This was my first trip for more than a night or two with a large-ish group, on motorcycles at least. As interesting as the stories from the journey itself are, those of human interaction are just as much a part of it. As I alluded to earlier about individual riding abilities, a toxic personality can ruin a road stew, and a unique ingredient can make it the best you've ever tasted. Especially when it simmers for 12 days. In close quarters like this, you find out more than you've ever wanted to know about someone, whether you've been acquainted for years or just met at breakfast. That's part of the fabric, and as long as it doesn't get real ugly, it's pretty neat to experience. We were quite an intersting group. I leave with more good friends than I had when I started.
I also have a new hero.
Donna is a spunky gal who honestly lives to ride. Despite the thousands of miles on her Sportster, she'd never been out of state when she heard about our trip. For the non-bikers reading, 95% of the Harleys you see on the road to an event are purpose-built touring bikes designed for long-haul comfort. And 20% of those are pulled behind a truck (which drives me insane and would be a felony if I were in charge.) The trade off is when you're navigating in town or bombing through the curvy backroads, you're working hard while I'm flicking around my "piglet" without even concentrating.
So when you show up 1,000 miles from home riding a little Sporty, you're always the topic of discussion. "You rode that how far?" I get that all the time. Well, Donna here not only rode a Sportster, but she did it without a windshield, which I would never even consider. Basically she was doing pull-ups and neck excercises for 10 hours, and was still ready for more when we parked. I don't think she's right in the head.
The bummer of leaving Milwaukee was not unanticipated. You get closer and closer to the site, and the bikes begin to multiply, all loaded down and dusty, tags from literally across the globe. It takes over the city, and there is a constant rumble, honestly like thunder in the distance, from bikes in all directions emitting the same frequencies. Bikes are parked everywhere they'll fit, on sidewalks, traffic islands, 4 to a spot. You can fit 10,000 motorcycles where you couldn't put 500 cars. At night, bars are overflowing out into the street where the bikes gleam in the streetlights as traffic streams by. Live music is everywhere, something like 30 acts just on the official card. Here in Milwaukee, people stand on overpasses to wave and hold "Welcome Home" signs. There is always something to do, someone to meet, stories to be shared.
For us and untold thousands more, it all ended at a huge outdoor stage on the lakefront. Sitting in the dirt and grass holding a $6 beer, a warm summer breeze blowing out over the lake, watching Bruce Springsteen pour out his soul while we all sang along. These are the best of times.