enjoyed the show in Ely! But like a fool I elected to carry on riding through the heat of the afternoon. I made this decision even after talking to a couple of bikers who were stopping for the day. On riding out of Ely I came across a oversize load stopped across the road and a lot of cop cars, I was told later that a couple of Harley riders had managed to hit the truck and one had gone down hard. I guess they must have been travelling very fast, because it was hard not to see such a huge truck in the middle of the desert!

On driving into Utah, the full extent of my stupidity for not stopping became evident. It was a boiling hot ride well over 40C alongside a very reflective salt lake. I was very worried that my bike may overheat or refuse to start if I stopped so resolved to ride on through to the next bit of civilisation without stopping for any photographs.

While refueling in Hawkins I got chatting with a Harley riding Vietnam veteren from the 101st Airborne, a few minutes later the unmarked police cruiser we had both spotted out on US50 pulled in to the service station. It turned out that it wasn't an official police cruiser but was civilian owned, the guy driving it had bought it unseen off a friend in California (he didn't even know it was a dinged up police cruiser) and had picked it up with the intention of driving it to the east coast to sell. It seems like a tough way of making a few bucks if you ask me! It turned out he too was a 101st Airborne Vietnam veteren who had served on the same base as the Harley rider, they started chatting about the old days in Vietnam. These were the first of many veterens I met during this part of my road trip!

I stopped in Delta, Utah for the night and I really began to regret not stopping in Ely. In Utah there are no bars (at least not without being a member) so the only way to get a drink is to order one with food at a resturant! So much for a few drinks on my birthday!

Dropping into Utah, it's getting really hot, no more stopping in case the bike doesn't restart! Loneliest Road, Utah

Dropping into Utah, it's getting really hot, no more stopping in case the bike doesn't restart! Loneliest Road, Utah

I had to find a route across Utah that I hadn't already riden, this proved to be quite difficult but I settled on US6, I70 and US192 as the only viable choice. First stop of the day was Eureka (how many are there?) which was a silver mining town, the city center was a complete ghost town and the town is surrounded by mining tailings but there was an interesting mining headframe to look at! Okay it wasn't that interesting but sometimes anything provides a welcome break from the saddle!

The Bullion Beck and Champion Mining Company Headframe, Eureka, Utah

The Bullion Beck and Champion Mining Company Headframe, Eureka, Utah

One stop that was brilliant was the Prehistoric Museum in Utah, not so much for the collection of dinosaur bones but for the collection of Native American artifacts and art.

Brilliant museum, Price, Utah

Brilliant College of Eastern Utah Prehistoric Museum, Price, Utah

This would have made my father chuckle, CEU Museam, Price, Utah

This would have made my father chuckle, CEU Museam, Price, Utah

I also stopped briefly in Moab, Utah. This is probably the least conservative town I visited in Utah, it feels like a ski resort. The same rules apply as in the rest of Utah but they seem a bit more lax in enforcing them, when someone asked for a pitcher of beer he was told that he would have to 'order some food as it is the law in Utah' and 'we do have cheesy fries on the menu for $2 though'. The barman, I'm sorry waiter also suggested I ride the 46 into Colorado rather than the I70, it seemed like a good suggestion although I was worried in Le Sal that I did not have enough gas to make the next sizeable town in Colorado. I was also pretty sure I saw a mountain lion cross the road ahead of me, it moved like a cat and was the right sandy color at least!

On Utah 46 heading into Colorado, Le Sal, Utah

On Utah 46 heading into Colorado, Le Sal, Utah

First time in Colorado, Colorado

First time in Colorado, Colorado

The best part of the ride was the drop down into Paradox Valley (so named for the river, which runs across the valley rather than down it)! It was quite a bumpy, gravel strewn ride down a steep twisting road, especially with a massive 4x4 tail gaiting me most of the way down.

Challenging ride on the pass into Paradox Valley, Colorado

Challenging ride on the pass into Paradox Valley, Colorado

I camped for the night at a rustic RV Park in the middle of Naturita, Colorado. While having a $3.50 bottle of beer at the 141 Saloon, the barman loudly told his staff to 'encourage the tourists to drink the expensive $3.50 beer and not the cheep $2.75 beer'. When I queried this statement, I was told 'tourists always get ripped off wherever they go, they can afford it' so after that I asked his staff for 'another tourist beer'. A few 'tourist beers' and a burger later I was talking to the staff about wanting to see a rodeo while in the USA, they said 'oh one is happening today just twenty miles further up the road'. I was in no state to ride though!

