My Centers "Rally" Ride

This is my ride report for the Centers “Rally” wherein I was the Rally Master, the sole participant, and the Chief Scorer. With all that I still managed to end up in 2nd place. I’m thinking of filing a protest but I can’t find the rulebook.

As I was making plans to attend Gerlachfest this year, Joel Tolbert published a new app with the innocuous little name, “Centers, by Bubbler GPS” (opens in new window)

What an addictive activity for a long distance traveler. In summary, there are 53 geographic centers in the United States. This app helps you find those centers and “claim” them by tapping the screen when you get there.

Being in North Dakota I couldn’t let even one weekend pass by without going out and grabbing the Center for ND and North America (NA). I got within 0.6 yards of ND and 0.1 yards of NA. This got me to thinking...

I had planned to take the most expedient route on the bike to get from Minot to Gerlach, NV and back. This is a route of 1,450 miles each way. A distance I have covered in a single sitting (less fuel stops) on a number of occasions and at this point in my riding ‘career’ I consider to be a bit pedestrian. It would all be along roads I have been on many times in the past and mostly all Interstate travel. Not much adventure in any of that.

This event was taking place in October and the “expedient” route took me over a few mountain passes that could very easily have ice and snow on them during that time of year so I needed an alternate plan.   One that took me further south and skipped as much elevation as possible (cue the ominous foreshadowing music) just in case I woke up Thursday morning and saw a bunch of blue RADAR returns over western Montana.

All of a sudden I was hit by inspiration   That or a Mac truck carrying ice cream.

After a little playing with my mapping program I had a plan (ominous foreshadowing music intensifies).

Here’s what I would do. Go from Minot to the Center of the US. From there to WY and UT. Then on to NV and get to Gerlach in time for the dinner at 1830 PST. After leaving Gerlach early on Sunday I would make my way up to the Center of OR, cruise on over to ID, snag MT, then head on home. Sounds simple, right?

No longer pedestrian, my yawner of a 2,900 mile round-trip ride suddenly turned into over 3,500 miles with very little of it on Interstate highways. Yes... This was looking like a lot of fun!

The plan was to leave Minot around 0300 on Thursday. Go straight to the Center of the US located a little ways north of Belle Fourche, SD and plan to arrive there right at the break of day.   I wanted it to be light when I got there because I planned on taking pictures using Joel’s other app, Bubble GPS.   Somehow I missed an hour in the translation between CST and MST and got there an hour after sunrise.   Better than the alternative, I guess.   As I was pulling out of the driveway the temperature was around 50°, the sky was clear, and the wind was light.   A more perfect night for riding couldn’t be had. It wasn’t to last.   Soon after I got on the road the NEXRAD images on my GPS had me changing my plans already. Severe thunderstorms and flash flood warnings do not make for a fun ride. There were several along my planned route.   By using a circuitous route I managed to make my way to Belle Fourche with just enough driving rain falling on me to find the leaks in my riding gear. Once the rain stopped, the fog rolled in and I had to slow way down.

Through my pre-ride research I knew the US Center was located off a dirt road. It is about seven miles off the pavement but the road is in real good shape and I quickly found myself parked next to a sign proclaiming this spot to be “The True Center of the Nation”. Not quite.   The sign is off by about 450 yards.   Suddenly the fog that plagued me for the last 100 miles or so was an ally. I didn’t know the status of the property but it wasn’t posted and there is a monument of sorts a few yards out into the field. So I hopped the fence and started following my green arrow.   Pretty soon it counted down to “0 yds ” and I slapped the Claim button.

“Ha!” thinks I. “This is going to be a cake-walk.”   (ominous foreshadowing music reaches a feverish crescendo).

Next on my list was Wyoming. As I motor on toward Casper I think back on the Google Earth images I saw while doing my research. Sure, there’s 14 miles of dirt road with which to contend and a two-track trail after the dirt road that takes you within 15 yards of the Center.   I can handle dirt roads and it certainly wouldn’t be the first time I’ve ridden a large street bike on a two-track.   This is going to be even easier than the US Center. Hell, I might even just hop off the two-track and ride right up to the Center and claim it without even getting off the bike.

