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Old 10-16-2011, 02:51 PM   #1
Jenn OP
praise seitan!
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Joined: Sep 2009
Location: Oakland, CA
Oddometer: 938
Summer 2011 - Solo Cross-Country & Back

Originally, I wanted to do this trip last year - and return via a more southerly route to take advantage of some TransAm Trail pieces - or maybe just visit friends & family in Memphis, New Orleans & West Texas. Due to the bad heat wave in Texas - I decided to avoid going through there. It just didn't sound like fun.

Additionally, to offset the cost of my fuel for the 16' moving truck going east - I put an ad on craigslist and transported a scooter to Salt Lake city, storage unit stuff to Toledo, and a KLR to Cleveland - in addition to my own motorcycle and my mom's stuff that I was bringing back to her.

A BARF/ADVRider friend named Harry helped me out a lot with going over the DR and sorting out various little issues that needed to be addressed - he noticed that my choke cable was frozen, so that got added to the list. He even found something in my rear tire - but it wasn't puncturing the tube and it came out alright. The front sprocket got changed from 14 back to stock 15 (wow - what a difference! I need to change it back so I don't get speeding tickets).

Day before departure, I had everything organized and out on the driveway when Gary & Jerry arrived to help load the truck. Gary has lots of motorcycle tying-down experience and between the three of us, we were done in about 30 minutes. There was still a LOT of space in that truck!

DAYS 1 - 4 (8/19 - 8/22)

I left on Friday (8/19) morning, a bit later than planned but that seemed to work well for traffic. I got to see pretty much all the scenery that is to be seen on 80 in daylight, arriving on the outskirts of Salt Lake City just after dark. We unloaded the scooter in the driveway - I felt very woozy and light headed while removing the tie-downs from the scooter. It took me a minute to realize that it was from gas fumes - well, I guess I won't be sleeping in the BACK of the truck on this trip!

The next morning, I went to City Cakes & Cafe ( - a vegan bakery with very delicious cupcakes, cookies and other goodies - so I got a lot of yummy things: chocolate peanut butter bar, lemon bar, peanut butter cookies, ginger-molasses something muffin and a few other items for the road. I figured - breakfast on this road trip is easy!

Saturday morning's drive out of Salt Lake City was gorgeous - and the rest of the day was alright. The scenery into Wyoming was ok - I got to see antelopes and loads of wild looking horses all over the place. After seeing billboards for a thai place and for a place offering to "meet all your camouflage needs" - I decided that had to be the lunch stop.

Anong's Thai Cuisine in Rawlins ( served me thai food that was just as good as the Bay Area - so I was optimistic: if I can find a decent Thai place for lunch every day, I'll be set!

After a very delicious lunch, I pulled away from the curb and noticed - I was RIGHT by that army surplus place - so had to go in and have a look around. Sadly, I did not have any current camouflage needs, so didn't buy anything.

I did, however, have some camping needs and since I wasn't too far from a Cabela's - I headed there. I saw a big storm off in the distance - and a rainbow:

And had a nice stroll through Cabela's - but they didn't have quite what I was looking for, though I was tempted to pick up one of these as a passenger seat for the DR:

After racing the storm on 80 - I won - I decided to spend the night at a place on Jennifer Drive in Sidney NE. There weren't a lot of good options for hotels, or restaurants - so I whipped up some miso & udon noodles on my camp stove in my room. Yum!

Sunday (8/21) morning, I noted and then clean forgot that there was another Cabela's near Sidney. You ever notice that there are nearly as many Cabela's as Target or Wal-Mart stores on I-80? I stopped in TWO Cabela's that day - finding what I wanted in La Vista. A nice waterproof duffel for the gear & clothing on the back of the DR - indispensable! Not much scenery in that part of Nebraska - or Iowa - so I kept pressing on and spent the night at a very nice moose/lodge themed hotel in the Des Moines area and ordered mediocre pizza from "the best pizza in town." At least I got to take a shower and watch True Blood!

Monday (8/22) morning, I heard the news that I just missed massive showers & flooding in La Vista & Council Bluffs - if I had left a day later - I would be looking for another route! I stopped in Dixon IL for gas - at Clark & Main!

I saw a grocery to see if I could come up with some healthy local produce for lunch later - and was shocked: not only was most of the stuff in the store packaged, including the fresh produce, there was not a single item in the produce section (that I could see) that was local. Seriously? We're in Illinois in AUGUST and you can't tell me that they aren't growing fresh, delicious tomatoes somewhere around there - right? Most of the produce was from Chile (isn't it WINTER there?), Mexico & California. You couldn't just buy a handful of greenbeans - they were swathed in shrink wrap on a styrofoam tray.

The kids at the cash register told me that Sullivan's is the last grocery store in town - the others have all folded due to competition from Wal-Mart for grocery dollars. There is a farmer's market, but they weren't sure when it was or where it was - but they were pretty sure that there was something. Little did I realize that this was just the tip of the iceberg of my grocery store/local produce experiences on this trip.

Lunch on Monday was hard to find - I ended up in Grand Island at a Maui/Hawaiian Islands sort of pizza place - with quite mediocre pizza. Don't go there. I pressed on -- amazed at the number of toll stops on 80 as I got closer to Chicago. I couldn't believe the crazy McMansion developments along the turnpike west of Toledo - giant houses on an artificial pond with big SUVs in every driveway. It looked like the gated communities outside of Sacramento in Roseville. Despite Google maps giving me directions for a freeway exit that NO LONGER EXISTED and sending me the wrong way, east toward Cleveland, away from Mentor, I made it to my mom's later on Monday night.

DAYS 5 - 7 (8/22-8/25)

Tuesday (8/23) morning, I unloaded the boxes from the truck to the spare bedroom. My mom & I headed for brunch at Tommy's down on Coventry ( We stopped in Mayfield Heights along the way to do a bit of Italian grocery store shopping at Ferrara's.

After brunch, I took my mom shopping for groceries, pet supplies and a dehumidifier for her place. Friends came by later and helped us unload both bikes - yay! Empty truck!

Wednesday (8/24) was a day of more unpacking, errands & de-flea-ing my mom's place. We went for lunch at the nearby Thai place (super yum!) and then i took off to collect Dan, the owner of the KLR, from a Greyhound stop about 40 miles east. We stopped at AAA so we could take advantage of his membership to get a lot of maps - that was super helpful for my trip! I wish I had got the maps before I got on the road - it's so much different looking at paper maps than just trying to plan with Google maps or searching on the internet.

After returning to my mom's, we set him up with ice cubes & water in his bottles while he got organized and on the road. We had a big laundry night & I got my duffel packed & organized for the trip, all my stuff set up and ready to go. Dinner & TV then bed -- only to be awoken by a horrific storm that seemed to tear open the sky with light & sound.

Thursday (8/25), I drove the moving truck to drop it off - finding that it was in a totally unsupported industrial park. I started walking and stuck out my thumb - managing to catch a lift with an arborist back to Mentor Ave. Apparently, he was having a busy morning - power was out all around the area - trees were blocking driveways. The University area in downtown Cleveland was hit pretty hard, as were areas really close to the lake. Power outages, downed trees & limbs, leaves & debris were everywhere. The forecast, however, was clear & sunny!

It took me about an hour to get my old cordura mountain bike panniers & new waterproof duffel attached & packed (for the former) and packed & attacked (for the latter). I was on the road before noon, heading down to meet my friend Eric for lunch in Cleveland Heights. I stopped by Ferrara's to show my motorcycle to the elderly lady who was amazed that I would be riding a motorcycle - she wasn't there but all the guys behind the deli counter all came out to have a look at my set-up and kindly appreciative, wishing me luck before returning to what they were doing before my interruption.

Lunch at Tommy's with Eric was thwarted - they had no power when they opened, so didn't open. Power returned to the neighborhood but Tommy's employees did not - so we had thai food up the street. Every single 20 year old young man who worked there made a trip out to look at my motorcycle and wish me luck & express envy at my trip. As soon as Eric & I finished - I got on the road west!

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Old 10-16-2011, 03:28 PM   #2
Jenn OP
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Location: Oakland, CA
Oddometer: 938

Leaving Cleveland, I went through the University area and stuck to the roads indicated for Route 2 - hoping to stay off the freeways and away from the toll road. I actually drove right along the lake and through a lot of neighborhoody areas in the west side of Cleveland - it was a bit more scenic than I intended, but I was enjoying the old houses & neighborhoods quite a lot. I did get on the freeway for a little bit - and then back on 2 along the lake.

The roads were clear and I zipped right along. Before I knew it, I was passing Davis-Besse power plant (two big nuclear reactors!) - as the two-lane road curved to the west and crossed water, I noticed something moving on my left. Like a giant black plastic bag floating in the wind. No. A bird. A giant dark bird with a white head and golden - what the hell? A bald eagle??

I craned my neck as the eagle passed 4 feet above my head over the road, toward the marsh at the edge of Lake Erie. There was no shoulder and no place to stop quickly and go look - so I just marveled at the sight for a while (and traffic behind me probably getting angry about the motorcyclist going 5 mph below speed limit!).

I started to see familiar sights - an old bait shop where an enormously fat ginger tabby used to live, parked on the counter by the cash register. Places to picnic & fish. I pulled into the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, shucked my helmet & some layers and enjoyed a veritable symphony while I had some water.

I didn't hike very far into the trails but did walk around a bit to enjoy the wildlife - and realized that I had a loose nut on my little aftermarket windshield. A ranger pulled up and I introduced myself and inquired about tools - since I brought metric & the loose item required English (of course!).

