Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Road Home - Looking Back

This trip... this Sturgis trip has been one of extremes. Here is an introduction, a little background on Sturgis and an accompanying chronology of sorts:

There were several reasons while I hightailed it to Sturgis this year; Sturgis bike week itself, friends and family who would be there, and son Tyler's bands were booked for two pre-rally shows in Rapid City.
(photo r w/captions... click on it and you should see a larger version)

Look for estimates in the 500,000 range for this years overall attendance at the 69th Sturgis Rally. From mid-July to mid-August, no matter where you are in the United States you will see (mainly) Harley riders with large packs on the highways. You will also see trailers and RV's marked with Harley-Davidson and related logos. Ninety percent of them will be going to or coming from Sturgis. You could make book on that and likely get rich.

Also consider that a handful of of riders will be killed and at least one of them will be involved in a collision with a deer. I know that sounds terrible but understand that a city of several hundred thousand has suddenly sprung up in the Hills and it's population is riding millions of miles to get there, ride there and return home. With that in mind, the accident and relative fatality rate may even be low in comparison to similar sized cities. What makes this temporary city more special though is that it's people are on vacation, happy, and dedicated to living life large.

I have written a lot about this event (www.badassbook.com) so here I will focus on some small tales from one rider... one of the old Badasses. Earlier posts on this site, going back to "Rack'em!" on July 18th will explain how we got this far. Now, picking up where we left off...

Thursday, July 30th: My brother-in-law, and 'brother' Butch Thomas had to work that day so I set about cleaning the road scum off the bike. It was accumulated from a couple of showers during the Spokane to Rapid City run. When it rains, a grey mix of oil and water comes up off the highway and covers every surface of the motorcycle. Typically a spray wash doesn't cut the scum either. You have to hand wash every nook and cranny. No problem though as cleaning the bike is occupational therapy for Harley owners world-wide. Nothing different for me.

Next, I stopped by arguably the world's largest dealership, Black Hills Harley-Davidson. It was 3 days before the official opening yet there were hundreds of bikes parked in the vast lot there as riders took in the dealership along with dozens of vendors who had paid big bucks to set up shop in tents in several acres of parking lot. Yes, while there I bought a great rally shirt as a keepsake (No shirt for El Coyote though... nope. None.)

Later that day however, the bigger deal for me was riding with friend and brother-in-law Butch Thomas to Robbinsdale Lounge to check out the venue my son Tyler's bands would be playing the next night as part of the Sturgis pre-rally events. We were impressed with the stage size and set up of the place. It looked like a good club. They played two shows there over the next two days and I have described the experience on another blog post: Rock The House

That evening Butch and I sat on his back porch with a couple of beers and stogies for company. We swapped lies and bashed fellow riders Mel Nelson (who would arrive from Henderson, NV later that night) and El Coyote (who would be notable in his absence).

Friday, July 31: Mel had arrived with his silver Street Glide so now there were three of us. That number elevated our group from a" tandem" to an official "pack" - always a nice word to have available when claiming "Badass" status. Mel's friend and flame, Pat had arrived as well. She would be riding on the back of Mel's bike that day.

We swilled a ton of coffee then headed for Black Hills Harley-Davidson where I had a Sturgis commemorative patch sewn on my riding jacket. I don't typically do that but was somehow motivated by the fact that the trip was extraordinary in it's length and that I was able to make it at all. We also looked at some new Street Glides Butch was considering after his wife Judy suggested he do so. That is a pretty remarkable thing... to have your wife suggest you look at a new Harley. From my perspective, the act has to go down with other great events in history... like the invention of beer and chrome and the opening of the first bar!

The wind was blowing pretty strong at that time so we decided to head for Sturgis through the Black Hills on Nemo Road instead of the more direct route on the Interstate. We took off through the mountains and sure enough there was less wind but we did notice some solid overcast in front of us toward Sturgis. We stopped and visited Butch's in-laws on the way. Wally and Ruth Ann Jensen have built a huge log home and separate bunk house right on a stream in that beautiful area. Ruth Ann is an industrious soul and has been renting their basement (for six) and Bunkhouse (as many as 10) to Sturgis bikers and Black Hills vacationers. She also uses the home and grounds to host weddings.

