“A ‘Sturgin’ No More….”
Story by Randy Twells Photos by CD, Randy Twells, Wild Bill Saxton, and Linda Dahl
I HAD never been to Sturgis. I had heard about it. It seems as though EVERYONE has been to Sturgis, except me, and several times over. And of course, seeing a story write-up or a TV show, showing crowded main streets with bikes parked like sardines in a can, doesn’t tell you everything. You just had to BE there to know….and as they say, getting there is at least, half the fun.
Clark and I decided that tent camping was the way to go, to save $$ and see the great outdoors. Making campground reservations for the route a few weeks prior to leaving, and one hotel, made the trip there a known quantity. First campout was Convict Lake just south of Mammoth, a beautiful spot nestled in a narrow deep valley with tall, steep-sided Sierra peaks all around. It got its name from the escaped convicts that holed up there back in 1871. A day trip on Clark’s bike to Yosemite and then Mammoth for dinner, was amazing. We saw two bears; one huge old-timer sprawled napping on a log back in the dim woods from far away, and the second one a teenage 300-pounder that ran across the road about 50 feet in front of the bike! Plus many deer, and an elk grazing in one of Yosemite’s many open meadows. Astoundingly, a picture of the whole Yosemite Valley from an overlook precludes any view of the ground level roads/buildings/village etc., as the trees are so numerous and tall, everything disappears like the Mayan jungle swallowed the ancient civilization: From above it looks like untouched wilderness.
Taking the route from Convict Lake to Tahoe past Mammoth, we rolled through Bridgeport’s open-meadow, white-clapboard cluster of time-stopped civilization. We took route 89 north off 395, to South Tahoe. This back road offered a huge panoramic view back along the rift valley as we ascended the rim and headed into rolling hills with the higher-elevation pine forest taking over.
Tahoe, a huge deep blue lake reflecting glaring sun and crisp air, with a winding shoreline, also nestled in the Sierras: site of ski slopes including past Olympic winter games venue Squaw Valley, numerous state/fed-run and private campgrounds, pine forest and… bears. At a state campground on the west shore: Past midnight, a car alarm panic-button horn-honking clears the bear and alerts sleeping campers in the area to the hungry prowler that shuffled right up to a camper’s picnic table as they sat by the fire, practically bumping into them trying to open the cooler. The bear, growing in size with each warning relayed campsite-to-campsite, now weighs about 1000 lbs….
A day-trip around the lake and over to Carson City H-D to say hello to Maya the Service Manager. They fixed my throttle cable on the way home from Street Vibrations about 4 years ago, it’s still good to go! We get the tour and check out the bikes and clothes too. We ended the day by heading over to Squaw Valley and taking the tram (read: “swinging gondola”) ride up to the very high nervous-time cliff-hanger tram-port at the top of the very precarious edge of the mountain. Whew! (The only way back down, where your bike is, is… back down the same way you came up, and now it’s dark…) Does ‘sweating bullets’ convey anything….
It’s two long days running from Tahoe to Sturgis, across northern Nevada, (believe me, there is nothing there. Ok there were some thermal vents puffing steam.) into Wyoming through Rock Springs and up to Casper, where Clark is asked in a small gas station store when buying an iced tea, “Do you want a sack for that?” I can’t remember the last time I heard “sack” for “bag”, that’s small-town lingo for sure. We continue through the open grasslands, past huge landscapescarring open pit coal mines. Trucks a quarter-mile away still looked huge, Tonka-like loader-dumpers, running along their beaten paths, among Mordorlike structures for processing the haul. Gives pause; what are we doin’ here folks?? Scary…
As we enter South Dakota and roll towards Lead, our turnoff to head south to Nemo and our campground for the week, we encounter more and more bikes.
We are here early in Sturgis bike week, but they are already here and riding everywhere, the numbers increasing the closer we get to every town. Like the beehive offering haven, Sturgis has attracted the swarm again.
A family of wild turkeys, the kids lined up somewhat in order, crossed the road in front of us on the way to Nemo Guest Ranch, a private resort with cabins, store, RV and tent camping, showers (yaay!!) and a stream, next to which we had reserved our spot. Apparently, Nemo Guest Ranch IS the town of Nemo. We didn’t realize that unlike the state or fed run campgrounds, and for Sturgis bike week, it’s a ‘cram it in wherever’ camping proposition. So, wall to wall tents and RV’s made for a somewhat Buffalo-Chip-like proximity to neighboring tents, but with nice lush green grass, and to be sure next to the stream gurgling away, and by the third night everyone had partied out and was sacked out at 10 pm.
