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A ride 17 years in the making

Monday, August 28, 2017   (7 Comments)
Posted by: Mark Ostern #193984

I have not always been a patient man, but 30 years in the military and parenthood must have transformed me. The following story was 17 years in the making and very much worth the wait. I have been blessed beyond belief to have a wife and two beautiful children that love to ride almost as much as I do. In 2001, my wife Connie and I bought a Harley-Davidson Road King Classic. That same year our son Mason (age 4 at the time) got his first Harley, albeit the electric version equipped with saddle bags, horn and realistic engine sounds.

In the beginning, I had purchased a children's harness that securely attached the kids to me. The harness worked like a charm and kept them from falling off, nap time would occur shortly after we started rolling. It must be a genetic thing because my wife naps while riding as well. Fortunately, she has not fallen off either, no harness required.

Let's fast forward to 2010, Mason is 13 and as all teenagers do, he decided to test his dad. "Dad, can I ride the Road King?" Fully expecting the laugh followed by the no, you can imagine his surprise when I said, "Sure, why not." You can also imagine the look I got from my parents who had stopped by for a visit. I am certain they must have thought that I had lost my mind. Just as Mason was getting his helmet on, my wife Connie appears and asks, "What's going on?"

Naturally, I calmly responded; "Nothing, Mason is just going to take the Harley for a spin." Keep in mind Mason had been riding dirt bikes for a couple of years and was a good rider, and also keep in mind, we live in a small community. He wasn't going to get out of first gear.

At age 14, Mason got his motorcycle permit and quickly took over the Road King. We shared the Road King for a while but eventually it became clear that if we were going to ride together I would need my own bike. Out of necessity I was forced to purchase a new 2013 BMW K 1600 GTL. No need to feel sorry for me, these are the types of sacrifices that any good father would make for his family.

Here is the part I had been waiting 17 years for - my patience had paid off. The summer of 2014, Mason and I began planning our first true bike trip together. We planned a pretty aggressive five-day, 2,000-mile trip with a lot of stops along the way.

Our first leg of the trip started at around 8:00 am on the 6th of August. We took off from our home in Fargo, North Dakota, riding West on I-94 with Miles City, Montana as our destination. We stopped every hour and a half or so to get fuel for the bikes and fuel for the teenager. 465 miles later we arrived in Miles City just in time for dinner. We were both proud and excited to have successfully completed our first day.

Red Lodge, Montana was our destination for our second day. By design, our second day was to be a shorter ride so we could spend some time hanging out in Red Lodge and do some fishing in the local streams. Not sure why I thought this was a good idea, I am not a fisherman (more to follow). We headed out of Miles City at 9:00 am for our 200-mile trek to Red Lodge. Along the way, we came across a sign for the Little Bighorn Battlefield, also known as Custer's Last Stand. Although it added a few hours to our day, it was well worth the detour and offered a good look and explanation of the battle. Markers had been placed where members of the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, Arapaho tribes and Soldiers of the 7th Cavalry Regiment had died during the battle, which offered some perspective to the battle. We finally arrived in Red Lodge about 3:00 pm, checked into the Alpine Lodge and headed out for a bit of fishing. Remember, I am not a fisherman.

Before we departed Fargo, I had purchased a couple of compact travel fishing rods that fit into our bags along with bait casting reels. Clearly this was a mistake, as I found out later there is a trick to using the bait casting reels that keeps the line from spooling crazily upon casting. After a couple of hours of fending off mosquitoes and cutting line from my reel, I had had enough. Not to mention I didn't have enough line left on my reel to continue fishing even if I wanted to. Mason did not put up much of an argument as he had spent a fair amount of time in and out of the water either chasing his hat downstream or rescuing a snagged lure. Thankfully, we did not have to rely on our fishing skills to survive. We found a great little restaurant in Red Lodge, had some dinner and hit the hay.

Friday morning Larry and Trish, the owners of the Alpine Lodge, got up early and cooked us a fabulous breakfast out on the patio. Well, not just for us, the rest of the guests were there as well. Offering a wide variety of freshly cooked breakfast items, Mason and I opted for the biscuits and gravy. After breakfast, we headed South on Highway 212, we snaked and climbed our way up to the 10,947-foot peak of Bear Tooth Pass. Taking a break half way up the mountain we admired the view and fed the fat little chipmunks that had clearly become friendly with the tourists long before we got there. At the top, Bear Tooth Pass offered a near perfect 50-degree day, a little snow on the ground and even more unbelievable views. We snapped a few photos and began the descent down the Bear Tooth Highway towards Cooke City, stopping at the Top of the World Store for a quick snack.

We took another detour once we got into Yellowstone National Park and spent some time at the Mt. Washburn fire tower. The tower was being manned by volunteers who were staying on site for a couple of weeks. After a quick explanation and lesson, we were confident we could triangulate the position of a, would be fire, and save the park for future generations. Thankfully our new-found skills where not put into use. While there, we took in the magnificent 360-degree views and of course more pictures. This time, we got a shot of us and our bikes in the same pose that we had been in back in 2002, me and my new Road King and Mason and his new electric Harley. What a day! We left the fire tower and headed towards Cody, Wyoming, via the Grand Loop Road in Yellowstone National Park. The weather could have been better, but we didn't care, we were on our first bike trip and our next stop was Old Faithful.

