My Ride Home

Posted on July 2, 2020 by Dennis Niven

This is a recap of my bike’s return to its birthplace on The South Central Ride Home in the second half of August, 2003 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Harley-Davidson. The plan was to ride to Baton Rouge, LA with two of my new friends from the Rock River Chapter Northern Illinois H.O.G club, meet up down there with two more from the club, and come back proudly through Rockford where our local dealer, Kegel’s Motorcycle Company, would be hosting an official route event.

A short history of me and bikes.  I have ridden motorcycles for over 45 years,  but mostly a foreign brand.  I rarely ever saw a Harley growing up, let alone own one. I lived on those bikes, it seems. My dad had a DX service station and the 10th largest U-Haul dealership in the nation and, as everyone was moving to the west coast back then, I rode the bikes to pick up trucks from other dealers across the Midwest. The only ticket I had ever gotten on a bike was for going too slow on I-29 north of Omaha. In between what was often overnight trips on 170cc’s or less, I enjoyed replacing brake and clutch levers every couple of days of hill climbing.  Eventually I moved up to twin-cylinder bikes, but spent most of the years at the 500cc level, although I did once have a brand new Gold Wing for two days before I had to jump over its windshield to avoid being totaled along with the bike as a white ’65 Mustang ran a stop sign at a blind intersection.  Moving around in my professional career, I finally had to sell my 14th bike to make a house payment, and went several years without.  Like so many, I re-entered the ranks of riders with a Harley-Davidson and have owned a Harley dresser and a Sportster now for two years and have made many rides of the 150-400 mile length, such as with my wife Becky last year to see Billy Graham in Cincinnati on our 29th wedding anniversary and to a basket factory in Dresden, Ohio (life is full of compromises), but nothing like this upcoming ride.  I hope this recap will be of interest to those who weren’t able to make one of the ride home routes.

The shakedown run.  In preparation for The Ride Home ride to Milwaukee (a mere 100 miles or less from here), I made a quick trip to Sioux City, IA and back (about 900 miles) as a “shakedown run” the week before the big ride.  I wanted to get very used to solo highway riding, visit with my sister, try out my new “bitch bag” and tour-pak bag, try out the new tires (there is a high speed wobble that will have to be taken care of at the 30,000 service), test the routing features of my moving map global positioning satellite system (GPS) and, OK, get out of painting the house for three days.  What I learned is that a 450 mile day on that bike (my 1999 Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic Electra Glide with a fuel injected, 95 cubic inch (1550cc) engine with high torque cams, extra tall windshield, full fairings, stereo/CB radio system with XM satellite radio and on-board GPS) is very comfortable and enjoyable, except for the mufflers.

The muffler story. One of my riding buddies, Drake Branca (whom I can’t seem to ride with enough), told me that being within a mile behind me made for a very noisy ride. I always thought my Screamin’ Eagle mufflers sounded too high pitched, making popping sounds rather than a rumble, but figured that must be the way it was supposed to sound from the driver’s seat. Rich Olson, the service manager at Kegel’s (one who had earned my trust), rode the bike (wisely after I got new tires installed) and said that the baffles were shot. Having sounded that way from day one, he was able to get me a warranty credit for the cost of the old ones against the cost of new ones.  Back in the dealer’s storage area, he fired up bikes with about every kind of muffler made, and we decided that the Reinhart True-Duals sounded the best.  I have good taste; they aren’t cheap and are hard to come by. They aren’t slip fit mufflers, but rather a complete system with headers that have flow restrictors inside that maximize horsepower.  They are made by a company that specializes in exhaust systems for NASCAR, and they claim they make more of a drag racer sound than a Harley sound. Rich would try to find a set, but almost certainly after my ride home trip.  He surprised me when he called me in Sioux City to tell me that he had found them.  Fortunately, my hearing was saved by earplugs in the meantime, and I made an appointment for the next day.

Sioux City, my home town. I spent the day with my sister and niece. I spent the morning touring around my old home town and seeing the old sites, such as the location on Pierce Street where I first gave my bride-to-be a motorcycle ride.  The picture is my bike in front of my high school (Sioux City Central High School- the Castle on the Hill) (or Dump on the Hump as we called it back in 1969 when I graduated) which is now being converted into apartments.  I took my niece to her work on the bike, impressing a co-worker, and even my sister took a hair-blowing ride down to tour the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center on the Missouri River.

There were a lot of happy bikes coming back from Sturgis that week.  On the way out of Sioux City on my return ride, at the last stop light in town, an Illinois pickup trailering two choppers pulled up next to me and gave me an approving nod as I roared off ahead of them on highway 20.  Nice shakedown ride and the GPS told me of every upcoming turn.  I was ready to tour!

DAY 1 – AUGUST 18, 2003

Rockford, IL to Owensville, MO

420.9 miles Moving time 7:28:04

Stopped time – 0:30:31

Moving average speed- 56.4 mph

Overall average speed 52.8 mph

Max speed 85.2 mph

Gas bought 12.154 gal

Ready to go!  With a big bag with built-in backrest (I call it my ‘bitch bag” – complete with a tape recorder in a pocket near my left ear yelling “Slow down!”, “Don’t lean so far when you turn!” and my favorite , “How we doing on gas?”), a rigid bag that goes on top of the tour-pak, a tank bag with map holder, our entire eight-day route pre-programmed into my GPS (actually 9 separate routes stringed together) , and the XM satellite radio blaring, I left a family that did not exactly understand my craziness and headed down to the local H-D dealer to meet my two riding buddies.  Becky snapped this picture with a disposable camera as I left.  It is one of my favorite pictures… full of anticipation and excitement!  When I got there, Jerry Zepplin the Head Road Captain from our HOG club (he rides nearly year-round and 30,000 miles a year), and Larry Lamb showed up 5 minutes later at 9:45.   I was anxious to get going, knowing how many miles I had planned for the first day, but Jerry and Larry decided that we should eat breakfast there at the dealer.  What the heck… go with the flow.  We finally left at 10:30.

On the road! I was given the lead, since I had the GPS. I had never led, and didn’t know there were hand and foot signals, but off we went. Good thing I had gotten my new muffler system installed the day before, or else they wouldn’t have been able to hear their own bikes behind me.  Jerry had the nickname of ‘Mr. Backroads,” so I had planned the whole trip on back roads. We cut across the south of Rockford to the Rock River and followed the little-traveled east side southwest about 60 miles, crossed the river at Oregon and off again on side roads. Knowing that we had gotten a late start,  I was hauling ass. I mapped a detour around road construction with my GPS (fresh tar on blacktop) and we stopped for gas in Kewanee, marking the farthest I’d been down that way (a bike ride last year with Becky to look at furniture – again, life is full of compromises).

