Custer, SD (2003)

My First Long-Distance Ride
June 2003
Seattle – Custer, SD – Seattle
~3,000 miles
Map Link

I had only heard of “Sport-Touring.net” a few months ago but quickly realized that it was a great source of information, friends and riding partners. It was a relatively new motorcycle forum and 2003 would be the first National Meet, chosen to be held in Custer, South Dakota. Because it was all new to me, I never even considered documenting the trip as I took it. But when I got back home I was so impressed with the entire trip that I felt the need to record it. I created a joke “brochure”, written in the 3rd person, as if the whole trip was some sort of commercial venture. Later, after I had a few other trips under my wheels I went back to the brochure and re-crafted it to fit here, on my website along with the rest of my rides. This story only includes the ride to Custer and doesn’t mention the return ride, uneventful though it was… Behold, the story of a life-changing journey!

June 2003
Total Miles: 5,600 miles, 11 days
Seattle, WA – Custer, SD – Seattle, WA

Day 1 – 355 miles
Seattle is the starting place for this trip, even though two of the members came from other locations. Departure took place from Ghost_Rider’s house, where Zarly had already arrived from Victoria, BC and SO Kim were busy preparing breakfast. DantesDamex and Yamyjoe arrived, the group ate, and the journey began!

The first leg of the trip began on the scenic Highway 2 over the Cascade Mountains. It was a great day, slightly overcast with comfortable temperatures. However, by the time we reached Leavenworth on the other side of the pass the clouds had massed and the rains that were to plague us periodically throughout our four-day journey began. Following Hwy 2 down the slightly drier east side of the mountains, we eventually ended up in Vantage, WA, a tiny hamlet on the banks of the Columbia River. There we met the final addition to our group: Cheez. He was waiting, along with ol’ Rocket, for our late arrival. ‘Ol Rocket couldn’t make the trip, but he gave us some gifts to take with us. The group was again on their way to Custer, South Dakota.

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Taking back roads through southeastern Washington, while much slower than the interstates, makes for a much more interesting ride. The group was blessed with empty roads, rolling landscapes and cool weather. The first day on the road passed without mishap and the group arrived at Chief Timothy Park in Lewiston, WA to camp for the evening.

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Our first night camping at Chief Timothy

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The western end of Lolo Pass, Montana

Day 2 – 431 miles
Orofino was the first stop in Idaho the second day on the road. Just a short jaunt from where we broke camp in Washington, Orofino is on Route 12 in Idaho: the famous Lolo Pass. After a hearty breakfast, the we headed further up Route 12 until we came to a sign respected and coveted by all sport-touring bikers: WINDING ROAD NEXT 77 MILES. Lolo Pass is a road that appears to have been built for motorcyclists. The length of the road alone makes it a wonderful creation. But it’s the twists, turns and curves that make this stretch of road one of the best in the country. No sooner do we reach this signpost then we split up, each to ride and stop as they see fit. We leapfrog along the way, stopping to take pictures, or just to enjoy the beauty that is around us. Lolo Pass is also on the Continental Divide and the road follows the Clearwater River through Idaho up to it’s headwaters near the Montana border. The Pass itself was breathtaking, with a vista of miles of mountain peaks and valleys. After regrouping in the town of Lolo, we refueled, relaxed and then prepared for the most grueling part of the trip: 43 miles of straight two lane road through Montana. The fact that this was the straightest and dullest stretch of road speaks volumes on just how great this trip was! Sula Montana marks the return of fast and curvy roads. The road through Chief Joseph Pass was surprisingly cold with snow on the shoulders, and most unfortunately, rain coming down. As the group drops down into the wide basin of the Beaverhead Deerlodge National Forest, the ominous skies beckon them to speed their way. The roads leading from Wisdom to Butte are treacherous in the rain. Fortunately, they found this out without incident. A quick stop near the Blue Moon Saloon allows them to clean out their shorts and meet some locals. Butte, Montana was their dinner destination, and they reached it none too soon. Perkins was chosen and the group converged on a corner table to keep their rabble to themselves. After the meal, they got back on their bikes to head over Homestead Pass on I-90 to reach their lodgings for the night at Lewis & Clark Cabins, which has a cozy little campground nearby that one of the group members has stayed at many times before. Two cabins had been reserved for the group. Simplistic, but warm and dry, they served as an excellent stop for the night, allowing enough room inside to bring (and dry out) all gear, and even thoughtful motorcycle parking was provided (soon to be picnic table pads). The next day was undecided, as one member was having suspension problems, but eventually the decision was made to head into Yellowstone for the rest of the day and camp at two sites already on reserve in the park.

