So I give the airport the finger and drive — or ride — whenever possible.
The United States is one of the most beautiful places on earth, with some of the most hospitable people in small towns and rural crossroads. Everyone should drive across the US at least once... Spending as much time in Nebraska, Kansas, and North Dakota as they would in New York City, Chicago, and San Francisco. (In fact, the best breakfast in the United States is served in Auburn, Kansas, tied with one in Keene Valley, NY.) The threshold to heaven begins in Small Town, USA. I was once told that the only thing I’d see in Nebraska was corn. What I saw was an endless sea of corn, waving in the dry summer wind, surrounding remote islands of farm buildings, each illuminated by a single outside light at night. It was astoundingly beautiful, and a sign of this country’s undiminished strength. (There are damn few signs of this strength left.)
I have a thing for signs. They trap me every time. Accompanied by this blonde, I have seen the world’s largest ball of twine, the world’s largest rocking chair, the world’s largest HO train layout (which drove her crazy), every steam train in 22 states, the world’s oldest pair of petrified beaver balls, the world’s largest free standing water sphere (painted to look like a peach), and Pedro’s “South of the Border” assault on the senses. It was in North Dakota that we got off the interstate in the town of Medora, following signs for Theodore Roosevelt National Park. I had never heard of this place before and thought it might be fun to get a look at it as I had never been to a real “National Park” out west.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park is a highly condensed natural gem on the edge of the “Badlands,” spanning 70,467 acres, or about 100 square miles. It is divided into three units (the South, the North, and one of which is so cleverly ignored on the Park Services’ website, I figured it was like “Area 57” and infested with aliens). We pulled into the South Unit, which offers a 36-mile scenic drive, that takes about 90 minutes to cover. The entire park is surrounded by a 7-foot high chain link fence intended to keep livestock out. I found that odd, especially as we drove over a metal livestock grate. I had seen no stray livestock, other than a few antelope or wild turkeys, which I thought would be a plus in a National Park.
The road brought us to an overlook, where I got my first look at the lunar landscape of the Badlands. I was utterly amazed. The woman in my life offered to drive for a bit, so I could play with the camera and the binoculars. We changed places in the little car, and put the roof down, dawdling for about an hour, before retracing our route back to town.
“I don’t think this is the way,” I said.
“Of course it is,” she purred. “There was only the one way in here.”
“Yes,” I said, attempting to reassert my agreeable self, “but I don’t recall leaving all these buffalo laying around.”
The road was about the width of a healthy recreation vehicle and strewn with hoary, prehistoric cattle, which were tossing their heads and sharing maniacal looks that hinted of stampede and instant death. I had seen plenty of buffalo before, on the pages of National Geographic and in history books. My recollections were of hump-backed steers, about the size of feral pigs, half-covered in cheap shag carpeting, being shot by Pony Express riders, who were about 14-years-old themselves.
These buffalo weighed about 14,000 pounds apiece and were following a bull whose horns were covered by a blood-soaked cocktail dress.
“Stop the car,” I suggested.
“Have you noticed that this car is only 20% larger than the cocktail dress atop the headgear of yon mastodon? It occurred to me he might still be pissed at how the prom went last night,” I said.
The bull burped in the manner peculiar to herbivores with compartmentalized stomachs, as if to emphasize my point.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” said my blonde companion. “This is a National Park. The whole system is funded by tips from people who ride in here specifically to photograph these things from little cars like this one. How would they make any money if the animals gored everybody? You are such a fucking pussy whenever confronted with any adventure. A real cowboy, like the ones who wanted to shoot pool for my top in the bar last night, would kick this thing right in the balls, with those cool, snakeskin boots they wear.”
It would have been easy enough to do. The bull was sporting a set of stones that barely cleared the ground by two inches. (I swear I saw the Harley-Davidson logo on them too.) The herd started to edge toward us, preceded by an aroma that was the best insurance against anyone taking a shot at one with the intent to use the hide for intimate bedroom apparel.
“Don’t move,” I whispered. “Suppose these are Stephen King Buffalo, possessed by undead spirits from a cursed cemetery, filled with the souls of devil-worshiping lobbyists, or something.”