As close as I'll get to a rodeo? Burnt wood art on the bar counter at the 141 Saloon, Naturita, Colorado

As close as I'll get to a rodeo? Burnt wood art on the bar counter at the 141 Saloon, Naturita, Colorado

Having wound my way a little off track I had to find a way back onto US50, I decided to take US175 over Lizard Head Pass and US550, the ledgendary Million Dollar Highway.

Chasing the San Miguel river along the 145, Colorado

Chasing the San Miguel river along the 145, Colorado

At the top of the 10222 feet (3116 m) Lizard Head Pass I had an ego boost from a cyclist who after reading my bumper stickers was amazed to see that I had ridden to the Artic Circle 'on that thing!'. To be honest I was more impressed with his feat of riding up the bumpy pass while praying he wouldn't get squashed by one of the cars or RVs. It should be law that whenever a road is resurfaced a bicycle lane is added to either side! Someone needs to give those cyclists a chance!

I also met a KLR650 rider at the top, he had retired, sold his house in Oregon and 'had all of these dreams of riding down some dirt road somewhere on a KLR650' but after four months of riding was 'bored and didn't know where to go next'! I had to restrain myself from slapping some sense into the guy! However he was a nice bloke and we spent the rest of the day occasionally meeting up as we were riding the same route.

Cresting Lizard Head Pass, Colorado

Cresting Lizard Head Pass, Colorado

Cresting Lizard Head Pass, Colorado

Cresting Lizard Head Pass, Colorado

Most of the towns along the 175 are small mining boom towns that have turned their attention to skiing and tourism which are now the biggest industries in the area.

The minehead at Rico, Colorado

The minehead at Rico, Colorado

The Million Dollar Highway's name is said to have originated from the ore on which the road was built, others claim it is based on someone who said 'I will not travel that road again, not even for a million dollars'. It is definitely a thrilling ride, with big dropoffs right from the roads' edge.

High in the mountains on the way to Silverton on US550, Colorado

High in the mountains on the way to Silverton on US550, Colorado

My favourite small town along the road is Silverton, although it is a tourist town packed with gift shops (one was even called 'The Tourist Trap') it has somehow managed to retain its' edgy feeling from its' boom town days. Somehow it feels similar to Dawson City in the Yukon, Durango and Ouray on the other hand (also mining boom towns) feel too classy, too polished and too plastic.

Main street Silverton, Colorado

Main street Silverton, Colorado

Main street Silverton, Colorado

Main street Silverton, Colorado

I bought one of my few souvernirs of the trip in Silverton, a little girl was selling rocks by the side of the railtracks. I was impressed by her entrepreneurship and picking up a small green stone clearly labled $1 asked her how much it was, she shyly said 'I dont know' so I gave her $1 for it! I'm not sure whether that's a bargain or not, but maybe it will start her on her way to great wealth!

I met up with the KLR650 rider from the Lizard Head Pass, and we enjoyed watching the Durango-Silverton narrow guage rail pull out of Silverton.

KLR650 riders have to be taller! Standing in front of the Durango-Silverton narrow guage railway. Silverton, Colorado

KLR650 riders have to be taller! Standing in front of the Durango-Silverton narrow guage railway. Silverton, Colorado

North of Silverton you pass through the Red Mountain mining area, the colors on the mountains are fantastic, layered in swirling patterns. It almost looks like they are man made mine dumps. It seems odd that such pretty mountains are named Red Mountain One, Red Mountain Two and Red Mountain Three rather than being named after somebody.

View of Red Mountain from the Million Dollar Highway, US550, Colorado

View of Red Mountain from the Million Dollar Highway, US550, Colorado

Amazing colors, Red Mountain, Colorado

Amazing colors, Red Mountain, Colorado

Contrasting mountain colors, Colorado

Contrasting mountain colors, Colorado

After the Red Mountains the road really clings to the side of the mountains, there are few places to stop to take a photograph and I wished I had a helmet camera so I could video the ride.

The Million Dollar Highway, US550, Colorado

The Million Dollar Highway, US550, Colorado

As I mentioned above, Ouray is more polished and classy than Silverton and after being told that a basic campsite was $22 in a crowded RV Park I decided to ride on.

