By Keith “Bandit” Ball…. I can’t do anything normal-like, and I’ve got to fuck with everything. My refrigerator is custom-painted, but many of us crazed maniacs in this industry suffer similar afflictions, such as Bill Dodge, Dave Perewitz, you name ‘em. We drank the same tainted water as kids. Then there’s also something about redheads. So, how did this mess start?
It’s all the fault of the Smoke Out Producer, Commander Edge, a slippery character who worked in Army Intelligence for 20 years and came out slightly polluted. I attend the Smoke Out every year, even through blistering temps and tropical humidity. It’s still the event of events, a rider’s event and a builder’s event.
Last year while at a party in Myrtle Beach at Suck Bang and Blow, in rode a wild long-haired rider on a new Indian, except it looked very old and worn, sorta tattered, and his skimpy little girlfriend, Megan, hung on for dear life. Plus this new Indian sported wild highbars to the stars. I was impressed.
As it turned out, Rich Worley owned an Indian Dealership, American Biker, in Charleston, SC, and designed the patina paint job with his talented paint crew. Fuck it, I was knocked out with the 2014 Indian I straddled for the week, and Rich knew how to breathe fun and action into the finish. I bought a 2014 Chief Classic from a guy on the opposite coast. Makes sense, right?
Prep for the Sturgis 75th Anniversary Run
Over this last year we’ve messed with it from stem to stern, from the paint to the mufflers, and redesigned the handlebars to look like the bars on a 1946 Indian. We shaved the bottom of the rear fender for the same purpose. I worked with Paul Aiken, of Aeromach in Charlotte, NC on accessories and board lowering brackets.
I encountered the distinct pleasure of riding it for the first time this year at the Smoke Out. During a late night security conference under pine trees behind the wet T-shirt contest stage, Commander Edge handed a handful of us small tattered chunks of leather. Howard Knight engraved each one in uncustomary ragged lettering. It said, “Meet us for the first Sturgis Underhanded Run on a dirt road behind Spearfish, SD, or die trying.”
My plans for Sturgis were engraved in stone. By official declaration I was assigned to ride rearguard for the Hamsters into Yellowstone. Sugarbear, who was being inducted into the Sturgis Motorcycle Hall of Fame, set a chair aside at his induction breakfast table, and promised hot pancakes and melting butter. Marilyn Stemp of the Iron Trader news, the most intelligent Biker News source, unlike Bikernet, who works in a very lofty titled position for the Buffalo Chip, threatened my life if I didn’t deliver flowers to her during the rally. The commitment list flourished, as if I was assigned watch duties on the bridge of a destroyer. I’ve been there, and was feeling the pressure. I had to ask about Underhanded dates, and find out more.
When I asked for more info, the push back was immense. No info was forthcoming, something about a need-to-know basis. I suspected Agent Zebra’s involvement. Then in the bottom of a glass of white lightening I found a fortune cookie. “If you ever want to see your Indian alive again, be there.”
I immediately stumbled across the campsite to find Rich Worley, but he was sequestered in a bus with Megan and you know the adage. “When the bus is rockin’ no need knockin’.” I passed out in the sand behind the stage. The next morning I awoke and couldn’t find the sheaf of leather or the fortune cookie. Maybe it was all a white lightening-induced dream.
I tried to pretend all was normal on the Bikernet front, except I was covered in sticky sand and smelled like stale whiskey. A maraschino cherry stem stuck out of one of my dirty pockets. I tried to find my Indian and a plate of scrambled eggs. My cell phone started to ring but didn’t sound right. The shattered face spoke to me. It was the Redhead of Redheads. “Get on a plane and get home,” her voice like Betty Boop, made me smile. “I’ll explain when you get home, sweetie.”
I did as I was told, although the other passengers on the four connecting flights didn’t care for my sweat and alcohol-soaked comradeship. Once home at the Bikernet Epicenter, or the belly button of the Bikernet empire, I was sure the light of enlightenment would shine and I could make sense out of anything. The Redhead of Redheads just flitted around the headquarters looking cute and never mentioned a word, Rockingland, NC or the Smoke Out.
It was as if the Redhead strolled around the headquarters with some bubbly blonde’s panties sticking out of her pocket, and she never mentioned them. Now, I know how the convicted man feels when his head is strapped in the guillotine’s cup. I tried to be patient, but that’s not my strong suit. I needed answers.
The answer came a couple of weeks later in an e-mail from the front. “Are you in or out?” the commander questioned.
Suddenly I knew I wasn’t hallucinating behind a bad batch of White Lightening. The plan was to meet in Rapid City two weeks before the 75th and ride like the wind through the Badlands before the crowds descended onto the area. Edge scheduled to roll out with his son from Columbia, NC to Chicago to meet Mike Ludlow and his son, Tyler, a Bikernet Contributing Editor, for the blast to South Dakota.
That left my Indian question in the lurch. Rich Worley, the young dealership owner, had also never been to Sturgis. He offered to ride the 2014 5-Ball Racing Chief Classic from the Atlantic at Charleston, SC to Sturgis.
