Friday, July 20, 2012

Day Thirty-Five: Pickup Adventures

Well, today didn't quite turn out as expected. It's a good thing Bob and I are learning to be flexible on this trip.

Did I pique your interest with the post title? Are you thinking that Bob and Roger are practicing their smooth patter on unsuspecting Montana barmaids and are about to reveal all? No such luck, I'm afraid. I meant pickup truck adventures. This is the West, after all.

So, last I wrote, Bob and I were planning on cadging a ride in a pickup truck to Alzada, Montana, in order to cut down our 98 mile distance to Belle Fourche, SD, to a more manageable 40 miles, given the 100+ degree heat and strong headwinds.

I actually arranged such a ride yesterday afternoon, shortly after riding into Broadus, MT. There I was, on my bike, cruising the streets and checking out the various stores in town (such as there were), when I spot someone else on a bike with panniers -- but there is something a bit off -- his bike has a small motor and 1/2 gallon gas tank attached. He approaches -- his name is Rick -- and we get to talking. Turns out he rode his motorized bike to Broadus from Louisiana, where he's originally from, and occasionally builds more and sells them. Rick also said he was an ex-Navy Seal, who had his lower leg blown off in Desert Storm -- and, sure enough, whether the specific etiology is accurate or not, he pulls up his pant leg and shows me his artificial leg, complete with Navy Seal patch at the top of the stump.

So, real casual-like, I work into the conversation (and it is work, because he is speaking and spinning stories pretty much non-stop, all in a heavy Southern drawl) whether he knows anyone who has a pickup truck that might take two bikers and their bikes to Alzada early tomorrow morning? Well, you guessed it, Rick says he has a truck and will be glad to help out. I say "really?" -- hardly believing my good luck. He assures me yes -- that he doesn't have to get to work until 1:30 -- and he would be glad to do a good turn for a fellow "biker."

Now Broadus is a small town, but I still needed to know where Rick lives, so we can come by in the morning. He says "Follow me, I'm in a camper behind the IGA." And, yes, Rick lives in a tiny mobile camper, squeezed in questionably behind the local grocery, and yes, there is a red Chevy pickup parked nearby that looks old, but serviceable (Rick later informs us it's from 1973).

The next morning, Rick is good to his commitment, and even pre-empts our having to go by his home again by driving up to our motel at 7:30 a.m. sharp, complete with a gallon of distilled well water for our ride and consumption. We provide him with a previously-promised coffee (3 sugars) and, although he wasn't requesting it, some gas money. Bob and I load up our bikes in the pickup bed, secure them reasonably well, and then all squeeze into the front cab. Fortunately, I called "shotgun" first and got the window, while Bob did his best to straddle without permanent injury the floor-based stickshift (but that's only fair payback for folding me into the back of Christi's pickup   in Stanford).

Well, we should have learned from the old, but serviceable-looking coffee maker in Ingomar. We didn't make it more than a 1/2 mile out of town, and the start of the first hill, before Rick's pickup began bucking and spitting like a bronco. Rick was besides himself -- said it was a bad, watered down gas fill-up the other day -- and turned around and rolled back into town to put in a gas tank additive and try again. And again. Four times we tried to climb that hill, four times we sputtered and crawled to the top, only able to use 2nd gear, and bucking and stalling whenever Rick tried 3rd gear.

Finally, we called it quits and went to Plan B. Bob planted himself in the IGA parking lot; I planted myself at the stop sign in the middle of town, where Route 212 turns at a right angle. And we basically began propositioning strangers (so maybe the title of this  post is accurate after all).

After about 10 or 15 minutes (and 10 to 15 failed approaches), I hit paydirt with Monte, who was driving a nice late model blue pickup, with an extended cab and A/C, and was heading all the way to Belle Fourche to meet his wife (although they live in Billings). So Bob and I repeated our bike loading ritual and this time didn't have to do any squeezing to get into the cab.

