"A PIECE OF CAKE"The World's (or at least Northern Indiana's) Greatest Sidecar Adventure
Written by Drew Gatewood
The date-June 12,1994 the place-Plymouth Indiana the event-Plymouth Blackhawks Motorcycle Club (chartered 1946) first ever AMA 100+ Mile Dualsport Poker Run. Well, that's what it was. Now sit back and get ready to enjoy one of the funniest stories you will ever read.
My name is Drew Gatewood and I have always enjoyed a variety of riding and racing, so when the flyer came to our motorcycle shop announcing this new type of event I thought it would be fun to participate. I contacted my longtime friend Kevin Novinger from Michigan City Indiana, and asked if he would like to take on the job of "Co-Pilot/Navigator/Monkey". He asked what kind of event this was going to be, and I told him I wasn't sure, but somehow convinced him that it would be a day we would always remember. Boy, did that turn out to be an understatement.
When Kevin and I arrived at the Plymouth Blackhawks Club Grounds we both instantly noticed that our machine of choice would be challenged to its limits. There were all brands of MX and enduro motorcycles already signed up lined up and ready to go; including a group of riders from the Chicagoland area all aboard brand new Husquavarnas. They were also suited up with the latest in off road riding gear, and were laughing when we pulled up with our machine in tow (remember, he who laughs last...). Kevin in blue jeans T-shirt and 3/4 helmet, and myself in bib overalls and half shell helmet. Ah yes, we were race ready! Our day would soon be spent wrestling a 1975 Kawasaki KZ400(Street Bike) with sidecar and knobby tires through some extremely difficult but funny situations. I originally built this bike for fun to tote the kids around during the winter. Emblazoned on the sidecar in large hand painted snowcapped letters it boldly stated "ICELAND EXPRESS". A funny thing to see on a hot 90+ degree summer day.
As we unloaded the bike from the trailer Kevin noticed something on the floor of the sidecar. A freshly sharpened hatchet and Axe. What in the world is this for, he asked. Using my hands to show the distance; I told him that all the bikes here and the trails were "this wide", and as you can plainly see our rig is "THIS WIDE" . Sooooo, we may have to alter the course a few times. The following information I can now divulge because of all the years gone by since the day of this now infamous event. Behind the seat of the sidcar was hidden a cooler that held four peanutbutter & jelly sandwiches and a plentiful amount of ice cold beer. Hey, you never know when you may become stranded out in the wilds; not to mention the sweat you can work up chopping down trees.
We paid our entry fees, and got our route sheets. The Plymouth Blackhawks long standing president Clifford Bean was quite amused at our choice of equipment, but wished us well. He said he would send out a search party if we weren't back by dark. We taped one route sheet to the gas tank, one to the inside of the sidecar, and were off and running. 1.5 left - 2.8 right - 6.0 left...you know the drill. After hugging the edge of a long field I clicked on our left turn signal (1.5left), and off into the woods we blasted. The adventure was now fully underway.
We immediately determined that it was much easier to just mow down the smaller trees, as they sprung right back up after we past over them. After some serious in the woods time the ground opened up into a grassy and sandy terrain. A bit later we encountered a steep sand dune hill that we just couldn't make. After a few tries I noticed the engine was starting to seriously overheat. We parked the bike at the bottom and used our helmets to scoop up water from a small marsh behind us. Kevin and I each threw a few gallons of swamp water on the engine until it was cool to the touch. It started right back up, and feathering the clutch we walked it up the sandy hill. Whoa...that was a bit tiring. Perhaps now would be a good time to refresh ourselves (remember the cooler).
After our brief reccess we were back underway. I have no idea how many times we were airborn during the day, but it was exciting each time it happened. On one occassion we encountered a very wide part of the trail that stair stepped down a hill. Each time we landed we were instantly in the air again as the bike launched off each step. Near the bottom Kevin pointed out a tiny tree in the middle of our path. No problem I yelled, that's just a little one. It may have been little, but to this day I still swear it was an iron rod with leaves on it. We hit that baby straight on, and all forward motion instantly stopped. Kevin went out of the sidecar, and I went up and over the bars. Fighting the thoughts of needing further refreshments, we remounted and decided to press onward.