Looking down on Ouray, Colorado

Looking down on Ouray, Colorado

I like this brewery's attitude towards open hours, Ouray, Colorado

I like this brewery's attitude towards open hours, Ouray, Colorado

Real men tour on old British twins, Ouray, Colorado

Real men tour on old British twins, Ouray, Colorado

I ended up camping at Cinamarron, a historic narrow guage railway station where they used to load cattle for the mine camps. I met a group of Vietnam veterens heading for the Sturgis Bike Festival and spent a lot of time talking with them, one guy was a special forces soldier who went for five tours of duty (1966-1971) as he 'was one mean mother in those days' until the Viet Cong put a price on his head and he was shot. He told me about a reunion where he met an old war buddy that he had believed was dead, he had put the guy in a body bag as 'his guts were hanging out and he had no legs' but his buddy had survived but could not find him.

Another one of the guys had built a dog carrier for the back of his bike, apparently he gets harrassed by 'dog lovers' until he points out his dog is quite happy riding in it, that his dog even has air conditioning (sits on an ice pack) in hot weather and that his dog can look out with his own windshields!

Home made dog box, veterns heading to Sturgis, Cinamarron, Colorado

Home made dog box, veterns heading to Sturgis, Cinamarron, Colorado

Abandoned narrow guage train, Cinamarron, Colorado

Abandoned narrow guage train, Cinamarron, Colorado

It rained during the night and it looked like it was going to be a wet day, but the patchy cloud and early morning sun made it look like Colorado was an oil painting.

The Dillon Pinacles, across Morrow Point Reservoir, Colorado

The Dillon Pinacles, across Morrow Point Reservoir, Colorado

It looks like a painting! Morrow Point Reservoir, Colorado

It looks like a painting! Morrow Point Reservoir, Colorado

The ride up and down the 11,312 feet (3,448 m) Monarch Pass was really great especially since I managed to avoid getting caught behind slower traffic and was able to really hit the corners hard (well as hard as a heavily loaded V-Strom will allow). At the top I got talking to a couple, I got the feeling that their friendliness came with conditions. It didn't take long before they told me they rode with a Christian bike group and would I mind if they blessed me and my bike. I figured that having got this far without a blessing it was best not to tempt fate so declined!

Monarch Pass, the continental divide, it's all downhill from here, Colorado

Monarch Pass, the continental divide, it's all downhill from here, Colorado

After Monarch pass, the road went through Royal Gorge which was nice but as usual there was no where to stop to take a photograph of the white water rafters jostling for position on the river. It was like rush hour on the river, very funny! After rather odd Canon City, that was dominated by huge prisons outside of the town, the road suddenly flattened out onto the prairies.

The sky was darkening rapidly, the wind was picking up and occasionally a lightning bolt would rip across the sky. Figuring that sitting on a bike in the middle of the flat prairie might make me a bit of a target for a stray bolt of lightning I decided that a stop was in order, apparently motorcyclists have been killed in the past while riding. I saw Bent's Fort on the map and decided to stop to take a look, it turned out to be a really interesting stop. Bent's Fort is a reconstruction of a fort built in 1833 to trade with the Native Americans.

Bent's Fort beneath a stormy sky, Colorado

Bent's Fort beneath a stormy sky, Colorado

Looking across Bent's Fort from the ramparts, Colorado

Looking across Bent's Fort from the ramparts, Colorado

High winds and lightning, hope I don't end up like this poor fella, Colorado

High winds and lightning, hope I don't end up like this poor fella, Colorado

I stopped early in a motel in Syracuse, Colorado for the night and it was a good thing I was indoors and in a tent as a massive storm rolled in and it rained and howled all night. The next day I headed out on US50 for Garden City, on the way I stopped in Holly, Colorado. You could see the city was trying to develop its' historic center, but all of the shops were empty! Riding through many small towns in this part of America I got the feeling that the whole story of the recent economic recession is not being told. The small towns in central America have been hit really hard but it seems like the news tends to focus on the impact on Wall Street traders! I think it will be a long time before blue-colar, small town America recovers!

