Let’s Ride: South Dakota and Beyond
Pipefitter Foreman Tim Waldorf’s memoir of a motorcycle trip to the Great Northwest
I left St. Louis at 8am Saturday morning July 28th 2012, with my Harley Gert, or my mistress, as my wife Mary would call her, whenever she isn’t on the back of Gert with me. Although Mary’s a trooper, this trip may have taken its toll on her.
With my Harley Gert loaded up, I headed towards Sturgis South Dakota on Hwy 40/61 through Hannibal to Hwy 36. This is known as the Pony Express Highway. As I rode Hwy 36 half way across Kansas, it was a pretty lonely ride. No one but Gert and me and a lot of two lane highway.
I could imagine what it would be like to ride across these plains at top speed on a horse, jump from one horse to another and just keep riding in this type of weather condition. It would have been unbearable at times, possibly deadly. Then I headed up through Red Bull, Nebraska, on Hwy 281 towards Broken Bow, Nebraska. No interstates, all back roads and secondary highways. All in all, it was six hundred miles through 100 plus degree heat, which turned into a rain storm, then into a hail storm just like that.
On the open plains there is really nowhere to go except through the storm, so I tried to ride through it as the rain turned to golf ball sized hail and I had to pull over. I met two other riders on the side of the road; they were from Elsberry, Missouri and were headed to Montana.
A friend of mine back in Missouri called later the next evening. He just got a call from a friend of his from Elsberry, who saw a Santa Clause looking guy on some kind of hot rod motorcycle, that came screaming by in a hail storm. That was me right before I was forced to pull over…small world.
I got a room in Broken Bow right after the storm and bedded down for the night. It was about 10pm, by the time I straightened out and secured my gear for the night at the Pump and Pantry Motel, which was a Sinclair filling station with a mini mart and a motel, a nice place to lay over for $46.00.
I left Broken Bow the next morning at 7am; the weather was hot but no more rain. I headed through Nebraska, first Hastings, then to up to Grand Island. After this, I rode up Route 2 towards Hot Springs, South Dakota, which has a waterfall right in town about 50 feet tall or so. I didn’t spend much time here as it was getting late in the day. I then rode into Custer. The weather was beautiful…70’s and dropping. It was around 6pm and I found a campsite in a cowboy camp, you know horseback riders, not motorcycle riders. I figured if I needed a break from the rabbel-rousing, I would have a quiet haven to go home to. This could also be my base camp for the whole trip, since it had a laundry, nice showers, ice, and a place I could charge my cameras and phone. Best of all, my campsite was 20 feet away from all these conveniences.
I had a great view of the mountains, great sun rises, and sun sets, they’re good for the soul.
So here I am, sitting at my campsite for the first night at the picnic table. There were two neighbor gals feeding their horses. They struck up a conversation, it just so happen that one of their husband’s horses had come up lame from riding earlier today.
She said her husband, Dale, was thinking about getting his Harley out of the horse trailer and riding up to Yellowstone from here. I said, if he would like some company, I would love to ride to Yellowstone since I’m a week early for the Sturgis festivities. It also happens that they have been coming down to Custer from Minnesota for the last 7 years or so and he was really familiar with the area. Monday morning we road throughout South Dakota and saw the sites: Custer Park with the Buffalo and wild donkeys, coming right up to the bikes. You could reach out and touch them if you dare.
I think Dale and I were feeling each other out to see if we want to ride with each other up to Yellowstone. That evening after riding all day, we had a BBQ and I also met everyone else in Dale’s group. We decide to head out to Yellowstone the next day.
The trip just keeps getting better. We weren’t in any hurry, so around 10am we pulled out of Custer and headed across the Lower half of Wyoming towards Yellowstone. We rode all day in 100+ degree weather across the drought-stricken lower part of Wyoming. As we got closer and closer to Dubois it got greener and cooler. We stopped for gas in Dubois. I would stop for gas every hundred miles, because gas stations are sometimes few and far between. We talked to a local man about getting into Yellowstone by evening and he said that we had plenty of daylight left to make into Yellowstone and find a place to sleep before dark, but if we didn’t hurry, we could get wet, as it always rains in the pass at this time of day (6pm). So we rode on, when we were coming through the pass we saw the snowcapped Grand Tetons Mountains with the sun just bursting through white low lying clouds, hitting the snowcapped mountains into this bright brilliant white horizon and skyline. It was quite a breathe taking view.
When we came out of the pass we are right at the base of the Grand Tetons. So we turn south and head to Jackson Hole. We had dinner, spent a little time walking around town and noticed the two riders I ran into from Elsberry. Then we turned in for the night.
The next morning after breakfast we went on a ride down into Idaho around the Snake River and back up through Jackson towards Old Faithful.
