Printable size (Undo)
Route Map
Anti Scriptum
Rocinante's upgrades
Techno Solutions
01 New York
02 New England
03 Maine to Midland
04 Midland to Sturgis
05 Indians'n Cowboys
06 British Columbia
07 San Francisco
08 SF to San Diego
09 Baja to Canyons
10 Baja California
11 Northern Mexico
12 Mex. to Guatemala
13 Gua. to Costa Rica
14 CR to S. America
15 Ecuador
16 Peru and Bolivia
17 Chile
18 Patagonia
19 Argentina/Brasil
20 The road home
Photo Gallery

Norwegian version

E-mail: mail at dagjen.no
Go to Pan American Home

Chapter 04 Michigan to Sturgis, South Dakota

Start: June 15th, Windham, Maine, Stop: June 23rd, Sturgis
Distance: 3157 km (1973 miles), Total Distance: 7191 km [Map]

After passing through the forests of the Upper Peninsula, we go shopping in Duluth, drive the longest straight stretch of road in the States, and finally enter the mid western prairie landscape. Thunder, hail or rain won't stop us, even though it tries its best. And why visit Sturgis in August, when it's a lot less crowded in June.

The Upper Peninsula

Mackinac Bridge
Mackinac Bridge, crossing over from Lower to Upper Michigan and dividing Lake Huron and Lake Michigan.

Yoopers they call them selves in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, or UP in short. Coming from the Lower Peninsula, it was like leaving civilization, leaving behind towns and holiday resorts. In the UP people were scarce and in the first bar we stopped at, after driving with escort over the Mackinac Brigde, dividing Lake Huron and Lake Michigan and connecting the two peninsulas, an escort needed due to the strong winds, the furniture and the guests all looked more like the rural America we were looking forward to learn about.

One of the guests, a bearded construction worker in his forties with bad teeth and a belly that suggested that he liked beer, kept his eyes locked on me for the whole time we were there. I didn't know what to make of it, so I pretended not to notice. When we left, we went back into the forest that the whole peninsula seem to consist of. The road was a long perfect straight, and with the trees locking out any potential sights, the ride got quite boring.

We headed for the Whitefish Point shipwreck museum, located by the lighthouse inside one of the most hostile areas of Lake Superior. A lot of ships have gone down in these waters, and we studied the worst catastrophe of them all, the iron ore carrier Edmund Fitzgerald, that mysteriously sunk in 1975 in one of the worst storms ever and took with it 29 men. The museum was quite laid back in style and was a good break from tourist traps like the Niagara Falls.

Pool in Paradise
Bente smiles, even though she lost the pool game, because she won big time in darts.

After a night in Paradise - which was the name of the little town and not necessarily an adjective - where me met, finally, another dual sport rider on a Kawasaki KLR on a two weeks trip up from Detroit without rainwear, which he didn't hesitate to emphasize, we headed west through more forest and another tourist trap. I'm sorry, I really love traveling in the States but sometimes there seem to be no limit to what they call "scenic" and charge you to see. A sign said there was a water fall a little off the main road.

Going in, we were stopped in the gate where we were prompted to pay to continue. So we did and drove in to a huge parking lot, left the bike and walked hundred yards to see some gallons of water fall over a rock. The souvenir shop on the other hand, was huge and displayed, among hundreds of artifacts, a steel moose, welded together of two pieces of crude steel. I believe the price was 250 US$. We looked at each other and left the place in a hurry. When we passed the next sign saying something like "The Upper Falls" we made face and continued.

Leif Erikson
Fellow Norwegian Leiv Erikson. The monument in Duluth, raised by the Norwegian League in 1956, claims that he was the discoverer of America.

I had studied the map in the morning and wanted to take the dirt road that would lead us along the shores of Lake Superior in a general westerly direction. When we finally found the road, it wasn't actually dirt, it was mud. The heavy rains the last few days had turned the surface into a slippery brown substance. I said to Bente that this was no match for us, and off we went. After a couple of miles of driving with my heart beat way up in the hundreds, with a couple of near misses and with Bente's gradually stronger protests as the road quality got worse, we stopped and cowardly turned around. Even my own argument of how good the practice would be to us before going south fell on stone ground, even to myself.

