Monday, August 18, 2014

What's the Definition of a Motorcycle Nomad?

i-25 wyoming
Heading southbound I-25 into Cheyenne, WY
We meet a lot of people over the course of our travels, and each time we meet someone, the question that always comes up is, "Where are you from?"

Several months ago, we used to say, "San Diego". But it's now been 18 months since we moved out of our permanent digs in the downtown of California's oldest city, and it's becoming harder and harder to say that we're actually from somewhere.

"OK, so where did you originally start from?" is the question that people will follow up with.

I guess we always have to come from somewhere. But technically, I'm not really from San Diego. It's just where I spent a lot of time growing up, and where my last permanent residence was. I was actually born in Honolulu, HI.

With the exception of those few people who never ever left the town they were born in, is it correct to say that we're all travelers?

Is it correct to say that we're all transitory, following the job market and moving from one place to another? Isn't that really what nomads are, following the caribou herd?

We'd like to think that civilization is a place where you can live all throughout the year, where you never have to leave, where food, water, and other necessities of life are perpetually brought to you. But now, people relocate from city to city, state to state, country to country. It's like we're still nomads.

A motorcycle nomad, on the other hand, I think, requires that we use a motorcycle to move from place to place, even if you're moving once every few years. I guess if you've since moved from your town of birth, and a motorcycle is how you move around, then you're a motorcycle nomad.

But I still like to call myself a Californian, and I still like to call myself an American. It helps people figure me out faster if I attach geographic labels to myself. Quite often, traveling across the country on a motorcycle leaves me with little time to have conversations with people. So, it saves me a lot of trouble explaining my perspectives if I just tell them, "I'm from California".

Where you started from, however, doesn't seem to matter much anyway, the language of motorcycling is universal.

Sash and I are now in Longmont, CO, and will be here until September 3.

Photos below are from our ride from Wheatland, WY to Longmont...

Western Sky's Family Diner, in
Wheatland, WY for breakfast
It was a rough morning and I
was getting hungry
Omelette smothered in green
chile sauce was amazing here
The guy behind Sash was a loud
mouthed Mr. Know It All
Chugwater Chili has to be the
best name for chili.
I-25 southbound through
Wyoming
This is where Western Sky's
Family Diner got its name
Long stretch of interstate
through Wyoming
The Yamaha V-Star 650 has
held up well thus far
Sweet Jeezus likes the view of
the mountains
Sash wanted to get a photo of
Johnson's Corner
Welcome to Colorful Colorado!

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Friday, August 15, 2014

Wyoming Isn't Really All That Free

wyoming highway 59
State Highway 59, southbound from Gillette, WY
Judging another another man's freedom in comparison to mine isn't something I'm known to do. As soon as you point a finger at someone as not being free, there's always going to be another finger pointed at you.

That being said, I like Wyoming.

I like its grassy hills, its miles of undeveloped land. I like its sunsets, its cloud formations, and the sound of a barking prairie dog against the wind in your ears. But folks in Wyoming don't take kindly to outsiders, particular those who bring in a sense of freedom and the guts to cut against the grain.

Freedom isn't something you find much of in Wyoming. Instead the word is conformity. Dress alike, look alike, think alike, act alike. Gossip is the number one pastime in the Cowboy State, because hiding underneath every Stetson is story waiting to come out.

But it's not to say that Wyoming is conservative. It's just that people here are private, very private.  Dare not ask or peek at what lies hidden behind the closet door, you may find yourself with a gun pointed to your head.

Sash and I were departing from our hotel in Gillette on our way south to Wheatland. And the only feasible way to get there is by State Highway 59, another testament to the fact that Wyoming wants everyone to conform.

But I was just fine by going that route. In fact, we had the wind at our backs, and sailing along at 80 MPH felt effortless. Just seeing the miles of open prairie made me feel free, in fact. It was like being in the middle of nowhere, where your demons can't reach you, where the ghosts of your past can't haunt you, and your conscience can finally take a break.

So we pulled into the town of Douglas, WY to look for a place to chow. Not wanting any of the national chains or fast food joints, I rode into downtown to find something different and original. I found The Depot, an Americana cafe converted from an old train station.

Sash walked in with her pink hair and the bushy fox tail hanging from her butt. Waitresses there did all they could to stop themselves from spitting in laughter. One by one, they walked around our table to look at her tail and pink hair. The fact that she rode a motorcycle was probably her saving grace, otherwise they probably couldn't figure out what hole she fit into.

But it was when they brought the cooking staff out to look at her as well, that really told us what Douglas, WY was all about.

Sash wasn't fazed. She had been through worse in her life. And this only proved that she was beyond the societal pressure to conform. I mean, we had seen it all from coast to coast, one state and city after another. When you can pass through so many different perspectives, and see how each are different, it's like being the one mouse walking above the maze instead of the dozens of others trying to navigate from within.

