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The Culbertson Guidon -- Custer's Last Stand

Last Friday marked the 134th anniversary of the battle.

I’m talking about The Battle of the Little Bighorn, also known as Custer’s Last Stand.  It claimed, 263 soldiers, including Lt. Col. George A. Custer and attached personnel of the U.S. Army, who died fighting several thousand Lakota, and Cheyenne warriors led by Sitting Bull.  They fought for their land near what’s now Crow Agency, MT when the government tried to drive the Indians off the land after white settlers discovered gold there. The Black Hills in southeastern Montana (present day South Dakota) were declared Indian land in the late 1860s.

A single swallowtail flag – or Guidon – is one of the few artifacts found from the battle.  Guidons served as battlefield beacons marking company positions.  The victorious Indians stripped the corpses of trophies, but missed the bloodstained flag, which was hidden under the body of a soldier.  The Culbertson Guidon as it’s called was recovered by Sergeant Ferdinand Culbertson, a member of a burial party.  It was sold for $54 in 1895 to the Detroit Institute of Arts who has now decided to sell it and use the proceeds to build its collection. The flag has been valued at $2 million to $5 million and will be auctioned sometime in October by Sotheby’s.

If you’re headed to the Sturgis Rally then the battlefield is a must see stop.  It’s at the junction of I-90 and Hwy 212 and today the Little Bighorn National Monument offers up a wide range of activities and interpretive opportunities. I was there about 3 years ago and blogged about HERE.  The Forest Rangers provide talks about the battle and there are a number of related items presented in the Visitor Center.  I remember most an obelisk which commemorates the U.S. Army dead, and marks the spot of the mass grave where all U.S. soldiers were re-buried.

Tribal Sites: Crow TribeArikara TribeSioux TribesCheyenne Tribehttp://www.c-a-tribes.org/

Photo of flag courtesy of Sotheby’s.

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The U.S. motorcycle market endured some tough times as a whole in 2009.  According to recently released industry sales figures U.S. motorcycle sales declined 41% this past year, however, a couple northwest Harley-Davidson dealers were named among the Top 100:

MONTANABeartooth Harley-Davidson/Hi Mountain Recreation (Billings)
WASHINGTONDowntown Harley-Davidson Renton (Renton)

Non-Harley dealers in Oregon – Bend Euro Moto (Bend), Moto Corsa (Portland) were named to the Top 100 along with Renton Motorcycles (Renton), Skagit Powersports (Burlington), and South Sound Motorcycles (Fife) all based in Washington.  Interestingly there were no dealers from Idaho, Utah or Nevada.

The Annual Top 100 Awards is a juried competition that recognizes dealerships for the achievements in retail design and merchandising, e-commerce, customer service, community involvement and general business management. More information on the competition can be found HERE.

Congrats!

Photo courtesy of Advanstar Communications Inc.

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Hamsters Logo on Fuel Tank

Hamsters Logo on Fuel Tank

In the Andes, guinea pigs have a festival devoted to them, which includes contests for the biggest, fastest and best-dressed furry friend.  A Hamster fest has yet to be founded, unless you’re thinking of the motorcycle group?!

The Hamsters’ Motorcycle Club (HMC) is an elite and somewhat secret group of motorcycle riders.  Charter members were Arlen Ness, Dave Perewitz, Donnie Smith, Ed Kerr, Jim Leahy, Barry Cooney and Steve Allington.  A who’s who of the motorcycle industry!  It began in 1978 at Daytona Bike Week.   As the story goes Jim “Jimmy” Leahy and others were in the Mystic Sea Hotel.  They were taking a nap and when they woke up no one was around.  No money, no food and peeved about being ditched Jimmy started calling them Hamsters.  He drew pictures of Hamsters on a bunch of paper plates and wrote Hamsters M/C on each of them.  Before placing them on doors he personalized the names of the charter members.  The idea was it would aggravate his posse, but instead they all laughed about it and the name stuck.  Jimmy went and had black shirts with white letters made up that said Hamsters M/C.  Later the MC was dropped and they call themselves enthusiasts.

Hamster_LogoThe rodent stuck as the mascot which graces bright yellow t-shirts.  The club is selective about new members, but it includes blue collar workers to doctors.  You don’t just join the club.  You must ride with the group 6-7 years and then you’ll receive an invitation to join. There are now 240 members with chapters as far away as Italy, England and Japan.  These days the Hamsters are about as opposite you can get from the outlaw bad guy clubs.