My incident. Headed southwest from there, I was cruising along at about 75 when I suddenly felt a big jolt, much like hitting a large pothole. The road seemed clear, except for the rough cracks in the cement every half-second.  I was thoroughly awake after that, and trying to figure out what I had hit. An hour later I noticed something hanging from my front fender, just in front of the engine, and stopped to find that the heavy front fender rail/rubber bumper had come loose at the front of the fender and dropped down, caught the tire and I drove over it, ripping it in two on one side and bashing the fender skirt into a wrinkled mess.  (Try that on a small bike!)  After completely removing it (it now looks like a Heritage Softail front fender – a customized look) and thanking God I was going fast enough and was heavy enough not to suddenly stop the front wheel, we continued on our way.

Missouri is hot. I ‘back-roaded’ our way across the Mississippi River near Hannibal, MO, (about a mile of gravel road… oops, sorry guys) put on our helmets and headed south on highway 19.  Much of this was straight and boring, but after we crossed the Missouri River it got very winding, hilly and very beautiful in the trees.  We stopped the first night in Owensville , MO, at Bob’s house. Bob is the brother of our local dealer’s wife.

Picture is Bob on the left, Jerry with his Heritage Softail Classic and Larry with his Ultra Classic Electra Glide in Bob’s driveway.  I punched his address into the GPS on the road and it led me right through his subdivision to his driveway.  Jerry and Larry still believe I must have been there before.  I slept in a bunk bed next to Larry, who snores with his lips sometimes on exhale. Jerry slept on the sofa in the basement. Fortunately, I went to sleep uncharacteristically quickly, although there was a strange noise in Bob’s house… I guessed it was some kind of heat pump system chugging away. A great first day!

DAY 2 –AUGUST 19, 2003

Owensville, MO to Hot Springs, AR

437.4 miles

Moving time 8:15:43

Stopped time 1:40:32

Moving average speed- 52.9 mph

Overall average speed 44.0 mph

Max speed 83.7 mph (going “Wee!!”)

Gas bought- 8.050 gal

On to Arkansas. The next day the plan was to continue on

highway 19 down into the state of Arkansas.  The whole morning in Missouri was winding through wooded hills at a fast clip.  At over 100 degrees, we were happy to reach Arkansas and remove our helmets and head west on state route 9 and US highway 62 through Mountain Home to the Ozarks.  That was a long, hot stretch, and it seemed to take most of the day passing trucks over to Bellefonte, Arkansas where we gassed up and headed across back-roads to get to scenic Highway 7.  These were real back roads… more like blacktopped cow paths.  Following my GPS very closely, I made several 90 degree turns each a quarter mile apart.   I came to one 90 degree right hand turn and had just gotten into 4th gear. This corner was the sight of our first and only accident!

The spill.  I came up on the corner and was slowing for the turn when I realized that that it was a very sharp, right-hand, blind turn around tall grass. I straightened my bike up momentarily (just like they taught me in the advanced MSF class), laid into both brakes hard (nice new tires), cut to the extreme inside, pushed down the right side of the handlebar and somehow made the turn, then downshifting quickly to second to get moving because I knew Jerry was only 2 seconds behind me. I looked in the mirror and saw his head go by as if he were doing the ‘walking down stairs’ routine. Using both brakes would have helped, but that wasn’t his style, and he couldn’t slow quickly enough, hit the gravel that was in the center of the lane (due to a farm driveway entrance with white rock) and laid the bike down on its right side (low-sided), continuing to ride head up. He slid off the road, down a bank where the tires caught the grass and flipped the bike over to its left side and stopped.  It was agony to get turned around and go back to see what had happened. Larry stopped in time after seeing the incident. Jerry slid on his right arm, elbow, upper arm and right leg. There was about 2½ feet of skin missing from his arm. I got out my first aid kit and used everything I had on him.  He was mainly concerned about the bike, of course, as it bent the engine guard, front and rear footboard, rear brake master cylinder, turn signal and mirror on the right side and bent the clutch lever on the left side. The windshield was scratched up as well. Picture shows the site, the rocks and the scratch made by the engine guard are visible even in this small picture.

Dreams. I felt badly having led Jerry into that turn so quickly. To him, I just suddenly disappeared. It didn’t help either that we discovered that an element in my tail light apparently vibrated loose and shorted out the other element, blowing the fuse – so  I had no brake lights. Sorry, Jerry! I subsequently had a dream of being there at the scene where an ambulance pulls up; the medics put the bike on the stretcher and into the ambulance and roars off with sirens wailing, leaving Jerry sitting there. I woke up laughing. Wonder what that means?

Grand Canyon. After using an old steel sign post to bend the engine guard (strong steel; I found out why Harleys weigh so much) enough for him to drive it, we continued on our way to Jasper.  I stopped a couple of times to make sure Jerry thought his bike was road worthy, and it was doing fine.  At Jasper (Grand Canyon of Arkansas – one of the most beautiful parts of the trip), we went into a pharmacy.  The gal at the register almost fainted when she saw Jerry covered in blood when we asked to talk to the pharmacist.  He was told to clean it but not cover it. We went to a gas station and Larry spent half an hour cleaning Jerry’s arm and putting jars of pain relief suave on it, then lightly wrapping it to keep it from sunburn.  He looked more like a tough Harley guy! Still 100+ degrees in blazing sun.

Wee! Going through this part of AR was so winding that I stopped a couple to times to ask him how the bike was doing, but didn’t stop where I really wanted to … to take pictures down the mountain as we climbed south out of Jasper. I felt very guilty about leading Jerry into that tight turn too quickly and suddenly disappearing around the corner safely. Please make sure your brake lights work!

Mine did when we started, but… that still bothers me.  My pensive attitude was soon replaced by excitement as we went through a long, straight stretch of roller coaster dips where you bottom out in the valley followed three seconds later by your stomach being in your throat as you crested over the top and started back down again, for several miles.  I hit my high speed of the day there.  I couldn’t help but yell “Wee!” several times in that stretch.   In that same stretch, I flew past an historical marker at a rest area marking the spot of the C.C.C. camp that I think my dad worked in following WWII.  Wish I’d stopped there. We decided to stop for the night in Hot Springs, Arkansas.  The original plan was to go another three hours past there before we stopped, but Jerry was literally leaving a trail of blood behind him.  We stayed only a few blocks from the Harley dealer there. Driving through downtown Hot Springs on the way to the Super 8 hotel (following my GPS shortest route), we saw the only hookers of the trip, scattered all through downtown.  Figures… it is Bill Clinton’s home town!

