International Writers Magazine: Motorcycle
|The search for Crazy Horse (3268 Miles later)
Harlan G. Koch
Tom Newland and I seldom have specific plans for our motorcycle
forays beyond the High Sierras; however, this trip covered so much
it demanded a plan of sorts. Quel temps fait-il; temps fait mauvais.
This time, in our effort to accent history and geology, we wanted
to actually "see" wagon wheel tracks and pony express
stations. At Wyomings Independence Rock we wanted to see the
actual proof of pioneer names and dates carved into stone, we wanted
to better understand why the Oregon-California trail was called
the worlds longest graveyard...
The estimated 10
deaths per mile were chiefly due to cholera. Ours had been a migration
so intense that it was bound to conflict with the numerous hostile Indian
tribes, tribes which were too often misled by dishonest treaties and
by any acceptable Code of Honor.
We wanted to "drive through" South Dakotas magic Black
Hills, a sacred area to Indians, filled with animals (mountain sheep,
bison, deer) grazing the shoulders of the road. Sturgis was also on
our list; its a motorcycle town that annually invites thousands
of bikers to take over. Wed then go on to artsy Spearfish and
into Sundance, Wy. Sundances only advertised claim to real fame
is its geography and that its county jail once housed the infamous Sundance
Kid. Chief Crazy Horse was born near Sundance at a place called Bear
Butte. Perhaps we can find it.
We intended to skirt by the base of Devils Tower, a sacred spot
the Indians called Bears Lodge. Its a classic example of
a volcanic neck and also the nations very first national monument.
it was established by Teddy Roosevelt! Then westward
via Gillette and Sheridan, and then up to Montanas great grassland.
Wed reconnoiter the historic Rosebud Battlefield and Custers
somber National Monument on the Little Big Horn: also established by
President Teddy Roosevelt. This was an area where Indian hunting grounds
had been usurped and the ongoing conflict had provoked some of the most
vicious battles between Indians and whites. Wed spend the night
at Billings and then follow the Yellowstone River down through Montana
to our nations first national park at Yellowstone. Wed spend
the night at the Old Faithful Lodge.
On our way home wed exit Yellowstones south gate to see
the majestic Grand Tetons and visit famous Jackson, Wyoming. If our
trip were truly blessed we might even meet Vice President Dick Cheney
who would surely invite us in for cocktails. Farther down the road we
were looking forward to what Life Magazine described as Nevadas
"Loneliest Highway in the World." Beautiful Route 50, the
pony express route across the middle of Nevada and also known to the
Wagon Train masters as the Central Overland Trail from Salt Lake to
Sacramento. All this combined surely heralded an unforgettable Western
We wanted to know more about the intrepid trail bosses or wagon train
masters and their gritty leadership. There were so many of these colorful
characters that they would require a thick book of research. Two of
the most notable progenitors: Lewis and Clark (1804) were followed by
iron men like Jedediah Smith of upstate New York. In 1823 a grizzly
bear mauled Smith not far from Sundance, Wy, ripped off one of Smiths
ears. Imagine the pain when Smith ordered a member of his team to suture
the ear back onto his head where it belonged and without morphine sulphates
sedation. This same Smith spent 44 days crossing the Great Basin and
in 1828 Oregon Indians massacred most of Smiths party. Smith escaped.
Comanche Indians finally killed Jedediah (probably painfully) in 1831
on the banks of the Cimarron River not far from my Oklahoma hometown:
It was a great setting for a Western trip, 3268.1 fabulous miles and
from our several prior experiences it was certainly doable even if we
were planning a late departure. Tom, was my usual special partner because
he never gets lost and is no tyro to exploration and discovery. He and
his small group once walked
the Pacific Crest
Trail from Mexico to Canada, an extremely tough trek to match. All wed
need for success was that our bikes not mechanically fail us, and for
us not to fail the bikes on some challenging mountain curve, or, for
an errant trucker or high leaping stag not do us in, and among the most
important: for fairly decent weather to be with us. We were aware that
12 September was a late departure, perhaps a week to ten days late in
our so-called ever-narrowing window. We carefully blotted this rationality
from our discussions.
In retrospect, ours paralleled the same late-start nemesis that had
crushed the hapless Donners during the 1846-1847 blizzards. Most of
that party had died in 22 feet of snow and even more grisly, when their
food gave out they commenced cooking and devouring the ghastly frozen
remains of each other! The Donners became one of the classic horror
stories across the High Sierras. And, as if to nag at us, our highway
I-80 ran a bare few thousand feet above the site of their horrific winter
at Donner Pass and Donner Lake.
