Our journey to the 2013 Sturgis Rally began in Boise, Idaho. Victory invited us to check out its 2014 lineup, fresh off the factory floor in Spirit Lake. We arrived Tuesday afternoon and inadvertently discovered the secret cache of Victory Cross Country and Vision Tour models along with one 2014 Ness Cross Country underneath The Grove hotel in a subterranean parking garage. The next day a small, intimate band of motojournalists would climb aboard these Freedom 106-powered beauties and begin a three-day journey on the road less traveled. While it would have been easy to pony up and make a beeline for the Black Hills, Victory’s new intermediary between the company and the press, Kyle Clack, would have none of that, opting to forgo the beaten paths for alternate routes through some of the most scenic vistas our country has to offer.
The hills and mountains outside of Boise are sparsely wooded and the summer has cooked them to sun-baked tans and brown. Before long we’re rolling out of town on Idaho 21, our path paralleling a river that’s been carved between the rocky crevasses of what is now a canyon. Grey and white clouds blanket the sky above us and there’s a refreshing chill in the air, the morning temperatures hovering in the 60-degree range. Considering the last couple of bike tests and photo sessions I’ve been a part of have been conducted in 100-degree weather, it’s a welcome change of pace.
It doesn’t take long for pines to begin coloring the landscape with splashes of green. We pass by the remnants of small mining communities still trying to exist on the dollar or two it can scrape from tourists driving by. Barry “The Madman” Hathaway, our photographer on this trip, is setting an accelerated pace on a Victory Vision Tour as the road climbs and winds. But as we reach a crest, a biker’s longstanding adversary cuts our pace in half as we encounter a 20-plus mile stretch of gravel-strewn roadway. Twenty-five mile switchbacks and grip-breaking rocks are not a good combination on motorcycles tipping the scales at over 800 pounds. We err on the side of caution and selectively pick lines through turns. Except for Barry and Jamie Elvidge, the two pulling away from the entourage like King Kenny with the hole shot on a dirt track. They definitely earned respect for their riding skills through that section, their experience in dirt on adventure-touring bikes shining through.
Our first pit stop of the day is in Stanley to fuel up. The Mountain Village is a popular pit stop for motorcyclists who almost outnumbered the cars pulling in. The range of a motorcycle’s gas tank definitely factors into the
equation. It also gives us an opportunity to enjoy the view of the craggy peaks of the Sawtooth Mountains behind the station. One look at the jagged lines the peaks paint above the horizon is all it takes to understand how the mountains got their names.
We head out on Idaho 75, the Salmon River Scenic Byway a beautiful stretch along its namesake waterway. The river’s banks are filled with fishermen and its ripples are the playground of rafts. The 2014 Victory Cross Country Tour is flowing into the winding road. The paths are well-maintained for the most part and anything that isn’t, the big Vic’s suspension is gobbling up so the ride is steady, smooth and comfortable. I’ve got the tunes from my iPod rockin’ from its speakers and though there’s still intermittent clouds overhead, the temperatures are starting to rise near the 80-degree mark.
As we venture on to US-93, a haze blots the horizon and the acrid smell of smoke is filtering into my helmet. The surrounding hills are matchstick dry and as we approach Challis you can see the origin of the plumes rising from the wildfire raging above town. Fire has been an epidemic in the Northwest this summer. My hometown in Southern Oregon is currently plagued by fires to the east and west of town that is blanketing our valley with ash and choking smoke. Washington and Idaho are also ablaze as the unseasonably hot conditions have provided prime conditions for forest fires. This has also set animals scurrying to get away and we were warned upon leaving Boise that an abnormal number of deer are running across the road to escape the burning hills.
We press on toward our lunch stop in Salmon. In what feels like the middle of nowhere we cross the 45th Parallel, finding ourselves at the median between the North Pole and Equator. We pass several dilapidated logs houses that look like they’ve been around since the original homesteaders. Hard winters, blistering summers and winds have taken their toll as they begin to collapse in on themselves. Just out of Salmon we run across a field serving as a graveyard for tractors, the green, red, and yellow painted instruments of farmers now more decorative than functional. On the other side of the road, a doe and her
We’ve been able to take in the full splendor of this wonderful country of ours during our 2013 Journey to Sturgis.
One day we’re passing the 45th Parallel, the next we’re crossing the Continental Divide as we ride on.
fawn are wading across the river and further up we run across one muletail that didn’t make it across the road.
Pulling into Salmon, an ominous cloud threatens to break out on us and the wind is whipping signs on the town’s main street. I arrive with positive impressions of the Victory Cross Country. Its relaxed riding position, cush seat and big floorboards have provided plenty of room to move my legs around and the tall windscreen has sheltered me well so I’m not feeling beat down at all. I am hungry though, and the vittles cooked up by the crew at The Junkyard Bistro are a pleasant surprise – healthy, tasty ingredients and big portions, just what we all needed.
We hit the road again refreshed and ready to tackle the last stretches to Butte, Montana, our destination for the day. The stretch of US-93 out of Salmon is a pleasant surprise as it rises and winds up the mountain, big sweepers followed by big sweepers. Barry once again is setting a frenetic pace as floorboards are scraping and journalists are grinning as the Victory tourers hold steady up the mountain. In no time we reach MT-43 East as our journey takes us into Big Sky country.
The grassy fields and thick stands of pine on this stretch are the greenest patches we’ve encountered yet. Before long the road descends and opens up to a huge plain, the grasslands stretching in every direction as far as the eye can see. It is the type of landscape you’d expect Montana to be, expansive and wide. The road is flat and traffic is almost non-existent so we unleash a healthy dose of the 1731cc V-Twin’s power. I won’t say exactly how fast we were going, but will say the needles on our gas gauges dropped quickly.
We arrive in Butte with a sliver of sunlight left. The old mining town shows the remains of its boom in the myriad brick buildings and warehouses still standing in the historic downtown district, albeit many of them are vacant. We learn that another of the town’s claims to fame is as the former home of one Evel Knievel. In fact, we are told multiple times how we just missed the city’s biggest celebration, Evel Knievel Days, by one week. Larger-than-life banners with pictures from his heyday still hang on the facades of several buildings.
Reflecting on the day’s ride, it reminds me that while the world is shrinking, we are blessed here in America with big stretches of wide open spaces still. Civilization has not crept into every corner of our country yet, and there’s a handful of places where you can still jump on your motorcycle, crack the throttle WFO, and melt your troubles away. It’s been a good day of riding. Sturgis, here we come.