Several years ago, I made a motorcycle trip to Sturgis, South Dakota for the Annual Black Hills Motorcycle Rally. Everybody just calls it ‘Sturgis’.
Recently, I was going through all my computer backup files and cd’s full of .jpgs and important documents. I came across the pictures that I took from that Sturgis trip. Lots of fond memories came back as I browsed through the pictures.
One of the first things I remembered was carrying that bulky, first-generation digital camera that was about the size of a cigar box. In less than 10 years, we’ve gone from that camera and its 80k pictures, to a high-resolution digital camera in an iPhone that shoots 2.3 Meg shots, and you don’t even have to carry a separate camera – it’s all in the iPhone. What a fabulous piece of equipment.
This shot of me was made with that old camera in front of Devil’s Tower kind of says it all for me. I had packed everything I needed for 4 – 5 days on a motorcycle. I had a tent, rain gear, my leather coat and chaps, a shaving kit, one change of clothes, beer money and a credit card. Anything else – I didn’t need.
Sturgis is an experience, not just a rally. Just try to imagine a World’s Fair of motorcycles of every make, kind and style. New, used and very old. From mom and pop on a Honda Gold Wing for touring America, to the mohawk-haircut dude on a crotch rocket, to several chapters of Hell’s Angels riding the bad-est, loudest, meanest motorcycles of all. Imagine nothing but motorcycles on every street, on every state and county road and every interstate leading in and out of Sturgis – all lined up in tight formations, sitting at road intersections, packed together with no space for even one more bike to fit in between – imagine that, then multiply it by 1000 times. You just have no idea how many motorcycles and people take part in Sturgis each year.
The best thing to do, is to get to whatever part of the event you want to go, and stay there for several hours. Want to go to the Broken Spoke Saloon? Go there and stay there. Want to walk around on Main Street? Try to find a place to park in the 4-deep parking, and stay there. Want to go to Mt. Rushmore? Get in the line of motorcycles that stretch for at least 3 miles leading to the park entrance. Its miles and miles of bikes everywhere. So get there, and stay put for a while. It’s too hard clutching and braking, starting and stopping, revving up your motors and sucking in exhaust for hours. That’s why you have to stop and have a beer. You get hot, tired and thirsty.
But its all worth it to be a part of the event. Bikes, babes, concerts, vendors from every manufacturer and custom bike maker. Every sports drink, every clothing maker, every maker of anything related to bikes, drinking, jewelry, trailers and tobacco product is there. They are set up in the fairgrounds, the campgrounds, on every street, in every city park and at every gas station. Everywhere. For miles and miles around. There are several other towns around, like Deadwood. And there’s Rapid City, South Dakota, which is 30 miles east. All of it… all of it is motorcycles and vendors!
This shot at Devil’s Tower, was the middle of a ride that took most of the day. My buddies and I left around 9:00 AM from the Buffalo Chip campground ( which is the size of most fairgrounds in most places), rode about 45 minutes just to get outside Sturgis city limits, then hit road construction and came to a halt. In the Dakotas, road repair often means half hour waits. And a road repair means that they remove the asphalt down to the red dirt subsurface, then oil it and lay a new layer of asphalt. That means you’ll be riding about 3 miles on packed red dirt, with ruts and stones. Not many road warriors like riding on dirt and gravel. Its dangerous with street tires.
We finally got to Devil’s Tower around 1:00 in the afternoon. It’s an 80 mile trip to get there, but rarely are you able to go faster than 50 mph. I could see Devil’s Tower from probably 40 miles away, sticking up above the horizon between the surrounding hills. It seemed that with each turn, we’d be there. But it’s so big, it just looks like you’re close. It took a while. In fact, when we finally got there, I couldn’t believe how incredibly big it really is. A ride around the base of it on the park road at about 25 mph takes more than half an hour.
The legend is that an Indian princess was being chased by a bear. When she reached this sacred spot, Mother Earth lifted her up to safety while the bear clawed away, trying to reach her. The bear scraped and tore at the mountain, but could not reach her and she was saved. Markers in the park still ask that you respect these sacred grounds.
In geological terms, it’s an ancient volcano whose sides have eroded, leaving the inside lava formation exposed. It’s a sight to behold.
After touring the park, my group stopped for a burger and water, not beer – water. We were hot and thirsty. There’s nothing like water when you’re thirsty. It tastes so good.
I took a rest, put on some more sunblock, and made my way back to Sturgis. I remember taking a nap in my tent that evening, grabbing a bite to eat, and then that night, Billy Idol was singing at the amphitheater in our campground. Billy Idol seemed a bit of a ‘has-been’ but let me tell you, he rocked at that concert! I was amazed at how many of his songs I knew, and how many I knew all the words to also. This was one of about 4 major concerts going on around the area that night, not counting the local bands playing at the smaller bars. And I think it’s probably best to leave out the details, but let me just say, this is definitely an adult event. NO NOT BRING THE KIDS!
I’ll write a book about this someday. It won’t be a HarryPotter story, that’s for sure.