The first of many meetings

Day 40 Monday 12th August 2013 – Denver, CO to Glenwood Springs, CO

There’s no rest for the wicked. Doreen had endured two long flights, from Edinburgh to Toronto, and Toronto to Denver, and then a night with me, but we had ground to cover, so there were no long lie-ins.

The first order of business was to sort out the luggage. I needed to lose about two thirds of my luggage to make room for Doreen and her stuff on the Trooper. The camping gear, kilt and New Rocks take up a lot of room and they were things I knew I would be sending on, but I also had to lose about half my clothes. I resent the time spent on laundry on the road, so I’d brought enough so that I only had to do it every two weeks. Now I was going to be back to weekly laundry, and that is despite the amazing frugality of Doreen’s own packing. I have never known a woman pack so light, especially since this was going to be a 4 week trip for her, but then Doreen is no ordinary woman, else I wouldn’t have married her. On this trip, she was certainly going to be earning her road warrior stripes.

We had had a bit of a running joke in the run-up to her coming over to Sturgis in 2011. She had been threatening to buy leather chaps and a holster to put her hair straightners in after I’d explained just how little luggage capacity there actually was on the bike with both of us on it. There is more than enough space when it is just me on the bike, as I just sling a couple of dry-bags over the passage seat, but with two of us, we lose the dry-bags and we also have to split the remaining space between both of us.

My luggage set-up for the trip – HD touring bag, saddle-bags, 2 dry-bags, tank-bag and roll bag on front forks. Plenty of space for one.                      From Texas, July 2013

Doreen never did buy those chaps or a holster, and the hair-straightners stayed in Edinburgh in 2011, much to her chagrin when she saw all the Sturgis ladies who’d trailered into town using theirs in the shower block at our campsite. This time she’d brought the tiniest set of straightners I’d ever seen. They wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Barbie doll set.

My plan for the excess luggage was to Fed-Ex it to Nashville, where Doreen would be departing from in 4 weeks time. Fed-Ex advertise a ship-and-hold service, whereby you can ship it to a Fed-Ex office, who will hold your parcel for later collection.

As soon as we had worked out exactly what would fit on the Trooper, I took the remaining luggage along to the Fed Ex office near Denver airport, but within a minute of arriving the lady behind the desk had disabused me of my cunning plan. Fed Ex do indeed offer a ship-and-hold service, but they will only hold it for 1 week, not the 4 weeks I needed. As there was no way the both of us could fit on the Trooper with all the luggage, I had to come up with a plan B. I briefly considered just ditching the excess, and whilst I could live without the camping gear now Sturgis was done, I was really loathe to get rid of my kilt and New Rocks. A good kilt costs upward of £300 (or $450), and since I’d bought it and worn it for my wedding, it had sentimental value too.

It was time to try asking for a favour from one of my Sturgis friends. I called Kyle and asked if I could ship my luggage to his home. Kyle lives about an hour or two west of Kansas City. I needed to be in Kansas City for Iron Maiden on the Saturday after Doreen leaves for Edinburgh. I could collect my luggage from Kyle’s when I went out for Maiden, and I was already planning on visiting him when I was in his neck of the woods in any case. Of course, Kyle said it was no problem sending my stuff to him. Did I mention in my Sturgis posts that Kyle is a great bloke?

With my luggage problem solved, I rode back to the hotel to collect Doreen and we were on the road to Glenwood Springs by 10.30am. The original plan had been to detour off the interstate and ride a scenic loop up through the Arapaho National Forest.

For an interstate, the I-70 is pretty good in the scenery department. As soon as you get out of Denver, you begin to be treated to some great mountain vistas. We made our first caffeine stop at Idaho Falls, and there can’t be many Starbucks that boast such a wooded, mountain back-drop. Nor McDs for that matter, which was just across the road.

From Colorado, August 2013
From Colorado, August 2013

We stopped at Starbucks a while, so that I could get a blog post finished – still catching up on Sturgis I’m afraid rather than telling it as it (almost) happened. And unfortunately, as I’m writing this in New Orleans, I’m now several weeks behind.

As we got on the road again, I glanced at the clouds looming to the west – our direction of travel, and we very optimistically decided to wait a while to see how things turned out rather than putting our wet weather gear on immediately. Only 5 minutes along the road and the rain caught us, and not just a little. It tipped down, with thunder and lightning on the side. We pulled off the freeway, but too late, my jeans were soaked through, to the extent that water was running down my legs and into my waterproof boots. Waterproof boots don’t help when attacked from above, and being waterproof, they keep water in, as well as out, so wouldn’t dry out in a hurry. I’d have damp feet for the next couple of days, and the smell to go with it. Doreen had faired a little better. There is no faring on the Trooper so I get the full brunt of both the rain and the spray from the road, but my legs protect the passenger somewhat.

