Hail is amazing stuff. It starts out as small ice crystals way up in the sky. It tries to fall but the wind won't let it. It keeps dropping down to collect a layer of moisture then gets blown back up to a colder zone and the layer freezes. The process continues until the ice crystal is large enough to overcome the power of the wind to blow it back up, and it falls to earth.
I met Mike years ago through my cousin Donn, who lived in Daytona Beach. We all had Harleys, and Mike used to stay with us at Donny's place during Bike Week, and Biketoberfest. We've lost Donny now but that’s a different story.
We always had a great time together. Laughter was the rule of the day. The first time I met Mike, after a half hour, I remember looking at my cousin saying 'does this guy have a switch someplace, how do you turn him off!' To say that he likes to talk is the understatement of the year! But Mike did well, he held up to teasing and ribbing that was common to us guys who grew up in Jersey, and everything just fit like it does with some people.
For years Mike has been trying to get us to go out to Sturgis, South Dakota for the August biker thing and stay with him at his place in Deadwood. In all the past years, we found one reason or another not to take him up on his offer. But this year, after losing my cousin/best friend, it somehow seemed very important to go.
Okay, Deadwood, here I come. Yee Haa! Got the bike all loaded up, and hit the road baby.
Man what a long trip! I thought the drive to Daytona was bad but this is half again as long. I have been known to make the drive from upstate New York to Daytona non-stop, probably not a good idea, but this drive, I broke up an hour west of Chicago with a nice night’s sleep at a motel. The following day, I finished the trip and got into Deadwood at 9 p.m. (11 p.m. my time).
Just as I came to the sign announcing the city of Deadwood, the traffic is completely backed up down the hill and doesn't move. All the bikes are coming and going down this narrow dirt road and I hear someone say an accident. I decide to follow along the dirt road and see what happens. The road took me around the mountain and into Deadwood. I came to find out that an ice truck had turned over and crushed a biker. Unfortunately this is part of the bike week thing too. Later that week I saw one of these ice trucks parked on the street, and I said to one of my new buddies, 'That’s why the biker got killed—look at the way the ice man is running around like a chicken with his head cut off.' He's so busy and rushed and gotta get the ice delivered so someone is dead!
Mike’s place in Deadwood was great. It was an apartment right in the middle of town over The Buffalo Saloon, the only place on Main Street with a balcony; it was just like being in the cat bird’s seat. It used to be the old whorehouse back in the Wild West days, and Mike told me that it was supposed to be haunted. Cool! I kept waiting for some long departed girly to have her way with me in the middle of the night, but alas it was not to be!
Mike is pretty cool and his place was full of old and new friends. He's good to his word too. He made me a couple of promises before I would agree to come out: #1, I 'm too old to crash on the floor or on a couch, so I gotta have a bed, and #2, I want to go on some cool rides. Well, I had my own room with bed, and as far as the ride goes, it was one of my most unforgettable yet!
All that night they were talking about storms for the next day. Locally severe thunderstorms. Hmmm… I don't like to ride my Harley in severe thunderstorms but Mike (the weatherman) assured me that everything was cool. He said, “Oh those storms could be anywhere.” Boy, I know that made me feel a lot better!
So our first ride began with a short walk to the building where the bikes were stored, rolling them out and firing them babies up. To me there are few sounds in this world as great as the sound of that Harley when she starts up. It's like a symphony, a sound almost too good to be of this earth. Off we go with a roar, blending into the mass of bikers on their Harleys, and we are on our way. I never asked Mike where we were going. It wouldn't have meant anything to me anyway. In later years I found out I think it’s called “Terry Peak” which is off the road to Cheyenne Crossing and The Spearfish Canyon. He did say that we might get off the main road a little!! Uh huh, yeah right!
The ride was great! Of course there were bikes everywhere. There is nothing like riding when almost everything on the road is a Harley. It's a thrill that can't be found anywhere else. Every bike a little different to reflect the taste and style of the rider, and every rider a character in his own right. All the same but totally different. Roaring up the canyons and though the turns with all those bikes side by side makes you feel like a part of a powerful army charging off to battle on our magnificent steeds. It's a feeling of freedom and camaraderie and a oneness with the road that no person in a car could ever experience.
