Weather reports were glum for the next day, and we woke to black skies and pouring rain. We blasted out and started one of the big ascents of the day riding through Vail and Copper Mountain. Temps were a brisk 50 but for the most part my gear worked. My full-face helmet got filled with water as I couldn't see through two pieces of rain-covered lexan. Throughout the day different riders from others in our collective group would appear and disappear, only to find one another again at some small roadside town. Sometime during the day we got word that Ernie Lopez's Uncle Vic had bike problems. Grand Junction Harley-Davidson went above and beyond the call to make sure Vic's Dyna got back on the road.
Rocky Mountain National Park took us up over 12,000 feet with views that are hard to describe. The roughly 50-mile ride through the park climbed above treeline to tundra covered rock. Exiting the park was the town of Estes Park where a group of eager elk was blocking our way into town. Once they all got off the road it was time to unpack again, unwind, and refill the body. Group excitement was getting higher, both because of the amazing ride we 'd experienced to this point and that we were also one day away from South Dakota.
Leaving Colorado, we entered Wyoming. A straight shot across the interstate would lead into SD. Our group got split up again early in the morning and I was left with one other rider, Billy Bartels from BAGGERS magazine. He had some alternate routes that would add a half a day to our ride but took us off the beaten path down some rural two-laners. As we approached the small town of Pringle, SD, a monstrous black cloud shaded the sunlight in front of us. Just as we stopped at the first available shelter, golf ball-sized hail began to fall. Huddled under an awning, we watched the hail cover the ground before giving way to driving rain. Traversing the river in the parking lot, I approached the Ultra to find the chromed dash pockmarked with dents. I can only imagine what would have happened if we were still riding. Thankfully, that would be the worst weather of the entire trip and as soon as it started it quickly turned back to sunshine.
More detours finally led us through Spearfish Canyon just before sunset. It was the perfect end to the 1,600-mile ride before finding the rest of the staff and our rental house. Although I needed rest, there would be none of that. The town of Sturgis is situated in the center of the Rally activities, with dozens of events occurring simultaneously within a 50-mile radius of the small burg. Eric Ellis made sure that my first visit to Sturgis was a good one. We came up with a game plan for the week that would include most of the must see and do things around the Black Hills. His experience helped me organize my time as well as learn shortcuts to get around with ease. A wrong turn could turn a 20 minute jaunt into an hour and 20 minute sit-still experience.
Even with that knowledge, Sturgis was all about riding-clocking 150 miles a day running from bike shows to events to industry parties. Days were long, often 8 a.m. to 2 a.m., and I barely found time to eat. Water was my best friend as the temps hovered around 100 for the entire time. Occasional rain cooled off the air and me just enough. The first day was a getting acquainted with the area day and a search for feature bikes. Walking Main St. at night with ad guy Chris Long, I managed to stumble upon a cool H-D custom from Germany. In a stroke of luck I managed to find Daniel, who built the bike and set up a photo shoot for later in the week. Based on weather and distances, Daniel and I played tag all week until we were finally able to meet up outside Deadwood. We had a ball and it was such a pleasure to hang out and ride with such a cool and talented person.