Day 5 – Estes Park to Custer

We got off to a bit of a slow start by design. The primary issue was that we had been in total cognitive-overload mode for the last few days, cramming experience after experience in through our eyeholes in a non-stop blast of information into our brains. This kind of relaxation takes a toll, is what I’m saying. Pity me.

So we were up and about by 8, brewed some coffee and sat on the porch of the not-haunted part of the hotel. It was nice to take some time and enjoy the morning. Our schedule was pretty open because we weren’t going that far and didn’t really have much on the agenda but eating some miles. Our departure was set a bit late because Paul had a phone conference set for 1PM local time, and we were concerned about cell coverage if we pushed out of a population center. So the plan was to get to Cheyenne around 12 and settle in at a pub of some where Paul could get some quiet space for the conference, then get back on the road to Custer. This meant that Wind Cave NP was not likely going to happen today, but we could make adjustments.

Eventually we loaded up the bikes and gave everything a quick once over in the morning light. We headed off out of Estes Park, winding down out of the mountains down towards the high-prairie level. The road out of EP was nicer than I expected, but then we dumped into a bit of rural sprawl in northeastern Colorado. Heading northwards took us into more of a pure farming area, but it was pretty tame, scenery-wise. We got to the Wyoming state line relatively quickly, and were soon rolling into Cheyenne. We toured around a bit and found a brewpub located in the historic train station in the downtown area. Honestly, the whole town felt really…nice. Well, except for the bar patron that chose to pick a fight over some slight by the bartender. The patron was standing next to four large glass bottles of beer and chose to pick up a roll of papertowels to throw at the barkeep. So even the bar fights in this town are…nice. I guess. There was a table of Air Force personnel next to us that watched the fight and immediately swung into action…by remaining seated and resuming their discussion. Inwardly I applauded their discretion, and I turned to Paul, said “not our problem,” and took a bite of my bratwurst lunch. Soon thereafter, Paul went out to take his call. Things went smoothly, apparently, and we were back on the road by 2pm or so.

It’s hard to believe that I’m more than a little upset that Liz Cheney lost her primary.

Whether it was the weight of the last few days or the normal post-meal lethargy, I slipped into a bit of a fugue state listening to a podcast as we plowed through the Wyoming and then SD plains. One stop for gas was all we did for over 4 hours. The only thing of interest during the trip was a gigantic storm cell that we seemed to circle more than halfway around. Somehow it always seemed close, but never actually threatened. Aside from the general boredom of driving through an unchanging landscape, the wind got a bit punishing, pushing me back and forth across the road as I fought to keep the bike driving straight. As we got deeper into SD the plains turned to hills, and then rocky, craggy kinda hills, and the wind finally died down a bit. We cruised through a town called Hot Springs, which seemed…quaint and was a major tourist gateway into the Black Hills area. After Hot Springs we continued on into the Wind Cave National Park. The visitors center was about to close, but we got a good rundown on what to expect if we came back tomorrow for a tour. Armed with knowledge (for once), we rolled out and started on the last 30min of the ride into Custer.

It’s not a good picture, but this is part of the storm that was stalking us. I was legitimately concerned enough that I snapped this while gassing up and refused to pull over down the road for a better shot.

The route between WCNP and Custer was a nice introduction into the Black Hills. Lots of rock jutting abruptly out of either flat grassland or rolling hills, with a road flowing through it. We rolled into Custer, which was clearly a tourist economy, but not totally given over to kitsch. The Rocket Motel has embraced its role in a bygone era: the family roadside motel. It’s exactly the motel you would’ve pulled into in the ’50s or ’60s. Unlike most of those joints that haven’t kept themselves up, this place was clean and extremely well maintained. It basically looked like a new motel from the ’50s dropped into the modern day. I approved, and (later) slept like a log. We were ready to go anywhere, but found a surprisingly good brewpub/restaurant directly across the street. Fed and watered, we wandered back across the street to get ready for bed. We sat outside under the awning to chat for a bit, then hit the hay. It wasn’t a big day mileage-wise or even experience-wise, but we both were feeling a little overwhelmed.

“The Pounding Fathers.” I sure hope they were VERY SPECIFIC about what they wanted painted on this sign. All of the alternatives are so much worse…
Actually cute and quite well maintained. If you’re looking for a re-creation of an old-style motel experience without the sadness and desperation, I know a guy.