By Don Kenton Henry
I am on the road to South Dakota for the 75th Anniversary of the world’s most famous bike rally. Along the way I have met, and will meet, people from all over the world who have come to witness the spectacle that is “Sturgis”. Literally, it is a town that is less than 7,000 people the remainder of the year. But, during the seven days which comprise the rally, over half a million people will migrate to this sensory extravaganza. They come for a myriad of reasons not the least of which is the love of motorcycles. But not everyone rides here. They come for the sight of people liberated in their element and in awe outside of it. They come for the music, the roar of the pipes and the buzz of the crotch rockets; the over-the-top attire which includes more leather than that worn by any migratory herd of buffalo which once roamed the area—and sometimes consists of little at all. Well . . . you’ll see soon enough.
Me. I’m the Bard. I like to think of myself as a wordsmith. I was raised in the farm country of Indiana and have made my home in Texas most of my adult life. I am a mix of down home Hoosier, Midwestern values and Texas Pride. For the purpose of this blog you might call me, “Buck”, as good friends do when they are referencing my wilder side. When I get to Sturgis that might sound relatively tame. That being the case, I think I might introduce myself as “American Mongrel”. After all, that’s what I am.
So what brings Buck, aka American Mongrel on a 21 day, 6,000 mile trip on an old school throwback—like myself—’99 Evo Harley Fatboy. She is the last of the carborated models. I refer to her as the “Freedom Ship”. That’s because she sails me away from my career and the desk to which I am tied most of the year and a lifestyle in which I am asked to conform and reluctantly oblige. It is a glass cage of convention. Thus—on this trip—on this 21 day escape—I am a refugee. A “Refugee from Convention”. Sturgis is a place and just one experience along the way. I come for the journey.
I left Saturday, a week ago, shooting straight north through the 100 degree heat of Texas where Texians fought and died to establish a Republic free of dictatorial governance and where rugged independence was not only revered but mandatory. It was, and is still, a vast and grand place where once rode the infamous outlaw, John Wesley Hardin, taking lives by the dozen and pursued by the equally infamous Texas Rangers in hot pursuit.
I crossed the Red River into to Oklahoma, once known as “Indian Territory” and what became for many the end of the “Trail of Tears”. Here was the stopping point for what was left of the Cherokee, Comanche, Kiowa and other great Native American Nations decimated and forced into migration from their homelands by bullet and starvation in the name of Western Expansion. Otherwise known as genocide.
This took me into Kansas where pre-Civil War “jayhawkers” terrorized residents on both sides of the Kansas Missouri border for the stated cause of abolition. The ghosts of “Phog” Allen and Adolf Rupp still haunt the high school basketball gymnasiums of this state. It is a sport which brings welcome relief from the cold, hard winters here. But, on this trip, the plains I crossed were as hot as Texas and a strong head wind blew straight in my face as I crossed them. It was like someone blowing a hair dryer on full blast, high heat in my face and was like that all the way into “Colorful Colorado”.
At the border, I met Zach and Rachel who asked me to take their picture. They were college students destined for Yellowstone National Park (my fist big stop) after a stay in Estes Park, CO. As we parted I said, “See you in Yellowstone.”
From there I continued, stopping, as always, to fill my gas tanks, consume two liters of water and check messages on my iphone. One of the messages I received was from my very dear friend, Karen Beightol. She said I could visit but it would be about an hour detour off my path up and around Denver into Wyoming. I would have to travel through Denver. In rush hour. I responded, if I couldn’t take an hour out of my way, what kind of a friend was I. It was not only bumper to bumper stop and go traffic but in the same scorching heat I fought to this point. Still, I hadn’t seen her in 22 years and, as she was one of my first clients when I started in the insurance business back in Indy in the eighties (when the “bust” hit Texas), I feel a special affection for her.
When I broke free to the west side of Denver, I started climbing into the Rockies. The air began to cool and single dark clouds awaited over every other crest, sprinkling me with widely dispersed but large drops of mountain air-filtered rain. It gave my skin goose bumps and my face a smile.
I took a beautiful, incredibly winding road off the highway to Karen’s town of Central City. It took a while to find their business, “The Burger Joint” which she said you can’t miss. I finally found it on a bend in the road, just past the town center. It, like the entire town, has a wonderful past. The town was once the site of one of the biggest gold strikes of the 1800’s and became the home of people for all over the world seeking to strike it rich. I assume riches were not only quickly found but lost as well for gambling and gambling houses became ubiquitous. The “Joint” was no exception and was a casino during this period. It reeks of history and character.
I spotted Karen and her husband, Dave, up a hill and around a curve, rode up, got off and was greeted by both with welcome hugs. At some point—not long after—I came to realize Dave was also a long lost friend who had been Karen’s partner in her photography business in Avon, Indiana where I made a cold call in 1987. I about fell over to learn I knew him—as my memory is typically impeccable—but in my defense let’s just say . . . well—let’s just say Dave has slimmed down a little. He credited this change to a new healthful lifestyle which I am certain I correctly credit to Karen. She has always appreciated nature and respecting it and yourself. Evidence of this is the organic food and items they provide to travelers the world over. You can’t go around the bend in the road without seeing their place and the scents are certain to lure you in. They treated me to an Elk burger and an unbelievably rejuvenating organic drink whose name I cannot pronounce.
After posing for photos with each other and the Freedom Ship they bid me on my way and to my relief did not send me back through Denver.
Mercifully, they sent me on an exit through a canyon which would take me to Boulder and the freeway north toward Wyoming. As if seeing Karen and Dave weren’t compensation enough for the detour I had taken, the beauty of the canyon was exhilarating and validated my good sense in undertaking this long and sometimes arduous road trip. I wanted to get out of the canyon with its twisting steep roads before dark but the splendor behind each curve made that a formidable task.
To be continued . . .