Archives: 31st August 2001

Friday 31st August 2001, Spokane WA

The principal reason for staying in Kalispell, was to see the Glacier National Forest, east of the town. It was distinctly chilly when we left the motel for the 30 mile trip to the Park. Despite the sun, it didn’t seem to be getting much warmer by the time we reached the entrance. We chose to follow the optimistically-named Road to the Sun, hoping to get a view of the park from a mountain look out. However, after about 45 minutes riding through tall, shady, forest, with only brief glimpses of the lake, we realised that we were simply wasting time as we were getting cold, and any view we were likely to see was going to be obscured by smoke. We turned round and headed back to Kalispell to start our westward journey again.

We crossed the pan-handle of Idaho as we headed for Spokane, WA. There are only two things I remember about Idaho. The first was a stretch of roadworks, which necessitated an eight-mile ride over bumpy, rutted, unmade road.

The second was the slogan chosen for Idaho’s car number plates.

All the US states have a catchy slogan: New York, ‘The Empire State’; Arizona, ‘The Grand Canyon State’; Nevada, ‘The Silver State’; Massachusetts, ‘The Spirit of America’; Texas, ‘The Lone Star State’; and so on … you get the picture. Now will someone tell us what was going through the minds of the folk who came up with Idaho’s slogan … ‘Famous Potatoes’? (Famous Potatoes! For Pete’s sake …)

By about 4pm we were getting thirsty, and our attention was caught by a sign for an ‘Historic Street’ as we passed through one of many logging towns. The historic street was not bike-friendly, being surfaced with loose gravel, and there were precious few buildings of any real interest. But at the bottom of the hill, there was the Loggers’ Bar.

We felt that we had accidentally stumbled into one of Larson’s ‘Far Side’ cartoons, or worse, ‘The Twilight Zone’. Behind the bar, an implausibly skinny man perched on a stool by the window, reading a newspaper, while a less than youthful woman with long, straggly, grey hair served at the bar. A chain-smoking elderly woman sat at the bar, attached to an oxygen bottle, and a grossly obese family munched chips at a table nearby. The only light in the place came from two small, dirty, windows, and was nearly completely blotted out by a collection of rather sinister old dolls and some bedraggled plants.

We wasted no time finishing our beers, and hurried back out to the sunshine before we were abducted by aliens … or some other hideous fate.

We holed up in the relatively luxury of the Fairfield Inn in Spokane for the night, and found a lively Irish bar/restaurant for dinner.

Thursday 30th August 2001, Kalispell MT

After an abortive search for Motul oil for John’s bike, we headed north for Kalispell and the Glacier National Park. There were limited choices of route around the mountains, so we took the Interstate as far as Missoula, and then the scenic route 93. For the first 100 miles, we were puzzled as to why this had been listed as ‘scenic’ at all, but then we reached the lake, and we followed the road for another 90 miles or so around the extremely photogenic shore.

A strange haze hung over the surrounding hills. We learned later, as we ate dinner in the Bulldog Steakhouse in Kalispell, that the haze was caused by the numerous forest fires now burning in the area.

At last John managed to contact Robert Corbin to ask about the missing Title. (We weren’t really panicked … honest!) There was no problem. On the Monday following the sale, he had obtained a duplicate document and handed it to the Plano dealers. They, of course, had no forwarding address for us, so had hung on to it.

Wednesday 29th August 2001, Boseman MT

We had planned to visit the Buffalo Bill museum before leaving town. But in the event, we decided that it was just to large to do justice to the entry fee in the short time we had available. All we really wanted to do was to visit the Yellowstone National Park. So we topped up with gas and made for the Chief Joseph Highway.

John noticed a worrying rattle coming from his bike. Brigid suggested that his chain might be loose, but was surprised that it had not been spotted when Dunbar Eurosports had changed the tyres. A quick check confirmed that the chain was indeed far too slack. We went back into town where we had noticed a small Harley dealership.