Sturgis—A small town of about 6,200 that mobilizes (or, IMmobilizes, depending on how you look at it) for one week a year, and rests the other 51, probably very thankfully. I mean, on the side streets in-town, it’s tents in peoples’ front yards, everyone has gone into the T-shirt and trinket business in their driveway, water is suddenly worth $2 an ounce, and the churches all welcome bikers with donuts and coffee. Mister Officer was out & about, keeping us all safe, too. Friendly and good-natured enough to mug for the camera as well. Also at Sturgis, Star Motorcycles occupied some large tent space with big rig displays, the Star name appealing to the American V-twin customer with cruiser models for every taste and budget, from a little 250 cc V Star to a full-dress Royal Star Venture touring model that offers more comforts and cuddles than a motorhome, and to a roadweary butt, they look good!
Harley-Davidson Motor Company brought out the big rigs with demo rides featured at the Rapid City Mt. Rushmore Civic Center. Harley-Davidson also scheduled its first-ever-at-Sturgis Women’s Day there on Thursday, with special guests Karen Davidson and Genevieve Schmitt, demo rides for ladies, and a bike-pickup demo among other special seminars and activities. Harley-Davidson’s on-site coordinator Leslie Prevish commented that “for a first-ever event, it went very well!”
Amid comments bandied about that attendance was down, etc., here is a thought: If there are so many people on an average who go to Sturgis each year, give or take, but way more commercial enterprise drawing on the same pool of attendees and their same or fewer disposable dollars, it’s going to look like less in your particular pond. Spread out, more sparse-appearing crowds? Maybe. CD the Editor who’s been many times, assures me that there is no shell game – attendance was way down, period.
It seemed that everyone, as I noted above, was an entrepreneur, and also noted was that riding between Sturgis and Rapid City and parts beyond, that every hamlet in between seemed to be getting into the act and just plopping down big tents, big rigs seen adjacent belonging to one motorcycle related business or another, but just out in the middle of nowhere, not at a central location or even the near vicinity. It would take a month to get around and visit all these various locations/displays; we wanted to ride. We also noted that on Main Street in Sturgis, it was NOT stop-and-sit this year. It took a while, but traffic still moved and it was always possible to find a place to park, in fact we noted many empty parking places at the height of the day on Main Street. Even so, no lack of tented vendors at every turn.
Getting out to ride around, we go to Mt. Rushmore. On Clark’s last visit in the 60’s as a kid, “there was a little log cabin and an Indian on a rock to get your picture with.” Now, it looks like the United Nations complex, literally. Many cager-tourists there were surprised by the thousands of bikes in the parking structure, one lady asking me, “is it hard to ride a motorcycle?” I could see the wheels were turning, her consciousness emerging that she too could ditch the long billowy denim mom-skirt and tennie’s, take a chance and learn to ride—the evidence was all around her with gals of all ages and shapes, happily riding their own bikes or even on the back.
The mountain imposes over all, the Presidents gazing out in their eternal benevolence. We do the wooden walkway tour to the base of the mountain, look at the enshrined ancient blasting equipment, and note that like many goals of man, it really never got totally finished, the carving stopped due to “irregularities in the granite”. And the “Hall of Records” that was to be fully excavated at the back of the monument, was left partially completed, impractical for use, and probably ending up on the budget-meeting cutting-room floor. The original sculpted working models still stood, in the visitor center for viewing, showing the process and events surrounding this feat. An assistant sculptor on the Mt. Rushmore project later became the head of another special project, the Crazy Horse Monument. More on that later.
Needles Highway is a route through the Black Hills, with tall rock spires all over. 17-mile Iron Mountain Road extends between Mount Rushmore and the junctions of Highway 16A and SD 36. Along the highway are pigtail bridges (like spirals) that avoid the use of switchbacks, some single-lane road sections, and three single-lane tunnels which frame Mt. Rushmore in the distance.
Custer State Park – Buffalo roaming free in herds, walking on the road, the kids trying to keep up. Signs warn “Do Not Approach, Buffalo are Dangerous.” So then we saw a group of bikers pulled over and some yahoo walking up to the herd. Thanks for helping people think bikers are jerks, stupid!! However, I have to admit that the buffalo that the guy had on a leash walking around in Sturgis downtown, seemed almost docile. It’s eyes looked friendly like my dog, but then maybe that one wasn’t in full possession of all his (its?) alpha male parts, like the ones out at Custer! (Yeah and the Sturgis Animal Control Officer was not real happy with him though.)
