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Sturgis to Montana

Ever since we left Minneapolis Ben has waved to every single group of bikers on the highway. They’d motor by in a noisy cluster, leaving us in their fumes or with the echoes of their oversized engines powering down the highway in the opposite direction. Someone mentioned that we were all en route to the same place. We should have had leather jackets though. The whisper of Ben’s chain and the way that his “See you in Sturgis!!” was drowned out in the storm of motors made me laugh every time. But we had every right to go out to Sturgis.

Every summer, Sturgis, SD hosts a national biker rally that’s widely attended by motor-heads from across the world. Although the small town of about 6,000 is home to the motorcycle hall of fame, it doesn’t seem like it was built to host the near 500,000 that swamp the area to get close to action that gets put on there. When Ben and I were in Minnesota we heard tell from a set of hosts who’d gone to school in Rapid City that the income from the event is a major prop for the town. The host, who’d leased an apartment in Rapid City, said that for just the one week he sublet his apartment during the Sturgis bike rally and was able to cover all of his utility payments for the entire year on the place. The bikers come prepared to spend. Or at least some of them do. It’s like a right of passage, I guess. Maybe I’m just making that up.

Anyway, we were bikers. So we had to join. Hard core cyclists. Use the legs kind of bikers. Get sweaty and smell horrible for a week kind of bikers. Smile with the sun in your eyes and keep on peddling regardless of how bad the heat kind of people. Badass. But minus the leather. That stuff is hot. Laugh it off. We weren’t complaining about our butts—the way they were.

We left Rapid City in the morning after spending the night at a fellow cyclists’. A last minute host who offered to put us up. Instead of taking the “pretty way” through the Black Hills, Ben and I rode north on 90 most of the way to Sturgis. I’m pretty sure we had a tailwind most of the way. We got there pretty quickly amongst the swarm of motors. Still fresh off of our visit with Emma, I felt pretty jazzed to be on the bike. Badass.

The road was full of bikers. It was hard to escape their thunder on the highway. We took photos downtown of the mayhem and then found a place to sit on the grass just off of the main strip, in front of a Harley Davidson expo, to eat lunch.

Somewhere in the maze tents set up on the sidewalk and cheap grilled food we met Frosty, an avid adventure cyclist. He talked to us for a while about climate change, population control, and the crazy rides he’d done in the past several years. He was infectiously excited to talk. If it hadn’t been for the cacophony we’d have had a microphone on him. Settled for a good hour of mutual commiserating. Then we were on our way to Deadwood.

Ears still ringing. Sound reverberating off of the pine-covered canyon walls. Climbing for about 15 miles until we dropped down into Deadwood. Bikes parked everywhere. The saloon where Wild Bill was shot mobbed with leather jackets and people wandering about on the sidewalk. Hot day. Sweat on our eyebrows kind of salting the way that I saw the whole town. We tried to find a place where we could sit quietly.

Turns out the motor bikers don’t like Starbucks. It was empty. I slept on the table in the air-conditioning while I charged my external battery and my phone. The barista from Massachusetts made fun of me. I took another nap.

Before the sun went down, Ben and I climbed out of the canyon with the last of the motorheads. Ended up looking for a spot to camp in the National Forest at the top of the hill. Tried to bike down an old forest service road and then were confused by the Private Property signs hung at the entrance to the trail.

With little else to do before the sun set, Ben and I asked the folks who owned the rock shop there at the entrance to the forest land if we could camp on their “lawn.” They asked us where our motors were. “You lose something there?” Ben and I had a hard time ignoring the Trump flag that was waving on the flagpole at the end of their driveway. “Go ahead and camp over there in the flat spot, by the foxes.”

The folks who owned the rock shop were running a kind of “petting zoo” for the spectacularly adventurous. It might have actually been a fur farm, but I’m still not sure because of the way that they treated the animals. Beside the foxes there were several caged raccoons and marmots. In the back of the lot, behind the larger shack, there were wolves. We were informed that the animals “liked to howl at night,” but if we didn’t mind we should sleep soundly. The smell of skunk wafted over the spot we chose to camp, next to an old unhooked trailer that one of the family members kept as a bedroom.

We couldn’t pass up an invitation to chat with our hosts. So we awkwardly made hand motions and small talk with them for a bit. They sipped on Pepsi and bottled water. The family was big. Or at least it seemed large. They were friendly. A couple toddlers ran around our legs and then went off to go pet the raccoons. Someone had just had a baby. A visitor, who’d planned to visit, was talking about the day in Sturgis. Got a glimpse of his bike. It had a motor. Talked with him about traveling. Broke out of the conversation after a while when interest in our journey petered out and then went to cook our dinner behind the house, by the trailer, where our tents were pitched.