We rode throughout Yellowstone all day, stopped and watched Old Faithful go off in the evening. Then we head out of the park, since the ranger told us the best place to stay the night would be West Yellowstone which is in Montana. The ride today was full of one scenic view after the next, with the best still coming.
Around every corner there is another beautiful view. I couldn’t set my cameras down, or keep them charged. We left West Yellowstone Montana and head out through the park to Beartooth Pass, into Red Lodge Montana. The top of Beartooth Pass is called the “Top of The World” at 10,942 feet.
It’s only open from late May to the middle of October. We were up there in short sleeve shirts and throwing snow balls; what a sight to behold with the mountain lakes and ranges full of life.
The switchback roads are what we look for in the ride. We took pictures all the way to Red Lodge. We stopped and ate dinner at a place called the Pollard, which was one of the best meals I had the whole trip. It appeared to be a high dollar restaurant, but it was so reasonable I went back out on the street and told people they should give it a try. We left here after dinner and headed back through Beartooth Pass, over St. Joseph byway to Cody, Wyoming and on to Grey Bull for the night. Even though it’s not Sturgis bike week, there are bikes all over up here and from all over the world; they are also early and riding their way towards Sturgis.
We should have stayed over in Cody, Wyoming because of the ride we wanted to take today, but we didn’t, so we had to head north on Hwy 310 to 14 Alt to the Big Horn Mountains. The landscape was big canyons, with switch backs roads and water falls throughout the country side.
There were forest fires burning and the mountains appeared to be foggy but a ranger told us it was smoke from the forest fires. At around 9,500 feet, the temperature dropped into the 30’s. We actually stopped and put on winter clothing for about an hour. There was no snow up here, just cold.
We rode down into Sheridan and it was in the 70’s to 80’s again. We stopped and stripped off the winter gear and headed home to Custer, by way of Devils tower.
This was my fifteen hundred miles beyond, from Sturgis, South Dakota to Yellowstone and back. I still have all next week to do ride Sturgis.
I went through drought stricken land, seen beetle infestation that’s killing the pine forest and forest fires. This is happening all over the US. One of the great things about riding the back roads, is that you get to see the real America, small towns fading away, industrial towns that have just dried up to nothing. You really do see the real story. You actually see tumble weed in the streets of old farm towns, grain mills closed down, factories closed down. All this and yet surrounded by all this beauty.
On Saturday August 4th, I’m back in Custer South Dakota. Dale and his group rode horses today and they all left this evening. I just laid up and spent time here in Custer. With everyone gone now I’m back on my own. Tomorrow is my 54th birthday and what a way to spend it… in total tranquility.
Nothing but Gert, me and a lot of riding left to do here in South Dakota. There are also bikes in every town now just like here in Hill City, which is the next town up from Custer.
I spent the week riding throughout the Black Hills of South Dakota, to Devils Tower back in Wyoming and just to the West of Spearfish, South Dakota then down to Sundance and back home to Custer.
The next day we headed up to Deadwood, Spearfish, Needles Highway and back to camp. This is Needles Highway, a bit of a tight squeeze for this pickup truck.
The rest of the week I rode to Crazy Horse Monument and Museum, Mount Rushmore, the Bad Lands, Wall Drug, in and out of Rapid City and all around. I went up to Sturgis and spent the day up there looking around. Then I rode Spearfish Cannon and back to Custer. Went up to Deadwood a couple of times this week. It was jammed packed with bikers, as well as all the other towns. I pretty much rode all the Black Hills and a lot of these places more than once.
Well the trip is still far from over… it’s time to head home. Now it’s Friday August 10th 12noon in Custer and 1pm at home, and that is where I’m headed.
I decided to take Hwy 18, then Hwy 385 out of Custer, to Hwy 80 back to Missouri. So again I’m riding through 100+ degree weather all day again. But when the sun started to set, it started to cool down, I decided to ride on. The further into the night I rode, I decided to just keep on riding. This was the only time I have ridden at night the whole trip. But I figured since it was all interstate, there wouldn’t be as high of risk for wild game being out on the highway. I would get in behind a car and just stay with it for a blocker of any unknown critters that may jump out on the highway. I also earned an Iron Butt Award for riding over thousand miles in less than 24 hrs. After nineteen hours and eleven hundred miles of straight riding through the night, I arrived home at 8am Saturday morning August 11th.
I feel very fortunate to have had this experience. I truly know why Sturgis is called a pilgrimage, not a rally or party by those who were fortunate enough to have seen what I’ve seen: a remarkable ride. I have had many trips to compare to. I was also fortunate enough to have met a few people along the way, every one of them good people. Maybe next time I’ll sit around more and ride less, now that I’ve seen quite a lot of this part of the country. Probably not because it’s all about the ride; I’ve never had a bad one. Just some were more adventurous than others; they all have their own beauty. Riding in and out of Missouri is as pretty as any. With all being said Gert and I rode fifty five hundred miles in all on this trip.
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