Back at Custer State Park, we asked about da bears, and were told, no, they were hunted out a long time ago, so we wouldn’t be seeing any. Darn! Crazy Horse Memorial – I am seeing a pattern emerging, there is a lot of carved up mountain rock around here! But this story is a good one: In 1947 Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear invited self-taught sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski to carve the mountain, in part because Korczak shard the same birthday as Crazy Horse, who defeated Custer and became legend and hero among many Indian tribes. Working alone for many years on his own dime, he married and raised a family, never accepted government funding (and therefore kept project control) and after his death in 1982 his family carries on the work. Still privately funded, all support is obtained by visitor donations, fees and sales revenue on site. Crazy Horse, still imprisoned in the rock, will eventually be liberated, extending his arm pointing over his horse’s head, as if repeating forever, “My lands are where my dead lie buried.” The project vision includes a Native American Educational Center and\ other services. Currently the complex includes an Indian Museum of N. America, Native American Cultural Center, a theater to show films about the project, Sculptors Workshop where Korczak worked, a viewing veranda, restaurant and many other displays.
I learned that certain days have certain traditions, like “Wyoming Wednesday”. You go to Wyoming. Hulett, Wyoming is the location for the sub-tradition, “Panty Wednesday” or “No Panty Wednesday” as some call it. Oh, yes. You can imagine. Panties and chaps, not much else. Hulett event organizers have placed a tall, steep grippy-surfaced motorcycle stunt ramp hosted by the local radio station (they get radio here?) on the main street, which is also packed with bikes.
Hulett’s population is about 400 people. Today it is about 10,000. Yikes. Heading on down the road, something appears on the horizon, way off. A tall strangely shaped object like a big tree stump, but huge. Devil’s Tower can be seen many miles away. The centerpiece of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” still brings chills when seen, and especially in person. A mysterious magnificent monolith that seems to have pushed up out of the ground, it has its own legend – that a bear tried to claw its way up the side, chasing some native tribespeople many many moons ago. After checking out the state park visitor center, we stopped at the turnout on the way out where there is a prairie dog town just right there in the field. Little pamphlets about the prairie dogs are in a box asking you to drop 10 cents in the slot, next to the sign “Do Not Feed the Prairie Dogs.” The prairie dogs pop up and check out who’s there, and have a very structured society, keeping track of who is and isn’t supposed to wander into whose tunnel. Did you know they make their tunnels with a special little air chamber up off to the side so that in case the tunnel gets flooded they can still breathe? (How long, would be the question, but maybe they suck in a big air gulp and then shoot up the tunnel from there and get out—? I mean, it’s important, the poor little guys!) I got my 10 cents worth. Then we had buffalo burgers at the BBQ tent set up ‘for Sturgis’ and bought a souvenir prairie dog for the kid back home.
Wednesday night we went to the Dale Earnhardt, Jr./Velvet Revolver events at the Buffalo Chip. First, Miss Buffalo Chip Hawaiian Tropic Pageant semifinals, then Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brandon Bernstein and Jeff Clark – took the stage during the “Bud Racing One Night Stand.” Jeff Clark smoked the stage on the Budweiser Burnout Bike, then the three sat down and talked Nascar on stage. Then Velvet Revolver came out and played/performed Libertad the new album, lead singer Scott Weiland formerly of Stone Temple Pilots, cranking up the juice and visually bigger than life, performance artist for sure. Guitarist Slash and two other band members having come from Guns’N’Roses, kind of helps you understand the name “Velvet Revolver.”
The night before, Robbie Knievel’s scheduled jump was postponed due to weather. So, we got an extra perk after the concert, and Robbie did execute his jump over two WWII tanks (and plenty of air to spare), commemorating his induction into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame. Dan Haggerty, John Walsh, and other celebs were on hand to congratulate him.
Back to S. Dakota, Deadwood—Ohmygosh, we saw a historic town and the very SPOT where Wild Bill Hickock was shot, in the back basement of the bar, the very actual building, still there. There is a plaque, a photo display, and a little mockup of a card game with mannequins around the table, one of them representing Wild Bill. Again, millions (well….) of bikes parked up and down the whole main street. Overheard on a cellphone conversation on the bench where I sat down to rest a sec, “Yeah they’ve issued about 1300 tickets so far and there’s been two accidents, one guy ran his bike off a curve into the trees, and another one got hit by a truck.” Great…
Thursday we went to the best spot of all— Peaceful, beautiful, natural—- Spearfish Canyon. A river runs through it, with waterfalls and a trail to walk. When the sun goes down, it’s dark! That deep woods feeling, lush leafy growth and yet rugged cliffs up above—escaping onto the highway, Rapid City is our dinner location on an actual restaurant patio that was NOT a Bike Week ‘venue’. No one there had any biker stuff on. No motorcycles in the parking lot. There is other life besides Sturgis bike week, in Rapid City—but the funner part was the cold riding back to Nemo Guest Ranch in the dense dark, late at night. Ha— now whose turn is it to wake up to a bike entering the grounds late-night, hah??!! Hah?? Party party, people! C’mon!
