The Two Bill’s – Part 1 of 4

Edmond Gagnon

Westward Ho

Cathryn’s big question was, “How do I pack for a whole month?” She was faced with the dilemma of how to get her clothes, shoes, and toiletries into one small suitcase, that fit into the trunk portion of our Harley Davidson motorcycle. I had laid out a plan to ride all the way to Vancouver, and back, within a month…or so.

“You only need to pack for five to seven days,” I offered, “We can do our laundry along the way when we stop for more than a day.” I broke the trip into segments, staying in a few different places for more than one night at a time, so we could take a rest from the bike, and not have to be on it every day of the trip.

We met with our friends Greg and Brenda, to discuss the first leg of the trip. They changed their final destination, deciding to only ride as far as Milwaukee with us. It didn’t matter, we were going on with or without them. Figuring traffic would be lighter, and a hotel in downtown Milwaukee cheaper, we left at 9am on Sunday, July 3rd.

The border traffic was light, but they didn’t have the Nexus lane open and we had to wait with all the other peasants. We jumped on Interstate 94, and headed west to get out of the city, with a plan to take the back roads as far as we could. I got carried away, and hit Michigan Avenue (US 12) around Dearborn. It was definitely the scenic route, all the traffic lights allowed us plenty of time to look around.

The road opened up after Ypsilanti. It was a beauty day with lots of sun and a big blue sky. We stopped for an early lunch in Cement City, where Brenda had a chicken quesadilla that could have fed all of us. I really wanted to help, but I was trying to adhere to my low carb diet for as long as I could. I didn’t even have a beer.

U.S. 12 winds its way through the Irish Hills, and a bit of lower Michigan’s cottage country. The two-lane road took us right to the shores of Lake Michigan, where we headed south, towards the bottom of the Great Lake. We grabbed a beer and appie in the beach town of New Buffalo. So much for the diet. It was the American Independance Day weekend, and the place was hopping.

The road took us right into Gary, Indiana, quite possibly one of the most depressed areas I’ve ever seen. It looked worse than the ghetto parts of Detroit. We tried to stay along the water in South Chicago, but congested and pot-holed roads forced us on to the highway, where we bypassed the city.

About an hour or so on I 94, and we were into downtown Milwaukee. The GPS took us right to the Hotel Astor’s door step. It was built as a grand hotel at the turn of the century, then converted to apartments and a modern hotel, to help revitalize the city core. It was a beautiful building. Our rooms were small, and the air conditioning didn’t work in ours. We were upgraded to a bigger and cooler room that allowed me to stop sweating.

After the full day’s ride, and losing an hour crossing a time zone, darkness fell upon the city, and dinner was on all of our minds. The clerk recommended another hotel/restaurant on the next block. We were welcomed there with a round of cold drinks and an amazing display of fireworks that we could see through the bar’s windows. A couple of craft beers and a perfect set of spare ribs completed my day.

In conversation, on the way back to the hotel, Greg commented at how he had Axle staring at him the whole ride there. I had brought along a stuffed bear, with a black leather jacket, that I’d purchased for Cathryn one day. To her surprise, he came along for the ride, and was strapped to the back of the bike.

 

The Brewers

 

Day two found us refreshed and taking a short ride to the original site of the Harley Davidson factory, a small building, about the size of a tool shed. Now that the company’s evolved, they have a huge museum near the historic factory. The new factory is on the other side of town.

In front of the museum they have a few Harleys mounted on tripods, so you can climb on and get the feel for them. Cathryn got on, started it up, and run through the gears, to get the whole experience of riding, without going anywhere. They even had a fan blowing your hair to let you feel the wind, or pose for cool photographs.

Greg and Brenda went inside to tour the museum, while Cathryn and I went for a ride along the lakefront to see what Milwaukee had to offer. City parks, beaches and marinas decorated the waterfront, where stately old mansions looked over it from their lofty perches atop the big hill across the road.

We parked the bike at our hotel, then strolled along downtown’s Riverwalk, where bars and restaurants and shops lure people to the city core. Pleasure craft cruising on the river are able to dock at the eateries and watering holes. It was the perfect place to sample local craft beers and ogle the 18th century buildings that littered the landscape.

The old breweries like Schlitz and Blatz and Pabst have been converted into condos and retail space. The city has done a great job in blending the new with the old, keeping a vibrant downtown core where people can live and work and play. Cathryn and I spent the afternoon exploring the Riverwalk, and finding a suitable place where Greg and Brenda could join us for dinner. We chose a place called, Rock Bottom. The local beer and Wisconsin deep-fried cheese curds were great tummy-treats.

 

On the Road

 

The unfortunate part about trying to get somewhere is that you have to go through a lot of nowhere to get there. Such was the case on day three, heading west on US 18 and 14, through Wisconsin, and into Minnesota. A portion of the afternoon ride, along the upper Mississippi River, was quite scenic. As we continued west, I could see a storm brewing to the north, and moving in our direction.

We got as far as Rochester, Minnesota, when lightning in the distance elicited a little yelp from the back seat, and signalled me it was time to take shelter. We found a hotel for the night, and weren’t even settled into the room, when the sky opened up, and it poured rain. Luckily for us, they had a great restaurant and we never had to leave the building.

The princess broke in her new rain suit that day, getting it wet for the first time. Checking the weather channel, we saw that we’d only caught the southern edge of the storm, and the worst was ahead of us. Radar showed storms across the entire midwest.

Staying on US 14 the whole next day, we were dogged by a storm in the afternoon. It was off to our north again, but it followed us the whole afternoon. We made it as far a Pierre, South Dakota, on the Missouri River. We were barely unpacked, when we heard tornado sirens going off. Loud speakers warned everyone to take shelter, that funnel clouds had been sighted. We got nailed with heavy wind and rain, but our hotel kept us safe and dry.

