Ride West: Day 8 to Sturgis/Rapid City SD
Perhaps I overstate slightly when I say every motorcycle rider must make a pilgrimage once in a lifetime to Sturgis, the Mecca of motorcycle rallies. But only slightly. Each year, hundreds of thousands of riders converge on a small town in South Dakota to pay homage not only to their steel steeds, but to the lifestyle their pampered rides signify. Long before Jon and I reached Sturgis a little after noon today, we passed thousands of other riders enjoying the outstanding riding roads in the Black Hills. And when we arrived in Sturgis, we joined hundreds of thousands of other pilgrims in the 72nd annual honoring of our two-wheeled, bone-rattling, ear-splitting, purse-draining demi-gods.
We opted for the long way through the Black Hills and didn’t regret a minute of it. After almost 2,000 miles of upright riding since leaving Florida, I was thrilled to rely once again on the tread on the sides of the tires as I leaned first to one side then the other then back again, repeating the pattern for nearly two hours as we weaved through pine tree lined roller-coaster roads. I even scraped some of the rust off my floorboards as I challenged the hairpins marked with 15 mph warning signs.
The range out here is awe inspiring. Makes one want to build a home here. You can watch the deer and the antelope enjoy the playful pursuits of ungulate mammals. And the people? Everywhere we went they had nothing but kind words. Above us and unblemished azure canopy completed the picture. (Oh, did I mention that the Black Hills is where “Home on the Range” was written. Hint: go through the lyrics.)
The Black Hills is also home to one of the largest herds of bison in North America and, like a lot of people with cars, they seem to think they own the roads on which motorcyclists pursue their passion. Several times on the morning ride we came to a stop as scores of the massive beasts meandered along and across the asphalt. Moreover, even when they were not in sight we knew of their previous presence by the turd slalom course they left on the road. But we weren’t complaining. It was nice to be able to watch a once nearly extinct species at home where they lived for thousands of years.
While some riders spend an entire week at the Sturgis Bike Rally, Jon and I were content to tour the major vendors, purchase the obligatory T-shirts and gifts for the unfortunates we left behind, and people watch as pedestrian motorcyclists jostled along crowded sidewalks and tens of thousands of bikes rolled through the streets, the owners showing off individualized accessories that make each bike as unique as their own fingerprints.
The Sturgis Bike Rally is, at its core, a big party for grown up kids. And party central seems to be either the Buffalo Chip Campground or the Full Throttle Saloon. We paid a visit to the latter. Jon had seen a television special focused on the FTS and requested it be added to the afternoon itinerary. Good call. Knowing we had another hour of riding before our day was finished, we forsook the refreshments that enlivened so many others at the Saloon but still took in the sights and sounds that make the FTS and the Sturgis rally a critical part of motorcycle lore. The parties of legend happen at night when bands blast their listeners and bartenders pour great quantities of joy juice. My guess is that the highway back to the campsites and the hotels after the party ends is a scary place to be.
Tomorrow: Perhaps a return visit to Sturgis, some other local sights, and, of course, more riding in the Black Hills as we head for Laramie, WY.