Dead center of town, Holly, Colorado

Dead center of town, Holly, Colorado

After a short ride from Holly I entered Kansas, I expected to recapture the feeling I had riding across the prairies in Texas but found it impossible. For a long time I could not work out why I did not feel the same sense of complete freedom, the scenery was equally expansive so that wasn't it, there may have been a little more (farms, sheds) to look at so that wasn't it. After a while I realised it was the traffic that made the difference, in Texas I didn't see another vehicle for hours while in Kansas I had to focus on the heavy traffic so couldn't just let my mind wander and dream! I guess some riders would point out that day dreaming on a bike is not a good idea anyway.

Entering Kansas

Entering Kansas

It took a while to find my way through Strip Mall Hell to the historic center of Garden City, Kansas. When I got there it was deserted, I asked a girl at the coffee shop where everyone was and she said 'at the malls'. Malls and superstores rip the heart (city center) and soul out of cities. Garden City was quite interesting as it was built by two rich rivals, each of whom had a different idea of where main street was! Each rival built their fine buildings with plain sides facing the 'main' street of their rival!

Downtown, boy it's quiet, Garden City, Kansas

Downtown, boy it's quiet, Garden City, Kansas

The Windsor Hotel awaiting restoration, Garden City, Kansas

The Windsor Hotel awaiting restoration, Garden City, Kansas

While in town I took a walking tour of the zoo, Garden City's main attraction. I expected a small zoo with a few common animals, what a surprise they had animals from all over the world with a particularly big display of Asian animals.

A great zoo and town museum, Garden City, Kansas

A great zoo and town museum, Garden City, Kansas

A Red Panda, as tired as I am, Garden City Zoo, Kansas

A Red Panda, as tired as I am, Garden City Zoo, Kansas

Great information boards, if only the noisy kids took the time to read them, Garden City Zoo, Kansas

Great information boards, if only the noisy kids took the time to read them, Garden City Zoo, Kansas

And the Pere David's deer itself, saved from extinction, Garden City Zoo, Kansas

And the Pere David's deer itself, saved from extinction, Garden City Zoo, Kansas

I headed north out of Garden City up the Road to Nowhere, US83. The traffic thinned out and I was able to relax and recapture some of that feeling of freedom from Texas.

Route 83, long and straight, Kansas

Route 83, long and straight, Kansas

Along the way I spotted Buffalo Bill's cabin and a massive statue of him hunting a bison. Unfortunately the cabin was closed but I was able to stroll around the huge statue, it commerates the bison hunting competition Buffalo Bill won which earned him his nickname.

Huge Buffalo Bill statue, Oakley, Kansas

Huge Buffalo Bill statue, Oakley, Kansas

I also stopped in Colby to take a look at the Prairie Museum of Art and History, I expected another small town museum but was confronted with over 40 000 artifacts, most of which are from the Kuska Collection. They collected everything from art to toys! It also had a number of restored historic buildings, a homestead, a church, a school house and the highlight for me, the Cooper Barn. The barn is the one of the 8 wonders of Kansas and is the largest barn in Kansas.

The barn at Prairie Museum of Art and History, Colby, Kansas

The barn at Prairie Museum of Art and History, Colby, Kansas

A few hours later, I stumbled out of the museum and headed for the town center for something to eat. All I could find was a rather nasty Burrito but I had a laugh at the bill board advertising 'upcomming' events in the city. I guess not a lot happens in sleepy Colby!

I did say Kansas was quiet, look at the local events, Colby, Kansas

I did say Kansas was quiet, look at the local events, Colby, Kansas

I stopped for the night in McCook which is just over the Nabraska border in a free city campground. I met another Vietnam veteren and spent the night drinking a few Guiness and talking to him while he smoked a few joints. I'm not sure whether it was the dope but he seemed keen to provoke an argument, first he said 'you disapprove of me smoking joints' to which I replied 'no, do what you like' and then he said 'you don't like girls, you're gay right?'. He seemed quite insistent on the second point which got me wondering if others really do think I'm gay!

Entering Nabraska

Entering Nabraska

The next morning I was invited for coffee by an old guy with a Hercule Poirot moustache, it turned out he was a retired US Special Forces General! When he heard that I had visited his home state, Arizona and had camped in 110F heat he said 'next time you visit Arizona, look us up and come stay with me' and he gave me his card. Somehow I cannot immagine a UK Army General doing the same for a visiting American!

Continuing the Buffalo Bill theme, I stopped at his family home Scout's Rest, the main house looks a bit like a giant wedding cake!

