Life on the frozen tundra of South Dakota Life on the frozen tundra of South Dakota

07/11/2008 Through 07/15/2008

07/11/2008 Through 07/15/2008

I waited until what seemed to be the last possible minute before deciding where I should take this year's trip. I had toyed with several options, but every time I came up with a good idea I would run into a snag. I was still limited to four days, and with gas prices the way they are (hovering around $4 per gallon at the time of this writing) I was going to need to keep my expenditures modest.

I've heard rave reviews about Glacier National Park and would love to make a trip to tour that park. I hear the Going To The Sun Road is breathtaking. Once I grabbed my map however, I could see that it would be difficult to squeeze that trip into four days and actually have enough time to enjoy the sights. GNP seemed like a five-day minimum trip, and preferably six days to slow down and consume some of the other features the area has to offer.

I then came up with an idea to head up through Duluth, MN into Canada, over the top of lake Superior and catch the Ludington, MI to Manitowac, WI ferry back across lake Michigan. This trip also looks like it has some potential, however due to the ferry schedule, I determined that I would have two extremely long days in the saddle, followed by two fairly light days. This wasn't a deal-breaker as I am used to long days in the saddle, but it didn't leave me much room for cushion should something go wrong. Three days to get to the ferry would have been more comfortable and fun. Plus, the ferry ride isn't cheap and would add to the expense of the trip.

The idea of Canada was intriguing, as I had never been there. I thought heading north into Winnepeg, then over to Thunder Bay and down to Duluth would be a neat little trip. In addition, I don't personally know anyone who has ridden their motorcycles into Canada (most of my friends aren't allowed to leave the country, but that's another story) and I thought that would be a neat novelty. However, now Canada requires a passport to enter and I procrastinated long enough on my decision until it was too late to get one in time for the ride.

So the next thing I knew it was late June, my trip was scheduled for July, and I still had not made a decision on where to go.

After doing some thumbing through my atlas, and based on memories of previous trips through the state, I thought Arkansas showed promise as a good destination. After doing some web searching I discovered that many riders list Arkansas as the best motorcycle state in the country. That's a pretty high standard, but I figure if it even came close to what was described it would be a good trip. Plus my life was getting so hectic and stressful and I was in such need of a break that I-80 across Nebraska was starting to sound appealing (if you haven't made that ride you won't get that joke: it may be the dullest stretch of interstate in the world.)

So I set my sights on Arkansas and started working on a route. The first thing I noticed was that Arkansas has a lot of roads! Two years ago when I planned my trip through Wyoming it was relatively easy because there are only five roads in the whole state. The map of Arkansas looks like a circuit board. Knowing which roads to take was a daunting endeavor, so I turned to some internet motorcycling forums and a brochure published by the Arkansas department of travel and got some ideas for scenic roads and sights.

Planning my route took a long time. There were just so many recommended roads and areas that there was no way I could see them all in just four days. I finally came up with what I felt was a decent route that would allow me to ride quite a bit of the recommended roads. As an added bonus, I worked it out so that this trip would take me into four new states that I hadn't ridden in before (Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas.)

My original plan was to leave on July 4th and be back the night of the 7th. This means that I would be on the road on the 4th of July, which my wife wasn't overly happy about but was willing to live with it. Going on this day would have meant that I would only have to take two days off of work (my vacation time is quite limited) which would include a recovery/emergency cushion day after I got back.

However, a work project I was involved in had been originally scheduled to end on the 2nd. This project's deadline got extended and I discovered that taking time off during this week wouldn't make things easier for me in the long run. So, I postponed my trip one week to leave on July 11th. This would require that I take an additional day of vacation, but it would also mean that I could be home on the 4th. In addition, it would also mean I could take my son on an overnight camping trip that holiday weekend. In the end, I decided it was the better decision.

As I mentioned previously, money was a factor on this trip. I've never been swimming in cash, and with the price of fuel steadily streaming upwards I was scratching my head on how to keep this trip within my budget. Earlier in the year I had picked up a cheap tent for my son and I to use for overnight excursions in nearby state parks. I decided if I camped instead of stay in hotels I could save myself a significant amount of money. A $15 per night campsite versus a $80 (if I'm lucky) per night hotel over the course of several nights would add up to significant savings. I proposed my idea to my wife who promptly responded with "Are you nuts? Do you know how hot it gets in Arkansas in July?"

I admit that at the end of a hard day's ride it's nice to lay down in a soft bed with the air conditioner whirring away. However, if you ever want me to do something, tell me that it can't be done. The idea of toughing it out for four days in a hot tent after spending the whole day rolling up miles in the blistering heat just made me feel like a real biker (whatever that is.) Plus I'm cheap and I can't deny that fact.

I've camped out a handful of times in my life, but I'm by no means an experienced outdoorsman. I've never camped via motorcycle before, and the limited amount of packing space on a bike presented a challenge. I spent a little time reading up on camping via motorcycle and garnered a few tips. One of the tips is to not pack food, but purchase it as needed each day. I decided to go one step further and just eat out, rather than trying to bring cookware with me. I would have been eating out in the hotel room anyway.

A few days prior to leaving I came up with a crazy idea: What if on the fourth day I only return as far as Omaha. Then my wife and son could drive from Sioux Falls to Omaha on that day as well. We could stay the night in a hotel room (they wouldn't go for the tent idea) and we could spend the next day at the Omaha zoo, before returning to Sioux Falls the evening of the fifth night. If you've never been to the Henry Doorly zoo in Omaha, then you should plan on it sometime. It is world class.

My wife and son thought this sounded like a great idea. Of course this would cost more money, but I figured out that the money I saved on hotel rooms the previous three nights would pay for the hotel room in Omaha, their gas to get there and back and our admission into the zoo.

Unfortunately, this would also mean I would spend my "recovery" day off of work actually on the road, but the more I thought about it the more I figured I wasn't giving much up. I mean, how many times do I actually get to rest when I'm sitting at home? It seems either the phone is ringing or I have a honey-do list or the guilt of all the things I "should" be doing gets so great that I succumb. So I decided a day at the zoo with the family would be as restful as things get for me.

A few days prior to leaving I started to make preparations. I did a "dry run" on packing the bike, with my empty luggage, tent and sleeping bag. I tried a couple of ideas on where to put different things until I finally settled on the simple "just pile it on the passenger pillion" method that I used. I did a couple of service items on the bike to make sure it was ready. Normally I wash the bike before leaving on a trip, but it was still pretty clean from the last time I washed it so I decided it was "good enough."

The night before I left I packed up the bike, laid out my clothes and showered so that in the morning I would be ready to go as soon as I woke up. I wanted to be on the road by 6 AM. I made it to bed about 11:00, which is pretty good for me the night before a trip, and set my alarm for 5:00 AM.

Continue on to day one...

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