From Pierre, we were only a half-day’s ride to Deadwood, where we’d spend the next four days, but heavy winds remained in the area. I took I 90 to make up some time, but the wind knocked us around like a punching bag. At one point, Cathryn asked to pull over so she could gather herself. While adjusting her helmet, the wind got under the visor and ripped it right off her head and it smashed on the shoulder of the road.

I’ve faced crazy wind on the road before; you learn to accept the weather, because you can’t change it. Our final gas stop of the day made me shake my head. I found my gas cap was missing. I knew if I filled the tank, gasoline would slosh all over the place, so I had to find something to plug the hole. I had duct tape, a rubber ball came to mind. After scouring the truckstop commissary, I asked the clerk if she had anything that could help me. To my amazement, she pulled out a box of gas caps from under the counter. Seems I wasn’t the only forgetful pumper.

Looking through the box, I was surprised to find a cap marked with the Harley Davidson logo. Could I be that lucky? I figured a new cap at a dealership would cost me half an arm. It was my lucky day. The store clerk watched me through the window, as I screwed on the cap. It was a perfect fit. She was ecstatic and so was I, so I offered her five bucks to buy herself a drink. She declined the offer, but I insisted. It made both our days.

Trying to get out of the wind, we took a detour through the Badlands, where the scenery makes you feel like you’re on the moon. It’s a bit similar to the Hoodoos near Calgary. Axle enjoyed the strange scenery and posed for few pictures. At about 3 pm, after a cool and windy ride, we arrived at the Deadwood Station Bunkhouse & Gambling Hall. Our friends from Saskatoon, Kim and Bob, arrived about two hours later. They said the gale-force winds held them up and caused them to pull off the road a couple of times.

Wild Bill

 

In 1874, gold was discovered in the Black Hills of South Dakota. A couple years later, Wild Bill Hickok was murdered in the town of Deadwood, holding pairs of aces and eights, known as the Deadman’s Hand, ever since. In 1989, gambling returned and saved Deadwood from becoming another western ghost town.

We chose Deadwood as a base to explore from, and place to meet our friends. I knew there was lots to see and do in the area.We planned to park and bike and walk around town, then do some short day trips in the area.

For our reunion dinner with Kim and Bob, we chose Legends Steakhouse, in the Franklin Hotel. Celebrities such as Teddy Roosevelt, John Wayne, Babe Ruth, and Kevin Costner have stayed there. Ruth and Wayne had their own suites. It’s no wonder the celebs flock there, the steaks and accompanying dishes were top shelf.

The next day, July 8th, we chose to sleep in, then catch a late breakfast at the other end of town. Even with the exchange on the American dollar, we found food, beverages, and hotels cheaper than at home. The zero, and one digit sales tax in some states, was also easy on the wallet.

It was nice to take a break from the bike, and stretch our legs around town. Cathryn met Wild Bill Hickok in person, and then we saw him get shot and killed at a poker game. We took a bus tour around town, and got to see his and Calamity Jane’s graves, up on Boot Hill. We learned that Kevin Costner visits his hotel in town, The Midnight Star, once a year. The saloon was featured in his movie, Silverado. His costumes from various movies are showcased on the walls.

We capped our walking day with dinner at the Social Club, in another 18th century building, that used to house a brothel. Cathryn said her pork Osso Buco was the best she’s ever had. Another excellent dinner was consumed.

On July 9th Cathryn got to check off another place on her bucket list. Mount Rushmore. Even though I have been there before, it is still an amazing sight, seeing the the huge presidential profiles carved into the mountain. Even though someone is currently working on the Crazy Horse sculpture, it is hard to imagine anyone spending most of their life dangling from ropes with a hammer and chisel, on a mountainside.

We had lunch in Keystone, where the Keystone Cops gave me a parking ticket years ago. I never paid it, how could I part with such a keepsake? After a leisurely day of riding and sightseeing, we parked the bikes again and did the Deadwood bar crawl. We sampled food and drinks along the way, met a guy named Gator, and got a bit tipsy in the process. We took turns picking the next place to try. At one point Kim tried to mount a wooden horse that was on display. Bob and I posed, imitating and mimicking the cowboy statues. Laughs were had at each other’s expense, we get along that well.

The next morning was designated as a sleep in day. We wanted to get out for a leisurely drive in the Black Hills, but breakfast was needed first. We chose the casino/hotel in the next block that offered a buffet breakfast. The made-to-order omelettes were the only thing worth mentioning. It was probably the worst meal decision of our trip.

The hot made the green pastures and forests in the Black Hills shimmer. We did the biker wave over and over, as we passed dozens of other hawgs going in the opposite direction. Harley Davidson is the motorcycle of choice in the midwest, we saw all shapes and colors of them, everywhere.

The day was super hot, but it lacked the humidity we experience at home. Thankfully, the beer was cold, where we stopped for lunch, in Sturgis. The town looked like it was undergoing a metamorphosis, tents and awnings and beer trucks were preparing for the annual bike rally in the first week of August. The sleepy town that we experienced would soon be packed with hundreds of thousands of bikes and bikers. I’d been there and done that, with no intention of doing it again. Way too much of everything.

For our last night in Deadwood, and to say our farewell to Kim and Bob, we chose Legends again. To my delight, we actually met someone who was from there. Our waitress was born and raised in the area, actually knew where everything was at, and she filled us in on the local history of things like local folklore and the building we were in. She’d served her country proudly in Afghanistan and Iraq, and still managed a cheerful disposition. I thanked her for her service and left her a gracious tip.

Continued Oct 3, 16

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