Writer's Ramblings

Road Glitches - Round Trip from Tampa to Sturgis in a Week

Written by  January 31, 2006

The road has characteristics and glitches that sometimes confuse you, sometimes work in your favor, and sometimes slap ya in the back of the head like a Marine Corps drill instructor. It was these exact contradictory characteristics that worked in our favor for most of the seven days that Lew 'Sasquatch' Sansom and I rode from Tampa to Sturgis, South Dakota and back this past June. Yes, June. Not for the rally, not for any form of greater purpose but for a beer and a T-shirt.

Leaving Tampa at a bright eyed and bushy tailed 4:45 a.m. we logged 880 miles on day one under clear skies and a hot June sun through Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, and finally into Marion, Illinois where dinner at a Mexican restaurant (on foot I might add, a block from our Days Inn crib) with several rounds of cold brew-pops finally gave way to a pitcher of frozen margaritas.

The first glitch or characteristic that appeared was just north of Leesburg, Florida running about 80 mph on I-75 in the pre-dawn darkness in the form of a retread road gator stretched completely across my lane and a complete surprise until my dresser's headlight picked it up at the perfectly 'too late' moment. The radial reject was sideways in the road making it about five or six inches high and really was only responsible for a momentary adrenalin rush and some seat upholstery puckerage. My heart rhythm needed a bump right about then anyway, I'm sure.

Glitch number two came in the form of a late (as in almost spontaneous) decision on the part of my riding partner to exit stage right for a fuel stop as we were almost out of St. Louis mid-morning of day two. Without enough time to make the exit his late decision resulted in my turning around and waving adios as I looked around for the next exit while still blasting down I- 70 at a comfortable 75. An hour later, after several interstate exits and re-entrances on both myself and Lew's behalf all we had accomplished was missing each other, getting the fuel we needed individually, and having a newfound appreciation for the cell phones that are usually considered a pain in the ass. A couple of miles out of town on I-70 heading west we met up and continued our trek in a northwesterly direction.

Glitch number three was one that was a combination of road conditions and Mother Nature (the original Road Glitch Bitch). Having pulled into St. Joseph, Missouri on Interstate 29 somewhere around 3 o'clock we were hot, wind burned, and in need of fuel for both the bikes and ourselves. It was one of the few stops we made during the riding hours where we grabbed a beer. While sitting at a picnic table sucking down the suds we were approached by a group of three fellows who were the perfect combination of careful generations of inbreeding and general poor hygiene. Two of the three had climbed out of a car while the third got off of a bike in a full rain suit with a severe case of helmet hair and a seriously messed up wannabe beard. They greeted us and asked what direction we were headed and proceeded to tell us about the storm they had just been through. Their story included rain, hail, thunder and lightning, and serious winds.
Looking again at the rider as well as the Honda Rebel he'd climbed off of (no I'm not sh*tting you), the sunny, scorching sky, and his 'Deliverance' looking buds, we couldn't help but wonder what the hell they had been smoking. However, we thanked them for their concern and the warning and climbed onto the Harleys to gobble up the next hundred or so miles to Council Bluffs and a hotel sink full of ice and beer.

This stretch of our journey was truly awe inspiring for guys from Florida. The interstate displayed mile after mile of beautiful farmland and white farmhouses spaced out at comfortable distances we don't see in suburban areas of Tampa. Florida, from the interstate is mile after mile of palm trees and palmettos. Open green fields and the ability to see for miles and miles was unusual for us. It turned out that the ability to see for miles and miles soon gave a little credence to the goober crew's story. Thirty or so miles up I-29 the sky began to get darker and darker and the wind picked up in an ominous kind of way. We soon hit small patches of light sprinkles that made our minds up about stopping and donning the rain gear. Under an overpass we climbed into our sauna suits and looked towards the North. The skies were turning that cool shade of purple/black that enables any motorcycle rider to foresee his future. Wet, nasty, windy and downright sh*tty! The balance of this leg of our journey was a real treat. Riding the bikes down the interstate at 70 leaned at a 45 degree angle because of the cross wind and literally getting blown into the passing lane to our left was less than enjoyable. It was our first time in Iowa and our first day’s experience with the degree that the wind can whip through the Midwest/Great Plains. A cheap hotel minutes before the bottom of the sky came washing down on us and the evening's cold beer and warm pizza had the purple sky, the Midwest wind and the gully washing rain we had just missed fade fast. Another bullet dodged.

