Limping east on worn-out skins


THE PLAN WAS to slip by Chicago on Saturday, get south and east of the city without riding through it, and then blast across the Rust Belt for Old New England. But it was more and more apparent that I wasn’t going to make it home on the tires I had left with in May.

I had tried to buy new tires from two Harley dealers in Washington state, in Tacoma and Silverdale. Told them I was traveling through from Alaska, headed cross county and my tires are shot. They never responded to the request-for-service forms I filled out on their web sites. So I left the Seattle area meaning to keep an eye on the tires and change them somewhere along the way, if necessary. And it became very much so.

Yesterday, Illinois Harley-Davidson put me right at the head of the line. And they charged me a few hundred bucks less than I expected to pay. Thank you Steve, Jason, Chris and Ron.



I had started scuffing off the last bit of tread crossing eastern Montana, stepping down off the high plains, down to the plain old plains, where the world is flat and made of corn. And then on through the Twin Cities, south through Wisconsin and across the Illinois line.



Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois are lush and green these days, and pleasantly summer-like, but I was missing one thing about the West already: I like having the road to myself.



I had picked up US 12 in Helena, Montana and rode it for about 1,000 miles to the Twin Cities. It was a hot ride through southeast Montana. Things get awfully dry east of the Musselshell. In South Dakota I saw lots of land that was rippled with alkaline salts.



I had covered the visor on my helmet with duct tape, made a sun shade out of it. Still got quite a lot of sun exposure on this trip, especially on the Columbia River in Washington.



I stopped to poke around an old train station in South Dakota. Way back when, people must have been excited standing here waiting to hear a whistle or see a steam plume. All dressed up and going to another town or county or state. Not everybody could travel in those days. Even short trips on the rails must have been a memorable event.



It’s all freight out here now. I’ve waited at many a BNSF crossing in the west. I like hearing their whistles at night when I’m in camp and drifting off.



I pulled over in Big Stone County, Minnesota and saw two long-abandoned houses in the trees. I always wonder what kind of lives were lived in places like this. What kind of people were they? Maybe they were happy here and led the best lives ever. Or maybe it was low and mean, dreadful to all concerned.



I always wonder if their stories went out of the world with them, or if they’re written down somewhere.

Ah, well, those worn-out skins…


Here’s the iron piggy on the lift yesterday at Illinois Harley-Davidson. Rear tire first, then the front.



The rear tire that came off…



And the new one that went on.



Here’s Ron, the Harley mechanic who fit the new sneakers on the piggy. They ride bikes in and out of an automatic sliding door near the service desk. Very cool. When I get home I’m recommending one to Amy and Dana Bishop, my friends at Ocean State Harley.

My tires had 1,000 miles on them when I left Rhode Island in May. I normally get 16,000 miles out of a set but these were done at 11,000. I had scuffed them down riding the chip-seal asphalt of the Alaska Highway and quite a bit of gravel as well.

In Wisconsin and Illinois on Saturday I was trying to get another day’s miles behind me by riding a little below the speed limit, run the tires as cool as possible, but that can be risky. As a rule, you’re much safer going a little faster than everyone else. Near Rochelle, Illinois, some clown with New York tags almost rear-ended me at 70mph on Interstate 39. Some 70-ish Mr. Magoo with bushy eyebrows. I had to swerve into the breakdown lane to avoid getting hit. (Always know what’s going on behind you!) At the same time a car in the passing lane had to swerve left because the guy was leaning on them as hard as he was on me. The stupid ass was lane-splitting. In a car! He grinned at me through his passenger-door window as he went by with zero room to spare.

This was Notable Near Miss #3 on these present travels (meets a standard over and above the ordinary near miss), and the second time I had encountered a truly clueless driver at best, or with a depraved indifference to the lives of others.

My front tire had some tread left when Ron swapped it out yesterday, but it was thinner than I like to run them. The rear was gone, as you can see; worn as square as a car tire. There was no more radius left to make a proper contact patch. The iron piggy’s ass end would easily slide around turns on me. And then there’s something called Catastrophic Rapid Deflation At Speed. Riding the old skins I thought, Okay, but I’ll be lucky. Which I always am. If the rear tire goes down it’ll be when I’ve got the bike straight up and there’s nobody around me. I won’t chop the throttle or touch the brakes. Will ride that little mishap to a safe stop.

Of course, if it happens on a curve, be wearing your crash gear. Which I’m not. And I had to admit, that rear tire had gone from Better keep an eye on me to You’re asking for it.

And so I’m nursing this bad tire down Interstate 39 and I remember an email I got in May from Roger Obecny, of Tinley Park, Illinois. And I remember that I printed it and taped it to the inside-front cover of my road atlas.

Roger and I have known each other for almost 20 years. Never met in person before Saturday but we’ve read each other’s scribblings on the vintage Ford listserv managed by Bill Boogaart, in Calgary, Alberta. Roger has a 1940 Tudor coupe, I’ve got the 1949 F-1 truck. He knew I was riding to Alaska this summer and said if you ever need anything in the Chicago area, here’s my number and address. The welcome mat is out.


I don’t believe his hat at all. We hit two car shows, had pizza and beers at his favorite pub. I met the family. Had a good time here in the last 40 hours or so. It’s great to have friends in the area when you’re dealing with mechanical issues on the road.



Don’t tell Jimi the dog but I have a new canine pal, Sammy. He’s 3, totally blind since birth, but you ought to see him run around the house without bumping into things. He goes by the nose. He’s so surefooted trotting up and down the stairs I have to think he can count. Sammy was one of 300 rescue dogs fostered over the years by Karyn Obecny, Roger’s wife, who departed the world in 2012.

I’m about to collect my gear and saddle up. I’m hoping to make Pennsylvania tonight. In closing, here are a few snaps I like from last evening’s car show.




Tony DePaul, Tinley Park, IL, August 5, 2013


About Tony

The occasional scribblings of Tony DePaul, 63, father, grandfather, husband, freelance writer in many forms, ex-journalist, long-distance motorcycle rider, motorcycle wrecker, motorcycle rebuilder, collector of surgical hardware, blue routes wanderer, outdoorsman, topo map bushwhacker, handy with a wrench, hammer, chainsaw, rifle, former photographer, printer, logger, truck driver, truck mechanic, jet fueler… blah blah...
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4 Responses to Limping east on worn-out skins

  1. Corinne says:

    Tony, thanks for the chat today @ Mc D’s, I figured you’d have a good story. Hope you have made it home safely or are in the midst of it. I always enjoy seeing people living the two wheeled adventure. The common kinship of it shows you never travel truly alone, friends are all along the way. If you ever find yourself in need near Windsor, ON (across from Detroit) stop by and see us at Thunder Road Harley Davidson, we always make sure transients are helped out. Glad you got those tires replaced, my goodness especially with all the rain we’ve had! Best of times on your next adventure, and keep that Pennsylvania beautiful, it is a beautiful state! Cheers to you!

  2. Eric Zelz says:

    Fantastic stuff, as usual, Tony. Thanks for bringing us along.

  3. Bill says:

    Wow! Can’t believe the beating those tires took between here and when you got them replaced!

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