The Long Solo Ride – 3700 Miles on a Speed Triple: Part III
The Rapid City late afternoon was interesting, as I watched the TV weather reports growing ever more dire. Heavy storms had Rapid City as their target, with threatened high winds, rain, hail, and possible tornadoes. Every fifteen minutes updated radar images showed the approaching end of the world. I would go outside and confirm with my own eyes while relaxing in a lawn chair, and chatted with some guys who were on their way to the national BMW rally in St. Paul. Eventually I suggested that moving their bikes onto the sidewalk under the eaves of the motel, as I had just done, might be a good idea, but they were not too concerned.
I woke for the first of many times to see sheets of rain attacking the parking lot, which was covered in small hail stones. The wind raged, but I don’t think the hail was heavy enough to damage the bikes of others not as paranoid as I. The lightning was intense, and continued on for several hours, a near constant barrage of flashing light up in the clouds and thunder claps that rolled over each other so you could not distinguish one from the other. I slept in short bursts of an hour or two, and every time I woke up it was the same. I had never experienced lightning like that. At a guess it was a constant show for seven hours.
Once again, the morning brought relatively peaceful weather, with drying roads and rain showers now scattered around the brightening sky. I rode to East on the “old” highway that winds through the Badlands for what was to be my favorite day of the trip so far.
And here is yet another reason not to use GPS. The old road ran straight east from Rapid City and then began to meander back and forth as the terrain grew more fascinating and remote. Soon I was all alone, just after dawn, cruising on a wet road and scanning the horizon. There were obvious rain storms to the north, east, and south, with shards of rain descending. It looked like the rain was evaporating before it reached the ground in some cases, but not others. With GPS I would have known exactly where the rain was, but in my techno-ignorance I had the constant fun of watching the road for ten miles ahead as we headed straight for a storm. Then would come a turn and it looked now like I would sneak through between two storm systems, and then a turn back and now we’re heading straight for it. And then not. The uncertainty made it so much fun!
Eventually I stopped where some rancher’s driveway came to the road. Eyes and brain absorbed the spectacle in serene peace. It was not raining at the moment, although the road was sopping wet. The clouds raced along in front of me, and the views in all directions were gorgeous. In about twenty minutes, only one car interrupted the solitude.
Back on the bike I came to the entrance of Badlands National Park, and waited patiently for the car in front of me. Finally the ranger motioned me ahead; as the people were having trouble locating their senior park pass. Not me! I’d located mine earlier in preparation and had it right inside the tank bag.
I remembered the Badlands from my youth from my first motorcycle trip in1968 as a wonderful place, and now it was even better. The occasional rain intensified the colors and made everything even more magical. At one scenic vista I paused for a picture of the “Beware Rattlesnakes” sign, because Susan is not fond of snakes and I knew she would like it.
When you sit on a bench in the morning air and gaze at the “Badlands Wall” that bisects the prairie for many many miles, you have to marvel at the fortitude of the pioneers, and the Native Americans before them. They figured out, at great human expense and effort, how to get around or through these areas on foot or horseback or by wagon. We’re pretty spoiled these days.
After a chat with an Albertan on a Honda ST 1300 heading West, I rode through the rest of the park and back onto I-90 east, as the sun settled in and banished the rain for the rest of this day.
Next up was several hours of 80-85mph straight lining on a freeway, which was never really boring because there was a lot to see and a lot going on. The wind got to be a bit much, so I had to be mindful of a probable decline in fuel mileage.
At another of my frequent rest stops my attention was grabbed by a large pickup with a 5th wheel trailer, and behind that a 2nd trailer with a custom Harley. I strolled over and took pictures, explaining to the owner and his wife that I have a character in my novels who builds custom Harleys, and that he would really like this bike. That was sort of mostly true. Bartholomew would approve of the slightly larger front wheel and the extended bags, but would look askance as the “Dreamcycle” logos airbrushed on the side of the tanks to go with the mild orange and blended cream paint scheme. Lovely bike, and the owner explained he was re-routing the tie downs because the bumps on the freeway had caused the handlebars to rotate in their mounts.