Day three dawned with crappy looking skies and temperatures that for June were downright cold for two Florida boys. We started out in leather jackets and rain gear. No sir, no getting wet or cold first thing in the morning, bite me Ma Nature! An hour and a half up the road, a hot cup of coffee, and a left turn onto I-90 and all we had left to do was cross the bottom of South Dakota and bop right into Rapid City.

Two things happened quickly though. Within 20 minutes on I-90 we had ridden out from underneath the dismal skies and into a gorgeous deep blue day, and had seen our first mileage sign. That mileage sign turned out to be Glitch number four in disguise. The quick bop into Rapid City was a lighthearted 315 miles away. The trip through the South Dakota landscape, however, was mile after mile of beautiful rolling hills, the deepest blue sky I'd ever seen and 314 signs for Wall Drug.

Wall Drug turned to be glitch number five in disguise. Exiting the interstate around 3 in the afternoon out of a subliminally hypnotic attraction to see what the hell a Wall Drug is we found ourselves also hypnotically drawn to the Black Hills Saloon. Cool darkness, cold beer, and several Harleys parked outside acted like a Midwest Holy Grail for the wind whipped and sun-screenily impaired. Now it's not like we're not men of character and driven motivations but after beer number three in the bar and a couple more outside of a little 'stop and rob' store following a quick run through Badlands National Park, Wall, South Dakota was looking like our home for the night.

After the last few days of being fairly well behaved we had forgotten just how inviting a cool dark bar can be on a hot sunny day. What's up glitch number five. Rapid City and Sturgis weren't going anywhere and a hot shower and more adult beverages were beckoning. We'd made it to within 60 miles of our destination in three days with no problems, fairly reasonable weather, and not the first hangover. Monday brought renewed spirits, sunshine, the ever-present wind, and a high speed blast across the remaining stretch of I-90 and into Rapid City. Rapid City Harley gave us our opportunity to fulfill objective number one for our trip. The T-shirt. A couple of hundred bucks later, more clothes to pack, a new helmet for me (it was on sale, I swear), and with a 10 percent discount thanks to a Harley business card from an old job of mine we were on our way.

The sights around Sturgis are truly incredible. For someone not experienced in many things West of the Mississippi the mountains, the spaciousness, and the critters encountered were really a delight. During day four we packed in Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Custer Nat'l Park, and Deadwood. All under the crisp air and sapphire skies. While these historically magnificent places deserve more time than to be packed into one day we enjoyed them immensely. Mount Rushmore is massive and awe inspiring, Crazy horse while we saw it somewhat from afar and is still very much a work in progress is equally inspiring. Custer National Park with the Buffalo all around us (I still say they are just cows with dreadlocks) was a real treat to ride through. Above us just out after one particular turn we were looked down on by an antelope who was probably somewhat annoyed at our lack of properly muffled machines.

Deadwood, stop number five for the day counting the Harley shop, turned out to be not just glitch number six but glitch number six on steroids. Bad! The town of Deadwood is absolutely cool, wooden sidewalks, shoulder to shoulder wooden buildings, and they've got really good beer there. After securing a room for the night and a hot shower to knock the big pieces of South Dakota off of us a stroll around town and some kind of a meal seemed like a plan. What we hadn't planned on, however, was Saloon No. 10 (really good beer), Buffalo hot dogs, another bar, (an open air kind of bar complete with a comical singing entertainer), more really good beer, countless shots of Crown, and a chance meeting with an unemployed re-enactment cowboy who probably saw us as a great beer ticket for the night. All in all spelling a staggering walk home at O-dark-thirty in the morning and an awakening complete with 'crescent wrenches sticking out of our heads' kind of hangovers the next AM. You've got to wonder where your sanity, sense, and alleged adult-ness goes when you get that buzzed and subsequently feel that bad. Oh well, till next time. Looking back though, glitch number six was pretty cool. How many times in the last 150 years have a couple of guys ridden into Deadwood South Dakota sunburned, tired, hot, and dusty and after too many libations staggered home on wooden sidewalks to their room for the night. Shit, we're part of Western history now!

