I should have gotten that Diet Coke. As I sit here typing today’s report, I’m longing for that Diet Coke. I’m dreaming of its sweet not-sugary goodness and blessed carbonation sizzling down my throat. But no. I walked away without getting it.
Let me backtrack to this morning.
We woke up in the sketchy motel, and I was happy to discover I seemed to be free of the little red bites that indicate bedbugs. (Don’t ask me how I know what bedbug bites look like. I live in a big city. ‘Nuff said.)
Got packed up at a fairly leisurely pace as we didn’t have too many miles to make today – only 220 miles to Mount Rushmore and our campground as we’d cut the distance in half by leaving early yesterday afternoon. I’d spotted a diner just across the street from the motel where we stayed, and asked Kay if he’d prefer to take time out to have a diner breakfast or just grab some food at a gas stop. He professed to be quite hungry, so diner breakfast was elected.
Parking lot was full. That’s typically a good sign. Unfortunately, the food didn’t live up to the hype. Eggs so undercooked that I didn’t dare eat them for fear of making myself ill, and a steak so full of grizzle and fat that I couldn’t carve off more than an ounce or two. I ate every bite of the limp, lame, under-seasoned home fries just because I was hungry and it was the only thing left on my plate. Even the sausage that we took out to the dogs gave Bandido the runs later. Not the breakfast of champions.
*Kay’s note:* My French Toast was chewy around the edges, the Bacon was overcooked, but tasty in bits, and the waitress had suggested that the French Toast was one of the more popular items on the menu. I fear the rest. My egg, however, was sufficiently cooked.
I asked Kay to check tire pressures while I ran to the bathroom at the gas station next door, and he discovered that the front tire was low on the F650. We’ve got an electric Cycle Pump at the bottom of one of the panniers, and a hand pump (the one that came with it) in the trunk of the Ural. Kay had opted for the hand pump, which I discovered when I returned to the bikes to find everything dismantled. While he had it all out, I grabbed the socket set and checked the final drive fluid on the Ural, as it hadn’t been puking out final drive fluid in the past couple of days (since ascending the mountains in Colorado.) It was close to the low line so I topped it up. We lubed the chain on the F650 while we were at it. What started out as a brief gas stop before hitting the road turned into a 20-30 minute stop while we did some basic stuff to the bikes and added water to our Camelbaks. We also used the Gaffer’s Tape to compensate for a piece of rubber that had fallen off of our door somewhere, and the remaining metal l-bracket had been doing its best to remove all the paint from the edge of the Ural.
We finally hit the road at 9:30, which still wasn’t a bad time as we had a short riding day today. I was struck again by how pretty this part of Wyoming is. Kay had told me Wyoming is flat and boring, but I don’t know where he was, because this is just beautiful. An amazingly varied landscape that had us climbing and descending roughly 2,000 feet throughout the day.
At one point, I noticed we were turning off onto a scenic “Oregon Trail Byway.” I got a big kick out of that. One of the first computer games I’d played as a kid was in junior high when they had Oregon Trail on old Apple IIE computers. It was almost all text based and kinda boring. I’ve played various iterations of the game since then, mostly out of nostalgia. I even have an Oregon Trail game on my iPhone.
Driving through the actual landscape, I was struck by the amazing spirit that the brave souls who undertook this crossing must have possessed. To cross this vast landscape with nothing but a couple of oxen and a wagon cart, even as part of a caravan, must have prevented grave hardship. Even knowing the basics of how the Trail worked, I was still struck by the difficulty of carrying sufficient food and water, and all the supplies you’d need for 4 to 6 months of basically crawling across this country. We carry a fair amount on our motorcycles, but we’re never far from food or fuel or water, so we don’t carry nearly the supplies that the settlers would need. And of course, we can cover far more ground on our bikes – even the Ural – than those explorers and settlers would have been able to cover. We cross in a day what probably would have taken a week (or several) for them to cross – assuming nothing went wrong. It’s truly humbling to contemplate it, when we have everything so easy today.
So when we saw a sign for Oregon Trail Wagon Ruts, I was intrigued. I was struck with a fancy to see something that these settlers had left behind, and to better imagine the journey they must have undertook. When we rolled into town and I saw an arrow pointing right, I asked Kay to turn at the last minute. He obliged. We went a mile or two down…
And saw some bucks grazing in a National Guard Armory parking lot and front yard along the way…
And then made it to the wagon ruts.
Frankly, there wasn’t a ton to see. It was a nice little site with a pathway that wound up to the wagon ruts carved into the sandstone above the parking lot, with some informational placards along the way the talked about the journey when undertaking the Trail, the role of the military in guarding and protecting the settlers, and things you generally don’t think about. The placards were interesting and gave me more food for thought, and the ruts themselves were impressive, but smaller (narrower) than I had expected. Without context, they were kinda meaningless. But I’m still glad we stopped. It’s a piece of American History from an era that has lingered at the back of my imagination for decades, and it’s nice to be able to sort of watch living history come to life. It’s a lot more meaningful than staring at words in a textbook, or even playing a simulated computer game that encompasses the experience.
*Kay’s note:* The pictures aren’t inspiring, but their meaning is. Sandstone isn’t particularly hard, but it would take a lot of effort to dig ruts four feet deep through it simply by pulling a wagon over it. How many wagons were there? What kind of inner strength, hope, and faith, must it have taken to set out on a journey like that?
