I started sloshing past the traffic towards the sound of the sirens. Chip, Candy, and KP strolled with me. We sweated for about a mile but it seemed like eternity. Just past all the swirling lights from emergency vehicles, we came across a scene of carnage reminiscent of a terrorist explosion. There were shredded motorcycle parts and camping gear strewn over an area of 100 feet. When we got closer, we saw pools of blood on the road at the base of a rock face. Candy screamed. She thought she recognized what was left of Red’s bike. The police had cordoned off the entire area. The ambulances were pulling away. Everyone was speculating on what happened while watching a highway crew clean-up.
The police finally revealed that a chopper pilot had gone wide on the turn and pinned a couple on a Gold Wing into the rock wall. They offered nothing further except that the ambulances were headed for the Rapid City Regional Hospital. When they opened up one lane to traffic, we shuffled back to our bikes.
This trip was starting to feel like a disaster movie.
As we donned our gear, Chip hollered out, “We can’t all show up at the hospital, so I want you guys to go to Sturgis and enjoy the rally as best you can. Candy and I will ride to Rapid City and try to find out if Red was involved. We’ll see you back at camp tonight. He added, “If you see Red in Sturgis, kick his ass and hold him down.”
Nobody argued. Somebody had to make the decisions and everyone trusted Chip to make the right ones.
The group splintered in Sturgis. KP and I ended up at a main street bar. “I’ve warned that crazy bastard to reign it in when he’s been drinking,” KP recalled, “but he’s never been good at listening. He was kicked out of the house by his mother when he was 16 because he was as much of a drunk as his old man. Since then, he’s moved from place to place, working as an auto body repairman. He's damned good at it when he's sober, but he never lasted anywhere for long.”
Spider recognized our bikes in front of the bar on his way back from delivering my R90S in the ugly school bus to the Rapid City BMW dealer. He parked it on a side street and found us lamenting. He was shocked when we told him the news, and responded, “I’ve often warned that crazy bastard to take it easy when he’s been drinking.”
After a while, the subject came around to my broken BMW. Spider told me the BMW dealer had a Daytona Orange R90S trade-in on the floor and he’d offered to swap its parts with my bike. “I checked it out carefully, Montana, this bike is cherry. Your bike will come out looking like new. This way, we can pick it up in a couple of days. Otherwise, it’ll take over a week for parts to arrive, assuming they are in stock and don’t have to come all the way from Germany. So, I told the dealer to go ahead and swap out your parts with the used bike. I’m supposed to call in tomorrow afternoon to check on progress. Hope that’s OK with you?”
That sounded great to me. Not only would I get my bike back sooner, so would Spider (since I had been borrowing his).
We did our best to enjoy the rest of the day. We wandered the main street taking in the excitement of the scene: impromptu street racing (usually finished before the cops could intervene), beer gardens with live music, semi-nude beauty pageants, and the odd brawl between drunks arguing how Wild Bill really died. It occurred to me that the town probably wasn’t much different than it had been during its mining days. With all the excitement, we were able to put our concerns for Red on the back burner for a while.
We didn’t get back to camp till around dinnertime. Chip and Candy were sitting at the picnic tables with the others. Only Candy raised her head as we pulled in, so we knew things were bad. Chip delivered his report police-style:
“The driver of the Gold Wing is dead. His wife is in critical condition. Red died at the scene from massive head injuries resulting from his impact with the rock wall.”
We sat there quietly nursing our beers for what seemed like hours. When the silence became unbearable, KP ventured, ”Red would have had a much better life if he’d controlled his drinking.”
Chip had obviously been pondering the same issue. “Red would have had a much better life if he’d controlled his thinking. The drinking was just a symptom of the real problem.”
“What do you mean?” KP asked.
“Red thought of himself as a chip off the old block, a continuation of his father’s genes, doomed to continue the family failure. He believed his destiny was out of his control. But in fact, it was this belief that controlled his destiny.”
“I don’t get it,” KP responded.
“People think thousands of thoughts a day,” Chip revealed, “Most of them are the same thoughts they had the day before. The same thoughts lead to the same choices and behaviors, which create the same experiences. Those experiences in turn reinforce the feelings you have about yourself.”
KP reflected, "You’re saying that if Red had changed his thoughts, he’d have changed his destiny?”
“As a man thinketh, so is he.” Chip responded. “Red was full of self-loathing and self-contempt, which led to the behaviors that resulted in his self-destruction. Even if he hadn’t died today, he’d have created some other self-destructive antic that would have resulted in the same end. It’s just too bad he took others down with him.”
“I never thought of it that way,” Spider opined; “It’s his headspace that killed him.” “Go figure,” Gimp nodded knowingly.
“OK, so all you have to do to improve your life is to change your thinking,” Spider asked. “How hard can that be?”
“Much harder than you think,” Chip responded. “People are programmed as children, before they are smart enough to question what they are told. That programming is downloaded wholesale into the subconscious, even if it’s incorrect. Once those programs are embedded, it’s notoriously difficult to reprogram them. The subconscious will resist any attempt to do so.”
“I tried to get him to feel better about himself,” Candy chimed in, “but even a hug didn’t faze him. He was just determined to be depressed.”
"People have been cultivating their self-image their whole lives,” Chip responded, "and they are emotionally attached to it because it feels familiar and comfortable. The notion of adopting a new self-image makes them feel alienated and uncomfortable. That’s why they are threatened if others try to help them adopt a new one. They prefer to stay attached to the old, familiar one – even if it’s self-destructive.”
Candy opined, “wow, Red had no future because he was attached to his past?”
“Attachment is the cause all suffering,” Chip added, “to the Buddha, it was a simple, mathematical formula.”
It wasn’t simple to me, at least, not till I heard Chip explain it. I was astonished. I’d never hear Chip wax so philosophical. These were the words of a leader; it wasn't much wonder the others followed him.
Gimp’s girlfriend, Tina, walked to the bus and returned with jars of pepperoni and jerky to go with our beer. Nobody thought to go for dinner.
As everyone chomped away, Gimp admonished, “Never, EVER, let anyone belittle you. If they want to criticize your behavior, that’s one thing, but if they want to sh*t on you as a human being, straighten them out immediately! If you tolerate that sort of thing often enough, you'll end up believing it. If we’ve learned anything from Red, it’s the destructive power of that sort of thinking.” Gimps words were cathartic.
It was well past midnight by the time the group broke up and we crawled into our tents.
In the rest of the campground, Harleys rumbled and people partied as if nothing had happened. I installed my earplugs and went to sleep thinking, I’ll never judge anyone by their appearance again.
Editor’s Note: we are aware that “gimp” can have a derogatory meaning and mean no insult to anyone disabled. In the story, the person with that nickname doesn’t consider it as such, and we present the story in that context.
Header image courtesy of sturgismotorcyclerally.com.