The Two Bill’s – Part 4 of 4

Edmond Gagnon

The Other Bill

 

I chose Cody, Wyoming as our next stop, after Yellowstone. It is only a couple hours out of the park, and it looked like a good place to get off the bike for a day. It is also the hometown of Buffalo Bill Cody, famous buffalo hunter and founder of the wild west show in his name. The local dam, the town, and museums there are all named in his honour.

Checking in early, we were able to catch up on some laundry, have a swim and take a little cat nap. We were only a ten minute walk from downtown, so we strolled that way to check it out. Wouldn’t you know it? One of the first places we saw was a micro brewery. We stopped and sampled, but weren’t all that impressed with the beer or service.

We walked around the historic downtown, deciding that the bar at The Irma Hotel was the best place to hang out. The place was built by Buffalo Bill, and named after his daughter. It opened in 1902. The collection of photos and memorabilia on the walls is outstanding. The cherry wood used on the bar was a gift to Buffalo Bill from Queen Victoria. Some of the drunken regulars in the bar were as colourful as the hotel’s past.

Our hotel was next door to one of Cody’s western museums—there’s a couple that are reportedly top notch, but we’re not really the museum kind of folks. On our second day there, after a leisurely breakfast, we went to the Old Trail Town. It’s a collection of historic old wooden buildings that have been relocated on the site where William Cody first laid out his town. The buildings, furnishings and artifacts are all genuine.

One cabin that was relocated there was used by Butch Cassidy’s Hole-in-the-wall gang. The replica frontier town has a saloon where the gang frequented, a blacksmith’s shop, and stables where vintage wagons and a hearse are on display. A small museum houses various weapons from both the cowboys and the Indians.

On the edge of the old town lies its founder, William (Buffalo Bill) Cody. His grave is there along with others, like Jeremiah Johnson, who was portrayed by Robert Redford in the movie of the same name. The town is authentic, right down to the tumbleweeds that grow in the dirt street.

A lazy afternoon by the pool finished our day, and we walked back downtown for dinner at The Chophouse. The place was packed and the food excellent.

 

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

 

In an attempt to linger a while longer in the old west, we chose Buffalo, Wyoming, as our next town to bed down in for the night. I’d been through there once, years prior on a solo bike trip, and knew Cathryn would like the town and it’s Occidental Hotel. It’s another famous landmark and watering hole, where the good: Teddy Roosevelt, William Cody, Phil Sheridan, the bad: Butch, Sundance, Tom Horn, and the ugly: Calamity Jane, hung out at one time or another. One wall still shows bullet holes from the wild west days.

Although the building has undergone restorations during its hundred years of existence, rooms like the saloon and bar and have been meticulously preserved. If you want the celebrity experience, you can stay in hotel rooms where famous people have slept.

The huge wooden and mirrored bar is exquisite, in a room adorned by authentic photos, and overlooked by the mounted trophies of elk, cougar, and buffalo. At some tables you can enjoy a seat that has been previously polished by the butt of a dead president.

Our only negative experience at the Occidental was the bartender, who happened to be the owner’s sister. She was miserable and stressed out—something we couldn’t understand, since there was only a handful of customers in the bar. We chose to move on after a quick beer and bite, in fear of that the woman would have a break down. Unfortunately for us, it was Monday, and we found many other places in town closed for the day.

Another reason we chose Buffalo, was its proximity to the Devil’s Tower National Monument. We planned to take in the unique site on our way east, and home. From Buffalo, it was only a couple hours to the film location used for the movie, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. From miles away, we saw the tower thrusting itself up from the baron landscape. It looked unworldly, like it didn’t belong there.

The access road offered views from different angles, and the closer we got, the more detail we saw in the rock. Think of Richard Dreyfuss carving his mashed potatoes. We got a baked by the sun while waiting in line to get into the park, but it was worthwhile. The entrance road weaves half-way around the monument, then gets up close and personal, depositing you in a parking lot at the base.

I would have loved to walk the three kilometre trail around the big hunk of rock, but I was afraid I’d melt in the heat. We enjoyed the view nicely from under a shady tree, with our picnic lunch and a cold beer. Our collapsible cooler was a life saver that day. Having done the tourist thing for the day, we drove east to Spearfish, a town near Sturgis, just over the border of South Dakota. It’s in the same neighbourhood we were in a couple weeks earlier.

 

Steerfish in Spearfish

 

The highlight of our stay in Spearfish was a restaurant called, Steerfish Steak and Smoke. Recommended by our motel’s manager, we checked out the menu online. It was a short walk from our place, and a chance for Cathryn to show off her cowboy boots that she’d bought in Cody.

