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When did you become a Biker? May 9, 2010

Posted by dakotabiker in Introductions, MegaTweet, Rides.
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I mean really a “Biker”, not just a guy or gal with a motorcycle. 

A tweet-friend and fellow biker-blogger recently made an unusual post: she is selling her car making her Harley Sportster her sole means of motorized conveyance.  Now, I do know people who have no car, but they mostly live in the city where public transportation abounds and a dearth of parking makes having a car more of a liability than an asset.  But she is out in the northern midwest, where things are far apart without a great deal of public transport, and occassionally some nasty weather…. and the winters… ah, forget it! 

She has been riding for only a year, and in my opinion is already a “real biker”.  She carries a sincere passion for the freedom of the ride, and shares her experience as a “newbie Harley rider” with a rigor and candor that makes it easy to see that she is a rider.  But, that is only my opinion.   Some may say “she has a nice little hobby there”.  But with this new total motorcycle reliance… there are few who would dispute that she is a Biker. 

There are many websites that explore what it is to be a biker.  Many cite philosophies about freedom, brotherhood, integrity – and while I agree that these qualities are very admirable and vitally important, they are not the exclusive province of bikers and they are seen in many non-riding communities.  I’ve shared the biker philosophy most of my life, but prior to owning a bike nor even knowing how to ride, I would have never assumed to call myself a Biker.  Riders ride.  But what distinguishes a Biker from a person on a motorcycle?  

There are plenty of RUBs out there with shiny new bikes putting on less than 1000  miles a year on sunny days only while wearing bug-free leathers from the dealership.  And I do NOT begrudge them one bit.  (As far as I am concerned, if they are not sponging off of me or my taxes, then people should be able to spend their money as they damn well please.) I just didn’t want to be a RUB.  

So what is it then that makes someone a Biker?  I started riding in June of 2006, so some may think that I am not a “real Biker”.  Even having 51,000 miles and 44 states behind me, some would still say that I am not.  I think I am, though I surely was not the day I bought the bike, nor really for a year after.  But as OCD as it may seem, it occupied my mind a lot.  Just what set of circumstances would have to come together for me to be a Biker?  For me, the transition occurred after 14 months… 

I remember being happy with myself doing 100 miles without a break, riding only to the metro station because I was too afraid to negotiate the traffic in Washington DC, and having that awkward uneasy feeling trying to duck-walk the bike into a narrow parking spot at a biker bar worrying that the “real Bikers” were looking at me like I was an idiot.   But as time went on the rides got longer though more weather conditions and into the streets of DC, and I still wondered if I was a biker, or a just a RUB. 

When my one year anniversary was still a few months away, I found a “You may not be a biker if…” weblist, and the one that stuck in my head was: “You may not be a biker if your 1 year anniversary comes before your 5,000 mile service”.  I was still shy of that mark and headed out on the road to “be” a Biker.  I got my 5,000 miles and passed my 1-year mark over 6,000.  

But was I a Biker? 

Two months later, I headed out to the Sturgis Rally from Maryland, riding solo.  I had no idea how to estimate time, miles, fatigue and weather.  I stayed on interstate the whole way out to “make time”.  I rode without a helmet for only the first time when I got to Wisconsin; it was pure exhilaration.  Doing 500 mile days, I made it to my folks’ place in eastern South Dakota in 3 days, camping one night and staying in a cheap motel the next.  I had no idea how to pack, and even remembering Stitzer’s Vacation Principle, I ended up packing way too much like a n00B and had to ship clothes home so I could afford the space to buy stuff.  

Was I a Biker yet? 

I then took several days zig-zagging the state meeting up with old friends and family, and finally arrived at the Buffalo Chip.  Riding cautiously along the gravel roads amidst hundreds of other bikes (having never before ridden in a close group), I arrived at the check-in area and nervously teetered my way to a spot in the uneven cow pasture in front of the Buffalo Chip registration sign.  I pulled out my Riders Edge sign (the one that says something like “My ride started at the Edge – Harley Davidson Baltimore ” – where I had taking my training course) and asked a biker to take my picture to send back to my Rider’s Edge alma mater.  I took a while to relish in the accomplishment of making it from Maryland to Sturgis.  I walked around looking at the bikes, buying (more than) a few T-shirts.  

