I had been riding with a group of dudes for the past 10 days, from L.A. to Sturgis. Shit happened on the way, lives were changed, and adventure was had. Once in Sturgis, I partied like a 16-year-old chick trying to show off in front of Nikki Sixx back in the late '80s. Yeah, things were cool and messed up, If you want to know more, read the last issue of Baggers.
Riding is freedom. Yes, it sounds cliché, but as I left the group of five bikers I'd been traveling with for the past 10 days to travel solo, the three words I'd said so often had true meaning again. I felt as though my bike and I were one-one entity to decide where to go, when to stop, what to eat, and when to touch myself.
After bidding adieu to the crew I'd traveled with from L.A. to the Sturgis rally, I charged north on Highway 85 ready for whatever the high plains threw at me. It was either that or I was actually just high. I'm not really sure. I was heading to the rarely talked about-unless one is referring to temperature extremes or goofy accents-state of North Dakota. Nothing but wide-open prairie lay ahead.
If I'm not already going to hell, this sentence will do it: North Dakota is often described the same as a nun: flat, boring, and frigid. It does, however, house North America's G-spot-it's geographical center that is-in a town called Rugby. And if you know anything about history-not that I do, but I can Google-the ghosts of General Custer, Theodore Roosevelt, and even Lawrence Welk are said to walk the vast prairie. Damn, for such an unpopular state, it sure has a lot of famous saucy dead dudes. If they liked it, there must be something cool happening. It's true, North Dakota is a pretty big deal; in this super-size-me world, NoDak has its place. Growing out of its fruited plains are giants.
Now, my guess is this stuff wasn't there when good ol' Roughrider was around, but some backwoods hick dude with way too much time on his hands welded together old tractor parts to make a bunch of huge sculptures along a desolate road not too far from the SD-ND border. The 32-mile drive, called the Enchanted Highway (enchantedhighway.net), runs north and south from the town of Regent and hooks up with the wonderful super slab that is I-94. A retired schoolteacher built the giant metal sculptures. If you take the time to check it out, you'll see ironworks of Teddy Roosevelt on a horsy, some pheasants, a grasshopper, and my mom. Ok, not the last one, just checking to make sure you were still paying attention.
Day 10: Salem Sue
Driving I-94 through the state can get pretty boring. That's why there are creatures like Salem Sue along the way (realnd.com/salemsueindex.htm). Salem Sue is a giant bovine-the world's largest in fact-at the town of New Salem. Along my path of desolate 75-mph road signs, I saw her from miles away. Anything with even a slight abrupt elevation change gets noticed, and a 38-foot Holstein atop a hill is like a freshly squeezed putrid pimple on the prom queen's nose during class photo day.
Standing in between my only goal for the afternoon-reaching Bismarck-was the largest set of milkers I had ever seen. I knew the cow's teats were only made of fiberglass, not the sweet meat of actual flesh. Screwit. I pulled over. Why? Because I could. As things would have it, I wasn't the only one interested in the gigantic milk makers. There was already a family up there ogling the manmade wonder. I could see their youngest staring out of the corner of his pre-adolescent eyes at the engorged veins that ran along Sue's pink udders. "Breasts are life," I told the kid in my head. "They are nothing to be shy of." I hammered the point home as I walked up to a dangling teat with camera in hand and began faux-sucking the glorious fun bags for a nice self-portrait. Mom's and dad's face turned a shameful red. They were clearly uncomfortable to see a grown man acting out perceived perversions in front of their impressionable child. The little tyke wanted in on the action. He reached up toward the teats dangling above his little head. What was daddy to do? Shame the boy for wanting to touch? He'd forever equate natural breasts with wrongdoing.
The dad simply lifted his child over his head to let the starry eyed boy touch a breast that wasn't his own mothers for the first time. He looked at me and smiled. In our hyper-protective modern society of kids forced to wear helmets on tricycles, unrealistic fears about germs, and the general pussy-fy-ing of our nation's youth, it is times like these that I feel hope for the future. Maybe, just maybe we aren't breeding a new generation of Americans who will no longer be able to fight battles or deal with any sort of pain due to overprotective idiots. Of course, I'm a habitual line crosser. I asked the mom to take a few portraits of me fondling and attempting to lick the massive nubbin; she did so with a nervous laugh.
