Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Gillette, Wyoming BMW Rally Trip (and More!)

This post represents my journal during my last big motorcycle trip out west with my friends, Sandra, Ingrid and Christy.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Got up at 4:40 AM to leave my place to pick up Sandra by 5:45. Alas, a storm delayed our departure by an hour. We got to Belvidere Oasis around 8:00. Christy couldn’t find her wallet until Sandra told her to check her pockets. Ingrid called and said she had ran out of gas one mile east of the Oasis. Luckily, Christy’s friend, Harry, was there to see us off. He and Christy bought a gas can and gas and jumped in Harry’s car and gassed up Ingrid’s bike up. After Harry took pictures, including one of Ingrid by the Doghouse in the Oasis, we were on I-90 about 9:30. We super-slabbed it the whole way (I-90). Crossing over the Mississippi from Wisconsin to Minnesota was beautiful. Shortly after that, the wind kicked in something fierce. I learned that my BMW R1200GS doesn’t handle the wind as well as some other bikes. I was fighting it for a long while in South Dakota and the wind really decreased our gas mileage. Mine especially. I went from 44 MPG to 30 MPG! We had to stop every 120-150 miles because of me! We got to a very nice campground in Mitchell, SD around 8:00 PM. We rode 650 miles today! My longest ride ever in the same day. Amazingly I wasn’t completely exhausted. We set up camp at a KOA Campground, ordered pizza, charged our various electric devices and poor Sandra had to reprogram our routes in the GPS when she couldn’t retrieve her original file. She had worked so hard on it! Finally we went to bed around 11:30. Side note: If you ever have the chance to stay at the KOA Campground in Mitchell the owners are very accommodating and make everyone feel welcome. We certainly appreciated it. Here is a picture of our campsite.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Everyone was up by 7:15, I was the last. We headed into the town of Mitchell to see the Corn Palace. In my mind, I pictured it be made of 100% corn - I was quite disappointed to find that it wasn't. What was more interesting were the novelty t-shirts we saw in the window. This one is so ridiculous, I had to share it. We had breakfast at Betty’s Diner in Mitchell, gassed up and headed out around 11:30 AM. We saw some nice Amish people from Fort Wayne, Indiana in Mitchell and saw them again at our next gas stop. The good-naturedly accused us of following them, but I think they were really following us.

Outside of the Badlands we stopped again and talked to some bikers (on bicycles!) who were doing a two-month bike tour from Seattle to Washington D.C. The group of 40 bikers raised $250,000 for the American Lung Association. Patty Harms, one of the biker filled us in on the details. You can donate to this cause by going to Patty’s link on the American Lung Association website.

The ride through the Badlands was winding and beautiful. At our only stop, a sign warned us to "watch for snakes". We also drove by Mt. Rushmore, stopped briefly to take a picture of it (and some goats) and continued where the trees got thicker and roads more winding. We camped at Hill City Mt. Rushmore KOA. Nice facility with two restaurants, horse rides, heated bathrooms and shower rooms, but our camp site was bumpy, rocky, and muddy. 346 miles ridden today!

Monday, July 14, 2008

235 miles today! “Quality not quantity,” as Ingrid said. I awoke from a somewhat restful sleep at 6:30 AM and I say somewhat because I was sleeping on slight slant and every time I changed positions I slipped slightly down the hill. Also, my sleeping bag wouldn’t zip. I found my butt hanging out in the cold a few times in the night. After a nice breakfast at the campground, we headed out around 10:00 AM. First ride was in Custer State Park through the Needles and the Wildlife Loop. OMG- So cool! Great twisties and tunnels that took you through the rocks. The Wildlife Loop had burros, turkeys, antelopes (did you know there are more antelope in the state of Wyoming than people? Okay, we were still in South Dakota but it’s still a good fact, right?) At the end of the Wildlife Loop we were stopped by a long line of cars. Buffalo were all over the place, crossing the road so that cars could not proceed. One buffalo was growling (or moaning) not far from us. We were getting a little nervous because we were not protected like the cars and we’d heard that buffalo can be mean! We were about to turn back when we saw a huge state park truck making its way down the road through the buffalo. Christy said “Quick, let’s follow the truck to get through.” All worked out fine, but Ingrid will attest to the fact that a buffalo was coming right my way and I had to swerve a bit to miss it. We rode back to the Mt. Rushmore area and had a very good lunch a German restaurant called Oma’s. Too bad the service was slow and our waitress was a bit ditzy. A young, sweet, na├»ve, ditzy girl. We were using the water pitcher to refill our CamelBak’s and asked for a refill at least three times. On the last request, our waitress said under breath “Holy crud, you must be thirsty.” For lunch, I had braunsweiger- yum. I used to eat it a lot as a kid. Why did I ever stop?

