Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Off to Chicago!

The metal artists Shindig wrapped up yesterday (Monday). We left Rich Fizzell's place at lunch time today for the 150 mile ride to Chicago.

We got the GPS to take the shortest route, and it had us ducking and weaving south and east for four hours, first through gently undulating farmlands with never ending cornfields and pockets of beautiful deciduous trees, many of them oaks. There were so many farms surrounded by well trimmed lawns. Like Rich's place, they had huge, huge barns and silos A few places had horses or catttle pens. It was perfect bike riding weather with a slightly cool breeze on a warm day and great scenery. WOW. So fresh.

  Suburbia crept on us gradually with pleasant small villages (lovely places to stop for coffee or ice-cream)...

and then the out skirts of Chicargo which had comfotable green kerbs and trees scattered throughout, making it a highly desirable city to live in.

We had promised Michael Mara we would visit, so we headed to his place first and said G'day'.  A cute cottage in a tree lined street with regular road humps to prevent speeding, and friendly, curious neighbours.
We then found a nearby motel. We are staying near Willow Springs, about 10 miles south and west of the city centre.

After getting settled in and cleaned up we returned to Michael's, who escourted us to dinner. It was an excellent local Italian restaurant. It would have been great to take a picture of Michael in his special coat and hat but the camera was left behind. We confused the poor waitress by having our salad with our main meal instead of first course. We figured if we are paying for the meal we could ask for a few dispensations. Michael is worried that he will not be welcome back after bringing us there. Our etiquette is questionable. We figure that his solft look with those big brown eyes, his perfect manners, and a few excuses on our behalf, will hold him in good stead.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Shindigging deep

While we are at the metal artists Shindig in Brooklyn Wisconsin with our friends we aren't travelling anywhere, so we're taking a break from riding - and blogging. If you would like to see photos of us bashing metal and drinking fermented beverages, here is a link to a whole bunch of photos (courtesy of Michael Mara):

(We are off to Chicago on Tuesday)

Friday, June 25, 2010

Our aim for today was to get to Brooklyn and the Shindig.

The fastest route would have taken us down Interstates the whole way, so we opted insted for the shortest route, which took us down WI 14 for most of the way, then had us zig-zagging down county roads for the last 20 miles.

The highlight of the trip was going past some Amish farms and seeing the locals with their horse drawn carts and plows.

We arrived at Rich's place about 2 pm to find Alice, Smoky Rick, Michael Mara and Marilyn and Dick Smith had arrived ahead of us. It was a warm day, as warm as the welcome we received. On the other hand, the beer was cold, which was how it should be...

Rich has a verdant 42 acre property with three lakes. A lot of the area is planted with corn. There are a number of large sheds, well equipped for metal work, and a small gallery at the front.

Gene and Chris arrived a little later. Others are still on their way. Susan and Mark are driving 1000 miles from Dallas; Elizabeth and Toni 600 miles from Oberlin. Richard and Marianne are driving from Boulder in Colorado.

Some of us spent the afternoon and evening goofing off and chatting away: Marilyn was busy at work teaching Smoky Rick how to do fold forming, and doing other copper work

(For some reason I am having difficulty up loading images today)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Off to the Shindig!

The Shindig is an annual get together of metal artists who communicate and share knowledge through an internet list server. Wanda and I have been to a few over the last four years. Each year it is hosted by a different member of the group in a different place. This year it's being hosted in Brooklyn, Wisconsin by Rich Fizzell.

Rich's place is about 400 miles from Gene's so we planned for an overnight stop about mid-way in the city of La Crosse, on the Wisconsin side of the Mississipi River.

It had rained overnight but looked like the day would be cloudy. With temperatures forecast in the mid eighties it promised to be a warm and muggy day.

Gene cooked us a wonderful omelette for breakfast, and we spent some time programming the GPS to take us around the northern and eastern sides of Minneapolis St Paul rather than through the city. We were hot in our riding gear before we started, but once under way we were quite comfortable as we rode through green woods and past farms.

Our first stop was in the drop-dead gorgeous city of Stillwater, on the Minnesota side of the Mississipi.

The going was quite slow because there were many towns along the way that we had to slow down to ride through. A bit further down the road, the tummy upset I had two days ago struck Wanda, so we made an early second stop.

La Crosse didn't look far away from Gene's on the map, but we rode for ages without seeming to be getting anywhere. Our GPS at one stage took us from Wisconsin back across the river into Minnesota before returning us back to the road we were on originally. Weird!

We stopped in the little town of Pepin to visit the shop of Tom Latane, a master blacksmith and friend of Gene's. Gene organised for us to call in on our journey. Unfortunately Tom was not there, but we met his wife Kitty who was expecting us. We got to see Tom's blacksmithing shop and some of his work including a beautiful traditional door lock. Kitty is an accomplished tinsmith, and we got to see lots of her work - full-size cookie cutters and miniatures that were made into earrings.