"No problem!" he said, reaching in for a big flat plastic tool kit - and then it flipped open and dumped ratchets, socket bits and tools all over the gravel parking lot. While I helped him collect and put all the pieces back into their correct spots by size & silhouette, we talked about the bald eagles. He told me that there were about 8 nests in the area, "The place is lousy with them - we make jokes about chicken-fried bald eagle but we don't really mean it!"

I had enough phone reception to contact my friends in Toledo - Cindy answered the phone & gave me perfect directions and an invitation for dinner. I got on the road, only to stop a half mile away to pick up some Ohio candy corn (yum!) thinking we'd be making dinner at Cindy & Pat's house. I found their place and met the two new (to me!) dogs Reggie & Nawla in their home, and one elderly cat - and reacquainted with their daughter (I was her babysitter for a couple years in college) and granddaughter.

Before we left for dinner - I couldn't be stopped from hitting the candy corn, and ate two ears before we went to dinner - Ohio has some of the best corn (apples, strawberries and other stuff, too!). Candy corn is super sweet corn that you just eat raw - shuck it and nibble. It is tender and so delicious.

Off we went to an Indian restaurant for dinner - it was great fun to catch up with my friends who I hadn't seen since they visited me in New Orleans when their daughter Hillary was about 5 years old! Now she's in college & has her own daughter - time flies, doesn't it?

After dinner, we pulled out maps & computers - Cindy & Pat helped me plan my route out of Ohio since I didn't want to get on the turnpike or major interstates. They recommended a route on 120 that would go west, up into Michigan for a bit and then into Indiana.

I spent the night on their enclosed porch with the elderly cat - the sliding glass doors pulled to keep the dogs from bugging us. I had a view of Lake Erie, and got to watch the lights of the ships on the water move across the horizon til I fell asleep.

Day 1: 149 miles

Friday (8/26) morning, I had coffee with my friend Pat before she left to do her duty in her Coast Guard Reserve uniform. We had a nice visit before she left, then I showered & dressed & got packed up on the motorcycle - and realized I forgot to leave out some socks, and had to unpack the bag and repack it before I could actually leave. ZOIKS!!!

I made a quick visit to the University of Toledo campus where I found myself in luck - Seamus Metress was holding office hours, and after refreshing his memory that I was one of his work-study students (his wife remembered instantly when she called!) - we had a nice long catch-up and he promised to send me a couple of his new books.

As I drove west, out of Toledo, I passed Centennial quarry - smell of blackberries, the constant whirring sound of crickets and the moist, hot weather brought back memories of bicycle rides with Pat - jumping into the cool spring filled quarry in our bike shorts & sport bras. I once found a $20 bill plastered & dry on a rock there, lost by other swimmers. I fought an urge to pull over and go for a swim - and I'm glad I did since apparently it's now a hugely built up complex with a concert venue ( I guess my instinct to preserve my memories of overgrown blackberry brambles & a hole in the fence!

After passing several self-serve farm stands, thinking "It's too early to buy produce!" - even biting my lip and nearly turning back when I saw a "fresh horseradish sign" - I found I totally had to stop for this iconic white barn with an historical placard in front of it - memorializing, basically, a property boundary dispute.

Despite missing out on fresh (sigh) horseradish and more candy corn, NW Ohio tomatoes (the sweetest!) - sweet air and rolling terrain dotted red barn/white house, red house/white barn was bucolic and enjoyable. I buzzed past piles of ground cherry vines overflowing the culverts and honked & waved at animals on the side of the road who regarded me with curiosity.

And then - it seemed so sudden - my lovely ride on Route 120 dead ended into the toll road! I couldn't tell on the map exactly how to get around that and just hopped on. I stopped to eat the lunch I brought at the rest stop in Rolling Prairie and saw some tourist information that showed dunes - so since I missed a whole lot of Amish country already, I thought "It would be nice to just go along the shore of Lake Michigan."

Right off the freeway, I screeched to a halt when I saw a restaurant bearing my name: Jennie Rae's ( I took pictures but didn't go inside (DOH!) to see if they had t-shirts.

Finding the dunes in Michigan City wasn't that easy - first, I ended up at a beach. Then I went back and tried to follow the signs through town - but ended up way past, had to turn around and finally go there - overheated - and found a gorgeous beach with view of the Chicago skyline through the haze over Lake Michigan. A real BEACH! I was tired, hot & wanted to swim but figured I needed to get more miles in before calling it a day.

I left the dunes around 2:30 or 3pm - and found that I ended up in awful rush hour traffic. It wasn't just heavy traffic as I approached Chicago - nor the tolls - which were the problem, but aggressive drivers. One guy in a big pickup truck seemed to take exception to me and repeatedly would speed up on my left to get in front of me, hit the brakes and flip me off, or box me in, and then slow down. To make it worse - his pickup truck was loaded with household goods like lamps, furniture & stuff - none of it was tied down, and I could see stuff shift toward the tailgate every time he slammed on the brakes in front of me.

I did manage to get away from him for quite a stretch - but he broke through traffic to pursue me up to a toll gate. There were several, equally empty options, I tried to fake him out and go right - but he followed me anyway. Paying tolls is a bit of a process on a motorcycle - especially when you're not from the area and not prepared for stopping to pay 40 cents or $1.10 here and there.

I talked with the toll taker and asked her to mention to the driver behind me that no motorcyclist would relish being behind his unsecured load, and his aggressive behavior was dangerous. When I told her the details - she agreed.

As I was putting my gloves on, the driver started honking and yelling "Mother F----r" out the window. The toll taker said, "Don't worry - I'll take care of this." I never saw that guy again - I hope he got a stern lecture from highway patrol!

As I got closer to downtown Chicago - the traffic just became a 99 degrees Fahrenheit parking lot - not knowing the local regulations, and, in the heat - not caring much - I started lanesharing and just went through a lot of traffic.

I didn't know where I was exactly - but it seemed like 4:30 in the afternoon was way too early for this kind of traffic! I finally just decided to pull off before I got heat stroke - and as fortune would have it, ended up 3 blocks from a highly rated gourmet vegan restaurant called Karyn's on Green ( which opened at 5pm.

While I sipped my Blueberry Mint Fizz, I was able to charge my iPhone, review the maps & figure out where I was camping for the night. I had the most delicious meal:

  • Roasted Foraged Mushrooms truffle chive polenta cake, scallions a la plancha, taro (pictured) - delicious oyster mushrooms and a very tasty polenta cake, the grilled scallions were delicious but the crispy charred parts were mostly decorative, I think
  • Barbeque Pork house-made seitan, cornbread stuffing, braised collard greens, sweet barbeque sauce - this surprised me because it was presented on a rectangular plate and each of the three items was arranged as a trio of rectangles across the width of the plate - the cornbread was actually little nuggets (yum!) and the bbq seitan was just perfect with a Tennessee-style sweet-sour sauce on the thin (vs jammy) side.
  • Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie - rich chocolate & peanut butter, pretzel-agave crust, cashew coconut cream - it was more delicious than it sounds - and totally decadent!

After such a relaxing & filling meal, I felt ready to hit the road again. I couldn't believe that at 7pm - the traffic was still really horrible. And there were like 4 more tolls (yay!). I accidentally ran through one - and at the last one - I had no change.

Fortunately, this was an unmanned toll gate at the offramp in Elgin, and in the twilight, my headlights picked up the glint of coins ALL OVER THE FREAKING GROUND!

Apparently, people just throw handfuls of change at the funnel til it opens - and there aren't any homeless people standing there begging (they probably already collected enough for beer & shelter by 2pm!).

So, I put down my kickstand and picked up coins to pay for my toll - and threw in enough for the people behind me - the driver looked very entertained by my own amusement, but her passenger was engrossed in his blue glowing smartphone.

I got gas, stopped at Super K for some sweatpants and ibuprofen and then made my wa to Burnridge Forest. The non-RV spots were all completely empty, so for $15 I had my choice: woods full of mosquitoes or open field with high grasses with 10x more mosquitoes. No showers, so I put on my swim suit and refreshed myself by the spigot near the bathrooms, then settled into my bivy with a Sookie Stackhouse book, while teenagers ran screaming through the dark woods for an hour.

Day 2: 325 mi (would've been 300 without the extra 25 mi or so)
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Old 10-16-2011, 04:42 PM   #3
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Location: Oakland, CA
Oddometer: 938
Saturday (8/27) - As I packed up camp, I had a Euclid Beach popcorn ball for breakfast. I think that this was the beginning of the end this day. I was still feeling pretty satisfied by the last night's dinner, and since I hadn't stopped at any farm stands yet to buy fresh veggies, I didn't have a lot of ready-to-eat stuff with me (except for a bunch of flaxseed Bumble Bars which were beginning to taste rancid from the heat in the moving truck on the way east). As I set out, I came across a man who was walking two cute Aussie Blue Merles with his little daughter and had to cut the engine to meet the cute puppies (apologize to the little girl on the bike - she was cute, too - almost as cute as the dogs!).

From Burnridge Forest, I just drove and drove. I had an early start, and when some bozo in a pickup truck started harassing me on the freeway (seriously - I think people see someone traveling and get jealous) - I just took the next exit and looked for a breakfast spot. I ended up at Landmark Family Restaurant - it was already in the low 80s and it wasn't even 9am yet! I had friendly chit chat with the guys at the next table, good brewed decaf, wheat toast and hashbrowns with veggies - my total check was $4.25! We're definitely NOT in the Bay Area, Toto!

