Everyone needs a break now and then. While there are obviously more mainstream ways to take a vacation, for me there is one sure way to cleanse the mind for a week or so every August. I hop on my Harley and head for the hills. The Black Hills of South Dakota, that is. This year, I grabbed my cameras and joined over 500,000 other motorcyclists at the world famous Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, celebrating its 70th anniversary in the heart of the Black Hills.
If you love bikes, you’ll love Sturgis. If you love people watching, you’ll love Sturgis. If you love music, you’ll love Sturgis.
If you love riding through some of the most beautiful and historic areas of our great country, you’ll love Sturgis. I think you get what I’m talking about. It’s the happening for those who love to ride motorcycles. A common bond, a brotherhood if you will, is shared by all who attend the Rally. It’s all about acting on a passion for getting in the wind and doing something special. A pure mind flush. That’s Sturgis.
You don’t have to ride a Harley Davidson to attend Sturgis. All makes and models are there, ridden by bikers of all ages and sizes, making the trip to be seen cruising up and down Main Street.
Sturgis is transformed from a small town of 6442 people to one equal to that of over half the population of the entire state of South Dakota during Rally Week. That said, the week is crucial for the state of South Dakota from a revenue standpoint.
Everyone welcomes bikers with open arms, hoping to make good on the cash cow that is the Sturgis Rally. Everyone is happy. Bikers, vendors, restaurant and lodging establishments, campgrounds and bars. Most of the campgrounds and bars are open ONLY during the week of the Rally. The success or failure of their business comes down to one week in August. Crazy.
While Main Street is the center of the Sturgis universe, there are countless other places to see and be seen. It’s a must to take a spin up to Mount Rushmore. I’ve got to believe it’s the number one destination, besides downtown Sturgis, during Rally week.
From Rushmore, the ride through Black Hills National Forest is a bikers dream. With tight twisty corners (when the sign says “15mph curve ahead”, it MEANS 15mph!) . an array of one lane tunnels and 360 degree corkscrew turns, Needles Highway can turn boys into men in a hurry. Definitely not a road for the novice motorcyclist, but one that an experienced biker seeks out for the thrill of the ride.
The route from Custer to Deadwood is nice and relaxing (especially after negotiating Needles Highway), with Deadwood serving as the perfect destination for some fine dining and gambling. After loosing money in the slots, it’s time to head back back to Sturgis. The ride down Highway 14 from Deadwood to Sturgis is beautiful and definitely worth the ride.
Once back in Sturgis, it’s time to grab a bite to eat at one of the many food vendors or bars and head back to watch the show as dusk settles in and Main Street catches its second wind as night approaches.
When it comes right down to it, the Sturgis Rally is all about motorcycles. Downtown is like going to the worlds largest custom bike show.
Whether it’s just cruising up and down Main Street for the 100th time, or contemplating that first tattoo, downtown is the place to be.
Everyone makes the journey up and down Main Street at least once. Some riders make the circuit all night. No anti-cruising laws here. Cruising is part of what makes makes Sturgis, well, Sturgis. Just don’t make any u-turns or park in an area with a yellow line.
You’ll be in for an unpleasant surprise when you come out of the bar at 1am and find your bike has been towed. And it will be a relief to find out after some anxious moments that it was towed and wasn’t stolen.
Just up the street from downtown Sturgis, mega campgrounds and saloons like the Buffalo Chip, the Full Throttle Saloon and Rock n’ Rev pack em’ in every night, offering up concert acts such as ZZ Top, Bob Dylan, Kid Rock, Ozzie Osbourne, Motley Crüe, Alice in Chains and the Doobie Brothers.
On the Wednesday of Sturgis week, Hulett, Wyoming is the destination for the annual “Ham n’ Jam”street party. Capt’n Ron’s World Famous Rodeo Bar in Hulett sponsors a pig roast and offers up 1,000 pounds of pork, free until it’s gone. Free pork and a “close encounter” with Devils Tower makes Hulett a must do destination.
Everyone ends up with stories to tell from the journey to and from the Rally. It’s part of what makes this trip so memorable. This year, my memories include nearly running out of gas attempting to get to the first gas stop of the trip (head winds with a built-up motor equals awful gas mileage, as I nearly found out the hard way), dealing with monster mosquitoes in western Iowa (I swear they were the size of small birds), and a few rain storms that tested my rain gear (how does the back of my pants legs get wet inside my rain suit)? Other fond memories from past trips include a grasshopper storm in western South Dakota (for 70 miles there were grasshoppers inches thick on the road, making for some slippery and crunchy riding. Thank goodness for my windshield!), encountering a tornadic thunderstorm in Minnesota, and getting soaked while riding without a rain suit through the Black Hills after the weatherman promised no rain for the day.
Even when dealing with these minor setbacks, I can’t wait for the next time the road calls and I once again turn off my mind for a week and think about nothing but riding my Harley and heading out to the greatest of all motorcycling events, the Sturgis Rally!