august 4 2007 : st. paul, minnesota, usa
We’re off to Sturgis in the morning with Ali’s parents, Susy and Al, and looking forward to a long day of riding. It’s about 700 miles of mostly uninteresting driving, but once you get to western South Dakota things change pretty dramatically. Should be a fun week of riding, drinking, and burnouts. That is generally the order in which those three things happen.
august 5 2007 : chamberlain, south dakota, usa
We left this morning with gray skies looming over us, but no rain. And that’s how we spent nearly the entire day as we drove around 400 miles through farm country. It’s August yet it was cold enough to have to stop and throw on more clothes under the leathers. We had a nice ride though, sticking to the smaller state highways to avoid the traffic and the cops. Made a few stops at the small town bars for refreshments along the way, which is always some fun. You know you’re in a small town watering hole when you see the bar patrons getting personal phone calls on the pay phone.
Then again, they weren’t all small towns. We did stop in Walnut Grove for lunch at Nellie’s after all. With all of us being big fans of Little House On the Prairie it was pretty exciting stuff. Of course it turned out that Nellie’s restaurant had no affiliation whatsoever with Nellie from the t.v. show, and in fact Nellie had never even been to her namesake restaurant. Fortunately the homemade blueberry pie helped us forget about the disappointment we all felt.
august 6 2007 : sturgis rally, south dakota, usa
Leaving Chamberlain this morning the forecast called for a 20% chance of rain. So it came as no big surprise when ten miles out of town we were in a torrential downpour. Being South Dakota prairie land there was nothing for miles, not even a tree to hide under, so we just rode it out. For the next forty miles or so we rode through a whiteout rainstorm until we finally broke out of the backside of it right outside of Pierre, the Paris of South Dakota, where we stopped for breakfast.
We drove across South Dakota for most of the day, stopping off at a few well spaced gas stations along the way before we finally rolled in to Sturgis. Ali and I have never been to Sturgis before so the sight of the place was pretty amazing. Just outside of town the campgrounds begin, and they are filled with tens of thousands of bikers. The roads are crammed tire to tire and the lines at the gas stations snake around the buildings. We made our way slowly through town before hopping on the Interstate for a quick shot down the road to the next town, Spearfish, where we are staying. Ali’s uncle helps run the KOA campground in Spearfish so he arranged an RV for us to rent and use as our hotel for the week. You know, this was the first time I can remember ever having stepped foot in an RV. These things are pretty nice, reminding me exactly of our boat. I guess now I can see why people enjoy these things so much. I might even like one if it weren’t for one thing, the fact that at some point I’d have to drive the hideous monster.
august 7 2007 : sturgis rally, south dakota, usa
This morning we took off on a ride with about 40 other bikes for a loop through Montana and Wyoming. Throughout the day we stopped off in a few different little towns, hung out at the bars and walked along the busy main streets eating hot dogs and watching the people and the bikes. When we finally decided to make our way back to camp late in the afternoon we left with just three of us, Ali’s uncle, her parents, and us.
Along the way we came up on two bikes who were running about the speed limit. One was a Harley and one was a crotch rocket. As we were passing them the crotch rocket suddenly cracked it down and took off so that we couldn’t pass him. It was great, Al has about the most hopped up Harley I have ever seen, so I knew the challenge wasn’t going to pass without some fun. The rocket had about a 200 foot head start by the time Al finally made up his mind and dropped the hammer down. You could see that the crotch rocket was plateuing at about 140 mph as Al caught him and then went by him like he was standing still at a bit over 150, even giving the bike a shot of nitrous to put an exclamation point on the win. He put a couple of hundred feet between them before cutting back down to 80 and waiting for us to catch up to him.
The crotch rocket meanwhile kept his bike pinned and flew up over the hill into the distance at 140, leaving his friend miles behind. Five minutes later the real fun started as we came up over a hill and saw the yellow bike pulled over by the cops. Here in South Dakota you have to pay your tickets on the spot or they take you to jail. However, for 140 I don’t think you get the option of paying.
august 8 2007 : sturgis rally, south dakota, usa
We had a much more mellow day of riding today. We did about a two hundred mile loop through some truly beautiful country. The Needles Highway is a narrow, winding and twisting road running up and down through the hills. Along the road there are quite a few tiny bridges carved straight through the rocks, which besides looking cool, have the added benefit of keeping the thousands of RVs off the road. Instead it became what looked at times like a parade route of bikes.
That road led eventually to Custer National Park, which has a wildlife loop road through it in which you are all but guaranteed of seeing buffalo. They didn’t disappoint us either. Buffalo were scattered throughout the park, across the roads, and in the hills. At one point hundreds of them were crossing the road as at least a hundred bikers idled in the midst of them. A sudden stampede and we all would have been in a lot of trouble. Besides the buffalo there were also plenty of antelope and a whole bunch of “wild” donkeys who seemed to be enjoying plenty of handouts from passing motorists.