It was not exciting terrain along Hwy 20, but the traffic was low and mellow. I could just hang out around 80-85 mph - not great for gas mileage, but efficient for getting past a lot of boring corn. And then - I saw a sign for a Frank Lloyd Wright House called "Cedar Rock" - I didn't even think twice, and headed right there!

It was pretty hot by the time I got to Cedar Rock ( The next tour was at 3pm - so I removed some layers of gear, put on my flip flops and cooled my jets, perusing the silver and hand blown glass necklaces in the gift shop.

Two more people arrived and the tractor and canopied wagon returned, so I grabbed my ice water and camera and hopped aboard. The house is down a long driveway - the original owners had bought a bit of property near the river that had a right-of-way but not direct access to the road (surrounding property has since been acquired). It wasn't that far away but apparently most people think it's too far to walk!

The tour was about an hour, with a practiced retelling of story of the design and construction of the house. This is one of the few houses that Frank Lloyd Wright was able to manage top to bottom: he had veto authority on every furnishing in the house, and at this level of control - was happy to put his signature tile into the house itself. It's been preserved for decades as a tribute to this iconoclast - and it looks pretty comfortable by today's standards, though the kitchen is a bit small.

The back entrance has two doors separated by a wall - so you can bring in packages and dirty feet through the utility area - or guests into the door that goes into the living area.

Lots of big windows as walls and in the ceiling make this feel like you're walking out onto a terrace or into the woods. Great in the summer weather but apparently winter heating was not just expensive but nearly impossible, despite radiant heat in the floors.

The walls were constructed of double brick walls - so there was an intentional airspace between - which was utilized for ambient lighting by leaving out bricks and putting in chunks of slag glass with lights inside the airspace:

Lots of built in furniture and specially designed furniture that was modular - you could move around different tables to make bigger tables. Wright selected all the items you see on display here - and specifically required their arrangement (not kidding!). However, I suspect that the outdoor wall thermometer was not one of his choosing (note: 80 degrees in the shade on the east side of the building!)

The piano in the livingroom was not something Wright really wanted - but the owners insisted, so Wright agreed if they would have the legs sawn off so that the piano did not interfere with the flow of the room by being too high. The little table in the foreground is one of the smaller modular tables that could be rearranged into longer rectangular tables. Ottomans and hassocks everywhere, as well as lots of specially designed chairs (two were available for visitors to test out the fit of the special F.L. Wright designed chairs themselves).

I didn't like the kitchen much - it was almost an afterthought - there is a little utility area off one side for all the hot water heater, plumbing and gas for the radiant heat and sinks/tubs - but just closed off with a little door. The kitchen had one other item that the owners insisted upon that Wright hated but finally agreed they could put up on display - can you guess what it is (it's not the scissors!)?

Utility closets are all in one hallway - and quite narrow:

The bathrooms have these combination sink/over tub/over toilet deal that you'd see on a steamer ship - this was Wright's idea of saving space. It doesn't look much like a tub I'd want for soaking and relaxing!

Though he claimed that it was "better" for married couples to have their own beds to get appropriate sleep, the tour guide speculates that the pair of twin beds in the master bedroom was "revenge of the architect" for the clients' demands that he didn't like (you know - like the piano and the ticky tacky in the kitchen):

There was also a lovely fire pit:

View of the bedroom/livingroom side of the house, maid's quarters on the far left were set up like an efficiency apartment, I think I'd prefer that bedroom over the rooms inside the main house!

View from the river side:

There was even a boathouse/man cave (since there wasn't a workshop or den), also set up like an efficiency apartment with small kitchenette, bed and enclosed porch on the river.

Special touches, like mitered brick corners on walls - are everywhere:

I got my gear on, and got back on the road - it was hotter, I think, than when I arrived. In need of lunch - it was already after 4pm! - I tried my luck at the first few stops but found only gas station quickie marts. I finally discovered a natural grocery in Cedar Falls called Roots Market ( where I started hitting the wall and took refuge in the air conditioning with a chocolate bar and juice before I was able to actually pick out a ready-made sandwich I could eat. My mood was perked up right before I left by the interest of a 3 year old girl who saw my helmet and wanted to know if that was my motorcycle outside. Her momma brought her out so she could take up my offer to sit atop the bike - and she really liked it. According to her mom, this child has been fascinated with motorcycles since before she could walk and takes every opportunity to get on a motorcycle!

Mood improved, I got back on the road and found a campground which seemed quite full called Briggs Forest. As I was checking out available sites, I was flagged down by the patriarch of a partying clan next to an RV. He introduced himself as Craig and started telling me "Welcome to Iowa!" and invited me to hang out with them, introducing me to everyone in his group. It was getting dark and the company seemed pretty good, so I found a spot across the field from them, set up my hammock and went to take a shower. I spent some time with Craig & Cindy and their family - they served me a drink called "Pineapple Upside Down Cake" and regaled me with many tales of travel, fortune & foolishness.

Day 3: 329 miles


View Directions to Burnridge Forest, Elgin, IL in a larger map
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Old 10-16-2011, 05:20 PM   #4
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Location: Riding with my pal Richard Cranium
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Good stuff Jenn, keep it coming.

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The good thing is, your damn motor can't read. If it says oil on the container, it's pretty much OK to dump in there.... ED.
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Old 10-16-2011, 06:16 PM   #5
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Ride safe, good RR
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Old 10-16-2011, 07:14 PM   #6
Jenn OP
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Joined: Sep 2009
Location: Oakland, CA
Oddometer: 938
Sunday (8/28) morning, I breakfasted with Craig and Cindy - they shared hot water with me so I could make up a jumbo serving of instant miso soup for my breakfast. They were pulling out earlier than expected due to a change in the weather forecast: big storms. All the RVs in their company were packing up and battening the hatches. I swilled my miso and tea while I packed up and made sure I was waterproof, but not quickly enough! The sky got dark very quickly and the storm came.

A neighboring camper, a 31 year old veteran named Dave, invited me to share his canopy - we rolled my bike under it so I could finish packing & getting ready and he made delicious coffee on his camp stove. We had a nice chat while we waited out the storm, and I finished off some Kaia cacao mole raw granola. Dave gave me a giant orange backpack cover to put over my waterproof duffel to increase conspicuity in the overcast weather.

The storm passed quickly, and I headed out on Hwy 20 again - there was nearly no traffic, the roads were clear and the skies cleared up very quickly to a gorgeous, cloudless blue. Cornfields and more cornfields. The barns and houses weren't even painted all that differently from each other (like in Ohio, SW Michigan and Eastern Indiana - at least there's variety in "ooh, is the house going to be white if the barn is red?"). As I got closer to the state line, I saw a billboard mentioning "barn quilts" and found myself in yet another quilts country, on a Sunday, with all the quilt shops closed! Probably a good thing or I would have ended up with way more bulky souvenirs than I could manage! Anyway, despite the billboard, I wasn't clear on what "barn quilts" were until I saw the first few and grew to be genuinely impressed with the scale of this public art project.

I only caught half a dozen of these but apparently it's a pretty big public art project - in multiple states & counties - here's the area where I traveld through: and here's another area:

Today's ride was pretty boring - lots of corn fields. There are folks who swear by the beauty of this area - I heard it called "God's Country" more than once - as an atheist, I can only observe that their god must have a mean streak - or must be a different god entirely from the one who made other more beautiful places. It's like saying white bread and mayonnaise sandwiches are the height of culinary delight!

In addition to the barn quilts, I did get to see one other completely new and delightful thing: baby miniature ponies. I actually hit the brakes and did a u-turn to go back and look at them. They were so darned cute!!

The cute baby ponies were just east of Sioux City - I stopped for gas and saw across the parking lot a grocery store that proudly proclaimed "Worker Owned" and had "co-op" in the title. I excitedly went over to find something for lunch and was dismayed to discover that it was a giant, generic, homogeneous boring big grocery store with all the freaking produce wrapped in saran wrap, on styrofoam trays and nothing local! WTF? Seriously, people. How can you be in the middle of agriculture and have NO local produce in a "worker owned" co-op? Lame.

At least there was some amusing art for sale in the parking lot after I finished my Izze soda, bread & hummus:

I would have loved to have brought Miss Liberty along on my motorcycle, but, alas, she was a bit frigid. I could just see my landlord's expression if he came around and saw a 6' high replica of the Statue of Liberty in the front yard!

As I left Sioux City, I realized my good fortune in choosing Hwy 20 - flooding was evident this far south, and apparently roads and bridges had problems earlier in the day farther north.

I thought I'd get as far as Valentine, but the winds were hitting me crosswise and after not stopping at the last little town, found myself curiously far away from any place that seemed to offer fuel. I pulled off in a tiny "town" which turned out to be about 10 houses in the middle of a cornfield the size of Mendocino County, a silo and two lonely, unattended 24/7 fuel pumps that lacked clear instructions. They specified some sort of "Ag" card - but didn't have a Visa symbol. I was about to give up with 6 people crammed in the single seat of a pickup truck came by and happily informed me that the pumps did take regular credit cards. What grace!