Suddenly the plan seemed viable. Three riders peeled out from the east coast, two from Chicago, and one slippery one flew out from Los Angeles. Sounded like a drug deal, with quirks. I brought the briefcase and was given a scraggly map from the outskirts of Sturgis, 16 miles to Spearfish, then 6 miles up a dirt road to a sequestered cabin back off the road, over a bristling stream. Seemed a tad strange, but I stuffed the tattered map in a pocket and boarded a sardine-packed flight.
I arrived in Rapid after a 4-hour mechanically delayed flight. The commander picked me up and we blasted 26 miles to Sturgis and into a garage, where I turned over my briefcase for my 5-Ball Racing, modified, Indian Chief Classic. We peeled out for Spearfish and hooked up with the squad of father/son teams. Rich, my young partner in this crime, rode the 5-Ball packed to the gills for three grueling 600-mile days and landed in Sturgis with 1880 miles on the trip gauge. “I was under a lot of pressure to make it here on time,” Rich said, handing me the keys. “Where’s the briefcase?”
Rich lives on the Atlantic in Charleston, SC, and sent me photos from his various stops in Nashville, Kansas City, and St. Louis. “In St. Louis, Missouri, I was getting close.”
“I gave it to that other guy,” I mumbled about the briefcase.
“What other guy?” Rich said and started to lose it.
“Let’s ride,” I said. “It will surface.”
“It better,” Rich said ardently, straddled the Chieftain and we cut a dusty trail for Spearfish, SD.
We pulled into the Bell Motel in Spearfish and went in search of the bros. We ran into two early Hamsters downtown, while a block party had the main drag cordoned off. We found the sports bar just as the customary afternoon deluge engulfed the streets and shut down the outdoor band. The party was over, except in the bars.
The Underhanded Sturgis 75th run was in full swing. After my third whiskey they handcuffed me, blindfolded my ass and drug me to the cabin
where I was questioned about the briefcase. Actually, the Maitland Canyon was difficult to find and in the dark the cabin was nearly impossible to spot. After several passes we found our way and suddenly came face to face with “Our Cabin” décor.
Everywhere we turned in the quirky, pieced-together cabin, we ran into signs, ceramics, quilts, embroidery, engravings, and etchings with cabin slogan such as: Welcome to our Cabin; Life is good at the cabin; What happens at the cabin stays at the cabin, and Welcome to where we watch moon beams and have Cabin Dreams.
The list went on. How about, “Cabin Sweet Cabin, in the Northern Woods is filled with life, Where Peace and Stillness Abound.”
I looked around for shallow graves. The quirk level got to me but Jack Daniels helped me sleep. Although this cabin experience had the aura of a comfortable vacation, one high-ranking team authority demanded early revelry and kickstands up at ridiculous times so we could jam to Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, and the Needles Highway.
We learned from an American Indian how the local Shoshoni Indians kicked ass on the Calvary. “We kept the Calvary stuck in their forts, while we trained our horses and warriors. We had semi-automatic Winchester weapons, big healthy lads, and horses that could out run anything trapped for weeks in a stockade. They didn’t have a chance.”
Each night we jammed back to the cabin for barbecued steaks, or Rich’s finely cooked tin foil-wrapped seasoned salmon.
We rode to Devil’s Tower along small winding pristine roads peppered with hay farms, cattle ranches, and Black Alder, Spruce, and Burch trees. We rolled back through Deadwood to visit an old friend, Adrian, who has worked on an historic mansion overlooking town for five years. It’s a dream project.
Then the next day we hauled ass to Cheyenne Crossing where Eric Herrmann always sets up and waited for breakfast. Then we blasted into downtown Sturgis to check the action and get the rundown from Arlin Flatland who was celebrating his 45th year running 2Wheelers store on Main Street. Someday we need to write Arlin’s story.
Just outside Thermopolis, I hit that damn deer, and still have the hide to prove it. I noticed the deer warning signs, some with flapping red flags.
I wished I kept going and rolled another sweeping 89 miles to Dubois, which is a very cool woodsy town at the base of the Rocky Mountains. I could have made it in the hot early evening sun, but hit the road in 46 degrees from Riverton in the morning and was chilled to the bone before I grabbed a rattling hot cup of coffee in the log cabin built town. Then I started to roll through the mountains to Idaho on the other side. I came across game warning signs, antelope warnings, cattle crossings, and finally a deer stood at the road’s edge as I rounded a sweeping bend at over 60 mph. I perked up as I spotted the hesitating young, healthy doe with twitching ears. “Don’t move,” I said out loud and pointed my finger at the beast and blew past.
My highway choice was perfect for dodging tourists into Jackson, out the back and along the Snake River into Utah. What an amazing trail and I learned how much energy I saved using the Indian cruise control system. I could set it, kick back, and make a margarita…
I attempted to dodge Idaho Falls for fear of a big city, but I split through it in a flash and peeled along open roads, again on the 26 toward Cary, Idaho. As the day turned blistering hot I stopped at a gas station to refuel. When I picked up the bike in Sturgis, mileage indicated 42.3, but I push into the high 43.7 mpg as I rolled through Wyoming. At one point it seemed stuck on 43.9. Our performance editor, who was born in ’44, is enamored with the number 44. My mission was clear. I tried aerodynamic positions or holding the 6-speed in top gear in a 25 mph zone. There had to be a way, and there was.
