Stories From The Road

The Longest Road to Sturgis

At long last, the pinnacle event of the year was here. I plan a week at a time for most events, but this Grandaddy of them all takes me months of preparation and it was finally here…..Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. 

I spent a month perfecting my t-shirt logos and restocking merchandise to ensure I have plenty of stock for the hoards of bikers that flock to the city of my birth for Bike Week. I pack outfits for every single day of the event to make sure I don’t wear the same one twice.  I ordered stickers, posters, restock all my cd’s, new guitar and bass strings on hand…just to make sure my week is seamless, successful, and efficient. The van has new oil and tires and I’ve washed it within an inch of its life to ensure it will be looking great when I pull into town. The trailer has new wheel bearings and tires and the wrap is looking exceptional with my Ole Smoky Moonshine sponsor on the side and a giant picture of my face across half of it. I know travelers on the highway are going to be oohing and awwwing about my rig as I’m stretched out on the interstate. I can’t wait for the photo ops and the new people I meet along the way who are all anxious with anticipation to get to the motorcycle mecca of the world! 

Unlike most years of Sturgis, I was departing from Columbus, Ohio instead of my home in Old Hickory, Tennessee. I was spending my last few days before I departed on my journey halfway across the US. 

Departure day had arrived. I wanted to get an early start because I intended to make the entire 1300 mile journey in a single shot. It would take me at least 20 hours, but I had psyched myself up to make it, just as I had all the years before. I said my goodbye and jumped in my Expedition and off I went. I was making this trek alone, so I got all of my favorite music ready and got stretched out on the interstate. This was nothing new to me. I had made these kinds of trips many times before, but usually not without someone to keep me company in the van. I was looking forward to the time alone to think and dream and see the scenery change outside the window as you crossed through one state after another. I liked seeing the excited faces of people pulling their cars up in the lane next to you and taking pictures or waving wildly. I always loved the journey. The only thing I wasn’t loving about this journey was the lack of air conditioning in my vehicle. We had extreme heat warnings and my AC was out of the van, but I was determined to make the most of it and had the windows open and my arm hanging out of it just soaking up as much air as I could. I kept a towel of ice on my next to keep me cooled off and just kept on trucking. 

Indianapolis! How’s it going? I felt fairly confident cruising through the city. Road construction was beating the shit out of my bouncing through, but I had little to no traffic and I was making great time! I had reached that point of daydreaming while driving but still alert and happy with my progress until……

Champaign, Illinois. 

I love how the road opens up there with all these lanes of traffic. I’m just zooming by everyone and the rig is open and running great and then suddenly there is this loud BAM! and the van just shuts down. With it shutting down, I lost power steering and breaks and I’m in the farthest right lane with like 6 lanes to get back across before I can get to the shoulder of the road. I’m calculating my ever-slowing speed with the rush of traffic that I just passed, now passing me on all sides. I duck in the left lane next to me while a car screeches and then weaves around me honking and flipping me off the entire time. I’m trying to stay calm. I can’t even worry about what the fuck happened to the vehicle because I’m trying not to die while getting to safety. I maneuver another lane over, and then another, and as I’m almost to a complete stop now, I am able to get the full length of the rig over….all 40 feet of it. Safe on the shoulder, finally. 

Now, what the hell just happened? I put the van in park and tried to start it. It was making the worst noise I’ve ever heard…grinding metal. Not good. I knew I had blown my engine and then the panic started to set in. First things first, there is no time to waste with getting this thing somewhere to estimate damage and get a repair. I am under the gun! Sturgis is starting in just 2 days for me. I was using one of those to get there! I started looking up different towing companies and found one that would tow what they consider a “Super Duty” vehicle. Good news is they can come get the van, bad news is that it won’t be for another hour or so. Okay…it’s hot. I’m on the side of the road stranded in an area where I know absolutely nobody! I shed my light shirt that was keeping the sun off my exposed window arm and prepared for the wait. 

The crazy thing about waiting is that your mind doesn’t accept that you are at a standstill. I was running through the options I had to solve this quickly, but everything I came up with was getting crushed down by the lack of money I had. I was a broke girl….in every sense of the word. I put my SOS out on Facebook and hoped someone would see the distress call and reach out, but…nothing. Silence. Cars were rolling by at the same speed I was passing them just moments before, but I was just sitting there, hot and sweaty and dying of thirst! I wasn’t close enough to walk anywhere and I always have this fear of leaving my rig unattended…even broken down on the side of the road. I have even slept in my trailer while waiting to be rescued once, but that’s a whole different chapter. 