12 September we departed San Francisco at 0900, crossed the newly-surfaced
Bay Bridge, then veered northeasterly on I-80 via Berkeley, passed over
the new Carquinez Straits Bridge and skirted Vallejo. It was a cool
60 degrees. By 1117 hours we had traveled 130.4 miles and had climbed
1255 feet to where the temperature was now a toasty 95-degrees. It felt
grand. We figured we were getting 48.65 miles per gallonthats
two cents per mileand our average speed up the mountain was 57.1
pretty great progress for Mr. Harley and Mr. Davidson. After
70-plus more miles we would cross the High Sierras. The tanks of each
motorcycle holds 4.5 gallons but theres no gauge! Tom and I "roughly"
figure that a half tank will take us 110 miles. The 110 miles is the
signal to commence looking for a service station. Imagine! All that
expensive glitter on motorcycles and they delete a fairly inexpensive
Months ago while reconnoitering Nevadas fabled Area 51 adjacent
to Extraterrestrial Highway (There are such great names in Nevada),
we left isolated Tonapah, Nevada (El. 6256), without topping off. Only
four miles east of town a lonely sign read: Next Gas 80 Miles. We immediately
returned to Tonapah. Theres nothing worse than to sit beside a
deserted desert road on empty talking to curious horses bulging with
methane. When we arrived at Rachel, NV, the Land of UFOs and also
tangential to Americas spooky Area 51, we limped across Coyote
Summit and beyond Reveille Range on our reserve. Being on reserve in
the desert is guaranteed to spike a riders blood pressure. Parts
of the deserts deviltry are those steep grades and headwinds.
These can surreptitiously change the planning figures. Rachel is the
spot on the map where urban thrill seekers from as far away as Vegas
lay on the sleepy road and beer in hand they stare into the starry glitter
till dawn. They watch for itinerant UFOs because there is a gamblers
chance. After all, this is Area 51; its different, if theres
really a UFO it should be here.
Exactly four hours and 239.5 miles after leaving San Francisco we stopped
for gas at Sparks
a suburb of Reno, Nevada (El 4410ft). This
was Winners Corner, a great name for Nevada but not for the pancaked
car just towed in. We were spared seeing the passengers the EMT had
already removed to another location. Since leaving San Francisco, our
average speed was 59.87 mph which includes all stops. We were moving
right along. Like old men, we unglued ourselves from our bikes, stretched
our butt muscles that felt numb, shook out sore wrists and drank Toms
Gatorade. Weve long been aware that shaping up for long rides
takes at least four road days.
leaving Sparks, we edged into the warmth of the beautiful Nevada
desert. This is Americas Great Basin, a 190,000 square miles
of desertAmericas largest. During the Pleistocene Epoch
this basin was the location of the great Lake Lahotan which during
its last 10,000 years had mostly dried out. Deserts of this aridity
are among the most fragile ecosystems on earth, so dry the cacti
are special and stunted and the sage hasnt the same penetrating
fragrance as sage in most Western states.
I wondered if these
10,000 years of melting the Pleistocene ice and the desiccation of Lake
Lahotan are what our greenie activists might perceive as hints re the
nasty global warming syndrome. Did all this melting and evaporation
commence long before Kyotos establishment? Or is this condition
probably not a new warming condition. Lets suppose then that there
have logically been several Pleistocene Epochs.
When we arrived at Jims Chevron at 1927 W. Winnemucca we had traveled
360 miles for the first day, the temperature was 108 and after San Franciscos
daily 55 to 65 this high dry place was marvelous. Coming into Winnemucca
(Pop. 7700, El. 4299 ft), a large cemetery as neat as a public park
is to the immediate right of the road. Pit stop: 2.99 gallons at $3.36
($10.04). The Best Western desk people told us telephone calls were
on the house because their computer system had broken down. This is
the hometown of Minor Lee Kelso my USMA 46 classmate. No matter
where I go, Hong Kong, Angkor or Mombasa, I find some part of 46
13 September 1217 hours, temperature 97: we notice our elevations are
rising. We have traveled 185 miles to Elko (El.5067 ft.) Weather harbingers
such as these guarantee a successful trip. We stopped at Elkos
Winners Corner Chevron for 2.999 gallons ($3.359 regular; 61.67
mpg). Our Route 80 follows the trace of California Trail wagon trains;
the Humboldt River borders to our south. The Southern and Union Pacific
railroads also follow the Humboldt River lowland (Look up this remarkable
Alexander von Humboldt, his adventures make ours look as elementary
as possible). In the Nevada Desert we often saw what appeared to be
abandoned, crewless 90-car freight trains left shimmering in the desert,
and, with no noticeable crew. We wondered if these were secondary parking
spots because there were no available marshalling yards.
Second day: 514 miles from San Francisco.
In the Great Basin the Humboldt and other streams flow to no ocean.
In the Basins West the Humboldt just silently disappears in the
Carson Sink while the East part of the Basin gurgles its last in the
Great Salt Lake Desert. Fascinating geography.
Left Elko at 1315 hours. Went through Wells (El. 5653 ft.) and crossed
the Pequop Mountains at 6967 ft. Nevada has a proliferation of narrow
mountain ranges that generally run NNE to SSW. The Southern and Union
Pacific railroads are quite busy along here.