As I putted along, I saw a man with two amazing looking hot rod motorcycles out in front of his house and stopped to say "hi" to him and his friend. Orange. Very orange. They actually recommended that I check out a hotel in the next town, and very quickly, I found myself in an Irish themed Nebraska town - O'Neill NE seemed to have a bit of society, with a half dozen or more hotels. I drove up to the one recommended but it was a shabby, run down brick building. I turned back and ended up at The Elms Motel - I had a parking space in front of my door, HBO to watch True Blood (in 30 minutes!), a coin-op laundry room two doors over, and a grocery store just a hundred yards away (closing in 10 minutes!). I dropped my stuff, popped over to the store for beer & veggies, made up some nice curry in my room (shh!) and watched "True Blood" (twice). Got my laundry all clean and had a fantastic night's sleep.

Day 4: 275 miles

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Monday (8/29) - I made breakfast in my room, packed up and went to the O'Neil Post Office to ship back gifts & crushed glasses (poor glasses - they were in the wrong glasses case, it shifted to the bottom of my camelback and they broke after I took them off on Saturday night!).

This was one of the most friendly post office experiences I have had - not only did the nice woman help me out with packing material & tape, they even had a lost-and-found box for left keys!

There was not much to see - though, after a while, I realized that I had run out of corn and run into cows. The terrain changed subtly, not quite as flat, scrubby brush & other features were allowed to remain in their natural state, fences replaced culverts & cows replaced tractors.

The rain started gently at first - and then came down pretty steadily. I am really glad for the visor on my Arai helmet, but my 3/4 length jacket is no longer waterproof after several Northern California winters and by the time I got to Gordon, NE - the rain stopped but I was completely soaked. I popped into the local Ace Hardware, got a can of Scotchguard and headed to the local laundry. I peeled off my jacket & layers and threw everything - including my boots - into dryers. Then I liberally soaked everything with Scotchguard and put it back into the dyers. Repeat til Scotchguard is all gone.

While I was there, I made friends with a local community college professor of the Lakota language & crafts - he laughed at my intention to get to Hot Springs and offered his hospitality. I was determined, however, but took his card anyway. There were no hotels in Gordon, at least that I saw, and heading north into SD, I would be on the reservation - probably not many hotels really close to the SD/NE border. I headed off - and did not get very far when I saw a lot of storm clouds with some very scary lightening fast approaching.

I headed to Wounded Knee to check out the memorial, looked at my map and called my new friend -- I had a sofa to sleep on that night, and arrived in Manderson completely soaked (again!). That Scotchguard works just about as well as my stainless steel sieve!

Day 5: 250 miles

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Old 10-18-2011, 02:35 PM   #7
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Tuesday (8/30) morning, the sky scrubbed clear bright blue by the previous day of rainstorms, I headed out of Manderson to the Wounded Knee monument. It's a very small cemetery for such a big, sad story. My friend packed me off with a half-pint of homemade chokecherry jam and said "Custer is scenic."

I looked it over on the map, not knowing quite what to expect -- I had been interested in seeing what hot springs options were available in Hot Springs, and hadn't thought much about my itinerary after that. There was construction on Route 18, leading from Pine Ridge to Oglala - the entire road was torn up, with queues of cars waiting for pilot cars to lead them through, one direction at a time. I noticed a nice road leading to Route 385 which would send me up to Custer. I got to see lots of trailers and a few ranches -- and then just a few hundred feet away from a "Road Closed" sign was a wide river with no way across. A sort of scenic 10 mile loop - and I returned to Pine Ridge, fueled up and got to the head of the queue to take the torn up roads north.

Between Nebraska and South Dakota, I have seen more women operating heavy equipment on road crews than I have ever seen in my entire life. It seems like women are relegated to traffic and flag duty here - but in NE and SD - they are running the graders and the tractors. Why not, right?

The Harley Davidson I passed (he was waiting in the middle of the queue!) - seemed to be holding up traffic behind me. Once I got past the pilot car, there were more torn up areas but one look at my motorcycle and the flagger sent me ahead of the pilot car saying, "you're fine!"

The ride along Hwy 18 was full of easy rolling hills - mostly flat but compared to Nebraska, downright mountainous! There were some interesting geological features - broken away hillsides with multiple layers of color showing through.

I saw lots of antelopes and horses on this trip - the first horses and antelopes I really saw were on my way into Utah. Just before SLC, I saw 4 antelopes, standing shoulder to shoulder, in a line at about a 60 degree angle away from the side of the road ahead of me on my right - just looking at the freeway. I also saw herds of horses by a gate - like they were waiting for dinner.

I saw dogs hanging out with horses in pens on my little short cut earlier in the morning - horses in small pens don't look like they are having nearly as much fun. As I made my turn north, I saw five horses making a turn from the backside of a small rise, just running at full speed with their manes and tails streaming. They looked like they were just having fun - there was a black horse, a white horse, a palomino and two red and white horses - just running. Then, as I passed the hill - there was a Cowschwitz: hundreds of cows confined in a small area with mud up to their knees - it just smelled awful. I couldn't help but think that the horses were celebrating the fact that they had a superior set-up compared to their bovine neighbors.

Hot Springs was a cute little town with more modern buildings and gas stations at the south end, more brick "wild west" themed edifices at the north, older part of town. I found materials on the available water features - they all looked like they were big commercial developments, swim suits assumed. I decided to take a pass and get a sense of the town. It was a weekday and the town was pretty quiet. I popped into a small antiques store with a cafe in the back - kitschy and cute, but nothing compelling enough on the shelves or menu.

As started to leave town, I came upon a fantastic little natural foods grocery store called Earth Goods ( and bought some juice and snacks for a late breakfast. The cashier, Teresa, was totally helpful both in helping me find items I wanted (pack-type foods) and she gave me some great tips on Custer State Park, as well as a local tourist map. We debated the benefits of different attractions - she said the Wildlife Loop was definitely worth visiting, though there were animals all over - and she agreed with me, "A cave is a cave - you can see the more interesting stuff up on top (animals)."

I loaded up my new provisions and drove past the old Wild West brick buildings, and the scenery definitely changed - more altitude, more trees - it just got prettier and prettier. It seemed like I got there very quickly and found a ranger station at the entry to the Wildlife Loop. I asked about tent camping and places to swim - and the man at the gate was (again!) incredibly helpful. He told me that there were also little cabins and brought me a park brochure open to the page of accommodation options - it was like $50 for one night in a little cabin, so the man brought me a phone and dialed me into the reservations line. I got a cabin in the Blue Bell campground and made my way there to drop off my gear, so I could go drive all around without having all my stuff on the motorcycle.

The rangers at the gate to the Wildlife Loop had put a pink wristband around my handlebar, so they just smiled and waved me through when I returned. As soon as I went around the bend and through the official gate - there was a GIANT bison standing to my right, at 90 degrees to the road, looking just like the bison on the back of a buffalo nickel. There were no other cars - I wanted to take a picture but I was worried about stopping too close to that guy! He was HUGE!

I continued along and saw a few more bison dotted here and there, munching grass solo, seemingly oblivious to my passing by. Then, I saw a man on horseback along to my right - riding along into the bushes. A ranger's jeep and another vehicle passed me up and pulled over - I saw the horseback ranger come out of the woods again and raise his right arm and point.

I pulled over IMMEDIATELY and freed up my camera - and was treated to the sight of about 40 antelope streaming from around a hill, down and across a creek, and over the road just about 20 or 30 feet in front of me! The ranger and his guest were also outside their vehicles - the guest had a camera with a lens the size of the Hubble telescope on it - I imagine he got better photos than I. There were a few stragglers - I got back on my motorcycle and coasted downhill on the shoulder in neutral, without turning on the engine, to get a better look.

La, la, la, la - straggler! (I love the "Wildlife at Large" sign!")

Antelopes are COOL! After the next bend, there was a BIG herd of bison just lazing about - and some very cute baby bison.

I checked out some dirt roads off the wild life loop and came across more bison and antelopes - and fewer cars (yay!). After doing a few loops around, I headed out of the Wildlife Loop area and went to find a spot to park for a swim at Legion Lake. The water was cool but not too cold and I very much enjoyed having some peaceful, quiet time soaking in the water with only 5 other people in this quite nicely sized lake.

On my way in to find a parking space, there was a big bison just hanging out on the road:

Legion Lake - with lots of backlight - that big dark shape is actually a giant rock:

After drying off, I explored more of the park - I drove up, I thought, toward Mt Rushmore but ended up taking the back way in - going through all the scenic rock formations at the Needles and Sylvan Lake. I didn't take many pictures there because I thought I'd end up returning - the traffic was pretty aggravating there, with folks driving well below the 25 mph speed limit (if you're going less than 10mph - just PULL OVER!).

After a stop at Sylvan Lake for souvenirs and a cold drink, I took a turn toward Mt Rushmore and found myself delayed by more road work - I went to the top of the queue, turned off my engine and talked to the flagger. He asked about my trip and expressed disdain for the flyover states, "What do you think IOWA stands for? 'Idiots Out Wandering Around'!"

I got a nice view of Mt Rushmore - from the toll gates - but was kind of disappointed that there was no discounted fee for motorcycles (as there are at nearly every other park or attraction I have visited) and there is no way to just walk into Mt Rushmore. It was kind of expensive and I decided to take a miss - heading down toward the center of the park and exploring more of 16A.

Pictures and words just cannot do justice to how beautiful this park is - no wonder the bison and antelope love it! I would love to live there, too - except for that snow thing.

On my second pass by Legion Lake - same bison was still hanging out eating grass.

I ended up looking for groceries in town of Custer at Dakotamart - the produce selection was once again, woefully disappointing: grown far away, wrapped in plastic on styrofoam trays. The store seemed to specialize in frozen foods - I have never seen such a crazy selection of prepared frozen foods in my life. The candy selection was poor - pretty much all slavery chocolate by Hershey's and M&M Mars.