We had one more stop to make before we reached La Crosse: Gene had told us about Buena Vista Park, located on a cliff above the town of Alma. It was well signposted and the ride up was winding and slow - a welcome change from all the straight roads we have been riding. At the top we were welcomed with commanding views of the river and surrounding countryside.

We finally reached La Crosse a bit after 6 pm, tired but full of excitement the prospect of meeting many of our old friends, and making new ones over the coming days.

A busy day at Gene and Chrissie's

Today was the first day since we began our journey that we didn't get on our bike.

After breakfast we got done to having a mini-shindig. This included some bronze casting and copper embossing. Gene had an investment of an indian axe/peace pipe belonging to a friend that had been waiting for some time to be poured. We also had some small wax "doodles" that Chrissie, Wanda and Chris made the previous night whilst chatting, so Chrissie sprued those up so we could cast them. Gene used this to demonstrate making an investment using silica sand bound with sodium silicate, which he hardened by flooding with carbon dioxide. Fascinating stuff! This went into the burnout kiln to remove the wax we had carved.

We had to get a bottle filled with gas before we got started, but we soon had the casting kiln glowing red with green flames shooting out the top.

The bronze took about an hour to melt. First pour was the axe. This all went very smoothly, and we soon had the crucible back in the kiln and loaded with more bronze for the next pour.

While this was melting Gene made a pattern for a plaque using his computer controlled laser cutter to engrave MDF board. This was to be sand cast, so we could learn how that was done.

When the first pour had cooled down sufficiently, Gene broke the mold open to reveal a perfect casting.

In the meantime Chrissie and Wanda were busy embossing copper in the shade of the deck.

With the temperature soaring into the high 80's, we all made an early raid on the fridge.

It was getting fairly late by the time the laser printer had finished the master pattern, so we ate dinner before attempting the pour.

This did not go so well as before: Gene burned his hand making the pour for the plaque, with the result that a fair bit of the bronze spilled - into a catch tray, fortunately - but that meant that when we went to cast the small waxes, there was not enough bronze, so we never got those. I have to keep details of the plaque under wraps for another day or two, so more about that later.

Once again, when it was time for bed, we simply crashed.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

At Gene and Chrissie's

We slept in late today because the constant travel is beginning to tell...

It was raining again as we went to get on our way, so it was into the plastic bags again.  We took off for Gene and Chrissie's place on the north  west side of Minneapolis and got to the town of Gaylord (about half distance) before we stopped for a caffeine fix and some sustenance.  It had pretty much stopped raining by the time we got there, so we got out of our sauna suits. By the time we got back on the road the rain had caught up with us.

We got a bit further down the road when Chris had an unpleasant gastro attack, making three trips to the bathroom in the service station we stopped at.

The rain was patchy and we rode on without protective gear, findiung that if we rode fast enough the fairing and windshield kept us dry

We arrived at Gene and Chris's home at around 3 pm to a rousing welcome, especially from their dog Sandy.

We toured Gene's workshop and Chris's studio, saw lots of their artworks and walked around their 35 acre property before settling into our room. Both are accomplished artists of great talent.

Plans were made for the following day, and we enjoyed a sumptious grill washed down with wine. We chatted late into the night before crashing into our bed

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Travelling East

At breakfast this morning the motel owner in Pierre was keen to tell us about sights to see in the area, but Wanda was not feeling 100% and there were thunderstorms on the way, so we made our excuses and took off for our next planned stop in Marshall MN. We continued across the Great Plains of the Midwest through flat farmlands that extend to the horizon in every direction.

Recent rain flooded some fields.

Excellent two way highways in the middle of what appears to be nowhere seem to be common here.       

The road was mostly straight, and we didn't have to slow for most of the bends, so we made good time to our first stop for breakfast in Huron, which was halfway to Marshall.

The clouds were dissipating and the temperature rose to the high 70's. We were comfortable enough while travelling, but got hot very quickly when we stopped.
Many motorcyclists were enjoying the ride in fine weather.

This one is just returning home after a fishing holiday. We can't believe the size of the motor homes here.

We broke our journey briefly in Brookings before continuing non-stop through to Marshall. We arrived just after 3 pm after travelling 254 miles at an average of 54 mph. The motel we found had a gas barbeque so we bought some beef kebabs and salad for dinner at the local supermarket. These are great at selling a variety of foods suitable for one or two people. A person living on their own would have plenty of choice.

We also took the opportunity to do our laundry and wash the motorbike which was filthy after all the rain and slush we have ridden through in the last 7 weeks.

