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C2C Day 4&5: Threading the Needle July 6, 2009

Posted by dakotabiker in Rides.
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I lost a lot of time enjoying SR16, my spam and eggs brunch, and the Spam museum, so I pretty much high-tailed it on the interstate to get to my folks place.  Not a lot of adventure in this leg; eastern South Dakota is flat, flat, flat and the roads are basically straight lines.  So I pretty much opened the throttle and waited to arrive. I pulled in for a late dinner, a little visiting, and spent some time working my route before heading to bed.

I was up early the next morning, and was in urgent need of Harley service (new tire and tail light) so got on line for the nearest shop… which turned out to not be open on Monday’s.  I had planned to stay put for service and visit family, but was forced to move on west to Pierre.  Calling them a 100 miles out, I secured a time slot despite the fact they were short-handed. 

Dave, the owner of Bob's Lounge

Dave, the owner of Bob's Lounge

I arrived in Pierre and found the shop without any difficulty.  I was all set to get a new rear tire, the tail light fixed, and a “heavy 5k” interim service, since I knew I’d likely not be well-located when 40k came rolling up.  The shop owner, Ross, was kind enough to let me stow all my gear in his office, which freed me up to find some refreshment.  A couple of blocks away I found Bob’s Lounge – a real “neighborhood” bar where the regulars come to talk about fishing or hunting (whichever was in season). I ordered a beer, found a booth and pulled out the laptop to work on the blog. I was delighted to find that the bar had free wifi. The owner (Dave) was glad that I was making use of it.  Not many of his regulars did, but Dave wanted to be sure technology didn’t pass over this small South Dakota bar.  Dave and I got to talking, and soon the conversation turned to NASA, LRO, and LCROSS.  Dave was a rapt audience, showing sincere interest and asking really good questions.  We had a great time.  A few hours  just flew by and by mid afternoon I was picking up the bike.

The taillight problem was a corroded electrical board ($54 parts and labor), but covered by my extended warranty with a $50 deductible (of course).  So, Ross gave me a $5 discount to avoid dealing with the warranty folks. 

I packed the bike and headed out of town on SR-34 – a very lonely stretch of road.  There are three main ways to the Black Hills from the east.  I-90, US-14 to I-90 (both of which go to Rapid City) and SR-34 which goes straight into Sturgis.  Once you are on SR-34, you are pretty much locked in for the western half of the state, with the only side roads being gravel.  I chose SR-34 because it just cut across the very southern tip of Ziebach County, one of only three counties in the US beginning with the letter “Z” (the other two being unobtainably in south Texas).  Running hard down SR-34, I ran into new riding buddies in the form of a gazillion grasshoppers and bees.  Was lucky to avoid any stings – but repeated facial collisions with grasshoppers was both painful and disgusting. 

I remembered from my Sturgis ride in 2007, that when on SR-34 to keep the tank full.  I pulled into a lone bar/gas station strategically placed for Sturgis bikers offering high-octane fuel for exorbitant prices.  Coming up to the pump, however, I was more irked by the fact that I could not find my kick stand… After pawing at it with my foot, I finally managed to coax it out from under the bike with my toe.  I don’t know if it vibrated loose, got hit by debris (that I didn’t see or feel), or if the Pierre Harley shop messed it up strapping the bike to the lift table — but it is frustrating that it seems every time I have service, something immediately goes wrong.

I gassed up, drank a Gatorade, and chatted with the clerk about the bugs.  It turns out it is a banner year for the hoppers, and I was to expect it to get worse as I approached the Cheyenne River.  It was.

Riding further west, the hopper hits became incessant.  My windshield was covered in a haze of bug goo and my legs and shoulders weren’t looking much better.  I had taken so many hits in the face that it was just getting more annoying than painful.  I was crouched low behind my windshield like a cafe racer, but the forward foot controls and my mini-ape hanger handle bars left me in a painful riding position.

ziebachAs I made the descent toward the Cheyenne River, it felt like storming the beach at Normandy.  The bug hits were constant like a heavy rain.  As I approached the river, the border of Ziebach County and the Cheyenne Indian Reservation, I stopped to get the ABC picture. 

I took about 20 shots at every angle, zoom, and lighting.  I surely was not going to let all this be in vain for a bad photo submission.  I mounted up and continued the ride toward Sturgis.  As the day got later, the bugs abated a little bit, and it got colder.  I pulled over again to put on my jacket.  After carefully, extracting some very irate maimed bees, I donned my jacket and pressed on.