While gassing up I spotted an auto parts store and went in search of a couple of bungee cords. I needed to peel out of the fleece and my bedroll, albeit doing a staller job of blocking the wind and carrying my shit, was packed to the gills. Debby gave me a rain suit, so natch, I didn’t need one.
I mentioned my destination to the gentleman at the counter and he immediately tore off a corner sheath of paper and tried to draw a map to a shortcut, as if buried treasure. He attempted to spell out Picabo and Gannet. I needed to look for Picabo, and then turn right on Gannet and dodge a couple hectic intersections, while taking the shortcut to Bellevue.
I was about to experience the only high traffic conditions east of Vegas as I entered several long 25 mph zones leading into Sun Valley, Idaho. There were more deer warnings, wildlife warnings, farm implement signs, truck crossings, game alerts, Elk, steer, you name it.
Then it was all tourist-looking Western-styled towns leading up Hwy 75 into Ketchum until I spotted several yellow shirts, whipped into the parking lot, and begged the girl at the counter for a room. I didn’t care how small. Suddenly Cory and Zack Ness, and several Indian engineers surrounded me. I made it.
I cleaned up and walked into town to check in with the bros and have a drink. At Whiskey Jack’s I ordered a shot of 12-year-old Tullemore Dew (terrific Irish whiskey) and they didn’t have it. I thought this whiskey bar would have the serious shit. I was waiting on the official Hamster whiskey gathering, but no one showed. The bartender recommended something and it was so-so. “Do you want to run a tab?” He said.
I looked at the skimpy drink and said, “Make it a double, and no tab.” That double cost me $24. No wonder I quit drinking. There went my dinner budget.
My toughest day lay ahead. I was hoping to hook up with a good friend in Vegas, the owner of Rocky’s Sports Bar and Restaurant, Joe Zanelli. The food is fantastic. His son is a major lead chef at a high-dollar casino. Again, it was about 47 degrees on a crisp, clean morning as I fired up the Indian, and a couple of brothers opened their hotel room curtains and waved. Several Hamsters dug into computers for hours trying to figure their way to the next stop. I recommended the 26 along the beautiful Snake River into Wyoming, but they were forced north into Yellowstone.
There’s always that roll of the dice between a clean comfortable efficient ride and a curvy, multiple stops, picturesque putt. I like a balance, away from the interstates, around cities, along mild highways where speed is still available. I like my roads like voluptuous women, round and curvy. The Indian pulled like a 111-inch freight train in any gear. It didn’t jerk or lurch, just a steady strong pull.
The 5-Ball Chief rode like a dream over dips and potholes. Occasionally, the front end made a noise like a clunk, but I could never figure it out. Paul Aiken’s mini footboards helped with my hip problem, and each day the ride was even more comfortable. Usually, I move around a lot in the seat and sometimes push myself up onto the rear fender for relief. I didn’t need to overtly shift position. Sure, I moved some, but not so much, and the Indian was so stable I could perform stretching exercise while thundering down the road.
Thursday was my toughest distance day. From mountainside Ketchum to Vegas penciled out to be right at 600 miles. Highway 75 dipped out of Utah dumped me right onto another favorite highway, 93 through Nevada, but I fucked up. I grabbed breakfast in a seedy casino just over the border and peeled down 93 as if I was on rails. I entered Ely on fumes. The Indian electronics afforded me two trip gauges, mileage, tank range, you name it, but I pushed it within 20 miles of running out of gas. I didn’t like the notion of sputtering out of fuel in 100- degree temps in a Nevada desert. No fun.
I was familiar with Ely. This was the Bonneville Salt Flats trek, and a no-brainer. There’s a shortcut on 93 south by taking Highway 6 to Lund. I love the road through the great basin, but I kept following the shortcuts, and when I passed a sign announcing next services 100 miles I knew I went the wrong path. The snakey, dusty, desert, 100 miles was dull as toast, open, low shrub and creosote-scattered sand, until I finally came to the 93 junction, Ash Springs and Alamo.
I was finally on track and on the last stretch of the Great Basin following a meandering river on one side, the Pahranagat. On the other side were beautifully wind etched and naturally carved stones, but I was itching to roll into the city of glitz.
I entered Vegas at 80 mph under sizzling skies and making 44.4 mpg. It had to be a good sign. In sixth gear the engine purred along at 2900 rpms. After a fantastic Vegas dinner with Joe talking FXRs and old two-wheeled projects I bit the bullet for an early start and the final run to the coast, about 275 miles. I won’t even go there between the heat and the Friday traffic it was a gruel every LA rider faces daily.
I pulled up to the Headquarter about 1:00 p.m. and ran immediately into Sin Wu. “You look like hell,” she muttered. WTF? I sliced through 1697.3 miles from Spearfish. I topped out at 44.7 mpg and the total trip covered 4105.7 miles from coast to coast with lots of miles spent searching the Badlands. Total miles on the bike was 4,746.
Tags: 75th Sturgis