It takes three things to become a Hamsters member:

  1. Owning a custom bike
  2. Riding a custom bike to South Dakota’s Sturgis rally with the group, at least two years in a row
  3. Receiving an invitation to join by another member

The Hamsters have ridden to Sturgis for 25 consecutive years and never followed the same route.  The Spearfish Holiday Inn has served as the Hamsters’ headquarters for several years although approximately 20+ Hamsters purchased townhouses behind the hotel known as Hamster Hill Lane.  The annual dues are $100 and Hamsters who don’t attend at least one function each year are voted out.  Some years there are no new members allowed into the club. Some years there are as many as seven. The average is two.

The Hamsters are famous for a lot things, but two notable items I wanted to bring to your attention is the Hulett Ham-n-Jam in the land of no overpasses (Wyoming on the way to Devil’s Tower) and their generosity and major fundraising for charitable functions.  Many of the Hamsters are world-renowned motorcycle and motorcycle parts builders who donate items to be auctioned off at charity events.  The group’s generosity and ability to raise funds/donations is staggering.

I would be negligent if I didn’t also mention the high profile and weird coincidence of Bruce Rossmeyer (Daytona H-D) and Clifton “Click” Baldwin (Carolina H-D).  Both Harley-Davidson dealer owners, both on the way to the Sturgis Rally riding from dealer meetings, both members of the Hamsters Motorcycle Club/Group, both in deadly motorcycle accidents (Wyoming and Montana respectively) while passing a vehicle turning left on a two lane country highway.  Both passed away one year apart, neither were wearing helmets and both accidents were reportedly misjudgments.  It’s truly sad and a tremendous loss for the communities and families.

I’m reminded of the prophetic Marvin Gaye song “Brother, brother, brother…there’s far too many of you dying…”  Let’s hope for better days ahead…

Photo of courtesy of Hamsters.

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St. Mary Lake - Glacier

St. Mary Lake - Glacier

If you’ve never driven a motorcycle on the Going-to-the-Sun road it’s clearly one of the top 10 national park experiences you should have.

We rolled out early on the “Sun Road,” as it’s known, and were treated to views that exceeded the Canadian Rockies.  Largely because the cloud coverage made way for some spectacular open air views in the various pull outs.  There is significantly less traffic (shuttle buses and tourists) when traversing the park East to West.   We didn’t have to contend with crowds at any of the prime view pullouts.

H-D on the "Sun Road" - Glacier

H-D on the "Sun Road" - Glacier

From pockets of thick, forest lining the many lakes to Logan Pass to the mountain-goat-crowded alpine high country and then back down to West Glacier on the park’s western border…  the road offers a visual assortment of outdoor views that anyone will enjoy.  The “Sun Road,” which initially was called the “Transmountain Highway,” rolls through the Crown of the Continent and offers up some road entertainment.   It’s narrow, precipitous in places, and in a constant state of repair due to the annual freeze-thaw cycle.

Glacier Mountain Flowers

Glacier Mountain Flowers

It wasn’t always clear that the “Sun Road” would follow its current path. There were debates over the best routing of a cross-park road. Some wanted it to run all the way to Waterton Lakes in British Columbia, and others were arguing for it to go by Gunsight Pass.  In the end the U.S. Bureau of Public Roads (the precursor to today’s Federal Highway Administration) decided the current route made the most sense. Once that decision was made, National Park Service landscape architects worked with Bureau of Public Roads engineers to, as much as possible, blend the road into the mountain environment.  The road is truly an engineering marvel and is a National Historic Landmark.  It spans about 50 miles through the parks interior and winds around mountainsides and cliffs.  Planners insisted that the bridges, retaining walls, and guardrails be made of native materials and to this day that mind-set prevails.

Logan Pass - Glacier National Park

Logan Pass - Glacier National Park

We pulled off at the Logan Pass visitor center.  This area is pinched tightly between Clements Mountain and the southern tip of the Garden Wall, and offers up terrific views that carries the Continental Divide through the park’s interior. Farther north are the bulk of the park’s glaciers and you soon realize that it would take a lifetime to really know everything that the park has to offer.  Many of the park visitors motor up the pass aboard a Red Jammer, one of Glacier’s renowned fire engine-red, open-air touring buses that debuted in 1937.  Supposedly they gained their nickname for the way drivers “jammed” their way through the gears.

The Red Jammer

The Red Jammer

We made our way down to West Glacier where it looks like time has stood still in this remote corner of Montana.  The log buildings haven’t changed much since they were built in 1938.  Any “inappropriate development” has been curtailed and the village has maintain its historic character.  There was a lunch break in Kalispell and we had a great drive along Flathead Lake and rolling farmlands.  The weather was comfortable as scattered clouds floated along the mountain range.  We were making good time for a layover in Missoula.

