I wrote this on the way and after conclusion of the Boulder Run. Part of it was sent as e-mails, a combined version published in "Thunder Roads," an online biker mag. I've fiddled with it some since then, given it a beginning that ties up and the end, a few modifications and elaborations in between. If you've read it before, read it again. As I say now and then, just for the hell of it.
I rode to Boulder in June to visit my son and his family, including Sam the Man, my first grandson (who since has been joined by another one, Charlie, the Second Banana). A pic of Sam, his gramps and Brunhilde is contained.
It started out well enough, then soon turned poorly.
Pulled out of Plymouth at 5 a.m. Monday with Brunhilde loaded to the gills with accoutrement appropriate for the venture. The rain suit, for example, which I donned before departure, figuring "What the hell, I might as well put it on now because chances are I'm going to need it.” Ran into the first of the rain 60 miles south of the Cities and it continued all the way to south of Sheldon, IA. Riding in the rain is feasible, but never a pleasant experience. For one thing, I don't like the bike to get dirty.
But that wasn’t the worst part.
With the rain falling hard, I pulled into a truck stop in north Mankato for a cup of coffee and a brief respite, and right behind me came a couple of Harley riders, also from the Twin Cities, who were headed to Wyoming. We chatted for a bit, then decided I’d ride along with them. While they were putting on their rain suits, I went inside for a stop in the head. Got back out and off we went. We were 20 miles south when I reached for something in my fanny pack when “Whoa!,” there was no fanny pack there!
Damn, I’m thinking; I must have left the sumbitch in the head.
With that, nary so much as a wave goodbye to the Harley riders, I turned around and back-tracked. Pulled into the truck stop again, headed willy-nilly to the head, and the worst of my fears were realized. No fanny pack lying on the floor or hanging on a hook in the stall. Damn again! Some sumbitch musta came in and found it, claimed it for his own. Either that, or mebbe a Samaritan and picked it up and turned it in. I asked the clerks at the counter. Nope, sorry old fella, no fanny pack here.
Now, a fanny pack is a fanny pack, although this is one that I’ve had for years and to which I have come quite attached. It’s leather, the front covered with fringe, three zip pockets and a hidden, pull away pocket in the back that is just the right size for, say, a Smith & Wesson J-Frame revolver, stainless steel, three-inch barrel and chambered in .357 Magnum.
The good news here, as it were, is that the gun wasn’t in the fanny pack. Although I have a concealed carry permit for the State of Minnesnota, it is not recognized as valid in Iowa, Nebraska or Colorado, the three states I’d be riding through. So the gun, cased and unloaded, was still secure in the trunk of the Valk.
What I was losing in the pack, however, were two speed-loaders and 10 rounds of hollow-point .357, an I-Pod Nano loaded with most of my music, a cell phone that I’d only owned for about a week (and had barely learned how to use), a few other odds and ends, and worst of all--my totem bag.
The totem bag, a little deerskin pouch filled with icons I’d scrounged to represent the Four Elements, I’ve had since the early ‘80s. I “consecrated” it one morning at dawn on the banks of the upper Hudson River in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York. I’ve carried it on all my travels--consider it “lucky”--a “totem,” if you will.
Wahl, that was that, I thought, and got on a pay phone to call Barbi back in the Cities to see if she could get in touch with the phone company, cancel my new phone in case somebody tried to use it, and order me a new one that with any kind of luck could be mailed ahead to Boulder by the time I got there. They could, she said, and after sitting there over another cup of coffee for a while, pissing and moaning over my loss, I climbed back onto the Valk and proceeded south again through the rain.
Weather lifted by the time I reached Sioux City and Monday afternoon in eastern Nebraska was nearly perfect…were it not for the flooding. The Platte River valley was full after a week of rain, the creeks overflowing, and my plan to diagonal from Sioux City to Grand Island was thwarted by a detour. The detour then was detoured and only by luck did I find myself coming out of the maze in a place I could find on my map--Elkhorn, just above Lincoln. That was nearly 12 hours into the epoch, some 475 miles, so I decided to call it a night and lay over at a motel.