First long ride - Sturgis 2007

 Was I a Biker yet? 

I rode into the campground, still a bit uneasy on the uneven dirt, until I found a spot to pitch my tent.  The camp ground was alive with activity.  It was midday.  Hotter than hell and dry.  I parked the bike, and walked around until I found a place to buy a beer.  Like a n00B, I didn’t have a cooler and settled for 2 cans, and walked back to my site.  I pitched my tent in the heat and the dust, drinking one cold one, and then a not so cold one.  I sat in the heat wondering well now what?  I’m really “at” the rally, “at” the Chip, in a tent. 

Was I a Biker yet? 

I walked around watching people partying with their riding buddies and setting up their rally home infrastructure of coolers, tables, grills, canopies, and signage.  Riding alone and walking alone, I felt a little out-of-place.  It didn’t take long for my two beers to sweat out of my system, so I hopped on the bike at headed to the main stage area where a “biker rodeo” was taking place.  I got a sandwich and beer and found a table from which to watch the events.  There were quite a few people, but it was still pretty low-key, and actually got a little boring.  I left the camp and rode into Sturgis.  Hitting the crowded streets, traffic was a standstill with the sounds of thousands of over-heated Harleys laboring in the heat.  I found a parking spot off the main drag and walked main street.  I had been to Sturgis several times in college, driving up (in cages) with buddies in hopes of seeing the fabled “wild times”.  But this time I had no compatriots.  I walked from one end of the street to the other buying souvenirs and stopping in the occasional bar for a beer.  I was a little bummed at the realization that the miles between town and the Buffalo Chip would preclude any serious revelry here in town.  Eventually, I got tired of walking in the heat, got back into the queue of over-heated bikes inching along the sizzling asphalt, and made it back to my tent to lie in the sweltering sun.  I started regretting having pre-purchased of several days of this.  

Main Street Sturgis 2007

Was I a Biker at all? 

Jimmy & Karin

Night came.  The temperatures cooled off.  And the concert was about to start.  I donned my jacket, bought a beer and walked up to the concert.  I think that night was Toby Keith.  Drinking my beer I walked around trying to find that rare combination of dry seating, people watching, a decent concert view, and the chance to actually talk with somebody.  (As you may have gathered by this point, despite my verbose blog existence, I can be a bit of a wall flower in large social situations.)  Failing all that, I switched from beer to Jack and Coke and resigned myself to just stand and watch the concert.  Then by chance, I met a couple from Washington state who actually initiated conversation with me, Jimmy and Karin.  We hit it off quite well and had a great time at the concert.  As the night drew to a close, they invited me to ride the Badlands with them the next morning. I had found the biker camaraderie for which I was looking (of course, once I stopped looking).  

So was I a Biker yet? 

The next morning came too early for the night before with a scorching sun raising the temperature inside the tent to just shy of 100 degrees.  I got up and staggered in search of coffee and a shower.  The shower facilities were… well… gross.  But clearly, this is rally life.  I showered and headed back toward the tent, watching last night’s revelers stirring with the same coffee seeking stagger I had experienced an hour before.  I dressed and stowed my gear, and, with a fresh cup o’ joe in my hand, headed out in search of Jimmy and Karin’s tent.  They were just getting up, so I waited drinking my coffee as they got ready for the ride. We headed out down the interstate back east to the Badlands.  We made the obligatory stop at Wall Drug to do the tourist thing, get minor supplies, and some lunch.  

