Editors Note: This is a reader submitted article and was edited for readability by Diana Olmstead.
Written By Tom Neal II, Photos by Tom II & Tom III
The adventure started out on August 1st 2015 with my mom who is 64 years old, myself at 40, and my 16 year old son. We set out on three separate bikes on a cross country “state collection” road trip. You see, my mom has these goals of collection: riding to all 50 states on a motorcycle and all Canadian providences on a motorcycle; she has already been to all continents and all oceans, and she is now working on all countries, some of which she may or may not have entered legally. My mom is a very adventurous woman and I felt honored to have been asked to join this adventure. What made it more enjoyable was that my son was able to make it along on his bike too.
Seeing how this trip had a mission of “collecting states”, there would not be a lot of sightseeing or other touristy type stuff happening, though there was about a week of relaxing and fun that we had planned into the mix. Originally, we were going to hit 46 of the lower 48 states, California and North Dakota being the 2 not touched. Mom already had ridden to those states before so we planned to skip them. Let’s just say that plans always change!
We woke on Saturday, August 1st to our alarm going off at 4am and by 5am we were walking out the door. We’d packed our bikes the night before, so my son and I jumped on our scoots. (My wife and daughter decided to tag along in the car with us the first day and follow us on our journey to Montana) We left Shelton, WA while it was still dark and rode into Olympia to meet up with my mom.
The first day was a pretty uneventful ride through Washington, Idaho and into Montana. There were fires in Eastern Washington so our fuel stop in Moses Lake was pretty smoky with ash falling everywhere. I-90 had lots of construction happening through Idaho and Montana but I have traveled this road since 1987 and don’t remember it ever NOT having road construction. I’m not much of a “freeway flyer”, I prefer to travel by back roads, but there is something to be said for the interstate system and we were on a mission, so speed was a necessity. I-90 in Idaho has a 75 mph speed limit and Montana’s was 80 mph, so we were laying out some ground.
My son’s tank would only hold about 3 gallons of fuel, so we needed to stop often for go juice. This was ok with me on this trip as I was on a borrowed bagger which I was not used to. I ride a Dyna Wide Glide, and I’m use to my apes, forward controls and a nice stretched out riding position, but my Dyna was acting a little funny 2 days before we left and I had a bad feeling about it. My Dyna has over 80,000 miles on it and it has been ridden hard, so my dad offered up his 2011 Ultra Classic. Before we left for this trip I had removed the trunk to help with the weight distribution and added a street glide windshield to it which helped me a little (although I personally don’t care for windshields or fairings), but the cramped riding position had me begging to stop, and I was thankful for my son Tommy’s little tank.
Tommy was riding a 2014 Yamaha Bolt R-Spec which I had put together originally for me to ride cross country a couple months prior. The stock seat had been replaced with a spring solo and only ½” of pad on the seat, no saddlebags, no windshield, bare bones, no frills, no BS. He had a tank bag for gear and that was it. I like the minimalist approach to bikes and it rubbed off on my kid. Some may think it’s not smart to run cross country without a windshield or saddlebags, but hey, I’ve done it before, and I will do it again….. and so will he! My mom was riding a 2012 Heritage Classic, all stock. She absolutely LOVES her bike, and I have to agree, the Softail is a great platform. Hey, enough about the bikes, let’s get back to the ride…
We crossed into Idaho, over the continental divide, through some twisty roads and steep hills. It was a beautiful area and fun as all get up, even for being an interstate. We rolled into Montana, kicked the speed up a nickel, and made it to St. Regis where stayed at the Super 8 motel right off the highway and across from a local market, gas station and burger stand. Perfect!
We rose early the next morning, as usual. We packed up the bikes and said our emotional goodbyes to my wife and daughter. It would be 4 weeks before we would all see each other again. My wife is my best friend, we go everywhere together, and we don’t spend a lot of time apart from each other so 4 weeks was going to be hell!
My son, my mom and myself headed East on I-90, and as we rode we took in a beautiful bright red sunrise, thanks to the fires in Idaho, Washington and Montana. Even Glacier National Park had fires going on at this point. We rode on through Montana, Wyoming and into South Dakota where we exited the interstate at Spearfish to ride through Spearfish Canyon. We continued to roll on into Sturgis for the 75th Annual Sturgis Black Hills Motorcycle Rally, or as I lovingly call it, “Trailer Week”. I must say, Spearfish Canyon was an absolutely beautiful ride, with great roads, scenery and small towns. Of course it was PACKED, and the ride was slow, but it was still worth it. I plan to go back with my wife, but not at the time of the rally and spend a week riding the area. Sturgis was fun; we stayed in Whitewood at the Iron Horse Inn and that place kicks butt!! It is set up with an alley way between the 2 buildings that are lined with rooms and it features big overhangs so that the motorcycles, which were parked directly outside our door, were for the most part, protected from the elements! We took the shuttle from the motel into Sturgis and played on Main Street and Lazelle where all the vendors are. Pretty small event going on this year, it was just me, my mom, my son and 700,000 of our closest friends! Sturgis is an experience I feel every biker should have at least once in their lifetime. For many, they long for it every year, for some of us, we want the experience, and then we want to get the hell out of dodge for some place a little less crowded.