Ahh, hubris.   You equalizer of men.   Why must you show your nasty hand when I was doing so well? Wait   I am getting ahead of myself.

Upon reaching Belle Fourche I needed to get some fuel.   It had been well over 300 miles since I last fueled up and the next Center was far enough out that by the time I’d get there, my aux tank would be drained and I’d be rid of its weight up high.   That should make the dirt road a lot easier to handle. Between Belle Fourche and Casper I rode some of the few miles I would ride on the Interstate during this trip.

As I turned on to the dirt road off of US-20 I remember thinking to myself, “Well that doesn’t look too bad.   It’s pretty smooth, it’s rather wide, and there isn’t a lot of elevation changes that I can see from here...”   It was about then the front tire washed out and the bike started into a very slow motion tank slapper.   As I regained control of the bike and brought it to a stop I briefly considered turning around and leaving.   Only very briefly, however.   I’d budgeted an entire hour at each center in my trip planning and hadn’t used all of the hour at US so I had some time to spare. I stopped long enough to inspect the road below me and what I found will continue to haunt my nightmares for years to come. The road only appeared to be smooth because the four inch deep washboards were all covered by a layer of what can only be described as talcum powder dirt that extended about three inches above the peaks of the washboards. Thrown in for fun was a mix of sharp-edged gravel (about 30% gravel, 70% talcum powder). This was not going to be easy on a 750lb Sport-Touring motorcycle with street tires.

“It’s okay!” thought I.   I can handle dirt roads.   Besides, when I finally get there I can still just ride right up to the center. Won’t that be cool?”

Nearly an hour later I arrive at the spot where the two-track was supposed to leave the main road. I could see an indistinct mark along the ground where at one time a hundred years ago there may have been a two-track.   This didn’t make sense because neither Google nor satellite technology were around a hundred years ago so how did they get a clearly distinct image of a two-track in this location?   I got off the bike and started to look around. It was then that I suddenly realized what happened to the trail. It was simply “washed” away by the drifting talcum powder dirt that covers everything around there to a depth of several inches.   The same talcum powder that was covering the road and seems to be capable of sustaining only sage brush and prickly pear cactus, both of which were in great supply everywhere I looked.   There was no way I was going to be able to ride the bike to the Center. I was still 1.6 miles away and I hadn’t come this far to be beat by the next Centerer (did I just make up a new name?) because they managed to park a few inches closer. I trudged off across the landscape toward the Center debating with myself just how far from the bike I was comfortable getting and just how close I really wanted to get to the Center. The bike was parked on the edge of a public road, fully loaded and not very secure.   I certainly didn’t want to let it out of my sight. At some point I decided enough was enough, keeping in mind that for every yard I walked in, I’d have to walk out again. Walking through that terrain wearing all my gear was not that comfortable. The gear is made for riding (and crashing), not walking.   I grabbed the Center from 2,485.5 yards away. A bit further than my 0.1 yard grab earlier in the morning but it was the best I was going to do for today. After all, it took me twice as long to get out there from the pavement as I had planned and I still had to get back to the pavement. I still wasn’t sure I was going to get there without dumping the bike (I’d had several close calls on the way in) and it was going to be dark in a few hours.   I really needed to get back to the highway.

The ride back to the pavement was as difficult as the ride in but I managed to keep the bike upright the entire time.   Stopping at the highway long enough to declare it “The Worst Road Upon Which I Have Ever Ridden a Street Bike” I goosed the throttle and headed off to find UT.

I haven’t stopped at the Little America truck stop west of Rock Springs, WY since Tamara and I used their warmth to thaw our frozen water bottles in May 2006 during a failed attempt at our first BB15. I stopped there this time for my second fuel stop of the trip. With 925 miles more on the odometer than when I started, it was about time.   I sure do like having the auxiliary fuel tank. Having a bike that will do 43 mpg while maintaining the speed limit (even the 80mph limit on the Interstate) really comes in handy as well. If my math is right, I can *almost* do 500 miles on one fuel stop with those numbers.

