Interstate 90 back to Spearfish was packed with Harleys doing 55 – while sounding like they were going 105. I soon tired of the freight-train pace, waved to the renegades, and took the next off-ramp towards the hills. It was time to enjoy some twisties.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I wouldn’t make it back to Spearfish City Campground that evening.
I wasn’t sure where I was going and didn’t actually care much, so long as the roads were twisty. I remember passing Custer State Park and the perpetually incomplete Crazy Horse Memorial. The locals told me it would never be completed as there were too many faults in the rock formation to support the carving, but the owners kept collecting donations.
When I spotted a pond and a Trout Fishing sign by the side of the road, I pulled in to check the map. I was closer to Spearfish than I thought. Behind the pond was a small bar, a residence, and some cabins – a mom and pop venture. Like every other place during bike week, there were a bunch of Harleys parked out front. I grabbed the only single unoccupied stool remaining, at the end of the bar. A perky little coed named Melody took my order. She reminded me of a brunette Goldie Hawn.
Most of the other riders were wearing identical patches – Mutants, Mongers, Mongols, Morons, or something equally juvenile. They were a rough-looking bunch and seemed to have more scars than teeth.
The guy next to me was too drunk and obnoxious to live. He grated on me over the course of two beers, but I decided to say nothing so long as he stayed put. When Melody refused to give him another beer, he reached across the counter to grab her. Before any rational thought processing could intervene, I swung my arm around like the boom of a sailboat and slammed him backwards off the barstool and onto the floor.
As he stumbled up, he threw a string of invectives and threats at me, but I wasn’t worried about him, I was worried about all the other morons. This was going to take some quick thinking. Melody ran out through a back door.
Walking around behind the bar, I stood as tall as possible and addressed them. “What the hell is the matter with you guys? You let your buddy make an ass out of himself in public and don’t step in to intervene? If he’d gotten ahold of her, that would be aggravated assault!” I shouted in my best legalese. “You think any jury in this county would be sympathetic?”
Many of them stood up with hatred in their eyes and murder in their hearts.
“I’m serious, you need to think about this,” I continued. “That bump on his head will be gone in three days. An assault charge will cost him at least three years. I did your friend a favor!”
As they were deciding what to do, I heard some boots clomping across the wooden floor behind me, probably coming out of the restroom. They were sure to grab and hold me while the rest of the gang took turns venting their anger. This was going to hurt.
I determined that they weren’t going to mess me up without taking some souvenirs home themselves. I grabbed a whiskey bottle and swung around to engage in battle.
But there weren’t any clubbers there, just two cowboys – a young one and another twice his age. They were each holding a pump-action shotgun across their chests.
The older one said with intimidating authority, “I figure this is a good time for you boys to head back to camp and sleep it off. You’ll be a lot happier in the morning if you don’t let this get out of hand.”
The morons stood motionless not knowing what to do. One of them clandestinely reached underneath his leather vest. The younger cowboy lowered and cocked his Remington. Nobody moved for several pregnant moments. Then the older cowboy lowered and cocked his gun also and stated calmly, “There’s more of you than us, but as these shotguns hold five shells each, our odds’ll be a lot better after the smoke clears.”
The boss moron turned and exclaimed, “This is getting way too serious. It’s time for us to forget this misunderstanding and ride out.” They slowly gathered their gear and shuffled out the door. The cowboys followed them. I followed the cowboys. My heart was pounding like a log splitter. The boss moron cuffed the drunk one on the back of the head and growled, “you’re more f*cking trouble than you’re worth.”
They started their open-pipe Harleys with bombast and roared away, kicking up dust and gravel. Perhaps that was their way of having the last word.
We looked at each other with relief. A woman came from around the side of the building and exclaimed, “Thank god you kept Grandpa’s guns!” The older man nodded and the younger one wiped his brow in agreement.
Melody threw her arms around me. “That was the scariest thing ever!” she exclaimed. “You’re a hero!”
Then she introduced me to her mother, father and brother.
After some small talk, I turned to the dad and carped, “Not sure why you guys would let a young girl sling drinks alone during bike week.”
“Yah, we’re not going to do that anymore,” the father responded.
“She wanted to do it, she loves it!” the brother countered, “She begged my dad…”.
“It’s getting dark,” dad interjected; “why don’t you park your bike ’round back and join us for dinner. We’ll provide a cabin for the night.”
As I wasn’t interested in dealing with the morons or any other animals on the dark road back to Spearfish, I readily accepted.
Just then, the sheriff and a deputy roared into the parking lot in two SUVs. Apparently, Melody had called them when the drama started. Dad gave them a report including the boss clubber’s license plate number – which impressed me. They accepted his invitation to dinner. I felt much more comfortable at the dining table with two police cruisers in the parking lot. We all enjoyed a fresh-caught-trout meal.
During dinner conversation, I asked the sheriff if he’d been one of the officers responding to Red’s accident. Turns out he was. He didn’t get there as fast as the first responders, but he was involved in the investigation afterwards. To my surprise, they couldn’t find any mechanical problems with what was left of the motorcycle, no flat tires, broken spokes, etc. It was his opinion that Red’s blood alcohol level wasn’t high enough to have caused his accident. He believed that excessive speed for the road conditions was the culprit.
I was immediately reminded of Chip in the Big Horn Mountains with Candy on the back of his motorcycle, overcooking a decreasing radius turn. Their tires were on the edge of the pavement and somehow, they pulled through without damage. Why couldn’t Red have done that?
Turns out dad and the sheriff went to college together and it was the sheriff who talked him into moving to the Black Hills. Dad was originally from Minneapolis and decided to buy a farm near the sheriff when he got married. Farming didn’t work out too well for him, so he dammed up the creek and started the trout fishing business.
When he got old enough, the son decided to give farming a try. But instead of growing grain, he built greenhouses and grew organic vegetables. The son beamed as the father admitted this farming venture was much more successful.
Melody was on summer break from her nursing studies at the University of South Dakota. She wanted to be an operating room nurse. She also wanted a ride on my bike, and asked if I’d take her out in the morning. I looked over at dad and he approved with a shrug and a nod.
“Sure, where do you want to go?” I asked.
“The badlands!” she eagerly responded.
I knew nothing about the badlands, but I loved the idea of riding there with Melody.