Journey to Sturgis 2013 – Part II

August 3, 2013
Bryan Harley
Bryan Harley
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Our resident road warrior has earned his stripes covering the rally circuit, from riding the Black Hills of Sturgis to cruising Main Street in Daytona Beach. Whether it's chopped, bobbed, or bored, metric to 'Merican, he rides 'em all.

We woke up in Butte, Montana, on the second day of our journey to Sturgis with clouds blotting out the sky and a light sprinkle sending riders scrambling for rain gear. If they brought some. Which I didn’t. Instead I put trust in my full-face Bell Helmet and leather Icon 1000 Chapter Jacket. I would also be riding the 2014 Victory Vision Tour with its electronically adjustable windscreen which raises up high, so a little luck was working in my favor.

It takes a few miles to get acclimated to the Victory Vision Tour after riding the Cross Country. The two have different chassis, the Vision Tour outfitted with a conventional fork and a frame comprised of three main castings with the engine serving as a stressed member while the Cross Country Tour has an inverted fork and a two-piece, sand-cast hollow aluminum frame. Both have areas where each outshines the other. The Cross Country Tour is rock-solid during high-speed blasts on wide-open roads like the plains of Montana, but when roads knot up, the Vision Tour achieves greater lean angles and is more predictable and fluid leaned over. Our planned route for the day would put my theory to the test because a trip through the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Park was on the agenda.

The air was crisp and cool for the second day in a row as we blasted down the highway toward West Yellowstone. The closer we got to the park, the more congested the road got with pickup trucks towing campers and cars loaded with families on vacation. While Victory had scouted an epic route down and around the Grand Tetons to Jackson via US-20 and 26, we opted to branch out to spend the day in Yellowstone instead. Steamboat Geyser, the world’s tallest active geyser, had erupted for the first time in eight years the day before, and the allure of watching Old Faithful blowing its top was too much to resist.

A meandering stream running through fields draped in yellow flowers greets us with air that is sweet and uncannily clean. I savor the aromatic Yellowstones air by filling my lungs as full as I can, the freshness like drinking from an underwater spring. It is something you might miss if you’re riding inside the cocoon of a car with the A/C running and the windows rolled up. Makes me all the more grateful to be in the saddle of the Victory Vision Tour.

For our second day of riding  we swapped out the Cross Country for a 2014 Victory Vision Tour as we rolled through Yellowstone.
For our second day of riding, we swapped out the Cross Country for a 2014 Victory Vision Tour as we rolled through Yellowstone.
On Day 2 of our 2013 Journey to Sturgis  we took a trip through Yellowstone National Park and got to watch Old Faithful blow its top.
On Day 2 of our 2013 Journey to Sturgis, we got to watch Old Faithful blow its top.

We stretch our legs on the loop around Spasm Geyser before heading over to Old Faithful. The wonderful air I formerly relished was now sulfuric and stinky, cauldrons of boiling mud and vents in the earth creating the offensive aroma. But the clear pools and the blue and green hues of the rocks just beneath the surface make it worth the walk.

A short ride later we follow the procession of vehicles on the turn-off to Old Faithful. Despite looking like a massive motorcycle, the Vision Tour has a low seat height and isn’t a handful at low speeds. Which is a good thing, because even one person with a camera sitting on the side of the road can cause a traffic jam in Yellowstone from gawkers hoping to get a peek at one of the park’s resident animals.

We catch the world famous geyser at a good time. It’s predicted to blow about 25 minutes after we arrive which gave us just enough time to stake out a good vantage point, dial in the settings on cameras, and get ready for the show. The natural phenomenon didn’t disappoint. But not before a series of false alarms as several times it would spray small fountains until finally shooting a steady stream high in the sky to the delight of the crowd. We captured the event on film with hopes of cutting in a clip in an upcoming video, then headed back to the parking lot where we discover another Victory Vision has parked right next to us. It was a 2011 Arlen Ness Signature Series model, a blacked-out beauty with scrolled covers, diamond-cut cylinder heads and a tank signed by Arlen Ness himself. On a busy day at the park where you could barely find a parking spot, the chances of one being open next to us at the moment the owners of the Ness Signature Victory Vision were slim. Did the Victory deities order up a bit of cosmic intervention perchance? Leaves us to wonder.

Getting back onto the 2014 version, we’re itching to open it up and get beyond third gear, but heavy traffic and a 45 mph speed limit in the park prevent us from doing so. We continue pushing east on Grand Loop Road as it winds and climbs through patches of piney forests, passing over the Continental Divide at 8262 feet. We continue through the park, taking a break at Lewis Falls, water cascading over a 30-foot plunge and landing in the log-strewn pool below. With twilight setting in, we made a run toward the Grand Tetons in hopes of catching the majestic peaks in the glimmer of sunset.

We’re able to make it to the edge of Jackson Lake just as the last rays were falling on the rugged grey peaks, fingers of snow still clinging to the higher elevations. Grand is a proper name for the Tetons because the way they shoot up vertically from the landscape has a certain majesty to it. As much as we wanted to explore more and see them up close from all angles, the clock was ticking toward deer-thirty, and we still had 150 miles to go to our night’s destination.

The beauty of riding to Sturgis is you never know where the road might lead you.
The beauty of riding to Sturgis is you never know where the road might lead you.
Who knew there was such a thing as the Royal Canadian Air Force  Our 2013 Journey to Sturgis has been an educational experience.
We came across this gem of a tourist attraction in the middle of nowhere outside Greybull, Wyoming – a collection of vintage aircraft owned by the Museum of Aero Firefighting.

