EDITOR’S NOTE: The goal Dan Vines set for this summer? A 5,500-mile motorcycle trek. The 64-year-old Matthews man is a lifelong rider. His wife, Cindy,turned him loose for this multi-week adventure with his pal, Steve Page. Vines rode his 2015 Honda CB300F; at a mere 348 pounds, it was dubbed “The Least.” Page had a 1999 Honda Valkyre Interstate with a sidecar attached. At 1,400 pounds it was “The Beast.”
Vines’ full ride was 18 miles shy of 6,000 miles. But as these excerpts from his daily emails show, nothing ever goes according to plan.
Aug. 16: Statesville to Paducah, Ky.; 598 miles. The weather stayed cool all the way to Nashville, Tenn., where we went right by the Grand Old Opry on Interstate 24. As we entered Kentucky on I-24 the temperature finally started to feel more like mid-August with 90 degrees and blue skies. As we pulled into our motel for the night in Paducah, I saw signs for The National Quilt Museum. My wife, being an avid quilter, was miffed she wasn’t here to tour the museum. I promised her if she would buy me a new Honda Goldwing Motorcycle, I would gladly bring her next year. By then she may be speaking to me again.
Aug. 17: To Council Bluffs, Iowa; 630 miles. The ride through St. Louis was smooth, with no traffic tie-ups. In the St. Louis area, you cross both the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. We crossed the Missouri again later that day, then ran near it, around Kansas City and up to Council Bluffs. It was a dark and stormy night in Council Bluffs. Flood warnings and loud thunder keeping me awake most of the night.
Aug. 18: To Winner, S.D.; 327 miles. Forecasts showed extreme storms just up the road. Before we could get to Sioux City, Iowa, a squall line with blinding rains and 40- to 50-mph gusts just about blew my little 348-pound bike off the road. Spray from cars and trucks blew sideways instead of trailing their vehicles. It was too dangerous to try to find the shoulder of the road. Finally the rain let up to just a steady rain, so visibility was fair, but the wind and light rain continued for the next 200 miles. The temperature also dropped into the 50s. The rain finally dwindled to a wind-driven mist as we approached a beautiful Missouri River crossing in South Dakota. The terrain reminded me of the movie “Dances With Wolves” with its rugged hills and ravines. Many cornfields, wheat fields and sunflower fields later, we decided to stop early.
Aug. 19: To Belle Fourche, S.D.; 377 miles. We almost ran out of gas riding to the Badlands. A real hole-in-the-wall store finally appeared, selling gas for $1 per gallon more than normal. Sturgis, S.D., was desolate, though just days before, 300,000 motorcycle enthusiasts had swarmed the town for the annual bike rally. We headed into Wyoming to Devils Tower National Monument. The small winding road through the Black Hills was one of the more beautiful I’ve ever experienced. Devils Tower, of course, always reminds me of the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” The massive tower of rock can be seen 14 miles away.
Aug. 20: To Red Lodge, Mont.; 327 miles. Montana brought us beautiful, clear air and 50 degrees. We saw dozens of antelope and deer and large herds of sheep. But near Lame Deer, smoke descended and limited views for the rest of the day: The American West is burning. Most of today’s smoke was coming from Washington State and Idaho. We should have seen 12,000-foot, snow-covered Beartooth Pass from 50 miles away, but the haze of smoke obscured our sight.
One thought-provoking item from today’s trip was Little Big Horn Battlefield and National Cemetery. The wind was blowing strong on the hill where Custer was killed at the 7th Cavalry’s last stand. The exact spot he fell in battle is marked on the ground.
Aug. 21: To Livingston, Mont.; 180 miles. It was 48 degrees when we left town and started the ascent of Beartooth Pass and the road’s 10,947-foot elevation. The temperature was in the 30s up top. Several year-round ice fields/glaciers were shining in the sun near the top of the pass. The little 286cc Honda performed perfectly, with power to spare. After the thrills of the top, we continued to the east entrance to Yellowstone National Park on U.S. 212. Before we had gone 5 miles, we spotted our first antelope and buffalo. Over the next hour we stopped trying to count the buffalo; there were more than 300 by then.