By this time we both had bloody scratches up and down our arms from various encounters with briars and tree branches, but kept laughing about the thought of us on this sidehack out in the middle of nowhere. The portion of the trail we were now on made a sharp left and up a steep hill. At the top was a huge 3-4 foot diameter tree that a normal bike could squeeze around, but not something as wide as our rig. Kevin about died when I came up with the solution. I was to back down the hill and backtrack around the curve. He would wait at the top, and as I slid around the curve and gassed it up the hill he would attempt to push me and the bike sideways as soon as we were airborn. The downside was if it didn't work I would hit the tree dead on from about four feet off the ground. IT WORKED! The bike flew off to the side landed on the sidecar wheel then flopped over upright. Kevin ran over laughing and shaking his head. no will ever believe any of this he said climbing back in the sidehack. That is when our slogan began that we still joke about today. "Ahhh, piece of cake".
The next portion of the ride had us flying down the side of an old rail line for a few miles. The front knobby tire was actually a rear tire and had huge knobs on it. BING...CLANG...BONG! The bike was kicking up railbed rocks into the unshielded engine, and the noise was a bit scary. Kevin yelled over "what if we put a hole in the engine". Well, then I guess we finish the beer and wait for a ride. Thankfully the ever faithful Iceland Express held together.
Ahead was a county road crossing the tracks, and we could see a farmer in a pickup truck getting ready to cross. We timed it perfectly as the startled farmer looked back to see us jump the road at 60MPH, and only inches behind his tailgate. As the road curved to the right the farmer was now parallell with the rail. I yelled over "excuse me...coming through" as we swirved through the grass and onto the gravel road in front of him. Off we blasted, feeling a bit guilty about dusting this innocent gentleman, but we were on a mission and a little behind schedule.
We were now ninety odd miles into the day, and our next destination was the gas stop. It was in a small town that I was told was started by a community of black share croppers many years ago. The town was actually a gas station/general store and a few scattered houses.We filled the tank up and checked the oil. Everything was now ready to finish this awesome day of riding, flying, crashing, and laughing. There was a young man sweeping up in front of the store, and Kevin pointed to what looked like a 45 sticking out of the back of his pants. We nonshallantly walked towards him and asked if that was a toy gun. No, he said politely, mommy just wants me to be safe. Alrighty then...I think we'll be going now. We both wished the lad a nice day, and got the H E double toothpicks outta there.
The rest of the ride would all be on gravel roads; which was quite welcomed by the both of us. Top speed for this now extremely punished rig was close to 80MPH, but we had hold it in fourth gear winding it high. It just wouldn't pull all the weight in 5th gear. Wide left handers were a blast; as we would slide around with the throttle pegged and on the fork stop. Kevin said we were about 10 miles away from finishing, but the dealine time was getting very close. As we screamed down the last road back to the club grounds/finish line we entered with a bang. There was a slight bump going into the field which once again put us airborn. Riders who were already back looked up to see us skimming over the ground, landing, and sliding up sideways to a stop right next to our trailer.
We both jumped off the bike laughing our heads off. Kevin reached behind the seat and opened the cooler. There were two cans of beer left that had absolutely no label markings on them from spinning around. They were plain aluminum. We shook them up and opened the both like champagne. Banging our cans together in celebration, and reading each others minds we both shouted "AHHH, PIECE OF CAKE"!!
The Husquavarna crew walked over laughing and said "we see you decided to come back". I commented that of course we did it's a poker run, and we want a chance to draw our cards. One of them somewhat sarcastically stated that we couldn't play until we had our cardboard pieces from the three checkpoints. Cardboard? I said. Checkpoints? commented Kevin. Well sir you must be referring to these items; as Kevin and I each pulled out our own pieces of red, white, and blue paper. That guy was speechless. To think we actually rode the entire route, and made it back on time left him totally baffled.
Now for the Grand Finale. As we rode along all day I kept telling Kevin that I had a good feeling about this run, and that one of us would take first place and the other second. Granted it was just drawing a poker hand, but we made it back to do just that. Kevin and I walked up to the table with our red white and blue checkpoint cards (to the amazement of Cliff Bean and other club members I might add), and took turns flipping over 5 playing cards to determine our poker hands. There were five trophies to be taken home, and to this day my 1st place award sits proudly on my desk at our shop, and Kevin's 2nd Place award sits equally proudly at home on his mantle place .
Yes boys and girls this story is true, and Kevin and myself hope you all get to experience something even half as fun during your lifetime of motorcycling. A huge and much overdue thank you goes out to the Plymouth Blackhawks Motorcycle Club for offering such an awesome event. In our particular case it was a true adventure, and even though we may have had a few brief moments of doubt about finishing, it turned out to be "A PIECE OF CAKE"!