And that's the thing about Wyoming. Sure it's wide open and spacious, but too many people living in closets there.

Digging into all you can eat
bacon at our hotel in Gillette
Sash keeps a package of beef
sticks and cheese in her jacket
I keep a package of cracklins in
my jacket
Highway 59 through Wyoming
is vast with grassy hills
Sash with the Salvation Army
sunglasses
Oil pumps can be found along
Highway 59
The BNSF railroad runs along
Highway 59 carrying coal
Sash at The Depot in Douglas,
WY
The waitresses at The Depot
gossiping about Sash.
Look out Asphalt Annie, there's
a new mascot on board
Riding south along I-25 towards
Wheatland
Sun starting to set over the
Wyoming prairie

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The Prairie Dogs of Devil's Tower Are Fat

devil's tower motorcycle
My Honda ST1300 against Devil's Tower, WY
People are naturally curious and take delight in things they've only seen on television. By contrast, prairie dogs are competitive, cut throat, selfish, and couldn't give a rat's ass if hand that feeds them became infected with the Hanta Virus.

It's interesting that what took up much of people's time at Devil's Tower National Monument was not the tower itself, but these burrowing little varmints that seemingly run roughshod over the area. Cars and RVs clamored for parking space along the side of the road so that they could photograph them. Others slowed down to see what commotion was about.

According to an article published in the Casper Star Tribune, the prairie dog count at Devil's Tower had been 62 in 1989, but went up to 496 in 2011.

In the end, the $10.00 per car park admission boiled down to just this, photo hungry tourists, cheesy Doritos, and chemically induced prairie dogs.

Otherwise, the land surrounding Devil's Tower is a lot of agriculture, both hay and cattle. Locals in the nearby town of Hulett sit at their tables inside Ponderosa Cafe minding their business as bikers and RVers step inside fascinated with the country kitsch that decorates the walls.

"Oh look honey! It's one of those old rusted cowbells! I want one for our Harley room!"

Sash felt a connection to Ponderosa Cafe because her maiden name is Cartwright, and she often keeps an eye out for anything Bonanza.

"Do you get a lot of people asking about Bonanza?" she asked the waitress.

She shook her head, indicating that she hadn't.

"We were kinda joking if you've got Hop Sing back there in the kitchen." Sash added.

The waitress looked puzzled.

"You know, Bonanza? Little Joe? My maiden name is Cartwright, that's why I asked."

The waitress apparently had never heard of the television show. It just made us feel really old.

"It ought to be required study if you're going to work at a place named, "Ponderosa Cafe", Sash whispered to me.

Outside the cafe hung a Budweiser sign that said, "Welcome Bikers". It's a remnant of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, and is the same design that was displayed at thousands of establishments in a 100-mile radius of the Rally.

"Like I need a welcome bikers sign to make me feel safe about going inside", I said to Sash. "There's something disingenuous about it."

I'm sure next week will be going up another Budweiser sign that says, "Welcome Bicyclists", "Welcome WordPress Developers", or "Welcome Mary Kay Sales Associates".

And while on the subject of being disingenuous, just the name "Devil's Tower" is a sad commentary.  The original locals, the Plains Indians, called it, "Bear Lodge".  According to their folklore, a massive bear, with long sharp claws, tried to climb the tower and instead left scratch marks up and down its sides.

But it was an 1875 expedition led by Col. Richard Irving Dodge who misinterpreted the name to mean "Bad God's Tower", which then became Devil's Tower. In 2005, a group of American Indians led an effort to restore the name to "Bear Lodge National Monument", but was denied when locals worried the change would ruin their economic base.

As for the prairie dogs, Sash and I couldn't resist trying to photograph them too.  But we had the good fortune of better camera equipment, and didn't need to lure them with artery-clogging snack chips. I imagine since the last census count of 2011, their population is getting close to 1,000. I'm sure Prairie Dog Armageddon drawing nigh.

We stopped at a UPS Store to
ship some stuff.
State highway 24 westbound
from Aladdin, WY
Ponderosa Cafe in Hulett, WY
This sign at Ponderosa Cafe
beckons us to enter
Sash checks her phone inside
Ponderosa Cafe
The burgers are big and
delicious at Ponderosa Cafe
Sash at Devil's TowerSash doing a better pose at
Devil's Tower
Look at my stance, it says I own
this joint!
This fat boy thought he was
going to get Doritos from me
These signs are all over the
place at Devil's Tower
Sash with Devil's Tower behind
her
Sash and Devil's Tower in my
rear view mirror
US-14 runs south along
Keyhole Reservoir
The second straight day Sash
wore her fox tail

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About Steve

San Diego, CA-based motorcycle rider who likes long road trips, old rustic bars, craft beer, and tough women. Can often be found where there's free Wi-Fi, writing about the mysteries of life. (Read more...)