Woster: South Dakota’s traffic a blessing in disguise – Mitchell Republic


I’ve traveled South Dakota highways frequently before and during the annual Sturgis motorcycle gathering, but the only really frightening encounter I have had with bikers happened on a Denver freeway.

Back in July, before I even started noticing Harley Davidsons and other motorcycles heading west on South Dakota roads, Nancy and I traveled to Colorado for a nephew’s wedding. The ceremony took place on a mountaintop somewhere above Winter Park.

After the ceremony, we drove down to Denver to visit our younger son and his spouse.

We traveled down the mountain on Sunday afternoon, joining throngs of folks on their way back to town after a weekend in the mountains. I assumed that’s why so many people were hurrying the same direction, at least. We were all going somewhere, and I was going to Denver.

The trip stressed me out of course. I prefer driving highways on which I can set the cruise control and kick back a little. I like flat roads, the kind where I can see a car approaching from a mile away. On the crowded, curving roads of the Rocky Mountains,

I drove on full alert, trying to stay with traffic that accelerated to 65 mph and suddenly braked to 10 or 15 mph. Brake lights flashed like we were in a holiday parade. Several times, I thought, “Oh, man, just give me Highway 34 out west of Howes Corner on a quiet summer evening.”

Empty prairie roads don’t lead a guy to a mountaintop wedding, though. Nor do lightly traveled freeways lead a guy through the heart of Denver to his son’s place. It takes work. We set the address-finder for the kid’s house, and I kept my eyes on the road, the mirrors and the flash of brake lights.

The pleasant voice over the direction app led us off an interstate and onto a wide, well-maintained highway, four lanes in each direction. Traffic had thinned somewhat, and I settled back to just enjoy the ride. That is, until I saw dots in the rear-view mirror that were approaching at an unbelievable speed. You know those blurry images of fast-moving blips that just might be flying saucers? That’s what these things looked like far back in the distance.

In a matter of seconds, they grew into motorcycles. I think the highway speed was 65 mph. These things were going at least 20 or 25 mph above that, and quite possibly more. I’m accustomed to motorcycles sharing the highway, especially in the summer in western South Dakota. But those are usually Harleys or massive touring motorcycles or trikes.

These were those low-slung monstrosities that force the rider to almost lie flat on his belly to peer through the windscreen. Two of those things came up behind me in the same lane. I didn’t see how they could avoid blasting into the back of our car. They managed, splitting apart and each whooshing around me, right side and left side. They joined again just a few feet ahead of my vehicle and accelerated a bit before both of them cut to the right across two lanes of traffic, around a couple of cars and back to the center lane.

I didn’t have time to admire the way they handled their bikes, because a swarm of the same model of motorcycles rushed up behind me and swooped around. Some darted through a couple of lanes at a time. Others moved around a vehicle, settled into the lane ahead and then, with one more burst of noisy acceleration, disappeared into the traffic ahead. I’d never seen anything quite like it.

Recalling the moment, I still can’t believe that pack of 20 or more speeding bikes didn’t cause a crash. They didn’t, not while I was on that road. Perhaps the local drivers have seen it all before. I didn’t. I didn’t know how to react. I just stayed in my lane, maintained my speed and watched the road and the mirrors.

In South Dakota, we hear a lot about sharing the road, watching for bikers and so on. Out in Colorado, I didn’t get to share the road. Those riders just took it.

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