Jim Peace has made many friends on his motorcycling travels. Meet Nebraska, the bug…
Riding a motorbike in America is no more dangerous than anywhere else, but there is one hazard that you never see mentioned in any riders manuals. Bugs. I’m not talking about little buzzy things here, like midges or mosquitoes; American bugs are big. They have a wingspan of about two inches with a solid fuselage down the middle and when you ride into one it hurts. Also, they split open and cover you with a sort of yellow goo, which can only be removed with Coca-Cola. Honestly.
They are, not to put too fine a point on it, best avoided.
I found out about bugs at a gas station in West Virginia, when I was riding from the east coast to California. A very shiny Harley-Davidson was parked on the forecourt, along with its owner, who was quite clearly a banker. Well, he may not have been a banker but he certainly looked like one in his chaps with leather tassels on them.
‘Keep your visor down,’ he said, ‘there’s a lot of bugs around today.’
It was good advice. Fifty miles later one flew into my shoulder with a loud smack. For a minute I thought I’d been shot, this being hillbilly country, but on pulling up I realised that my blood was normally red, not yellow. Then I started to worry because my dad had caught jaundice in America in 1938, and I wondered if I’d got it. Fortunately I spotted the remains of a large insect and spent ages cleaning the muck off my jacket. I hadn’t been told about Coke at this point. I was careful to avoid the bugs after that, but even so one hit my visor as I rode into Cincinnati. I couldn’t see a thing and just managed to pull up at the side of the road. A young lad in a pick-up truck behind me had seen what had happened and stopped to offer me a bottle of Coke to clean it up with. Well, half a bottle as he’d drunk some, but it was a nice gesture.
The bug that became my friend flew into my left mirror stem a few miles from Bridgeport, Nebraska as I was on my way back east. He stuck to the mirror arm, almost intact, and fluttered gently in the wind.
‘Morning, Bug,’ I said, cheerfully.
He did not reply. Not surprising, really, as dead bugs are not known for their communication skills. And there he stayed, firmly glued to the arm. A few miles later I spotted a sign saying, ‘Pioneer House built 1880’.
‘What do you reckon, bug? Shall we look?’ I asked.
We did, and it was very interesting.
I stopped for a late breakfast at Ogalalla. Best steak sandwich I’ve ever had. Coming out of the diner I consulted the bug on whether to continue on Highway 30, which was very badly surfaced, or to turn onto Interstate 80. I suddenly realised that people were looking at me a bit oddly, as I appeared to be talking to myself. I hastily fired up and rode out of town, in the direction, as it happened, of the motorway.
‘OK, Nebraska,’ I muttered, addressing the population in general, ‘I shall use your Interstate Highway.’
The bug fluttered in agreement.
‘I wasn’t talking to you,’ I informed him, pompously, as we shot up the entry ramp. Then I relented.
‘Oh, very well, from now on I shall call you Nebraska.’ Which I did.
At first he didn’t say much, but then, a day or so later, I started to hear a little voice responding to my remarks and questions.
‘Shall we have a look at the Geographical Centre of the 48 contiguous States?’ I asked him, as I stood reading my Rand McNally road atlas. By this time we were in Kansas.
‘Nah’ replied a small voice.
‘Cos it’s rubbish’ said Nebraska.
‘How do you know that?’
‘I don’t, you do’.
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This was true, I’d been there once before, and it was pretty awful. We went, anyway, and it was just as bad as I’d remembered. A flagpole, a four seater ‘church’ built on a trailer chassis and a derelict motel.
‘Do you realise that you’re the most central bug in America?’ I asked him.
He did not bother to reply.
Crossing the Mississippi at St Louis just wasn’t funny. Several roads converge onto one bridge with exits and entrance slips on all sides and busy, rush hour traffic. We survived, just.
‘That was not nice’, I observed as we turned off onto the comparative calm of Route 40 East.
‘Bloody well wasn’t’, agreed Nebraska, fluttering agitatedly.
On the long ride east we had several interesting conversations. Nebraska stayed firmly stuck to the mirror stem, well most of him, anyway. Then he started talking to me without being prompted. As we rode into Indianapolis I spotted a girl wearing a very short skirt.
‘Watch the road’, said a small, reproving voice, from somewhere near my left hand.
At one point I pulled up at a Pizza Hut.
‘You don’t like Pizza’, said the voice, and it was completely correct. I rode on till I found an Arbees.
At a small and rather scruffy motel in the Appalachians, security was taken care of by a dog, a Dalmatian cross with three legs. He didn’t like the look of Nebraska and sat next to the bike growling gently. After a while a really battered old pick-up pulled in and the dog transferred his attention to that. The young couple in the truck must have been in a real hurry to get somewhere as they only stayed for an hour and then drove off. The dog then fell asleep on an old armchair outside the motel office.
At Norfolk, Virginia I made the mistake of going through the Hampton Roads tunnel. It was long, deep, and full of exhaust fumes. We staggered out of the tunnel and pulled up by the sea.
‘I couldn’t breathe in there’, said Nebraska.
‘You didn’t need to’, I pointed out.
We rode on across the Chesapeake Bay bridge- tunnel.
‘What’s that smell?’ asked a small voice.
‘That’s the sea’, I explained.
I suppose if you come from the Midwest then the sea would smell a bit odd.
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That night we stopped at a motel in Maryland. The next day I would have to leave the bike at Baltimore docks, to be shipped home. They would not want a dead bug on the mirror. I scraped what was left of my friend off the arm and placed him in an empty ‘Hostess’ fruit pie wrapper. He lies buried at the end of the motel car park. I won’t divulge exactly where; I don’t want him disturbed.
Two weeks later I rode the bike home from Southampton docks. Even now, several motorbikes on, I still glance occasionally at my left hand mirror stem to see if he’s there. Sometimes I really miss having him to talk to.
Rest in peace, Nebraska.
Anyone think of any better bike related insects?