Despite already being wet, we still scrambled into our wet weather gear. It must have been quite a comical sight for the passing motorists, with the both of us perched on rocks like performing sea-lions, trying to pull on our stubborn waterproofs.

We were lucky the rain didn’t last more than an hour, but cloud cover persisted on and off for the rest of the day.

From Colorado, August 2013

We continued our soggy climb up into the Rockies, and through the Eisenhower Tunnel. At over 11,000 feet above sea level, the tunnel takes I-70 under the continental divide. Despite the cloud cover, I was still wearing shades, which had to get rapidly pulled down to sit on the end of my nose as we passed through the better part of a mile and a half of tunnel.

The other side of Breckenridge, we pulled off for the obligatory scenic photos.

From Colorado, August 2013
From Colorado, August 2013
From Colorado, August 2013

As a kid I used to ski, something I took up when I lived at the foot of Monte Terminillo in Italy for a while. The two American ski resorts I’d heard most about are Vail and Aspen, so I couldn’t resist pulling off the freeway as we passed by Vail to satisfy my curiosity. Now I may be missing the point about Vail, but it seemed like a sprawl of exclusive “ski villages”, without any real heart or soul to the town. I do like a town to have a centre.

The original intention to detour up into the Arapaho National Forest, had been dispelled by the earlier rain, but we weren’t disappointed by travelling on the interstate. As we approached Glenwood Springs – our destination for the night – we passed through Glenwood Canyon and had the first of many meetings with the Colorado River, the river that carved the Grand Canyon. This wasn’t the first time we had encountered the Colorado River, in 2011 we had stayed at Grand Lake – the headwaters of the river, and I had caught up with it several more times on that trip, but it was the first time we had seen it this trip.

From Colorado, August 2013
From Colorado, August 2013

The stretch of I-70 through Glenwood Canyon was apparently the toughest 12 miles of the Interstate system.

From Colorado, August 2013

We’d reserved our motel for the night online when we stopped in Vail. The Starlight Lodge is a £59 a night, “Mom and Pop” motel, and one that is on the better side of average. I much prefer to stay at these independents, rather than the big corporates. The Ramada hotel across the road was charging $135 a night, and from my point of view, the main differences were that I can’t park my bike in front of the room, and I might have got more complimentary toiletries.

From Colorado, August 2013

After checking into the motel, we were both in need of a beer. It’s thirsty work riding all day, especially with jet-lag. We headed over the foot bridge across the Colorado River, and into the downtown with the shops and restaurants. Glenwood Springs turned out to be a pleasant stop, it’s a spa town nestling in the mountains, and we got the occasional waft of sulphur from the springs as we crossed the river.

We were looking for a place with good beer and wifi, as I was still determined not to get behind with the blog, as happened last time when Doreen arrived (as you can see from the posting date I have again failed with this). After walking around the main part of town, Pullmans seemed to fit the bill. The menu was more varied than most, and consisted of seasonal local produce. They had good local beer too.

From Colorado, August 2013

Whilst I tried bashing out another blog post, Doreen got to chatting to folks sitting next to her at the bar – a couple from Cortez, CO. I was wearing my Rob Zombie Sturgis T-shirt, which always attracts comments. It turns out Doreen’s new bar buddies, were Sturgis regulars, so of course, I had to stop typing to join the chat. They told us that they had seen wild-fire on the way up from Aspen. Whilst this wasn’t directly in our path, it was a little worrying. The only time American wild-fires get reported in the British media, is when they are out-of-control, and I guess that is how I imagine all wild fires to be.

When we had got into the Pullman, it had been rammed. Glenwood Springs is a tourist town and it was still peak season. Our first drinks had taken quite a while to arrive as our bar tender had been making fancy cocktails. We hadn’t minded, as we were in no hurry, but our bar tender had, and she got Doreen a complimentary wine. This is not something that I ever recall happening in Britain, but Doreen had seen it before when she lived in San Francisco. If the bar tender feels they need to make up for some short-coming, or perhaps just because they like you, or more probably because you spend well, then they’ll get you one on the house. This is good service, and it is great that the bar tenders are empowered to do this. It is very rare in the UK, unless perhaps it is a small local. It’s no wonder Americans complain about the service they receive when visiting Europe, especially the UK.

But the other side of this equation is tips. In American bars, it is pretty much obligatory to dollar-per-drink tip – well it is if you want to keep getting served. In the UK, it is very rare to tip bar staff, but then again, British pubs rarely do table service, and we have to jostle with everyone else at the bar in order to try to attract the attention of the bar tender. I often tip in these circumstances at home, to try to secure good service, but often this doesn’t work as the bar is just too busy and with too many staff working the bar.

 

Here she comes again

Day 39 Sunday 11th August 2013 – Denver, CO

Today was the day I had been waiting for. My girl was getting into town, and would be joining me for 4 weeks of Riding Americana. It was over 5 weeks since I’d last seen her and I was seriously excited. I said when I started re-blogging at the start of this trip that I there was perhaps some catching up to do from where I left the blog last time, and I guess this is place to do it.