Buffalo Bill's home Scout's Rest Ranch, Nabraska

Buffalo Bill's home Scout's Rest Ranch, Nabraska

After the town of North Patte the US 83 travels through the Sand Hills of Nebraska, the whole area looks like one giant golf course. There are small sculpted hills covered in short grass that look man made and a few scattered bunkers of sand. Perhaps it is God's Golf Course! The only wildlife I saw were the thousands and thousands of cattle!

The Sand Hills of Nebraska, looks like a huge golf course of artificial hills and sand bunkers, Nabraska

The Sand Hills of Nebraska, looks like a huge golf course of artificial hills and sand bunkers, Nabraska

Miles upon miles of Sand Hills, Nebraska

Miles upon miles of Sand Hills, Nebraska

Eventually after a long, hot ride through the hills I arrived in small town of Vallentine. The main attraction in the area seems to be Young's Western Wearhouse, I took a look around but could not work out which was the mens section and which was the womens section. The boots appeared to be equally garish with equally high heals, the only difference I could see was the tallness of the boot, pehaps womens boots are taller? I considered dropping my useless Sidi Black Rain boots for a pair of cowboy boots but didn't think they would be very waterproof.

Maybe I should replace my stinky boots with some cool cowboy boots? The biggest western store, Young's Western Wearhouse (sic), Valentine, Nebraska

Maybe I should replace my stinky boots with some cool cowboy boots? The biggest western store, Young's Western Wearhouse (sic), Valentine, Nebraska

How do you tell the difference between men's boots and women's boots? Young's Western Wearhouse (sic), Valentine, Nebraska

How do you tell the difference between mens' boots and womens' boots? Young's Western Wearhouse (sic), Valentine, Nebraska

Ah isn't that sweet, a lover's garden? Valentine, Nebraska

Ah isn't that sweet, a lover's garden? Valentine, Nebraska

In Valentine I discovered that I had ridden too far west, if I wanted to see The Black Hills and Sturgis I would have to ride US 18 across South Dakota. It was a very long and loney ride. At times it felt like I was standing still and the scenery was slowly drifting passed, a bit like someone was was wafting air under the sheet of grass.

Route 18 across South Dakota

Route 18 across South Dakota, a hot and sweaty ride

I stopped for the night in Hot Springs, South Dakota and went for a beer in 'The Bar' in town. When I loudly aired my displeasure of the Ultimate Fighting (huge in America) on the TV the barmaid said she liked it as they were 'really fit young men in shorts', I countered by pointing out that they must be gay as they seemed to spend an awful lot of time rolling around the floor in Karma Sutra like clinches. I also suggested that in a few years they would all 'come out' in a 'shocking revelation' as George Michael had done in the eighties much to everyones 'surprise'! My argument did not go down well and the fighting stayed on the TV! Perhaps I should have adopted the 'ultimate fighting is uncivilised and just like Roman Gladiators' argument! I ended up talking with a retired Vietnam Veteren (there are a lot in Hot Springs as the city has a drug rehab program for veterens) who told me he had relocated from Salt Lake City, Utah as he was scared of all of the drive by shootings!

The next morning I headed for Mount Rushmore, taking the scenic route through Wind Cave National Park where I got a little too close for comfort to a heard of Bison and some Prong Horn Sheep.

A herd of bison bison, so good they named it twice, Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota

A herd of bison bison, so good they named it twice, Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota

Prong horn cross the road, Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota

Prong horn cross the road, Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota

Looking out across the famous Black Hills, a good ride after a weeks of flat, South Dakota

Looking out across the famous Black Hills, a good ride after a weeks of flat, South Dakota

I also spotted a really twisty road on the map called Mountain Road, it turned out to be a great ride. There were three full 360 degree turns (the road goes under itself) and a couple of one lane tunnels and bridges. It also provided a great first viewpoint of Mount Rushmore!

Hey I can see Mount Rushmore, Peter Norbeck lookout, Mountain Road, South Dakota

Hey I can see Mount Rushmore, Peter Norbeck lookout, Mountain Road, South Dakota

Great corners, Peter Norbeck lookout, Mountain Road, South Dakota

Great corners, Peter Norbeck lookout, Mountain Road, South Dakota

A number of people had told me that 'Mount Rushmore is smaller than we thought' but I was very impressed. I did feel that the viewing platform and amphitheatre were too large and a bit over the top and that they were a distraction from the main event, the sculpture on the mountain. I really liked the 'Presidents Trail' which goes below the sculpture and also pays a visit to the artists workshop. The trail is marked as strenuous as it has a number of steps but I found it easy going!

