Agony and Ecstasy

Riding across Wyoming is like that, periods of unbelievable riding and sections of long, straight,  boring and hot slogging. The highlights are the Big Horn Mountains and the Chief Joseph Highway. The lowlights are the stretch from Gillette to Sheridan and the Big Horn Basin on the west side of the climb up and over. Fortunately, the good offsets the bad and the final riding was Chief Joseph.

The day started at Devil’s Tower. I sat outside of my tent after dinner last night and watched the lights of three climbers still descending after 10:00pm. My camp neighbors with the Teardrop trailer from Wausau had been on the ranger hike in the morning and said climbers were not allowed to stay on the tower overnight. Pretty spooky to climb in the dark with lightning in the area.

Sunset on the Tower. Trust me, there are three lights on this face.

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I got up at 5:20am, just in time to see the grandpa/son campers across from me finish packing and leave. Grandpa was checking the oil on the car. The teenager didn’t look too enthused. On to the day’s ride.

The Big Horn climb outside of Sheridan is great, unless you’re stuck behind a CruiseAmerica (CurseofAmarica) rented RV… ugh. I had to pull over and sit for several minutes to let him l poke on up. Then, the riding was wonderful and the view back inspiring.

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The backside was a step 10% grade down to the basin. A real brake fryer for those not experienced in mountain driving. Runaway truck turnouts for the unfortunate or incompetent.
The basin… say no more.

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The Chief Joseph Highway drops you down just East of the northwest entrance to Jellystone Park. I’m skipping Yellowstone this trip because of time and the Summer madness.

On my way down, there was a truck with his flashers on stopped. I slowed to pass and saw why be was stopped, there was what I assumed to be a grizzly jumping up and down about 30 yards down the sloping shoulder. I didn’t stop to gawk. There were signs all along the road advising that this is grizzly country.

I passed the first campground that had only one lonely guy and picked a campground that was closer to civilization and had other campers, Hunter’s Peak. I had a great site next to the river, with a view and, the hosts gave me free firewood. The price was actually that they stopped to talk to me every ten minutes. Apparently I’m very likable, at least to elderly hosts.

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No cell service here, so this posting is delayed.

Tomorrow, another highlight, the Bleartooth Highway. Can’t wait.

Independence from Ho Hum

Absolutely spectacular riding day!

I got up before 6:00, tent wet from overnight rain, figured I could lay it out and let the sun dry it, if only the sun could rise above the trees. What did rise above the trees was a hot air balloon! Cool.

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The usual breakfast and dying/packing took almost an hour and a half. Still, on the road before 8:00, before the tourists and their lumbering RVs. The roads were dry, mostly open and the smell of Black Hills Spruce in the cool air, ahhhh, it doesn’t get any better. I wandered into Custer, found an Apple fritter and a buffalo.

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The parade wasn’t until 10:00, with a B-1 flyover. Still, by then the roads would be clogged, I had to go. First up, The Needles Highway, named after needle shaped rock formations. If I had the time, a hike among them would have been real nice. But, I’m on a motorcycle riding mission.

This road connects back with 16A, a classic Black Hills road, switchbacks, curves and overlooks. The GPS view, a motorcyclists dream

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The only thing missing were the bison. I didn’t see any at all. Last time here, they were all over the place. Sounds like they are being rounded up in the southeast corner of the park. 16A takes you back to Keystone and Mount Rushmore. I intended to do, but there was a line a mile long just to get to the parking lot. I bypassed and settled for the profile view.

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I stopped for lunch at the Subway in Lead. The owner is at least third generation there and had a lot of facts to share. Lead is home of the Homestead gold mine with shafts well over a mile underground. Turns out, our old friend William Randolph Hearst owned the mine and Homestead was the first company listed on the NYSE. Or so the Subway guy says.

It is also the Sanford research site for particle physics. The LUX WIMP study is going on there, earned a Nobel Prize in 2002. You get bonus points if you can guess what the acronyms stand for. Hint, the “X” is for Xenon and the “P” is for particles. The above ground pit

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Next stop, Devil’s Tower but not before more riding fun, this time Spearfish Canyon. What a gem. I stopped to chill down at their Bridal Falls.

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Lord it was hot. 98 degrees when I got to Belle Fourche. The B-1 also flew over their parade this morning and the only thing still going on was the rodeo. Not going to sit in the hot sun for cowboys. . Onward…

The towers rise out of the flat land spectacularly. I got there just in time to set to my tent before a brief shower. A bike around the monolith, dinner with blueberry pie ala mode for a great end to a great day.

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Tomorrow, the Big Horn Mountains and more.