Riding Americana holds a special place in both our hearts. When I had met Doreen back at the beginning of 2011, plans for the first trip of Riding Americana were in their tentative stages, but it was something firmly on the agenda that our blossoming relationship had to deal with. Not only did Doreen take it all in her stride, but she seriously wanted to come on the trip too. She even quite sincerely considered jacking her job in with a development agency of the Scottish government and coming with me for the whole 3 months, but caution just slightly outbalanced impulsiveness, and instead she decided to come only for parts of the trip. She came over for Sturgis in 2011, to see what it was all about, rode the Black Hills with me, and then down into the Rockies,before heading back north through Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, and Beartooth Pass.

People who knew me back then would know how jaded I was about women, having come through one bitter and acrimonious divorce, where I had lost everything and had been denied any contact with my kids for months, even a year, at a time. Now 10 years on, I thankfully, have a great relationship with my 15 year old son, Brandon, who wants to come to live with Doreen and I in Edinburgh next year. Unfortunately, the same is not true of my 18 year daughter, Holly. The venom injected by my ex-wife over 10 years has really stuck there. Divorce Poison is an evil thing.

Then a 6 year relationship ended like this, with my stuff being put out in the yard over a frosty January night for me to collect the next day after her, and her new boyfriend, had gone to work.

From Stuff
Frosty Pants!                                                                           From Stuff

Needless to say, I didn’t really trust women back then and early readers of this blog may have picked up on that. I wasn’t anti-women, I just didn’t trust them. I was adamant I didn’t want to live, and entangle my life, with another woman. That’s the frame of mind I was in when I met Doreen.

My first 3 month road trip could easily have caused us to part, but it didn’t. It did the opposite and brought us closer together. Doreen proved to be a great travelling companion, and if you know Doreen and her past, then it quickly becomes pretty evident that she hasn’t got a bad bone in her body. When she flew back to Scotland from Montana, we’d already made plans for her to fly out to Austin, TX later in my journey.

Riding down west coast, through Washington, Oregon and California, something changed in my head. All that time riding solo gives you lots of time to think – and I got to thinking about what I really wanted from my life. My issue with women was one of trust, and ironically, it was Doreen’s current relationship with her ex-husband that convinced me that she was nothing like the greedy, vindictive women I’d previously had in my life. Even 10 years after her divorce, she was still helping her ex-husband out when he needed it and when she could. She was to my mind and incredibly rare breed. Something very special indeed.

We met up in Austin and spent a week hanging out there, with Doreen’s very good friend, Korilyn. Within a couple of days of Doreen arriving, I proposed to her. And she said yes.

From Texas

As early blog readers will know, I’d originally planned to ride all of the “Lower 48” in one go, taking 4 or 5 months to complete this. This plan changed when I realised that getting a visa to stay in the US longer than the 3 month visa waiver program wasn’t quite as easy as I had originally thought – Setback 1. Part 2 of the Riding Americana adventure should have happened in 2012, but Doreen and I had a much bigger, more important adventure to embark on. We got married.

From Our Wedding
From Our Wedding
From Our Wedding

So many of our friends and family came from around the world to help us celebrate this special day.

From Our Wedding
From Our Wedding
From Our Wedding
From Our Wedding
From Our Wedding
From Our Wedding

Our good friends from Size Queen and MetalTek played and helped to make our wedding the best party we could have hoped for.

From Our Wedding
From Our Wedding
From Our Wedding
From Our Wedding
From Our Wedding
From Our Wedding
From Our Wedding

And now, after a year of marriage, we are still blissfully happy together, and unlike many wives, my wonderful wife is fully supportive of my adventures, and believes, like I do, that life is for living – right now, not tomorrow. If she could have got the vacation time from her job, she would have been riding her own bike with me through every mile of Riding Americana part 2. As it was, she had to settle for a 4 week period, and her part of the trip was based around seeing bits of America she hadn’t seen before, despite spending 10 years living in San Francisco, and in visiting special friends and family.

Today was a day that couldn’t have come quick enough for me. I would soon be riding with my best friend and perfect partner-in-crime again.

All I day to do until her flight got in was prepare for her arrival, and part of that was doing my laundry. I was more than a little peeved that the Days Inn at Denver Airport didn’t have the guest laundry that it advertises on its website, since this was one of the main reasons I had chosen it. Instead I had to ride with my dirty clothes to the Holiday Inn down the road, and do my laundry there.

I checked the arrival information constantly all day, and thankfully her flight wasn’t delayed.   I managed to get to the airport nearly a full hour before her flight was due in, and still managed to get confused about which exit hall she’d come out of – Canadian flights apparently count as domestic flights in Denver rather than international flights. So I scuttled between the two exits, and until finally I looked around and there she was.

From Colorado, August 2013

We spent the rest of the day getting very happily re-acquainted, but that is not a story for here.

