Published DateLACONIA — Last year Charlie St. Clair's 35th ride to the famed Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in the Black Hills of South Dakota was interrupted when his motorcycle collided with a buck mule deer on a dark, lonely stretch of U.S. Route 20 just east of the tiny town of Bassett, Nebraska, shattering his left leg and right hand.
After surgery he spend several weeks recuperating in a hospital in Kearney, Nebraksa.
Earlier this month, St. Clair, executive director of the Laconia Motorcycle Week Association, finished the trip, taking a total of 10 months to ride the miles he usually covers in five days. "I've ridden to Sturgis every year but one since 1976," he said, explaining that in 1978 he suffered a broken leg when his motorcycle struck a car. "Besides, I had to collect my motorcycle."
St. Clair, who refuses to fly, took a train to Chicago, rented a car and drove to Dubuque, Iowa where his motorcycle had been repaired. On May 10 he set out across Iowa.
"I froze my butt off," St. Clair said. "The temperature never got above 47 degrees and there was a strong wind from the north." He reached Sioux City that night and woke the next morning to find the mercury reading 27 degrees. "I waited until it hit 40 degrees," he said, "then rode north to I-90 across South Dakota, arriving in Spearfish — 20 miles or so on the other side of Sturgis — on May 12. He typically stays in Spearfish during his annual pilgrimage.
St. Clair spent time in Sturgis the next day then set off for home. On the return trip he followed his traditional route, leaving South Dakota and dipping into Nebraska to stop in Bassett, where for years he has stayed overnight in the same hotel. "I call it sneaking in the back door," St. Clair remarked, explaining that but for his jaunt to Bassett he avoids Nebraska to protest its helmet law.
"It's my act of civil disobedience," he said.
In Bassett he renewed old friendships, like "Clint and Mim," former motel owners now in their 90s and married for 77 years, and new ones, like James Anderson, the sheriff of Rock County, and the medical team of Rock County Hospital. "Everybody was surprised and thrilled to see me out there and on the bike," he said. "A lot of people heard about my accident ," he continued, noting that "a guy in a supermarket said 'you're the guy who hit the deer.'" The signatures of these and others St. Clair has come to know in the course of his 2,970 mile trip emblazon the primer coat on his rebuilt motorcycle.
St. Clair said that he steered clear of wildlife apart from a close encounter with a cock pheasant in South Dakota. "Usually they just run," he said, "but this one did a U-turn and flew right over my windshield. That could have been a problem."
Still wearing his long underwear, St. Clair returned to Sioux City on May 14, where the temperature now stood at 104 degrees. "I've got it right here in the newspaper," he said, waving a copy of the Des Moines Register.
After stops in Dubuque, Toledo, Ohio and Avon, New York St. Clair reached Laconia on Saturday, May 18.
"I froze from Chicago," St. Clair said. "But I'd rather be miserable on a motorcycle than not be riding at all. It was a trip of extremes. And I'll be doing it again in a couple of months."
The Sturgis Rally starts August 5.