After I left Sue, I headed the 30 miles or so to the Bismarck-Mandan area, a hot spot along the Missouri River. The Missouri, if you'll bear with another one of my history lessons, is the route Meriwether Lewis and William Clark took on their expedition out west. My friend's family lives north of town along the river. L and C likely pooped in their backyard. So I thought I'd stop in and see if they'd feed me and let me bunk for the night.
The family immediately took me in as one of its own-a dirty stranger on a dirty motorcycle with a camera. They took me out fishing with their grandchildren and put a full plate in front of me. They have a couple of hot daughters, but I didn't mess with them after growing up hearing all sorts of horror stories about messing with farmer's daughters.
Day 11: Jamestown and Beyond
The next morning I continued east. When I saw Jamestown's giant buffalo-the world's largest buffalo-I didn't feel like fondling its buffalo bollocks, a la Salem Sue's teats, but I ended up having some campy fun. Near the buffalo, Jamestown built an old-timey reenactment city called Frontier Village. As I pulled up, there were cowboys, sheriffs, and saloon girls going about their business, peacefully and all, until the bad guys decided to rob the bank. A big gunfight ensued, and the town drunk ended up flipping the plot by killing off his fellow partners in crime and running off with the sack full of gold. After the major fatalities came back to life, I inquired with the sheriff about the area and shared stories of my road trip. I got a group portrait with the cast, and once again, pushed things a little further by faking a gunfight between the sheriff and me. That wasn't as cool as I thought it would be, so I asked him to arrest my ass over the Harley Ultra Classic Electra Glide. The photos were planned to look like he was frisking me, but they ended up looking like he was about to give me some Deliverance-style loving.
I pushed my travels into the night. After hours of not finding any suitable place to pitch camp, I finally saw a state park to poach. Traveling with lots of camera gear does not allow for the packing of extra comforts like a tent. I found an empty campsite in the dark and unrolled my sleeping bag next to my bike. Even though I was exhausted, I could not sleep in the extreme humidity. I ended up donating a few pints of plasma and red blood cells to a marauding gang of mosquitoes, and then it rained. All I had for shelter was a space blanket. The worst thing about the space blanket was that the only way to keep the mosquitoes at bay was to completely envelope myself in it like a cocoon, and the material quickly heats up into a festering sauna. It was a long night.
Day 12: Leveraging Harley
With no sleep at all, I got out of my heat pouch at first light in hopes to evade the park ranger. My selection for the camping spot sucked and was situated on an off-cambered gravel road. While turning the 900-plus-pound beast around, I dropped the bike. No worries. I have made this freshman mistake all too often. However, I couldn't stand the bike back upright. It was knocked over leaning downhill on the loose gravel. My feet slid on the rock while I tried to lift the bike. I was fucked. I gathered tools from the forest for the next hour to build a fulcrum to erect the bike. Using rocks and a sturdy timber, I ended up leaving the Milwaukee steel much less erect than I was hoping for.
Luckily, I found the only other person in the campground, Hippy John. Unluckily, he was an old codger with medical problems. He gave me just the extra needed strength to pick my bike back up and invited me to his trailer to trade breakfast sweets and coffee for my tales of the road.
My next stop would be Fargo, just a stretch down I-94, and then I'd leave ND behind. I lingered a little longer with Hippy John. The freedom of riding solo had been good, but I was glad it was peppered with plenty of good-old-fashioned North Dakota hospitality. Cheesy? Yeah, sure. Addictive? You betchya!
Some might think North Dakota is hell on earth. I have learned throughout my misadventure that there is radness in every state of this awesome country. There is more entertaining stuff in ND than just the movie Fargo.
Between Bowman and and Amidon lies "The Open Range." Keep your eyes open for the range-top stove sitting in an open range with its door open. Cool? No? Breaking up the monotony of vast nothingness? Definitely.
There is a speed trap right outside of town. Fell free to crack the throttle. It's just an old cop car with a mannequin in the drivers seat.
Not like your sad '82 T-bird, the four-headed thunderbird statue in Steamboat Park looks powerful.
The largest stack of empty oil cans is not as big as the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, but it is interesting enough to stop by just to say you been there.
OFF the Beaten Path
Hickson to Street, ND
Considered the straightest road in America, ND Highway 46 has no shifting in either direction for a full 31 miles of brain-numbing straightness. Lock your handlebars straight, turn on the cruise control, and take a nap. Not recommended, but it can be fun.