The sun was disappearing over the horizon as I rolled out of Little America. As were my chances of getting to the UT Center during the daylight. I really wanted to get to all the Centers in daylight so I could more easily determine whether I wanted to walk into those not reachable by street bike. I also wanted to take a picture from my closest point of approach. Originally I was planning on stopping some time after I grabbed UT, preferably well into Nevada but that wasn’t going to happen. By the time I got to Park City I’d been through or dodged several thunderstorms. There was one more that I had no chance of getting around.   It was dark (Strike ONE!), I was getting tired (Strike TWO!), and my path was completely overwhelmed with dark green and red RADAR returns on the Garmin. (STRIKE THREE!!)   Time to stop for a while.

I grabbed a room at a hotel in Park City and after a few hours of sleep I was back on the road at 0300 MST headed for UT.

After some back and forth I finally located the closest point I could get to the Center on the bike and prepared myself to trudge out across the countryside to get as close as I could.   As I headed toward the fence I noticed a vehicle following the dirt roads and headed my direction.   I also noticed a spotlight streaming out of the vehicle and sweeping the fields. I couldn’t identify the vehicle but I knew it was either an LEO or a poacher. Either way I didn’t want anything to do with either at the time. After some careful consideration I estimated how long it would take them to get to my location based on the speed they were traveling and the distance between us. Using that I calculated how long I had to run out into the field in the general direction of the Center, hit the Claim button, and get back to the bike and on my way before the suspicious vehicle reached me.

So that’s exactly what I did.   I only managed to get within 1,931.6 yards of the Center of UT but I did ensure that someone simply driving to the location was not going to be able to beat me. They will have to walk out into the field further than I did.

Next stop: NV

By this point the rain had let up quite a bit and with the rising sun at my back I was cruising on along US 50 (The Loneliest Road in America) feeling pretty good and enjoying the scenery rolling out in front of me.

The plan for NV was very similar to the plan for WY.   Get off the highway and ride a dirt road as close as I could then get off and walk the rest of the way.   Just east of Austin, NV (a weird little town in its own right) is a road called Grass Valley. I was expecting this to be a dirt road but to my surprise it was freshly paved and very smooth. About four miles off US-50 is another little spur road that is nothing more than a two-track.   At least this one actually exists and, according to the overhead view of Google Maps, comes within a few hundred yards of the Center of NV. Putting myself into “Dirt Riding Mode” I start down the two-track. After only 0.3 miles I encounter a locked gate.   Once again acting under the theory of “You will not beat me without walking!” I got off the bike and followed the road for a little ways. I hit the Claim button at around 2.5 miles and went back to the bike. This wasn’t working out as well as I had hoped.   As I was riding back down to US-50 I saw another little road heading off in the general direction of the Center.   I decided to see how far it went and if it got any closer. It did by only a little bit. Off the bike, through the fence, trudge, trudge, trudge (I’m glad my riding boots are not uncomfortable to walk a little ways in) until I finally managed to get my distance down to 2.3 miles on the App. I hit Claim at 4,108 yards.

The ride on into Gerlach , NV was reasonably uneventful. As for the time I spent in Gerlach? Suffice it to say that the bruises are healing very nicely and that’s all I’m going to say about that.

I was originally planning on leaving Gerlach very early Sunday morning so I’d have time to grab OR, ID, and MT on the way home. While talking with Mario (of the LDComfort Fame) I realized we’d both be headed back the same way for a goodly portion of the ride. We’ve attended many of the same functions in the past six years but always from different directions and we’d never had an opportunity to ride together.   After discussing it for a bit we settled on leaving Gerlach around 0900 PST ad riding together as far as Bend, OR where he would continue north and I would peel off to the east to grab the Center of OR. This departure time was about 6 hours later than I had planned but that shouldn’t really matter much, should it? (Is that ominous foreshadowing music getting to be too much for you?)