Arrive at Wendover on the Utah border. To the left (north)is the famous
Bonneville Flats, elev. 4236 feet. We are now 662.5 miles from SFO and
have averaged 61 mph from Elko. We fill up (2.484 @$3.099/gal) at Bonus
Star Mart. We have looked forward to seeing Bonneville. Up to 1935 it
was where Sir Malcolm Campbell had raced his powerful Bluebird cars
and set nine world records; I remembered it from Movietone News shots
at this same Bonneville spot. Now I was actually there and was being
internally thrilled. Only recently I had seen Sir Anthony Hopkins in
"The Worlds Fastest Indian" (a true story) that had
recently been filmed here. Hopkins played a senior motorcyclist who
traveled from New Zealand to California on a tramp steamer with his
renovated junk bike. He came to Bonneville to establish a worlds
speed record. He did! And, the old man and his ancient Indian returned
on subsequent years to establish even more records.
At Bonneville we gassed up at 4:35 PM(lost an hour). Temp is 103 degrees.
Surprisingly, we had no problem with todays heat because our own
dehydration had both fooled and pleasantly cooled us. Unknown to us,
this would be the last hour of our warm weather until we returned to
San Francisco. To our East, the clouded Wasatch Mountains formed the
skyline some of the mountains are 13,000 ft high.
We drank Toms Gatorade and shot eastward across the mesmerizing
white Great Salt Lake Desert
the road was arrow straight. Signs
on the shoulder frequently warn motorists not to drift off to sleep.
We passed just north of Kennicot Copper, the worlds largest open
pit mine near Tooele. We could see at the base of the distant Wasatch
Mountain range a long freight interminably lacing its way from south
to north. Arr Salt Lake City (El 4260 ft. Total mileage for two-days
ride from SFO: 800.5 miles. 440.3 miles for today. Pit stop at the Top
Stop, 2603 Parleys Way SLC. 2.64 gal @ $3.03/gallon.
We quickly discovered that a conference had turned Salt Lake City into
a mess. Visitors were crawling out of every bus and airplane to fill
the motels. We found a little dive operated by a Korean couple; she
allowed us to park our bikes next to her office door and offered us
a free cold beer ... a jolly greeting unusual for Morman Salt Lake City.
Its always bad procedure to arrive late. Even in towns traffic
becomes reckless as travelers charge in to find accommodations.
14 September: On the third day from SFO we depart SLC 0730 on I-80 and
head into the Wasatch Mountains; the temperature is chilly as we commence
our climb toward chichi Park City. This is where the Sundance Film Festival
is held in January, NOT at Sundance, Wyoming. Its ski-country
cold. In the steeper parts of the mountains, we ran into a couple of
chilly showers. Not too smart driving a high performance bike on wet,
glistening asphalt, especially when at this elevation ice can be an
unwelcome surprise around the next sharp curve. Weve gained considerable
altitude these early 57 miles.
Small town to the right ... were cold and turn off I-80 to Coalville,
UT (El. 5586 ft.)to allow the air to warm up a tad. Pit Stop: 1.625
gal @ $3.05/gal. This is a friendly little town located 857.8 miles
from SFO. We followed the town marshals best advice for the towns
most popular breakfast nook. We each ordered three eggs over easy, pancakes,
and delicious hash browns. We headed due east with I-80 climbing relentlessly
higher to Evanston, Wy, (El.7163 ft) and on into Fort Bridgers
(6670 ft.). This is the high rolling plains country.
Toms on a geology kick this morning. The relentless drizzle has
slacked off but the weather shows obvious signs of deterioration. Toms
photographing everything. This is good because Ive become jaded
and have a tendency to bypass those one-too-many historical sites. For
example, in the past I would travel a mile down a side road to see the
historic stage and livery only to discover nothing more than just another
bronze plaque. With only ten days to travel we have to prioritize by
limiting unworthy stops. If we had loads of time we could futz around
but Tom has a fire station to return to and I have Judy and Lucy the
More interesting to us was where was this Fort Bridger and who was Bridger?
This time a worthwhile sign came to our aid:
Note that Fort Bridger is at exit 34 of the I-80 highway in the southwestern
corner of Wyoming. A key to Ft Bridger's success was its location, a
spot that had plenty of trees and fresh water. Bridger, the man, had
been one of the most famous mountain men in the West. In his earliest
days, he had discovered the Great Salt Lake; he helped blaze new trails
across the West. In one of his many adventures he had taken an arrow
in his back. Three years later they removed this arrowhead without anesthetic.
(Recall Jedediah Smith and the reattachment of his ear. Also, remember
those old Westerns where the "Doc" was always excising a bullet
without benefit of pain killers.) It was this same Bridger who at Salt
Lake tasted the water and declared, "Hell, we are on the shores
of the Pacific."
The Bridger Trail, especially along the Platte in Wyoming and in Utah,
is prominent among the most popular routes. Along one of these traces,
157 Pony Express stations (a fresh horse every 15 miles) were established
from St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento. The intrepid Pony Express riders
galloped the mail from St. Joseph, across Nevada to California in ten
days. Read Mark Twains "Roughing It." It was
his account of traveling this same route that is considered among his
lifes best work.
During this same exciting time, cities were being made. For example,
Denver emerged as a notable transportation, meat packing and trading
hub. With the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869, wagon
travel began to decline.
