Epic Journey Day Twelve — Rapid City to Worthington

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Over the past twelve days, I have ridden through some breathtakingly beautiful parts of our country, but could not capture many parts of it because I was riding at the time, with no opportunities to pull off and stop, no digital cams mounted on my helmet or bike, and no photographer riding pillion with me at the time. Every now and then I would stop somewhere and shoot whatever I could. Just know that there was much, much more that I was not able to capture. That was frustrating at times. You know this practically begs for a return trip with a full-on camera crew. 

Speaking of frustration, one potentially frustrating thing about doing a long run like this on a fairly tight schedule is that you will pass right by—or worse yet, right through—other places that are vacation destinations in themselves, but you can’t stop and “do” those places, because there isn’t enough time. In the last few days, I’ve ridden past Yellowstone, past the Devil’s Tower, through the Black Hills without stopping in any of the usual places, and past the Badlands. Today, in my own small way, I tried to compensate for that by stopping at a couple of popular tourist attractions on our way east across South Dakota. 

In the 1930’s some hick drug store on the edge of  the Badlands of South Dakota began advertising free ice water to travelers on a nearby highway… and the rest is history. 

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Yes, we did Wall Drug. We love doing Wall Drug. In fact we ate breakfast there. Then my wife and my sister did some shopping while I photographed a vast assortment of oddities for my collection. The whole affair was very touristy, and so were we. 

Three hours later, we were more than halfway across the state and visiting another classic American tourist attraction, the Mitchell Corn Palace. The Corn Palace is a different kind of touristy, though. Perhaps a greater sense of singular purpose (it’s all about the corn). There is also a lot less stuff for sale here than in Wall.  But again, we love places like this and we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. 

 A couple of hours later, we had crossed into Minnesota and stopped for the night in Worthington. If all goes as planned, tomorrow will be the final day of this epic journey. See you then. 


Epic Journey Day Eleven — Bozeman to Rapid City

I woke up in Bozeman this morning, walked over to my hotel room window, threw open the curtains, and beheld a mountain sunrise. In Montana this is not so unusual. I read recently that there are at least 100 named mountain ranges and subranges in the state of Montana. The very name Montana means “mountain” in Spanish. And believe me, the name fits!

Today was all about making miles. We stopped every 130–150 miles, despite all of us  having machines with ranges far beyond those numbers, to fuel up and trade places leading. 

Around lunchtime we found ourselves in Sheridan, Wyoming, where we had a fine lunch and took in the sights. 

Hours later, we were near the Black Hills of Wyoming, still over 100 miles from our destination in Rapid City. Storms were developing in the distance. In other words, it was time to launch. 

We ended up “threading the needle” between the two cells as we came across on 90. Storms above and below us, wet road as we came into the SD Black Hills, but the storms never hit us. 

We arrived safely in Rapid City, SD, where I had booked us three “Superior King” rooms at a bargain rate using booking.com. Bargains can be found. 

After checking in and freshening up a bit, we went into town for supper. And so another day ends. Only two more to go. 

Epic Journey Day Ten — Spokane Valley to Bozeman


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From our hotel in Spokane Valley,  we could see the next set of mountains waiting for us. Within minutes we had crossed the border into Idaho, which reminds me… Who’s the Idaho genius that decided to put a visitor information center in a weigh station? I saw the line of semis on the exit ramp and rode right past it, seeing the visitor information  sign only after it was too late. Eh, their loss. Besides, we weren’t in Idaho for long. 

The above video and photo were taken at a rest area right by the Idaho/Montana border. I wanted to share some mountains with you because I can’t photograph the mountain scenery I’ve been enjoying from the seat of my motorcycle, while soaring down the highway. 

We stopped in Missoula for gas and lunch. I know nothing of the town except that there are two people living there whom I very much admire. Eric Ristau and Geneva Liimatta produce independent documentaries, including Sit Stay Ride: The Story of America’s Sidecar Dogs, a delightful film the making of which Karen and I gladly supported during their crowdfunding project. In fact there is a sequel in the making now, which we have also supported. Finally, Eric and his brother Damon co-produced and directed an indie film called The Best Bar in America. Good stuff. 

After lunch we continued our way across Montana, which means mountain in Spanish. And from what I’ve seen so far, the moniker fits. 

We pulled off again in Butte, the birthplace and final resting place of one Robert Craig Knievel. To say that Evel was a childhood hero of mine would be an understatement. I never got to see him in life, so I wanted to stop and pay my respects.