Interestingly, the beer selection was amazing. We're talking about 100 different craft, micro and Belgian-style import beers - cold and on the shelf. They had lambics that weren't just the overly sweet variety! They had RUSSIAN beer! I was pretty surprised by this and happy to buy some nice chocolatey stout for my next two nights in camp.

On my return, the camp host was outside his RV. I pulled up and cut the engine, flipped up my visor and called out his name - "Hi, are you Vern?" . He looked at me, put his thumbs into his belt loops and smiled, walked over slowly and said in a distinctive Tennessee drawl, "you know, it has always been a fantasy of mine to have a woman come up on a motorcycle and call out my name!"

Then he burst into a gale of laughter and I introduced myself. We had a nice little chat - his wife was out of town visiting her mother, and he was on his own. He gave me tips on riding around the bison - he said, "they hate the sound of Harleys!" The mating season had just finished, so I would see larger males hanging around odd places - just trying to have some distance between them and the demands of the wimmenfolk in their herds. My camp host regaled me with stories about motorcycle travel from his younger years. He discovered that going with a group of 3 or 4 friends and seeking out state park cabins (like the one I had rented here) or at KOA campgrounds was a tremendous value - they usually are very cheap and sleep up to 4 people, all you need is bedding and cooking gear, saving lots of weight and hassle in packing gear and worrying about rainstorms. I have to say - I think the man was right! Staying in the little cabin was really a delight - though I found it a bit chilly that night in my 55 degree rated sleeping bag.

The camp host also hipped me to the correct direction for driving on 16A to Mt Rushmore - if you go toward Mt Rushmore on that road, you get to see the monument through the cool stone tunnels -- which I missed that afternoon because I went away from Mt Rushmore on that road - enjoying the tunnels and forests but not the view.

I spent the evening making my dinner, enjoying beer on my little porch and then had a hot shower. I fell asleep listening to an audiobook on my iPhone and shivered a bit, through the night.

Day 6: 126 miles to my campground + 100ish mi driving around the park


View Manderson SD to Custer State Park in a larger map

View Driving all around Custer State Park in a larger map

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Old 10-19-2011, 05:22 PM   #8
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Wednesday (8/31) morning at Custer, I awoke and made tea and enjoyed the company of my own personal squirrel and bunny rabbit who seemed to always be hanging out around my little deck. OK, it helped that I put out some squishy flatbread on the grill - and it was hilarious watching the squirrel try to drag it off the grill - I could have wrapped him up in a piece of that flatbread if I caught him, that's how small he was!

I spent a couple hours examining maps and storing data in my brain, making notes and reservations at Yellowstone for the rest of my trip.

Then, I went off to perfect my skills of exploring the dirt roads off the Custer SP Wildlife loop, avoiding being trampled by bison and sneaking up on antelopes in neutral.

Beautiful skies & pleasant dirt roads - all to myself (well, and the antelopes & bison)

Today's pleasant surprise: burros! Friendly as housecats, coming up and begging from people in cars. A momma and her baby decided I was pleasant enough to hug both of them and came right up and each one stuck a head under my arms (I am not kidding!).

Did someone say they were handing out cheese-n-peanut butter crackers down here? NOTE: the burros do NOT run as fast as the antelopes, and they are much less skittish.

As anyone who is friends with new mothers knows - nursing is okay, any time, anywhere - it's perfectly natural. You just might not want to do it in the middle of the road with traffic coming in both directions. Or, maybe you do - I guess that's a super power!

What? NO snacks?

OK, let's go check with this other human!

Someone wants a nap!

I turned back up the dirt roads and headed north, stopping for more awesome antelopes, before heading down to Rapid City.

Look! It's a very rare PAY PHONE! And a nice view.

I enjoyed some lovely views of Mt Rushmore and enjoyed going through the stone tunnels on 16A a second time around.

Rapid City was utterly forgettable - it was so ridiculously hot, it was about 110 degrees (I am not kidding). It was so hot, that even the grasshoppers were trying to hitch rides on my panniers back up into the mountains. At least Cabela's was nice and air conditioned! Oh - yeah - I went to Cabela's - AGAIN! I think this is the 4th or 5th Cabela's I visited on this trip. I bought a sleeping bag - so I could ship my 55 degree sleep sack back home.

Finally, I cruised along the north side of Custer State Park and ended up at Crazy Horse Monument just before closing, where I enjoyed a short film about the project and lovely views:

This is what it is supposed to eventually look like

The museum exhibits there are extensive and overwhelming. Fortunately, Mrs K's ginger kitty, Gracie, graciously offered to guard my motorcycle jacket.

Gracie - on the job!

Definitely a lap-kitty:

Dark clouds were gathering and I dodged fat rain drops as I headed down the hill to Custer (the town) to get more beer at the lovely local Dakotamart, returning at dusk via a lovely dirt road called Lower French Creek. There were a lot of residences and plenty of nice woods - I even got to see more bison just hanging out with horses! Bison were hanging out in the camp again - so I just enjoyed my beer and waited for them to stop blocking the path to the bathhouse so I could have a shower.

Day 7: 140 miles

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Old 10-21-2011, 06:20 PM   #9
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Thursday (9/1) - as I packed up, I mentally reviewed my plans for the next two days on the road. Planning with Google Maps allows you to figure out actual mileage, and planning on paper makes that a bit more challenging - but you get to see more notes on the maps about features and attractions. I had imagined I would go through Deadwood, visit Devil's Tower and spend the night in Sheridan before heading into Yellowstone for a Friday night reservation at Old Faithful.

One thing I did not take into consideration was dawdling or being tired. I had to unpack my bag so I could ship off a box home from Custer - my lightweight sleep sack, my GPS, gifts and a bunch of other items - all went into a flat rate box.

While I was sorting my goods, a quartet of motorcyclists with California plates parked up along side me so that one of them could do the same thing. "When I saw you here, I thought it was a good idea to send some stuff back home" - some stuffed animals and a bat house!

I enjoyed the short distance up to Deadwood - and made a short stop at a motorcycle shop to borrow a squirt of lube for my chain before going on to check out the "historic" parts. It reminded me of what would happen if you Fisherman's Wharf'd a Sierra Gold Country town like Auburn or Colfax - same brick buildings. Actually, it was sort of like Bourbon St - most of the tourist entertainment seemed to be drinking or buying trinkets.

I made tracks for Wyoming, stopping in Spearfish to get something to drink at grocery store where a sign proudly proclaimed that jobs in the meat department were paying something south of $6/hour. The terrain was increasingly flat and when I arrived in Wyoming, I stopped at the Welcome Center where I was made to feel very welcome with loads of helpful assistance from the concierge, wi-fi, cozy chairs, air conditioning and very clean bathrooms. It was like a lodge or hotel lobby - I couldn't believe how nice it was - outside, however, was pretty desolate.

At the concierge's recommendation, I stopped in Aladdin for gas - if you're looking for a business investment, this historic general store is for sale. They had some great jewelry in a case - but I couldn't justify $600 for a silver and turquoise bracelet. It seems like many of these folks live off the tourism that passes through during Sturgis - but not much else is happening at other times.

You have to go in and tell the lady what your pump reads! This reminds me of a gas station off Orr Springs Rd...

Pretty soon - I got to whip out my National Parks Pass - yay! I was greeted by tiny furry aliens.

My plan was to get to Sheridan - but it seemed later in the day than I expected and the wind made it feel like was making no progress at all. My neck was killing me from all the wind blowing cross-wise on my helmet visor, making it vibrate and by the time I got to Gilette - I was ready for a nap! It was still very light out and seemed too early to give up for the day. As I fueled up, a woman parked a pickup truck in front of the gas station and the dog in the back was SO pretty - I had to go meet her. She was a cute little thing with one blue and one brown eye, but after letting me pet her - she got all Greta Garbo as I pulled out my camera.

Shortly, the dog's human chauffeur came out of the store and we started talking. This pup was a rescue - just the sweetest thing. Her human asked where I was going and laughed when I said I was trying to get to Sheridan - suggesting Buffalo might be more realistic given all the wind, and asked what I was looking for when I got there. I said I would look for a hotel and if I was lucky, a chiropractor. She told me she was actually a chiropractor and offered to help. I took her up on it but she had second thoughts - "How do you know I'm REALLY a chiropractor?" Well, I admitted I didn't - and asked if she had a business card.

She pulled out her appointment book, opened her wallet, "Oops, that's my concealed carry permit!" and a number of other things and I just waved it off. As soon as she put her hands on me, I would know if she knew what she was doing, so after warning me "You'll get dirty!" - I was on my back on the sidewalk and she was kneeling on the parking lot by my head. She was very impressed with my tight neck muscles (ha ha!) and gave me one of the best neck adjustments - first time, each side, no pain - that I have had in ages. I swear - that quickie neck adjustment really took care of so much of the pain that had been building up my first week of travel!

Despite the exhausting wind from Gilette to Buffalo - I was really worried that it would undo the adjustment - my neck felt fine the next day. This was possibly the worst wind I have had to deal with on my motorcycle yet - just in terms of constant blowing. My fuel efficiency dropped from 50+ to 34 mpg! I had to pin it just to keep the bike upright at 70 mph! By the time I got to Buffalo, it was just after sunset and I kept going past all the chain hotels to the end of the main commercial strip - looked to either direction and on my right saw a little motel with cabins and piles of flowers - I headed there.