As I waited for this tow truck to arrive, I had to think about what the hell I was going to do with this giant trailer? They’ll pick up my van, but this trailer isn’t part of the deal! I need to find another truck to pull this…at least off the road immediately! I finally broke down and called my boyfriend at work in Columbus. Luckily, he has an old Suburban that I can use to get the rig to Sturgis and back until I find another solution for my Expedition or get it repaired. Awesome! I just have to get back to Columbus. He booked me a red-eye flight leaving out of Peoria and wished me luck in getting there. 

I called my mom and told her about my problem and she gave me some information I didn’t know about! Apparently a guy that used to play in our family band when we were growing up had gotten married and was working for a company in Peoria, IL…about an hour away. How perfect! A family friend! He can’t turn me down to help, we’re like family! She gave me his number and I gave him a call. I was so excited to hear his voice. It was like a calming feeling that everything was going to be alright. He said he had a big truck that could come and get me and my trailer, but he was supposed to have dinner with his wife’s family as they do every week on that night, so he had to check with her. I waited by on the side of the road for the call back, but it wasn’t coming. 

The tow truck arrived and I thanked them as they loaded up my busted ass Expedition and then opened up the side door on the trailer and sat there waiting for that call back. I finally got one..he apologized and said he couldn’t come get me because that would upset his very pregnant wife. He didn’t want to take the chance. What?? We were family! You used to stay at our house when we were all kids playing in these bands. You of all people should know what kind of position I was in! Hell, you were still playing in a band yourself. Are you serious right now? I couldn’t wait to tell my mom how he had ditched me, but before I could let ‘er rip, he changed his mind and said he would be there in an hour. He better, dammit!  We were about to have a “meeting of the moms” and mine wasn’t gonna be happy. We are a direct reflection of the people who raised us, and it wasn’t like anyone from back home to leave a friend stranded. 

After another hour or so more of scorching heat with no food or water, I was literally starting to feel the burn. I was dehydrated I could barely see anymore. Even staying out of the direct sunlight, I was burnt head to toe. My face, my arms, my legs….everything was red and painful. I had stripped down to just my jean shorts and a tank top because everything else was just too hot. Even my purse thrown over my shoulder was too much. I was wilting. Then….this truck pulled up! Thank goodness. I was so happy to see him! I thanked him over and over and even paid for his fuel to come get me and get back to Peoria. I apologized about ruining his dinner plans and he said they just moved it up, so he still got to see them. It was only after we pulled up to his house in this quiet little subdivision that he told me that trailers are not allowed where he lives, so this thing needs to be gone in 24 hours to avoid getting fined. I said no problem and intended on keeping my word. 

I was exhausted. I mean…fucking exhausted. I was sunburned so bad, that I was so cold with the fall of the sun. I forgot my jacket in the van, so I was left with what I was wearing and my suitcase was in the trailer. I wasn’t gonna worry about it. I had a flight at 6am and I was just going to get back to Columbus and drive right back to pick up that trailer before my friend, who so graciously helped me gets in trouble. He spent some time showing me all his toys in the garage, but I was fighting to stay awake. A jet ski…awesome, but I’m fading. A 4 wheeler…nice…but I’m going to fall over. He finally figured out my lack of excitement was because I was dying, so he quietly led me inside the house and told me his wife was sleeping. There was a blanket all laid out on the couch when I got in. Perfect. I can just rest a bit there. Since he had to be at work no later than 6am, he agreed to drop me at the airport at 5am when he left. That’s perfect. All that is left to do is brush my teeth and rest. He disappeared to his room to grab me an extra pillow as I brushed my teeth in a bathroom just off the kitchen.  I could hear voices talking and figured his wife had woken up to see him home. 

He emerged from the bedroom shortly afterwards. I was sitting on the couch ready to sleep so hard, but I noticed there was no pillow in hand. “Get up”, he said. “You gotta go”. What??? I could barely keep my eyes open and I was freezing. I kept trying to ask what the hell he was talking about, but he kept telling me to be quiet and walk. We walked outside and I stood there looking at him, but he couldn’t look at me at all. He told me to get in the truck and he was taking me to the airport right now. It was midnight! What in the hell was going on? He wouldn’t talk to me. We didn’t say a word to each other. I was pissed. 