At last we stopped for the night in Bozeman. There are mountains visible from my motel room. There is a little bar and grill that serves Bozone, a locally made amber. 

Next up, South Dakota. Wish me luck. 

Epic Journey Day Nine — Farewell to Portland

This was our day of departure from Portland, but we still had one more touristy thing to do with John before we said our goodbyes and headed toward home. Multnomah Falls is an incredibly popular 611-foot waterfall, one of several found along the Columbia River Gorge. A paved hiking trail leads up to a picturesque bridge from which visitors enjoy taking photos of the falls and of one another. That same trail also leads to the top of the falls, but we didn’t go that far up. 

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​The views are well worth the climb, to say nothing of the long wait for parking, which is limited relative to demand. 

After viewing the falls, we got a table inside the Multnomah Falls Lodge Restaurant. I had it on good authority that their Fish ‘n Chips are awesome. That turned out to be completely true. They use wild-caught Alaskan cod and it is quite delicious. But then so is the Flatiron Steak Salad. 

Once lunch was over with, we spent some time in the gift shop, took a few final photos, and then followed John out to Interstate 84 and to a gas station where everyone fueled up or topped off before saying goodbye. Then two motorcycles and the chase van went east on 84. One motorcycle went west, back to Portland proper. It was three in the afternoon. 

I could not get over how quickly green gave way to brown as we followed 84 along the Hood River, but that’s exactly what happened. The temps went up, too. My bike’s onboard thermometer read 102 at the warmest point, but I attributed a couple or three degrees to engine heat. 

We rolled on, mile after mile, down I-84, up I-82 into Washington, onto US 395, which took us northeast through some of the brownest agricultural land I’ve seen on this trip, and also tied into Interstate 90, which brought us to Spokane Valley, where we stopped for the night. 

It felt awkward having only two motorcycles in our group. It felt awkward asking for a table for four instead of five. We’ll quickly get used to it, of course, but this day was a little bittersweet for me. While I am truly anxious to get home and see my daughter, spend some quality time with our family pets, and go hang out with my friends again, there is no use denying how I knew darned well I would feel when this day came. 

I miss my son. 

Epic Journey Day Eight — Last Full Day and Night in Portland

Day eight was to have begun fairly early, with my son John coming to the hotel at 6:45 to take my wife, my sister and I into the city to attend mass at his church. But we had worn him out so badly the night before, he fell sound asleep before setting his alarm. So when 7:00 AM had come and gone with no John, Karen called, waking him up, and we hurried over to Our Lady of the Lake, near our hotel, and John met us there as quickly as he could. 

After church John went home to retrieve his motorcycle while Karen, Maria and I went back to the hotel to regroup with Eddie and get ready for another day of fun and adventure. We departed not long afterward and took some curvy, uneven two-lane road out to McMinnville, where we ate breakfast and/or lunch at the Wild Wood Cafe. I had a lunch. From the yummy sounds everyone else was making, breakfast was better. 

The highlight of this day was our visit to the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum, home to many flying craft, such as the examples pictured above. But the real attraction is this huge craft called the Spruce Goose, a wooden plane owned by Howard Hughes. That thing is huge!

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We could have spent more time there, but we opted to catch a few final photos outside and then move on. 

At this point, Eddie peeled off from our group to try and connect with a cousin of his in Eugene. John and I motored out, with the chase vehicle following closely, to visit a winery that actively supports the theater community in Portland, including the Portland Actors Conservatory. 

The winery was called Willakenzie Estates. We spent no small amount of time here and walked away with a few bottles to take home. 

But for hotel pit stops, we only had one more thing to cover, the last supper. We went to the Bunk Bar, which makes pretty good sandwiches. Nothing fancy, but it was on the list of places John wanted to show us. A very good friend of his, named Jacob, also joined us. 

And so aother day ends. Tomorrow we visit Multnomah Falls and then depart for home. 

Epic Journey Day Seven — Mt. Hood and Much More

Day seven had us back on the motorcycles for a mix of riding that ranged from urban streets to mountain roads. For openers, we rode into Portland proper to check out a unique coffee bar and motorcycle shop called See See Motor Coffee Co. This is a unique place and a must-see for any motorcycle enthusiast who finds him/herself in Portland.

Bikers of all denominations come here to drink coffee, eat breakfast or a light lunch, buy cycle parts or novelties, and perhaps most of all, talk about motorcycles. We stopped in for breakfast when coffee bar was open, but the shop was not, so we ate, drank, and planned to return and buy some See See merchandise.