Black (Hills) is the new Sturgis

Today’s adventure starts in Pierre, the capitol city. My free camping just blocks from the capitol, came with a office. I had set my tent up just outside the left-center outfitted fence for the baseball field. Another camping poacher warned me that the sprinklers near where I was had come on at 2am the night before. Sure enough, at 1am sprinklers on the baseball field came on. One of them cycled just enough outside the fence to wet my fly. Ugh. I had to pull the stakes and drag my tent ten feet to safety.

Up at 6:00, packed up, made my oatmeal breakfast loaded the bike and left before anyone else got out of their tents/RVs. Since fireworks are legal, everyone and his brother was shooting off really big stuff, I mean the kind that go thump and send an explosive high in the air. That must have kept them up late,

The plan for the day was to explore the Badlands and ride on to the Black Hills. Starting off of Super Slab led me along lesser two-lanes. I noticed signs along the fenceline that said something about the Deadwood Trail. I pulled over to check out out.

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I couldn’t make out the wagon shell tracks and there was no sign of Mex.

One cannot escape the advertising exclusive of Wall Drug. The signs are literally every 200 yards along the road. I stopped for a picture.

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The start was grey and overcast but by the time I got the scenic drive, the sun was out and it was warming up. The Badlands are a spectacle, unfortunately, I didn’t get a picture on my phone so use your imagination.

Down the road towards Rapid City the sky got really dark, rain and lightning were directly ahead. I spotted a closed gas station that looked like it had shelter. I pulled over and waited for the storm to pass with three hard core Harley couples. We waited an hour and the storm just sat over the only road west. Their conversation revlolved around NASCAR, conceal/carry and construction equipment. We had little to talk about.

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I decided to make a run for it and got into a heavy rain that felt like hail. Big drops of rain at 65mph do that.

I stopped in Keystone for a late, 4:00, lunch. Keystone is the definition of a tourist town. I couldn’t wait to leave and got caught in another squall. Crap. I sat at the Norbeck overlook as the sun came back.

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16A is the road to ride in the Black Hills. There is a tunnel where you get Mount Rushmore framed by it. If my phone didn’t have such a crappy camera you could see it here. Once again, use your imagination to see the dead presidents in the glowing light.

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I lucked into a campsite site to a cancellation at Legion Lake. Pretty way to end the day.

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Tomorrow, Needles Highway, Mount Rushmore, maybe a 4th parade and off towards Devil’s Tower. I may have to get moving if I want to make it to Whitefish on time.

Moto Madness

Here goes my next great adventure, a combined motorcycle and bicycle trip around the northwestern US and Canada. I left today with a ridiculous looking rig, Mr BMW F800ST motorcycle with a custom rack to attach a bicycle.

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Yep, there it is. My bike setup is a Salsa Fargo with a bikepacking outfit.

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I was forced to deviate from the standard kit and add panniers instead of a seat bag because I’m going to go on a group ride along the Canadian portion of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route and needed to have space for group crap. Enough of the whining. I’ll detail more about that segment later when we met in Whitefish, Montana July 9.

For now, headed west with a planned itinerary of Pierre, SD the first night (check), the Black Hills the second, the Big Horn Mountains, slipping by Yellowstone and into Whitefish July 7. All I can say is that my itinerary is very flexible.

The ride today went well. The bike handling was slightly better than anticipated and a whole lot better than it looks. I can feel it is heavier and more top heavy, so it flicks harder from side to side and there is more side wind effects. But, I can live with that.

Heading west from the Twin Cities, you quickly Gerry into farm country. Hardly a bend in the road out to Marshall. I stopped in Montevideo for lunch, the downtown looked like a ghost town at noon on a Saturday. My option was to eat at the Burger King. I’m hoping my first meal of the trip will be my worst, awful chicken sandwich.

Soon after, the first border crossing, into South Dakota. You know you’ve crossed the border because within a hundred yards there is a fireworks store, and the speed limit goes up, yay.  On the downside it gets real flat. The telephone poles fade to a vanishing point and your horizon is determined by the curvature of the Earth.

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My GPS was set to “curvy roads” do it took me on some real remote two lane farm roads that had a couple right angle turns. They were littered with birds that looked like Killdeers, and pheasants. The pheasants ran like roadrunners, the Killdeers jumped up, flew in my direction off travel and, just when you are sure you’re going to but then, they bank to the side. I tucked my helmet into my tank bag more than once. It was like Han Solo navigating an asteroid field in the Millennium Falcon. Yikes!

I survived and made it to Pierre, only to find, surprise, the state park campground was full. Duh, 4 th of July weekend. Fortunately, the city park has camping, and it appears to be free. Either that or I might be spending the night in jail.

Dinner and blog done, time for rest. Fun starts tomorrow.

Viking River Cruise – Day 17

Cologne. Koln in German parlance. Known in the US for Eau de Cologne 1477 perfume. Only the female readers will know anything about the 1477 notation. At least none of the men on the cruise had a clue. But, the real attraction is the Cathedral, standing about 157 meters, one of the tallest cathedrals in the world and a great example of the Gothic style.