Center of OR was another somewhat difficult Center to grab. It was certainly a lot harder than I thought it would be. The Center is several hundred yards into a field. If the dirt was anything like the field in South Dakota or even like the dirt in the field in NV I would have likely grabbed another 0.1 yard Center.   However, the dirt in this field made it feel like I was walking across a huge mattress. There was a lot of sage brush to go around and the travel was not as easy as I thought it would be. Especially while wearing all my riding gear. After I walked a few hundred yards out into the field I got about as far as I figured I’d be able to walk back without falling out and I hit the Claim button.   I’d managed to get 400.3 yards (not 400, 400.3 ) away from the Center of OR. Now all I needed to do was beat a retreat from the state. Much easier said than done. I am sure the Governor of OR has a Brother-in-Law who is the exclusive manufacturer of those funny looking 5’s they use on all the speed limit signs in the state.   How else could you explain posting a straight, flat, mostly abandoned highway at 55 mph?   I really do not like riding through OR mostly because of their ridiculously low speed limits. It was only relatively recently they were dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century and reluctantly increased the speed limit on the INTERSTATE to 65 mph. Once again my large fuel capacity came in very handy and I made it all the way to Fruitland, ID before I fueled up again.

It was in Fruitland that I once again found myself on the Interstate for another 40some miles to get to the other side of Boise and on to Idaho State Highway 21. I see now in reviewing my planned route that I originally planned to take Highway 52 and Highway 55 as far as Lowman but for some reason it didn’t work out that way.

By this time it was dark and starting to get a little chilly. Somewhere around Idaho City I stopped and put on my jacket liner and electric vest.   For some reason I didn’t think to put on the lower pieces. This mistake would come back to haunt me later.

By the time I got off the highway and turned on to the dirt road into the Sawtooth National Recreation Area which is the home of the Center of ID, it was 0100 MST.   It was very dark.   It got even darker when I shut off the bike. Suddenly it occurred to me I was standing in the middle of a very desolate area of forest in the (literal) middle of Idaho and I couldn’t see a thing. Worse, I still had I my earplugs in and couldn’t hear a thing either.   It didn’t take me long to remedy both of those situations. This was one of those very rare times that I actually remove my helmet while on a ride.   I certainly didn’t want to end up as some bear’s last pre-hibernation meal or the plaything for a pack of wolves so I ‘prepared’ myself for the possibility of meeting with a nefarious critter and headed off toward the Center of ID. I was able to park within 0.6 miles but that wasn’t good enough for me.   Like I mentioned earlier, if you are going to beat me, you are going to do some walking. As I walked away from the bike I was traveling downhill so I had to take that into account when I made the decision to turn around and go back.   That decision was made 880.7 yards from the Center of ID. Some day I will go back and beat that mark. The key word there being “day”.

By this time I had been on the road for over 15 hours.   I hadn’t been getting much sleep the last couple nights so I was feeling a bit fatigued. The temperature was dropping too much to check into the Iron Butt Motel so I decided to go on into Stanley and hunt up some coffee and maybe a place to sit for a little while.

No such luck.

NOTHING was open in the entire town.   There may have been a bar open but even it looked like it was closed.

I decided to push on through to Salmon and try again.   Salmon is a larger place than Stanley and I figured at least one of the gas stations in town must have a coffee pot going.

No such luck.

Salmon was as desolate and abandoned as Stanley.

It wasn’t getting any warmer and it wasn’t getting any earlier so I had to push on. I searched every little place I came across along the way for the next five hours for a hot cup of coffee but there was none to be had.

Between Boise and Salmon I counted far too many deer, nine elk, three fox, two raccoons, and one owl all actually in the road.   I didn’t bother trying to identify or count any critters that weren’t actually in the road. It was quite the zoo out on the highway. It was the first time I’d seen a living raccoon in the wild.   They’ve always been dead by the time I get to see them.

