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Evel Knievel Ride Day 1: Storms Ahead

Evel Knievel was my boyhood hero and like many other boys in the 1970's I jumped my bicycle over many plywood ramps. So, I could not miss the chance to visit Evel's hometown of Butte, Montana for the city's celebration of her favorite son.

I packed my cameras, camping gear, and a few clothes on the KLR and hit the road. The plan for Day 1 was to reach Miles City, Montana and camp for the night. The following day I would finish the run to Butte where Evel Knievel Days would be in progress. I picked up Interstate 94 as it crosses North Dakota and made my first stop at New Salem, ND.


The small town of New Salem is home to New Salem Sue, the world's largest Holstein cow. The giant fiberglass attraction sets high on a butte just outside of town and is visible for several miles in all directions. 


The KLR handled great as I climbed the steep, rutted, gavel road that led to the parking lot below New Salem Sue. The giant Holstein was impressive and as a bonus, the hill provided a sweeping view of the wide, green, North Dakota country side.


Before getting back on the road, I stopped for gas and met a couple from Minneapolis. Jim and Judy were going home after a bike rally in Salem, Oregon. On their way to the rally, Jim rode his BWM R1200 while Judy followed in the car. The BMW broke down in Miles City, Montana and the closest BMW shop was in Minneapolis or Sturgis. Either of these was a long way in the wrong direction. So, they stored the bike in Miles City and drove to the rally. Now, they were going home, with the BMW in a U-Haul van. While Jim washed the windows of the rental truck, Judy told me, "He is really pissed and swears he is going back to Japanese bikes." I asked if he was serious and she replied, "I don't know, he is just mad about putting $91 of gas in that U-Haul van." I could certainly understand that We wished each other safe journeys and I headed west.

A few miles from the Montana state line I stopped at the Painted Canyon Vistor's Center of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. This is a popular stop along Interstate 94 and provides a fantastic view of the North Dakota badlands that form a portion of the national park.


At the visitor center, a young couple in a pickup truck with Minnesota plates parked next to me. The woman got out and took off with her camera. The man stood in a nearby grassy area with a small, fluffy, white dog on a pink leash. As he did not look happy as he aimlessly wandered with the dog and he kept stealing quick glances toward where I stood next to the KLR. 


Finally, he led the dog toward me and asked, "Where you headed?" 
I replied, "Miles City today and Butte tomorrow."
He nodded and said, "That's the way to travel - alone. Only need to stop for two reasons." 
I laughed and replied, "Gas and bathrooms." 
He smiled, nodded again and wandered off with the dog. The poor guy was still wandering around with the dog when I fired up my bike and rolled out of the parking lot and back onto I-94.


Entering Montana was a milestone since I had never ridden in this state. My next stop would be Makoshika State Park near Glendive, Montana. But, a few miles outside of Glendive, a line of dark, ragged, clouds appeared in the northwestern sky. Soon, the wind picked up and I could feel it pushing the bike. Down the road ahead were dark streaks of rain with lightening bolts shooting from those clouds. The storm was a few miles ahead and to my right, but was quickly moving across my path. I thought it would reach Glendive before before me.


Dark storm clouds filled the sky as I rolled into town. I wanted to keep riding, but pulled off the interstate and stopped at a gas station for a weather update. The Cenex attendant assured me the storm was moving southeast and only the edge of it would hit Glendive. Most of the storm was already behind me and he thought I could reach Miles City without any trouble from the weather.


Back outside, thunder, lightening, and rain were rapidly approaching. The storm would be here soon. Should I stay and wait out the storm or push on to Miles City? The edge of the storm was clearly visible a few miles to the west. Beyond that, the sky was clear. I guessed that I could easily outrun the storm on the interstate.


As thunder and lighting closed in on Glendive, I decided skip Makoshika State Park and finish my run to Miles City. Missing the park was a disappointment, but could stop here on my return trip. I fired up the KLR and accelerated down the I-94 on-ramp toward Miles City. This was a bad decision that almost killed me.

To be continued...