Middle of Nowhere, USA
by Gary Charpentier
Saturday, May 8th, 2004… Middle of Nowhere, USA. Frogwing and I were at the intersection of South Dakota Highways 20 and 25. We had pulled into a wayside rest, across from a decrepit old gas station, no longer functioning as such, with a shabby house in the back. There was a scruffy fellow there working on old cars, standing at a bench grinder in the garage of the defunct station. I wanted to talk to him, but he had some seriously ferocious dogs wandering free around the property, which was clearly marked with No Trespassing signs. So I decided to pass.
Standing there, I turned 360 degrees and surveyed the far horizons. There were thunderstorms within 10 miles of me in three directions, but the sky was clear to the east, and that’s where I was heading. Homeward bound. Since Thursday, Frogwing and I had covered over 700 miles, mostly on arrow-straight two-lanes over the prairies of Northwest Minnesota and Eastern South Dakota. Little lakes dotted the plains everywhere, remnants of the colossal snow melt of 1997, when all the lowlands of this part of the country were flooded.
I was on a business trip for my day job, doing quality audits at two of our outlying plants; One in Fergus Falls, and the other in Aberdeen. Imagine, getting paid 37.5 cents per mile for riding a motorcycle across the endless plains. At the Aberdeen plant, production manager Tim Schaeffer had just purchased an SV-650S in that metallic copper color. After the audit on Friday afternoon, we went for a ride north and east of town in search of the few curves these roads have to offer. There weren’t many, and any chance to bank the bike over and swoop through a long sweeper was a real event. This is Hayabusa Country, bubba. A place where you just want to twist the throttle and reel in the horizon at dizzying high speeds. I’m sure Suzuki sold a large number of their top-speed kings out here at the gateway to the wild west. That bike and these roads were meant for each other.
We stopped at a wildlife preserve with a 20 story observation tower, and I just had to climb to the top to get a look at what proved to be an incredible view. Miles and miles of virtually flat farmland dotted with these little bodies of water. In my mind’s eye, I could see vast herds of buffalo roaming these plains, as they must have as recently as 150 years ago. All gone now, of course, except for the occasional small farm herd. Abundant waterfowl were visible everywhere I looked. Everything from swans to ducks were flying and floating around the water. It’s not often that you see them from above like that. Once I reached the top of the tower, I realized I had a full bladder. I can’t tell you how hard it was to resist the temptation to relieve myself from this lofty perch! But the ranger station wasn’t far off, and I could just imagine some uniformed redneck at the window with a pair of binoculars, wondering what those crazy bikers were doing up on his tower. Better to water the bushes from behind cover after I descended.
We were heading for Sisseton and a place called Sica (pronounced “seechee”) Hollow, as we had heard there were some nice, twisty roads in the vicinity. However, as we neared Sisseton, we found road construction where there was a mile or so of deep muddy dirt to traverse before we would reach pavement again. This would have been fine for Frogwing, but Tim’s SV would have had a rough time of it. So we turned around and headed back to Aberdeen, where a nice dinner of steaks and asparagus on the barbeque awaited. Tim and his wife Shelly were gracious hosts, and we had a pleasant evening out on their patio. I stayed the night in their guest room, and in the morning Tim escorted me on what was supposed to be my homeward trek. He accompanied me as far as that intersection of 20 and 25, at which point he needed to turn around and head for home. Storms were looming, and he had a lot of yardwork to do.
So I continued on down 20 to Watertown. Entering the outskirts typical of any medium-sized town, I bypassed the McDonald’s and Taco-Hells, and pulled into a Days Inn to ask directions to the center of town. The little teeny-bopper behind the front desk started babbling about some new shopping mall until I stopped her and said, “No, I mean the place where this town started. You know… where all the old, brick buildings are?”
“Oh, you must mean Kemp Street.” she said, smirking. Yeah, that’s it. So she directed me back the way I had come, down residential streets common to any town in America, with homeowners frantically mowing their lawns before the rains came. I found Kemp Street and a small car and motorcycle show going on right in front of City Hall. Mostly sixties muscle cars and a bunch of customized Harleys. I fielded the usual questions from curious motorheads about Frogwing and his particular mission in life, then I wandered around and looked at the immaculately prepared cars and bikes. This amused me for about a half hour, until I realized I was hungry.
So I mounted up and went off in search of some decent grub. Not to trespass on Kevin Wynn’s turf, but I found the most sublime brew-pub and restaurant, called Dempsey’s, at 127 North Broadway Street in Watertown, SD. Sorry, I don’t have the GPS coordinates for all you techno-geeks. What, are you afraid to get lost? I get lost all the time, and it usually turns out better than the ride I had planned in the first place! But, I digress…
Bill Dempsey opened his place five years ago, when he bought the Trapper-Trader brewery’s equipment in Moorhead, MN, and housed it in this old brick warehouse originally built in 1903 by the Stacy Foods Co. He had a long walnut bar built right in front of the brewery, and the restaurant extends out from that. They have made excellent use of the space; decorated in Scottish/Irish themes, with a long mural of a Scottish castle along one wall and various framed tartan plaids with the family names displayed around the beautiful wood partitions.
There’s an enormous stone hearth with a modern gas fireplace just in front of the kitchen. This is only used in the winter. The ceiling is festooned with the flags of various nations and armed forces. There is a glass wall in front of the brewery, where you can see the tanks and plumbing involved in brewing the six micro-brews he has on tap at any one time, as well as the delicious root beer I sampled with an excellent cheeseburger for lunch. The menu has everything from simple pub-grub to some specialty pastas which I will certainly sample next time I am in town. The micro-brews he served for $2.50 a pint at the time of my visit were: Battlax Blonde, Banshee Pale Ale, Frostbite Lager, Valkyrie Red, Black Bear Stout, Long Ship Lager, Rising Star Honey-Lager, and Isle of Skye Scottish Rye. He rotates these according to season and whim, so you may find some new variations when you stop in. They are all top quality, better than anything you find mass produced, and make a great companion to his excellent menu. Dempsey’s is a MUST-STOP on the way to Sturgis, or any destination due west of Minnesota. There is a hotel called The Guesthouse within staggering distance just across the parking lot, where Bill tells me a room can be had for about 35 bucks a night, double occupancy. How conveeenient…!
Leaving Dempsey’s with considerable reluctance, I found myself adrift on the streets of central Watertown. It was late in the afternoon, and I still had to ride all the way back to the Twin Cities and home. Lunch had made me groggy, and I wasn’t quite certain where I had left Highway 212 in my travels. Turning down 1st Avenue, I spied a driveway with a BMW R900/6, a couple of Guzzis, and a mid-nineties Triumph Trident lounging about outside. Hmmmm, I thought. That’s kind of unusual here in Hayabusa Country. Perhaps these folks can tell me where I misplaced my highway.
And that’s when things got seriously weird… But it’s a story for next month, when you will read about my serendipitous encounter with the South Dakota contingent of Team Strange Airheads, and the Glacial Lakes Motorcycle Club. Needless to say, I didn’t make it home on Saturday. But I learned some valuable lessons. For instance, I now know that eastern South Dakota is a destination in it’s own right, and not just “the price you gotta pay” to get to the Black Hills from here. Next time you’re on your way to Sturgis, stop at Bill Dempsey’s place in Watertown. Ask him about playing “Scotland The Brave” on his bagpipes at 2:30 in the morning, on the streets of Tipperary, Ireland, wearin’ one o’ those crazy plaid mini-skirts and drunk as a Lord. But have him draw you a pint first.