Day 20 – Billings, MT to Sturgis, ND

Seriously freaking exhausted. I look like that 80 year-old guy I'm stuck driving behind! Get me outta Billings. NOW.

Today’s quote:  “I have found out that there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.” — Mark Twain.

The beautiful sun-drenched Billings morning could do nothing to dent my first dose of crabbiness of the trip.  The cumulative exhaustion, complete lack of anything other than beige food, and Billings itslef have slapped me across the face like a hot sausage.  Sometimes on a long motorcycle trip (especially when you know you need to make some miles after a couple soft days), you can feel literally trapped in a town’s quicksand, and the more you struggle, the deeper lodged you become.  You feel like you may never leave this town unless you get out, right now.  And then, irrationally, as the time slips away, you actually start to think that the people of the town are personally responsible for your time bleed and terror.  Every stop light takes longer than seems possible as you sweat your ass off in your full gear in the hot sun on a hot bike with no air flow.  Every car is piloted by some 89-year-old curmudgeon who’s lived here his entire life and drives like there’s no reason to go above 15-20 miles an hour while his wife of 40 years is yelling at him to slow down.  Yea, I get that he’s someone’s grandfather, but at this point, general surliness has taken over and reason has been left behind.  Your headlights in his rearview have no affect – he’s seen them before.  Honking would just be mean at this point, which would just make you feel worse, so you just gulp it down like sour medicine.  Then, the line at the crappy coffee shop is absurdly long, filled with absurd people (in your distorted perspective), AND they have no food!  What’s wrong with these morons!  Don’t they know I’m starving!  Why oh WHY are they doing this to me?

And now I have to go find Brad – the lucky recipient of my manic mood swing this morning.  I finally find the gas station that somehow has gravel all over it (even the gas station is out to get me), and he’s all excited because he found a new tire that morning and has huge relief about the drive home and naturally wants to high five and talk tires.  Not happening dude.  Immediately after I get my music off, I throw out a nasty, “Let’s roll dude!”  I can feel the Billings-induced sweat running all over my back, and now I’m (again irrationally) pissed at Brad for not being ready when I got here.  I mean what an inconsiderate ass!  Doesn’t he know that we need to leave this town RIGHT NOW or be stuck here FOREVER?  I lost half my soul at the last stop light and I’ll be damned if I’m going to leave the whole thing is this slow-moving, fucking cauldron of a town! The poor bastard hasn’t even been able to get any coffee yet this morning because he was scrambling to get a tire he desperately needed and had to get up almost two hours before me.  Never seen anyone throw their helmet on so fast.  By the time we leave the on-ramp, I’m already doing about 95 like some moose escaping the ferocious clutch of a hungry grizzly.  But, we’re gone.  And I can start to breath again.  Almost.  No grandpas ahead of me.  Onto the next challenge.  Enter the RV’s.

You seriously learn to really hate RV’s when you’re out west driving – and it’s even worse on a motorcycle.  These beheamoth’s create their own wind patterns and apparently will not go above 50 mph – in either lane, anywhere.  They remind me of something Brad had said a few days earlier about flying helicopers – “It’s like public masterbation.  Totally disgusting to everyone but the guy doing it.”  If you’re into mobile homes and that’s your thing, that’s cool.  Do your thing bro.  But please, please, don’t drive like an ass.  Pass with purpose.  Be aware of the fact you’re not the only one on the damn road.  Leaving Billings, we were behind some fuckwad who took 15 miles to pass a semi.  15 MILES!  In Canada, they’d take him out back and shoot him.  Then they’d turn his RV into a hunting camp.  I can’t even ram him with my motorcycle!  Sonofa!  End rant.  I needed that.

Once we were on the freeway, which is something I normally hate, things began to improve, and it was actually kind of nice being on the freeway for a bit –  we just pegged it at about 85 and sat back watching America roll by under a big blue sky.  We knew how far we had to go, and we just let it come to us.  We’d get there when we got there, wherever “there” was. While we’d obviously rather be twisting through the  mountains on carless, rolling, tree-lined, mountain-shaddowed roads, it was nice to turn off some of that and just ride.  Unfortunately, I turned off a bit too much, and we missed our exit – by 20 fucking miles.  This did NOT improve my mood.  But, after putting 50 miles between us and Billings, this was setback I could deal with, but it was ALL on me – Brad’s GPS broke on the second day of the trip.  Oh well, all we can do is backtrack and get to our road, which would also get us off the freeway, which was starting to get old.

