Heading West

BURNING MY BUTT OFF, Part 2 Ė New York City to Sturgis in 36 hours

DAY 2:
The alarm clock wakes me up at 6 AM local time, 7 AM Eastern. The sleep felt good, but Iím still a bit tired. Iíve got 13 Ĺ hours to ride another 700 miles. The Weather Channel is talking up tornadoes, hail, and severe thunderstorms in Nebraska and South Dakota this afternoon. SOUTH DAKOTA! Suddenly, this doesnít seem like such a hot idea. The room key is still stuck in the door, left there all night. I must have been exhausted. I check the sticky lock again and itís still difficult. Ĺ hour later, the bike is loaded and Iím ready to go. Shortly after 8:30 AM Eastern Time, just 24 hours from my start, I cross the Mississippi River. Iím 1080 miles from home, and now Iím really out west.

Gas Stop #7:
Iíve run out of gas again, with the bike sputtering as I approach exit 183 in Minnesota. Iím beginning to realize that a GS may not be the best motorcycle choice for long distance highway riding. Yeah, now you tell me. Iím not even close to my scheduled stop at exit 159, the intersection of I-90 and I-35. And Iíve only got 192 miles on the trip odometer! What the hell happened? My mileage has gone to crap, thatís what happened. This increasingly harsh head wind from the coming storm front has killed my range, along with the 70-MPH speed limit. But luckily there is a Cenex station just off the exit. I coast up to the pumps.

The bike takes on 5.206 gallons. Obviously, there is some fuel left, just not in the right half of the tank. Some locals notice my New York license plate and ask me which direction Iím headed. When I say west, one fellow mentions thatís too bad. Yeah, tell me about it. When I got on the bike at the motel the sky was clear. Now the clouds are filling in and the wind is getting ridiculous.

Near Alden, at exit 146, I pass the first sign for Wall Drug. There will be many more to come for the eclectic stop, many hundreds of miles from here. The signs will help me fight the boredom of the interstate. But right now Iíve got more serious matters to consider. I realize with this wind and my increased speed, there is no way I can keep to my scheduled 200-mile intervals. Iíll need to add another fuel stop if Iím going to make it. But the extra stop time might be trouble.

Gas Stop #8:
With only 115 miles on the trip odometer I make an unscheduled stop. This leaves about 450 miles to Sturgis, and Iíll make my new fuel interval every 150 miles. And now I donít need to worry about my mileage or running out of fuel again. The wind is turning quite torturous, with gusts well over 30 MPH. Iím running straight west now and the gale is hitting me from the southwest. I feel like Iím Joe Frazier, getting slammed around by George Foreman, my head getting bounced from side to side.

Gas Stop #9:
With about 300 miles left, I stop in Mitchell, South Dakota. Since 1892 Mitchell has boasted what no other town can duplicate: the Corn Palace. Artfully arranged corn, grains, and grasses make up the facade of this huge exhibition hall, which is capped by colorful domes and turrets. The Corn Palaceís exterior design changes every fall. My friend Lydia Fitzgerald told me about this place during my trip last year, but I was nowhere near it. I stop for a quick photo op, but there is no time for a tour. Anyway, Iíll be back in August on my way home.

At the Texaco station, my American Express card gets rejected at the pump. Iíve been waiting for this to happen, but I actually think the pump is the problem, not my card. With all the dust flying around the card reader probably doesnít work. And I had a nice long chat with AMEX about my charge habits before I hit the road. I told them that if I had problems using my card, Iíd just start using my Visa instead. I think they got the message.

When someone steals your credit card, the first thing they do is buy some gas with it. If you havenít reported it stolen, and the fuel purchase works, the thief continues the buying spree. When the credit card computers see lots of little purchases at gas stations, they get suspicious and automatically reject the card. I walk inside the station and ask the lady behind the counter to run it through again. She asks if Iíll be able to pay if the card doesnít work. EXCUSE ME! I suggest that perhaps I should go buy my gas somewhere else. That shuts her up real fast.

Near milepost 260, I cross the Missouri River. Iíve reached the Badlands and the sky looks pretty bad too. The rain begins but itís just drizzle right now. Cattle huddle around road signs, like they know something I donít. Iím expecting a weather disaster, with clouds swirling around me, but somehow I miss the worst of it. At milepost 190 I cross into Mountain Time.

Gas Stop #10:
This Amoco station, at exit 163 in Belvidere, was originally supposed to be my 9th stop, but at least Iím back on the plan. With 1,617 miles on the GPS odometer and less than three hours till my 36 hour window is up, I decide to play it safe, just in case. Iíll still try for Sturgis, but I wouldnít want to miss out on my BunBurner qualification when Iíve already made it. Iíll get an end witness right now. Francis, the station manager and the only person around for miles, is happy to sign my form.

Down the road a bit, I have to stop in Wall for another photo op, and some ice cream too. Actually, you have to stop at Wall Drug if youíre traveling across I-90 in South Dakota. Itís the law now. If the highway patrol finds out you drove past Wall without stopping you will be arrested immediately. (Okay, that last part is complete bull.)

The Storm:
Iím about 35 miles away from Sturgis, just east of Rapid City, and the clouds coming out of the Black Hills are looking like Moses is getting ready to part the Red Sea. Or maybe alien spaceships are about to invade earth. Either way, I wasnít thinking too hard when I planned a late afternoon arrival to this area. Storms like this are rather common around here, but that doesnít help me right now. This weather is surreal. Lightning blasts out of the swirling darkness that floats above me. This is not good. I took the rain liner out of my jacket at Wall, because I was getting a little warm. Man, was that a bad move or what?!? Iím not going to make this. I need to seek shelter right now.

Up ahead, I see two other riders huddled under what must be the only overpass for miles. The Harley and Honda are riding together from Illinois. Just as I turn off the ignition the rain hits. And then comes the hail. Itís actually hailing and Iíve got less than an hour on the clock! I canít believe this. Iíve come so far, and Iím so close to the finish, but if I donít get moving soon I wonít make it. As soon as it lets up a bit, I leave the shelter of the overpass and get moving. The downpour continues through Rapid City, with lots of water on the road, and some construction to make things even more interesting. Somebody up there doesnít like me. But the bike is steady and sure, and itís not about to let me down. We make it through.

The End:
Iím already grinning as I see the Sturgis exit. But itís short lived as I pull down the ramp and see this sign. ROAD CLOSED. Youíve got to be joking. The Exxon station is just over there. I make my way through the detour, and Iíve made it. The final receipt tells me I had 15 minutes to spare. Talk about a close call. Laura Zylstra, a local girl working behind the counter is happy to be my first witness. When I check into the Best Western next door, I find witness number two. Stephen Myers, a BMW rider from Arizona, is here getting his 1990 R100GS/PD repaired, after a breakdown this afternoon near Hill City. Someone, it seems, had a tougher day than I did.

CLICK HERE to see some statistics from the ride.