Aug. 22. To West Yellowstone, Mont.; 188 miles. We saw more buffalo and lots of mule deer along the roads today. Also seen: two large waterfalls and geysers, including Old Faithful.
Aug. 23. To Hungry Horse, Mont.; 385 miles. Today started with a temperature of 27 degrees; you could rake up the frost on our bikes into mini snowballs. We were low on gas as we left the motel. The clerk said there was gas just over the Idaho line. In fact, it was 60 miles to gas. This is wide-open country and not many people.
We have a great little cabin in Hungry Horse. The fires are still raging all over the west and a constant haze ruins the far-off views. We are at our farthest point away from home; tomorrow we head east.
Aug. 24. To Havre, Mont.; 255 miles. Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park is an engineering marvel completed in 1932. The highway is narrow with huge drop-off cliffs just a few feet from your tires. I had a feeling of vertigo when looking over the edge.
The smoke from fires was very heavy; we rode through areas that burned to the ground just a few weeks ago. We continued east on U.S. 2 across the top of Montana. We are spending the night at a motel and casino. It seems every motel or gas station has a small casino attached to it.
Aug. 25. To Williston, N.D.; 403 miles. Just south of Williston, Steve’s 16-year-old sidecar motorcycle rig comes to a rattling, gear-crunching halt. It took me several miles on this busy four-lane to figure out that Steve was not following me anymore. I turned around and found him on the side of the road, already calling AAA roadside assistance. Three and a half hours later, the flatbed truck arrived to haul Steve’s bike to Williston.
Aug. 26. Steve’s ride is over. Today was a holding day awaiting the only rental truck in Williston to be available tomorrow. I will continue alone to finish the original route while Steve will drive his rental truck back to North Carolina.
Aug. 27. To Belle Fourche, S.D.; 307 miles. I was disappointed to see all the extra traffic and messy housing that now exist in North Dakota due to the oil boom. Hundreds of bunched-together single-wide trailers in fields to house transient workers. With low oil prices, many oil rigs are shutting down and workers are moving away again. That’s the reason Steve got the very last rental truck in Williston.
Aug. 28. To Broken Bow, Neb.; 477 miles. Steve went his own way at Rapid City, S.D. I dipped down the western border of South Dakota, skirting Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Monument. The Black Hills were great to whip the little Honda through the curves. As I entered Nebraska I was surprised to see high hills and rocky ridges continue. Soon I was at Carhenge – old cars buried and stacked to mimic ancient Stonehenge. I continued across the top of the state on Neb. 2, across the sandhills. For over 100 miles, I raced a freight train I would pass only to be re-passed when I stopped for gas.
Aug. 29. To Independence, Mo.; 524 miles. Wet fog early in the day slowed me down. I entered Kansas from the north on U.S. 281 and quickly arrived at the monument for the geographic center of the lower 48 states. A short time later I was in downtown Cawker City, Kan., at the World’s Largest Ball of Twine – over 20,000 pounds and over 8 million feet of twine and 43 feet in circumference . One man built this oddity. To spend his time on this, he must not have had a job or a TV. As I journey east, traffic is picking up.
Aug. 30. To Lebanon, Tenn.; 590 miles. Today was just making miles on interstates through Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky and Tennessee. Tomorrow should only be an eight-hour day. Home sweet home in Matthews.
Aug. 31. To Matthews; 414 miles. I crossed many a river the last few days, but the best river of all was the Catawba: I was close to Charlotte today.
I would like to thank my wife for “allowing me” to take this time away from home for my own selfish pursuit. I would also like to thank Steve Page for joining me for most of the trip and hope his big sidecar rig is back on the road running again.