I’m feeling more human today, but running waaaay behind. I guess it’s time to just haul ass.
Note: Given Day 1’s health issues, I’m already three days behind on these posts. Consequently, these may be uncharacteristically brief.
After yesterday’s health carnage due to my Crohn’s disease, I felt fortunate to wake up rested and not in pain. I still felt like a threadbare chamois cloth that had been wrung out a few too many thousand times, but I was serviceable. I’d also gone to bed insanely early (for me), so I up and moving shortly after 7am.
The riding plan for the day was simple: ride as far as my body allows. I’d be sticking to the slab-blast plan, so it’s I90 west until I give out or I get somewhere in Wyoming, whichever comes first.
The health plan for the day was also simple: consume nothing but water, but only is small amounts at a time until I sense that the partial intestinal blockage is moving. Then get more adventurous based on how I feel.
Looking west, the weather was clear; no rain as far as the national radar could see. The day would start cool — it was only 59ºF (15ºC) — but get up into the 90ºs F (32-37ºC) as I went west. As long as I keep moving, it shouldn’t get too uncomfortable.
Somebody find my friend Fins and tell him that hell froze over today: Ghost started a ride at 8:12am.
I could have made the most direct route back to I90, but Waze wasn’t going to allow that when we can weave all over the backroads to save 32 seconds of travel time. After about 10 minutes of Waze’s tour of Wisconsin farmland, I was westbound on I94 once more.
West (actually north) of Madison, Wisconsin, I94 is three lanes wide. This is partially because this stretch of I90 is shared by I94, so two Interstate highways are trying to occupy the same concrete; additional space is in order. The other reason is that from this part of Wisconsin, all major thoroughfares lead to…
The Wisconsin Dells.
Yes, it’s an interesting geological formation, and it’s even kind of pretty. However, like any natural wonder in this world, it’s surrounded by every form of tourist exploitation known to man. It’s a bit like Pigeon Forge… Lite.
Due to inexcusable planning on my part, I needed to stop for gas in the Dells region. Thankfully, I was able to eek out a few extra miles from the gas tank and avoid the Baraboo exit that is ground central for all Dell-related ridiculousness.
It was truly a gorgeous day and remained cool enough that I kept an extra layer (my trademark purple flannel) on under my jacket. I figured it wouldn’t warm up too much by the next gas stop in Minnesota.
When I crossed the Mississippi River into Minnesota I didn’t see much boat traffic on the water. Having said that, it was still late morning, though I’m used to seeing more fishing boats on a few of the backwaters beside the main channel.
I really like how a westbound trip starts through Minnesota on I90 westbound. You cross this high bridge with a great view, when you curve north along the Mississippi River for several miles, passing a few small riverbank communities and several marinas filled with vessels, toys and commercial.
Then the road forks and I90 curves westward away from the river and up a gully that was probably carved by one of its tributaries. Over the course of several miles, you slowly curve and climb your way up onto… the surrounding plain.
That’s it. The fun is over.
Ok, I’m being overly harsh. The southeastern Minnesota landscape does have some roll to it. The farmland is lush and green and well kept. From a motorcycling perspective, it’s not as brain dead an activity to cross as, say, Nebraska, but it’s not Colorado either. I was still in this region, at Albert Lea, when I had to fill up the Nightowl again. It was getting too warm for extra layers now; the flannel was stowed and the trip continued.
Author note: I’d seriously considered phoning my biker friends in the Rochester, Minnesota area (Sparky and Pooder, I’m thinking of you) and see of they wanted to share a meal. Then I remembered that I couldn’t eat anything yet anyway and would probably be crappy company. Until better days.
Southwest Minnesota, on the other hand, gets flatter, less lush, and windier. The wind does bring with it some huge wind farms, which are interesting to look at. I generally find that the wind turbines are usually pointed with their tails towards me, which means the wind is in my face. Someday I’ll figure out how I can cross some regions of the country and the wind is against me every time no matter which direction I’m traveling. A philosophical question to ponder.
