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Sturgis 2005 - Part 1
I had wanted to go for seventeen years. So it was a pretty big event when I got the vacation I needed and started the planning. An even bigger event the morning of, when I woke and started strapping small waterproof duffle bags across my fender. I was on my way. Almost.
The sky was incredibly grey, filled with clouds threatening to unleash a torrential downpour. I continued packing with frequent breaks to dubiously scan the sky. I wasted three hours checking weather reports, somehow believing that if I checked enough, they would get tired and change.
So I got a late start, but was finally headed south down 81 to meet up with 80W and take that out to Chicago, where I would meet 90W and follow it to Sturgis. 81 is one of my favorite interstates. I’ve trekked down its path on my little red Sportster more times than I can count. I know where the foggy patches are, through the mountains of southern Pennsylvania; love the West Virginia rest stops and have felt that bone wearying fatigue that sets in somewhere through Virginia.
80 across Ohio becomes a tedious turnpike but redeemed itself because it was there that the first sightings occurred. I’d pull into a gas station, see a trailer loaded with motorcycles and pumping gas into the accompanying truck would be a man in a black shirt with the invariable motorcycle words or graphic on the front. The call and response social dance began:
And so it began.
Going to Sturgis on a bike is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, and I’ve been riding bikes to music festivals and motorcycle events for years. There’s always the anticipation, the list making, the packing, then the final launch out of the driveway and on the way to the event. There’s the getting close and seeing everyone else who is obviously, by way of clothing and transport mode, going where you are going. There are the greetings, and there are the gas stops where everyone talks to everyone else, finding out where people are from and how long they’ve been on the road so far. All of that is familiar.
But the sheer size of the migration of motorcycles on I-90 headed west, that I was unprepared for. Or the quick associations among people who had never met before, all bonded by a shared destination. The way that we were so separated from the rest of the people traveling on the interstate, as if the stream of bikes moving toward Sturgis was carried on a river of some reality we had nothing to do with - the way that other people looked at us and tried to figure out just why they were seeing so many motorcycles that day. Explaining when they asked: “Sturgis!” knowing that they did not comprehend the bikers migrating like salmon, en masse up the interstates.
After Ohio I took 90W through Indiana. 90 becomes a turnpike in Indiana and intending no disrespect to Indiana, the only good thing I can state about the Indiana Turnpike is that it is short.
The Turnpike is in truly horrible shape. The buildings at the service stations appear to have been built in the 1950s, with low ceilings and a vague; “I’m just waiting to be mugged” feeling accompanies a person walking through them. It felt like the slums of the toll roads.
After the short, ugly stint that was Indiana, I arrived in Illinois.
And I had thought Indiana was bad.
Illinois was a great big toll road, with tons of traffic and a huge nightmare to kick it off called Chicago. I had been making good time up until Indiana, when my stamina started to fade a little bit. I was making perhaps my fifth attempt at the coveted Iron Butt patch. I desperately want to join the Iron Butt Association. To join it, a person has to ride at least one thousand miles in twenty-four hours, and provide documentation of the event. I have tried it going to Florida, but I got lost in South Carolina, where I ended up meeting some South Carolina bikers and having a whole set of unexpected adventures. I was going to try another time after a trip to NYC to see the Dead at Jones Beach, but three days of partying with Long Island bikers kicked my scooter butt and I ended up riding home in the tail end of a hurricane (no joke!) through a hailstorm for part of it and then sleeping on the couch for two days straight.
This time I was determined to make it.
But then I met two bikers from Pennsylvania and after we had done the obligatory traveling to Sturgis social dance: “Sturgis?” “Sturgis!” and they had introduced themselves as Chris and Chris, I ended up socializing too long. They had pressed for all of us to go take a nap on a picnic table at a rest stop and I was feeling tired and they seemed to know what they were talking about. I kept iterating that I would miss out on my much vaunted goal of making the Iron Butt and this time it was in my sights. They told me it was still doable, even with a nap, if I just rode along with them when we all got going again after two hours or so. It was a big mistake on my part.
We started getting ourselves together after a couple hour snooze. We slept from about five in the morning until seven, when it may have been too cold to ride anyway.
As the day started warming up, we drank coffee and stood around our motorcycles, talking. They were convinced we would blast at 90 down the road. I explained to them that mine is an old Sportster and it’s done many miles and one of the ways it’s done so many is to not generally go over 75. It’s a chain drive little beast and the last year of the 4 speed Sporty transmission, to boot. I compensate by running a 22 tooth front sprocket instead of 21, but I’m well aware that my bike is working harder than the big twins I ride next to on the highway to maintain the same speeds. And I don’t like the bone shaking voyage that consistent 85 miles an hour brings on a chain drive bike.
By the time we got going again, we’d picked up another straggler. Someone traveling solo who had stopped for gas and a snack. Our foursome started on the road and then the three of them put me in the dust. I purposely held back, because I did not like the velocity and because I was getting a weird feeling from one of the Chris‘s. I prefer riding alone most of the time, and was beginning to realize that I would prefer to continue adventuring by myself this time, as well. I was becoming part of a little mini-group’s plans instead of my own.
They disappeared at speeds that I’m pretty sure matched the sound barrier, and I continued along behind, calculating how many miles I had to do and whether I would make the much vaunted Iron Butt requirements. It was still within my sight.
But then I hit Chicago, and somehow ended up on the 90W local headed through the city, rather than the express. The express has a toll both and stopping plaza at the eastern side of the city, and another one at the west. The local has the same two gas stations and a bevy of toll booths at approximate distances of a half mile from each other all through the city.
It was maddening. I was hot, the clouds had long since given way to a blistering heat that radiated off the road. I was doing the old shutting my engine off to let my bike cool down during the interminable standing waits at the tollbooths routine, and pushing it ahead when the traffic was slow enough.
I was becoming increasingly worried about running out of gas.
Every toll booth person I asked gave frighteningly complicated instructions about gas stations and it was becoming obvious that Chicago has, apparently, some kind of anti-terrorist plan to make all its gas stations completely inaccessible. I crept along from toll booth to toll booth, seething, swearing to myself, feeling trickles of sweat work their way down my neck and back.
I was missing Indiana.
Sturgis 2005 - Part 2 >>
Motorcycle History Report - What You Need to Know Before You Buy a Used Motorcycle.
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