The weather in South Dakota this summer was crazier than usual. We happened to luck out and not get hit with any of it. I’m still not sure how we did that… Oh wait, it’s because EVERY night, after we checked into a motel my mom would turn on the weather channel and see what was happening. We just so happened to have had the perfect weather on our one day in Sturgis.
The next day we rolled off into the sunrise heading for Wall, SD. We had planned to fuel up, then play a bit and grab some breakfast. After gassing up the bikes and looking around us, all we saw were black clouds. We looked at each other and decided breakfast could wait, it was time to get out of there before the storm hit! I was a bit disappointed, I wanted to hang in Wall, see how much had changed, then ride the Badlands a little, but it wasn’t worth putting on rain gear and it’s only a 2 day ride from home; we will come back another time! Most of South Dakota as seen from I-90 was beautiful, some parts were a little boring, but it still had a beauty of its own.
As we approached Minnesota, we hit our final fuel stop for the day. As we were gassing up the bikes, another rider pulled in and asked “Which way ya’all heading?” “East” I replied. He looked at us and looked over our bikes and said “Where’d you come from?” I told him we had left Sturgis that morning. He seemed pretty upset with me at that point. As we got to talking some more, he said he had left Wall, SD about 15 minutes after us, and he fought the rain until the last 100 miles or so! Wow, we got lucky but it was time to keep pushing on. We were supposed to stop there for the night, but nope, we decided to get some more miles between us and the storm.
After Sturgis, our next destination goal was Freeport Illinois to see some family, get some Mrs. Mikes potato chips and see our old town. Between where we were in Minnesota and Freeport, things were not looking too good. Heavy rains and tornadoes had been in the area, and were expected to continue. Well, they stayed away from us!! We exited the interstate in Minnesota and then jumped on some farm roads going through small town USA. It felt pretty good to be “home”, farm lands all around, the smell of cow manure, tractors, corn fields… yep all was good. Minnesota turned into Iowa, then into Wisconsin where we really pushed Tommy’s fuel to the limit. We had been fueling up every 120-140 miles, and we pushed his tank to 160 on this leg – his bike actually got 70 mpg by staying off the interstate!
We stopped in Monroe, Wisconsin at a long time family favorite, Baumgartners Cheese Store and Tavern. Monroe is a small Swiss style town, famous for cheese. Baumgartners is one of my favorites in the area because the food is delicious plus they took my favorite, Mrs. Mikes Potato Chips made in Freeport Illinois, and made them even better. The last time we were there, they microwaved the chips to warm them. OK, so what’s the big deal? Well, Mrs. Mikes chips by nature are very greasy and salty, so when these guys warmed them up, the grease seemed to ooze out and the salt became more pronounced……mmmm, just thinking about them is making me hungry for their chips. Road trip? OK, time to back telling our road trip story before I start planning my next one. Anyway, after we fueled up our bellies and our bikes, we rolled into Freeport, Illinois, and hooked up with my Aunt Mary after we checked into the hotel. She kindly chauffeured us around, as we checked out our old town, and then ran us out to Lena for Root Beer Coolers, and then back to her place for a mini family reunion.
The next day we ran into Milwaukee Wisconsin, and went to check out the House of Harley dealership. The dealership was AWESOME! I fell in love with that place! The people were nice and friendly, but the historical building was cool as hell and the layout was great. I wanted to ask for a job there! Oh, wait, I suddenly remembered that we were back in the Midwest, and they have ….. (gulp) snow here and I was happy to have moved away from there because of the winters – I don’t like the cold or the snow. I’m the kind of person that, if I want snow, I will go to it. I don’t want it to come to me! I am currently looking to relocate to a warmer climate, but I’m staying in Washington until my kid is done with high school. Two more years, yay!
From Milwaukee, we caught a high speed ferry to Muskegon, Michigan. That was pretty cool. I have only been on the local Washington ferries, old, worn out, slow ferries. This one was very nice, smooth and cooler than any other “boat” I have been on. It’s 88 miles across the lake, and it took just over 2 hours to travel it. All motorcycles had to be tied down, Tommy was able to take care of his bike, and I took care of mine and moms. We met a cool couple from Paris, France; they had flown into Milwaukee, and were taking a month to travel around the Great Lakes. They told us that last year they had flown in and rode around the northeast part of the U.S. Tommy got a quick geography lesson, because he was wearing his Sturgis 75th anniversary shirt and some old guy asked him about it and said “There’s a motorcycle rally in Sturgis?” Tommy said “Yep.” The old guy said “In Sturgis, Michigan?” “What? No, in Sturgis, South Dakota” Tommy replied. Tommy then asked me, “Dad, did you know there is a Sturgis in Michigan?” What the hell? Do kids learn anything in school these days? I guess my grandfather was a bad influence on me; we would sit and look at maps all the time.