The mechanic was delighted to see the Triumph, and quickly adjusted the chain. We set off. A few hundred yards down the road, John stopped again. Now there was an unfamiliar rubbing noise coming from the chain. Another check revealed that it was far too taut. Back to the shop. Again the mechanic adjusted the chain … this time with John and his luggage on board.

At last we were on the road. The Triumph was now running better than it had since John bought it, and he was enjoying the full power of the 1200 engine. The Chief Joseph Highway was beautiful, rising up into cool, green, forest, from the dull plains below. We stopped for too many photographs, risking expending our supply of batteries and film by the time we reached Yellowstone.

At the entrance to the Park, we stopped for lunch at the Harley-friendly Beartooth Café in Cooke City. Yellowstone itself was predictably magnificent … and big. We wanted to see Old Faithful, but due to one road-closure, the round-trip would have involved an extra 100 miles or so. We made do with views of buffalo herds, forests (some still showing the effects of a great fire 13 years ago), mountains, and lakes. By the time we left the Park, the sun was setting and it was time to find a motel room.

Bozeman, Montana, was just celebrating the return of its students … and their parents! There was a surprising scarcity of accommodation. In the end we plumped for the Bozeman Inn, which had a convenient Mexican bar/restaurant attached. At dinner we found ourselves the oldest patrons by at least 20 years. Around us, groups of male and female students sipped lethal-looking cocktails, while eyeing each other up for ‘talent’.

Tuesday 28th August 2001, Cody WY

There is not much one can say about the trip across Wyoming, at least from Sturgis to Sheridan where we left the Interstate. We were heading for Cody (named after ‘Buffalo Bill’ Cody). At Dayton we stopped briefly at the wonderfully-named Mad Woman Saloon, where we were able to ask the advice of a biker couple as to which of the two roads through the Big Horn mountains would be the best: 14 or 14A? (We opted for 14A, being the steeper and twistier of the two.) The road took us to an elevation of 9,430 ft and descended, via a series of spectacular hairpin bends, to Lovell beneath.

We checked into the Buffalo Bill Village motel come gift shop, and were shown to a very comfortable cabin behind the Holiday Inn. We were spoiled for choice for eateries. Having walked the length of the main street, we settled for the restaurant with the most people in it … Mexican.

Monday 27th August 2001, Sturgis SD

This morning we had about 110 miles of Rt 44 to cover to reach the Badlands National Park. The scenery changed significantly west of Winner … in that it was pretty enough to call ‘scenic’. Under a brilliant blue sky we passed by fields of corn and sunflowers, and every now and again we would be given a preview of the Badlands’ terrain. John quickly became exasperated with Brigid’s frequent stops for ‘Kodak moments’.

Although we had gassed up in Winner, we began to become concerned at the lack of facilities along this stretch of road. We had assumed that there would be some small settlements along the way, but the few we passed showed no signs of having any facilities for travellers. (We remarked that this was probably why such a good road was not designated ‘scenic’ in Harley Davidson’s handbook. Between Winner and Badlands NP, we could only have passed 4 or 5 other vehicles, and one recumbent Indian. One wouldn’t want to get caught out with a peanut-sized tank, dodgy fuel pump, oil leak, or flat battery … Sorry guys!)

At the Park entrance we stopped for gas and lunch at the Indian run Woodenknife Café. We can thoroughly recommend the tortillas, which are served in Indian bread.

The drive through the Badlands was spectacular, though John was slightly horrified to find that there were a couple of 2-mile stretches of road that were undergoing resurfacing work.

Remembering his experience in Texas, he rode extremely cautiously over the gravely surface, not wanting to chip the Trophy’s paintwork.

Again, we were anxious not to get too involved in picture-taking as we needed to get a move on if we were to see Mt. Rushmore and Deadwood today.

