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Day 8 –Hardin, MT (Little Big Horn Battlefield / Custer’s Last Stand) to Sturgis, SD – 290 Miles – 8.6.2013

No day is complete without a visit from Jim Bob. Day 7 he got a brochure for the battlefield museum at Exit 514. 8:00 a.m. we are running down I-90 when we pass a sign for the Little Big Horn Battlefield, Exit 509. Jim Bob kept a-going. We get to Exit 514. No battlefield.

The folks at the motel had told us of a good restaurant across from the park. No restaurant or park in sight. Wearing a sheepish grin, Jim Bob took off on the frontage road. He saw ‘his’ first road kill of the day, a horse. Now a horse is pretty good sized. Jim Bob pointed but I didn’t see a horse. Maybe the horse is with the brown bear Jim Bob saw a few days before.

Back at Exit 509 we find the battlefield and restaurant. The restaurant sits about 20 people, the gift holds a couple hundred. After the slowest service ever, we got our food. JAK was happy, not I. My over medium eggs were broken and hard. The hash browns were not exactly cold, but close. All is forgiven because the coffee was excellent.

Cathy and I ate there with son Jonathan about 30 years ago. He was 10. He never stopped talking not matter how much we cajoled, promised or threatened. One time I offered him $10 to stop talking for 10 minutes. He didn’t last 5 minutes. I kept the $10.

We asked the manager about road conditions heading east. I told him; “I can take either I-90 or US 212. 212 looks shorter and more interesting.”

He said, “212 is quicker and a better ride, but it was closed yesterday by heavy smoke.”

I beg to differ. The road was closed by fire. Only two miles east the fire had come down and jumped 212.

After eating we went to the battlefield. Our Senior Park Access passes got us in for free. JAK had never been to the battlefield, this was my third visit. It has changed over the years. The first time I visited was probably 35 years ago. Then it was mostly good soldier, bad Indian. Now the presentation is more evenly matched with an explanation from the Sioux’s point of view. They and their allies were cheated and mistreated.

The battlefield is on the Crow Indian Reservation. They conduct bus tours, we should have taken one. We heard a young Crow Indian speaking. He pointed out where events had taken place. If I ever visit here again, the tour will be a must do. The Indian warriors who died here have much newer and nicer monuments than the soldiers.

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Afterwards we got gas at a gigantic gas station. All they had was unleaded regular. Before I got to Belle Fourche, South Dakota, I had to fill two more times with unleaded regular.

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JAK and I part company

JAK rode to Casper, Wyoming where he stayed in a very upscale Best Western, with bar, restaurant, pool, and laundry. His rent was $105. I stayed in Motel Kozy, Spearfish, South Dakota for $118. I didn’t have any of those amenities. I had cinder block walls and a bar next door full of noisy bikers.

US 212 is an excellent two lane road, wide and well maintained. For most of the 235 miles I was on it, my cruise control was set at 75.

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The first burned area, only two miles from the restaurant, was still smoldering. It stretched for six miles. The fire had jumped the road in a few places. Over the next 60+ miles, I never went more than five miles between fresh burns. Most of the farm homes were islands in a sea of black. The firefighters worked heroically to save them. I saw only one burnt to the ground. I heard that about 60 homes had been lost.

The temperature never dropped below 100.

I got to Spearfish, and changed into shorts and a tank top. I had to show off the tattoos. Without JAK to nag me, I put the helmet away. I held my speed to 80-85 for the ride into Sturgis.

The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally begins the first Monday in August. This was the first day of the rally and my sixth or seventh visit. I usually arrive when it is in full swing. Things were a little subdued compared to what I’ve experienced. The population of the town is about 8,500. During the rally they expect at least 500,000 bikers to pass through.

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At least ten blocks of Main Street are for motorcycles only. Bikes are parked on each side of the road and two deep in the center. Side streets are set up the same way.

I got an “I rode mine” patch. Many haul their bikes in trailers; I’ve been guilty of that sin.

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I walked around until 7:00 p.m., ate nasty food, visited the Jack Daniels site and had my one drink. It was 95 degrees. When I got to Spearfish the sun was blocked by clouds. It was still 90.

