Crosswind Blues

by Gary Charpentier

Wednesday, April 20th, 2005 – Frogwing and I got an early start this morning, heading west on I-94 at six a.m. The new GP110 tires from IRC sang their distinctive knobby drone on the superslab as we pushed up to cruising speed outside of the Cities. We were heading to FergusFalls, our first stop on a long business trip for my day job. Evening would find us comfortably ensconced in the Ramkota Hotel in Aberdeen, South Dakota, but we had many miles of boring interstate to dispose of before then.

The only downside to riding my KLR on these junkets is that you have to take the quickest route from point A to B as long as you are on company time. No wandering the backroads until the business day is done. However, when you consider that Frogwing gets fifty diary76miles to the gallon, and the company pays forty-one cents per mile, you can see why this is still an attractive proposition. So I leaned into the brisk north wind and settled in for a long, boring ride.

My business in Fergus went quickly and before long I found myself on I-29, southbound through the Dakotas. This is a pretty scenic road, as interstates go. The rolling prairie stretches out to the horizon, with sparse trees and waterholes visible here and there. At one point, I spotted an ancient farm, obviously abandoned. All the buildings had succumbed to the prevailing north winds, becoming a series of rustic parallelograms, leaning south. The surrounding grasslands and the low angle of the sun evoked memories of Ansel Adams and I thought about turning around and taking a photograph. But the shoulder was narrow and the traffic of large trucks was rolling along at eighty-five miles per hour. Common sense prevailed over artistic inspiration. Maybe next time I’ll bring flares….

Turning west on Highway 12, we got our first taste of the horrible crosswinds which would plague us for most of the trip. Leaning about 20 degrees to the right, we rode straight west through many small, agricultural towns, non-stop to Aberdeen. By the time I checked into the Ramkota, I was tired. Total mileage for the day was just shy of four-hundred. Not Iron-Butt numbers, but long enough to wear you out on a tall, lightweight thumper like the KLR. I had a mediocre dinner in the hotel’s restaurant and, after a hot bath and a strong beverage, went straight to bed.

Aberdeen’s business took longer than expected and I found myself running late to Huron, into a gathering storm. Before I left I put on my brand new Mossi rain suit. This worked like a charm, but not in the way you would expect. It has been my experience that, when you pay good money for a fancy new rainsuit, the Weather Gods lose interest in you and go pick on somebody less fortunate. So it was, on my trip down Highway 37 to Huron. Not a drop fell on us throughout the entire ninety-mile journey, even though there were rain squalls clearly visible on the horizon.

We passed many more of those tiny farm towns, built up around grain elevators and rail stops, all seemingly one-day wagon ride apart. Verdon: population six, for instance. We stopped in the rural metropolis of Conde, because it actually looked kind of impressive from a distance. There is a bank building in this town, population 63, that would be right at home in the old downtown section of any medium-size city; a great stone edifice with Roman-style columns up front, flanking solid, ornate double-doors.

Arriving at the Huron plant, I received directions to my hotel for the night. It was just starting to rain as I checked in to the Crossroads Hotel and Convention Center. I spent the evening on a walking tour of Huron’s all-American Main Street. This is a booming small city still untouched by Wal-Mart, though from rumors I heard, not for long. Dinner was forgettable so I won’t name the place. I turned in early and fell asleep to the muted sounds of warfare coming out of the television.

Friday morning found me at the plant, bright and early. We did our business briskly, and I had lunch with the production manager . After lunch I pointed Frogwing’s front tire east, down Highway 14. The heavy crosswind out of the north took on new menace now, as every time a large truck passed in the westbound lane, the bike would dive towards it when the wind was interrupted. Then, immediately, the slipstream would slam into us, tossing us around like a tumbleweed. I learned to edge over near the shoulder whenever we approached one of these behemoths, and that minimized the turbulence.

First stop was DeSmet, where the famous Ingalls family once built a home. There is a museum and gift shop there and I bought my daughter Emily a book and a charm bracelet, fulfilling my promise to bring back souvenirs. Then it was on to Watertown and my rendezvous with the Lunatic.

“Lunatic” is the well-earned nickname of MMM’s own Shannon Lee Bruns, creator of the sidehack outfit known as Metallic Waste (see MMM #71). With all the raving about sidecars around here lately, I figured I ought to go and find out what they were all about. I had never driven or ridden in one, so I guess it was about time. Well, Lunatic gave me a ride I will not soon forget. First, we stopped for gas and had to get the baffle welded back into the muffler. Looking down, the thing was sticking out the back of the rig, looking like a fifty-caliber machine gun. That done, we headed out of town and into the farm country. We left the paved road at random to chase off across a field, getting stuck behind a large farm implement in what he tells me is a “South Dakota Traffic Jam”. After we got past that, he sped up on a deeply rutted track until I was certain we were going to tuck a wheel and roll over. We were searching for something called “The Little Fellow’s Grave”, which, according to local lore, is the grave of a little boy who used to wave at the trains as they passed, but then vanished one day without a trace. Our Lunatic had stashed a geo-cache nearby and he wanted to check on it. For those who don’t know what geo-caching is, look it up. I don’t have the patience or understanding to explain it here.

After awhile, he let me drive the beast. It pulled mightily to the right, towards the sidecar, which is no wonder since we had tweaked the chassis a bit on our bounding charge across the fields. I was able to slide it a bit in left turns on dirt roads, but I never did try to “fly the chair”. Not my bike, ya know? I’ve got to say, it was an interesting experience, but I don’t think I am going to run right out and buy one.

I headed home shortly after my ride with Lunatic Bruns. I had some other small towns and dirt roads to explore and I wanted to make the most of that. To illustrate how far off the beaten track we wandered, I’ll tell you this: On a lonely dirt road, somewhere north of Watertown, I asked a rather bent and very old farmer for directions. He squinted up at me, pointed towards the south, and said, “Well, you go up yonder to the oil road, and take a left…”. Yeah, that’s right, OIL ROAD. When you’ve lived on dirt roads all your life, I guess that’s what you call those new-fangled paved highways.

M.M.M.

 

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