Karen Ravn once wrote: Only as high as I reach can I grow .. Only as far as I seek can I go .. Only as deep as I look can I see .. Only as much as I dream can I be …
Thoughts like that inspire me .. especially after the many near-death experiences that only intensified my passion for living each day to the max .. and believing that the only things you really ever regret are the things you didn’t do. Sure .. I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way .. but how else could I have learned so much? The trick is not to make the same mistakes twice.
If you have an Iron Horse standing in the stall and you’re only dreaming about saddling up for an “adventure” .. shame on you. Of course, I do understand there are dozens of mitigating circumstances that prevent some enthusiasts from fulfilling their dreams .. but in most cases they’re just “excuses” .. and you know what they say about excuses.
Last Fall, I decided it was time for another ride through some of my favorite western states, and I mentioned in a previous story that I’d reserved a cabin in my favorite town of Cody, Wyoming for a few days prior to Sturgis. Normally, when I take off on an adventure I just fly by the seat of my pants and find places to stay as they present themselves along the trail, and I’ve found some incredible hole-in-the-walls to stuff in my memory bank. But then my Slovakian-born brother, Tomas Miklos, whom I’d toured with in his home country and fell in love with the hospitality and kindness of his family, said he wanted to go to Sturgis this year. Then another one of his co-workers, David Haines, who has ridden with us to Arizona Bike Week and several noteworthy places in southern California, also wanted to take his vacation time and experience a real “adventure”. So I spent the next couple of months planning the ride of their lives.
I was amazed at the difficulty of finding reservations during the peak of “tourist season”, but I managed. As the months passed, time was drawing near to get serious about getting Bosco ready as well. New shoes filled with Nitrogen to eliminate expansion & contraction from the intense road heat; new plugs & fresh fluids; a new K&P Micronic Oil Filter from Iron Aces; reseal his front forks; clean & revitalize the intake filter; and lastly, a new gel battery after I’d screwed up and left the ignition on a couple of times and zapped my five-year old one. Time for a new one anyway I guess. Yeah .. all that little crap adds up .. but my 14 year old War Horse would prove himself once again by giving me a 50.3 mpg average through the heat and endurance of all the variables thrown at him for almost 5,000 miles. I couldn’t be more proud of him.
My trip ran from Huntington Beach, California across the Mohave Desert on into St. George, Utah, to spend the night. Then we wandered up through scenic Utah for the next night in Vernal. Next day was through Flaming Gorge into Red Rock & Green River, Wyoming, then meander into Jackson Hole for the night. I had to visit the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar again (where I first met Hope, Adventure 11). I couldn’t believe the Sheriff’s Star I wear on my vest from my first visit there now costs $75!
Next day we toured the southern loop of Yellowstone National Park and watched Old Faithful give a half-assed sigh of relief .. but at least he blew off some steam after a lengthy wait. Traffic was horrific through the park with all the road barges and camper trailers .. people stopping in the road for shots of buffalo and scenery .. but the breath-taking beauty of the vast wilderness was scarred from previous fires and current infestation of some sort of bark beetle that left thousands of acres of dead, crispy-brown pines across the landscape. We headed east into Cody to settle into the cabins for the next four days and tour the area at our leisure. Chief Joseph Scenic Highway and the Beartooth Pass is one of the top 10 rides in the country, and it didn’t disappoint with snow on the ground at 11,000 ft. Red Lodge, Montana and “the Top of the World” each shared our company as we reflected with awe and respect.
I went back and toured the northern loop of Yellowstone the next day as my friends discovered Cody. I was the loser, however, as I endured a downpour of rain most of the day. The Old Trail Town and gravesite of Jeremiah Johnson were the same .. and the nightly Rodeo in Cody proved to be another interesting experience. Tensleep, Greybull & Lowell were all like old friends as we rolled through the towns on our way to Sturgis. Fortunately, we had shipped our camping gear to the Hog Heaven Campground before we left to eliminate reloading our bikes every day, and it was waiting for us at the gate.
The next five nights in Sturgis was everything I described to my friends, as we pretty much went our separate ways those days. We did ride Iron Mountain Road, Highway 16A in Keystone, South Dakota: 17 miles, 3 pigtail bridges, 3 tunnels, over 400 bends & curves, 22 switchbacks through 2 counties. The next best ride was Needles Highway, the 87 North up from Mt. Rushmore: 14 miles, over 360 curves, 32 switchbacks & unmarked cliff-hanging kiddie-car sized lanes.