Flathead Lake

Flathead Lake

Just after St. Ignatius we connected with Hwy 200 and about 20 miles prior to I-90 we hit major road construction.  It was as if the contractor won every bid to re-surface the road, rebuild water culverts and widen bridges.  It was massive and to be candid riding a weighted down motorcycle on very loose and deep gravel was intense.  The “Motorcycles Use Extreme Caution” was an understatement!

We finally arrived in Missoula and met up with the other half of the posse from when we split paths in Canada.  Dinner and refreshments at MacKenzie River Pizza Company was a great break as we compared riding route and construction stories.

The next morning all I could think of was — No forest fires here!

Road Construction

Road Construction

This is usually the season for hot, dust-dry and smokey air in Western Montana.  Maybe an occasional thunder shower with little rain, but lots of fire-starting lightening.  However, our Missoula departure was met with flash-flood pouring rain.  We’re talking a wet-to-the-bone soaker!  Even with a full-face helmet it was miserable as we experienced 167 miles of heavy rain on I-90.  It didn’t stop until we exited in Coeur D’ Alene and was a half-hour into eating our lunch at a Denny’s!  I experienced for the first time rain gear seepage and damp jeans.  WTF?!  Sure that amount of rain qualifies as a season-ending event to the wildfires, but it was so intense and broad across the state that even I was looking for a culprit… maybe that hydrocarbon use is REALLY to blame for the glacier shortening and sea level rise which in turn effected the rings around the sun and the atmospheric motorcycle riding conditions in Montana?  A quick iPhone WeatherBug scan indicated that Spokane was at the edge of any possible rain and we decided it was time to head as directly as possible to sunnier sky’s.  By the time we hit Ritzville then south on Hwy395 toward the tri-cities it was re-hydration time and the layers started to peel off.  After several more wind surfing riding hours through the gorge we made it home.

Posse Pizza Dinner

Posse Pizza Dinner

A couple of closing thoughts on this great 8-day, ~2000 mile ride. The internet is for sharing.  It’s where we go to reveal our thoughts and describe experiences.  When going on a motorcycle road trip you encounter an array of fascinating landscapes, people and structures.  This trip brought with it some weather challenges for which we were mostly prepared and we adjusted to them.  There was also a lot of terrific riding, fun and now a historical travelogue.  At the end of the day, when you get home, it’s about having a few moments away from the daily routine and being able to share those memories with friends and family.  Thanks to the posse for a great time!

The 107 to 47 Journey — Part One HERE; Part Two HERE; Part Three HERE

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Banff Departure - Wet and Cold

Banff Departure - Wet and Cold

When rain begins flowing off the front and back of your motorcycle helmet you can’t help but have a dampened riding spirit, but there is a saying in Alberta… “If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute.”

Well we waited several minutes, but the early morning departure out of Banff didn’t change the hard cold facts.  It was 47 degrees and wet!   Where did this damn winter weather come from?   Indeed there were ominous black clouds circling around the town and after we fueled up and traveled 10 minutes down the road they busted loose.  We were not caught unaware.  Parking under an overpass we climbed into full rain gear.  Yet, the steady downpour seemed to soak everything.

Frank Slide - Frank, Alberta

Frank Slide - Frank, Alberta

We determined our rain gear was worth every penny, but hardly a fashion statement as we fumbled around trying to get it all on.  They are typically a bit musty smelly after being rolled up for months, heavy to wear and somewhat long, but they did the trick and kept us dry.  The good news in all of this?   After about 30 minutes and before we reached Radium Hot Springs the rain was history, the road had dried out and we spent time discussing wildlife (Coyote, Deer etc) seen in route through Kootenay National Park.  Despite being named after a radioactive element the hot springs has none and is has the largest pool of 103 degree water in Canada.  As cold as the day started it was most difficult not to check in and grab a few hours in the hot spring!

Border - Chief Mountain

Border - Chief Mountain

Exiting Radium the posse split up.  Part of the crew wanted to travel more miles and make it to the “Going to the Sun Road” in St. Mary, Montana.  Others wanted to steer clear of any rain and elected to navigate toward a more southerly and warmer route to Cranbrook and then to Missoula, MT.

We were part of the “more miles” crew and the cold weather limited our sightseeing and photo stops, but a couple items stood out.  First was the Frank Slide in Frank, Alberta.  Frank is a coal mining town in the Crowsnest Pass.  Back in the early 1900’s the east side of Turtle Mountain broke free and the slab of limestone rock covered 1.5 miles destroying most of the town and killing 76 people.  It’s now a regional tourist attraction.  The second was tucked away in the rugged mountains — the little town of Fernie, BC.  It is fully encircled by the Rocky Mountains and has a ski resort (Fernie Alpine Resort) with the highest annual snowfall of any resort in the Canadian Rockies.