 

Pop goes the tube

Day 38 Saturday 10th August 2013 – Lusk, WY to Denver, CO

Thankfully there was no sign of rain when I woke today. I loaded the Trooper quickly, and after saying farewell to Mark, I was back on highway 85 and on my way to Denver.

The ride most of the way to the interstate was uneventful, it’s a relatively flat landscape, unlike some other parts of Wyoming that I had visited, and the road is long and straight. I had to check my speed once when passing a state trooper, but otherwise I was speeding back to my baby.

A mile or so short of I-25, I hit what I thought was a patch of gravel. There’d been signs for road works and I’d slowed down to something near the 45 mph speed limit. My front wheel started wobbling uncontrollably. Instinctively, my hand was off the gas and I dared gently to touch the back brake as I wobbled onto the hard shoulder. I gingerly got off the Trooper and looked at his front wheel. The tyre had blown off the rim. I couldn’t see any damage to the tyre, other than it not being quite where it should. I couldn’t believe it. I had only had that tyre replaced a week earlier and I had ridden only a couple of hundred miles since then. With no sign of a nail or other puncture, I was left wondering what the feck was going on?

When I had booked the Trooper’s passage to America, I had also taken out medical insurance for me and accident insurance for the Trooper. As part of that accident insurance, I also got free breakdown cover. Luckily, today I was in an area where I had phone coverage, and that is not a given. I’d bought a GSM phone because I could take it back and use it in the UK, but that meant I was stuck with second biggest cellular operator in the US, AT&T, rather than the biggest operator, Verizon, that uses the competing CDMA standard, one which wouldn’t work for me back in the UK. I’d expect not to have cell coverage out in the desert or up a mountain, but AT&T has proved to be sketchy even in built up areas. Right then, I was just thankful I had a signal.

I called the number for my breakdown assistance, and the lady I spoke to took all my details, the nature of the problem and my location, etc. She called back a couple of minutes later to tell me a recovery truck was on its way and would reach me in 30 or 40 minutes. It would take me to High Country Motorsports, an independent Harley-Davidson dealer, in Cheyenne, WY. She also told me that the cost of the recovery was covered by my insurance – nice.

The towing distance covered by the insurance is actually ridiculously small for America, at just 35 miles. Today I was lucky I had nearly reached Cheyenne before misfortune struck. On my previous trip, I had been much further from a convenient Harley (or any motorcycle) shop, and I had had to pay the hefty multi-hundred dollar towing charges, but actually covering the towing charges wasn’t the main benefit of the roadside assistance for me. It was just having someone to call, who would check out all the options and who would coordinate both the towing and the place where the bike had to be taken. That piece of mind was invaluable – provided I could make the phone call!

At High Country Motorsport, we discovered exactly what the problem was. The inner tube had been twisted when it had been fitted and had exploded as I had ridden along. A tell-tale sign, which I should have checked for in Sturgis. The huge amount of weights that had been added to the spokes on one side to balance the tyre clearly suggested not all was well. The exploding inner tube had also wrecked my new tyre from the inside out, so I paid to have the tyre replaced with the recommended Michelin Scorcher. Easy Eddie’s stand at the Buffalo Chip had been easy for me to get the work done quickly when I needed it, and when nearly every other shop within 100 miles of Sturgis was only offering an oil change with a significant wait. But a few hundred miles down the road, and the choice of Easy Eddie’s didn’t prove to be so easy for me. I was thankful I’d slowed down to 45 mph rather than the 90 mph I had been doing on some of the straights.

Two hours later and I was back on the road, and High Country Motorsport had even given the Trooper at cursory clean.

The rest of the ride to Denver was uneventful. I checked into my hotel near the airport and began preparing for Doreen’s arrival.

On the road again

Day 37 Friday 9th August 2013 – Sturgis, SD to Lusk, WY

Overnight it rained. I woke to damp morning. I had to break camp today, but I preferred not to pack everything away wet, so I decided to I would wait until lunchtime for things to dry out before packing them away.

Six Pack hadn’t had the same luxury of choice as me. His investigation of flights back home and turned up flights way too expensive. He’d had to settle for taking a Greyhound bus, but he needed to be at the bus station in Rapid City at 6am that morning in catch it. Mike had gotten up at 5am to run Six Pack to the bus station. Someone had commented that the bus journey would take nearly as long as it would have for Six Pack to ride home, but Jakyl said it would be quicker as the bus wouldn’t keep stopping to pose for photos. I hadn’t seen Six Pack after Lynyrd Skynyrd, so we didn’t get the chance to say goodbye, but Kentucky was one of the states I would be visiting later down the road, so perhaps we would meet again.

When I came to pack up after noon, I found that the week of partying had caught up with Jakyl, but the thought struck me that maybe Jakyl had the right idea, it was certainly much quieter at camp in the afternoons, so perhaps the afternoons were the best time to get some good sleep.

