I checked out of the fleabag motel in Alliance, Nebraska this morning. Sunny skies and 68 degrees, perfect. Well, almost …
The plan was ride west and a bit north, along famous Highway 20 through Casper Wyoming and hopefully to Idaho Falls. It was to be scenic county roads and state highways, including the “Bridges to Buttes Scenic Byway”. But alas, it was not to be.
Here is my actual route for the day. After the accident, I backtracked in order to head toward the BMW motorcycle dealer in Sturgis, South Dakota.
Just west of Crawford NE is some wonderful country that looks like the Badlands nearby. This ison Hwy 20 that connects from Yellowstone all the way across the country. Today’s weather was nice, not too hot for a change, although the wind had been picking up all along. I pulled off to a scenic overlook to snap a few photos of my sleek motorcycle against the primitive countryside. The winds were strong so I checked the parking position carefully. Yes, lots of weight on the kickstand, and yes, it felt quite stable. But it ended up literally “against the primitive countryside.”
Then I took ten steps away and raised the camera to watch a sudden gust send my baby flat onto her side. Don’t believe the usual descriptions where people say that horrible things happen in slow motion; it happened so suddenly and she was instantly down, with the rubber parts straight out sideways and lots of shiny things straight down.
How was I ever going to raise the 800-pound (plus gas and luggage!) bike upright against that strong unrelenting wind?
There was nothing else to do but unload all the gear I could reach so as to lighten the task. Further, everything must be put somewhere that the wind couldn’t carry everything away.
So I carefully unload everything I can, placing them in the lee of the wind and stacking heavy things on top of light things. When I’m half done, a Roadtrek camper van pulls up. I make the universal shrug “shit happens” and after a minute an old couple climb out and offers to help. Jack begins looking for solid lift points, while his wife Rae suggests moving their van to provide shelter from the wind. Brilliant idea! With their big van blocking the wind, this suddenly looks doable.
Jack and Rae are a full-time camper van couple. They were married five years ago and travel the country. On this trip, they started near San Francisco and are headed generally east visit relatives. They’re in no hurry; they’ve allowed a month for what could take a week.
Although my bike was laying flat-out horizontal, it was easy to rock it onto the side support panels to a 45-degree position. From there, Jack (whom I suddenly feel is my best friend ever) and I are able to lift back upright onto the kickstand. I hop on; the engine fires up and I jockey it around to face into the wind (although it’s too late now, duh) assuming the camper van wasn’t blocking it.
I was expecting lots of body damage because it fell onto curb stones, but only one mirror was broken. The scuff pads were scuffed but all the plastic panels are in perfect condition. Thank the FSM!
I tried calling the nearest BMW dealer to ask about parts. They are in Sturgis SD but my AT&T phone fails to connect. Jack tries his phone and he can’t reach them either. Must be in a dead zone.
Jack and Rae followed me for the next 40 miles to be sure I was fine. The bike and I were great, but the wind was not done yet.
I want to go due north to Sturgis. The wind wants to go due east. (“A motorcycle leaves Chadron at 10 o’clock going north at 60 mph. A gale leaves Wyoming at 8 o’clock going east at 30-50 mph. How long can the motorcycle remain upright?”) The ponds have whitecaps. The wind flattens field grass with a million fingers galloping over hillocks. My motorcycle is leaning hard left to keep a straight line, until a vehicle passes the other direction and I’m suddenly slapped first left then right. The picture shows my average lean angle to maintain lane position on the straight road. My helmet is pushed to the right and I get a crick in my neck; it’s as if someone attached a string to the top of my helmet, looped it over a pulley and suspended a weight on it. There is some relief if I lay forward onto the gas tank to hide behind the windscreen, but then it’s harder to steer and other muscles ache. It feels so bizarre to negotiate a sweeping curve to the right while still leaning left. This is the most difficult white-knuckle ride of my trip.
I stop for gas in Buffalo Gap near the stomach-turning touristy Hot Springs, SD. The wind is so strong it rocks and twists the huge canopy roof above the Shell station gas pumps. I can see the huge steel upright roof posts flex and pull against their giant mounting bolts. The wind rips open a pump-side towel dispenser and for a moment the air is full of fluttering paper towels. The cloud of towels are gone in an instant of upward fluttering snowflakes. Some other bikers tell me the police have told the truckers (mostly cattle-haulers) to park for the remainder of the day.
I pause for a snack in the lee of the Shell station and via text messaging Juanita confirms the BMW dealer’s number. We talk and they can expedite a new chrome mirror into their shop by tomorrow afternoon. Good thing I called!
I reluctantly start on the road northward to Sturgis again, and immediately spot a KOA kampground. Okay, that’s it, I can take a hint, I’m done for the day. I’ll rest here and finish the ride tomorrow.