Monday, August 21, 2006

Chicago Illinois

Welcome back to the record of my odyssey of self discovery travelling across the USA. If this is your first visit you may want to read some of the earlier postings to get up to speed. If you're a regular reader, then lets get on with the latest news.

Dropped my bike off in Rapid City last Friday, but not before I'd spent a little money on it and bolted on a few extra bits of chrome that I just couldn't live without. Believe me it was worth every penny. The bike looks great. My only sadness is that I won't see it now for almost a month and the end of the riding season is approaching rapidly.

Flew from Rapid City to Chicago on Saturday afternoon and am now staying at the Holiday Inn City Centre for a few days rest and recuperation, otherwise known as shopping and sightseeing.

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I was last in Chicago in 2003 for the Harley Davidson 100th birthday party and it all came back to me very quickly. Felt really at home straignt away. Guess I'm just a city boy at heart. Hit the ground running on Saturday night with a pizza at the restaurant that invented the Chicago deep pan pizza, the Uno Pizzeria and then moved on to the Redhead Piano Bar that stays open 'til 4am. Tried the 1800 brand of tequila and think I might be developing a taste for it - maybe Ed was right after all.

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Sunday I went out to Wrigley Field to watch the Chicago Cubs lose to the Cardinals. Weather was perfect and the annual "Air and Water" air display was happening at North Beach just a few miles away, so every so often these amazing military aircraft would roar past the stadium distracting the crowd from the action on the field.

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Then Sunday evening went to watch the most hyped movie on the internet "Snakes on a Plane" starring Samual L. Jackson. It is really just an extremely well made B-movie that would appeal more to my 19-year-old son and his friends than to me, but it was a bit of fun and I quite enjoyed it in a "I don't believe I'm really watching this junk food for the eyes" sort of way.

I'm composing this post courtesy of the Apple Store in Michigan Avenue, Chicago's Golden Mile of shopping, and the call of the shops beckons, so must dash. Catch you later.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Farewell Rapid City

Sadly my stay in the Black Hills of South Dakota is coming to an end, but I rounded off the visit in style by visiting Murphys Bar in downtown Rapid City in the company of Ed Slater, a fellow biker. We shared a cab to and from the bar and Ed was kind enough to introduce me to the delights of shots of tequila washed down with a Guinness or two. My thanks to Ed for his company, his good conversation and his guidance on the various varieties of tequila. His tip for preventing a hangover worked as well!

I dropped the Harley off at the Black Hills HD dealership where it will be collected and shipped back to the UK. My next stop is Chicago where I plan to spend a few days shopping and sightseeing before returning to the UK and getting back to work so that I can clear my credit card debts. But my odyssey isn't over yet, so come back and visit my blog over the next week for more news.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Devil's Tower to Deadwood

If you're a first time visitor to my blog, then welcome. If you're a regular reader, then welcome back. It's been a couple of days since my last posting because I've been out there enjoying the wonderful biking conditions of the Black Hills now that the Sturgis rally is over and the roads are less congested.

Last Monday made an early start and headed across the state line into Wyoming en route for the Devil's Tower. If you're old enough you might remember it from Spielberg's 1977 movie "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." It's about 120 miles from Rapid City. As you get closer it is clearly visible from about 12 miles away. No wonder the American Indians crossing the plains regarded it as sacred. It rises 1,280 feet above the Belle Fourche river and is an awesome sight. Close to it is even more impressive and exceeded my expectations. I took the 1.5 mile trail around the base of the Tower to get a closer look. The trail weaves through ponderosa pines so there is some shelter from the heat and once again the smell of pine is wonderful. Half way round you can sit quietly and listen to the sound of the wind rustling through the trees. Very restful and just the location for a late middle-aged biker to sit and contemplate the meaning of life.

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Thunderstorms and hail popped up on my way back at the end of the day, but took shelter for the worst of it and stayed on the fringes of it for the rest of the journey back to RC.

Tuesday's highlight was a visit to the mammoth dig at Hot Springs about 45 miles south of Rapid City. The site was once a sinkhole, about 26,000 years ago, and many mammoths, attracted to the lush vegetation near the pool, ended up slipping into the water, weren't able to climb out the steep sides and drowned. Tneir bodies sank to the bottom and were preserved in the silt. Several skeletons are preserved almost intact. The result is the world's premier site for the preservation and study of both the Columbian and Wooly mammoth. You tour the dig and see many of the partially uncovered skeletons in situ. Found it fascinating.

