Friday, August 31, 2018

South Dakota to Colorado: prairie to mountains

We started the 34th day of our cross-country motorcycle trip in Hot Springs, South Dakota in the Black Hills, and as we headed south of out of town quickly descended out of the mountains into the flat prairie. It seemed like we could look across the prairie for miles until the grass met the horizon, with no buildings or hills to block the view.

Mike zoomed along U.S. 18 and then U.S. 85 as we headed south from South Dakota into Wyoming along the traffic-free highways. Periodically we would see a herd of cattle or an isolated windmill that made me think about the people who originally settled this part of the country and how difficult their lives must have been. We passed through one town, Hawk Springs, with a population of 45 people.

Soon after we crossed into Wyoming the BMW's odometer rolled over to 10,000 miles. We've traveled almost 8000 miles on this trip, and it's difficult to wrap my mind around the number of miles and the places we've been to accumulate those miles.

It's windy here on the open prairie, and we saw miles of snow fences along the west side of the highway. The snow fences must not be very effective because there are also large signs and snow closure gates that look like the red and white striped gates at railroad crossings outside of every town that warn motorists to turn around and go back when the winter road conditions are unsafe.

We were looking for the Rockies as we continued south into Colorado, but we first rode through the Pawnee National Grassland, a 30 by 60 mile area important for wildlife and especially migrating birds.

U.S. 85 south of Greeley, Colorado becomes more congested with semi-trucks associated with agriculture as well as the booming oil and energy activity in this area. The closer we got to Boulder, the more traffic grew. The good news was that we also started seeing the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains that rises almost 10,000' above the plains.

We're in Boulder through the weekend to visit our son before we start the final 3 days home to Arizona. We're looking forward to mountain riding after the hundreds of miles of prairie over the past few days.  Here is today's route

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Mission accomplished: BMW ride in every one of the lower 48 states!

It's the 33rd day of our cross-country BMW motorcycle trip, and we accomplished our mission:  ride into the 19 states of the lower 48 that we haven't yet been in on the BMW. South Dakota was our 19th new state, and this morning we rode south from Bowman, ND into South Dakota. We've covered over 7000 miles so far on this journey, and are now headed toward home.

U.S. route 85 has so little traffic that Mike parked the bike and we stood around in the middle of the highway taking pictures to celebrate this once-in-a-lifetime accomplishment.

We got back on the BMW and continued south with the Black Hills looming in front of us. This small mountain range is aptly named; due to the covering of pine trees the hills appear black from a distance.

U.S. 85 took us through Belle Fourche, a town of about 5,500 people that is the geographic center of the 50 states. Belle Fourche, which means 'beautiful fork' was named by French explorers, a good reminder that until the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, much of the country west of the Mississippi was 'owned' by the French.

We continued south on U.S. 385 into the Black Hills National Forest, 1.2 million acres of forests, mountains, and to our delight - twisty, curvy, sweeping roads. It seems like we've been on ruler-straight roads for the past 2 weeks, and we loved the challenge of the technical mountain roads.

These roads aren't for the faint of heart, especially after seeing the road signs warning motorcyclists and 10 mph recommendations for hairpin turns.

Our ultimate goal today was the Needles Highway, a technical, twisting road with hairpin turns and steep switchbacks within the Custer State Park. It lived up to its reputation as one of the ultimate roads for motorcycles.

One of the tunnels was about 9' wide, and another only about 8' wide - narrow enough that we felt cramped riding through it.

The Needles Highway is named after the large granite formations that resemble needles, and the views of the mountains and valleys made this an amazing ride.

Custer State Park covers over 71,000 acres and is home to about 1400 bison along with feral burros, antelope, deer, elk, and mountain lions. As we wound through the lush green valleys we encountered several bison, including some standing in the middle of the highway. Watch the excitement here:

 We also rode slowly past 2 feral burros, descendants of the burros brought to the park early in the 20th century for tourists to ride up the mountains.

We left the park and continued south to Hot Springs, SD where we're spending the night. We've had an amazing journey riding through the 19 states we needed to complete our mission:
South Carolina
North Carolina
Rhode Island
North Dakota
South Dakota

Along the way we rode through 14 states we've already traveled through: Arizona, New Mexico, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. That's a total of 33 of the lower 48 states on this trip alone.