From South Dakota, August 2013

Breaking camp always takes me much longer than I think reasonable, which is one the reasons I seldom camp by choice when I am on the road. When all the gear was stowed on the Trooper, it came time to say my goodbyes. Despite looking forward to meeting Doreen in Denver, I felt a lot of sadness to be saying goodbye. I had met a bunch of great folk in our little corner of the Buffalo Chip. They were people I would definitely want to spend time with if they lived back in Scotland. Some of them I would see again, as they didn’t live too far from my route in the coming weeks. Kyle, I could visit when I went to see Iron Maiden in Kansas City; Mike and Donna, I could see when I crossed back into Ontario at the end of the trip; and Six Pack, I could probably see when I reached Kentucky. Jakyl was the only one I probably wouldn’t see again on this trip. I had already been right by his town in Illinois when I had ridden Route 66 and I doubted I would get close to it again on this adventure.

After the goodbyes were done, I set off out through the Buffalo Chip, on through Sturgis downtown, and then out to Deadwood. Having got past Deadwood, the rain started again, but not before I saw it coming. I’d stopped in Deadwood to pull on my waterproofs. The rain followed me, on and off, for the rest of the day. Coming from Scotland, I am used to riding in the rain, even if I detest it. This didn’t seem to the case for some of the riders I was passing. As soon as the rain hit, they were slowing down to a crawl. The road was running with surface water from the sodden downpour, but the Trooper and I soldiered on. Despite the rain, it felt good to be on the road again.

Even with the my late set-off, I had planned to reach Cheyenne, Wyoming before stopping for the night, but after several hours of on-off rain my enthusiasm was beginning to get dampened. But the thing that made me stop wasn’t rain, it was hail. After a brief dry lull as I approached Lusk, I rounded a bend to be hit be a solid wall of hail. I knew I was only a mile or two from the town, so I gritted my teeth to the stings as the hail hit bear fingers, and ignored the hail steadily accumulating on the road, I slowed my speed and grimly carried on until I reached a gas station with a canopy. I pulled in quick, filled the Trooper’s tank and then just parked up under the canopy and watched the hail revert to rain.

I wasn’t the only one to decide it was safer under the canopy. Nearly a dozen bikes had followed my lead before I left.

From Wyoming, July 2013

Having found a relatively dry spot to shelter in, I was finding it difficult to muster the will to head out in the rain again. When I heard that hail showers were hitting the whole region, I decided I would head out again, but only briefly, just long enough to find a motel for the night. A couple of blocks down the road, I pulled in at the first motel I saw and took their last room.

Once I had unloaded the Trooper, the rain had abated enough for me to venture forth in search of beer and food. I’d noticed a pub opposite the gas station where I had taken shelter, so that is where I headed.

They had cold beer and I ordered a burger, and was just enjoying the first few gulps of beer, when a long haired, bearded biker took the stool next to me at the bar. Mark was from Des Moines, Iowa and had been touring Colorado with his buddy, and was hooking around to South Dakota not their way home. His buddy wasn’t in the greatest of health and even walking a few blocks was a struggle for him, so Mark had come in search of a cold beer on his own.

Mark was the president of an electricians union in Iowa, and he was a delight to talk to after my wet afternoon’s ride. He was a smart, friendly guy, and we spent a long time talking about and contrasting working conditions and laws between the UK and the US, dissecting the global economy, and generally putting the world to rights. Mark is one of the few people with whom I have broken my own rule of not talking politics with. I think Kyle, Mike and Donna, and Roo and Brian are the only other exceptions I’ve made on this trip so far (I don’t count Graham and Sarah because Graham is Scottish). One thing all these people have in common is they are bright, articulate people, who already voice a reasoned, thought-out view of the world around them, before I feel confident to offer any of my own opinions on American politics. Usually I just find it simpler to keep my mouth shut, lest I offend.

We’d both eaten our burgers, and sank more than a few beers, before I commented on the Slipknot sweatshirt that Mark was wearing.

“Oh my nephew got that for me” was all he said.

“I really like them” I said “They’re one of the best live bands I’ve seen.”

Since Mark was sitting to my right, I indicated to the small Slipknot tattoo I have below Rob Zombie. It was only at this point that Mark let slip who his nephew was, Joey Jordison. Joey is Slipknot’s drummer. But Joey is a talented guy and is not content with just that. Joey also had a stint as Rob Zombie’s drummer for a time, until Slipknot and Rob Zombie commitments conflicted and Joey had to chose his original band over RZ. Joey also plays guitar in the Murderdolls. These are all bands I have seen Joey play in. The only thing I didn’t see was when Joey stepped in and drummed for Metallica at the Download festival in the UK a few years back, after Lars Ulrich fell ill on the flight over. Joey had so much talent and energy, it is hard not to have a lot of respect and admiration for him.

