Rescued from Oshkosh

Day 13: Wednesday 3rd August 2011 – Oshkosh, Nebraska to Gering, Nebraska (via North Platte) (click for route)

I was up bright and early, and headed over to the Sinclair gas station in Oshkosh for a coffee while I waited for my rescue trailer to arrive. I tried the Trooper’s ignition again, perhaps hoping the high plains spirits had visited in the night and solved the problem, but sill nothing.

While I was standing around next to the Trooper, sipping my weak gas station coffee, the Trooper’s bright yellow licence plate was again drawing attention. It’s quite amusing watching people do a double take when they see it, or driving by slow so that they can get a better look. All American plates display the state the vehicle is licensed in, so it’s quite easy to tell an out-of-stater and where they are from. Aside from the fairly meaningless letters and numbers of the Trooper’s registration number, his plate says only Edinburgh Harley-Davidson is small letters. There are plenty of places in the US named after places in Scotland, and the rest of the UK. There’s an Aberdeen near Seattle in Washington state where Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain and Kirst Novoselic orginated from. There’s also one in South Dakota. There are Dundees in Michigan, Oregon and Alabama; Glasgows in Kentucky, Montana and Virginia; Edinburgh in Indiana and Edinburgs in Texas and New York (Americans have trouble with the pronunciation and almost always end it with a “berg”). There is even a Holyrood in Kansas which I would later ride through.

The Trooper’s licence plate was getting plenty of double takes that morning from people filling up on the way to work. Finally someone came over to ask about it.

Mike – the 2nd I’d met in Nebraska – looked every ounce a grizzled biker. Grey hair and a full-on moustache; faded tattoos and with chunks out of his nose and part of an ear missing. I guess the way a lot of bikers look could be a bit intimidating if you’re not had much exposure to it, but most are warm and generous people who just like the freedom and camaraderie of the open road. Besides, I guess I’m part of the biker ‘club’. Put me with a group of young black guys in sportswear and bling, and I’d probably feel comfortable too – I’m not in that ‘club’.

The first few minutes of these wayside conversations were beginning to get fairly predictable – where were the Trooper and I from? Why were we there? Where were we going? etc. I tended to reciprocate with similar questions. Mike was from Oshkosh and lived there with his wife (also a biker) and his grown-up son. While we were chatting, his son pulled up in a pick-up truck and joked with his father that he should stop gassing as he’d be late for work.

After the preliminaries were out-of-the-way, Mike asked if I was heading for Sturgis. I said I was, and he told me that he and his wife went almost every year, but this year she couldn’t make it, so instead his son was going to borrow her bike and head up with Mike toward the end of the rally week. I asked were Mike stayed when he was at Sturgis, and he replied the Lamphere – the same campground I had booked. He said it was one of the best campgrounds and that he had stayed there for years. My research back on the forums in the UK months before seemed to be correct which was reassuring. I told him to look out for my Trooper flag at the camp and maybe we’d see each other there.

Before Mike left for work, he also told me to watch out for wildlife on the roads – especially at dawn and dusk. I’d heard this advice several times now since I’d arrived – starting with Thomas in Milwaukee. I’d seen plenty of roadkill at the sides of the highways – mainly small deer and raccoons, but no signs so far of anything living. Mike then showed me an ugly scar on his right shin. He said he had been riding along side by side with his wife on her bike. She’d been next to the centre line and he’d been riding close to the side of the road. All of a sudden, he felt a sharp pain, his leg was knocked back and there was a cascade of feathers everywhere. A pheasant had jumped up from beside the road and jumped straight into Mike’s leg. The scar was evidence of what a fairly light bird can do at cruising speed. Mike was lucky the impact hadn’t knocked him off balance, else the injuries may have been much worse. With a final “ride safe”, Mike went off to work.

I had time for another coffee before the trailer from Budke PowerSport finally arrived around 9am and we loaded the Trooper. My rescuer was a young guy who was working at the dealership over the summer to help pay his college fees. During the two hour drive back to North Platte, I learned that his father worked at the local power station, which needed two of those mile long trains full of coal to keep the people of North Platte in electricity. His brother was a chef at a bar and grill in a local town, and had just got out of prison having received a 3-month sentence for a DUI offence (Driving Under the Influence). The US has similar drink drive limits to the UK, but in the US the car really is king. Everything is spread out, it’s hard to get around without a vehicle. I wondered how some of the bars stayed in business so far from where people lived – but I guess enough people ignore the drink drive limits to keep them going.

The Trooper was in the Harley-Davidson shop in North Platte for less than an hour. The problem turned out to be a loose connection, which I’d probably have been able to have resolved myself if  I had fiddled around for long enough. I kicked myself, not so much for the hefty bill for recovery, which was bad enough, but more for the wasted riding time.

It took me until early afternoon to get back to my starting point of Oshkosh. I didn’t stop there for fuel this time – I didn’t want to tempt fate, but also by carrying on to the next town, I started to feel as if I had now made some progress.

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