It was a silent trip to the airport and once we pulled up, he said the only words he said the whole drive, “Sorry, I had to”. I guess he must have felt pretty bad because he walked me into the airport, even though I didn’t have luggage. All I had was a purse. No clothes, no jacket, no nothing….just my purse (which would be my pillow).  He walked over to a few chairs seated together and patted them and said “This would be a decent place to lay down”. Are you serious right now? Your COUCH would’ve been a good place to lay down. Now I’m freezing and exhausted. I can’t sleep when I’m this freaking cold. The inside of the airport was like a freezer with the air conditioning. It was unbearable. As my friend rushed out to his truck and took off like a scared school boy, I ventured outside. At least the outdoor air was warmer than the frigid inside and maybe I could stop violently shivering. I found a tree out front and sat down up against it. I must have fallen asleep at least for a few minutes, because I woke up flat on the ground to the loudest CRACK and very close, very bright flashes of light. Okay…this isn’t good. The lightning was right on top of me and I watched it strike the ground just a few feet away. This tree is probably not the best place to be right now. The sky opened up and it was pouring rain. Perfect. Now I’m freezing, exhausted, and soaked in rain. I huddled up against the edge of the airport to try and stay dry. 

Suddenly, I caught sight of a security guy walking through the lobby! OMG…please let me in! Maybe he even has an airline blanket I can use! I went up the door and tapped on the glass. It must have scared the shit out of him, because he jumped and turned around as if ready to fight. He looked confused and walked over to the door to let this frozen, wet, half naked, sunburned girl inside. He asked me why I was there and I told him the short version of how my friend dumped me here until I could fly out in the morning. He seemed happy to have the company and we walked farther into the lobby. 

I went to the bathroom to dry myself off and stand under the air dryers absorbing any bit of heat I could. I imagined what kind of sleeping apparatus I might be able to put together where the air dryer would just blow on my sleeping body keeping me warm, but certainly didn’t want to sleep on a bathroom floor. When I came out, he was there…like RIGHT there outside the bathroom. Okay, kinda creepy. He followed me over to a row of softer seats that I spotted that might be a good place to lay down. I asked him if he had any blankets anywhere because I was so cold. He said he didn’t have access to anything like that. Dammit. Okay, I’ve made it this long, only like 4 more hours to go. 

I found an oversized chair and curled up in a ball to stay warm. I had almost drifted off, when I felt my hair blowing in the breeze. What breeze? Was I back outside? I was so delirious I couldn’t figure it out. I opened my eyes to see the security guard standing over the top of me breathing heavily on top of my head. I sat straight up! Jesus! Am I in danger? Is this dude gonna rape me and kill me? The thought hadn’t even crossed my mind because this is a “security” dude. Plus I imagined there must be tons of cameras around. It was an airport after all. I looked around frantically for cameras and saw none. I kinda started to panic because I realized how vulnerable I really was suddenly. I asked him what he was doing there! He had his phone in his hand with some pictures pulled up. “Do you wanna know what’s fucked up”, he said while holding his phone towards me so I could see.  He then tells me about how he’s been married to this girl and how she had been fucking another guy and he got the photos somehow and keeps them on his phone to remind him what a piece of shit she is. What. The. Actual. Fuck. He turns his phone around and shows me some very explicit pictures of her with this guy and full sized pictures of her getting pounded by some other dude. The more he shows me, the angrier he is getting. I interrupted him and told him I had to go to the bathroom again. I locked myself in a stall and started trying to figure out my options if this guy attacks me. I didn’t have anything to defend myself. I’m only about 120 pounds soaking wet (which I still was). I no longer thought about being cold or tired. All I could think about was how I was going to defend myself and if I succeeded in surviving, how I would explain the death of a security guard to the authorities. They’ll never believe my story over this honorable security guard. I looked like a druggie thrown out on the street. My mind was racing. I looked around the room for weapons. Anything. There wasn’t even a toilet plunger. I had a handful of trailer keys in my purse…no I didn’t. I left them with the trailer in case he needed to move it.  I had nothing. Nothing but my hands and hopefully a way to talk myself out of danger. 

I emerged from the bathroom and was surprised to not see him standing there. He had disappeared. Where did he go? Did he have a gun? Am I about to get jumped? Maybe he hid in the men’s bathroom next door?  I got out into an open area so I couldn’t be taken by surprise. I felt like a caged animal just waiting to be killed. I was watching, listening, and waiting for it. 

I heard footsteps coming. This was it. I saw him come around the corner and he was carrying something with him. What was it? As he got closer, he extended his arms and showed me a blanket. I was so confused. He told me that they carry these extras in the supply room and since I had asked for one, he decided to get me one. Why now? Why not before when I asked for one? I didn’t care. I took the blanket and backed up. He sat down in a chair and just kinda stared off into the distance. He didn’t say anything. I sat down with the blanket wrapped around my shoulders, thankful for the relief from the cold and suspicious of what was coming next. After a period of time of silence, he thanked me for listening to him???? And then told me the airport would be opening in an hour and I should get some sleep. Um….okay, as if I could at this point. 