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Bigger yet are the (alleged) bones from the The Kings (Magi) that were either acquired, or stolen, depending upon who you talk to. This was a huge money maker for the church as pilgrims came to touch the remains and brought a lot of money into the city.

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Further, the cathedral has beautiful Roman mosaic floors, and wonderful stained glass.

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The cathedral was spared in WWII though 95% of Cologne was destroyed. The possible reason was because the cross shape and orientation of the church served as guidance for bombers heading to either Frankfurt or to Berlin. Sixteen bombs did strike the church but damage was minimal due, in part, to the fact that the Windows had been removed and the concussion of the bombs didn’t blow out the walls.

The history of the city is very long, extending back to 4500BC and also including a rich Roman Empire history. We visited a museum next the cathedral to see the artifacts. One is a mosaic that was mostly intact. This is a close-up of one section with Bachus trying to seduce a maiden.

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The glass artifacts from the century around the birth of Christ were the most interesting.

Speaking of interesting, Cologne also boasts a chocolate museum. We had to go. Three floors of exhibits about the agronomy, politics, economy and geography of cacao production. Quite interesting, and some free samples.

Fortunately, we were in the chocolate museum when the heavy rain came through, raising the Rhine up over the sidewalk by our ship.

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We were fortunate as the docks were closed after we departed.

Two more days, Kinderdijk and Amsterdam.

Viking River Cruise – Day 13

Bamberg! Famous for their Rauchbier, smoke beer. The story goes that 200 years ago the malt used to be roasted over open fires causing the smokey flavor. Our tour director described it as liquid bacon. Of course, that meant I had to try it.

But first, we had a walking tour of… wait for it… a cathedral and castle. Bamberg escaped bombing in World War II and the cathedral is one of the best preserved and oldest (original built in 1003 , but destroyed by fire and rebuilt in 1237) in Germany. Heinrich II was crowned Holy Roman Emperor there and is entombed there with his wife. He was sainted based upon the miracles of surviving surgery and of not having any children…

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There is also the only Pope entombed north of the alps here. You could only see the tomb if you stood on your tippy-toes and craned your neck but we were assured it was there.

After the tour, time for beer. My assessment of the rauchbier was that it tasted like smoked gouda, not terrible but not something I’d drink more than the 1/2 liter we split.

The other attraction was the Old Town Hall, which was built on an island to spite the bishop who wouldn’t allow the town to build it on “his land”.

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It was quaint and quirky at the same time.

Tomorrow, Wurzburg.

Viking River Cruise – Day 12

Nuremberg. Every time I hear that I can’t help but associate the city with the post- WWII trials of the Nazi war crimes. The old city center was heavily bombed by the Allies and was 92% destroyed. not because it was militarily significant but because of the psychological value. That is a sobering statistic.

Our morning was spent on the approach to the city via the Main Canal. The canal was built to be 20 meters wide, our ship is over 19. It barely fits through the locks. The first three locks drop something like 258 feet. We get extruded out of the locks.

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The locks are designed with holding terraces to the side which hold the water instead of releasing it downstream, saving 60%.

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The canal actually goes over the roads/streams. Imagine going under an overpass and seeing a 430 foot ship going over you. It’s hard to tell from this photo but we are passing over a road.

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We docked and caught our buses for the city walking tour. First we drove past a couple Nazi relics, a parade ground and stadium Hitler built to hold rallies and to diefy himself. Another somber thought.

This is the inside of a Colliseum replica structure he was building which was never finished before the war started and construction was stopped.

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Into the city, we had a tour of the Imperial Castle. It was built up on a hillside and had a deep moat which was not intended to be water filled but to funnel attackers into kill zones where China could be trained on them. It also had the entrance gate built on an uphill curved ramp so a battering ram would be ineffective.  If they made it in, there was a tunnel with openings to pour hot oil on them. Pretty well thought out.

The view of the city from the castle.

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The steep roofs, designed to shed snow, were mandated to be included in rebuilding to maintain the pre-war look.

Of course there were churches and Cathedrals… The largest of which had stained glass windows painted by hometown artist hero, Durer. This church is Lutheran. 65% off the parishioners in Nuremberg are protestant. Carol wanted a picture as she said it must be the biggest Lutheran church on the world

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It was a great city to visit, if nothing else, as an example of how a city could be rebuilt in it’s original splendor after a tragedy.

Viking River Cruise – Day 11

Today is Regensburg. However, we still are fighting strong currents. The morning was cruising a very meandering path along the Danube and, unfortunately, a bus ride to Regensburg in order to keep our tour on schedule.