A tip: When visiting Mt. Rushmore, there really is no need to pay out $8 per vehicle for parking in the smart new multi-storey car park. There is a free parking area a short distance down the hill, and the walk to the monument (except perhaps for the elderly or infirm) is not far. We were livid when, for the first time in our trip, the two bikes were not counted as one vehicle (we only take up one space, for heaven’s sake), and our National Parks pass was not valid.

Deadwood was also a bit of a shock. Perhaps our moods had been coloured by the experience at Mt. Rushmore, but we had not expected the level of commercialism that we found in this small town. Every business sought to exploit the legend of Wild Bill Hickok. The whole main street was lined with noisy casinos and tacky souvenir shops … not quite as bad as Keystone, but close!

A cooling shower released the scent of the pines as we rode north through the forest to Sturgis. We arrived around 7pm. The rally had ended some two weeks earlier, and I don’t know whether we were relieved or disappointed to find the town so quiet. The Super 8 motel sold some postcards showing the main street full of bikes, and a sign hung above the reception desk “We have no rooms available for the Rally … ever!”.

John finally managed to contact the elusive Henry Corbin Jr. to ascertain whether a) he had received the Title deed for the Trophy from his uncle, Robert, and b) whether he still wanted to buy the bike. The answer to both these questions was no. No, he had not received any Title. No, he would have loved to buy the bike, but his wife had just asked him for a divorce and he could no longer afford it …

We had a solitary dinner in ‘One Eyed Jack’s’.

Sunday 26th August 2001, Winner SD

The smell of fuel from Brigid’s bike was, by now, overpowering, and it had obviously been leaking slowly overnight. We removed the seat to find that a pool of petrol had accumulated in the well created by the plastic seal in the top of the tank. There was nothing for it, but to mop up the excess and hope that, by doing so, we would be able to see where it was coming from. While John emptied the room of luggage, Brigid managed to soak up the petrol with some paper hand towels from the Ladies’ loo. Once the remaining fuel had evaporated, she gave the jubilee clips a quarter turn, for good measure. Now all we could do was wait and see …

We left Kelly’s Inn, Saint Paul, at around 10am for the 300 mile drive. It was warm and the sky was clear, so we packed away the ponchos and rain gear. The Interstate runs directly in front of the hotel, so there should be no problem finding the exit for Rt. 5. John set off in front, only to realise almost immediately that he was on I-94, not I-35E as he had thought. Brigid thought that I-35E was only a short distance east on I-94, so she took over the lead … and we soon found ourselves heading north on I-35W!

Having successfully negotiated our way out of the Twin Cities, our attention was drawn to the leaden clouds approaching from the west. A few spots of rain began to fall. At the next set of lights, we agreed that the rain would quickly pass, and we would not get too wet.

In John’s case, this proved correct, as the fairing on the Triumph Trophy protected his legs, while the windshield was tall enough to protect his upper body from the worst of the weather. But Brigid’s BMW had no fairing, and the windshield served very little purpose at all. In addition, her new Joe Rocket jacket, could not be said to be ‘waterproof’ in any shape or form. At speed, the flaps covering the zips fly open letting in the wet, and even the lightest shower seemed to percolate through the fabric.

Our progress was good. We stopped for gas and a snack outside Sioux Falls at around 4pm. Slowly it dawned on us that we still had an awfully long way to go. There were still about 150 miles to Winner (so much for our scientific calculations)!

Route 44 runs through some of the flattest, most featureless, country we had yet encountered. Miles and miles would go by with no sign of a settlement. The small towns we did pass through showed no sign of having any motel accommodation. The sun was definitely setting by the time we reached Platte, but by this stage we decided to press on … and were rewarded by a spectacular sunset.

Winner was non-descript. We booked into the Buffalo Trail Motel and settled for a microwaved pizza for dinner in a smoky sports bar.

Saturday 25th August 2001, St Paul MN

It was still wet when we woke. The road bridge, no more than 200 yards from the hotel, was barely visible through the torrential rain. Our bikes looked particularly miserable sitting on their own in a puddle at the end of the car park.