At some point Ben and I crawled into our tents to go to sleep. Or at least, I did. I was woken up about 15 minutes later by one of our hosts. The wind had picked up. It was starting to rain. She asked me, “how quickly can you pack up this tent?” In a jiffy. “Then hurry up. It’s about to storm.”

The wind whipped around my tent as I ripped the stakes out of the gravel ground. About half-way through my rush I got a glimpse of the lightning on the ridge behind me. Powerful strikes. Multiple prongs making contact with the crest of each hill. Blazing light that silhouetted the mountains. Thunder only a constant rumble… but getting louder.

Our hosts opened up their shed for us to sleep in. They provided us with an escape from the rain. The security of the structure was a powerful sedative for the shocked nerves. Lights turned off and I was out. Sturgis on the brain. Thankful. The next morning Ben and I left a thank you note wedged in the door of shed that waved around in the damp breeze.

Next day we slotted ourselves a big day of travel. Through all of Wyoming and into Montana. All of Wyoming… meaning the Northeastern corner of the state. When we started that morning we rolled downhill and into headwind all the way into Spearfish, SD.

Wind didn’t really want us to reach Montana it seemed. Battled it most of the way. Until it got too hot for their to be any wind that we didn’t want to have. At some point it turned into natural freshener. The sun beat down on us all afternoon. Was a hard 90 miles that we rode.

We’d originally planned to camp on BLM land outside of Hammond, MT. When we got to the coordinates that Ben dropped on his GPS though some Black Angus was grazing the fields. So we camped on the side of the road.

A cop stopped by just before the sun went down and asked us where we were headed. Told him… “here.” Then he was on his way. Think he had near 80 miles to go before he could get back to the police station. Wasn’t about to bother us. Wish that the other cars on the road had been as kind. There were a bunch of trucks out there on 212 that liked to honk at us in the middle of the night. F!@#ers.

The sun was welcome when it came. We packed up pretty quickly and were on the road through the fields after breakfast. Fields to buttes. Southeastern Montana broke the sun on the cliff edges for us. 80 miles went by in a blink. Maybe not that way for other folks we met on the road though. Or for anyone who got caught in the hail behind us that we managed to outrun. We got to Ashland before lunch and beat the storm. Were several hiccups though.

On the way I lent my phone to a mother and her son who were pulled over on the side of the road with a horse trailer. Their horse had kicked its rear leg through the railing on the trailer. They needed to call a veterinarian. US Cellular had them covered. Felt good that I could help… and shocked by that hoof as they drove on to the nearest vet in Broadus.

Outside of Broadus, Ben’s tire tore through. He duct-taped it around the outside to fix it. The tape held all the way to Billings, luckily.

When the hailstorm came up behind us we biked over some hills at the beginning of Custer National Forest. The altitude caught the weather and we squeaked downhill with speed into Ashland. The rocks on the side of the road were red and smooth. Like someone had tumbled them. They had a veneer to them. Mental photos only unfortunately for you.

To celebrate the quick ride, Ben and I stayed in a motel that night and watched the Little Prince on my computer.

Hard to pull yourself out of a bed when you’ve been sleeping on the ground for several nights in a row. We managed though and were on the road to Hardin. Through Cheyenne and Crow countries. Almost stopped at the Battle of Little Bighorn memorial, but were priced out. The whole day I couldn’t stop thinking about how perverse it was that all of the monuments out here were named after Custer. Almost as if as a country we were still celebrating the fact that tribes were pushed on to reservations. It kind of made me sick.

We camped in a KOA in Hardin that had a swimming pool. Split the cost with Ben and got our money’s worth.

To Billings. Was a quick ride. Were in town before lunch. Went to a bike shop to get a new tire for Ben. He’d rode about 120 miles on the duct tape.

Spent most of the afternoon in a café. Took care of New York business and the like. Thought about starting to write more on politics. Have plenty to say about everything anyway. Poetry has been more potent on this trip though.

Shadows scattered across the prairie

Magritte’s kind of Cumulous

On a foreign landscape

Of mountains and grass.

Subtle shudder

As I feel for my breath

And kiss my wrists.

I’m only passing through.

Played some piano at our host’s place in Billings. [Thank you, Janis!] The music was much needed. The bed was even nicer. I walked into town from their house at night to get ice cream. The parlor was across the street from the bar. Felt like a 10-year-old with my caramel cone.

Billings to Big Timber. Ran into a cyclist friend that we’d met in Minneapolis. Lovely small world. Biked together for a ways and camped on the Yellowstone river together. Grey Bear fishing access. Tried to swim in the Yellowstone current… but wound up getting throttled downstream by the water. Dried off in the sun after that. No cuts or bruises, although there probably should have been some.

Everyone was telling us about the pass between Livingston and Bozeman. We rode the pass on Saturday like it was nothing. Lovely to feel that way. Arrived at Pete Geddes’s home far earlier than we expected – and than he was expecting us, I believe.

