Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Un-Lead-ed

Hello everyone and welcome to the beginning of the end. Yep, now that the Sturgis ride is history, I guess I’ll be shutting this puppy down. No need to talk about ride preparation, etc., now that it’s history. That, plus the season is dwindling to a wet and crummy close.

I’m sure that each and every one of us who made this ride over the past two weeks has his own opinion of the ride. I’ll admit that there were parts of it that I enjoyed more than others but, overall, it was a great experience. All in all, I put @ 5,300 miles on my bike. I had good intentions of tracking mileage, taking good notes and a lot more photos but, the reality is that we went there to ride and ride we did.

Our trip began on Saturday, July 26th. We met at about 7AM at Joey’s Diner (AKA the Shiny Diner), on 101A in Amherst. Given that I was the only Amherst resident on this trip, I arrived first, eager to get going, only to wait outside waiting for the diner to open. I guess in sleepy little Amherst, there’s no call for a diner to be open any earlier. We had agreed that we’d make an effort to start the day with a collegial meal. After coffees and juices were put done to, we set off heading West on 101 towards Vermont.



Vermont turned out to be the slowest portion of our whole journey. As we attempted to wend our way westward, by avoiding the superhighways through rural Vermont, we soon found ourselves trapped behind slow motor-homes and deep in traffic. It felt like we were moving at 40 mph for hours. Eventually we broke free of the traffic and hit the interstate. Our destination was London, Ontario, nearly 600 miles up the road.

Not wanting to disappoint our fearless leader, we pressed on to our destination, arriving late in London. We found a rather forlorn looking motel, on the strip (across from the beer store) being run by a nice Indian family. It had a rugged appeal and a cadre of down-on-their luck residents. It was disturbing to see these folks living in these temporary quarters as they made an effort to get their lives back on track. Taxis came and went, one poor soul riding his bicycle back to his room for the night before carefully locking it away. The only other tourists seemed to be the couple in the room sandwiched between our two. After a late dinner, we ended the warm night sitting on the sidewalk in front of the rooms. I realized later that John was leaning against the couple’s door as we carried on a loud, animated, beer-infused conversation. When they later emerged, to smoke their post-coital cigarettes, I looked away, embarrassed, assuming that we forced them to moderate their rambunctious carnal yearnings.

The following day, we compared notes on who snored and who didn’t, made a quick breakfast at a Tim Horton’s, a gas stop and pressed on. Our target at the end of the day was at least as far as Muskegon, MI, to the car ferry. During our earlier planning sessions, it was agreed that the ferry was an excellent alternative (Thanks Joe!) to the 300 additional miles, stress and traffic that we would endure by riding south around the bottom of the lake and through the city of Chicago. We also agreed that we wanted to cast our fate to the winds, not knowing exactly when we would arrive in Muskegon or which ferry we might take. So, we boldly set forth sans reservations, hardened bikers that we are. I guess we thought that it was early enough prior to Sturgis, as if that were the only use for the ferry. To our chagrin, we were informed that the ferry was booked and there were no available slots. But, we could wait 2+ hours and see if we could go standby. We waited.

We used the time to dash off to lunch and then return to wait in the hot sun. By then, Ken’s broken toes had started to vex him and he was off in search of shade and a loosened motorcycle boot. Ken had walked into an invisible chair leg in the unfamiliar motel room the previous night. He smashed two of his middle toes good and they were most likely broken or fractured.

We waited a long time and watched as the 12 other motorcycles passed us losers in the lot. In the final moments, it was down to us, two cars and a large truck. I tried to encourage the purser to load us according to size but, without a reasonable bribe, all decisions were left up to the ship’s captain. We watched as they loaded the two cars and called for the truck. We sat there diminished and hopeless and considered the prospect of a long, hot ride ahead through Chicago-land traffic. But wait! What’s this? The big lug of a truck (who boldly displayed his chrome-plated bumper testicles) was a skosh too large to fit the last spot on the boat. Happier words were never heard than when the captain loudly announced “Remove that truck and load those motorcycles.” Whew! We greedily boarded ship and tackled the task of strapping down our scooters, all the while as the ship got underway. We clambered up the stairs, last on board only to find nary a seat to be had out of the wind or sun.