Finally, just as I reached the booger hole on the border between Idaho and Montana (take a look at a map if you don’t get what I mean) I stumbled upon the Lost Trail Pass rest area. It was completely uninhabited and looked like an oasis to me.   There wasn’t anywhere inside for me to catch some rest but there was a picnic table outside. After what I know now to be about 20 minutes (reviewing my tracking tracks) I suddenly woke up covered in frost. It was getting cold fast. I relocated myself to the bike and started the motor so I could plug in my heated gear. It still hadn’t occurred to me to put on my lowers I didn’t know at the time how long I sat there on the bike with my head resting on the tankbag and the engine and heated vest keeping me warm. Looking back though the track points it was another hour and 20 minutes. By this time I was wide awake, warmed up, and raring to go.

Then it got bad.

At the top of the Chief Joseph Pass on Highway 43 (not to be confused with the Chief Joseph Pass in Wyoming) it was what I thought to be a rather chilly 38°F. Little did I know that the temperature would continue to drop and the fog surrounding me would eventually turn into a freezing fog and coat everything, including me, with ice. Even as I descended from the pass into the valley below with the sun coming up into my face, the temperature kept getting colder and colder.   By the time I reached Wisdom the bike’s thermometer was reading 26.0° and I was really not having fun anymore.   All I wanted was a warm place to sit for a few minutes and drink some of that coffee I started looking for seven hours earlier. Nothing in Wisdom was open.

My GPS was telling me the fastest way to my next waypoint was to take Highway 569 past the Mt. Haggin Game Range toward Anaconda then get on the Interstate to Butte.   Things *may* have changed recently but the last time I went across that highway it was in pretty bad shape.   In fact *every* time I’ve been across that highway over the last 40some years it has been in pretty bad shape.   I had no reason to believe it would be any different today.

Obviously ‘bad shape’ roads don’t normally dissuade me.   However, it was still very foggy and very cold and the last thing I wanted to happen right now was for an icy bridge and a rough road to conspire against me and cause me to lay there in the ditch wondering when rescue was coming. I decided to skip that left turn and go on into Wise River and see if one of the two cafés were open yet.   I don’t think a cup of chicory laced coffee has ever tasted better. While I was there I decided to get something to eat. It was nearly 24 hours since the last time I ate and my worst time of day for the droopies (sunrise) was well behind me so I figured I was safe having an omelet and hash browns with my cup of hot chicory.

Pretty soon I was fueld up, warmed up, and raring to go. Next stop: Center of MT.

As I passed through Butte I sorely wanted to stop by and say Hi to my Dad but I knew if I did I’d never get home in time.   I still had 700 miles to go and only the next 40 miles was going to be on the Interstate. Without stopping at all I was still looking at a 2230 arrival time and I had to be to work the next morning.

Before I left home I did a bit of research on the property surrounding the Center of MT. As it turns out it is owned by the Hutterites yet the nearest ranch house and easiest access was not. I resolved to march up to the ranch house, tell them what I was doing, and request to use their fence line to access the area I needed to be. It worked! I managed to get another Grab. This one from a whopping 0.3 yards away. The app I am using doesn’t break down into decimals the distance. It uses whole numbers only so the only indication I get is “0 yds” which tells me it’s something less than 0.5 yards.   I wouldn’t know until later that I left the door wide open for someone else to come along and claim a closer grab.

I ran the Bubbler GPS Pro app the entire time I was on the road. I managed to take several pictures along the way and uploaded them to Spotwalla using the Bubbler app. Each of the Camera icons holds a picture taken from that location. For some reason the camera on my phone was having a difficult time focusing so some of the pictures didn’t turn out too well.   Make sure you zoom way in on the areas in SD, WY, and NV. There are multiple pictures in those locations. I did not get a picture at the Centers of UT or ID because it was too damn dark.

Here is a link to that Spotwalla map (opens in new window)

Some statistics for the ride.   None of these numbers include the time spent in Gerlach . The GPS was off while I was there. These are only for the trip down on 01/02 Oct and on the trip back on 04/05 Oct.

Total miles: 3,516.9

Moving Average: 60.0 mph

Total Average: 50.8 mph

Moving Time: 58:37:05

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