The streets of Bozeman were filled with music when I arrived. I met Pajaro and a gang of others at Bar 9 and the night quickly turned to day. The coolness of a mountain stream and an afternoon sunburn took care of the next twenty four hours. Suddenly I was riding back towards the Atlantic, as though the rise of the mountains had scooped me up like a marble and sent me bowling east again. It was the beginning of the return.
I spent one night in Rapid City again, out of convenience and exhaustion more than anything else. I'd ridden 450 miles across strange plains and past the site of Little Bighorn. I stopped at an empty gas station on the side of route and took a photo of the bike next to the American flag. South Dakota is a vast state to cross in one day. When the beauty of the Badlands thinned out, I had only long farm fields and far away thunderstorms to keep me company. The wind was fierce, akin to the rough Texas spring gales that robbed me of a tank of gas in March.
For all the work I'd done on Jaybird, I'd never solved the mystery of the faltering reserve fuel line. A sudden hill rose up before me. The bike began to sputter and kick. I coasted to the side, coaxing another hard mile before she died completely. I waited a long time and was able to restart the engine, once again spinning the odometer almost one mile before cutting out. We repeated this ritual one last time before the bike surrendered completely.
I was hesitant to leave the bike stranded, with all my belongings weakly bun-gee'd to the back. I spotted a farmhouse about a quarter mile from the road and decided to make a quick break for it. I tramped through a tall grass field and hopped a barbed fence. There were a few old cars and one motorcycle in the yard. I did two circles around the place and saw no one.
The front door was shut tight, and when I knocked I found only a thin white dog to answer me. I circled one more time, hoping to find a gas can. Nothing. I returned to the bike, relieved to find all my bags still tied tightly. I flagged a few passing cars but no one stopped. Most kept their heads tightly forward, pretending not to see, with only the slight shift of their eyes betraying their curiosity.
I gave up, but was feeling neither discouraged nor worried. It was a warm day and I had little in the way of a destination. There seemed no reason that I should be anywhere else, and I decided to let the day settle around me. I opened my lunch and sat down beneath a low birch tree with a copy of The Merchant of Venice. I read a few acts and filled myself with peanut butter and jelly, feeling content and protected from the wind in the shelter of the birch branches.
I was thinking of taking a short nap when a silver sedan pulled up behind the bike. An energetic man in hawaiian shorts and sandals hopped out, his wife staying in the car.
"I can't believe no one stopped for you!" he shouted over the traffic, "What's up?"
He said he'd seen me from the other side of the highway and felt compelled to turn around.
"I ride Yamaha myself," he said, once I told him the trouble, "always carry a little bottle of extra gas for this type o' thing."
I explained that I didn't want to leave the bike with all my bags on it, thinking someone could come along and pick off all my belongings in one quick grab. He put his chin in his hand and looked up at the sky. I did the same. After a long silence, he looked back to the asphalt and offered to pick me up some gas and bring it back. I told him that I couldn't ask for so much from him, but he'd have none of it.
"Just stay put, and I'll be back" he smiled, and ran back to his car.
I could see him re-telling the story to his wife as he pulled back down the road, his hands up and waving in what seemed to be an dissertation on a motorcycle's fuel system. I wasn't sure I'd see him again, but sat down and ate an apple, the last of my lunch. Another biker finally slowed down and tapped his horn, giving me a questioning thumbs up. I decided to put my trust in the man with hawaiian shorts and returned the thumbs up. The biker nodded and coasted back to speed along the road.
Fifteen minutes went by. My apple was down to the core. I underhanded it as far as I could into the trees and turned back to find the silver sedan parked next to me once more. The man popped his trunk and pulled out a five gallon gas can.
"It was the smallest they had," he said, "didn't charge me for it, or for the gas, so long as I bring it back."
The can only had about half a gallon inside, but it was enough to crank the engine. The man insisted on following me to the station, just in case. Once I'd topped off the tank, I offered to buy him some beer, or at least a coffee. He refused, gave another grin, and disappeared into his silver sedan.
Those old magazine ads were right: you really do meet the nicest people on a Honda.
|Back in Rapid City for a day|
|Carved on Sacred Lakota land.|