Pit stop at Rock Springs, Wy (El.6271), we are 1004 miles from San Francisco.
1215 hours. 3.14 gallons from Coaltown, UT. There is a strong southerly
wind that threatens us with serious rain. Tom and I tried to determine
which of us had decided that September was too early for rain in The
We zoomed by the old Granger (El.6240) Stage Station; it was very near
I-80s exit 130 near a town called Point of Rocks (Elev. 6509 ft).
It was a relay point for the Ben Holladay Overland Trail Stages (Great
Names) in 1862.If youre short of time theres perhaps too
much to see. Lewis and Clark and von Humboldt took months to explore;
like everything today, we only had ten days. Unfortunately, the Holladay
stage stop was reportedly a piece of history we should not have bypassed.
Perhaps on a later trip.
Enter Rawlins at 1511 hours. Pit stop; weve come 1120.5 miles
from SFO. Top off at Rawlins Perkins Conoco with 2.371 gal. Incidentally,
during the entire 3200 mile trip we used no oil nor did we add or reduce
air pressure. Depart Rawlins from I-80 and head due north via Whisky
Gap to see historically important Independence Rock (very worthwhile
Reached Independence Rock; there is no gas facility. It is 1188.3 miles
from SFO and 68.3 miles north of Rawlins. This granitic monadnock is
among the most important landmarks on the California-Oregon trail. Often
called The Register of the Plains, it is a solid loaf of rounded granite
that can be seen for miles ... especially from the northeast. Thousands
of migrants and their wagons encamped on the flat plain overlooked by
"the rock". There they fed their animals, made repairs and
wrote or carved their names initials on the surface of this tremendous
granitic rock. Tom ran up the sloping rock at a rapid rate but the 6230
ft elevation finally brought him to his knees. Several, almost tame,
fat cottontails hopped around at the base of the rock.
Theres a light sprinkle in the air; we continue on to Casper and
arrived at 6PM (El. 5123)14 September. We encountered a half dozen deer
grazing on road shoulder but thankfully none bolted. At 6PM we arrived
at Casper (El.5123). This is Vice President Cheneys hometown.
Weve come 1247.6 miles from SFO. Casper is a nice looking little
city. Prominent sign on a government building reads: Dick Cheney Building.
Across the street is the 8-floor petroleum building. Also here are Casper
College, Univ. of Wyoming at Casper, 3 golf courses, Oregon Trail Veterans
Cemetery (80,000 had made the trip by wagon), old Fort Casper, and the
15 September:[CASPER WY] Depart Casper for Lusk, Wy, at 0830 and arrive
Lusk at 1028 hours. Pit Stop: 1.98 gallons Morning temperature is a
perfect 73 degrees. Virtually no traffic through the grasslands; we
have driven the 110.4 miles in two hours. When we reached Fort Robinson
(beautifully maintained place) it was lunch time and only 3 miles to
Crawford, NE. Once again, we didnt take sufficient time for a
Robinson stop. Arr at Crawford 1136 hours and 79 degrees. We can hear
freight trains over the hill. Great little Moms diner at Crawford
crossroad. We took on 1.234 gallons for $3.53. 1418.3 miles from SFO.
learned that Fort Robinson was where Chief Crazy Horse was killed
5 September 1877. Fort Robinson is now a Nebraska Historical State
Park which is administered by Nebraska University. The University
maintains longhorn cattle on its fenced acreage and there appears
to be student activity. Fort Robinson (Famous Indian Wars Army installation:
1874-1899) once housed a regiment of Buffalo soldiers. During the
Indian Wars, Gen. George Crooks, USMA 1852, was the area commander
of the Indians and made his headquarters at Fort Robinson. We learned
that while Crazy Horse was incarcerated at Robinson an American
Buffalo soldier bayoneted the chief when the chief reportedly had
become excited at lock down. That was unfortunate. Chief Crazy Horse
was one of this regions most famous and colorful American
Indian chiefs; Sitting Bull, famous Lakota Chief who lived 56 years,
was one of Crazy Horses closest associates.
We had wanted to
learn more about Crazy Horse, his tribes hunting grounds and why
Crooks men found it necessary to jail Crazy Horse and later kill
him at Fort Robinson while under U.S. Army supervision. We wanted to
learn more about a possible broken treaty, and also view the progress
of the huge Crazy Horse memorial now being painstakingly carved on a
Precambrian mountain face near Mt. Rushmore. Unfortunately, the sun
was low and rain was threatening. We moved north on Hwy 2 to Hot Springs,S.D.
The Black Hills of South Dakota, sacred Indian ground, were just ahead.
We were about to see Rushmore and the beginnings of the Crazy Horse
sculpture. Evidently Crazy Horse is astride his horse and will eventually
be on the same grand scale as Rushmore.
A BEAUTIFUL TRIP BEGINS TO UNRAVEL
We took a pit stop at Hot Springs, S. Dakota: 1.319 gallons for $3.91.
Very strange weather, scudding clouds and weather is hot. We go north
on 79, Black Hills are to our left front; the hills are not black but
the contrast of the dark green pine trees make the hills appear black.