St. Mary Lodge and Resort - St. Mary, MT

St. Mary Lodge and Resort - St. Mary, MT

We crossed the Elk River, home of the cutthroat trout and forged on toward Pincher Creek, Twin Butte and through the Waterton Lakes National Park.  Finally we rolled into the U.S. border crossing at the tiny Chief Mountain Alberta/Montana outpost on Highway 6 (Alberta) and Highway 17 (Montana).  After riding for hours in very remote, very wooded and very sparsely populated areas, one is reminded that you’re on the world’s longest undefended border. It’s a catchy yet increasingly imprecise term for the U.S.-Canada frontier.  The northern border is mostly out of the spotlight.  As authorities on both sides ratchet up efforts to curb bustling traffic in illegal drugs and guns it’s odd that the U.S.-Mexico border draws far more attention — and more American resources.  But again I’ve wandered…

St. Mary Lodge Cabin

St. Mary Lodge Cabin

At about 6pm local we arrived at the Saint Mary Lodge on junction Hwy89 and the “Going to the Sun Road” which runs through Glacier National Park (Montana).  It was a long riding day.  Fortunately we’d made reservations weeks in advance and secured the remaining cabins vs. a replica Indian tepee.  The place was fully booked!  There was no cell phone service and the Hughes Net Satellite internet was malfunctioning… so, we were off the tweet grid!  Side note: if you plan to go this route an alternative is to stay in Pincher Creek, Alberta where they had several motels and you won’t have to make reservations months in advance for the Park service lodge. Had we known this we would have avoided the rustic cabin adventure.

After grabbing some fairly good grub at the Snowgoose Grill we crashed with four TV channels looking forward to the next days ride through Glacier park.

The 107 to 47 Journey – Part One HERE; Part Two HERE; Part Four HERE.

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Hazy Smoke Filled Ride

Hazy Smoke Filled Ride

We set out of Kelowna on BC97 along the lakeside, leaving both town and slow moving traffic behind. The hazy smoke filled skyline followed.

The road twisted and turned making for a spectacular ride with great views.  In the town of Sicamous the hazy smoke subsided as we headed east on the green and white maple leaf highway marked as the Trans-Canada Highway — also known as Hwy1.  Just prior to Revelstoke we passed through Craigellachie which is the site of the “last spike” completing the original Canadian transcontinental railroad back in the late 1800’s.

Avalanche "Sheds"

Avalanche "Sheds"

When riding, you never know what is around each bend, many of which are around rock faces, so there may be fallen rock or wildlife on the road.  But, on the other hand, you need to relax and mix riding with taking in the view which we did as we traveled along Hwy1 through Revelstoke and passed through the Selkirk Mountains and Glacier National Park (Canada).  At the summit we stopped at Rodgers Pass.  There are a number of snow sheds and earth dams used to protect the highway from avalanches and the area is home to the largest mobile avalanche program in Canada.

Rodgers Pass

Rodgers Pass

At Golden we connected with the junction of Hwy95 which is west of Lake Louise and passed through Yoho National Park.  It runs along the southern-most part of the Canadian Rockies just west of BC and the Alberta border.   At Kicking Horse Pass we rolled over the continental divide and the Spiral Railway Tunnels.  They were built to increase the length of the railway track and reduce the grade as trains made their way up a considerable ascent.  Sometimes called the “Big Hill” it had a ruling gradient of 4.5%…one of the steepest in North America prior to the Spiral Tunnels opening in 1909.

Banff, Alberta

Banff, Alberta

Alberta’s Mountain Parks are the jewel of the Canadian Rockies.  Approximately 7600 sq miles of preserved wilderness it’s easy to see spectacular scenery, watch wildlife and enjoy what has made the area famous.  We rode by the Weeping Wall, a massive limestone cliff with a number of waterfalls seeping out.

The day ended damp and cold – around 55 degrees by the time we dropped into Banff, Alberta.  In the late 1800’s workers from the transcontinental railway chanced upon simmering hot springs and the area became Canada’s first national park – Banff National Park.

Bow River

Bow River

At 4540 feet in altitude it is Canada’s highest town.  And with a cold front that had moved in we felt and saw the precipitation, fog and wind shifts of that altitude.  It was early August yet it felt like mid-October in Oregon!

