The Long Solo Ride – 3700 Miles on a Speed Triple: Part VI
Every trip seems to have “the day,” a day of difficulties that you remember more for what you survived than the pleasure of the ride. Sunday the 27th started out well, however.
I left Chanhassen riding North on I-494 and then I-94, heading for Fargo. The road was pleasant, and the sun gradually warming things up and the morning rain, which by now I sort of expected.
I was distracted at one point by a sign indicating a turn for “Lake Wobegone Trails,” which I discovered just now is named after the fictional town on “Prairie Home Companion.”
As I approached Fargo I had a dilemma. Two decades ago Susan and I had befriended a first year teacher, Michelle Moore. She had just moved West with her Microsoft husband from Iowa and Iowa State University, where Michelle had gained All-American status both academically and as a fast-pitch softball player. She’d been hired to teach and be the head coach of the JHS softball team. In November, her 3rd month of teaching, one of the parents approached her and volunteered to be one of her assistant coaches. She thought about it for a couple of days and then told the parent that since this was her first program, she preferred to put together her own staff. The man replied with “That’s fine, but this is Juanita. If you do not make it to the state tournament you will probably not be back.”
I was appalled and really angry. This was a first year teacher! I told Michelle that what she needed was an old crusty fart to stand between her and the parents. I did not know diddly-squat about fast pitch softball, but I could hit fly balls to the girls and do other minor chores. I would volunteer to be her unpaid assistant.
What followed were two years of mostly terrific adventures. For one thing, the team did make it to the state tournament the first year, and just missed out the second. I could never be bothered to learn the myriad signals sent to the batter, so I was the 1st base coach, responsible only for warning the runner if the 2nd base person was trying to sneak behind her for a tag. Since I got bored, I began making up signals to send to Michelle, many of which cracked her up. I also actually won and argument with an umpire, probably the peak experience of this career. The batter took ball three and the umpire mistakenly said “Ball four.” The batter walked to 1st base and the runner on 1st walked to 2nd. Then the umpire realized his error and instructed the batter to come back and the runner on 2nd to retreat to first. I leapt in and complained. The runner on first had actually stolen 2nd, albeit while walking. He agreed, the runner was returned to 2nd, and I was amazed.
I invented a drill for my outfielders. I made a stick figure and put a shirt on it to represent the cut off person. I would hit a long fly ball and if the girl could catch it and then hit the cut-off, she would receive a Snickers bar as a reward. That cost me several Snickers bars, as the girls were very good. The drill was so popular that the infielders wanted a shot. Then I went a step too far. I painted a large GO REBS on the shirt. Fine, but from a distance the G and the O looked like two big breasts. The girls thought this was hilarious.
I also had the best batting average on the team. One day at practice it was decided that I should try an at bat. We had two pitchers who both went on to college on full-ride scholarships, which was a significant factor in our success.
I’d played some baseball and softball, but never faced a really good fastpitch softball pitcher. The ball leaves her hand at about knee height and then explodes upward toward you! Her first pitch was, I think, her changeup, and I swung about a day late. Strike One. The second pitch was the same – Strike Two! For the third pitch I think I started to swing while she was in her wind-up and I drove a line drive right up the middle for a single. Everything stopped. This was a girl who gave up one or two hits a game against some of the best players in the area. Nobody moved and nobody spoke, as what had happened was inconceivable.
I was smart enough never to go up to bat again, and “retired” with a 1000 average. Later, one of the players went over with me, in detail, everything I had done wrong. I stood at the back of the box, as you do for hardball. Wrong. I swung off my back foot. Wrong. I held the bat – wrong. It was all great fun.
The first year I had great fun with the umpires. They would show up and assume I was the head coach. We would chat for a while and then they would ask for my line-up. I would explain that they would have to talk to the Head Coach for that. They would always look around in confusion. Who would that be? I would direct them to Michelle, who was usually doing warm up exercises with her team, and with a hat and a pony tail and sunglasses looked exactly like one of the players. Eventually they all knew exactly who she was, because our team was so well coached and had such success.
More importantly, Michelle was the only person in my life that has ever been able to explain to me something wrong without creating resentment. I had coached about 30 teams over the years and was hardly a rookie, but I handled a couple of situations that Michelle did not approve of. Each time she explained what she had seen, what she did not like about it, and how she would prefer I handled a similar situation in the future. Here was a 25 year old explaining to the old guy, in ways that were perfectly acceptable, how to change his behavior. Remarkable.