In the SD Badlands -2007

A buffalo burger later, we then headed into the park.  The scenery was as I remembered in college, a stark alien landscape of colorfully layered peaks; a small desert in the middle of the Dakota prairie.  Only this time, being on a bike the feeling was so much more immersive.  The twisty roads had me back in my old habit of wearing a helmet… that is until our first stop.  Then we flew through the twists and turns taking in the ever-changing landscape.  In the west, a thunderstorm was rapidly approaching but we pressed on.  Moments later it was upon us and we were riding the curves, the rain both stinging and cooling, lightning striking the landscape around us.  The temperatures dropped precipitously freezing my bare arms and drenched jeans as we exited the south west end of the park toward Rapid City.  With teeth chattering in the now cold wind, I led Jimmy and Karin to what used to be an old college hangout.  At mid-day in the summer, it was pretty dead.  But we had coffee drinks (which were free because we had to wait for the coffee to be made) and free bar tacos, while we sat warming up and re-living the wild ride though the Badlands in a thunderstorm. 

After the Badland Storm Ride - 2007

Was I a Biker yet? 

That night we hung out again at the concert and had a great time.  (I think it was ZZ-Top)  We turned in a little earlier than the previous night from the exhaustion of the day.  The next morning came and I went to see them off for their ride home to Washington.  On our ride the day before, Jimmy had noticed that my brake light was stuck on.  I really wanted to avoid getting service anywhere near the rally, but that was the kind of problem that can get a guy killed.  I rode down into Rapid City early to find the dealership as crowded as I expected.  I got my bike checked in and while I was at it, ordered my 10k service and a new rear tire as well.  I settled in for the wait.  So, I rode half way across the country to go the rally and was going to spent a whole damn day on a bench at the dealership.  I bought an overpriced magnetic chess board, a deck of cards, and some over-priced food, and had the fortune of striking up a conversation with a biker, Virgil,  that also happened to play chess.  We spent the whole day in the dealership parking lot tents, trying to avoid the sun and playing several games of chess until my bike was finally ready 10 hours after pulling in.  

Virgil & I on about Game 3

Was I a Biker yet? 

The day was just draining, so I had a pretty early evening at the campground, which was restless for all the burn-outs echoing the campground all night.  I awoke the next morning  intending of riding to Devil’s Tower, WY (of Close Encounters of the Third Kind fame) and while there, I popped up north into Montana.  The open stretches of Wyoming were different that those of South Dakota, somehow more scenic and even more sparsely driven.  I decided to open up the throttle for the first time just to see how fast she’d go.  With that skinny front tire on my Dyna, I started feeling a little unstable crossing 100 mph and backed off at 110 mph.  It was exhilarating though, setting my personal landspeed record (on a bike anyway).   

Was I a Biker yet? 

I made it back to the campground in plenty of time for the concert (Buckcherry).  Walking around the camp, I overheard a small group of 20-somethings from my home town.  I stopped by to chat, or more listen, hearing about how the place had changed and how it stayed the same.  It was a different vibe hanging out with these “kids”, but the energy was there, and it was not like I had a posse of my own with which to hang, so we all walked over to the concert.  I had never seen, or even heard of, Buckcherry at the time.  (I was generally radiofree in avoiding the car for the bike, and otherwise listening to XM radio hearing the “songs of my youth”).  But they put on a hell of a show and my 20-something group was pretty adept at working our way right to the front.  The whole concert was alive with energy and when they played the song “Everything”, I was swept away in the experience, feeling for the first time in almost 20 years like I was in college, living in the moment, present and immersed in my surroundings, feeling the intensity and taking it all in.  There was no stress, no work, no angst — just RIGHT NOW.   “I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life…to put to rout all that was not life; and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” ~Henry David Thoreau.  (Yes, I would carry a copy of Walden when I would hike and camp.) 

Was I a Biker yet?  