Brigid tried to ring her cousin, John Du Cane, who we were supposed to be meeting in St. Paul, but got an answer-machine.

We had to check out by 10am, and we watched unenthusiastically as other guests donned their wet weather gear and made a dash to their cars.

All we could do was to pack our gear and wait in the reception area for the rain to subside. When we did eventually get on the road, we opted to stick to the Minnesota side of the river, which has an equally scenic Great River Road into St. Paul.

The sun had come out by the time we arrived at the Best Western Kelly’s Inn. We quickly made arrangements to meet John DC for dinner, and had a bite to eat in the hotel’s sports bar, before putting our washing on.

John and his wife turned up to collect us for dinner at 6pm. (Embarrassingly our laundry was still in the drier, thanks to a faulty washing machine.) We hastily unloaded the still wet washing and headed off to a Thai restaurant near their home.

I suspect that the Thai food on offer was much more authentic than anything we were used to in London – which is usually fully described in English. Confident that we would like almost anything, we allowed the Du Canes to order for us. This proved to be a smart move until John (DC) mischievously suggested we try a few extra chillis … Still smoking from the chillis, we were invited over to their home for coffee, and spent the rest of the evening talking ‘fitness’.

Fitness is John’s business. He runs a publishing company specialising in fitness and alternative health books. His speciality is a series of books written with the help of a Russian athlete who has perfected an exercise regime using bell weights.

Brigid hoped that somewhere in his catalogue there might be an exercise regime suitable for us, as all these weeks of travel were beginning to take their toll on our waistlines (as you can see!). All over America, she had been looking for a copy of the Canadian Royal Air Force program: a 10-minute a day regime, requiring no special equipment.

It must have been after 11pm when we got back to the hotel. So we were surprised when the phone rang. John’s daughter had kindly run a search on the Internet, and found a second hand copy of the book on Amazon …

Friday 24th August 2001, Winona MN

It might have been still dark when Ed and Karen left for work. In any case, they were extremely quiet … Karen had left everything out for us to make our own breakfast, and we were to let ourselves out whenever we were ready. We couldn’t hang around for too long as we knew we had a long ride ahead of us if we were to make St. Paul, Minnesota, by dark. So we ate our toast and coffee and plugged the computer in briefly to collect our e-mail.

While we were loading up the luggage, Brigid noticed a strong smell of petrol in the garage. We were slightly concerned to find that a small pool of fuel had leaked onto the floor under her bike. There was nothing we could do about it. We had already closed the door to the house. So all we could do was keep an eye on the leak, and hope that the wet patch would have dried up by the time the Yorks returned in the evening.

We checked the shortest route to St. Paul on and then, due to a confusion over road numbers, headed back to the Interstate the way we had come … adding a couple of hours to the ride. It was getting on for lunchtime by the time we arrived at the Janesville exit, so we stopped for a bite.

Rather than head directly to St. Paul up I-94, Brigid had identified a ‘scenic route’ that took us up The Great River Road on the eastern shore of the Mississippi.

Route 35 starts in Trempealeau, a picturesque riverside town near La Crosse. As we arrived at the T-junction, Brigid unexpectedly turned left (towards the river).

Despite his momentary annoyance, John immediately understood why. It was about 6.30pm and, across the road, Brigid had spotted “Rhino’s”, a biker bar with several polished Harleys lined up outside. Choosing not to park directly outside, we rode past and parked a little way down the street (before walking back past the bar to take a photo).

Meanwhile, inside the bar, we had been spotted by a group of ‘weekend’ bikers, who had instantly recognised us as being ‘foreign’. By the time we entered the bar, a debate was raging … Were we Canadian or British? It didn’t seem to matter where we were from.

Within minutes we had been bought a beer and were formally ‘adopted’ into the group. Keen to show us the neighbourhood, we were invited to another bar a few miles up the road in Centreville. It became increasingly obvious that we were not going to make St. Paul today …

At the Sand Bar in Centreville, our hosts, Phil, Paul, Steve, John and Keith (professions ranging from Barrister to Barman), persuaded us to accompany them to Charlie’s Bar, across the river in Winona. Here we were joined by Phil’s wife, Vicki.