Two and one-half windblown hours later, we docked in Milwaukee, an hour earlier (thanks to the time zone change) and made fast for Madison, WI. Once again, we pushed ourselves hard to go the extra miles, even when we didn’t quite feel up to it. We found a Motel 6 and met Chad Lovett, our new friend and personal H-D technician. He heard us arrive and bounded out to greet us, with the enthusiasm of a Yellow Lab puppy. We had already spied his gorgeous matte finish Blue Street Glide, a beauty of a bagger. He introduced himself and offered to check the fault codes on the Hogs. He inspected John’s bike so quickly, that John thought I had been joking about Chad’s diagnostics. Chad, at 24 years of age, seemed knowledgeable about Harleys but a little shy and short of social courage. He hinted at joining us ever so slightly that it almost went over all of our heads. I finally said to Jerry “I think he wants to ride with us.” He did. He was riding solo from Ohio to Sturgis to spend two weeks working for the Rapid City H-D dealership during the rally crunch. He professed to be leaving at 6:30 AM and we told him we’d “see him then” and the next morning as we made our preparations to depart, he popped his head out of his room window and said he’d be right down. Well, we took young Chad under our collective wing and he was our Harley good luck charm against mechanical failure.



We rode all that next day, our third day together and our first whole day with Chad. Suffice to say that his bike was fast and he loved to let it run. We made short work of the roads from Madison, WI to Mitchell, SD. After a false start, we all agreed that a motel with a swimming pool sounded grand. Soon, the bikes were unloaded and we were sipping cold beers poolside. We had several each and decided to order pizza from the local emporium. When they arrived, we had just enough time to slam them down, watch a bit of a movie and finish the beer. A thunderstorm lit up the night sky and blew about our bike covers.

Our fourth day dawned lazily and we had a robust breakfast that took longer than expected. We rode hard and fast to deliver young Chad to his new temporary work assignment at Rapid City Harley-Davidson, stopping first to detour through the Badlands via Rte 240. We bade him good-bye and wished him well, knowing that our next week would be a lot more fun than the 12-hour work days ahead of him. Somehow though, I thought, that Chad would find his bliss (did I mention the proffered photos of his fiancé?).



We arrived at Recreational Springs campground late in the day to be greeted by “Poppa Joe”. I wish I had taken a photo of Poppa ‘cause the truth is stranger than fiction. Before us stood a Good Ol’ Boy, Texas drawl and all, with a Mohawk haircut and dressed in surgical scrubs. To say he was a vision is an understatement. He was a character out of a bad ‘80’s Sci-Fi movie. He greeted us enthusiastically and Ken held him to his promise of our first beer free. After a long ride across the barren plains, it sealed the deal.

He advised us as to the best tent site available and he did not lie. We took over a large shady area high on a knoll above the campground. Soon our tents were up and our gear was down and we were off to Lead (rhymes with LEED) for supplies (read beer). Our site was situated high in the Black Hills, at an altitude of over 6,000 feet. The road from the highway, near Sturgis, was a steady climb, sawing back and forth like a corkscrew had carved the road out of that rock. The advantage of the altitude was the temperature difference from Sturgis, a good 10-15 degrees cooler here in Lead.

Come Wednesday, we commenced to riding the local roads. I confess to not knowing what order in which we did these but we rode Spearfish Canyon Road several times, we did the Iron Mountain road and saw Mt. Rushmore. At Rushmore, I was looking the wrong way and missed it, prompting Jerry to make a hasty U-turn that earned us the scorn of a whole slew of park rangers. They ungraciously showed us the exit and when I stopped to remove my jacket, they swooped in on us again squawking about charging us for parking, just because I got off my bike in their parking lot. There’s a word for women like that.



We rode West into Wyoming, my favorite scenery and roads. The swoopy roads were devoid of other traffic and we attacked them on imaginary strafing runs, pulling left, right and left again. I could not get enough of those roads and the peaceful wide-open spaces.



We saw the Devil’s Tower, made famous by Richard Dreyfus and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, a movie of my generation. It stood out in the sky, seen for miles. We couldn’t believe how large it loomed above us as we sat in the shade at its base and munched hastily made homemade sandwiches. Climbers disappeared from view, only to reappear as tiny specks of color on the gray-green monolith.