We had a scheduled layover in Banff and spent “tourist” time kicking around town, trying local pubs and wandering the Fairmont Banff Springs grand hotel and national historic sites.  The hotel is steeped in history having been built back in 1888 and there is a long list of famous guests who frequented the resort.  We didn’t stay at this hotel.  I didn’t get the sense that many guests had turned in their Mercedes-Benz to lease a Hyundai!  In fact, our entire time in Canada seemed to indicate that the worst of any recession was long over for the folks who pass the puck.

The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel

The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel

In the hotel lobby we met up with some riders who came from Calgary and soon learned there were many wild cards in the weather forecast.  It was going to be cold and wet.  Ugh!   Our original route had us heading east toward Calgary, but that pesky cold front brought torrential rain and high winds killing one and injuring 15 people.   Over refreshments we decided to avoid Calgary as nasty weather and hail was a certainty and we didn’t want any part of it.  As a side bar, my iPhone app, WeatherBug didn’t work in Canada.  I could get temps and current conditions, but I couldn’t pull up Doppler radar to re-route around any storms… bummer.

Refreshments At Banff International Hotel

Refreshments At Banff International Hotel

We determine that the west side of Banff National Park offered a reduced possibility of rain so, we would back track to Hwy 93 through Kootenay National Park.

It would mean a longer 400+ mile day to reach Highway 89 and the “Going to the Sun Road” in St. Mary, Montana, but riding dry was preferred over cutting 100 miles off the route in the rain.

The 107 to 47 Journey – Part One HERE; Part Three HERE; Part Four HERE

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I’m a certified SCUBA diver and we have a safety slogan – Dive Your Plan.  It means before you hit the water you and your buddy should know exactly where you are going to dive, for how long, and how deep. If there is a good wreck another fifteen feet down, but that depth isn’t in your plan you don’t go down to it. Once you’ve had your allotted time underwater, ascend to the surface. Don’t change the dive plan. A dive plan makes for a safe dive. Period.

Although it doesn’t have the same risk, we could use the diving metaphor for motorcycle trips.   Thorough planning for a motorcycle trip can free up a person to enjoy the ride.  But, maybe you’re a “man of the moment” and looking for a more carefree, happily riding along and where you end the day is where you end.  So, what’s your style?  I try and have balance…a hybrid model if you will.  Over planning takes some of the spontaneous elements out of the trip, but I’ve been on a few of those rainy, dark nights looking for a hotel room because the city you ended up in had the National Little League Championships and was sold out!

I don’t know about you, but I dislike poring over maps. I hate how they unfold, crinkle and cover my saddle bags then never seem to fold back into that convenient size.  To my knowledge that actually has never happened!  I don’t like looking at all those squiggly map lines or guessing what unique wonders are out there when I ride.  Once I’m on the road, the map stays packed. I rarely consult it en route.  Not because my trip is so well planned out, but I sort of have an understanding of where I’m going to be at the end of any given day and I’m good with that.  And like the gents who get together for coffee at a local shop in the morning where everyone has an opinion about something and the conversation goes in different directions… if I take a side road here or there it only means I’ll arrive a little later… so be it.

Hecla Mining

Hecla Mining

For example, one ride a few years ago which I will always remember – first because I was solo and that’s uncommon and second because my inadequate planning came back to bite me.  I was headed up to Glacier National Park.  I made my way to Wallace, Idaho (I-90) and I had one of those knee-jerk carefree shorten my trip ideas to head up toward Thompson Falls, Mt and ride Hwy-200.  A quick glance of a map indicated there was a short cut on old Hwy-4 north through Burke, ID.  Turns out to be an unincorporated community with a year round population of 38!  The road winds up through a rather steep canyon only 300 feet wide and my plan was to cross over Coopers Pass on the Montana border and save literary hours.  Unfortunately the asphalt ended in this semi-ghost town and I was on National Forest Developed (NFD) road #2673.  A loaded Fatboy on a gravel road is not my idea of a dirt bike endurance trip so after another 10 miles of trying to convince myself the pavement would surely return…I admitted defeat, turned around and drove past the abandon Hecla Mining buildings and made my way North on Hwy-153 at St Regis, Montana.  Of course three hours later than I had planned, but I can now talk about Burke-Canyon Creek Road in the northern most part of Shoshone County Idaho with some authority! 

Happy trails…

Photo courtesy of Flickr/Rollrcoastrgurl and map courtesy High Country News.

Postscript: These days the Burke, ID area is viewed as a major source of pollution.  Everyday a stream that runs under the mill picks up and carries hundreds of pounds of heavy metals down through Wallace, ID and eventually into the South Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River.  A good article on the “poisons in paradise” is HERE.

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