Tomorrow we ride to Boulder, CO to visit our oldest son for a couple of days before the final three days of our ride home to Arizona. There are sure to be more adventures along the way!  Here is today's route

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

A sunny day in North Dakota

Finally - a sunny, gorgeous day on our cross-country motorcycle trip! We started the day in Carrington, ND with temperatures right at 50 degrees, and ended the day 9 hours later in Bowman, ND with temperatures in the 80's. I started the day wearing all of my warm jacket liners, full set of gloves, and raingear - not due to rain, but to keep me warm. By the end of the day everything but the standard motorcycle gear was stowed in the waterproof duffel as we enjoyed the sunshine and warm temperatures.

As we headed west from Carrington the landscape changed from flat farmland to more rolling hills, pastures, and acres upon acres of sunflowers. South and North Dakota produce the largest amount of sunflower seeds and oil in the country.

We passed by several small lakes, many filled with a variety of water birds. We even saw hawks and owls sitting on top of the large round hay bales.

Lewis and Clark came through this area in the summer of 1806, tasked by President Thomas Jefferson to explore the country west of the Mississippi River that was part of the Louisiana Purchase. We stopped at the Garrison Dam on the Missouri River, constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers beginning in 1947 at a spot where Lewis and Clark also stopped. The dam created the reservoir known as Lake Sakakawea, the third largest man-made lake in the U.S. behind Lake Powell and Lake Mead in Arizona. The lake is named for the Lemhi Shoshone woman who met up with Lewis and Clark in North Dakota and traveled with them to the Pacific Ocean.

We eventually turned south onto U.S. 85, and entered the Little Missouri National Grasslands, at over 1 million acres the largest area of protected grasslands in the country.

We often have difficulty finding a place to eat lunch because we prefer to travel on smaller roads in out-of-the-way areas, but today we hit upon a fantastic lunch spot:  The Trapper's Kettle in Belfield. The restaurant is filled with stuffed animals and birds and hosts a Trapper's Hall of Fame. The salad bar is housed in a canoe, soup bowls are small metal cooking pots, and meals are served on metal fry pans instead of plates. The atmosphere was fun and the homemade soup and extensive salad bar made this one of our favorite lunch spots of the trip.

During the planning for this trip we decided to visit the Teddy Roosevelt National Park that is located within the grasslands, and it exceeded our expectations. Our first stop was at the Painted Desert visitor center, where we were greeted by a herd of bison grazing near the visitor center and wandering through the parking lot.

We traveled a few miles further to the southern entrance of the Teddy Roosevelt National Park and rode the 28-mile scenic loop through the park. Roosevelt came here in 1883 to hunt bison and loved the area so much he built a ranch. Living in North Dakota played an important role in developing his interest in conservation, and the park was established in his honor in 1947.

The park features badlands, native grasslands, wooded areas, streams, campgrounds and hiking trails.

We're thankful for national parks that preserve the unique beauty of our country, especially in areas like this that are surrounded by energy development. Riding through the park on a motorcycle, feeling the breeze and the sun and smelling the pine trees was the highlight of today's trip.

About an hour after leaving the park we pulled into Bowman, ND, our stop for the night. It took us longer today than we anticipated, primarily due to several spots where we were delayed due to road construction. During the delays we chatted with the friendly flaggers while we waited for the pilot car. North Dakota ranks #48 in population and #17 in size, so it's no surprise that the towns are small and far apart. One of the flaggers told us that yesterday only 3 cars passed by the stretch of road where she's working. No wonder she wanted to talk to us!

We're looking forward to tomorrow's ride to South Dakota, the last new state on our trip.  Here is today's route

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

One more state to go on our cross-country quest!

We started a cold, overcast and windy day in Grand Rapids, MN and ended in Carrington, ND, marking off our 18th new state with only South Dakota left until we've ridden a motorcycle in every one of the lower 48 states. We also reached 7000 miles on this trip as we pulled into the hotel parking lot, with over 9000 miles total on the BMW. And we're not even sore, tired, or ready to go home!

