In our community, the term "brother" gets flung around pretty loosely. It could refer to a riding partner who's been through some tough treks with you to someone you just go on weekend jaunts with, a member of your riding club, or just any other motorcyclist. But in this case, I'm talking about the real deal; actual carriers of fairly similar DNA by way of a common parent or two.
I come from a fairly large extended family. My dad's been married three times, with two kids from each. I'm my mom's oldest and my dad's fifth. My next older brother, Glenn, had a great idea for a trip, inviting all of us to join him riding back to L.A. from Sturgis on baggers. Glenn has a business that rents Harleys, and his mostly foreign clientele loves road tripping to the American Mecca that is Sturgis, spending some time at the rally, and jetting off into the sunset. The result is that there are always a slew of bikes that need to be transported back when the party is over.
That's where the brilliance of his idea kicked in. All we needed to do was fly into Sturgis-adjacent Rapid City, South Dakota, pick up our steeds for the ride home, and kill two birds with one stone by running them back quicker than they would on a truck, all while getting some brother bonding along the way.
Alas, only one other brother could get away from the grind long enough to make the trip with us, Scott, who is one step up the ladder older than Glenn. Also along was Leo. Leo works for Glenn helping to take care of logistics, and as far as I can tell, hanging out and drinking beer too. He's very good at it.
Arriving in the Black Hills via the Rapid City Airport, I am ashamed to say, was not a novel experience for me. What was novel was arriving at damn near the end of the event on a Thursday for a quick run through the fun stuff then a four-day trip home. First we had to pick up our rides. The Norwegians who had ridden the bikes the past couple of weeks to the rally and around town were dropping off the baggers at the Rapid City Best Western. Most were headed for a truck ride home, but a few like ours and a couple others were taking advantage of the remote location the bikes found themselves in and picked them up here. It's cheaper that way too.
After Glenn and Leo checked out and the bikes changed hands back at the Best Western, I decided to show my bros (and honorary bro) a few of the lesser-known sights around the Black Hills. One fun route involves taking Nemo Road and Vanocker Canyon to transit between Rapid and Sturgis. The detour adds 10 miles to an otherwise 30-mile trip, but does so via gorgeous, twisting, scenic Black Hills tarmac. Aside from the riding, we were all starving, and it was the one week of the year that Nemo Road BBQ is open off the side of Nemo Road between Nemo and US-385. It adds an additional 10 miles to the trip, but it's oh so worth it.
After some much-needed victuals, I led the crew down to Main Street Sturgis to break Scott in properly at One Eyed Jacks and the rest of Main Street. I'd go into detail, but I'm sure you've either read about it or lived it, so I'll skip the nitty gritty. The new sculptures on Main are pretty damn cool too. We headed back to Rapid after dark storm clouds threatened, but for the first of many times on this charmed trip, we dodged the rain.
Half of a trip to Sturgis for me is networking. It's boring work, I know, and not something my brothers were interested in. The second day of our trip would split our little group, with the tourists heading to Rushmore and Crazy Horse, while I went and hit the vendors on Lazelle and out at the various bars and campgrounds east of town. After my last stop at the Broken Spoke County Line, I decided to try the "back way" that's advertised all over the city to avoid traffic in Sturgis proper.
The way to do this is take US-212 west to Belle Fourche, South Dakota, then take US-85 a few miles south to I-90. In my case, I wanted to take SR-24 over to Hulett, Wyoming, and Devil's Tower on my way to meet the rest of the gang in Moorcroft, Wyoming, an insignificant town except as a place where all our roads met.
Nemo Road BBQ
GPS: 44 16'11" North 103 39'21" West
However, I didn't study the map or write anything down before embarking on my voyage, so I figured that continuing on US-212 through Belle Fourche was fine...hell, I was still going west, right? The road didn't seem familiar at all, and when I passed the sign that told me I was entering Montana, it was a dead giveaway that I'd managed to get lost. A quick look at Google Maps on my Blackberry told me that there was a fix, and it was a good one.
Wyoming SR-112 cuts down into Hulett from the north, meaning I had gone 25 miles out of my way, but at least it didn't require doubling back. The really cool part of my unintentional side trip was that 112 is a fabulous road, dropping a level of plateau from Montana down a river valley into Hulett. I may go that way every time from now on. The usual route of SR-34 (South Dakota) to SR-24 (Wyoming) is pretty good too, but it can get pretty crowded, especially if there's an event going on in Hulett. And despite my meandering, I still got to Moorcroft before the boys did. They managed to have a grand time on the twisting roads near Devil's Tower and the rest of the Black Hills.
As was the norm on this trip, the next stage was well planned, but done so on the fly. Trying desperately to avoid long stretches of interstate, we chose a route through the Thunder Basin National Grassland on SR-59 to Douglas, Wyoming, in the hopes of catching a twisty little road out of the south side of Douglas over the mountains to the south.
It was mid-afternoon by now and we had some miles to pound before the sun was gone, so we took off. Five hours later, we stopped by the side of a one-and-a-half lane road in the foothills of the Laramie Mountains, just staring at the spot where the pavement ended in the dying light. In this part of the world, if you won't do gravel, you can't go exploring. Actually, all of us were willing to take off down the gravel road, but not at night in the mountains. Plus, it was freakin' cold.
We retreated back to Douglas and checked into the Best Western to warm up, get some food in us, and plan our next day. From Douglas our choices were pretty stark: west to Casper, Wyoming, then south into Colorado, or back around to the east and through Denver. There are no paved roads over the Laramie Mountains. We picked west.
Though the roads were pretty straight and wide open for the most part, there was quite a bit of scenery on our route, with lakes and rock outcroppings lining our way, though we just rode near them, not through them. There are not many cars or trucks to deal with either once we left the interstate in Casper. People who prefer to look at topography and not ride through it will probably love our route down SR-220 out of Casper, then 789 south all the way to Rifle, Colorado. Once into Colorado, the road gets twistier as it descends to the Colorado River, but is never very challenging.
After crossing the Colorado border, mines and open prairie were replaced with little lakes and grazing land. In Rifle we grabbed an early dinner and decided to push ourselves a little to squeeze in a very scenic trip down Gateway Canyon (SR-141) south of Grand Junction, Colorado. Unlike 789, 141 is a very challenging road, and it was nice to close out our day with a memorable ride in an incredibly beautiful place. The ride was far from over, but the sunlight was done. After 141, we took CO-90 west into Utah, wishing the whole time that we had done that road in the daytime, as it was all switchbacks in a deep red canyon.
We pulled in to Monticello, Utah, at near 11 p.m.; tired, but satisfied to have pulled a 600-plus mile day, while managing to see some sights and get some entertaining riding in. We stayed in Monticello because Plan A was to take one of my favorite rides zig-zagging through southern Utah, but as with so much on this trip, we changed directions. More next month.