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Day 7 – Great Falls, MT to Hardin, MT (Little Big Horn Battlefield) – 310 Miles – 8.5.2012

We slept in and then cleaned the bikes at a coin operated car wash. They were filthy. We should have known better.

We began on Montana 200, to US 191, and then East on I-90. It was not a fun day. We hit over twenty miles of road construction. Thank goodness it was Sunday, there were no work crews. Weekdays, we would have spent hours stopped for construction.

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This section wasn’t too bad, with only a 6 miles stretch of gravel and lots of dust. Somewhere along this stretch my cruise control lever fell off.

About halfway to Billings, Montana we gassed up and got some traffic advice. “191 is the long way to Billings. Montana 3 is shorter but you will hit at least 19 miles of road construction. It’s pretty rough going.” We went the long way.

JAK was famished but there wasn’t a restaurant where we gassed up. It was about 40 miles to a food stop. I was my turn to lead.

We were on the Great Plains, several times we saw antelope. Unlike deer, they stay away from the roadway, generally at least 50 yards back. We saw buffalo, a few hundred yards off the roadway. At first I thought they were cattle. But then, the “tell” came. There was dust rising around a couple of them, heavy dust clouds. Buffalo roll in the dirt. You never see that with cattle. I took a closer look and yes it was buffalo, between 150 and maybe 200.

I saw one D.E.E.R. all day and it was road kill. JAK noticed a solitary fawn across the roadway.

About an hour after we got on I-90, JAK began giving me the middle-finger gesture. We soon pulled off and had a great lunch. When queried about his obscene signals, he said; “You A.H., you passed at least two places where we could have eaten.”

I wasn’t impressed. “Your problem, not mine. You could have pulled off.”

After noon the temperature exceeded 100 making for an uncomfortable ride. 3:00 p.m. and dehydrated we came upon a roadside rest and pulled in. Fate played an unpleasant joke on us. The restrooms were out of order and all water had been shut down. Deprived of the water we needed made us all the more thirsty.

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Dead center in this image is the temperature gauge. You can see it is over 100 at 4:23 p.m.

In the first picture you see haze in the background, smoke. It got worse the further east we went. At our motel in Hardin, Montana, the owners, Alan & Marie, told us, “You’re lucky you called earlier to get a room.” That sounded familiar.

I asked Alan, “Why?”

He said, “In addition to the vacation people and bikers, there are hundreds of fire fighters in town. Every motel in town is full. It’s been one fire after another all summer.”

Alan suggested the 4 Aces Lounge for dinner. It was about a mile from the motel. I skipped wearing a helmet, not required in Montana, for the short ride. I’ve become a helmet guy since a slight misadventure in Oregon years ago. I went down hard, six fractures, an hour lying in a ditch before the first emergency vehicle showed, and then a helicopter medevac with lots of morphine. Riding bareheaded felt great. JAK always nags and insists I wear a helmet. Guess what, JAK rode back helmetless. I’ve never seen him without a helmet. I wish I had had my camera it would have been great to share such an image with all our biker buds, and his wife.

We were about 15 miles from the Little Big Horn Battlefield Monument. The plan was to spend a half day there and then ride east to South Dakota. A telephone call changed our plans. JAK’s wife Sue had an accident. She was at her computer enjoying HOT coffee when she spilled it on her keyboard, herself, and the floor. She jumped up, hit the slippery floor, and fell. Landing on her elbow, it broke. Her arm in a sling, she wouldn’t know the doctors decision until she saw an orthopedist the following morning. The decision was surgery.

JAK would flat track it to Roseville, California on I-80. He endured miserable summertime riding conditions.

Talking with Sue, my wife Cathy, JAK, and text messages from my daughters, convinced me to continue. JAK has ridden across country alone three times and enjoyed every minute of it. If I went back with JAK I’d only slow him down. This was likely my last opportunity to make a long solo ride. So after visiting the Battlefield Monument, JAK headed home.

I decided to continue on to Sturgis, South Dakota.

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Filed under A Great Ride - 2012, Motorcycle