After finding Rushmore, the Park Service honored my National Park lifetime
senior pass but the concessionaire wanted $8 parking for each motorcycle
while we took a few photos in the rain. Tom shoots Rushmore shrouded
in the clouds. It began to rain hard and as we left for Rapid City the
temperature dropped rapidly.
We found the Crazy Horse sculpting site to be much the same scale and
idea of Rushmore. The park people there were also happy to have us in
the rain at $8 per motorcycle. We could see the "beginning"
of a sculpture, could see the nostril of Crazy Horses horse but
after years of work it was still not ready for serious viewing. Many
slick turns and climbs and there were deer, mountain sheep, and a few
fantastically beautiful chestnut buffalo along the sharp curves. Tourists
are wet, misery reflects from their faces. They are camped in unditched
tents with everything sopping wet
including my feet. Our bikes
are mud splattered.
At our Rapid City, SD, motel the sun mercifully came out. We borrowed
a hose to clean up our disreputable bikes, walked to a neighboring restaurant
for a beer and delicious prime rib. Great service. Rain stopped and
the suns now down.
Class of 46 has a classmate at Rapid City who was formerly a professor
at the South Dakota School of Mines: Josiah Wallace D-1. Regardless,
in spite of the classmate entrée, I could never bring myself
to call a classmate just before dinner: "Joe, Im here with
Tom, the friend of West Point." When we operated the stores in
Honolulu and San Francisco it was surprising how many "old buddies"
dropped in just at closing. Wed leave for our home in Tiburon
before the big rush across the Golden Gate Bridge
16 September: Left Rapid City (El 3918) at 0849. This is mile 1602.7--were
heading due Westand our farthest point from San Francisco! Ominous
clouds put a chill (no rain or snow) in the air and gave us a beautiful
sunrise. Take it from Tom and me: Be wary of beautiful sunrises! We
were on I-90 heading West toward Sundance. En route we would stop at
Sturgis, visit its great Harley-Davidson store. Sturgis is also the
site of one of the nations largest annual motorcycle gatherings;
they say, "thousands of bikes" take over Sturgis. We discovered
at the motorcycle store that we were within seven miles of Bear Butte,
the sacred land where Crazy Horse was born. We briefly futzed around
at the Harley shop.
Today our master plan was to drive "through" Sundance (scan
the sidewalks for Robert Redford), and see Devils Tower which
is really "Bears Lodge." -- Bear's Lodge, located in
northwestern Wyoming, is a towering 1,280 foot monolith long considered
sacred by over twenty tribes in the Plains Nation. We were off via Gillette
and Sheridan to Montana and to the famous Last Stand of West Points
most famous goat, George Armstrong Custer (Last Man USMA 1861).
Today, 16 September, would make or break our trip. All we had to do
was rocket down the road and drink in the scenery.
Unfortunately, all was not well in River City. While visiting Sturgis
Harley-Davidson, the temperature had steadily dropped to 39 degrees
and made bitter by a headwind that had picked up to 25-30 mph. As we
proceeded West out of town, a cold driving rain commenced hitting us
We stopped at a Hardee fast food; showed our gratitude by topping off
with gas and going in for a hamburger. Our principal missions at Hardee
were to thaw out and have lunch. If youve ever seen To Have
and To Have Not with Bogart and Bacall, you may recall how Walter
Brennan jerkily hopped around like a man with prohibition Jake leg.
I entered Hardees in much the same way; I was just two degrees
north of hypothermia.
Even though the food was delicious, we were not euphoric. Setting fire
to the bikes, buying tickets on the nearest airline that went to either
San Francisco or the Bahamas were both viable options. Neither of us
wished to come right out and admit it, but it was beginning to dawn
on Tom and me that a "plan fizzle" was threatening our master
We ate the burgers, and left for Sundance but it was now mid afternoon.
Our todays plan for Custer was temporarily canceled. The right
side of my right hand gave every indication of frostbite.
When we arrived at Sundance (El 4750) at 3PM on 16 September the temperature
was 38-degrees and real snow was mixed with the 25mph horizontal drizzle.
We checked into room 129 at The Bears Lodge. There was hard standing
and special overhead protection for our bikes: $69/night. Kellie Kephardt,
once of NMMI, was the affable manager. We arrived cold and with squishy
footwear. At their handy laundry, we washed our bag of dirty clothes.
To make them happy, we washed the miserable bikes, talked to Kellie,
met the office dogs and cats (the office has all manner of animal heads,
wild cat and bear skins, etc. I wondered if living in a place like this
adversely affected the psychological state of domestic dogs and cats.
I mean, you put yourself in the dogs or cats moccasins.)
We put our miserable footwear in the dryer. Tom checked out a DVD from
the office and 3 movies. One, not surprisingly, is Travolta as a fire
chief. Not bad. That Tom-the-Fireman found it did not surprise me. No
charge. This motel is advertised as a place of warmth. Tom went to the
office computer to check out our rapidly deteriorating weather. Outside
it was a little like the picture with Jimmy Stewart trying to bring
his jet bomber in through the fog without clearance: "Kadena, Im
Across the street (Cleveland Str) is the "warm" ARO restaurant.
