Waylaid in Watertown
by Gary Charpentier
Last month, I ended this column by telling you that I had found some strange motorcycle folks in the middle of Watertown, South Dakota. I had just enjoyed a few hours and a wonderful lunch in the company of Bill Dempsey, the Scottish proprietor of Dempsey’s Brewery, Pub, and Restaurant. Wandering the streets of Watertown afterwards, looking for Highway 212, I passed a trio of interesting bikes parked in the driveway of a house off of 1st Street. One Guzzi, one Triumph, and a BMW R90/6, they were a curious combination out here in the flatlands. This obviously needed further investigation. I figured that, at the very least, these guys could help put me back on the road towards home. So I turned around and headed back…
As I pulled into the driveway, I could see that several guys were working on something in the garage. One of them stepped out to greet me; Enter Shannon Lee Bruns, aka “Lunatic”. He looked quizzically at Frogwing, then at me, and said, “I’ll bet you’re looking for Team Strange!” Feeling like some stooge in a Hertz commercial, I said, “Ah, not exactly. I do know some of those guys, but I was just lost and trying to find Highway 212 back to Minnesota. My name is Gary Charpentier and I write for Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly.” Well, he smiled as if I had just made his day, and said, “Is that right? I’ve been reading your column for years! Come on in and meet everybody.” It turns out that Shannon is the South Dakota distributor for our humble publication.
Did you ever have one of those moments where, despite your best efforts to the contrary, you just KNEW you weren’t going to get where you were going? This chance encounter had all the earmarks of classic serendipity, if you know what I mean. I met Shannon’s dad Wendell, his brother Ashley, and an English expatriot named Steve Gordon, who was the proud new owner of the gorgeous Trident in the driveway. Dismounting stiffly from Frogwing’s high saddle, I tried to raise my wife on my T-Mobile cellphone. But unlike the Verizon paradigm, she definitely couldn’t Hear Me Now. So Steve Gordon handed me his phone, and long-suffering Amy answered… “Honey?”, I said, “You won’t believe what just happened!” I could hear her sigh so many miles away, like she has so many times before.
“I’m in Watertown, South Dakota, and I don’t think I’m gonna make it home tonight. I’m going to look around for a hotel and…”, At this point I was interrupted by Mr. Lunatic, who said, “No you’re not! You can stay HERE! We have a guest room set aside for wandering riders.” Perfect. After some brief negotiations and a promise to make it home in time for the Mother’s Day festivities on Sunday, I was granted the liberty to get acquainted with my new friends. Thanks Amy… I’m a lucky man.
So of course, first order of business was to strip most of the luggage off of Frogwing and go for a ride with these Iron Butt veterans. My aching backside started to complain, but it shut up as soon as I settled back into that cushy Corbin saddle. The Lunatic knows some twisty roads in the area, and we were going out to challenge them. Shannon rides an EV1100 Guzzi cruiser outfitted with an auxiliary fuel cell for AMA Long Distance competition. With limited ground clearance, he has welded titanium bits to the low points on his motorcycle so he can throw lots of pretty sparks when he drags through the corners. This was fascinating to watch, so I stayed behind him the whole way, even though he had invited me to pass him whenever I wanted. I contented myself with keeping station about ten feet off his rear wheel, slightly to the right. Steve Gordon brought up the rear on his Triumph.
We rode for about 200 miles, but it felt more like 50. We found some interesting curves in unlikely places, and I was sorely tested not to go blazing on by the lumbering Guzzi in the lead. But I realized that only the Lunatic knew for sure where we were going, and I would be much better off following in his wheel tracks. The only time I had a problem was when Mr. Gordon took the lead and blasted off at 85 mph into a 30mph headwind! Frogwing couldn’t handle this pace, with his crappy aerodynamics and 38 horsepower, so I pulled alongside tucked-in at full screaming throttle and signalled for Steve to slow down a bit. This he did, and we finished the ride at a sedate 70 or so. Most of the twisties were in residential or resort country, so we had to watch out for pedestrians, but it was a satisfying ride for all that. We got back to Shannon’s house in time to regroup and ride out to a Mexican restaurant in town. The rains never came…
Earlier in this trip, I had parked my bike at a gas station and placed my HJC helmet on the seat while I went inside and paid up. The ferocious winds blew my helmet off the seat and onto the gravel-strewn pavement, where it rolled several feet away, resulting in a badly scratched visor. I had searched two dealerships in the Aberdeen, South Dakota area for a replacement with no luck. After dinner on Saturday night, we paid a visit to The Motocycle Shop in Watertown to see if they had a visor that would fit.
It was well after hours, but Shannon works there part-time doing service work and knows the owners well. After we rang the doorbell a few times, Doug and Nancy Wirt came downstairs from their residence above the shop and graciously searched through their entire stock, including helmets on the shelves, to find a replacement for my scratched visor. While they were searching, the Lunatic gave me a little tour of the shop which sells Moto Guzzi and Suzuki motorcycles. The search for a visor proved futile, but Doug handed me a bottle of plastic polish and a rag and said, “Well, you better get busy…”. I rubbed out the scratches as best I could, but soon I could see that my companions were bored. So I said enough is enough, and we left the Wirts to enjoy the rest of their evening. But I must say this: We often hear tales of motorcycle people going out of their way to help a fellow rider in need. Doug and Nancy Wirts embody the very best of this tradition, and I wish them and the rest of the staff at The Motocycle Shop the best of luck in this highly competitive business.
I spent that night with the Bruns clan in their “Room for Wayward Riders”. In the early morning of Mother’s Day, Donna Bruns prepared a breakfast fit for a king. The strong smell of garlic roused me from an exhausted sleep, and I wandered into the kitchen where she served me the best scrambled eggs I’ve ever tasted. There were hash browns with onions and bell peppers and bacon and toast… all the fixins. I ate too much, too quickly, couldn’t help it. By the time I left, I was ready for another nap!
Out on the road this time, the thunderstorms were much closer, but only on two horizons: north and west. I managed to stay ahead of them all the way home on Highway 212, and I kept my promise to arrive in time to save Mother’s Day. I want to thank Tim and Shelly Schaeffer, Shannon and Donna Bruns, Doug and Nancy Wirts, and Bill and Maria Dempsey for their wonderful hospitality. I can’t remember a more pleasant ride, and the people I met along the way made all the difference.