We push through toward the park’s East Entrance until a buffalo road block brings traffic to a halt. The big beast is standing roadside and though I thought I was on a big bike, being so close to him suddenly makes the motorcycle look small. It is a powerful animal, its front haunches stacked with thick muscle, and it’s in no hurry to get out of the roadway. It finally rambles off to the side so we can get going again.

The road leading down and out of the East Entrance is spectacular if you’re on a motorcycle. You get the full scale of the verticality of the cliffs to the right and the series of bends is perfect testing grounds for the Vision Tour’s handling. Its center of gravity allows the bike to roll side-to-side without too much effort and it hugs the road tightly as we tilt into the turns.

Soon we’re out of the park and North Fork Highway begins to cut through scenic bluffs and rock spires, the fading sunlight illuminating the brown and red hues. The area has a familiarity to it and then I realize the region looks like the quintessential backdrop of just about every spaghetti western shot in the ‘70s. I keep looking for Marshall Matt Dillon to come riding on his horse from around a corner. I’m on the edge of a passing storm and lightning strikes in the distance keep lighting up the canyon walls like the flash on God’s camera going off. It is the epitome what you would envision the “Wild West” to be.

The sun has just about gone down so I turn on the running lights of the Vision Tour to light up the sides of the road where deer might be lurking. Instead of deer, I attract every flying bug within a mile’s radius of the road, and at one point it looks like it’s raining from the swarms I’m passing through. Luckily the tall windscreen and front bodywork of the Vision provided a shell of protection but I literally killed thousands of the small flying critters in my wake.

Pulling into Cody, I’m feeling like a cowboy after a long day of rounding up cattle. Maybe it’s the lights of the rodeo all lit up as we ride into town with the stands around the arena almost full. I’m certain the canyon we just passed through that looked like every cowboy and Indian battle depicted in movies was shot there induced the mindset too. But more so, it’s because there’s a solidarity when you ride in a saddle all day, be it on the back of a horse or on a motorcycle. It’s been a long day and we’re ready to bunk down for the night.

Day 3

Leaving Cody, a long straight ribbon of asphalt cuts through open plains. The land is flat and the earth is parched. We’ve got a short day planned, with only about a 265-mile ride to Gillette on the itinerary. After back-to-back days of pushing hard, a slower pace is a welcome change.

After about an hour on the road, the dry, tanned countryside yields to fields of green, corn stalks soaking in the sun amidst the carefully groomed rows of produce planted about 20 miles out of Greybull. Though we don’t see their water source, this area has to be pumping in irrigated water from somewhere nearby because the green blankets stand out against the water-deprived areas surrounding it.

We discover a gem of a tourist attraction in the proverbial middle of nowhere in the form of a collection of vintage aircraft sitting behind a barb-wired cyclone fence just off the freeway. The assortment runs from a big dual prop airplane with the words Canadian Royal Air Force splashed down its side along with a painted emblem of a maple leaf to what looked like an old World War II bomber with a window in the nose of the plane and cargo doors in its belly. Another plane looked like it could have been flown by “Lucky Lindy” at one time in its history. Turns out the collection belonged to the Museum of Aero Firefighting who allowed us to conduct a photo shoot with the planes, editors scrambling to park their motorcycles next to their favorite plane to get just the right shot.

Our route for the day takes us on US-14E through a rugged rocky canyon, its layers revealing the history of our earth. The region is known for yielding remarkable dinosaur fossils, included the formidable T-Rex. The area is so harsh and remote, it doesn’t look like it’s changed much since the days of the dinosaurs. The road cuts through a narrow chasm, its walls so vertical and close to the road it feels like you’re being swallowed by a whale. It then opens and begins winding up and around, so we gear down the Freedom 106 engine and let the torquey V-Twin power us up the grade.

The road finally spits out on a high plains plateau, forests replace rocks and green pastures spread out on both sides of the road. The temperature also drops about 20 degrees, a welcome reprieve from the arid rock cauldron we had just left. We slow down as we travel along Bighorn Scenic Byway to soak in the coolness and enjoy the crisp air. The road dropping down the backside of the mountain is wonderfully twisty as we pick our lines in the turns and get into the flow of the terrain. Heading out of the small town of Dayton at the bottom of the pass, we roll by purple-petaled fields of lavender and the air is filled by a thick floral smell.

As we push on toward Gillette, we pass by ranch after ranch and see cows running in the fields down the same worn paths they trod every day when ranchers break out the hay. We ride with our eyes on the thunderheads in the distance, the tall white pillows blotting out the blue of the sky. An emergency broadcast sounds over the radio warning of severe weather, 60 mph winds, quarter-size hail and flash floods just outside of Gillette, our destination for the night. We pull over at the Spotted Horse Standard Station and allow the storm to pass before making the final run into town. Herds of pronghorn antelope are busy feasting in the fields of wheat and grass, chaffs blowing in the brisk wind.

We dodge the storm and pull into Gillette safely. Tomorrow will be an easy ride into Sturgis where we’ll switch gears and get ready for all this year’s rally has to offer. We’re ready to write our next legendary chapter with tales from the Buffalo Chip, but are grateful for the grand vistas we’ve seen, the forest and ranges we’ve passed through like pioneers, and for the chance to carry on the tradition of riding to the greatest American motorcycle rally around.