After a while I see Mike making a right turn off the main road and onto a dirt road. My little voice starts talking. 'Look at those clouds there. They look like storm clouds to me. God look at this road. Looks like a mortar attack took place here about 20 years ago. Talk about erosion!! Man, this looks like it must be a river during a rain!' Splatt!!! Oow, what the hell was that? A big bug must have hit me in the forehead! Felt like a .22 and it's wet, I must be bleeding! Oh no, just a huge raindrop!…Rain drop? I thought Mike said it wouldn't storm on us! I don't believe it. I’m thinking, okay let’s stop now and turn around. It must not be raining up there on Mike because he keeps going. Up and down hills, through gullies, and the clouds are black as night and the rain is starting to pick up. Mike, what the hell are you doing!?! I 'm shouting to him in my mind…stop, stop, stop, hoping that I could establish some psychic link with him and perhaps he would realize that it is really raining now and it only gets worse the higher up the mountain we go.
Then I see it. It looks like white marbles are bouncing up out of the ground. OUCH WHAT THE HELL!!!! MIKEEEEEEEE !! Finally at the bottom of a very steep hill, in a gully, he stops! I guess even Mike draws the line at riding in hail!
Now this is just great, here we are in the middle of the Black Hills, someplace on a rutted dirt road with the evil mother-in-law of all thunderstorms beginning to rage! Now in South Dakota, you don't have to wear a helmet when you ride, so I got to experience the thrill of a marble size hailstone, traveling at terminal velocity, bouncing straight off my shaved head!! Yikes!! My immediate thought was to protect the paint job on my beautiful blue Dyna Low Rider. I removed my leather jacket and draped it over my tanks, and my vest went to protect the back fender. Now that Dyna was 'safe,' I looked around for a tree or some kind of cover to get under. By now the hail was really coming down along with torrential rain. Lightning was striking all around us and the thunder sounded like nothing I had ever heard before! Of course the only cover was these little scrubby pines about 10 feet tall. They were the kinds of pines that make a Charlie Brown Christmas tree look like a lush forest! Mike and I shared the same pathetic tree for a while, but then I decided that the one across the way had two more needles on it so I switched. All you could hear were the sounds of the storm and the duet that Mike and I were singing…Ouch f*ck, oww shit, ooch, muther!! Mike was a little better off than I was, as he has a crop of long scraggily hair to protect his head. Didn't help his body much though. Soon the hail started to get to me, and I'm ashamed to say that I started looking at Dyna in her protective leather jacket and vest and said, 'sorry baby but your on your own.” I stepped out from under my dozen pine needles and donned my now 25-pound vest and 100-pound leather jacket in an attempt to keep from being hail stoned into a large pile of mush! I tried to pull my jacket over my head and it helped a little but not much. Oh God, the hail is getting bigger! I could hear it rapping down on Dyna and I felt every shot that hit her, as well as the ones hitting me! My poor Harley!!
All this time I was keeping my eye on this small little rivulet that was flowing between my feet. Soon I noticed that it was getting bigger and bigger. Then I noticed one flowing past Dyna. As the storm continued the little stream was getting bigger and bigger. Now the ground is covered with hail and it looks like soggy, muddy slush. Then I looked out of my coat and Dyna was now in the middle of a river. All of a sudden I saw it rolling down the hill. It looked like a wave, a wave of hail stones, mud and gravel about 8 inches high. MIKEEEE !!! We gotta blow out of here man before we wash away! He says, 'Okay, Dude lets hit it'!
I'm thinking, can we even make it up this hill? We get the bikes running and turned around and I tuck in behind Mike. Can't see a thing. The rain and hail are still pouring down and it hurts so bad that I have my jacket pulled over my head with just my eyes showing. All I can see is Mikes tail light. I must have looked like the headless horseman! I know Mike is an expert rider, so I figure I'll follow exactly in his path and hope that if he makes it through, I will also. All the ruts and pot holes were full of the hail/mud-slush and I was right about the road looking like it must turn into a river when it storms! There were small to medium rivers running all helter skelter every which way all over the road! At any second I was expecting to get caught in one of these flowing ruts, and get thrown. It was exciting riding along wondering when a hailstone would knock my eye out!
Finally after what seemed like a lifetime we came out to the main dirt road. The pines were a little fuller down here so we stopped to let the storm pass.
While under that tree I had time to reflect on the two things I had learned about hail: It hurts like hell wherever it hits you and I don't like riding in it. Hail sucks!
Finally the rain slowed to a trickle and we headed out, very wet and very sore, but no worse for the experience. Even Dyna made it through without a ding. She has forgiven me for taking back my jacket and getting her all muddy. Mike came through in fine fashion, and as is often the case, our friendship was strengthened due to the experience.
After we got back to Mike’s place, later that night a bunch of us were out on the balcony and one of the guys looked at my head and shouts 'Holy shit look at the top of his head, it’s full of bumps'!
Yep, you bet it was, and they were bumps that I wouldn't have given up for the world.
By Manfive Irish