Excuse me, excuse me, elbowing my way to the front, Mount Rushmore, South Dakota

Excuse me, excuse me, elbowing my way to the front, Mount Rushmore, South Dakota

A flag for each state, Mount Rushmore, South Dakota

A flag for each state, Mount Rushmore, South Dakota

I have seen this shot before, Mount Rushmore, South Dakota

I have seen this shot before, Mount Rushmore, South Dakota

Abe looks down on me disapprovingly, 'you little ant', Mount Rushmore, South Dakota

Abe looks down on me disapprovingly, 'you little ant, get a job', Mount Rushmore, South Dakota

George is distracted, Mount Rushmore, South Dakota

George is distracted, Mount Rushmore, South Dakota

The huge viewing deck dwarfs the monument, Mount Rushmore, South Dakota

The huge viewing deck dwarfs the monument, Mount Rushmore, South Dakota

Asking others to take your photograph gives mixed results, Mount Rushmore, South Dakota

Asking others to take your photograph gives mixed results, Mount Rushmore, South Dakota

After Mount Rushmore I rode to Crazy Horse Monument, the worlds largest mountain carving. The sculpture is huge, and very far from the viewing deck but there is a lot of work left before it is finished. It will be amazing once it's done though!

Crazy Horse statue will be amazing when (of if) it's finished, Crazy Horse, South Dakota

Crazy Horse statue will be amazing when (of if) it's finished, Crazy Horse, South Dakota

A better result this time, Crazy Horse, South Dakota

A better result this time, Crazy Horse, South Dakota

What it will look like, Crazy Horse, South Dakota

What it will look like, Crazy Horse, South Dakota

Why Crazy Horse was chosen as the subject, Crazy Horse, South Dakota

Why Crazy Horse was chosen as the subject, Crazy Horse, South Dakota

The sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski and his wife had amassed a huge collection of historic artifacts, art and sporting memorabilia so it took a few hours just to wander around his studios. I especially liked the dedication for his friend Peter Charles Lien: 'Stalwart to his friends, Mean to his enemies, Gracious in his courteousness, Lousy in his idiosyncrasies and Loyal forever to his ethics and love of country'. I hope to be remembered in a similar way!

I hope to be remembered with a similar measure of wit, Crazy Horse, South Dakota

I hope to be remembered with a similar measure of wit, Crazy Horse, South Dakota

Perhaps the highlight at the Crazy Horse Monument was the huge wooden visitor's hall which contains thousands and thousands of Native American artifacts from all over the continent, I haven't seen anywhere else where you can see such a diversity of Native American artifacts. I also enjoyed the Death Song statue.

Huge hall contains thousands of native artifacts, Crazy Horse, South Dakota

Huge hall contains thousands of native artifacts, Crazy Horse, South Dakota

Wish our politicians could display similar grit, Death Song, Crazy Horse, South Dakota

Wish our politicians could display similar grit, Death Song, Crazy Horse, South Dakota

Wish our politicians could display similar grit, Death Song, Crazy Horse, South Dakota

Wish our politicians could display similar grit, Death Song, Crazy Horse, South Dakota

After a couple of hours looking around the Crazy Horse argument I headed for Sturgis, I had considered slowing my ride so that I would arrive at the same time as the Sturgis Bike Rally where an estimated 600000 people descend onto a tiny little town. Even though I arrived two weeks before the rally it seemed to be in full swing! All of the stalls were open and the huge saloon bars (converted barns) were just opening. A look around confirmed my suspicions, this rally is not for me, at least not yet. I don't think I'm quite ready for the chaps, tassels and bandana look!

Downtown Sturgis, motorcycles are the one and only business, Sturgis, South Dakota

Downtown Sturgis, motorcycles are the one and only business, Sturgis, South Dakota

It's two weeks to the rally and tacky T-shirts and 'leathers' are on sale, Sturgis, South Dakota

It's two weeks to the rally and tacky T-shirts and 'leathers' are on sale, Sturgis, South Dakota

One stop worth a visit in Sturgis is the Motorcycle Museum, they have a great collection of rare historic bikes. The rare Flying Merkel was my favourite but perhaps the highlight of the museum was the Million Mile Harley. Its' owner state Senator Dave Zien seems like a real character, the bike is covered with homespun poetry, the bars are loose so he can stand up (on an Electraglide) and after dropping some coffee grounds on his exhaust and deciding that it smelt nice he experimented with other smells (apparently banana skin is good).