I mentioned this to Mark, and he just shrugged and said he’ll always be little Joey to him. And since Joey only stand around 5’4″ that’s probably true. Mark told quite a few tales of Joey Jordison, from seeing him playing his first few shows with Slipknot, long before their were famous, to being with Paul on the tour bus the night before he died.

Joey is a talented guy, and he has a really cool uncle. I could have stayed and talked to Mark for a lot longer, but I knew I had a long ride the next day, so I decided it was time to leave once I began to feel a bit wobbly on my feet. It turned out we were staying in the same motel, just a few rooms apart, so I chatted more to Mark as we walked back.

 

Sweet Home Sturgis

Day 36: Thursday 7th August 2013 – Sturgis, SD 

My last full day at Sturgis and the day started as most others had, with me sitting outside the general store charging phone and camera, and trying to write something for the blog. Most days I’d have company at my bench from other people charging their gadgets, and I would end up chatting with them rather than writing anything much. Since one of my favourite aspects of travelling is meeting people, I really didn’t mind.

Today I was joined by Mike, Donna, Kyle and Jackyl – my new friends from our spot in the huge Buffalo Chip campground.

From South Dakota, August 2013

Six Pack was missing. His hip was still giving him serious problems. He’d planned to set off for his Kentucky home today – a 3 day ride, but with the pain he was in that just wasn’t going to happen. Six Pack was off investigating options for flying home, which left him the problem of what to do with his bike.

Mike and Donna had trailered their bikes, and a quad from Ontario, Canada. They used the trailer as sleeping quarters. Their plan had been to continue onto California after Sturgis for an extended vacation. They had known Six Pack for years. All of my new Sturgis friends had been coming to the rally and meeting up at the same area of the Chip campground for years. When you come to events like this, it is really useful to be amongst friends, as I found out when I was evicted from my first camping spot. With Six Pack in such a bad way, Mike and Donna had offered to change their vacation plans and head east rather than west, and maybe go down to Florida rather than California. They thought they could fit Six Pack’s chopper in their trailer alongside their bikes, and they’d go east via Kentucky and deliver it to his home. They’d have given Six Pack a ride home too, except they were planning to stay until the end of the rally on Saturday, whereas Six Pack needed to be home by Sunday. It is times like this when you know who your friends are, and Mike and Donna were very good friends to have.

I think the non-stop partying that Kyle and Jakyl had been doing all week was taking it’s toll, because when Mike and Donna decided to head back to camp in the mid-afternoon, Kyle and Jakyl decided to hitch a ride and take a nap before that evening’s show.

From South Dakota, August 2013

Even without so many people to talk to, I still didn’t manage to get much published to the blog. The vagaries of the Chip’s internet connection had caused me to lose all of my first attempt at the American Bad Ass post, and I had to start again. One day I will learn to back things up more regularly. One thing I did manage to do, was to download a photo that had been taken of me as I rode out of the Full Throttle Saloon earlier in the week.

From South Dakota, August 2013

There seems to be a photographer outside a lot of the venues at Sturgis, taking photos of people coming and going. They take your photo, and then someone else hands you a slip of paper with a website address and a reference number. You can then go online and order prints or electronic copies of the photo. It’s quite pricey, I paid nearly $20 for the electronic copy of my photo, but it’s not very often I get the chance to have an action shot of me on the Trooper, and I gave into vanity.

We hadn’t managed to get our bikes right to the front row today. The Trooper, Jakyl’s Rufus and Kyle’s (unnamed) bike, were all low of gas, which was somewhat surprising as we really hadn’t ridden that many miles. I guess we’d been showing too much appreciation for the bands that had been playing and revving our engines along with everyone else. In any case, we all needed gas, and there was a fuel station at the Chip which was giving away a free tank of gas between 1pm and 4pm everyday.

This act of generosity was not truly altruistic. In the US, ethanol has been increasingly added to gasoline as a way to reduce greenhouse emissions, but it was caused quite a lot of controversy, especially for motorcycles. Aside from concerns about growing food crops for fuel, motorcyclists have also had concerns about damage that ethanol blends can do to motorcycle engines. In an effort to counter-act these fears, the Renewable Fuels Association provided the give away. Now I’m not really well-enough informed about the pros and cons of ethanol blends, but what I did know was that often I didn’t have a choice as the gas stations along my route only sold ethanol blends, so the Trooper was getting the ethanol blends where I liked it or not, and one more tank of blended fuel wasn’t going to make a huge difference one way or another, especially if it was free, so we went up and queued for our free fuel at 1pm and then parked the bikes up on the 2nd row for the evening’s concert.

The evening’s concerts didn’t start in the same way every other evenings had. The noticeable difference was there was no national anthem to kick the evening off. I found this surprising, as the first band playing was Madison Rising, the band whose version of the Star Spangled Banner had been played all week to start the shows. It turned out that today was Military Tribute Day at the Chip.

