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Common Tread

Encounters on the road to Sturgis

Sep 16, 2014

Long day on the road to Sturgis. Completely exhausted, I pulled off the desolate Minnesota two-laner into the dirt parking lot of a roadhouse. I popped in, wet my whistle, and walked back out to the RevZilla Street Glide, laid back on the dry bags I had piled up on the rear fender, and started a very serious nap.

I woke up an hour later to a stranger tapping me repeatedly.

The tiny gal yanking on my arm was on her way to Sturgis, too, and pulled over to make sure I was OK. Her headlights had lit me up, she told me, and she was concerned about the crapped-out looking guy on top of the long-hauler.

I was still sleep-addled, but I came to and assured her I was OK. She rode off pretty quickly. I never even caught her name! I thought about her for probably 30 miles. She must have been a pretty brave soul to wake a total stranger twice her size. It would have been easier to ride on, but she mustered the courage to do what she felt was the right thing for a fellow biker.

On I rode toward Sturgis.

Just across the South Dakota line, I met Gio, from BlackSmith Motoring. He presented himself to me as an aggressive-looking cat with crossed arms and a haughty scowl. Think of a mad-lookin’ Ice-T (long-hair Ice-T, not short-hair Ice-T) who happened to be driving around with a chopper in the bed of his Ford. Little about the bike resembled the Yamaha it was created from, and my curiosity about all things modified forced me to approach this guy who did not look like he wanted to be approached.

As I drooled over the bike and pelted him with questions, his pissed-off look melted away. We started talking shop, which is a great mutual starting point for gearhead strangers. I learned from his observations about his metric cruiser customers, which was helpful to me because I don’t have a great handle on that group of riders. After finding out I was going to Sturgis for the first time, he spent nearly an hour filling me in on the hot spots to hit and where to find the best riding. Refreshed, I rolled on.

Outside of Rapid City, S.D., I was fueling up, and I turned around to see a tattered yellow-and-blue license plate that was instantly familiar to me — it was a New Yawk plate. As I approached the bike, I pegged it as a very (very) well-used Ironhead sporting a springer front end. As I wandered nearer, a gangly, greasy guy started hustling towards me. I imagine he thought I was fixin’ to boost his bike.

I simply pointed at the plate with what I am sure was a quizzical look on my kisser. He told me he had ridden from Binghamton. I’ve done some hard rides a time or two, but to cruise to Sturgis on a springer Sporty is a hell of an achievement, in my book. It turns out I didn’t know half the story of this guy’s persistence.

He went on to tell me that it was his third attempt, and he’d never made it to Sturgis. I did the math and realized he was only about 30 miles out, so I shook his hand. I’ve been lucky to have been shown many times how to patiently build, rebuild, and re-rebuild the machine you want to end up with, but this Sportster pilot managed to do it with a quiet dignity and steady determination that was pretty inimitable. That Sportster was the machine he wanted to ride into Sturgis, and he kept after it until it happened.

I’ll make a confession. I only went to Sturgis because the suits told me I had to. I didn’t think it would be my scene and I figured I’d have a terrible time. Even when they let me borrow the shiny new company Street Glide and paid for my gas and camping, I still fussed about going.

When I returned, a close buddy of mine asked about the trip, and admitted he was jealous that I got a free ride there on RevZilla’s dime.

“I bet you met some cool people!” he said.

I nodded, and agreed with him.

“I did,” I said. “And I learned a few things from them.”