I’d stopped to get some landscape photos and peeled off my jacket, the mountain sun was boiling me in my leather. I’d lit out before sunrise since there was a whole lot of desert between me and the Tetons and the morning ride had been picture perfect. The further east I got, the more bikes I found and the energy intensified as the annual South Dakota migration took shape. Across the pullout is a guy sitting on his battered bike in the shade of the poplar tree, and he eyes me close before he stands up and saunters over my way. “Hey, did you just buy the shirt or do you really work for those guys?” I instinctively look down at the embroidered logo of my THUNDER PRESS shirt and offer a big smile. I am lucky to have one of the cool old-school shirts that can no longer be purchased. It’s a hand-me-down, as are all three of the button-downs I hold so dear, and they represent a generation of the magazine when founder Reg Kittrelle was still out on the beat, Terry Roorda was leading the charge and the clan gathered daily in the tiny town of Scotts Valley to put out a kick-ass kind of cult rag. I’ve worn my shirts with pride since 2004, and share that fact with the guy riding the overloaded Shovelhead with the Colorado plate.
“I was in THUNDER PRESS back in the day,” the guy says with a big grin. “Well, me and my gal. We were at a campout in NorCal and some goofy guy took our picture and it made it in. You ever hear of the Redwood Run? It was a badass run. Mid-90s, I think… maybe ’94? Fun shit. My gal left me after that; she couldn’t handle the life. She was kinda jealous and I guess I was kinda wild.” He shrugs and chuckles. “Still got the same bike, though, and she don’t mind when I flirt. Betty’s a good ol’ gal.” We spent the next half hour reminiscing about the wild times in the Redwoods and the roots that evolved into the run that still rages along the banks of the Eel River. We talk about hardtails and kick starts, and battle scars. He was a California resident until his kids moved to Arizona for college and he eventually drifted that direction, too. Nowadays he spends his time escaping the heat for the cool pines of Colorado in the summer and wintering in Buckeye. This trip he’s gotten plenty wet while taking his time getting to Sturgis, where he’s to meet up with NorCal friends in a campground outside of Lead. He asks if I know any of his cronies and rattles off a few road names. None ring a bell, except maybe Roadrash, but the time frame doesn’t line up so we decide he’s a different guy as we marvel at what a small world it is. The riding community is like that: worldwide but actually small and close knit.
“You know, it’d be cool if you wanted to come to camp and hang a while. I’d bet you know some of the guys, and if not, you could meet some pretty interesting cats. It’s copasetic. These guys have been through it, for sure. Lotta miles together and nobody does that trailer shit. My son’s coming out too; he’s been in Indiana visiting folks and coming for the first time. Think you could come out? I mean, they probably keep you pretty busy, don’t they?” I name off the gigs where I’ll be, we swap schedules and I hand over a card so he can give me a call. I invite him out to the anniversary party planned at the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum and promise he and his clan burgers and a bit of libation if they make it into town. We make a date of it and mosey off in our individual directions after a hug and a promise to keep in touch, but I never saw Skeeter again, chuckled to myself that maybe Betty wasn’t as congenial as he thought, and found myself wondering if he broke down.
A few days later I was standing at the corner as bikers lined up to take their photos with the Sturgis city sign. A rider eyes my camera and asks who I work for before he asks if I would take his photo. I point to the spiffy new silk-screened THUNDER PRESS T-shirt and he breaks out in a huge grin. “I was on the cover of THUNDER PRESS! It was in Colorado when I was at the Cripple Creek run and they got a picture of me on my buddy’s bike; can you believe it? I ended up right there on the cover!” He reaches out to shake my hand. “My name is Lucky and you know what, I really am a very lucky guy! Just look at this; I usually have to take a picture of my bike by myself here but this time I’ll get to be in it, too. Thanks for doing this for me. You ever been to Cripple Creek? It’s a great ride…” Lucky and I chat as riders in line behind him start stacking up. He’s a cheerful guy with an “81” support sticker on his bike and lots of patches. He asks if I ever make it out to California…