Extreme Road Test - 2003 Hummer H2: Leg 2, Day 5
Devils Tower, Wyoming to South Bend, Indiana
We were rudely startled into consciousness as a posse of early morning Harley Davidsons roared past our roadside resting spot, indicating that our scant three hours, 20 minutes of sleep within the H2's leather-lined cabin were now officially over. Sure, "loud pipes save lives" is a wonderful motto perpetuated by Harley owners in defense of their obnoxious rides, but on that morning those pipes outright sucked as we were total zombies desperately in need of a battery recharge.
After splashing our faces with some melted ice water pooling in our Coleman cooler and tossing on fresh (but completely wrinkled) shirts, we were off to experience the geological oddity made famous in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." Devils Tower is America's first national monument and is essentially a big chunk of igneous rock that juts 867 feet above its scree-lined base and towers 1267 feet above the nearby Belle Fourche River.
American Indian legend explains Devils Towers' existence in that an Indian boy was mysteriously transformed into an angry bear that tried to attack his seven sisters. As the sisters ran for safety, a magical tree offered them protection if they would climb it. When the bear approached, the tree continually grew higher as the bear tried its best to claw its way up the bark -- thus explaining the Tower's funky side ridges. Scientists, however, say that the lump of rock is a result of the intrusion of magma between surrounding rock formations. As the magma cooled, it crystallized into hexagonal columns separated by vertical cracks. The rock lay under the surface until, after gazillions of orbits around the sun, the surrounding soil was eroded away, thus leaving the neat-looking monolithic photo subject that Kiwi photographed relentlessly.
We were rather enjoying the quiet solitude of Devils Tower and Kiwi was having fun mimicking Richard Dreyfuss as he climbed atop the base rocks -- up until bus loads of Japanese tourists arrived and transformed the main lookout point into a swarming photo-fest that can only be likened to the effect generated when a kid jams a stick into the top entrance of an ant hill. No worry, as we already had our photos and were significantly behind schedule (which was pretty much the theme of the entire H2 test), so we simply left.
As we rolled south towards highway 90, thousands of Harley-riders were rumbling in to gawk at Devils Tower, which made us even happier to be piloting the mighty nothing-can-stop-us H2. As we approached Sturgis (home of the annual Sturgis Rally that attracts about 500,000 visitors during its weeklong event) scads of state troopers were running radar as evidenced by the frequent beeping of our Passport 8500 radar detector. With approximately a half-million bikers buzzing about, writing tickets was like shooting fish in a barrel. Thus, because our super-sized, bright copper colored H2 blended so perfectly into the surrounding scenery, we elected to back off the throttle a bit and avoid having the local gendarmes ask us for our autograph.
Although we weren't avid Harley doters, we couldn't pass up an hour's worth of Rally watching. The event was a fascinating experience consisting of new bikes, old bikes, tattoos, crowds, noise, T-shirt sales stands, the interesting use of leather, and of course, plenty of beer. We passed on most items but did score a couple of flaming-skull event t-shirts and some local nosh; Stick Boy chowed down on a BBQ pork sandwich while Kiwi ingested a plate-o'-catfish-strips -- a nice change from the fare we had grown accustomed to eating.
Back on the I-90 headed east, we zigzagged our mighty H2 around throngs of Harleys ambling down the highway to who knows where. Without a doubt, our driving skills, honed after thousands of runs at Motor Trend's standard "600-ft. slalom test," came in quite handy as we crisply negotiated our portly rig around the got-nowhere-special-to-be bikers. Soon, our next roadside attraction presented itself. Mt. Rushmore is one of those patriotic attractions that any good red-blooded American must see at least once in their lifetime. Yet, after cutting through Rapid City, snaking our way through mountain roads, battling with traffic, and then dealing with parking, somehow our overall remembrance of the carved-head-creation wasn't so hot. Don't get us wrong; our hat's off to Gutzon Borglum for his fabulous chisel work, but we were just way over the crowds. After a few happy snaps for our scrapbook, we cranked up the 6.0L and powered out of the parking lot, making a beeline for I-90. On the way out, we couldn't help but notice the littering of roadside tourist traps including food stands, go-cart tracks, rock shops, museums, reptile petting farms, water slides, and (of course) pig racing.