Brian and Michelle had moved to Fargo several years ago and we had lost touch. Did I want to stop and see if I could find her phone number? Ironically, I messed up a confusing freeway exit while stopping for fuel and rode by the Microsoft office building – twice. I decided not to bother her, and two days after I got home she called me, for the first time in several years and said “Guess where I am?” I responded with “Guess where I just was!” They were in Juanita on a vacation, so we had dinner at our house with Michelle and Brian and their two fantastic sons, and it all worked out well.
West of Fargo the drudgery began. It never really got warm, and the rain came and went in that frustrating pattern where you are dealing with road slop kicked up onto your face shield. It would be far easier to ride in a steady rain. Worse, the wind picked up – a lot. When my nose is touching the chin bar of my helmet the wind is really strong. Given the conditions, there was little reason to stop at rest areas or for fuel more than absolutely required, and as a result rode 556 miles – my longest distance of the trip. An almost total absence of corners for the entire width of North Dakota did not help.
I ended up in Dickinson, North Dakota, almost to the Western border of the state. I stopped at what looked like a 2nd tier motel, and the woman at the desk could hardly be bothered to look at me. I asked for a room on the first floor, as motorcyclists like to be near the bike and be able to see. After a long pause while she looked at her computer screen with abject boredom, she announced that the room would be $122.
For the first time in my life, I said “I think I’ll keep looking.” That was fine with here. Four blocks up the street I found a Rodeway Inn of the same apparent level of “unposh,” but the rate was $57.
Dickinson is in the oil boom going on in North Dakota. I fellow motorcyclist later mentioned that I was wise no to choose the northern route on US 2 I had considered, as the semis and oil rigs trucks were no numerous it was one big traffic jam all day. Dickinson is a town that might be described as “hardscrabble,” although I do not know what that word means literally. The people work hard, and are hard. I had never had a motel room with a small safe in it for your valuables and guns!
I parked my bike right outside the window and left the window open all night so I could hear if anyone was messing with my bike. That was a greater worry than someone breaking in to my room. It was the longest and hardest day of the trip. My left forearm ached from holding on to the bike in the wind, bringing worries about how the two severed tendons in that elbow would make their absence known, and felt, the next day.
In the morning I suffered through what the Rodeway provided as a “breakfast.” It was truly horrid, bur for a $57 room you really can’t expect all that much.
Now the highway began to rise and fall through North Dakota’s version of the Badlands, and it was wonderful. And no rain!
Thirty miles west of Dickinson I paused at the “Painted Canyon Rest Area” that was utterly spectacular. The vistas spread out in all directions, the colors a panoply of delight. Another “Beware of Rattlesnakes” sign added some zest, but I did not see any. My left wrist hurt some, which I expected, but it was not debilitating.
Into Montana, and a turn off I-94 at Forsyth for a stretch of US 12 I had been looking forward to. Over 100 miles long, with virtually no population at all, so I made sure the fuel tank was full. And I learned that my mental state had changed in forty years.
In my youth I’d loved roads like this. Ignorance is bliss. Now, while I cruised along at 85mph, I began to ponder what I would do if a problem arose. A deer strike? I would be sitting there injured or dead for a long time before anyone came along. What if I missed a turn? Flat tire? The logical side of my brain argued back. I was unlikely to miss a turn as all of the turns I came to could be handled easily. If I had a flat tire I could take out the tire repair kit and air compressor in the pack and fix it, for crying out loud! Still, the voices of paranoia would not be stilled – voices I never heard when I was 22 because I was young enough and had such ignorance that the possibility of a problem or two never entered my head.
Desperate to break the cycle (pun not intended at all) and think of something else, I began to rehearse a short speech to be given as a toast at the rehearsal dinner for our son’s wedding in September. That did the trick! I gave the speech over and over in my head, making it shorter and refining it, and that got me all the way back to the relative security of Highway 87 – a “red line” road on the map and thus a more major road.
By the late afternoon I’d reached Lewistown, and it had been a great day.
Coming in Part VII The best motel, a great burger, and chatting with the Amish
David Preston Copyright 2014