It was a truck stop motel, cheap but offering free phone service, so I put up my 39 bucks, found my room and settled in to the sounds of a group hanging around outside on the stairs the veranda who I presumed to be, mmm, weekly tenants. The castaway empties, cackles and “mutha phuques” lasted well after midnight.
I took advantage of the free phone, called Barbi and she asked about the motel.
“You wouldn’t like it,” I said. “Think of it this way--I wore my flip-flops into the tub for my shower.”
Morning broke both warm and clear in Lincoln, but by 6:30, 20 miles west on I-80, I encountered a heavy wall of low pressure and fog so thick that it condensed on my windshield and began to bead like it would were I riding in rain. This went on for 40- 50 miles during which often I couldn't see anything beyond the taillights of the car or truck in front of me. It was damp, cool, and oddly, there was a crosswind at work that heightened the chill. It was enough to have me pause at a wayside, dig into the right-side hard bag and pull out a set of my "heavy leathers," shit that I'd packed only for such eventuality.
At Kearney, where I-80 takes a turn to the north and Platte before dipping southwest again, I dropped down south 20 miles to U.S. 34 which runs east-west just above the Kansas border. Ah, what a time-saver. Two lanes, old but well-paved, this baby runs straight as an Arapahoe arrow from Holdridge, NE, to Ft. Morgan, CO, some 300 miles up and down roller-coaster hills, surprisingly mindful of the southern sector of Wisconsin’s Driftless, and virtually, or practically so, without other human intervention. Oh, yeah, there was the occasional truck or semi, the usual locals heading here and there, but otherwise--virtually phuquing NOBODY--and not in the least any sheriffs. Better yet, most of the time, because of the topography, I could see so much as a mile ahead of me! I mean everything. Traffic coming toward me, traffic behind me (such as it was), crossroads, even at one point a prairie dog, fer Chrissake. This, with the state speed limit set at a brisk 65 mph, allowed me to cruise at 70 legally, but as much as 80, 90 and even 110 without much of any sort of interference. The 110, I only hit once, just for the hell of it; the 90 on two or three passing situations; but the 80 mph, for much of the stretch purty much de rigeur.
I tell you, there's nothing quite like a 1520 cc, 94 hp six-cylinder engine banging along for miles at a time at 4000 rpm and 80 miles per hour. Music to me ears, food for the soul of a biker, even though I was wearing my helmet, which muffled a tad the Cobra Six-Pack exhausts. I've never experienced it before, being able to go anywhere on a bike or in a car, that fast for so long at a stretch, without worrying particularly about either traffic or gendarme. Speaking with personal bias, it's the best testimony I could ever make to the oft-stated claim of the Valk "Interstate Tourer" being perhaps the greatest highway cruiser ever made.
I pulled into Boulder around 6:30 p.m., CDT, or 5:30 Mountain Time, picking up an hour on the way. Essentially, 12 hours in the saddle, given stops around every hour or so for a short rest, hydration, gas, and as I found along the way, caffeine and cannabis for a nicely balanced little pick-me-up.
Boulder is pretty, at the "foothills" of the Rocky Mountains. The foothills are actually mountains, were they situated anywhere else in the country, and it’s chock-full of young and healthy-looking people on bicycles, runners and joggers, and attractive stay-at-home moms pushing baby strollers along quiet, narrow streets and tree-shaded walkways when they‘re not staying home. Once upon a time, we may have called them Yuppies.
Everybody has a dog--that, and a couple of plastic water bottles they carry around. Correctly, most of the owners are quite diligent about cleaning up after them, so with the water bottles carefully discarded in the trashe cans, there is little refuse around. About all I saw were cigarette butts--and almost all of those were mine.
The week with my son and his family was wonderful. There was a 2 ½ year old grandson, Sam, and he and his dad and I spent Father’s Day together.
