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The Wheel Turns – 2012 X-Country Ride: Heart of the Heartland

The high plains greeted us with a blast of heat like the furnace door had just opened. Hot as it had been, the ride to this point was just a warm up. Before the touring began, you thought, ‘man it’s gonna be hot,’ and were clueless to the reality that waited just down the road. If anything the road teaches.

The endless plains stretched on and on and on. Only interrupted by the irrigated corn, soy and wheat fields. Without the pumped water only the plains survived the harsh conditions. There were as many wet, green fields as withered dried up patches of what could have been a good harvest. Water is king and water rights in some desperate regions have been cut back to 1884 levels. This is an attempt to keep from sucking the meager supplies dry. On the brighter side, golf courses have stopped watering and you know what? The brown grass doesn’t stop the golfers and the water can go to where it is needed.

You looked forward to the long sweeping arms of the irrigators. They brought a moment of damp, near cool, when passing them. Then passed and the furnace doors opened again. Shade became a sought after friend. It was the first thing you looked for when parking. If none was available you put the kickstand down nearest the closet shadow, then made a dash for it to dump the suit and cool down.

Regardless of the temp, it was Sturgis season. Harleys ruled the roads and small towns on their way to that single location. The population of Nebraska doubles for the week of the rally and close to that number for the weeks before and after. It was still a few weeks before the official days of thunder and already thousands of bikers were on the road. In a fortnight, on our way back, the party would be in full swing. The thousands of bikes would surge geometrically in number creating that never-ending rolling thunder. More on Sturgis when we pass through South Dakota.

Nebraska stretched on before us. Every five to ten miles you’d slow to roll through a farming community. The silos were the town square and where the action was. Then every so often you hit a big town with a population of five thousand. What got me was the architecture. The late eighteen hundreds and early nineteen’s were the boom time for these places and little had changed since then. The folk that live along Route 6 take a certain amount of pride in keeping their history around them. Fast food joints and fuel stops, stuccoed and glitzed, seemed oddly out of place in these places of beauty out of step with time.

The pauses at towns in no way slowed forward progress. The stretches in between were a posted 70mph and we used up every bit of it. 5PM and it’s still hot as hell. The heat really doesn’t kick in until around 11AM at which point the some sadistic weather person keeps dialing up the temp until you are riding on the surface of the sun. It’s not until the sun sets that a respite is given. We rolled into the Lincoln, Nebraska KOA just after sunset and just a little toasted. I will admit, for once, I showered like a tourist, letting the cool water do its thing. By the time I got back to the campsite Kale had the Jetboil fired and dinner was a few minutes away. Heads up, getting a good loaf of bread at some point during the day makes for better dinners.

We talked of the road, the things we saw, what went right and equally as important what wasn’t right and planned the next day. This got to be a pretty standard routine. Debriefing, followed by a briefing. It works. You touch on all the necessary stuff then drift into talking. We were both tired. Tomorrow would be our first deadline.  Kale needed to be in Chicago while I had to stop in the Quad Cities. There was only one other. Catching my flight back.

We rode into the sun, the cool of the morning still with us. The 1200gs and f 650 gs were quiet intruders upon the rolling hills of Iowa. The omnipresent dun brown of the prairies began shifting to ever greener pastures and fields cruising into the Mississippi River basin. The waning cool was offset by a rise in humidity. If its not one thing, it’s another. You accepted it, what else were you going to do?

The riding was quick. We were making time today. One more fuel stop before the Big Muddy. We shook hands. “See ya in Valpo.” Kale rolled out first, the big 1200 r taking on the freeway effortlessly. I was right behind him, having no intention of losing my navigator until the river.

Eighteen hours of rest and it was back on the road to meet up with Kale in Valparaiso, Indiana. This small stretch of road, that should have taken no more than four or five easy hours, stretched on into the night while I poorly navigated the country roads of northern Indiana. Herds of deer were forever bounding across the asphalt in front of me, giving the rider ample opportunity to test those new abs brakes. Riding around in circles began to take its toll. I called Kale and laid down in a Kmart parking lot, basking in the orange glare of high-pressure sodium lights. Kale picked me up a few long minutes later and I went to bed.

I woke to the pulse and rhythm of the heart of the heartland. Sixty acres of forest and pasture. The deer were grazing and eyeing the garden beds as coffee brewed. A train whistle, off in the distance, heralded in a new day. Heavy dew shone off the bikes making them look cleaner than they were. No washing until the motorcycles returned home in Oakland with the exception of windscreen and mirrors. All those bug guts and sprays of mud had meaning.

Walking the open grounds around the house and barn revealed a dozen small projects that needed attending to. It was something to do and a way to earn your keep. Nobody rides for free, nobody.

Next: The East, traffic, sweltering madness and serenity.

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About john g rees

John g rees is not your average horror writer. Not your average martyr either. After the death of his father and that of a close friend, john found the release he was loooking for and started writing. Born in the Midwest some half-century ago to two soon-to-be morticians, one can see where his ‘dead pan’ humor truly came from. Playing amongst the caskets and his catholic school upbringing underscore much of his work. He went through many types of employment. Moving west first to San Francisco, finally making his home in the Hawaiian Islands, john g rees has worked in many diverse, yet tangent fields: from the repair of Ferraris to the repair of underwater dock pilings; painting houses to painting ship zincs; general construction to general salvage diving on many sized ships - working out of Pearl Harbor for a while, on Navy vessels, some top secret. He has traveled the world looking for work and play in out of the way places. Never finding what he expects. He likes it that way. He has been happily married for 20 years.

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