Right about then, you notice that the rest area you just passed included the tall concrete teepee frame distinctively used in South Dakota.
South Dakota is a long state. For most of it’s length (east to west) it’s not any more interesting than south western Minnesota. Long expanses of never-ending grain farms or open prairie, sometimes broken by fields of sunflowers.
Author question: I’ve often noted how in fields of sunflowers, all the flowers face the same direction, following the sun. It’s really cool. On this day, with it being so hot, all the sunflower blooms looked like they were wilted away from the sun. Does the sunflower do this if it’s too hot?
South Dakota’s claim to fame is the Black Hills, which are located in the south west corner of the state. Since a lot of the tourist population comes from the eastern states, the purveyors of touristy stuff in South Dakota have the challenge of encouraging the tourist to venture all the way across the state to get to the good stuff, starting at the Badlands and Wall Drug, and finishing with the Black Hills region. The solution to this challenge is: the billboard.
I don’t think I’ve seen a region of the US more populated with billboards than South Dakota. I’ll even go a step further. I postulate that South Dakota has the most billboards along I90, and those billboards, cumulatively, are describing the smallest number of actual attractions.
These are the biggest offenders:
- Wall Drug (10 times worse than all the others)
- Pioneer car museum
- 1880s Town
- Corn Palace
- Firehouse Brewery (they put an old fire truck next to each billboard)
- Mount Rushmore (specifically, the Borglum story attraction)
- Reptile Museum
It reminds me a lot of the lack of commercial variety for today’s streaming media platforms. Only a few sponsors are allowed to promote a given streamed show, so the same commercial may show five or six times during a show that airs for an hour. That’s what’s its like to drive across South Dakota, especially westbound.
Author note: If you’re wondering what any of this has to do with motorcycling. The lesson is this: make sure you have some shit to work out in your head when you cross South Dakota because you’ll have plenty of time.
Aside from all the South Dakota bashing, I do like the Missouri River valley near Chamberlain. Like the Mississippi River valley between Minnesota and Wisconsin, it’s wide, has tall banks on either side, and has some impressive bridges over it. Of course, that feature comes and goes within five miles.
I filled up the Nightowl at Spencer and then again at Midland, actually south of Midland at the exit for the aforementioned 1880s Town tourist trap. Hey, I’m sure the eight-year-olds love it, but to me it just looks old and tired… and from the Howdy Doody era. In spite of carefully keeping myself hydrated over the course of the now rather hot day, I was feeling rather drained. I decided to risk a bottle of Gatorade, which would add some carbs and electrolytes that I’d probably depleted over the course of the day. Having ate nothing else that day, I could actually taste the salt in the Gatorade; usually, I don’t detect it.
Being that I’m headed west for a Snarl Par-Tay, it means that I’m traveling west the closing seeking of the Sturgis Bike Week in Sturgis, South Dakota. Most visitors to Sturgis use the last weekend of the rally to get their butts back home (where ever home is). Consequently, I’m traveling west towards Sturgis when all the other bikes are traveling away from Sturgis. It give me the feeling that I’m arriving after the end of the party.
That left-out feeling is compounded by the fact that all the bikes traveling eastbound are in “rally mode” with regard to waving. In case you don’t know, motorcyclists tend to wave at each other. (Whether to wave or not is a serious thread of discussion; there is not accepted answer.) On a busy interstate highway in big city, nobody waves. However, out in the middle of nowhere you need something to keep you awake so you wave at virtually everything with less than four wheels. I’ve caught myself waving at moped riders. Anyway, “rally mode” is what happens when a biker has been at a rally for a week with 100s of 1000s of other bikes; the bikes outnumber the other vehicles at least 50:1. You can’t possible wave at all those bikes, so you stop waving. By the time they see me, they’re hung over, heading back to their boring lives after a week of letting it all hang out, and couldn’t care less about seeing yet another motorcycle.
