(This story comes to us from Juan Hernandez, a Motoworks Chicago customer, moto photographer and perennial long-distance motorcycle tourer. Before setting off on the grand adventure below, Juan brought his 2007 Ducati Multistrada to us for new tires and some pre-trip maintenance.)
I spent last winter slowly reading One the Road by Jack Kerouac, and found myself contemplating an epic motorcycle ride across the country. I would daydream on the Blue Line about Sal’s adventures out west. Like Sal, the narrator and protagonist in On the Road, I had already made several trips across the country myself. The more I read, I found it impossible not to relate with Sal. We both had an insatiable appetite for adventures and the will to make them happen. Midway through the book, I decided to stop reading and create an adventure of my own. That’s when the planning began.
Having already ridden Route 66 and the Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia, I was looking for something different. I wanted to cover a lot of ground and I wanted to see as much as I could. I finally decided on a nationwide tour of National Parks that I’ve not previously visited. The plan was making sense, since it would take me as far North as Washington State and then South to California. This would allow me to cover a lot of land West of Chicago. I decided to call it The Roosevelt Tour, after President Teddy Roosevelt, who was an adventurer himself and for his role in founding the National Parks, starting with Yellowstone.
When summer came, it was time to pull the trigger on my trip, but I didn’t want to just go for the weekend. I needed more than just a couple weeks. I wanted real time on the open road. So I decided to quit my comfy advertising job and head out West for two months. Mid-July rolled around. I put in my notice, hopped on my Ducati Multistrada and set off on my adventure. Yet I wasn’t on my own. I was accompanied by my sister and her husband for the first leg of the trip.
The first stop was Badlands National Park in South Dakota. Getting there from Chicago took two days. Route 20 was uneventful for the most part, but the mid-summer heat was brutal. The temperatures hovered above 105º F the whole time, and at first I was worried my air-cooled Multistrada was going to overheat and start burning oil. It didn’t, but turned out I was the one overheating. I needed to stop every 60-80 minutes to rehydrate.
Riding through that remote scenery just before sunset was surreal. The pointy mountain formations looked like fake scenery from a sci-fi movie. We stopped and decided to go on a hike to see some of these formations up close. Changing out of my riding boots, I thoughtlessly stepped on the hot concrete with my bare foot. Ouch! Not very smart. It felt like I had planted my foot on a hot skillet.
Walking through the countryside, we made our way toward these alien-like formations. With the hot sun still burning from above, we only managed to hike about a mile before having to turn back. We were also running out of drinking water, so it was time to find the visitor center to fill up. As hot as the sun was, we were actually running out of light and still had more than 30 miles of gravel road between us and our remote camping site.
That 30 miles of gravel road would turn out to be one of the best roads I’ve ever ridden. Just two days into my adventure and the bar had already been set. That road was truly that amazing. It’s hard-packed and well maintained so I didn’t need a dirt bike. This road could really be accessed by pretty much any type of motorcycle. With the yellowish-green grasslands and the long, curvy road snaking west into the sunset, it made me feel like Charlie Boorman and Ewan McGreggor weren’t far behind. The free-roaming Bison and Pronghorns give me the sensation like I had ridden through a time portal. More than just a road, this little stretch was truly an amazing experience.
Reality set in quite quickly once we were in the campsite. A barrage of mosquitoes engulfed every inch of exposed skin. Bug repellent was as useless as tits on a bull. There was only one option left: wearing my full motorcycle suit and helmet on a 85º night.
After our cold beer, beef jerky and chips dinner, we called it a night. So far out in the sticks, night was truly dark and the sky was full of stars. We could see The Milky Way in all its glory, so I decided to leave my rain fly off my tent. Looking up into the galaxy, out in the middle of nowhere, luxuries were few, but no five star hotel can provide such a feeling.
After a few hours of sleep, I was awakened by coyotes howling and a lightning-and-thunder show like I have never experienced. There was a big storm brewing and our campsite was in its path. I quickly got out of the tent and put the rain fly back on my tent, and the storm rolled just seconds after. The rain was actually a refreshing event as the temperature cooled off quite a bit. I slowly fell back to sleep with the sounds of rain and thunder still echoing in the distance.
At sunrise I awoke to find a herd of bison grazing just 20 yards from my tent. Where was I? This doesn’t happen in Chicago. Looking around the landscape, I realized that I’d gone after adventure and had definitely found it. It got me thinking about the name of the area. I say the Badlands are not so bad after all.
The next day we set off to the black hills.
To be continued…