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Mid-way though those delightful “77 Miles”

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Fast sweepers are what this road is all about

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Working our way south in Montana

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Crossing by Big Hole State Park

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Smooth green hillsides of Montana

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Looking forward to riding north!

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Cozy and rustic cabins were a welcome sight.

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Bikes tucked in for the night

Day 3 – 309 miles
Cabins were vacated and they ate breakfast in Three Forks, Montana with a beautiful blue sky above them and comfortable temperatures. It was a quick ride to the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park and it chose to drizzle a bit, just to remind them of the fickleness of the weather in the mountains. Once inside the park the group planned to split up and meet at the campground that evening. Yellowstone is still amazing. Old Faithful, Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone Lake and the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone are all natural wonders that are fascinating to see. After realizing that the campsite sat on the edge of “Danger – Bear” territory, coupled with the fact that the temperatures were to drop below 30 degrees that night, the group agreed to make the trip down the east side of Yellowstone and into Cody, Wyoming for the night. The canyon ride down in to Cody is spectacular, and would have been better enjoyed in the daylight, but the knowledge that a hot shower and warm beds awaited them made the sacrifice bearable.

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Breakfast

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Utterly new to the concept, I tragically overpacked

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Welcome to Yellowstone…

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Amazing mineral formations

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There ought to be a moose there somewhere

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Where the buffalo roam

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Forest fires from 1988 still in evidence

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Inside the Lodge at Old Faithful

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Outside the Lodge at Old Faithful

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And of course, Old Faithful

Day 4 – 300 miles
Leaving Cody the next morning, the group once again split up, with Keyhole State Park as the campsite and meeting place for the evening. The route was to be the same for each member, but with different paces and stopping points for each individual. This was the most troublesome leg of the journey. One member received a Performance Award in one of the small towns, and another member ran out of gas – twice. But the ride over 14A and Big Horn Pass was beautiful. The countryside was rolling, with green hills and cottonwood crowding the frequent streams. Towns were small, and population centers few and far between. The clouds opened up and let in dappled sunlight, drying the roads for the riders. Keyhole is a nice park, with a big lake and lots of deer and antelope. Unfortunately, as the group was checking into the campgrounds, they noticed the intense storm bearing down upon them from the west. Half of the group went to check out the campsite, while the other half looked into renting rooms at the Park’s motel. Watching the “severe thunderstorm” warning roll across the store’s tv persuaded the group to take refuge in the motel rooms. The motorcyclists spent the windy and wet evening discussing politics and the differences between Canada and America, among some other less worldly subjects.

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Views from Big Horn Pass

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Siphoning gas

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My first ever moose sighting!!

Day 5 – 144 miles
Devil’s Tower was to be the last major landmark that the group would visit before reaching their destination of Custer. Keyhole Park is very close to Devil’s Tower, and it would have been easily visible for the entire ride there if it hadn’t been for the low hanging clouds. However, once at the monument the skies broke open and allowed the sun to filter down upon the group. Photos were taken, some hiked up to the base of the tower, while others headed on towards South Dakota.

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Parked at the base of Devil’s Tower

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Devil’s Tower, Wyoming

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Big storm, rolling in!

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The group

Custer, South Dakota – One hundred and forty four miles later, the travelers had arrived. The following days would be full of meeting “known strangers”, eating roast buffalo in the basement of the local VFW club, riding through the exhilarating Black Hills and watching as over 200 buffalo stream around them during an outing.

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For the First Annual Sport-Touring.Net Meet, there were very few problems that couldn’t be overcome, and the quantity and quality of friendships and stories that evolved from this even are astounding. Time to start planning next year’s event!

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Tell me what you think! I want to know!