Article and Photos By: Chopper Charlie
Originally Published In The December 2016 Issue Of Cycle Source Magazine
Drip, drop, drip….damn, is that rain? I poked my head out from inside my sleeping bag, peered through 8 billion lumens of light being cast my way from the parking lot lights, only to see rain and lightning heading my way. The edge of the storm was starting to sprinkle me with an unwanted shower. Of course I had chosen to NOT set up my tent; partially because I knew some repairs were in order from the previous night’s storm, partially because there wasn’t a great place to put it and mainly because I was being lazy. I was going to get wet, there was no doubt about that. I D rolled up against the edge of the building to gain as much protection as I could, pulled my sleeping bag over my head and tried to fall asleep before the rain saturated everything down to my skin. It didn’t work. Fortunately, though, the storm passed relatively quickly and the following breeze dried me out well enough. If you remember from the first part of this story I started to say how I had encountered my first positive experience with a Harley dealer. My tune hasn’t changed on that but maybe I should clarify that I did not leave in a state of repair. What really happened is that, and maybe to my fault, we spent some time and a fair amount of money replacing the starter…that didn’t need replacing. I made a huge assumption that the starter had failed. It seemed to make sense based on how old it is. It made so much sense in fact that I never really bothered to fully examine the situation. What I didn’t notice, and I can’t believe I didn’t, is that the problem in fact was that the long bolt that holds the jack shaft assembly together had fallen out. I didn’t see it, and the tech helping me didn’t see it. Of course, it begs the question of how that wasn’t noticed upon removal and replacement of the starter. I don’t have an answer to that and the whole thing was starting to get ridiculous. The problem turned out to be that because the bolt had fallen out, the splines on the jack shift stripped out. That was the problem, not the starter, and of course there wasn’t a replacement part within 500 miles. But, with everything now reassembled, my frustration levels at an all-time high, I paid for a new and unnecessary starter. I did manage to cobble it together for one final start and left.
1200 miles from home, no idea where I was going and a starter situation on my hands, I decided to catch Hwy 2 out of Williston and ride west across Montana for a bit. I also decided to leave the bike running all day to avoid getting stuck again. If you ever feel the need to torture your bike and feel really guilty about it, try riding a 500-mile day without ever shutting your bike off but maybe once. I stayed on Hwy 2 until I rolled into Malta, Montana where I took a gamble, and hit the kill switch. I needed some peace and quiet for a minute, plus, I figured that if it didn’t restart there was a park behind the gas station I could sleep in. While sitting there munching on a granola bar I noticed another couple standing beside their bikes. I wandered over to say hello, sized him up as a potential push start victim and got to chatting. Turns out that they were heading home to Canada from Sturgis, much like my new friend Sheldon that I had met the day before. Those Canadians are awful friendly and they gave me the scoop on US 191 south to Roundup, Montana, the road I was planning to take south. The question for me at this point was whether to stay the night in Malta or to press on another 167 miles to Roundup. I chose to go and I’m glad I did. Being the friendly folk that they were, they opted to stick around to make sure my bike would start. After a half dozen failed attempts, I got it to fire up and I was on my way.
US 191 might be one of the best roads I’ve ridden in a while. The eloquent mix of scenery, from green rolling hills to tight canyon switchbacks, coupled with the complete lack of traffic made for a truly Zen experience. Montana is good for that. In fact, it was so barren that at mile 140 I was starting to get a little worried about fuel. Fortunately, at mile 146, I rolled up on a one cowboy town, whose belt buckle was larger than the town itself, and found a circa 1950 fuel pump. So there I stood, waiting patiently for the 4 gallons of fuel to dribble out of the vintage pump and exchanged glances with a few of the locals. You know that scene in Easy Rider where they get run out of town by the local sheriff? It was starting to feel a little like that, but friendlier somehow. Oddly though, it was one of the neatest little places I rode through on this trip. I literally felt like I had stepped back in time. America is amazing like that, with small little towns scattered all over the place, almost as an intentional reminder that life doesn’t have to be as hectic as we make it. Not much further up the road I passed the town sign for Roundup. A bit larger than the previous town but still nothing to brag about. It did offer a few more amenities though, one of them being a motel. Almost as if expecting me, Merle and his wife Bernice, another Canadian couple, were sitting on the stoop in front of their room enjoying the cool air of the evening as I pulled in. After speaking with the owner of the inn for a minute I got my room key and worked my way across the parking lot to say hello. Merle and Bernice, also on their way home from Sturgis, would be my neighbors for the night. After a few pleasantries and unpacking I wandered back to the office to inquire about food that would be within walking distance. I was informed that there was a restaurant but it was on the other side of town and would be a long walk. The owner, was aware of my situation and kindly offered to drive me down and pick me up when I was finished. This is the sort of hospitality one only finds in small towns like this. About this time Merle and Bernice showed some interest in going along, so we all hopped in the truck and drove down to the restaurant. Funny enough, the bartender was the inn owner’s daughter and treated us as well as one would expect.
By this point in the story you may be picking up on what this trip really became about, people. I met more kind hearted, willing to help and honest people on this trip than I have in a long time. Not to say that most people I run into aren’t kind, but this trip in particular seemed to have more than usual. I left Boulder with the intention of spending as much time alone as possible but what I got was plethora of new friends that I may not have met had my bike not been giving me problems. It’s interesting how in the face of adversity I was soothed by the generosity of complete strangers. There is a huge lesson to be learned from this. Not everyone is selfish and unwilling to help. Mainstream media wants us to believe that everything is doom and gloom out there, and yes, I suppose times have changed. Gone are the days of pulling over when passing a motorist in distress, traffic will continue to fly by as if you aren’t even there. People walk around like zombies with their faces buried in their phones. Everyone seems too busy to care anymore. Don’t believe any of this. Go out, get away from the big cities and you will see. Honest human compassion still exists.