Devil’s Tower and Hulett were a must for me the first day though, as I left camp at 5am in order to get to Hulett by 6:30. That first Wednesday of Sturgis Week is the annual “No Panty Wednesday” in Hulett, a little town with a population of 363, but by noon about 60,000 bikes were stuffed in and around town. Bosco was the first bike parked in front of the Ponderosa Café that morning, and after a great breakfast I was off to see my friend Bob Coronato at this Gallery/Museum. He was expecting me, and I spent the next 3 ½ hours visiting with Bob and his wife, Lisa, and inspecting each and every item in his museum. He had sold the incredible 10′ cattle drive painting I showed you in my story of him in Adventure 10 for nearly $200,000 (I told you he was the best I’ve ever seen), but his latest accomplishment was as incredible.
For years he had wanted to paint a portrait of the famous actor/activist Russell Means, and was finally invited to his home for the feat. Though Mr. Means is well known for big screen roles, as in The Last of the Mohicans, his most significant role as an Ogala Sioux activist for the rights of the Native American people is what labels him as one of the greatest leaders since Crazy Horse. He was the first National Director of the American Indian Movement (AIM) in which he became prominent during the 1973 standoff with the US Government at Wounded Knee. In 1987 he joined the US Libertarian Party and announced his candidacy for the party’s presidential nomination. Bob considers his life-sized portrait of Russell to be his best work yet. And this leads us toward the main crux of this “adventure”.
From Mt Rushmore, we rode to the Crazy Horse Mountain. It’s been a few years and I was curious to see the progress towards the completion of the largest mountain sculpture in the entire world. And as expected, I was as impressed and emotionally moved as I could have imagined.
If anyone out there is uncertain as to what Crazy Horse Mountain is .. let me share a bit of what I learned in the 20 minute video upon first entering the Visitor Center. Sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski was born in Boston of Polish descent. Orphaned at age one, he grew up in foster homes. He was completely self-taught and never took a formal lesson in art, sculpture, architecture or engineering.
Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear learned of the sculptor when Korczak’s PADEREWSKI: Study of an Immortal won first prize, by popular vote, at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. “My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know the red man has great heroes, also,” wrote Standing Bear when he invited Korczak to the Black Hills to carve Crazy Horse.
Korczak arrived in the Black Hills on May 3, 1947 to accept the invitation. When he started work on the mountain in 1948, he was almost 40 and had only $174 left to his name. Over the years he battled financial hardship, racial prejudice, injuries and advancing age.
A strong believer in the free enterprise system, he felt Crazy Horse should be built by the interested public and not the taxpayer. Twice he turned down offers of federal funding in the amounts of $10 million. He also knew that the project was larger than any one person’s lifetime and left detailed plans to be used with his scale models to continue the project.
Since his death in 1982, his wife Ruth, with seven of their children, working in concert with the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation Board of Directors, has directed the work, which continues to see exciting progress being made with each passing year. I got to witness and photograph the most recent blast. The 1948 dedication blast took off just 10 tons. Millions of tons have been removed since. Workers removed the first rock to begin the finish carving on the hand on June 3, 2011. Tilt meters have been installed to study rock movements in that area.
The size of this visionary project is beyond belief. When complete, it will be 641 feet long and 563 feet high. During the video, Korczak himself discussed the early days of his labors that made his story even more amazing. One of the first things he had to do was construct a wooden stairway that had 794 steps to the top. When he bought his first air compressor, it was an old clunker that started with a hand crank. He had to run over 2,200 feet of air line to the top, where he carried his first used jack-hammer to assist him in carving his vision into the solid granite. In one day, he had to climb down NINE times to re-start the engine as it conked out just as he began his incredibly hard work. Mountain goats loved the stairway, and became his close friends as they lived together on that mountain for years.
As his children grew, I saw pictures of them back-packing dynamite up that staircase helping their father with his dream. The older they got, the more they understood his vision and the more they became masters at their craft. When he died, he had left a letter to be read to them by their mother. In it, he said that they did not have to continue with his project if they did not want to .. but that if they did, “do not let the dream die”. They have all dedicated their lives to completing his dream.
In the recorded video, one son described a time after they had acquired an old bulldozer to shove blast rubble down the mountain, and somehow it tumbled 180 feet over the edge with him at the controls. He said his dad could only see him for the first 70 feet after it went over, and presumed his son had been killed in the accident. Remarkably, the son was thrown off and survived, then climbed to the top to see his dad and show him that he was still alive. He said his dad’s first words were “you got it down there, you get it back up”. But the tremendous respect they have for their father make their life’s work a pleasure .. even though they realize it probably will not be completed in their lifetimes either.
The following was written in May 1949 by Sculptor Ziolkowski in regards to why Crazy Horse was chosen for the sculpture:
Crazy Horse was born on Rapid Creek in the Black Hills of South Dakota in about 1842. While at Fort Robinson, Nebraska, under a flag of truce he was stabbed in the back by an American soldier and died September 6, 1877 .. age 35 (?).
