The ride to Sturgis this year was brutal, too hot and too many miles in too few days, as seems to be the norm as of late—the common malady of riding too much and enjoying too little. My first day on the road only netted me 350 miles when I stopped in Abilene, a town suffering a heat index of 113 at the time. My second day of riding I made Trinidad, Colorado, a respectable 500-mile day. And take my word, after another bout of torturous heat, the crossing at Raton Pass (elevation 7,834 feet) never felt so good. I paid for that first lackluster day with a final 14-hour, 600-mile jaunt into Lead, South Dakota, fighting a savage crosswind through all of Wyoming. My only thought before hitting the Black Hills was the dread of the return ride home to Houston.
My first Sturgis Rally was back in 1983. Aboard a rigid Shovelhead and packing a gal, I had quit my job and spent the next six weeks camping, swimming and riding. My next time was five years later when I again quit my job and hit the road for a three-week trek to South Dakota. On that little adventure my riding partner got sun-sick and I had to plant her in front of a motel air conditioning unit for almost two full days to nurse her back to health. But damn it, we made it, there and back. That was followed by a long dry spell with no rides to those sacred hills until I took up the role of moto-journalist. Since getting fully entrenched with THUNDER PRESS, I have ridden to the Black Hills every year since 2004. And I’ve ridden back. Sometimes I’ve had company but most years not, preferring to ride solo, setting my own dawdling pace. And during all that time not once did I ever ponder the alternative of not riding the entire trip, looking upon those that choose to haul motorcycles as a class of laymen that simply cannot grasp the weight and impact of their trailering mentality. I was of a different breed, a non-trailering stratum. Not me, not ol’ hard ass. That is until this year.
Maybe it was concerns over my health. I’d twisted my knee righteously in Austin a few months earlier after a near wreck with an inattentive driver and it had given me fits the entire trip north. And then I thought, maybe I’m just getting old. Strike that, no way, I’m in my prime. OK then, maybe… just maybe, I’m just getting smart. That’s it, I’m simply wiser now—wise enough not to torture myself trying to prove a point that no one would acknowledge but me. It’s not like there’s a fanfare of supporters at my departure; no celebratory throng waiting for my triumphant return. No one gathers to watch me leave or throws flowers when I wheel back in the driveway. I prove nothing on these yearly torture quests other than to maybe reaffirm I’m still bulletproof. And now I was thinking that maybe… maybe I’m only bullet resistant.
So I asked a friend who had a bunch of bikes on display during the rally if he had space on his trailer. His first question was, “What was wrong with the Road King?” I told him nothing was wrong, it was just me evolving into a wuss. He said he’d appreciate the companionship, even if it came in the form of a wussy. So it was silently agreed we’d load my bike the last Saturday of the rally, leave Sunday and slink home by Monday night. I had only one question for my chauffeur, “Your A/C does work, right?”
You know all those “fans” who aren’t there when you pull out on a mad dash, 3,000-mile sojourn, guess what? They’re certainly in abundance when you decide to trailer. Yep, the word had leaked and I had quite the audience. One guy brought me a first-aid kit, another showed up with a cane. A local vendor I’d screwed with all week even came over to take freakin’ photos of me rolling my bike up the ramp and into the enclosed trailer. He mentioned something about sending them to a series of competitor’s magazines. I retorted that if he played his cards right and included a story along with the photos, he might actually make a profit for his time spent in South Dakota. I thought he was gonna cry. So after a lot of laughs and backslaps and murmurs of “the old man’s losing it,” the crowd of well-wishers dispersed, leaving me with the daunting plight of figuring out how to tie the bitch down. Not a job I’m accustomed to.
The truck ride home to Texas was different for sure. I learned a lot about trailer inspection stations and got to meet some interesting state troopers along the way. And although I enjoyed the time on the road with my bud (we are actually much closer friends now because of this trailer adventure), it still felt wrong somehow. Like I was betraying something, my bike, myself—some code etched into my skin 40 years ago?
A few days after returning, there were numerous comments on Facebook questioning why I’d posted photos of my ride north to South Dakota but none of the ride back. Any guess where those came from? Yep, those guys. Ain’t it great to have fans?