In the morning it’s packing up and time to turn the bombers towards home. A ways down the road, we stop in to meet QT ad partner Rick DiBernardi at his Wild West Motorsports Star dealership in Rock Springs, Wyoming. It’s a Saturday and things are hopping but we get a friendly smile and visit a bit, his sister and family all help with the biz. That’s what it’s all about, a strange place, but a friendly face, that now you know.
“Sturgis” was one amazing thing after another. We didn’t hang in bars, we rode. We still, in no way, saw everything. It will require another trip. But for now, we can look at the 800+ photos resulting. One thing’s for sure – we’re hooked on the Black Hills, and will return next year with a few hundred thousand of our closest friends.
By Linda Dahl
Karma –or is it Kharma. It is a rule I try so hard to live by. This trip to Sturgis proved to me that Karma really exists. Let me give you a little history. I look at every ethical situation as an opportunity to prove whether or not Karma is real. Remembering the true definition of Ethics (if no one else knows how you behave, does it matter) I realize that ethics and Karma are just about one in the same. The only difference is Karma will bite you in the ass. This opening paragraph will make sense, I promise.
Have you ever had an experience that got better as the days past. I think that is what an epiphany is all about. (this article isn’t suppose to be about a spelling or grammar lesson) Many people claim to have had an epiphany. But I don’t think it happens at the moment one thinks it does. You don’t realize what you experienced until afterwards – actually days, maybe even weeks later.
When you are on your bike and you feel the road and you feel the thunder of other bikes, it’s all good, but when you later reflect on what you experienced, all the sudden, you think your life has changed. Mine did. In many ways. That is an epiphany. Maybe it was Karma or my ethics checking up on me.
Lets go back to Sturgis.
I don’t know where to begin so I will just start with the babbling. Every year hundreds of thousands of bikes return to their Mecca called Sturgis. I tried so hard to understand this trek. The first couple days were a bit tough on me. I had the perfect mix of friends, beer and accommodations, but I didn’t quite get it. Tuesday night I met up with Wild Bill and I will quote him “Isn’t this the greatest thing you have ever seen”. He had the look of a 7-year-old kid on Christmas Eve. I quietly agreed then asked him to come to my campsite for a beer. While riding back to my campsite I thought about what he had just said. I wanted to cry because this wasn’t all I dreamed it should be. I was sad because I didn’t get it. I am sure that was the first sign of my upcoming epiphany.
Then on Wednesday I went on a ride with CD, his dad, Scott May (the publisher of the RM edition) my husband and Wild Bill. On this ride, I suddenly felt the road, I could smell the trees and I could sense being one with my bike, I watched as thousands of other bikes passed us, rode with us and were stopped on the side of the road looking at us. Weird as it may seem, I finally felt what Wild Bill had said the night before. Funny thing was this ride offered all the catastrophes of a good trip and all in an about an hours time.
My husband got a flat tire and Scott May flooded his toy hauler (this is where the Karma comes in to play). To most, it would have seemed like the end of a really good day. For some reason it wasn’t. It still felt all good. Every one pitched in to help Scott save his rugs and Scott helped us load my husband’s bike on his truck so we could get to the tire repair shop. It just seemed to work out.
Back to Karma – I am a big believer in Karma and this was proof in the pudding for me. Back to the beginning of the article. Karma is such a funny thing. As I reflect on the events, I know that the day my husband found that wallet in the McDonalds parking lot some months before with about $50 cash in it would be a life changing event for us. We looked at that cash and thought about how we were about to be $50 richer and suddenly Karma grabbed me by the ass and told me to find the rightful owner. It wasn’t easy since there was no ID card, just a pharmacy tech certification, a Visa card from an out of state bank, a receipt, and an obscure name and phone number. What to do?? At this moment most would have pocket the money and gone on with the idea “I tried”.
But I just knew in the back of my mind that I would need this Karma down the road. I told my husband “if we don’t return this stuff it will cost us 5 times what we would gain”. (remember for the future of this article that number 5 times 50) – So I started making phone calls, to the place on the receipt and to the unknown number on the scratch of the note, leaving my cell phone number just in case. Within a few hours, I got a call from a girl who was almost in tears about having lost her credit card. That’s all she wanted. She didn’t care about the cash, she just wanted to know her credit card was safe.