Blue Gables ( - the lady at the front desk declared, "We're the cutest and the cheapest!" as an affable big black lab ambled up to greet me and drop toys at my feet. Sold. I'm such a sucker for cute animals, perky concierges and flowers!

I headed to my room and dropped my stuff and unloaded the bike before it got dark. I chatted with a neighbor at a nearby cabin who was working on an Earthship project ( I drank a yummy beer he gave me and made up some miso and noodles for dinner, watching weather reports and feeling pretty fortunate that I had missed some rainstorms.

Day 8: 300 miles

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Old 10-24-2011, 01:54 PM   #10
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Friday (9/2) - I woke up and Karen made me a delicious latte in the office. I made some miso for breakfast and spent more time than I should have playing with the black lab, Duchess and taking pictures of Karen's gorgeous flowers all around Blue Gables motel. Yes, I was dawdling and that was because I had no clue how long it would actually take to get to Old Faithful, obviously!

The lovely Duchess and one of her well loved, soggy toys:

The bird, Picasso (I think) - got jealous if I played with Duchess too much and would ring the bell and rattle things in the cage for attention!

Blue Gables

Finally, after packing up, I noticed that my front fender was missing a few bolts - so I got on the road with my fingers x'd that I would find a spot to pick up replacements. Not too far away, at Sheridan's Big Horn Powersports (, a young man named Vaughn was able to hook me up ith a couple bolts and put loc-tite on the other two bolts which were also starting to loosen up.

Given the distance to Old Faithful, I decided not to take the detour north into Montana to go over the famous Beartooth ( or even up to see the Medicine Wheel ( - and instead opted for the more direct route into Yellowstone.

After getting away from Sheridan, I putted along 14 and stopped when I saw a sign for an outdoor outfitters. It turns out it was now operating as a craft store in the front and a gun store in the back - something like Sonny's Gun Shop & Crafts store - I had a nice chat with the elderly gentleman who owned the shop, bought some local honey and headed off in search of lunch.

Approaching lunch time, I came upon a cafe called "The Branding Iron" in Dayton WY with a big parking lot - as good a place as any. I stopped at the same time as another motorcyclist who was (of course) on a Harley and riding without gear (of course) or a helmet (quelle surprise!). Amazingly - the Branding Iron had a salad bar (ok, that was really a surprise!).

The other motorcyclist & I struck up a conversation and while I enjoyed my lunch from the salad bar, I asked him about the whole helmet thing.

He had clearly thought this all out, without any actual statistics or facts to back him up, and was pretty sure he was right. This is what I learned from my luncheon companion:
  • Helmets do not save your life or prevent injury in motorcycle accidents because they are only good for speeds under 20 mph and only glancing blows at that.
  • A helmet will not protect you if a car runs over your head.
  • Most motorcycle accidents are caused by cars and you don't stand a chance.
  • Motorcycle racers wear gear because most of their accidents are by themselves and sliding so they don't have to worry about hitting their heads.
I did ask my dining companion if he would like to test out any of those theories with my foot in the parking lot, but he declined. When I told him that most motorcycle accidents are single vehicle accidents, he vehemently denied this and said that the only time he and anyone he knew ever had a "get off" was when they were hit by a car. Interestingly, when I related this story to someone at a Boise motorcycle shop - he said that a study had just come out about motorcyclists in South Dakota that said that 60% of reported motorcycle accidents were single vehicle accidents. I wish I had a link to that report!

Someone had told me "Don't miss out on Shell!" - and since I was on 14, I realized I would be going through Shell but had no idea what to expect. Going up the pass, the road was all textured - I'm not sure if that was for upcoming construction or for icy conditions but I can only imagine that it was annoying to people on non-dual sport motorcycles! The pass was just gorgeous and along the road, there were all these signs telling you how old the rocks were that were exposed along the road way!

It was really gorgeous going through those mountains - I did stop a couple of times for photos of interesting palisades, hills and rocks but my photos do not do justice to this area.

As I descended from the summit, I came through an area with very fun roads but had to stop because what I saw across the canyon was so shocking: miles of downed trees. This area was the site of the highest known altitude tornado touch down - in the 1950s! It took out many trees, and though the Forest Service recovered what they could at the time, the hillsides were so steep that many of the trees are still there, rotting. It looks like a volcano blew up and knocked them down (like around Mt St Helens).

Another stop, not too far from the blown-down trees - to admire some roadside geology:

Finally - I got to Shell. I had no idea what I was to expect - and was perfectly delighted by the gorgeous rock canyon cut out by the river and waterfalls.

Also delighted by the end-of-season sale at the National Parks gift shop where I loaded up with stuffed animals and other gifts for my family, including a Smokey the Bear coffee mug that turned into a forest fire scene when full of hot liquid. I confess - I kept the moose who whinnies when you press it in the middle but the giant squishy buffalo and the bear who roars when you press its middle went to my toddler nephew. Loaded up with goodies - I headed down to the little village of Shell (after taking a few more photos!) and popped into the Shell Post Office (seeing a pattern here?) to mail stuff home.

I was beginning to regret having made a Friday night reservation at Old Faithful - the wind was a bit tiring at times, and there were interesting things to see between Buffalo and Yellowstone. It was getting quite late in the afternoon when I made a stop in Cody at Mountain High Natural foods ( where I stocked up on goodies for breakfasts and dinners. This is one of the nicest stores I have been in on this trip - they just moved into their new location and have so much space. The owner, Martie Clark, was super helpful and friendly.

After eating a snack, I prepared for the final leg of my trip that day into Yellowstone. Sadly, skipping Cody though friends told me there were fun museums to explore there.

I saw so many police in this stretch between Cody and the East Gate of Yellowstone, that I held down my speed and kept super alert for state troopers. I finally arrived at the Yellowstone East Gate at 6:30 - the sun was going down and the speed limit in the park is something like 30 mph. Having seen so many people pulled over before - I kept to the low speed limit but people were tailgating me and some passed me (not so safely) so they could zip along at well over twice the speed limit. The wind picked up and the temperatures dropped - it seemed like I was so close and yet so far! My fingers froze. I arrived at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge and couldn't even unbuckle my helmet but a super nice helpful lady, Mary Ann from Tennessee, came around the front desk and did it for me. She checked me in and advised me to hop right into a hot shower, "You've got about 30 minutes before Old Faithful will be putting on the next show!"

I got to my rustic cabin - more like a trailer with low ceilings - had a very nice hot shower (apologies to my neighbors if they didn't get hot water later!), made some hot tea and got out to see Old Faithful put on a show while the sky still had the fading colors of sunset. I went back to my room and made some noodles and listened to another audio book, falling asleep soundly!

Day 9: 326 miles

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Old 10-25-2011, 03:18 PM   #11
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Saturday (9/3) morning, after a breakfast of dairy-free instant oatmeal and chai, I dressed and set off to discover the next time for Old Faithful's show. Mary Ann promised to help find me a room for Saturday night - through bad timing, I was at a National Park on Labor Day Weekend and it was pretty booked up. And crowded. There were easily 400 people standing around Old Faithful waiting for the geyser to go off that morning - and I did get some pictures!

Concierge Mary Ann came through with a Saturday night reservation for me at Mammoth Site - way north in the park. I wish I had a better map of Yellowstone and had made the first night's reservation at Mammoth - I could have gone through the Beartooth Highway, then back down to Old Faithful! I packed up, got gas & added oil to the DR - then headed off through the park, stopping at geological features but getting a bit tired of hot boiling water and no hot springs for bathing. There was so much traffic - and the low speed limit made it a less than fun experience, honestly.

Cliff Geyser - it's hard to get good pictures of these things - they are active, bubbling, steaming and exploding - and they all sort of look the same after you've seen 5 or 10 of them.

Some of the pools were just deep and clear, but full of deadly hot water:

If you fall in - you're cooked, like this guy (a raccoon?):

More hot water that you can't soak in:

All very pretty scenery -

When I arrived at Mammothsite, everything was dry as a bone - I did get to see some elk very close up.

Dry travertine springs:

Elks, hanging out:

Magpie, doing what magpies do:

I still felt pretty sapped from the chilly windy drive the night before - heck, 3 days of wind adds up - and sacked out for a 4 hour nap before wandering around the hotel a bit, and returning to make noodles for dinner and tuck into more Sookie Stackhouse books. I was woken by MOOSE call below my window at 3 am!

Day 10: 55 miles

Sunday (9/4), after another breakfast of tea & instant oatmeal, I scraped the frost off my motorcycle seat, packed up and headed out. I visited a few more geothermal features and had a nice walk down into Canyon - which was overrun with visitors, including one guy who cut off trail and when several other people confronted him about it - he insisted he was on "a trail" even if it wasn't paved and was a real jerk about denying responsibility to contributing to erosion by his actions. Some people should stay in cities.

Finally, I had enough and headed down to Jackson, enjoying the view of Tetons but confused about what the big deal is about the Tetons. I guess it's great if you just ski or hike around in them but it wasn't obvious how to get really close to them.

I made some calls at a visitor center and found a relatively cheap hotel, Alpine Inn, then headed to dinner at Lotus Cafe, a highly recommended vegetarian cafe. I ended up sharing a table and conversation with another woman traveler, Barri from Florida, before returning to watch True Blood and catch up on some more sleep.