We'd been gone from home for four full days and had experienced a great trip. Now, with hurtin’ heads and motorcycles that looked like they'd never had a bath it was time to grab the reins and turn our bikes in a southeasterly direction. I had not had a speedo or odometer since halfway through day two, still had feathers stuck in between where my fairing rolls down and into my headlight from a little 'too slow' bird on I-90 from day three, and had done such a great job of packing that it was almost time to start turning all the skivvies inside out so I could re-wear them. Yup, it was time to head home. Fortunately for us the Road Glitch demons had thrown everything our way on the way to Sturgis and had retreated during the trip home. While the trip up had been day after long day of fierce sun and interstate-plus speeds, the trip home was a bit more relaxed. We headed back east on I-90 but turned south on 83 and rode through the rolling hills in northern Nebraska and on into McCook for the night. The weather was perfect for creating more of the sunburned raccoon look and we had the pleasure of riding right alongside a prairie dog in the outskirts of a little town around lunchtime.

McCook brought more of the usual evening activity, a couple of icy beers and a steak at a restaurant within walking distance. Wednesday morning, up and at 'em, free continental breakfast in the hotel lobby and riding by six, pretty standard routine by now. Continuing our southward trek on 83 we finally hit I-70 in Kansas and decided to turn left and haul ass for a while. The sky was fairly nasty and threatening looking but we didn't hit a drop of rain during our race across a very flat state. In Springfield, Missouri we hit the back roads again and headed south on 60 which turned into 63. By day’s end we'd made Mansfield, Arkansas and we were done, another glitch-less day.

Thursday morning had us firmly back in the South, more back roads and a pretty day. By lunch time we were back under scary looking skies though and around midday finally hit a lunch spot that advertised fried catfish in Tupelo, Mississippi. This was no road glitch, the food was great and I swear the shapely, 50-ish, blonde, Southern accented waitress was named Flo; I wouldn't have been surprised to hear her tell someone to 'kiss her grits'! Birmingham, and Montgomery, Alabama rolled by in the afternoon and finally in Dothan, Alabama as we set out sights on an interstate-side hotel somewhere around I-10 for the night just a half inch into Florida (at least on the map) we hit the rain that had looked like it would soak us ever since lunch time. This wasn't so much of a road glitch as it was justice. It was Thursday night, by tomorrow we'd been gone a week, been most of the way across the country, and had only hit an hour's worth of rain. OK, Ma Nature, bring it on! Although we'd donned the rain suits a little bit before Dothan, she won. We couldn't see crap, it was dark, and we'd ridden 700 or so miles.

Although our goal was to sleep in Florida as it turned out Friday morning we'd have been sadly disappointed. There were no interstate-side hotels at Hwy 231 and I-10 in Florida. Wet, tired, in the dark, and in the rain, had we not stopped in Dothan but pressed on we'd have been bummed. THAT would have been a road glitch. Friday morning in Dothan we also got a nice surprise. For the sake of keeping the food bill down we tried to find hotels that had continental breakfasts. Across the country we saw a fairly wide variety of what this means. In Dothan, Alabama; however, it meant real grits in one crock pot and sausage gravy to go along with warmed up biscuits in another. Thank God we're back in the South. Friday was a blast, sunny skies, back to the Interstate, high speeds, and passing everything in sight. I could smell Tampa from about Gainesville on.

Lew and I both live just north of Tampa in a little suburb/community named Lutz (pronounced Lootz) for you foreigners. That would be the last beer stop of our week long 4500 mile trip. My house is the farthest north so we hit it first. We surveyed the bikes and drank our beers. We had road grime from 13 states, bird feathers and bug guts, crankcase vent oil from my air cleaner adorning the right side of mine, and rain spots from the night before. We were both sunburned in spite of sun block, each had a bad case of DSB, and had a number of throw-away cameras worth of pictures of sights we'd never seen before in both of our saddlebags.

Years ago our road glitches had to do with Shovelheads that spit parts off, iron head Sporty's our wives rode that were just cantankerous by nature, and alcohol-involved mishaps that resulted in adventures that were so bizarre as to almost sound fictional. This trip, older, wiser (OK), and on way more long-haul friendly bikes had its road glitches. Were they a problem? Hell no! Had we got our beers? Absolutely. T-shirt, yeah a couple, mission accomplished! Around a cold beer and with good friends these highway mishaps are what pass the time and make up memories we wouldn't trade for the world. When we're all older and grayer they might be all we've got. Well that and a glass beside the bed for our teeth. I wonder what kind of glitches a troublesome tube of Polident can offer?

Story by Doze