At dinner by the barbeque we met two road workers Edward and Terry who are staying in the motel. We spent several hours chatting over our dinners. Their stories of ice fishing and all the wildlife in Minnesota were especially interesting.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Badlands, Bad Roads and the Interior-Wall Road

This morning we left Hill City heading east under clear skies and a heaviness in the air that suggested it was going to be a hot day. Our route took us around the southern outskirts of Rapid City on our way to the Badlands. The road was under repair in parts and and not much better that a goat track.

Still, if you want to go to the Badlands, perhaps a bad road is the logical route to take. As we progressed I suddenly became aware that the sky was heavily clouded. At least it was keeping temperatures down.

Our first stop was at the edge of the Badlands in the dusty little town of Interior. We stopped for a drink and a sandwich before entering the Badlands NP heading for Wall on SD 240, or the Interior-Wall Road (aka Gyprock Road), as I like to call it.

The Badlands are an area of rugged erosion gullies at the edge of a sedimentary plateau. Here, a picture (or two) is truly worth a thousand words:

I'm not sure why they are called the Badlands, I didn't even think they were very naughty. There was even a cute little bunny rabbit posing for the tourists.

We stopped at lots of overlooks along the way, and it was mid afternoon when we arrived in Wall for refreshments. From here we took off for our planned overnight stop in Pierre, 99 miles east. The cloud had disappeared as suddenly as it appeared earlier, and it was getting very warm in our gloves, jackets and helmets. Many other riders had none of these, but looked very unprotected.

We rode up SD 14, to avoid the traffic, furious pace and boredom of I-90. There was very little traffic and we were able to travel at our own pace, but the boredom was still there. Most of the time I would ride in the right hand side tyre groove on the road, but when it got boring I would cross the left hand tyre groove. When that became boring I would sometimes ride down the crown in the road between them. The roads were mainly straight and led across undulating farmland that seemed as if it would go on for ever.

This area is exposed to the winds. There are a few gullies and "gulches" however and the wise farmers would have built their homes and barns in these. Birds and animals also find protection in the trees that grow there. We stopped briefly to get off our bike and walk around a bit in Phillip, a small town in the middle of nowhere.

By the time we got to Pierre (a neat town on the Missouri River, and the capital of South Dakota) we were hot and tired after riding 261 miles and spending more than 5 hours in the saddle. We found a motel and had a shower before heading out to find dinner.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Exploring the Black Hills of Dakota

Our first stop this morning was about 200 metres from our motel at the Safeway supermarket. We needed more teabags and more batteries for our camera. We have been taking anything from 150 to 350 photos in a day, which pretty much burns out a set of 4 AA alkaline cells every day. Just as well we are not using film!

We set our GPS to take us on a road through the Spearfish Canyon. Since it is set to calculate the shortest route (as opposed to fastest), it has taken us down some weird "shortcuts". Today it took us into a cemetery, the dead centre of Spearfish, you could say. (I can;t believe I just said that) Unfortunately, what the GPS thought was a road out was blocked by a locked gate so we ended up backtracking to the main road.

Spearfish Canyon is pretty enough, but doesn't have me searching for superlatives.

The road eventually lead to Lead, Central City and Deadwood. Deadwood's main claim to fame seems to be that Jame Butler Hickok, known to his mates as Wild Bill, was killed here, and that Calamity Jane is buried in the same cemetery. The main street of the town has many red brick buildings that look to date from the early 1900s that give it real character.

Unfortunately, the character of the street is sullied in that almost every doorway leads to either a souvenir shop (aka "Trading Post"), a T shirt store, or a poker machine filled Casino. Every parking space in town is metered. This is a town cashing in on its past as hard as it can, and not of much interest to us.

Route 385 led south to Hill City. This is another town with character - tourist oriented certainly, but without any swagger of self-importance. We stopped here for lunch  and then rode out on a narrow and twisty road through Keystone to Mount Rushmore.

We spent some time here taking a very worthwhile guided walk, and dropping in to the studio of the sculptor, Gutzon Borghlum.

From there we took of to find the Iron Mountain Road. This is the craziest road I have ever ridden! Narrow, and with almost every corner posted with 15, 20 or 25 mph advisory speeds, it tracked up to the top of the mountain. What was most unusual were the three corkscrews, where the road would take a tight full circle and loop back over itself across a timber trestle bridge as it struggled to gain altitude in the fastest way possible.

Along the road to the top are a number of low, narrow single lane tunnels to add to the interest. The continuation of the road down the back of the mountain was equally twisting and slow.

Along the way we were further slowed by a huge herd of buffalo.