Took care of some errands in downtown Bozeman with Pete’s help. Explored the downtown coffee shops, which were numerous, and then went back the Geddes residence to wait for my Mother to arrive from Maine. While we waited, Pete explained his work with the American Prairie Reserve. We had four different maps of Montana spread out on his porch. He drew over them with his finger explaining how most of Northeastern Montana had been turned over to the BLM when ranchers had failed to maintain their financial health during the Great Depression. All grasslands. They look much the way that they did when Lewis and Clark first explored that part of the Missouri River.

Big hugs when my mother arrived. Italian food. Olympics at home. Then sleep.

Breakfast the next morning was reserved for plan-hatching and logistics for Ben’s trip the next day. Ben and I were due to split up. His pace has had to quicken up so that he can reach Seattle in time to fly back to Florida and then drive to Ashville, NC for his job starting September first. Took a while to explain to my mother that I’d be okay biking alone. We all went to REI and the grocery store together.

When we got back to the Geddes’s home and met Julie, Pete’s wife. My mother, Pete, and Julie had all been in the same high school class. They caught up while I made Guacamole. I couldn’t stop eating it. I felt somewhat like a machine. When my mother and Julie made plans to go to the spa together I decided that I had to give myself a bit of a change in scenery as well. Julie outfitted me to climb Mout Blackmore. I left for the climb just before they left for the spa. Had time for about a 4-hour hike.

Drove into Gallatin National Forest along a winding road that followed a river up to a reservoir. Started my hike from the reservoir at a rather fast tempo through the pines. Forest opened up about 3.5 miles into the climb. Could see the whole Gallatin Valley. Summited out with an hour left before I had to be back for dinner so I ran down the hill for 5.5 miles.

Great dinner at 14 North. More Olympics at home. Drinking Not Your Father’s Rootbeer. Sleep.

Up earlier than usual on a rest day. Ben was set to depart. We all ate breakfast together and then my Mom and I went Flyfishing. Julie made us the most incredible feast the night before. She left earlier than we did to catch a flight to Arizona. Left us in wonderful shape to consume all the food in the fridge. Somehow I managed to break the Geddes’ toaster that morning in the splendor of all the food.

Said my goodbye to Ben before jumping into the car with my mother. The morning felt somewhat rushed. Probably because I was trying to coordinate NYC business. Anyway, did not fully recognize how much I was going to miss Ben when we parted ways. Mind was on too many other things. Wouldn’t say that now though- writing from Ovando, MT outside of a little café that’s only open 7-3pm.

Flyfishing with my mother went by way too quickly. We had an incredible guide that spoke the river well. Got lost in the way he talked about fish. Realized the power in the sport to possess people. Didn’t tell him that I’d read Norman McClean because I felt like too much of a tourist to say that. But I loved the way he talked about fish. And fishing.

After fishing my mother and I went to REI again to get bear spray. She wouldn’t let me leave town without it. Then we went to the grocery store so I could stock up on Peanut Butter.

The next morning I took far too long to get myself out the door. Pete left for work before I’d even finished my breakfast. I was taking care of NYC business and so enthralled in my computer that I didn’t hit the road until 11:30. Think my mother appreciated that. While I was packing up I wondered why I didn’t stay longer with her. Felt a need to give myself leeway on my travel date to Seattle. Also itching to hit the road. Think that my mother understood. She usually does understand those kinds of things about me. Better than I do myself.

Ride out of Bozeman took me through wheat fields, through Three Forks and the headwaters of the Missouri River, out to a campsite next to a dam near Toston, MT. Went to a local bar in the heat where I bought a pizza. Then biked out camp. Watched the sunset on the river between the mountains and took a nap on a picnic table before setting up my tent. Full moon night next to railway. Can’t say I slept spectacularly, but I slept with the river in me.

Easy ride the next day into Helena. Biked it no problem. Ran into cyclists from Maine while I was buying ice cream downtown. We chatted for a while before I biked MacDonald pass 15 miles outside of the city. Long climb. When I got to the top I camped. On the continental divide.

And now you find me, writing this blog post, in Ovando, MT. A town that I reached at 10:15am, far before I thought I would arrive. The ride off of the continental divide was all downhill. Afforded me extra time to hang out in town. Been writing for a while and chatting with other cyclists that are biking through. Adventure Cycling, based out of Missoula, covered this town as a bicycling haven. In the downtown area they’ve built some campground reserved for cyclists that frequently come through on the continental divide trail—or that are ferrying west.

I’m spending the night in this quaint Sheepherder’s Wagon. Thunderstorms and rain were forecast for the night. For $5 I get the stay of my western adventure. If only I could hitch it the rest of the way.

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