A near full moon lit the Badlands that night. The rugged landscape took on a surreal atmosphere. The night was bright enough to walk and get lost if you were not paying enough attention. I wandered a bit in the buscus light and though the campground was always in sight, it was task to find our campsite without disturbing the other campers. I laughed at my ability to get turned around so easily. The moon set a few hours before dawn, so there was a little time for some shuteye. Sunrise came too soon along with our time in the Badlands. We stretched the morning’s cool until it was memory before hitting the road.
We took the scenic route out of the Badlands. The freshly oiled and graveled surface of the road kept us spaced a hundred feet or more apart. Rock chips and bits of congealed oil flew off the treads of our tires at a wicked speed. Getting pelted repeatedly hurts. Bypassing Wall, So. Dakota on 44, which was a more scenic route (Wall was already packed with the Sturgis crowds) we came into Rapid City through the back door. The local motorcycle dealer was open on a Sunday to handle all the bikers’ needs and ours. We were out of chain lube. I ogled all the fancy machines and those plush seats, absorbing the ac before rolling on out of Rapid City again on 44 into the Black Hills. From the heat of the high plains to the cool of the forested mountain roads that followed the river towards Spearfish, South Dakota, we shared the road with more Harleys than you can imagine. There were always friendly faces when pulling over to enjoy the views.
After watching the mountains for a while you could see where the artist who designed Mt. Rushmore got his inspiration. The natural rock formations are full of faces. For hours we leaned, throttled and braked our way along the pine covered Black Hills.
At Spearfish we discussed the route. The plan was to ride to Yellowstone before jamming back to the Bay Area. To do that we needed to reach Sheridan, Wyoming or better by night fall. By this time the Black Hills were behind us, the high plains resumed. The heat of the day was full on as we blasted west on interstate 90. If you were going 80mph, you were going slow. Even 90 mph didn’t cool it down. Ice lasted twenty minutes before evaporating. Shade. Shade. Shade at every stop. Without it you were alone in the sun. Drenched yourself and the gear in water for a brief respite. Suck your air in from pursed lips to create a venturi cooling of the incoming breath. It all helps but the only thing that will get you through is will power. Give until your abilities are being compromised.
Sheridan was within reach. You could almost feel it. Just over the next rise or around the next sweeper, always the next. The sun was dropping towards the horizon but not fast enough. It bore into your eyes like a red-hot ice pick. You tilted the visor, put your hand up to block the sun, but it always returned, frying your brain with a spear of molten light. Sheridan was still a few miles away. I had stopped watching the signs and was paying more attention to the road. I was pushing it. Beyond pushing it even. My limit was miles behind and had been over it for some time now. Kale had said, ‘know when to park the bike.’ It was now but there was no place to pull over that had shade. Just had to tough it out, carefully.
The exit came. All I saw was Kale’s turn signal. I was beyond perceptually narrowing. My focus was too tight and all I wanted to do was put that kickstand down, safely. Kale kept heading into town after the exit while I pulled into the first gas station with a mini store. Plunking a twenty on the counter I peeled the suit off and started slamming ice cold sport drinks to bring the body temp down. The pee was clear but I was cranking 451 degrees on the inside. I had had it. We were still a thousand miles from home.
Kale found me soon enough after not seeing the F650 in the rear view mirror. I was still shaky but coming around and leaned heavily on the cane he got for me in Sandusky.
“How you doing?” he asked seeing the pained expression.
“I don’t know. The sun. Think my brain started to boil.”
“Yeah, it is a hot one.” Kale was always good with understatements. It wasn’t until now that I realized he hadn’t been giving the whole weather forecast for days. Always staying away from the temp. Of course there wasn’t much to forecast with the exception of exceptionally hot weather and occasional thunderstorm. “You good to camp or you want to hotel it?”
“Let’s camp. Is it close?”
“Couple miles that way,” he pointed.
“Okay, I can make it.”
I wasn’t really sure about that last statement. The thought of getting on the bike and making it safely was in serious question. As long as we didn’t go fast, or far. Wobbling off the tarmac onto the gravel road that serviced the KOA gave a final rush before parking for the night. The sights and sounds of the last few days whirled phantasmagorically around my brain. Somehow a shower was taken, the tent set up and dinner eaten before the crash came on.
Morning came on slow and sluggish. Coffee cleared the haze only to find Kale with the map open. He had decided last night that we should start heading back. He could see the limits I tried not to. A very wise rider. We were still a thousand miles from home. I didn’t argue. Next: Frying our way across the west at a blistering pace.