We went over. Many antelope hunters are in town and are holed up in
the restaurant, each with his beer and a few were from our very own
Bears Lodge. Antelope hunting must take it out of you because
the hunters were docile and sleepy looking. Tom and I had a good beery
17 September. This morning we attempt finding Devils Tower in
the horizontal rain and snow but after a few miles we gave upits
just too cold, wet and dangerous. We enjoy the AROs passable food.
Nice place to wait out a storm. Now the snow is thicker and blowing
parallel to the ground; were both glad we gave up on Devils
Tower. We want to leave Sundances low pressure area, perhaps we
can still salvage the trip. Unfortunately, the weathers too much.
We watched movies and occasionally Tom checked the computer for the
weather situation. We watched the storm move in from the NW which is
where we want to go. Tom and I discussed our options and we concluded
that Montana was out, our entry into Yellowstone from the north was
out, ditto for the Tetons and forget having cocktails with the vice
president in Jackson. We might just as well slice off NW Wyoming
wed lost too much time. Right now we should be riding adjacent
to the wall of the Tetons looking at herds of elk and buffalo.
We had made "our own" Last Stand with a blizzard outside every
bit as bad as the whiteout Mark Twain once encountered at Eastern Californias
Mono Lake. It was all blizzard outside, complete with howling wind and
possibly encroaching animals. All we had left of our initial plan was
the Nations Loneliest Highway through the middle of Nevada. We
had searched out Crazy Horse, found exactly where he had died in Nebraska.
We were now suffering from his revenge! Crazy Horse had found us wandering
in the southwest corner of South Dakota and we were his. We concluded
that like the Donners, we had started a week late. Temperature at dinner
is 37 degrees; snow is horizontal. We intend to withdraw right through
Wyoming from the NE corner of Weston County to the SW corner at Evanston
(El 7163 ft). Evanstons 7,163 feet is feeling more and more like
Pikes Peak summit.
Just so that you know I personally was not beaten and that I had surely
switched to "survival mode," before leaving Sundance I checked
at a likely place for a buffalo skin coat. I thought that would be the
greatest kind of trophy from this Nome-like experience. After all, some
of todays bizarre bikers wear the Brunhilde Nordic helmets with
steer horns coming out each side. How about me tooling around San Franciscos
boulevards wearing a buffalo robe? How cool could I possibly get? Also,
imagine me walking into Union Streets chichi little Betel Restaurant
or the laid-back Plumpjack hashhouse on Fillmore. The buffalo robe might
even evolve into San Franciscos coolest new fad; after all, San
Francisco denizens had seen everything else. Practicality took charge.
After all, a buffalo coat sells for about a thousand dollars. In spite
of the storm, I wasnt entirely brain-dead. In spite of my current
wilderness milieu I was still aware that a camel hair beats buffalo
robes for pizzazz by miles and miles. But then with a camel hair there
is no there there. How many have really seen a buffalo robe? Theyre
actually quite warm? Absolutely perfect to wear on a stroll across the
Golden Gate Bridge.
18 September: Sundance Mountain and surrounding hills are Christmassy
white. The cars parked at Bear Lodge Motel were plastered with four
inches of snow. Snow is on roof of the motel but it slides off and splats
on the concrete twenty feet below. From I-90 and then Hwy 116, Tom and
I venture southwest to Upton. The sky is a matrix of thick fog and swirling
snow. Tom and I take picture of snow-covered field and hay. Even looking
at it today makes my frozen hand hurt. Tom leads off slowly downhill
through the weathers cotton; its as if Tom is eerily disappearing
straight into hell. Gradually, Tom is no longer visible. Wind gusts
blow a chill up my left nostril; this ornery cold blast feels as if
it is drilling right through the top of my head. A little later Tom
reappears like the lead gossamer character in a séance. As the
road deteriorated he had slowed. They have scraped the surface off the
road and have left 3-inch deep grooves that grab at our front tires.
Road turns to gravel; there can be no further surprise other than just
pure mud. At Upton we turn off this mess and into a pit stop station.
Again I have those Walter Brennan shakes and were 1738 miles from
San Francisco. Its 38 degrees and cloudy. Hands and face numb.
Nice people here; we warm up in their convenience store and read the
"Weston County Gazette" volume 92.The Upton High School Homecoming
Queen is on the front page. Great store dog here, full of personality
but then he doesnt spend his day staring at a dead coyotes
head on his living room wall.
From Upton we have a blacktop road and at mile trip mile 1802 we begin
entering what is locally called the Black Thunder Basin Coal Company
area. Take photo of large (25) herd of pronghorn antelope. Sign reads:
Report Those Shooting From Road. Imagine that on I-5 or I-95. Take photos
of trucks with mammoth wheels hauling coal scraped right off the face
of the Earth. Two trains: Santa Fe and Union Pacific on sidings waiting
to be loaded. This is a bristling operation; power plants tall
chimney about a mile into the field. Sixteen miles later we are at Wright
which is a huge collection of mobile homes probably for employees of
the Black Thunder Coal Company and the railroads. We turn SW at Reno
Junction on Hwy 387.
