Sturgis for Sturgis, Who Knew?! Aug 1-5, 2014.
My plan was to head west through South Dakota, rather than its northern counterpart. I wanted to ride around the Badlands and see Mt Rushmore, that sort of thing. Come to find out, I’d be passing through right around Sturgis. The motorcycle rally. One of the largest in the world. The one with the reputation. That one. In such a situation, what else was there to do but embrace it in all its tasseled, black-leathered, eagle-spangled glory?
Unending thanks to Klock Werks people again, for lending me tools and a lift. So much easier changing the oil without the center stand in the way. Also, thanks for the underling to help clean off the bug juice.
Most overnighters had already departed, but I had a late start due to scoot work. Also:
The sun felt exponentially nearer to the earth than usual, as I joined a veritable parade of cruisers on I-90 (and congratulated myself for my mesh pants purchase). Many of them were quite comically loaded down with camping gear, full size folding chairs and sleeping bags bulging against bungees like tumorous growths. I loved the sight of it. All were going faster than I was, everyone was in a rush to the party. The hypnotism of the road had me hitting the rev limiter several times too. Note to self: slow down. My worst tank of gas yet, 57.8 mpg!
I’ve seen photos of the Badlands before, but it pales in comparison to driving through it. It’s an alien landscape, eroded away by wind and water, exposed and harsh. It’s especially dramatic after miles of flat shrubbery through much of South Dakota.
Stopping at Wall Drug was obligatory, of course. I enjoyed a bison burger and pie at an olde-timey soda fountain nestled amongst the forest of tchotchkes.
At the pre-Sturgis party, I met Sash and Steve, who kindly offered me a spare bed in their cabin. I spent the evening having a couple drinks at the campground bar with Steve, while waiting for Sash to return from work. Indeed, my cabin-mates were working the show. Over the next few days I would learn that not only do Sash and Steve both live and work on their motorcycles, they’re spectacular, self-made individuals with many shared interests.
Nope, it wasn’t laundry day, I was just taking a deliberate break from riding which meant I could wear the one dress that I packed. I spent the day walking around the main drag. Sometimes I followed Sash, who introduced me to Joan, of Steel Horse Sisterhood.
In the evening, I caught up with Joe Sparrow at the oldest biker bar in Sturgis, the Dungeon Bar. I meant to say thanks for hooking me up with the Klock Werks party, but was immediately cut off by unintelligible eardrum-bursting soundtrack. Descending into the Dungeon Bar was like going underwater, if the water was made of sour beer and misplaced dignity. It’s loud, it’s dirty, and every surface bristles with bits of underwear or dollar bills or skull-decorated paraphernalia, like biker bonito flakes. I went to a dive bar in Victoria, BC earlier this year known for stapling bras to the ceiling. It was fun and kind of cute. The Dungeon Bar is like that bar’s demon parent. The place is a living object, not serving patrons so much as consuming them. It’s amazing.
I universally dislike riding on the backs of bikes, but when Joe offered to drop me off at the campground curiosity got the better of me. On the back of Joe’s high mileage Goldwing (he lives on it, rides that thing everywhere), I had a little glimpse of what it’s like to cross the country from his perch. The bike is quiet and smooth, and the passenger seat is huge and cushy. It was like sitting on a 800 pound cloud with a lot of buttons and switches.
Back at camp, I joined a group of Canadians from next door to check out Buffalo Chip, “The Chip” as everyone refers to it. They had a couple extra wristbands. To the unindoctrinated (myself included), this is a so-called campground that’s only open once a year for the motorcycle rally. Come the first week of August, acres and acres of land are transformed into a perverse micro-city of motor homes, cabins, tent spaces, several sound stages and outdoor bars. Trains of golf carts deliver bikers between Chip points of interest. I heard there’s a swimming area (Bikini Beach) and convenience stores, but it would take days to explore the area.