Minnesota has 11,842 lakes of 10 acres size or greater, and as we headed west it seemed like there was always a lake showing up on the Garmin GPS. Often the lakes were hidden behind pine trees, but periodically U.S. Route 2 passed close enough that we could glimpse the cold, blue water.

The sky and the lake water were similar shades of grey, dark grey, bluish grey and blue. We estimate we saw the sun for perhaps 5 minutes total today, riding in temperatures that hovered in the mid-50's. A very nice woman at the Subway where we ate lunch asked me if it was cold riding on the motorcycle, probably because she saw me shivering while I ate my sandwich and apple slices.

Even with the cold weather and always-threatening but rarely appearing rain, it was fun to ride first through the Chippewa National Forest where there were trees everywhere we looked and the smell of pine was always in the cool air. It's the first national forest established east of the Mississippi in 1908, and contains more lakes and wetlands than any other national forest.

West of Bemidji, which derives from the Ojibwe Buh-mid-ji-ga-maug, the landscape changes dramatically from forests to flat, open farmland.

We turned south away from U.S. Route 2 and followed Minnesota Route 200 the rest of the trip. There aren't many people in this part of the country, but everyone we met was friendly and helpful.  Mike stopped on the highway's wide shoulder to adjust his ear plugs, and a man driving a car with Minnesota license plates pulled over to ask if we needed help. When the waiter at dinner couldn't tell us what the soup of the day, knelpha, was; the lady at the next table helpfully explained that it was potato soup made with dumplings.

Look closely in this photo, and you'll see a prop plane over the fields. We watched the plane swoop and dive, perhaps practicing aerobatics.

We crossed the Red River separating Minnesota from North Dakota, and the landscape seemed to open up even more.

We rode along looking over the vast fields and watching the billowing clouds. There's a notable difference between the views in the Midwest vs the West; in the Midwest everything is closer together and we could only see long distances from the top of high hills, while in the West the land and sky opens up and we could see for miles.

We're staying in Carrington, ND, known as the Central City because of its central location in North Dakota. Our hotel is at a highway crossroads directly behind a large gas station where semi-trucks filled with grain or carrying huge tractor tires line up. After a cold day on the motorcycle, we're excited to see the sun tomorrow as we continue west across North Dakota.  Here is today's route

Monday, August 27, 2018

17th new state on the BMW motorcycle

We're counting down the 19 states we need to complete our goal of riding our BMW motorcycle in each of the lower 48 states. Today we left Gladstone, MI later than usual, waiting for thunderstorms to pass.

We followed U.S. Route 2 the entire way to Grand Rapids, MN, crossing back and forth into Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula along the way to Minnesota, our 17th new state.

We thought riding through the farmland in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and southern Wisconsin was monotonous, and today we decided that riding through the forests in the U.P. is just as monotonous. It was fun, however, to spot some unique signs, such as the large cut-out of a miner advertising the Iron Mountain Iron Mine and the Viking ship announcing we were in the town of Norway, MI which was actually named for the Norway pines in the area, not the country.

Around Iron Mountain the landscape changes from flat to rolling, steep hills and in fact there is a ski area here plus due to the snow, forests, and trail systems snowmobiling is also really popular. This area typically gets over 16' of snow each winter!

We stopped for lunch in the tiny town of Marenisco, MI, population 254 in 2010, where we might have been the only people to eat lunch the entire day.

Yesterday we stayed on Lake Michigan, and today we rode past the southern shore of Lake Superior in Wisconsin.

Lake Superior is not only the largest of the Great Lakes, it's also the largest body of fresh water on earth.

A detour on U.S. Route 2 took us onto a county road in Wisconsin, winding its way through the only farmland we saw all day; the rest of today's ride featured forests.

The sun briefly came out for a few minutes mid-day, and then the rain started when we had about 60 miles left in today's 375 mile ride. Mike and I both miss the bright sunshine of Arizona, and we've calculated that the last truly sunny day on this trip was 2 weeks ago in North Carolina. We avoided the heavy rains on the East Coast, and it seems our luck has run out in the Midwest since the forecast at least for tomorrow morning is also for rain as we continue west into North Dakota.  Here is today's route