The Road to Ogallala

by bj max

The Continental breakfast at the Black Hills Lodge in Spearfish, SD was pretty good. It even had a waffle iron to make your own waffles. You just took a cup of their chilled and pre-mixed pancake mix, poured it on the hot waffle iron, lowered the lid, waited three minutes, opened it up and you had hot crispy waffles. Just pour on the syrup and dive in. Which I did. Regularly. I had never eaten waffles before. Lotsa’ pancakes, but no waffles. And we were in Spearfish for three days and nights; so I got to sample this new delicacy, new to me anyway, three mornings in a row. I became a big fan, gaining weight proportionately. But taste, like looks, can be deceiving and I would later regret ever having seen a waffle, much less eaten one.

The Happy Bottom Riding, Yachting and Snipe Hunting’ club left Memphis on a beautiful, but hot, summer day. Our first night on the road was in Harrisonville, Missouri, just outside Kansas City. That night while we slept it came, a rip-roaring thunderstor. The thunder woke me up, and it was so loud it seemed it would shake the motel off its foundation. I padded over to the window, pulled the curtain back, and peeked outside. The parking lot was flooded and the bikes were in water up to their valve stems…I shivered at the thought and jumped back in bed, grateful that I wasn‘t on the road. The next morning, the storm had moved south and left us with blue skies, cooler temps and less humidity. Perfect riding weather.

Two days later, we landed at the Black Hill’s Lodge in Spearfish, South Dakota. While here, we would do all the regular things you do when you’re in this area. Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Monument, a work in progress, the Badlands, Devil’s Tower and Deadwood. Deadwood, you might remember, is where one James Butler Hickock met his demise at the hands of assassin, Jack McCall. I took the time to visit the murder site, only to learn later that the whole town had burned down twice since that fateful day back in 1876. So, like the Lincoln Log Cabin in Kentucky, they’re just guessing that it’s the real deal. On display up the street is The “Death Chair“, supposedly the actual chair Wild Bill was sittin’ in when McCall blowed him away. Another dubious artifact.

The next morning, it was a short hop to the Wyoming state line. At a highway rest area, we got our first glimpse of Devils Tower and from this distance it didn‘t look real. It looked like, well, like something out of a movie. However, we decided against paying to go to the base of the tower. Just didn’t seem worth the price. Besides, we wanted to ride on up to Montana, stick a tire across the state line, and add another state flag to the growing collection wallpapering the inner trunk lid. Glad we did, too. Saw all kinds of Antelope. They were everywhere. The landscape was stark and flat and it seemed I could see for a thousand miles in any direction. But it was also beautiful and brought the great Red Stegall’s song to mind.

“I’m up here in Montana
And the folks are oh so nice
They call the land the Big Sky
It’s a cowboy’s paradise.”

A cowboy’s paradise. That’s what it was. But not so much a cowgirl’s as we learned from this nice lady running the truck stop just outside the little town of Alzeda. With a melancholy sigh, she described how she had followed her husband up here from Spearfish a couple years ago and had kinda’ got stuck in this lonely cowboy outpost. Catfish Floyd, sympathetic for the little filly, commented that Spearfish was just down the road and she replied, “Yeah, that‘s true, alright. It’s just down the road, but it’s in a whole ‘nother world.” And she was right. When the nearest Wal-Mart is fifty miles away, you’re not only in another world; you’re in the Twilight Zone.

We wrapped up our visit to the Black Hills by riding the requisite Needles Highway, Iron Mountain Road and Spearfish Canyon Highway. All are great rides and are not to be missed. Returning to our base of operations on our last day, the weather once again threatened and once again, by the shortest of margins, we were spared. Just minutes after pulling under the awning of our motel, the storm hit. In a fit of frustration, Mother Nature pounded the windows with rain, wind and hail trying to force her way in and destroy us all. I was awed by the storm’s fury and wondered when our luck would run out.

The next morning, Spearfish seemed no worse for the wear from the previous night’s storm and the dawn brought blue skies. We chowed down once again on the Continental Breakfast and I ate all the waffles I could hold. After lugging our stuff out to the trailers and loading up, we reluctantly left our comfortable digs and this beautiful country behind. We headed south, meandered down through Spearfish Canyon one last time, and followed Highway 385 through Custer State Park and the Wind River National Forrest. Beautiful country. If it weren’t for the hard winters, I wouldn’t mind living here.

As we waited on the group to snap some photos of some free ranging buffalo, I felt slight rumblings in my stomach and realized that I didn’t feel so good. I figured I just ate too much for breakfast so I chewed a couple of Rolaids and tried to put my discomfort outta’ mind and concentrate on our surroundings. But things only got worse and by the time we had cleared Custer State Park, I was nauseated and my stomach was cramping and threatening to empty itself at any minute. But, for the time being, I didn’t mention it to anyone. We had calculated earlier that in order to make it home by Sunday, we would have to ride, at a minimum, three hundred and ninety three miles every day. But there was no way I was going to make that many miles today. No way. By now, it was obvious to my wife that I wasn’t feeling well and that we might have to call it a day earlier than planned.

At a gas stop in Chadron, just inside the Nebraska line, my stomach began to boil over, some fifty feet shy of the pumps. So I jumped off the bike, leaving it and my wife in the middle of the lot, and ran to the bathroom. Fortunately, it was unoccupied and I darted in, locked the door and got sicker than the proverbial mule. Sicker than a Mule? I don’t think I’ve ever even seen a sick mule, so how sick that is, I really don’t know. All I know is I was one sick puppy and if I didn’t get to feeling better soon, this day was gonna’ have to end.

Later, after fueling, I lay sprawled on a nearby picnic table and contemplated whether I should go on or not. This is when I was informed that Big Mike was now sick as well. Uh oh. Looks like we may well have a pandemic on our hands. So, while the rest of the crew walked down to a fast food restaurant, Mike and I lay sprawled out on picnic tables, moaning and groaning… “Look at ‘em. Mike. Going off to dinner while we lay here suffering. They don’t care if we croak, as long as they can feed their faces.“ Mike didn’t bother to answer. He just moaned a little louder at the mention of fast food.

Back on the road, I came to a decision. Even though I felt a little better now that my stomach was empty, I decided that if Mike didn’t holler calf rope by the three hundred mile mark, I would. I didn’t have to worry though. At two hundred and fifty miles Mike gave it up and demanded a motel. We pulled in at Bridgeport, checked in, and Mike and I went straight to our respective rooms and crashed. The crew took some chairs outside in the shade, bought some beer and had a party; all the while watching yet another storm go by just to the south of us. If Mike had waited five minutes longer to call for a motel, we would have been pummeled by that storm because there was nothing but the wide open prairie for the next fifty miles.

Mike and I were in fine shape the next day and ready to roll. But two of the ladies developed the same symptoms and we were slowed yet again, forcing Hillbilly and I to call the boss and beg for an extra day off. Surprisingly, it was granted with a minimum of profanity. It seemed that the members of the group that got sick had all eaten those delicious waffles back in Spearfish so, on this bit of evidence, even though there wasn’t a doctor in the bunch, we determined that the waffles were the culprit.

Our trip to the Black Hills was one of the most memorable I ever made and I will definitely return. But no more waffles. They were delicious but it really wasn’t worth the hassle. And Mother Nature never did catch up to us. We were on the road eleven days and didn’t get wet. Amazing….No rain, no wind, no errors.


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