No matter how many times you ride to Sturgis, no two trips are the same. It’s what makes the ride so special. So much has changed since the last trip I took to Daytona Beach and I haven’t ventured far from home since going to Bike Week. Makes me appreciate this year’s ride that much more.

For the ride out, a 2020 Harley Road Glide Special awaited me in LA. I’ve laid down plenty of miles on a Road Glide and am a fan of its combination of power, style, and comfort. I’ve ridden it enough times to know just how much to stuff my Biltwell Exfil-115 with to fill its saddlebags perfectly. The 2020 Road Glide Special has stretched bags so maybe I’ll toss in an extra t-shirt or two. The Special treatment on this 2020 Road Glide includes some sweet gloss black Prodigy wheels and “Barracuda Denim Silver” paint. Don’t know where they come up with these crazy names but I can handle being a Barracuda. Crackin’ the throttle of the bike’s Milwaukee-Eight 114 does feel predatory.

The maelstrom that typically spins around LAX was more whimper than roar. Can’t remember ever being able to escape the airport so easily. The 405 was a kinder, gentler animal, and though I lament the reason behind it, I didn’t mind having less traffic to contend with.

The desert was a cool 100. I jest because last year it tried to cook me alive when it was 118. I’ll take 100 any day. The Mojave is a starkly beautiful and strange place. Daily the sun squeezes almost every drop it can out of the tan and brown land. Abandoned buildings tell the tale of former glory, oasis which have long dried up. Big, colorful splashes of graffiti breathe new life into the broken bones of buildings. A sailboat sat dry docked in the middle of nowhere, the nearest body of water 100 miles away. The sun’s hot breath is constantly in my face and stretches are long between towns. This is the last place you’d want to break down. Makes me glad I’m on a motorcycle with a proven road-record.

Pulling into Baker, Arne’s Royal Hawaiian Hotel looks like it was a hideout for Sammie Davis and Sinatra in its heyday. Now its broken façade sings a sad song of boarded up windows and broken glass. Crossing the desert, I had been thinking about the savory deliciousness of a gyro from The Mad Greek since I touched down in LA. Broke my heart when I pulled into an empty parking lot and a closed building. Damn pandemic. Traveling along, blue and white The Mad Greek billboards popped up intermittently between me and Vegas, rubbing more salt into the wound.

The sun was just going down as I hit Las Vegas and the moon was just on the other side of full so I pressed on. The Milwaukee-Eight 114 drums to its own beat, the cadence a bit more polished than the raspier Twin Cam. One thing’s for certain. The 114 delivers the goods as the bike pulls from the first twist of the grip and stays there throughout the powerband. It runs efficiently and didn’t roast my inner thighs despite the day’s triple digit temperatures. As I pushed on, an orange moon followed me above the ridgeline to my left and even with the onset of night the desert’s breathe was still hot. I rolled into St. George, Utah, just before midnight and called it a day.

No matter how many times I’ve ridden through Zion, it still takes my breath away. Its panorama’s are an unparalleled tapestry of strata and palettes of painted rocks. Zion’s a classic story of the wear and tear of sun, wind, and rain, and the history of the world is told in the composition of its rocks. You couldn’t tell that the country has been mired in a pandemic in southern Utah because Zion was overflowing with people. Every parking lot was full, and hikers and tourists filled every pullout. Being on a motorcycle gave me the benefit of picking and choosing my own spots to stop and marvel at Zion’s bountiful sights.

Construction zones and tourist traffic made it slow-going to the turnoff for Bryce and Grand Staircase-Escalante Staircase. Turning onto Highway 12 helped thin out the herd. Big boulders balanced atop rocky red spires as the Red Canyon lived up to its name. Otherworldly rock formations never end in Utah. Riding past the turnoff to Bryce Canyon I’m rewarded with even less traffic and wide-open roads. For long periods I’m graced with nothing but me, boundless beauty as far as the eye can see, and the feel of a finely-tuned machine between my legs. It’s a gift I’ll relish a long time as I rolled on, an Omega Man.

Hopping onto I-70 and its 80-mph speed limit was a quick reality check. The Road Glide Special hustled up to 85 quickly and settled into the flow. Thanks, Colorado, for the double whoops on 70 coming in from the west. Not sure if I caught air but sure felt like it. Fun way to greet out-of-state motorcyclists. I hit Grand Junction, Colorado, just at the cusp of twilight, and though I felt fresh enough to press on, Colorado’s too beautiful to miss out on, so I pulled over and saved it for a sunny day.

Three days in and not a drop of rain. Nary a cloud. This never happens. Hadn’t realized it, but up to this point, I hadn’t seen any big groups of riders, headed to Sturgis or otherwise. Usually the roads are teaming with bikers about now. I finally saw a group of four this morning pulling into a gas station in Grand Junction.

I set a spirited pace on Interstate 70 as I charted a course for the Rockies. The dry, rocky vistas soon give way to pine-lined mountains as a river rushes through a narrow canyon. The walls grow ever taller and before long are so steep you can only see a sliver of blue sky overhead. Rafters bob over rocks as they navigate the river. While I generally love the series of curves in this stretch, construction has narrowed it down to one lane and clamped down on my fun. I don’t mind slowing down and taking in all that this breath-taking stretch offers, though.

The initial plan was to ride and shoot through Rocky Mountain National Park. A big rig that decided to slam into the center divider, then careen off the road dictated otherwise. The truck teetered off the side of the roadway while its trailer still blocked one of the lanes and traffic on I-70 outside Vail had been completely stopped. I pulled over and found a cool creekside spot to wait the delay out at. Smelling the sun-warmed pines and listening to the water rushing over rocks, it definitely could have been worse.

Outside Keystone, I hop on 6 and make the run up to Loveland Pass. The road twists and turns as it snakes up to the 11,990-foot summit. The low-end torque of the Milwaukee-Eight 114 makes quick work of the ascent. The air was thin but the view worth it as I climbed the stairs to the top.

Loveland Pass drops back down to I-70 so I cranked up the big bagger again and made a beeline east. I contemplated pushing into Denver, but the mountains were still calling my name, so I jumped off at 40 and headed north. At first the going was slow, but after the turnoff for Rocky Mountain National Park, traffic thinned. I was excited continuing north on 125 as I’d never ridden that stretch before. I was not disappointed. You get a last little taste of the Rockies before dropping down into plains. Before long you’re in rancher country, home of Ford trucks, shiny belt buckles and quintessential Americana. The landscape rotates between wide-open space and rocky canyons as Wyoming reveals its own natural wonders. Laramie lies ahead, and though the sun still hung low on the horizon, I’d ridden my share of mountain passes and saved the final push into Sturgis for another day.