Branded a Widows Son

This is a true story about one of my best adventures ever that took place aboard my thundering Harley Davidson as we rode to Sturgis South Dakota for Bike Week in 2013.

Ok, to set the stage the facts: there were two of us, myself and fellow Widows Sons chapter member Marc, two Harley Davidsons, seven days off and a plan to rip a trail to and back from South Dakota and the biggest biker festival in North America.

Of course, it was really about a couple of old guys creating stories and living the soon to be memories as we saw them and if all worked out, without injury.

My love for motorcycles took me away from horses when I was a kid and every now and then I just have swing a leg over and let the road take me someplace cool. Lots of times there is no set plan other than be home for supper but when there is a plan it’s usual a good one.

Marc and I became friends when I joined the Durham Chapter Widows Sons seven years ago. Its a Masonic motorcycle riding association.

I have been a Mason for almost 25 yrs. now and our riding association is well organized and spread internationally around the world. We have over 300 active members alone in Ontario and during the season it’s endless the number of open WS rides we can join.

Early on Saturday morning August 3rd, 2013 Marc and I began our 3-day ride to Sturgis with planned nightly stops in Muskegon Michigan, Sioux Falls South Dakota and finally to our reserved accommodations in the basement of the Masonic Lodge in Deadwood S.D. This historic little town is where back in the day Wild Bill Hickock met his maker.

The motorcycle I rode on this trip was a 2004 Heritage Softail about 1500ccs and for the years I owned it, it reminded me of a bandit’s bike (which I’m not).

This would be the bike to have should you be, it was low, powerful, loud, great to handle, had soft bags for the look and showed some attitude when turned up.

I lead the way as we rode hundreds and hundreds of kilometers at 110km’s per, because Marc got better mileage at that and even so with his peanut gas tank we stopped every 160km’s for gas. It was fine I suppose because it was a nice break to stand up and give your butt a break.

By the end of the day on Sunday we were certainly in a massive pack of riders heading for Sturgis and because of our low speed hundreds of bikes just streamed past us and down the highway.

It rained during the night of day 2 but on the morning of day 3 the roads soon dried off and again the riders thickened. Approaching Sturgis, I remember the sky loomed black with streaks on lighting flashing and the roadsides were covered with bikers putting on rain gear, but we pushed on.

Deadwood is about 14km’s past Sturgis so our turn off the highway took us away from the Sturgis storm and back into clear skies. We thundered into Deadwood about 4pm accompanying more motorcycles than you could ever count.

We found our Lodge just at the edge of downtown, parked the bikes and signed in. The massive building was magnificent, beautifully detailed and its members were very welcoming.

Built in 1850 and well looked after all these years, our sleeping arrangements were in the open basement. They called it military style, 23 beds side by side with just enough walkthrough room to make it fine. The facilities were locker room all the way, a couple of toilets, the shower room all cement, a few mirrors above a large table but heck what else do you need.

Marc and I get along well and are usually on the same page when it comes to priorities of things we want to do or see. That makes life so much easier when checking off the important things on your own list. We may never get back this way again so make the best of it was our plan.

So far 3 days of ripping it up has us wind and sun burnt just a little but other than that we are good to go and head back into Sturgis that same evening.

If you can imagine a place on earth where they have removed all the cars/trucks (mostly) and replaced each one of them with two, maybe more motorcycles, you will might understand the look of Sturgis during bike week. We were told there were 500,000 motorcycles that year. I have never seen anything like it.

After a good night sleep, we went back into Sturgis for our trinket/t-shirt and cap collecting before we got distracted by all the tour rides and which ones we should try.

Imagine you sit on a bike for 3 days so you can join another ride and go like crazy with hundreds of bikers you don’t know, weird! Let me say though, once you stick your nose into the Black Hills and get riding, you will soon learn how good you are.

I say to this day it was in the Black Hills where I learned how to ride a Harley and to push it for all it had because that’s when it came to life. That afternoon I rode as hard as I could and more, just to keep up or maybe because there didn’t seem to be a safe way to get off the 2-lane road.

Twisting and turning, up and down, quick exits with not enough stop time, thick trees close to the road, and rocks, lots of them too. It was so much fun!

Later we rode the Needles Hwy which was about 14kms of unbelievable slow turns, driving through rock tunnels, it was such a relief.

That night I slept like a dead man!

Our 2nd full day in Deadwood, our last, saw us ride up to Mount Rushmore to do the tourist thing but I have to say that sitting for some time in front of this amazing national memorial I got a sense of how much hard and smart work went into its creation.

As luck would have it, that evening Marc and I were invited by the Deadwood Widows Sons to attend and participate in a very special Widows Sons ceremony that is done annually.

We absolutely said yes, about 6pm we joined a procession of 60+ motorcycles all Widows Sons for a tour through downtown Sturgis and then out onto the main highway.

Our destination was a typical (I was told) South Dakota horse ranch of hundreds of acres, with rolling land, a flowing river and a sunset of immeasurable beauty.

As the sun was sinking and the fire pits took over as our source of light the excitement of the ceremony to come began to brew.

Without going into details, I will say there was fire, steel and some smoke involved and by the end with 24 others Marc and I bore the symbols of being branded a Widows Son. That lead to one more sleep and we would be heading for home at the crack of dawn.

As planned that beautiful Thursday morning Marc and I pulled onto I90 at 700am eastbound and began to run the bikes up to 110kms but within minutes we would be reminded of the dangers of riding motorcycles.

Just as we got settled in, me in front towards the centerline of the lane, Marc back about 3 -4 bike lengths and closest to the shoulder, I90 is 4 lanes here and separate east/west with a grass median.

I noticed a pick-up truck on the westbound lanes that was going very slow and now as I was looking in that direction I realized we were about to get hit by two adult deer running at full speed. They were coming out of the ditch 1 lane away and our paths were crossing in an instant.

I hit my brakes as hard as I could fearing Marc would plow into me but had no choice. It happened so fast I was operating on reflexes period.

I looked right at them running shoulder to shoulder as they flew out of the ditch, deer 1 decided to go in front of me and deer 2 behind after it began to slide on the asphalt.

Marc realized I was doing a hard stop and did the same, just enough that allowed deer number 1 to cross in front of us as Marc flew by me. Deer 2 ran behind us and then unscathed they went on their way.

We didn’t stop but got ourselves settled down over the next half hour and then it was business as usual. Funny enough we never talked about it until a year or so later when Marc was telling the story to others and I realized he only saw deer 1.

I told him about deer 2 going behind him but because he was so focussed on deer 1 he missed seeing deer 2 altogether. The person in the pick up on the other side of I90 was probably witnessing the two luckiest bikers in the land.

Anyhow the rest of our ride back was textbook other than one almost crash on the Hwy 401 it was perfect. I made the Saturday wedding I had to be back for and Sunday was washday for the bike after killing bugs for over 3,000kms.

An amazing ride that I would do all over again!

Cheers, Paul


Branded A Widows Son

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