Change for a Year

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Old Vacations, New Memories – 16 Days Solo in the Western USA

Six months back my computer crashed. That awful half-written novel from high school, computer games designed for college classes, old pictures never backed up–they were all gone. Worst were the pictures. I’d traveled across the western half of the United States in 2007 with nothing but my motorcycle, some camping equipment, and a camera.

Those memories were lost forever until I rediscovered them alive on the web, sitting in on an old motorcycle forum these past few years with over 8000 views. I’m reprinting that trip here, edited down significantly. It’s mostly to save me when I’m nostalgic and yearning for the freedom to just pack up and drive.

The Trip

The summer of 2007 I found myself 3 credits short of completing my degree. I knocked on my professor’s door with a proposal. “Excuse me, sir. How about I grab a sleeping bag, hop on my bike, take a $1000 from my student loan money, and we call this vacation my final class?”

“Sure,” he said. There was more, of course, including an interactive website I had to launch and a few papers I had to write, but that was the gist of it all.

Days 1-3: Wisconsin, Minnesota, and South Dakota

Miles ridden: 1,127; Money Spent: $155

I had two goals–dip my toes in the Pacific Ocean and see the Grand Canyon. That was it. There was no plan. No route. No schedule. Just $1000 and one idea–head west.


I buzzed through Wisconsin’s twisty alphabet roads and the towering pines of Minnesota, coming to a stop in a small town in South Dakota. I camped for free in a local park. Setting up my tent I could hear kids hitting tennis balls on the court and a family laughing on the playground. I threw everything inside, wrapped up my shirt like a pillow, and slept.


In the morning I saw the Badlands.


The second half of the park is filled with sweeping switchbacks through the jagged rocks, but a line of cars slowed the pace to a crawl, and drivers often crossed the yellow as they took their eyes off the road to admire the formations. I did get a few chances to scrape my pegs on the twisty roads.



I made it to Custer, did some sightseeing, then found a campground with wi-fi to do my homework (this was a class after all). The nice Wisconsinite running the place even let me put my bike under the overhang to avoid the storm.



In the morning I went back to the badlands to explore further. It is huge.



As I ventured further into some of the gravel paths, I even managed to piss of a huge Bison before leaving.


After getting the must-have Mt. Rushmore picture, I explored some more, checking out the famous Needles Highway and a scenic byway in Custer State Park. Bison were everywhere.



I found another campground to relax for the night. The owner came buy, Gary I think, and we chatted about my trip and bikes. He just bought a BMW. Later he’d tell me about getting his leg chopped off when a drunk hit him on his ancient Harley, though he got it reattached (“good thing,” I tell him). He told me about the deer on the land, I’d just seen one earlier, and not to worry if I hear coyotes. They don’t bother anyone.

In the morning I’d finally leave South Dakota. The Pacific Ocean beckoned.


The whole trip:
Days 1-3: Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, and the Badlands
Days 4-5Wyoming, Dinosaurs, and Yellowstone
Days 6-7Yellowstone, Idaho, and Oregon
Days 8-10California, Dinner with Strangers, and a Pacific Sunset
Days 11-13San Francisco, Yosemite, Death Valley, and the Grand Canyon
Days 14-16Utah, the Rocky Mountains, the Great Plains, and Home


  1. I enjoyed reading this post — I’ve often wondered what it would be like to take a trip like this (except maybe not on a motorcycle as I’ve never been on one). Very interesting – looking forward to the rest!

  2. You might also want to check the way back machine. Its aninternet archive. If you know old URLs. I was able to retrieve an old blog from 2004.

  3. What a journey. Great pics. I fear loosing all of my photos also. now that all pics are on a hard drive and not in a box under the bed they seem to be more vulnerable. One nasty virus or a drive crash and you are screwed.

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