It was between 5pm and 6pm (I don’t remember) when I reached Rapid City. For the second time today, I had considered contacting local friends (Chuck and Barb) and sharing a meal, but I knew they were probably just getting back home from a concert they’d gone to in Nebraska. They’d had a long day and I was just going to sit there and drink water… slowly. I’ll see them in another week anyway, so I wrote it off.
Passing Rapid City, I was now in the remains of the Sturgis rally. Banners for various biker activities and attractions were still up, or perhaps partially falling down. There were still plenty of bikers around; some folks find it easier to visits the sights in the area without 1000s of other bikers trying to do the same thing. In spite of the fact that I was sensing an oncoming headache, probably from the heat the glare from the sun, I felt I had time and energy to get to one of my mountain stopping points in Wyoming. Consequently, it was time to book a room.
Yes, I do have camping equipment along, but after this long a day on nothing but water and Gatorade, I need air-conditioning.
I used my handy-dandy Wyndham app to find a Super 8 with rooms available in Sheridan, Wyoming. Buffalo, Wyoming would have been closer, but the only rooms available there were obscenely expensive. With a room booked, my final destination was set.
The challenge was gas.
I was tantalizingly close to being able to fill up once more and get all the way to Sheridan. The trick was going far enough on the current tank. You see, in Wyoming, gas stations aren’t exactly on every corner. There can be 60-80 miles between services in Wyoming, so find something far enough along that I could make Sheridan on the remainder, but close enough that I could make that site on the gas I had in the tank.
Yes, I know, I could simply stop to fill up twice instead of once, but what’s the challenge in that? Besides, it wastes time!
As I reached Spearfish and neared the Wyoming border, the amount of smoke in the sky became more than just noticeable, it became irritating. Not because of the obstructed views. I mean physically irritating to the throat during a deep breath, like the slightest tickle on the back of the throat on a held breath. It wasn’t as bad as British Columbia was a few years ago when half the province was on fire, but it was still pretty bad.
The sun was getting lower in the sky now, and the sense of twilight was even deeper due to all the smoke in the sky. It occurred to me that the falsely extended twilight could mean that the deer would be out and about earlier than normal.
Within two minutes of that thought, the pickup that had recently passed me hit his brakes for no apparent reason from ahead of me in the left lane. Given the time of day, I slowed down to keep our separation constant. As we slowed, a doe trotted out from in front of the pickup and across my lane, bounding off the shoulder and into the brush. I let out a heavy sigh; it’s starting already and I’ve got nearly 200 miles to go.
The aforementioned gas conundrum came down to two towns: Sundance and Moorcroft. On the map, they’re only 32 miles (51 km) apart with Sundance closer to me and Moorcroft further down the road. Simply stated, if I could make Moorcroft on the gas left in the Nightowl’s tank, I could very likely reach Sheridan on the subsequent tank. If I had to fill up in Sundance, then I’d probably have to top off the tank in Buffalo to ensure that I wouldn’t run out short of Sheridan.
This is where the live data in modern bikes comes in so handy. The fuel gauge itself is only part of the data set at your disposal. On the Nightowl, you also have:
- Average gas mileage since the last reset.
- Instantaneous gas mileage.
- Calculated distance to empty, which is a combination of fuel level and the average gas mileage.
The distance to empty can lie to you, especially if the travel conditions become more fuel-demanding late in the tank. When this happens, you start out thinking you have sufficient gas to get somewhere, but the distance to empty mileage diminishes faster than the actual miles traveled and you can end up short. The trick is to reset the average consumption figure every time you fill the tank. This ensures that the average is based only on this tank and wasn’t influence by previous activity. Then you can use the average consumption and the distance to empty together to figure out if you can make it to your desired target. In my case, I had:
- 114 miles to get to Moorcroft.
- The distance to empty read 136 miles.
- The average consumption was 40.2 miles-per-gallon.
I’ve got it made, right?
I’d just finished traveling through the Rapid City to Sturgis area where the speed limit is 65 MPH instead of 80 MPH, consequently, I’ve been using less fuel for that stretch. So, now that I can start riding at 80 MPH again, my consumption will increase, my average consumption figure will go down, and my distance to empty will reduce faster than expected.