Heat pump noise? One more thing… staying three to a room was cheap, and I volunteered for the first night on a roll-away, and then found that the heat pump chugging sound I thought I heard the night before was actually Jerry’s snoring. He can only sleep on his back due to neck problems (from before the trip; he has since had an operation) and snores every breath (inhale), all night, every night. Again being exhausted, I just chuckled myself to sleep. Another day to remember!

DAY 3 AUGUST 20, 2003

Hot Springs, AR to Natchez, MS

283.1 miles

Moving time 5:21:32

Stopped time- 0:47:26

Moving average speed- 52.8 mph

Overall average speed- 46.0 mph

Max speed 76.2 mph

Gas bought- 8.910 gal

Hot Springs was, uh, hot.  We were waiting at the dealer when they opened at 9:00.  Jerry bought an engine guard, mirror, clutch handle, footboard and tum signal and we borrowed hammers and tools to get the bike back in shape. That took about three hours and we were finally on the road again, through 110 degree and high humidity. That day I heard mini-complaints about following a guy who has three water bottles, is on a diet and has two bladders as I tried to make up time cutting through what must be the poorest part of our country: southern AR and northern LA. The lumber mills have all closed in that area and the people live in this gorgeous, green countryside in what can best be described as kid’s tree-house-type buildings or windowless old pickups (Ford country). Picture is of Jerry, Larry and my bike entering Louisiana. I noted that having possessions apparently doesn’t mean happiness, as everyone we met a gas stations and break stops in that area were so friendly and seemed so happy to be alive, laughing all the time. We were treated like visiting dignitaries and listened as everyone we met had something to say about motorcycles (“My wife’s 3rd cousin (brother?) had a friend that had a Harley once…, I recollect he called it a Honda.”). Picture is of a wet windshield in Northern LA.  One guy at a service station that also fixed cars admitted that he had never seen a Harley as we showed him our scoots. The GPS and satellite radio were way beyond his comprehension.   It rained hard on us for 15 minutes (the only rain we saw on our trip) just north of Monroe, LA, making us stop at a general store to hear all about the personal lives of everyone there.  I knew it was a general store ‘cuz live bait was next to bread.

Cheese & Natchez, anyone?  We pushed on through the LA heat (now very humid) and into Natchez, MS by nightfall.  As we were getting closer to Baton Rouge, we noticed that many people were waving at us.  They were apparently seeing a lot of bikes and hearing about the ride home.  One pickup, an out-of-place Dodge, pulled up next to me on the highway (I was thinking about the final scene in Easy Rider) and asked if we were going to Baton Rouge.  I yelled “Yes!” and he yelled “I’ll be there tomorrow, too.”  Then I noticed the Harley sticker in the rear window.   Yep… have to get me one of those. We felt very much at home as we dined at Ruby Tuesdays.   Natchez, a town of only 3,700 people, looked like a city of 20,000, but the mills closed and moved to Jackson, MS and Natchez is becoming a ghost town.

DAY 4 AUGUST 21, 2003

Natchez, MS to Baton Rouge, LA

121.5 miles

Moving time 2:32:30

Stopped time 0:36:07

Moving average speed- 47.8 mph

Overall average speed 38.7 mph

Max speed 75.7 mph

Gas bought-4.281 gal

The magnolias are beautiful this time of year. The next day, the day of the party on the levee in Baton Rouge, we drove due south into BR on US 61 through some swamp land. We were still being treated so royally that I was stopping more often for a soda just to visit. One guy even drove off after talking with us and then returned again because he forgot to get gas. BR was hot, but hopping with bikes as we joined in the party in-progress at Harley-Davidson of BR. So many bikes from so many countries! The Mexicans and central/south Americans were buying trim parts like crazy, as they aren’t used to the selection and low prices and taxes here in the US.  I helped a guy from Guatemala put headlight and turn signal trim on his bike, pretty much doing it all for him as he drank every beer I refused (and I was offered several) . The picture on the preceding page is (L to R) Al Damico, Jerry Zepplin, Dennis Niven, Larry Lamb and Dave Shaw on Mississippi levee in Baton Rouge with I-10 Bridge in the background.  I took a two hour course on how to lead a ride there, too, and learned the signals that I could use on the rest of the ride home.  We met up with two other guys there from our local HOG club (Al and Dave); they drove down via the Blue Ridge Mountains and ride Deals Gap, a particularly deadly collection of twists and turns. Being from Rockford, one of the official ride home stops farther up the road, we were instant hits and made many friends.  We met Mark Kobelan, an oil & gas guy out of Houston (we met Mark in Sturgis that next year); Marc, a 21 year old medical student from south Mexico up looking for American blondes; and Dag from The Netherlands who was a “professional traveling companion,” (Dag also flew over and rode to Sturgis with us the next year) riding up via Brazil. I have a terrific picture (too dark to use here) of the last two in front of an air balloon lighted only by the fire they were shooting into the bottom of it.  When I find Marc’s card, I will send him the photo.

Illinois Central.  The Marshall Tucker Band tried to start playing for us just as a very long train pulled up to the stage (the stage was sitting right in front of the tracks), blowing its horn and ringing its bell as everyone was dumbfounded.  Picture is of the stage before the party got started. After many bikes moved, the train continued on for a good 15 minutes as the band stood there shaking their heads.  We Illinois boys were being laughed at because it was an Illinois Central train!  They eventually started with “Can’t You See,” as the opening line is about a freight train.

When it was all over, and the huge turkey leg I bought had been passed through the crowd, I stared at my GPS as I made six turns in eight blocks that put us right on the on-ramp of I-10 West to go to the hotel.  Got to sleep in a real bed for the first time, and was snored to sleep by the Jerry & Larry Band. Sounded just like the country music I just heard.  I was ready to start my ride home early in the morning.

DAY 5 AUGUST 22, 2003

Baton Rouge, LA to Memphis, TN

462.4 miles

Moving time 7:40:27

Stopped time 2:10:18

Moving average speed – 60.3 mph

Overall average speed- 47.0 mph

Max speed- 84.0 mph

Gas bought 10.776 gal

The official ride home begins! We met at 8:30 at Al and Dave’s hotel to leave for Memphis.  We were joined by Mark out of Houston whom has since become a friend.  My plan of back roads (mainly the Natchez Trace Parkway, a 440 mile long, low speed, historic national parkway used by people in the 1800s as a way north on foot or horse, after going south on rafts/small boats) was thrown out the window (er, over the handlebars) by Al and Dave (less patient riders), as we had a lot of miles to cover in little time.  Each day now was getting up, riding like hell to the next stop, going to the sponsoring H-D dealer’s party, then on to the official ride home event.  Dave is the traditional leader of this group, so he lead us east on I-12 to just north of New Orleans, where we turned north on I-55 to Memphis. As you can tell by my stopped time for the day, these guys do stop, eat and pee more often than I do.  I got to see some of the hand/foot signals I learned used in action.  These guys are good riders.