By the time we left, the number of bikes parked outside had multiplied, as had the number of people hanging out, both inside and out. As I approached my own ride, a gentleman in a cowboy hat walked up and began asking me about Miss Scarlett, my ’12 Victory Vision Tour. He also shared stories of the bikes he has owned and/or built over the years. As we talked, I tried to figure out the gentleman’s accent, which seemed at once western and eastern. Turns out he was originally from the Bronx, but had not lived there for many years. I enjoyed talking to that guy. Even though we had never met before, we were not total strangers. That is, we knew something about each other by virtue of where we had found ourselves hanging out that morning. It’s a biker thing.

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From there we headed out of the city on US 26, toward the mountain we couldn’t even see as we rode past it last Thursday in the pouring rain. Today we saw Mt. Hood in all its glory. Had a great time riding toward it and around it via Highways 26 and 35. We also enjoyed the roads and scenery afforded us in the Mt. Hood National Forest. But the high point occurred when John led us off the road and down to this paved (not a given around here) scenic pull-off.

Besides being able to see the top of this majestic snow-capped mountain, we also happened upon a mountain stream that was tracing the path of a massive avalanche that had occurred here in 2006. That turned into a thing in itself, but we had to be cautious getting to and from the rushing stream, as most of the rocks were quite loose, having only been placed there about ten years ago by said avalanche, which had been set off by a storm called the Pineapple Express.

Then there were the few other people, some with dogs, who stopped while we were there. John and Eddie spent some time talking to a man who had been in these parts back when Mt. St. Helens erupted in 1980, and watched it happen—from a great distance, of course.

What was intended to be just a quick stop turned into quite a visit, but nobody seemed to mind. Me, I was happy as a clam (assuming clams are very happy), because to me, things like this feel exactly like a vacation should. I love it!

Next stop, lunch. My son John has developed this uncanny ability to pick great places at which to eat, and this was no exception. We were running along on 35 when John suddenly slowed up, signaled right, and pulled off toward what looked like a small logging operation of some sort. But before we entered their unsaved lot, he veered left and led us into a small, paved lot for the Saw Tooth Roadhouse.

How did he even see this place?! Tucked away in the middle of nowhere, this place serves up some awesome food. We all ate our fill, talking with the owner from time to time—a great guy, by all indications. Had John been there before? Nope. He pulled off on a whim. We were amazed.

The next leg of our day trip was pretty amazing, too. We rode up to a visitor information center on the banks of the Hood River. Just across the river lay the state of Washington. One of the staff members suggested that we could cross the river via the toll bridge, just beyond where we were standing, then ride west for about 20 miles on the Washington side, before crossing back into Oregon on the Bridge of the Gods. We thought that sounded like a cool idea, so we did exactly that.

While running west on the Washington side, I noticed a freight train motoring east between us and the river. As the engine passed John’s position and approached mine, I raised my right arm in the direction of the locomotive in a friendly waving gesture. The engineer responded with a single blast of the train’s mighty horns. I found out later that the horn blast had started my son almost to the point of jumping off his motorcycle. I found that rather amusing. John, not so much.

We returned to Portland and stopped at See See Motor Coffee Co. about a half hour before closing, to check out the shop and buy our souvenirs. The atmosphere was still the same—people outside, people inside, all talking bikes in some way, shape or form. On my way in, two tattooed guys sipping iced drinks at a picnic table outside struck up a conversation with me, first about me and my bike, then about the differences between Chicago and Portland (one of them had just been to Chicago). We were strangers, but not. It’s a biker thing.

On my way out, I noticed my son John talking to one of the two guys with whom I had chatted on my way in. I went to the street to get a closer look at a custom (pictured above) that had caught my eye on the way in. Within moments my son calls me over. Turns out the guy he’d been talking to had built the bike. I asked him a few questions, which he gladly answered.

From there we ran back to the hotel in Lake Oswego, freshened up, hopped in the van and went back into Portland for supper. I couldn’t help but notice Mt. Hood in the distance as we drove over one of Portland’s many bridges.

On this day, supper was not just a lucky pick. The My Thai Bistro is a favorite restaurant of John’s, and we soon found out why. The food was excellent, and so were the staff, who seemed to know John on sight. Karen snapped a photo of John with the owner.

This had been an awesome day.

Epic Journey Day Six — First Full Day in Portland

In all candor, after five consecutive full days on the bikes, over 2,000 miles worth, I was ready for a day off. That day was today. John rode his Honda over to our hotel, a 15-minute trip, and then parked it in the underground garage, next to mine and Eddie’s, for the day. Then we all piled into the minivan and John took us into Portland proper for the day. 