She looked me through eyes that had narrowed into slits of contempt. “How many of those cowboys have model train sets at home, do you think?” she hissed. I swear the women I come to love are all part cobra, as they eventually spout flaming venom. Yet one of the buffalo must have been a model railroad aficionado as it stamped for a bit, and trickled drool from an evil-bearded maw. The blonde turned pale, clutched my hand and stammered, “Do something....” Implied but unspoken were the adoring words “You Asshole.”
I took a deep breath, and in a voice that was barely audible, began to sing “They Call The Wind Mariah” from the great screen classic — Paint Your Wagon — starring Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood, eventually belting out the second chorus as loud as I could. The buffalo had drifted away to go roll in the dust or piss down prairie dog holes, the later of which is a popular activity among a lot of cowboys, or so I understand.
But this raised a rather serious question in my mind? Suppose I had wandered in here, astride a viciously sensual motorcycle, like a gray 2007 BMW K1200GT, with a skull and crossbones painted on each side of the highly unimaginative flat fairing, and found myself facing a heard of demented buffalo, without even the marginal safety of an Audi A4 in which to cower?
What action would I take?
Would I trigger the fearsome Steble/Nautilus compact air horn and twist the throttle until I disappeared into vapor? Or would this invite a deadly charge? According to the precautions published by the National Park Service, visitors are advised to give the buffalo, the grizzly bears, the Komodo dragons, and even the prairie dogs a wide berth, measured in the hundreds of yards. (It is my understanding that a colony of prairie dogs can strip the tires off a tour bus in 15 seconds or less.) But what if the only exit is blocked by fearsome smelling bovines, capable of jumping 15 feet straight up in the air, or sprinting faster than one would expect? And what if you start out being a hundred yards away, and the damn things stalk you? What if the choices are to take a direct hit, or run the bike through piles of buffalo shit ten feet high (guaranteeing you’ll spend the next two weeks running a rag over the chrome parts), or drop the bike on its side (scratching thousands of dollars-worth of custom paint or tupperware) while you climb a tree?
Which is the correct one?
long-distance Mac-Pac Rider Gary Christman strikes a pose wearing a
Twisted Roads tee shirt. He has confronted buffalo. This is a man with style. |
There had to be a solution to this, and I put the question to my resident panel of experts — the Mac-Pac — the premier chartered BMW riding club serving southeast Pennsylvania. An answer came within minutes from long-distance rider Gary Christman, who routinely rides from rural PA to Hudson’s Bay (Canada), Yellowknife (Canada), and Yellowstone National Park (in the USA). For those whose rides are somewhat limited in scope, Canada is that big red space on the map north of the Great Lakes. (Shortsighted military planning in 1812 requires US citizens to carry a passport when riding there now.)
|The buffalo, named "Fast Eddie," followed Gary Christman to his mighty BMW GS Adventure. Photo by Garry Christman|
Christman was confronted, but not intimidated, by a brawling buffalo on his first cross-country ride in 2007. Mounted on a armored BMW GS Adventure (new that same year), he was threading his way through stopped traffic on one of Yellowstone’s more scenic roads, when he noticed a single buffalo, standing a good distance away, striking dramatic poses while pissing down a prairie dog hole. Christman is cautious by nature, and he left the bike idling on the side-stand, as he moved forward on foot, to snap a fast picture.
|The buffalo bull has closed in on Gary Christman, whose bike is marked with a huge red duffel bag. Photo by Gary Christman.|
“I didn’t think I would need the flying exit that day,” said Christman, “but I wanted to give myself the option. It was my intention to get a clear picture of this majestic and iconic American animal, without causing the noble beast any inconvenience nor distraction.”
Yet Gary was unaware that impure thoughts or gestures as subtle as a raised eyebrow can disturb a buffalo. It started to head in his direction and Christman lost no time in hustling back to the bike. Much to his dismay, he realized the buffalo was gaining on him. He mounted the bike, thinking it would be the work of a second to put it in gear and show the buffalo the benefits of an enhanced tail light system.
|The buffalo ignores the red duffel bag, evident in the mirror, and wanders off in search of a woman rider on a Sportster. Photo by Gary Christman. Conclusion by the author.|
Christman leveled the machine and snicked the sleek zeppelin-like bike into gear... But the side-stand was down, triggering the automatic engine cut-off with typical Bavarian efficiency.