1539 hours 18 Sept we stop at Midwest for photo of Salt Creek Oil
Field. We have come 71 miles from Upton. Wyomings Teapot Dome
that became so nationally famous on 14 April 1922 is here; I had
long thought it was either in Pennsylvania or Texas. Here is Teapot
Dome alongside WY route 259 in what is virtually Jerkwater, USA,
a handful of miles north of Casper. I would imagine this historic
Salt Creek Oil Field is the reason for Caspers 8-floor Petroleum
It is 5:30PM and
we have limped 215 miles from Sundance. Forget any romantic aura
that communing with Crazy Horse will bring a show of sympathy. He had
warned, "Do not stand at my grave and weep, I am not there, I do
not sleep, I am a thousand winds that blow (he sure got that right),
I am the diamond glint on the snow." I had it figured that we had
been with Crazy Horse most of this morning and he had cunningly reciprocated
with every imaginable weapon in his quiver, along with loads of glinty
snow. Its okay Crazy Horse! We white men understand, we are leaving,
you should have been pestering Buffalo soldiers and not us. Check into
our Casper motel at 1730 hours. At 1812 we have a micro brew and rare
succulent prime ribs at Poor Boys Steakhouse. What a day!
19 September: Lv Casper 1926 trip miles in SW direction at 0840 on hwy
220 via Alcova; temp is 55. Pass Independence Rock at 1985.3 trip miles.
This should be the last time we shall ever see it. How many 49er travelers
mustve said the same? Weve been traveling WNW in the sparsely
populated High Plains. Snowy white continental divide in the distance;
arrive Jeffrey City North of Green Mountains. 2029 trip miles; pit stop
at Split Rock Café 2.544 gallons. Traffic almost nil in this
area. Map indicates 123 miles to Farson with few human footprints in
Turn left off 287 and southwest onto 28 and climb over the historically
famous South Pass, 8110ft (continental divide) toward Farsons
unfriendly gray sky. We must be low on gas! I can feel a defiladed Crazy
Horse lurking. The bleak little farming settlements lend virtually no
possibility of kindly rancher gas. Hwy 28 west of South Pass is fairly
straight and very lonely. Why arent there any UFOs? At 1403
hours, thank God we made it to FARSON!
At this moment, arriving at Farson was better than the Golden Gate Bridge.
2152 trip miles. Cold cold. It comes as no great surprise that
the family operators of the Farson gas pump-grocery are Nepalese Sherpas!
Of all the earths people, these people certainly deserve this
place! God finally got it right. After unwinding myself from atop my
Harley seat, I revert to my Brennan Hop as I walk-hop around to thaw.
I watch Toms regal unseating performance. He reflects a quantum
increase of élan and spirited vigor which is precisely what thirty
fewer years will do for you.
Pit stop 2.64 gallons ($3.099/gal) at Farson is operated by Nepali couple
(At 7000 windy feet only they would have found this windswept investment).
I wonder how some gaunt-eyed realtor must have written the wily classified
ad that eventually captured this family. Possibly he called it "Everest"
or even "The Kathmandu". Yes, that might have done it! Anyway,
the little rosy-cheeked Nepalese boy is not whining; he and his dog
thrive on this miserable place. Hot soup, chili or chocolate would have
surely elevated this place into some world travel 5-star magazine. Instead
we drank an icy coke and pay our bill which simply reads: Shell at State
Hwy and Hwy 191 Still, we remember this place over most the others.
The pumps werent set in concrete; they were surrounded by unmanageable
Farson to Ft. Bridger 120.5 miles. Pit stop: 2.438 gallons
Arr Evanston (see the southwesternmost part of Wyoming--). Check in
at Days Inn at Evanston. Windy and brittle all day; today we drove
375.0 miles from Casper to Evanston which is only two or three miles
Bikers notice: On the advice of a highly-regarded Lawrence Livermore
scientist, Tom and I generally used low octane gas on this trip. The
doctor declares the requirements for high octanes are pure bunk. He
mustve had it right because for 3268.1 miles my Harley never once
did a "ping" (pre-ignite) and the low octane certainly didnt
affect speed, starting or immediate response. About every fourth tank
Id use the 90 octane just to clean plugs. That, too, was probably
unnecessary but meant only to please the motorcycle gods.
20 September: Awaken at Evanston, Wy (El 7163 ft) at 0600. Both Crazy
Horses and now Custers ghost continue to haunt and flaunt
us. While having waffles for breakfast the snow swirled outside our
window. Five blackbirds are pecking on the snow-white motel lawn; they
refuse to fly in this weather. Heavy Kyoto-style snow with Morgan dollar-sized
Fantastic! We cant go anywhere. This is another day that Tom will
check the computer for our elusive weather "window" with no
discovery. The major problem is that Evanston, although nice, is Dullsville.
