Sturgis, South Dakota 2012
STORY AND PHOTOS BY GEORGE CHILDRESS
The 72 year old Sturgis Black Hills Rally and Races has always been a destination where you can bring your highest expectations and never be disappointed because it offers something for everyone. This is no doubt one of the reasons why this year’s rally had an increase of over thirty thousand riders this year.
Some riders love the people watching mayhem on main street, getting a tattoo, doing burnouts, body shots at One Eyed Jacks, shopping over 700 vendors, watching the fights at the Knuckle Saloon, viewing custom bikes, and listening to the music at the multitude of concert venues. Many still enjoy the rally for the reason that it originated in the first place, the Jackpine Gypsy racing events and the exhilaration of riding the Black Hills. This is why I rode up to South Dakota a week early this year, to immerse myself in all the area could offer.
My usual Sturgis Rally go-fast game plan is one that consists of riding from Phoenix to Denver the first day and arriving the next. On the way back I take the long way via super-scenic byways and undivided highways. This may include a route through Canada, the Pacific Coast Highway, Yellowstone, Sierra Nevada’s, the Rockies or any place where black colored roads on a map can be found.
Custer City was my base camp for exploration during this first week. Besides Hill City and Keystone, this is one of the best launching pads for exploring lakes and caves, Iron Mountain Road, Wildlife Loop Road, the Needles Highway, Crazy Horse and Mt. Rushmore. If you really want to get off the grid in this area then try a gravel road:
• Make a 1.7 mile detour from Highway 87 that takes you 6023 feet to the top of Mount Coolidge and its historic firetower, providing 360 views of the surrounding peaks including the famous Mt. Rushmore.
• Just north of Custer, turn east off of Hwy 89 on Willow Creek Road until it dead ends to visit historic Meeker Ranch which features rustic 1887 buildings in a majestic meadow setting. When the road ends walk .7 miles and watch for elk.
• Lakota Lake located just off Iron Mountain Road is the perfect spot to enjoy a shaded picnic break.
If riding over dirt roads and maneuvering the Black Hills pigtail bridges, hairpin curves and numerous tunnels aren’t producing enough adrenaline, thrill seekers and try a ride in an aerial chopper. I took several while I was there including one that flew over the main street of Sturgis, another over the The Badlands, and one that covered most the south central Black Hills. This flight takes you over Crazy Horse Monument, Sylvan Lake, the crest of Harney Peak, Mt Rushmore and the unique formations of the Needles and Cathedral Spires. (See www.coptertours.com)
While flying and riding the hills I saw plenty of wildlife including deer, antelope, bighorn sheep and bison. But when I got back to Sturgis the real wildlife was at Glencoe Campground resort which is exclusively open for the rally, having no other season. Here they feature what can only be described as the Sturgis version of Mardi Gras on steroids. It’s a nightly parade on Titty Alley with plenty of spirited adult activity that goes well beyond body painting. Be sure to get yourself a day pass next year and let the good time roll.
The only thing crazier than what happens on private property in surrounding campgrounds is the legendary weather in Sturgis. This year featured finer-than-fox-hair short-sleeve weather until the last two days. At this point hail pounded Lead while everyone ducked into their favorite watering hole in Sturgis on Friday and Saturday due to rain. The wind picked up before the storms to the extent that many people returned to their tent only to find that it had blown away.
I personally was blown away by the people that I came in contact with at Sturgis that were from all over the U.S. and the world. Not only the riders, but staff was brought in from places like the Czech Republic and Philippines.
One recently retired machinist from London paid $4000 to fly over with his Harley. He had been riding throughout the east coast, down to Florida, over to Sturgis and eventually would end up at the Grand Canyon. Another group from Australia rented bikes for 3 weeks and planned to hit many of the major national parks in the West in addition to their layover in the motorcycle meca of Sturgis.
But no matter where you are from or where you are headed next, like clockwork most people seem to head to Wyoming on Wednesday. The lure of Devils Tower is far too great too resist, not to mention Ham ‘n Jam in Hulett or the Stone House Saloon located near Belle Fourche (the geographic center of the US) that is also only open during Sturgis bike week. Wyoming Wednesday plus day trips to the Badlands and Wall Drug as well as Custer State Park is a must-do while attending the rally.
Don’t neglect to take the scenic Spearfish Canyon a few times, for many this is their favorite rally ride. You can set your cruise control at 35 mph and enjoy 20 miles of bliss along side a stream full of ponderosa and spruce pines.
I you don’t have a complete ride itinerary planned, no worries, there are plenty of organized rides like the Mayor’s Ride from Sturgis, the Legends Ride and Biker Belles rides in Deadwood and others to fit the bill.
When you have had enough riding, partying and shopping and just feel the need to be amused for awhile, then there is nothing better racing. Sturgis has motocross, hill climbs, mini-sprint cars, short track and half mile races, even drags. So smoke “em if you got “em friends.
Sturgis is almost a metaphor for life itself: You aren’t here for a long time, but you’re here for a good time. Trying to do it all in one week is like drinking through a fire hose, so it pays to extend your stay by coming early or staying late. Pick your poison but you can depend on the rally to make you want to return yearly like one man I met who had attended 37 so far.
If you also cannot kick the Sturgis habit and won’t even pretend to try, then here are some future dates that you can count on:
August 4-10, 2014
August 3-9, 2015 (75th Anniversary)