Total Day: 519 km (322.6 mi)
Total Trip: 2955.2 km
We woke up today having had a remarkably good sleep, considering the time we rolled in last night, and eventually got set up and had some food. This KOA at Billings, now that we could actually see it, was really nice. There was a pool as many of them had, but the washrooms were again set up so that they were a self-contained room with shower, sink and toilet, and enough room to change without bumping into things. The grass pad where we stayed was lovely and flat with dedicated water and power for us. We were only there a short time, but it was a nice location, and was not beside the highway or a rail line as some of them were (or would be).
Breakfast today consisted of food we bought last night, so we were able to get a bit of a wiggle on while we were packing up. Savouring the last of my coffee, and chatting with the neighbours on both sides – to our right, a woman with five (!) dogs tavelling to visit her grandkids; to our left, a family taking their daughter on college tours – a woman approached and started to ask how we enjoyed our stay.
It turns out that she was part of KOA Corporate, and I presume was here on an inspection. KOA operates like most franchises – especially like a hotel franchise. Hotels aren’t owned by the hotel companies, they are owned by other corporations who then enter into licencing agreements with the hotel company for one of that company’s particular “brand flags” (just look at all the brands under Marriott International, for example). If you ever wonder why a hotel switches names, it’s likely due to failing an inspection with one brand, and either getting downgraded or having to switch to another hotel conglomerate’s brand. Anyway, KOA works the same way – independent franchisees own the campground, and licence various tiers (Holiday, Resort, etc.) through KOA. When I was staying at a KOA near Mt. St. Helen’s in 2019, two large KOA branded busses turned up during the stay. I presume they were inspection busses there to inspect this tiny little campground. Maybe it was a rental from KOA. But I like to think it was a corporate inspection just the same.
“Space [Montana] is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.”Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Today was still going to be a bit of a long day, we knew that. However, what we didn’t know is just how big Montana is. I mentioned this before, but we were staggered by the size of this state. Granted, we went corner-to-corner, northwest to southeast, and also, we spent 2 nights in Glacier. However, we entered at mid-day on Sunday, and were only going to exit it this evening, on Thursday. Montana is really, really big. Today was full of more long, straight roads stretching endlessly to the horizon. Our route was southeast almost directly to Sturgis, passing through Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument and Custer National Forest. The road hot and deserted the whole way, the kind of hot where waves of heat seem to be visible rising from the ground. We stopped for lunch in the small town of Brodus, and ate at the Powder River Stockman’s Club – which was surprisingly good. We ploughed on, finally crossing into Wyoming for what felt like a cup of coffee at about 4:00 pm, and shortly thereafter crossing into South Dakota. We made it to Sturgis and the Buffalo Chip Campground at about 6:00 pm.
Buffalo Chip is clearly used to much larger gatherings than ours. Because we had a cabin, we were escorted over to our location. The ground was very soft due to some recent rains, and it almost felt like the bike might be swallowed up by the kickstand. We unloaded our luggage, turned the air conditioning on in our cabin, and agreed immediately that this had been a smart choice for three nights. It was spartan – 4 beds with inflatable mattresses – but it was better than having to set up the ten and sleeping on a thin sleeping pad, and there was power and the afore-mentioned air conditioner which did a nearly adequate job.
A quick change of clothes, and our two drink tickets in hand, and we were off to find drinks and food. There was a line for dinner, so we got a beer, and wandered around a bit. Soon enough we were able to meet and introduce ourselves to Spurgeon Dunbar of Revzilla – one of the on-air personalities I wanted to meet. We ran into Spurgeon throughout the weekend, and I have to say he was always gracious with his time, and fantastic source of information. We let him know our plan – that, tomorrow being Friday, we were going to do the on-road things as the weekend would probably be busy. The on-road things would end up at Mount Rushmore.
The event included all the food, and dinner tonight was bbq beef brisket. It was tasty to say the least. We had a nice evening chatting with other folks about the usual things, and getting the usual response (“Wow, all the way from CANADA?!?!), and then we were wiped, and as the sun went down, so did we. Tomorrow would be another on the three must-do rides – the Needles Highway, and Mount Rushmore.