My digression is not without merit. Because, this is where the Karma kicks in. Back to Sturgis and the most awesome ride of the trip. We meet up with CD, his dad, and company for breakfast and while the check was getting settled my husband wandered off to the nearest slot machine. He dropped a couple quarters in and the bells started going off! I asked him what he won and he said he didn’t know cuz the machine ran out of quarters. All told, he won $250.00. (reflect on my prior statement about the 5 times 50…..) Anyway, we left Deadwood on an awesome ride ($250.00 richer) with long sweeping curves and beautiful scenery. We felt the pine trees and knew the road was calling our name as we entered each curve. It was amazing.
At the next stop, Scott suggested his campsite for lunch. He promised a beautiful scenic route and we all jumped on it. Again, the sweeping curves and feeling like your bike is a part of your body began. Then we got to Nemo Campground and had no problems with this part of the trek. The food was awesome, the beer was cold, the music was great and the company was, well CD and his dad & oh yeah, Wild Bill, Scott May and my husband. Could it get any better? I was on a high no drug had ever offered me.
THEN………… Most riders would have equated the following events as a catastrophe. But as weird as it seems it wasn’t. We were just about to jump back on the bikes when Papa D told my hubby that his tire looked very low. SH%T – ooops, I cant say that. Back to the Karma part of this story.
A couple “what if’s” and “we coulda’s” later. It was easy to see the solution. Let’s use the toyhauler to load the bike in to the back of the truck and we’ll haul the bike back to town and get her fixed. Guess where that 250.00 came in to play. And guess where the karma comes back in to play. Did I say before 5 times 50…..
Guess how much the tire repair cost? Yeah, real close. Funny thing was… it still felt all good. I have never in my life felt so one with my bike. I have never before just known that it would work out easily. I was never stressed about the situation. I never once dropped a four letter word to my wonderful husband. I think I needed to experience the whole thing to understand the epiphany of the day.
But wait cuz this all does get better. It may even make sense at some point.
I was talking with a friend and I was telling him that I have driven in my car that 700 miles from Phoenix to Salt Lake City and back at least 100 times over the years and I have never seen what I saw this time when I did it on my bike. It rained on us. It actually hurt to feel the razor sharp edges of the water fall from the sky. At one time I yelled up to the Gods of Rain “STOP IT!!!” Then I busted out laughing at myself. Then I laughed again because I realized I was all alone in this conversation with the rain. It finally did stop raining although I don’t think my pleas for help had any impact on it. Wild Bill was on that ride with us.
Even with that fricken duely diesel Ford and his oversized boat trying to kill us both while passing us, he was all smiles. Nothing affects him. I saw that then and I feel it today. That was also part of my epiphany.
Wait cuz it does gets even better. A couple weekends ago was my sons 22nd birthday. (he shares this day with CD so make sure to send CD one of those silly Hallmark e-cards – he gets a kick out of them – he especially likes emoticons).
Back up a minute cuz this ain’t about CD. This is about a mom who is so madly in love with her kids, that the world would have to end before she could see one of them suffer with a paper cut. My kid thought it would be a good idea to jump from 40 feet high into a 3 foot deep pool. He blew out his heel. The pics are bloody and gross, so I will spare you. A bunch of stitches later and a long night in ER left me up watching the lunar eclipse at 3:30 in the morning.
NOW I REALLY GET IT. As I sat there on my front porch and watched the moon change from a 2-dimensional light in the sky to a 3-dimensional orb in the dead silence of the middle of the night, I think I got the meaning of life. I asked my cat – who was frolicking in the dirt in front of me – if he got it. His tail twitched back and forth. He got it a long time ago.
Suddenly, I got the ride through God’s country along the painted desert and Grand Canyon and the red soil of Southern Utah, I got what Wild Bill was saying, I got the whole Sturgis thing, the inconvenience of the flat tire, the Vonacker Canyon ride – I got it all.
I don’t want to claim to have discovered the meaning of life, I’ll have to wait to share that with you from the grave. What I am saying is – I got that I will never get the meaning of life but that life is so beautiful and we all have the greatest gift to see it in a different way because we ride. We have a chance to see this life in a way most people will never understand. When we go on a ride, we not only see the pine trees up close and personal, but we can smell the earth and we can feel the rain drops on our cheeks and we can understand why God put this machine between our legs and told us to go discover His earth. Now that is what I got from Sturgis. I don’t know – Did I get it? I definitely feel different today.
Thank you, Wild Bill.