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The day ended with another fearsome thunderstorm, but sat this one out and got back to RC dry.

Wednesday was my most ambitious day of the week. Got a really early start and headed northwest to Spearfish to ride along Spearfish Canyon. Weather was quite warm but with overcast skies, so very pleasant riding conditions. Stopped along the way at Savoy to walk down to Spearfish Falls.

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There's something very theraputic about being near waterfalls (or waves breaking on the seashore for that matter) so another pause on my odyssey for a little contemplation. Then pressed on to Deadwood famous, amongst other things, for the site where Wild Bill Hickoc was shot dead while playing poker on August 2nd 1876. He's buried on the hill above the town in Mount Moriah Cemetery along with Calamity Jane.

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The walk up the hill took 25 minutes, but I probably needed the exercise. Next stop was Hill City again. This time for a visit to the Alpine Inn, famous for its steaks, and rightly so. To round off the meal (and my waistline) treated myself to a "Brwonie Delight" - a fudge brownie topped with praline pecan icecream, hot fudge and nuts! By this time it's 6pm, so set off back to Rapid City along the twisting Needles Highway up into the Black Hills (in the dry this time)

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and then along Iron Mountain Road with even more twists and turns (this time interrupted with two stops where the road was blocked by buffalo).

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Finally, as it was dark by this time, called in at Mount Rushmore for the 9pm evening ceremony where the faces are floodlit and the US flag is lowered as part of a programme to celebrate all things American. My busiest day so far.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Buffalo as far as the eye can see!

Saturday 12th August started out a rather dull, overcast and cool (70F)day with a forecast of rain later!! Thought this might coax the buffalo out from the trees where they were probably hiding in yesterdays 100F temperatures. Rode back into the Black Hills along Iron Mountain Road and down into Custer State Park. Along the way stopped to chat to a park warden who said buffalo had been seen this morning to the west of the park on SD Highway 85. Headed off in that direction but along the way was distracted by sightings of deer, wild horses and wild turkeys, all of which required a lengthy photo session. Eventually turned onto Highway 85 and within 3 miles came to an abrupt halt as the road was blocked by hundreds of buffalo. Some crossing the road very casually and slowly. Others just standing in the middle of the road defying you to run them over in front of the ever watchful park wardens. What a magnificent sight. They were dotted over the land on either side of the road and looked just like a scene from an American Western film.

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Just sat at the side of the road and marvelled at the sight. Could almost imagine I was back in the early pioneering days of the 1860s.

Flushed with success decided to push my luck and head for Needles Highway, another narrow twisting road that passes through an eerie landscape of natural granite pillars 60-100 feet tall.

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Then the rain started and the temperature dropped to 60F! Luckily I had my lightweight one-piece waterproof overalls with me so continued my journey dry on the inside at least. The landscape was breathtaking, even in the rain, and eventually the road passed through another short, very narrow tunnel into the middle of a circular cluster of these granite needles called "The eye of the needle".

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By this time I was feeling hungry so continued a few miles along the road to the amusingly named Hill City, a small one street town with a population of 708. However, it did have an amazing 1950s style diner called the Route 16 Diner and they serve a really tasty selection of burgers and pizzas (but no Pizza Express points or Pinot Grigio).

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Then the sun came out and I returned to the campsite via the Crazy Horse Monument of which very little can be said as it's a long way from being finished despite having been started in 1948.

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However, it is a much more ambitious project than Mount Rushmore and is the result of the vision and determination of two men, sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski and Chief Henry Standing Bear, to show that "... the red man also had heroes". Ziolkowski began the project single-handed and without any federal funding. He has since died, but his family carry on the work he started with public subscriptions. They are determined to complete the memorial without federal funding and have even turned down an offer of $10million.

What a fun filled day. I need a beer.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial

Another very hot day was forecast for Friday, so decided to get out early and do some sightseeing before it got too hot. Headed for Mount Rushmore, which is about 20 miles west of my campsite, and got there for opening time at 8am. The whole site is really tastefully done with a discrete underground car park and all the souvenir shops and visitor centre tucked almost out of sight as you walk up the granite paved entrance decorated with granite pillars flying the state flags. I was initially disappointed with the monument. It wasn't as imposing as I'd expected. However, I took the 1.5 mile "Presidents Trail" to the foot of the monument and got a much better impression of the grand scale of the whole thing. An exhibition at the sculptor's studio showed a plaster model of how the monument was intented to look and the left hand figure(Washington) was originally intended to be shown to waist level. If you look closely you can see the outline of his jacket lapels.