The Million Mile Harley with homespun 'poetry', Sturgis, South Dakota

The Million Mile Harley with homespun 'poetry', Sturgis, South Dakota

The Million Mile Harley with loose bars so the rider can stand, Sturgis, South Dakota

The Million Mile Harley with loose bars so the rider can stand, Sturgis, South Dakota

Wow a Flying Merkel, they're rare, Sturgis, South Dakota

Wow a Flying Merkel, they're rare, Sturgis, South Dakota

Now we're talking a V-8 motorcycle, Sturgis, South Dakota

Now we're talking a V-8 motorcycle, Sturgis, South Dakota

I wasn't that sad to be leaving Sturgis, maybe one day I'll be back for the Rally but I doubt it. I took Route 79 north out of Sturgis and it proved to be a great choice! The fields were full of wild flowers and there was hardly any traffic, although while staring at the fields I almost had a head on collision with a massive truck that just appeared out of nowhere on a blind rise. That was a bit of a wake up call. Every now and then I'd feel something hit my boots or legs, at first I thought it was just gravel but gradually my boots turned a yucky yellow colour. When the air filter was cleaned later it was full of bees so I must have been riding through a swarm!

Green and yellow combine in a great ride, Route 79, South Dakota

Green and yellow combine in a great ride, Route 79, South Dakota

Green and yellow combine in a great ride, Route 79, South Dakota

Green and yellow combine in a great ride, Route 79, South Dakota

Green and yellow combine in a great ride, Route 79, South Dakota

Green and yellow combine in a great ride, Route 79, South Dakota

Occasionally an old abandoned homestead or a photogenic church would appear over the horizon which helped to break into my dreamy state.

Small isolated churches dot the landscape, Route 79, South Dakota

Small isolated churches dot the landscape, Route 79, South Dakota

Small isolated churches dot the landscape, Route 79, South Dakota

Small isolated churches dot the landscape, Route 79, South Dakota

I stopped in a small resturant in Reader for a fried chicken and mash potato dinner. I guess not many tourists head this way as the locals kept staring at me which made eating quite difficult. I rode onto the next town New England, North Dakota and after asking the manager at the local gas station, pitched my tent in the city park across the river from the Women's Correctional Institute. I went for a few beers in the only bar in town, most of the patrons referred to the barmaid as Granma so I guess that will give you some idea of the size of the town. I spent a sleepless night in my tent imagining getting pounced on by escaped convicts!

Entering North Dakota, Route 79, North Dakota

Entering North Dakota, Route 79, North Dakota

The next morning I decided to head west again so joined Route 200, which again proved to be a good choice as it was a very quiet road travelling through some tiny farming towns. I stopped at Knife River Indian Village National Historical Site and took a look at the winter lodges that the native people used to winter in. The lodge is a reconstruction based on an archaeological dig nearby.

A winter lodge, Knife River Indian Villages National Historical Site, North Dakota

A winter lodge, Knife River Indian Villages National Historical Site, North Dakota

All along the 200 you can see old abandoned homesteads and historic churches. I'm sure someone has put together a photographic book of these buildings, if not it would be a great project for a good photographer!

Abandoned homesteads and small, pretty, white churches dot the landscape, Route 200, North Dakota

Abandoned homesteads and small, pretty, white churches dot the landscape, Route 200, North Dakota

Abandoned homesteads and small, pretty, white churches dot the landscape, Route 200, North Dakota

Abandoned homesteads and small, pretty, white churches dot the landscape, Route 200, North Dakota

Abandoned homesteads and small, pretty, white churches dot the landscape, Route 200, North Dakota

Abandoned homesteads and small, pretty, white churches dot the landscape, Route 200, North Dakota

Abandoned homesteads and small, pretty, white churches dot the landscape, Route 200, North Dakota

Abandoned homesteads and small, pretty, white churches dot the landscape, Route 200, North Dakota

I planned to stay the night in the municipal park in Cooperstown but when I got there it was already occupied! The whole town was having a twenty four hour walking marathon around the park to raise money for the fight against Cancer. I thought it might be fun to join in and watch the marathon but I changed my mind after watching the opening ceremony. I recently lost my father to pancreatic cancer and it was just too hard and emotional for me to stay. I even felt anger at the survivors as they were introduced to the town and when they paraded around the town, how random is it when they survive but my father did not! I left quickly and spent the next few hours crying into my helmet riding with the throttle wide open, it's a good thing there were no cops around to stop me!