Did about 200 miles when I was there, down to Arvada, up to Lyons near Estes Park and then Ft. Collins, which is only around 40 miles south of Cheyenne, met with some friends and enjoyed it immensely.
I went back up that way on Monday morning heading home, rode east on I-80 into Nebraska, then took U.S. 71 north through Scottsbluff all the way to Hot Springs, SD. It was a road almost identical to 34, so again I made good time. Got to the Black Hills around 5, went partway through Custer National Park before cutting over to 385 to Deadwood. Nearly lost Brunhilde once or twice on a tight and curvy graveled road, even at the posted 15 miles per hour, had to brake for a deer, then sit and wait a few minutes for your obligatory bison herd to cross from one wallow to another.
Stayed in Deadwood overnight, a guest of the, er, "Hickock House." If it weren't for Hickcock dying there, I believe the Sioux might still have it--along with the honky-tonks and gambling parlors, which is about all thee is. It’s a pretty, pretty place, though, way down in the V of a deep gulch flanked by high Black hills. On the downside, cell phone signals run to shit.
Yeah, I had another cell phone--mailed to me in Boulder by the company--so at least this time on the road, I was no longer incommunicado.
Rode through Sturgis in the morning, north on 73 to Newell and then east on U.S. 212. Damn, there's a third road out there that's straight as a stick and a roller coaster up and down that gives you great visibility. Again, no traffic; again I flew, noodling along at 110 again twice, and again, simply for the hell of it.
It was sort of like Bill Clinton, when years after he no longer was President, and years after the Lewinski affair, he was asked by an interviewer, “Why did you do it?”
“Because I could,” Bubba said.
There were mishaps, a couple close ones, all in the middle of nowhere. One guy was diddling along at around 10, 15 mph as I came upon him while descending a hill and dropped to third gear. No signal. What the hell? So I start to go around him slowly and bigger than shit he turns left--with his signal on, which was a little late for me. I managed to brake enough to bring Brunhilde down a car's length short of the target, then had to wrestle her thousand-pound weight and load to an acceptably controlled stop.
I nearly ran out of gas on the Standing Rock Northern Cheyenne reservation. I mean, talk about the middle of nowhere. It’s a long, long stretch, and if you don’t fill up at the mom and pop station in Eagle Butte…wahl, then your as dumb as me. Making it worse, I could have got gas, but instead stopped in only for a coffee and a cigarette. There were a few of tribe hanging around, and though neither paid neither any attention, I did catch one peering at me narrowly as I walked back to the bike. Then it dawned on me. I was wearing my riding vest, and on the back in the center is an embroidered Thunder Bird. Made by the Sioux, not the Cheyenne. A faux pax, perhaps. But no, then I remembered --that the Cheyenne and Sioux were largely allied during the Indian Wars, so I was probably in reasonably good stead. Had the T-Bird been made by, say, the Crow or Pawnee, mmm, bad tribal karma.
I was down to reserve when I finally found a Sinclair, pulled in and pumped 6.3 gallons into my 6.7-gallon tank.
A word to the wise. You take a long trip, even with a huge gas tank, and you have enough room for a plastic jug, gallon and a half, take it along, just in case. Dumb me for not doing that.
Next near mishap was more gravel, this time was on a stretch of road, still U.S. 212, heaped high with it. A damn fool, but contrasting the alternative, a back-track followed by a detour, I decided to give it a test. I eased on in in second gear, feeling my way, but in a flash, I found myself damn near up to the foot pegs in golf-ball sized rocks. Almost lost it there. Got off the throttle, pulled in the clutch, stayed off the brakes, started looking for furrows and purty near let her steer herself. Somewhat miraculously, I thought, she stopped woozily, tipping just a tad, but with me still on top. Then I had to try and turn the sumbitch around, hard careful work in the middle of the pile, and sneak back out the hell out of there.