We rode through a herd of buffalo in Custer National State park and I found myself alone in the midst of the herd, the largest bull I’d ever seen looking over his shoulder at me. Keep movin’ big fella, nothing to see here! We saw evidence of wild fires and their devastation and deforestation. We rode by the Sitting Bull monument and marveled at the vision and fortitude a project like that takes.



We took a side trip to the town of Spearfish, SD to find a solution to Kenny’s aching toes. Not a lot of retail out there if you consider that we had to ride about 30 minutes from Lead to find a shoe store. After he selected a very comfortable and suitably granola-y pair of Keen’s, we wandered to the local coffee shop, Common Grounds. Parked outside was a Suzuki Hayabusa, the world’s fastest production motorcycle. After I got my coffee, I said hello to the young man and inquired if that was his bike. “Yes” came the reply, in an Australian accent. He told me where he was from and when I asked if he was here for the rally he replied that, no, he wasn’t but was simply riding across the United States, for his second time. What? Here was this kid, riding solo, on a high-speed run, coast-to-coast on the hottest, biggest sport-bike you can buy. It made an impression on me that was to stay with me for days.

Our Sturgis experience was probably atypical, due to our choice of location. Had we wanted to be in the mosh pit that is Sturgis during rally week, we should have stayed there in Sturgis. Being in Lead limited our evening activities. After we’d dined or cooked our dinner at the campsite, quaffed a few root beers, no one was of the mind that riding at night, where the deer and antelope play, to be a judicious decision. So, we largely stayed put at night. Plus, after a full day of riding, most of us were tired, dirty, smelly, sweaty, grimy, funky, grouchy, sloppy, sore, sunburned, etc., etc. You get the idea. And it seemed that almost every night we needed to run to the local supermarket to re-stock the larder. So, our evenings were spent mostly looking for a place to sit, drink beer until the sun fell and stumble about in the dark. We weren’t able to have a campfire due to the recent spate of forest fires in the area. All of the campgrounds had been forced to limit any cooking to covered grills. Still, we found some other lighting solutions and managed pretty well.

Come Friday night, we were of a mind to get to Sturgis for “the show”. That is, the bikes, the babes, the funky customs and the girls too fat for their outfits. One of us was well on the way to a hangover and wisely decided to stand guard at the camp. His pay was the balance of our beer, metered at a rate of four per hour. The rest of us rode into town for a two hour “shore leave”. We saw a bevy of attractive waitresses who served us our manly pink lemonades. We returned to camp to find our mate unable to rise from his chair but well within the reach of the cooler. “I had twelve beers” he muttered over and over. Yes, we know. I tried to sleep, but the tent was too warm indoors and I eventually acquiesced to the cooler night air and an offer of a nightcap. Well, the schnapps turned into two and then a beer and before long, it was 2:30 AM and sleep came easily.



I forgot to mention that one morning I was attacked by a giant 30-40 pound turkey. It seems our host was raising these birds and when they weren’t scouring our site for scraps, they were shitting all over the bathrooms. The staff didn’t make too much of an effort to contain these filthy creatures or to clean up after them much. Cleaning and sanitation seemed to be low on the priority list.



After a couple of mornings of waiting for Jerry’s fresh-brewed coffee, I realized it was easier to walk down the hill to get a cup at the restaurant, with all the free cream and sugar I wanted. Well, the Tom was following a campground employee in a golf cart when I crossed its path. Like a magnet, he turned and started to follow me. I was still full of piss and vinegar and I assumed (wrongly) that he would lose interest once I got too far away from his pen. Nope. So, I tried to shoo the old boy away, waving a foot at him in a threatening manner. I even gave him some of my best tough-talk. “Go on, get the fugouddaheah”. Nothing. Actually, he got agitated and threw open his wings and puffed himself up to his full size. Pretty impressive, actually, when your eyes are mere slits and you still need a cup of Joe to get you started. So, what you do you do when your threat fails to elicit the necessary response? You start walking faster, away from this demented Thanksgiving dinner. He gave chase. I sped my walk; he flapped his wings to keep up. Now I am running at a good clip with this squawking, nasty, ugly, beaked bastard in hot pursuit. I get to the front door, only to find it locked. A friendly face quickly unlocked the door and let me in. He had witnessed the bird’s behavior and said, “Yep, we’re gonna have to hit him on the head soon. He’s getting mighty bold. We’re afraid he’s gonna peck some young kid”. Well, so it wasn’t just me, then.