Under cover. On the way to Memphis, we were among thousands of bikes all doing the same thing. Getting the worst gas mileage of the group of six, I ran out of gas pulling into a gas station once.  No worry … I had 1¼ gallons in a container in the left saddle bag. We stopped at the rest area just inside MS to put on our helmets. Al sometimes wears a disposable helmet or do-rag, by the way, like many other hardcore bikers.  My GPS came in handy as Al wanted to find food and I punched a few buttons and read off a list of the restaurants at upcoming next exits.  He opted for the Dairy Queen, although he really wanted a beer in the 110 degree heat.  Three of the six bikes, by the way, were Ultra Classics and we were in touch with the built-in CB radios… Dave in front, me in the middle and Larry always the chase bike… with the other three wondering what we were doing (we once squirted water up into the air all at once so it would get them wet – one of the rare times you can squirt water on someone’s Harley and get away with it).

We flew right past the exit to Graceland and right into a traffic jam caused by an accident (damn cars).  Working through that, after Mark broke off for his fancy hotel, we found the Super 8 and quickly readied ourselves for the dealer visit and party on Beale Street.  Bikers get ready for parties by wiping down their bikes!

Beale Street was all blocked off for bikes only. Four blocks long, and with the six side streets, it was ten solid blocks of Harleys neatly backed in. Beale Street is great, and I have to take Becky there soon.  It’s all bars, clubs and restaurants, with outdoor entertainment every 25 feet.  The Rockford group dined on red beans & rice, catfish and ‘wet ribs’ at the Rum Boogie Cafe. The thing about Harley parties is that everyone is everyone else’s friend, is always on good behavior , is always having fun, and always wants to admire your scooter . John and Mary (she is a computer programmer) out of Cape Girardeau, MO were having a particularly good time and Mark and I walked around with them a lot.  Free Diet Cokes for me all ,night long!  Wild Hog!  Beale Street was simply fantastic.

We headed out of downtown a little before midnight and found a Walgreen’s to stock up on gauze. We got back to the Super 8 just seconds before a lightening, wind and downpour storm hit. We were in a dust storm as we chained the bikes together. My turn on the roll away again, and after tossing the broken springs out the door into the storm, I crashed on the mattress on the floor. What a day!

DAY 6 –AUGUST 231  2003

Memphis, TN to Nashville, TN

277.6 miles Moving time 4:54:23 Stopped time 1:51:52

Moving average speed- 56.6 mph Overall average speed 41.4 mph

Max speed 82.7 mph

Gas bought- 7.859 gal

Call me “Mr. 77.” Mark met us at the Super 8, and Iwas selected as the lead bike because of the back roads to be traveled today.  I soon found out that it wasn’t such an honor. We traveled rural Tennessee highway 64, otherwise known as The Buford Pusser Highway, named after the Walking Tall sheriff. As we approached Waynesboro , we passed two people that looked like surveyors on the side of the road near the top of a big hill.  It turned out they were official Harley-Davidson  photographers taking pictures of the South Central Ride Home. Here’s their picture of us in Tennessee . Every time the two lane road opened up into four lanes, the speed limit changed from 55 to 70. Well, almost every time. Leading the thundering pack, I rounded the corner and as it opened up to 4 lanes of nice new concrete and started up a long hill, I hit resume on the cruise control to bring me back up to 77 miles per hour. At the top of the hill I remember thinking “Strange … the sign says Speed Limit 55,” followed immediately  by “Gee… there’s a highway patrolman.”  I got a chance to meet “officer Buford” as he quickly turned around at his favorite emergency vehicle turn­ around and came up and cut me out of the group.  Picture on the proceeding page is of the gang watching me get the ticket.  Jerry, the smart one of the group, went tooling on past up the road, but the rest of the group stopped behind the patrol car to give me moral support and laugh at me.  Larry walked up to witness my misfortune.  Old Buford explained, in what must be a fake southern drawl, that either the other 5 of us (yes he was aware of Jerry hiding up ahead) would chip in and help me pay my $200 ticket, or he’d write six $200 tickets. I explained that it was my fault, not theirs; Larry hurried back and collected money.  Not to worry, I could mail in the money.  As Buford, now acting like my friend, wrote me up, I asked if there were a lot of bikes along there this morning. He replied, with a grin that Bill Gates must have every morning when he wakes up and remembers that he is filthy rich, that I was “the biker he’d had the chance to visit with this mornin’.” Speed trap! Mark took the above picture with his camera­ phone of me leaning on the patrol car. He immediately sent it out on the Internet to all of his buddies. I’m glad he was having fun.

Slow service . We stopped in town (not at the restaurant Buford recommended; Ifigured it was owned by a relative of his) and had lunch, as everyone chipped in his $32.83 share of the $197 ticket. Picture outside of Emeralds in Waynesboro , TN. Service was slow, so desert was on the house. Mark bought, as he so enjoyed my getting the ticket. We met the photographers there and they said we might be on a magazine cover some day. As it turned out, the picture they had of the six of us (they were on display at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design and are on the H-D web site) down at the bottom of the hill had a dump truck next to us, kind of ruining that shot, but the close-up one at the top the hill was a beauty… except that Iwas cut out of the shot! Oh well; another day, another $200 ticket.

We gassed up and started north on the Natchez Trace Parkway. Picture on the proceeding page is looking backwards from my lead bike. It was very scenic, but the speed limit was 50 and Buford warned us that we would get ticketed again if we even went 55, and Larry swears he saw a patrol car lurking in the woods. After 15 miles,we stopped for a picture at the place Meriwether Lewis was shot and killed while riding to Washington DC as Governor of Louisiana (took a picture of us and our bikes, of course, not the place!).  Dave and Al had had enough of 50 mph, so we took off for Columbus to catch 1-65 north to Nashville.

Reba Who? After checking into the hotel, we got our obligatory tee shirt at the Nashville H-D dealer and headed downtown for the evening’s entertainment. Only Mark and Ihad bought exclusive party tickets for the Wildhorse Salon. We saw Reba and Garth (at least look-alikes – Reba sang and maybe sounded like her? – I wouldn’t know!). The food was great, especially the chocolate fountain! Picture inside of Wildhorse Salon – horses hanging upside down on ceiling of 3rd floor.  I introduced a guy to Mark that I thought had told me he was from Houston. It turned out that they live about 300 feet from each other. Small Harley world.

