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Southern Rail: Bare necessities

By Robert Filla

Southern_Rail

I was running out of Sturgis, coming out the back way through Deadwood and Lead, over the mountain passes until I hit the Wyoming state line. Then it was south through the tiny burgs of Lusk and Chugwater before hitting Cheyenne and finally Fort Collins in northern Colorado, an easy 350-mile start on a three-day ride back to Texas. And over the years of traveling to the Black Hills Rally, Fort Collins had become a standard road stop, with my favorite hotel, steakhouse and bar all located near each other. But the years had also taught it best to top off my fuel tank before even checking into my room, beating the morning traffic and providing the quickest departure time.

So I wheeled into my favorite service station (also near the hotel, eatery and watering hole) and pulled up next to another rider. He was a young kid, aboard an older Big Dog chopper, all stretched out with one of those giant rear tires sitting in a rigid frame. By the amount of gear on his bike—a leather jacket rolled up on the handlebars and a small tool bag hanging under the headlight—I pegged him for a local. That is until I saw his California plate.

So, of course, I had to ask, ”Coming back from Sturgis?”
He said yes, so I told him about my favorite bar and steakhouse since it was obvious he had already found a room and unloaded all his gear. He said thanks, but that he really didn’t have time. He had to be back at work the day after tomorrow and needed to put down as many miles as possible before finding some roadside picnic table to crash under.

I looked around the gas pumps and saw no riding companions, no support truck. It was just him, riding solo from Sturgis to California in two days. So, of course, I had to ask, “Where’s all your shit?”

“Aww, don’t worry. I got an extra T-shirt and a clean pair of drawers stuffed in with some screwdrivers and a pair of pliers in that tool bag. Plus I got gloves and some goggles rolled in with my jacket. I’m fine. I only had a few days off so I rode into town yesterday to have some beers with some friends. Got to see Rushmore and ride Iron Mountain on my way out this morning. Sure is pretty. Prettier than I thought it’d be.”

And with that he shook my hand, gave me a “You be careful, sir,” fired up a smoke and the bike, and was gone.

I turned back to my Road King and felt embarrassed. As usual that scooter had more crap hanging off it than the Clampett’s truck on their way to Beverly Hills. There was a giant clothes bag on the luggage rack along with a drink cooler, camera tripod and spare helmet. On the passenger pad sat a backpack filled with camera gear and video equipment. The saddlebags were filled to the brim with a laptop, a backup camera, road maps, reading material, sandals, rain gear, tools, a spare faceshield, cold weather thermals, three pairs of gloves and two different-weight jackets. The bike sports a batwing fairing with a killer sound system and satellite radio. It has the latest in high tech lighting and a gel-pad seat with memory foam. It has rear shocks! It has just damn near everything needed to insulate me from the rudeness of long-distance motorcycling, everything needed to make my trip perfect. I am, after all, a professional.

Well-known travel writer and vagabonder Rolf Potts wrote, “I’d never want to feel too complacent on the road. You don’t become a travel expert by being flawless in your travels, but by trying new things and being willing to make mistakes.”

He also wrote, “The smaller your pack, the less tempted you are to bring unnecessary gear on the road. It’s amazing how little you need to travel well—and the longer you’re on the road, the less you need.”

Seems that kid, that California kid, has a pretty good handle on both the above. Riding cross-country in two days with only the clothes on your back to the most famous bike rally in the world and spending less than 24 hours just to drink some beers? If that kid’s friends are anything like him, it sounds like a group this “professional” would be proud to ride alongside—just let me un-Clampett my bike a little first.

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