Next, we stopped for lunch at the Nemo Guest Ranch. The 'grub' was all being cooked and
served out doors and I opted for the pulled pork sandwich with a side of ranch style beans. Food
always seems to taste better when it is cooked and served out doors. That day was no exception.
(photo r - Nemo Guest Ranch)

Shortly after we left the ranch, a light rain began. At first it wasn't too bad. But then, it gained intensity and after a couple of miles Mel dropped back and gave me signal that we should turn around. I signaled agreement and we got Butch's attention with the same result. When we turned I ended up in the lead, Butch was the middle and Mel and Pat were on the third and last Harley. We were trying to duck the rain so our pace was fairly quick on the straightaways and slow on the turns... being mindful of the potentially slick roads.

My routine in the lead is pretty standard for most bikers no matter what their position... to continuously scan all the important points including front, side-to-side and both rear view mirrors. I was doing the same that day although I lingered a little longer on the front view in deference to the weather conditions. When I scanned my mirrors I would see Butch and Mel's headlights behind me. Then, all of a sudden I looked in my rear view mirrors and saw no one.

I thought... well those guys know the area a lot better than I and maybe I missed a turn off. They could be back there waiting for me or there may be some sort of problem. I stopped and waited a few moments for their lights to show. When that didn't happen I turned around and headed back into the rain to find out what happened. I didn't go far before the rain had completely stopped.

Then, I rounded a turn and saw three bikes and a car parked on the opposite side of the road. I knew there had been an accident and, as I pulled up to park Mel walked up to me. He said, something about seeing "him go down" and as he was saying that I was taking in the scene. I was wondering where Butch was and at first thought he was on the grassy shoulder helping the accident victim. I walked closer and then suddenly recognized the badly damaged motorcycle laying on it's side. It was Butch's.

The feelings I had at that moment were not for an average motorcycle victim, nor were they for someones average brother-in-law. They were more like they would be for a brother and close friend of over 40 years... someone with the same selfless, thoughtful nature shared with his sister, my wife Julieann Marie.

Not far from the bike, I saw Pat, Mel's friend kneeling beside Butch. She was holding his left hand in hers and had her other hand on his helmet. I walked up and knelt beside them on Butch's right. He was conscious and alert. He had some small cuts on his face and a black eye. When I asked, he said "I felt it slide a little and knew I wasn't going to make it." Others there explained that 911 had been called and that police and ambulance were on their way. Butch would occasionally try to move his head, "How's my bike?", but Pat would gently remind him to be still.

The police showed after a few minutes and the ambulance arrived a short while later. The attendants got Butch strapped to a back board... in the process cutting off a (lucky?) Yellowstone Harley shirt I had just purchased for him in Belgrade, Montana.

After the ambulance left, Mel took care of letting Butch's wife Judy know and getting the bike (totalled I am pretty sure) hauled out. I took off to Rapid City to see if Judy needed assistance. She was doing well with reports from us and took off for the hospital in Deadwood just after I got back. I stayed to go to a picnic Ty's cousin (Butch and Judy's son Rick) had scheduled and reserve tables for guests at that nights concert.

Not long after, we got the first report, broken scapula and six broken ribs. An MRI later showed a bruised lung and slight cut on his spleen.

Butch went home a couple of days later after they confirmed the spleen would be okay - he did remarkably well... especially considering the six broken ribs.

Saturday, August 1st to Wednesday August 5: Further adventures in the next installment of this series. Yes, there will be more photos and yes, they will be more succinct... maybe.


Anonymous said...

Thanks Tom, for the story on Butch and the ride. Granny eagerly awaits the next addition! I'm sure glad you are safely home aqnd I bet Julie is too.

TomC said...

Thank you for the note Arlene. Yes, everyone is home, Ty from his tour, Julie and Sam from UCLA and me from the bike trip. All safe and sound and glad to be carving out big slices of life.