One cool young lady.  Is at at the edge of one of the balconies with a couple from North Carolina and their two teenage kids. The boy was 17 and the girl was 16.  The parents were Harley enthusiasts, natch. When their son turned 16 they bought him a new Sportster (I can’t believe my spell checker didn’t have Sportster in it… come on Bill!). The girl at that time didn’t think much of the bikes, but took a Motorcycle Safety Foundation class to learn to ride (like Chad took) at the age of 15 just to satisfy her parents.  The week before her 15th birthday Oust a couple of weeks before Nashville), she told her parents that she would like to get a bike after all,” …but she wanted a real bike”… and insisted on being able to ride it to school.  On her birthday they took her down and bought her a brand new Dyna Low Rider. Now this family was on the road together on their way to Milwaukee … the dad with his Ultra, the son with his Sporty and the daughter with her new Low Rider. The mom was driving a pickup with a bike trailer, only because when the Milwaukee celebration was over Sunday night, she had to trailer them all back to North Carolina so the kids could start school Tuesday morning. Ioften looked over at this skinny, Chelsea Clinton looking kid, chewing gum and licking the chocolate off her plate and had to admire her as she was living her dream riding cross country on her 700 pound Harley. What a great country

Cool sailing.  I left the Wildhorse Salon at midnight out of the little lot on the bank of the Cumberland River that was well protected by Nashville Police on their Harleys, and enjoyed my first ride in sub-100 degree temperatures since leaving home. Wrote a few post cards for brownie points.  Again, what a day!

DAY 7 – AUGUST 24, 2003

Nashville, TN to Indianapolis, IN

362.7 miles Moving time 5:35:43 Stopped time 0:58:21

Moving average speed- 64.8 mph Overall average speed 55.2 mph Max speed 84.3 mph

Gas bought- 4.810 gal

Border crossing. We departed early, relative to when I got back to the hotel, and Dave led us up through Nashville and into Kentucky on 1-65. At the Kentucky border we no longer needed helmets, and I got a kick out of finding out why Al wore a disposable ‘helmet.’ Exactly at the border, without letting go of the throttle, he reached up with his left hand and released the helmet into the breeze to serve, perhaps, as a house for chipmunks. The rest of us stopped at the nearby rest area, but Al had his own style.

Goodbye Buford.  Other than the Corvette museum at Bowling Green, KY (I smiled as I recalled that Buford Pusser was shot and killed while sitting in a Corvette – you have a lot of time to think on these trips!) and the size of Louisville, KY, this was a boring stretch. There were lots of bikes to wave at, although an Australia bunch was being jerks riding between cars in traffic north of Louisville. As the moving average of 64.8 mph indicates, we make good time, too, and got to Indy ahead of the Aussies who were passing us at times .

Indy.  Our hotel was on the extreme northwest corner of town, so as to make the segment to Rockford shorter and miss Monday morning rush hour.  I led the group into the party in downtown Indianapolis. Dave remarked on the radio “He gets one ticket and slows right down,” as I followed speed limits all the way.  Buford has lots of relatives!  The party consisted of the “Taste of Indiana” annual event (tasted a lot like Illinois), a big Harley display and some good music. Picture of the guys in the park in Indy. There was a gal out of Columbus, OH that could probably outplay any of the living rock-n-rollers. I have more eardrum damage from her than from the Harleys. The Indy stop was a two day gathering , with the second day being at the Indy 500 track. Since Ihad jury duty on Tuesday , I only spent one day there. A gauze stop on the way back to the hotel, and another good day.

DAY 8 AUGUST 25, 2003

Indianapolis, IN to Rockford, IL

285.5 miles Moving time 4:20:03

Stopped time 0:48:08 Moving average speed- 65.9 mph Overall average speed 55.7 mph

Max speed- 79.23 mph

Gas bought 11.100 gal

The Battle of San Jacinto. I led Jerry and Larry (Jerry had to get to Rockford as he was a volunteer at the official party at the Rockford dealer the next day.) on a fast, hot trip to our own beds for the night. Even though we were coming a day earlier than the crowd, there were lots and lots of bikes on the road today.  The most fun of the day was leading what turned out to be a 75 bike group up 1-39 after a large Mexican group joined us, along with other stragglers as we thundered along.  Larry speaks Spanish, they knew we were from Rockford, and they wanted to follow us to the dealer. We pretty much took over the gas station as we all stopped to fill up.  The American bikes flying American flags; the Mexican bikes flying Mexican flags – it was a sight.

I thought of the San Jacinto Battleground south of Houston (where the cry was “Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad!”) where we finally got the Mexicans (Santa Anna’s gang) that killed Daniel Boone and Clint Walker in the Alamo (apparently with the help of the Battleship Texas – hee hee). You have a lot of time to think while on these trips! Anyway, these guys were on our side, the H-D side.  I had goose bumps of pride as I led the group, changing lanes as if hooked together by short ropes, to the dealer via a back roads shortcut.

Show & tell.  After explaining to the service manager my bumper mishap, seeing what it was going to take to finish fixing Jerry’s bike and strutting around the dealership for awhile, I continued on home to see the family, including Chad — home on semester break from law school in Michigan. A quick call to the Jury Commission let me know that I had to report for jury duty tomorrow … bummer.  Nice to sleep in my own bed, but half my thoughts were still on the road with the other guys.

DAY 9- AUGUST 26, 2003

Rockford, IL

Only got to ride the bike in town today- no GPS data

Our legal system in process.  Reported to the Jury Commission first thing in the morning and we were all promptly told that we all were being taken into a courtroom for trial jury selection.  After meeting the attorneys and the defendant (hey, how’s it goin’?) and hearing the details of the retail theft trial, we got right to the selection of jurors.  The first several people called up for questioning were all old, so Ifigured I’d always be next, but wasn’t for hours and hours.  Finally, at nearly 5:00 PM, the final juror was approved and escorted to the juror room.  I thought Iwas off the hook. Next they decided to work past 5:00 to select “the alternate” juror so they could get started first thing in the morning.  I knew my goose was cooked. Two of us were called up to speed the process, and after answering all of the questions truthfully , describing the ride home to Milwaukee I was in the middle of (the judge asked me if serving another day would be an undue hardship, and I answered that it was a small price to pay for justice – wrong answer), and telling all of the lawyer jokes I knew, both attorneys said not to slight the other potential juror up there with me, but I was acceptable to them. Dang! Off to the juror room where I finally took off my chaps.