Saturday night’s entertainment was worth what we paid for it, not much. The site brought in a band and they were pretty good. Doc was drinking margarita’s out of a Sprite bottle, I was smuggling Jaeger in a Miller can. Doc is the only person I have ever seen dance and eat a hamburger at the same time. I was impressed by how willing his dance partner seemed despite his masticating and twirling.

The old gal that Kenny referred to in his Poem/Short Story, A Handle of the Pump, was pretty smashed before she joined the paid help on the stage. It seems that alcohol didn’t just lower her inhibitions, it obliterated them. “Manny”, her poor husband, did his best to keep her in hand but alas, the demon was in her and she strutted, kicked and whirled like a dervish, despite her hard landings off-stage. The band played until late, we raided the campsite for one or two last drinks and then made the rounds to say goodnight. A late night and an early morning followed.

Sunday’s weather forecast for the coming day was dismal. Thunderstorms were predicted, hail and all manner of bedlam. The only thing the weather channel left out was fire and brimstone. The thought of sitting through a storm like that in my nylon fortress was too much. That’s it. On the spot, I decided I was leaving. I guess I had been thinking about it since I had gotten to the point of having felt like I had ridden as much as I as I had wanted to, expressing this thought to Jerry a day or two earlier. The other issue was that of traveling back through Canada again, which proved to be more of a pain in the ass on this trip than on any other. I had never felt like Canada was too far apart or too different from the US but on this ride, it just seemed to be too much effort.

Customs isn’t too bad but waiting for Customs is a drag. Sitting in endless traffic and stop/start, stop/start is crap. Bikes should get expedited, don’t you think? The monetary exchange was the biggest bitch. I guess I really hadn’t given it much thought before we left and Jerry was the only one to carry Can-cash on him. He was kind enough to dole out a couple of dollars (loonies and toonies) here and there and we suffered the exchange rate on the dinner and motel. I wasn’t up for that again.

So, I plotted a course, due East, south of Chicago, through Indianapolis and headed out at 11:30 AM. A bad time of day to get going and a bad frame of mind to be riding in, thanks to the Jaeger and lack of sleep. It’s my own fault for running out of gas 134 miles outside of Sturgis. I was not paying attention to the odometer as I should have been. That and someone futzed with my reserve valve. On our trip west, we had done very high speeds (speed limit is 75, so 85 mph is nothing out there) and had run for @ two hours between stops. Well, I’ve always said my bike gets 140 miles to a tank and another 10-20 on reserve. Not this time, bucko! So, there I was, dead on the side of the road without help. Fortunately I had signed up for Mo-Tow in advance of the trip and called in my issue. Once they were able to locate me in that giant state, they had a truck dispatched to me with fuel. After a ninety minute delay, I made it to Oacoma, SD that night and was happy to find dinner and a comfortable room. They even allowed me to park my bike in the lobby, a first and last occurrence, I am sure.






The ride home was largely uneventful, with the exception of the weather. The Deep South was suffering extreme high temperatures and some of that found its way to the Midwest. But, the beauty of that solo ride was that I had no one else to answer to. No other gas stops to make but my own. I was pleased that I could ride 2,000+ miles solo and not have any ill effects or additional issues other than the unplanned gas stop in South Dakota.

From Oacoma, I bore due East, into a heat wave blanketing the Midwest. In Iowa, I suffered through temps of 102 degrees. I rigidly held fast to my commitment to wear gear when riding on highways so my jeans were soaked through with sweat, sticking to me and my shirt was continuously doused with fresh, cool water in an effort to stay comfortable through evaporation. Um, well, almost. I had to stop every hour now to drink, loosen clothing, etc.

From South Dakota I headed to Des Moines then to Terre Haute, IN then Erie, PA, on to Ithaca, NY where I met my family, so we could take our son on a college tour. The morning I left Terre Haute, it felt like I had walked into a steam bath, fully dressed. The humidity was near 100% and the temperatures hovered near 90 early in the AM. In Iowa, the day prior, I had to stop every hour to cool off, drink and rest. It slowed me down considerably.