Crazy Horse defended his people and their way of life in the only manner he knew. BUT —
Only after he saw the Treaty of 1868 broken. This treaty, signed by the President of the United States, said, in effect: As long as rivers run and grass grows and trees bear leaves, Paha Sapa – the Black Hills of Dakota – will forever be the sacred land of the Sioux Indians.
Only after he saw his leader, Conquering Bear, exterminated by treachery.
Only after he saw the failure of the government agents to bring required treaty guarantees, such as meat, clothing, tents and necessities for existence which they were to receive for having given up their lands and gone to live on the reservations.
Only after he saw his people’s lives and their way of life ravaged and destroyed.
Crazy Horse has never been known to have signed a treaty or touched the pen, nor was he ever photographed.
Crazy Horse, as far as the scale model is concerned, is to be carved not so much as a lineal likeness but more as a memorial to the spirit of Crazy Horse — to his people. With his left hand thrown out pointing in answer to the derisive question asked by a white man, “Where are your lands now?” He replied, “My lands are where my dead lie buried”. This inscription will be carved on the side of Crazy Horse Mountain.
On the walls of the Visitor Center are the words of the Lakota Chief Red Cloud, 1891: “They made us many promises, more than I can remember — They never kept but one; they promised to take our land, and they took it!”
Crazy Horse’s defiance was his intentional defense of the Native American Culture .. and though sometimes “Legend” is larger than life .. in his case it was not. He was ever bit as courageous, determined, compassionate, visionary, empathetic and heart-broken as any man could ever be.
Crazy Horse was also this white man’s hero .. as he defied Custer and was instrumental in his extermination. As I remembered spitting on the Little Big Horn Battlefield Monument .. I smiled .. and as I mused over the life and death of this great man .. I cried. If only we knew a leader today whose word was his sacred honor .. who deserved the respect of his entire nation as a man with integrity .. a man who would give his own life in an attempt to better the life of his people.
Though the rest of the trip included some incredible sights and historic places .. Cheyenne, Denver, Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, the Great Rocky Mountains, Rio Grand National Forest, Monte Vista, South Fork, Durango, Cortez, Four Corners, Flagstaff, Kingman and Laughlin .. yet nothing left more of an imprint on my very soul than that spiritual connection to Crazy Horse. When I rode across his lands .. I felt his pain .. and I understand why he is so revered by his people.
Just the anticipation of an adventure like this always sparks adrenalin .. and the imagination of things to come peaks as time draws nearer to the moment I straddle Bosco, stroke his withers and give him his reins. He loves it as much as I do .. maybe more. He runs with the power that is only controlled by a twist of my right hand .. and gives me all I need when I gear down and turn him loose. Adverse weather doesn’t faze him .. as I’ve always made sure his footing is sound before we strike out on another live-or-die run.
It takes determination to continue through freezing rains in Yellowstone, intense downpours in Sturgis, pea-sized hail and lightning bolts that exploded a tree 10 yards to my left just outside Duschene, Utah .. with energy so intense an electrical spark jumped from my clutch lever to my fingertip .. stinging as the echo resounded through my earplugs. That’s just a taste of what to expect when you decide it’s time for a real adventure. The exhilaration comes from doing it .. and dealing with the emotions that churn within throughout the long hours between stops.
The sound of “real world power” coming from the last of the EVO’s is all the music I need .. and I guess I’ll never understand how rolling into a fuel stop drawing the attention of everyone within a square block by the blasting sounds of screaming heavy metal or six repetitive songs from a “golden oldies” list gives anyone a moment to just “contemplate” on the open road .. not to mention the dangers of such distraction. But each to his own, and all the more reason I prefer to ride alone. And thanks again to Denise Hennessy for her gift of three pairs of the best ear plugs money can buy .. I only lost two pair.
Getting out there and seeing how people live in the middle of nowhere is always intriguing .. if not perplexing at times. It never fails to give me a greater appreciation of man’s struggle to survive .. and how very difficult it must have been for the real men and women who headed west with a covered wagon and a barrel of rainwater. Unimaginable challenges .. determination and courage beyond reproach .. this is what touches me .. this is the raw character that stirs my soul and grabs my respect .. NOT the multi-million dollar contract of a man playing a game or a fictional character in a movie .. we’ve lost sight of reality folks, and it saddens me.
What touches me is the Iron Horse that got me home and a man they called Crazy Horse .. and the man who spent his lifetime chiseling granite to honor him .. they earned my respect.
Until next time .. ride smart .. ride safe
and the Adventure continues …