I stayed bundled up and may have even drifted off before I heard the shuffle of feet around me at 5am. Flight attendants and TSA workers flooded the lobby. I felt like a homeless dog waiting there but was so grateful to have made it through the night. I kept that blanket and boarded my plane with it still wrapped around me. I fell asleep immediately once I found my seat. I didn’t wake up until they told me we had arrived in Columbus. I was right back where I started. I felt like I had lived a thousand lives in the 24 hours since I had left.

My boyfriend picked me up at the airport and was pretty shocked at my condition. What the hell happened, he asked. I didn’t have the energy to tell him. I slept all the way to the house and took a short nap once we arrived. He dropped me off and headed back to work. I knew my time was limited to get that trailer out of the driveway so I didn’t have much time to rest. I got behind the wheel of this suburban and started my journey all over again. 

I didn’t make it far before having to fuel up and that’s when I noticed the trail of oil that was following me. Most people would’ve given up by now. But, I’m a stubborn idiot, so I bought a gallon of oil and kept going. I pulled over every hour to check the oil and kept dumping more down this bottomless pit of a vehicle. Indianapolis, we meet again…still under construction…still bumpy. Champaign, I eyeballed the place of death of my van and trailer and felt a bit of relief when the suburban of doom continued it’s way along. 

Driving all this time, I had been thinking about how to confront my friend who would be waiting for me anxiously in the driveway in hopes that I remove my obnoxious trailer before he is fined by his homeowners association and hated by all his neighbors.  He had to have known what he did was a complete ass move, but he didn’t know about what happened because of that decision. Should I tell him? Would he care? I decided the best thing I could do to save whatever friendship we might have was to sneak in silently and grab the trailer and go without saying a word. I had made my plan. 

I pulled up to his house at EXACTLY 12 hours since I was there. With my experience driving with a trailer, I backed that suburban up in one single motion and had it hitched up in less than a minute. I was praying he wouldn’t hear me outside and I would just roll out unnoticed. I was still wearing the same thing I was wearing this entire trip and I looked like I walked through hell and back. I was so relieved when I jumped in the drivers seat to pull out and he came out the front door with a confused look on his face. I just waved and yelled “thanks” and kept on rolling. I actually have never spoken to him since that day. 

With the relief I felt about picking up my trailer also came with a huge wave of exhaustion because I knew I was back in the game and had so far to go. I made my way down the road and battled with everything I had to keep my eyes open and my head in it. I made my way across Iowa all the way to just North of Omaha and decided this would be a good place to get some sleep for a few hours. It was the first time I left the suburban to enter the truck stop and noticed that I can’t lock the doors. I made a phone call and asked how I was supposed to lock the vehicle. “You can’t” he said. Oh…okay…I guess I’ll just sleep in it to keep it secure. I mean, my entire life is attached to it. I kinda need it to be there when I wake up. 

I curled up in the backseat and turned the radio on for room noise to drown out the tractor trailers that were pulling in and out around me. I was drifting off during a song when the blaring emergency signal rudely interrupts my slumber. What now? Seriously. The announcer comes over the air-waves with this very urgent message: 

Attention! Anyone in the path of the Missouri River on I-29 South of Sioux Falls (That’s me, BTW) take shelter immediately. A dam has broken and the interstate will be flooded in the next few hours.  You have got to be shitting me.  

This is the time when I finally started to think that maybe God doesn’t want me to go home. I wasn’t concerned about the struggle that I would have to overcome obstacles or the determination to push through despite the odds being against me. I was actually convinced at this time that a higher power was urging me to go back to Tennessee and give up and my unwillingness to give up was starting to piss them off to the point of breaking dams and causing floods much like Noah and the Ark style. Did I mention I was delirious? I did what any stubborn German girl with a dream and not a dollar or shred of common sense would do…I got up and started that truck and drove. 

It was a nerve wracking few hours because I knew a shit load of rushing water was heading towards me and I was driving straight into it like 2 warriors in a battle to the death and one of us was going to lose. When I reached Sioux Falls, South Dakota and made that left turn heading west, I knew I had just 2 more hours until I was in the clear. I drove relentlessly, stopping only for fuel and slamming oil into this thing that was losing it faster than I could supply it. 

Even though it was dark when I crossed that river in Chamberlain, I swear I could feel the swell of the water rising to dangerous levels as I kept my foot on the floor all the way across it. The rush of trying to beat the river kept me awake enough to make it the last 3 hours to Sturgis. I did it. I made it. I had overcome everything that was thrown at me in the greatest test of my life and I won. I stood proudly looking at this busted suburban and my busted body and took a moment to just be proud of what I had accomplished to get this done. I never gave up. It never beat me. I knew at that moment that there was nothing that would ever keep me from getting it done. 

The next day, I started my first of 12 shows in a row. It seemed like the easy part compared to what I had just done.