Turning back was definitely the right move.  We got back to state highway 212, and it was worth the backtrack.  For the first 50-100 miles, we rolled through the South Dakota Indian reservations that would blow you away.  I’ve seen reservations before in Canada and Wisconsin, but this was on a whole new level.  I wish we’d had more time to pull off and take pictures because I’d love to share what we saw, but we really needed to get miles in.  These towns looked like something out of the Twilight Zone.  Every building was barely erect.  Every road, and most were dirt, was in disrepair.  Every person was like a shadow, a ghost, shuffling down the street seemingly with nowhere to go.  And the land itself?  Worthless, brown, uninhabitable.  It struck me that this is one of our country’s shattered china dishes smashed at a party that we’ve swept under the rug to hide from guests and hopefully even forget ourselves.  It never happened if you put it under a part of the rug you never walk over.  You could almost see the hopelessness like a fog blanketing the land.  Hope is a giving lover, but when she leaves, she takes everything with her leaving stark, joyless nothingness behind.  What is life like here?

I found myself wondering how I’d respond to these conditions and thinking about the high rates of alcoholism and suicide in these communities.  How would I survive in this?  I consistently disappoint myself with my reaction to life’s challenges, and I’ve been given every advantage anyone could have.  It’s quite humbling.  It’s always good to get off the freeway and see how other people live – it forces you to at least attempt to understand them, and if not that much, it at least open your eyes to the fact that not everywhere is Lake Drive.  As Mark Twain said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.  Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”  Or, as Henry Miller said, “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”

I don’t pretend to be an expert on this (or really know anything about it at all) after rolling through at 50 miles an hour watching it fly by, and it’s impossible to understand a place AT ALL after just driving through it, but I could FEEL the depressive soul-sucking nature of these “towns,” and it hit me right in the gut.  If you ever have the chance to drive through these areas, get off the freeway and do it.  You’ll never see this or anything else from the freeway.  “Thanks to the interstate highway system, it is now possible to travel from coast to coast without seeing anything,” Charles Kuralt.

We finally pulled through the reservations and stopped at some no name town for fuel and coffee.  The only reason I mention this is what happened in the parking lot after our bikes sat in the roasting sun for a bit.  I went to get back on my bike, and I could barely sit on it due to the massive swarm of flies and bees!  Our bikes are now so nasty with so much dead shit on them that they’re attracting entire colonies of flies and bees.  I had to put my gear on off the bike, get all set and then jump on, start it fast, and pull away swearing and trying not to get any in my helmet!  Yuck.  So cool!

Then we pulled into Sturgis.  Yikes.  I’m not sure that I “get” Sturgis.  I mean, it’s cool to be with other riders and all that, but well, it’s just not my thing.  Totally not knocking it – it’s just not for me.  Add to that these guys who trailer bikes out there, and I really don’t get it.  I mean, I like to ride my bike – not stand around it and look at it.  These guys trailer their bikes out (some from just one state away – lots of Minnesota trailers – LAME), park them, and then stand around.  Brad and I figured, why not just take a photo of your bike, put it on the ground and put some cones around it so no one parks on it?  But, hey, like I always say, to each his own.  Do what you do brother.  It’s funny too – the guys who trailer bikes out there just get hazed by the riders.  I find it shocking that they can show their faces out there.  But then, it’s good that they do that because it gives the riders someone to make fun of.

We even learned some sign language on this trip. Wish I could wear this shirt every day - especially while passing mobile homes.

The guy with the sign language shirt above? Yea, this is his bike. He was really good at expressing himself. And seriously, one of the nicest guys you've ever met.

We hung out in Sturgis long enough to walk around a bit and take a couple lame pictures.  Had to get one gratuitous thong shot just to show that I was actually there.  We decided to hotel it that night in Deadwood.  I think we both wanted to camp in one of the rowdy campgrounds, but we were approaching a pretty deep level of cumulative exhaustion, and we still had about 900 miles to go – through South Dakota and Minnesota – not the most exciting terrain.  Once again, our maturity was shining through.  Right.

Yea, that's through assless chaps. Nice.