It was a little weird to be looking at things through the eyes of a fictional character that has utterly no similarities to me, but I have experienced some oddness like this before. When entering both my daughter’s and sister in law’s homes in California, both of which I’ve used in my novels, I’ve been confused for long moments because they looked different. The fictional version of their homes in my head was more “real” to me than the reality. Here again, I found myself re-painting this bike in the style my character would like, and I came up with a dark metallic green and cream design. That will be Bartholomew’s bike in the current novel, where some portions of trip will appear in suitably fictionalized form. Fiction and reality combine and separate in odd ways at times.
But wait, there’s more. Ten miles further on I noticed their rig pulled over to the side, the bike reclining to the right on the trailer. I did some fancy brake work and pulled over to to see if I could help. The tie downs had slipped off the highway bars where he had tried to re-position them. Fortunately the bike had not fallen completely off, but there was a small ding in the bottom of the right hand bag. I helped him get it upright (not an easy task) and then he pulled out the ramps to roll it off the trailer and then back on to try again. With their gratitude in my ears (I don’t think she could have done what I did) I was off again – streaming toward Sioux City at high speed.
I stopped in Mitchell to see the vaunted “Corn Palace,” which has impressed me greatly as a child. Disappointment again, as the success of this venue over the years has seen it gradually surrounded by building devoted to schlocking tourist geegaws to all and sundry, to the extent you really can’t see the building until you are right in front of it. In truth, it is merely the local civic arena and basketball court, adorned inside and out with huge murals made entirely of corn husks and other corn pieces. Impressive, but not as cool as it was a half a century ago.
The Motel 6 I found in Sioux City was perfect for my needs. My room and the bike were around the back, away from curious eyes. Old towels provided by the fellow at the counter saw the bike well-cleaned; there was a pool, and a restaurant next door.
I relaxed by the pool and watched as two couples played with their children in the pool. What made it better was that none of the adults were particularly attractive. One of the men looked like a graduate of a street gang, and not someone I would want to have an argument with. However, both of the couples were so clearly enjoying their children, and each other, that it gave me hope for the world. Roald Dahl as a passage in one of his books about people with “wonky” noses and “stick-out teeth” who find each other and become beautiful, and that was surely the case here.
Even better, a former student of mine from 1991-93 now lives in the area and wanted to get together. As it happens, this day was his 10th wedding anniversary, so he dropped by for a cup of tea at the restaurant next door while I dined on a rare excursion into sanity – a Chef’s Salad. Robert came back early the next day for breakfast with me, and it was just terrific. I think it was fun for him but very meaningful for me. When a student from two decades ago wants to see you (and buy your breakfast) and share his life with you and remind you of what you did for him – that does not happen every day.
When Robert was a sophomore in my class he was also playing tackle for the Juanita High School football team. I was the home game announcer. In those days JHS was a football power under Chuck Tarbox, who recently passed away. Robert was not starting yet, but he was getting a lot of playing time, exceptionally rare for a sophomore.
He also had, and has, utterly huge feet. Because he was my student, I made sure I announced his name whenever he entered or left the game, and referred to him as “Bigfoot Wilson.” One day in class he asked, with great politeness, why I was doing that. I explained that if he was getting significant playing time as a sophomore, he would become noticeable to college talent scouts by the time he was a senior, and I felt that scouts would remember a player with a nickname better. In time, he went off to Willamette on a partial scholarship, but we’ll never know if my efforts were a factor.
There are some students in your class that impress you as people, and Robert was one of them. One of the very few who could take part in the violence of football while being a kind and gentle and thoughtful person away from it. I just knew he would turn out to be a fine human being as an adult, and he has. I won’t offer more detail, as he will read this and I do not want to embarrass him, but our visit was a real highlight of the entire trip.
Coming in Part IV Back to my roots in Minnesota – can you really not go home again?
David Preston Copyright 2014