Back out on the main tarmac we decided to get some mileage done and headed straight for Houghton, where we spent the night. The night we arrived was the main night of the "Houghton Seafood Festival" with the central recreational area turned into a festival area with food tents, live music and all the beer you could drink. We had our dinner in the open, drank a couple of beers and watched the fireworks that signified the end of the festival. Houghton was a nice town with a bit more of a town center than most towns we'd been to. Also, they have a wonderful central bridge that was quite a sight in the evening light.

Wisconsin, our eighth state so far, didn't stay with us more than six hours before we entered Minnesota and Duluth. This town of 80-100 000 inhabitants has the world's largest freshwater port, shipping especially iron ore destined for the car industry in the Detroit region. It's also a beautiful town. The center had been completely rejuvenated with nice shops and brick paved streets. Also, our part sponsor, Aerostich Rider Wharehouse had their office and shop here, and I was in the mood for shopping.

Shopping in Duluth

Fargo by night
West Fargo at night. To get a decent meal we had to cross a four lane highway, a typical traffic ore in a typical American city.

Sherry, our contact at Aerostich, took good care of us while we stayed at the shop. We had Bente's jacket slightly redone to improve the fit, and bought a handful of necessary or fun gadgets and items to fill up the bags and any spare space on the bike. The converted bicycle panniers used on each side of the tank were replaced with the slightly more stylish and rugged panniers made by Aerostich. My eager browsing in the store made Bente come up with a few comments that made Sherry laugh out loud, and a little mishap with the language caused more laughter. We were looking at an air cushioned seat cover, meant to improve comfort, and I told Bente how to blow it up and close the valve, using the sentence, "First you blow then you screw". Looking at Sherry going red by laughter I realized what I had just said.

We crossed Minnesota in one rainy day, making a couple of wrong turns that once again brought us into mud infested roads, destined to reach Fargo where supposedly there was a "Hjemkomst (homecoming) festival" for the big Norwegian descendants community. Fargo was not a letdown, because we didn't expect anything. We never saw anything of the festival, and decided to push on the next day to catch up a little on our, although random, delayed schedule. There wasn't really much to see in the southern North Dakota, according to our guide book, so why not drive the supposedly longest straight stretch of road in the States. Highway 46 goes westwards a little south of Fargo, and stretches 175 kilometers without a turn. Or so the book say. We found several turns, although turn is a strong word, but the road is definitely not one hundred percent straight all the way. Don't tell anyone though, since it might be a well kept lie to attract stupid tourists like ourselves.

Emptying tank
When Rocinante started to cough and the engine threatened to die, we emptied the tank. It was also an excuse to find the allen key that got trapped under the tank.

The long and not winding road

Half an hour into the stretch Rocinante started coughing and the engine almost died on several occasions. The only thing I could think of was that I maybe got some bad gas on the last stop. At the first, and one of the very few, gas stations along the road I removed the tank and emptied it in a bucket, then filled it up again. It seemed to do the trick.

We meant to go to Bismarck to try to find a pair of decent hiker shoes for Bente, something she'd been looking for since we started the trip. As we got closer, we saw a storm center hanging dark and ugly right over the city. Every other second lightning lit up the sky. We didn't want to challenge this kind of weather, so we turned south along the east side of the Missouri River, ended up far into the fields along some very loose graveled roads, and finally we stopped at a farm to ask for directions. I don't know what the woman was thinking, but after giving us directions and telling us that, yes, the storm was heading our way, she exclaimed her surprise in that we were riding on a motorcycle. We had walked over to her fully dressed in protective gear, with helmets in our hands, and she didn't understand why we were so anxious to get out of the storms way, at least not until she saw Rocinante. Maybe she took us for hockey players on a jogging trip.

Bismarck storm
The reason why we never visited Bismarck. We escaped south and just beat the weather. Half an hour after checking in at the motel in Mobridge, the storm caught up with us.

We were getting close to Linton, a tiny town in the middle of nowhere, when finally the landscape changed to what we had been waiting for. For three weeks we had ridden through woods similar to those back home, or through boring flat land with nothing to see, but now the golden fields that we had in our minds started to show. Sweet clovers were flowering, and with the golden sun to the west and the dark wall of a storm behind us, the colours were breathtaking.