At the near fork in the road, I saw a sign that read "Orient Bar & Grill, 1 Mile.“ After the gravel, I was ready to wet my whistle anyway, and needing a tip now on how I might proceed to Watertown, I took a county road and came upon a small cluster of shacks and an auto body shop. The auto body guy was out front so I asked him directions to the bar. "Turn right here, go through all of your gears as fast as you can, and if you run through a building, that's the bar."
At the bar was the tender, her father and a buddy of his, and after explaining my situation, they hauled out a map and showed me a 28-mile detour down, across and up another county road back to 212, Watertown down the road a piece and Minnesnota on the other side. I had a couple of brews and we all got to talking.
One of them brought up Obama.
“I hope you’re not a liberal,“ he sez cordially but carefully, “because if so, I don’t want to offend you.”
“No, no--fine with me. Go right ahead.”
They went on for some time. “Crabbing mightily,” you might call it.
As I was getting ready to leave, one of them told me that if I was a pheasant hunter, I was in the middle of some of the best pheasant country in South Dakota and that if I was so inclined, he’d be glad to have me come back out that way when the season comes around and shoot some up with him.
“Wahl, no thanks. I’m not much into pheasant hunting“ I said.
“But I tell you what. You ever got any liberals out here that need to be shot, why don’t you give me a call?”
‘course, we all knew we was kiddin’. Heh.
It was 10 p.m. or so by the time I got to Watertown. They had the radar on at the Stop 'n' Rob and there was holy hell in storms and tornados being played in northeastern Nebraska and northwestern Iowa. I was just above it. Fresh full of caffeine and boo, I decided to push on. Got to Montevideo, MN, around midnight, cut northeast up a state road to U.S. 12 and Willmar and followed that in to home base. The sky from Monte all the way east was lighting up like a campfire at a Boy Scout rally in Valley Forge, all around, all across the horizon. There was a pale moon smoked by wisps of clouds and through one woodsy stretch near Granite City, I felt for a while like Ichabod Crane. Pulled into the driveway at 2:05 a.m., sprinkles on my head.
It was 613 miles in 16 hours. Figuring I stopped for 20 minutes every hour, thereabouts, I still averaged 60 mph, Deadwood to Plymouth. The Valk performed heroically. Aside from having to handle it on the gravel or push it around a parking lot, find the right angle to park at a curb so it's not slanting so hard to port that I'll never get it back up without help, it's the greatest all-around bike I've ever ridden and designed damn near perfectly for the purpose for which it is mainly intended. And that’s the trip I took.
‘cept for the usual drain you start to get after eight, ten hours, I can't really say I ever felt all that fatigued.
Standing in the garage, thunder overhead, lighting in the sky, rain now coming down in a deluge, I lit smoke and leaned against Barbi’s car. I looked around the garage, gave the once-over to Donner und Blitzen, my other bike, the ‘85 Shadow. There was something slung over the saddle.
It was my fanny pack, leather and fringe, still packed with all the stuff I’d put in there on the day that I left.
What a dumb shit.
I zipped it open, took out the stuff, including, by the way, my sacred totem bag.
Lucky for me.
Posted August 29th, 2012
Freddie Milverstedt writes:
I've written a book, "One More Ride," about my motorcycle experiences, "adventures" as some might perceive, circa 1965 to the present. It will be released in print and digitally in early 2013, published by August Publications, formerly of Minnetonka, MN, and now based in Middleton, WI.
This is not a "how to" book or a politically correct and prudent guide to safe motorcycling. Rather, it is sort of a memoir, or "journey" as my publisher likes to put it, in which through experiences gleaned as I biker I come to certain realizations, truths and the occasional epiphany that life on an engine, two wheels and the highways and bi-ways is fraught with risk, danger and a good dose of fatalistic humor. Turning 70 next week, among my hard-won conclusions is that life on the road in America today is "no country for old men."
The book will be released in time for Christmas. In addition to print, it will be available on e-book via Apple, Amazon and Barnes & Noble. A promo tour will begin in the spring.
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