Pilgrimage to Sturgis, Part One

Pilgrimage to Sturgis, Part One

Written by B. Jan Montana

It’s a long way to Sturgis, South Dakota; it’s a long way to go. Even for the Black Hills Motorcycle Classic.

The temperature was flirting with the ton by mid-day and the radiant heat coming off the Wyoming pavement coupled with the heat of my motorcycle engine threatened to fry my legs. I was surrounded by a sea of endless golden grasslands extending to every horizon except to the east, where the peaks of the Big Horn Mountains were a welcome sight. They meant I’d soon be gaining cooler altitudes.

When I got to the foothills, a patch of greenery betrayed a creek dribbling onto the parched grasslands. Further up, it opened into a pond surrounded by trees. I stopped and strolled in up to my knees, boots and all. The cold water sucked the heat-stroke right out of me. Once I got moving again, the wet boots acted like radiators, cooling my entire body.

As my BMW R90S motorcycle hummed towards the summit, each drop in Fahrenheit felt like two. My boots hadn’t dried by the time I hit 9,000 feet, and at 55 degrees, I was shivering. I pulled into an overlook to don a jacket, where I was greeted by an interesting sight.

BMW R90S motorcycle in Daytona Orange. From the Mecum Auctions website.


A frustrated rider was frantically trying to kick-start his Harley Shovelhead chopper. His leg arcked and stroked over and over again to no avail. He screamed a stream of invective calling into question the machine’s pedigree and morality, but it remained as dignified as a corpse during viewing. Then he got off, booted a cylinder head, and having taught it a lesson, resumed his furious kicking. It won’t be long before he’ll be ready for a care facility, I thought.

The thirtysomething rider obviously saw himself as a renegade. His arms and shoulders were covered in tattoos. He wore a dirty, cut-off jean jacket with many patches. The tangles of his wild, red beard and hair were dotted with bugs, his black T-shirt soaked with sweat. His jeans were equally saturated, but in 50-weight oil. He had the slight build and gaunt appearance of a consumer who spends more on pharmaceuticals than foodstuffs. This was the kind of guy mothers warn their daughters about – which is probably why they are so drawn to them.

His Shovelhead chopper looked like a project someone had tired of before completion. Many parts had been stripped of paint, opening the way to corrosion. There would have been a lot more rust except for the prophylactic qualities of 50-weight oil. The bike, like his jeans, was covered in it. They were an affront to the pristine environment around us.

I seriously considered getting back onto the road and heading for the next overlook, but he was truly in a pickle. He was miles from nowhere on a road less travelled, without camping gear or even a jacket. The afternoon was half over and I had visions of him dying overnight from exposure – something Gaia might relish.

When he noticed me he stopped kicking, sweat dripping from his brow. I was relieved he quit before the heart attack.

“What’s going on?” I asked. He responded with a tale tripled in length by the use of colorful but useless adjectives.

“OK, I get it,” I stopped him, “Your bike won’t start. I’ve got some tools; let’s take a look.”

After pulling the plug and cap, it soon became apparent that there was no spark. I popped an engine cover to find a long-ignored set of ignition points. The rubbing blocks had worn so that the points were completely closed, their faces pitted. My points file soon cleaned them up. He had no idea what the gap should be, so I set it the same as my R90S. At the next kick, the Harley started up with a roar from the open pipes, accompanied by a cloud of smoke. “Whoohoo!” he hollered as he revved the hell out of it for payback. Somewhere down the road, that machine will have the last word.

He looked my way and grinned, exposing stained and missing teeth. He was thrilled the bike had started, but not as relieved as I. It meant I wouldn’t have to disassemble his S&S carburetor, which was probably as neglected as the points. I walked back to my bike, put my tools away, wiped my hands, donned my gear, and got ready to get out of there. Then I heard him hollering as he ran towards me with his arms waving. Now what!

“Thanks for getting me going man, but you can’t just disappear. You’ve got to meet my bros. They’ll be so happy you got me back on the road.”

“What! Why didn’t your bros stick around to help you get your bike started?” I asked incredulously.

“I don’t know man, but they said they’d wait for me at the next bar, so why don’t you ride with me and I’ll buy you a beer?”

I was skeptical “the bros” even existed, and if they did, well, what kind of bros would leave a friend stranded?

I pulled onto the road ahead of him so that in the event his bike quit again, I could just keep on going. We were downhill and I figured he could probably coast into the next gas station for help. The temperatures rose with my speed as we descended, but despite the twisty road, the sound of his chopper continued to dog me. He wasn’t going to let me ride out of sight.

On a short straight, the trees opened up on the right to reveal a dirt parking lot littered with a menagerie of choppers and an ugly school bus. Behind it was a wooden building identified by its lit beer signs. The flaking paint revealed it had once been white with blue trim.

Red rode next to me and excitedly exclaimed, “Here it is, pull over, PULL OVER!” I’d have kept going but needed a restroom.

Before we’d even stopped, Red hollered out to the renegades standing on the porch, “hey, this guy got me back on the road!”

They all turned their gazes towards us. Then the bar doors swung open revealing a warlord flanked by a couple of lieutenants – all dressed in leather and denim. I felt like I’d stepped onto the set of a biker movie.

“This guy had my scooter running in ten minutes!” Red hollered as he got off his bike and ran to the porch to explain this miracle to the warlord.

My pristine, Daytona Orange R90S looked like Bambi surrounded by those dark, drooling choppers. Perhaps I should have located a rest room at the next stop. By the time I got my helmet and jacket off, the warlord was standing next to me – a big guy with a commanding presence. He reminded me of Steven Seagal.

“Appreciate what you did man, what’s your name?”

I didn’t think “Jan” would work in an outlaw biker movie, so I called myself “Montana” – the state I’d just crossed.

“Well, let me buy you a beer Montana?” He swung his hand over my shoulder either in a gesture of friendship, or to eliminate options. This guy didn’t seem the type to tolerate much in the way of options.

I sat down at the bar next to a stunning, leggy blond. “This is my girlfriend,” he said. She looked over at me with a warm smile that could have melted Mount. Rushmore. The renegades crowded around us in a semicircle, leaving no escape route.

“Get Montana whatever he wants!” the warlord bellowed to the bartender. Then he asked how I got Red’s bike running.

I explained Red’s lack of maintenance and the likelihood that ignoring it further could be dangerous, expensive, and time consuming.

“I know what you mean man,” he responded, “We’ve been here waiting for hours.”

Although I empathized with his sacrifice, I felt my message had fallen on deaf ears.

To be continued.

Header image: riders on their way to the Black Hills Motorcycle Classic in Sturgis, South Dakota. Courtesy of sturgismotorcyclerally.com.

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