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By luck or good judgement the sun was in just the right place in the early morning for good photographs.

Left Rushmore and headed for the Custer State Park in hope of seeing the many thousands of North American buffalo that roam free in the park. The route to Custer takes you up into the Black Hills National Forest along a twisting turning narrow road called Iron Mountain Road. Great fun on a motorbike. The smell of the ponderosa pines was wonderful. The hills are covered in pine trees whcih is the derivation of the name "Black Hills" although strictly speaking it ought to be the Dark Green Hills, but that just doesn't have the same ring to it. Along the way the road cuts through the hills in several short narrow tunnels and each tunnel has been carefully orientated so that as you look through you see Mount Rushmore in the distance framed by the tunnel entrance. Rode through Custer State Park without seeing a single buffalo! Will try again tomorrow.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Rapid City heat wave

Welcome to those of you who have been following the story so far. Temperatures here in South Dakota are soaring. Weather predictions are for figures in the high 90s or even 100F with a 20% chance of thunderstorms. Have seen several of these and they come up quick. So far haven't been caught in one. Sorry for the lack of pictures. Having a few technical problems getting pics transferred from camera to computer. Will try harder. Some of the girls at Sturgis have to be seen to be believed! See me back in the UK for a private viewing.

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The price of Harley accessories for the bike are so much cheaper over here. You pay the same number in US dollars that you would pay back in the UK in pounds. Naturally I've added one or two bits of chrome while I'm here. Haven't done much sightseeing yet. Too many bikers clogging up all the best roads. Will save that for next week when the rally has finished and everyone has gone home. Off to work on my photo collection!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Sturgis 2006

Can't believe I've made it! What a fantastic sight. Harleys as far as the eye can see and more accessories, t-shirts, leather and chrome than my credit card limit will allow.

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This will be a short posting courtesy of the free internet access provided by ABATE (A Brotherhood for Awareness, Training & Education)at Rally Headquarters and a really friendly and helpful guy called Phil Hohm. Weather today is very hot with the possibility of thunderstorms later. Rapid City (where I'm camping for the week)had a 2 hour thunderstorm last night, but my little tent survived very well.

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Must dash now. Nearly time for the bull riders demo at the Jack Daniel's Experience.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Taliesin to the Twin Cities

Started Friday with a visit to the Frank Lloyd Wright visitor centre just a mile from Spring Green and a 2 hour tour of the house he lived in for 48 years "Taliesin". (The name comes from the Welsh for "shining brow".)

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Then back on my bike for the long journey to the twin cities of Minneapolis and St.Paul. Once again the temperature was in the high 80s and clear blue skies. I'd chosen the scenic route along US highway 14 west which meanders through some beautiful farmland. At times I was the only vehicle on the road as far as the eye could see in either direction. Then arrived in the industrial town of La Crosse where I rode over a steel girder bridge crossing the Mississippi river. This was my first sight of the great river and I turned north on Bob Dylan Highway US 61 which follows the Mississippi for several miles with spectactular views of the river at every turn. After passing through Red Wing the road splits and I took US highway 10 west through St.Paul and carried on another 15 miles to my destination for the next couple of days, the small town of Anoka just northwest of Minneapolis. Staying with some relatives, Chuck and Mary Drury.

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They have made me very welcome and Chuck (a fellow biker) is planning to ride with me on Sunday for part of the next leg of my journey to Sioux Falls.

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Friday, August 04, 2006

At last! The journey has begun

Picked up my bike from Milwaukee Harley Davidson at 8.30am on Thursday 3rd August. Set off west along interstate 94 heading for Madison. The early torrential rain quicky cleared up and very soon I was riding in bright sunshine with the temperature rising quickly to around 90F (about 35C). What a fantastic feeling to be riding my bike along the interstate. I'd made it and my dream was becoming reality. I felt a great sense of freedom and a tingle of excitement that the adventure had started. The bike has been running well in the high temperatures. The oil cooler I had fitted in the UK before I shipped it over is doing a great job. After Madison I headed for "The House on the Rock", the result of one man's obsession with buidling a house high up on a rocky outcrop and filling it with oriental art and mechanical music machines. Then back on highway 23 north to American architect Frank Lloyd Wright's home at Taliesin close to the Wisconsin river. Arrived too late to visit today, so will make it my first stop on Friday moring before setting off for Bob Dylan Highway 61 and Minneapolis where I plan to spend a couple of days with some distant relatives. Spending tonight in a motel in Spring Green.