A two hundred mile day doesn’t sound like much, but when it is on a motorcycle and includes a few biker bar stops along the way, it can take all day. We rolled back in to Spearfish close to dark. Ali and I veered off downtown for a nightcap and a little live music at the B&B Lounge before making our way back to camp for the night.
august 9 2007 : sturgis rally, south dakota, usa
Sturgis is all about the bikes and pretty much everybody wants to do nothing but ride. So again this morning we were back up and on the roads. Whoever it was that chose Sturgis as the location for this biker rally 67 years ago was a genius. Here in the Black Hills there must be a hundred beautiful and interesting rides within a hundred mile radius. Today we cruised Spearfish Canyon which was in our opinion the best road of the week, and which I think could only have been better if I had been here alone and in the off season so I could really open the bike up through the curves. As it was it was still pretty great. We rode all afternoon until the group started back for Spearfish and Ali and I decided it was finally time to head for downtown Sturgis.
Tired of paying six bucks for a brat, we first made our way to Burger King where we found hundreds of bikers and no price gouging. Downtown Sturgis was a pretty awesome sight. There are four rows of bikes on main street, two in the middle of the road and one on each side. The bikes are packed in tight like that for about 10 city blocks. The street itself is lined with pretty much nothing but t-shirt vendors, but right off the side streets in every direction are plenty of very busy bars. The temperature was 104, so it didn’t take long before we were inside downing refreshments. The crowd inside the bar, aside from looking tough, was quite a bit more tame than we’d expected. Except of course for the large girls with low self esteem who were willing to do just about anything for a free t-shirt. You can always count on them can’t you?
We eventually made our way out of downtown and back to Spearfish where we met the gang at the B&B yet again and listened to the same cover band play the exact same set as the night before. Rick Springfield, U2, The Police…
august 11 2007 : st. paul, minnesota, usa
Yesterday we had a quick ride, hopping on the interstate for the first hundred miles to Wall, South Dakota, home of Wall Drug. I tell you, you simply can’t dislike this little tourist trap. You wander through the string of stores and you always find something to laugh about. Whether it be the fluorescent green cowboy boots, or the Indian Hunter rubber band gun, there are hidden gems everywhere.
When we left Wall we were met by extremely high winds along the highway. For the next hundred and fifty miles we had to drive slanted over at about twenty degrees. When we got to Chamberlain, our stop for the night, we headed straight for the bar. The place was just sad. There were just three guys in the place, looking both pathetic and hopeful at the same time. The bartender informed us that the special that night was for girls to get two dollars off a tap beer for showing their breasts. Yep, two dollars off a tap beer, not even a free tap beer. We all opted to go ahead and pay full price at which point the three guys went back to simply looking pathetic.
This morning we were off again early as we had a big 400 plus mile day ahead of us. Fortunately the weather was near perfect and we had a nice, but exhausting ride home along the back roads through farm country.
august 13 2007 : st. paul
Yesterday we drove a hundred miles west of the cities for another family party. This time it was for my aunt and uncle’s 50th wedding anniversary. We hadn’t seen most of them in at least five years so it was great to catch up. Then today Ali and I took our niece and nephew to Chuck E. Cheese for some good wholesome family fun full of skee-ball, video games, and of course, pizza.
Tomorrow we finally fly out to Seattle to pick up the bus. It’s exciting to finally get our hands on our rolling home for the foreseeable future. We’ll be making another quick cross country trip since we’ve got some more things we need to get back to Minnesota for. Basically we’ve got four days to cover 1700 miles in a bus we’ve never driven before. No problem.
august 18 2007 : st. paul
It has been one crazy week. We flew out on Tuesday to pick up the bus. We were told that it wasn’t completely done and that there were a few little things to finish up, but we really needed to get it back to MN in order to pack up for the big trip. Plus we figured we would be going back out through Seattle one more time anyway, so any small unfinished items could be taken care of then. The plan was to get in, get the tour of the bus, and hit the road for a few hours that night. But when we got in and got to the shop we found the bus gutted. All those beautiful pictures of a gleaming new bus, and we get there to find half of it gone. We had been prepared to get there and find that maybe the ceiling wasn’t done, but to find that it had been started over an hour before our arrival was quite a shock. After a quick drive around the block we took a room across the street with the hope that we’d be on our way in the morning.
I woke up at two a.m. and walked across the street where I found that three of them were still plugging away at the bus. It still seemed a long way from complete, but I went back to bed thinking good thoughts. At seven Ali and I packed our bag and went to load up the bus and get on our way. We now had three days to drive the 1700 miles to get home for our nieces birthday party.
“An hour, hour and a half.” Those were the first words we heard that morning. Okay, no problem, by nine o’clock we’ll be on the road. The bus still looked far from being complete, but we remained optimistic nonetheless. We pulled up a couple of chairs and sat down outside the garage to wait. Soon the garage door was pulled closed and the side doors were closed up and locked. I know, that’s a bad sign right?