Day 11: 175 miles

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Old 11-10-2011, 03:23 PM   #12
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Monday (9/5) - after packing up, I headed to breakfast at Lotus Cafe and ordered for vegan reuben sandwich to go - when I was nearly done with my breakfast, I reminded the server about the rueben and got it packed up and put it on my pack.

I had fun drive over the pass - it's quite pretty and quite a quick little ride with nice broad sweepers and plenty of places to pass the slow moving Harleys. My first stop was in Idaho Falls for fuel where I met with a whole bunch of guys with KTMs on trailers and in the backs of trucks. They were not part of some special KTM event, but they were all from KTM of Aspen and also going to Stanley to camp.

The guys introduced themselves as Tino, Spencer, Mike, Dave & Joe. Tino & Spencer told me about their chosen campground and invited me to camp with them. I took them up on their offer and went into the grocery store to get some beer and other stuff to throw into Tino's cooler. We compared routes - they were planning to stay onward when I veered left at Arco to go find Craters of the Moon.

Cute Dog (a rescue) at Idaho Falls gas station

The terrain changed from rolling agricultural land with antelopes to flat desert/prairie plains as I approached "Atomic City." There were some big buttes in the middle of nowhere - and big dark clouds to my left but no rain, more windiness but it was tolerable. I got to Arco and found a little picnic bench on the side of the main road for my lunch. Sadly, I opened it up and discovered that Lotus Cafe had packed up a pastrami rather than the requested vegan rueben (grr), so handed it off to Tino for his cooler when they caught up with me.

I waved off the KTM of Aspen guys on as they head to Stanley the more direct route, and I had a chat with an Canadian ADVRider member who was doing Continental Divide (or returning home from it) - but totally am blanking on his name.

Finally, I head off to Craters of the Moon and notice that I seem to be going right into the dark storm clouds approaching me on the road. The wind really picks up and almost sweeps me off the road! This was the first time that I considered actually turning around to try to outrun the wind or a storm - I had to plant both feet on the ground and was short of anything that would look like a wind break. Then I crept along and realized that Craters of the Moon park was actually 20 feet away just past the tiny rise - so I proceeded.

As I was pulling out my maps in the parking lot, a woman and her family came up to tell me how worried they were - they were behind me and said that the last gust of wind was really scary from where they were, they were certain I was going to end up with the rubberside up. Her teenage son forgot this concern when he saw me take off my helmet and said "You're a WOMAN??" and continued to exercise his foot/mouth prerogative with various pronouncements about the badassery of being on a motorcycle and traveling "like that" and the conditions.

Needless to say - the weather conditions did not make for exciting photography, and both camera batteries died, but I did get some nice photos.

Lava fields for as far as the eye can see - looks like broken chocolate (not chocolate you dropped on the floor, but chocolate you were heating up and which had too much water in it and gets all weird and lumpy). This photo was not shot in black and white!

Nice clouds, eh?

Finally, I leave the park and head up to Stanley - via a whole bunch of dumb little towns and low speed limits - get over the Galena pass to Sawtooth Wilderness - ridiculously beautiful!

This is where I am really seriously disappointed - my batteries all died and there wasn't enough sun for my little Solio charger. I have NO photos. This area approaching and on the other side of the Galena Summit ( was so amazingly beautiful - I just found myself smiling like a loon, laughing and giggling at the incredible, overwhelming gorgeousness of it all.

Passing through Stanley, I knew I was close and easily found Casino Campground where I was to meet up with Tino & his camp mates. Tino was still at the camp to show me the way - and I realized that I had passed the whole group at the hot spring on the side of the road on my way in. We went for a soak in the hot spring by the river, then returned to camp to make our dinners, stoke a roaring big fire, drink beer and have a raucous good time.
Tuesday (9/6) morning couldn't arrive any sooner - my new sleeping bag was not enough for sleeping outdoors without a tent or additional blankets and I was ready for a return to the hot spring!

With all the beer dranking the previous night, Tino and Joe were a bit hung over. Since Mike was working on Dave's bike, four of us head to the hot spring and hang out for a lot longer than we intended, laughing at Joe's plumber stories.

Though I would really want to join them on the trails - everyone agreed that my rear tire did not look robust enough to go off road. With the extra weight of my gear PLUS my fat ass, it was wearing smooth. I think the rough grading going up Galena Summit and some of the roads in Wyoming helped - in addition to riding long periods of time heating up the tires.

So, when we return, the guys have to get into gear to catch up with Mike & Dave - my plans were to I hang at camp, soak in hot springs and relax while they go off to enjoy the trails. I head into Stanley for laundry, charge up my devices and find lunch at the pizza joint next door. Stanley has the most awesome views of the mountains - huge wide dirt streets where folks kick up their heels at weekly dances with live music in the summers.

While I waited for my machines, I checked out local shops. At "Back Eddy," I had a nice chat with Noelle, picked up a pretty silver chain with turquoise pendant and a recommendation for Kirkham Hot Springs.

On my way back to camp, I picked up ice for coolers, soft drinks and cool Sawtooth Recreational Area stickers for everyone. I saw more dark clouds and returned to camp in time to grab everyone's open duffel bags of clothes, bedding and other camp gear to put under cover as a storm passes over. Just as I got Tino's EZ-Up canopy assembled and was opening my bottle of wine, Mike returns towing Dave -- which was awesome because I've heard about that technique but have never seen it before! I greeted each returning rider with a cold Pellegrino limonata. Mike worked on Dave's motorcycle and I helped the guys gather wood for the fire. Dinner was a bit more subdued this evening.

Wednesday (9/7) morning, I packed up while the guys got ready to hit the trail. Mike and I talked a bit about my route - and I was starting to feel nervous about my rear tire. Plus - I was having a stomachache. I had a bit of a flare-up of queasiness the previous morning and then again after lunch - but felt fine after my udon noodles and broth after dinner. This morning, though, my stomach just started hurting and didn't stop.

So, I cruised down Hwy 21 - trying to enjoy the ride, despite stomachache and apprehension about the rear tire but there was a little matter of the air being completely grey with smoke from a nearby forestfire PLUS ongoing roadwork with the additional disgusting smell of asphalt and traffic stops (hot asphalt + hot sun = no fun!). One of the construction flaggers said she had a horrible migraine the previous day from the combination of heat, forest fire smoke and asphalt smells.

I finally did make it to Kirkham - thinking that I would miss it, but it was right on the side of the road!

This was probably one of the best hot springs I have ever visited - gorgeous, pools of all different temperatures and right on the river. A man who had visited a couple times earlier in the year said that as the summer progressed and the river got lower, there were more pools.

The water was incredibly clear - with sandy bottomed pools and large boulders for backrests:

The gorgeous river:

As I got closer to Boise and descended the mountains, the ambient temperature start going up. My stomachache wasn't going away and it was already quite late in the afternoon. Neither maps or iPhone helped me out much in trying to figure out "where do I go next?" upon arriving in Boise - so I looked for the first port in a storm. What I thought was the office of a storage unit franchise turned out to be the extremely well appointed offices of a local contractor/architect.

One of the partners was a very friendly man who set me up with some cold water and I posted around trying to find a place that had a rear tire for me. I discovered Big Twin had three tire options for me - and one of the contractor's employees had arrived on his motorcycle, and offered to sherpa me to Big Twin.

4:30 pm found me cooling off in Big Twin, drinking copious amounts of water while I waited for the tire change and repair of the broken rear left turn signal. I also ended up buying a new jacket and Big Twin's Kevin offered to shop home my other jacket (which I packed up in a box to make myself useful).

Exhausted - I didn't look too far and ended up at a super spendy Holiday Inn, showered and headed to Shangri La for dinner, Boise's only vegetarian cafe. My stomach still hurt - eating food did not help (as it does for ulcers) and I went to the ER at St Luke's. The only good that came out of it was that they determined that my appendix, pancreas and gallbladder were all fine, the doctor "discovered" that I had no spleen (though it was the first thing I mentioned in my intake interview) and I was given an Rx for ulcer medication. I don't have ulcers, I think it was possibly food poisoning but am pretty sad about the wasted two hours and hundreds of dollars at St Luke's, though I did get to meet the lovely doctor who said "You can call me Brad."

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Old 11-10-2011, 05:19 PM   #13
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Thursday (9/8) morning, stomach still bothering me, I packed up and headed out. On my way to the motorcycle, I spied a preying mantis on the ground - looking like he was having a pretty hard morning:

For breakfast, I headed back to Shangri La and took up the loveseat, enjoyed a nice tofu scramble and ordered a falafel sandwich to go for lunch later. I also found myself powerless to resist the charms of a certain necklace in the jewelry case (made by the owner's husband!). Next stop was at Co-Op in Boise for antacids, drinks & snacks. This was probably one of the best grocery stores I have been to on this trip - it was full of high quality products and piles of local produce (including golden chanterelles from Eastern Oregon!). At a red light, another motorcyclist waves at me and comes up to introduce himself as a fellow ADV Rider who had seen my request for recommendations for motorcycles with tires in stock.

As I head out of Boise, I am sad to note that one of the freeway overcrossings has a big sign for "Black Cat Road" - but there aren't any nearby offramps and I don't want to do a 15 mile detour to get a picture of the sign. The terrain becomes more agricultural and I can smell spinach and onions at the same time, like a big Greek salad!

My plan for the next several days is to stop before I think I need to - and hydrate more. My stomach is still a bit off - so I stop at a store that promises alcohol, tobacco, firearms, pawn and cold drinks for a rest stop.