Cold and a little wet from a light rain, we parked the bikes and made our way over to Old Faithful. We found our spot and proceeded to wait, along with hundreds of fellow tourists. To our amusement, as we waited we watched tourist after tourist with umbrellas walk in front of other unsuspecting geyser watchers and block their view. At times, we thought there were going to be a few physical confrontations, but civility prevailed. It all seemed pretty funny until it happened to us. Looking at each other, we both stepped around and in front of the umbrella bearing gentleman and resumed the wait, which culminated in a small but rewarding victory for geyser watchers everywhere. Right on cue Old Faithful put on a show for the masses, shooting steam and water high into the air. After the show, we continued our way through the park, keeping a close eye on traffic, as it frequently and quickly stopped to watch the herds of buffalo, a number of elk, and a fox.

We departed Yellowstone with fond memories and headed into the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming, again climbing and winding our way up yet another mountain side. We stopped at several rest areas just to take in the scenery. One in particular that stands out was the Shell Falls Interpretive Site where we celebrated Smokey the Bear's 75th Birthday with complementary Teddy Grahams. We worked our way down the Big Horn Mountain and finished up our day in Cody. The days ride was only 230 miles but with the many stops and slow windy mountain roads, it was lengthy. By the time we got to the Buffalo Bill Village Cabins in Cody, we were both ready for a good night's sleep. The next morning, we spoke with the manager who had done some extensive research on the property and it turns out the cabins where some of the first lodging facilities in Cody. Originally set alongside the rodeo and fairgrounds, a portion of the property has since been sold off but still a cool place to stay.

Saturday morning we had breakfast, saddled up, hopped on Highway 16 and headed East, towards Sheridan, Wyoming, with Pierre, South Dakota, as our final destination for the day. Once we hit highway 90, we cranked the throttle and headed for Sturgis, South Dakota. We spent just a couple of hours in Sturgis, long enough for a couple of $12 chicken kabobs and a couple of $20 root beers. This was the last day of Sturgis, there were still quite a few bikes to look at but most of the vendors were packing up. We got back on the bikes and started the last leg of the day towards Pierre.

Having not taken this route before, it did not take me long to figure out that fuel might be a problem. Not so much for the GTL with its seven-gallon tank, but the Harley needed to stop every hour and a half at the most. I made every attempt not to pass up a gas pump. However, many that we came across had not been used in years. Rain was all around us, in particular, a big wall of water directly in front of us and day light was quickly becoming history. As we watched the fuel gauges creep towards empty and darkness setting in for the night, we needed to find a working gas pump.

We passed a place called T-34 that looked pretty dark as we passed, but I saw a couple of gas pumps. Not knowing how far the next gas station was, I figured we had better turn around and check to see if they were open. Not a car in the lot, and the place looked pretty dark, but the pumps seemed to be functioning so I went inside just as the owners were shutting down. "T" if you're reading this thanks for turning the pumps back on and fixing us a couple of sandwiches. Am certain we would not have made it to the next pump, and probably would have been camped out in your lot over-night. Outside T34 there sits a semi-trailer with hundreds of signatures on it. "T" makes sure that all patrons take a few moments to add their signature to the tradition. With full tanks and bellies we grabbed a black sharpie and found the perfect spot to sign our names. If you stop by there you can find our names on the ladder steps attached to the side of the trailer. Once complete we cranked up the bikes and headed for Pierre. Once again, after a great, but long day of riding, we were ready to give the bikes a rest.

The final day involved working our way to Watertown, South Dakota, for our connection to a long, flat, and basically straight stretch of highway known as I-29. Although, not the longest portion of the trip, it sure seemed like it. We got back to Fargo around 5:00 pm, just in time for my great-niece Harlee's 5th birthday party.

Thus ends the story that I have been waiting seventeen years to write, fortunately I will not have to wait another seventeen. Mason and I have already begun plans for next year's ride, perhaps to the East coast to visit an old friend that I have not seen in decades.


Michael L. Yandel says...
Posted Monday, September 4, 2017
Excellent account of your journey. Sounds great. I'll follow when I can.
Dan Crawford says...
Posted Saturday, September 2, 2017
Really enjoyed your story. My son and I went on a trip from Idaho to the Grand Canyon last year and it is among my most treasured memories. Thank you for sharing the experience.
Larry Venezia says...
Posted Monday, August 28, 2017
Great story. Thanks for taking the time to put it together and share. Your story represents a dream many dads have of taking a similar trip with their child or children.
David Henderson says...
Posted Monday, August 28, 2017
The story brings back memories of the Bear Tooth, Red Lodge, and the Pollard Hotel. Gail and I did about the same trip a few years ago and loved every mile. We ride an R1200RT, now with 87,000 miles on it. And we will be heading west next July to Ring Lake Ranch in Dubois, WY. Great country, great times, good people. My daughters do not ride, but I am hoping,(with the help of a similar electric Harley) that my grandchildren will ride. David Henderson MOA #44679
Frank M. Kaiser says...
Posted Monday, August 28, 2017
Great story! Reminds me of the first trip with my son in 2009. He just got his endorsement and motorcycle a few months prior to leaving on a 4 week, 8,000 mile trip. We left Ohio and road out west, to the southwest and back. Covering many of the same roads that you did. I have ridden on many trips since then, but that one was the most memorable.
Wm. D. Davidson Jr. says...
Posted Monday, August 28, 2017
Nice piece of writing and brings back many good memories of my trip to Billings and the Bear Tooth and Tetons, Yellowstone and back to Michigan, the only thin missing was I did it Solo. Wm Davidson Jr. MOA - AMA Life - Hog Life - RA #42641
John Barge says...
Posted Monday, August 28, 2017
Awesome story! Makes me wish my son was a motorcyclist. Great writing too. Maybe you could write about your next ride. John Barge

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