We were happy to again be racking up miles on the odometer as our final, but very distant, destination for the day was South Bend, Indiana. But, when the kitschy town of Wall presented itself through the H2's cracked windshield, we could not resist. Wall is the home base for the well-known Wall Drug Store. Sure, as the name suggests, the store does sell food/drugs/supplies, but it's really known for its expansive collection of... stuff. Everything from feathered hats to fire trucks, boots to buffalo burgers can be found at this place. One of Wall's top items is its extensive collection of Western artwork as well as an expansive array of photo-friendly props. More than one compromising photo was snapped of young Stick Boy as he enjoyed such distractions as riding a six-foot tall Jack-a-lope and the insertion of his mug into one of many comical pre-painted portrait props. Of course we indulged in a free glass of ice water (Wall's long-time offer to weary travelers) before gassing up the H2 and continuing on our way across the wind-laced, way-too-flat environs of South Dakota.
Due to the H2's boxy construction, the strong wind blowing across most of South Dakota served as a good test of the Hummer's build quality. In general, the H2 handled the onslaught of side gusts well, but we did notice a fair amount of wind noise emanating from the A-pillars. The noise wasn't awful, but noticeable. No problem, as we made full use of the powerful Bose stereo to drown out all external noise. Just as the sun was setting (and we were still nowhere near our final destination) we pulled into Mitchell, South Dakota, for a splash of gas and a look-see at the famed Mitchell Corn Palace. First established in 1892 as a place where locals could gather for festivals, the Palace has grown into a city convention center. However, it's really known for its ever-changing interesting corn mosaics that adorn the outside walls of the building, thus making it "the agricultural show-place of the world" -- their words, not ours.
Our seemingly endless driving journey continued and somewhere around the Missouri River we crossed into the Central Time Zone where we lost yet another hour, thus putting us even further behind schedule. At 11:35 p.m. we rolled into the berg of Blue Earth (home of the Green Giant vegetable company) for a few quick photos of our H2 with a 60-foot-tall Jolly Green Giant in the background. Lack of sleep and an absence of nutritious food had clearly taken its effect on Stick-Boy as he began flitting around the statue babbling something about being Jolly's boy Sprout. Clearly it was time to leave for our next nighttime destination -- the Spam Museum in Austin, Minnesota.
Quite obviously, our sleep-deprived status was on par with a sloth on barbiturates as we never once considered the fact that just maybe the Spam Museum might be closed at 1:28 a.m. Regardless, we wheeled our H2 up to the meaty attraction, pressed our faces against the front door glass, and fought our lusting desire for a hot Velveeta Spam-wich. Soon thereafter a Museum guard presented himself and we used the opportunity to conduct an on-camera interview asking a variety of H2-related questions, including his estimation of how many cans of Spam he thought the H2's 86.6-cu-ft of cargo area would hold. Not surprisingly, we were asked to leave the property.
From Austin we powered up with Pearsons Salted Nut Rolls washed down with a few Red Bulls to keep us energized through the wee hours of the night. Calculations showed that if we drove all night and didn't hit any major traffic and/or construction we'd arrive in South Bend, Indiana, about one hour before the second annual Hummer Homecoming event started for the day. That hour (in theory) would serve as just the right amount of time to shower and throw on a shave for the camera before our much-anticipated interview with Hummer's unofficial ambassador -- Ahh-nold Schwarzenegger. Of course, nothing worked as planned, as road construction, unbelievable morning rush-hour traffic in Chicago, and blurry vision all conspired against our on-time arrival. After 25 hours of nearly non-stop driving, no sleep, and sausage McMuffins burning a hole in our stomachs, we were ready to start Day 6 of our H2 adventure.