There are some beautiful old buildings in Spearfish, many of which seemed to house cafes or coffee shops. The Steerfish is in an 1893 pink stone building, the Mercantile, that’s been completely restored. Painted wood trim and stained glass windows make the restaurant’s entrance inviting.

I opened the front door for Cathryn and she strutted her stuff, humming Uptown Girl to herself, looking all cute in her short dress and new boots. I love the warmth and look of natural wood—one of the first things I noticed was the shiny hardwood floor. The next thing I noticed was Cathryn going down—first doing the splits, and then gracefully plopping down on her ass.

Like an Olympic gymnast, who knows she just blew her routine, she quickly got to her feet, gave her hair a little toss to the side, and acted like nothing happened. As soon as we got to our table, she excused herself and went to the ladies room to regain her composure. I was still laughing, but the rest of the packed restaurant’s attention had returned to their conversation and dinner . There were no requests for an encore.

Our excellent meal was highlighted by a free round of drinks and dessert from the manager, who had heard about Cathryn’s grand entrance, and was probably concerned about a law suit.

 

Heading Home

 

On July 27th, with nothing left on our list of places to see or things to do, we continued east, heading home. The stereo on our bike had crapped out days earlier, so we stopped at the Harley dealership in Rapid City to replace it. They took us in without appointment, drove us to a restaurant for breakfast, and had us back on the road in about two hours. Way better service than the Canadian dealer in Langley B.C., where they made me wait three days to get in, and they didn’t even wash my filthy bike after servicing it. They offered to wash it if I came back the next day.

From Rapid City, we followed the scenic route 44 half way across Dakota, to a place called, Winner. The town was nothing to speak of, but Hotels.com wished us luck in trying to find a place to stay. All the main players were booked. The sky looked like it would explode any minute, and we’d had enough of the road for the day. We found a room at the Warrior Inn.

Ready to eat, we watched the buckets of rain coming down outside. The front desk told us there was no taxi service in the area, and only one descent place to eat nearby. We lucked out when a pizza delivery woman showed up in the lobby. We mooched a ride from her, and I slipped her six bucks for her trouble. She was driving a Cadillac.

The Holiday House was recommended and touted as a sports bar—probably because they had a television behind the bar showing a soccer game. On the way back from the bathroom I asked a woman at the bar how her chicken dinner was. She raved about it, so we both ordered the broasted meal. Amazingly, the salad bar was fresh and well-stocked, and our chicken was delicious. We had to have two cocktails after dinner, while we waited for the rain to stop, and we could walk home.

The next morning found us on US 20, where we finished off Dakota, and crossed the Missouri River into Iowa. The road was as straight as an arrow, all the way to a city called, Fort Dodge. We stayed the night. There was a movie theatre downtown, so we grabbed a big bucket of popcorn and watched the new Jason Bourne movie on a screen slightly larger than the one in our living room.

US 20 became painful the next day. Literally. The road was rough, with potholes and dips, that jarred my back several times. Then for miles the westbound lanes were ripped out, and the road was under construction. As we got closer to the Illinois border, and the Mississippi river, the overcast sky grew darker.

Up ahead of us I saw a grey wall, it was rain. There was no place to take cover, so I stopped on the corner of an intersection where it was still dry. As we suited up we could see that the rain was only a hundred yards away, but it wasn’t moving. Donning our rain suits, we drove into the storm, only to have the rain stop two minutes later.

Things really heated up after that and we were about to peel off, when the sky opened up again. It came down so hard, my glasses fogged up and I couldn’t see where I was going. We were able to take shelter under an old gas station roof, and waited out the storm. At the Mississippi, we took US 52, which skirts the west bank of the mighty river. It’s a very scenic route. Too bad it rained intermittently, obscuring our view.

US 52 crosses the river into Illinois and turns south, the way we wanted to go. A town called Mendota, in Illinois, was where we spent our last night on the road. I was tired of motels and living out or our suitcases by that point. Our hotel was near I 39, our escape route for the morning.

On Saturday, July 30th, after almost a month on the road, we did the final leg of our tour, using the Interstates to get home. I 90 took us through Illinois, and a bit of Indiana, then to I 94 through Michigan to the Ambassador Bridge, and home. 6,620 miles or about 10,000 Kanadian miles. We got home just in time to see my sister Bonnie, from B.C., who was now visiting our family in Windsor.

A few people have inquired about the condition of my butt, after a trip like that. Honestly, it’s all about the seat. The one on my previous bike left me in pain all the time. My current seat finds both Cathryn and I comfortable throughout the day. We averaged six or seven hours per day on the road. Some days more, some less. It helps to stop about every hour and a half to get the kinks out. With age comes more kinks.

Regardless of aches and pains and traffic and weather, we had a blast!

 

For blog posts on this trip and more, check foodtravelmovies.wordpress.com

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