The Rockford Dealer Party. The day wasn’t a waste, though, as tonight was the official Ride Home dealer party in Rockford. Becky and I hopped on the bike and joined in the party, already in progress. Kegel’s Harley-Davidson did a great job of setting up a large party, complete with several stages for music, vendor tents, bike service and bus transport across the street to the mall. There were bikes all over the place, as Rockford got a tiny taste of what Milwaukee would be like.  I saw many of the group there as the party went well into the night (thanks, Mark, for the picture of Becky and me at Kegel’s).  The big group ride into Milwaukee would depart in the morning, but without me. One more day in the jury box, then Icould join them at the HOG 20th anniversary event.

DAY 10- AUGUST 27, 2003

Rockford, IL to West Bend, WI to Rockford, IL

277.2 miles Moving time 5:01:12 Stopped time 0:33:09

Moving average speed- 55.4 mph

Overall average speed – 50.O mph Max speed 103.88 mph

Gas bought-4.771 gal

This was a day of courtroom by day, riding and partying by night. The trial started about an hour and a half late as the judge cleared his docket of other non-trial stuff.  Istarted to get to know the rest of the jurors.  When we were called into the courtroom it was just like an old re-run of Perry Mason, except the judge was a stitch , the prosecutor was a dork,the defense attorney was Mr. Suave and the defendant was a local executive (head of human resources at a major manufacturing company). The prosecutor tried to be very dramatic and told us that retail theft (shoplifting from a local supermarket) was the scourge of modern society .  The defense attorney always had to pull out the podium and always “forgot” to put it away, pissing the prosecutor off, and was using the “my client had a ‘senior moment'” defense.   I expected that one since at 51 I was the youngest juror . Witnesses from the store, store security, and the arresting officer made the case for the prosecution, complete with pictures and maps of the store.  The defendant was the only defense witness, and his story was the old I thought I had finished buying all of my groceries (including ice cream and produce that he covered with extra produce bags for some reason) to take to my sister’s house (an hour away in 100 degree heat) when I thought I should get another flower for her from the display outside the store (it’s their fault), realized that I forgot my wallet in the car and, hurried out to the car to get my wallet, tried to leave the cart there outside but it was on a slope and started to roll into traffic so I had to take the cart with me, and when the store manager confronted me I thought he was a terrorist so I ran.” story.

Observations from a day in court: attorneys can argue anything with a straight face; judges get to do anything they want, whenever they want, and are funny (elected judiciary); jurors bond together very quickly and have a ball in the jury room; in Illinois merchants have to prove that they are in the business of selling stuff, didn’t give their stuff away, and that the shoplifter intended to permanently deprive the merchant of the benefit of the goods (you could leave a note in the store and argue that you intended to bring the stuff back eventually), and; many juror’s  chairs are soaked with pee.

Released!  Shortly after 4:30 PM, the attorneys gave it a rest, the judge explained the applicable law, asked the other jurors if they were able to retire to the juror room and reach a verdict and, after they nodded their heads in the affirmative, said (he really did) “Mr. Niven, thank you for your service, you are free to go to Milwaukee.”  After ‘high-fiving’ the jurors as they filed out of the courtroom and going upstairs to get my two $10 checks, I headed home quickly, fired up the bike and headed for West Bend, WI to the Club Hog XX Members Only event.

Resuming the ride home. I proceeded, sans the bitch bag, up to Janesville on 1-90 and north on Wisconsin 26 up to 1-94 and east toward Milwaukee. Nice trip but I missed riding with the guys. As I got close to the Milwaukee suburbs and passed a young couple on a new wide glide Oust like Mark’s), the traffic came to a grinding halt. Iwound up next to the couple, turned on the CB, heard that the road was blocked up ahead, got an alternate back road route to West Bend (about 40 miles north of Milwaukee) on my GPS, and invited them to follow me. They might have thought at times that I was leading them into the boonies to rob them, but after riding through some very scenic countryside, I led them right into the parking lot of the Washington County fairgrounds and the HOG club’s 20th anniversary party. There truly were bikes parked in all directions as far as you could see all the way around this huge complex, and even though we parked way out in the field, there was a plywood kickstand pad for every bike.  There had to be 100,000 bikes!  Very well organized, indeed.

Welcome to Wisconsin … where’s my jacket? The couple introduced themselves and, as we walked toward the entrance to the event, they explained that they had just gotten married but as the bike was over a year old they weren’t HOG members any more. They sure hoped you didn’t have to be a HOG member to get in. Of course you had to be a HOG member, but I let her use Becky’s membership card out of the tour pak, entered with her and circled around to give her husband a map of the events with my card stuck inside of it. Sorry HOG… I wasn’t going to disappoint them. Once they were in, thanked me and offered to buy me a beer, I wanted to find the Rockford group and Mark so I excused myself and went in search of them . I called Dave on the cell phone and he said he was “by the big screen next to the beer garden.” Heck, there were a bunch of them, so I finally gave up finding them, put in my earplugs and listened to Jeff Beck (hard guitar rock) and B.B. King from right up front and center. Even with ear plugs, the constant roar of thousands of big twins was almost overwhelming and made me smile. My heavy leather coat was needed as it got very cool before it was all over. When that was about over, Itraipsed through the vendor tents , got a free boot shine, ate a $3 pork chop sandwich platter and headed for the bike.

Riding in style. Fortunately I marked where I parked as a waypoint in my GPS before I stuck it in my pocket, and I was able to walk right to my bike (the area didn’t look right, but there it was) through the constant roar of thousands of Harleys filing out.  Before firing up the bike, I put on my heated clothes Oacket liner, pants liner, gloves and socks) and chaps and got in line as we quickly entered highway 45 four bikes abreast.  Not wanting to go through Milwaukee to get to 1-43 (the shortest route), I headed west from West Bend intending to head south shortly.  One thing led to another, and knowing the highway 26 had a major detour north of 1-94, I was having so much fun zooming along the Wisconsin countryside with other bikes at speeds around 100mph at 1:00 AM in my toasty heated clothes that I went clear over to 1-90, not far from Wisconsin Dells, before turning south.  I gassed up in Madison, WI where I was lucky to find a dimly lit, 24 hour, automated station and cruised into Rockford at a little after 2:30 in the morning.  Much of the fun was riding in the middle of the night and middle of nowhere where motorcycles (Harleys, natch) outnumbered all other vehicles, even back in Illinois at the 1-90 toll booth after 2:00 AM on a cold Friday morning!  Riding solo and missing the guys, but what an unusual, long and fantastic day!