Well Madison Rising seemed well suited to open such a tribute. They are a self-proclaimed band for the troops, with such songs as Soldiers of American and Right To Bear, as well as the Star Spangled Banner (which wasn’t played during their opening set).

From South Dakota, August 2013

The reason for the omission of the Star Spangled Banner at the opening became obvious in the next part of the evenings “entertainment”, which was the military tribute. A group of military personnel carrying flags marched onto the stage, followed by David Bray from Madison Rising, who then sang his version of the Star Spangled Banner. Commemorative plaques were then presented to honour former Navy SEALs Tyronne Woods and Glen Doherty, who were killed during the Benghazi attacks in 2012.

This solemn, but politicised, tribute seemed a strange juxtaposition between the rest of the evening’s entertainment, especially as what followed the tribute was Brantley Gilbert.

From South Dakota, August 2013

UK readers may be forgiven for asking who? I’d never heard of him before either. Brantley Gilbert is another fusion of the popular US music styles of rap, rock and country. There were definite parallels with Kid Rock, only more country, and less rap, although I suspect Brantley Gilbert seemed to have rock aspirations, even if it was more Nickleback than AC/DC. He seemed to have appropriated the “horns” popular with metal fans – which Ronnie James Dio started when he joined Black Sabbath.

From South Dakota, August 2013

I couldn’t quite get my head around seeing this. He is definitely not metal. And he seemed to want to make the “horns” sign and then bob his arm up and down in time to the music, much as you’d expect of a rap artist, whilst he sang a pure country song. It was quite bizarre to witness how distinct music genres are being fused these days.

Brantley Gilbert stuck me as very much an American phenomenon. And he had plenty of fans in the audience. I can’t say I disliked his show, although I won’t be downloading any of his music anytime soon, and I can’t see him translating well on my side of the pond. Although much stranger things have happened, apparently Justin Beiber is quite popular in certain prepubescent quarters in the UK, (and also with a few middle aged woman who really should know better), to the shame of all self-respecting Canadians. I should hasten to add here that Brantley Gilbert is nothing like Justin Beiber, he is infinitely more talented.

My last show of Sturgis 2013, seemed most fitting – Lynyrd Skynyrd. Free Bird and Simple Man had helped set me on this course. I had missed them in 2011 at Sturgis, when Johnny Van Zant took ill and they’d had to pull out. But here they were tonight, like ZZ Top celebrating 40 years, but unlike ZZ Top who are still the same 3 band members, Gary Rossington is the only original member of the band.

This crowd, full of bikers from every state in the US, and a handful or two from around the world, were with them celebrating every one of those years and remembering fallen friends and comrades, along with the band.

From South Dakota, August 2013
From South Dakota, August 2013
From South Dakota, August 2013
From South Dakota, August 2013
From South Dakota, August 2013

They had the crowd in the palm of their hands for the whole show, but they began winding up the show with some of my favourites: Gimme Three Steps, Simple Man and, of course, Sweet Home Alabama – which I think every single person in the audience sang along to.

From South Dakota, August 2013
From South Dakota, August 2013

The band left the stage then. Engines revved mercilessly, willing them to come back for one more, which of course they did because there was one song left unplayed. Peter Keys came back first, and the opening notes of Freebird rang out from his keyboard. My Sturgis adventure was complete.

From South Dakota, August 2013
From South Dakota, August 2013
From South Dakota, August 2013

 

The Super Beast

Day 35: Wednesday 6th August 2013 – Sturgis, SD 

With Rob Zombie playing this evening, I was taking no chances, and as soon as I could, I had the Trooper parked on the front row. Kyle and Jakyl joined me.

From South Dakota, August 2013

I passed the early part of the day in the usual fashion, re-charging the camera and phone, uploading photos, etc. Around mid-afternoon, Rob Zombie and the rest of the band, came out to do a sound check, and we were treated to an impromptu, mini-concert.

From South Dakota, August 2013
From South Dakota, August 2013
From South Dakota, August 2013

Rob chatted to the small audience that had gathered throughout, and toward the end of the rehearsal set, he said that anyone that wanted to come up on stage should just come on up. A few girls were helped over the fence and up onto the stage. I looked around and Kyle was shoving his camera at me, and then he was up and over the fence. Hey, I thought, I don’t want to be left behind. I’m coming too. And then I was over the fence and shoving his camera back to him.

The Trooper was my first tattoo, but I liked the image from Hellbilly Deluxe so much that that was my second.

156931_1778808428839_5055220_n

I thought it would pretty cool to get a photo of me and the tat, with Rob Zombie.

Security were not impressed with what RZ had instigated, and immediately started yelling at us to get back behind the fence. There was no chance of getting a photo up on stage, but I thought I’d take a punt and try to see if security would help the cause. I explained to one of the guys that I’d come all the way from Scotland to see RZ, and showed him my tattoo. I told him that it would really make my trip if I could get a photo with Rob, and I wandered whether him’d be good enough to ask. He told me I’d have to speak to the head security honcho.