We then road northwest through Lead, South Dakota and into Spearfish Canyon. It was beautiful in the higher elevation. The roads were long and swooping. When we crossed in to Wyoming, Ingrid and I raised our fists in jubilation. We stopped in a town of 11 called Aladdin (the sign says 15, but apparently 4 residents moved to assisted living in the last year or so). It had a rather old fashioned gas pump and a quaint General Store. The only bathrooms were two outhouses out back. Here is a picture of Sandra trying one out. We were told by the shop owner that one family owns the entire town which consists of 30 acres.

After shopping and refueling, we made our way to Devil’s Tower KOA campground. We had a wonderful, grassy campsite with a full view of Devil’s Tower. Ingrid started a fire, bought beer and the party started. Okay we had beer and various snacks (crackers, cheese curds, Doritos, ice cream and lunch meat) because no restaurants were open within 30 miles. Near the main building, the campground played Close Encounters of the Third Kind as Devil’s Tower is the site of the alien landing in the movie. Devil’s Tower is also a sacred place for many Native American Indians. We were so grateful for our best riding day yet through exciting and beautiful roads and now our campsite at the foot of Devil’s Tower. This was our view!
Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Waking up with a view of Devil’s Tower was really neat. We were still on a high from our great riding day and the view was spectacular. After breakfast we hit the road around 10:00 and headed west and north and arrived quickly got into Montana. Riding across Montana is beautiful yet slightly monotonous. The cool thing is that we went for stretches where we didn’t see another vehicle for miles. You can see how big and colorful the bugs are from my windshield here.

We stopped in Billings to pick up some things at a drugstore. Just 65 more miles and we were in Red Lodge, Montana. As we rode into the Red Lodge area, we could see the mountains in the distance. We started to get excited, because we knew we would be riding in them the next day. We stayed at yet another KOA campground in Red Lodge. We set up camp, ordered pizza and made friends with our neighbors, many planning to go to the BMW rally as well. Ingrid and I took a trip into town for beer. Ingrid started a campfire. We talked to Dee Jones, a fellow BMW rider for a while. He offered to show us some great rides in North Carolina. We may just have to take him up on his offer. We roasted marshmallows that night after having talked about doing it for days.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Early this morning we were greeted by “Doc”, one of our Harley, tattooed-covered neighbors. He approached us at 8:00 AM with a Budweiser can in his hand. We had a nice, slow chat before heading to breakfast. We dressed warmly for the ride to Bear Tooth Pass and got on the road about 9:00. We could see from afar that there was still snow at the top of the mountains. As we climbed higher (highest elevation around 11,000 ft.), we knew it would be one breathtaking sight after another. Not far up the mountain I encountered a small deer and two fawns. So cute, and luckily I saw them in plenty of time to slow down. The overlook area has a nice walk that jets out over the valley. We saw Dee Jones there and he claimed he was going to take some video of us and then pass us (well I know for sure he passed us!) Frozen Lake, beautiful purple and yellow flowers, and snow covered landscapes. Beauty everywhere, and the ride was challenging and exhilarating. We stopped at the Top of the World gift shop (all of us pictured there below, along with our friend Biker Chick) and bought some stickers and pins to prove we had been there. The ride down was just as enjoyable with it’s sweeping curves and beautiful sights.

We then turned on to the Chief Joseph highway. Another amazing ride, with more sweeping turns and red rocks in the distance. After stopping in Cody for directions, we all met up in Greybull for fuel and rest. We split up into group of two again and rode Highway 14 through more amazing scenery, going up in elevation again to 9,000 feet. The highlight was coming upon a sheep crossing and hearing so many of them bleeting. We weren’t afraid of them like we were of the buffalo! We met up again with the rest of the group, where apparently there have been a lot of people pumping and gas and not paying- so goes the explanation- for why we had to prepay. Our last 120 miles were back on I-90 where we took the lonely trail to Gillette. Only one vehicle passed us the while time although we did pass quite a few. We surveyed the rally grounds and found the Chicago Region BMW Owners Association tent at the BMW Motorcycle Owners Rally 2008 . Then off to find our Best Western hotel about 3 miles away. I wonder how it will feel to sleep in a real bed again as I sit here and write while I am waiting for my laundry to dry. I’ve never seen my riding gear so covered in bugs. I suppose it will look like this again when I return home. Why are there so many yellow blotches on everything? Yuck!
We have had lovely weather so far. Some 90 degree days, but on the bike it is quite manageable, especially if I soak my LD Comfort shirt in cold water before putting it on under my jacket.
“Oh laundry please dry soon, so I can go to bed.” I am tired from riding 385 glorious miles today.
While I waited for my laundry I talked with a guy named Paul Laconti. Paul is from New York and he just started riding in April. He has already logged 6,000 miles in order to get ready for this trip out to the rally. He is a musician and a teacher. He rides a Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail. He has traveled the world as a musician. He plays piano and drums, has played with Luther Vandross, Cindy Lauper, and Silver Connection. Silver Connection had the hit “Fly Robin Fly” in the late 70’s. (I like that song!) He had a near miss on the highway this trip when a log came loose from a lumber truck. It just missed him! It’s a great day to be alive. I enjoyed talking with him. You can see Paul’s near miss and other riding footage at his website:

Thursday, July 17, 2008

30 miles tops today. Since I was up late doing laundry last night, I slept in until almost 8:00 AM, then showered and got organized. Sandra and I started to get on our bikes around 10:00 when a random guy in flip flops came up to us in the parking lot and asked us for a ride to the rally. I didn’t have my passenger seat on the bike, so I was not a very good option. When Sandra hesitated, he stated that he races for BMW, so Sandra asked to see some ID. Things seemed on the up and up, so she said okay! Here is a picture of them before we took off.

When we arrived in the parking lot, we ran into Dee Jones again, who knew our new friend from the Red Lodge campground. Turns out Random Guy is Nate Kern pro racer for BMW in Super Bike AMA, ASTRA, Super Sport-T series and many others. Dee has been one of Nate’s supporters for a while but the two had never met. By the way, if you would like to support Nate, you can join this group to learn more about BMW racing and an amazingly focused and talented racer: Those two made plans for lunch and Sandra and I followed Nate to the BMW demo tent. He gave us signed racing photos and set up an after-hours demo for us. We agreed to meet back there at 5:00. Here is a picture of me with Dee and Nate.

Sandra and I ran off to register for the rally, eat and shop. There are always so many great vendors. We did end up buying Sokz motorcycles riding socks. I tested the socks on the way home and I like them! They are comfortable. We chatted with many of our Chicago Region MOA buddies. Caught up with Christy and Ingrid too. I gave a seminar on women’s motorcycle riding apparel that afternoon. Many new and old friends showed up to show their support including my three riding buddies, Paul from the laundry room, Nate Kern, and Chicago Region MDA members David Adler and Roger Gunderson. You can see the highlights of my seminar here.

Our Demo ride was nice and easy. I rode the F800S and Sandra the R1200R. Neither of us will run out and buy the bikes but it’s interesting to see the differences of different bikes. We hooked back up with our Chicago Region friends and Nate and his BMW crew for dinner at a Mexican Restaurant in Gillette called Las Margaritas. Thumbs up on my Carne Asada Burrito Loco.

At dinner, we had the pleasure to hear some of Nates’s racing stories and get to know Matt from BMW. It looked like rain (actually like a major storm) so we quickly paid and got back to the hotel. This time Nate rode Sandra on the back of her bike. I guess she figure she could trust him on her bike now. I think he kind of knows how to ride. Early to bed tonight. Many seminars to attend and shopping to do tomorrow.