Sturgis! Fuck yea! USA! Whoo! Not really.

Brad is trying to control his excitement...

Our bikes look cooler than the other ones...

This guy disagrees. Yes, "Beemers" is crossed out. But it's written on a blow up doll. Hmm...

Dude's blowup doll is wrong. No trailering these bikes.

He needs a constant reminder - "God loves bikers too." And he does.

Deadwood is an ok town that looks great as you drive in, and since the freeway is about 10 miles away in Sturgis, it hasn’t been crushed by all the shwaggy freeway development, but it has been run over by casinos.  Driving into town, it looked like it could be a cool western town, but when you peel the skin back a bit, you realize that every fucking storefront is backlit by money-sucking slot machines being stroked by mindless zombies.  Ugh.  I’ve always thought that gambling should be fully legal – people should be able to do whatever they want with their money.  But after seeing what happens to towns when it’s fully legal, I’m not so sure.  We even had a hard time finding food at 9:30pm!  What?  During Sturgis?  Unreal.  And of course, we couldn’t help ourselves from constantly saying, “Where’s Woo?  Fucking cocksucker.”  If you haven’t seen the show Deadwood on HBO, you won’t get that.  If you have, you’re laughing your ass off right now.  Trust me, you are.  Where’s Woo?  Fucking cocksucker.  Ha!  Swearengen.  Why did they take that show off air?  Was it too good?

Well, we survived the day, and I think our friendship is intact.  I’m really not that good at spending so much time with one person (hence my hyper-bachelor status at nearly, but not quite, 40), but somehow Brad and I have pulled it off.  My near meltdown today really had nothing to do with him – I’d just hit a temporary low spot, and he got to experience all of it!  Lucky guy.  But, overall, I’d say the wingman travel has gone extremely well.  My brother did warn me before the trip saying, “You think it will be safer with Brad going along?  You guys seem to find or make more trouble than you avoid.”  Fairly prescient now.  But, I think all that trouble created memories and experiences and got us through a lot of long days together.

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10 Responses to Day 20 – Billings, MT to Sturgis, ND

  1. I apologize for laughing through much of your agony, but this might have been one of my favorite posts.
    Safe Travels!

  2. Daddy Wags says:

    Had the opportunity to meet Brad when the men drifted back into town. Liked him immediately. Here’s kind of how I see Brad: He’s at work, flying some hi-tech 737 from coast to coast when he gets a text from Eric. “Hey, Dude, I’m in Saskatoon. What are you doing?” Soon after the text, Brad is heard over the jet’s PA system saying: “Ladies and Gentlemen, I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but we are being diverted to Saskatoon. Please ensure that your seat belts are fastened. Let’s ride, Dude.”

  3. jennifer cizek says:

    I totally get the “let’s get out of here” mode you experienced, I call it the “homeward instinct”.
    You are an intuitive traveler with a lot of insight.
    Brad can tell you about the time I refused to stay at this scary place in the North Woods after a too long and too cold Fall ride. I get it Wags! You’re right on man.

  4. Fran Greenwald says:

    I don’t know what to say but I think that this trip was more difficult than most short term marriages! Long after the journey is over the friendship and memories will endure. What else matters? Not the beer, wine or women, just the journey. I am glad you returned in tact (bikes excluded) and have lived to experience such a journey together. I don’t know you, Erik Wagner, but I think you are an interesting fellow and full of guts and grit. Keep the blog going until you have documented the end of the trip back to MKE. Thanks for all the pictures, expecially the black and whites interspersed which are special. By the way I never fly American, nor do I drive a BMW. I am a SAAB groupie.

  5. Jack Waite says:

    Like Melissa, I loved every minute of your agony and reading your angry inside voice being written down for posterity.
    And I like the rest of the Mark Twain quote so much, I’m including the whole thing here:
    “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
    Way to not vegetate, Wags.

    • ericgwagner says:

      Love the rest of that quote. So much in fact that I’m going to modify the post to put that in there. Jack, your comment might look a little weird in posterity, but after they read my reply, hopefully future generations (ha) will figure it out. Thanks for posting the rest of that! (For the millions of future readers, my original take on the quote ended with “narrow-mindedness.” I added the rest after one Jack Waite posted it as a comment.) Ok, I think we’re safe now. Thanks Jack!

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