Back on the road and more beautiful Wyoming landscape. I was enjoying the state highway, even if the speed was 55-65 MPH most of the time – it still feels a lot more intimate than an interstate. By the time our next gas stop rolled around, though, Kay was getting tired and having trouble staying awake. He asked for a break so we could drink something caffeinated. While we were gassing up, I saw a van full of young kids (who were just thrilled to see our dogs in a sidecar) eating some ice cream, so I decided that sounded good. It was already around 92 degrees and something cold would hit the spot. So we had ice cream and caffeinated beverages whilst sitting in the shade, to refresh us for the next leg.
More riding. More beautiful landscape. Toward the end of this leg, we found ourselves fighting a gusty headwind. Stravinsky had been running pretty well today, without the niggling inconsistencies we’ve been seeing – regularly holding 60-65 MPH, and even holding 60MPH up a grade that would otherwise have knocked hi back to 48-50MPH on a “bad performance” stretch. When we hit the headwind, we found ourselves maxing out at around 55MPH, but it was a relief to have a reason for it this time. We didn’t really mind.
*Kay’s Note:* it should be noted that the gas cap was screwed on tight, and there was a tank bag on it. I think the gas-cap-venting theory is pretty well shot at this point.
I consulted the GPS as we were nearing the next town on the map – gas here, but none for the next 23 miles. We probably could have made it, but with the uncertain gas mileage and with fighting a headwind, Kay didn’t want to risk it, so we stopped for gas again. And grabbed some gas station sandwiches and sodas for lunch. Along with a road atlas, because we’re kinda sick of relying on the GPS and not really knowing where we’re going. We used a combination of map and GPS to navigate on the Americas trip, and that worked really well for us, so we thought it was time to go back to that for this trip.
Back on the road again after this gas stop, and we were getting close to Mount Rushmore – our destination for the day! It was looking like we’d probably hit there around 3-ish, so I decided we should see it today instead of in the morning so we could get an early start heading over toward the Badlands. It’s supposed to be over 100 degrees tomorrow in the Badlands, which means we wanted to get started early and get the bulk of our sightseeing done before it got too hot.
Made it to Mount Rushmore, where Ben tried climbing out of the sidecar into Kay’s lap when we got to the parking gate. He’d never done that before. The leashes are tied into the sidecar in such a manner as to try to keep the dogs from climbing out the outside of the sidecar – there’s more slack inside so they could probably actually climb out inside and get themselves wedged between the chair and the bike, which would be very bad with hot pipes and a hot engine. Kay shoved Ben back into the sidecar, but I could tell he was stressed and it made me stressed to think he might try to climb out again, or might somehow wiggle out of his harness and run off and get lost so far from home.
We found pretty much an ideal parking spot in the corner of the structure where we could park with the dogs to the wall, and the F650 between the dogs and the wall, thus discouraging people from coming around to see the dogs. We took off our hot jackets and grabbed our Camelbaks and cameras and headed toward the monument. As we were walking off, ‘dido started to jump out the side of the sidecar and got himself wedged halfway over the door. There wasn’t enough leash for him to get all the way out, but it was enough that I was worried he could hurt himself or somehow wiggle out of his harness and go running around. Kay ran back and scolded him and shoved him back inside the sidecar again, and we walked halfway across the parking structure, out of site, and waited a few minutes. Kay went back to check on the dogs. Bandido looked over at him, but they had calmed down and both seemed content to sit in the sidecar, waiting for us. But I’d never seen both of them so determined to get out before, so I was stressed about something happening to them while we were gone.
Off to the stairs, where I discovered that my sore left calf was agony when trying to climb up stairs. Ow. Ow. Ow. Made me far less inclined to want to do any walking around, unsurprisingly. By the time we got to the top of the stairs and into the monument proper, the sun was blinding me – I had to squint just to see anything – my leg was in agony and I was completely stressed about something happening to the dogs while we were off playing tourist.
I took one look at the presidential heads and was… underwhelmed.
All of the pictures you see of Mount Rushmore? Those look a lot more cool than the actual monument itself. They’re smaller than you expect when you see it in person, and while it is cool to think of the work that went into carving them… meh. We’ve seen a lot of cool ruins throughout Latin America, and even the wagon ruts we’d seen earlier captured my imagination more than these giant busts carved into the side of a mountain. I didn’t feel the patriotism I think I was supposed to feel. I just felt… underwhelmed. I was hot and blind and worried and in pain and I had no inclination to walk around this contrived monument composed of some giant sculptures. I’d far prefer to get back to the bikes and the dogs, find some dinner and set up camp for the night before the rain rolled in.
Kay was very good about the fact that I stayed less than 5 minutes, and didn’t want to take the little walk around the monument. He’d gone to see it before on his US Tour in 2008, and he had pictures from all of the interesting angles, so we had mostly gone so I could see it.
I came. I saw. I left.
*Kay’s Note:* I was really hoping she’d want to walk around. I totally agree that the heads are sadly unimpressive in person, but I think they deserve some serious respect, and… I dunno, walking the path around them, and learning more about them… It makes them a little more… something. They’re still unimpressive, but…
Back at the bikes, I was relieved to find the dogs calmly lying in the sidecar waiting for us. They’d chilled out when they realized they weren’t getting a walk right away. We loaded up and ran into Keystone, which is only a couple of miles from Mount Rushmore, and stopped at the first touristy mall we saw to grab some food at one of the restaurants. Ate outside at a picnic table and shared some food with the beasts, and I pondered getting a Diet Coke for the road before we headed back to the campground just 2 miles from Mount Rushmore to set up camp. Kay said he’s good with water, so I opted to skip the Diet Coke.
Now I regret it. I’m sitting here typing after a brief romp around the lake with the dogs, and I *really* want that Diet Coke. But not enough to suit up and ride the 5 miles into town to grab it, and the 5 miles back to drink it.
If you want a damn Diet Coke, get a damn Diet Coke.
(Camp is nice, though!)