Riding on, the sky was looking very threatening.  Ahead to my right, a small thunderhead with lots of lightening activity dumping a ton of rain.  Ahead to my left, a large mass of black ominous low-lying clouds pouring rain over a large area.  Straight ahead was one tiny area of sunlit clouds without rain.  SR-34 generally undulated up and down like a sea-serpent’s back swimming across the prairie keeping me pointed at the little patch of fair skies as the meteorological assaults grew closer and closer.  Every so often the road would veer to the right, sending me headlong toward the fierce lightning, and then veer back to the left driving straight into the black abyss of the other storm.  But generally the road would come back to my little azure oasis… I just hoped it would stay that way. 

Eventually I noticed a small bump in the earth ahead directly head, looking as though it were in the fair-sky zone.  As I rode, I saw it was clearly out of the rain with the storms flanking it on either side.  I focused on the mound and rode faster, still be teased by the bends in the rode, but always heading toward the mound.  Suddenly it hit me… that “bump” is Bear Butte just outside of Sturgis!  If I could just continue to thread the needle – I would make it safely to Sturgis.  I already started to abandon any idea of making it to Rapid City that night as I had planned.  I would consider a dry arrival in Sturgis as enough fate-tempting for one night, and riding to Rapid would put me straight into the black-clouded storm to the south.  

Arriving in Sturgis bathed in bug guts, but not rain, I found a little motel that looks to have been there since the 30’s advertising “reasonable rates” .  With only 2 of about 8 rooms available, I checked in for about $40.  The room was actually a tiny suite, built like a converted single-wide in old dark wood paneling and garish decor… but it was dry and cozy.  It had a tiny bathroom with a tiny shower and tiny sink.  The main area was a tiny kitchen with tiny stove, fridge, and table.  To the left a tiny bed room with two twin beds, one of which felt of the springs upon which the “mattress” lie but the other one… was perfect.  It was like the old guestroom bed at your grandparents’ house.  Worn and sagging in all the right areas, the sheets a little fuzzy with age and washings, but so soft and familiar, like the sheets at grandma’s place that you slept on when you were five years old.

The Lantern

The Lantern

 I unloaded the bike, and solicited the help of a couple of other biker tenants to hold up my bike while I checked the kick stand.  When it was stowed, it missed the rubber stop (by a lot) and nestles deep under the chassis.  I couldn’t see anyway to do anything about it now.  I am kind of guessing the tech in Pierre bent something strapping the bike to the lift… but being a couple hundred miles away and heading west, there wasn’t much recourse. 

I chatted with the bikers for a while about rides in the Black Hills and Yellowstone.  When the subject of buffalo encounters came up, we were a bit amazed by one fellow’s story about a buffalo bull in the rut attempting to mount his Harley.  While interesting the first time, upon third iteration, I excused myself to go do laundry.  I packed my clothes and headed downtown to the laundromat. 

Despite the fact that the Sturgis rally is a month off, there were a fair number of bikers already showing up.  When I was here for the rally in 2007, I had wanted to spend a little more time checking out some of the more elaborate and/or authentic biker bars Sturgis has to offer.  However, revelry and riding don’t mix, so most of my time in 2007 was spent at my camp ground – the Buffalo Chip.  And this time… I was dutifully doing my laundry. 

The laundromat on Main street is situated at the far end of the street, away from anything of interest except for a small hole in the wall “casino” (video poker is pretty much it) called Shenanigans.  I started my load of laundry, and popped over to the casino for a beer.  Armed with my laptop, I worked on the blog for a little while, but soon found myself engaged with the locals.  Barb, the bartender, was calling around to other bars to help find me a wifi connection.  When the conversation drifted to how great of an idea it is to have a bar attached to a laundromat, Doug, a regular, described his dream of owning a bar/bait shop.  We talked of North Carolina, rides, bars, good burgers, and great steaks.  I ran back and forth tending my laundry and as the evening pressed on (with one short storm) I knew Shenanigans was the only bar I’d be seeing in Sturgis that night.

Bidding good night to Bard and Doug.  I took my laundry back to the motel, covered the bike, and watched the weather channel for a while to see what I could expect for tomorrow.  I settled into bed, amazed at how comfortable I was, and drifted off to sleep.