Marathon for Life about to kick off, Cooperstow, North Dakota

Marathon for Life about to kick off, Cooperstown, North Dakota

A lantern for each loss, Cooperstow, North Dakota

A lantern for each loss, Cooperstown, North Dakota

I ended up staying the night in the very well equiped and maintained municipal park in Mayville, North Dakota and went for a few too many beers at the local Pizza Shop just down the road. The barman asks each new customer for a cocktail recipe so I shared a few I had been the victim of over the years! I mentioned that I wanted to see a rodeo and the barman said 'well we have an antique tractor pull tomorrow just over the road.

Before the tractor pull the kids got their own chance to compete, pedaling small tractors dragging loads up to 75lb for the ten year olds. The boys seemed very reluctant to compete, but the girls seemed to love it and really got into the whole thing. One family seemed to dominate most of the age groups, their father stood at the finish and bellowed things like 'dig deep son, dig deep'!

Kids tractor pull, this is serious business, Mayville, North Dakota

Kids tractor pull, this is serious business, Mayville, North Dakota

Lining up with their prize certificates, Mayville, North Dakota

Lining up with their prize certificates, Mayville, North Dakota

After the kids it was time for the main event. They take it very seriously, these tractors are playthings and they are not used for any actual work, a few of them are even modified and some owners try to hide the modifications behind steel shields bolted to the side of the tractor. To qualify as antique the tractor had to be at least fifty years old and as they run in classes some owners had three or four tractors competing.

A mean looking antique tractor, Mayville, North Dakota

A mean looking antique tractor, Mayville, North Dakota

The tractors attempt to drag a specially modified truck, that is able to put increasing weight on a steel drag plate, as far as they can. The one that drags it furthest wins, simple really, but I learnt from one of the competitors that there are other complications like speed rules and rules governing how high the tractor can rear off the ground before being red flagged. I really loved the North Dakotains acents, they talk very slowly with an acent that sounds like a mixture between Norwegian (a lot are decendents from Norway and Sweden) and the usual American twang!

Dragging a specially adapted truck, Mayville, North Dakota

Dragging a specially adapted truck, Mayville, North Dakota

The crowd enjoys the spectacle, Mayville, North Dakota

The crowd enjoys the spectacle, Mayville, North Dakota

After the open fields of North Dakota, the initial few miles of Minnesota promised the same but it was back into another boring tree lined chanel like those in Alberta and the Yukon. Minnesota may be the state of a thousand lakes but you can't see any of them from the road!

Entering Minnesota, Route 200, Minnesota

Entering Minnesota, Route 200, Minnesota

Before joining route 2, I took a small detour along the coast of Lake Superior along route 13, along the way I stopped in the small, posh town of Bayfield that was holding a small Festival of the Arts. Most of it was the usual tat but I particularly liked the printing of digital photographs onto canvas and some stylized bird statues that were made out of a rock and forged steel.

Clever birds, Bayfield Art Festival, Michigan

Clever birds, Bayfield Art Festival, Michigan

I headed down route 2, it wasn't long before the rain came down so I had an excuse to stop early and book into a hotel in Iron River. The next day I continued along route 2 to the Mackinac Bridge and stopped to check out Colonial Michilimackinac, it's a reconstruction of the colonial fort in the area. It was originally a French settlement, but they were defeated by the English. I really enjoyed wandering around the exhibits and buildings.

Mackinac Bridge, Michigan

Mackinac Bridge, Michigan

Old Colonial Mackinaw Fort, Mackinaw, Michigan

Old Colonial Michilimackinac Fort, Mackinaw, Michigan

Old Colonial Mackinaw Fort, Mackinaw, Michigan

Old Colonial Michilimackinac Fort, Mackinaw, Michigan

Old Colonial Mackinaw Fort, Mackinaw, Michigan

Old Colonial Michilimackinac Fort, Mackinaw, Michigan

I spent the night in East Tawas and then headed to Toronto, Canada to get yet another service and rear tire for the bike.

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