Compared to Chicago, Portland seems far less big-city-like. The buildings aren’t as tall and what tall buildings they have aren’t as dense. Traffic can be slow, but drivers on the whole seem more courteous. Vehicles from both directions will stop suddenly if a pedestrian steps into the street. Try that one in Chicago sometime. Or even the Chicago suburbs. You’ll probably make the news. Portland is also greener, in every sense of the word. For whatever it’s worth, according to my son, Portland tops the list of cities to which people are moving. Even the maintenance man at our hotel, a fellow motorcycle enthusiast, told me that he prefers Portland to Southern California, where he had lived before. 

Unfortunately, Portland also has a substantial and highly visible homeless population. This may be the result of tolerance as well as climate. But for whatever reason, they are there, they are human beings, and just like anyplace else, some are very nice, some aren’t very nice, and some appear to have substantial problems beyond being homeless. 

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We got a tour of John’s studio apartment, which is currently being used as a set for a web series about a highly disturbed individual. Worry not. Despite indications from his interior decore, my son is not a psychopath. 

We visited Powell’s Book City, a bookstore on steroids, that takes up an entire city block in a four-story building. This place is incredible and perhaps a bit overwhelming, but we spent a couple of awesome hours there and, predictably, came away with a fair number of books. 

Next came our tour of the Portland Actors Conservatory, the whole reason John is out here and subsequently, the whole reason we have taken this epic road trip. 

John seemed very pleased to be showing us his school, and we were positively tickled to be there.

Next came supper and drinks at the Rogue Hall. We had copious amounts of food and several beers, and nobody complained. Seriously, it was quite good. 

That brought us back to the hotel. After helping us get our belongings into our rooms, John took his motorcycle and returned to his apartment. It was an excellent day! 

Epic Journey Day Five — The Long and Winding Road to Portland

Day five was all about two-lane blacktop, national forests, and mountains. We took no interstate highways. We also took all day to cross Oregon, from Ontario to Portland—and that was just fine. 

We were on US 26, which passes through several national forests while going over and around the mountains, three ranges worth—the Blue Mountains, the New Cascades, and the Western or Old Cascades—before descending into the Willamette Valley.  It’s a road filled with twisties and sweepers, but not many towns, and even fewer gas stations, so fuel stops were critical. Oregon is not a self-service “pump your own” state, but stations, at their discretion, will allow motorcyclists to fill their own tanks. 

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My favorite part of the day was our lunch stop in Mitchell, a small (and I mean small) mountain community with a really crappy gas station—only 87 octane gas, plus diesel—and a charming little cafe, where I had one of the tastiest burgers I’ve eaten in a very long time. I was fatigued from chasing my son through the mountains (he likes to zip through the twisties, whereas I prefer to cruise at a relaxed pace), so I did not object to taking our sweet time in Mitchell. It’s a friendly little place where everybody talks to one another, locals and travelers alike. 

Between the mountains and forests, the scenery was simply incredible. I would like to have stopped more, to take photos, but our trip took all day as it was. And besides, I wasn’t leading. 

We were hoping to see Mt. Hood, but it was up in a cloud. A rain cloud. A malicious rain cloud.  Yes, as is often the case in the Pacific Northwest, it was raining over the Old Cascades and the Willamette Valley, where Portland is located. We knew this in advance, so we pulled off and donned our rain gear in bright sunshine. Moments later, we were in the drink. Conditions ranged from a slow, steady rain to a driving torrent. 

It took us over two hours to get through the Old Cascades and across Portland to our hotel in Lake Oswego. My son John had done an admirable job of leading us safely to our destination. 

We have now come well over 2,000 miles. After touring Portland and the surrounding area for a few days, we will begin the journey home, minus my son. 

Epic Journey Day Four — Salt Lake City (Suburbs) to Ontario, Oregon

I woke up in Park City, Utah—a strikingly pretty community not far from Salt Lake City—fully expecting this to be a frustrating, difficult day on the road. I had gone to bed realizing that we still had two full days of travel in order to get to Portland. I had already scheduled a visit to the Bonneville Salt Flats, a detour that would add over 100 miles to the shortest route, and eat up time that we no longer seemed to have. My son had expressed a desire to be in eastern Oregon by day’s end, a goal that I felt was totally unrealistic. And on top of that, our family is not known to be punctual. Before it was over, though, today had become my hands down favorite day of our epic road trip, so far. We did everything we had set out to do, overcame a few challenges, and absolutely did make it into Oregon, with daylight to spare. 