The hours ticked by. We could hear the clatter of bus construction going on inside, but the end never seemed any nearer. Noon, one o’clock, two o’clock, the hours ticked by. At two Ali and I went for a walk around the block. On our way back we saw the builder and his wife peek around the corner, see us, then run back. Seconds later we watched as they drove away. Sneaky buggers.
A half an hour later they came back to tell us that they were going home for a nap. A nap! We about lost it then. Words were exchanged and they finally agreed to finish it up so we could get on the road. Three o’clock, four o’clock. Finally around five o’clock the bus came out. Somehow it seemed the finished product had actually gone backwards over the previous two to three weeks. The ceiling and walls were still unfinished, with insulation showing everywhere. The floor wasn’t done, the cabinets were missing drawers, there was no house battery, no interior lights or fans, no tow hooks, no sun visors, no seat belts, and on and on.
However, the outside of the bus looked beautiful. One of the guys at the shop had sanded it by hand seven times to get the panels perfectly smooth and it was amazing. Likewise, the engine was pristine and ran tight. Basically everything underneath and outside the bus was brand new and perfect, but the interior was a different story altogether, as if it was the first time they had ever attempted to build an interior. Which, in retrospect, it probably was.
Running super late we loaded the bus up with parts that hadn’t been installed yet, gathered up some paperwork, and hit the road. It was about two hours until sundown and we now had just a little over two days to get back to Minnesota.
Driving a VW bus is unlike anything else I’ve ever driven. It feels really strange to be sitting over the front wheels staring out a windshield with nothing but road in front of you. It took some getting used to but within a couple of hours I started to feel more comfortable. We drove for about six hours that night before pulling into a truck stop for a couple of hours of rest. Normally this would be a pleasant time in our bus, but our roof rack was sleeping in the bed, leaving Ali on the tiny square of floor in back and me sprawled out on the front seat. We crashed there for two hours before waking up at three and getting back on our way.
We then drove eighteen hours with nothing but gas station stops before we finally came down hard and pulled in to a hotel for the rest of the night. Up and at it again first thing in the morning we basically had a repeat of the day before. It was August so we hadn’t packed anything but summer clothes for the quick trip, but somehow while driving across North Dakota the temperature plunged to 50 degrees. We learned quickly that the VW doesn’t heat well. There is a vent that runs from the engine to the cab delivering engine heat, but that hardly had any effect at all. Heating is something we’re going to have to give a little more thought to. It was another eighteen hour day, but at midnight we pulled in to the driveway.
august 22 2007 : st. paul
In the morning we headed straight to the DMV to transfer the title. That didn’t go very well. The piece of paper we had received didn’t look anything like a title and was still in the name of the original owner back in Canada. The lady at the DMV was friendly enough, but told us we either needed to get a proper title, or we’d have to prove a whole lot of things and go through a long process of titling a car with no original title.
We left there and drove down the street to a place neither of us had been to in twenty years, the roller rink. Our niece was turning ten and this was where the party was at. I had my roller blades, but Ali went right for the rental mental roller skates. The same ones apparently that they had rented twenty years earlier. Ali laced them up and glided right out on to the rink. She was looking good, though she was a little upset that she hadn’t been able to find her super cool nylon skating jacket with the neon pink sleeves, electric blue body and the roller skate emblazoned on the chest. Man was she a hottie. We had a really fun day and were glad we made it back in time.
The last couple of days we’ve been busily working on getting the bus ready. So far all we’ve accomplished is to make it look even further from completion. We’re getting there slowly but surely. Ali has also been busy trying to sell all of our worldly possessions. Before we left to go sailing we thought we did a pretty good job of selling off everything. We originally thought we’d go sailing and then come back to settle down in Chicago to normal lives again, but now with our new trip looming we’ve decided that it’s time to let everything go. We kept one small room full of stuff at her parents house that we are now trying to unload on Craigslist and eBay. It’s a big project, and reinforces in us our desire to get our possessions down to something that can fit in a VW bus.
august 28 2007 : st. paul
It’s been a pretty uneventful week for us. We’ve really not done much but work on the bus and sell our junk. We basically stripped the interior of the bus down to nothing and started fresh. The ceiling was the toughest part to get right, but Ali’s dad came up with a good solution to get it to lay flat. We ended up having to build out a frame for it, but it looks really nice now. When I removed the ceiling I actually found a roll of paper towels shoved up behind it, obviously stuck in to make it stop from flapping around. We’ve also finished up the walls, and have nearly finished the cabinets, whose doors were so warped that they wouldn’t even open. It’s amazing how many hours I can work on this sort of thing and at the end of the day feel like I’ve accomplished nothing. But after a week it’s finally started to look like something. At this point we’re both ready for it to be done so we can move in and start our trip.
Over the weekend we took a few hours off to hang out at the cabin with the rest of the family and then drove out to Lake Minnetonka to meet up with some Bum friends and go boating. The weekend went by too quick though and now we’re just back to work.