DA Y 11 -AUGUST 28, 2003

Rockford, IL to Marengo, IL to Rockford, IL

87.7 miles

Moving time- 1:54:36

Stopped time- 0:01:18

Moving average speed- 46.0 mph Overall average speed 45.4 mph Max speed – 66.73 mph

Gas bought- 3.180 gal

Football, anyone?   Again,  my domestic  duties interfered with the 1oath Anniversary celebration.   As the statistician for a local high school varsity football team, I had an away game at Marengo. Followed the school bus down there but made much better time coming home. The concession stand was shut down by the heath department in the fourth quarter of the sophomore game due to no wash basins. I hung around thinking that I might witness a bribe to the female health inspector (must have graduated from a catholic school nearby) (I was still thinking litigiously), or at least get free leftover food. Believe it or not, the local pizza catering shop ran out and got some portable sinks and the saved the day. We lost the game miserably with a running clock the whole second half, allowing me to get back home in time to turn my stats in to the TV stations and newspaper before 10:00 PM.  Dreaming of Milwaukee and wondering what my new buddies were up to.  Ride safe, guys.

DAY 12- AUGUST 29, 2003

Rockford, IL to Milwaukee to Kenosha, WI

197.7 miles Moving time 4:44:42 Stopped time 0:23:32

Moving average speed- 41.6 mph Overall average speed 38.8 mph Max speed- 74.7 mph

Gas bought- 9.608 gal

Finally, I was going to be able to get to Milwaukee and see the gang. After carefully packing my tickets and overnight gear, I was ready to leave when Becky asked that I fix the heater in the swimming pool.  Feeling put out, I light the pilot light as quickly as I could, showed Chad how to do same, and yelled “Bye” upstairs to Becky and hit the road. She didn’t hear me say goodbye, and I was in trouble.  Not the first or last time, you can bet on that.

My bike finally makes it home (the engine was made here, anyway)! As Iapproached Milwaukee, the bridges had a lot of people, especially families with little kids waving flags at incoming bikes. I could only imagine what the scene was the day I was serving as a juror.  Iquickly went right up to the north side of town to tour Harley’s Pilgrim Road Powertrain Operations facility . Bikes were everywhere today . On any other day,

Milwaukee has a population of 597,000. 48% white , 37% African-American,  12% Hispanic and 3% Asian. Today the population was about a million with the addition of about 400,000 bikers.  Make that 40% red­neck bikers! We were at least 80% of the traffic on the streets. I felt safe riding on the freeways as it was all bikes all the time.

The tour and demo ride.  The tour was not guided, but you were watched closely and nothing could be grabbed and put in your pockets. Some of the parts weren’t known to the public and were secret for yet another day.  Cameras were double wrapped in heavy white plastic bags upon entering the building; else someone might email a competitive advantage to Indian.  (Let’s have a moment of silence for the again defunct Indian.)  A modern plant, indeed. Outside the plant were the first demo rides of 2004 bikes, and while I was standing in the Road King line (rumor had it that it was lowered for 2004), someone came by and was very excited about their Sportster ride, so I switched over to that line. The Sportster, as I soon found out, is all new for 2004.  New frame, rubber mounted engine, 4.5 gallon gas tank, larger cylinder fins and FINALLY decent heads and lots more horsepower and torque!  It rode much like my Sportster (Chad’s whenever he finishes school) except the mirrors held still; and that’s saying a lot as Chad’s bike has Buell cylinders, Buell pistons, Buell thunderstorm heads, a Buell cam, big carb, etc.  This new, stock bike felt like it had almost has the same “grunt” 84.6 horsepower and 87.0 pounds of torque as Chad’s Stage IV bike! Almost. What a fine new bike. Gratuitous picture of Chad’s bike. When Chad claims his bike, the new Sportster 1200C is on my wish list instead of a V-Rod for my around­-town bike.  At the plant, close to where I parked, there was a Honda Gold Wing.  I had a strange feeling, similar to the one you get while visiting Pearl Harbor looking at Japanese visitors, that made me want to leave a note: “Keep on driving, ‘cuz you aren’t home yet!”  On the way back to the freeway there were several local resident kids with Kool-Aid stands in their yards . What a country.

Hal’s dealer event.  Next Iheaded to Hal’s dealership . What a mistake.  My average times suffered a lot going there, with tens of thousands of bikes trying to occupy the same place at the same time. Guess the Orange County Chopper guys were there.  After about an hour and one hot dog later, I was slowly making my way out the back of the dealer neighborhood so I could get back on the freeway to cool the bike down.

Time to find the gang. Time for me to go to the Summerfest grounds on the lake, downtown Milwaukee.  I tired of seeing the sights on my own, and headed past the new Miller Stadium (what a haul Miller must have made this weekend!) to take in some entertainment , food and fun.

Summerfest.  Milwaukee freeways dump you nicely into downtown, and all one had to do is follow the leader as most bikes were going to the Henry W. Maier Festival Park, better known as the Summerfest Grounds.  Bikes parked everywhere at Jackson and Chicago.

After first catching the vendor tents off of Chicago Street on the way in, I stepped into a party, complete with 5 bands playing on 5 stages. After partaking of a Wisconsin brat and a Diet Coke, listening to the Doobie Brothers (never a favorite of mine for some reason) as I sat a safe distance away on the shore of Lake Michigan, and a snack of Italian Ice, I decided that since the gang hadn’t found me yet, I’d go in search of them.  It wasn’t far after I headed toward the main stage that I found them standing in a circle in the middle of things.  When I walked up and placed my arm on Al’s shoulder , he started laughing and said they were just telling the story of my being left out of the group picture back in Tennessee.

A new member of the group.  Mark was there, Al and Dave now had their wives with them (Debra and Rosslynn, respectively) , and I was introduced to the newest member adopted into the group, Dag Nordby.  Dag was a tall, thin gentleman from Norway. Mark had sold him his extra ticket and led him around to a few events, and he soon became a dear friend.  Dag wasn’t the most normal Harley rider there (who was?) . He is a business development manager who didn’t even own a Harley.  He heard about the 1ooth anniversary  bash and was drawn to it. His daughter lives in the U.S. and has a Harley, so Dag flew over, borrowed and learned to ride the bike, and headed for Milwaukee (without even a ticket to the event) . By the time we were through with him he wore a string of beads over a leather vest (his $19.95 bargain) over a tee shirt that said “A beer and a spanking, please.” He jumped into the spirit of things with both feet. He was even interviewed by Swedish TV in his new getup. He’ll have some ‘splaining to do to his wife when he gets home (although she was in China at the time, perhaps wearing a “Harvey Great Wall Banger” shirt for all he knows). Thanks for crossing the pond, Dag!