Friday, July 18, 2008
10 miles tops today. Up and out much earlier today. The first seminar of the day for Sandra and I was at 8:45 AM called “Motorcycle Safety and Design Feature” given by Jack DelPizzo, the BMW Field Service Engineer for the Midwestern region. Nate Kern helped out with his insights throughout the presentation. The three main topics were ABS (Anti-lock Brake Systems), ASC (Automatic Stability Control), and ESA (Electrical Suspension Adjustment). I had a good understanding of ABS and ASC already because I have those features on my 2007 R1200GS. The ESA discussion talked about how pre-load and dampening adjustments can be made on certain BMWs with an easy click. For example, as you move from super-slab riding to mountains or city driving. After the talk, Jack was nice enough to tell me what he thinks is wrong with my fuel gauge (probably need a new fuel sensor). I am guessing (hoping) it will be covered by the warranty. Afterwards, Nate bought us all smoothies and Sandra and I started to shop a bit. But just a bit because we then went to Nate’s seminars on BMW racing. He gave some great tips on leaning into the corners. Brief summary, going into the turn you should lead with your forehead and shoulders. Do not twist your spine. Keep it straight. Even if you tilt your head to one side, your bike should turn. The average head probably weighs 9 pounds. That can make a difference in your turn. He also said that a passenger should just tilt their head to the side of the turn and keep everything else still to be the best passenger. Nate also shared his experiences on how he got started in racing- he was such a natural his friends told him to try it! In his first amateur race at Daytona, he won all eight races and got bumped up to pro at his next race, which was at Virginia International Raceway where he won two races.
Next, more shopping! Sandra had the guys at Ohlins adjusted her suspension setting on her shocks and they were nice enough to show her how to set them up for bags on or off the bike. They did a nice job and she could feel the difference in her ride.
I visited my friends at LD Comfort, Mario and Jane. I think I helped them sell some new product to the guys standing at their booth. I told Mario that I wanted to carry his product for him because I believe in it. But, I do want to try one more brand, just to make sure LD Comfort is the best, so I bought a pair of Bodz riding shorts, made in Italy, made by the makers of Sokz. I will them out on out longest riding day going back, Sunday. (Post note: I did try out the Bodz. They do a good job, but I although they make a better fashion statement, the LD Comfort shorts and shirt edge the Bodz for its advanced cooling technology).
I then went to the “Riding Your GS off pavement” seminar. I realized that if I’m going to learn to ride off-road, I have to take an actual riding class. I am more of hands on learner. So, I left early and went to the ladies BMW apparel seminar. We got a full description of the ladies wear and got to see and try on samples of most of the lines available in unisex (ie. men’s), and ladies cuts. I’ve identified a couple of lines for jackets that might work for me because they come in long sizes or cuts (Streetguard 2 and Santiago). I’d really like to find a good all-weather or 3 season, two-piece riding suit that I can learn from for my own product development. Jack DelPizzo was at the seminar so I chatted with him some more. He suggested that I go up to BMW Motorcycles of Milwaukee and talk to Eric about getting fitted right for apparel. He said that they have a good selection and Eric know how to fit people – men and women.

Next, off to the Chicago Region tent for a cookout, generously donated by Steve Jeffries, Cary Caldwell, and Roger Gunderson. I met Bill from Glendale Heights, who Christy met at the rally, and invited him to the cookout. She may have recruited a new member. 35 members attended the cookout, pretty good for an event so far away from home. I would have loved to stay longer. I was having so much fun, but we saw a storm coming in so us four gals fled for our bikes to get back to our hotel. The 5 ½ miles back to the hotel was wicked windy! The pending storm may have missed the hotel, but word was a nasty storm was coming through. There was a bad storm that came through around midnight the night before and it was supposed to be of similar strength. Time will tell if it hits us. I am glad again to be in a hotel tonight.

Saturday, July 19, 2008
336 miles today. After packing up, gassing up, and checking tire pressure, Sandra and I got to the rally a little after 9:00 AM and attended the “Women Who Ride” seminar. It featured many inspiring women and their riding stories, including a woman who broke her neck two years ago and was told by her doctor that she would never ride again. Well, she is riding and not letting anything stop her. You go girl!
After the seminar, I ate some ice cream and caught up on phone calls and email (CDW and BMWMOA were nice enough to provide laptops and WIFI for all rally goers to use). I said goodbye to the BMW crew- Nate, Matt, Gary and others. I am going to try to go to one of Nate’s upcoming races- possibly the one at Barber in two weeks.

I hung out at the Chicago Region tent until the four of us were ready to go. Here is a picture of Christy with the tent. She organized and ordered the tent for the club. We took off around 12:30 or 1:00 PM. First stop, Aladdin, about 80 miles away. Ingrid wanted to pick up a t-shirt for her daughter and we gladly returned to General Store. We met a few guys coming from the rally. They were riding around before heading back to Idaho. The rest of the day was uneventful when we landed in Mitchell, SD, found a hotel – Kelly’s Inn and Suites – very new and nice. Had dinner at Culver’s (hmm, butter burgers) and hit the sack.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Since Kelly’s Inn and Suites was nice enough to provide a breakfast, we ate there and took off around 7:15. I led the first leg and we found ourselves riding through cold, wet, fog for much of South Dakota. We stopped after 125 miles or so when Sandra discovered that her GPS had fallen from the bike. “I’m so sorry, Sandra!”

Christy led the next leg through South Dakota and into Minnesota. Next Ingrid led us into Iowa. Christy’s tire pressure was low, so we stopped for an air and gas. Sandra noticed that my headlight was out, so I flipped on the high beam and kept going. Sandra led us out of Iowa through Cedar Rapids over the Mississippi in Davenport and into Illinois. At our last stop (pictured here), the DeKalb Oasis, we said our goodbyes, snapped a few last pictures and we all headed home. I arrived home around 7:30 PM very tired but happy to discover that my neighbor, Sean, had bought a new H-D Softail Custom. Nice looking bike, Yay! I have a new riding buddy. 672 Miles today.

My miles were 3,094 for the whole trip....
9 days, 7 states and too many smiles to count!