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We viewed the Great Salt Lake without stopping. We rode past it at 70 mph on I-80, en route to Wendover, mainly because we were already pressed for time, but also because we didn’t know there was a viewing area exit until we were speeding past it. I will say that even at 70 mph, the Great Salt Lake is quite impressive. A little over 90 minutes and 100 miles later, we had pulled off at another viewing area, that for the famed Bonneville Salt Flats. There was a large plaque telling visitors about the speedway, which is not visible from that point. But we still got an up-close look at the salt and appreciated the vastness of it all. 

From there we got back on I-80 for a short bit, getting right back off at the Bonneville Speedway, where we took photos, topped off our gas tanks, bought souvenirs, and enjoyed lunch at the famed Salt Flats Cafe, which appears in the movie World’s Fastest Indian (see http://m.imdb.com/title/tt0412080).

Speaking of which, our next stop was just over the border, in West Wendover, Nevada, where I captured a photo of Wendover Will, a 63 foot tall neon statue, which also did a cameo appearance in World’s Fastest Indian. 

After that it was time to put some serious miles behind us. We continued west on I-80 to Wells, NV where we picked up US Highway 93 and rode north, through a variety of terrain until we got to Twin Falls, Idaho. Then we picked up I-84 and took that all the way to the seemingly unrealistic target destination of Ontario, OR. 

In all candor, everybody had wanted to stop sooner, but every decent hotel in our price range between Twin Falls and The Oregon border seemed to be booked solid. So we booked the last three rooms at the hotel where I sit writing this and flogged our steeds for a few more hours to get there. 

What an awesome day!

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Epic Journey Day Three — Cheyenne to Salt Lake City (Suburbs)

I started off my day collecting a few items in the entryway of the Little America Hotel in Cheyenne, where we opted to eat breakfast. Since the only other Little America location we’d heard of was the original Little America Travel Center on the other side of the state, we weren’t expecting anything quite as opulent as the place we walked into this morning. I felt resigned to eating a $100 breakfast as we were seated, but was pleasantly surprised at how fairly priced our seemingly high-end breakfast was. After gassing up at the Little America Sinclair Station, we were on our way. 

In no time, we found ourselves climbing in elevation as Interstate 80 took us  through a portion of the Rocky Mountains. I happened to be leading—we trade off leading after every gas stop—and pulled us into a scenic rest area with extensive tourist information as well as a monument to the Lincoln Highway. It was a great stop, but ate up time. Turns out this would become a recurring theme this day. 

The chase vehicle—also known as the blue Grand Caravan containing my wife and my eldest sister—actually did chase us today. The good side of that is that our group got to do everything together. The down side is that it took them every bit as long to reach today’s destination as it did the rest of us on our bikes. 

As we continued on, the natural beauty of south central Wyoming had gradually turned into a rugged beauty. Green gave way to more and more brown. The majority of plant life seemed to be scrub, stuff that can grow around rocks. The wind was harsh and sustained. Dust, sand and gravel seemed to get blown everywhere. Wherever we got off the highway, intersections and parking lots were all partially covered with the stuff.  Gas stops, our lunch stop, everywhere the same. Still we had our fun. 

And the wind never let up. My son’s bike, a Honda 750 Shadow Aero, was the smallest and lightest in the group, so he felt it most. At times John was going straight down the highway heeled over at a substantial angle, and at times, he could not reach the speed limit (usually 75 or 80) due to the strong headwinds and crosswinds. But even Eddie and I with our heavyweight full-on touring bikes found ourselves wrestling an 800-pound gorilla because of the wind. 

We made more stops, mainly for gas, but also just to get off the road and see things. We had fun together, but of course this ate up time. 

Our last stop in Wyoming was at the original Little America Travel Center, where my son had stopped when he drove his old Chrysler sedan to Oregon last year, to begin attending the Portland Actors Conservatory. We shopped, looked around, ate ice cream and refueled. I collected a couple more fiberglass animals. We had much fun, but it ate up time 

As we continued farther west, things got green again, and beautiful. When we crossed into Utah, our surroundings were downright lush. Again, if only I’d had my favorite photographer on board, I could show you some of what I’d seen. 

At last we made it to our hotel, in Park City, a suburb of Salt Lake. It was quite late, too late to do much of anything, but still, we’d had a great day together.