The engine died like it was shot by a Navy SEAL.
“And in that instant, the buffalo was upon me,” said Christman. “I didn’t know a lot about buffalo at the time, but I realized the presence of a single udder indicated a bull. All I could think of was the flaming red duffel bag strapped across the back of the bike, and the effect the color red was supposed to have on bulls.” The animal passed within ten feet of Christman, who leaned the bike as far over to the right as he could, figuring he’d jump for it, keeping the machine between him and 1.5 tons of aggravated burgers.
“The buffalo just kept on walking, and I had the presence of mind to snap a few pictures to show how close he’d come to me,” said Christman. Just how close was that? In one shot, the buffalo consumes the entire field of vision. The close proximity to the bison made a profound impression on Christman.”I swore this would never happen to me again,” he added.
|Less than 15 minute later, Gary Christman is again surrounded by buffalo. Photo by Gary Christman.|
It happened less than 15 minutes later, when stalled traffic brought Christman to a halt, and an entire herd of buffalo threaded its way around him. This time, he calmly switched off the motor, looked at the ground, and minded his own business. A dozen bison had passed when one said, “I didn’t know that BMW made motorcycles... You didn’t pay extra for those fugly side bags, did you?”
Gary just nodded in silence.
Gary sent me the pictures he took and a link to YouTube, in which a buffalo does ram a rider on a Honda Valkyrie. (This was a cow with a calf.) I am amazed the Honda rider didn’t drop the bike. Buffalo can be as nasty and bad tempered as they are evil-smelling. Give them a wide berth.
1) Gary Christman had one hell of a ride that year, including a timed stint on the Bonneville Salt Flats. Further details of that run will appear on Twisted Roads next Thursday. I’d like to thank Gary for the best 45 minutes I had on the phone this week. I can’t make his run to Yellowknife this summer, but if I don’t go next year, it will be because I’m dead.
2) Also on Twisted Roads in two weeks will be my personal initiation to a 1952 Vincent Black Shadow. Now many of you are probably asking yourself, “What bullshit is this? Who would let Riepe anywhere near a 1952 Vincent Black Shadow?” Well let me tell you something, I have friends in low places.
3) I received a letter from a reader, a woman out west who rides a gorgeous Harley. She wrote: Do you realize how insulting it is to refer to your present or past love interests by the color of their hair? Describing someone you loved as “The Brunette” is a bit harsh, don’t you think?
• My answer to the question is a respectful “No.” I can’t refer any of my former lovers by name, nor by description (nor tattoos, nor profession) as some of their husbands are likely to take offense. (I don’t make the rules, I only play the game.) I have heard from two brunettes who I’ve loved in the past, and both were flattered to be included in the text. (They know I adore them, though SnowQueen has ducked me like I was a swine flu carrier. Another brunette, the second woman to ever ride pillion on my Kawasaki H2, sent me a severed head on Valentine’s Day.)
• I refer to a lady in this story as “The Blonde,” because I don’t want her to have the satisfaction of knowing that I can’t say her name without catching my breath, a condition likely to last for 20 more years.
• My first wife was Lambkin. She once said to me, “Do you know how often I kill you in my mind?” She was a brunette too. Using my system, all of the brunettes think I still love them.
|The author posing for a warm, birthday greeting card photo for his first former mother-in-law, with his first former wife, Lambkin. Photo by Police Gazette,|
• Finally, the word from the doctor is that I will not be able to ride for another 5 months. This came as everyone I know has left on a trip. My closest circle of friends, the cognoscenti from the Mac-Pac, left yesterday for their annual West Virginia Cultural Tour, where they will take banjo lessons, learn to call hogs, and practice dropping their bikes on gravel driveways. The boys called me as they started out yesterday, claiming they missed me beyond measure. It seems no one can program the VCR at the cabin, and the whole flush toilet thing has at least one of them confused. But they all posed for a great, heart-warming photograph, that is supposed to have a subliminal message. The picture is included below. I guess I have to stare at it.
For the record, two bikes have already been dropped. One because the rider stepped in shit, and the other because he forgotten he’d removed the sidecar before the ride started.
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