Events are held at all hours, but the Canadians were there for Lynyrd Skynyrd. Intending to be responsible, we took one of the many shuttle buses making loops between Sturgis, Full Throttle (biggest biker bar, another town unto itself), and the Chip. It was standing room only, but I was still offered beer for $2, and all bus members sang along to uh… a classic rock song I don’t recognize.
I just want to say, I really appreciate my cabin mates. Meeting them was a bit like discovering a secret club of people who full time on their bikes, and we all hunt wifi together. I want to be part of this club!
Rain is always a bit disheartening, but towards the end of the day it cleared up. At a scenic stop on the ride back to Sturgis, I’d heard about a couple on Honda Trail 90s traveling across the US. Come to find these guys pulling out of a gas station, waving enthusiastically! I couldn’t tell if I was more excited or they were, I had to stop and meet them. We ended up riding into Sturgis together, and were immediately bombarded with questions once parked on the main drag. Personally, I can’t decide whether my favorite part of their getup is the ukelele strapped to the front fork, or the $11 plastic bottle of whiskey.
The next day, I woke to discover a 2015 Indian Scout parked in front of the cabin. Through her magic, Sash had secured one for the day, for photos at the Biker Belles ride. It was a blast riding with her to Spearfish.
Sash stuck her neck out for me and Laura got me a pass for Biker Belles event. Sadly, we were rained out of the group ride (and I mean lightning, thunder, and sheets of water), but they had assembled a panel of women to discuss female rider relevant topics. It was interesting to hear other perspectives on a world I suppose I technically belong to, but never felt a part of. I felt privileged to be included, but it’s a “presented by Harley” event. Although I’m a rider in the “fastest growing market” they’re so interested in, I seriously doubt I’m their target audience.
To be frank, I wasn’t sure what to make of Sturgis. Someone would later sum it up as, “Your biker parents spring break.” I laughed, because the sharpest humor has a shred of truth to it. The demographic skews older. The bikes are by a vast majority new, shiny HDs. With money comes trailers, motorhomes, and corporations. Even if individuals don’t care to go crazy, media is expected to deliver an image to live up to the spectacle of Sturgis. You can’t go within a 50 miles radius of the town without seeing “Welcome Bikers” signs. Being around so many bikes was glorious at first, but after a few days they just became traffic. It took 20 minutes to drive the mile or so back to camp. In the comics world, it felt like Comic-con San Diego circa 1995 vs 2010. It’s huge now, and the riders who established its image are aging. What will this evolve into?
All this being said, on an individual level I met lots of great people. I felt totally welcomed in spite of (or because of?) my scooter, and had a fantastic time. However, I kind of wanted to be able to hear my thoughts again without the backdrop of constant thunder. When Sash and Steve needed to move out of the cabin to another locale, I knew our Multicultural Motorcycle Camp was drawing to a close.
Some of my favorite moments were the quiet ones, the rainy hours spent with two awesome people, all of us chipping away at work on our respective laptops. In spite of being surrounded by riders, it was a stroke of luck meeting Sash and Steve. I found refuge in one cabin that wasn’t exactly on vacation. The definition of work is so narrow, usually implying something that is required, generates income, cannot overlap with play, and is at odds with personal fulfillment. It’s too easy to assume that effort that falls outside of those parameters have less value, or worse is somehow cheating and undeserving of respect. In my mind, I never viewed this trip as a vacation. By design, it’s always been some combination of work and play, because the best work I can give to others is playful. I don’t have delusions of never needing to concentrate on income again, but three months in I was beginning to feel the rhythm – the sense that this can be what I do now. For however long it lasts.
Eat, sleep, ride, write, draw. Repeat until further notice.
Just where the heck IS Wall Drug!?
Stephanie, you are so right: "It's too easy to assume that effort that falls outside of those parameters have less value, or worse is somehow cheating and undeserving of respect. In my mind, I never viewed this trip as a vacation. By design, it's always been some combination of work and play, because the best work I can give to others is playful. I don't have delusions of never needing to concentrate on income again, but three months in I was beginning to feel the rhythm – the sense that this can be what I do now. For however long it lasts."