Two-Wheelin West - My Family Travels

This was a once in a lifetime trip. I was privileged to take because my parents are members of the Gold Wing Road Riders Association (GWRRA), an organization for Honda enthusiasts to go the annual international rally called Wing Ding. I am an associate member. This year’s rally was in Billings, Montana.

Planning began months ahead of time, with the biggest roadblock being finding a motorcycle for me, passing the state’s recommended safety course and getting my license. Finally, there was ‘Dad’s Course’, which was longer, harder, yet better. Prior to leaving I still had not fully completed his course, but he figured by the end of this trip I will have.

Everyone was excited to be taking this trip, but I think I was the most excited. Sunday dawned with the forecast stormy with rain, hail, and high winds, not ideal conditions for travel much less on a motorcycle. So ‘Plan B’ was hatched and we left.

Before sunset, we had covered the state of Kentucky, and portions of Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, totaling around 580 miles. That night, we all slept like the dead. Another 500 miles on Monday ended with us stopping in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Wind on the plains is a maelstrom compared to Tennessee making a 500-mile leg feel like 1000. Open-faced helmets are common, but they aren’t the smartest choice for any riding because your face is open to all the elements: wind, rain, sun, and big bugs that go SPLAT!! I did not fully realize what a toll a trip of this magnitude would exact on my body. Traveling toward Rapid City, South Dakota, we saw the Badlands, and the world famous Wall Drug Store.

We had almost made it but 100 yards from our motel I ran out of gas. Switching on the reserve gas tank I sprinted for the gas station. Wednesday, we saw the sights of Mt. Rushmore, Deadwood, and Sturgis and rested. Tuesday was another full travel day but getting to Billings seemed to fly as we rode through the rest of South Dakota, across Wyoming, and about a third of Montana. The heat in Billings was extreme and sitting on a motorcycle in the middle of construction was miserable.

The number of bikes in and around the city was incredible as bike after bike rode past everyone waving to each other. Friday we shopped the vendor’s booths looking for specials. At 10:00 that night, looking through the program we noticed the deadline for the statistical awards had been at 6:00. We had forgotten to register me for the Youngest Male Rider award. Dad was upset, but determined and the next morning we were waiting for the gates to open. We were talking with the gate guard and a woman heard us and asked what we needed. It turns out she was the Director of Membership Enhancement. She went ahead and put my name in and I did indeed win the award.

After closing ceremonies with everyone leaving on their bikes, it looked as if the line of bikes would never end. The final headcount was around 9700. That night it stormed and we woke to a flooded parking lot and approximately two feet of water. We were on the opposite side of the ‘lake’ and needed to get to dry ground, so dad rode my bike up the sidewalk, and then rode his bike with the trailer straight through it.

Sunday’s destination was Cody, Wyoming and the Irma Hotel, which Buffalo Bill built for his daughter. We rode through Yellowstone National Park, watched Old Faithful erupt, got stopped in traffic by Bison, and saw a grizzly bear feeding on the side of the road. In Cheyenne on Monday night we determined that of all the places we had seen, Yellowstone National Park and Wind River Canyon Indian Reservation was absolutely the most beautiful.

Around Denver we encountered a toll road with three tollbooths charging us $6 each time, and arrived in Russell, Kansas to spend the night with friends. Wednesday it was raining, but we headed out anyway. By now all we wanted was home and the next two days were spent doing just that. Our family has had several amazing vacations, but this was my first trip west of the Mississippi and ended up being one of the best. Oh, and Dad says that I definitely passed his test!!

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