In the months prior (in addition to worrying if I was a Biker or not), I had been contemplating the concept of Memento Mori – a latin expression loosely meaning “remember you will die”.  As I understand, it started as an artistic movement derived from the Epicurean ideology of “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”  The idea, of course, was to “suck the marrow” from life and enjoy the moment RIGHT NOW for this is all there is.  The art itself has kind of a goth feeling, interposing elements of life (flowers, fruits, etc.) with elements of death (predominantly skulls); the juxtaposition being a reminder of the impermanence of life and inevitability of death.  Religious sects (the Calvinists I think) got a hold of the notion and turned it into warning to clean up your act in life because you will not escape judgment in death.  The idea of memento mori appealed to me, as had its dual-dualities.  Not only is memento mori a thought-provoking interplay of life and death, but even the interpretation of the expression is both a call for vibrant living and of self-denial (or a least a degree of caution).   And in that moment of vibrant living, I decided to get a new tattoo… an ambigram of memento mori.  When Buckcherry finished, I made my way to the row of vendors to a tattoo artist.  Unfortunately, he was booked solid for the night, but I paid my down payment and made an appointment for the next morning, right before I was taking off back east.  I made my way back into the crowd.  I had lost my 20-something posse, but it was no matter.  Feeling the energy of the crowd I roamed around and watched the rally be a rally as Velvet Revolver played into the night.  The next morning after coffee, I packed up my bike and rode to the tattoo stand.  The sunny quiet morning didn’t have the energy of the night before, and my more-cautious self started with the mind chatter… “What if this guy sucks?” “What if he is unsteady and hung over?” “What kind of infection control can he possibly have in this dirt?” “Real smart… get a tattoo from some transient vendor…”  But, I held my resolve…  and walked in to have some of my fears realized.  I don’t know if he was hung over, but he looked it.  He was in a bike accident the day prior, so was clearly not at his “best”.  Needless to say the results were not “perfect”.  It is just a small fraction of an inch off (a point that no one notices, but I am painfully aware of it) and a miscommunication about “a little bit more serif” resulted in blobby thick lines (getting mad just writing about it).  It was a little tough to monitor progress from the excruciating pain across my sternum, but all in all I am proud of my rally tattoo.  

So am I a Biker yet? 

Leaving the Chip, I got on the highway in strong winds.  My shirt was flapping against my wounded chest as I fought the gales.  I made very little mileage that day.  I stopped in Mitchell to see the Corn Palace and noticed a problem with my rear brakes.  I had to almost stand on them to get any effect.  The front ones were still fine, and it was getting too late to do anything about it, so I pressed on stopping short of Sioux Falls for the night.  There was an Irish bar a short distance from my hotel where I enjoyed a burger with fried egg and chislic (which I hadn’t had in ages), and talked with bikers heading home from Sturgis.  The next morning I pulled into the dealership in Sioux Falls to find that the brakes were actually fine… and well lubricated from all the transmission fluid flying out of the side of the bike.  The Rapid City dealership had put the transmission oil plug on without a gasket.  I had the brakes cleaned and transmission oil topped off and headed out with the bike shifting a little hard.  Stopping at the Minnesota border for an ABC point, I found couldn’t get the bike into neutral, so rode back to Sioux Falls just as the dealership was closing.  I got the bike in to be worked on the next day, but was now stuck at the HD parking lot with all my gear as night approached….  

Am I getting closer to being a Biker? 

Fortunately my folks lived a short 120-ish miles away, so my Dad and uncle came to pick me up and I had one more evening with family.  The next morning the bike was fixed, and I was on my way again.  This time avoiding the interstate I took only back roads to see Americana.  It took a lot longer getting home, but it was a ride worth taking — the small towns, the biker bars, the random conversations and re-tellings of adventures, the scenery, the dive motels and camp grounds…  I finally arrived home with a few thousand more miles than I started, some new friends, a sunburn, my hair in wind-blown knots, a memento mori rally tattoo across my chest, a thrice-repaired bike, a bunch of T-shirts and pins, and a lot of experiences that are best discussed over a beer.  

Looking back on the trip, I decided I was finally a Biker. 

So, when did you become a Biker?

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.