Military ride to Sturgis: don't judge a book by its cover

  • Published
  • By Maj. Karen Roganov
  • 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
Hundreds of motorcycles flanked me from front to back during the military appreciation ride to Sturgis Aug 7. I got a sinking feeling as my 1978 Suzuki GS750 sat unresponsive on the entrance to Interstate 90. 

The bike came from the base resale "lemon lot" but is in great condition except for a minor electrical glitch that surfaced a couple of days prior. The gracious owner fixed the issue but it must be something else. Here I begin my story about not judging a book by its cover. 

Jeff Pigman, the bike owner is the first "book." He is a contractor on base with a full schedule to include a wife ready to give birth any day. When I called this stranger, I was amazed that he agreed to hand over his bike to make my motorcycle mama Sturgis dream come true for a nominal rental fee. His "cover" might appear to be that of a busy man with a growing family and no time for distractions like my call. Under the cover reads the pages of someone who sees the world as mostly good and is willing to help out a biker, because he said he's been helped out in the past. 

When I said earlier motorcycle "mama," I meant it literally. I'm an IMA reservist from Eglin AFB, Fla., on temporary duty here. My full-time gig, aside from university student, is homeschooling my three children. For the last four years, "mommy duty" has dominated any riding time. 

Hence, I was floating on cloud nine when I got to pound pavement with the Dakota Thunder Motorcycle Club to the world renowned 67th Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.
As I pulled my ride off to the side and started motioning the kick start action, I hoped someone saw my struggle and would pull over. Weighing in at 107 pounds, I don't have the weight to jam the bike back to life myself. Will a rider from the Christian Motorcycle Association who parked our bikes and then "blessed" them before the ride be my savior? Will one of those military guys who lives at the gym be my man? Instead I heard jeers from a few black leather and chain clad bikers yelling "get a Harley" as they blow by me. 

"Ha. Hilarious," I think. I've seen your type in the motorcycle safety class I teach. You show up with your cycle, which costs as much as a house in some parts of the country, and then take up the entire flight line to make a 180 degree turn because you're uncomfortable getting a little leaned over. 

"Come on," I think. "You and me and a set of offset cones and you're going down buddy!" 

The last vehicle in the group goes by and suddenly an unassuming medium-build guy with a modest motorcycle pulls over. He is wearing a jean sleeveless shirt and no helmet. He spoke to me while a cigarette bounced off his lip that was half ash and half tobacco. Without much fanfare, the cycle is kick started and on its way. If I were a snob, his book cover might have read that of average Joe with a repulsive habit, but the pages read of a hero for me. He risked missing the action of the ride for a thankless effort. I thanked him whole-heartedly as he rode off.

Since I had been through this electrical bug Saturday with the motorcycle, I had planned not to shut off the cycle until we got to Sturgis. The local area police were blocking off all the traffic light intersections for us so we didn't need to stop. However, Murphy's Law prevailed and 20 minutes later as I cruised among the last third of the group the cycle simply lost all power as I coasted to a stop. Not wanting to miss the action, I quickly pushed the bike into the driveway of the Doty Volunteer Fire Department and looked to hitch a ride to Sturgis with our group. The last vehicles trailed off in front of me as I stood surrounded by the vast emptiness of the Black Hills National Forest.

About 15 minutes later, a biker in the far lane leaving the direction of Sturgis offered a ride. He agreed to take me to the mayor's tent for military appreciation day so I could finish writing my news story about the event. Kent Severson, from Omaha, Neb., and I talked the whole way. He was a middle-aged man, with no wife or kids. He rented instead of buying a home since he did not want to be tied down. Still, he's never moved in 22 years and has worked at the same company just as long. It also turned out his friend from kindergarten until adulthood was Matt Rierson, from Nevada, Iowa, who died in connection with the Somalia mission dramatized in the Blackhawk Down movie. Mr. Severson said his friend made it through the battle; 18 of his comrades died. However, he was killed from a mortar attack two days later. An Internet search revealed his friend was a 33-year-old commando team leader who captured 24 prisoners. What a story Mr. Severson had to tell. 

Mr. Severson also said he was ranked 6th in the Three Wheeling World Series in his youth before the vehicles were outlawed for safety reasons. His book cover read out-of-shape, non-committal civilian guy. His pages however read former athlete, dependable employee and long-time military supporter.

Finally after getting my story at the military celebration in Sturgis, which included a flyover by a B1 bomber, I needed a lift home. A Dakota Thunder club rider, who I only know as Nancy, found me a ride with the "Chief's group." I knew I would be in good hands with anyone connected to a chief master sergeant. Only the top one to two percent of the NCO corps in the Air Force achieve this rank. Chief Master Sgt. Hugh Watkins, stationed here, was back at the ranch with his family, but I did get to meet and ride with all his buddies from kindergarten and laughed for the next three hours as we toured the back roads home. The book cover of a chief is professionalism and one to reverence. The pages read that also, but in addition, there are sidebars of friends and antics. In fact, when the chief's wife, Nonie, drove me back to lodging, she tried to explain away the grown little boys behavior, not sure what transpired. There was nothing to worry about -- that group was the best book of all.

A day had passed since I started writing this story and it turned out the motorcycle had a broken regulator. I'm back on the road again and hope I get a chance to read your book.