I’m sure that a time will come when I will have nothing to write about. A day so mundane that I will be resigned to reporting on Annie’s morning tire pressure and the consistency of my can of beans. I thought I might get a day like that riding across The Plains….
Thursday, July 20 (Cont.)
(You know it’s bad when it ends at “Unnamed Road”)
As I was leaving Casper, I crossed over the North Platte River. I was suddenly gripped with the most severe case of homesickness I have had so far. The border to my home state was right there. Maybe if I just stood on my foot pegs I would be able to see the zany formations of Toadstool Geological Park.
It was not time yet. It would still be a few weeks before I would be home. NE the state would have to wait while I focused on NE the direction.
The wind picked up where it left off the night before: Strong and from the south. It was a bit of a hassle while I was eastbound in Wyoming, but it was a happy helper once I entered South Dakota and turned north. I debated taking an hour long detour to get a picture by the sign for Sturgis, but decided it was not worth the time. The Black Hills in SW South Dakota are home to some wonderful roads for riding. Next trip!
The day was heating up. Somewhere around Buffalo, SD, a sign on a bank registered 104 degrees. I merely scoffed at the distinct lack of humidity and continued to wear my leather jacket. Triple digit temperatures were a bit of a shock to my system though. I think this was my first time experiencing them so far this summer.
Right about the time I crossed into North Dakota, trouble was brewing. A long line of thick, dark clouds stretched out in front of me. It looked like a huge system. I suited up in my rain gear and prepared for the worst. Suddenly the wind shifted violently, a huge gust hitting me from the east. It easily pushed me into the middle of the oncoming traffic lane. (Had there been a vehicle coming I would have fought the wind harder, but doing so might have risked losing traction on the now damp ground.)
On the plains, an east wind is by far the least common. When it blows from this direction, it usually means something big is about to go down. I kept my head on a swivel looking for anything funnel-ish, knowing that tornadoes usually form on the south side of these systems.
Within 1/4 of a mile the wind had made a full flip, now blowing with gale force from the north. I downshifted Annie, trying to find the horsepower to maintain my speed. A slight bend in the road took me eastward. The wind was now pushing me towards the ditch. I was using all the road alloted to me, from yellow line to the edge of the ditch, but was still struggling to keep Annie in a somewhat straight line.
These types of storms can easily produce hail, so I decided I should stop. But where? There are not even trees out here. Miraculously, there was an old decrepit barn over the next hill sitting about 100 yards from the road. There was no path leading to it, but Annie and I made our own. The barn was missing about half of its shingles but the lone opening faced the south, blocking the worst of the wind. I was very thankful to have found it.
I tried to do some writing to make good use of my time, but found it no use. It was too wet inside. I basically just paced around for awhile. The wind was beginning to complete its trip around the compass, now blowing less severely from the NW. I took this to mean that I was on the back edge of the cell. I could continue my northward heading and let the storm continue to the east. Annie and I bounced our way through the field and back to the road. With the winds back in the 20 25 mph range, I now had no issue with control.
By the time I got to Bellfield (the junction with I90) the rain had stopped. I went a little ways before stopping at a McDonald’s in Dickinson. I was tired, hungry and way behind on things requiring the internet. I stayed here for a couple hours. Then I began to make a series of mistakes.
My first mistake was not understanding what time it was. I had come a long ways to the east in the last two days. Though I was still in Mountain Time, Central was just a few miles away. Right before I left the restaurant, I looked for a free campground in the area. I found one about 50 miles away. It looked like it was right off of the interstate but I didn’t examine the exact path to get there (mistake).
It was almost 9pm when I went outside. I was really surprised by how dark it was. Instead of altering my sleeping plan I decided to continue towards my planned campground (mistake). Back on the interstate I soon crossed over the time line. It was now after 10 pm.
I reached my exit around 11pm, seeing a big sign saying “no services.” I checked my phone again and it looked like this was the right exit. I also noticed how secluded my coming path was, along a bunch of unpaved roads. Gravel roads in the dark are not wise on a bike. I still didn’t change my plans. (mistake)
The gravel road started off really nice, but gradually deteriorated. Eventually my map instructed me to turn onto some tire tracks that were running into a random wheat field. Where are you taking me google?