We stayed in Syracuse that night, Thursday of the second week, with the intention of my touring Syracuse University with them on Friday. On the one hour trip from Ithaca to Syracuse, the skies opened up and I got soaked in yet another thunderstorm. It was only in the last 15-20 minutes of our trip but wet is wet. The forecast for Friday was similar, midday showers with severe thunderstorms in the PM. I was not about to ride home in the dark and wet, so I punched out early, skipping the tour. I met another storm on the way, East of Syracuse, waited a bit and I arrived home Friday afternoon, just about 3PM.

All in all, I put over 5,000 miles on the scooter. I have to say that the best investment in this trip, other than the bike itself, was the Mustang Seat. I never got tired or uncomfortable. At one point on the ride out, we stopped to decide if we should press on. Chad announced that “he still had some ass left” and we all found that highly amusing. Thanks to the Mustang seat, I had all kinds of ass left! Jerry had told me to tell the Mustang folks that I wanted a 1,000 mile-a-day seat and that is indeed what I got. I’m very tempted to try an Iron Butt (1,000 miles in 24 hours) if I can find just one other rider to do it with.

I know I am leaving out details. Like the prairie dogs that surrounded Devil’s Tower. The wild mules or donkeys (only John could be sure) in Custer State Park. The unbearably hot temperatures in Sturgis, when our campsite was so much more comfortable, just a scant 20 miles up the winding canyon road. The god-awful John Deere “motorcycle” that raced up and down Main Street Sturgis. The trike with ground effects and a full-blown funny car wing. The lake that we stopped at, following the harrowing ride through The Needles. The nice folks from Minnesota, Chris and Reno (and Reno’s Dad) the wild young 24-yr old moto superstar on the Yamaha R6. The masseuse, the (dancing) girls for hire, Tinkerbell, the staff of Rec Springs, all seemingly southern in this remote northern outpost. The bad tattoos and a wise decision not to entrust this Tabula Rasa to some open all-night makeshift tattoo parlor, which backed up to the men’s showers. All in all, it was a scene, not always a pretty one.

I regret not seeing any of the concerts but we were all in agreement that we weren’t too interested in re-locating to join the teeming herd at the Buffalo Chip campground. Then again, we were torn between Kid Rock and KISS, even though I’d have skipped KISS, having seen them once before. I’m happy that the trade-off allowed me to spend time with my family, my son who I’d been apart from for almost a full six weeks.

The choice of bike was perfect for this ride, outfitted as it was. The backrest and the sheepskin and crash-bar mounted foot-pegs all worked in concert to provide me with the ultimate in cruiser comfort. I loved how the V-twin just chugged along on those long, hot stretches of highway. It droned on and on, mile after mile, neither hiccupping nor causing any concern. It just worked like it was supposed to. My sedate pace almost had me hypnotized by the sound of the motor. Of all the things I carried and didn’t use, the iPod was the biggest waste. I didn’t need it as I played my own music in my head or listened to my thoughts.

I met some great people on this ride, some whose names I never got. I was approached time and again by friendly people who were curious to know where I was going or where I had been. Some were riders who could appreciate the freedom that a trip like this brings. Others were wishing they could trade places with me, even if only for a few miles.

I guess this trip turned out to be a study in contrasts. Hot/cold, group/solo, fast/slow. When I had one, I wanted the other. Perhaps my solo homeward journey allowed me to miss my family and friends all the more and to look forward to being together with them again. I suspect there will be a lot more solo riding in my future. It’s good to know you can depend on your friends, it’s even better to know you can depend on yourself.



I don’t know if this marks the end of my writing career. I suspect not. While approaching heat stroke on the ride home, I had a lot of funny ideas. Or, they seemed funny at the time, to my parched mind. So I’ll leave you with this. If you enjoy my mindless ramblings and want to continue the saga, go to my new blog at www.watchingmytoenailsgrow.com. It’s a different topic entirely but I think you’ll enjoy it. For now,

A low, slow wave,

Joe Rocket

1 comment:

PatnWilton said...

Jeff, just finished reading your Stugis post. Wanted to have an idea before we get together. Thanks for the offer to get the guys together. Lets make plans soon.

Pat