The Irish Pub.  Everyone was hungry for some real food, so we left the Summerfest grounds and followed Dave & Ross to an Irish pub about 2 miles north. Al told us of the fun he had being in the official parade earlier that day (lucky stiff), and I got a chance to get to know Dag a little more. L-front clockwise : Al, Debra, Dag, Mark, Dennis, Dave & Ross. With good food and great new friends bound together by a particular brand of motorcycle, we spent the rest of the evening in the pub, missing a few of the bands I had wanted to see. We had a great meal, toasted each other and agreed (I promise!) to meet again in Sturgis next year.  Thank you, Mark, for the fine meal! Thinking I only needed tickets for the Summerfest grounds (the Celebration Sunday was “free”), I sold Becky’s ticket on the way out of the grounds. During the dinner discussions, it became apparent that I had screwed up; I had to have a ticket to get Becky into the Celebration tomorrow!   Dag to the rescue… he gave me his (Mark’s extra ticket?) ticket. Thanks, Dag… what a marriage saver. I mailed the ticket and an event guide to Dag in Norway the next week.

Off to Kenosha. When we had our fill (literally), I led Mark and Dag out of downtown and to the south on 1-94 to near their luxury hotel (I jest) near the airport on my way to Kenosha, WI to stay with Becky’s sister Sandy.  I stopped by Uke’s H-D dealer event in Kenosha which, at 11:30 at night, was pretty much winding down after Bubba Blackwell’s triumphant 10-semi jump.   Tomorrow is the big Celebration!


DAY13 AUGUST 30, 2003

Kenosha, WI to Milwaukee to Rockford, IL

160.3 miles Moving time 2:40:21 Stopped time 0:19:23

Moving average speed-  60.1 mph

Overall average speed 53.4 mph Max speed- 70.90 mph

Gas bought- 0.000 gal

To the Celebration. Becky arrived in Kenosha right when she promised to meet me at 11:00 in the morning. We rode up to Milwaukee on 1-94 with lots and lots of groups of bikes. We joined in and out of group after group as everyone was having fun. Out of ignorance, I pulled into a parking spot very near where I parked the day before. The problem was that while we were close to the Summerfest grounds , the Celebration was at Veteran’s Park, just to the north. Just to the north means 45 minutes of walking, and by the time we got through the line we didn’t get in quite at the 2:00 opening. After getting in, there was still a half mile to walk . Anxious to introduce Becky to the gang, I called Dave on his cell phone, and similar to at the HOG party, he said they were just back from the big screen on the right. Thinking that they were there well before us, I looked up to the big screen to the right of the stage and headed that way . We got to a fence , however , that kept the masses from crowding in on those whom got there first. After trying everything to get through security , we were unable to get through and found a spot where we could lean on a fence. There had to be 300,000 people there. As it turned out that the gang was actually behind us. Dang!  Two hours for chicken fingers.  We were right behind a lemonade vendor’s portable stand, so thirst was no problem (other than the obvious problems of bees and having to pee with the port-a-potties being just over the horizon). With the program not starting until 6:00, I left Becky with an Australian group nearby and headed to the food line. She could at least speak the language, and could tell of her visits to Sydney, Melbourne and the Grampian Mountains.  The line was pretty long, but I had a couple of hours to spare. At least the line was moving from time to time. After hours of watching a Fox News helicopter flying overhead, the line movement slowed to near a stop as people were panicking and buying dozens of everything for everyone else. Wondering what Becky must be thinking , I couldn’t give up my place in line. And did I mention having to pee? Finally when I made my way up to the front, I took a couple of whatever they had left and headed back to where I last saw my spouse.  Becky was surprised to see me again, having decided that she’d walk to the bike when it was over and wait for me there.  The show had already started, but I had seen the Doobie’s the night before. Rumors. That was the big question . Supposedly only 4 people within H-D knew the answer, and none of those were the top brass. Rumors abound. We heard that Don Hanley from the Eagles had been sighted at the airport, that the Rolling Stones had no-shown on their schedule that night and that Faith Hill was spotted.  U2 was almost a shoe-in according to the word on the street; ZZ Top was the late-comer rumor. We knew how bad these rumors could be, after the rumor of Jay Leno leading a group of 10,000 bikes into Rockford up I-39 filled the overpasses south of Rockford a few days before. Still, the anticipation was thick .

What bands would be there? First up were the Doobie Brothers (while I was in line for food) . OK, they were Harley enthusiasts. Then one rumor was close, as Tim McGraw came out and sang what seemed like 80 songs while we waited for Faith Hill to join him. That never happened. Kid Rock eventually came out (with Tim’s band backing him up) and, while he isn’t a favorite of mine either, at least he seemed to have chemistry with the throngs of bikers and we could yell and cuss with impunity. Then Tim came out and sang with Kid Rock for awhile. Then, Dan Aykroyd filled some of the awkward delay while the big surprise set up.

Mixed reactions. When the music started, each member of the audience was playing “name that tune” with each note, quickly eliminating most everybody we had in mind.  Then the cameras feeding the big screens panned out from a hand to a hand on a piano keyboard to … oh my God… it’s Elton John! I mentioned the group of Aussies we were with … one of them seemed mad about something.  By the time Elton’s first song was over and they were booing and yelling (anti-gay slurs). I realized that they weren’t thrilled with this choice as the quintessential Harley biker performer. They all cleared out during the next song to head back to Australia; they sure acted as if they were let down. Maybe that country isn’t as liberated as this one is?  Maybe I shouldn’t judge based on a small sample, if at all? Probably the latter. After the crowd thinned out, Elton put on a great show, rocking the western shore of the lake such that surf must have been up over in Muskegon , Ml.

The fireworks. To launch the next 100 years, Willie G. started fireworks that went around both sides of the stage, across the top of the stage and ended up shooting up from the lake.  Then silver Mylar strips were shot out into the sky to fall into the crowd. Happy anniversary, Harley-Davidson Motor Company!  I took Becky back to her car in Kenosha and she followed me home early Monday morning.

Thanks to all of my new friends and the wonderful people I’ve met these last two weeks. And thanks to Becky for letting me ride the 4,274 miles chronicled here. Next time I want you with me.

STURGIS 2004 !  (Yes, we all met again there… even Dag and Mark.)

Dennis Niven “Mr. 77” Rockford, Illinois





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