Head honcho was pretty blunt – no photographs, no autographs, period. A little later I got to thinking, well of course not, I hadn’t paid over $200 for VIP access. Why would they help someone out for nothing, when they could make a hefty profit from it. As with everything at the Chip, it’s all about making money.

Kyle was going to hang around the bikes for the rest of the afternoon that remained, and Jakyl had already disappeared  back to camp shortly after depositing his bike. I decided it was probably time to put my kilt on, so I could be back in good time for the shows. As I was struggling into my boots, Jakyl called over and asked if I wanted to eat some of the brats that he’d been cooking with Mike and Donna on their BBQ. It was only 5pm, so I gladly accepted the offer of eating with friends.

A little later, as Jakyl and I walked back to the amphitheatre, Jakyl received a text from Kyle.

“Where are you? You’ve missed it.”

We weren’t sure what we’d missed, but we were only 50 yards from the amphitheatre, so we picked up the pace a little, and when we got there, Kyle told us exactly what we had missed. About twenty minutes earlier, Rob Zombie had come out and had been walking around inside the amphitheatre, saying Hi to people, shaking their hands, signing autographs and doing photos. As far as I know, he is the only performer at the Chip that did this. All the others came and went, without really interacting with their audience.

If only I hadn’t stopped to eat those bratwursts, I’d have been there and I’d have had my photo. At least, Kyle got the photo he wanted.

From South Dakota, August 2013

We stayed around the bikes, drinking beers. We were all feeling a bit edgy. Machine Head, Mastodon and Rob Zombie were going to attract a very different crowd from Kid Rock and Toby Keith. A big proportion of each night’s audience, just bought tickets for the show and didn’t camp at the Chip, so the make of the audience changed night by night. We wondered if there might be a lot of South Dakota metal-heads in, and if so whether they’d be a mosh pit down the front. The last thing we needed was people moshing right by the bikes.

Some people might not need to worry about there machines being pushed over. This dude on the trike was going to have the best seat in the house as well.

From South Dakota, August 2013

When the first of the evening’s Miss Buffalo Chip rounds was on, I slipped off to stock up on beer to put in my saddle bag. When I got back Texas Phil, who had his bike parked to my right, asked if I’d mind doing a favour for a young guy who had travelled a hundred miles to see Machine Head. The young man wanted to stand between the bikes right at the front for Machine Head and said he’d go back for Mastodon and RZ. With his Machine Head cap, he seemed a real fan, so how could I deny him. And Machine Head put on a good performance for him.

From South Dakota, August 2013
From South Dakota, August 2013
From South Dakota, August 2013

Although Jakyl didn’t seem too impressed.

From South Dakota, August 2013

And Kyle seemed really chilled for Mastodon.

From South Dakota, August 2013
From South Dakota, August 2013

Machine Head and Mastodon were good, if you like that kind of music and I do, and by now I was buzzing for the Rob Zombie extravaganza to start. The dude on the trike seemed to be getting real popular by now. I guess people wanted to share the best seats.

From South Dakota, August 2013

Love or hate Rob Zombie’s music, his stage show is spectacular. The show he’d brought to Sturgis wasn’t as big or as impressive as the one I’d seen in Glasgow a year earlier, but in my opinion, it still kicked Kid Rock’s ass in terms of both music and showmanship. I admit I’m biased, but most of the other people I spoke to agreed.

From South Dakota, August 2013
From South Dakota, August 2013
From South Dakota, August 2013
From South Dakota, August 2013
From South Dakota, August 2013
From South Dakota, August 2013
From South Dakota, August 2013
From South Dakota, August 2013
From South Dakota, August 2013
From South Dakota, August 2013

I think it was the best show of the rally at the Chip by a long stretch, only ZZ Top and Lynyrd Skynyrd came close to the ball park. My only complaint was that Rob Zombie’s show was really short, at just an hour. Most of the other headline act had played for an hour and a half. I’m used to seeing headliners, such as Metallica and Iron Maiden play for 2 hours plus, so the length of Rob Zombie’s show was a little disappointing and missed out many a great show tune.

One thing I did notice at the RZ show, was a distinct lack of boobies on display from the girls that got up on shoulders.

From South Dakota, August 2013
From South Dakota, August 2013
From South Dakota, August 2013

My friend, Todor, has a theory about this. The worse the band, the more boobies. Steel Panther certainly has lots of boobies when Todor and I saw them, and kind of bares this theory out.

Some people weren’t so pleased with this state of affairs, and offered a plaintive call for more.

From South Dakota, August 2013

I don’t whether it was because the show had been short or whether the show had just got me hyper, but I wanted more, so Kyle, Jakyl and I moved onto the Bikini Beach bar and saw the “house” band, the Living Dead. Boy, did that girl show her bass some action.

From South Dakota, August 2013