To ensure success, I simply need to keep the average from going down. If it doesn’t change, I make it. I also know that I have a mountain pass to go over. That may sound like using more fuel, but today’s vehicles are so efficient with the fuel programming, that the extra fuel they use going uphill is more than made up for when going back downhill. Consequently, traveling through mountains usually yields better mileage than crossing the nice level plains. Go figure, eh?
So, watching the instantaneous mileage figure, I try to keep it around or at the average figure until Sundance, then I’ll make my go/no-go decision. It turned out that I needed to slow down to 70 MPH (yes, I actually ran below the speed limit) for about 20 miles to keep the average mileage figure in a good spot by the time I reached Sundance. Then I could continue confident that the favorable pass crossing would make this close call a slam dunk.
I rolled into the gas station in Moorcroft with 17 miles left in the tank. The 221 miles traveled for that tank are certainly not a record for the Nightowl, but it’s not bad given conditions.
Back out on the road, it was past dusk and on to actual night. I was running the Nightowl’s brights (Clearwater Kristas) at full blast and I was still picking up the deer on the shoulder later than I’d like. Each time this happened, I’d slow down my cruising speed a bit.
Author’s Note: What is is about the grass near the road that makes it irresistible to deer? There’s entire plains of grass and they have to eat the grass 1 ft from the edge of the road. Do they have a death wish?
(Answer in tomorrow’s post.)
After several more deer sightings, I pulled into Sheridan, Wyoming and parked at the Super 8 motel at 9:52 PM after 14 hours and 40 minutes of travel time, covering… 1,021 miles.
<snort> Holy crap. I just rode an Iron Butt… again.
The Iron Butt Association is the ruling association for those obsessed with endurance riding. They organize an every-odd-year rally for endurance riders where the route takes the riders to every corner of the United States over 11 days with every day usually covering more than 1,000 miles. To make it interesting, riders can gain extra bonus points by visiting places that are far off the most direct route between waypoints, for example, riding from Seattle to New York City with a stop in Tijuana, Mexico.
Anybody can log an “Iron Butt” ride of 1,000 miles in 24 hours by:
- Getting signed affidavits from witnesses at the start and end of the ride.
- Gathering gas receipts that show a date, time, and location, for every gas stop along the ride.
If you do all this, you can get a very cool Iron Butt license plate frame and your name and ride data will be displayed proudly on the Iron Butt web site.
This is now the fourth time I’ve crested 1,000 miles in 24 hours. It’s just that it’s always by accident. It’s never planned. I have several friends who’ve gone through the effort and have the license plate frame. Hell, I even once had aspirations of participating in an actual Iron Butt rally. But now, having ridden 1,000 miles in one day, and knowing that I could piece two or three of those together in a row if I had to…
11,000 miles in 11 days. You go right on ahead. More power to you.
After checking in, I decided that my guts felt good enough to that I’d try some solid food. Besides, the headache from earlier was getting worse and I figured it could be nutrition-related given the heat and rigors of the day.
Of course, it’s 10pm on a Sunday night in Sheridan, Wyoming. Consequently there aren’t many options.
I’d passed a nice new (to me) gas station and convenience store just off the exit on my way to the motel. I rode back out there and selected a delectable combination of more Gatorade and a bowl of microwave Raman noodles.
These weren’t chosen for how they compliment each other or even or how they taste individually. They were chosen for providing sodium (to replace what I’d been sweating out all day), carbs (for energy), and low fiber (so I don’t block again).
I took my goods back to the room and ate.
The headache was still there. Not a storm, but just clouds on the horizon. I made sure to hydrate a little more and get some sleep; that usually clears it up.
That’s a long line across the country.
Technology note: The direct line at the end of the route is because the iPhone suspended location logging when it overheated in the Nightowl’s dash. Apparently, being inside a black box in direct sunlight on a 100ºF (38ºC) day can make the phone get a bit hot.
Get into the mountains. Some mountains. Any mountains. Just as long as it’s mountains.
I guess I lied about being brief.