Monte's pickup flew along Route 212 at 70 to 80 mph, with barely a bump or a ripple, and, of course, we exchanged stories. Turns out he's a supervisor at REA (the rural electric utility created as a New Deal agency), has a tree trimming business on the side, his parents just closed on their first house purchase today (50 miles away from him), he has a new smartphone that takes pictures (but he doesn't know how to retrieve them yet, which is too bad, because he has really cool photos of a burning mobile camper -- presumably not Rick's), he has 5 kids -- the fourth adopted from the Ukraine after his vasectomy -- the fifth born when, as a Christian, he decided to have it reversed, and his oldest daughter is going off to community college in the fall to focus on equine studies (she has two horses of her own), but in the meantime is working on a ranch for the summer and being exploited (longer hours and lower pay than promised). Bob and I were a little more taciturn, but I'm pretty sure we got in that Bob is from DC and I'm from New York.

Oh, the biking. Right.

Well, Monte offered to take us all the way to Belle Fourche, since he was going there already, but we politely declined as self-respecting bikers, saying we would get out at Alzada and ride the rest of the way. So he pulled up at the gas station in Alazada, Bob and I clambered out -- and were nearly knocked off our feet by the fierce wind directly out of the East. We looked at each other, shrugged sheepishly, and climbed back into Monte's pickup. We were due a rest day anyway!

But we did get a bit of riding in nonetheless. After Monte dropped us in the Pamida parking lot in Belle Fourche where he was meeting his wife (who we also met and who was equally nice), and after we thanked him profusely (and he rejected our offer of gas money), we decided to ride the 15 miles or so South to Spearfish, SD, which was a waypoint on our planned route tomorrow to Deadwood, SD. Remember Bob's bald tire tread? Bob had located a bike store in Spearfish that could sell him a new one, and we were going to go there first thing tomorrow when they opened at 9. But, we thought, why not go there today, get it done, and trim 15 miles off of tomorrow's ride, which has some serious elevation challenges? (they do call them the Black Hills, after all). So we quickly cancelled our Motel 6 reservation in Belle Fourche, found a vacancy at a Travelodge in Spearfish (which wasn't easy because of the Corvette Rally weekend going on), and did the ride.

Which, although brief, was great, because a good portion of it was on a real-to-goodness backroad, with no traffic, but lots of rolling hills, farmland and greenery, and the Black Hills looming off in the distance. I had almost forgotten what it's like not to ride on the shoulder of a highway with trucks whizzing by at 70 mph!

And the trade-up from Belle Fourche to Spearfish was like passing through the Twilight Zone. Belle Fourche, to be frank, notwithstanding its population of almost 5,000, was, shall I say, a tad unattractive. Dusty, hot and very strip mallish. Spearfish, by contrast, is a university town (Black Hills State University), and well set up for tourists using it as a jumping off point for Mt. Rushmore and other SD attractions. For Bob and me it was like coming to an oasis after weeks in the desert -- the town actually had a wine bar, with real wine glasses and interesting wines -- there were attractive people around  -- and good food -- Bob and I were very happy. I even got a hot stone massage!

And the Corvette rally? Well check out the video. I asked a Marshall, and she said they had over 400 Corvettes registered and in attendance. All spotless, many with their hoods up showing spotless engines, and ranging from 1956 models, to my favorite, the 1965 Stingray, to the present. And, in case that didn't attract your interest, at the same time Spearfish was hosting an art festival in its public park. In all, a very neat, interesting and appealing town.

Did I mention we're finally out of Montana? And Wyoming too -- which we were in for all of 20 miles (Route 212 clips Wyoming's Northeast corner). I'm a little bit sorry we ended up accomplishing both by car, but as I said earlier, we're learning to be flexible on this trip. I think we figured out that the focus needs to be on setting up good experiences, not on riding each and every mile. We still expect to cover over 4,200 miles on our bikes, so that's not too shabby.

So thanks today to Rick -- for his well-intentioned but feckless efforts -- and to Monte -- for swooping in with a gracious, efficient and well-timed rescue!

Here are today's route and metrics (excluding the 98 miles in Monte's truck!):


1 comment:

  1. Outstanding post, Rog. Thanks to Rick and Monte from the East Coast, for their generosity to my bro and Bob. And it's cool that you're heading to Deadwood, where Wild Bill Hickok's luck ran out. If you get in a game of poker, be real careful if you're ever dealt aces and eights!