After that, I go from nice rolling farm land onto Hwy 26 where the farmland is flat and hot. Lots of big big ag completely lacking places to stop to eat my sandwich. Finally, I stop at Willow Creek Cafe in Vale, OR where I get permission to eat my sandwich, order tea and find myself regaled with macabre tales of true crime and dumbassery in a charming cafe where the walls are covered with these amazing Log Cabin quilts that have rounded edges and curves (with Log Cabin?) made by Bev, the owner.

Once the tales of true crime (some dentist killed his wife by strangling her with a piano wire or something) are exhausted, talk turns to travel and "what are you doing on that motorcycle?" The farmer and his daughter (who appears to be about my age) talk about her brief time in Portland - which he thought was quite dangerous, and then he proceeds to tell me about his trip to Oakland with a load of onions, casually dropping in the word "Negroes" (which he pronounces as "NIG-rows"). We discuss my route and the three of them agree that there is absolutely nothing redeeming to see on my route - it's just not nice - and I'd be better off taking the shorter route.

After warning me how dangerous it is in eastern Oregon and that there are bad people who might cause me harm, the other two guests leave. Now that I have her to myself, I get Bev to lead me on a grand tour of her quilts, she graciously answers my questions and gives me her two instruction books so I can learn to make such awesome quilts myself!

At a stop for gas a few miles away, an old farmer in a cowboy hat exits the store as I am removing my helmet, and looks quite astonished, remarking "Why a lady motor-sickle rider!"

I've rather run out of responses - since he's right on both counts and his lack of exposure to women on motorcycles is pretty funny since I don't think he'd react like that to a woman on some big ag combine or something.

Hwy 26 features more buttes, rolling hills, antelope and antelope. It's actually quite pretty and nice, with lots of variation along the long straightaways. There's no traffic and I'm still not seeing any law enforcement - wishing I had a street bike to go ZOOM!

My next stop is at the El Dorado Restaurant in Unity where I drink iced tea and chat with owner, Kathy. After hearing my story about the quilts at Willow Creek, she suggests that I visit a quilt shop in Prarie City owned by her friends. I pop into the local post office to mail home my new quilt books - afraid they'll get wet by the dark clouds ahead and not willing to unpack the entire duffel - and notice a bunch of cute kitties across the street! Then, I get introductions by a woman named Memory to all her cute kitties.

Simba - king of the orange kittens!


Kitties put on a show for me!


Baby Blue Eyes (all the cuter being crossed!)

Momma's got TWO extra toes!

Babies at play

Leaving Unity:

I have to confess that I thought the folks at Willow Creek Cafe were just having one over on me - I continued to see gorgeous scenery going into Prairie City and was glad that I pointed my wheels toward a place on the map with the words "forest" and "Malheur" - bringing to my mind the image of some forested mountains, desolate and beautiful - and so far, not disappointing. Even before I got to Unity, the skies were pink from the sun going through the haze of smoke blowing over from Central Oregon forest fires is making the sky pink - and there were also giant piles of clouds that look to threaten rain never produce anything on my route.

Just above Prairie City, I stopped to admire the views and a giant Conestoga Wagon.

My new jacket sure stands out in this weather!

Prairie City was as quaint as can be and I found my way to the quilt shop just in time to meet Viola who lead me to the John Day fairgrounds to get a sneak preview of the quilt show and buy a quilt kit so I can make gorgeous stars like those in this quilt:

I won't overwhelm with too many quilt photos - you can see them all here:

I think this was my favorite one:

After many warnings about deer, I left the kind folks at the John Day County Fair Grounds, bought gas at Clark & Canyon City Blvd and got on my way.

Going through the Malheur Forest was gorgeous -- just all amazing - forests, prairie, mountains buttes -- I was just bummed that it was already getting dark. I did not see a single deer.

When I arrived in Burns, I soon discovered that the first few hotels were sold out! Apparently, this is because of the county fair and rodeo. I end up at Rory & Ryan's based on a a review by Super Suz and got a discount on the efficiency apartment unit with a kitchen. As soon as the pretty concierge informed me that both her brothers were going to be at the Friday night rodeo - I decided to stick around. I'd never been to a rodeo before!

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Old 11-10-2011, 06:59 PM   #14
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Friday (9/9), after making my intentions to stay another night official to the management, I made breakfast and then spent a couple luxurious hours reading in the hot tub all by myself. The only other occupant in the pool house was a moth that I rescued from the pool - and who disappeared after his wings dried off. It was very relaxing.

Finally, I got dressed and headed to the fair - taking little other than my camera, wallet and recommendation to try the special donut holes made by the local Lyons club - you got it - "Lyon's balls."

First, I checked out the exhibits - there was a lot of random crap there, I have to say. While there were some good photos - there were SO MANY photos - and just about everyone got a ribbon. There were crafts but there was also a huge amount of ephemera - like a pair of mason jars purporting to date to 1916 - with a blue ribbon for first place, and old books dating back to 1910 -- seriously? I am looking into this for local county fairs so I can get some ribbons for random antique or odd items.

There were some quilts - but they were all one one rack and not displayed very well:

There were also plenty of hand-sewn items - some rather odd entries but I'll leave it to your imagination.

The produce was more interesting and fun - though you can probably only look at about 12 giant zucchini before you wonder how pithy they are inside and whether they are worth eating. I think the giant cabbages were probably excellent though.

The preserves were very interesting and lots of fun to see the patterns and types of things folks made. Not a single entry for ground cherry jelly!

Someone made zucchini pickles like I do!

This area had a high number of anti-abortion billboards, and this was only one of a couple anti-abortion displays in the exhibition halls:

Finally, I went to the grandstand where they started some of the rodeo contests for roping and barrel racing - the little kids on horses were so much fun! I had a couple beers and made conversation with some local folks. Someone recommended that I check out the BLM wild horse pens just past town on my way out. There were a LOT of Clarks participating in the day's events!

The guys had a hard time catching this horse:

The race started, and the horses hadn't even gone all the way around when one horse got pushed by another into a wall, threw his rider, then freaked out and caught his leg on the fence - apparently breaking his leg all the way through. The rider did not get up and was carted off in an ambulance, the horse was sedated and taken away in a trailer, probably to his doom. It was at that point that I decided it was time to take a break and head back to make dinner and watch things not involving death and hospitalization.

The evening rodeo performance was mostly steer roping and steer riding - it was very amusing and I kept rooting for the steers! Again - lots of Clarks present. I made friends with a 3 and 4 year old who were sitting behind me and utterly fascinated with my yellow high vis jacket. I shared some of my pictures with them and they were so cute that when the rodeo ended - I said it was nice to meet them and you know what they said? "Thank you for showing us your pictures!" Mom had not even coached them - I can't even get a prompt thank you for a gift from certain younger relatives - and here these little gentlemen were thanking me for showing them pictures of groundhogs and burros!

I have firmly decided that cowboy hats only look good on cowboys under the age of 11 or so.

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Old 11-10-2011, 07:34 PM   #15
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Saturday (9/10) morning, I found myself almost instantly at the BLM Wild Horse pens -- I had to find a turnout and make a u-turn to go back! The gate was open but the place appeared abandoned, except for hundreds of gorgeous horses in different pens.

The first pen seemed to have the wildest bunch of horses - I suppose they get more exposure to people, cars and the rare motorcycle that way.

It was amazing to watch this first group of horses move around as a herd - it was like watching starlings or other birds moving around in big clouds. The horses shifted back and forth, quivered, waited anxiously - wondering whether something was going to happen, prepared to dart off, despite their confinement.

It seemed like the babies all looked like the mommas!

Other pens had slightly less jittery horses, some were getting to be downright friendly and came up to the fence to see if I had brought them any treats.

One of the hands at the ranch told me that there was a special type of horse that was going to be auctioned off - but the rest could be had for $125 if you had a trailer and a place to keep a horse!

Heading south on 395, the terrain changes to high desert with wide open, subtle landscapes and gorgeous skies. I guess a lot of people don't find it attractive but I quite enjoyed it and would not ever think of calling it ugly. Just when I was getting into a groove - along comes a really big lake - just one of those areas that photos don't do justice.

I stopped for gas in Lakeview - where the two teenagers on duty were very attentive, admired my Zombie hunting permit on my windscreen and sighed loudly that they were envious of my trip. Just past the shut-down downtown, I found a little Sunday lunch at a cafe with a great big motorcycle parked there. It was all pretty blue and chrome -- and the driver was just as shiny, so I sat at the counter and struck up conversation. Turns out Jason is from the East Bay but heading north!

Admire Jason's pretty motorcycle here:

After eating my iceberg lettuce, toast and ...yeah, that's pretty much all they had that was vegan at this stop - I continued south, heading for Lassen. I was out of camp stove fuel, so I thought I'd be clever and try to find some on the way down - stopping several times at places that promised outdoors/outfitter/camping/fishing supplies. I was a bit concerned about being able to have dinner or breakfast since I didn't see a restaurant in Lassen.

I arrived at Manzanita Lake just in time to get a walk-in cabin, buy isopro fuel, beer and a few vegetables before they closed the store at 5 or 6 or whatever it was. I got a cute little cabin, unloaded my gear, set up my hammock on the porch and proceeded to enjoy a cold beer, chocolate and my book for an hour or so before exploring the campground and the little chilly lake.

I had a hot shower, then returned to my cabin to make dinner (more udon noodles with curry and veg), drink beer and hang out with my neighbors at their fire, tell ghost stories to their children & acquire the brightest green laser pointer ever from the camp host.

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