Ken Garten: The irresistible call of the open road

Staff Writer
The Examiner
The Examiner

As of this writing it is less than 48 hours before I hop on my motor scooter and head out for my nearly annual trip to Sturgis and the Black Hills of South Dakota and Wyoming.

I say “nearly” annual, because some years, like last year, I do not go. Last year it was because of an unavoidable (according to my wife) family reunion with her side of the family. Truth be told, we had a wonderful time at the lake, with in-laws and outlaws from the Midwestern prairie and the California coast.

But I did miss my annual bike trip north, and by spring, I was really feeling the ill effects of a year without a good healthy bike trip, with all the therapeutic goodness that that brings to one’s heart, mind and soul.

This year though, there’s no stopping me, and in less than two days, off I’ll be on my brand-new freedom machine, the Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic Limited I recently acquired, a bike for old men like me that I affectionately call the “Geezer Glide.” It’s the sixth Harley I’ve had over the last 32 years and by far the most heavy, elaborate and comfortable one ever.

I can’t wait.

“Are you going to pull it up there on a trailer?” I’ve been asked.

“Why would you put a perfectly good motorcycle on a trailer? Look at that bike. Does it look like it belongs on a trailer?” I respond. Geesh, people. “No, I ride.”

“What’s it like at Sturgis?” I’m also asked a lot.

“Well, that’s like asking what’s it like in Kansas City, or the Lake of the Ozarks, or the state of Colorado,” I’ve often said.

“It’s not a single-venue event. The Black Hills is a geographical area that is approximately a hundred miles long and a hundred wide. It’s full of hills and trees and tourist destinations and sights to see and hotels and campgrounds and events and attractions and activities, that for this time each year, are oriented toward and inundated by motorcycle riders from all over the world. And during the rally, the whole region is covered with motorcycles. In recent years, there has been a shift from outlaws and club riders to families, tourists and gentleman riders, like me.”

“Where do you stay? In Sturgis? Do you camp?”

“I love to ride, ride, ride, and I don’t mind camping. But after a day of riding several hundred miles in the hot sun, and getting caked with a coating of sweat, road grime and sunscreen, there are a few things I really need at the end of the day: a hot, comfortable shower; a bathroom; a good meal; and a comfortable bed. That’s a hotel room, not a campground. Sorry, my rustic pleasure comes from the road.”

“Where do you stay? In Sturgis?”

“Where do I stay? In Spearfish, South Dakota, most years, a college town about 20 miles up the interstate from Sturgis. It is a town of about 10,000, a beautiful little city, and every hotel and restaurant parking lot in town is packed with bikes for the rally.”

“Do you go with a group ?”

“Sorry to say, I’ve gotten away from group travel over the years. I have gone with groups of three to six riders over the years. That has certain advantages. But I was always the youngest rider in my group, and many of my close friends I have ridden with over the last 30 years have died, become disabled, dropped out or gotten too old, and quit riding. As they’ve fallen by the wayside, I’ve enjoyed more of a solitary rider lifestyle. This year, though, I’m chaperoning my Wednesday night buddy from Texas Roadhouse, Jim. Jim’s never been to the Black Hills, and so I have offered to let him come along with me and show him the sights. We’ll have fun.”

And so, for my many loyal clients, please hold off on your legal emergencies for a week, if you would be so kind. I’ll soon be back and ready to go. But give me a week or so, and then call. Thanks.

Ken Garten is a Blue Springs attorney. Email him at