We started out having breakfast at Helen's in Chadron, Nebraska. Wherever I go, I try to make new friends. Chadron, Nebraska was no exception.
We were not in Nebraska long before we crossed into South Dakota. I found that I had some trouble shifting gears the day before, and made a mental not of it, but the early riding did not have a hint of trouble. That said, when I downshifted to pull over and take this photo, I noticed it again. It was like the clutch was not fully engaging on the bike.
One of the things that happens when you are on a longer trip is that you really get to know the feelings and sounds of the bike. She was telling me, "I'm fine" but I knew she wasn't. It was just a minor thing, but I would keep my antennae up for it.
Shortly after entering South Dakota, I saw the Black Hills It's funny, though - I smelled them before I saw them. In the west, the air is so clean there is a noticeable lack of scent in the air. So, when something did have a scent, I noticed it much sooner. The Black Hills are covered with pine trees, and that evergreen smell surrounds them. It's beautiful.
We hit the winding hills with alacrity, but not too much, figuring the local constabulary might have an eye and an ear out for squids (those guys on crotch rockets that dodge between your cars on the highways at unreasonable rates of speed).
And then, rounding a hill, slightly off to the side of the road, I saw them: Bison! Living ones! They lumbered along, roughly the size of a small SUV. They tussled with each other, playfully rubbing their heads together. They stopped and looked at our motorcycles, but kept a distance from they sound of the engines. This was a good thing, because there are warnings to give them distance. Given their size, that seemed prudent.
From the mountains to the sun, life has only just begun
We wed this land and pledge our souls to meet its end
Life has only just begun
Here my people roam the earth, in the kingdom of our birth
Where the dust of all our horses hides the sun
We are mighty on the earth, on the earth
Looking at these rolling hills, it was easy to see the Cheyenne on their horses, looking for the buffalo that would provide clothing, blankets, tipi covers, moccasins, needles and thread, knives, glue, shields, quivers, toys, and everything required for an entire way of life.
We had the option of visiting Mount Rushmore or the Crazy Horse Memorial. I chose Crazy Horse. It's a huge monument, currently under construction. It is, of course, a pay to get in place, and then you can pay more to get to the bottom of the site. We opted in for the first and out for the second.
There is a nice viewing area in the (omnipresent) gift shop, and I found this rendering of what it should look like when it is done, with it's current state in the background. You guys better get chiseling!
My bike continued to act up, so I was pleased when we pulled into Deadwood, South Dakota.
I was pleased because there was an Indian restoration garage, and I thought, "Surely these people can help me." I had done some quick online research and found that, because my bike has a hydraulic clutch, there was a possibility that air in the hydraulic line was causing the problem, and that a "simple" bleed of the line might alleviate the problem. I put "simple" in quotes because it's simple if you 1) have a the tools and 2) know your way around a motorcycle. Surely, an Indian restorer hit both of those categories!
But, it turns out the guy couldn't help me. Or, wouldn't help me. I suppose I will never know because he didn't even come out of the shop. The woman at the front desk called back, after explaining to me they "don't work on plastic bikes" and told the mechanic about my issue. Then she hung up the phone and said he wouldn't take a look at yet it. I have heard people talk about how stuck up Harley-Davidson owners can be, and I have heard the same said of BMW owners. I have not met one of either of those brand owners that were. Brad and I decided to vacate the premises, before I went Abe Froman (the Sausage King of Chicago) and decided to get snooty. I shook the dust off my sandals and we moved on.
We went to a specialty shop, but the guy "only works on Harley's" so he couldn't help me either, but pointed to shop nearby that might. We found Outdoor Motor Sports in Spearfish, North Dakota a Yamaha/Honda (you meet the nicest people on a Honda) shop, and when I explained what was going on, they asked me to pull the bike into the shop. I did, and the guy bled the line right there for me. The difference was dramatic and immediate. The question was whether or not it would be lasting. If there was air in the line, there should be no problem, but if there was a leak in the assembly (master cylinder, slave cylinder, etc.) I would be haunted again, like some westward riding Ebenezer Scrooge, trying to outrun ghosts bent on revisiting him, and with nothing better to do. We rode onward, into Wyoming.
If you are of a certain age, you cannot think about Devil's Tower and NOT see it in a plate of mashed potatoes. For my money, I always preferred the scaled diorama Richard Dreyfus built in the basement in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Seeing America's first National Monument, which was dedicated by President Theodore Roosevelt, in person was a highlight of the trip. The Cheyenne, Lakota, Crow, and Kiowa all held the mountain as special, and most of the names they had for it center around a variation of "The Bear's Home". In hindsight, I really wish we had driven down closer to the site; it's one of the few regrets I have about his trip.
We pulled over quite often to stretch our legs and keep our heads on straight. It felt like we stopped in the middle of nowhere, but obviously, we stopped at Dry Creek Road. I was grateful for the stops - my clutch problem had returned, and I had time to look things up online, then ride and consider what they meant, formulate more questions, then, when we stopped the next time, search for those answers.
Nd, then we had reached the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming. It's the first real mountains I had seen. We could see their snow-capped peaks for miles before we got there. It's a strange thing to be riding in 95 degree heat and looking at snow.
We began our ascent of the mountains. Fortunately, there were guard rails and pull offs. I have a (I am told) strange affinity for guard rails. To me, they are perfect for two things. The first is pondering. The height of guard rails always seems to be perfect to just sit down and think about things. Think about what? things. It doesn't matter, but the longer I sit, the better I think.
The second thing is just to get a little perspective. Like the proverbial bear going over the mountain, I like to jump up on the rails and see what's on the other side...
I am rarely disappointed...
We came down the other side to streams swollen by mountain snow runoff, entering into nearly deserted towns.
And finally arrived at Cody, Wyoming, at the foot of the Grand Tetons, just in time for dinner and a sunset.
My motorcycle was in trouble. The clutch problem was not getting better, and it was difficult to shift gears. Up until now, this had not been a pollen, because I found my way too the highest gear and just drove casually, like Chewbacca in the Millennium Falcon. But, now, we were approaching twisty roads, where constant shifting was going to be the norm. I saw I had several options:
- Keep going and hope it got better. I remember the CEO of our company saying, "Hope is not a strategy" so I ruled that one out.
- Keep heading west and visit the Ducati shop in Washington state when I got there. But, if they need to order parts, that could take a long time, and I had to get home, eventually. A delay of even several days would be immediately problematic. So, that was a no.
- Head home immediately. That was a possibility, but I didn't think I was harming the bike by riding it.
- Ride to Fort Collins, Colorado, and visit the Ducati dealership there. It was 6 1/2 hours south and east of my location, so if I could get the bike fixed right away, then that would be great, and if not, I would be that much closer to home. I decided on this as my course of action, and to call them from the road, as soon as the opened.
I was disappointed to be leaving Brad to the ride, alone. I was even more disappointed that the most technical and beautiful riding still lay ahead of us. But, at a certain point in our lives, we have to acknowledge there is a more prudent path and, occasionally, against all of our baser instincts, take it.
I went to bed and, for the first time on our journey, slept poorly.