We stopped at a small bar in Linton, escaping from 35 degrees Celsius, and met a retired truck driver. He ran the little bar and when asked how he ended up in Linton - he told us he was from Florida - he said he got drunk one night and the next thing he knew he owned the bar. During his 30 years as a truck driver he had covered six million miles, about ten million kilometers, over the whole North American continent, including Mexico and Canada. He remembered the time when the Teamsters, the truck driver union, were strong with Hoffa in charge, and also the fall of the union over the years. Now he was ready to move on, a few months after he took over the bar. Not so strange maybe, considering the restless nature a guy must have who actually lived in his truck for seventeen years, not even owning an apartment.

Welcome to the Mid West in our dreams

Sitting Bull
Into the Sioux reservation west of Missouri river in South Dakota, the Sitting Bull monument gave us a reminder of who once ruled over these lands.

We got to the motel in Mobridge just in time. Half an hour later the rains poured down and lightning were all around us. I sat stupidly for an hour in the door opening trying in vain to catch some of it on film. The next morning the skies were clear and we got going early. Sturgis or Rapid City was the goal for the day, and we crossed the bridge over Missouri River into the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. We were finally in the mid west we had dreamt of. Here personalities like Sitting Bull rested in peace close to his birth place. Together with Crazy Horse, the Cheyenne chief, he was in charge of the victorious battle against General Custer at Little Big Horn.

By his monument there were bones and artifacts, probably left by Indians as offerings for him. He is still remembered. The scenery was fantastic. There is no other word for it, and the whole day we rode on main roads and back roads through a golden prairie landscape. A little east of us were the site for the TV-series "The little house on the prairie", a big hit in Norway in the seventies, and a lonely church were just as lonely as I remembered it from a dozen western movies. A shortcut took us off the tarmac into a one hundred kilometer stretch of gravel road. We were all alone in the world. On a stop we turned around 360 degrees and saw nothing but prairie, still yellow from the clovers. A gate with a post box next to it said the name of a ranch three miles, or five kilometers, down the road, a long way to go to pick up your mail. It was the best day of our trip so far, and we lost words when trying to express the beauty that surrounded us.

Another storm was building up in the distance when we got closer to Sturgis and Rapid City. Since it seemed to hang around Rapid City, we decided to stay in Sturgis. Sturgis, famous for the annual motorcycle rally in August that attracts half a million motorcycles, is a small and peaceful town the rest of the year. We found a motel in the center with two bedrooms, a kitchen and a living room for forty dollars. Even though it was slightly higher than our budget, the kitchen was too tempting to let go. We went to the grocery store and bought ingredients for a pasta dinner, together with a few beers and a bottle of wine.

What we had planned to be a home cooked dinner and a visit to the local bars, turned into a night in the apartment with good food and lots to drink. In the middle of our dinner the thunder started, then came the rain and finally the hail. It sounded like a machine gun on the outside when hails the size of grapes hammered down. Rocinante had no cover and was receiving quite a beating. According to our host the hail was of the soft kind, and didn't do other damage than rip leaves of the trees. Since the treat of hail was for the next night as well, he prepared a sheltered space for the bike.

Now, if only the thunderstorms and hail can get out of here, maybe there's a chance we'll see the Badlands, Mount Rushmore and herds of bison in Custer Park.

Welcome to South Dakota. Finally we were there, in the America we longed for.

Catching bugs
An hour's riding in South Dakota collected this display of bugs.

Lonely church
"The loneliest church in the west", according to the plaque one of the most photographed and painted typical prairie churches in the States.

Moving house
Not an unusual sight along the highway, a house is on its way to the buyer, complete and ready to move into. Maybe they already had...

Highway chic

A highway chic wonders how hot it can get in the South Dakota evening.

Open cuntry
The open country. Our superlatives weren't enough to describe the wonderful landscape of South Dakota.

Pavement End - Yeah
Pavement Ends. Yeah! A slogan taken from somewhere. A hundred kilometers on gravel back roads in perfect South Dakota weather was awesome.

Cigar smoking
Finally I got to smoke the cigar I got in New York. It has to go with a cognac or a whisky, and when we moved into the lovely little apartment in Sturgis and had our first home made dinner, it was due time.

>> Next Chapter


E-mail: mail at dagjen.no
Top of page



© All photos and text on this site is the property of Bente Bråthen and Dag Jenssen. Contact us if interested in publishing or reusing material from us.
URL Main page: http://www.RocinantesTravels.com. Comments, suggestions or problems with the site, contact
mail at dagjen.no