After several beers and a couple of slices of pizza, it was getting late and seemed to be time to hit the road. By this time we had no idea where we were, it was dark, and it had started to rain. Feeling none too steady on the bikes, we took Phil’s advice and booked into the nearby AmericInn.

Thursday 23rd August 2001, Sharon WI

Ed and Karen York live in Wisconsin … just! In fact, they live a few hundred yards from State Line Road, which (predictably) marks the State Line separating Illinois from Wisconsin.

Karen was driving Ed into town to pick up his Harley from its service, so we were under instructions not to arrive until after 6pm, when they would both be home. The drive from Chicago took only a couple of hours, so we took the opportunity to stop at a Triumph dealership to replace John’s headlamp bulb. Eventually, after a confusion over mileage, the barbeque was already up to temperature by the time we arrived at the York farmstead at around 7pm.

We had forgotten that Ed and Karen had told us that they bred ostriches. So the sight of a ‘flock’ of these large and slightly ridiculous-looking birds, eyeing us suspiciously from their enclosure, slightly took us by surprise. (I hope they were not bright enough to know that we were barbequing ostrich burgers under their noses.)

We were treated to a delicious meal of ostrich burgers (very lean tender meat, a bit like venison) and ‘brats’ (bratwurst sausages) washed down with copious quantities of beer (including ‘fruit beer’, a local speciality). Ed proudly showed off his armoury of guns … (it would be a foolish burglar indeed who tried to break into the York household). Then we toured the house.

Ed and Karen have already lavished several years’ hard work in renovating an old farmhouse to create a unique and beautiful home. Their workmanship left our own building works in the shade. The centrepiece is a galleried living room, with natural wood walls decorated simply with Indian hangings and other artefacts. An artist friend had created a brilliant stained glass window, through which light streamed into their bedroom. Unfortunately, by the time dinner was over, we had quite forgotten to take photographs … so you will just have to take our word for it.

Wednesday 22nd August 2001, Willowbrook IL

Dirk and Cora are early risers, and (despite their invitation to sleep in) we were determined to see them before they left for work. After a brief explanation of the garage door mechanism, they left us to finish our breakfast, and by 9am we were on the road again.

After an hour or so, we felt the need for a caffeine fix, so stopped in London for a ‘Tim Horton’s’ and a pastry.

At Sarnia we stopped at the customs office to claim back the tax on Brigid’s new jacket. Then we held our breath as we crossed the US border. “Just try and look ‘Normal’”, said John. Mercifully, the border guard didn’t bother to look too closely at the bikes. So we breathed a deep sigh of relief as we dismounted at the gas station at Port Huron. We rang Gina Atilano (who we had agreed to meet that evening) and said we would let her know when we got to Chicago. Things were not too promising. Mark was away in Maui, and Gina had had her car stolen that morning.

No sooner were we back on the open road, than the sky turned grey and threatening, and it began to rain – lightly at first, then heavier. Then the rain turned to thunder. Brigid was making furious signals to John to pull off. In the car park of an ‘Arby’s’, Brigid looked distinctly unhappy … the new Joe Rocket jacket was soaked through, and she was cold … and cross. We had a sandwich and coffee, and began to repack the bikes.

Just to add insult to injury, Brigid’s rear flasher had fallen off. John’s comment, “I thought women were supposed to be good at tightening nuts …” was not appreciated, as we struggled with the fiddly fixing.

Three thunderstorms, two sense of humour failures, and several hours later, we pulled into the car park at Fairfield Inn, Willowbrook. It took a while to get through to Gina, but (amazingly) she said she thought she would be able to meet us as her brother was going to drive her over.

It was too late to eat, but we enjoyed several pints of Guinness in the Kerry Piper.