There was no gravel on this road, just muddy ruts. The same storm that I had ridden through earlier had turned these tracks into muddy trenches.
I could feel Annie’s back end starting to “wander” a little bit. This usually means that the rear tire is completely covered in mud. The tread is no longer helping at all. I should have recognized this fact and started to walk the bike, removing my weight from the equation (mistake).
Less than a minute after this video, all of my mistakes finally reached a tipping point…..literally. In a particularly deep spot, Annie’s rear tire hit a rock beneath the surface and shot out to the left. There was no way to prevent going down, but I stuck out my right foot anyway. (mistake)
My toe caught in the mud and twisted my foot out to the side, which in turn twisted my knee, then my hips. I fell face down with the right side case pinning my heel, my toes still faced into the muddy bank.
I’m not sure how to describe the sound I made. It wasn’t very manly. Maybe “yelp” is the best way to say it. It was like the sound that even a big, tough dog makes when you accidentally step on his foot. A mixture of surprise and pain.
Despite the sharp pain in my foot, my first instinct was to reach over and turn Annie’s key off. Like a race horse galloping ambivalently along after losing its jockey, her rear wheel had continued to spin.
So now I was in total darkness. In pain. In a really awkward position. I don’t remember how I got out from under Annie’s weight, but I do remember what happened next. I just sat there in the darkness for a bit, covered in mud, my foot throbbing. I needed some time to think negative thoughts. I budgeted about 10 seconds for this task and got back to work, not because I am so resolute, but merely because there were no other options available.
Annie felt heavier than my last drop, perhaps due to the mud or the condition of my foot. I made one final turn and arrived at my “destination”.
I cussed under my breath and threw up my hands….then I started laughing. What else is there to do sometimes? This spot would have to do. I set up the tent by headlight and headlamp and crawled in. It was around midnight.
….but sleep would still not come. I had made one other mistake this day. At McDonald’s I got a large Sprite. Large soft drinks are only $1 and can deliver 400 calories. Terrible for your health but also terribly efficient. I went up for a refill and someone was using the Sprite, so I chose Mello Yello instead. Same thing, right? (MISTAKE!) It actually has a lot of caffeine which really affects me. I laid awake until about 3am.
Friday, July 21
I woke up around 6am. I’ve had shorter nights…I think. I actually felt pretty energetic, so I began packing up. Upon exiting the tent, I finally saw the body of water that was on the map. It was actually a pretty scenic spot.
Annie was a muddy mess….
…but we had a nice sunrise.
I was also very encouraged that my foot seemed OK after my spill. It was sore, but not damaged. Phew!
The goal for the day was to make it to Bemidji, MN by 2pm. My friends were renting a boat beginning at that time. I didn’t want to miss out!
I was hoping for a boring, uneventful day. My chain was still causing me some concern, but I knew I had a new one waiting just a few hundred miles away.
A couple hours into my trip I had a new problem devlop: My check engine light came on. This caused me some concern, mostly because Annie had just had her most inefficient tank of the whole trip (48 mpg). I immediately thought the two things were correlated.
I had not done an intensive inspection of Annie’s right side after the previous night’s spill, so I removed the lower fairing and started looking.
Nothing looked amiss.
I consulted the internet, namely the NC700 forum. One user had reported solving the same issue by merely tightening the positive battery terminal. I decided it was worth a shot. Wouldn’t you know, the screw was loose by about 3/4 of a turn. I tightened it up and the light went off. If only all problems could be solved so easily!
I passed near Fargo (Verse 1 Line 1) for the second time on the trip, I would still not be checking it off of my list until a later date (I know, so inefficient!). As I crossed the border into Minnesota, I also crossed a milestone: 10,000 miles on the trip! It felt funny to have gone so far, yet still be so early into my journey.
I really enjoyed the scenery in Minnesota. It is a fun state to ride through. I reached Bemidji at about 2:03. They had not left without me. 🙂
I am thankful for difficult circumstances. Not so much much as I am going through them, but later on as greater perspective is gained. If nothing else these sorts of days will make me thankful for the (hopefully) coming mundane days in my life, both on the trip and back in normal life. I don’t plan on being a motorcycle adventurer as a long term career (no company match on 401k contributions 😦 ). Whatever the future holds, it will surely be more appealing than being face down in the mud in a wheat field in North Dakota.