21 September: The next morning (snow) we told the desk we will stay
an extra day (2301 trip miles) but by noon the weather lifts. We checked
out. This then would become the most dangerous day of the trip. We drive
by Coalville (where we had had breakfast seven days before.) We plan
to drive via Heber City to the Orem-Provo complex on I-15. We encounter
terrible traffic together with driving rain and major highway construction.
We head south paralleling the Wasatch Mtns. Up ahead I saw the awesome
funnel of a cloud let down for a few minutes and then swallow itself
back into its roiling blackness. Highway poorly engineered; the exit
ramps are so short that cars are left standing on the freeway when red
light below halts exit. Someone will eventually figure it out. Pit stop:
Heber 1525 hours and 2377.6 trip miles. 2.233 gallons @$6.97; We arrived
in Nephi (biblical name), UT, at 1750 hours. Our motel operated by a
man from Bombay. Today was a constantly dangerous highway experience.
22 September: This morning we take Highway 50 (travel via Border, Ely,
Eureka, Austin, Fallon and Sparks-Reno). As it is a beautiful route
and encounters exhilarating terrain, well save this route description
separately. Its worth buying a motorcycle just to experience Nevada
along this route! Highway 50 climbs over a statewide succession of 7000-8000
ft. passes and from each lofty pass the road drops down into a huge
beautiful valley where the road becomes arrow straight often for twenty
miles. Then exits the valley and climbs beautifully to the next pass.
There are no animals, few cars. Fabulously stunning country and we cruise
at 90. I will save that route description for another report. Tonight
we will stay at the Fallon Naval Air Station at nearby Reno. Fallon
N.A.S. is having Top Gun graduation to honor ten young pilots, prime
rib dinner; with Rear Admiral Emerson as our host. It was a gala affair
with all the base officers present in flight-line dress. I looked into
the huge bar mirror and notice how my face is wind-seared red. I frighten
myself. I look as if Ive been hanging onto this bar stool for
three or four days. I hope I dont make a bad impression on the
young Top Guns.
September 23 Have breakfast at Fallons Harrahs Casino
and immediately head toward the High Sierras.
From Fallon we took off via Reno (Alt 50 to I-80), Donner Pass and Sacramento
to San Francisco today, a real 49er route, will be 305.8 miles
at an average of 58 mph "including" pit stops). Tom is leading
off by 100 yards and driving like a man possessed. Tom is not careless,
hes an excellent driver. In the interest of safety, Tom and I
increased our distance from each other because of the heavy and fast
traffic. To go slowly on I-80 is an invitation to disaster; our aim
is to keep up with the NASCAR I-80 crowd. From Fallon to SFO we rocket
down the Sierras in 5 hrs 15 minutes: an average of 58 mph "including"
pit stops. The Fallon, NV to SFO leg completes the 3268.1 miles for
this entire motorcycle trip. Awesome crosswind that averages 56 mph
around flat Fairfield, (Travis AFB) CA, becomes a constant struggling
contest just to keep the bikes on the highway. One semi-trailer truck,
fortunately on the east-bound side, was blown on its side across the
This was indeed the day we had planned to return to San Francisco. Unfortunately,
it did not include Montana, Yellowstone, The Grand Tetons and Jackson
Hole: Cest le temps. Congratulations to Nevadas loneliest
highway; it must be among the nations smoothest; beats Californias
highways in every direction. Pit stop at Truckee 3070 miles; pit stop
Roseville 3155 miles; bypass Fairfield which is always a hassle. Today
at Fairfield the wind was blowing from the south at "check-it,"
56 mph and warm. We arrive home at Pacific Heights, 1530 hours 3268.1
of the grandest sights that handily beat South Dakotas Black
Hills, Wyomings Wind River Mountains, and Nebraskas
remarkable mix of prairie grass and bluffs was coming across San
Franciscos newly-renovated Bay Bridge at 1530 hours (this
is not the Golden Gate) and to see the truly glistening beauty of
San Francisco rising majestically from the ground. In spite of its
regrettable politics it is one of the most preternatural cities
of the world that literally reaches out and grabs you. I couldnt
limit the huge smile that spread inexorably across my face. Coming
into this beautiful city was one helluva conclusion.
Home: We drove 305.8
miles today at an average of 58.3 mph including the excessive pit stops.
They were pit stops, we did not dawdle. Unfortunately, we found it impossible
to meet our plan. That guy Captain Ahab had nothing on us. Weather surely
screwed us out of Montana and Yellowstone. Without dog sleds or a helicopter
there was no way to make the itinerary. Its a wonder were
not still somewhere in Wyoming. It was that loathsome weather window
and the uncompromising, unrelenting spirit of Chief Crazy Horse. We
started our trip two weeks late and the Chief would never forgive us
for our effrontery.
© Harlan G. Koch, Retd U.S. Army, Feb 2008
Winelda at alum.calberkeley.org
SINKNAVY46 at aol.com
Born near Wichita,
Kansas, schooled in Oklahoma, (West Point) New York, (Champaign) Illinois,
and at (Berkeley) California. First motorcycle 1946, last motorcycle
2008; Marathoner and Parachutist. Judy and I reside in San Francisco
with, Lucy, a fabulous American Shorthair cat.
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