Sunday, August 24, 2008

Crazy-ass Road Trip '08: Part 5

Thursday I woke up a little before 6 and it was raining. I organized stuff in the tent and killed time waiting for a break in the rain. After almost an hour it let up, but I didn't even finish packing before it started again. I laid back down in the empty tent for a bit longer until it finally let up again about 8. It was still drizzling a bit in the park, but it was overcast but dry elsewhere. I rode for a ways in some desolate lands until I came to a stretch of road under construction and the woman flagging recommended going a different route since the road was torn up and left with dirt. I was getting low on fuel, but it wasn't critical, so I bypassed the tiny gas station in that town. As I went on another 30-40 miles not even coming close to another station, I was regretting that decision and really worried about running out of gas. I kept forward towards the interstate since it was at least as far back to that town. The motor died just before I got to the interstate, but it restarted and I went one mile to the next exit which, thank the stars, had gas. The motor died a few more times, but I made it and poured in 4.9 gallons (to a tank rated at 5 gallons). I went on to Helena, took a picture in front of the Capitol, then went on to Bozeman to my aunt and uncle's. I got there about 3, squeezed my bike into the garage before a bit of rain, and settled in a bit. I went with my aunt to the Harley shop where I got a replacement turn signal bulb, a t-shirt, and a neck warmer to cover some of my face and a hole at the neck of my jacket. We had dinner and then stayed up for a while watching the Olympics.
Friday I woke up pretty early. My uncle cooked breakfast, I packed up and headed on. When I arrived at Wind Cave NP at 5 my fears of having trouble finding a campsite were allayed when I found about 8 of 50+ sites filled. I set up in the most secluded site of the vacant tent area and went to the visitors center. I had missed the last tour, so I rode 50ish miles into Rapid City for dinner at a brewpub a friend recommended. I rode back in the cold and dark on windy roads to find a group had set up camp near my parking spot. I made fast friends with the group of five high school friends on a two-week road trip from Michigan. It was a darned good thing nobody else was around because we raised Cain drinking and telling lies until 2am.
I woke up at 6:30 Saturday, but went back to sleep until 7:15, had breakfast, and rode through Custer State Park to the trailhead for Harney Peak. I started off behind a group of four, but didn't mind so much since one girl was quite cute. I passed them and several others along the 3 1/2 mile trail to the top. I got there about 11:15, an hour and a half after I left, took in the view, ate a sandwich, took some pictures and headed back. As I was leaving the girl I had been admiring was arriving and made a comment like "up and back already?" which was a plus. I didn't go down really quickly since my blisters were bad again. I got back on the bike about 1 and headed to Jewel Cave National Monument. Since I didn't know when I'd get there, I didn't have a reservation and the next tours I could go on were 3:20, 3:30 or 4:25. I opted for the 3:30 lantern tour and went back to Custer at a kitschy place where I had bison brisket swimming in sauce. I got to the tour meeting place about 3 and killed some time until it started. We each got a paraffin lantern and walked to the opening, much like early visitors did. We went toward the Dungeon Room, which required through the "trap door" and other narrow and low passages. We didn't really go far into the cave, but it took a while for everyone to get through certain points. At the farthest point we all blew out our lanterns for some total darkness before the ranger relit each one. The ranger was really good and it was a really fun, somewhat adventurous way to see a small portion of what is the second longest cave system in the world. Since it was 5:30 when we got out, I missed the Wind Cave tour again, so I got some gas and beer and went back to camp, where I had new neighbors. I started a fire, cooked some SPAM for dinner and then went to a ranger program on the Parks Service in general and Wind Cave in particular.
This morning my tent was wet with dew, but ultimately packed it before it dried. I went to the visitors center a little past 8, bought a ticket for the 9am natural entrance tour and sat down to read until the tour started. The tour was okay, on cement walkways, and passed countless other passages that make it number four in the world in length. The problem was that I was in the back, behind people taking flash photos every second, and in front of a couple with a whiny little girl. I got well ahead of them for the trip back. I was on the road a little past 10 and headed into Nebraska. I was kind of tired and the endless rolling plains didn't help. I went down to the corner of the state near WY and CO to go to its highest point. It was several miles down a gravel road, but it was the first time I've had my bike at the actual highest point. I went on through Wyoming and suddenly remembered that Cheyenne is the capital, so I went downtown to the capitol for a picture. I continued to Colorado, through flatlands before getting back into the Rockies. I went through Estes Park to a park info booth, but it was closed. I found some info in the store next door and decided that since there are no shower facilities in the park, I'd go back to town to the KOA. I set up, showered and had dinner at the local brewery, then came back here.

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