Naturally, the key attraction on the Castles and Cathedrals River Cruise is a cathedral, St. Peter’s. This is a prime example of Gothic architecture.

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The official tour ended at the cathedral just before noon. We were preparing to leave and start our exploration when there was announcement that they would be starting their noon prayer with organ music. We voted to stick around. Good choice as they turned up the lights, illuminating the gold gilded altar. There was about five minutes of organ music followed by five minutes of prayer (I can only assume since it was in German) and then five more minutes of organ music. We actually appreciated the organ music better than the concert in Passau. It was more melodic and ended with a great low note crescendo which resonated so loud that you could feel it. Way cool.

By then, the ship had docked in town so we stopped back for lunch and then headed right back out on a stroll to the far side of town. This included public parks, the Palace, another church and a continuation of Carol’s quest for a non-garrish t-shirt. The ship was docked right next to the historic wall surrounding the old city center.

This was just inside the wall next to our ship.

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This was one of the most walkable, scenic, colorful cities we’ve visited. The streets are narrow, the buildings interesting, and the shops were not touristy, complicating the quest. It pleased me that everyone, from grandmothers to children, get around on bikes as driving is not practical in the streets of the old town.

Back to our ship to relax on the upper deck.

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Tonight we enter the Main canal which stretches 106 miles, connecting the Danube with the Main River and the Rhine. The engineering marvel allows commerce to flow from the North Sea to the Black Sea. Tomorrow, Regensburg and guess what? More churches.

Viking River Cruise – Day 10

The river levels are having an affect. Because we are behind schedule, in order to make it to Passau in time for the organ concert and our walking tour, we stopped a few km’s short and were loaded onto buses to scoot us into town. We were told two ships had hit the bridges while trying to pass under. It crew has lowered the umbrellas, folded the chairs and dropped the railings on our sun deck. no sunbathing for us.

There were three or four other Viking ships at the docks and the town was crawling with groups of senior citizens following tour guides holding Viking lollipop signs with our ship/group numbers. After an abbreviated city tour, we were ushered into the cathedral for the organ concert. Passau has the second largest pipe organ in the world with 17,000 pipes! The whole cathedral was filled with Viking tour groups. The concert lasted about one half hour with no music recognizable by me. It was interesting, but I’ll admit to nodding off…

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We hooked up with a different tour guide after the concert who took us through some narrow back alleys to the other side of town (about four blocks). Passau is built at the junction of three rivers, the Danube, the Ilz and the Inn. The Inn comes down from the higher elevations and has a distinctive lighter color than the brown of the Danube. It is also flowing high and up over the sidewalk.

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After the tour and lunch, we decided to catch the glockenspiel at the town hall (rathaus). not even as impressive as New Ulm.  The interesting sight was the high water history on the wall, about ten feet up in 2013, the biggest since 1850-something. You might be able to see it on the lower right.

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The other attraction in town is the fortress overlooking town, Veste Oberhaus. There is a bus, but why? We climbed up. I counted the steps, 240, but there was a long pathway that must have added the equivalent of another 100 steps. From the fortress, there was a great view of the city and you could see the different colored water at the confluence of the Inn and Danube rivers. Unfortunately, those pictures are on my camera, not my phone…
The view from the bottom, the overlook in the top left.

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The rest of the afternoon was spent having a German beer on a terrace, reading and relaxing (we’re now in Germany)

Tomorrow, on to Regensburg, presuming we can get under the bridges.

Viking River Cruise – Day 9

Today we cruise the Wachau Valley and visit Melk. The Wachau (vah-cow) Valley is where the Danube changes from the relatively flat terrain to the Bohemian Plateau, which means high, wooded banks on each side of the river, small towns and vineyards. This region produces white wines and most of the apricots consumed in Europe.

The scenery was great so we sat on the upper deck and listened to a running commentary from Sonya, our Tour Director most of the morning as we fought the strong currents.

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Melk, and the Abbey was our stop for the day. The Abbey is a huge complex on a hillside of a small village.

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It houses a library of 100,000 books, all categorized and bound in a similar manner. It is still a working Abbey and has a school with 900 youth. The cathedral isn’t as ostentatious as some of the others we’ve visited, but precious nonetheless. As has been our fortune, we had time to walk the gardens before the rain came in which lasted until we finished the tour.

It only took a half hour to see the whole town on our way down the hill back to our ship. I bought some apricot mustard as it was touted as a specialty.

We pushed off and headed up river as we had a number of locks to pass and we were making slower than expected progress. We squeezed into a lock alongside two other barges. We had about four feet between them and us and six inches to the wall. While we were navigating into the lock, the captain was drinking in the lounge with the returning cruise guests leaving a junior guy to handle the duties. Here he is checking our clearance…

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Tomorrow, out of Austria, into Germany, and the town of Passau. Gud nicht.