Sunday, 6 June 2010

Smitty’s – A tale from the road

It’s cold and raining here today, perfect conditions for sitting inside where it’s warm and dry and blogging (or wasting time as the spousal unit would say). Certainly not conditions that make me want to suit up and go for a ride.
But today I have a choice, which isn’t always the case, especially when one is on the road.
We were on our way back from the West Coast and had just dropped down into the US at International Falls. (See Welcome to the USA for a description of our worst border crossing ever.) The weather conditions were much like today (low 40’s and raining) but we had to get home as our holidays were ending and our bosses wanted us back. Which was actually a good thing – them wanting us back, that is.
The bike I was riding at the time, a CB550F, had no weather protection at all. I’d worn my rainsuit so much on the trip that it was literally worn out and offered marginal waterproofing at best by this time, and my hands were seemingly permanently stained black from the dye coming out of my gloves.  The missus was in slightly better shape, but only because she had me breaking the wind and rain for her.
By the time we reached Duluth, it was getting dark. We were both soaked and chilled to the bone, so instead of camping the plan was to book into a hotel/motel, dry out our gear (and ourselves) and eat a proper restaurant meal – a rare treat as the vacation budget was nearly exhausted. It wasn’t until the 3rd or 4th hotel that we discovered there was a big conference in town and nary a room to be had. So we were forced to press on as one “No Vacancy” sign followed another… and another all along Highway 53 through Duluth, Superior, and into Wisconsin.
Then civilization ended, and for mile after mile there was nothing but the dark forest on either side of the highway and an infrequent oncoming vehicle to blind me with the headlight glare off the rain-slicked roads. By 9 PM we were getting desperate for a place to stay – any place. I was exhausted and, literally, an accident waiting to happen, but we had seen nothing for a couple of hours. Until around a bend in the road, a neon sign – Smitty’s.
Smitty’s had a restaurant, a bar, and best of all, the “No” in No Vacancy was unlit. I thought I was hallucinating.
It wasn’t until we pulled into the gravel parking lot and I did my best ever Arte Johnson imitation and toppled over, ever so slowly, because I couldn’t get my foot off the peg fast enough that I realised how cold I was. While not exactly frozen in place, we weren’t far off.
Anyway we got ourselves moving, the bike back upright, and staggered stiffly into the bar. The owner took one look at us and immediately took charge.
“You look like you could use a hot shower and a meal.”
“Here’s the key for cabin 3. The restaurant is closed but I’m open here until 11 and I’ll rustle up some food for you after you get warmed up. We’ll sort out the registration when you come back.”
After a LONG hot shower, and some relatively dry clothes (putting on dry clothes after riding wet for 12 hours is a luxury no one who hasn’t done it would truly appreciate) we were back in the bar with hot roast beef sandwiches and a couple of cold ones in front of us. Bliss.
I never did get her name, but to say she might have saved our lives that night is not too much of a stretch. I had long since passed the point of being able to ride safely, and as the next day showed, it would have been many more hours in the saddle before we reached the next place of accommodation.
So to Smitty’s, a very belated thank you for being there when we needed you.


  1. Dear Canajun:

    An interesting road tale with a happy ending. I was delighted with the way your luck went. As you are aware, I suffer from vicious arthritis. I have been out on the road, in very hot conditions, and found myself unable to get either foot of the peg as I came into a toll booth.

    I know that feeling.

    Fondest regards,
    Jack • reep • Toad
    Twisted Roads

  2. Jack - Don't know how you do it. If my mind wasn't so numb at the time I'm sure I would have been panicking. As it was I experienced it in a kind of detached, third-person way. Scarier to think of after the fact actually.

  3. What a great road story. I am glad you finally found shelter and rest. Reminds me of a similar happy ending I had once in Southern England. Thanks for sharing.

  4. It was on a cold, wet ride that I discovered stupid tired for the first time. I was lucky and knew that I wasn't able to operate the clutch, brake, throttle, and shift all in sequence and found a warm place to stop. I was surprised the cold took that much out of me. This was a good example of a ride story worth telling.

  5. SonjaM - Thanks for the comment. BTW I love your new BMW. Glad to see your getting the most out of it.

    AZHD - I think we all underestimate how impaired we can get just from being cold. Thanks for stopping by.

  6. Every long-term rider will shudder at your superb description of being in that description and similarly delighted that it turned out so well in the end. Funnily enough, I'm currently doing a piece on night riding that I'll post next weekend - it has similar parallels!

  7. A terrific tale well told. Most riders will understand how you felt. Riding in the cold and at night is no fun and I can sympathise that you were desperate to find somewhere to stop. I applaud the attitude at Smitty's - we need more places like that. I smiled when I read about the simple luxury of putting on dry clothes!

  8. Geoff - I look forward to reading your night-riding piece.

    Gary - Having dry clothes is highly under-rated. :)

  9. We've all been there haven't we? You tell that tale very well and it brings back memories of a day's ride through cold and rain when I couldn't open my hands to get them off the handlebars they were so cold I had to slide them off sideways! The thing is we wouldn't have it any other way would we?

  10. Andrew (aka the rider) - You're absolutely right. It's those experiences from which real stories are born.

  11. Rides like that are the ones that truly make you love riding a bike. :)

  12. ahhh dry clothes. yes, go to move and find my foot asleep and hands frozen, argh. amen for folks like smitty's!!

  13. Geist - you forgot the end of that sentence.... "when it's warm and the sun's shining." :)

  14. Ms. M. - I guess that's one thing that differentiates the distance rider from the distance driver - the ability to move around and relax various parts of the body. But your comment did remind me of another time when my foot was totally asleep and I didn't realize it until I came to a stop. Oops!

  15. Been there, done that. I hope we all get to do it many, many more times before heading to that big dirt track in the sky.

  16. Willy D - True, even lousy riding is better than the alternative.


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