We turned west on route 16a to Custer and from there turned north to visit the Crazy Horse Memorial. This is another carving using a mountain as the raw material. Started in 1948, it is still a long way from being finished. This may be in part because it is being done entirely with private funding, but most likely because of its sheer scale: all four heads of Mt Rushmore would fit into Crazy Horse's head, and that's only a small part of the sculpture.

It was getting late as we left Crazy Horse, so we booked into a cabin on the outskirts of nearby Hill City. We rode into town and had buffalo steak for dinner at the Bumpin' Buffalo Bar and Grill.

Ummm! That was bloody good!

17 June - More snow!

The storm we ran from yesterday came through overnight.

As we were fitting the bags onto our bike, we got engaged in conversation with our "neighbours" in the motel. Paul and Lee were travelling with their wives in a car. They were amazed that we could fit everything we needed for six months travel into our motorbike cases. When we said we were heading to Gillette and then into the Black Hills of Dakota they said to be sure and go by the Devil's Tower, a National Monument that featured in the film "Close Encounters of the Third Kind".

It was clear and cold as we left the motel.  The thermometer on the bike told us it was 53 degrees but it felt more like 43. We rode out of Worland and through a strange landscape of shallow but steep gorges below rounded hills.

The road led first to the lttle town of Ten Sleep, where we stopped for coffee and breakfast.

A couple of young cowboys rode up on horseback, with ten gallon hats, fancy chaps, boots, spurs and a utility knife tucked in its sheath.  Outside their horses were saddled, with Indian rugs as saddle blankets. Several horse floats parked in the immediate vicinity along with a couple of trail bikes covered in mud. The conversation in the diner was all about the storm that had come through last night and dumped snow on the Powder River Pass we were about to cross. We took our time over breakfast before heading off to see for ourselves. The huge four wheel drives that so many people drive should clear some of the snow before we get there.

As we left Ten Sleep the road led into a canyon and climbed up one side, doubling back on itself over and over again. We soon found the snow. The trees on the next hill were not a new species of pine. The branches had just been covered with a fine dusting of snow. It was laying 8 inches deep everywhere on the ground. The scenes were like something Australians only ever see on Christmas cards. Also remember we had just left Australia for the Northern Hemisphere in the hope of escaping our winter.  We've never seen this much snow in our home town.

When we got to the top of the pass, the temperature was 30 degrees F (-1 degree Centigrade) and a gale force wind was driving the powdery snow across the top. We stopped for a photograph, but first had to put a new set of batteries in the camera. This meant taking off our gloves... Brrr!
"Hurry up and take the photo Chris."

On the back of the pass there was less snow and wind. We slowly warmed up thanks to heated grips and heated seats.

In Buffalo, we stopped at the first diner and each had a hearty bowl of soup. Here we met two other bikers, and had a conversation much the same as with other bikers we have met. They had come across the pass on Harleys and did not have the creature comforts of our BMW. They must have REALLY felt the cold. Two ladies (teachers) also approached us and chatted briefly, and they also said we should see Devil's Tower.

From Buffalo the 67 mile ride to Gillette took us on Interstate 90. This has a speed limit of 75 mph, and most of the traffic was doing 80 to 85. Riding I-90 was as satisfying as drinking a small weak decaf latte on skinny milk. We got there in the early afternoon and decided we should push on further towards Mount Rushmore, heading south and east to the town of Custer.

When in Gillette we stopped at another diner. Paul, who saw us ride up, asked us about the bike as soon as we walked in the door. He and his wife Dee were so enthusiastic to talk about BMWs and our journey, and tell us about the Black Hills of Dakota, and all the sights and roads to ride, that their lunches went cold.

Paul reckons we will find the Black Hills even more beautiful than Yellowstone. We'll let you know in a day or so... He also told us we should go to the Devil's Tower, so we did some last minute itinerary changes and took off east to Moorcroft before turning north.

The Devil's Tower is a huge solidified volcano core that rises 1250 feet above the surrounding landscape. It is (like so much else we have seen) spectacularly beautiful. We stopped at the scenic overlook about 6 miles away, and who should we me meet there? Paul and Lee and their wives!

We made good use of our National Park Pass again.  As we rode up to the Visitors Centre, the road led through a grassy field that had been taken over by a large community of prairie dogs. These are small nervous creatures that stick their heads up out of holes in the ground. A few keep yapping incessantly to signal danger is near but will disappear if you come too close. At this stage another one, a little further away, will take over. When you go they playfully roll and tumble over each other.

The close-up view of the Tower from the Visitors Centre was even more dramatic than what we saw from a distance, especially when the sun at last came out from behind the clouds to illuminate it.

We eventually arrived in Spearfish, our destination for the night, at 6:30 pm after another long, windy day covering 284 miles.